Vasco Da Gama’s meeting with the Zamorin at Calicut 1498
Vasco Da Gama’s meeting with the Zamorin at Calicut 1498
Vijay, a fellow blogger and history enthusiast asked a question some weeks ago about the Malabarese soldiers who accompanied or fought for the Portuguese in various wars. It was an interesting question, considering the turbulent situations in medieval Malabar. Were they Nairs, the traditional warriors, or conscripts from the Christian trader communities, were they the ‘low class converts’, or soldiers from other classes such as Thiyya or Ezhava or hillmen like the Kurichiyars or otherwise or were they Moplah’s? Considering that the Frinigi or Parangi – the Portuguese settlers were equally hated by all of the indigenous people, was it the lure of money that created this new mercenary class of Malabarese soldiers? How did they fare? How were they equipped and treated? Did they get equal opportunities? Interesting questions indeed! An anthropologist thrives in these situations, looking at the conqueror or occupier, the conquest or the spoils, the relationships and various angles, the land and the terrain, but I will not go in such a direction for I am no anthropologist, I will view the facts as an amused and deeply interested history buff, which I am and will try to bring them across to you in a somewhat coherent fashion.
The Mystery of the Pooly sahib
Sometimes you come across the strangest things in India. I was reading a book, a fine one at that (through it would be termed dry & academic by many others) called Saints Goddesses and Kings by Susan Bayly and then this snippet popped into the reading frame. It was just a brief mention of the Pooly ghost in Tirunelveli, but I thought it would make a somewhat interesting story, if indeed there was one behind it and so I spent a while researching it.
To get to the bottom of all that you have to go to a village called Illamulli in Suvisheshpuram – near Tirunelveli. Not many people knew it then, not many do even now. But this is back in 1809, a time when the CMS missionaries were still to plan their missionary activities.
Some who have been involved with history would recognize the year, for a major event took place in Travancore, something that would change the course of events our there. The events took place right at the beginning of that year and so I am going to take you, to a place called Aramboli, Aramunny, Arambuli or Arambooly. As I explained some months ago, there were mainly two passes * in the Western Ghats, one was at Palakkad, which I wrote about connecting it to trade.
Quoting James Mill (History of British India) - The mountains are lofty and covered with jungle, and present in general almost insuperable obstacles to the march of an army with baggage and artillery. The most practicable passes are situated near the southernmost extremity of the chain, where the mountains decline in elevation as they approach the sea; and through one of these, the pass of Arambuli or Aramuni, it was determined on this occasion to force an entrance into Travancore. The Arambuli pass was defended by formidable lines, consisting of a number of small redoubts, each mounting two or three guns, and connected by a strong wall of masonry. The whole extended about two miles along the sides of steep and rugged hills, and terminated at either extremity by a strongly fortified mountain flanked by impenetrable jungle. The high road from Palamkota led through the centre of the works, by a gateway which was commanded by two large circular bastions armed with several pieces of ordnance.
Colonel St. Leger arrived at the foot of the lines on the 6th of February; and, as the division was unequipped with a battering train, determined to attempt to carry the pass by surprise. On the night of the 10th, Major Welsh, with two companies of the 69th, four flank and five battalion companies of the 3rd native infantry, quietly climbed the hill on which the southern works were erected, and, after six hours' arduous ascent, reached the foot of the wall unperceived. The ladders were planted, and the ramparts scaled, before any effective resistance could be opposed; and although a short stand was made, which was attended with some loss of life, the redoubt was quickly in possession of the assailants. As soon as the day broke, the guns of the bastion were turned upon the defences of the pass, which they enfiladed; and, reinforcements being sent to Major Welsh, he was strong enough to attack the rest of the lines, and the whole of the works were speedily cleared of their defenders.
Having thus secured his entrance into Travancore, Colonel St. Leger advanced on the 17th of February into the interior; and dislodged, after a short action, a body of troops strongly posted, with nine guns, on the bank of a river near the village of Nagarkbil. The next march brought the troops to the forts of Udagiri and Papanavaram, which were abandoned: the gates were set open, the garrisons had fled, and ensigns denoting submission were seen flying in every direction. Our loss was Captain Lenn of the Caffres, and Lieutenant Swayne of the 13th Native infantry, wounded, and forty-nine rank and file killed and wounded. After this brilliant affair, which did infinite credit to Colonel M'Leod and the brave fellows under his command, the army encamped, four miles beyond the village of Nagracoile. The country was now completely in the possession of the British: the Nairs disbanded, and retired to their homes; the Dewan, despairing of forgiveness, fled into the thickets; and the Raja, left to himself, hastened to tender his submission, and profess his readiness to conform to any conditions which the Resident should please to dictate.
As we said before, most of the fortifications had been created by a clever French Officer Eustace De Lannoy. The northern Travancore lines were the ones that foiled the attempts of Tipu from marching into Travancore. The British used a rear entry tactic to get into Trivandrum. After the battle was won and various postwar activities commenced at Travancore, the people on the other side of the hill, however experienced a legendary incident involving a wounded white strangler from this war. In the heat of the battle, one British officer was mortally wounded, started across the hills and was picked up by some native Shannars (Shanars or Nadars) of Tinnevelly. His name was Capt Powell or Poole. But one who read the previous paragraphs carefully would say - The only losses were Lenn, Swayne & Cunningham. No deserters or mortally wounded were named. So who was Powell or Poole?
Let us take up the commentary as recorded by RC Cladwell - In the early part of this century, when we had some difficulty with Travancore, and our troops had to storm its " lines " at the Arambooly Pass—the southernmost pass in the Ghauts of India—there was a certain Captain Pole, who was mortally wounded. The poor man appears to have tried to return across country to Madura, to obtain European medical assistance, but died on the way, in the South Tinnevelly Palmyra forest. The simple Shanars of the district were terrified. They opened his scanty " kit" and amongst other things found some brandy and cheroots. What was to be done? His manes, according to their belief, were now abroad in the neighborhood, and must be duly propitiated. A grave was dug under the banyan I have referred to, a hut was hastily erected, the services of a local devil-dancer were procured, and the ghost of the officer was duly worshipped. But he was a white man; what gift would be most pleasing to his soul? The brandy and cheroots! So almost to this present day has continued this extraordinary worship. Alcoholic liquor, in some form or other, and cheroots, have been periodically presented at the grave of Captain Pole, under that spreading tree and before that solitary hut on the sandy waste, in order that the spirit of the departed soldier might refrain from wreaking vengeance on the simple rustics of the neighborhood. Near to this curious shrine are a number of small obelisks. The intention of these is well known. The devil-worshipper believes that the ghost of the dead man or the local he or she devil, as it walks about, never touches the ground with its airy feet, and is therefore always on the move, seeking rest. These obelisks, therefore, please the spirits, who rest on the top of them and watch the dances in their honor, and see, with a grin of infernal satisfaction, the fowls which are being sacrificed to them have their throats cut, and go flapping and tumbling about comically in their death throes!
