The Pirates of Malabar

Chapter IV: An Active Governor
Arrival of Mr. Boone as Governor-- He builds ships and improves defences of Bombay-- Desperate engagement of Morning Star with Sanganians-- Alexander Hamilton-- Expedition against Vingorla-- Its failure-- Hamilton made Commodore-- Expedition against Carwar-- Landing force defeated-- Successful skirmish-- Desertion of Goa recruits-- Reinforcements-- Landing force again defeated-- The Rajah makes peace-- Hamilton resigns Commodoreship-- A noseless company-- Angria recommences attacks-- Abortive expedition against Gheriah-- Downing's account of it-- Preparations to attack Kennery

On the 26th December, 1715, Bombay was en fête. The East Indiamen Stanhope and Queen had arrived from England, bringing the new Governor, Mr. Charles Boone, and three new councillors. His predecessor, Mr. Aislabie, had sailed for England in October. At the landing-place the new-comers were met by the late council and the principal inhabitants and merchants of Bombay. Thirty-one pieces of ordnance greeted them with a salvo, and as they put foot on shore, three companies of soldiers saluted them with three volleys of small arms.

Boone was a man of very different stamp from his predecessors. The quarrels, intrigues, and self-seeking that had been so disastrous a feature during the tenure of office of Child, Waite, and Gayer were abhorrent to him. He was a zealous servant of the Company, whose interests he did his best to promote with the inadequate means at his disposal. In coming up the coast he had touched at the places where the Company had factories, and by the time of his arrival in Bombay he had fully realized that the pirate question demanded serious treatment.

Bombay was then an open town, only the factory being fortified. Soon after receiving Bombay from the Crown, the Directors had ordered it to be fortified, but had refused to employ skilled officers, because "we know that it is natural to engineers to contrive curiosities that are very expensive." The only protection to the town was such as was afforded by a number of martello towers along the shore. Nineteen years before Boone's time the Muscat Arabs had made a descent on Salsette, ravaging, burning, and plundering as they pleased, killing the Portuguese priests and carrying off fourteen hundred captives into slavery. Since then the formidable power of Angria had arisen, but nothing had been done to improve the defences of the settlement. Boone's first care was to trace out an enclosing wall, the building of which was to be paid for by contributions from the native merchants.

At the same time he set to work to build fighting ships. Within a few months of his arrival, the Britannia, eighteen guns, built at Carwar; the Fame, sixteen guns, built at Surat; and the Revenge, sixteen guns, built at Bombay, were flying the Company's flag. It was easier to build ships than to get sailors to man them, in view of the miserable pay given by the Company, and the attractions of service under native chiefs. Many of the crews were foreigners, who were ready enough to take service with Angria, if the inclination took them; and the bulk of the crews were Indian lascars.

A few months later the Victory, twenty-four guns, was launched, and two years after his arrival, Boone had at his disposal a fine fleet consisting of nineteen frigates, grabs, ketches, gallivats, and rowing galleys, carrying two hundred and twenty guns, besides a bomb vessel and a fireship. With such a force much ought to have been accomplished, but throughout his tenure of office Boone's efforts were crippled by the incompetency and indiscipline of those on whom he depended to carry out his designs: while the efficiency of the ships was diminished by their employment to carry cargoes along the coast.

In March, 1717, Bombay was stirred by the arrival of a private ship, the Morning Star, which had escaped the Beyt pirates after a long and severe encounter. The affair is described by Hamilton; but he modestly conceals the fact that he was himself in command of the Morning Star, of which he was chief owner. The ship was on its way from Gombroon to Surat, with a valuable cargo, of which the pirates had intelligence; and two squadrons were fitted out to waylay her. On the 20th March she was assailed by eight pirate ships, the largest of which was of five hundred tons, three others being of nearly three hundred tons each, and the rest galleys and shybars, or half-galleys. Between them they carried about two thousand men. On board the Morning Star there were only six Europeans, a number of native merchants, and about thirty-five or forty lascars, about half of whom were trustworthy.

