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


G. said...

Nick, thanks for this extremely informative post.

I'm trying to track down this book "Rickards' Narrative of the Rebellion", which apparently has information on Pazhassi Raja's battles. Have you heard of this work?


Nick Balmer said...

Hello G,

I am fascinated to hear that Robert Rickard's left an account of the Pazhassi Rajah's rebellion.

I have been off to try to see if I could find it, because it could be very informative indeed.

Sadly I haven't been able to track down a copy, despite trying the British Library Catalogue and some others.

I have established however that the title is "Narrative of Occurrences leading to the late Cotiote Rebellion."

Rickards was the 1st Judge of the Court of Circuit & Appeal for Malabar from May 1802 and for several years. I have copies of some correspondence between Rickards and Thomas Baber.

Baber was several ranks below the 1st Judge at that time, because he was only a Sub-Collector in 1802.

I will keep on trying to find this book. I will let you know if I find it.

I went and found your blog, and I especially liked your article on the importance of regional history.

It is very sad, when this gets lost, especially when you have such a long and fascinating history in an area like yours.

I read enormous amounts of history, and most is English or Eurocentric. When I started reading Kerala history, I thought, Oh, that will be a short read, and an interesting diversion, expecting maybe a few weeks reading.

Here I am nearly ten years later, finding more and more and more coming forward, and it is all fascinating.

Keep in touch. Thanks for pointing out this book to me.

Nick Balmer

Unknown said...
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G. said...

Nick, thanks for the reply and all the research. I'm hoping that Rickards' book can be found, as it can certainly shed a lot more light on the days leading to the rebellion.

Regards, G.

G. said...

Hello Nick,

I have posted an article on my blog about a mutiny in Travancore in 1812, with possible connections to the Pyche Raja. It might be of interest to you, do take a look.

Thanks, G.

Nick Balmer said...

Hello G,

It's great to see your article on the Travancore Mutiny. I have some material on this event, but I don't have enough to put together a full post.

A very good friend of mine, Kocha Varma who lives in Cochin has been researching John Munro in depth, and has even been to his birthplace in Scotland, and met the modern descendants of Sir John.

He has a great deal of information on these events in Travancore.

There was also a very serious outbreak in the same year in the Wayanad which Thomas Baber was instrumental in putting down. He very quickly recognised the seriousness of the outbreak, and he called out the army from Seringapatam and Cannanore, but using his experience and lessons learned in 1805, it was a very targeted operation, which concentrated on the political side of things almost more than the war fighting.

Thomas Baber, and I expect many of the other officials had hoped by removing the Pazhassi Raja and by installing a "modern" EIC government that they would make the area better and thereby re-start the economy and make profits, which was the ultimate purpose of the EIC.

However through a series of inter related problems, like corruption, inefficiency, lack of understanding of local customs, language and conditions, and just plain bad management, the situation for much of the local population had become very much worse than it had been before 1797.

Farmers were unable to pay their taxes, which were set too high. When they failed to pay up, the police arrested them, and seized their cooking equipment, seed, and even slaves for sale to meet the arrears. This meant that the poor farmers were even less well equipped to pay back the arrears or even plant next years crops.

The farmers were thrown in jail, and the cases often took longer to come to court, than the sentence the farmer would have received for the initial offence.

Many farmers died in jail before the case came to court.

Thomas Baber was only a magistrate at this time, and he had three for more ranks above him. These senior judges were part of the problem, so when he tried to get the system improved, he was attacking his immediate superiors.

A very nasty situation developed, that saw Thomas Baber first removed from his post, and in 1813 proved to have been correct in his assertions so his boss was removed.

I will in time post on this.

It is very interesting to consider if the Travancore and Wayanad outbreaks were part of a concerted campaign my an organised Indian resistance movement, or if these were two uncoordinated rebellions caused by a coming together of issues caused by the East India Companies failed local administration.

1813 was a famine year. The actual famine occurred in Gujerat, and affected Bombay seriously because the city could not buy in supplies from Gujarat. The merchants sailed down the coast to the Malabar to buy up grain supplies, but Malabar had turned over so much crop land to growing pepper that its supplies only met part of the local demand. Food was being imported from Penang and Burma, and this was diverted to Bombay.

I wonder if the situation for local food supplies had started to become serious in 1812, and that this was causing an increasing amount of stress for the local population. Was 1812 a Bamboo year perhaps?

Or had the rains failed in 1812? Leading to a very serious situation in 1813?

I look forward to reading your next article.


Nick Balmer

G. said...


Thanks for the detailed reply.I came upon this piece of information while trying to dig up some information on some people who had lived approximately in the 1750-1790 time frame. I'd be very interested in hearing more from you on the disturbances in Wayanad in 1812.

I'm intrigued by your comment about a possible organized resistance movement leading to these disturbances. I first heard the stories of the Pazhassi Raja and Velu Thamby Dalawa from my Grandma, and even with a reading of the historical facts there seems to be very little connecting the different incidents. However, there remained very close ties between the north Malabar and Travancore royal families, and there could have been sympathies. Tie this with wide-spread unrest because of food shortages and you have a recipe for an explosion (or atleast a series of minor eruptions).

Although I did not think of an organized pan-Kerala secret resistance movement while working on the Wayanad and Travancore disturbances, this thought did cross my mind while reading on the Revolt of 1857. I'm still gathering information on the subject though.

Regards, G.

Unknown said...

I think Nick is going a bit too far in his conjectures about a coordinated effort or planning in the resistance that took place in the northern and southern regions of Kerala in the early 19th century.

It is possible they knew about what was going on in the other parts because there were family relations between the higher caste rulers in both places. In fact recently I discovered that one of my friends who hails from Chendamangalam near Ernakulam, in itself a major historical place in the erstwhile Cochin kingdom, had family relationship with that of Pazhassi Rajah of north Kerala.

Both Pazassi Rajah and Veluthampy knew the British well because both at one time worked for the British and then fell out with them. It is very interesting that the British were able to antagonize their friends with equal ease in every part of the country.

Ashvin said...

Fascinating to read about families we were / are related to, some of the names were immediately recognizable though the spellings were anglicized....