To commemorate the event a song was created by the devil dancers.
Over time the story and its variations multiplied.
Bishop Caldwell then tried to get to the bottom of the story separately and clarified in detail - I shall here give an exact account of what took place. The circumstances are these. From the rude verses which were sung in connection with this person’s worship, it would appear that he was an English officer, a Captain Pole, or some such name, who was mortally wounded at the taking of the Travancore Lines in 1809. They were carrying him towards a place on the sea-coast of Tinnevelly called Manapar, probably in the hope of seeing him recover, but he died on the way at a place in a dreary range of sand-hills about four miles from the place where I write this. Shortly after his death, the ignorant people in the neighborhood commenced to worship him as a demon. Every demon has offered to him what he is supposed to like best. An ordinary Indian demon would have preferred blood, but the offerings made to this English officer consisted in ardent spirits and cigars! I found this worship in full vigour when I arrived in these parts more than forty years ago, but it has long since passed away and been forgotten. My chief reason for mentioning it here is the unfair use of it which has sometimes been made. An English “globe-trotter,” who afterwards went into Parliament, asserted in Parliament, in the course of a tirade against the English Government in India, that this worship of an English officer as a devil was an illustration of the horror in which the English were held by the natives. The fact is, that the motive of the people of the neighborhood was not horror or dislike of anything they had heard about the poor man, but pity for his melancholy end, dying as he did in a desert, far away from friends, so that it was impossible that his spirit could have rest.
Another version by Monier Williams went thus - The most terrible of all demons are thought to be those created by Europeans. Of course the propitiating process must vary according to the character of the man whose demonized spirit is to be coaxed into good-humor. His tastes and idiosyncrasies during life must be carefully inquired into and judiciously indulged. The story is told of a certain choleric Englishman who was a terror to the inhabitants of a district in the South of India, and whose ghost after his death had to be constantly appeased by offerings of good cooked meat, brandy, soda-water, and cigars placed daily on his tomb. The same was done to secure the continued good-will of a philanthropic sportsman, who when he was alive delivered a large tract of country from the ravages of tigers. You can now see how the story changes character..
The next version by Rev Ragland was even more interesting - I will add another page out of the history of Satan's lyings. Near Suviseshapuram (the town of the gospel) is a lofty red sand-hill, which at the beginning of this century was chosen as the first station for the trigonometers' survey of South India. About a mile or two distant from this station is an inveterately heathen town called Illamulley, abounding with pey-coila or devil-houses, the largest of these, at least the largest of the altars in these, being dedicated to a pey called Pooley Sahib. He is the favourite, i. e. the most dreaded deity of the place, I believe, is hymned in a lengthy poem of some merit, of which the translation of a great part was read to me, and is attempted to be appeased by offerings of mutton, arrack, and cheroots. And whom do you imagine this mysterious personage to be? You will be as much astonished as I was to learn that he is nothing more nor less than the spirit of an English officer, of the name of Pole, or Powell, or some other similar name, metamorphosed by the Hindoos into Pooley, who was killed in 1809, at the taking of the Arambooly lines, and carried back to the station on the hill to be buried. Having met with a violent death, his ghost was supposed to be the cause of all the sicknesses of man and beast in the neighborhood. A man could not get a headache in a walk past the grave, but the Englishman's spirit was taxed as the author of it. The senseless Illamulley-ites at length sent a deputation, invited the spirit to their town, bribing it with the offer of a larger altar than any that had been erected there, promised offerings such as they shrewdly imagined would be most grateful to an English officer's ghost, and provided, I suppose, a native poet to prepare a hymn to be sung on peculiarly solemn occasions. This hymn speaks of Pooley-Sahib, as one of the greatest of heroes, and the conqueror of Madura, Tinnevelly etc., describes the attempts of his wife (a second Andromache) to dissuade him from the fatal fight, speaks of his power since death to inspire men with madness and to slay with a blow or breath whole herds of cattle. But the opening of the hymn is the most remarkable part of the whole. The spirit being Christian, and popery being the only form of Christianity known in this part of India until later years, it commences with an invocation of the Virgin Mary.
So Pole or Powell, or some such name as Dr Caldwell admits (yes, one check with the war office would have been enough to clear the matter had there been a doubt, but since Caldwell and Thurston and many others, evangelists or not chose to leave the story be, it seems that one of the unnamed dead Englishmen was indeed the Pole or Powell) was buried by the Shannars or Nadars and a small burial stone erected, together with the obelisks in line with their practice. The English did not, I assume mention the desertion or flight of this gentleman or even his existence probably as he was considered a deserter, without perhaps the knowledge that he was mortally injured.
But why did the Shannars accord a dying strangler this honor? Was it the courage of the soldier in the last hours, was it the officer’s pride in facing death that impressed the tribals, sadly, we are not to know.
But anthropologists like Sundar Kaali have an answer after study of the thought process of those ancient times– Studies of tribal rituals indicate that a violent death generates a cult. Violent death transfers power to death deities. This power can be summoned to counteract other elemental forces such as disease, disaster or death!! So it is not just a matter of honoring the dead, but a category transfer that enables contact with them…
Now to imagine how violent that death would be, you have to read my article on the Pazhassi Raja. If Pole had been shot with a Brown Bessie, one ounce musket ball, it would have knocked him flat and you stayed flat with shock, ripped muscles, shattered bones, arteries and nerves, and heavy bleeding. Maybe that was the sight seen by the Shannars who are mostly used to bows and arrows and lance or sword wounds.