The first attack was made by the largest of the pirate ships alone, and was beaten off with loss to the assailants. In the fight, Hamilton had his thigh pierced through with a lance. For the rest of that day and the whole of the following no further attack was made; but the pirates hung around planning another assault. On the 22nd it was delivered. The two largest pirates ran the Morning Star aboard, one on her bow and one on her quarter, while three others poured their crews across the decks of their comrades. For four hours a desperate combat ensued, the six vessels being locked together. In the heat of the fight the native merchants went on board the pirates to try and ransom themselves, and were accompanied by half the lascars who deserted their commander; only the Europeans and seventeen lascars remained to fight the ship. She caught fire in three places, the poop and half-deck being burned through. The two pirate ships likewise caught fire, which caused them to slacken their efforts.

In the confusion Hamilton managed to disengage his ship, and made sail; the five pirate ships being so entangled together that they were unable to pursue, and two of them so injured as to be in a sinking condition. So Hamilton brought off his ship in safety, after as gallant a feat of arms as was ever performed. Seven of his men were killed, and about the same number wounded, and finding no surgeon in Surat, he came on to Bombay. The native merchants who were carried off by the pirates were made to pay a ransom of £6000, and brought back word that great slaughter had been done on the pirates, while their Commodore lost his head, on returning to Beyt, for allowing so rich a prize to escape.

In April, Boone sent down the Fame and the Britannia, under Commodore Weekes, to attack Vingorla. They carried a company of sepoys under Stanton, one of the Company's military officers. On the way they were joined by the Revenge, and they also had with them ten or twelve gallivats. Weekes appears to have been timid and incompetent, while the force was altogether insufficient for the purpose. Several days were spent in trying to find a landing-place, without success, on the rocky, surf-beaten shore, while the fortress was bombarded from different points. A violent quarrel occurred between Weekes and Stanton, and the expedition returned to Bombay.

This was the first, but not the most serious, of Boone's failures. It was characteristic of all the warlike expeditions he sent out, that while he was indefatigable in preparing armaments, all other details requisite to success were left to chance. The Council resolved that Weekes was unfit to be Commodore, and deposed him. To fill his place the veteran Alexander Hamilton, whose recent defence of the Morning Star had shown his fighting capacity, was induced to relinquish his private trade, and made Commander-in-Chief of all the Company's frigates on a salary of Rs.80 a month. His ship, the Morning Star, was also hired by the Council.

As soon as the monsoon was over, he was required to conduct an expedition to relieve the Carwar factory, which was beleaguered by the Sunda Rajah. The chief of the factory at this time was Mr. George Taylor. In the spring of 1717, a Bombay merchant's ship carrying an English pass and flying English colours had been seized by the Rajah, who imprisoned the crew. Demands for their surrender were being made, when, in May, the Elizabeth, belonging to Mr. Strutt, a private merchant at Surat, with £15,000 worth of treasure on board, went ashore near Carwar. Before more than half the treasure could be removed in safety to the factory, the Rajah sent down an armed force to seize the ship as jetsam, imprisoned the captain and crew, and laid siege to the factory.

So Hamilton was sent down with a small squadron and some troops. Fortunately the factory was exceptionally well provisioned. On the 30th August, the Morning Star, with five gallivats and a sloop, arrived off Carwar, and blockaded the harbour till the arrival of Hamilton and the rest of the force on the 12th September. In command of the land force was Midford, one of the Company's factors. On the 13th, the troops were landed, under Midford and Stanton, in a heavy surf which drove the gallivats/1/ on shore and upset them, throwing the whole party into the water. Midford, with some of his men, struggled on shore, but Stanton was taken out of the water senseless./2/

In the midst of this scene of confusion they were suddenly charged by the Rajah's horsemen. Half drowned, undisciplined, and with their ammunition spoiled by water, they could make only a feeble resistance. Midford and his English Serjeant, Hill, were desperately wounded and made prisoners, together with five Europeans and forty-seven topasses, while sixty men were killed and two gallivats lost. The wretched topasses had their noses cut off, five European heads were stuck up in derision before the factory, while Midford and Hill were alternately cajoled and threatened to induce them to take service with the Rajah.

In consequence of this disaster, the factory sued for peace, but the Rajah's terms were so humiliating that they were rejected, and it was decided to await further reinforcements from Bombay; but two months elapsed before their arrival. Meanwhile, a post of four hundred men was established on shore to guard the water-supply required for daily use. This gave rise to a skirmish, which put some heart into the invaders. Early one morning the post was attacked by the enemy, who found, to their surprise, that they had come under fire of the guns of some small vessels Hamilton had anchored close inshore. After an hour's cannonade, they broke and fled, pursued by the party on shore, who accounted for some two hundred of them.

