Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Tellicherry in the 1850.



Figure 1. A photograph taken in about 1900 showing houses to the north of the Tellicherry Fort lived in by senior officials, including possibly the Master Attendant described below. Please click on this and subsequent images for a larger version.

The following fascinating account of life in Tellicherry appears in a magazine published in England in 1854 called "The Home Friend, A Weekly Miscellany of Amusement etc."

Sadly, I cannot identify the author of the article, but it is possible from events described in the article to date his visit to 1850.


"Tellicherry is a pretty little straggling town on the sea-coast of Malabar, between the considerable military cantonment of Cananore and the French settlement Mahe or Mai. It may be said to consist of two, divisions or parts; the flat ground constituting Tellicherry Proper, and the high ground, or cliffs, called Deramapatam. We were on two separate occasions for several months resident at Tellicherry, and are consequently familiar with every nook and corner in it.

Tellicherry Proper, or the town of Tellicherry, is built on a low ground, almost on a level with the sea. The town consists of some two hundred irregularly-built European houses; the bazaars; the marketplace; a few so-called shops; an immense prison, built on a lofty bastion facing the sea, which prison includes the dens for criminals and the debtors' gaol, comprising also a lunatic asylum; the Zillah Court, and a species of chapel. Besides these, there is a Catholic chapel and a Protestant church, and the burial-grounds of both creeds, situated on a high mound nearly overhanging the sea. Outside of the town itself, and between it and Deramapatam, are a few straggling country-houses, and the court-house of the now no longer existing judges of circuit, who were three in number, besides the registrar. Beyond these, again, runs a rapid and deep stream, over which a couple of ferry-boats are continually plying; and on the other side of the stream rise the lofty cliffs and high tableland which constitutes that portion of Tellicherry styled by the natives Durhamupatnum, consisting of a few scattered villages, occupied almost exclusively by native fishermen, and two immense mansions, more like palaces than private houses, and heretofore the residence of two of the judges stationed at Tellicherry.

We will, if the reader pleases, imagine ourselves on board of the large Bombay China-ship, the ' Lowjee Family,' or if you object to that name, the ' Pestonjee Bomanjee[1],' just coming to an anchor in the roadstead to land some passengers and a few mess stores for the troops in the immediate interior, and then proceed on her voyage to China.

The morning is bright and cloudless; the water as smooth as a millpond, and the fine fresh land-wind that has favoured us all night, fast dying away to give place to the approaching sea-breeze, whose advent is clearly perceptible on the distant blue horizon, now richly spangled with the foaming bubbles of the sportive waves. This is one great blessing to the mariner that navigates the coast of Malabar; he is never at a loss far a favourable wind, either going-up or coming down the coast. The land and sea breezes are regular to their time, the space intervening between the departure of the one and the arrival of the other being just all sufficient for the requisite alterations in trimming the sails. Captains acquainted with the coast stand off the land about an hour before daybreak, the dawn appearing throughout the year within not many minutes' difference of the usual time, about a quarter to six, and at about ten A.M. they get beyond the influence of the land-wind and into the approaching sea-breeze. This they carry with them the whole day; and towards evening again the vessel stands in towards the laud to avail itself of the night shore-winds. These are regular, excepting during the two monsoons, at which period vessels rarely approach within sight of the land."



Figure 2. The shoreline below Tellicherry Fort, from a photograph dating to about 1900. One of the large houses referred to in this article, is quite probably the large white building seen in this photo.

The author then goes on to describe the journey through the surf from the ship to the shore.

This was the way that the vast majority of European visitors to Tellicherry arrived. By 1850 Tellicherry had lost most of its importance, so there were far fewer ships arriving than in earlier days, and Tellicherry was now mainly a stop over on a journey into the interior, often to Ootacamund in order to restore ones health in the cooler climate found in the Nilgiris.

