Friday, October 23, 2009

Travancore connection to the Second Anglo-Afghan War


I was amused to see a news item in an English daily about Indians now joining the British Army to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are entitled to sign up as Commonwealth nationals. It is further informed that there were more than 80 Indians in the British army as of March 2009 which obviously may have increased considerably by now.

The report says that Sharat S. Mulchandi, 18, from Karnataka, is undergoing army cadet training at home and plans to join a British infantry regiment when he flies into the UK. 'Pakistan is a breeding ground for terrorists, it's dangerous for India. We will never forget what the fanatics did last year in Mumbai,' The Sunday Express quoted, him, as saying.

Afghanistan and adjoining areas had always been a constant problem for the British Empire over centuries. By 1877, the British in their quest for expanding the empire had grown very suspicious of Russia, which encroached on to its north-west Indian border. The British preferred a friendly Amir in Afghanistan as it was a buffer zone to the British territory. In 1878, the Amir, Sher Ali Khan, was opposed to accept British influence and was inclined towards the Russians. While a Russian mission was invited to Kabul, he refused a mission from the British and denied entry to General Sir Neville Chamberlain. Thereupon, the British decided to invade Afghanistan and the conflict is known as the second Anglo-Afghan war (1878-79). Though none of the contestants could be said to have won the war, the British forces emerged victorious in many encounters. However, they failed to install a British ambassador at Kabul but crowned an Amir who was acceptable to their Asian interests

The then viceroy in India, Lord Lytton, of course sought financial and military help from the ruling princes of India who wholeheartedly gave the support by offering to send contingents of their state forces for the Afghanistan campaign.

Travancore too jumped the bandwagon as proved through the following letter dated 13th November 1878, addressed to Mr.J.C. Hannyngton, the acting resident by the then Diwan Nanoo Pillay on behalf of Ayilyam Thirunal Rama Varma Maharajah (1860–80).

Ayilyam Thirunal


My dear Sir,

On an occasion like this when a misguided frontier chieftain is disposed to treat with untimely the friendship of the British government which other princes have learned from the experience of years to value of their tower of strength and source of peace and prosperity to their states His Highness the Maharajah feel it His duty to express to His Excellency the Viceroy through proper channel the feelings of distress and pain with which he regards the conduct of the Amir. Such an expression of feelings on the part of the princes while assuring His Excellency of the devoted loyalty and readiness to rally round the imperial throne, should the need arise, may be of use also in dispelling hopes which any designing power may have been deluded into building on their weakness of their allegiance.

His Highness deeply regrets the infatuation which leads the Amir into a contest with a power like the British and hopes the deluded prince may yet appreciate the forbearance which in the confidence of their strength they are extending to him to bring him to reason. But, should a war be necessary to maintain the dignity of the Empire and the complications arise which may require its resources to be supplemented His Highness the Maharajah will only be too glad to have the opportunity of proving his fidelity to this ancient alliance by aiding to the best of his means in any direction in which His Excellency the Viceroy may be please to command feeling that His Highness’ interests are bound up by the stability and honour of the Empire.

Taken under the powerful protection of Her Most Gracious Majesty it has not been necessary for His Highness to maintain a large military force, but such as our Nair brigade is, a Contingent could always be held ready for service under the British flag. His Highness has just learned with much gratification from Major Caulfield the Commandant that the men have volunteered for such service. The British subsidiary force located in the State also could be withdrawn if necessary till peace is restored.

I am commanded to request you to be so kind as to convey the purport of this communication to His Excellency the Viceroy in the most acceptable manner with the expression of His Highness’ sentiments of high consideration and respect.

I remain,
Sd/ N.Nanoo Pillai

J.C.Hannyngton Esq.,
Acting British Resident.

Ref: Archives of the Government of Kerala)

Though many Madras Native Infantry regiments (4th, 11th, 25th and 30th) participated in the campaign with distinction, my searches reveal that the Nair Brigade –one among the Madras Infantry regiments- did not march to Afghanistan.

Afghan campaign Medal (1878-80)
Private Puckajeerao Chowan of 5th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry
From the medal collections of Murali


Diwan Nanoo Pillay(1877-80) served Travancore under Ayilyam Thirunal Rama Varma Maharajah (1860–80). He was a consummate administrator and served the Maharajah during the times of his troubled relations with his brother in law , Kerala Kalidasa Kerala Varma Valia Koil Thampuran who had to be subjected to confinement at home for a period. Diwan Nanoo Pillay handled the issue admirably and diplomatically when the Ranee- Maharajah’s sister – created a scene at the Palace objecting the Valia Koil Thampuran, her husband, being taken away by the police for home confinement at Mavelikkara.

John Child Hannyngton I.C.S, British Resident at the courts of Travancore and Cochin was a Sanskrit scholar and expert on Malayali culture. Apparently he had married from India. His Anglo-Indian grandchild EK Janaki Ammal was the first woman to gain a PhD in Botany in the United States; in 1938. She later became Professor of History at Madras and was the first Director of the Central Botanical Institute, Lucknow. She was also the founder of ethno-botany in India.

As Resident, Hannyngton was signatory to the Periyar Lake lease agreement dated 1st Jan 1886, between the Maharajah of Travancore and the British Government . Interestingly, the lease was for 999 years!

Incidentally, Ram a reader writes to me the following as a comment about my post “Some Royal Correspondence” in which I had mentioned Hannyngton. “I have been reading your most interesting and well written blogs on your ancestors. John Child Hannyngton, who was the resident (4 times), stationed at Travancore, and who is mentioned by you, is my ancestor, I have his letters written to my great grand father E.K.Krishnan with me.”

Shom also wrote thus: Interesting, especially the Hannyngton part. We are Indian descendants of his sojourn in Tellicherry: Acting Judge of Small Cause Court, Tellicherry. 1867: Sub-Collector, Bellary; Acting Collector and Magistrate, Malabar; Judge of Small Cause Court, Tellicherry. 1868: Acting Civil and Sessions Judge, Tellicherry; afterwards at Calicut. 1869

I presume that Ram and Shom are blood related.

Dubai, 23rd October 2009.

Notre Dame Cathedral and my visit of 2006

It was with much agony that I read about the devastating fire at the famed Notre Dame cathedral and the damages thereof. To me, the Notre...