Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Malabar Rajah’s in 1797.

Walter Ewer gives us a very interesting description of the Rajahs along the Malabar Coast in 1797. Many of these gentlemen would be closely involved in the Pazhassi Rajahs struggle with the East India Company.

“It may not be amiss to give a rough statement of the Revenues, & Force of the Northern Division of the Malabar, & of the Characters of the Rajah’s, as far as I have been able to get at them.

Cherical Rajah. High spirited & independent, collects his own Country, pays regularly, & will not suffer any of our Courts. Can raise about 6500 fighting men, & pays nett 1,20,000 R’s.

The Choolia Nambyar his vassal, & commands about 2000 of the above warriors, this man is troublesome to the Rajah’s wants to make himself independent of him, to collect his own District & to pay the company. He is not to be trusted, at the Death of the Rajah, an event likely to happen soon. We may find ourselves under the necessity of allowing this, to keep him quiet, as in case of Refusal, he may perhaps draw his sword. Cotiote Rajah [2] at present in Rebellion 3500 men – 60,000 R’s.

Cartenaad Rajah. This is a very gentle well disposed man has lately succeeded his Brother. Some of his nambyars are powerful, want to be independent of him & collect themselves for the Company. The Bombay Government have listened too much to them, had this man the spirit if the Cherical, he wou’d soon settle the Business.

The Eddycherry Nambyar. One of his vassals has always been very troublesome fellow. Tippo kept him in irons at Seringpatam, & only released him in order to plague the English, he is too much at Tellicherry. The Protection of his Nambyars against him, the countenancing the impertinence of such a man as Murdoch Brown, & such insults, are the first foundation of a Revolt, & though the Rajah himself is a very mild & good tempered man, he is surrounded with high tempered chiefs. One of his Ministers, whom I saw with him cover’d the Right Flank of Gen’l Abercrombies Army against Tippoo. 5000 men, 100,000 R’s. We hold Courts in his Country.

Koormenaad Rajah. Older Brother of the Cotiote, a Cunning Villain, ready to do anything to avoid paying his Revenue. He collects the Wyanard, a fine Country from which we have never received anything. Mr. Peile made an agreement with this man to pay for 2 years due 15,000 R’s. for 1797, 20,000 for 98, 30,000 for 1799. 35,000 R’s. In all a lac, for the 5 years lease, but the Commrs interfer’d & nothing more has been heard of it since. We hold Courts in his Country, but they are not attended to. 2500 men, R’s 64,000 per annum.

Coorg Rajah This is a very powerful Prince, quite independent he pays us a Tribute to be under our Protection but we have no controul over him. He is much attached to the English. Considering the very great assistance he gave us against Tippoo we ought not, as a generous Nation, to have accepted a paltry sum, from a faithful ally. He is very rich, & has money in the Bombay Treasury: his number of troops is not known but is considerable. He pays per annum R’s. 24,000.

The Malabar Rajah’s in 1797.

Fighting men
Cherical Rajah
Catenaad Rajah
Tillicherry & Randaterra Company
Irenaad Nambyars as always
dissatisfied & ready to revolt
Narrangole a fortified estate
in Irvanad
Pyernullah Nayrs
Wild people to the Comp’y
Polwye to the Comp’y
Kalye & Mahe taken from the Fr
about 10,000 R’s

Customs about
Bibbee of Cannanore
French Rps
Rs 547000

It can be seen from the above account that the Pazhassi Raja was not the only Raja who was giving concern to the East India Company at this time. He was also not the most powerful of the Rajahs controlling only about 3,500 armed men.

The role of the new courts and the attempts by the Commissioners of the East India Company to remove the administration of justice away from the local Rajahs can also be seen as the cause of a growing concern amongst the Rajahs who had previously been the arbiters of justice in their communities.

Ewer wrote...

We do not sufficiently consider the situation of the Rajahs, nor are they treated by us with proper respect. By suffering them to be insulted by clerks & schoolboys, we alienate their affections from us, & the Rajahs, who is not the immediate object of their insolence, feels for his neighbour, depends upon his Time coming soon.

A Prince less haughty than Tippoo, would avail himself of our ignorance & want of policy, & court their alliance: by which means, he wou'd make them his frontier against us, instead of their being ours against him. We know that he furnishes the Cotiote Rajah with ammunition.

Were the four Rajahs of Cherical, Cotiote, Caaomenaad - Kourmenaad to unite, the whole of our Indian Force could not conquer them.

By scarificing some Thousand lives, we might march through the Country & destroy Villages, Houses, but we can never can subdue it, it is covered with a Jungle almost inpenetrable, & the Roads are scarcely passable in wet weather. Two Bullocks cannot go abreast, by which means different parts of the Army, are at great distance from each other, entangled in the wood, which although so thick as to impede the Passage, is not high enough to afford shade to the sun, a fatal enemy. During 6 or 7 months of the year all Military Operations must cease, as the rains will not admit them.

The wisest & most humane Method wou'd be to give up the Country to the Rajah on certain conditions, & allow them to govern as they think proper, by which means we shou'd acquire their esteem & affection; We have already tried how Unavailing Force is, & seen what little impression has been made on the Cotiote Rajah by an Army which wou'd have frightened Tippoo. Its efforts have been confined to burning two or three good Houses, & the Villages of Peasants. But while we are distressing our Enemy, we are ruining ourselves, by the great expense we are at."

