The Pirates of Malabar

Chapter XI: The Downfall of Angria
Toolajee fights successful action with the Dutch-- He tries to make peace with Bombay-- Alliance formed against him-- Commodore William James-- Slackness of the Peishwa's fleet-- Severndroog-- James's gallant attack-- Fall of Severndroog-- Council postpone attack on Gheriah-- Clive arrives from England-- Projects of the Directors-- Admiral Watson-- Preparations against Gheriah-- The Council's instructions-- Council of war about prize-money-- Double dealing of the Peishwa's officers-- Watson's hint-- Ships engage Gheriah-- Angrian fleet burnt-- Fall of Gheriah-- Clive occupies the fort-- The prize-money-- Dispute between Council and Poonah Durbar-- Extinction of coast piracy-- Severndroog tower 

*Views of Gheriah Fort*

In the beginning of 1754, the Dutch suffered a severe loss at Toolajee's hands. A vessel loaded with ammunition was taken, and two large ships were blown up, after a stiff fight in which Toolajee had two three-masted grabs sunk and a great number of men killed. Six months later, Toolajee sent an agent to Bombay to propose terms of accommodation. They were terms to which a conciliatory answer, at least, would have been returned in Conajee Angria's time. The Council's reply betrays a consciousness of increased strength. "Can you imagine that the English will ever submit to take passes of any Indian nation? This they cannot do. We grant passes, but would take none from anybody." Toolajee was told that if he was in earnest in desiring peace, he should return the vessels he had taken, and send men of figure and consequence to treat, instead of the obscure individual through whom his overtures had come.

In spite of this peremptory reply, Toolajee continued to make half-hearted proposals for peace. The fact was that he was now at open war with the Peishwa, who had made himself master of the Concan, with the exception of the coastline. According to Orme, Toolajee had cut off the noses of the agents sent by the Peishwa to demand the tribute formerly paid to Satara. The Poonah Durbar were so incensed against him that they were determined on his destruction, though without the assistance of the English they had little expectation of success against his coast fortresses. The Bombay Council was ready enough to join in the undertaking, but was unwilling to take immediate action. This unwillingness was apparently due to their desire to see order first restored in Surat, where affairs had fallen into great disorder in the general break-up of Mogul rule.

The Mahratta Court at Poona had been close observers of the long war waged in the Carnatic between the English and French. They had seen Madras taken, only to be regained by diplomacy, and after the English had been foiled at Pondicherry. They had witnessed the rise of French power under Dupleix; rulers deposed and others set up, in the Deccan and the Carnatic, by French arms; and then, when Mahomed Ali, the rightful ruler of the Carnatic, was at his last gasp, they had seen his cause espoused by the English, and one humiliation after another inflicted on French armies, till at last the French were forced to recognize Mahomed Ali's title, while a powerful English squadron and a King's regiment had been sent out to make good the claim. The good relations established between the Peishwa's government and Bombay by the treaty of 1739, had been strengthened since the arrival of Mr. Richard Bourchier as Governor in 1750; the fighting in the Carnatic had raised the military reputation of the English, while their support of Mahomed Ali, whom the Mahrattas styled 'their master,' had greatly increased the esteem in which they were held.

When it was definitely known that hostilities between the English and French were at an end, Ramajee Punt, the Sirsoobah of the Concan, was dispatched to Bombay to concert measures against Toolajee. Mr. Bourchier was urged to summon the King's ships from Madras to co-operate with the Peishwa's forces.

To await the arrival of Watson's squadron from Madras would have lost the favourable season before the monsoon, so it was determined to fit out at once what ships were in the harbour, and send them under Commodore William James. Articles of agreement were drawn up, by which it was settled that Severndroog, Anjanvel, and Jyeghur should be attacked by the Mahrattas, while the English engaged to keep the sea, and prevent Toolajee's fleet from throwing succours into the places attacked. A division of the spoils between the victors was agreed on, by which the English were to receive Bankote and Himmutghur, with five villages, in perpetual sovereignty. The Peishwa's fleet was to be under James's orders, and he was instructed to give all the assistance in his power, but not to lend any of his people, except a few to point the guns.