According to Sundar Kaali, two stories possibly merged to create this legend, one being the Pooley story otherwise known as the Vellaikaran, and the other the Ittimulli story involving another Englishman called Turaimatan. Turaimatan lost his life fighting against one of the Nayaks, possibly the Veera Pandya Kattabomman during the times of the Khan.
The place where Pole is worshipped is I believe called Pole pettai. A typical description of the propiation ceremenoy is provided in the story A witch’s den by Mme Blavatsky.
But another portrait, amazed my friend a good deal, and put him in a blue funk. The whole district recognized an English officer, a certain Captain Pole, who in his lifetime was as kind a gentleman as ever lived."
"Indeed? But do you mean to say that this strange people worshipped Captain Pole also?"
"Of course they did! Captain Pole was such a worthy man, such an honest officer, that, after his death, he could not help being promoted to the highest rank of Shanar devils. The Pe-Kovil, demon's house, sacred to his memory, stands side by side with the Pe-Kovil Bhadrakali, which was recently conferred on the wife of a certain German missionary, who also was a most charitable lady and so is very dangerous now."
"But what are their ceremonies? Tell us something about their rites."
"Their rites consist chiefly of dancing, singing, and killing sacrificial animals. The Shanars have no castes, and eat all kinds of meat. The crowd assembles about the Pe-Kovil, previously designated by the priest; there is a general beating of drums, and slaughtering of fowls, sheep and goats. When Captain Pole's turn came an ox was killed, as a thoughtful attention to the peculiar tastes of his nation. The priest appeared, covered with bangles, and holding a wand on which tinkled numberless little bells, and wearing garlands of red and white flowers round his neck, and a black mantle, on which were embroidered the ugliest fiends you can imagine. Horns were blown and drums rolled incessantly. And oh, I forgot to tell you there was also a kind of fiddle, the secret of which is known only to the Shanar priesthood. Its bow is ordinary enough, made of bamboo; but it is whispered that the strings are human veins. .... When Captain Pole took possession of the priest's body, the priest leapt high in the air, and then rushed on the ox and killed him. He drank off the hot blood, and then began his dance. But what a fright he was when dancing! You know, I am not superstitious. . . . . Ami? . . ."
Many other white soldiers died in various parts of the Coromandel while fighting the Nayaks, but were not accorded such legends and rites. So those final moments hold the key, which I am unfortunately not able to unlock. So we know not who this English soldier was, if he was an Englishman, Welsh, Scots or Irish or the rest of his melancholy existence, though he lives on in ghostly fashion, after death. But the story proved to be an interesting one and one for a rainy day, which today is and is just right for Ghostly Haloween which is tomorrow.
Contemporary Review – Vol 27
Brahmanism and Hinduism - Sir Monier Monier-Williams
Journal, Volume 1 - Anthropological Society of Bombay
A memoir of the Rev. Thomas Gajetan Ragland - Thomas Thomason Perowne
Military reminscences; extracted from a journal of nearly forty years - James Welsh
The Travancore state manual, Volume 1 - V. Nagam Aiya
A political and general history of the District of Tinnevelly Robert Caldwell
Omens and superstitions of southern India Edgar Thurston
History and the Present - Partha Chatterjee, Anjan Ghosh
Historical records of the XIII Madras infantry Robert Pilkington Jackson
Diary of Colonel Bayly -12th regiment. 1796-1830 - Richard Bayly
From the caves and jungles of Hindostan - Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
*There were actually three passes during that period. One into Coimbatore, called the Chavakkad (near Trichur) or Palakkad pass; the second is the Ariyankol, into Tinnevelly ; the third is the Arambuli. Somewhere in that region is the Thovala Fort; near Aramboly about 10 km from Nagercoil on the Nagercoil-Tirunelveli Highway, the remains of the Eastern Defence Lines of Travancore.
One of the little known and less written about stories of Calicut is set during the period just after the immolation of the Zamorin and the conclusion of the Zamorin era in 1766 during the onset of Hyder’s invasion of Malabar. I will be covering the Zamorin’s death and the story around it soon, but this one comes after the said event and snapped the last thread of hope the family of Zamorins had of holding on to their prestige & territories.
We talked in other articles about the Portuguese, the Dutch and at times the English. This one involves the French Infantry colonel and Governor of Mahe, later theologian Le Comte Du Prat and of the astounding situation where for the first time; a French flag was flown on the flag mast at the Zamorin’s palace in Calicut. Now imagine what would have happened if that situation had taken root, just imagine, we would be eating crepes and croissants, foie gras, duck confit and all that and talking French and I would not have had to trouble my friend Murali to try and get to the gist of what Duprat had to say in his own antiquated French words in his memoir. Just imagine, we would have been swimming in perfume and doffing our noses daintily at the English. But as you all know that did not happen.Let us now get serious and find out what happened.
French in Malabar
We now go to a period around 1774 to Mahe. Now historians would prefer to start with the 1642 when the French East India Company was formed, but actually the French got started around 1668 at Surat to set up a factory under the French flag. Then it was Madras. The French finally came to Malabar, some years after establishing themselves in Pondicherry, and founded a factory at Mahe in 1721, but settled down there by 1725.
Situation in Calicut
By 1764 the complacent Calicut was attacked by Hyder’s troops. Hyder had started out from Mysore via Palghat with his army demanding a tribute and restitution amounting to Rs 12 crores or something like that but the Zamorin had no money to pay that kind of retribution. He tried delay tactics, but when the armies were at his door and he was threatened with bodily injury and starvation tactics were hinted at, he had no option but to give up and committed suicide by immolation in his palace. The Zamorin’s families moved on to Tanur or Kottakkal and Hyder’s people ransacked Calicut with able support from the Moplah populace.
Finally in 1768, the new Zamorin returned to Calicut after agreeing to pay the required annual tribute to Hyder. Peace prevailed for 6 years between 1768 and 1774. The Zamorin in the meantime started the usual quarrels with the Cochin rajah on petty issues, this time over the appointment of a priest at the Trippayar temple. As Krishna Iyer succinctly puts it ‘as though his head and existence of his kingdom depended on it’. Hyder on the other hand was busy with his fights elsewhere, the Marathas and the English. Once that was all done and dusted, and he had come to agreements with the foes, he took notice of the transigence at Calicut and deputed his General Srinivasa Rao through Wynad with an army to occupy Calicut once again and quell any revolt.
