1757 - British campaign in Bengal

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The campaign took place in June 1757

Description

Initial operations

When Siraj ud-Daulah, the Nawab (ruler) of Bengal, realized that Clive had ignored his instructions and had launched an expedition against Chandernagore (present-day Chandannagar), he decided to break the treaty that he had signed with the British. He also made overtures to Bussy and to the Mahrattas.

Clive, not sure of the reaction of the nawab, decided to keep his entire force in Bengal, withdrawing the bulk of his army to Calcutta (present-day Kolkata) while Admiral Watson took back his ships of war.

Raja Dulab Ram, the Indian commander sent to the relief of Chandernagore by Siraj ud-Daulah, was returning to Murshidabad with his 1,500 men when he received the nawab's orders to halt at Plassey (present-day Pâlāshi), a large village on the island of Cossimbazar (aka Kasimbazar) 50 km south of his capital of Murshidabad.

The Madras Government ordered Clive to return with the main body of his troops to Madras where his presence was urgently called for to direct the operations against the French in that presidency. However, Clive felt he had to complete his great work in Bengal; and therefore determined at all hazards to remain, at any rate until after the approaching monsoon. Instead, therefore, of leading his army back as directed, he prepared for further action; encamping his force to the north of the town of Hugli as from this point he could either overawe or act hostilely against the nawab.

Clive then sent a letter to Siraj ud-Daulah requesting permission to attack the French at Cossimbazar, where M. Law commanded a small efficient force, lately augmented by 50 of the fugitives from Chandernagore. Not daring to oppose openly Clive's request, Siraj ud-Daulah furnished M. Law with money, ammunition, and carriage, and dispatched him on an imaginary expedition, telling him he might expect shortly to be recalled, when the present difficulty had been surmounted. M. Law replied, "Be assured, my Lord Nawab, this is the last time we shall see each other. Remember my words: we shall never meet again.

On April 16, M. Law crossed the Hoogly and proceeded in the direction of Bihar. As soon as Clive heard of Law's departure, he dispatched a party of the 39th Foot in pursuit; at the same time sending a small detachment of Europeans and Sepoys to strengthen the British factory at Cossimbazar.

Conspiration against Siraj ud-Daulah

Meanwhile, overtures were made to the authorities at Calcutta by a group of conspirators led by Mir Jafar Khan, the commander-in-chief of the nawab's army. These conspirators wanted to overthrow Siraj ud-Daulah.

On May 3, a mysterious letter was received by the Council of Calcutta, delivered by an unknown messenger, who represented himself as being in the service of Balaji Rao, the Maratha Chief of Bihar, proposing that the British should cooperate with him against Siraj ud-Daulah. Clive was under the impression that the letter had been instigated by the nawab, to find out the Council's real intentions. Accordingly, the mysterious letter was forwarded to the nawab to prove how true and loyal were the intentions of the British. With these despatches was also sent a second letter from the Council enquiring why the nawab's army was kept at Plassey fully equipped for war; so injuring the trade and confidence which should exist between allies.

On May 19, after long negotiations, Mir Jafar signed a treaty bounding the British to win for him the throne of Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar. In return, Mir Jafar engaged himself to cede to the British all French factories within those provinces, to give them a small territory around Calcutta, and to pay to the East India Company ₤ 1,200,000; to the British inhabitants of Calcutta ₤ 1,600,000; and to the other inhabitants ₤ 325,000. In addition to these enormous sums he purchased the goodwill of the navy and army by promising them ₤ 500,000 and moreover he agreed to give the Council and officers ₤ 600,000; lastly the commanders and members of Council entered into a subsidiary agreement with him to receive an extra donation of ₤ 315,000. However, the secret of the conspiracy had already begun to leak out and it became necessary to act quickly.

To fill his part of the arrangement with Mir Jafar, Clive pretended that Raja Dulab Ram's force, still at Plassey, caused umbrage to the Council at Calcutta; for although the nawab had undoubted right to locate his troops in any part of his territories, yet Plassey had always been considered a position the occupation of which indicated distrust. It was thence that an attack on the nawab could be most easily effected; and, in fact, Clive secretly intended to make his attack on Murshidabad from that place. Now, not only Dulab Ram's force of 1,500 men were located at Plassey but the nawab had ordered it to be considerably augmented.

At about this time, the mysterious letter from Balaji Rao, which had caused so much suspicion, was proven genuine. The nawab's confidence was restored and his troops were withdrawn from Plassey.

