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The Conolly’s in British India

Posted by Maddy Labels: , , ,

And their tragic lives

Many have asked me questions about the Conolly family and over the years I had been trying to gather as much of detail as I could find. While I came across a reasonable amount of information on the father and his four sons, it was not really possible to go on any further in time, other than get a confirmation from a line of that family, presently resident in India, Australia and England, that they are indeed connected to the illustrious Conolly's of the 19th century.

Nevertheless it would be a good idea to take a look at the men of that family who lived a good part of their lives in India in the last half of the 18th and the first six decades of the 19th century. It was a family which as is prophetically stated in India, one which carried a curse resulting in the premature deaths of four distinguished Conolly offspring, in India. This is the story of Valentine Conolly the father, and his six sons - Captain Edward Conolly, Captain Arthur Conolly, Captain John Conolly, James Conolly ICS and Lt Henry Valentine Conolly. One of them were killed in action and two of them murdered. Captain Edward of the 6th Bengal Cavalry was killed by a sniper during battle in Afghanistan, October 1841. Captain Arthur Conolly was kept captive till his death and murder at Bokhara in 1842. Captain John Conolly was killed (or died in captivity) at Kabul in 1842, these three brothers perishing in Afghanistan within a year of each other. Henry Valentine was the last of the four brothers who served the British Indian establishment. He had entered the India service in 1824 and was posted to Calicut in 1840-41 only to meet an ill-fated death in 1855. James did well though. Valentine had one other son and a three daughters, but I do not know anything about them and information gathering was tough also because some of the family members spelled their name Connolly, while others used the version Conolly.

Perhaps the curse which the offspring carried on their head had something to do with the way in which their father had profited, from the miseries of his patients, or perhaps it was the Kohinoor curse. And that is a story which needs to be retold.

Valentine Conolly - The recorded story of the Conolly family in India starts with Dr Valentine Conolly, son of William Conolly (Bengal Civil Service), who arrived at Madras around 1788. As records put it, Valentine Conolly was appointed Assistant Surgeon in the Madras Medical Service on 16th June 1788 and a Surgeon on 1st June 1796. He also took part in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War and was present at the capture of Seringapatam in 1799 and the death of Tipu Sultan, for which he won a medal (which was only recently actioned off in the UK) in the process. As the number of English who went nuts (dolally in British terms – one which I will explain in a separate article for that is a tale by itself) in historic Madras increased, he became the first to institute the premier lunatic asylum of South India sometime in Feb 1793, when he became secretary to the medical board. It was privately owned by him and the forerunner for the asylum in nearby Kilpauk. While he is listed and hyped up as the founder of the first asylum, public opinion of his involvement in this business of running a madhouse is divided between mention of personal profit on the one hand and public benevolence on the other. Anyway, as the story goes, Assistant Surgeon Valentine Conolly, of Fort St. George, saw business sense in the treatment of the mentally unsound and laid before the Madras Government in 1794 'Proposals for Establishing at the Presidency a Hospital for Insane Patients'. The business plan also covered the very important aspect of how ‘extremely beneficial the adoption of it would be to the Community at large by affording Security against the perpetration of those Acts of Violence which had been so frequently committed by unrestrained Lunatics'. So Conolly suggested the establishment of a home for mentally unsound Europeans and Eurasians (not natives) so that ‘those poor creatures’ could be confined to specialized houses and ensure at the same time ‘a good deal of peace and order’ and be rid of such public nuisances as were perpetrated by lunatics’.

He proposed something in the lines of a similar establishment in Calcutta - I purpose then, Sir, and hope my proposal will obtain the sanction of your Patronage, to erect at my own expense a commodious Hospital for the reception of Lunatics, consisting of sixteen separate and airy apartments, with warm and cold baths, and every other necessary out-office: the whole surrounded by a wall of a sufficient height in conformity to the plan which accompanies this address…That Government do take a lease of the House so to be erected for a certain time not less than ten years, at a rent proportionate to the expense that may be incurred in building it and the probable repairs during that period. The premises, for which the government paid a lease for Rs. 825 per month, comprised 45 acres of land rented to Conolly at a nominal quit rent of 51 pagodas per annum, and commenced operations in 1794.

Pending approval by the Court of Directors, Sir Charles Oakeley sanctioned the scheme on condition that the maximum monthly rates payable for each patient should be Pagodas. 30 for an officer, Pagodas. 25 for 'a person not in the Service but coming under the denomination of a Gentleman,' and for non-commissioned officers and privates the amount of their pay and batta. A 45 acre area in Puruswalkam was allocated to him and the madhouse was thus built (close to today’s Kilpauk). The villagers were to be compensated by Conolly for the land and inconvenience. This structure stood at the junction of Pursewaukum High Road with Brick Kiln Road. It was marked 'Lunatic Hospital' in the map of 1816, and 'Lunatic Asylum' in that of 1837. The edifice was eventually demolished when the asylum was transferred to larger premises in Kilpauk.

Madras Asylum 
Only one year after the opening of the asylum the first lunatic was reported to have been restored to sanity and Conolly's skill and attention were positively remarked on. Conolly went on to make a good profit from this venture, but towards the end of the century (around 1795) he felt it was time to retire and move back to England, as a wealthy ‘nabob’. The lease was in the meantime, extended due to its good performance and it passed hands at a price (Rs 26,000) three times the building value to either one J Goldie and perhaps later to Surgeon Maurice Fitzgerald who held charge till 1803 (or the other way around). Dr. Dalton, a later owner rebuilt it and from then on it was called ‘Dalton's Mad Hospital’. When he retired, 54 inmates were being cared for in its premises. As is recorded, all of these gentlemen profited handsomely from the treatment of the insane, and this continued to be so till it was finally decided by the EIC that a private asylum was not quite appropriate (it was due to public opinion and pressure from Britain). Did Conolly carry back a curse from his patients and peers? Perhaps!

The wealthy Valentine Conolly (after having been made a mason at the lodge in the meanwhile) married Matilda, the daughter of Sir William Dunkin (Judge, Bengal) and settled down in London at the turn of the 19th century after a final burst of excitement with his participation in the siege of Seringapatanam of 1799 and collecting a medal for it. His wealth was instrumental in comfortably seeing his five sons through education in prestigious British schools colleges and thus preparing them for promising careers - as military officers and members of the civil service in India. Valentine Conolly passed away in 1819, a few days after his wife expired.

Now it is time to get to know his illustrious sons.

I believe the eldest was Mr. William James Conolly, who arrived as a writer in 1822 and served for the revenue offices at Patna, Gorakhpur, Allahabad, and was appointed as the magistrate, opium agent and collector of Bareilly 1832-36 and later at Sehrunpore. He was later promoted as the commissioner of revenue and then to the Rohilkhand division, Bareilly and finally as an agent to the lieutenant governor in 1842. It appears he retired to the Cape of Good Hope, in 1845. All in all, he appears to have been a very efficient and scrupulous ICS man, but not involved with anything remarkable or dangerous, in his life.

Without doubt, the most famous of his sons (he was the 3rd son) was the devout Arthur Conolly (1807-1842), British Captain of the Indian Army, explorer of Central Asia, and one who penetrated Afghanistan, Khiva and Bokhara several times from 1829 to 1842. He is the man behind the popular usage ‘the great game’ and a pioneer in the intrigues and British attempts to secure control over the khanates of Afghanistan and build a buffer between India and Russia. This once shy youngster who hated his school days at Rugby, and who had failed in love, then sought excitement in the mountains and the arid terrain of the Afghans. He attempted to create a confederation of states in order to resist Russian expansion after the British had been evicted unceremoniously from Kabul. He tried hard to reconcile the three quarreling khanates of Khiva, Bokhara and Khokand but was fated for the worst death ever.