"The anchor is gone, the sails are furled, the boat lowered; the jolly, good-natured skipper, with a huge bundle of papers and letters under one arm, an umbrella under the other, and a pocket-book full of bills of lading held firmly between his teeth, slides rapidly over the vessel's side into the boat, takes up his position in the stern-sheets, and away we go, under his skilful steering, safe and sound through the foaming surf, notwithstanding the many "crabs," to use a nautical expression, that the three young apprentices catch while rowing us on shore, sadly to their own discomfort, and not much to our own convenience, as we get splashed from head to toe with salt water: however, the heat of the sun soon dries us again, and no one allows himself to be put out by such a trifling circumstance, except a dirty-looking old Italian friar, who, as he has confidentially informed us himself more than once upon the voyage, looks upon the silly custom of bathing the body as very deleterious to the health in hot climates ; in confirmation of which startling announcement he solemnly affirms that, with the exception of his hands and feet and face, no water has touched any part of him for the last forty years, and that he has enjoyed uninterrupted health during that long period. We are not sorry to get rid of our dirty friend on landing; and so soon as we set foot on shore we are beset with hospitable invitations, and almost hauled by main force into half-a-dozen separate tonjons.[2]

There are no such things as hotels at Tellicherry, nor, indeed, at any of the up-country stations; for the English residents are, with a very few exceptions, princes of hospitality, and everybody knows everybody in the Madras Presidency.

The master-attendant's house commands an extensive view of the surrounding ocean. It is a neatly-built edifice, comprising every imaginable comfort, and an extensive and carefully-laid-out garden—all his own property, and has been his own property ever since he was first appointed, which was somewhere about the year 1790—a long period to remain at one place; and if anything argues in favour of the climate, it is the appearance of the old gentleman, who looks as fresh as any of oar country squires, and is as hearty and jolly as though he were only just in the prime of life, instead of being an octogenarian ; no man better able or more willing to give a stranger every assistance and useful information. From his house we proceed first to the Protestant burial ground, which is situated immediately on the left-hand side after passing the gates of the master-attendant's compound. The churchyard also commands an extensive view of the sea. Here are many tombstones of antiquated date, looking as new as the day they were first completed; whilst others, comparatively modern, were utterly neglected and in ruins, the inscriptions being barely legible. The sun shines brightly over the graves of the slumbering multitude, and the sea-breeze sports merrily with the tall rank grass as we quit this solemn place, and proceed to a still more gloomy memento of the wages of sin, even in life—this is the prison before alluded to. The outside looks dingy and wretched enough, and now we pass under the guarded gateway, and mount the apparently interminable stone steps, narrow and dark and damp, and in many parts much worn and slippery. Gradually your eyes get accustomed to the obscure light, and you then discover that these steps have at least one advantage, that of being kept perfectly clean, for they are washed and swept regularly, morning and evening. The heavy clanking of the chains of the criminals now reaches the attentive ear; a sudden turning brings you into the full glow of glorious daylight; you pass another arch with a massive iron door, also strictly guarded, and find yourself in an extensive arena, enclosed on three sides by very lofty buildings, and on the fourth (the side facing the town) a strongly-built, stupendous wall. Passing in regular order through the place, we come first to the court-house of the Zillah judge; but to get to it we must first mount a broad flight of not less than forty stone steps. Here we find an extensive, airy room, at the head of which, railed off from the plebeian herd of half-caste Portuguese and native writers and clerks, are the desks of the judge, the registrar, the pundit, and other officers of the court. Prisoners in the custody of multifarious peons—their accusers, and the witnesses on both sides—are quietly waiting for the coming of the judge, and beguiling the time by chatting with each other on terms of the greatest familiarity and apparent friendship, the prisoners entering into the gist of the argument with all the nonchalance imaginable, though many amongst them are Thugs, those Burkists of India. Their conversation is confined to that one all-absorbing topic amongst the Indians, money."


Figure 3. The Gateway into the Fort. Photo Courtesy of Lindsay Gething

Our traveller goes on to visit the old gaol situated inside the Fort. The building used to house the gaol also acted as the court house at this time.