In the meantime Clive had sent instructions to Mr. Watts, British resident at the nawab's court, who had throughout been assisting in the plot to be prepared to make his escape, and Mr. Watts had with this view secretly dispatched to Calcutta a great deal of valuable property from the British factory at Cossimbazar. Mir Jafar Khan now informed Mr. Watts that the time for his departure had arrived, sending at the same time a trusty servant to Clive to advise his immediate advance on the nawab's capital.

British advance on Murshidabad

On June 12, Clive recalled all troops which could be spared from Calcutta, leaving only some sick Europeans and Sepoys to guard the French prisoners, and a few artillerymen to protect the guns. Chandernagore was garrisoned principally by 100 sailors and a few Sepoys.

On June 13, Clive left Hugli with his force consisting of 900 Europeans (including the Bengal European Regiment), 200 half-bred Portuguese, 2,100 Sepoys, and 10 guns. British troops with the field-pieces, stores, and ammunition were towed up the river in 200 boats while the Sepoys marched along the right bank. The expedition advanced upstream of the Hoogly River towards Murshidabad, the capital of the nawab. The same day, Mr. Watts fled from Murshidabad.

On June 14, Clive sent a declaration of war to the nawab. The same day, when Siraj ud-Daulah was informed of Mr. Watts flight, he entered into negotiations with Mir Jafar. He even visited his former vassal in person and they came to an agreement. Mir Jafar and his confederates, sworn fidelity on the Coran and were restored to favour. Upon receipt of Clive's declaration, the nawab, now imagining himself secure, replied defiantly. He then summoned his army to assemble at Plassey.

On June 16, Clive halted at Paltee (probably present-day Patuli), on the Cossimbazar River above its junction with the Jalangi, and sent forward Major Eyre Coote with an imposing force, including detachments of the 39th Foot, of the Bengal European Regiment and of the Madras European Regiment, totalling 200 Europeans along with 500 Sepoys; to secure the Fort of Cutwa (present-day Katwa), 20 km upstream. This fort commanded the passage of the Cossimbazar River. The governor of the fort was one of the conspirators. Nevertheless, he met Coote's overtures with defiance. When Coote deployed his detachment for the attack, the governor set fire to the defences and retired together with his garrison. Clive's force encamped in the plain of Cutwa that night.

After the incident at Fort Cutwa, Clive was not sure of Mir Jafar's stance in the conflict. Therefore, Clive decided not to cross the river into what was called the Island of Cossimbazar (the tract is called an island because it is enclosed on the east by the Jalangi River and on the west by the Bhagirathi River), until his doubts should be resolved.

On June 20, letters arrived from Mir Jafar assuring his fidelity (but not his support). The same day, another letter arrived from one of Clive's agents warning him against Mir Jafar intentions.

On June 21, a much perplexed Clive summoned a council of war. This council consisted of:

  • Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clive, commander-in-chief
  • Major James Kilpatrick, second in command, and commanding the Bengal European Regiment
  • Major Eyre Coote, commanding a detachment of the 39th Foot
  • Captain George Gaupp, commanding detachment of the Madras European Regiment
  • Captain Thomas Rumbold, Madras European Regiment
  • Captain John Cudmore, Bengal Native Infantry
  • Captain Alexander Grant, Bengal Native Infantry
  • Captain Andrew Armstrong, commanding Bombay detachment
  • Captain Grainger Muir, Bengal European Battalion
  • Captain Christian Fischer, Bengal European Battalion
  • Captain Charles Palmer, Bombay European Regiment
  • Captain Le Beaume, Bengal European Battalion
  • Captain R. Waggoner, 39th Foot
  • Captain J. Corneille, 39th Foot
  • Captain Robert Campbell, Madras European Regiment
  • Captain-lieutenant Carstairs, Bengal European Battalion
  • Captain W. Jennings, commanding artillery
  • Captain-Lieutenant Moltimore, Bombay European Regiment
  • Captain-Lieutenant Barshaw, service unknown

Clive asked his 20 officers to decide if they should cross the river and attack the nawab, or halt at Cutwa, where supplies were abundant, until the close of the rainy season, and meanwhile to invoke the assistance of the Mahrattas. Clive was of the opinion of remaining at Cutwa and was followed by 12 officers, including Kilpatrick. However, Coote and six other officers voted for immediate action or for return to Calcutta. Clive broke up the council, retired alone for an hour, and on his return issued orders to cross the river on the morrow.

On June 22 at sunrise, Clive's Army began to cross the river under pouring rain. By 4:00 p.m., it stood on the eastern bank. Here another letter reached Clive from Mir Jafar, giving information as to the intended movements of the nawab. Clive answered to Mir Jafar that he should immediately advance to Plassey and then to Daoodpoor, 10 km beyond it, on the following morning. He also warned Mir Jafar that if he failed to meet him there, he would make peace with Siraj ud-Daulah. Clive's Army resumed its advance towards Plassey 24 km away: Europeans by water and Sepoys by land.