Very little is accurately known of James's career before his entry into the East India Company's service. He was born in Pembrokeshire in humble circumstances, and went to sea at an early age. According to one account, he served in Hawke's ship, but wherever his training was received, it had made him a first-rate seaman. In 1747 he entered the Company's marine service, being then about twenty-six years of age.

In 1751, he sailed from England in command of the Guardian sloop, one of the two men-of-war built by the Directors for the protection of Bombay trade. His services against the coast pirates, during the next two years, procured his advancement to the post of Commodore at Bombay, and it was soon remarked that the sailing of the Protector, on which his flag was now hoisted, had greatly improved by the changes he had made. By his capture of Severndroog, now to be related, he became famous.

He played his part at the capture of Gheriah, and in the following year, when the news of the disaster at Calcutta became known in Bombay, he was sent down in the Revenge, with four hundred men, to join the force sent up from Madras under Watson and Clive. Off Calicut he encountered the French ship Indien, carrying twenty-four guns and over two hundred men, and captured her. He afterwards joined the board of Directors, was created a baronet, had a seat in Parliament, and in time became chairman of the Company. Sterne, in the last year of his life, formed a close friendship with Mr. and Mrs. James, and a few days before he died, recommended his daughter Lydia to their care.

On the 22nd March, 1755, James sailed from Bombay in the Protector, forty guns, having with him the Swallow, sixteen guns; the Viper bombketch; and the Triumph prahm. The following day, he sighted an Angrian squadron of seven grabs and eleven gallivats, which he chased for a couple of hours without success. Two days later, he was joined off Chaul by the Peishwa's fleet, consisting of seven grabs, two batellas, and about forty gallivats. To James's annoyance, he found his allies in no hurry to get on. Twice they insisted on landing, lingering for over three days in one place. On the 29th, Severndroog was sighted, and Angria's fleet of seven grabs and ten gallivats was observed coming out.

The signal to chase was made, but obeyed with little alacrity by the Peishwa's people, though experience had shown that they could outsail the Bombay ships. James gave chase with his little squadron, his Mahratta allies being left, by evening, hull down, astern. The Angrians made prodigious exertions to escape, hanging out turbans and clothing to catch every breath of air. All the following day the ineffectual chase continued, the Protector outsailing its own consorts, and losing sight altogether of its Mahratta allies. Finding it useless to persevere, James hauled his wind, and stood to the northward for Severndroog, which he had left far behind in the chase. Here he found Ramajee Punt, who had landed a few men, and entrenched himself at about two miles from the nearest fort, with a single four-pounder gun.

The harbour of Severndroog/1/ is formed by a slight indentation in the coast and a small rocky islet about a quarter of a mile from the mainland, on which was the Severndroog fort, with walls fifty feet high, and, in many places, parapets cut out of the solid rock; the whole armed with about fifty guns. On the mainland, opposite to Severndroog, was another fort, Fort Gova, armed with about forty-four guns; while southwards of Gova were two smaller forts on a small promontory, Futteh Droog and Kanak Droog, armed with twenty guns each.

James at once saw that the reduction of the different forts by the Peishwa's troops would be a matter of months, even if he was able to keep out succours from the sea, which the monsoon would render impossible; so, in spite of the Council's orders, he resolved on taking matters into his own hands. He had been brought up in a good school, and knew that to match a ship against a fort with success, it was necessary to get as close as possible, and overpower it with weight of metal. After taking the necessary soundings, on the 2nd April he stood in to four-fathom water, taking with him the Viper and Triumph, and bombarded Severndroog fort. The Mahratta fleet gave no assistance, so the Swallow was detached to guard the southern entrance.

All day long the cannonade continued, till a heavy swell setting into the harbour, in the evening, obliged a cessation of fire. The fort fired briskly in return, but did little damage; while the Mahratta fleet lay off out of range, idle spectators of the conflict. At night came Ramajee Punt on board the Protector, bringing with him a deserter from the fort, who reported that the Governor had been killed and a good deal of damage done. He told them that it was impossible to breach the side on which the Protector's fire was directed, as it was all solid rock.