"The court itself is in a delightfully-cool position, having several windows facing the sea, all of which, however, -are secured with massive iron bars. Adjoining the court-house is a room, sometimes used as a chapel. We look in en passant, and see a few rough, wooden benches, half-a-dozen chairs, and a large accumulation of dust. The chaplain at Cananore occasionally visits Tellicherry, and sometimes one of the judges performs Divine service: on such occasions this room is in requisition, as the church is all crumbling to ruins. Coming down the steps again we proceed on our visit of inspection; and the first thing that attracts attention, from the noisy hilarity going on inside, is the debtors' prison. We peep through the bars of an iron window, and are gratified with a sight of the occupants, who chiefly consist of natives, with perhaps a few lamentably-poor black Portuguese. Most of them are playing at a species of Indian draughts, using, instead of a board, a cloth patchwork, in the shape of a perfect cross, every square of which is of a different colour ; the draughtsmen are painted green and red, and they substitute cowry shells for dice. On the whole they are very happy and contented, for they can take exercise in the yard, and are allowed to cook their own victuals; and eating, drinking, and sleeping are just what suit their constitutions to a nicety. They are entirely supported by their wives and families; and in one respect all Orientals surpass Europeans—I mean in a feeling of pity for their poor and distressed connections, whom they never suffer to want so long as they have the wherewithal to support them. Next in order, we visit the dens allotted to criminals; and it requires no physiognomist to interpret the crimes and brutalities of which the greater mass of those here confined have been guilty. Such as have already been adjudged to different terms of imprisonment and hard labour, arc working, shackled separately or by couples, on the high roads, or else erecting or repairing public edifices. Those within the walls during the day are such as are awaiting some opportunity to convey them to the penal settlements in the Straits of Malacca, or those that have not yet been tried and sentenced by the Superior Court. In a ward, separated from the men, are the female criminals, also under sentence of transportation, or awaiting their trial. Some amongst these are perhaps guilty of crimes even more atrocious than those committed by the worst of male criminals; for as many women are hung in India for murder as there are men punished in a like manner for a similar offence."



Figure 4. The building inside the fort at Tellicherry that used to hold the gaol described in the article. The court was on the upper floor, and the cells below. The photo was taken during restoration in 2006.

In the following paragraph the author describes a lunatic asylum situated inside the fort. The East India Company correspondence suggests that there was an asylum in Tellicherry as early as 1795 but it doesn't say where or who went into it, but it must have been a deeply depressing place.

"Now let us hurry along from these sad spectacles. Next to the criminals' cell is the lunatic asylum, as you may guess by the bellowing of one unfortunate inmate, who imagines himself a' bull. Then there is the hospital, and then the condemned cells; and then we hurry down the steps again, and are thankful to find ourselves breathing a purer atmosphere—a breeze untainted by crimes and misery.

We enter the street; they are not very famous ones, but still they admit of a carriage or two passing abreast. The houses are mostly one story high, of a great variety of shapes and colours, according with the tastes of the various proprietors; and each house has a small compound attached to it, which is securely walled in all round. In the compound are the outhouses, such as the kitchen, stables, etc., a sprinkling of flowers, a few fruit-trees, a duck-pond, a well, and a pacottah, a species of seesaw machine, on which two men balance each other, or both balance themselves against the water, drawn up in a large leathern bag, which, as soon as it reaches the surface of the well, is capsized into a reservoir by an attendant imp, the son of one of the balancers. As soon as the reservoir is filled the men descend, and, taking out the plug from the reservoir, the water is conducted by aqueducts all over the garden, which is watered twice a-day throughout the year, except during the heavy rains. This practice extends all over the Madras Presidency.

Having watched their proceedings for a few minutes, we walk on. The yellow house with the yellow railings and thickly-set marigolds and sunflowers is the property of Mr. Jose de Silva, whose ancestors were originally white Portuguese, but intermarrying with natives some generations before Mr. Jose's birth, that gentleman, much to his discomfort, is decidedly black. He is head cashier to the Circuit Court, and his favourite colour is yellow—hence the colour of his house, his railing, and the flowers he most patronises: the two young ladies, his daughters, are also of the same tinge, and so is his palanquin, his tonjon, and his bundy, or cab; and if such a thing as a bright yellow horse could be had for his money, he would not mind standing a couple of thousand rupees; for the old fellow is quite a Croesus for Tellicherry, though he does go to office every week-day in a very faded suit of nankeen, and a wretchedly bad hat— things that you could never believe him guilty of, if you chanced to meet him at chapel of a Sunday, or when he is receiving a select circle at home on feast days.