Often travelling in disguise, he used the name "Khan Ali" in a word-play (Con Olly) on his true name. By late 1829, he left Moscow for the Caucasus and Central Asia, arriving in Herat in September 1830 and in India in January 1831. In 1834 he published an account of his trip, which established his reputation as a traveler and writer. In November 1841 he was captured while 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, on 24 June 1842 or 1843 on charges of spying for the British Empire. They were both beheaded in the square in front of the Ark Fortress in Bukhara. I will retell this macabre story in greater detail, some other day. He wrote a lot - The white-haired Angora goat, Journey to the North of India through Russia, Persia and Afghanistan (2 Vols.) were some of his works. The connection with the Kohinoor merits another article,

Captain Edward Barry Conolly (1808–1840), of the 6th Bengal Cavalry was killed by a sniper during battle in Afghanistan, October 1840. He was killed by a shot from the fort of Tootumdurrah, in the Kohat, north of Kabul, when acting as a volunteer with Sir Robert Sale, in an attack on that place on 29 Sept. 1840. William Kaye records - On the 29th of September, Sale invested the enemy's position. The resistance was very slight. The fire of our guns and the advance of the infantry column soon compelled its evacuation, and the place was speedily in possession of the British troops. The success was complete, and would have been cheaply purchased; but one fell there, who, mourned in anguish of spirit by the Envoy, was lamented by the whole force. Edward Conolly, a lieutenant of cavalry, one of three accomplished and enterprising brothers who had followed the fortunes of their distinguished relative, Sir William Macnaghten, and obtained employment under the British Mission, had on that very morning joined Sale's force as a volunteer. He was acting as aide-de-camp to the General; when, as the column advanced, he was struck down by a shot from the enemy's position. The bullet entered his heart. "My mind was in too disturbed a state all day yesterday," wrote the Envoy on the 1st of October, "to admit of my writing to you. Poor Edward Conolly (Arthur's next brother) has been killed by a dubious hand at a petty fortress in Kohistan. Never did a nobler or a kinder spirit inhabit a human frame. Poor fellow! he was shot through the heart, and I believe he was the only individual on our side killed during the operations of the 29th, when three forts belonging to the chief rebel in the country were taken.

The following papers from his pen and recording his exploring jaunts appeared in the 'Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal;' 'Observations on the Past and Present Condition of Orijein or Uijayana,' vol. vi.; 'Discoveries of Gems from Candahar,' 'Sketch of Physical Geography of Seistan,' 'Notes on the Eusofzye Tribes of Afghanistan,' vol. ix.; 'Journal kept while Travelling in Seistan,' vol. x.; 'On Gems and Coins,' vol. xi.

John Balfour Conolly (d. 1842), lieutenant 20th Bengal native infantry, a cadet of 1833, was afterwards attached to the Kabul embassy. He was involved together with Macnaghten on at three least assassinations, of which two were Meer Musjedee and Abdullah. He died of a fever while a hostage in the Bala Hissar, Cabul, on 7 Aug. 1842. It was his final will and testament that led me to his eldest brother whom nobody had so far mentioned as a family member. I.e. William James Conolly, of Bareilly, in the Presidency of Agra, a member of the Civil Service of the East-India Company, was stated to be the eldest brother of deceased.

The Conolly’s had at least three sisters, Ellen Conolly, being one of them, was married to Francis, the brother of Sir William Hay Macnaghten, the British envoy with Shah Soojah in Afghanistan. Matilda Frances was another. I could not get details of the remaining sister and a less illustrious son, the last also said to have been serving in India. Note here that John Conolly the psychiatric doctor of Madras is not a direct relation to this family.

Now let us spend a bit more of our time on Malabar’s collector Henry Valentine Conolly. Henry Conolly was born on 5 December 1806 to Valentine and Matilda Conolly at 37 Portland Place, London. He was, like his elder brother Arthur Conolly, educated at Rugby School, Warwickshire before moving to Madras, India and become a writer in the Madras Civil Service from 19th May 1824. He then started his next phase of education at the College of Ft St George Madras where he excelled in Indian studies. The June 1826 college reports states – Several weeks previous to the examination, Mr Conolly met with a serious accident, which materially interrupted his studies, and was the occasion of his being examined under great disadvantage; the result has nevertheless been highly satisfactory. In Mahratta, Mr. Conolly has attained a very high degree of proficiency, but his pronunciation of Hindustanee is defective, and he still wants practice in the colloquial use of that tongue. So in 1826, Mr. Conolly and Mr. Gardner were permitted to enter on the duties of the public service and he moved to Bellary for his posting. Varied postings followed, and one was as a cashier in the government bank!

He was the only one to stray south after his father, and was first married in 1831 to Jane, the eldest th.  Unfortunately she passed away in 1835. In 1840 he arrived in Malabar as acting collector officiating in the place of Collector Clementson who went on leave. In 1841 he became the collector and married in 1841 Anne Birch the daughter of Chris Birch. Two sons and a daughter were born to them in Calicut during the period 1842-45. After his murder in 1855, Connolly was survived by wife Anne who returned to England. Some Rs 31,000 collected by way of fines from the Moplah locales was paid to the widow as compensation (she also received a pension). The family in total had four children of which two were sons, one of whom I read was named Edward and who became a lawyer. More details of the family are not available. Anne Elizabeth Conolly (not entirely sure if it is the same as HV’s wife) married a young man named Charles Valentine Smith who it seems was soon arrested and sentenced to prison for bigamy since his first wife was still living.
daughter of W Mooreson, June 24

While we mentioned HVC’s connections to the Moplah insurgency of that period and his involvement in setting up the teak forests of Nilambur as well as the establishment of the Conolly Canal, we did not dwell much on some his other activities. He worked hard to improve the lot of the un-seeable un-touchable Nayadis of Malabar. A Basel mission article mentions this - A humane gentleman, of the name of Conolly, deeply sympathised with the miserable condition of the Nayadis, in the forests beyond Ponani. Mr. Conolly applied to the Basel Mission for assistance, and Missionary Fritz was sent to the chief town of Malabar, and a native catechist stationed among the Nayadis. These poor people rank in the community even below purchased slaves. They live only in the jungle like wild animals, they sleep in the branches of trees, and at the most only build the poorest hut for themsleves. They are looked upon by other branches of the community with the greatest contempt. If a Brahmin comes in their way, they must move off at least sixteen paces; and they must never dare to touch any one of a superior caste. Mr. Conolly formed a plan for drawing some of this degraded class within the bounds of civilisation. He built them houses, set apart some ground for them, and gave them fields to cultivate. The Government after a time relinquished this effort, and the Basel missionaries took it up.

Samuel Heibich the missionary records - Mr. H. V. Conolly was at that time Collector of Malabar; he proved a warm friend of the undertaking, which he supported with all his great influence. He had already been in correspondence with the mission, in the interests of a race called Naiadis—a small tribe, scarcely above the brutes in the scale of civilization. Mr. Conolly felt that the British government was bound to attempt the redemption of these poor savages from their degradation; as, however, he failed in getting the duty recognized and acted upon, he made it his own care, but did not live to see the result of his endeavors.

But he also shook up the British government when he suggested that they employ the lower castes for labor, at a time when they were frowning upon slavery in Malabar and were facing a restless issue of the Shannars in Travancore. A mention in the book Social Legislation of the East India Company: By Nancy Gardner Cassels, goes thus - In response to government requests for suggestions for improving the situation of the slave caste of chermars in Malabar, Conolly observed that inasmuch as Act of 1843 was to all intents and purposes a law for the abolition of slavery in its territory, the government might consider the the employment of emancipated cheramars on public works at the same rate as free laborers and with schools for their children and administered by a native Christian or Moplah (i.e. a person free from caste prejudice).

He was also very much involved in the improvement of the lot at the Laccadive Islands, pushing for a legal system there, helping out with natural disasters and sorting out certain issues involving the Bebee of Arakkal. The referred source as well as P Anima’s article will provide a lot of details to those interested.

HVC tried hard to get a collegiate school sanctioned to Calicut – P Anima writing in Hindu explains - When it came to starting the collegiate high school in the Malabar, there were a few contenders. While Kozhikode was earlier on mentioned as the definite option, two other names surface in later letters — Tellicherry and Cannanore. In a letter written in 1842 written by Conolly and his colleague Strange, they advocate Kozhikode. They write, “Calicut appears more suited for the purpose than either of the stations just named with reference to geographical position, population and importance, the latter of which will be much increased within the next five to six months, by its becoming the headquarters of all the civil establishments.”

After his passing away, two scholarships were instituted for the scholars of Calicut, one of which, designated the Junior Conolly Scholarship, was tenable in the Provincial School, and the other, designated the Senior Conolly Scholarship, was tenable in the Presidency College, and was to be conferred once in three years on the student who may pass first on the list of Malabar students at the university entrance examination. The first examination for the Junior Conolly Scholarship was held in July 1857, when it was awarded to Ramen Nair, a pupil in the Provincial School.