Knowing that Hyder the Nawab of Mysore was pally pally with the French, the Zamorin approached the French for help, through the newly appointed Governor of nearby Mahe - Colonel Duprat.
Le Comte Pierre-Antoine Duprat
The French were smarting under the English takeover of Mahe in 1761 and it was in 1764 that they wrested it back. The English had pillaged and destroyed the settlement by then, working in league with the king of Kadathanad. Law de Lauriston the French commander at Pondicherry considered maintaining the small town of Mahe uneconomical, due to the heavy expenses in keeping a garrison and a constant vigil. The Zamorin no longer had absolute power over the region and there were skirmishes all the time, some directed against the garrison. Kottayam, Kurangod, Kolathunad, Chirakkal, Kadathanad and so on continued with their internal issues. Mahe was in their middle. The 3 or 4 forts that the French had, were destroyed by the British in 1761.The question in 1765 was whether to quit Mahe or not. The garrison contained 160 French and 150 sepoys or topasses, which according to Law was a greater ‘citizens to soldier ratio’ than even Pondicherry. But the feeling of trouble hung low like the monsoon clouds, ready to break at any moment. The French were also considering relocation to Colachel in Travancore, upon the Travancore Raja’s invitation. During this period the station head at Mahe was Picot De La Motte. He left briefly in 1773, on a leave of absence and his place was taken up by Duprat.
Duprat decided to extend the French holdings and influence in Malabar, entirely on his own initiative, with all of his resources (310 soldiers as we saw previously). Very forthrightly he said in his memoirs ‘I have never looked at things except in a great way, I believe a man can do what man has done and many have done great things’. Interesting person, right? What he was to do would put the French directly against the might of the Mysore Sultans and earn their distrust for a very long time indeed. So let us see where Dupart led the French to.
As we saw before, Sreenivasa Rao was on his way to subdue Calicut once again, upon Hyder’s orders, and late in Dec 1773 the Zamorin had established contact with Duprat. The ambitious Duprat decided that this was an opportunity to make the once mighty Zamorin his vassal and annex his forces and influence. Duprat without waiting for formal clearance from Pondicherry agreed to provide military support to the Zamorin against the forces of Hyder bearing down on them through the Wyanad passes. Dupart sailed to Calicut with 100 or so soldiers and 3 cannons, in the frigate Belle Poule.
Duprat in his own words states that he left out for India in 1772 and after stays in the East coast and later Pondicherry, reached Mahe in Nov 1773. His first observation of the people of Malabar is interesting. “I studied it much the character of the Indian They are sweet & shy people easily deceived, though somewhat inconsistent, and are suspicious assets, very ignorant in the art of war”. Interesting fellow, I suppose.
In January 1774, the French flag was apparently hoisted on the Zamorin’s palace and the citadel (what and where was that?) and on the 12th a treaty was signed with the Zamorin where Calicut was placed under the protection of the French and in return the Zamorin granted the French a complete monopoly over trade and the right to build forts wherever they pleased. Well, that was interesting and is indeed a fact. Some day I will provide you the text of that treaty after some translation efforts.
In the meantime, Duprat sent off letters informing Hyder that Calicut was under the French flag and that it would be wise if he called back Rao and his forces. The tone was rude and arrogant. Again, in strident tones he added text to inform Hyder of the might of the French empire backing his actions (which of course was not the case). In fact Duprat’s letter even mentioned that he had come in a French battleship and was expecting two more ships and 4,000 men as reinforcement. He even offered a formal alliance to Hyder with the French nation in return. Hyder of course called the bluff.
Srinivasa Rao reached Calicut with his forces and found the French in control there. It appears that he was a very wise man and so paused for a while at the gates. The vast army of Hyder would have decimated the 100 (or 140) soldiers and 3 cannon of Duprat. Duprat finally encountered lady wisdom after seeing the forces. What happened was this, the Zamorin left Calicut in a hurry and Duprat slunk away to Mahe with his flag and soldiers.
The adventure was rash and the withdrawal was humiliating, and on top of that Hyder was enraged. But Duprat was Duprat. He wrote to Hyder from Mahe saying that he had not retreated in fear and haughtily claimed that it was due to his refined wisdom and that Hyder actually owed the French a lot for all the help they had obtained from the French. Hyder did not forget this for a long time and his distrust of the French was to become even more marked after this episode. It built up later into outright animosity. On one hand, Law was in regular touch with Hyder and on the other hand there was a lower level commander Duprat threatening him. For 5 years Hyder was to maintain a cold relation with Pondicherry due to this act.
Duprat was severely reprimanded in writing in Feb 1774 , but then he would not keep quiet. He was smarting from the ignominy and defeat at Calicut and decided now to flex his arms at the king of Kadathanad. He decided to enforce a monopoly on pepper and refused to allow them to sell it to the English as they had done for years. The revenue which was to be provided indirectly to Hyder was to be diverted to the French. Hyder protested but Duprat in reply instead threatened Srinivasa Rao in Calicut that the French forces would be directed against them with full might, soon. Law finally decided to put an end to this and recalled Duprat to Pondicherry and sent De Rependigny to take charge at Mahe.
Duprat finally returned to France after all his adventures and became a theologian in Paris around 1791 to retire amongst the saints and to writing stuff dealing with theology and the Lord. As for Mahe, Repentigny was also a problem and so Picot De La Motte returned to his old position around 1775 or 76 and kept the matters suitable low key, as they were once before, while Mahe returned to being a sleepy little town with a French twist.
Just imagine, if all had gone in the directions that Monsieur Duprat had wished, Calicut would have been a French Colony and instead of eating chicken biriyani at Sagar we would have been ordering Bouillabaisse or Coq au vin or some such strange stuff like frogs legs sautéed in wine in some French restaurant. Well, thankfully that did not happen, but chefs of French ancestry like Anthony Bourdain travel to Kerala these days, spend days on houseboats drinking Kallu and talk at length (and sometimes cuss in private) on TV about the exquisite cuisine of the Malayali, through their food channels.