The red house next to his belongs to another Portuguese, who is something in the revenue department, and who has a thorough contempt of his neighbours in the judicial line, considering the collectorate the only respectable service in India, and so on."



Figure 5. Typical house in the part of Tellicherry formerly inhabited mainly by Indo-Portuguese. Photo Courtesy of Lindsay Gething.

The area of Tellicherry immediately south of the fort, and extending about one mile south along the beach, and extending for 200 or 300 yards inland had been the home of the Indo Portuguese community in Tellicherry for over a hundred years before our visitor walked through its shady lanes. This community had been established in the town from the earliest days of the settlements history. The earlier Portuguese had been the translators for the East India Company, and had acted as middlemen in all of their proceedings with the local Indian Rajah's.

With Hyder and Tipu Sultan's invasions, the original community had grown rapidly with many Portuguese and Indo Portuguese refugees from other settlements along the coast moving into the town.

We pass a variety of gaudily-painted houses, all, with very few exceptions, the property of wealthy half-castes and Portuguese, who form a class of society amongst themselves, give dinners and evening parties, balls and social suppers, discuss politics, talk law, hatch scandal, and are painfully addicted to fiddles. You can scarce pass through the streets of a night for the villainous discord that fills the air, resounding from shockingly bad scrapers.

There is a fine esplanade just outside of the town, which juts out like a little promontory into the sea. At the extreme end rises a solitary tree, under the shade of which some benign individual in times past constructed a bench; and this extreme point is designated, in the topography of Tellicherry, Scandal Point. Here, in the cool of the evening, the Tellicherians promenade to and fro, and when fatigued repose.

The English residents at Tellicherry were at all times very few, but of late years their numbers have been grievously diminished by the abolition of the circuit court, and the consequent removal of the three sessions judges, the registrar, and their families. The few residing at Tellicherry when I was last there were on terms of the greatest intimacy. In the town itself resided the sub-collector, the Zillah judge, the lieutenant commanding the detachment, and the master-attendant; along the seashore resided the doctor, and one or two other families; and on the other side of the ferry, in Deramapatam, in the only house then habitable (the other one where I had resided on a former occasion having fallen in), Mr. B., one of the judges of the circuit court, the friend with whom I was staying. We had occasional reunions, which were very agreeable, as the ladies of our society, though few, were very accomplished musicians, and one or two of them sang admirably.

Tellicherry is famous in a commercial view for the vast quantities of pepper that the district yields, most of which is dried for shipment on the spot. Cardamums thrive here also, and the cinnamon-tree exists. Fruits, vegetables, and poultry are abundant and cheap, and the market is perfectly overstocked with fish and shell-fish. Amongst the fruit produced at Tellicherry there is a species, rare even there, and which I never met with in any other part of the world that I have visited—the natives called it the " Jumma Malak." The fruit was as large as a good-sized peach, and very much resembled one in shape; but the great beauty of it consisted in its complexion, if I may use such a term, which was of the most delicate white straw colour, with pale, rose-coloured cheeks. It had, like the peach, a kernel, was almost transparent, and its flavour a something between the mango and the mangostein. A tree which yielded fruit plentifully grew in the garden attached to the sub-collector's house. This tree grows to a considerable height above the ordinary run of mangotrees ; and its leaves resemble those of the mango.

Off Deramapatam, near the sea-beach that runs under the cliffs, there are extensive oyster-beds; and many a day have I—bread, pepper, and vinegar in one hand, and an oyster-knife in the other—waded through the waves to these rocks at low-water, and feasted to my heart's content on oysters, fresh from the bed. On one or two occasions I chanced to come across a pearl oyster, but the pearls were small and of little value.

The climate of Tellicherry,especially Deramapatam, is very healthy, and the houses are built so as to exclude damp during the monsoon seasons. The thunder-storms along the whole coast are terrific, though I never heard of a single accident resulting from them.