It should have been easy but tracing HV Conolly’s line down any further proved to be too difficult for it is mentioned that he had four children. I did get connected to his great great great granddaughter who lives in England and understood that her sister is the well-known actor and animal welfare/Greenpeace activist Amala Akkineni. Their mother June Conolly is the daughter of Samuel Conolly who served in the 2nd world war at Alexandria. I also got in touch with Vanya Orr of Nilgiris who provided me with copies of correspondence her great grandfather had with Henry Valentine Conolly, on estate matters.

But I cannot leave this without a tail piece. Many famous people were Conolly scholarship beneficiaries, but I have to name one person who was educated at Calicut and benefited from a Conolly scholarship. He was none other than Dewan Seshadri Iyer, the founder of Modern Bangalore. Iyer, a native of Palghat, was a recipient of the scholarship while (1863) at the Provincial school in Calicut. He went on to become the Dewan of Mysore and is credited with the establishment of the Victoria hospital, the glass house in Lalbaugh, the waterworks, the Shivasamudra hydel power unit, the Indian institute of science, the extensions at Basavangudi & Malleswaram to name a few. Shesadripuram is named after him.

So the next time you visit ‘namma ooru’ Bengaluru, spend a moment thinking about Iyer and Conolly….

Madras Lunatic Asylum: A Remarkable History in British India – Saumitra Basu (Indian Journal of History of Science, 51.3 (2016) 478-493)
The Madras Lunatic asylum in the early 19th century – W Ernst (BulI.lnd.lnst. Hist. Med. Vol. XXVIII~19.98 pp13 to 30)
The rise of the European lunatic asylum in colonial India (1750-1858) - Waltraud Ernst (Bull. Ind. Inst. Hist. Med. Vol. XVII. pp. 94-107)
The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry, Volume 3 - Ed William F. Bynum, Roy Porter, Michael Shepherd
Life of the Amir Dost Mohammed Khan of Kabul: By Mohana Lāla (Munshi)
Report on the Laccadive Islands - By W. Robinson, esq.
Activists: Lessons from my Grandparents - Lisa Croft
When the Malabar Collector pitched in strongly for theCanolly Canal

The ICS Collectors of Malabar

Posted by Maddy Labels: , , ,

British Governance - Calicut

There is a furor at Calicut these days resulting from the transfer of a benevolent collector popularly known as ‘collector bro’ and it appears that this resulted from the differences in opinion between bro and a member of parliament. I am sure much debate and argument will continue over this, but then again, it has always been like this. These positions of administrative bureaucracy though very important for any district are unfortunately at the mercy of the politicians. One only needs to look at the career of Malabar’s premier administrator William Logan. He was moved in and moved out of the Malabar Collector’s position no less than 7 times between 1869 and 1887 till he finally threw in the towel.

For a while, I have been toying with the idea of checking out the life and times of various collectors who spent a while administering British Malabar. Starting from 1800 (1801 to be more precise) almost 60 British individuals ruled, sitting in that position and mostly living at the East Hill Collector’s Bungalow. Eight of the initial administrators were actually called ‘principal collectors’ and the lot starting with the eminent HV Connolly were titled ‘district collectors’. I will list the lot (though I have not been able to get a list of those between 1932 -1943) and mention about the contributions of some of the more popular of those ‘gora sahebs’ or sayips. Strangely enough not one of them put their personal experiences in Calicut to paper, though Logan came close by accounting much of his observations into a district manual. Robert Rickards was another who mentioned his time in passing, in his huge twin volume book on India.

But first I think we should spend a while understanding the ICS, what was popularly known as the heaven born service and its responsibilities, during that era. It was in a way just that and for most Indians the ICS officer personified the British administrative arm. Before the advent of British rule we had the East India Company and a college which would secure aspirants a position in India. That was the HEIC’s East India company college in Hailey which started in 1806. In fifty years it trained over two thousand so-called "writers" or Haileybury men to administer the Indian subcontinent. The curriculum was wide, detailed, and targeted to the career responsibilities. It included political economy, history, mathematics, natural philosophy, classics, law and humanity, Indian languages and philology. In 1855, the British Parliament passed an act "to relieve the East India Company from the obligation to maintain the College at Haileybury" and the King's College, London, hosted the first open competitive examinations for appointment to the Indian Civil Service. The open examination which ICS aspirants had to undergo was nothing short of a month long, vicious, viva voce which Hilton Brown an ICS man characterized as – a solid month of answering questions, skilled torturers can devise with the knowledge that a single inadequate answer may ruin your chances for life!!

Thus the Indian Civil Service governed the British imperial possession through an elite and sparsely manned network to govern some 250 Indian districts, was a close well-knit administrative service, designed to maintain stability and continuity of the British power. The lower ranks were manned by British as well as Indians, hand selected by the ICS officer. Interestingly Indians who may have qualified could either not foot the bill to travel to London or would not, for fear of losing their caste. Satyendranath Tagore, the elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore, was the first Indian to qualify the ICS in 1863. What many of you may not know is that postings to districts of the Madras presidency were considered lowly compared to the exotic locales of the North. Officers in Madras acted singularly and not always in synchronism (characterized as slow, cumbersome and reactionary) with the center, promotions were slow and red tape quite amply manifested. The collector in the South reported directly to the Madras government and had much higher responsibilities.

Many of you would still imagine that these officers had a fascinating time, only people who have lived as expatriates in another country would understand their difficulties and challenges. I am confident that many a reader would have imagined that the life of an officer typically began with his waking up and stretching his hand for his cup of tea held at a ready by his chaprasi, then going about on a morning ride on his magnificent stallion, or his Morris minor or whatever car, taking care of issues along the way, sorting out matters even handedly, listening to the wah wah’s from the lowly Indian peasant populace, coming back and signing off on land issues and criminal cases, going off to shoot a tiger or deer, or even an elephant, supervise its skinning, having a pint or two and supping at the club as the sun set, and lounging at home and writing his journal or a few poems before a bath, eventually retiring to a camp bed and dreaming of his younger days in the Scottish highlands. Well, in reality it was far from that and was unflattering, for he had to work with very tight budgets, face disease, a rough climate not suited to them and sometimes hostile people, a large number of corrupt, bureaucratic, opinionated and self-serving superiors who hated the land they had to govern and its people. On top of all that they were not well rewarded and that is why many were prone to building up their own retirement nesteggs and making hay while the sun shone.

Then again, there were many such as ACS Thorne the Malabar Collector who governed during placid times and who did live that kind of a life, as recorded by SK Chettur. Chettur writes - Thorne awoke at 6AM, and started with a ½ hour bird watching session until 730. After breakfast at 8, he started work at 830 and briskly moved files until 1PM, after which he took lunch and had a short ½ hour nap. Two more hours in the office, tea at 415PM and local inspection tours followed until 630PM. To end the day, he would settle under a petromax lamp to read. In between and during trips or weekends, he found the time to swim and do some snipe shooting, taking his new protégé along. Etiquette was very important to him and Thorne was a smalltime poet in his spare time.

But the case of a collector in the North during the early days of the 19th century would be vastly different – John Beames explains - a hard, active man in boots and breeches, who almost lived in the saddle, worked all day and nearly all night, ate and drank when and where he could, had no family ties to hamper him, and whose whole establishment consisted of a camp bed, an odd table and chair or so and a small box of clothes such as could be slung on a camel. Nevertheless while life at the outpost was difficult, the posts at the headquarters and presidency secretariats was quite different. This was where bureaucracy was born and perfected. Ridiculous practices re-developed: letters were placed in docket covers and their contents 'summarised' at greater length than the original; documents were printed only to be sent a few yards down the corridor. As we can readily imagine, officers often rose by seniority, connections and relations, rather than by merit.

By the end of the century and into the first decade of the 20th the conditions had changed and exams for ICS were also held in India (Allahabad 1922). The money earned was not commensurate to living expenses, the officer’s dowry market had declined, the fishing fleet had dried up and a push was on to get more Indians employed in the service. Even the pension of a thousand pounds became meaningless when the exchange rate for the rupee crashed following the First World War. The complex requirements and problems after the war were no longer some a limited set of officers governing at times by goodwill could handle. And then to top it all, Gandhi had arrived.

But that was not the subject we started with and so let us hasten to the district headquarters, to Calicut to be precise. The original district collector’s bungalow was in West hill and it was moved to East hill only after the terrible murder of Collector Connolly Sayip. Mr. W. B. Dewinton, late Chief Engineer of the P. W. D stated in 1905 ‘I wish we could devise something like it now-a-days. It takes the form of a central single storied block containing a large drawing room (40'x 25') and a dining room with wide verandahs (17') round drawing room, and entirely distinct blocks (1) for occupants and (2) for guests’.