Many on the British side of the conflict had significant doubts about its legitimacy as well as the sense in going to war with the Rajah. But like so many wars this one soon spiralled out of control.

[1] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438. Folio 167. Papers Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799
[2] The title given to the man we now know as the Pazhassi Raja.
[3] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438. Folio 170. Papers Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Was the Pazhassi Raja Set Up? Part 1.

Sepoys in the Uniforms Worn By Madras Presidency Troops During the Pazhassi Raj Insurgency. [1]

With the defeat of Tipu's army in 1792, the local Rajah's had expected that the British would return to their settlement at Tellicherry, and to resume trading as they had previously done following the wars that had occurred over the previous century.

What they had not appreciated, was that the East India Company was no longer just a trading company, as it had formerly been.

Since changes carried out under Lord North's administration, the East India company had become effectively an extension of the British Government; in effect a state controlled company.

It had changed from a company whose main activity was trading, into one that acted more like a government organisation that increasing paid for itself by revenue or tax gathering, rather than from profits made it had formerly made from trade alone.

It's new directors included men increasingly drawn not from senior returned East India Company officials, but from senior members of the political elite and the ruling classes in Great Britain who were less familiar with India and trade than their predecessors. Their expertise was in with taxing populations and ruling either their own landed estates back in Britain, which were populated by largely compliant tenant farmers, or on behalf of an established and widely accepted government.

The companies new directors also wished to apply the lessons and company procedures that had from their point of view been successfully developed in Bengal between 1760 and 1800 to exploit the taxation of farming and other revenues, and to apply them to the newly acquired territories in Malabar.

The following Political Letter written by Mr. Duncan, describes events in 1792, and the Pyche or Pazhassi Rajah's growing role within the region.

“"That during the war, the People of the [Pyche] Raja seized on the Wynaad as part of their ancient Territory and were at the Peace in possession” and the lasted quoted address to Bombay of June 1792 continues to state “That on the 6th of May 1792 a message arrived from Tellicherry from the Raja of Cotiote, stating that an officer from Tippoo had sent to the person in charge of Wynaad to deliver it up as the right of Tippoo and that similar letters had been sent by the same person to the Raja making the same demand.” Mr. Farmer not having then left Tellicherry, the Chief and Factor requested his ideas and directions on the subject, when he advised that the Raja should instantly send word, that the country being yielded to the English, he the Raja, could give no answer till he had informed the Chief of Tellicherry, but that, as Wynaad was certainly not including in the Grants of Tippoo, it could not consistently be retained, and that therefore the Raja must order the People to withdraw to the Boundaries of Wynaad, there taking a stand, and advising the Chief; if Tippoo’s people presumed to encroach beyond that boundary which the Bombay Commissioners then believed we had no claim to the Eastwards of, in so much that on the 9th of August they wrote to Tippoo’s Subahdar Hurry Purwae apprizing him “that as at the time mentioned by the Treaty we do not find Wynaad to have been under Calicut, we do not mean therefore to detain what was granted to the Company;" [2]

The situation was not made any easier for the local East India Company administrators, by the power struggle that was going on inside the local Rajah's family. There were several local ruling families each controlling small semi-independent and competing areas or Taluks.

The Pazhassi Raja was not the paramount ruler in any of these areas, but was a subsidiary and junior aspirant to one of these territories. The senior Rajah was his uncle, and as events were to show, the younger man was impatient for power, and was seen by more senior members of his family as a threat to their positions.

Over the coming years the Pazhassi Raja was to prove himself to be the most effective war leader amongst the local ruling families.

When the war with Tipu Sultan broke out in October 1789, the other more senior Rajah's had either fled into the Tellicherry settlement or travelled down to Travancore.

They had abandoned their subject peoples to their fate. This had lost cost them much of their former moral authority.

The Pazhassi Rajah had acted with more courage and had taken to the jungles on the slopes of Ghats with the younger men, and allied to the East India Company he had waged a war of ambush and raids on the Mysore troops and supply chain travelling along the Gun Roads Tipu had built to subjugate the Wayanad and Malabar.

A Nair photographed shortly before 1909. The Nairs were the main source of warriors in the early years of the uprising. These fierce warriors were in many ways similar to Gurkhas in the way they fought, having their own characteristic curved bladed knives.[3]

These senior Rajah's and especially his uncle were to play a double game over the coming years, as they sort to restrict the Pazhassi Rajah's influence and power which was beginning to challenge their own positions.

Duncan recognised the existence of this growing power when writing on 2nd March 1797 about events in Malabar. In this letter Duncan describes the man we now know as the Pazhassi Rajah,as the Cottiote Rajah.

