Monday, 31 May 2010

"Ferocity .. characteristic of the cast of Nairs" 1799

Like many insurgencies the war against the Pazhassi Raja was a brutal one, with both sides on occasion taking heavy losses.

Later accounts published in the 19th Century tend to picture the British winning battles over the various Indian forces with comparative ease.

This was often not in fact the case, and as the following news paper account makes clear the insurgents were often able to inflict heavy casualties onto the East India Company forces.

From the Whitehall Evening Post
Saturday, July 20, to Tuesday, July 23, 1799.

Authentic Particulars respecting the primary Rupture with the COTIOTE RAJAH, recently received from India. Captain Bowman and Lieutenant Bond were sent with a detachment to take possession of a stronghold near Cootungarry, and were decoyed by a Hircarrah,[1] employed on the occasion, into a narrow defile, where a strong party of Nairs in ambuscade, availing themselves of the disadvantageous situation of the detachment, and their mode of attack, beset the party with a ferocity peculiarly their own, when Captain Bowman and Lieutenant Bond were almost immediately over powered and killed. Several Sepoys were also killed and wounded on the spot. Captain Lawrence, on hearing the report of the musquetry, proceeded, with all possible expedition, at the head of a body of grenadiers, towards the succour and support of Captain Bowman’s detachment: but having experienced a similar breach of faith in his guide, was also attacked in the same defile: but, after a warm and fortunate resistance, effected his retreat, and took post in a pagoda the whole night and part of the next day, hemmed in by upwards of a thousand of the Rajah’s troops.

Captain Troy, who had been employed in mustering the Native troops, and Captain Shean, on his return from a visit, fell in with a party of these sanguinary savages, who, having surrounded them, coolly and unprovokedly put the first to death, and wounded the latter in a shocking and barbarous manner. It would appear, from the foregoing circumstances that the inhuman wretches chiefly aimed at the destruction of the Officers: but particularly from their subsequent barbarity, the bodies of Capt. Troy and Lieutenant Bond having been since found decapitated; their heads, as it is supposed, having been sent to the Rajah – the copse of Captain Bowman was snatched from a similar fate of so many Officers, in being cut off from their relations and friends in this cruel and insidious manner, cannot be too much lamented, and furnishes a melancholy example of the inherent ferocity which has ever been characteristic of the cast of Nairs.

I cannot locate any other sources for this action, or indeed details of these officers. It is almost as if they have been edited out of the record.

I would be very grateful if you are able to recognise any of the people in the account, or can tell me anything about their lives or units before this defeat cut short their lives.

Where is

I would like to thank Dr Oliver Noone for bringing this newspaper account to my notice.

Hircarrah, variant of HURCARRA, HIRCARA , &c., s. Hind. harkārā, 'a messenger, a courier; an emissary, a spy' (Wilson). The etymology, according to the same authority, is har, 'every,' kār, 'business.' The word became very familiar in the Gilchristian spelling Hurkaru, from the existence of a Calcutta newspaper bearing that title (Bengal Hurkaru, generally enunciated by non Indians as Hurkĕroó), for the first 60 years of last century, or thereabouts. Courtesy of Hobson Jobson. See

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