The Pirates of Malabar

Chapter VI: Expedition Against Kennery
Sivajee's occupation of Kennery-- A naval action-- Minchin and Keigwin-- Bombay threatened-- The Seedee intervenes-- Conajee Angria occupies Kennery-- Boone sails with the expedition-- Manuel de Castro-- Futile proceedings-- Force landed and repulsed-- Second landing-- Manuel de Castro's treachery-- Gideon Russell-- Bad behaviour of two captains-- Defeat-- Attack abandoned-- The St. George-- The Phram-- Manuel de Castro punished-- Bombay wall completed-- Angria makes overtures for peace-- Boone outwitted

The islet of Kennery, about ten miles from the mouth of the harbour, and three from the mainland, had long been a thorn in the side of Bombay trade. At the time of the first occupation of Bombay it was uninhabited. In 1679 it was suddenly occupied by Sivajee, who began to fortify it. The danger of this to Bombay was at once seen, and part of the garrison was sent in small vessels, afterwards reinforced by the Revenge, frigate, to intercept the communication between Kennery and the mainland.

On the 18th October, the Mahratta fleet bore down and engaged. In half an hour the Dove, grab, hauled down its colours and was captured, and all the smaller vessels made sail for Bombay, leaving the Revenge, like its more famous namesake, alone amidst its foes. Fortunately, there were on board two sturdy Englishmen, Minchin, the Company's commodore, and Keigwin, the commander of the garrison. Undismayed by the odds against them, Minchin and Keigwin gallantly fought their ship; all attempts at boarding were repelled with loss, five of the Mahratta gallivats were sunk, and, at last, the whole Mahratta fleet took to flight, pursued by the Revenge, and sought refuge in the shallow waters at the mouth of the Negotna river.

Two days later they came out again, but found Keigwin and Minchin so ready to engage, that they desisted from the attempt to reach Kennery. In this way, for some time, a partial blockade of the Negotna river was maintained by the Revenge, which had been reinforced by the Hunter frigate, and a number of small vessels from Bombay. In spite of all efforts, a few Mahratta vessels from time to time evaded the blockade, and kept Kennery supplied with provisions and arms. This unexpected opposition from a company of traders stirred Sivajee to settle the matter by an attack on Bombay, which was in no condition to make any resistance. He marched five thousand men to Kalyan, and demanded permission of the Portuguese, to land at Thana and march on Bombay. The permission was refused, but the Bombay Council were so alarmed lest the Portuguese should ultimately give way, that they opened negotiations with Sivajee.

Meanwhile, his seizure of Kennery had alarmed the Seedee, who sent his fleet into Bombay harbour, and offered his co-operation to the President, who accepted it with some misgivings. Before long, it was discovered that the Seedee intended to keep Kennery for himself, if he could capture it, which seemed to the Council as bad as if it were in Sivajee's hands, so the English squadron held aloof, while the struggle for Kennery continued between the Seedee and the Mahrattas. Sivajee was too much occupied with other matters to trouble about Bombay, and in March, 1680, a treaty of peace was made. His struggle with the Seedee for the possession of Kennery went on, with results that are not recorded; but eventually both parties appear to have left the place to itself. In 1710, Conajee Angria seized the islet and fortified it.

By the end of October all was ready. The ships from England, with the merchandise and money for the yearly investment, had arrived, and joined in the expedition. In order to put an end to the quarrels among commanders that had marked the failure of former expeditions, Boone resolved to take the command himself; so, on the 1st November, he hoisted his flag on board the Addison, East Indiaman, having with him Mr. Walter Brown and other factors and writers. There was at this time in the service a renegade Portuguese, one Manuel de Castro, who had been in Angria's service before Boone had given him employment. He had been present at Hamilton's attack on Carwar, when his misbehaviour had been such as to make all present distrust him. By his boasts of his knowledge of Angria's harbours he had gained the confidence of the Council, and had been appointed Commodore of the Company's gallivats. But several of the English captains refused to serve under him, protesting that they knew his character better than the Governor did; so Boone contented himself by giving him command of only five gallivats.