“the late untoward Events in one of the Northern Districts in the Malabar Province which it grieves me sorely, to have to relate, howsoever much they may appear to have primarily and in a great degree unavoidably flown, from the Rivalry and Dissentions between two Cousin Germane called the Raja’s of Coorimnad and Cottiote, the former progress and fortunate issue of which stand already narrated in the Revenue letter from this Presidency of the 18th of December last, as does their unexpected Renewal in my late address to the Secret Committee of the 12th of January of which a Duplicate is herewith sent—“

“2 You will Gentlemen already know from the first report of the Commissioners that all the Malabar Rajas feel and have indeed all along felt rather uneasy under the degree of Restraint and Submission that we have since the Peace with Tippoo Sultaun endeavoured to subject them to, among these none has been so turbulently impatient all along as the Raja of Cottiote, otherwise called for distinctions sake, and as being indeed his more proper designation the Pyche Raja, one of the members of the family of the Raja’s of that District who having during the late War with Tippoo remained in the Jungles when his other & Senior Relations fled for refuge to Travancore acquired thereby such a footing in the affections of the people, that even after his services returned at the Peace he maintained his influence, so as to have been considered by the first Joint Commissioners from Bengal and Bombay & Treated as the effective or at least the acting Raja, at the same time that, on his behalf & with his consent they settled most or all of what related to his District with the Raja of Coorimnad the son of his Mothers sister (all heirship amongst these Chieftains going in the female line) and who whom as his senior, he professed at all times the greatest deference so as to consider himself to be only the manager under his orders; but yet his conduct was on the whole so turbulent & refractory that in the year 1794 Mr. Stevens then the Supravisor concluded the five years settlement of the Coltiote District not with him but directly with the Coorimnad Raja his relation as being at the head of the house of Cottiote whereas there are several between him and the Pyche (By misnomer called by us the Cottiote Raja) in order of succession not withstanding which the Pyche Chieftain has ever since the conclusion of this quinquenial lease proved extremely restless and jealous that it became soon after my entering on my present charge a serious and pressing consideration how to proceed in regard to him, in as much as he forcibly prevented the Coorimnad’s making the Collections under the quinquennial lease, to such a degree that the latter declared he could not pretend to go on with them without a force of 5 or 600 men of our Troops, in view to all which and also to enable us in pursuance of a Recommendation to that effect, from the Bengal Government to bring him (the Pyche) to account for his conduct in having put some Mapillas of his own Authority to Death, the commanding officer on the coast (General Bowles) was not only instructed to afford the Coorimand Raja the necessary support – but it was left to the last mentioned commanding officer and to the acting Supravisor Mr Handley (comprising the Civil and Military Superior Authority on the spot) to consider whether it might not be advisable in view to saving effusion of Blood if the Pyche Raja’s person be secured so as to prevent his protracting an insurgency by betaking himself an insurgent to the Jungle.

To add to the Pyche Rajah's difficulties, was that fact that he was not just opposed by the equivocal and often hostile attitudes of his older relatives, but also by the private money making activities and interests of messr's Wilkinson, Handley, Stevens, Rivett, Torin and Brown, the local officials of the East India Company based in Tellicherry, that were diametrically opposed to his.

The land the Pazhassi Rajah controlled around his village was one of the best possible areas for the production of pepper. Most of the routes to the other pepper producing areas crossed his domain. They had to get rid of the Rajah if they were to capture his profits for their own personal gain.

The salaries paid to all East India Company officials except the most senior ones, were barely sufficient to cover their expenses.

Custom and practice throughout the 17th and 18th centuries had allowed EIC officials to engage in private trade (known as the Country Trade)in order to make up the difference, as long as it did not involve voyages back to Britain. By the late 18th Century many civilian officials were making fortunes. If they survived to retire as Nabobs, they were able to remit large sums of money back to Britain. Such was the size of some of these sums returned to Britain, that the returning East India Company officials were believed to have bought as many as 84 seats in Parliament that first brought Pitt the Younger to power.

Pitt was the grandson of a former East India Company Official from Madras.

This growing "Indian" influence was too much for the established authorities back in Britain, who were in danger of losing their political power and patronage to the "Indian" lobby.

They sort to prevent such high profits being made, or at least to control who had access to them, by appointing politically acceptable officials directly to the most senior posts, thereby cutting away routes to these posts for most career East India Company officials.

By 1797 it was becoming much harder for men like Wilkinson, Handley, Rivett, Torin and Brown to make money in places like Bombay. A World War was being fought against France, trade was depressed.

Pepper Growing on Vines in the Wayanad. The ultimate cause of all the conflict.

Torin, Wilkinson and Rivett lobbied to move to Tellicherry where they hoped to engross the pepper trade for their own personal gain. They had had their attention drawn to the area by Murdoch Brown and by the profits they had been making by selling English guns to Tipu Sultan via the French port of Mahé. [5]

The Board of East India Company also desperately needed to try to recoup the cost of the war with Tipu Sultan, if it were not to reduce dividends further. It therefore decided that it had to tax the newly conquered territory in Northern Malabar.

For this it was necessary to take over the lands, or more importantly a significant share of the revenues that had formerly been paid to the local Rajahs, by the farmers and villagers occupying these districts.

Before Tipu's invasion of the Malabar, the East India Companies territory at Tellicherry had only extended about four or five miles inland, and along a narrow strip of land stretching from the outskirts of Cannanore to the southern edge of Mahé.

After previous local wars, although the British had often fought as allies with local Rajah's against other Rajah's and or against the French and the Dutch, they had not taken over significant stretches of the territory that they had been able to secure with their local allies during the course of these wars.