In the morning, the Protector weighed and ran in again, James placing his ships between Severndroog and Gova. The flagship engaged Severndroog so closely that, by the small arm fire of men in the tops, and by firing two or three upper-deck guns at a time instead of in broadsides, the Severndroog gunners were hardly able to return a shot. With her lower-deck guns on the other side the Protector cannonaded the mainland forts, which also received the attention of the Viper and Triumph. It would be difficult to find a parallel to this instance of a single ship and two bombketches successfully engaging four forts at once, that far outnumbered them in guns; but so good were James's arrangements that neither his ships nor his men suffered harm.

Soon after midday a magazine exploded in Severndroog; the conflagration spread, and, before long, men, women, and children were seen taking to their boats, and escaping to the mainland. Numbers of them were intercepted and taken by the Swallow and the Mahratta gallivats. The bombardment of the mainland forts was continued till night, and resumed the following morning, till about ten o'clock, when all three hauled down their colours. Thus in forty-eight hours, did James by his vigorous action reduce this Angrian stronghold that was second only to Gheriah in strength. The Mahrattas were never slow at seizing any advantage that had been won by others, as was shown a few months later at Gheriah; but on this occasion they were so struck by James's intrepidity that they refused to enter Gova without him.

The English flag was hoisted in all three forts, amid the cheers of the English sailors. It was then found that by mismanagement, the Governor of Gova had been allowed to escape over to Severndroog, and gallantly reoccupied it, with a small body of sepoys, hoping to hold out till assistance could reach him from Dabul. So the Protector's guns were set to work again, and under cover of their fire, a party of seamen was landed, who hewed open the sally port with their axes and made themselves masters of the fort. Thus in a few hours, and without losing a single man, had "the spirited resolution of Commodore James destroyed the timorous prejudices which had for twenty years been entertained of the impracticability of reducing any of Angria's fortified harbours."

The whole success of the expedition had been due to James, and the Peishwa's officers ungrudgingly acknowledged the fact, as well as the bad behaviour of their own people. "I have learnt with particular satisfaction that the fleet your Honor sent to the assistance of Ramajee Punt have by their courage and conduct reduced Severndroog, the suddenness of which transcends my expectations; and I allow myself incapable of sufficiently commending their merit," wrote the Peishwa's Commander-in-Chief to Bourchier. Ramajee Punt wrote in similar terms, and sent a dress of honour to James.

In their elation, the Peishwa's officers wished to complete the destruction of Angria without delay. Bankote was surrendered to them without firing a shot, and a demonstration was made against Rutnaghiri. But the Council was cautious, and forbade James to risk his ships. The Mahrattas offered him two lakhs of rupees if he would support them in attacking Dabul, but he dared not exceed his orders again, and returned to Bombay. The success of a second coup-de-main could not be relied on, and a repulse would have restored Toolajee's drooping spirits, and made future success more difficult. The soldiers Bombay had lent to Madras were no longer required, so James was sent there in the Protector, to bring them back after the monsoon.

In the end of October, an unexpected accession of force from England reached Bombay. In the suspension of arms that had been concluded at Madras between the English and French, Carnatic affairs alone were made the subject of agreement. Bussy, with a French force, remained in the Deccan, engaged in extending the Nizam's influence, a proceeding that was viewed with alarm by the Peishwa. With the object of expelling the French from the Deccan, the English Government sent out to Bombay a force of seven hundred men, to act against Bussy, in concert with the Mahratta Government. The command was to be taken by Lieutenant-Colonel Scott, the Company's engineer-general at Madras.

The Directors had also sent Clive to Bombay to act as second in command to Scott. But Scott had died, in the mean time, and the Doddington, East Indiaman, bringing the Directors' instructions to the Bombay Council, had been wrecked near the Cape. Before the middle of November, Watson's squadron arrived, in furtherance of the Deccan project, together with James, in the Protector, bringing two hundred and fifty-five Bombay soldiers from Madras. Clive alone knew of the Directors' plan for the Deccan, and urged it on the Council. Ramajee Punt was in Bombay urging them to complete the destruction of Angria, and inviting them to take possession of Bankote;/2/ so they decided to devote themselves to Gheriah, on the grounds that the Deccan expedition would be an infringement of the late agreement with the French.