The native population of Tellicherry
consists of the Moplays, Nayars, Malgalams, and the Clings, or Pariahs, from Madras. There are also a few Mahometans and Brahmins, some Malabars of high caste, a few Gentoos, and three or four Parsees. Of these, by far the most fanatical and lawless is the Moplays, who are chiefly merchants, and whose unquenchable hatred to the English has on several occasions displayed itself; on one, especially, about the district of Mangalore. where, not further back than last year, a young officer of the 43rd regiment Madras native infantry was, in endeavouring to quell an insurrection, assassinated by these ruthless people, the Sepoys having ignominiously fled, leaving their officer single-handed to contend against an overwhelming force.


The young officer from the 43rd Regiment whose death is described here is almost certainly Ensign Wyse. On the 25th of August 1849 Torangal Unniyan killed another Indian called Paditodi Teyyunni, and then with four other men went off to join a band of Dacoits led by Attan Gurikkal. This man was the son of an earlier Dacoit or insurgent, and he seems to have been leader of a number of determined individuals.

It is not clear if his intentions were entirely criminal, or whether he had other political motives as well. On the 26th of August they killed a servant belonging to Marat Nambutiri, and two other individuals, before entering a Hindu Temple at Majeri. They set the temple on fire after defiling it.

A detachment of the 43rd Native Infantry Regiment under Captain Watt set out from Malapuram to Manjeri, with a plan to attack the insurgents in the temple on the 28th of August.

Ensign Wyse and his company were sent to attack the temple across some paddy fields, where the rebels who numbered about 32 men were holed up.

Mr. Collett, the Assistant Magistrate and a reserve force had remained on a nearby hill which had the Taluk Cutcherry on it to await events.

As Wyse and his men approached the temple the rebels came rushing out of the temple, and although Wyse was able to kill the first man who reached him, he and four others were killed.

As Mr. Collett wrote in his report, written later that day,

"Others now came down upon Ensign Wyse, and I am informed that one of them seized him by the jacket and he received a wound, when he appears to have fallen and was of course quickly put to death: but by this time three of the insurgents had fallen, and now those men in the detachment who alone had emulated their officer, fell, one of them having first gallantly bayonetted the man who gave Mr. Wyse his death wound."

The event was sufficiently serious for a second party of British troops to be sent for. A detachment of Her Majesties 94th Regiment under Major Dennis was brought down from Cannanore reaching Manjeri on the 3rd of September. After another fierce battle the insurgents were killed, but only after two more privates of the 94th Regiment had been killed, and six men including two officers had been wounded.

A detailed report based on Captain Watt's court marshal appeared in Allen's Indian Mail, dated, Saturday, November 1, 1851.

"in the year 1849, a detachment of the 43rd regiment of Madras Native Infantry, consisting of about 120 men, under Capt. R. P. K. Watt, was sent to disperse a party of these fierce zealots (between sixty and seventy in number), who had committed great disorders in the neighbourhood of Calicut.

Capt. Watt pushed forward half his party in advance, under
Ensign Wyse. About fifteen Moplahs rushed out from a mosque, in which they were posted, when nearly all the sepoys, though outnumbering the fanatics four to one, fired at random, and, without waiting for a collision, fled, leaving Ensign Wyse and six gallant fellows who stood by him to be cut to pieces. Capt. Watt was unable to rally the fugitives, whose panic infected the party he was bringing up, who refused to obey his orders, and' he retired to the cutcherry of the collector of the district, which, observing the state of his men, he barricaded, the petty band of fanatics being allowed to approach the cutcherry and abuse the sepoys with impunity.

A detachment of European troops (of the 94th Foot) was sent for, by whom the Moplahs were speedily routed and slain. Capt. Watt was tried by a court-martial, and found guilty of " not having taken sufficient measures to restore confidence in his men," and of allowing them to be insulted by the insurgents " without making any effort to rouse them to resistance."

The Court sentenced him to lose rank, and to be severely reprimanded,— a sentence which the Commander-in-Chief thought too lenient. The last occurrence, so similar in its circumstances, will, perhaps, raise a doubt whether Capt. Watt was not treated with an undue degree of rigour, and whether it was in his power to have "restored confidence" in his men, and animated them to resistance.


These events must still have been fresh in peoples minds when our author visited Tellicherry the following year. The insurgent band wasn't destroyed in the operation, and other Mappilla insurgents were active in October 1850 and 1851.[3]

Our author goes on to describe the other more peaceable main inhabitants of the town..

