The Pirates of Malabar

Chapter X: Twenty-six Years of Conflict
The case of Mr. Curgenven-- Death of Conajee Angria-- Quarrels of his sons-- Portuguese intervention-- Sumbhajee Angria-- Political changes-- Disaster to Bombay and Bengal galleys-- The Ockham beats off Angria's fleet-- The Coolees-- Loss of the Derby-- Mahrattas expel Portuguese from Salsette-- Captain Inchbird-- Mannajee Angria gives trouble-- Dutch squadron repulsed from Gheriah-- Gallant action of the Harrington-- Sumbhajee attacks Colaba-- English assist Mannajee-- Loss of the Antelope-- Death of Sumbhajee Angria-- Toolajee Angria-- Capture of the Anson-- Toolajee takes the Restoration-- Power of Toolajee-- Lisle's squadron-- Building of the Protector and Guardian

As an instance of the miseries to which men were exposed by Angria's piracies, may be mentioned the case of Mr. Curgenven, a private merchant of Madras. Being bound on a trading voyage to China, he sailed from Surat in August, 1720, in the Charlotte. Before he could get clear of the coast, he was captured by Angria's fleet and carried into Gheriah. There he remained for nearly ten years, during the whole of which time he was made to wear fetters and work as a slave. In spite of the letters he was able to send to Bombay, nothing appears to have been done to procure his liberty. At last, on payment of a ransom, he was set free, and joined his wife in England. But the fetters he had worn so long had injured one of his legs, and amputation was necessary. As he was recovering from the operation, an artery burst, and he died on the spot.

With Boone's departure from India the attacks on the Angrian strongholds came to an end. They were henceforth regarded as impregnable, and Boone's successors contented themselves with checking the Angrian power at sea.

In June 1729, Conajee Angria died. He left two legitimate sons, Sakhajee and Sumbhajee; three illegitimate sons, Toolajee, Mannajee, and Yessajee. Sakhajee established himself at Colaba, while Sumbhajee Angria remained at Severndroog, to carry on the predatory policy of their father. In March, 1734, Sakhajee died, and Mannajee and Yessajee were sent to hold Colaba for Sumbhajee. Before long, Mannajee quarrelled with Sumbhajee and Yessajee, and fled to Chaul. The Portuguese espoused his quarrel, and furnished him with a force against Colaba, which was taken; Mannajee gallantly leading the assault, sword in hand. He at once imprisoned Yessajee, and put out his eyes.

As soon as the Portuguese force was withdrawn, Sumbhajee attacked Colaba. Mannajee invoked the aid of the Peishwa, who compelled Sumbhajee to raise the siege, and received the Angrian forts of Koolta and Rajmachee in return, while Mannajee proclaimed his allegiance to the Peishwa, and henceforth was secure under his protection. The Portuguese, incensed against Mannajee, who had broken his promises to cede them certain districts in return for their assistance in capturing Colaba, joined hands with Sumbhajee Angria against him. This brought down upon them the hostility of the Mahratta court, who, after two years' severe fighting, expelled them from Salsette and all their possessions in the neighbourhood of Bombay, while the English looked on at the contest waged at their doors with indifference.

In order to strengthen themselves against the Dutch, the Portuguese had ceded Bombay to the English, and then, by their bad faith in retaining Salsette and Thana, they had opened a sore that never was healed. By espousing the quarrel of Mannajee they had earned the enmity of Sumbhajee; and by joining in Sumbhajee's quarrel against Mannajee they had brought down on themselves the formidable power of the Peishwa. Before long, Sumbhajee turned against them again, and they were left without a single ally to struggle as they could. Their intervention in Angrian quarrels was the final cause of the downfall of Portuguese power on the West coast.

The old political landmarks were fast disappearing. Everywhere the Mogul power was crumbling to pieces, and new principalities were being formed. The Peishwa had shaken off his allegiance to Satara, and his armies were making his authority felt all over Hindostan and the Deccan; while Mahratta rule was being established in Guzerat by the Gaicowar. The Dutch and French had ceased to make progress; the Portuguese power was on the wane; the Seedee was losing territory under the attacks of Mannajee and the Peishwa, while the Angrian power was divided.

