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.

1 comment:

Jas said...

Love to read your posts. I had been to the Protestant Church in Tellicherry on the 18th of December. It has now been open to the public and is looking good. I took a number of photographs of the church and the surrounding areas. I would be happy to send them to you if so wish. Thomas Baber's tomb appears next to his wife's but the inscription tablet is missing.
I had posted a comment earlier on this but cannot seem to locate it now!!
Thank you for keeping the history of the local area alive.