The French in India – SP Sen
Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna iyer
Voyage Du Comte Duprat Dans L’inde - Duprat
Oru perumazhakkalam – 155 years ago
I had introduced Collector Connolly to readers when I wrote about the canal and the teak gardens some months ago. Lt Henry Valentine Connolly (Connelly or Conolly or even Canoli in texts & records) was the Malabar Collector and district magistrate between 1841 and1855. Connolly was tragically murdered in 1855 by Moplah fanatics at the start of the Moslem revolt in Malabar. What led him to his death? Why was he so chosen for this? Who were the killers? The event was to prove momentous to the British, for it was the first and only case where a senior administrator was murdered while in office in Malabar. That he was an able and far seeing administrator is clear, with the development of the one and only man made teak plantation in Nilambur and the canals and roads he constructed in various parts of Malabar. In spite of the broad and firm measures taken by him in suppressing revolts, a retrospective study indicated him to be a very balanced and neutral collector for which he deserves to be commemorated to memory of the people in Malabar. Now to do that, let me take you some 155 years back, to the tail end of a monsoon season, to West hill Calicut, to the Collector’s Bungalow.
Writer and traveler Richard Burton had just left after a stay as a guest of the collector Connolly. His reminiscences of that visit are public and available and CHF had written about it some months ago. Calicut I understood, at that point of time had probably 20 Europeans living in the West hill area. Burton pitied the Malabar expatriate’s life in September, during the monsoon; as he remarked “what a dreary life they must be leading, with no other sounds in their ears but the roaring wind, the pelting of the rain and the creaking of the palm trees.” The richer families and nobles were having their traditional rain treatments of Ayurvedic oils and massages, the women busy making the ‘monsoon special’ porridge and reading the Bhagavatham at dusk while the Moplah women were busy preparing their goat leg and chicken broth soup for their spouse’s well being. It was a tranquil part of Malabar, a sleepy little hamlet as some others were to later describe this once busy trading entrepot. But was it? Beneath the tranquility of the tropical paradise lay a seething cauldron of discontent, religious fervor and the brimming of a revolt rising to pressure cooker proportions. It had exploded a couple of time already. The EIC bureaucracy was struggling to come to terms with the reasons and actions. The after effects of the EIC retaliation was soon to be felt on the figurehead of law and order in the area, the District collector HV Connolly.
|HV Connolly - Image provided by Anusha Arun|
He had been in India since the age of 18, after education at Rugby and joining the EIC in 1824, His bio reads thus - Writer by 1826: Assistant to the Principal Collector and Magistrate of Bellary. 1828: Head Assistant to the Principal Collector of Tanjore; Deputy Secretary in the Military Department. 1831: Canarese Translator to Government. 1834: Cashier to the Government Bank. 1835: Assistant to the Sub-Treasurer. 1836: Acting Additional Government Commissioner for Carnatic Claims. 1837: Cashier to the Government Bank and Assistant to Sub-Treasurer, and Canarese Translator. 1838: Proceeded on furlough. 1840: Returned to India. 1841: Collector and Magistrate, Malabar.
After 14 difficult years at Calicut, where he struggled with a revolt of a different kind with no straightforward rule book and formulating the POA, creating solutions on the fly and keeping a reasonable amount of control on the district affairs, but at the same time working to improve the lives of the people living there as well as the coffers of his masters, Connolly was sadly assassinated towards evening of the 11th September 1855, at Calicut.
Malabar 1805-1855 - The Moplah restlessness
The Pazhassi Rajah was killed in Nov 1805 and with it (barring another revolt in 1809) the Hindu populace of Malabar warily settled down to a long period of British rule. The proud Nair resistance had been subdued, their leaders slain and kings & suzerains gone, many decided that this was so fated by the course of destiny and started learning new trades such as overseeing the tilling and maintenance of ancestral property. While the coastal Moplah continued his trade, the inland Moplah (many of them recent converts) did not really have lands of their own and were working for the landowners. Then there were Tharavadi Moplahs like the Manjeri Athan Kurikkal who were to figure in these revolts. The lands that some Moplahs had usurped during the Hyder – Tipu interlude had been taken back by the landlords who returned from Travancore and the issues and problems started over ownership and revenues. The British apparently sided with the landlords and with it the Moplah’s directed their anger against the landlords and the British. Then again some say they were further instigated by the Arab religious leaders in their midst about equality and so on. This by itself is a long case best discussed separately on another day, for it requires even more thought and consideration.
Suffices to say that the Moplahs were a discontented lot embarking on expressions of revolt, which though heroic if viewed through a narrow lens, were largely unproductive and polarized opinion against them even more as time went by. All it ended up was creating a caricature of the Moplah as a brutish hopeless, illiterate fanatic driven by religious fatwa’s in the minds of the ruling EIC. Between 1836-53, a number of outbreaks took place (some 22 or so). The British retaliated in typical fashion, with a show of arms, confinement, deportation, collective fines and confiscation of property and weapons. The community was getting hopelessly alienated by this time and some illiterate youngsters as I read, were led to believe that their jihad will reach an explosive and victorious end with support by way of many ships arriving from Arabia loaded with arms, food etc for 40,000 people (Sadasivan- Social history of India) to annihilate the non believers. Many a youngster or recently ‘capped’ person then ended up as a Halar – a Shahid after the hal-ilakkam and conducted attacks on temples and landowners. Reasons attributed were the retribution exacted on the Moplahs by the Hindus after Tipu was slain, forced contributions towards temple constructions (this was a special case where the Manjeri rajah insisted on it because his temple was destroyed by the Moplahs). Another reason stated was that the Hindus used courts and the British to get back lands that originally belonged to the Hindus but were decreed for mosque construction etc by Tipu Sultan. Then there were issues related to the newly converted Cherumars who insisted that they be addressed respectfully and refused to work on Fridays and started to ‘dress up’. Some explained that it was all a case about land ownership. The Hindus would not sell them land and the Moplahs were not too keen on identity as indentured labor after being traders for long. Then again as the numbers of Muslims increased, the numbers of mosques or the need thereof increased and according to custom a mosque can only be built on freehold land, otherwise it had to be classified ramshackle or temporary. The attempts to procure land to build mosques of course met with little success thus becoming a major irritant to the community.
The Thangal Syeds on their part tried to force the British to find solutions to a number of these issues by increasing mass awareness with the issue of fatwas and booklets, but the results were on many occasions indiscriminatory riots. Another special situation was a fact that Moplahs were not considered for government employment, especially in the Police. The British wisely or unwisely backed out stating that these were either unfounded or private matters beyond the reach of the British government.
