Monday, 30 December 2013

Mr. Hutchinson at Anjengo, 1796 and his families later claims on the Travancore Royal family.




Anjengo in the 1790's.
The period from 1760 until about 1790 had been exceptionally profitable for many of the senior East India Company officials.  They had been able to make huge sums of money from private trade, accepting bribes, commission and through lending money out to Rajah's.  This had become a matter of huge concern in Britain, where the existing political establishment was finding its position threatened by the returning Nabobs, who had become wealthy enough to challenge the status quo. 

Following the trial of Warren Hastings and the official enquiries into the loans to Arcot steps were taken by government to try to limit the opportunities for private gain amongst East India Company officials.

This was aim was relatively easy to achieve in the major settlements like Calcutta, Bombay and Madras,however it would prove much more difficult to achieve in remote locations like Anjengo and Tellicherry. Much of the political and physical conflict on the Malabar Coast from 1790 until 1809 can be traced directly to the corrupting effect that EIC officials like John Hutchinson, Torin and Murdoch Brown were having.

Anjengo was one of the first settlements by the British in India, and was often the first, or very last stop by East Indiamen travelling to or from India. It was frequently used as an outpost for the leaving of messages warning shipping of the event of war in India or Europe.
John Hutchinson, filled the office of Commercial Resident at Anjengo from 1782 until 1797.
Walter Ewer visited Anjengo in 1796 and wrote the following interesting report about the situation there.

Anjengo belongs to the Company,& some of the Pepper is shipped off from thence; Iron & other articles are sold here by the Resident on account of the company. I should be glad to see the event of my Tillicherry Investment, before I propose any alteration here. Indeed, an alteration wou’d be no easy matter, the Resident, Mr. Hutchinson being a very singular man. His salary is only 200 & odd Rupees, per month; he has made a very large Fortune by Trade saving; he once had the whole to himself but now the Rajah has got it all. I really think there ought not to be such a Difference between the two commercial Residents that the Anjengo ought to have the same Commission as the Tillicherry one, he has exactly the same Trouble weighing & shipping, & more in procuring it. He has a Commission on the Piece Goods, but the allowances of a station are far short of the consequence of it. Another will not find the same advantages Mr. H. has, by which means, there is a Risk of its falling to a junior servant, which will be very detrimental to the interests of the Company. I wou’d not however recommend an alteration in Mr. H’s time, he having made quite sufficient already. But, altho’ he has had the good luck to amass some how or other, an immense Fortune, his assistant Mr. Dyne, though honour’d with the Title of joint Factor, after 7 years service, has only 140 Rup’s per Month, without any other advantage; this is absolutely starving, he must quit the station, as there is not a writer of this year but has more. many of his juniors in the service have several Thousand Rupees per annum. This Gentleman with the Experience of some years resigning the Post, a Person quite ignorant of the Business, the weighing & shipping of the Pepper, will be sent to supply his place. Liable to be constantly imposed upon, by those who cut for the ships.
The retired situation & the great Distance from the Presidency, enable the Resident to exercise a Power over his Juniors, which wou’d not be submitted to in other places. Mr. Snow the other assistant has only got 90 Rupees per Month.
If I mistake not, the Court found fault with Mr H. for refusing to go into Council, they certainly ought not to have done so, for a more unfit man, they cou’d not have fixed upon. His long Residence, almost out of the World, independently of his singularity of Character, disqualify him totally for such a station.
[1]

John Hutchinson had been making the most of his situation, and was clearly amassing a substantial sum of money. 

He then in turn used this money to lend to the Travancore Royal family.  In time, and long after his death, these loans became subject to a court case in London, and were eventually investigated by a Select Committee of the House of Commons.


Martis, 10 die Aprilis, 1832.

That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Allegations contained in the Petition of Mr. Bury Hutchinson, presented to The House on the 15th day of December 1831, complaining of the interference of the East India Company in preventing the payment of a Debt due from the Rajah of Travancore to Mr. John Hutchinson's Estate, and to report their observations thereupon to The House: And a Committee was appointed of— The select committee heard amongst a great deal of other evidence. That during such Commercial Residency, a large debt became due to the said John Hutchinson, for money advanced by him to the Rajah of Travancore; and that all such money was advanced before the passing of the Act 37 George III. C. 142, by which loans from British Subjects to Native Princes were prohibited, unless made with the consent and approbation of the Court of Directors of the East India Company, or the Governor in Council, or one of the Company’s Governments in India:

"That in the year 1795 [the claims of the said John Hutchinson against the Rajah were inquired into, and examined at Travancore by] Mr. Duncan, then appointed Governor of Bombay, [who expressed himself fully satisfied with the justice of such Claims; and] by the desire of the Rajah, and in part payment of the balance due to the said Rajah from the Bombay Government, paid Mr. John in 1796, upwards of four lacs of rupees, by bills of exchange drawn on the Honourable Company in his favour: "That the said Rajah died in the year 1797,and the said John Hutchinson died a little earlier in the same year ; after which event certain officers of rank belonging to the nephew and successor of the said Rajah, were appointed by and on behalf of that Prince to investigate the matter of the aforesaid debt, in conjunction with George Parry, Esquire, the Company's then Resident at Anjengo, who acted, [with the permission of the Governor of Bombay], on behalf of the said John Hutchinson. "That the Accounts were fully gone into by the said Referees who, after a lengthened examination of the vouchers and other proofs, finally declared, on the 13th March 1800, that a balance then was due to the estate of the said John Hutchinson, deceased, of the sum of Rupees 4,89,734. 3 qrs. 80 reas, and directed the payment thereof by instalments of the several amounts, and at the times mentioned in a written Paper or Certificate, dated the said 13th March 1800, and signed by the said Referees, and which Certificate the Rajah confirmed: "That payments on account of the said balance to the amount of about R" 2,80,000 were made through the hands of the Company's Commercial Resident at Anjengo for the time being, [and, as Your Petitioner verily believes, with the sanction of the East India Company expressed by the proper authorities in India of the said Company:] [That the Debt so due from the Rajah to the said John Hutchinson as aforesaid was, in consequence of the repeated and vexatious interference of the Company's Political Resident at Travancore, subsequently inquired into and examined by the Marquis of Wellesley in 1804, by Sir George Barlow in 1806, and by Lord Minto in 1809, who were successively Governors General of India, and all of whom not only declared themselves fully satisfied with the justice of the said Debt, but sanctioned and directed its payment:]

This evidence can be read in full in Reports from Committees: Eighteen Volumes - Vol. V (Session 6 December 1831 ... from page 445 onwards, which is available on Google Books.

Thomas Baber had been in contact with the Travancore Royal family as far back as 1809, and possibly even earlier, and he had become sympathetic to their situation. Members of the Travancore Royal family had visited him at Tellicherry in 1818.

It appears that at some point he began to advise the family on their rights under British law, and he may have assisted them to find lawyers in London.

After the death of Sir Thomas Munro, Thomas Baber who had been trying to bring in reforms fell foul of the new governor of Madras, Sir Stephen Lushington, who was far more reactionary.

Baber returned to Britain for the first time since 1797, to a rapidly changing political situation, where Reform was in the air.  He was soon giving evidence to committees of the House of Lords on the situation in India.

At some point he decided to return to India. On February 1833, Thomas and Helen Baber sailed from Portsmouth on board the Herefordshire, a 1279 tonne East Indiaman, under the command of Captain. E. Ford. The ship was bound for Bombay and Whampoa. They arrived in Bombay on 11th June 1833, and almost immediately Thomas started writing to his many former Indian friends.

The EIC officials in India, were no longer allowed under the new India Act to control people coming out from Britain to India.  They had however decided to monitor very closely what Thomas Baber was doing in India. This included intercepting his post, and steaming open his letters.
A heated official correspondence started in which Thomas Baber was instructed to cease corresponding directly with Rajah's, and he was forced to provide lists of the Rajah's he had been corresponding with, and details of what he had been writing.

The letter below is particularly interesting because it illustrates how he was advising the Travancore Royal family on their rights under British law in respect to fighting the claims being made by the Hutchinson family against them for debts incurred as far back as 1797.

From T. H. Baber Esq. 
Sea Grove at Bombay
To John Bax Esq. Secretary to Government Political Department

Sir, 
Your letter of the 31st Ultimo – Calling upon me to explain under what circumstances I was induced to write to the two Umma Tamburettees and to the young Rajah of Travancore, except through the channel of the Resident of that Court, reached me only this day, and I now hasten to reply to it, that the Right Honorable the Governor in Council may not, for a moment entertain the idea that, either in the matter of, or mode of addressing my native correspondence, there can be anything that I am not fully prepared to justify – or that Government could possibly object to. Although I have not preserved copies of the many letters I have written since my return to this country, to the several Rajahs and other Chieftains,with whom I have been on terms of intimacy and have considered me, under all circumstances, their best, because disinterested, friend, and cannot call to mind the precise purport of my communications – I can have no hesitation in saying that the three letters in question were merely complimentary announcing the return of myself and family to this country and enquiring into their health etc.

