Monday, 28 December 2009

Cotaparamba & Montana Forts. Arthur Wellesley & the Pazhassi Rajah

Figure 1. Google Earth Image showing the locations of Cotaparamba and Montana. Click on the image for a larger version.

During the wars against the Pazhassi Raja some of the fiercest battles occurred at the foot of the Ghats around the modern towns of Koothuparamba and Mattanur.

At the commencement of the early 19th Century these small towns were minor settlements that became the sites of East India Company [EIC] forts called Cotaparamba and Montana. These forts commanded strategic cross roads on the main routes from the coast towards Coorg, the Wayanad, and Mysore.

These routes were vital to the EIC armies strategic mobility, because they had previously enabled the EIC Army to threaten Tipu Sultan's Mysore from the west coast in 1792 and 1799 as well as from the Coast of Coromandel. These tracks were also used by Brinjarries [1] to transport salt into the interior in exchange for rice and grain from Coorg and Mysore.

The forts were located right in the middle of the Pazhassi Rajah's home territory, and were situated along tracks previously cut by Tipu Sultan's army that the British intended to turn into defensive stop lines in order to prevent attacks by the Rajah against the Anjarakandy [2] pepper estates recently established by the EIC and Murdoch Brown. These tracks would also enable patrols to cut the Raja off from his sources of supply base located in his former possessions.

The battles around these key strategic sites at the foot of the Ghats in the Pazhassi Rajah's home territory were prolonged and gave Colonel Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington considerable cause for concern at the time.

The purpose of this blog is to try to see if any remains of these two forts still remain in-situ?

If you happen to read this blog and you live nearby to either of these two locations, I would be very grateful if you would have a look at the following locations when next you pass by.

It is entirely possible that traces of the sites of two of the fiercest battles fought by the Pazhassi Rajah against troops under the command of the future Duke of Wellington survive in the form of earthworks or ruins of former foundations.

We have several descriptions of Cotaparamba Fort, and the best that I have found so far is that provided by Col. James Welsh written in 1821.

"On the 6th of February 1821, I was appointed by Sir Thomas Munro to command the provinces of Malabar and Canara, vacant by the death of Lieutenant-colonel Lindsey. The principal part of the journey being through places already mentioned, I shall pass over the whole till we left the foot of the Periah Pass, when proceeding by a new road to Cannanore, we arrived first at Canote, twelve miles from the bungalow at Nuddumbrseshawle; our old friend Mr. Baber, the Circuit Judge, having kindly come out to meet us the day before. This is a small place on the high road, with a little bridge over a small mountain stream ; and it is in a wild and beautiful spot, abounding with all kinds of game.

Our next march was to Cotaparamba, eight miles onward, an old square fort, on a commanding eminence, having a house in each of the bastions, and a delightful view in every direction. The Pioneers doing duty in Malabar and Canara, were at that time stationed at this place, under Lieutenant Rowley; and from it's height above the surrounding country, and more above the level of the sea, it must be both cool and healthy. Half-way between this place and Cannanore, there is a wide and deep river, over which a capital stone bridge was' erected a few years back by Captain Ravenshaw, of the Engineers; and the high road, which formerly went round some miles by Tellicherry, had now been made to pass directly through it."

Figure 2. Possible Location of Cotaparamba Fort.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Lieutenants Ward and Conner also describe this fort, however they transcribed the name rather differently as Tullaparambu rather than Cotaparamba. Perhaps they found it had to turn the Malayalam into English.

The settlement that Ward and Conner called Kotium or Kotangady is known today as Kottayam.

"Kotium also called Kotangady, from a Moplah Bazar and mosques to the S. of another palace, belonging to the Pychee Rajah, at present in a neglected state, to the E. of it is a sheet [of] deep water about 1/2 a mile around - it lies N.E. 6 1/2 miles of Tellicherry. Tullaparambu on the high road to the Peria Pass lies one mile E. of Kotium - there is a small redoubt with 4 bastions, on two of them bungalows are built for the accommodation of travellers, to S. is a street of Bazars kept mostly by herdsmen and natives of the Eastern Coast. The roads from Cannanore and Tellicherry meet at this post."[4]

From the following Google Earth Image onto which I have superimposed a scale line one mile long, clearly shows that Tullaparambu. or Cotaparamba are the same location, and that it is very likely that the fort stood where the modern rectangular compound is located.

What is this compound used for today?

Is it a school, or perhaps the site of a mosque?

Was it perhaps formerly a temple?

Did the EIC take over and fortify a former temple site perhaps?

Figure 3. Google Earth Image showing the relationship between Cotaparambu and Kotium or Kottayam, as well as a one mile scale line superimposed onto the image. The former Kottayam Palace that had belonged to the Pazhassi Rajah and its associated lake can clearly be seen as described by Ward & Conner.
Click on the image for a larger version.

These two forts appear to have been built at the express command of Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. In late March 1800, Wellesley had travelled west from Seringapatam through Coorg and down the pass to Cannanore. He was in command of troops operating in South Mahratta Country, Coorg, Canara and the Northern Malabar.

He reached Cannanore on the 3rd of April, and like many travellers coming down the ghats from Coorg, which he had thought similar to Ireland, he felt the greatly increased heat and humidity on the coast.

"Colonel the Hon. A. Wellesley to Lieut. Colonel Close.

' My Dear Colonel, ' Cannanore, 3rd April, 1800.

I arrived here this morning, having been on the road one day longer than I expected. I found the weather exceedingly hot, and a want of water upon the road to refresh the followers and cattle obliged me to make two marches, where, under other circumstances, I should have made only one. We have, however, had rain nearly every night since I left Seringapatam.