The local Rajah's appear to have expected that once Tipu was beaten back out of their lands, they could resume their former rule as before, and without any loss of revenues.

This time however it was different. The East India Company had expended massive sums of money, all of which had to go onto the overhead, and which would wipe out dividends for years to come. Having fought the war ostensibly on behalf of the local rulers, they believed that the local rulers and their communities ought to be made to pay back the cost of the war.

The EIC sort to ascertain the likely revenues that Malabar could provide in order to repay the cost of both the provinces administration, as well as of the war, by setting up a Commission.

Walter Ewer described the commission in the following terms.

This country is under the Government of a Commission, who execute the Office of Supervisor.(Messrs Wilkinson, Rickards and Col. Dow)

Without a comment on the abilities of these gentlemen, I shall give a short account of their proceedings. I must however mention, that the Chief is Mr. Rickard’s. A gentleman of only 7 years standing in the service, whose greatest merit seems to be, that he has found out the weak side in Mr. Duncan whose Confidence in him appears to be unbounded.

In my opinion the Commission itself is a Disgrace to a Civilised Government, it is a Commission of Enquiry, parading the Country, petitioning for, and encouraging accusations; a country whose natives are ignorant or regardless of an oath; what must be the astonishment of the Impartial Traveller, when he finds that a Junior is employed to invite Charges against his Superior, & that the Judge expects to succeed to the Station of the Criminal, on his Conviction! I shall take no notice of the loss the Company has sustained, of the services of some very able young men, as an investigation is likely to take place.

But this, and; the loss of Revenue both of which are the Consequences of the Conduct of the Commissioners, are Trifles in Comparison with the Miseries of War. How far they are concerned in these calamities the following Extracts from the Diary will shew.

Whilst it must be recognised that Walter Ewer was a stern critic of the administration of Governor Duncan, and that it is possible to find other accounts of the Commission that speak just as highly of its activities, I believe that subsequent events will show that Ewer correct was correct in his assessment.

This situation was made worse by the corruption being undertaken by several of the commissioners, including Messrs. Stevens and Handley.

"Towards the middle of December 1795 Mr. Stevens, Senior, resigned the Supravisorship and was succeeded by Mr. Handley, and at the same time charges of corruption and bibery were brought before the Governor, Mr. Ducan, by the Zamorin against Messrs. Stevens, Senior, J. Agnew, and Dewan Ayan Aya, a Palghat Brahman for extorting a lakh of Rupees."[7]

The level of mismanagement and corruption is clear from the following report by Ewer.

"This province will be ruined by the Commission of Supravision if continued; as the salary is good, & the station honourable, everyone who has interest at the Presidency will exert to get down here, without considering whether he is qualified for the Station. Not to mention that the Expense is double that of the Supervisor. Gentlemen who have spent most of their Time at Bombay Contract a Habit of Contempt for the Natives, as they converse with none there, except Persee, or Hindoo Merchant’s & when they come down here, they don’t know how to make a Difference, between the Sneaking Persee, who money is his God, & who would sell his soul; & suffer every indignity for Profit, & the Independent nair, who never quits his arms, who seeks no Happiness beyond the Chace, his Liquor & his Woman. The Commissioners began their career of Tyranny, by seizing the Zamorin, whose ancestor’s were the most Powerful Princes on this Coast, a poor helpless old man; & they escaped the Punishment such an act deserved, through the astonishment of his attendants at the audacity of it. Encouraged by impunity they attempted to treat the Cotiote Rajah in the same manner, they attacked and plunder’d his palace, but could not seize his person; about 60,000 Rp’s were carried off by the Troops, besides Jewels & other things. Only 18,000 Rp’s have been restored. This has been followed by an engagement, if it may be so called in which we lost more men, than Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Seringapatam. And our losses would have been still more considerable, had it not been for the generous forebearance of the Enemy who suffer’d several different Parties to retire un-molested. Besides the sacrifice of lives, the Revenue of the disputed District for 20 years to come, will not pay the Expenses of the War. The correspondence of the late Commissioners will shew how unfit they were for their stations. Nor does the President, now returned to the Board, to take his seat as a member of Council at Bombay, (Mr. Rivett) Shew more sense than his predecessors: While the Governor is endeavouring to settle the Dispute by Negotiations, while Mr. Peile the Superintendant, whom I have accompanied on the Expedition to the Cherical Rajah (who as a friend of both Parties, is trying to persuade the rebel Cotiote to visit the Govn General) is waiting the return of a messenger from Cotiote, we receive from Governm’t publick minute of the Commissioner complimenting the Gentlemen of the Service for their activity, & calling the Rajah a despicable or contemptible Chieftain. Such language is not much calculated to forward a negotiation with a man who at this moment is hesitating whether he shall trust himself in our hands."[8]

That this contempt for the local rulers and corruption was not the settled policy of the East India Company Directors or Governor Duncan is clear. The most experienced and one of the longest serving officials on the Malabar Coast, Mr. Peile the Northern Superintendant on the coast was working hard to reach agreement with the Pazhassi Rajah, and on several occasions they were thwarted by the active opposition of the corrupting influence of Messrs, Torin, Wilkinson, Brown, Handley and Stevens, often aided and abetted by the Rajah's uncle.