Meanwhile, the Company's position on the West coast was steadily improving. European pirates had ceased to haunt the Indian seas; Mannajee Angria found it necessary to maintain good relations with the English, though occasional acts of hostility showed that he was not to be trusted; while the Peishwa, whose aims were directed inland, had no quarrel with them, and concluded a treaty with Bombay. Trade was flourishing, though the piracies of Sumbhajee Angria, in spite of his feud with Mannajee, caused losses from time to time. The English ships, better manned and better found [=supplied], no longer contented themselves with repelling attacks, but boldly cruised in search of Sumbhajee's vessels, capturing them or driving them to seek refuge in their fortified harbours.

To relate in detail all the encounters that took place would be tedious; but some of them may be mentioned, in order to give an idea of the warfare that went on for thirty years after Boone's relinquishment of office.

In October 1730, intelligence having been received of Angrian gallivats cruising north of Bombay, some Bombay gallivats were sent out, and after a smart action captured three of them, each carrying five guns. A month later, the Bombay and Bengal galleys were attacked off Colaba by four grabs and fifteen gallivats. There was a calm at the time: the hostile grabs were towed under the galleys' stern and opened a heavy fire. The galleys were only able to reply with small arms fire, and suffered severely. Several attempts to board were repelled, when an unlucky shot exploded two barrels of musket cartridges on board the Bengal. The quarter-deck was blown up, and, in the confusion, the enemy boarded and carried the ship. The first lieutenant, although wounded, jumped overboard and swam to the Bombay, which was also in evil plight. A similar explosion had occurred, killing the captain, the first lieutenant, and many of the crew. At this juncture came a welcome breeze, bringing up the Victory grab, which had witnessed the fight without being able to take part in it, and the Angrians drew off. No less than eighty Europeans were lost to the Company in this action.

In January 1732, the Ockham, East Indiaman, coming up the coast with a light wind, was beset off Dabul by an Angrian squadron of five grabs and three gallivats. At sunset they came within shot, and a little harmless cannonading took place at long range, till dark. At one in the morning, the moon having risen, they bore down again and attacked the Ockham in their favourite manner, astern. For some time the East Indiaman was exposed to the fire of ten nine-pounders, to which it could only reply with two stern-chasers. Captain Jobson, finding his rigging much cut up, and seeing that the loss of a mast would probably entail the loss of his ship, determined to entice them to close quarters, in the good breeze that was springing up. The plan was explained to the crew, who were in good heart, and encouraged by a promise of two months' pay. Every gun was manned, while the fire of the two stern-chasers was allowed to slacken, as if ammunition was running short. The bait took; the grabs drew up on the Ockham's quarter, with their crews cheering and sounding trumpets.

At a cable's distance the Ockham suddenly tacked; and as she gathered way on her new course, she was in the midst of the grabs, firing into them round shot and grape, together with volleys of small arms. This unexpected manoeuvre made the Angrians draw off, and the Ockham resumed her course. At daybreak, only four grabs were in chase, the fifth having evidently suffered severe injuries. A stiff breeze had sprung up, and the crew were eager for another bout, so the Ockham tacked again, and stood for the grabs. But they had had enough of it, and evaded coming to close quarters. Their best chances of successes lay in calms and light airs. With an antagonist like Jobson, in a good stiff wind, the odds were against them; they had lost many men; so after hovering round for some hours they made off to Severndroog.

In 1734, the Coolee rovers who infested the coast of Guzerat gave much trouble. Their stronghold was at Sultanpore, on the river Coorla, and they enjoyed the protection of several wealthy persons who shared in their plunder. A squadron under Captain Radford Nunn was sent against them, which captured five armed vessels and burnt fourteen more. To save others from capture they burnt about fifty more small sailing-boats themselves. Six months later, ten more of their boats were burnt and two captured. Under these blows they were quiet for a time.

In December 1735, a valuable ship fell into Sumbhajee Angria's hands, owing to the bad behaviour of its captain. The Derby, East Indiaman, bringing a great cargo of naval stores from England, and the usual treasure for investment, was due to arrive in Bombay in November. The captain, Anselme, was a schemer, and wished to remain in India for a year, instead of returning to England at once, as had been arranged. Accordingly, he lingered a month in Johanna, and shaped his course northward along the African coast. Thence getting a fair wind which would have brought him directly to Bombay, without running the risk of working along the Malabar coast, he instead steered for the latitude of Goa, and thence crept northwards, making as much delay as possible, so as not to reach Bombay till January.