I met here Mr. Smee and Captain Moncrieffe. The former has induced some of the nairs, under his influence, Kydree Amboo at their head, to commence to open a road from Cotaparamba by Mananderry to Tutucullum and Canote, and another by Pyche to Montana; the latter will not be difficult, as Tippoo had made one on the same line formerly. It is intended, if possible, before the rains, to establish a post at Canote, and another at Montana, to connect them by a road directly across from one to the other, and by another road between them by Perrywell, which last requires only to be opened. Mr. Smee has no doubt but that the nairs will effect these objects; and in order to facilitate them, I have sent in the pioneers and 1200 of the coolies, which had been hired for the expedition. If the Pyche Rajah is disposed to make an opposition to this measure (which Smee and Moncriefi'e think he will not), it must then be given over ; as all parties agree that the force in this country is not sufficient to carry it through. If it should be necessary to give over the plan, Smee does not apprehend that the Company's influence will be diminished in consequence of the failure, and as every yard of road which is made is so much gained towards effecting the great object, I have, upon the whole, thought it a measure which ought to be attempted. Excepting thirty men employed in guarding Kydree Amboo's house, not a sepoy will be engaged in the operation; so that however anxiously I may look forward for its success, I do not conceive that the honour of the Company's arms will be engaged in it. As soon as the roads will have been completed; or if it should be necessary to discontinue them, or, at all events, at the commencement of the monsoon, the coolies will be employed in carrying provisions to Cotaparamba, where I understand there are sheds and buildings sufficient to contain provisions for 3000 men for two months. If it, should be possible to make posts at Montana and Canote, they must, in the first instance, be held by the friendly nairs till we can move forward our provisions, first for a garrison, next for the number of men, and for the time above stated.

It will be a curious circumstance, if without troops we should be able to effect objects which it was imagined the largest detachment which could conveniently be brought together could not undertake; but it is to be observed that they will be effected by the nairs themselves, with the assistance of our people, and not by our force.

I have heard from Colonel Mignan that he had received a report from the officer commanding the post at Soobramany, stating that Kistnapah Naig had beat the Rajah's troops, and had taken Munserabad on the 24th of March. As I have not heard from you, or from Colonel Tolfrey, I conclude that there is no truth in the report; but if it should be true, we must only send off the flank companies of the 77th, now at Seringapatam, in readiness to march to Tolfrey's assistance, with orders to storm Munserabad.

I enclose a copy of Colonel Mignan's letter.

Believe me, &c. ' Lieut. Colonel Close. ' ' Arthur Wellesley.[5]

Arthur Wellesley went on to visit Tellicherry during this journey. His presence at Tellicherry is demonstrated by the following letter that he wrote on the 9th of April 1800 concerning the minting of new coinage.

To W. H. Gordon, Esq.

SlR, Tellicherry, 9th April, 1800.

I have received your report upon the proposed coinage of the Bengal gold mohurs and Soolack rupees in your treasury into Rajah's pagodas and rupees. By this it appears that, valuing the Rajah's pagoda at 8 per cent. above the star, each gold mohur will produce 4 star pagodas 16 fanams 11 1/2 cash, and more if the difference in value be increased.

It appears that by coining the Soolack rupees into Rajah's rupees, a loss will be incurred of about 5| per cent., supposing the Soolack rupee to be now worth as much as the Rajah's, which is not the case. As, however, upon the whole, the loss will be the less to the Company if the gold mohurs and Soolack rupees are recoined as above mentioned than if they are issued to the troops in their present form, and as to issue them in Rajah's pagodas and rupees will be more convenient, I request that you will have them recoined.

I have, &c.,

Arthur Wellesley.

On the 10th of April 1800, Colonel Wellesley rode out to Cotaparamba, which he describes as follows..

"I went this morning to Cotaparamba, which is a neat little mud redoubt about nine miles from hence. It contains buildings which will hold a large quantity of provision and ammunition, with which, please God, they shall be filled in a few days. The road-making goes on well, and has not been interrupted. On the day after to-morrow I shall occupy Pyche fort on the Montana road, and Monanderry pagoda on that leading to Canote, and I hope in a few days afterwards to be able to take possession of the posts, which will be constructed at Montana and Canote."[7]

By the 13th of April 1800 Colonel Wellesley had moved back to Cannanore Fort.

Whilst there he wrote the following long letter and memorandum of instruction to Lt. Colonel Sartorius. In this memo he clearly instructs Sartorius to construct the two posts at Cotaparamba and Montana.

To Lieutenant-Colonel Sartorius.

Sir, Cannanore, 13th April, 1800.

I have received your letter of the 9th instant, and have taken into consideration its enclosures regarding the claim of the Moplahs to be retained in the Company's service till after the monsoon.

In my opinion they have no foundation whatever for such a claim ; and even if the inconveniences to be apprehended were greater than that stated by Lieutenant Osborne in his letter, I should think they ought to be discharged. To act otherwise would tend to disclose to the Moplahs the plans of Government for a future season, would answer no good purpose, would be expensive, and is not rendered necessary by the engagement entered into by you. This engagement states that the Moplahs are to receive two months' pay after the expiration of the war, that is to say, after the period when their services are no longer required, and they are discharged. In my opinion, they are discharged at this moment; and although they may be wanted again, their entering the service will depend upon themselves, and will be the consequence of another bargain to be made with them. They ought therefore in justice to receive the two months' pay from the day on which they were discharged from the service. It is true that this sudden discharge was not in contemplation when the bargain was made, but that by no means alters its tenor.

The desire which I have that all engagements made with the natives should be strictly adhered to, and the probability which exists that the services of these Moplahs will soon be required again, induce me to wish that they should receive their pay for two months from the day on which they were informed that their services would not be required. But it appears that they do not deem that they have a claim to this allowance; but they ask to be kept in the service in the expectation of being employed after the rains.

If that should be the case, it will be clear that they did not understand that the Company was bound to pay them for two months after their discharge, excepting they had been in the field. It will not then be necessary to pay them.

Upon the whole, I request that you will act as you. think proper; and I give you my opinion that if the Moplahs think themselves entitled to two months' pay, they ought to get it, as there is no doubt that by the engagement they are entitled to it.

I have, &c.,

Arthur Wellesley.