On June 23, Clive's Army arrived at Plassey only at 1:00 a.m. after a whole night's rain. It had been much delayed by the slow progress of the boats against the stream. Clive was surprised to learn from the continued din of drums and cymbals that the nawab's army was close at hand. He had expected to meet with it farther north. Clive's troops rested in a mango-grove but, as we can guess, very few of them really slept.

Battle of Plassey, June 23 1757

On June 23, 50,000 Bengalis and allies attacked Clive's 2,800 men in their defensive position in the Battle of Plassey. Most of the Bengali army changed side during the battle and the nawab was decisively defeated. For this victory, Clive was given a peerage as Baron Clive of Plassey.

Aftermath of the Battle

After the battle and the capture of the camp of the nawab, Major Eyre Coote was detached forward to keep contact with the enemy. Clive then encamped his army at Daudpoor, about 16 km on the road to Murshidabad, for the night. The defeated nawab reached Murshidabad late the same night.

On June 24, Mir Jafar was conducted to the British camp where he was saluted by Clive as nawab of Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar. A conference then took place, at which it was arranged that Mir Jafar should proceed without delay to Murshidabad, and, if possible, prevent Siraj ud-Daulah's escape. Clive then hastened with his troops towards Murshidabad. In the evening. Siraj ud-Daulah fled but parties were sent out at once in search of him.

On June 25, the British force marched to Maidapore, whence Mr. Watts was dispatched with an escort of Sepoys to salute the Nawab Mir Jafar Khan, and arrange for the payment of the large sums due to the British under the Calcutta Treaty; it was found that the treasury did not in specie and jewels contain more than sufficient to pay one-third of the amount. Arrangements were consequently entered into with Raj Dulabh Ram and the bankers of Murshidabad, by which one half of the amount due (₤ 1,100,000) was arranged for in jewels and cash, and bills for the other moiety extending over three years were accepted.

By June 28, Siraj ud-Daulah had reached Rajmahal, a distance of 145 km. Here the ex-nawab determined to rest; and having found a deserted garden on the banks of the river in which were some empty buildings, landed; and, after having cooked some food, retired for the night.

In the morning of June 29, the fugitives were discovered by a native priest, whose ears Siraj ud-Daulah had caused to be cut off some months previous, and who reported his discovery to a brother of Mir Jafar, residing at Rajmahal. A party was at once sent to seize the fallen nawab. The same day, Clive entered Murshidabad and formally installed Mir Jafar on the throne. He then spent the succeeding months in dividing the spoils of the victory, of which the troops received no small share. Clive also took care that the East India Company should be the true sovereign and Mir Jafar its puppet. He appointed Warren Hastings, a 25 years old young man, as his agent to reside at the court of Mir Jafar.

On July 2, Siraj ud-Daulah was brought back to Murshidabad where he was treated with every indignity and conveyed back a prisoner to the presence of Mir Jafar Khan, before whom he prostrated himself and in abject terror pleaded for his life. Siraj ud-Daulah was given over to the custody of Mir Jafar's son Miran who caused his prisoner to be confined in a distant chamber where this boy sent some of his menial servants to murder him. His mangled corpse was paraded through the streets of Murshidabad on an elephant; after which it was placed in a plain stone coffin and buried.

On August 16, Vice-Admiral Watson died and Rear-Admiral Pocock assumed command of the British naval squadron.

During the remainder of 1757 the Bengal European Regiment was for the most part divided into separate commands. A portion of the battalion accompanied Major Eyre Coote in his fruitless pursuit of M. Law and his French followers; who, finally taking refuge in Oudh (present-day Awadh), were protected by the nawab of that country.

On September 14, Coote's detachment, after an arduous and hazardous march through an unknown and hostile country, returned to Murshidabad and was stationed at the factory of Cossimbazar; whilst the rest of the regiment was ordered down country to Chandernagore and Calcutta, where it remained for several months in quarters.

With all these endeavours, Clive was able to return to Calcutta only in May 1758. Nevertheless, he left most of his force at Cossimbazar to keep watch over Murshidabad.

References

This article incorporates texts from the following book which is now in the public domain:

  • Anonymous staff officer: Historical Record of the Honourable East India Company's First Madras Regiment, London: Smith, Elder and Co; 1843, pp. X-xvi, 126-134, 137
  • Clowes, Wm. Laird: The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, p. 164
  • Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 415-425.
  • Innes, P. R.: The History of the Bengal European Regiment, now the Royal Munster Fusiliers and how it helped to win India, 2nd ed., London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1885, pp. 1-4, 47-68