Encouraged by this success, Stanton continued to harass the Rajah by small night attacks, and by burning some of his villages, while at sea they did him more damage by intercepting his ships laden with salt and other necessaries, and especially three bringing Arab horses from Muscat; though the captors were much troubled in providing water and provender for them. Meanwhile the factory, which was five or six miles up the river on the north bank, continued to be invested; and in order to prevent any communication with the squadron, a boom was laid across the river, commanded by a battery on the south side. In spite of this, communication was kept up through the Portuguese factory, and more than once Lieutenant Forbes contrived to pass in and out in a rowing-boat; but it was impossible to send in provisions.

About this time we find Hamilton reporting to Bombay--

    "The recruits from Goa had a skirmish at break of day, on 28[th] September, with the enemy, wherein they behaved themselves bravely, but that on an attempt to burn some villages afterwards, they advised the enemy of it, and deserted with some arms and granadoes."
At last the looked-for reinforcements arrived from Bombay, under Captain Gordon, raising the whole strength of the expedition to 2250 men, including seamen, and a landing in force was determined on. Two of the prizes had been equipped as floating batteries, with shot-proof bulwarks, and were laid ashore to engage the Rajah's batteries.

At four o'clock in the morning of the 16th November, 1250 men were put ashore, under Gordon, without hindrance from the enemy, who were ready to take to flight before such a force. Gordon's idea was to advance in a hollow square, which in spite of Hamilton's sneer at him as a 'freshwater land officer' was a good enough formation in the circumstances; but so much time was consumed in getting the men into the required formation, owing to the inexperience and want of discipline among both officers and men, that the enemy took heart again and advanced to meet them. When the square at last moved forward, with Gordon at their head, they were met with a hot fire, and Gordon was a mark for every aim.

Before long he fell, shot in the breast, and Captain Smith, 'commonly called Old Woman,' on whom the command devolved, at once gave the word to retreat. According to Hamilton, 'he pulled off his red coat and vanished.' The Rajah's horsemen charged down, sword in hand, on the disordered ranks; the men threw down their arms and fled to the boats, leaving some two hundred and fifty of their number dead on the field. Fortunately the floating batteries covered the embarkation, and prevented the enemy, who had suffered some loss, from gathering the spoils of the fallen. Eighty seamen were sent on shore, and brought back about two hundred muskets that had been thrown away in flight, most of them loaded. Thus ingloriously ended the attempts at landing.

The factory was by this time reduced to great straits for food, and this fresh disaster made peace imperative; the Rajah, in spite of his success so far, was anxious to come to an accommodation. The expense of maintaining so many armed men threatened to ruin him; the sea blockade and the detention of the horses were events on which he had not reckoned; and, worse still, his northern borders were harried by the Sow Rajah, 'which made him incline very much towards a peace'; so an agreement was quickly arrived at, and on the 29th November, peace was proclaimed on easy terms for both parties. The expedition had cost the Company Rs.68,372 in hard cash. The inability of the landing force to advance beyond range of the ships' guns bears witness to their military incapacity.

His short experience of six months under the Company had completely disgusted Alexander Hamilton. Immediately on his return to Bombay he resigned his post as Commander-in-Chief of their ships-of-war, and resumed business as a private trader. His relations with the military officers during the expedition appear to have been satisfactory, but against Taylor, the head of the Carwar factory, he formulated a series of charges, accusing him of having been the cause of the trouble with the Rajah, through his indiscretion and bad faith. Taylor retaliated by accusing Hamilton of not having taken proper measures to relieve the factory. The Council investigated the charges, and contented themselves with cautioning Taylor to behave better in future.

The unfortunate topasses who had had their noses cut off, were formed into a company of marines, and had their pay augmented to Rs.5 a month./3/ In this odd way the Bombay Marine Battalion appears to have had its origin.

We get some idea of the Sunda Rajahs of the period in a letter from Carwar, dated the 20th January, 1698.

    "He" (the Sunda Rajah) "is so excessive craving after money, that he is about sacrificing twelve men and twelve women with child, to get two pots of treasure which one of his magicians tells him lies buried near his palace."