Memoranda for Colonel Sartorius.

1. As soon as possible, it will be proper that a sufficiency of grain for two months for 3000 Natives, and of arrack for the same period for 800 Europeans, and a large quantity of musket ammunition, should be placed in Cotaparamba.

2. When the roads will be completed to Montana by Pyche, and to Tutucullum or Canote by Mananderry, posts are to be established at Montana and Canote, and they are to be held by detachments of the Company's troops. A road is to be made, if possible, direct from Montana to Canote.

3. Although these posts may be established, and held, it will be proper that a small detachment should remain in Pyche Fort and in Mananderry, in order to secure the communication between Cotaparamba and the new posts.

4. When the posts at Montana and Canote and the necessary buildings will have been finished, and the road between them completed, it will be proper to move forward to those posts the grain and provisions and ammunition above requested to be laid in at Cotaparamba.

5. It will be proper that there should be at least one gun, if not two, in each of the posts at Canote and Montana.

6. As it is said that the Pyche Rajah will endeavour to prevent the making of the proposed roads to Montana and to Canote, it will not be proper under the present circumstances to risk a contest to force it: but at whatever place the road may have arrived when he will attempt to stop it, it will be proper to construct a redoubt, provided the situation is fit for it; and this redoubt must be kept filled with stores, &c., &c., in the same manner as above requested with regard to the posts to be established at Canote and Montana.

7. After the posts will have been completed at Canote and Montana, it will be proper, if possible, to continue the road on to Pereweil, and in a direction which will be pointed out by Captain Moncrieff.

8. There are two rivers on the road between Cotaparamba and Montana, and one or two on that to Canote. These rivers are not fordable during the rainy season. It will be proper to have a jungar upon each of them, platformed as is that between Tellicherry and Cotaparamba. As in case an attempt should be made upon either of these posts, the jungars would immediately be destroyed in order to prevent assistance from reaching them, it will be proper that a certain number of boats, platforms, &c., should be laid up in Cotaparamba in order to avoid the inconvenience of waiting till boats to cross the rivers could be brought from the coast.

9. It will be proper to reinforce Cotaparamba, in order that the commanding officer there may be able to give assistance to any of the posts in advance which may be attacked.

10. A few of the Bombay coolies will be kept during the rainy season.

11. As there are no arms at Mangalore, as the troops there are employed in the field, and their arms are totally unserviceable, I request that Colonel Sartorius will send to Mangalore from the arsenal at Cannanore 300 stand of arms.

12. The troops stationed in the Cotiote country may be supposed at all times liable to be attacked ; their arms are in bad order, and they ought to have new arms without delay.

Arthur Wellesley.

It is clear from the memorandum above that Cotaparamba was going to be an important forward operating base during the months to come. The monsoon would arrive in the area within a few weeks, and he wished to get his troops into cover by then. He also needed to ensure that his men had supplies because it would become very difficult to supply them once the rivers filled with the runoff from the Monsoon.

Wellesley wrote to Bombay to explain his thinking behind the recent orders he had given to Lieut. Col. Sartorius.

The Pazhassi Rajah was already an experienced proponent of guerilla warfare, at least a decade before the term came into common usage in Spain, where Arthur Wellesley later supported Spanish irregular forces against Napoleon's armies. It is highly probable that Wellesley's experience of being on the receiving end of "guerilla" attacks, by the Pazhassi Rajah's adherents, would influence his thinking in Spain a decade later.

Wellesley and his predecessors had been trying to bring the Rajah to battle since 1797, and like most regular troops faced by guerilla attacks, they had found this very hard to do.

It is quite possible that Arthur Wellesley in April 1800, was beginning to come to terms with fighting insurgents, and had decided to try to force the Rajah into battle by building these roads and forts into the heartland of the Rajah's former territories. In this way perhaps he hoped to force the Rajah to come out of the jungle to attack these forts and road building parties.

To the Adjutant-General, Bombay.

Sir, Seedapoor, 17th April, 1800.

Since I had the honour of addressing the Secretary of Government, the roads which I then stated were making have been completed to Pyche and to Mananderry. These posts were to be occupied by the Company's troops.

There was every reason to believe that the roads would soon be completed to Montana and to Canote, at which places I have directed that redoubts and buildings for containing provisions and stores may be constructed, and that the two posts may be connected by a road across from the one to the other.

I have desired that a large quantity of provisions and ammunition may be thrown into Cotaparamba without loss of time ; and as soon as the posts at Montana and Canote will be constructed and connected with each other, and held by the Company's troops, these articles will be removed to them. Pyche and Mananderry will still be kept during the rains, in order to secure and render more easy the communication between Cotaparamba and the more advanced posts at Montana and Canote ; and I have directed Colonel Sartorius to place platformed jungars [9] upon the rivers which cross the roads, and are not fordable during the monsoon. He will besides place boats, &c., in Cotaparamba, in order that in case any attempt should be made on the advanced posts, and the jungars should be destroyed to prevent them from receiving relief, it may be possible to ford them without waiting for boats to be sent for from the sea-coast.

In this manner arrangements have been made for establishing and securing posts in the centre of the Cotiote country, which will materially forward the operations of the troops at the opening of the ensuing season.

The pioneers under Captain Moncrieff were tasked with cutting the roads to link up the forts at Cotaparamba and Montana. They were soon coming under attack from the Pazhassi Rajah's men.

Captain Ward commanded the base at Cotaparamba, and he was expected to support and maintain contact with the working parties on the new road and at Fort Montana.

It appears that the fort at Montana came under siege during the period between May and August 1800. Reinforcements had to be sent up from the coast at Cannanore, and these were commanded by Major Holmes.

The first of these relief columns must have fought their way through in late July or early August 1800.

"Provincial Orders, Cananore, Aug. 8, 1800.

Col. Sartorious requests Maj. Holmes will accept his warmest thanks for his zealous and active exertions in the relief of Montana. The commanding-officer's sincere thanks are also due to the whole of the officers and men employed, for their gallant and steady conduct, as reported by Maj. Holmes; without which, the obstacles they had to encounter could not have been overcome, in performing the services they have effected."