On the 2nd, the squadron weighed anchor, and, on the following day anchored off Kennery. It consisted of the Addison and Dartmouth, East Indiamen; the Victoria, frigate; the Revenge and Defiance, grabs; the Fame, galley; the Hunter, ketch; two bombketches; and forty-eight gallivats. On the 6th they were joined by the Morrice, and on the 12th by the Stanhope, East Indiamen. Directly after anchoring, a futile bombardment was opened on the Kennery fort, but the distance was so great that nothing was effected but waste of ammunition. The ships then stood in closer, and opened fire again, while the Dartmouth ran in and fired several broadsides. While this was going on, the Victory and Revenge were signalled to attack two grabs that were seen coming out of the harbour; but, on fourteen gallivats coming out to assist the grabs, they were recalled.

The 4th was spent in preparations for a landing, and the gallivats rowed round the island to choose a landing-place. It was finally arranged that the soldiers and marines should land to windward, while the sepoys, covered by the fire of grabs and gallivats, should land at the opposite side of the Island, to leeward. But when the moment arrived, next morning, the sepoys absolutely refused to land, in spite of the severest measures./1/ The soldiers and marines, three hundred in number, landed, but were beaten back with a loss of eighteen killed and fifty wounded, "more by ye force of stones hoven from ye rocks than fier arms." Some loss was occasioned by the bursting of a gun on board one of the gallivats. Manuel de Castro, with his squadron of gallivats, had been ordered to lie off the mouth of the harbour and prevent reinforcements reaching Kennery. Notwithstanding, he allowed five of Angria's gallivats to slip in with ammunition and provisions for the besieged, of which they were believed to stand much in need.

The 6th was occupied in making preparations for another attack, and volunteers were called for from among the sailors, for which service they were to receive forty rupees each, which, at the existing rate of exchange, was reckoned equal to five pounds sterling. The loss of a leg or arm was to be recompensed by a sum of £30 on return to England, and employment for life under the Company. The married men were promised, if killed, that their widows should receive £30, with £10 for each child. These offers procured some forty volunteers, who were to be led by Gideon Russell, mate of the Morrice.

Early next morning the attacking party were put into the boats, to land under cover of the fire of the Britannia, Fame, and Revenge; when it was found that a strong current prevented disembarkation, and the boats were forced to lie off under a heavy fire, until the tide changed. To make matters worse, Manuel de Castro ran two of his gallivats ashore under the guns of the castle, so that fifty or sixty men were killed or wounded before a landing was effected. At ten o'clock the boats pulled for the landing-place; but the tide was still running so strongly that they were thrown into confusion, and many of the attacking party never landed at all. The sepoys again refused to land.

A small party of seamen, headed by Gideon Russell, attacked the gateway under a shower of shot and stones, and, before long Russell fell, grievously wounded. He was carried back to the Morrice, where he died next day. The seamen continued their attack under Clement Downing, backed by Major Stanton, Captain Coxsidge, and the soldiers. John Steele, the carpenter's mate of the Morrice, with his broad axe hewed at the gate and nearly effected an entrance, when the cowardice of two of Stanton's captains caused the attack to miscarry. One of them threw down his sword, which was carried to Boone, who, on return to Bombay, ordered him to be broke at the head of the garrison. The other, somewhat more courageous, came boldly up to the gate and fired his pistol; but the bullet rebounded and struck him on the nose; upon which he ordered the drums to beat a retreat, and the soldiers got back to the boats, leaving a small handful of seamen to prosecute the attack. These, in turn, seeing the hopelessness of any further attempts, retreated to their boats, and rowed off under a heavy fire, leaving many wounded to be massacred by the enemy. It was the old story, repeated so often on these occasions: a badly planned attack carried out half-heartedly by undisciplined men, under one or two resolute leaders; as soon as the leaders were disabled, the rest retreated with more or less loss.