This is clearly demonstrated in the following letter.

Dear Sir
near Barrygurry Malabar April 24 1796

I have much to say to you about the affairs of this Province, but I have not time at present, as I am on a Journey, the Albion for England is expected in a day or so at Tellicherry, trusting you will keep my information secret, I give you my opinion without scruple, & have as little Hesitation in mentioning Names for the same Reason. I am now with Mr Peile the Northern Superintendant, in the Territory of the Cartenand Rajah, one of the most powerful on the Coast & am going with him in the course of the Day to his House 15 to 16 Miles off. The fatal error in all the Proceedings here, is that the Rajah’s have never been treated as gentlemen by the Com’rs enquire of Sir Robert Abercrombie, who is adored in this Country, how he behaved to them. I am afraid there is some underhand Work in this Business, & that we are in a Scrape; There is something very mysterious in Colonel Dow’s Transactions, he & the other Commissioners have quarrelled; in Short, there is nothing but confusion in the Civil Service.
I was in Hopes when I left Tillicherry, that something might be done by negotiation, & that I should have accompanied Mr. Peile the North’n Superint’t to a conference with the Cotiote Rajah. Mr. P is the only man in the Service, who dare trust himself with him, having always treated him with Civility & Respect. But, I have just heard from Tillich’y that it is determined that Sword shall decide the Contest. We must make Haste, for we have not above a fortnight, before the season closes. I shall only observe to you, we have so few officers, that the loss of a Dozen would be equal to a Defeat & any Accident to Gen’l Stewart would ruin the Army.
Orders have been sent to the Cherical Raja to furnish Troops, which he will do, with this observation, that there is hardly a man among them who has not Relations in the Cotiote Country, like orders have been sent to the Cootaly Nair, Who’s Sister is the principle Wife of the Cotiote Rajah. Time will show how much such Allies can be depended upon. You must pay but little attention to the accounts you get out of the Revenues of this Country, they may be of Consequence in Time, but, independent of the present Disturbances, such Tricks have been play’d with the Coin, as will bring heavy loss on the Company, which must now come out, besides this, little Dependence can be placed on arrears due above a year & a half, though they stand on Paper as Cash. The Spot where I now am, is all a garden, & produces everything, besides the advantage of being on the Sea Shore. Yet, though the Rajah & Superintendent, exert them selves to the utmost, the People are above a year in arrears. They are however telling them, that money we must have, or we cannot appear before the Governor, you must excuse my writing as, I am in the Midst of the noise of gunning.
I am Sir
Your most ob’t Servant
W Ewer
Rt. Hon’r Henry Dundas.

A few days later Ewer wrote yet another letter setting out the case very clearly.

Dear Sir, Tellicherry 25 Apr 1797.
Since I wrote the inclosed an Express arrived from the Governor to order Mr. P’s immediate Return to Tellicherry, to set out on some business to the North, in which I shall accompany him. The Result you will hear in Course. Allow me Sirs, to recommend this Gentleman to your notice, as whether successful or not, in the negotiation he has undertaken, he deserves attention for his Readiness in attempting it. Altho’ he is in a very good Situation at present, the want of Favor & Connections subject him to many Mortifications from his Juniors in the line & Service; & this fatal Commission, which if continued, will ruin the Country altho’ it has not driven him from the Province, as it has some other Valuable men, has often been a Clog to him, & frustrated his best endeavours, by interfering in his Duty, & thereby Lepering his Consequence in the Opinion of the Natives.
Mr. P. Is one of the oldest Revenue Servants on this side of India, but has been constantly superceded by people from every Department some of them his Juniors in the Service, He came out to India at the age of 30, & of course had more knowledge & experience of the World in General, than most Gentlemen who have been in the service that number of years, living retired, & not belonging to any set, he has formed no connections, & has nothing to depend upon, but his attention to his Duty. At the whim of the Commissioners, this Gentleman has been driven about the Province in all seasons, well or ill, & if he made any complaints it was resented by them, as a presumptuous Remonstrance, But now, in Time of Danger & Difficultly, he is the only Person we can look up to, the only man with whom the Refractory Rajah will treat, the only one who dares to go to him. Where are the haughty Commissioners?
Mr. Wilkinson, after residing a year & a half in the Province, a Time however long enough to set it up in flames, runs away to England. Then comes Mr. Rivett his partner in Trade, a merchant, Said to be a man of some abilities; but his stay here has not been sufficiently long for the Display of them. & Now Mr Torin, junior Partner in the same House succeeds to the Commission. So we see the merchant House of Rivett, Wilkinson & Torin of Bombay Governors of Malabar, every one of them totally ignorant of the Character & Persons of the Malabar Rajah’s & What is worse of the Respect due to men descended from a long Race of Princes. As to Col. Dow, I shall say nothing, his acts speak for him. I must however mention to you that all which happen’d to the Army, was foretold to me; some Time previous to the Accident, by a Gentleman at Bombay, while shewing me the maps. Mr. Spencer, Just appointed Senior Comm’r is a good natured indolent man thought by the Court unfit for Council, & now appointed to a station of tenfold consequence.
My private opinion is that these gentlemen who cannot be expected to know anything of the affairs of the Province (Mr. Torin having been commercial he resident only a few weeks, & Mr. Spencer but just arrv’d) are appointed solely that Mr. Rickards may have the whole management, he, in fact is the Supravisor, how far he is qualified, his Conduct will demonstrate. Some of the Comm’rs were so ignorant, that one asked if Paulghaut, a principle Fortress on Tippoo’s Frontier, was on the West Coast of Sumartra, & I myself saw a letter signed by two of them yesterday, about an attack & some houses burnt on the Island of Rhandaterra, a District about 7 miles from the seat of Government, with a River on one side. I beg your Pardon for troubling you with this long letter, but I think it right you shou’d be acquainted with the characters of the People employ’d in the Publick Service. I shall stay here till the Business is settled, or the Rains begin.
I am Dear Sir,
Your most obedient Servant.
W Ewer
2 Enclosures. [10]