With the first of these Ladies Mawilikara Umma Tamburette, and her relation attinga Umm Tamburette, my acquaintance commenced as far back as the year 1810 (When the former’s son, the late Kerula Wirma Rajah, who had been adopted and raised to the Ellen Rajah (Heir Apparent) to the prejudice of the attinga Umma Tamburetta, was placed order of the Governor General in Council, under my immediate charge / and continued up to the period of my quitting Malabar in 1818, in which latter year, I had the gratification of receiving and providing accommodation for the Elder of these Ladies during a visit she paid me at Tellicherry. At this time as well as at the present I was divested of any Official Character such as to render it a duty incumbent upon me beyond Courtesy to show her these civilities – and I have yet to learn that, in so doing I have infringed any order, or rule of Etiquette, and in regard to the complimentary Letters, the Subject of your reference, I could never suppose that any restrictions the Government have no doubt for the best of reasons imposed upon correspondence between Europeans and Native Princes, could possibly be construed as applying to such a correspondence as the one in question and especially to so old a Civil Servant, who never has directly or indirectly had any transactions of a pecuniary nature with a Native Prince – Who never has received and never would receive a favour from any one of them, and above all, who has, thro’ life, set his face against all sorts of understandings between Europeans and Native Princes that in any way compromised the honor and character of British Government. With respect to the letter to the Rajah of Travancore, to the best of my recollections, I did allude to, or at least intended so to do, to the proceedings carrying on in Parliament relative to the long standing alleged Claim on the part of the Heirs of the late Mr Hutchinson Resident in Travankore, conjunctively with the Office of Commercial Resident in Travankore state for the sum of Two Lacks of Rupees and upwards, with interest from March 1800, and to which having paid very considerable attention having been in communication with the Chairman of the Court of Directors and moreover having been called and Examined before the Committee of the House of Commons, I found myself bound, by every principle of Justice to the Parties, as well as to the Honorable Company to acquaint them with the view and part I had taken, and in which, and for which, I had no other object or motive than, to discountenance all hopes of the Claimants being able to fix the responsibility of this dormant demand upon the Rajah of Travancore, or the Honorable Company and especially to counteract the most erroneous impressions in regard to the measures adopted by the Honorable Company.
I have not preserved copies of my communications but the accompanying original letters from the two chairmen Sir Robert Campbell and Mr Ravenshaw, will be satisfactory to the Right Honorable the Governor in Council, that those authorities attached sufficient consequence to my information and my opinions, to deem them worthy of the Consideration of their standing Council and I have reason to believe that they did tend considerably to fortify the arguments of Mr Sergeant Spankie in his defence of the Honorable Company during that inquiry.  If necessary, I can also produce a document from the claimants themselves to show that from them I never concealed my candid sentiments of the utter hopelessness of their ultimate success, notwithstanding the strong disposition of the House of Commons in their favour.
My letter to the Rajah of Travancore upon the same subject, has, it appears, been transmitted by the Madras, to this Government. I will not enquire how and by what means this has been effected because it would be calling into question the acts of a Public Officer for whom I have the highest respect, I will therefore confine myself to observing, that I could not, consistently with my knowledge of the orders of the Honorable the Court of Directors to the Government of Fort St George in the Political Department dated 12th May 1824 “to abstain from all interference in the matters between parties, one way or the other” communicate thro’ the channel of the Resident, what it was, and is, of so much importance to the Travancore State to know, the events which have already, and are now taking place, in parliament with respect to the long standing and important demand upon it—and from whom could such a communication come with so much propriety as myself one who was totally independent of, or unconnected with both parties – but who at the same time had proved himself on various occasions, both in upholding the rights + of the present dynasty and in maintaining the Public tranquillity the staunchest and most disinterested of friends. If after this hurried explanation, the Right Honorable the Governor in Council of Madras should still think it open to objections my holding a correspondence with the Rajah of Travancore all I can do is bow to that decision, and at the same time to express my readiness to obey the directions of Government as to the disposal of the documents I have brought out with me from England, and which, I believe, compose all that has been done in Parliament Expressly for the information and use of the Travancore State. I have the honor to be etc. 