It was from this abode (and later from the Bungalow at East hill, the Krishna Menon museum these days), that the figurehead of the British Empire ruled the erstwhile district of Malabar, devoid of any pomp. Let’s take a look at some of those collectors, a topic which PK Govindan had covered briefly in a thin booklet which I have not had the opportunity to access or peruse and one which Calicut Heritage had mentioned, some years ago. The British PM David Lloyd George once said of the ICS that it was "the steel frame on which the whole structure of our government and of our administration in India rests". Chettur borrowed that popular usage to title his memoirs.

Some might ask - Why were Britons willing to go to India if they faced sudden reversals of fortune and rampant epidemic disease? Ruby Daily’s explanation is that it was demographic: the period of 1760 to 1860 saw a huge population growth in Britain, with birthrates rising by up to 18 percent. The average elite woman of the early nineteenth century could expect to give birth to around eight babies, whose infant survival rate was around 90 percent. Upper-class families were reaching unprecedented sizes at unprecedented rates. Desperate to find careers for so many children, families looked to the East India Company, whose administrative and military staffing needs grew constantly as they took over more territories and instituted more taxation. Because many people were propelled by their families into Indian colonial service, it is unsurprising that these connections remained important after they arrived in India as well. Family networks could provide recommendations for jobs, practical advice, places to stay on first arrival, and moral support (extract courtesy Ruby Daily’s Digital collection, Newberry library) 

The position of the Principal collector of Malabar was originally created in 1801 after the first Pazhassi rebellion broke out and the British found it difficult to manage the revolts from Bombay. You may recall that Malabar was originally under the Bombay presidency and run through a military authority. Lord Clive wanted to ensure establishment of a civil administration and Major William Macleod was appointed the first principal collector with 3 supporting subordinate collector’s (Strachey, Hodgson and Keate) wef 1st Oct 1801. His fist act was to capture Kannavat Nambiar and he then followed it up with an order for all Nairs to lay down and surrender their arms. He then manipulated the exchange rates between local coins and rupees to the gold and silver fanams, fourfold based on totally wrong revenue estimates and this led to huge discontentment. As the public rallied against these orders or totally disregarded it, Macleod resigned and handed over charge to Judge Rickards. Rickards wisely reverted to the original rates, but the rebellion continued and Panaramam, a military outpost was attacked as the Pazhassi rebellion continued. Rickards gave way to Thomas Warden in 1804 and it was under him that Thomas Baber the sub collector excelled and worked to bring about the demise of the Raja and the end of the Pazhassi revolt.

Macleod was also involved in many of the Murdoch Brown activities as well as the man behind the infamous Macleod Seer. The MacLeod seer or grain measure is defined as a liberally heaped measure and its concept and comparison is interesting. In fact his name is also given to a land measure of that time. In North Malabar, an extent of land is known as so many Macleod yedangalies, and it is supposed that the acre ranges from 55 to 72 Macleod yedangalios, 60 being generally assumed as the average. As a gain measure, 4 nauzhies = 1 yedangaly or Macleod seer. 10 such seers yields one parrah. The seer introduced by Mr. Macleod in 1802 contains, when liberally heaped, 130 tolahs of rice. It was used in Chirakkal, Kottayam, Cooroombranaud, Valluwanad and Palghat. In Calicut and Ponnany, Macleod's half seer liberally heaped and containing 65 tolahs was used. The ' parrah' varies from 61 to 10 Macleod seers. So much for that.

Rickards went on to pen a set of books on India where he also covered his experiences on land administration in Malabar.During Warden’s strict and what is defined as straightforward rule, the Zamorin of Calicut became a malikhana receiver of a fifth of the revenue collected from their districts, as security for their good and dutiful behavior towards the company’s (British) government. In 1809 the administration of Cochin was transferred to the resident at Travancore and by 1813, the Anjengo factory was closed. In 1817 Mahe was given back to the French and in 1819, the Calicut loge was also handed over to the French together with certain other minor territories.

Then came James Vaughan who was behind the Emman nair episode, one which I had covered
earlier. During his tenure we note again the restlessness of the Moplahs of Malabar after whom Sheffield took charge, followed by Huddleston and both these chaps tackled the thorny issue of land and tax assessments in Malabar. In 1834, Karunakara Menon was sent to Coorg as an EIC emissary only to be imprisoned and this led to the Coorg war. Clementson and Thomson followed, as the Eranad area became the hotbed of discontented Moplahs. Thompson was the last of the Principal collectors. In 1841 Henry Valentine Connolly, the first of the benevolent collectors of Malabar took charge and did some real good with his teak plantations, water canals and many other export related activities. However as we studied before, his involvement in the Moplah outrages resulted only in his getting hacked to a brutal death in 1855.

Clarke, Robinson and Grant followed him and spent brief tenures as collectors. Robinson was the first to get involved with the Laccadive Islands taxation issues and was responsible for bringing W Logan into the scene for the first time in 1857. Grant on the other hand loved Malabar elephants and tried hard to build a sanctuary for them. In 1862, GA Ballard took charge at East Hill. An able administrator, he was also very interested in fishing, he recorded and translated day to day legal correspondence in Malayalam into a couple of very interesting books, and these books remain to portray Malabar life in the late 1880’s.

People arrived in Calicut those days by ferry and the exalted were driven to the bungalow. Mary Carpenter who visited during the time of A Ballard, writes “It was a long drive to my new abode, but very beautiful; we passed along a road bordered with palm trees, forming a canopy through which the bright rays of the diamond-looking stars could hardly penetrate. The residence of Mr. Ballard, the collector, is on a bill, three miles beyond the town. From thence the morning rays revealed a splendid view over extensive woods of cocoanuts and richly cultivated land, to the grand range of the Western Ghauts…. Mary continues - Though Calicut has the elements of British civilization introduced into it by the presence of the various official gentlemen connected with the Government—a collector's office, various institutions, an excellent High School, a factory, etc., yet these do not appear to have produced as much effect on the general habits of the educated portion of the community, as in the Presidential capitals; but, on the other hand, there is not that air of dirt and dilapidation, which was so painfully depressing and repulsive in many parts of the empire which I had already seen.

After Ballard left, Hannyngton, Thomas and Alexander McCullum Webster, were collectors. Then came the ever famous William Logan in 1869. We traced his story in a previous blog, but what I did not mention then were his seven transfers, perhaps for his forthrightness and refusal to toe the line. During Logan’s tenure, Empress Victoria’s 50th year of reign was celebrated at Calicut like it was, in many other district capitals.

Many came after Logan and have their names recorded in the annals of history. Some names that people may remember are Dance, Tottenham, Pinhey, Hall, Evans, Thomas, Ellis etc. If you recall, I had written in detail about JA Thorne earlier.

Two names which deserve singular attention are CA Innes and Knapp. The former prepared the popular gazettes and went on to become the governor of Burma. The second is the ‘knappan’ governor Arthur Rowland Knapp, who left behind the ever popular usage ‘knapp’ on colloquial Malayalam. In his first posting in Malabar at a young age of 21, Knapp set in motion various administrative, policy and police reforms that were at best, quixotic in nature. His efforts were futile, garnering no benefits despite looking good on paper. The word Knapp-'an' which describes a person who is incompetent and a failure, lives on to this day. However even though Khapp gave way to Francis in 1907, he was called back in 1921 as the Moplah revolt raged, to the appointment as special commissioner of Malabar. Perhaps he was hated by the populace though revered by the British. Nidheesh has an article on the very subject

By 1871, only four Indians had joined the service. By 1883, the total number of Indian ICS were 12 and in 1915, exactly 60 years after the first competitive examination of ICS, only 63 Indians had joined the ICS. In the late 1890s, JN Tata set up a scholarship/loan fund for Indians to study abroad, which included as a condition that they appear for the ICS exam (by 1924, over a third of all Indian ICS officers were Tata scholars). The upper age limit for the ICS exam always remained 24 years from 1855 to January 1943 - when the last exam was held. However, the lower age limit varied from time to time. The only Indian to top the ICS examination in 88 years was Kumar Padmanabha Sankara (KPS) Menon who stood first in the 1921 batch. In the 1920 batch of ICS, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose stood fourth. Bose reported for training but resigned in April 1921.At the time of India's Independence, there were 980 ICS officers in pre-Partition India.