The following dispatch by Wellesley describes the campaign he hoped to fight.

"Colonel the Hon. A. Wellesley to Lieut. Colonel Close.

My DEAR Colonel, Camp at Kittoor, 10th August, 1800.

I omitted to answer one part of your letter of the 1st instant regarding Reyman Beg, the prisoner at Nundydroog. In my opinion, unless Baba Saheb gives his consent, he cannot be punished, but that may probably be obtained through the means of Captain Kirkpatrick.

Nothing new here. Stevenson is crossing the Malpoorba at Kanapoor, and I am making preparations to cross it at Sungoly. If my native friends were a little alert, I should have twenty boats ready to-morrow.

I heard from Webbe last night, and I am very much concerned to find that he is not going to Poonah. Among other things, he informs me that the five companies of the 12th, and the 2nd of the 5th,. are coming up the ghauts, as he says, to enable me to oppose the Rajahs in Malabar. I have already ordered these corps to Seringapatam, there to remain encamped under the Caryghaut hill till further orders; and I have ordered guns to be equipped for them at that place, and every thing else to be prepared.

The question is, in what manner shall they be employed against the Rajahs in Malabar? In my opinion they ought to go below the ghauts as soon as the weather will permit, if Purneah's people are able to keep the Rajah at all within bounds on the Mysore side of Wynaad; and if I hear from you that that is the case, I shall order them to Cannanore without loss of time. The season will be fair by the time that they will receive my orders, after I shall have heard from you.

If they are to oppose the Pyche Rajah on the side of Wynaad, they must, I am afraid, remain on the defensive, as they are not sufficiently strong by themselves to enter that jungly country; and I am besides informed that it will be impossible to commence operations in it till the month of November.

It may be possible to open the campaign early in Cotiote, and push forward the roads, and establish ourselves at the foot, if not on the top, of the ghauts; and then, if I am in luck, I shall have settled matters here before November, and can march down to Wynaad, and settle matters there before the setting in of the next rains.

Let me hear from you as soon as you can respecting the ability of Purneah's troops to confine the Rajah to his jungles.

Believe me, etc. ' Lieut. Colonel Close. ' Arthur Wellesley.

Kistnapah arrived this morning. The 19th not come yet.'

Wellesley was annoyed that the bush hadn't been cut back far enough on either side of the roads between the camps, to allow for sufficient fields of fire for escorting parties, to be able to fight their way through.

"Colonel the Hon. A. Wellesley to Lieut. Colonel Close.

' My Dear Colonel, ' Camp at Hoobly, 20th August, 1800.

I return the papers from Major Walker. I had before received accounts from Malabar of the relief of the two posts. These roads will not answer unless they do as I desired them at first; that is, cut the underwood to a considerable distance on each side of the road. I have ordered Sartorius to employ the pioneers and coolies on this work immediately, as whatever may be the plan for the next campaign, the communication with Montana must be made secure, or all will be lost. It will be fortunate if Purneah can check the Nairs on the Mysore side; if he cannot, the 12th and 2nd of the 5th must go that way.

If he can check them they shall go to Malabar; and I will send orders to begin by pushing the roads to the foot of the ghauts. Major Walker's plan of having a force assembled in Mysore, to give room for apprehension in that quarter, would be excellent, if we had troops in Malabar to stand even upon the defensive, or to make such improvements in our roads and posts as are necessary to their security, and to give us the means hereafter of deriving a full advantage from them. But they are so weak in Malabar, their force is so dispersed, and it is so difficult to persuade the commissioners to allow it to be collected, that I am afraid we shall suffer in Cotiote if we should not be able to send thither this reinforcement. However, Mysore is the first object, and if Purneah cannot stop the Nairs, the 12th and 2nd of the 5th must.

I hope to be able to march on the 22nd. Dhoondiah is in a bad way; his people are starving, are leaving him, and reproach him with their misfortunes. He retorts upon them, and desires them to give their wives and daughters to the Europeans, whom they are afraid to fight. This is the report, and that the Patans have left him.

All my arrangements are made, and in a few days I shall press upon him at all points at the same moment.

Believe me, etc. ' Lieut. Colonel Close.' ' Arthur Wellesley."[13]

By August Colonel Arthur Wellesley was travelling and campaigning many miles to the north near Dharwar and Hubly trying to pacify the surrounding districts in the aftermath of Tipu Sultan's defeat. The Mahrattas and Pindaris were making the most of their opportunities to take over parts of Tipu's former empire. In the middle of this important campaign Wellesley had also to take steps to prevent the Pazhassi Rajah from capitalising on the success of his attack at Montana.

"Colonel the Hon. A. Wellesley to Lieut. Colonel Close.

My Dear Colonel, ' Camp at Hoobly, 21st August, 1800.

I have just received your letter of the 18th. I am afraid that the attempt to establish a depot at Hurryhur, or on the Werdah, would ruin us entirely, as I should find that the brinjarries, who of course, like the other dealers, object to coming to such a distance, would lodge their rice at the depdt instead of bringing it forward. It would be impossible to frame any arrangement to prevent that, and the idea must therefore be laid aside, although it would certainly be desirable to have a depot, and the nearer the better.

If the dealers from Mysore do not like to come forward, it cannot be helped, we must do without them.

The loss at Montana was very great certainly; but not so much so as is represented by the commissioners whose letters I return. There is a post half way between Cotaparamba and Montana, called Pyche, which was abandoned, but since the roads have been made, at the particular desire of Sartorius, who had not troops to take care of it. My opinion is, that the Pyche Rajah will now withdraw his people from both those posts in Cotiote, where he has lost many men, and that he will direct his efforts to the Mysore side. If he does withdraw, they should lose no time in throwing in a further supply to Montana, and in making such improvements on the roads as will render the communication more easy in future.

