Saturday, 27 October 2012

Quilon & Kollam earlier history.

Figure 1. A drawing of the coastline at Quilon drawn from the HEIC ship Rooke, 12th February 1700.
Please click for a larger version.

The description under the drawing reads as follows: -

This is called Quiloane in Lat. 9o 0’ N, inhabited by Black People of the Portuguese Caste, but some Gentues, AB is a Place of the Natives called Carrquilone, BC is all the Dutch Factory, E is the Wigg wams of the Natives, the Shoar is all Sand, under E are the Canoes of the Natives, that live by rogueing and pilfering, The Landing Place is within the Point F but cannot put your own Boat on shoar by reason of the Great Surf, but the Canoes take you in and land you: about G 5 lea’s from F is Anjengo.  The Land by the sea is very low, & the Hills over F & to D cannot be seen except in very clear weather.

The comments about the locals living by "rogueing and pilfering" rather suggests that the stay of the Rooke at Quilon was not a particularly happy one.

Quilon is a very ancient port that was visited for centuries before the Rooke sailed by, by sailors from many countries including those from China, Portugal, and Holland. It was also frequented by Arab ships and quite possibly others with merchants in Roman times.

The port seems to have been ruled over by particularly tolerant people because a number of religions were tolerated there. Tradition has it that St Thomas the Apostle converted many inhabitants to Christianity there.

This may have been why as early as 1291AD a Franciscan Friar Monte Corvino visited Quilon and stayed for 13 months. In 1321AD a Roman Catholic mission under a French priest called Jordan Catalani of Sévérac visited. The port also saw official Papal Missions visit on their way to China at this period. It is quite possible that the port allowed them to change from Arab vessels originating from the Gulf, into vessels from China that used to call at Quilon and Cochin at that period.

Marco Polo is believed to have returned from China via Quilon where he witnessed the production of Indigo.

Figure 2. A map of Quilon and the surrounding districts.

At the same period these Medieval European Christians were passing through, Quilon was also home to a community of Shiite merchants from Persia.  They called the port Kaulam, which has been converted to Kollam and is the modern name for the port.

"About 30 leagues south of the town of Cochin, is the Fortress of Quilon,* which was conquered by the Company from the Portuguese. It was formerly a town, but is now only a petty fort, and as the sea washes, and has even undermined, a portion of the walls, it has now been resolved to reduce it on that side, so that some of the inhabitants will be forced to break up their houses, and take up their abode outside the walls. This fort is of use in vesting the power of the Rajahs of Travancore and of Signati, in whose domains it is situated; and as an outpost against the foreigners, especially the English, whose fort at Anjengo is at no great distance. The Fortress of Quilon commands the bay of the same name : tolls are levied from the native traders, and licenses (passen) issued to them. It possesses little territory inland, besides the plain : on the sea side the boundary is marked by a gate with four stone pillars."

"The factory of Kully Quilon is especially noteworthy, being the first which the East India Company possessed in Malabar. The Rajah of Kully Quilon was the first sovereign who admitted the Company into his territories, though he would not grant them permission to erect a fort. About 400,000 lbs. of pepper are annually purchased by the Company in this place."[1]

[1] Letters from From Malabar, by Jacob Canter Visscher as translated in 1862 by Captain Heber Drury. Pages 24 & 25.

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