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 Maratha 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 Maratha 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.

In 1755, a fleet combining ships of the Royal Nay, East India Company and Maratha Empire under the command of Commodore James had conducted an expedition against the insular Fortress of Severndroog, capturing it along with the coastal forts covering the fortress.

In October 1755, Robert Clive arrived at Bombay (present-day Mumbai) from Great Britain, on his way to Fort St. David near Cuddalore 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 Malabar Coast (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) to cruise off the port of Gheriah.

Description of events

On January 27 1756, Commodore James joined theBridgewater (24) and the Kingfisher (14) off Gheriah with the Protector (44) and the Guardian frigate.

From January 27 to February 11, Commodore James remained on his station off Gheriah.

On February 11, Rear-Admiral Watson, with Rear-Admiral George Pocock as second in command and his entire squadron, arrived off Gheriah. Lieutenant-Colonel Clive was in command of the troops. Watson's squadron consisted of the Kent (70) the Cumberland (66), the Tiger (60) and the Salisbury (50). This squadron effected a junction with James' squadron which consisted of the Bridgewater (24), the Kingfisher (14), Protector (44) and the Guardian frigate.

In addition to the king's and company's ships, there was a contingent of Maratha 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 Marathas to try to make terms and left Gheriah under the orders of one of his brothers-in-law. His offers and promises induced the Marathas 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.

Map of the Fortress of Gheriah - Source: A. E. Mainwaring in The Records of the Second Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers

On February 12, Watson, informed of the clandestine negotiations between Angre and the Marathas, refused to be satisfied with anything short of the destruction of the pirate's stronghold. He sent a summon to Gheriah. In the afternoon, the garrison having refused to surrender, the squadron weighed and stood in in two divisions: one formed with the vessels of the Royal Navy; the other with those of the East India Company. The Bridgewater (24) led the Royal Navy Division, followed by the Tiger (60), the Kent (70), the Cumberland (66) and the Salisbury (50); the Protector (44) of the East India Company closed the line. The Kingfisher (14), led the East India Company Division, followed by the Revenge, Bombay, Grab and Guardian frigates, and by the Drake, Warren, Triumph and Viper bomb-ketches. One column was charged to attack the fort and the other to attack Angre's fleet and dockyard. At 1:30 p.m., as soon as all vessels were properly placed, a brisk cannonade started. About 4:00 p.m., a shell was thrown into the Restoration, a ship previously captured by Angre, and set her on fire. Soon afterwards, Angre's whole fleet shared the same fate. Furthermore, part of the town was set on fire. Around 4:30 p.m., 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.

In the night of February 12 to 13, Rear-Admiral Watson landed all the troops, under the command of Colonel Clive who promptly put a picket of 60 men under Captains Forbes and Buchanan of the Bombay European Regiment on guard, suspecting that the enemy would try to let the Marathas enter into Gheriah. Meanwhile, lest the enemy might again take heart, the bombs occasionally shelled the fort.

In the morning of February 13, Rear-Admiral Watson summoned Angre's brother-in-law to deliver Gheriah within an hour otherwise he would launch an attack and that no quarter should be expected. Angre's brother asked for a delay until the following morning to get Angre's permission. Watson rejected this request. Around 4:00 p.m., Watson renewed the bombardment and within 30 minutes, the garrison slung out a flag of truce 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 (a type of ship common on the Malabar Coast (south-western coast of the Indian subcontinent) combining an indigenous hull form with a pointed prow, with or without a bowsprit, and European rigging on two to three masts), and a large number of gallivats (a type of small armed boat with sails and oars common on the Malabar Coast).

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, 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
  • Cambridge, Richard Owen: An Account of the War in India between the English and French on the Coast of Coromandel from the Year 1750 to the Year 1760 together with a Relation of the late Remarkable Events on the Malabar Coast, and the Expeditions to Golconda and Surat; with the Operations of the Fleet, London: T. Jefferys, 1761, pp. 96-98
  • 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
  • Mainwaring, A. E.: The Records of the Second Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, London: Humphreys, 1911, pp. 106-107