I see no reason why all the troops that can be spared should not be immediately collected, be pushed forward to Cotaparamba, and employed to cover the working parties upon the road between the river and Montana.

That the battle to maintain contact with the Fort at Montana was a protracted one, involving several convoys being fought through from the coast is clear from the following letters sent to Major Holmes during the autumn of 1800.

Brigade-Major Spens to Major Holmes.

" Cananore, Oct. 1, 1800. " Sir, — I am directed by Col. Sartorious to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 29th ult., and to convey to you his most warm thanks for having, with so much judgment, with the detachment under your command, overcome every difficulty in executing the arduous and severe service of the last relief of Montana: and he begs you will make known, in the most public manner, to Captains Baird and Howden, and to all the officers and men of your detachment, his sense of their persevering exertions on this trying occasion, and which he will have great pleasure in reporting to the Hon. Colonel Wellesley.—I have," &c.

Arthur Wellesley's troops were under significant pressure maintaining the forts that Wellesley had commanded be set up. It is clear that several actions took place in the months after August 1800.

The Hon. Colonel Wellesley to Colonel Sartorious.

" Camp, 10 miles south of Kopal, Nov. 15, 1800. " I also request that you will communicate to Maj. Holmes that paragraph in the inclosed extract, which relates to him. I am concerned that his health should oblige him to go to Bombay; and I request you will give the enclosed letter to the Gov. in Council of that settlement."

Extract (referred to above) of a Letter from the Chief Sec. to the Government of Madras to the Hon. Colonel Wellesley.

" Fort St. George, Nov. 7, 1800. " I have had the honour of receiving your letter of the 13th ult. with its enclosures, and am directed to express to you the satisfaction of the Right Hon. the Gov. in Council at the conduct of Maj. Holmes, and of the troops under his command, in the last relief of the post of Montana."

The Hon. Colonel Wellesley to the Hon. the Gov. in Council of Bombay,

Camp, 10 miles south of Kopal, Nov. 15, 1800. " Sir,—As I understand from Col. Sartorious that Maj. Holmes is about to leave Malabar, and to join his corps at Surat, 1 take this opportunity of expressing to you my high sense of the service which he has rendered to the public during the time that he has commanded the troops in the Cotiote districts. I have already taken an opportunity of mentioning, in favourable terms, his services to the government of Fort St. George ; but, as Major Holmes is about to be more immediately under your orders, I take the liberty of recommending him to your favourable notice.

(Signed) " Arthur Wellesley."

Montana can be located by following the route descriptions, as also can the approximate location of the Pyche Post.

Figure 4. Probable location of Montana Fort.
Please click onto image for a larger image.

Ward and Conner describe Montana Fort as follows: -

"Montetana N.E. 8 1/2 miles from Canote was once a Military Post, there is a Redoubt on the summit of a low hill in good order but over run with wood, the inhabitants in the neighbourhood principally Nairs-several roads from the westward communicate here."[16]

That the battles to relieve Montana were protracted and fierce are apparent from the following paragraph in a much longer letter Arthur Wellesley wrote on the 10th of October 1800 to Lieut. Col. Close from Hubly. The French under Napoleon had landed in Egypt and were planning to march to India.

"I am more pressed than ever about troops. Lord Clive calls upon me to have a detachment ready to take possession of the Ceded province, and then to march to Poonah. Sir William Clarke and Uhtoffe swear that the French are coming from Egypt, and want all the native infantry I have got; on the other hand, the last relief of Montana cost us 154 men killed and wounded (most of them coolies, however), and they are crying out there because they do not see the 12th and 2nd of the 5th marching into Cannanore on the 30th September, on which day they left Seringapatam. My business is to get over these difficulties in the best manner I can, and what follows is the arrangement which I propose. In addition to every thing, I must also inform you that the fright which affects Sir William Clarke and Uhtoffe pervades Bombay, whefe, on account of the supposed danger, the 88th, which I expected in Malabar, is detained." [17]

Contained within the same letter is another fascinating paragraph where Wellesley describes the difficulties he is under due to the Pazhassi Rajah's attacks.

I now come to the most difficult part, which is Malabar. They say there is a rebellion in Wynaad, and we may hope, like Voltaire, that the Nairs of the Pyche Rajah may be strangled with ropes made of the bowels of those on the side of Yeman Nair: but still it is necessary to take measures for sustaining that post if possible. There is nothing that can be done, excepting to send into Malabar half of the 75th regiment from Mangalore. I gave orders upon that subject this day. Thus, then, I shall have provided for all the immediate calls for troops, excepting those dictated by the fears of an Egyptian invasion.[18]

Wellesley was coming under increasing pressure from the Bombay Government to release troops to take part in the Indian Army Expeditionary Force that would sail to Egypt to fight the French expeditionary force.

The Pazhassi Rajah was tying down scarce troops that are badly needed elsewhere.

So although Koothuparamba and Mattanur may seem sleepy country towns today, two hundred and ten years ago, they were at the centre of World affairs.

They provided a formidable training ground for the man who went on to become Britain's most important General, and one who would change the face of European for several generations.