Bombay Sea Grove 
signed/T.H. Baber

+ Mr Baber’s letter to the Resident of Travancore dated 1st Dec 1810 The Right Honourable the Governor General’s letter dated 9 Feb 1811 Hamilton’s Hindostan Quarto Edition 2nd Vol page 316 Coll Munro’s Public thanks in his letter dated 29th No 1812 Mr Secretary Hill’s letter dated 15th June & Numerous other documents [2]


[1] Anjengo IOR/H/438 Papers of Walter Ewer Folio 205 onwards. [2] OIOC F/4/1460 (57461) folio 12 to 17.

Private Lappe's Providential Escape following the outbreak of the Pyche Raja Rebellion




It is only very rarely that we can get a glimpse into the lives of an ordinary soldier in India, let alone come across their individual names.

Here is the story of one such man, Private Lappe, who was extraordinarily lucky to survive a ferocious ambush at the outbreak of the war between the Pazhassi Rajah and the East India Company at Tellicherry.

The date that the actual battle took place is unclear, possibly before the 4th of November 1796, but certainly by the 18th of January 1797.  The following account however only appeared in the Sussex Advertiser many years later on Monday the 1st of September 1800.[1]

Had Private Lappe by that time been invalided home?

Perhaps he told his story to the local Sussex  reporter.

We will probably never know.

PROVIDENTIAL ESCAPE

A soldier, of the name of Lappe, who belonged to an European battalion, and who made his escape from the Jungle, after the action between a detachment of Europeans and Sepoys belonging to the Bombay Army, and the insurgents in the Cotiote country, has related the following" miraculous “ account of his gaining the British Military post, after the defeat of the detachment, given at Bombay, the 4th of November:—"I was shot, says Lappe) about noon, with a musket ball, in my right breast; and, to resist or escape being utterly impossible, as the only means left me to save my life, I threw myself down among the mortally wounded and the dead, without moving hand or foot. Here, in the evening, the Chief Surveying his conquest, ordered a Jamedar to begin instantly to dispatch those who were likely to survive. This fellow, having already killed Captain Bowman, and several other Europeans, left the remainder to die of themselves, or to fall a prey to the voraciousness of the wild creatures with which the Jungle abounds; for in places it is almost impenetrable. They then filed off to the right, towards the hills, carrying along with them five or six prisoners alive; I believe they were all Sepoys but one, with their hands tied behind their backs, of whom I never since have heard. When I apprehended these sanguinary rebels had entirely left the scene of action, it being very quiet, and rather dark, I found means, on my hands and feet, to creep out from among the carnage, for many men were killed that day by the Rajah's troops, owing to our force having been weakened by sending it in small detachments into the Jungle, where they had never before been, and the enemy firing at them in ambush, where it was impossible to trace them: I got at length at some distance from the place where I lay, and met another of our party, who was less wounded than myself, with whom, after some days wandering in torment and despair, not knowing which way to proceed for fear of being intercepted, we at last fortunately arrived at the military post, worn out with fatigue and the loss of blood, where, we understood, the account of the defeat had been received four days before.

The news slowly spread out from London to the regional towns of England and Scotland.  Many families with relations in India must have anxiously wondered what had been happening in the passing months, it took news to travel around the globe.

On Saturday 5th July 1797, readers in Norfolk came across the following report in their newspaper.

We learn from the Coast of Coromandel, that on the 18th of January [1797] the Rajah of the Cotiote had commenced hostilities against us, and that Captain Bowman and Lieutenant Bond, who had been sent to take possession of One of his strong holds, had, the perfidy of their guide, been led into defile, where they were both killed with most the Sepoys of their party. Captain Lawrence, who went to relief, was like wise led into a defile, from whence he fought his way to a pagoda, where passed the night and following day, till permitted to proceed with his party to Tillicherry. Captain Troy, on his return from a muster of the native troops, had been killed, and Captain Shean desperately wounded. Twenty-four Sepoys were killed, and 50 wounded and missing. General Stuart immediately appointed Major Anderson to march against the Rajah with 250 of the Bombay regiment, a detachment of light artillery, 1,000 Sepoys, and Mopals.

Over the following weeks, more details came out from Leadenhall Street. Readers of the Oxford Journal on Saturday the 29th of July 1797, were given more details about the outbreak started by the Pychy Rajah.