An old article in Keralaforum records the work of a later Malabar governor Lawrence, in 1943. Many of the ICS fellows of those days had personal integrity and ability, though they were (rightly from their side) loyal to the British Empire. People could approach them with justifiable causes. We give one example: In the village of Engandiyur, Trichur District, there was no high school during 1943 period. People were mainly farmers of low castes (which mattered those days). A few educated people joined and submitted a memorandum to the Malabar Collector for a school. Mr Lawrence who was the Malabar Collector at Calicut immediately responded. "Yes, you get a high school, but first you must collect a sum of 10.000 rupees for the initial expenses of the building etc)!" This was a large sum of money those days, when 100 coconuts brought probably not more than 10 rupees. But the people collected this money and the school was granted! (Recall no third class politician is involved here, unlike now). This is the National High School. When this happened, the local Church submitted a request to Mr Lawrence. Another high school was granted. So the village had two high schools within 700 meters, something unthinkable in a village those days. The main point here is that there was no politician, no bribe, nothing of that sort was involved here!

One should not forget administrators TH Baber and Charles Whish though Baber officiated from Tellicherry and Whish spent long periods in South Malabar. You can obtain details of these fine gentlemen from my previously poste and linked reference articles.

While HW Bouchier was the last of the tailenders, he was on leave during August 1947. Thus it was Welshman John Calvert Griffiths who held the position as the last white man to rule Malabar on the eve of independence in 1947. On 15th August, John Griffiths sub collector of Malappuram was in charge as the acting Collector of Malabar. Ironically, his first task was to arrange the Independence Day celebrations at Calicut. He remained in Malabar and did not go back to Britain, wanting the freedom to be his own man and be with the Indian ICS. He said - I felt myself a part of a long line that started with Vasco Da Gama and passed through Clive and Munro and the old collectors of Malabar and ended with me. He lowered the union jack at Calicut and took it with him, to be buried with him when he passed away, and made a formal speech praising the contributions of Indian leaders, Gandhi and Nehru. It was a non-event in Calicut and the only two Brahmin lawyers dressed in conventional black and dancing down the aisle in suppressed excitement set an exception to an otherwise orderly and matter of fact kind of day. After a couple of years, he moved to Malaya, Rhodesia and finally Hong Kong to continue working for the British government.

The first native collector of Malabar following Indian independence was NS Arunachalam. The next in order were, R Prasad, ICS, NES Raghavachary ICS and V V Subrahmaniam ICS. Interestingly, both Prasad and NES became advisors to the Governor in 1956 when the new Kerala state was formed. The first Kozhikode district collector (after Kerala integration) was Mr. P K Nambiar, IAS.

Malabar manual – William Logan
A people’s collector in the British Raj – Arthur Galletti – Brian Stoddart
The last days of the Raj – Trevor Royle
The steel frame and I – SK Chettur

Note: Malabar history enthusiasts will remember A Galletti’s ‘Dutch in Malabar’, a source of excellent information. A good amount of information on the workings of an ICS man’s life and his many tribulations can be gleaned from Stoddart’s book, profiling Arthur Galletti. Galletti was quite chummy with Sir CP and Chettur SK Nair. Though Galletti never administered Malabar, he was close to getting appointments at Travancore and Cochin as a Dewan, efforts which were scuttled by his superiors, as he was considered a recalcitrant ICS man. Chettur SK Nair’s accounts, books and stories also present interesting reading and an Indian’s insight into the ICS of later years.

Many thanks to Mr CK Ramachandran, IAS who provided me with information on the native collectors appointed after independence. People who want to study the responsibilities of that office today may refer to the book ‘Community development Administration in Kerala’ by KK Panikkar.

Tail noteMuthiah’s article on SK Chettur provides an insight of the transition of an ICS officer 
working under a native Indian government – Chettur says - "I have been often asked whether it was pleasant to work with ministers after `ruling the roost' in the old I.C.S. autocratic set-up. My answer has always been that the I.C.S. man has been trained to accept the discipline of his `Superior Officers'. In a democratic regime, I made the transition easy by the tacit principle that elected ministers responsible to the public were my `Superiors', however much I may have doubted their individual intellectual superiority to me. I regarded them as the bosses who were in the position to give the orders, and while I had the right to offer advice to them (based on my own knowledge and experience) I had to accept and implement the orders even in cases where my advice was over-ruled. And I took very good care to record my views very clearly and unmistakably so that they could know exactly what they were up against in over-ruling me. I found that my refusal to be a `yes-man' had a most salutary effect on ministers. Apart from the respect it created for me personally, they knew they could get genuine advice from me and that I would not lightly let them down. As a result, I got on very well with them and when they found that I had the sense of discipline to implement orders, once I had been over-ruled or differed from, there was no difficulty at all in our relationships. And that is as it should be."

The Munro years – Travancore

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The stories of Kerala Varma and Ummini Thampi

The events which clouded the placid skyline of 19th century Travancore actually started during the reign of Avittam Tirunal Balarama Varma. It was in 1798 that the 14 year old Balarama Varma succeeded Dharma Raja. A weak ruler, Balarama Varma, so they say, was manipulated by ministers and associates such as the Machiavellian Jayantan Sankaran Namboodiri and his cohorts Sankara Narayana Chetti and Mathu Tharakan. The situation is explained in differing ways by various historians, with one group uplifting the glorious services of Keshava Das and the treachery of the other ministers, while the other group maintain that Balarama Varma was actually anti British from the beginning and did not really want to sign any subsidiary treaties with the English. According to the latter, the king had no choice but to finally send away the British friendly Keshava Das into retirement, who then unfortunately ended up dead, perhaps poisoned. Then, for a while, Jayantan Namboodiri took over as Dewan and wreaked havoc on the hapless citizens of Travancore, with his cohorts Tharakan and Chetti.

Balarama Varma (Perhaps the person
right behind him is Kerala Varma)  
Following the Mysore Sultan’s assaults, the original Travancore British treaty was signed in 1795, wherein Travancore was to pay the EIC for military support, to put it all simply. Balarama Varma, the reigning Raja then had to sign the subsidiary treaty in 1805, albeit reluctantly. S Ramanth Iyer explains the grandiose British scheme under the treaty thus - This treaty confirmed the sincere and cordial relations of peace and amity between the Raja and the East India Company. It is known as the Treaty of perpetual friendship and alliance between them. By this treaty the Rajah was required to pay for a native regiment in addition to the subsidy fixed in 1795 (in all 8 lacs of Rs. a year) and further to share the expenses of his large forces when necessary; to pay at all times the utmost attention to the advice of the British Government; to hold no communication with any foreign state; and to admit no European foreigners into his service or to allow him to remain in his territory without the sanction of the British Government.

The King defaulted on the payments twice and the resident Col Macaulay protested.  It was at this juncture that Dewan Veluthampi entered the scene and we studied that epoch earlier. Soon another character appeared, a noble named Ummini Thampi (Thampi Iravi), the son of the previous king Dharma Raja, who rose to prominence by helping the British in the chase to capture VeluThampi and his family.

A few words on this interesting person would help illuminate his life. He first crossed swords with Veluthampi when he entered the arena and as Veluthampi became the powerful Dewan, was imprisoned. He reappeared when Veluthampi’s relations with the EIC started to get strained. As Veluthampi was being pursued by the British, Ummini offered assistance voluntarily and secured the former’s corpse and hunted down and butchered all of Velu Thampi’s relatives, for the British. Macaulay rewarded him by declaring him to be the next Dewan of Travancore. The British were pleased and Col Macaulay appointed Ummini Thampi as the new Dewan. So as they say, by 1809, relative normalcy descended on Travancore after 4 years of strife, but it was not to last long.

But the new Dewan was simply not acceptable to Balarama Varma Raja. The reparations and dues to the EIC had risen to close to 10 lakhs by now though Ummini Thampi assured the British that the arrears would be paid, even if he had to curtail the king’s expenses. As you can imagine, all this irritated Balarama Varma so much so that Varma tried to remove Ummini, but the British stood squarely behind Ummini Thampi.

The next intrigue which took place was the hatching of the plan to take Ummini Thampi’s life, by the Rajas coterie as he passed Kazhakootam to attend a concert at Quilon. If that attempt failed, he was to be taken out or killed at the next opportune instance. The news of this threat spread around and was an open secret, terrifying the British friendly Dewan and forcing him to seek protection from the British. Nevertheless the harassment of the Dewan and his family continued.