[1] Brinjarries, Indian corn merchants, who used pack cattle to transport corn and other grain across much of India. These merchants were able to mobilise many hundreds and sometimes thousands of cattle to move grain. The support of these merchants was vital to the success of any 19th Century army in India. The EIC ability to pay these Brinjarries when their enemies lacked available ready money often determined the outcome of these 19th Century conflicts.
[2] For more on Anjarakandy see
[3]James Welsh, Military reminiscences: extracted from a journal of nearly forty years Published 1833, page 176.
[4] Lieutenants Ward and Conner, A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar, Published, 1906 & 1995. Pages 41 & 42.
[5] The dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington: Volume 1, Page 61. Published 1837
[6] Duke of Wellington: Volume 1, Page 524.
[7] The dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington: Supplementary to the First, Second, and Third Volumes Relating to India, Page 59. Edited by Lieut. Col. Gurwood.
[8] Duke of Wellington: Volume 1, Page 519.
[9] platformed jungars, Pontoon ferries, made up of pairs of country boats fitted with a platform to carry guns or men and horses over these muddy rivers during the monsoon.
[10] Duke of Wellington: Volume 1, Page 524.
[11] "The East India Military Calendar, Volume 1. page 411. Originally published in 1823.
[12] Duke of Wellington: Volume 2, Page 137.
[13] Duke of Wellington: Volume 2, Page 142.
[14] Duke of Wellington: Volume 2, Page 143.
[15] "The East India Military Calendar, Volume 1. page 411 & 413. Originally published in 1823.
[16] Lieutenants Ward and Conner, page 41.
[17] Duke of Wellington: Volume 2, Page 183.
[18] Duke of Wellington: Volume 2, Page 185.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Development of the Forts at Tellicherry 1680 to 1750

Figure 1. A drawing of Tellicherry published in 1736, showing the fort as it appeared some years earlier. [Please click onto the image for a larger version.] Courtesy of the British Library.

This engraving is thought to have been based on a painting done in about 1721. It shows a stone built fort, however the fort is clearly shown to have four equally sized corner bastions, quite unlike the fort we can visit today, with its pair of diagonally opposed bastions.

I believe that this stone fort around the factory is the English fort referred to in the following account.

Captain Alexander Hamilton in his "A new account of the East Indies," wrote the following about Tellicherry, which he had visited several times between 1702 and 1723.

"In Anno 1702. I hired a Ship called the Albemarle, in Service of the new established East-india Company, to serve me three Months and an half on a Voyage from Surat to the Malabar Coast, and back; and having Occasion to call at Cannanore, I accompanied the Captain of the Fort and an English Factor from Tellicherry to the Court of Omnitree, Successor to the eldest son of the Samorin before mentioned, who died in his voyage to Mecca......"

"The next Province to Adda Rajah’s dominions is Tellicherry, where the English East-india Company has a factory, pretty well fortified with Stone Walls and Cannon.

The Place where the Factory now stands belonged to the French, who left the Muddwalls of a Fort built by them, to serve the English when they first settled there, and for many Years they continued so, but of late no small Pains and Charge have been bestowed on its buildings; but for what Reasons I know not, for it has no River near it that can want its Protection, nor can it defend the Road from the Insults of Enemies, unless it be for small Vessels that can come within some Rocks that ly half a Mile off, or to protect the Company’s Ware-house, and a Punch-house that stands on the Sea-shore a short Pistol-shot from the Garrison.

The Town stands at the Back of the Fort, within Land, with a Stone Wall round it, to keep out Enemies of the Chiefs making, for in 1703, he began a War that still continues, at least there were Folks killed in 1723. When I was there: and I was informed by a Gentleman of Judgement there, that the War and Fortifications had taken Double the Money to maintain them that the Company’s Investments came to.

The Occasion of the War, as I was informed, began about a Trifle. The Nayer, that was Lord of the Mannor, had a Royalty, for every Vessel that unladed at Tellicherry, paid two Bales of Rice Duty to him. There was another Royalty of every tenth Fish that came to the Market there, and both together did not amount to 20 L. Ster. Per Annum. The Chief either appropriated these Royalties to his own, or the Company’s Use, and the Nayar complained of the Injustice, but had no Redress. These little Duties were the best Part of the poor Nayar’s Subsistence, which made it the harder to bear, so his Friends advised him to repel Force by Force, and disturb the Factory what he could, which he accordingly did (by the secret Assistance of his Friends) for above 20 years. The Company are the best Judges whether the War is like to bring any Profit to their Affairs there, or no.

The established Religion of this Country is Paganism; but there are a few black Christians that live under the Protection of the Factory, and some of them serve for Soldiers in the Garison. They have a little Church standing within the outward Wall of the Factory, served by a Portugueze Priest or two, who get their Subsistence by the Alms of the Parish. And the English have Punch-houses, where the European Soldiers to Bacchus, and if thy want Devotion, which their Accounts can certify at Pay-day, they are forced to commute with their Officer, or undergo some wholesome Discipline or Chastisement."

I believe the fort in Figure 1, was built on the site of the original French mud fort.

The French colonial system was run by the French State unlike the privately owned English East India Company, and was centrally controlled by Colbert who had set up the "Compagnie des Indes" in August 1664. The company will have used its experience from other earlier settlements to aid it's development of the new settlement at Tellicherry.

It is possible that the first French traders at Tellicherry were led by Monsieur Dellon, as Robert Orme describes below ..

"V. Dellon, the physician, sailed from France in March 1668, and after some employment at the settlements on Madagascar and Bourbon, arrived at Surat in September 1669, from whence he sailed, in the beginning of 1670, with the orders to remove the French factory at Beliapatam to Tellicherry, where they established a house in the month of June. This was several years before the English settled there. In the way the ship stopped at Rajapore and Mirzeou, where the French" company had likewise factories. From Tellicherry Dellon was occasionally employed in their concerns of trade at Callicut, Tanore, and Chaly, and incidentally saw Bergerah and Cognally, which lie between Callicut and Tellicherry.In the month of June 1671, Flacour, the French agent, went from hence to settle a trade at Seringapatam, the capital of Mysore. Dellon intending to accompany him, went as far as the foot of the mountains, but was deterred there by the excessive violence of the torrents, and came back: Flacour persisted, and returned from Seringapatam in November. In January 1672, Dellon sailed from Tellicherry on his return to Surat: …."[2]

The French company used very much the same fort building techniques in all of its overseas colonies, and we can therefore compare French forts in India with those being built in Canada at around the same time, in order to get some idea of what the original French fort at Tellicherry would have looked like.

