Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Development of the Forts at Tellicherry 1750 to 1780

Figure 1. Tellicherry drawn from the sea by Mr Herbert before about 1780. Published by A Dalrymple in 1790.
Please click on this image for a larger version.

The following is a description of a visit made by Abraham Parsons to Tellicherry, who had left Bombay on 7th December 1775 and sailed south along the coast to Malabar, contains one of the best descriptions of the forts at Tellicherry in the late 18th Century that I have found so far.

This has enabled me to provisionally locate two more of the outlying forts surrounding Tellicherry.

"About three or four leagues to the south of Cananore is Tellicherry, the only settlement belonging to the English East India Company on this coast, where there is an English garrison; the other places being only comptoirs by permission of Hyder Ally, the sovereign.

The English are lords of Tellicherry and the district dependant on it, which reaches but a very little way, either within land, or to the north or south on the sea-coast; yet is quite sufficient for the intended purpose of trade. Here is a good fort, with strong walls, well garrisoned, with convenient houses for the chief, and the gentlemen of the factory, within the walls. That of the chief in particular is not only large, but a superb building ; it is situated on the same mount with the adjoining castle, and overlooks and commands the adjacent country and sea shore.

On a summit, about a mile to the south of the fort, is a small castle, called Mile End, where a sufficient guard is kept, and where the little dominion of Tellicherry terminates. It is so near the northern limit of the French settlement called Mahee, that the centinels hear each other give the parole."

The proximity of Mile End Fort to the French forts in Mahé can easily be seen from the following panorama drawn from the mast of a ship, anchored off the coast of Tellicherry in about 1775.

Figure 2. The coast between Tellicherry Fort and Mahé. Mile End Fort can be seen one mile south of the main fort. The border with the French settlement at Mahé can be seen less than a third of a mile away, with a small French fort on the hill at the extreme right of this image.
Please click on the image for a larger version.

This image and the following one were drawn from ships sailing along the coast and were intended to enable ships arriving on the coast to identify where they had arrived at. The views from the masts of ships, fore shorten the distances, and have the effect of bring the Ghats closer to the shore than they appear from the shore itself. The ships officers who made these drawings used compasses and other instruments to set out their elevations, and as a result the pictures are very accurate.

Figure 3. Mile End Fort.Showing its location on top of a small hill next to the shore.

Abraham Parson's attention then turns to the area to the north of the main fort, that survives in the middle of Thalassery today.

"A little way to the north of Tellicherry is a block-house with cannon mounted, surrounded by a stone wall; between the wall and block-house there is a deep foss. The block-house stands very high; there is but one entrance into it, which is by a very long and narrow wooden ladder, wide enough to permit one man to pass at a time. On the whole, Tellicherry is so well fortified, that Hyder Ally, during the last war with the English, did not think proper to attack this settlement. We staid here four days."

Figure 4. "The Coast Below Mr Brenner's House"[1] This photo was taken between 1855 and 1860 and it probably shows the rear face of the blockhouse to the north of the fort, described by Abraham Parsons in 1775.

I have not been able to locate the exact location of this northern blockhouse, but it was located where Edward Brennan's house came down to the shore. This must be very close to Overbury's Folly.

The following aerial image shows a tree covered rectangular site on the shore above rocks which may be the ones shown in the following picture. If you are in Thalassery and you read this blog, I would be fascinated to learn if my hunch is correct.

Figure 5. Possible location of the northern blockhouse
shown on a Google Earth Image of the coast.

Parson's left the town shortly afterwards on his journey south.

"December the 2d. We departed and proceeded to the southward, and kept at such a distance from the shore as not to distinguish any town, except the French settlement called Mahee, which is so near that it may be almost said to join."[2]

Figure 6. A French map from the 1780's showing the border between the Tellicherry Settlement at Mile End and the French Forts along their northern boundary.

On January 18th in the following year Parsons returned north by ship calling in at Tellicherry once again. He left the following detailed description of the town.

"The town of Tellicherry is well peopled, and they carry on an extensive inland and foreign trade. Most ships from China and Bengal, (which, are bound to Goa, Bombay or Surat) touch here, and dispose of part of their cargoes, which is mostly resold to the inhabitants of the towns within land, who make a return in the produce of the country, such as ginger, pepper, areka nuts, cocoa nuts, and their oil kyah ropes and yarn, and cotton cloth, which is very good and cheap : they have here a particular kind of towels, esteemed the best in India. Here are many Portuguese merchants, who who seem to engross most of the trade, and resell or export on their own account with great advantage, as many of them are rich; some few of the natives are also wealthy. There are here two towns, one bordering on the sea coast, and the other in the wood : the principal inhabitants of the former are Portuguese, those of the latter natives. Between the town and the fort is an extensive and airy open place, which affords an agreeable walk in the cool of the evening. On one side is a pleasant garden belonging to the chief, where the gentlemen of the factory sometimes pass a little time in walking in the evening. The chief has likewise a small garden adjoining his house, well kept, and amply stocked with flowers. There is a charming shady ride through the wood, where the chief and other gentlemen of the factory often take an airing in the evening on horseback, or in an open chaise, riding round the limits of their little territory from the fort to the southern boundary, the fort at Mile End, near which is an agreeable spot, where they usually meet to alight and converse : the whole extent of this agreeable ride does not exceed five miles.