Ummini Thampi then conspired with the British so that Macaulay could make a proposal to take over Travancore to liquidate their debts. The Governor General at Madras did not agree and the exasperated Macaulay retired from public life, soon after. Ummini Thampi focused all the blame, not only his but also those of the British on the king and the heir apparent Kerala Varma.

A few words of introduction of the heir apparent (Kerala Varma) is required, before his grand entry into this sordid state of affairs, for it was believed that the threats to Ummini Thampi actually came from this individual and his supporters. The heir apparent was formally known as the Elaya (Junior) Raja. It is also recorded that Kerala Varma was prepared to shoot Ummini Thampi himself, if an opportunity presented itself. The Elaya Raja was adopted by the childless Balarama Varma when he was 7 years old from the Mavelikkara kovilakom, in 1798. Looking at his year of birth, it is difficult to believe a 17 year old to be behind armed threats on the life of an aged Dewan, himself a product of Royal lineage. But it is clear that he was a hot headed boy and supportive of his adopted father, as well as Velu Thampi. He was also supported by the 8.5 yogam, the all-powerful ‘behind the scenes’ group in Travancore and was considered the formal heir apparent to the King Balarama Varma, serving in that position for a decade.

The next resident to take charge in Cochin was the fervent evangelical Col John Munro who had
distinguished himself in the battles at Seringapatanam, was a friend of Col Arthur Wellesley and proved to be a linguist of sorts. However all this was shadowed by events which followed. As Quartermaster general of the Madras army he got into serious controversy over certain tent contracts. Early in 1809, he was arrested and charged with conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Just as things looked bleak for this officer, he was exonerated by the successor of the senior officer who had originally charged him and was posted as resident to Travancore. History books maintain that he did many things good and bad for Cochin and Travancore in the next 10 years, and was a subject of many essays and articles. We will in this article, be looking only at his involvements in the Kerala Varma and Ummini Thampi affairs.

The next event to shock the public was the death of the Balarama Varma Raja, who after visiting Munro three times, fell sick. It is mentioned that Munro saw to it that the Raja’s personal physician was replaced by one of Munro’s choice and very soon, the king passed away, rumored to be poisoned to death. In fact even before Munro, Macaulay had gone on record upon the eve of his departure, to state that the young Elaya Raja should be banished to Mavelikkara or Aleppey so that he could be placed under the watchful eye of the new Dewan (Note that the dewans were stationed at Aleppey, whereas the king was located at his palace in Trivandrum) lest he be upto mischief against the British.

Macaulay had previously tried to find ways of discrediting the coronation or accession of the adopted Elaya Raja by questioning the laws of succession. Dewan Ummini Thampi weighed in by opining that Kerala Varma was the illegitimate son of the previously shamed Jayantan Sankaran Nambuthiri, if only to discredit the boy’s lineage. As matters traversed a normal course and the Elaya Raja took over as the king in Nov 1810, Ummini Thampi the Dewan amped up his tirade against the new regent, stating him to be ungovernable, ferocious and decidedly hostile to the English.

Munro just a month old in Travancore, sought the advice of TH Baber, the EIC judge and magistrate in Malabar about the inheritance aspect in question. Baber replied that the rule of descent in Malabar was not from father to son but through the sister's son. In case of failure of having male issues, it was usual to adopt a princess from some other family and the male child born of this adoption enjoyed the right to succeed to the throne.

Using this advice and precedence in Travancore, Munro argued that the Elaya Raja was a son (though adopted) and hence not meant to succeed the deceased Balarama Varma. To confound matters, the king had also adopted two princesses Bharani Tirunal and Attam Tirunal from the Kolattunad family in 1789. Bharani Tirunal later gave birth to two daughters. Ayilyam Tirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bai and Uttratathi Tirunal Gowri Parvati Bai in 1791 and 1810, respectively. According to TH Baber’s advice and Munro’s interpretation, the male offspring from either Gowri Lakshmi Bai or Gowri Parvathi Bai could ascend to the throne, not the Elaya Raja. So until they bore children, Munro decided, one of the girls should rule Travancore. The mantle therefore rested on the elder of the two, Gowri Lakshmi Bai.

An analysis of these individuals and their relations would make your head spin, for Kerala Varma was incidentally the son of the eldest sister of the two adopted princesses. The established practice nowadays in that family is that the rights of succession pass on to the younger brother of the king, then to the nephew of the senior most sister, then maternal first cousins from his eldest aunt. To be noted is that the sons of a Maharaja or of those in the line of succession cannot succeed to the throne, nor, if those children bear sons, can those sons be in the line of succession. If all of these fail, as it occurred in 1798, daughters from another matriline could be adopted to continue the succession.

Kerala Varma tried to persuade Lakshmi Bayi his cousin to submit a letter stating that she had no objection to his becoming the regent, but it appears she moved against him and provided instead reasons against the idea in writing, to Munro. This naturally enraged the Elaya raja. Ummani Thampi added fuel to the fire by declaring – The young prince now standing next in line of succession to the musund of Travancore has no right or title by birth or by usage to that station and ought to be excluded and that the boy at Attengah whose mother was and whose sister now is Thumbratee of Attengah is the legitimate heir to the Musnud.

Apart from the report of Baber, Munro also obtained opinions of the key religious pundits and senior state functionaries in Travancore. They however insisted that Kerala Varma was duly adopted into the royal family by Balarama Varma and was the rightful heir. Munro it appears threatened all these parties stating that if an amicable solution was not forthcoming, the Company would take over control over Travancore, and cancel the special emoluments and perquisites enjoyed by the Brahmins under the Raja’s Government. Fearing the worst, the pundits and other dignitaries changed their opinion and supported the succession of Rani Gowri Lakshmi Bai. I should add here that there is more to the story, and this involves much intrigue between Kerala Varma’s mother and the two daughters Lakshmi and Parvathy Bayi.  This was the main reason behind the machinations which took place and affected the young Kerala Varma, but going into that is like reopening a saga.

Gowri Lakshmi Bayi
Anyway Kerala Varma was finally forced to abdicate and the 20 year old Lakshmi Bai was named regent by Munro. Here again Ummini Thampi had a role to play for it appears that he had some power over the young Rani, perhaps a relationship of sorts which went sour. Let us get back to the Rani later, and follow the travails of Ummini Thampi and Kerala Varma for now.
Varma continued on in Trivandrum for a while with the new Rani’s permission but was found to be plotting and scheming against her, so much so that he was first placed under surveillance and later declared a state prisoner and marked for transportation (exile or banishment). Eventually Kerala Varma was escorted by four native companies to Tellicherry and placed under the care of TH Baber, the magistrate there. I am not exactly sure if he stayed in confinement for too long a period with Baber, but we do know that TH Baber found him a good man, not the usurper Munro and Ummini Thampi had made him to look.

In the 1832 reply to Macaulay’s desultory notes it is recorded thus- That honourable and upright man Mr. Baber, under whose charge the Elliah Rajah was placed for upwards of two years, informed the Committee, “that the majority of the Country of Travancore “was decidedly in his favour; and that the Elliah “Rajah was so amiable a man, that he had gained “ the affections of all with whom he associated.”

Col James Welsh who visited Tellichery and TH Baber on the 20th December 1812, and a jail that Thomas ran at Kudroor, states - About four miles inland from Tellicherry, on a very fertile plain, lies the fortified factory of Kudroor, with a fine stone tank outside, and a smaller one within the area.  It is nearly square, and raised many feet above the level of the surrounding country, forming an airy and comfortable upstairs house, with cannon-proof walls, and large square windows; the shutters of which, two inches thick, are fixed at the bottom inside, by projecting pivots, let into the wall; and opening with strong folding legs, fixed underneath, form each a very capital table.  The ground floor of this extensive building, is used in lieu of outhouses, for cook-room, stores, etc.  Here we found the ex-heir, or Yelleh Rajah of the Travancore country, raised to the throne one day, and deposed the next.  His case was one of particular interest; but being sent up to Malabar, to be under Mr. Baber’s surveillance, he found a kind friend in his supposed gaoler. Above the common size, and inclining to fatness, this young man appeared as mild and sensible, as he was firm and uncomplaining, under a reverse as severe as it was unmerited.  We passed a very pleasant day in his company; searched the neighbouring thickets for game without success, and then returned to Cannanore, sixteen miles distant.