Figure 2. Fort Frontenac, built by the French on the shores of Lake Ontario in Canada.
[Please Click on the image for a larger version.][3]

Fort Frontenac occupies a very similar site, and had a very similar function to the French settlement at Tilcheri or Tilchery as the French called Thalassery. However instead of dealing in pepper, Frontenac was designed for trading furs with North American Indian's and to protect those goods before they were taken away across the river routes to the St. Lawrence and across the Atlantic to Europe.

The similarity in size and layout of Fort Frontenac with the early fort that I believe existed on the site of the modern bazaar at Thalassery and which is shown in Figure 1 can easily be seen.

The factory buildings and warehouses can be seen inside the walls in the Frontenac drawing, as well as their associated bastions.

On the enlarged image of the drawing of Frontenac it is also possible to see a mixture of walls built out of timber stockades, and walls being re-built in stone, which were at most risk of being attacked. I believe the same process occurred between 1690 and 1725 at Tellicherry.

I believe the 1720's painting shows that the English had replaced the original French mud walls and wooden stockade with stone walls, probably after 1703 and probably as a response to the Nair's attacks.

William Logan names this Nair as the Kuragoth Nayar, and perhaps he should rightfully receive the title of the first resistance fighter against the English, and not Pazhassi Raja. On the 20th August 1708, the Northern Regent made over the site of the Fort to the English.

Royal writing from Prince Badacalamcuro of the Pally Palace, to the Honourable English Company in the year 883 (1708).

The fort of Tellicherry has been built at the request and entreaties made by me as a friend. To acknowledge the love and friendship which the Company bears towards me and my palace, I give and make over the said fort with its limits to the Honourable Company, where no person shall demand, collect and plant. Our custom house will be obliged to give us what has been settled.

This day, August 20th, 883.[4]

The earliest surviving documentary evidence for the English settlement at Tellicherry is the first entry made in the English East India Company Factory Letter book dated the 24th October 1699, which suggests that the English had arrived in Tellicherry shortly before then.[5]

It is very likely that they initially made do with the old French mud walls until they had established that the settlement was a viable trading venture.

By 1708, the old stockades and mud wall had probably reached the end of there effective life, having rotted away or been eroded by the monsoon rains, and the HEIC was faced with replacing it. I expect that they reached an agreement with the Prince to ensure that their investment was on land that they had title to.

The hostilities with the Nair probably account for the lack of houses outside the walls of the fort and the compound between the fort and the beach in Figure 1.

I believe the tall open fronted building on the beach was probably the customs house, but it could just as easily have been the fish market.

Where was the Punch House?

Punch was the old English word for a fruit drink, and the English were here applying it to the Arrack or Toddy they encountered in India, which of course from it's potency was perceived to pack quite a punch. A pun that no doubt when down well with the rough and ready expats living in Tellicherry at that time.

I think the Punch House described by Hamilton is probably the building above the steps. At Fort St. David at this same period, these arrack houses were often supplied by Malabari distillers, working for European's who held the concession to sell the Arrack to the troops. These poor sick and homesick soldiers would often drink themselves into oblivion. The gun room sergeants were often allowed to brew Arrack themselves for sale to the newly arriving ships. These ships usually arrived in a three or four week period once a year, staying for perhaps four to six weeks.

The first days ashore must have been fairly wild in the Punch House, as all those thirsty sailors quenched their thirsts. How the poor soldiers must have wished that they could leave on those ships, like the transitory sailors, and many soldiers must have known that their chances of ever getting home again were very slight indeed.

For a long time I thought that the existing Fort was probably built on top of the site of the former French mud fort, but I no longer think that this was the case.

The French fort, and its earliest English successor structure was built primarily to defend against Indian enemies coming from inland.

The fort and its associated settlement had to be of sufficient size that it was able to protect the warehouses, which had to be large enough to contain sufficient trade goods collected over the course of a year to fill the holds several 400 ton ships arriving each season from England. It also had to be large enough to store food and ammunition to enable the garrison to hold out for nine or more months in case the settlement was cut off from supplies, until the annual fleet arrived to rescue any remaining survivors.

This means it had to be larger internally than the fort that survives today, which is quite small inside. There is also no real space for barracks inside the current fort. Where did the men live?

The French had moved out of Tellicherry, not because the English had forced them to move away, but because they had been able to negotiate for a much better site with the rival Raja at Mahé about five miles to the south. This site had a much better river for an anchorage, and was easier to fortify.

It was the British who had arrived last, long after the Dutch at Cannanore, and the French at Mahé had secured the best trading spots. It was the English East India Company who had had to take over the remaining and least favourable site on this part of the coast.

Even they had really wanted to set up to at Dharmapatam, but that was already occupied by the Bebeé of Arrakal, who at that stage was still powerful enough to keep out the Europeans.

In the early days of the 18th Century the French and the English at Tellicherry and Mahé had a gentleman's agreement to maintain neutrality towards each other, even if wars broke out in Europe between their respective countries.

However this was not always possible and by the 1720's the French had begun to build very substantial fortifications at Mahé which were much superior to any of the English forts in the region.

The French under Vauban, with long borders to defend in Europe, had had to build many huge forts during the late 17th Century and early 18th Century. They had developed military engineers and surveying schools, that were the best in Europe, and far in advance of anything the English possessed at that time. Some of these engineers and surveyors arrived in India during the 1740's.

Their highly detailed and very accurate drawings survive in large numbers in the Centre des archives d'outre-mer.

Many of these drawings are of Mahé, and one in particular extends far enough up the coast to show the Forts shortly before 1741 at Tellicherry. It is quite possible that this drawing had been prepared in case the French had the opportunity to attack the settlement.

The plan quite clearly shows that there was a large extension to the east of the fort that survives today, stretching out over most of the area currently occupied by the modern bazaar.

This fort extension contains many red blocks on the plan, which are I believe the houses the garrison lived in, and also the warehouses the pepper was stored in. This was probably a secure trading area, occupied by Portuguese and Mopilla merchants working as intermediaries for the East India Company. Groups of porters would be constantly coming and going bringing pepper and cardoman from the interior. There was probably trading going on with local representatives of the Rajas coming into this part of the fort.