On the 26th December, an Angrian squadron of five grabs and four gallivats bore down on the Derby off Severndroog, and engaged in their favourite way of attacking a big ship, astern. There was little wind, and the Derby would neither stay nor wear. Only two guns could be brought to bear at first; there were no guns mounted in the gun-room, and no encouragement was given to the crew. Two years before, the Directors had authorized the captains of outward-bound ships, when exposed to a serious attack, to hoist two treasure chests on deck, for distribution after the engagement to the ship's company, in order to encourage them in making a good resistance. The captains of homeward-bound ships were empowered to promise £2000 to their crews in the same circumstances. Nothing of the kind was done by Anselme. The crew, discontented, fought with little spirit; many of them refused to stand to their guns. The main and mizzen masts were shot away, seven men, including the first mate, were killed, five were dangerously, and a number more slightly, wounded. Still, many of the officers and men were willing to continue the fight, but were overruled by the captain, who insisted on surrender, and the Derby with 115 prisoners, of whom two were ladies, was carried into Severndroog.

No such loss had befallen the Company for many years. The much-needed naval stores went to equip Angria's fleet, and the money for the season's investment was lost. The whole Bombay trade was dislocated. Angria, desirous of peace, opened negotiations. The Council, wishing to redeem the prisoners, offered a six months' truce, and, after eleven months of captivity the prisoners were sent to Bombay, with the exception of three who took service with Angria.

In December, 1736, the King George and three other vessels captured a large grab belonging to Sumbhajee Angria, together with 120 prisoners. A Surat ship that had been taken was also recovered.

The year 1738 was an anxious one in Bombay. The Mahrattas were occupied with the siege of Bassein, which was defended with desperate valour by the Portuguese. Sumbhajee's vessels were active on the coast, and Mannajee was restless and untrustworthy. Commodore Bagwell, with four of the Company's best ships, the Victory, King George, Princess Caroline, and Resolution, was sent to cruise against Sumbhajee, while Captain Inchbird was deputed on a friendly mission to Mannajee. On the 22nd December, Bagwell sighted Sumbhajee's fleet of nine grabs and thirteen gallivats coming out of Gheriah. He gave chase, and forced them to take refuge in the mouth of the Rajapore River, where they anchored. Bagwell, ignorant of the navigation, and with his crews badly afflicted with scurvy, boldly bore down on them; on which they cut their cables and ran into the river. Before they could get out of shot, he was able to pour in several broadsides at close range, killing Angria's chief admiral, and inflicting much damage. Fearing to lose some of his ships in the shoal water, he was obliged to draw off, having had one midshipman killed.

Mannajee at once took advantage of Sumbhajee's temporary discomfiture to attack and capture Caranjah from the Portuguese. Then, elated at his success, and in spite of his own professions of friendship, he seized three unarmed Bombay trading ships and two belonging to Surat. To punish him, Captain Inchbird was sent with a small squadron, and seized eight of his fighting gallivats, together with a number of fishing-boats. Negotiations were opened, broken off, and renewed, during which Mannajee insolently hoisted his flag on the island of Elephanta. With the Mahratta army close at hand in Salsette, the Bombay Council dared not push matters to extremity; so invoking the help of Chimnajee Appa, the Peishwa's brother, they patched up a peace with Mannajee. At the same time, Bombay succeeded in making a treaty of friendship with the Peishwa, which secured, to the English, trading facilities in his dominions.

While this was going on, a Dutch squadron of seven ships of war and seven sloops attacked Gheriah, and were beaten off. A little later, Sumbhajee took the Jupiter, a French ship of forty guns, with four hundred slaves on board. To English, Dutch, French, and Portuguese alike, his fortresses were impregnable.