This was the situation HV Connolly was in. He was among the small British presence in West Hill and struggling to administer justice while at the same time conducting lengthy correspondence with his superiors in Madras for approval was needed every step along the way. Connolly on his part was considered a very fair person, analyzing most cases thoroughly, though he administered justice firmly as stipulated by the law. He was to prove balanced, as an example he had concluded that the possession of arms were proportionate by both Hindus and Muslims though the general rumor was that Muslims had amassed large caches of weapons.
An example of his fairness is cited in the Joint commissioner’s report - In Malabar, torture for revenue purpose/ is entirely unknown; and although traces of its use for police purposes still linger in the district, the ill-fated collector, Mr. Connolly, had been most active and energetic in repressing the practice and punishing the offenders. A peon, who, in 1843 (long before this agitation had been thought of), had ill-treated a prisoner so as to lead him to attempt suicide, was sentenced by Mr. Connolly to two years imprisonment and hard labor.
He also believed originally that Moplahs should be included in governance and increased Muslim adhikaris from 2 to 22 in Ernad. However the situation was rapidly careening from bad to worse. The alienation between the communities was reaching breaking point and the revolt in the name of land and tenure was rapidly taking a strong religious tone. Connolly saw and concluded an outside hand in this, the hand of the Arab cleric Mambram Pookoya thangal – Syed Fazal. With this observation, Connolly got into the thick of the revolts in 1851 and spent 4 years wallowing in the muddy waters seeing no quick fire solutions. He was forced to admit that he would need army/police help using battalions from Bangalore and Madras if things continued in this fashion or even mounted troops. As for himself, personally, he knew that he was in deep waters for he said
I wish for the utmost publicity. If any want of or mistake in management on my part has led in the slightest degree to these fearful evils (far more fearful in my times than they have ever been before) I am most desirous that a remedy be applied, whatever be the effect as regards my personal interests…..No measures taken as yet have reached the root of the evil which there is too much reason to fear is growing in place of decaying.
An Allens mail report - A correspondent, writing from Malabar, says, “Regarding the cause of these atrocities, two opinions prevail here, and we are informed that the collector and his sub are at issue upon the subject. The collector has hitherto been of opinion that fanaticism was the cause and martyrdom the object in view. Of late, we are told, he allows that this fanaticism is taken advantage of by evil-disposed men, and that the attention of the fanatics is directed to influential landlords, who may have offended their tenants either by expulsion or oppression. The sub-collector holds that this fanaticism is purposely created by the influential Moplahs and their head priest, and that parties are set aside for the purpose of gradually carrying into execution the extermination of the Hindoo proprietors by murder, or causing them to emigrate through fear. This opinion he grounds upon the fact that these atrocities are increasing in exact proportion with the success attending them. The collector advocates a more liberal policy towards the Moplahs, by admitting them into public employ, and giving them an interest in the peace of the district, by holding them, as public servants, responsible for the parish or umshan over which a party may preside. The sub-collector advocates a system of repression, and the establishment of a local corps to keep the Moplahs down, and protect the Hindoo landlords in the exercise of their just rights, holding the Moplahs as a race in general unfit to be entrusted with power, or to be admitted into equal privileges with the Nair population. —Madras Athenaeum, Feb. 13. (The collector was HV Conolly and the sub collector was Mr Charles Collet)
One could always discuss the caste system, the agrarian system, the feudalism, the enslavement of the lower class and so on. One could also say that the workers who were reasonably contented with their selves were instigated upon with a new identity and a glorious and free future ahead if they converted. Whatever may have been the case, some Cherumars and some Tiyas were in a state of uncertainty. Some converted but continued to work in the lands of the wealthy owners, but with a new moplah identity and new clothes (covered chests). This was a break from the age old traditions; some landowners like Krishna Panikkar did not quite like it and with it started retaliation and further turbulence. The British focused on the instigators to put an end to the disturbance, the Moplah’s worked to increase their ground strength which was obtaining more recruits & converts.
If only the instigators had studied Connolly’s original work in this area - In 1839 orders were issued "to watch the subject of the improvement of the Cherumar with that interest which it evidently merits, and leave no available means untried for effecting that object." Ultimately the Government of India passed Act V of 1843, abolishing Slavery in Malabar. Its provisions were widely published throughout the district by Mr. Connolly, the Collector, and he explained to the Cherumars that it was their interest as well as their duty to remain with their masters if treated kindly. He proclaimed that “the Government will not order a slave who is in the employ of an individual, to forsake him and go to the service of another claimant, nor will the Government interfere with the slave's inclination as to where he wishes to work." And, "again, any person claiming a slave as Jenmi, Kanom, or Panayom, the right of such claim or claims will not be investigated into at any of the public offices or Courts." Another aspect was a statement by Connolly that Cherumar slaves would be employed on Government works at the same rate of wages as free men (Cherumars of Malabar Vol 110-111 – CR)
But it was Syed Fazal Thangal’s writing of an article on equality for lower Cheruman classes and how they should be addressed etc that signaled broader rebellions against the British and the Hindu landlords and attracted the ire of the British who were finding slow solutions in the meantime as stated above. Pressure was slowly brought on the Thangal to move out of the troubled area. But rumors flew thick & fast that the British were going to attack and forcibly capture the man. A show of force was made by the Moplahs with the amassing of some 7000 men near in his house. Connolly did not want to precipitate the issue.
On 21st Feb 1852, he wrote
I thought it well to send a confidential person to intimate to the Tangul, that the reports which he had heard regarding his forcible seizure were exaggerated or false, and that no definite orders had come on his case, which was under the consideration of Government.
2. The person made use of was one Atra Coya, a connection of the Tangul by marriage, an extremely intelligent and respectable (half) Arab merchant, and a person, who from his position, commands that private access to the Tangul which the cupidity and evil designs of the immediate attendants of that personage render very difficult to most visitors.
3. Atra Coya returned with a message from the Tangul to the effect, that the crowd had assembled at Tiruwangady on the 13th instant, without his orders, on hearing that he was in danger; that he, the Tangul, was not conscious of having done anything to deserve the displeasure of the Government; that he repudiated the deeds of the fanatics; and that it was his misfortune that a general blessing intended to convey spiritual benefits to those alone who acted in accordance with the Mahomedan faith, should be misinterpreted by a few parties who acted in contradiction to its precepts.