I am not exactly sure about the dates here, but we do know that Lakshmi Bai took over in 1811. So if Welsh met Kerala Varma in Dec 1812, Varma must have spent all of 1811 in Travancore scheming against the new Rani before being sent to Tellicherry under the care of TH Baber. TH Baber was incidentally awarded and collected the bounty of Rs 100,000 for the arrest of the Elaya raja.

During the stay another vexing matter came up with respect to the royal jewels that Balarama Varma had bequeathed to Kerala Varma in his dying years. It appears that Kerala Varma had requested permission from the new Rani about taking these jewels along with him when he was banished to Tellicherry. The new queen gave him the required permission without hesitation, perhaps happy to be rid of her troublesome cousin. But soon after he had gone, Munro decided to harass the banished king and asked the Rani to demand that he return the jewels. Baber was also asked to intervene, but he replied that he did not feel the Raj would part with the jewels.

Meanwhile, Munro was declared as the new dewan of Travancore in 1813 and it became clear that Munro knew all along that the raja had departed with the jewels (about 14 lakhs worth) but made it a formal issue only after he had become the Dewan. After this, Munro conspired to declare this an embezzlement and had the Rani also demand the return of the jewels to the care of Sri Padmanabhan, who she said after changing her stance, was the rightful owner. When confronted with evidence that she had sanctioned the removal in the first place, she finally agreed that Varma could use the jewels as long as he lived, but that they were to be returned to Travancore, after his demise.

It was early in 1813 that the Elaya raja was moved to spend his confinement in Chingleput, i.e. the area within the Fort St George, where he spent close to 11 years. Kerala Varma struggled on with his life, under constant supervision by Munro’s spies in Madras. All his remaining years he wrote repeatedly to the British authorities to reconsider his case, but they ignored him. Nevertheless he did not live an empty life, or so it seems. He got involved with a devadasi dancer named Kanakavalli and ended up gifting all the Travancore jewels to her. Munro coming to know of this had Kanakavalli harassed and arrested and then he seized all of her property. Finally some of her things were returned to her and the Travancore jewels sent back to Travancore with TH Baber’s help. Varma had by then become terribly sick (suspiciously similar terminal symptoms when compared to Balarama Varma) during his last days, was eventually moved to Tellicherry where he breathed his last in 1824.

Ummini Thampi the mastermind of all this did not fare any better. He fell afoul of the Rani who complained about him to Munro (before Munro’s becoming Dewan) and his wanton ways, amplifying accusations of Ummini emptying the treasury for his own good. Initially he was confined to Quilon but here he was soon involved in the so called ‘Quilon revolt’ which I will write about later. Ummini Thampi was implicated and finally sentenced to death in 1812, by the British. The Madras government (the Rani also consented eventually) commuted it and banished Thampi to the Nellore in 1813. Thampi then requested that his paramour, a dancer named Ummaiammah be sent with him to Nellore, but the Rani refused permission stating that such things set a bad precedent. 

Anyway he spent the next 8-9 years in misery and ended his life in isolation, at Nellore. It is not
Gowri Parvathi Bayi
known to most people that he was the person who worked hand in hand with the British and was largely responsible for the demise of three souls, Balarama Varma, Velu Thampi and Kerala Varma.

We will get to the full story of the Rani’s of Travancore another day, but let me provide some detail for closure here. The scheming which took place between the mother Chathayam Thirunal Mahaprabha Amma Thampuran and daughters of the Attingal palace, their wards on so on present a story which even soap operas on TV these days, cannot rival. Much of it has never been retold in any of the books we have today. Per the history books, Lakshmi Bai submitted herself to the guiding hands of Col Munro and it is recorded that the golden years of Travancore had finally started during her reign from 1810 onwards. The British became the sovereigns of Travancore, and Col Munro was considered by her as a brother. Soon after, she gave birth to the esteemed Swati Tirunal Raja. But the governess of Travancore as she was popularly known, passed away in 1814 and her sister Rani Parvathy Bai was appointed regent until Swati Tirunal came of age in 1829.

Munro returned to Britain, but not before having an island in Quilon named after him. Before he left, he made sure that the Dewans of Travancore were always non Travancoreans and had a reformed westernized outlook. As VJ Varghese explains “Consequently, the office of Dewan soon became “a gift of the Resident” and as the turn of subsequent events testified, the primary allegiance of the Dewan was to the British. As a consequence, the system was reordered in such a way that in all matters of importance “the Resident ruled, the Dewan executed and the Raja sanctioned,” though in theory, the division of authority was, roughly speaking was, Raja to rule, the Dewan to execute and the Resident to advise.

Strange are the ways of people when power and wealth beckon. Familial ties, obligations, solidarity and the welfare of people around quickly become secondary issues. Those mad scrambles and machinations of such individuals eventually become stories which people like us enjoy retelling. They were so fated, I guess.

A tragic decade in Kerala History – TP Sankarankutty Nair
At the Turn of the Tide: The Life and Times of Maharani Setu Lakshmi Bayi - Lakshmi Raghunandan
A decade of crisis in Travancore – Dr B Sobhanan
Ummini Thampi – The dewan of Travancore – TK Vijayamohan, JOKS Vol 5, 1978
Kerala Varma A forgotten patriot of Kerala – B Sobhanam Proceedings Vol 2, 1981
Land, labor and migrations: understanding Kerala’s economic modernity - V.J. Varghese
King Balarama Varma of Travancore – AP Ibrahim Kunju – Proceedings Vol 38, 1977

Velu Thampi and the Zamorin

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The intrigues of 1808-09

Some readers may recall a bit of the story behind the overtures made by Travancore to the Calicut Zamorin for support on final ploys against the British, and I had made a brief mention of it some years ago when I wrote about the Dalawa. What I wrote then was the following, summarizing the nexus between the Paliyath Achan and the Dalawa and their attempts to rope in the Zamorin. The Zamorins case had already been lost and the old suzerain was left high and dry by the British, with no power and a lot of debts. The bitter man was left in relative peace, to lick his wounds. The Pazhassi raja had been dealt with and Cochin was largely under control but Travancore was on the limb and the situation there was being stirred up nicely by an upstart Dalawa named Velayudhan Thampi.

While all this intrigue and acrimony was going on between the British and Travancore, the situation at Cochin was no better. Here is when the Paliayth Achan comes into play. For those who are not in the know, the powerful Paliayth family were virtually half owners of Cochin and the Perumbadappu Swaroopam had to involve them in all major decisions. They possessed a lot of power and majority in Nair numbers. In some cases they hedged their bets by aligning with the Zamorin of Calicut against the Cochin king, the Dutch or the Portuguese as well, as we will study in a forthcoming article.

Anyway, during the period we were in, the Paliyath Govindan Achan was made a chief minister with Velu Thampy’s recommendation. The Achan was also friendly with Macaulay, so the King had no hesitation in elevating the Achan to ensure harmony. The Paliyath Achan however usurped the King quickly and took over the reins of the state, banishing the soft king to a hamlet in Vellarappali near Alwaye. After this was done, he apparently executed the prime minister and commander in chief by drowning them. His next target was a young and upcoming chap, the right hand of the king, one Nadavarampathu Kunju Krishna Menon. The king, who was very fond of Menon, decided to shield him and hid him in his bedroom at Vellarapalli. Paliayth Achan on the other hand was hell bent on finding this boy and killing him. The king approached Macaulay for help. Macaulay gave Menon asylum in the British bungalow, further incensing the Paliyath Achan who took a vow to execute both Macaulay and Krishna Menon. But waging war against the British was no easy matter and the wily Achan decided to get the support of both the Zamorin of Calicut (the letter sent to the Zamorin was handed over to the British by the Zamorin’s minister) and Velu Thampi, in this matter. The CSM differs here in stating that the Achan was pulled into the fracas by Thampy.

The details are provided by Thomas Warden in Ponnani, who was in cahoots with the Zamorin’s sarvadhikari. He forwards the letter (oath in ola) from Thampi with the statement that he had received them from the Zamorin’s minister who had received this and another from the Paliyat Achan, and that he will render any further information so received in the matter (One thing interested me, that Warden, the principal collector of Malabar was living in Ponnani? Something to check out another day).

Translation of an Olah from the Dewan of Travancore to the Zamorin Raja

After usual compliments ... The state of affairs, here... That three of the company’s battalions with some Europeans have been stationary, two or three years at Quilon that it is in contemplation insidiously to secure this country  without any sacrifice of war or treasure by exciting dissensions among the different subordinate Rajas and principal officers of the state and that having thus acquired the country under subjection it is ultimately designed that all persons without any distinction of caste shall in one and like manner acknowledge and observe their (the English) faith are passing occurrences which  cannot be unknown to His highness the Zamorin.