In January, 1740, a gallant action was fought by the Harrington, Captain Jenkins. The Harrington was returning from a voyage to China, and, in coming up the coast, had joined company with the Pulteney, Ceres, and Halifax. Between Tellicherry and Bombay they were attacked by fifteen sail of Angria's fleet. Four grabs ran alongside the Harrington, but were received with such a well-directed fire that they dropped astern. The four Company's ships then formed line abreast, and were attacked from astern by Angria's ships. The brunt of the fight fell on the Harrington. Jenkins had trained his crew, and was prepared for this method of attack. After five hours of heavy firing the Angrian ships drew off, showing confusion and loss.

At daylight the next morning they attacked again. The Ceres had fallen to leeward, and three grabs attacked her, while three more bore down on the Harrington to windward. Disregarding his own attackers, Jenkins bore down on the assailants of the Ceres, and drove them off; then, hauling his wind, he awaited the attack of the others. The three leeward grabs were towed up within range, and for the next two or three hours the Harrington engaged all six, almost single-handed. The wind had fallen; the Ceres and Halifax were out of gunshot; the Pulteney alone was able to give assistance at long range. So well served were the Harrington's guns that she inflicted more damage than she received, and by ten o'clock four of the grabs gave up the contest and were towed away to windward. The other two grabs continued the action for some time, till they also were towed out of action.

The two squadrons, just out of gunshot of each other, consulted among themselves. Jenkins found he had only seven rounds left for his big guns, and his consorts, which were more lightly armed, were in little better plight to renew the combat. Still, he put a good face on it, showing no unwillingness to continue the fight; and, on a breeze springing up, the Angrians drew off, leaving the East Indiamen to pursue their voyage. Only one man on board the Harrington was wounded, though the ship was much knocked about. Jenkins was much commended for his skill and courage, and two years later we find him acting as Commodore of the Company's fleet at Bombay.

Three weeks later, Sumbhajee's fleet of five grabs and some gallivats appeared off Bombay, and cruised off the mouth of the harbour, as if inviting attack. Commodore Langworth, with the Pulteney, Trial, Neptune's Prize, a bombketch, and five of the largest gallivats, was sent out. The Angrian fleet stood away to the southward, followed by Langworth. The demonstration was a trick to draw off the Bombay fighting ships. When they were well out of the way, Sumbhajee made a sudden attack on Mannajee's territories with two thousand men and forty or fifty gallivats. Sumbhajee had gained over a number of Mannajee's officers, and Alibagh, Thull, and Sagurgurh fell into his hands at once.

He attacked Chaul, but was beaten off by the Portuguese, and then laid siege to Colaba. Mannajee was at once reduced to great straits. Half his garrison were untrustworthy, and his water supply was cut off. In his distress he appealed to Bombay for assistance. Though the Council bore him little good will, they recognized that it was better to maintain him in Colaba than to allow Sumbhajee to establish himself there; so in great haste, the Halifax, a small country ship, the Futteh Dowlet grab, the Triumph prahm, and the Robert galley were equipped and sent down, under Captain Inchbird, arriving just in time to save the place. Water was supplied to the garrison, and Bombardier Smith, together with gunner's mate Watson, a mortar and plenty of ammunition were put into the fort.

Sumbhajee's batteries were much damaged by the shells from the mortar, his camp was bombarded by Inchbird, and his gallivats forced to run for Severndroog. This prompt action of the Bombay Council upset Sumbhajee's plans. He addressed remonstrances to the Council, offering to restore the Anne, which he had taken some months before. A week later, a Mahratta force, from Salsette, under the Peishwa's son, Ballajee Bajee Rao, appeared on the scene, attacked Sumbhajee's camp, destroyed some of his batteries, killing a number of his men, and taking prisoner his half-brother, Toolajee.

In his distress, Sumbhajee tried to come to terms with Mannajee. Each distrusted the other, and both were afraid of the Peishwa. At this juncture the death of the Peishwa was announced. Ballajee Bajee Rao was obliged to return to Satara, and Sumbhajee was allowed to retreat, after making peace with the Mahrattas. The promptitude and energy with which the English had come to the assistance of Mannajee raised them greatly in the esteem of the new Peishwa, and strengthened the bonds of the alliance.