From the Madras Gazette, January 28. By letters from the Malabar coast of the 15th instant, we have been advertised of the revolt of the Cotiote Rajah on that coast, who is said to have commenced his refractory conduct on the 28th instant, by firing on a detachment of Sepoys under the command of Capt. Lawrence, in the neighbourhood of Cootiungarry. On the same day, Capt. Bowman and Lieut. Bond were sent with a detachment to take possession of a strong hold, near the last mentioned place, and were decoyed by an Hircarrah, employed on the occasion, into a narrow defile, where, a strong party of Nairs, in ambuscade, availing them selves 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 overpowered and killed. Several Sepoys, it is also added, were 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. On the 9th, however, he was permitted to retire with his men to Tellicherry. In addition to the above melancholy relation, 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. General Stuart, to whom the intelligence was sent to Cannanore, recommended to Major Anderson immediately to take the field to punish so daring an outrage. The force to be assembled for this purpose, will consist of 250 men of the Bombay regiment under the command of Captain Grammant. A detachment of artillery, with light guns, about one thousand Sepoys, together with a Corps of Mopals, consisting of about 200, raised expressly for the purpose of hunting and counteracting the Nairs in the woods and fortresses. The unhappy fate of so many officers, in being cut off from their friends' and relations, in this cruel and insidious manner, cannot be too much lamented; and provides a melancholy example of the inherent ferocity which has ever been the characteristic of the cast of Nairs.


[1] The Old Soldier's Story - Edward Bird (1772–1819), ca 1808.
[2] These reports and many more from British regional newspapers going back to 1700 are now available at http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

Calicut Prison Break outs & Riots, 1802 to 1808



 


During the putting down of the Pazhassi Rajah's uprising and the associated outbreaks of resistance by the Moplahs to the presence of the East India Company in the Malabar, large numbers of Indian's were thrown into gaols in Calicut, Tellicherry and Canannore.

These gaols were run both directly by the East India Company and also by private gaolers would contracted with the EIC to run prisons.

The gaols were almost certainly highly over crowded and insanitary. The prisoners inside the gaols were actively in planning their escape and attempting to make prison break outs.

The following two accounts from Calicut in 1802 and 1808 describe events during these breakouts. It is not entirely clear exactly when these events took place.

Communications were often slow in those days. The first breakout probably took place in the months immediately before March 1803. The second event probably took place a year to 18 months before the news of the event appeared in the British papers.

The first breakout was yet another worry for the future Duke of Wellington as he was planning the concentration of his forces in the South of India for the campaign he was to fight later that year with the Mahrattas, and which would be capped with his victory at Assaye on the 23rd of September 1803.

Lieut. Stuart.

'Camp at Tuddus, 17th March, 1803

'I have received a letter from Colonel Montresor, from Calicut,of the 6th, from which I learn that the rebellion has spread much in Malabar, and that the rebels were in force not far from that place. The criminals confined in the gaol at Calicut had also got loose; sixty had made their escape, many were killed and some wounded in attempting it. The guard over the gaol had been surprised. Those people were chiefly rebels confirmed by Colonel Stevenson. 'I mislaid Colonel Montresor's letter yesterday evening, otherwise I should send it to you, but I have above stated the outlines of the information which it gives. I now enclose a letter which I have written to Colonel Montresor upon this subject, and if you should approve the directions it contains, I beg you will allow it to be forwarded to him. In fact, no more can be done in this season than I have there stated. It will be useless to leave more posts, or to have more men in Wynaad than the post at Manuntwaddy and those on the tops of the ghauts. If there were two battalions in that district they would be obliged to remain shut up in their posts, where they would be useless; at the same time, the greater the number of troops to be left in Wynaad, the greater will be the difficulty of providing for them. 'I received yesterday your letter of the 15th instant. I have sent Govind Rao with a message to Bappojee Scindiah of the same kind with that which I formerly sent, of which you approved. 'I shall march to-morrow to Misserycotta, where I shall halt next day to allow Major Malcolm to join me, and to give time to Govind Rao to arrange every thing with Bappojee Scindiah'

Believe me,

Lieut. General Arthur Wellesley. [1]

The second report is taken from the Morning Chronicle, one of Britain's leading papers at the time published in London, and reports a desperate act of resistance on the part of a band of Moplah's or Mappilas who knew that they otherwise had no hope of surviving beyond the following morning, when they were going to be executed by the EIC authorities.

They went down fighting, successfully killing and wounding several of the EIC forces.