A desultory bombardment was continued for some days, and some shots were fired against Colaba; but Kennery was now well provided with ammunition, and could return two shots for every one fired by the Bombay squadron. On the 11th, Angria sent a flag of truce to offer terms, which were rejected. On the 14th, Boone returned to Bombay in the Dartmouth, seeing that nothing more could be effected, and, on the 24th, the whole squadron made sail for Bombay, after exhausting all their ammunition. Their return seems to have been hastened by the appearance of Angria's fleet from Gheriah, which had Bombay for a time at its mercy.

The failure of the attack on Kennery, under his own eyes, taught Boone that without some assistance from England, he could hope to accomplish little against Angria, whose ships now lay off the harbour, making it difficult for trading vessels to go in or out. Three times the Morrice got under way, and three times had to return, before she could start on her return voyage to Europe. In consequence of Boone's representations, the Directors sent out the St. George, a sixty-gun ship, to act as a guardship for the harbour. Her arrival only served to show the incompetency of many of the Company's naval officers at that time. In laying the ship on shore to scour its bottom after the voyage from England, its back was broken, and the St. George became a total wreck.

Meanwhile, with an eye to a future campaign against Angria's strongholds, Boone set to work to build a floating battery. The Phram, as it was called, was designed with shot-proof sides to carry twelve 48-pounders; but, as will appear before long, its fate was as ignominious as that of the St. George.

His own observation had convinced Boone of the treachery of Manuel de Castro. On his return to Bombay, the renegade was put in irons, and shipped off to St. Helena. There he was detected in fomenting a mutiny among the convicts and slaves. He was deported, and before long made his way back into Angria's service.

Meanwhile, the wall round the town, the building of which had been one of Boone's earliest projects, was nearing completion. It was built entirely, or almost entirely, by contributions from the native merchants, and Boone reported to the Directors that, when the whole space was built over, the ground-rents would realize Rs.8890 a year for the Company's treasury. The church also, the building of which had been started by Aislabie, was finished about this time. The original chapel inside the factory was no longer able to accommodate the increasing English population, besides being in a ruinous condition.

Like other chiefs along the coast, the Bombay authorities gave passes to traders living under their protection, and in their warfare with Angria they had adopted the practice of other chiefs, of not recognizing the immunity of vessels that did not carry passes from themselves. We find at this time the Kattiawar traders complaining of two ships having been seized that held protective passes from Angria. In reply they were told that they must have English passes. The Company was at war with Angria, and his power was increased by those who paid him for protection. So, like all neutrals, they had to suffer in a war with which they had no concern.

Apprehensive of a fresh attack after the monsoon, Angria opened delusive [=deceptive] negotiations for a treaty of peace, through his feudal lord, Sahoojee. Boone was regularly taken in, and announced with satisfaction, to the Directors, that a treaty had been made, under which Angria contracted to restore all ships and vessels he had taken, except the Success, which was hopelessly decayed, for which he was to pay Rs.10,000, or to restore goods to that amount. In lieu of captured cargoes he was to pay Rs.50,000, or to give goods of equal value, and within two years he was to pay Rs.10,000 more, for which payment Sahoojee undertook to be surety.

Boone reported that he had captured from Angria prizes to the value of Rs.9785, which, together with the above payment, and a two-per-cent war-tax on the people of Bombay, would go some way to recoup the Company for their losses and the cost of the expeditions. Altogether, the prospects of increased trade were brighter, but, so long as Angria held Colaba, he considered there could be no permanent peace. He was soon undeceived. As soon as Angria saw that he was safe from attack for another season, he repudiated the treaty, and by the beginning of the new year his piratical doings were renewed. 


/1/ "Killed and wounded several of them, but all to no purpose."--Log of the Addison

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