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Vol. XXX No. 4, June 1-15, 2020

The Battle of Tiruvottriyur – I

by Karthik Bhatt

Gifts for the Great Mogul

The Battle of Adyar fought between the English and the French in 1746 is one of the most talked about skirmishes in the history of our city – which, according to colonial historians, established for the first time the supremacy of European-trained armies over native forces. However, a lesser known battle was fought three decades earlier in Trivetore (Tiruvottriyur), when the East India Company had a face off with the forces of Sadatullah Khan, Nawab of Arcot to establish the right granted to them by the Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar. This article traces the struggle of the Company to retain possession of Tiruvottriyur and four other villages.

The origins of the right of the East India Company to the village of Tiruvottriyur dates to the time of Governor Thomas Pitt, who in 1708 petitioned Shah Alam (Bahadur Shah I), Aurangazeb’s successor for the grant of Mylapore and Tiruvottriyur. That Shah Alam’s High Steward Ziauddin Khan was a friend of Governor Pitt probably played a great role in the Emperor considering this petition favourably. (It is also interesting to note that in order to keep the relationship with Ziauddin Khan on steady ground, the Council in ­Madras resolved to make certain presents to his wife who resided in Santhome. On another occasion, when Pitt learns that she is in need of money, he promises to arrange for a loan of five hundred pagodas by getting a merchant to sign a bond for the amount!) In September 1708, the East India Company received a grant for five villages, Trivetore (Tiruvottriyur), Lingambauca (Nungambakkam), Vasalavada (adjacent to Perambur, probably Vyasarpady), Catawauk (Kathivakkam) and Satan­gadu (Sathangadu) through the Nawab of Arcot, Daud Khan as a free gift.

In December that year, Pitt received a communication stating that the Moghul emperor was yet to receive the presents normally given to him on accession to the throne, with suggestions as to what ‘Curiositys’ they could be made up of. Pitt lost no time in acting on this. The very next month, in the course of a detailed communication he wrote back stating that many of the presents had been procured and requested that an order be issued to all ‘Nabobs and Governors’ to guard the presents in the course of their journey, as the threat of robberies was real. The communication also requested that the Company be vested with proprietary rights of the five villages.

News reached Pitt that the Emperor was at Golconda and hence it was decided that the Company immediately send the gifts to Masulipatnam for onward despatch to him. The matter was urgent, as Pitt wanted the Company’s gifts, which were of ‘considerable value’ to reach the Emperor before those of the Dutch. A retinue comprising the Reverend George Lewis, a ‘very worthy, sober, ingenious man’, John Berlu, the Madras Council’s Secretary, Chief Merchant Serappa and some native functionaries, fifty peons, seventy servants and six hundred coolies left with the gifts for Masulipatnam, where they remained for some time as the Emperor had left Golconda for Delhi by then.

Pitt retired from office in 1709 and was succeeded by William Fraser. Daud Khan demanded the return of the five villages and Fraser decided to buy him over with presents. It was resolved by the Council to send him a present in ‘such rarityes as are procurable not exceeding six hundred and fifty pagodas.’ A tentative list of articles was decided upon, which included 400 bottles of liquor. In December that year, the gifts, the value of which was estimated at 878 pagodas were sent under a custody of 29 coolies. This settled matters for a short while, for not only was the demand dropped, Daud Khan also gave in addition forty acres of ground at the Mount for a house and a garden. However, this was to prove an all too brief respite for the Company, as Daud Khan renewed his demand shortly thereafter. By 1711, these five villages went back to the custody of the Native Government, now under Sadatullah Khan.

In the meantime, the original consignment of Pitt’s presents, now reduced in bulk and in value (According to H.D. Love, the six elephants had been sold off in Madras and Fort St. George being short of cash had sent the large gold bowl and two cups weighing upwards of 138 ounces to the mint to be coined into pagodas) was sent from Masulipatnam to Bengal and kept under the custody of the President and Council there. In Delhi, things were churning with the death of Shah Alam in 1712. After a brief stint by Jahandar Shah, Farrukhsiyar ascended the Mughal throne. The Council in Bengal thus sent Pitt’s gifts to Farrukhsiyar in 1717, concluding a journey of the consignment that had started nearly a decade earlier and was now being received by a completely different recipient. In February 1717, Farrukhsiyar issued three firmans for Madras, Bengal and Surat. These authorised the respective Councils and its Presidents to exercise certain rights and privileges, besides confirming their old rights. The East India Company thus got back the five villages that were under the Native Government.

The news of the grant of the firman was received with great joy. The document was received from Bengal on July 21st and three days later, it was proclaimed to the inhabitants of Madras in a grand ceremony. The firman lay in the Governor’s palanquin at the Fort Gate with the Mayor, Aldermen and all the city officers gathering. The Secretary on the orders of the Governor Joseph Collett, read out the contents of the firman in English and was followed by the Chief Dubash who did the same in Urdu and Telugu. The palanquin then left in a grand procession attended by the Mayor, Aldermen and the city officers and with accompanying music to the St. Thomas Gate, where the firman was read out by the Registrar. The ceremony was repeated at the Sea and Middle Gates. From the Middle Gate, it was carried through Black Town with a grand retinue comprising the Pedda Naik and his Talliars, one Company of English Guards, the Chief Dubash and the native merchants, to the accompaniment of ‘country music’ and trumpets. The procession made its way to the Attapollium Gate in Black Town, where the Chief Dubash read out the proclamation. The ceremony was repeated at the Tom Clark Gate (which opened on to China Bazaar Road, opposite Broadway) and Bridge Foot Gate (just outside the north-west glacis of the Fort, near the apex of the angle between Walajah Road and Fraser Bridge Road), after which it returned to the Fort.

A massive display of firing accompanied the entire ceremony. As soon as the firman was read out before the Governor at the Fort Gate, a salute of 151 guns was opened up at the St. Thomas Bastion which proceeded in a full circle westward before coming back to it. It then continued round the walls of Black Town. The opening up of fire at St Thomas Bastion was the cue for the ships at Madras Roads to begin firing, with the Commander of the ‘Marlborough’ taking the lead. Further gun salutes were undertaken when the Governor raised toasts to the respective health of Farrukhsiyar, King George and the Company. The day ended with a feast for the soldiers with spirits flowing freely and a bonfire at night, when the native merchants set off a grand display of fireworks on the Island.

As the festivities concluded on a grand note, trouble lay awaiting the Company in the form of Sadatullah Khan.

(To be continued next fortnight)

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