"The following very extraordinary circumstance lately took place at Calicut: -Seven desperate Mallays who had been the terror of the adjacent country, having carried away the cattle, set fire to the cottages, and murdered several of the natives who opposed their depredations, were apprehended and lodged in the public gaol, when, during the period of their confinement, they behaved in the most refractory and resolute manner. On being brought to trial, several charges were brought home to them,. and they-all received sentence of death; but the evening previous to their execution, they rose on their guards, whom they murdered ; and possessing themselves of their muskets, 'bade defiance to the keeper of the prison and his assistants. The Officer commanding in the district, with a small detachment of seapoys, attempted to scale the walls of the prison; the doors and windows being blockaded. within; but he was repulsed with the lost of several men ; the assailants however being reinforced from an adjacent station, and the desperadoes finding themselves overpowered, set fire to that part of the prison in which they were confined, and refusing all assistance, perished in the flames. Fortunately the rest of the prisoners were rescued, and a part of the building was saved from destruction. [2]

[1]The dispatches of ... the duke of Wellington, compiled by Lieut. colonel John Gurwood, 1837... page 422.
[2] Morning Chronicle. Monday 08 August 1808. From the British Newspaper Archive Site.
Prison photo courtesy of Epoch Times.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Forests, Conservators and other Evils


Kerala Rainforest picture courtesy of http://asianetindia.com/rain-forest/


Like so many of the other Englishmen sent out to India, Thomas Baber had an in-built love of hunting and therefore affection for forests. When he arrived in India in 1797 the areas immediately surrounding Calicut and Tellicherry had already largely been cleared of all the larger trees, which had previously felled for many miles around the actual settlements themselves.

These had occurred by the middle of the 18th Century when drawings clearly shown barren treeless hills.  The records of the factory at Tellicherry are full of correspondence arranging for the acquistion of wood for fuel from locations up the coast as far as Mt Deli, or from Calicut.

However further inland the situation was very different, as is apparent from the following account by James Welsh, written to describe his experience when marching through the Wayanad in 1812, where he assisted Thomas Baber and the other troops to put down the rebellion that had broken out there.

"On 15th, two parties formed, under Captain James and myself, Mr. Baber accompanying mine. We saw no more rebels in arms, but many of them came in with Mr. Baber, who appeared to know every man in the country; and pledged themselves to give up their leaders in six days on a promise of a pardon to the rest. This part of the country is strong, wild, and beautiful; consisting of a number of small hills, covered with jungle, and separated by narrow valleys, in which there are neither rivers or paddy fields. Yesterday in particular, we passed through a narrow defile, nearly a mile in length, in which we discovered trees of such enormous height and magnitude, that I am fearful of mentioning my ideas of their measurement, further, than that some of them did not commence spreading from the parent stem, until they had reached the height of the topmast-head of a man of war; the name of these trees is Neer parum, the wood of which is not valuable, and the Ayany, or wild jack, the tree from which the largest canoes are made, as well as the best beams for building".[1]

Welsh's observations must have been a regular experience for Thomas who had been travelling within these regions since 1797.

That Thomas Baber was aware of the great potential of the huge trees contained within these forests is demonstrated by the events in 1807.

"Extract of a letter from Sir E Pellew to the Hon’ble Wm Pole Secretary to the Admiralty dated his Majesties Ship Culloden Bombay Harbour 20th May 1808.

A twelve month since I had an opportunity of receiving much valuable information from Mr Baber at Cannanore one of the Coll’tors of the Province of Malabar by whom I was satisfied that great impositions had heretofore been experienced by the Confederacy & the Merchants on the Coast from whom as the only dealers in timber the Naval Service had been formerly supplied & he gave me management to make the experiment of procuring them by means of an agency which supported by his authority would enable me to obtain a considerable supply at a trifling comparative expense –

The result has proved most satisfactory, a native agent has been employed under my directions to cut 50 large spars for the use of the squadrons who has accomplished his undertaking by bringing the whole of them down to the beach in Tellicherry at an expense of less than 6,000 rupees from which they will be conveyed to Madras & Bombay by the men of war which touch thereon their passage along the coast without any further charge & creating a nett saving for His Majesties government of £18,730.

I have the honour to enclose a list of their dimensions and have not to observed the price at which 52 large spars have thus been procured, has heretofore been paid at Bombay for two only by individuals as well as for the King’s service.

I consider the supply has been obtained upon these very advantageous terms entirely under the Benefit of Mr Baber’s local authority in preventing imposition & by the aid he has been able to give to the agent & proceedings."
[2]

The Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean was engaged at that period in a life and death struggle with the French Navy and privateers based on Bourbon and Isle de France.

