Monday, 31 May 2010

"Indian Atrocities."

Not all of the British Officers approved of the way the East India Company had conducted wars in India.

Many of them must have suffered badly from the constant strain of fighting these wars, and many of them must have returned home to Britain seriously ill and with a very uncertain future.

In 1805, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder had not even been considered, and yet it must have existed.

Here is a very different account of what it had been like to fight the Pazhassi Raja, from those generally presented in publications from this period.

The following account written by George Strachan in 1817 paints a grim picture of the reality behind the war with the Raja. —

The details with which I have promised to finish you on the subject of my ten year-servitude in the northern peninsula of India, I hereby commence.

In 1790, at the age of 17, I was appointed a Cadet on the Bombay establishment with about seventy Cadets of the same Season. Of these there are not above twenty of the establishment, who have survived the effects of a noxious climate, and the fatigues of that hateful service of which I was engaged. In 1800, I was appointed senior Ensign of the Bombay European regiment, then engaged in the Cotiote war, where in less than ten years that regiment lost not less than twenty-five Officers out of thirty, and eight hundred men out of the full complement of one thousand. In 1801, I was promoted to be Lieutenant, and transferred to the 4d battalion, 3d native regiment engaged on the same service. The mortality was not less than in the former corps. Here I shall beg leave to describe the nature of the Cotiote war.—A more cruel and vindictive system of proscription was never practised by the most barbarous nation towards its foe, than that which was employed by the Bombay Government towards the Rajah of the Cotiote, hitherto the staunch ally, friend, and tributary, of the Company. Those facts, with which I became acquainted, have never been presented in any shape to the public eye. Indeed the bye-laws of the company would have made it almost treason in any of their servants to have exposed the secrets of the cruel system of extirpation, pursued towards this inoffending people, who from time immemorial had led a life of primitive and pastoral simplicity, attached to their sovereign by every motive of moral and religious obligation, to a degree of enthusiasm surpassing that of any other race of men, under a monarchical government, since the world began.

The Cotiote is that part of the Malabar coast which is between the sea-shore, and the Bella Ghaut mountain inland from Calicut, Tillichery, and Cairaone. It is for the most part covered with jungles or forests, interspersed with fruitful vallies, and in many places with impenetrable thickets, in which the ferocious tiger and other wild beasts entrench themselves in safety from the pursuit of man. It is about forty miles in breadth and sixty in length. Its produce — pepper, rice, and vegetables. Its population, now extinct, did not originally exceed 6000 men of the cast or tribe, called Nairs. This warlike people, determined to perish in the cause of their oppressed sovereign. And such was the dear bought victory obtained over them, that we lost in a contest which lasted ten years nearly as many men as our victims; till hunted down like beasts of prey, this race of brave men (who had been proclaimed rebels) were at length extirpated by fire and sword from the face of the earth. Nothing now remains of this people save the country which they inhabited, and that is become a barren and uncultivated desert The Bullum Rajah is the sovereign of another nation, bordering upon the Cotiote, which was at nearly the same time devoted to proscription and hunted down in like manner under the late General Stevenson, of the Madras cavalry.

The Cotiote war was terminated by the late Colonel Montresore, of the 80th regiment, in 1804, when, as if to throw a veil over these transactions; the Malabar coast was transferred to the Madras Government, who now occupy it.

The Cotiote Rajah had previously assisted the Company in their war with Hyder Ally, and furnished 1000 armed men, who distinguished themselves under our banners, in expelling Hyder from the possession of Саnnanore. ' Ungrateful as the treatment this high-minded prince and people -afterwards experienced from their European neighbours, to whom they supplied the whole produce of their cultivation, the 'task of recording their sufferings- in the heart rending scenes of cold-blooded slaughter, which this picturesque country every were presented to our view, is nevertheless painful to me. It fell to my lot, with a detachment of Sepoys, to command at Pyche, the Rajah's capital, whence he had been expelled; not one of his subjects had remained behind, but they had taken up arms, and followed his desperate fortunes in the field. Thus was I enabled to detail those atrocities, at the relation of which Englishmen here at home must be horror -struck, and to which they can scarcely give credit: but the facts related defy contradiction, and can be attested by respectable persons, lately arrived in England, who were also engaged in that campaign.

This brave but fugitive Indian Prince was alternatively attacking or retreating from the detachments in pursuit of him through the forests. Sometimes in one of these rencontres we have lost 800 men. His force being dispersed, he had taken refuge in one lone house, with not above 10 or 12 armed followers. These chose rather to be cut to pieces than surrender, and thus favoured his escape, fighting sword in hand till they fell to a man in defence of his person. This was at a time when a large reward and pardon were offered to his subjects if they would discover his retreat, in order to lead to his decapitation ; otherwise no quarter was given. Their towns, houses, and fields of standing corn, were burnt down. On every rising ground and road-side, 20 or 30 bodies were seen hanging to a gibbet, and some promiscuously upon trees. The prisoners taken were either immediately so disposed of, or shot and bayoneted upon the spot ; and such was the spirit of desperate resistance and despair manifested on the part of this unhappy people, that, unnatural as it may appear, they actually cut the throats of their own wives and children, ¡n order to prevent their falling into our bands.

The Canute Nambier, and 'others of his nobles, having been taken prisoners, were ordered for execution. Captain J--, a brother officer and valuable friend of mine, now in England, was commanded to see that order enforced. That Gentleman, in a letter I received from him on the occasion, which does honour to the liberal sentiments of his mind, described this reluctant duty with horror and pity, though mixed with admiration at the heroic firmness of those noble Indians. They faithfully adhered to their Sovereign down to the awful moment of yielding up their lives in his cause. The offer held out to them by the British Government was, a free pardon and an ample reward, provided they would discover the Rajah's retreat!

These terms were, even in their last moments, rejected with indignation. They voluntarily stretched out their hands to receive the rope, and putting it round their necks, were launched into another World, which to them afforded a nobler reward, and a brighter hope."[1]

It is not easy to find much about the life and career of George Strachan. In 1817 he was described as "Mr George Strachan - formerly a lieutenant Bombay Establishment in consideration of his extreme poverty and distress."

He was granted a political pension of £50 per year. This amount was very small. Retiring Major's could expect about £400 a year.

It is probable that Strachan had chosen quite deliberately to get his piece published by the Examiner, in order to embarrass the East India Company.

This paper had a Radical viewpoint and had been established in 1808 by John Hunt. Both John and his brother Leigh were to serve time in Surrey County Gaol for an attack on the Prince Regent in 1813. The Hunts were visited by Byron, John Moore, Lord Brougham and Charles Lamb. [2]

Three years later the EIC would prepare a copy minute on the request of George Strachan, late Lt 3rd Bombay NI, to be restored to the service. [3]

[1] Published in the Examiner Volume 9, for the year 1818. Page 594 and 595.
[2] See
[3] Military Department Special Collections: Collection 14a IOR/L/MIL/5/377, Coll 14a 1820

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