Seeing that nothing was to be done in the Deccan, Watson tendered the services of his squadron to assist in the reduction of Gheriah, and Clive offered to command the land forces. James was sent down in the Protector, with the Revenge and Guardian, with Sir William Hewitt, Watson's flag lieutenant, to reconnoitre and take soundings. Nothing was known of Gheriah. It was supposed to be as high, and as strong as Gibraltar. Like that celebrated fortress, it stood on rocky ground at the end of a promontory, connected with the mainland by a narrow neck of ground, at the month of a small estuary. James found that it was less formidable than it had been represented, and that large ships could go close in. To prevent Toolajee's ships from escaping, the Bridgewater, Kingsfisher, and Revenge were sent to blockade the place till the expedition was ready to start.

On the 11th February, the whole force was assembled off Gheriah, a greater armament than had yet ever left Bombay harbour. In addition to Watson's squadron of six vessels, four of them line-of-battle ships, and displaying the flags of two admirals, the Company's marine made a brave show of eighteen ships, large and small, carrying two hundred and fourteen guns, besides twenty fishing-boats to land troops with, each carrying a swivel-gun in the bows. Between them they carried eight hundred European and six hundred native troops. With Watson also went Captain Hough, superintendent of the Company's marine, as representative of the Council.

Part of the instructions given to Clive and Hough by the Council will bear repeating.

    "It is probable that Toolajee Angria may offer to capitulate, and possibly offer a sum of money; but you are to consider that this fellow is not on a footing with any prince in the known world, he being a pirate in whom no confidence can be put, not only taking, burning, and destroying ships of all nations, but even the vessels belonging to the natives, which have his own passes, and for which he has annually collected large sums of money. Should he offer any sum of money it must be a very great one that will pay us for the many rich ships he has taken (which we can't enumerate), besides the innumerable other smaller vessels; but we well remember the Charlotte bound from hence to China, belonging to Madras; the William belonging to Bombay, from Bengal; the Severn, a Bengal freight ship for Bussorah, value nine or ten lakhs of rupees; the Derby belonging to the Hon'ble Company, with the Grab Restoration, value Rs.5,22,743-4-6; the sloop Pilot and the Augusta; also the Dadaboy from Surat, Rose from Mangalore, Grab Anne from Gombroon, Benjimolly from the Malabar coast, and Futte Dowlat from Muscat."
The Council were desirous of getting Toolajee into their own custody, fearful that, if left in Mahratta hands, he would be set free before long, and the work would have to be done over again.

Before the expedition left Bombay a council of war was held, to decide on the division of spoils between the sea and land forces. Such agreements were common enough on such occasions, in order to prevent subsequent disputes and individual plundering. In settling the shares of the officers, the council decided that Clive and Chalmers, who was next to Clive in command of the troops, should have shares equal to that of two captains of King's ships. To this Clive objected that though as Lieutenant-Colonel, his share would, according to custom, be equal to that of a naval captain, on this occasion, as Commander-in-Chief of the troops, it should be greater, and ought not to be less than that of Rear-Admiral Pocock. The council of war refused to agree to this, as the naval officers, who formed the majority, could not be brought to consent. Like Drake, who would rather diminish his own portion than leave any of his people unsatisfied, Watson undertook to 'give the Colonel such a part of his share as will make it equal to Rear-Admiral Pocock's;' and this was duly entered in the proceedings.

In the division of spoils, no mention is made of their Mahratta allies. They were left out of account altogether, and the reason is not far to seek. Experience had shown that in the coming military operations, the Mahrattas would count for nothing. All the hard knocks would fall on the English, and it was but fair that they should have the prize-money; the Mahrattas would gain a substantial benefit in the possession of Gheriah, which was to be made over to them after capture.

