Thursday, November 05, 2009

Pazhassi Raja –Pyche Rajah- and his times as chronicled by Lachlan Macquarie , a soldier

Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja
The Malayalam film Pazhassi Raja has been creating many headlines in the media, and apparently there is a revival of interest about the historical settings of the twilight years of the 18th century South India. A peep into some of the actual recordings of those days as history unfolded itself shall be quite appropriate and interesting.
One of the remarkable attributes of the Englishmen had been the habit of writing daily journals. This was especially true of the early travellers and adventurers of the empire. These journals have helped us in no small measure to understand history and to learn about the people and their lives of those far away times .While the writing of journals was rather a norm with the Englishman, the habit was more of an exception with the Indian. A classic exception is that of the journals of Anandaranga Pillai who was a translator- Dubash- in the service of the French East India Company and who was a confidante of the then French Governor, Dupleix. He wrote these private diaries during the period AD 1736-1761 which give exceptional information of those times.
Another such journal by a remarkable soldier-turned-statesman, Lachlan Macquarie (1761–1824) who participated in one of the battle against Pazhassi Raja gives interesting and informative accounts of the battle from the point of view of an eye witness.


Lachlan Macquarie(1761-1824)

Born in Scotland in 1761, Lachlan Macquarie joined the British army at the age of 15.In 1777 he went to America and got commissioned in 1781 with the 71st regiment. After a stint in New York and Jamaica he returned home.

In 1777, he again took up a commission as lieutenant in the 77th regiment which saw his long association with India. He was present at the siege of Cannanore in 1790 when Arakkal Beebi surrendered.( In 1790 Minicoy was surrendered to the English East India Company by the Ali Raja of Cannanore, Arakkal Beevi II. However, the Ali Raja was allowed to administer Minicoy in return for a tribute to the East India Company.) He was at Seringapatam in 1791 and later for the siege of 1799. In between he was at Cochin in 1795 and later joined the army that went after Pazhassi Raja in 1797.In 1788 he became a captain and by 1791 had been promoted a Major. The next year he was promoted as a Dy.Pay master general and made his riches during the battle of Seringapatam in which Tippoo was killed by receiving prize money of 1300 British pounds.

In 1801 he was the military secretary to Jonathan Duncan, Governor of Bombay. He was then appointed deputy-adjutant-general to the 8000-strong army, under the command of Major-General David Baird that was sent to Egypt to expel the French. In 1803 he returned to England and Scotland to enjoy the social life and to attend to financial matters in which time he had occasion to be presented to the Queen on two occasions.

Returning to India in 1805, he was promoted to Lt. Colonel of the 73rd regiment and served in north India.

He returned to England in 1807, and married Elizabeth Henrietta Campbell who was a distant cousin to whom he had proposed two yeas earlier. She was aged 29 while he was at a ripe age of 46.

In 1809 Macquarie was appointed Governor of New South Wales. His term of office coincided with an increase in the number of convicts sent to the colony. He found a solution to this by an ambitious programme of starting various public works of new buildings, towns, roads etc to help absorb these numbers. Faced with much opposition from the conservatives, and due to ill health he resigned and returned to his Jarvisfield estate on Mull in 1822 with his wife and son. He died in 1824 while on a trip to London to secure a pension which had been promised.

The Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia is named after him in honour of his development efforts while serving as the Governor of the colony of NSW from 1810 to 1821. The University has a rich source of records on Lachlan Macquarie and his family.

Journals of Lachlan Macquarie, May 1797:

Lachlan Macquarie laid his first wife Jane to rest in Bombay in January 1797 which was a most painful period of his life with its profound sense of loss. Immediately after, he joined the 77th regiment of foot at Cochin and proceeded to Calicut. While at Mahe, Macquarie learned that Governor Jonathan Duncan and Lieutenant General Stuart were in Tellicherry preparing for a military campaign against the Pyché Rajah in the Cottiote region of the Malabar Coast. He volunteered for active service and was given command of the Advance Guard of 700 men, made up of four companies of the 77th Regiment and a battalion of the 3rd Native Infantry Regiment.
Macquarie recorded his experiences during the campaign for the three-week period from 3rd to 22nd of May 1797. From a historic point of view these recordings are quite unique.

May 3 Wednesday!

— This morning at Day–break, the Four Companies of the 77th. Regiment, consisting of 2 Captains, 6 Lieutenants, 13 Serjts., 7 Drumrs. & Fifers, and 200 Rank & File, under my command, marched off from Tellicherry Fort, agreeably to the General orders of yesterday, to form part of the Field Army now assembling at Cottiangurry under the orders of Colonel Alexr. Dow of the Bbay Establishment, for the purpose of prosecuting the War in the Cottiote Country, against the Rebellious Pyché Rajah, now at the head of a large Body of Insurgents. —
The Detachment, after an easy and pleasant march, and crossing one River in Jangars; arrived at Cottiangurry at 8,O'Clock in the morning, and Encamped on the Right of the Line. — This Ground is about 9 miles in a due East direction from Tellicherry. —
Having posted the necessary Guards and dismissed the Detachment to their Tents, I waited on Colonel Dow to report to him my arrival in Camp with the 4 Companies of the 77th. Regiment, and to receive his further orders respecting them. — The Colonel was very glad to see me and expressed great satisfaction at having me thus placed under his command.
The two Brigades of Guns under Capt. Griffiths of the Bbay Artillery, and the Bbay Grenadier Battn. of Sepoys under the command of Major John McDonald, arrived in Camp in a few hours after the 77th. Detachment. —
Lieut. Colonel James Dunlop of the 77th. Regt. arrived also in Camp this afternoon from Tellicherry, being appointed to serve with Colonel Dow's Field Army as second in Command. —
On May 5th Macquarie mentions about commanding the native infantry of 700 men. On 8th, he tells about the amusing incident of the corps of Nairs and Moplahs declining to march, the day being inauspicious to move forward.