The following paragraphs from the previous two letters are particularly significant..

"you must excuse my writing as, I am in the Midst of the noise of gunning."

"I myself saw a letter signed by two of them yesterday, about an attack & some houses burnt on the Island of Rhandaterra, a District about 7 miles from the seat of Government, with a River on one side."

As these show the start of the counter attack by the Rajah. It is highly significant that this attack falls on Rhandaterra, or Randattara as it is more normally spelt.

Randattara was the site of the new pepper plantation being started at Anjarakandi by Murdoch Brown.

This plantation was intended to grow pepper directly for the trade on lands mortgaged by the EIC and then when the payments could not be maintain, it was forfeited to the EIC who foreclosed on the local rulers a couple of decades before.

The Rajah knew full well that if this plantation succeeded, he would lose his pepper trade and therefore income. It had to be attacked.

In the next installment of this article I will explore the Rajah's response to these events, and set out the texts of some of the letters that passed between the Rajah, Governor Duncan, and how a faction of the local East India Company set about destroying any attempt at reconciliation with the Rajah for their own personal gain, and in clear contravention of the official East India Company policy.

[1] Plate C by Gerry Embleton, from Armies of the East India Company 1750 - 1850, Men-at-Arms Series 453, published by Osprey Publishing. See
[2] British Library, OIOC IOR F/4/32/894. From Extract Political Letter from Bombay.
[3] From
[3] British Library, OIOC IOR F/4/32/894. From Extract Political Letter from Bombay.
[5] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438. Papers Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799. Folio89.
[6] Malabar Manual By William Logan, Vol. 1, Page 511.
[7] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438 Folios 111. Papers of Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799.
[8] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438 Folios 6-7 Papers of Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799.
[9] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438. Papers Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799.

The Temples inside the Fort at Nellialam

Photo 1. Temple Inside The Fort at Nellialam. Photo courtesy of Afasja Jajy

Back in March of this year, when attempting to trace the route taken by Thomas Hervey Baber up the Ghats in 1823, I came across a reference to his having been on top of the Ghats during 1806 in the aftermath of the Pazhassi Raja struggle, while he was trying to pacify the region, and to capture any remaining supports of the Pazhassi Raja. [1]

"I left Ottakail Karumba at 10 A.M. on the 11th, and arrived at Koodaloor about 1 P.M. about half-a-mile from the karumba, I reached the road I constructed in 1806, from Nelliala in Parakámeatil, to Nambolacota, and continued along it until with three miles of Koodaloor, where is yet to be traced the course of the high road formerly constructed by Tippoo, by the Carâcole Pass to South Malabar;"

This led to my trying to identify the route of this road, and a fort that the East India Company had occupied at Nelliala.

The long abandoned fort appeared to be located on top of a bald hill at Nellialam.

Photo 2. The Bald Hill at Nellialam. Please click onto the image for a larger image.

A friend of mine, Manmadhan Ullattil found some passages in old books describing the fort. The problem was that nether Manmadhan or myself were able to visit the site. Manmadhan however suggested that I contact Afasja Jajy, who was known to come from the area, and who was a keen local historian.

So acting on Manmadhan's suggestion I emailed Afasja, who turned out like so many Kerala people to be working in Saudi Arabia. Despite his not knowing me in the slightest, and having only limited leave, Afasja was kind enough to spend time during his precious holiday this August visiting the site of what I believe might have been the fort at Nellialam, where he took the the pictures of the two small temples that remain on the slopes of the hill.

It is not entirely clear to me if these photos show just one of the two temples, or both temples. It appears however from the amount of trees in the background of photo number 1, that it is the northern of the two temples ringed in red on photo 2.

Photo 3. The Interior of One of the Temples. Photo courtesy of Afasja Jajy

Afasja wrote....

"Last week I visited the fort location, which is in "Kottakunnu" (meaning "fort hill" in Malayalam) at Nelliyalam ( a very small village 6 kms from Pandalur). The temple portion of the fort was only left and the design is very similar to the architecture of buildings/palaces in Mysore and an effigy of Devi , Shiva linga and Nandi are there in the temple structure."

The interesting thing about these temples is that they appear ether to have once been much larger, or they were once surrounded by other buildings, which have subsequently been thrown down or have collapsed with age.