The arrangements for the command of the troops showed that the lessons of the last ten years of warfare against the French had borne fruit. The command was left to those who made it their profession. Henceforth we hear no more of factors and writers strutting about in uniform, calling themselves colonels and captains for a few weeks, and then returning to their ledgers. We have done with the Midfords and the Browns. Out of the thirteen years he had served the Company, Clive had been a soldier for eleven. He had definitely abandoned his civil position, and had embraced a military career, and his merits had been recognized by the grant of a Lieutenant-Colonel's commission from the King. The subordinate military officers also had improved. The worst of them had been weeded out, and many of them had learned their business under Lawrence in the Carnatic. Though much unnecessary interference still went on in quarters, they were left unfettered in the command of their men in the field.

A few hours after leaving Bombay, the expedition was overtaken by despatches from Bourchier, with intelligence that the Mahrattas were treating with Toolajee. On reaching Gheriah, they found the Mahratta army encamped against it, and Ramajee Punt himself came off to tell the commanders that with a little patience, the fort would surrender without firing a shot, as Toolajee was already in their hands and ready to treat. Alarmed at the great armament coming against him, and cowed by recent reverses, Toolajee had come as a suppliant into the Mahratta camp to try if by finesse and chicanery, he might escape utter destruction; while in Gheriah he had left his brother-in-law with orders to defend it to the last.

The Peishwa's officers, on their side, were anxious to get the place into their hands without admitting the English to any share of the booty; a design that was at once seen through by Hough and Watson. Ramajee promised to bring Toolajee with him the following day, to show that he was not treating separately. Instead of doing so, he sent some subordinate officers, together with some of Toolajee's relations, with excuses, to keep Watson in play, while a large bribe was offered to Hough to induce him to persuade the Admiral to suspend operations. Watson, who had already summoned the fort to surrender, let them know that he would not wait very long. They were taken to view the ship with its tiers of heavy guns, and, as a grim hint of what might be expected, he presented Toolajee's friends with a thirty-two pound shot as they left the ship.

At half-past one in the afternoon, the flag of truce having returned with the Governor's refusal to surrender, signal was made to weigh, and the whole fleet stood into the harbour in three divisions, led by the Kingsfisher sloop, and the Bridgewater. The inner line, nearest to the fort was formed by the line-of-battle ships and the Protector; the Company's grabs and bombketches, with the Guardian, formed the second line; while the gallivats and small vessels formed a third, outer line. As the Kingsfisher came opposite the fort, a shot was fired at her. The signal was made to engage, and as each ship reached its station it came to an anchor, the inner line being within musket-shot of the fort.

Across the mouth of the river, Toolajee's grabs were drawn up, among them being the Restoration, the capture of which, six years before, had caused so much heart-burning in Bombay. As the heavy shot and shell came pouring in from over one hundred and fifty guns at close range, the Gheriah defenders manfully strove to repay the same with interest. But so terrific was the fire brought to bear on them, that it was impossible for them to lay their guns properly. In that February afternoon many a cruel outrage was expiated under that hail of iron. After two hours' firing, a shell set the Restoration on fire; it spread to the grabs, and before long the Angrian fleet,/3/ that had been the terror of the coast for half a century, was in a blaze.

The boats were ordered out, and as evening came on, Clive was put on shore with the troops, and took up a position a mile and a half from the fort. The Mahrattas joined him, and Toolajee, from whom the Peishwa's people had extorted a promise to surrender the fort, found means to send a letter into the place, warning his brother-in-law against surrender to the English. In the fort all was terror and dismay, though the Governor manfully did his duty. From the burning shipping the flames spread to the bazaars and warehouses. All night the bombketches threw in shells, while the conflagration continued. One square tower in the fort burned with such violence as to resemble a fabric of red-hot iron in a smithy.

Early next morning, Watson sent in a flag of truce again, but surrender was still refused, so the line-of-battle ships were warped in and recommenced firing; while Clive, who had approached the fort, battered it from the land side. At four in the afternoon a magazine in the fort blew up, and a white flag was hoisted. An officer was sent on shore, but the Governor still attempted to evade surrender. He consented to admit five or six men into the fort to hoist English colours, but would not definitely surrender possession till next day. So fire was reopened, and in twenty minutes more the Angrian flag was hauled down for the last time, and the last shred of Angrian independence had ceased to exist.

