1756 - British operation on the Malabar Coast

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The main campaign took place from January to May 1756

Introduction

The pirate Tulaji Angre (also known as Tollagee Angria), a former Mahratta admiral who had thrown off his allegiance, had gradually extended his authority from the small island stronghold of Severndroog (present-day Suvarnadurg) over a large stretch of the Mahratta Coast, which included the town and port of Gheriah (present-day Vijaydurg). His ships were feared by the natives of India, by European traders and by the East India Company.

Indeed, in 1754, Angre had taken the East Indiaman Derby, richly laden, and later the Restoration (20) armed ship and the French Jupiter (40). He had also ventured to attack Commodore William Lisle, who had two ships of the line and several other vessels in company, and he had wrought much damage to the Dutch trade.

The Mahrattas had long urged the East India Company to assist them to overthrow his power. More than one attempt had been made to destroy him, but in vain.

In 1755, an agreement of the East India Company, the British Government and the Mahrattas led to the fitting out against Tulaji Angre of a force, which finally secured the desired object.

Description of events

Capture of Severndroog

In March 1755, Mr. James, commodore of the East India Company's ships in India, sailed with the company's ships Protector, Swallow, Viper, and Triumph. He attacked and captured Severndroog, afterwards delivering it up to the Mahrattas. He also took Bencote (Fort Victoria), the most northerly port in Angre's dominions.

Expedition against Gheriah

In October 1755, Robert Clive arrived at Bombay (present-day Mumbai) from Great Britain, on his way to Fort St. David where he had been appointed governor. He had with him 300 European recruits for the East India Company.

In November, Rear-Admiral Watson reached Bombay and it was decided to attack Angre's forts on the western coast of India. Commodore James of the East India Company, with the Protector, Revenge, and Bombay, went to reconnoitre Gheriah, Angre's chief stronghold.

On December 31, James returned and Rear-Admiral Watson sent the Bridgewater (24) and Kingfisher (14), with some of the company's armed vessels, to cruise off the port of Gheriah.

On January 27 1756, Commodore James joined the vessels cruising off Gheriah with the Protector and Guardian.

On February 11, a squadron under Rear-Admiral Watson, with Rear-Admiral George Pocock as second in command, and with Lieutenant-Colonel Clive in command of the troops, arrived off Gheriah. In addition to the king's and company's ships, there was a contingent of Mahratta vessels. Clive's force consisted of 800 Europeans (the greater part composed of the Bombay European Regiment) and 1,000 Sepoys. Angre fled to the Mahrattas to try to make terms and left Gheriah under the orders of one of his brothers-in-law. His offers and promises induced the Mahrattas to withdraw their active cooperation, in return for an undertaking to put them in possession of the place; and the brother-in-law would have carried out this arrangement but that Watson refused to be satisfied with anything short of the destruction of the pirate's stronghold.

In the afternoon of February 12, the garrison having refused to surrender, the squadron weighed and stood in in two divisions: one to attack the fort and the other to attack Angre's fleet and dockyard. At 1:30 p.m., a brisk cannonade started. The shipping was soon burnt and part of the town was set on fire. After about three hours, the enemy's guns were nearly silenced and the British guns in consequence ceased also. Soon afterwards, firing was recommenced. At 6:30 p.m., the pirates ceased to make further resistance. Troops were then disembarked under Clive, ready to take possession and during the night, lest the enemy might again take heart, the bombs occasionally shelled the fort.

In the morning of February 13, Watson summoned the garrison and was refused; whereupon the bombardment was again recommenced. At length a flag of truce was hung out and an offer of submission was made; but, as it was not complete and unconditional, fire was renewed. The governor then surrendered unconditionally. The garrison consisted of about 300 men but more than 2,000 men were defending the fort before its capitulation.

On the morning of February 14, Clive marched into the place. Not more than 20 men were killed and wounded on the British side in the affair. The victors found in the fortress 250 iron and brass guns of all sizes, 6 brass mortars, and a large quantity of stores and ammunition, besides about £100,000 sterling in rupees and £30,000 worth of valuables. Ten British and three Dutchmen, who had been enslaved by Angre, were released. The pirate fleet which was burnt at Gheriah consisted of one ship, 8 grabs or galleys, and a large number of armed row-boats called gallivats.

In the beginning of April, Watson's squadron returned to Bombay and refitted.

At the end of April, Watson departed from the Coast of Malabar (south-western coast of India), leaving some 300 men of the East India Company's troops along with 300 sepoys and 3 or 4 armed vessels to defend the place.

On May 14, Watson's squadron arrived off Fort St. David.

References

This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Anonymous: A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761
  • An anonymous staff officer: Historical Record of the Honourable East India Company's First Madras Regiment, London: Smith, Elder and Co; 1843, pp. X-xvi, 120-121
  • Clowes, Wm. Laird: The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 143-144