The arguments were, indeed, just similar to those brought to notice in my letter of the 12th October 1849, paragraph 35, as having been advanced by the Tangul on a former occasion.
But the Tangul went on to make the very important addition, that as his blessing was sometimes misunderstood and his presence in the country unfortunately had led to deeds of horror, he was willing, if the Government chose it, to end further embarrassment by leaving Malabar and taking up his permanent abode among his people in Arabia. He had more than once, he said, thought of doing this before, but had been restrained by the remonstrances of his immediate connections and adherents, who insisted on the spiritual loss which Malabar would sustain from his departure.
4. How far this message and proposition came from the Tangul's own mind, or how far it was prompted by the shrewd connection who brought it—(from his intercourse with the world and knowledge of our power he was evidently alive to the inevitable consequences of a collision between the Tangul and the Government, as regards the former),—I could not say, but the opening presented seemed to me so providential a one, that I at once resolved on doing all I could to further it on my own responsibility, trusting to the Government to pardon what I had done, in case it seemed to them objectionable.
5.- The consequence of my resolve and of another visit to the Tangul by the same agent has been, as I am just informed by him, that the Tangul has determined on starting for Arabia with the whole of his family, some 60 or 70 people, in an Arab ship which will sail within twenty days.
On 19th March 1852, the Hadhrami family of clerics that had arrived from Yemen centuries ago sailed out of their temporary abode. I will not get into the description of the Tangal his antecedents or his life after he left, but they moved first to some Gulf states and finally to Istanbul. The Thangal then relocated to Yemen and eventually back to Istanbul, where he died.
Three years were to pass by. In the meantime a number of events transpired, including attempts by the Thangal to try & return to Malabar, for he himself stated that he had left on his own accord and so would not accept any edict barring his stepping back on Malabar soil. His relatives tried to test the waters, but did not succeed and settled in Mahe under French protection.
In the middle of all this Connolly got a warning from Aden asking him to be careful. As we know today, Connolly paid no heed to it. The result of all this was apparently what ended up with the event of 11th Sept 1855, a full 3 years later. Let us read the report of the event
It appears that on the evening of Tuesday, the 11th Sept., the ill-starred gentleman (Connolly) was sitting with his wife at their house, West Hill, in Calicut, when, about half-past eight o'clock, a noise on the gravel attracted the attention of Mrs. Connolly. She looked up and saw a man emerge from the darkness outside, and spring with a single bound on her husband, who occupied a couch just opposite her own. The place was a small verandah adjoining the house, and Mrs. Connolly fled inside, screaming for assistance. A peon and mussalchee (torch bearer) came forward at the summons, but both were grappled with by the assassins, who stabbed the mussalchee in the arm, and cut off four of the peon's fingers. There were three fellows engaged in the murder, and in an incredibly short time they had completed their work, and had disappeared. More assistance was procured, and Mr. Connolly was carried to his room, where he lived for an hour, but had only consciousness to commit his soul to God, and speak a single word to his poor wife. Dr. Barker was sent for, but living three miles from Calicut he only arrived to see the lifeless clay. On examination, it was found that Mr. Connolly was nearly cut to pieces, no less than twenty-seven wounds having been inflicted upon him : seven of these were on the head, three of which penetrated to the brain—one of them through the ear and mastoid process of the temporal bone must have caused death. Both hands were cut to pieces, and nearly severed from the arms; the lower jaw was cut through. There were two stabs by a bayonet on one arm, and seven or eight wounds on the back, very deep, apparently stabs with a dagger or knife. The right knee-joint was opened, and the lower part of the bone of the thigh fairly cut through. How the tortured Victim survived for a moment, is almost past comprehension. Mr. Connolly had been for upwards of fourteen years presiding over the wild districts of Malabar and the able way in which his administration was conducted received on more than one occasion the thanks of Government—Telegraph and Courier.
The Mappilas who murdered Connolly were escaped convicts from Calicut Jail (from the town Jail, not the courthouse) called Valasseri Emalu, Puliyakunat Tenu, Chemban Moidin Kutti and Vellattadayatta Parambil Moidin. They had escaped from a prison working party on the 4th of August 1855, spent the following month on the run in various houses in the foothills of the Ghats. At Mambram, they prayed at the shrine of the Thangal. Then they hid in a house three-quarters of a mile away, for several days, before taking vows at a Nercha ceremony where they sang a song called Moidin Mala Pattu. Their war knives were passed through incense smoke.
A huge manhunt commenced, and eventually on the 17th Sept near a village called Eddamannapara the attackers were tracked down to a building where the Police Corps and a part of No. 5 Company of H.M. 74th Highlanders under Captain Davies attacked the house they were holed up in. A mortar and cannon were used to force the men out of the building, whereupon they were cut down, but only after they had killed a Scottish soldier and wounded another in the throat.
Why did the three decide to murder Conolly?
A clue comes up from the investigation of the involvement of one Malakel Mammu (who was imprisoned in the aftermath and is termed 1st prisoner) of Calicut in whose house the murderers stayed. Apparently Mammu had some monetary issues involving Connolly.
He (Mammu) had also had a good deal of intercourse with Mr. Conolly since the canal was begun. On account of his being in default for some work he undertook on the canal, Mr. Conolly was forced to bring a suit against him and obtained a judgment for the money (Rupees 156). As he had little property, Mr. Connolly out of compassion recovered the sum (except interest which he forgave him) by keeping back the rent for the temporary Jail. Nevertheless the 1 st prisoner in a petition in October 1854 demanded this rent, which as he strictly owed money to Government, Mr. Conolly refused, telling him he should think himself lucky to be let off what he owed. The necessity for bringing a suit against him and his subsequent unjust demand of rent render it probable that he had a personal bad feeling towards Mr. Conolly.
Initial reports also linked the murder to the Thagal – Collet reported - In the course of this enquiry it was clearly ascertained that the object of the attack upon Mr. Conolly was to inflict vengeance on him for the part he had taken in the banishment of the Tungal to which he had already adverted. "The murderers," said Mr. Collett, the Joint Magistrate, "in more than one place declared this to be their motive. "It is now clear, he observed," That, from an early date, they shaped their proceedings with a view to this end. It is from the knowledge that they were plotting to retaliate upon the person of the Chief Officer of Government for this offensive measure, that their caste people generally conspired together to aid them, and preserved their secret inviolate, though it was literally known to scores, including women and children."