Mannajee now found it expedient to make a solid peace with the English. The new Peishwa had his hands full at Satara. The only power able to afford him ready protection against Sumbhajee was the English, the value of whose friendship he had lately experienced. So he sent agents to Bombay, offering to pay a sum of Rs.7500, on restitution of the gallivats taken from him by Inchbird the year before. On this basis a peace was made.

At the same time, the Portuguese, whose power and resources were fast diminishing, recognized the difficulty of retaining the isolated fortress of Chaul. They offered it first to the Dutch and then to the English, but the dangerous gift was refused by both. Finally they made it over to the Peishwa by agreement./1/

While these things were going on, the Antelope, gallivat, fell a prey to the Coolee rovers of Sultanpore. Through the treachery of the pilot it was run ashore. The crew defended themselves gallantly, but in the course of the action the ship blew up, and ten Europeans, two sepoys, and two lascars were killed.

In view of the losses he had sustained, Sumbhajee Angria now tried to patch up a peace with Bombay. In order to test his sincerity, he was required as a preliminary step to restore the English prisoners he held. Just then he scored a success against the Portuguese, from whom he captured two fine grabs and a convoy; so the negotiation came to a standstill. But his fortunes were declining, his people were leaving his service; while Mannajee, protected by the Peishwa and the English, was increasing in power; so he again addressed the Bombay Governor, in a letter beginning 'For thirty years we have been at war.'

But it was soon discovered that his object was to have his hands free to attack Mannajee, and his overtures came to nothing. In May, 1743, he captured the Bombay ketch Salamander, off Colaba, but before it could be carried off it was rescued by some of Mannajee's ships from Chaul, and restored to Bombay. Very shortly afterwards, Sumbhajee died, and was succeeded by his half-brother, Toolajee. The reputation of the English in Bombay was now so good, that a quarrel between Mannajee and the Peishwa was referred to them for arbitration.

The predatory policy of the Angrian family did not suffer in the hands of Toolajee. Within a few weeks of Sumbhajee's death, his squadron fought a prolonged action with the Warwick and Montagu, East Indiamen, and carried off five small vessels sailing under their convoy. Commodore Hough in the Restoration, together with the Bombay grab, was at once sent down the coast, and found seven Angrian grabs with a number of gallivats, which he forced to take shelter under the guns of Severndroog. A year later, the Princess Augusta from Bencoolen was captured by Toolajee, and taken into Gheriah. After plundering it, Toolajee found it was too poor a sailer to be of use to him, so he allowed the Bombay Council to redeem it for Rs.8000.

Meanwhile, war with France had broken out, and the capture of Madras by La Bourdonnais dealt a severe blow to English prestige. The restless Mannajee began stopping and plundering small native craft belonging to Bombay, with the intention, no doubt, of flying at higher game in time. Reprisals were at once ordered, and a vessel of Mannajee's was captured. This brought him to reason, and the vessel was released on his signing a bond to make good the losses he had caused. The loss of Madras was telling against the English, everywhere. In Bengal the Mahrattas seized the Cossimbazaar flotilla bound for Calcutta, valued at four lakhs of rupees. Mannajee still continued to be troublesome, till the Seedee, taking advantage of the situation, attacked and captured Thull, which kept him quiet for a time.

Considerable anxiety was caused in Bombay at this time, by the appearance of three French men-of-war cruising on the coast, with the evident intention of waylaying the Company's ships from Europe. One of them was a fifty-gun ship, and there was nothing in Bombay harbour to cope with her. To meet the difficulty, a large number of fishing-boats were sent out, each with an English sailor on board, to creep along the coast and warn all incoming ships. In spite of these precautions, the Anson missed the boats sent to warn her, and was attacked by the French Apollo and Anglesea within sight of the harbour. Captain Foulis defended himself long enough to enable him to send off the dispatches and treasure he carried, in his boats, before he was forced to surrender./2/ The Directors bestowed on him a gratuity of £400 for his able conduct.

Fortunately for Bombay, Toolajee Angria's energies were at this time directed against Canara, where in two successive expeditions he sacked Mangalore and Honore, carrying off a large booty.