In the days of sail, suitable masts were vital not just to victory, but also for very survival.

With the French in possession of most of Continental Europe's ports, and controlling the routes to the vital Baltic forests, which traditionally provided the masts so important to the Royal Navy, it was becoming difficult to refit the navies ships.

Although a large dockyard existed at Bombay, the nearby forests on the Konkani Ghats were exhausted, and masts had to be brought up from Malabar or half way around the World from a less than friendly America.

The merchants were taking the maximum advantage of the navies desperate need for new masts, by applying very high margins to the price of these mast timbers.

The details of the naval events in the India Ocean, are too complex to set out here, but are ably described in Stephen Taylor's recent book "Storm & Conquest, The Battle for the India Ocean, 1809."

Between 1807 and 1809 the East India Company and Royal Navy were to come within an ace of loosing control of the Indian Ocean, and suffered some appalling loses due to the unmanning and the weak condition of many of their ships.

Thomas Baber had more cause than most to dislike the French on Isle de France and Reunion. His younger brother John Baber (1783-1807) had been captured by French privateers operating out of Isle de Reunion.

It appears that for some reason John, possibly from ill health, who had arrived in India in 1802, as an EIC infantry officer was travelling aboard the East India ship Phoenix, which was captured on 20 Vendemaire an 14 (12th October 1805), by the French Corsaire ship “La Henriette.”

French records show that a “Jean Barber Lieutenant d’infanterie passager” was landed as a prisoner on “1er Brumaire an 14” (23rd October 1805) on the Ile de la Reunion.

Presumably Jean Barber was as close as the French clerk could get to spelling John Baber.

It is possible that John was already ill, or that perhaps the conditions in the prison killed him, for he died on 20 Pluviose an 14 (9th February 1806)

The records say “cet homme est rest√© malade √† l’Ile de la Reunion – mort le 20 Pluviose an 14" [3]

There was considerable uncertainty over the date of his death. According to Hodsons' Index of officers of the Bengal Army, he died on Mauritius 16th July 1807.

It is clear that for a long time after the event that the Baber family in England had no idea what had become of their brother. In the flyleaf of his “Memoranda relating to the life of Henry Hervey Baber” is a rough draft by his eldest brother of a family tree. Sadly it is not possible to exactly date the tree, but from the dates given by later additions on January 28th 1809, it would appear that as late as January 1809, John was thought by the family in England to have “perished by some unknown means (supposed shipwrecked) in the East Indies.”

Thomas Baber in India, may have been the first to learn of the loss of the Phoenix.

The death of his brother, may well have strengthened Thomas resolve to get back at the French, or at least prevent this happening to others.

It appears that he identifed fifty suitable trees and organised for them to be brought down to the coast for shipment to Bombay.

"-- Of the Duty of a Conservator of Forests I never could understand that it extended beyond receiving and paying for timber felled in the Malabar Forests when brought down to the coast, the whole timber being contracted for with the proprietors and former timber merchants – A greater misnomer than conservator cannot be conceived, Mr Fell, to my certain knowledge, never has seen the Forests, and although his assistant Captn Pinch has occasionally visited them, it is the most ridiculous idea conceivable to suppose that it is in his or any mans power to superintend such a prodigious extent of mountain jungle as the Malabar Forests, with an establishment of 3 inspectors and about 40 peons (that is I believe at utmost extent) and if they could, eui bono when not a tree can be exported, nor brought down to the coast without permission from the Collectors of land or sea Customs – So that in fact all that the Conservator & his officers have to do is, to take care of the Timber, which can be done just as well, and to a great deal better by a Collector than any other person – That never was a more useless appointment or establishment than that of Conservator of Malabar, and if my opinion was allowed to have any weight it should be in favour of a petition from the Merchants I sent up to Government in 1808 praying to be restored to their rights in the Forests, and to be allowed to continue to trade in such timber as the Government do not its self require for naval purposes, and all such timber they offered to give to the Company at ---- cost, and to give security, required of them, that they would not cut down any trees than such as the Government permitted them to __ I know not what the profits to the Company are upon the timber they sell, but they must be very trifling and go a very little way to defray the enormous annual expense of the Conservator & his establishment. I never heard that the cost of Timber before it reaches Bombay is more Now then when the trade was open and the company were obliged to buy their wants from the Merchants – But the monopoly is so odious a measure and one that has given rise to so much discontent , that one sacrifice a little for the care and welfare of those whom we are bound to conciliate there is most objection which seems wholly to have escaped the Consideration of Govt and that is, that the monopoly has put a total stop to ship building amongst the coast merchants, and this indeed may be considered as one of the causes of the great stagnation of trade in Malabar – The old Bupee of Cananese wanted to build a new ship of 4 to 500 tons burthen, and applied to the conservator of the Forests for the necessary Timber – who answered He has no orders to sell timber – I send the original answer, as a specimen of the uncourtly reception the old Lady’s application met with." [4]

From our knowledge of Thomas Baber’s forthright opinions, and his directness, I imagine that poor Mr Fell must have felt the full weight of Tom’s displeasure on more than one occasion.