"The Nayars are tillers of the ground, and masons. Many of them are in the military service of the Rajah of Travancore. The Nair brigade, stationed at Trevandrem, is commanded by an officer in the company's army, and the other officers are mostly English. Both men and women are fair-complexioned for the East, and very handsome in figure and face; the men middle-sized and athletic, the women slim and graceful.

The Malgalams are principally fishermen, and all the other classes are tradesmen—such as shopkeepers, boatmen, coolies, domestic servants, etc. The principal shop at Tellicherry was kept by a Parsee, a leper (and I may here remark in parentheses that this fearful disorder seems to be almost exclusively confined to the Parsees both at Bombay and on the Malabar coast). The shop was scantily furnished, and the articles it contained of a very inferior quality, and exorbitantly dear. Occasionally Madras hawkers and travelling Arab merchants visited the coast; the former brought all kinds of odds and ends picked up at public auctions—such as palmerinos, books, muslins, chintzes, lavender-water, soap, &c.; the latter confined themselves to creature comforts, such as dried figs, Arabian dates, and drugs and gums of various descriptions, with an occasional valuable horse or two. But the greatest treat imaginable to us Tellicherians, quite a prize in rainy weather, was the itinerant book-hawkers, who, picking up books at every auction they attend, and being solely guided in their choice by the cheapness or the binding of the volumes, amass, in space of time, a singular collection of odd volumes— annuals, travels, religious tracts, plays, Bibles, novels, periodicals, and music, the very overhauling of which proves a vast source of amusement, and amongst which one occasionally stumbles across a valuable addition to a library.

Watching the vessels passing to and fro half a mile within the cliffs, on which the house of mine hospitable host was situated, was a pastime to the dilettanti at Tellicherry; and a stroll along the fine, sandy beach, which ran for many miles close under the cliffs, was an untiring source of amusement to the " butchas" of the family, and not less relished by some of the grown-up children. The many gaily-coloured shells which were an inestimable treasure to the baby; the scampering after legions of crabs, which we occasionally captured and more often lost; the not unfrequent wettings we got by unwarily pursuing the prey beyond the limits of prudence; the terror depicted in little missy's face, as she fled precipitately from the quick-approaching wave; the merry, clear little laugh of the youngsters to witness the utter despair of some incautious one, ankle deep in the foaming surge; the horrid dizzy sensation as the wave retreated again, causing you to all appearance to be swept back with it into the bosom of the troubled ocean, all these are scenes and recollections fresh and dear to memory, and they are some of the few scenes of past life that one loves to look back upon, and to pause and meditate during the retrospective glance.

From Tellicherry we coast along southward to Alway, near Cochin."[4]

I would very much like to identify the author, as well as the individuals named. It is quite probable that the Master Attendant referred to was Edward Brennan. However, the author must be mistaken in thinking that Brennan had been at Tellicherry since 1790, as Mr. Oakes had previously been Master Attendant for many years before his death in 1819.

Like Brennan, Oakes was also a philanthropist who devoted much of his private time and fortune to helping the poor and deprived Indian's who had settled around the inland fringes of the town in squatter camps, that had existed ever since the wars in the 1780 to 1799 period.

I would be especially keen to hear from you if yu are connected to any of the Portuguese community described in the account. It would be fascinating to learn more about the lives that community led.



[1]Pestonjee Bomanjee, a large Country built ship named after the famous Pharsee Shipbuilder of that name who was active in the Bombay dockyards until about 1817. This ship went on to transport convicts to Tasmania in 1853.
[2]Hobson Jobson gives the following for Tonjon. Forms in Hind. tāmjhām and thāmjān. The word is perhaps adopted from some trans-gangetic language. A rude contrivance of this kind in Malabar is described by Col. Welsh under the name of a 'Tellicherry chair' (ii. 40). c. 1804.-- "I had a tonjon, or open palanquin, in which I rode."
[3] William Logan, Malabar Manual, Volume 1, page 560 to 562.
[4] From the Home Friend, A Weekly Miscellany of Amusement etc; Instruction. Published in 1854.


1 comment:

Jaz said...

It is a good idea to give the hotel staff your contact details, so that you can be reached if you have left behind anything.

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