The demands now insisted upon me that all the inhabitants of this kingdom shall lay down their arms and obey their (Company's) orders that the high road charitable institutions and the Morejapam (Triennial festival) with all the ceremonies connected thereafter shall be discontinued that two tenths will be allowed for the maintenance and expenses of the rajah and that in case their demands should be refused, hostilities would commence and the country taken possession of. For this purpose besides those stationed there before, some additional troops have been landed at Quilon and every necessary preparation is on foot.

To submit to such demands and give up the country, thereby quietly to witness the extinction which awaits the Bhramma Dhumma and the Kshetri (or temple) Dhumma and become one sect are terms which can never voluntarily be assented to at any-time Whatever being well assured therefore that all the raja’s most intimately concurred in the interests of this state will afford their assistance in such a course, each to the utmost power of his ability. It has been rendered to compel the Company's battalions to evacuate Quilon and that enmity with them shall again exist, accordingly the necessary means for war, have been prepared and hostilities commenced on the 26th of this month. Two attacks have been already made, within 8 days more the battalions will have evacuated Quilon. I shall then lose no time in proceeding to the northward with a part of the forces of this territory.

If all now rise and unanimously act with one mind, there will be no need for continuing allegiance to Europeans or for renouncing the Jaady Dhtirnma (caste).

Hence it behoves His Highness (the Zamorin) to do as follows: To summon the Nayars, the Moplahs, the Ministers and all the different chiefs and separately command them to assemble arms and act against the servants of the Company to whom no revenue should be paid but arrangements made for establishing other people to collect the revenues of the country.

What is here proposed His Highness (the Zamorin) will no doubt undertaken to perform for in case any revolution should happen in quarter His Highness will find it very difficult to continue in his present condition. Inferring that the stipends allowed to the Malabar Rajas by government depends entirely on the Travancore continuing independent.

Of the two original castes of Hindoos and Mussulmen, the long established charitable institution, religious rites and customs being once subverted both will be compelled to acknowledge and observe the faith of Christians and to pay them allegiance. His Highness the Zamorin has full reason to know if he will maturely consider the subject that such an event can only happen through want of unanimity and concord one with another.

The subjects of the Perampadapill svarupam (Cochin) have found themselves unable any longer to continue dependent on their protection (Company's). All the inhabitants of the country therefore have assembled and through the Ministers of the country and by the will of the Rajah prepared, what is necessary for hostilities. A letter on this subject for the information of His Highness (the Zamorin) will be sent in the name of Paliyat Accan. All that is herein contained the Tynencherry Eleadu will read and make known to His Highness the Samooripad.

The written communication of the DALAVA TOMBY VELAYUDHEN CEMPAKARAMAN in the year 984 on the 29th Dhanoo.
A true translation                                                                                             THOMAS WARDEN
(Fort William, Secret Consultations, 6th Feb. 1809 pp.738-43)                      Malabar Collector

An analysis of the letter shows that the Dewan of Travancore was trying to stoke fears of mass conversions to Christianity by the British. What is also apparent is the Dewan’s fear that these converted Christians would lend support to the British. How did this come about?

We can see that in the letter, Veluthampi raises the religious issue of conversions and a prospect of
Hindus being overwhelmed. Was it a ploy or was it something else? To understand that we have to see how matters came to a head. As you recall, after the arrival of Haider and Tippu in Malabr, the religious balance in Malabar had been upset with a number of forcible conversions to Islam and the secular Zamorin had virtually lost his Moplah ally and was trampled upon by the combined forces of the Sultans of Mysore. A flight of many upper class land owning Nairs and Nampoothiris to Travancore took place in those years and many a Hindu felt threatened. Later after Tipu lost to the British, a semblance of peace came about in Malabar with the British in control, and the pensioned off Zamorin became more of a leader of the Hindus of Malabar, while the Moplahs were viewed with relative suspicion due to the fact that they sided with the invading Mysore sultan, in the name of religion. Did Veluthampi plan to use this lever or religion to tilt the Zamroin’s mind?

Another issue the Dalawah had to consider was the previous Travancore threat to overrun the Zamorin at Calicut in 1762 with the forces led by D’Lannoy. At that time, the Zamorin rushed to Travancore and sued for peace, signing a treaty with the Travancore Raja, agreeing to pay reparation and giving up his claims to areas around Trichur and Cochin. The Zamorin perhaps could not foretell that at the same time the Travancore forces were being pressured by an attack from the Mysore forces through the South eastern passes and in 1788 the Travancore rajahs signed a protection treaty with the British.  

The Dewan thus figured out that the only method he could try to get some support from the Zamorin against the British was by bringing up the conversion issue.

The problem started with the protests of the Shanars / Nadars around Tirunelveli, that they were being oppressed by the caste Nairs and Brahmins of Travancore. The LMS or the London missionary society focused their attention on the Nadars, aiming to emancipate them from their situation. One of the first missionaries was a Prussian, one Rev William Tobias Ringeltaube who arrived at Tharangampadi (Tanquebar). At this juncture an early convert Vedamanickam from Mailadi in Cape Comorin approached him for missionary support in Travancore.

Problems at Tirunelveli forced Ringeltaube to move to Palayamkottai to jump-start his evangelistic work with the mission there. That is when he was exposed to the issues brought to him by the Nadars. Eventually he decided to move to Mailadi and he applied for permission to Colin Macaulay, the British resident at Cochin to build a church at Mailadi. Col Macaulay agreed to get him the lands and permission from the king, in order that a church be constructed and so that Ringeltaube in his own words ‘could meet with speedy success, for there behold the fields were white for harvest”. It was during the return that Ringeltaube met Dewan Velu Thampi at Quilon to discuss the sanctions for the church. The Dewan refused permission stating that it went against established customs of his land and soon enough the Hindu opposition rose in volume as Ringeltaube tried to force the issue. Dr Claudius Buchanan was deputed to study the conditions and he took the case directly to the Travancore rajah, sidestepping the Dewan. The rajah too expressed his reservation stating that the English could increase control over the country if they forced their religion on the masses. Dejected, Ringeltaube left Mailadi and went back to Palyamkottah.

The British resident Macaulay felt hugely insulted. Veluthampi too felt belittled by the minority Christian converts of Mailadi. On top of all this Mathu Tarakan used religion to further infuriate Macaulay and force him to take action against Veluthampi. As this fracas was going on, Ringeltaube came back to Mailadi and baptized 40 persons of the locality while Vedamanickam converted a portion of his house to a chapel for the services.

It was at this juncture that Veluthambi decided to oppose the resident at Cochin with force and vented his anger on the converts at Mailadi and Rigeltaube who fled their village. I had detailed the events which followed in a previous article, linked here. After Veluthampi’s demise, a church was built at Mailadi and as is recorded by Yesudas, wonderful strides were made in the spreading of the gospel and several conversions followed.

As you can see, Veluthampi was truly of the belief that the missionaries would convert many of the lower echelons of society and while it was just one the fears he had, he knew this cause would resonate in Cochin and Malabar where Tipu and Hyder had wreaked havoc with forced conversions.
What happened to the letter which was sent to the Zamorin and copied to his minister? Well, that minister was none other than Shamnath or Swaminatha Pattar who was in cahoots with the British. He handed over the document to the British, promptly. That the Zamorin and the Cochin raja had no real possibility to rise up in revolt against the British should have been clear to the person who raised the call, for three reasons.

First the fact that the Dewan was just that, he himself was no more than a deputy to the King of Travancore and not the sovereign himself. If the call had been sent by the Rajah of Travancore, it might have elicited or for that matter merited some response. The second reason was that the Ravi Varma’s of Padinjare Kovilakom, the only princes who may have risen up in revolt against the British had already been quietened or done away with by the EIC around 1797. Thirdly the Zamorin no longer exercised suzerainty over the many Naduvazhi’s of Malabar nor enjoyed the once unequaled over-lordship over the many thousands of Nayars or Moplahs who once fought for him.

Perhaps those were the reasons why the pensioned off Zamorin of Calicut disregarded the letter from the Dalawa.

A tragic decade in Kerala History – TP Sankarankutty Nair
Dewan Velu Tampi and the British – Dr B Shobanan
British Policy in Travancore – Dr RN Yesudas
The History of the London Missionary society in Travancore 1806-1908 – Dr RN Yesudas