Figure 3. An extract of a French map dated to 1741, showing the Fortifications around Mahé.
The map is especially interesting because it shows us that the fort was much larger than the structure that we can currently see.
Centre des archives d'outre-mer (CAOM)[Please click onto the image for a larger version.]

When you scale up the drawing and you superimpose it onto a Google Earth image, you start to find that many of the alignments formerly occupied by fort walls, are still present on the ground preserved in modern road alignments and property boundaries.

Figure 4. The Lines of the Fort from the 1741 French map superimposed
onto Google Earth. [Please click on image for a large picture.]

There seems to be a discernible sequence to the development of the Fort. I believe that the existing fort was built after 1723. It is quite possible that it was built in the 1730's in the face of increasing hostility from not just the Indian's but the French as well.

The original fort was criticised by Hamilton for not commanding the "Road". When he uses the word road, he doesn't mean a track on land, but he is using a nautical term referring to a place where ships could lay at anchor.

Most of the trading vessels on the coast were Pattimars and other coastal vessels of Indian origin. Many of these were under charter to East India Company officials acting in both their professional capacity, but also undertaking private trade on their behalf.

These vessels were at risk not just from the French, but also from European pirates as well as Indian fleets under Angria and others who routinely attacked passing coastal shipping.

These small vessels were between 20 and 200 tons in draught and could enter the bay and anchor inside the rocky reef, under cover of cannon from the raised fort batteries.

I believe that the fort we can currently visit was built as an artillery platform intended not so much to fight of Indian attackers coming from inland, as European landings from passing ships or attacks on the roads by Indian shipping coming along the coast from places like Geriah.

Figure 5. Showing the 1730's Fort. Courtesy of Jissu Jacob.

The fort we see today is built much higher above the surrounding ground than most forts constructed at that period e by Europeans, who tended to sink the walls down behind ditches in an attempt to make them less vulnerable to destructive cannon fire, that could soon cut a ramp and breach into an unprotected wall. It is also fitted with a Cavalier, to be able to dominate the surrounding area with fire in a more effective manner, than would have been possible before from a position further from the shore, and with lower cannon platforms.

Figure 6. Sketch of existing Tellicherry Fort, with a Cavalier on top of the bastion at the top right hand corner.

A Cavalier is a smaller bastion, sitting on top of the lower bastion, mounting a second higher tier of cannon. Every foot of elevation gained, gave a longer range to the cannons in the fort.

I believe the English in the settlement had also become concerned about the number of "Blacks and Portugeze" living in the older fort who might not always be reliable in the event of a serious attack, and had prepared the new fort to act as a refuge in the event of the town inside the earlier lower fort falling to assault, perhaps started by one of the columns of porters and merchants entering the gates ostensibly to trade.

That coastal attack was also a major concern is also illustrated by the Hornwork and Bastions that are also shown to have existed between the modern fort and the sea, which must have occupied the site of the recently restored churchyard.

I believe that the first French fort was built between 1670 and 1690 on the alignment shown in red. During the period after 1699 and before 1723 it was refaced in stone by the English, both to make it more secure, and to stop the continual erosion of the earthworks which must have occurred with every monsoon.

Figure 7. A Google Earth image marked up to show the probable development phases of the Tellicherry Fort. Red, French & English Forts, 1670 to 1723. Blue, English 1723 to 1735, Black outer works by 1735.[Please click onto the image for a larger version.]

The outer Hornworks on the site of the present graveyard may only have been built in earth and timber as they seem to have been replaced by a stone wall with crenellations by 1761.

Figure 8. Tellicherry drawn from the deck of the ship America on the 17th March 1761. [Please click onto the image for a larger version.]

Figure 9. The 1761 drawing marked to show the existing surviving bastion and the flagpole, as well as the outer crenellated wall, that had replaced the Hornwork in the 1741 French Map.

Figure 10. A drawing showing the presumed line of the Crenellated Wall shown in the 1761 drawing. [Please click on the image for a larger version.]

It is possible that the line of the crenellated wall might have been preserved by the modern wall along the top boundary of the existing churchyard. The recently restored church is mid 19th century, and the crenellated wall had been demolished long before the church yard wall was built. However by the time the church was built, many hundreds of English and Europeans had already been buried in the graveyard.

It would have been logical that these graves and hence the graveyard should be just outside the line of the defended settlement, and yet still in a position where it was positioned under the eyes of the forts garrison to ensure that it was not vandalised.

It is also very likely that the foot of the crenellated wall was the place that the earliest graves were dug, and that this set the later boundary for the Victorian churchyard. Whilst there was a derelict church on the site of the existing one, which was replaced, it may not have been very well constructed. The 18th Century was not a particularly religious time in Britain, and most garrisons of East India garrisons at this time probably held services in the gun room as was the case in 1750's Fort St. David.

Figure 11. Photo showing the recently restored wall at the top of the churchyard. Photo courtesy of Jissu Jacob.

Oddly enough, it is very probable that none of the forts described above saw any action, apart from defending against the early attacks of the gallant Nair in the 1720's.

By 1730 the settlement had moved inland by several miles, and an outer ring of forts was built.

It was these forts that held off the Mysore Armies during the invasion by Hyder Ali, that I will describe in another post in the coming weeks.

[1] Captain Alexander Hamilton, "A new account of the East Indies," volume 1,published in 1727, pages 296 to 298. Alexander Hamilton.
[2] Historical fragments of the Mogul empire: of Morattoes, … Robert Orme, published 1782. Section 1. xii
[3] From a Wikipedia article at , the image can be found at See also for a very similar fort at Niagara also in Canada, which also evolved over the same period, in much the same way as Tellicherry did.
[4] From "A Collection of Treaties, Etc., Relating to British Affairs in Malabar, by William Logan, published in 1879, 1891, 1951 & 1989, page 2. The original was in Portuguese and the Portuguese text can also be found in Logan.
[5] William Logan, Malabar Manual, page 347.