In his 1830 evidence to the House of Lords Thomas explained the difficulties brought about by the timber monopoly.


Was there not, during the Period of your Residence in Malabar, a Monopoly of Timber?

There was, both of the Timber and of the Forests, which were taken Possession of by the Government.

Did that Monopoly extend, not only to the Forests but to Timber in the Gardens and Fields of the several Proprietors?

It was not, I imagine, so intended in the first instance; but the Conservator, the Officer whose Province it was to superintend the Monopoly, extended it to Timber grown in Gardens; but I believe it was that Officer's own Act. Great Complaints were frequently made, but I never heard of any Redress, until Sir Thomas Munro abolished the Monopoly altogether. This, I think, was in 1823.

During that Time was the Price of Timber much raised, so as to stop Shipbuilding on the Coast of Malabar?

It was not procurable on any Terms. The Company took the whole Quantity, except what was called the Refuse, which was of little Use in Shipbuilding.

Was Shipbuilding stopped on the Coast of Malabar in consequence?

Entirely. I have seen Applications from the principal Shipbuilders to the Conservator of the Forests and to the Government, to sell to them, or to be allowed to purchase, Timber to build and repair their Vessels. They offered to purchase at any Price.

Since the Monopoly was taken off, has Shipbuilding improved?

Yes; Four or Five Vessels have been built, or are building.

What is the State of the Government Forests since the Cessation of the Government Monopoly?

The Forests were given up wholly to the Proprietors.

Are there no Forests belonging to the Government now?

In the Northern Part of Canara, that is, from the Subramanny Pagoda, East of Mangalore, there are; all the Forests to the Eastward, or on the Ghaut Mountains that is, are the Property of the Government; I never, at least, heard of any Individuals laying Claim to them. But the whole Tract of Forests South of Subramanny is claimed, and I have no doubt is the Property of private Individuals. I have seen many of these Title Deeds upwards of a Century old.

The Reason for the Monopoly originally was, that the Timber might be supplied at a lower Rate to the Dock Yard at Bombay?

The ostensible Reason given in the first Proclamation by the Principal Collector of Malabar, dated 18th July 1806, stated, "That The Honourable Company had Occasion for Teak Trees for the Purpose of building Ships, and therefore the Government had resolved to grant a Monopoly to one Chowakkara Moosa, in order that it might be furnished with the Trees it wanted at a low Price," &c. The subsequent Proclamation by the Madras Government, dated 25th April 1807, announced, "the Assumption, in pursuance of Orders from The Honourable Court of Directors, of the Sovereignty of the Forests in the Provinces of Malabar and Canara."

Was Timber cheaper in consequence of that Monopoly at Bombay than it is at present?

I rather think the Price was considerably enhanced to what it was before the Monopoly, owing to the Expense of the Conservator's Establishment.

Was the Conservator sent by the Government of Bombay, or by the Governor of Madras?

By the Governor of Bombay; the Forests were re-transferred to Bombay by Orders from the Court of Directors.

There was no Survey originally of the Forests?

There never was. I beg to refer their Lordships to a very able Minute, one of the Documents published in Sir Thomas Munro's Life, containing full Information on this Subject:



Once Thomas had decided on a course of events, or on the rightness of his opinions, he would pursue his cause, through thick and thin, and in the face of any amount of opposition.  No wonder he was often deeply unpopular.


[1]James Welsh, Military Reminiscences volume 2, page 12.
[2]Taken from the Appendix to the Report on Indian Affairs letter 188. OIOC Collection.
[3]I am much indebted to Philippe Lahausse,and Marina Carter for this information taken from the Mauritius archives.
[4]From letter written by Thomas Hervey Baber to Sir Thomas Munro, 5th May 1817. OIOC Private Papers IOR:MSS. F151 / 43 folio 30 -- 31. to Sir Thomas Munro