Photo 4. Interior of Temple at Nellialam. Photo courtesy of Afasja Jajy

Photo 5. Second Temple at Nellialam. Photo courtesy of Afasja Jajy

This last photo shows a brick lined shaft, or pit in the foreground besides the temple. Is this a Tank for ritual bathing? It seems very small?

Or perhaps it is part of another building that has since been abandoned, like a cistern.

Brick buildings seen quite rare in this area until very recently. Most earlier buildings were ether local stone or even more commonly they were built in wood.

Does the use of brick suggest that these buildings were built quite recently, and probably since 1820?

In my native England it is quite possible to use the architectural style of a building like a church to apply a date to its likely period during which it was constructed.

Is there somebody I could talk to who could work out from these buildings roughly when they were built?

To me they appear quite small for use as temples. I obviously have very limited knowledge about temples. Is it a temple, or perhaps just a shrine for travellers?

I would love to hear from somebody who can explain these temples possible functions in more detail.

Afasja thinks that there may have been a second fort nearby at Pandalur.

"Regarding fort you mentioned in the Malabar blog, I think the fort [the] EIC built may be somewhere near to this location and I am in search to find some clue on this.., in Pandalur there was a ruins of a fort which was completely destroyed(now there is no sign in that location)and the area is encroached by locals and converted to tea plantation but in my childhood I saw this area and that time there was some walls of the fort."

Afasja has produced an excellent website on Nelliyalam local history.

It has a very good article on Gold mining in the area, which was witnessed by Thomas Baber in his account of his journey in 1823, and the area experienced a mini gold rush in the later 19th century when many Australian's came into the area to try to make their fortune.

The story of the Plantations is also told...

The fort was probably the site of the home of Queen Bohramma, the last the Nelliyalam Rani. This Rani and her earlier ancestors had ruled this remote mountain top region for the previous couple of centuries before Tipu over ran the area.

Her story is told here...

It would be fascinating to climb to the top of this hill and to field walk it in a deliberate way. I would love to look more closely at the horseshoe shaped feature on its summit. Given the hills dominant position, how far out towards the Wayanad could the soldiers have seen?

It is known that the East India Company Army was using semaphore and possibly mirrors to flash signals. Was this one of those sites?

I still trying to discover the meaning behind the place name Chatur Kottai Dinnai, I would love to hear from you.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Afasja Jajy without whom this blog could not have been written and also Manmadhan Ullattil who encouraged me to seek him out in the first place.

[1] See

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Pazhassi Raja Film Opens

Mammootty plays the Pazhassi Raja in a film that premièred on the 17th October 2009.

Excitement has been building for some months amongst my many Kerala friends and correspondents about a new film being made by Hariharan, a renowned Malayali film director, to a script by M T Vasudevan Nair about the Pazhassi Rajah and his struggle against the British.

At long last the film has been released and their suspense is ended.

For a fun clip turn up the volume and click on to the following...

Early reports of the film are favourable for instance....

As an Englishman, my wait before I get to see the film will be a little longer. However it will be interesting to see what the film makers have made of the Rajah's story.

This story for me however is not just any old colourful story from long ago in a far away land, but also part of my heritage, and a family legend. And one that involved my forebears to just as great an extent as it does so many modern Indian's whose descendants are alive today in the Wayanad or Thalassery.

The story of the Pazhassi Rajah has been told many times, and no doubt will continue to be told many times again as it passes through the generations for aeon's to come.

In many ways, this story has parallels with the story of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Only in this case, the Sheriff prevailed and the Raja was killed.

Because in many ways Thomas Baber was the villain or Sheriff who killed the hero.

He got "Robin Hood."

My interest in these events started about a decade ago when I first read the tale of Thomas Baber tracking down and killing of the Rajah on the 30th of November 1805.

Thomas Baber was my great great great great uncle.

Through the good services of the internet, and to my great surprise I was contacted a few years ago by local Indian's whose ancestors had also been caught up in those events, and who had been actively researching the Raja's life and times. This led to my being invited to India where visiting many of the locations where these events took place.

The story of this search is contained in the early posts on this blog.

I also had the unexpected and somewhat strange experience of meeting two young descendants of the Raja who were very kind to me, and who fortunately did not seem to hold any grudges.

There appears to be a great thirst for information about these events, and for history in general amongst many people who are living in or who originate from Kerala. There is however also great difficultly for most of these people who would like to be able to get at real historical information about these events, because so little is available in books or film.

Many have been extremely surprised at just how much I have been able to discover and which is available in the British Library here in London. These records have survived because the East India Company had shareholders and auditors, was a commercial concern, and just like any modern multinational, its management had to send in reports to head office every month or so.

This enables a modern researcher to unearth really detailed accounts of the events surrounding the Pazhassi Rajah.

My great concern about this new film, is that although it's publicity makes much of it's accuracy, I am concerned that it has in-fact been written in large part with an eye to increasing its audience.

I hope that Vasudevan Nair has been as accurate in his script as the publicity would have us believe.

I have my concerns, for instance as IndiaGlitz wrote on the 15th of October..

"The historical which also present a true love story of ‘Pazhassi Raja’ with Kaitheri Makkam will give further lights to the first ever Indian freedom fight against the British," [1]


The Raja's Queen played by Kaniha Subamaniam

Early reports before the film was released suggested that the film depicts the Rani leading her own fierce band of Amazon archers into battle.