While these events were taking place at Carwar, Boone found himself involved in trouble with Angria. For some time after the treaty made by Aislabie, Angria had respected Bombay trading ships, but of late he had begun to show his teeth again. In the beginning of 1716 he had made prize of a Company's boat in sight of the harbour, and of another belonging to a private merchant. Four private ships from Mahim, valued at 30,000 xeraphims, were also captured by him, and his ships trading to Bombay refused to pay harbour dues. While Hamilton was engaged at Carwar, Angria's fleet attacked and took the Success, East Indiaman, on its way from Surat. With an impoverished exchequer, a force weakened and disorganized by the Carwar adventure, and no ammunition in his magazine, Boone found himself in no condition to take active measures for the present.

In the vain hope of bringing Angria to reason, a letter of expostulation was written, which met with a hostile response, quickly followed by the capture of the Otter, a Bengal ship. A second letter of defiance was received, so, on the 7th May, in spite of inadequate resources, the Council resolved on striking a blow. An expedition against Gheriah was determined on, and twenty gallivats were sent down, manned with sepoys, to retake, if possible, the captured vessels, "if they were attacked, to repel force by force, and if possible plunder his country." The official record of the expedition is as follows:--

    "4th June.-- Two gallivats returned having plundered a town in Angria's country, and brought away sixteen prisoners.

    9th June.-- Returned our gallivats, having by mismanagement of the chief officer lost about fifty men and destroyed one town of Angria's."

Downing, who was present, gives an account of the attack on Gheriah, though he makes a mistake as to the date. As it is the only account we have of what took place, it will be better to give it in his own words.
    "On the 10th of the same instant [=month] the President reviewed the land forces on shore, and saw all things put in good and sufficient order. Major Vane, chief engineer for the Company, had tried all the mortars and coehorns, then fitted and stocked for the expedition. Mr. John Minims was appointed chief engineer for the direction of these mortars and coehorns, which did great service. We proceeded down the coast for Gerey, which is not above twelve hours' sail from Bombay, where we with all our navy soon arrived, and run [=ran] boldly into the harbour. Captain Berlew (Bellew?) Commodore, and ranged a line from the eastermost part of the fortifications to the outer part of the harbour, keeping all our small galleys and galleywats on the off-side under shelter. But they had strong fortifications on both sides; so that we left our strongest ships in the harbour, to make a breach in the walls, in order to storm the castle. The rocks were very high, and so slippery that one could hardly stand without a staff, and consequently not a place convenient to draw men up in any posture of defence.

We endeavoured to get the fireship in, but could not; for on the east part of the fort they had a cove or creek, where they had laid up a great part of their fleet, and had got a strong boom across the same; so that we could not annoy them any otherwise than by throwing our bombs and coehorns very thick into the garrison, which we did for a considerable time, and were in hopes after the first and second day's siege, that we should have drove them out of that strong castle, but we soon found that the place was impregnable. For as we kept throwing our shells as fast as we could in regular time, cooling our chambers before we loaded again; after we had beat over two or three houses in the castle, the shells fell on the rocks in the inside the castle, and their weight and force of falling would break them without so much as their blowing up.... As to storming the walls, they were so high that our scaling ladders would not near reach the top of them...."

    After the second day we landed all our forces, taking the opportunity of the tide.... We got them all on shore, and marched up the country, without molestation; only now and then the castle would let fly a shot or two, which did us small damage. We attempted to march the army down to their shipping, and to set them on fire; but when we came within a mile of the place the land was all swampy, and so very muddy by the spring tides flowing over that we could not proceed. On our retreat they galled us very much by firing from the castle, we being obliged to come near the castle walls to take our forces off again. Here the gallant Captain Gordon was slightly wounded again.... I question whether there were a hundred men in the castle during the time of the siege...."

    We drew off our forces on the 18th April, and went up to Bombay to repair our frigates and take care of our wounded men, of whom we had a considerable number."

In no way discouraged by the failure, Boone at once set to work to prepare for a fresh attack on Angria. This time it was determined that Kennery, within sight of Bombay harbour, should be the object of attack, and all through the monsoon preparations were made. 


/1/ Galleywats, or gallivats, were large rowing-boats with two masts, of forty to seventy tons, and carrying four to eight guns.
/2/ In a letter, three years later, on the conduct of military officers, it is stated that "Stanton was drunk the time he should have gone upon action at Carwar."
/3/ Bombay Consultations, 22nd January, 1718. 

== next chapter == Biddulph index page == Glossary == FWP's main page ==