In October, 1749, Toolajee, who for some time had been giving little trouble, inflicted a severe loss on the Bombay marine. The Restoration was the most efficient ship at the Council's disposal. It had been commanded by Captain Hough, a bold and resolute man, who had done good service in her, attacking Angria's ships and chasing them into their fortified harbours. She carried seventy-five European seamen, sixteen lascars, and thirty soldiers-- unruly fellows who wanted a firm hand over them. Hough had fallen ill, and the command was given to Captain Thomas Leake, an irresolute man, not fitted to command such, a crew. They very soon fell into disorder. While coming up the coast from Goa they were attacked by Toolajee's fleet of five grabs, accompanied by a swarm of gallivats.

From noon till dark the Restoration was surrounded and cannonaded. Her guns were so badly served that they inflicted little or no damage, while her own sails and rigging were badly cut about. During the night, the action was fitfully continued, her ammunition being lavishly and uselessly expended. Toolajee himself was present, and had a number of European gunners with him. At noon the next day his grabs edged down again, fell aboard the Restoration, and boarded. On this, the colours were struck, Leake ran below, an example that was followed by his crew, and the ship was taken. When they were released, some months afterwards, the Council, after due inquiry, decided that Leake and his officers should not serve the Company again till the Directors' pleasure was known.

Meanwhile, the Coolees of Guzerat had become very troublesome. In 1749, they captured a Bengal ship with Rs.60,000 in hard cash on board, and a cargo of nearly equal value. Their depredations continuing, the Dutch proposed joint action against them; so, in December, 1750, a joint Dutch and English squadron forced the defences of the Coorla River, burnt and captured twenty-three of their vessels, and reduced them to quietness for a time.

Toolajee had now become very powerful. From Cutch to Cochin his vessels swept the coast in greater numbers than Conajee had ever shown, and cruised defiantly off Bombay harbour. But for the presence of four King's ships on the coast, Bombay trade would have suffered severely. When Boscawen left Indian waters,/3/ after receiving over Madras from the French, he detached four ships, the Vigilant, Tartar, Ruby, and Syren, to cruise on the West coast, under Commodore Lisle. For two years, the protection afforded by Lisle's squadron gave some security to the Bombay coast trade. As the small sailing boats, in which the coast trade was carried on, made their way under convoy of the King's ships, Angria's squadrons hovered round to pick up stragglers, and several slight encounters took place. The superior sailing powers of the Mahratta vessels enabled them to keep out of range of the big guns, while they snatched prizes within sight of the men-of-war.

Thus in February 1750, three small traders were snapped up, while under convoy of the Ruby, by an Angrian squadron that hung on their tracks for four days, between Bombay and Vingorla. In October, the Tartar, with twenty-six sail under convoy, was followed for three days, between Bombay and Surat, by eleven Angrian gallivats, and lost one of the number. Three weeks later, the Syren's convoy was attacked in the same waters by thirteen Angrian vessels, which were beaten off without loss. In March 1751, thirty-six trading vessels, under convoy of the Vigilant and Ruby, were attacked by six Angrian vessels, which behaved with great boldness. Instead of devoting themselves to the traders, they bore down on the Ruby, and opened fire at close range, with great guns and small arms. Before long an Angrian grab was seen to be on fire, and in a short time the after-part blew up. Several pieces of mast were blown on board the Ruby, tearing her sails and wounding two men. The grab sunk, and her consorts made off. Hardly had Lisle's squadron sailed for England/4/ when the Council sustained a loss in the Swallow sloop, which was taken by Toolajee, together with a convoy of rice-boats.

The great benefit conferred on the coast trade by Lisle's squadron taught the Directors the necessity of a change of policy. Hitherto their fighting ships had been utilized to carry cargoes along the coast, a practice that greatly hampered their action. They now determined on keeping ships for fighting only; so they ordered the building of the Protector, a forty-gun ship, and the Guardian, a sloop. The two new ships left Sheerness in the winter of 1751, commanded by Captains Cheyne and James, and the most stringent orders were sent with them that they were to carry no cargoes, and were to be kept on the Malabar coast as long as Angria should keep the sea. During the next three years, the Protector and Guardian did much useful work, convoying the coasting trade, and offering battle to Angria's ships whenever they met them. 


/1/ September 1740.
/2/ 2nd September, 1747.
/3/ November 1749.
/4/ November 1751. 

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