Padmapriya plays Neeli, Thalakkal Chandu's fiancée and the leader of women Kurichya soldiers.

Events surrounding the Raja's rebellion are extremely well documented, and anything as unusual in the eyes of the soldiers or officials fighting the Raja as a band of female warriors, would surely have appeared somewhere in the records. In ten years of extensive research, I have not come across a single suggestion of any women taking an active part in these fights.

It would be fascinating to be proved wrong. Where did Vasudevan Nair find this documented?

The Rani was certainly present at the Raja's final camp. Thomas Baber makes this clear in his report.

"And from the accounts of the Raja’s lady, they had been reduced to the greatest distresses in particular for the last ten days. The Raja’s body was taken up and put in my palanquin, while the lady who was dreadfully reduced from sickness was put into Captain Clapham’s." [3]

Thomas Baber appears to have exercised considerable care for the Rani in the years following the Raja's death. Local legend in the Wayanad has it that he was having an affair with her, because he visited her so often. This appears unlikely given Thomas Baber's relationship with his wife Helen.

In the film Thomas Hervey Baber is played by a young Australian Harry Key.

Harry Key

Thomas Baber's wife appears in the film, however she is incorrectly called Dora. Her real name was in fact Helen Baber.

Linda Arsenio plays Helen Baber

Helen Baber had her self become a victim of the war when her first husband had been killed in one of the Raja's earliest victories over the British.

This was no doubt a very tough war for her. Her second husbands fight with her former husbands killer must have had an edge all of its own.

What must it of been like to know that her second husband was up in the Wayanad going after the Raja on his home territory?

Her maiden name was Helen Somerville Fearon, and she came from Edinburgh. She had married in 1795 aged just 15 to Captain Donald Cameron, of the Bombay Army at Portsmouth. The East India Company depot on the Isle of Wight was nearby, this many have been a last minute affair prior to Cameron boarding an East Indiamen before setting out on the long journey east.

Helen will have arrived in India in 1796, and must have presumably travelled with the Major to Tellicherry shortly afterwards. On the 17th March 1797 the Major was leading a force down the Periah Pass when he was killed. Aged 17 she was already a widow.[4]

Thomas Baber had married her at Tellicherry the following year.

Helen Baber's tomb at Thalaserry

Thomas Baber was profoundly affected by these events. He seems to have recognised the Raja's role and stature.

The Raja had played an outstanding role in trying to defeat Tipu Sultan's invasion. When the more senior Rajah's had taken fright in the face of Tipu's onslaught, and had fled to Calicut or Cochin, the younger and more junior Raja had stepped into their place. These older disgraced Raja's had resented the Pazhassi Raja's success in this campaign, and his growing stature as the outstanding local leader. Jealously on the part of his uncle, would lead that same uncle to betray his nephew several times in 1797 to 1805.

Thomas Baber probably thought that by killing the Raja he would bring to an end the insurgency, and that under British rule things would become much better for the local inhabitants, with whom he seems to have established quite a rapport.

It was his rapport with the lower castes of this deeply fractured and divided local community, that gave Thomas Baber the intelligence on the ground that allowed him to defeat the Raja where others including the future Duke of Wellington failed.

To his horror, after a few years had passed, it became obvious to Thomas Baber that many of the British officials were incapable of running the region effectively.

Most could not understand the local languages well enough to be able communicate. They didn't understand the culture either. Many were lazy and others were corrupt. Baber used his position as a Magistrate and later as a Judge over many years to try to correct this mismanagement. He campaigned for year after year against his colleagues and the higher authorities in Madras. I have found nearly three hundred of these letters.

His constant criticism of his colleagues, and his defence of the rights of the local Indian's cost him promotion, and nearly his life as well. He fought a duel against a British officer over slavery, and was challenged to a second one.

He was eventually thrown out of his post in 1829,by a reactionary new governor Stephen Lushington and went back to Britain where he campaigned to Parliament and the House of Lords to stop slavery in Kerala. Later he returned to India, knowing full well that he would never see Britain again. He had come to love India and Indian's more than Britain.

He wanted the East India Company to rule through Indian's, which is why he built a school opposite the Pearl Hotel in Tellicherry that is still in use today.

I believe he felt that the Raja had been the rightful leader of the region, and that the EIC officials in the Malabar had abused their position, in order to frustrate an agreement that Governor Duncan was trying to reach with the Raja.

It was Handley, Stevens, Torin and Murdoch Brown together with the Raja's uncle who manipulated events in order to see the Pazhassi Raja removed from his position, so that they could engross the pepper trade for their private gain.

Thomas Baber appears to me have felt that because he had removed the Raja, the natural projector of the local inhabitants, that he was somehow morally responsible for assuming that mantle. This belief affected the way he undertook his duties for most of the rest of his life.

The real story is probably even more fascinating than the film version, but until I see the film, I will not know.

Here's a clip from the film..

It would be great to make a sequel with this team telling the subsequent story.

In the coming weeks I will post more transcripts and accounts of the events leading up to November 1805.

I would like to acknowledge the help that I have had from Jissu Jacob and Vivish George in writing this blog.

[1] See
[2] See
[3] See my blog
[4] See