Sixty men, under Captains Forbes and Buchanan, were marched up to hold the gate for the night. A body of the Peishwa's troops tried to gain admission, and offered the officers a bill on Bombay for a lakh of rupees to allow them to pass in. The offer was rejected, but the Peishwa's officer still continued to press in, till Forbes faced his men about, and, drawing his sword, swore he would cut him down if he persisted.

The following morning, the fort was taken possession of by Clive. The success had been gained at the cost of about twenty men killed and wounded.

Ramajee Punt at once made a formal demand for the fort to be given up to him. Watson, in return, demanded that Toolajee should be made over into English custody. Meanwhile, a hunt for the treasure secreted in different places went on. "Every day hitherto has been productive of some new discoveries of treasure, plate, and jewels, etc.," wrote Hough three days later. Altogether about one hundred and thirty thousand pounds' worth of gold, silver, and jewels were secured, and divided between the land and sea forces. True to his promise, Watson sent Clive a thousand pounds to make his share equal to Pocock's. 

Clive sent it back again. He was satisfied with the acknowledgment of his claim, but would not take what came out of Watson's private purse. "Thus did these two gallant officers endeavour to outvie each other in mutual proofs of disinterestedness and generosity," wrote Ives in his narrative. A thousand pounds was a larger sum then than it would be now, and Clive was a poor man at the time, but he was never greedy of money. The incident justifies his boast, long afterwards, of his moderation when the treasures of Bengal were at his mercy. It is allowable to suppose that it strengthened the mutual respect of both, and facilitated their co-operation in Bengal a year later. It was a fortunate thing for England that Watson was not a man of Matthews' stamp.

The Europeans in Toolajee's service appear to have left him before the attack began, as no mention is made of them; but ten Englishmen and three Dutchmen were found in the place, in a state of slavery, and released.

In delivering over Bankote, the Mahrattas had failed to give, with the fort, the five villages according to agreement. The Council were desirous of having Toolajee in their own keeping, so they refused to give over Gheriah, and for some months a wrangle went on concerning the points in dispute. The Council proposed that they should retain Gheriah and give up Bankote. The Peishwa taunted the Council with breach of faith, and refused to give up Toolajee. The squabble was at last settled by the Mahrattas engaging to give ten villages near Bankote, and that Toolajee should not receive any territory within forty miles of the sea. On these conditions Gheriah was delivered over. Toolajee, instead of being given any territory, was kept a prisoner for the rest of his life. Some years afterwards, his sons made their escape, and sought refuge in Bombay.

With the fall of Gheriah, the heavy cloud that had so long hung over Bombay trade was dispelled. Thenceforward none but the smallest vessels had anything to fear on the coast south of Bombay, though another half-century elapsed before the Malwans were compelled to give up piracy. The Sanganians continued to be troublesome at times, till they too were finally reduced to order in 1816, after more than one expedition had been sent against them. Persian Gulf piracy continued to flourish till 1835, when it was brought to an end by a happy combination of arms and diplomacy.

On Shooter's Hill, adjoining Woolwich Common, the tower of Severndroog, erected by James's widow to commemorate his great achievement, forms a conspicuous landmark in the surrounding country. Here, in sight of the spot where the bones of Kidd and his associates long hung in chains as a terror to evil-doers, there still lingers a breath of that long struggle against the Angrian pirates, and of its triumphant conclusion.

"This far-seen monumental tow'r
Records the achievements of the brave,
And Angria's subjugated pow'r,
Who plundered on the Eastern wave."

-- from "Walks through London," by David Hughson


/1/ Properly Suvarna Droog, 'the Golden Fortress.'
/2/ Bankote was made over on the 6th December, and the British flag hoisted there on the 10th January, 1756.
/3/ Three three-masted ships carrying twenty guns each; nine two-masted, carrying from twelve to sixteen guns; thirteen gallivats, carrying from six to ten guns; thirty others unclassed; two on the stocks, one of them pierced for forty guns.

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