Some few friends having a desire to visit the French settlement called Mahie, I was invited to be of the party. We left Tellicherry fort at four in the afternoon, and arrived at the French governor's (Monsieur Pico's) house, in the fort at Mahie, at seven. He had no intimation of our coming: however, as one of the company was acquainted with him, he introduced the rest, and we were kindly received. We had not day-light sufficient to-examine the place, as we wished for, though we made good use of our time; we were only able to walk about the which is pleasantly and strongly situated on an eminence. I am told that there are near two hundred cannon mounted in the fort and the adjacent works. The town we had not time to go to. This is the only French settlement on this side India, that at Surat, where the French have a consul, being only a comptoir, by permission of the English. We supped with the governor, and several of the principal gentlemen of the settlement, and at eleven set out for Tellichery, where we arrived at two in the morning. We were carried to and from Mahie in what they call here a doodle, which is like a hanging cot, used for sleeping on board of ships; they are stretched at length, and each end fastened to a long and large bamboo cane, which is carried on the shoulders of two men, who travel at the rate of four miles an hour, or more. Provisions of all kinds are good and reasonable at Tellicherry, the sea furnishing them with plenty of fish of many sorts. The oysters here are the largest and best of any on the coast of Malabar. Here our little convoy increased greatly, with whom we departed in the morning of the 24th of January."

Figure 7. Google Earth Image showing the probable location of the Mile End Fort, with the two 1730's French posts nearby.

Figure 8. Close up image of the probable site of the Mile End Fort,which is currently occupied by a water tower.

The outlying fortifications around Tellicherry seem to have been demolished during the 19th Century, but it is quite likely that at the site of the former fort at Mile End at least some of the footings or demolition rubble may still be present on this small hill around the water tower.

Has anybody ever visited the site?

[1]From photos in the Basel Mission Collection, preserved at the University of Southern California. This photo was taken by Christian Richter at some point between 1855 and 1860. See
"An interesting part of the coast near the open space, which fives a good impression of the character of the coast. The overgrown platform belongs to the property of the deceased Mr. Brenner, Master Attendant of Tellicherry [reading of the last part of this sentence uncertain]. If you use your imagination you can see, in the tree hanging over the edge of the platform the sharp profile of an American Indian." (C.G. Richter's 3. Quarterly report 06.10.1860: 5)
[2] Travels in Asia and Africa; A Journey from Scanderoon to Aleppo, and over the Desert to Baghdad and Basra, by Abraham Parsons. Published 1808. Pages 226 & 227
[3] A general collection of voyages and travel, digested by J. Pinkerton.Pages 233 & 234.


TDT said...

Last week came across your blog, when I was looking for information on Murdoch Brown. Enjoy reading your entries on Thomas Baber and others. Also, appreciate the use of original sketches, maps and photos.
T.D. Thompson, Three Hills, Alberta, Canada

Nick Balmer said...


Do you have a connection with Murdoch Brown?

I have a great deal of information on is life and activities beyond the bits on this blog.

I would be pleased to swap information with you.

You can contact me privately on


Nick Balmer

bourrie said...


Regarding the block house, in the early 70s, there were remnants of some structure over the plateu behind Overbury's folly. I still remember the shrub filled foss and the narrow ledge to climb over to the plateau. Interestingly, the tree in Fig 4 picture was still there atleast until 1979. That used to be our noon break hide out.

thanks for the blog


Nick Balmer said...

Hello Anil,

Thanks for dropping by, and telling us about your visiting the bastion.

I hope to get out to look for it myself later this year.

Nick Balmer


Hi Nick,

I am Sub Collector, Thalassery at present. I appreciate your efforts of bringing Malabar History in very interesting manner.

At present, I am living in the historic Sub Collector Bungalow which was residence of your ancestor Mr Baber.

As far as your Figure 6 is concerned, that is the back part of Bungalow adjoining Overburry's folly. I am planning to preserve and protect the remaining structure. If you are having any other detail about Sub Collector Bungalow, Dog's Tomb and any available photograph of Overbury, you can send me on my email id-

I would like to invite you to visit Thalassery and Present Malabar.


Keshvendra Kumar, IAS
Sub Collector, Thalassery