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.

1 comment:

Shijin said...

very nice articles... Was Raja attacked the plantation...? If so, what was the result of the war...