Most reports thus mentioned that the murderers were avenging the deportation of the Thagal (One Pathumah who was interrogated was asked why Connolly was singled out, replied - Is it not the case that our Thagal is not to be seen in the country?? Conrad), but it was never established. Magistrate Walter Elliot in his report of 1856 stated
Several speculations are advanced to account for the cause of Mr. Conolly's murder. But the attempt to connect its origin with the deported Tangul is not to my mind successful. No doubt his name was used by the murderers as a means of obtaining more general sympathy and support, and the vindication of his cause entered largely into the motives of all concerned. But I am inclined to think that the irksomeness of the continued imprisonment to which the assassins were subjected, and the certainty of further prolonged incarceration if recaptured as they must have been, made them desperate, and induced them to fling away their lives in a manner far more daring, and more likely to invest their memories with the reputation of distinguished martyrs than had previously been heard of.
The anonymous letter angle - Collett had originally reported - Mr. Connolly had received an anonymous letter warning him, but unfortunately thought it needless to take precautions, and had not even mentioned it to Mrs. Connolly. It later transpired that Capt Haines in Aden had written to Connolly in Nov 1854 that his life was in danger. An intense search was launched to get to the details of the tip, however the result seems to have been somewhat of a whitewash and ends up in intriguing fashion with Haines himself in some Indian prison, and Mrs Haines writing on his behalf that it was just an innocent observation in private and so on. It would have made a lot of sense at that time to prove that all this was instigated or premeditated from Arabia by the irate cleric or his relatives, for that was what the EIC and Collett would have preferred to establish. Or was it quashed for political expediency? Perhaps so, in the name of peace, but we can only speculate. Perhaps it was the truth.
One recent writer Bob Williams remarked - Sometimes it seemed that the English came to India just to die. And died they did in their droves, often quite young, and invariably in a very English kind of way. Connolly’s memorial sports the following epitaph - Henry Valentine Connolly Esq. 49 of Madras Civil Service Collector and Magistrate of Malabar who “after nearly 12 years devoted to the improvement of the province committed to his charge, fell at the hands of a band of fanatics.”
To most Malayalees, Hindu, Muslim or Christian, Connolly was a collector, who lived in Calicut and administered the masses with a firm hand, under the British flag. He was to them a British ruler to the core, even equated to the likes of Gen Dyer, not interested in the development of the land he was administering, all he was interested was in collecting the taxes for her majesty. How wrong we are is proven if you study Connolly’s life, for he was a man with a vision and he lived 30 years of his life in India and died in India.
Younger brother Arthur Conolly participated in many reconnaissance missions into Central Asia and coined the term ‘The Great Game’ to describe the struggle between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for domination over Central Asia. Often travelling in disguise, he used the name "Khan Ali" in a word-play on his true name. In November 1841 he was captured on a rescue mission to free fellow British officer Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stoddart held in Bukhara. The two were executed by the Emir of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan in June 1842 on charges of spying for the British Empire.
Edward Connolly, the first discoverer of Seistan, was shot from an unknown fort in Kohistan. Sīstān is a border region in eastern Iran and southwestern Afghanistan , the vanished paradise, the ‘sakake’ of the Greeks.
John Connolly - British political officer who remained in Bala Hissar during negotiations in 1841-42; was taken prisoner by Afghans; died of fever in 1842.
They were born a year apart, they died in India. While three of them died in Afghanistan, the fourth died in Kabul. None died a natural death. They were so fated
Charles Collett who was threatened with death during the trails moved on to Madras and wrote a reader in Malayalam (written in 1856). Whether he is the same person who later wrote a number of law books is not clear.
After all this one other attempt was made on the life of a sitting collector. In this case, CA Innes interfered (upon a complaint by the boy’s father) in the case of a 11 year old tiya boy who was (forcefully?)converted.
Connolly was survived by wife Anne who returned to England. The family had two sons, one of whom I read was named Edward and who became a lawyer. More details of the family are not available. Some Rs 31,000 collected by way of fines from the Moplah locales was paid to the widow as compensation.
Connolly was buried in Calicut, in the old burial-ground close to the pier. After his death a monument was erected in St George’s Cathedral Madras and a scholarship and endowment named after him was created at the Madras University.
The "West Hill bungalow" continued to be a collector’s bungalow. West hill itself was purchased by the Government and converted into barracks for the European detachment comprising an Officers' quarters, the Racquet Court, the married men's quarters and other buildings. The collector’s bungalow in which Mr. Conolly was murdered in 1855 became part of the European barracks on West Hill. A flagstaff on East Hill opposite the barracks marks the bungalow of the Collector, which was guarded nightly. In its heydays, this bungalow had one of the most extensive wine cellars in India. A report in 1906 stated - It takes the form of a central single-storied block containing a large drawing room (40'X25') and a dining room with wide verandahs (17') round drawing room, and entirely distinct blocks (1) for occupants and (2) for guests.
I used to think all this time that the East hill Krishna Menon Museum was the collector’s bungalow, it was apparently not. If somebody could clarify this I would be happy.
One person who was somewhat troubled by the religious places bill and the burial grounds issue was Judge Hobart in Madras. His deliberations on this issue are of immense value to the historian and show the seriousness accorded by a person of responsibility in disposing such a heavy issue. It provides for fascinating reading and shows a balanced thought process. I wish sometimes that the judiciary today worked with this kind of seriousness and were less guided by matters of self gain and political pressure.
In 1881 a commissioner was appointed to enquire into all these Agrarian grievances and that was none other than William Logan, whom some of us know pretty well from the Malabar manual.
20 years later another famous man came to Calicut, and it was another perumazhakalam, another monsoon when the rain came down in huge torrents. This famous writer and artist lived for some days at the Malabar Club (today’s Beach hotel premises). He looked at the sea, he sipped gin tonics, he read the Punch, he observed the populace streaming by, he wandered around Mananchira and rode bullock carts and he sketched and he wrote about them and the crows – ‘Ye crows of Malabar, What a cussed bore you are’ was a famous utterance. More of those interesting days and sketches of Calicut will follow in the next article.
No disrespect is meant to any religion involved, with any part of the text of this article, all events are sourced from historical accounts as referenced. If any personal inference or reference is erroneous, I invite the reader’s views for corrections.