The next day, army moved Todicullum, the Capital of the Pyche Rajah, and where he was reported to be present. Six miles into the jungle, they met the enemy which attacked. Later, in an ensuing fight, Capt. Browne, ADC to Col. Dunlop, another sergeant and 16 privates were killed. Storming a mud fort in Mananderry, they lost another 5 men.

On 10th, the army reached Todicullum deserted by the Rajah on learning the arrival of the troupes. Macquarie describes this small jungle town and about Pazhassi’s abode or fortified pagoda. Also he writes about the “dastardly enemy seen sitting like monkeys in the tops of the thickest and highest trees in the jungle, from which they fired in perfect security to themselves “

Macquarie tells about Kannoth Nambiar’s deserted fort, its destruction and about “a very galling fire from along the banks of it from tops of Trees on our whole Line”. Much casualty was incurred with loss of lives of Major Bachelor, 8 NCO’s and many soldiers on the 12th of May.

The journal from 13th to 22nd of May further has interesting incidences and observations about the guerilla warfare and about the personnel.

Those interested can read the details from the following link of the Macquarie University site: http://www.library.mq.edu.au/digital/lema/1797/1797may.html

Dubai, 5th November 2009

Tellicherry Fanam 1805

Note: Pazhassi Raja died fighting the army on 30th November 1805. To commemorate the year of the fall of a thorn from the crown of the empire, a silver coin was issued by the East India Company (Bombay Presidency) with a denomination of 1/5th of a rupee. This silver coin weighing appx. 2.2 grams was minted at Calicut for Tellicherry and bears the letter T and 1805. This coin is also known as Tellicherry Fanam.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Some Questions and Answers


My cousin Suma started a blog aptly named Aparajitha. She is one who bravely battled polio, graduated and became an accomplished musician. She also paints and despite her severe limitations lives contentedly in Cochin with her parents.

While searching the word Aparajitha, I came across a blog under the same name from a most promising and talented teen-aged girl. She had quoted a questionnaire supposedly asked to a celebrity by a media man and had given her own interesting and most original answers, assuming that these questions were aimed at her.

This made me to think as to how I would have answered these questions, if it were asked to me. I think, by answering these questions, we express our personality to enable a friend or reader to understand us more. I would request my fellow bloggers and readers to answer these questions themselves- whether to publish or not- for the fun of it and for a self analyzis. It can be quite exhilarating.

Here are the questions and my answers.

Fun to you is...

Going for a fair of coins and medals or a book exhibition.

If you were invisible for a day, you would...

Frankly, I would not want to use such a boon. In younger days, probably I would have tried to be adventurous.

The one invention you're really waiting for...

Cure for cancer.

Would you like to be young forever?

No. I want to grow old gracefully.

What are you reading at the moment?

Journals of Lachlan Macquarie (1761-1824, a soldier who fought the Pazhassi Raja in 1797.

Who is your favourite cartoon character?

Asterix and Obelix

The place you really want to visit and why?

Manasa sarovar, with my wife. It shall give a spiritual high with its pristine surroundings.

Which film's hero/heroine do you most identify with?

This may probably change with one’s age. At this point, I am at a loss.

Your idea of a perfect meal?

I no longer crave for one such meal. Any homemade simple Indian meal is fine with me.

Lean or brawny?

I like lean.

Three people from history you'd like to meet?

Alexander the great, Sreeramakrishna Paramahamsa and my paternal grandpa, Kandanchatha Raman Nampoothiri, a great Vedic scholar who died at 45.

Your worst date ever?

I did not have one.

Ethnic wear or Western wear?

Both according to the occasion.

Morning person or night person?

More of a morning person.

What are you addicted to?

My family, especially to my wife, Sindhu.

The naughtiest thing you've ever done?

None to remember. Those were rather childhood pranks.

What's your retirement dream?

Retire to my ancestral place, build a new home, enjoy the visits of children and friends and be helpful to the society at large. I also want to pursue my hobby in medals and to catch up with all the reading. Then, I would want to travel to historic places and do my photography.

Five personal care products you can't do without?

My toothbrush, my laptop, my garments, my chapels and my eye glasses.

Who do you think your partner has a crush on?

Me and Clark Gable.

Your favourite drink?

An occasional Cognac.

The one food you can never say no to?

Haagen Dazs ice cream, though I restrict all my sweet intakes.

Rate in order of importance: fame, money, power.

Power, fame, money.

Your next move?

To let my readers know of my answers.

All the best!

Dubai, November 2, 2009