1757 - British expedition against Chandernagore
The campaign took place in March 1757
By mid February 1757, after the re-capture of Calcutta (present-day Kolkata) and the departure of Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah (ruler of Bengal) to fight an Afghan invasion, Lieutenant-Colonel Clive determined on sending an expedition against the French settlement of Chandernagore (present-day Chandannagar) without further delay.
On February 18, Clive crossed the Hugli River with his whole available force but an unlooked-for difficulty arose. The French, taking alarm at the British preparations, besought the nawab "for his own safety" to render them his protection; pointing out that should he permit the British to destroy the French interests in Bengal, he would lose the alliance of the latter and the British would then have him completely at their mercy. These representations had the desired effect. The nawab had not previously seen matters in this light; so now warming up to the occasion, he wrote to Clive positively forbidding him to attack the French, evincing his earnestness and faith by sending to M. Renault, the French Governor at Chandernagore, a large sum of money to aid him in his preparations for defence, as well as a force of 1,500 men, under command of Rajah Dulab Ram, to strengthen his garrison.
Under these circumstances the Council at Calcutta, deeming it injudicious to act in direct disobedience of the nawab's commands, waived the idea of sending an expedition against the French; and Clive was prepared to sign a treaty of neutrality. But at this stage another unforeseen difficulty presented itself. Admiral Watson positively refused to sign any treaty with the French, on the ground to use his own words
- "that no treaty can be binding with Chandernagore until it is ratified by Pondicherry (present-day Puducherry), Calcutta is an independent, Chandernagore is a dependent settlement. If we sign a treaty, then, with Chandernagore we bind our own hands; we do not bind those of our rival."
The admiral remained obdurate and the treaty was held in abeyance.
During this delay, intelligence had reached the nawab that Delhi had been captured by the Afghan Ahmad Shah Durrani. This news filled the young nawab with fear; for it was not improbable that the conqueror, flushed with his success, might attempt to obtain possession of the Bengal provinces. Therefore, Siraj Ud Daulah wrote to Clive, urging him to march to his assistance; but in this communication no reference whatever was made to the French question.
In March, simultaneously with the receipt of the nawab's letter, the Council in Calcutta learned that reinforcements which had left Bombay (present-day Mumbai) in the preceding October under the command of Commodore James, had arrived at the mouth of the Hugli River, consisting of 2 strong companies of the Bombay European Regiment (400 men), under Captains Buchanan and Armstrong, with Captain-Lieutenant Egerton; Lieutenants Palmer, Moltimore and Walsh; and Ensign Robertson; and a company of artillery. The Cumberland (66), with a detachment of the 39th Foot, was also close at hand.
The British army, with these additions, was considered sufficiently strong to attack the French at Chandernagore, even though the nawab should assist them with his troops. The British ships of war formed a very important part of the armament which Clive proposed to bring against the French; but the admiral would not be influenced by Clive's arguments. He still determined that he would not move against the French without the express consent of the nawab. Watson therefore wrote a threatening letter to the nawab, accusing him of not having faithfully fulfilled the terms of the treaty, and telling him that if the conditions remained unfulfilled for 10 days longer he "would kindle such a flame in the country that all the waters of the Ganges should not be able to extinguish." The nawab, much alarmed at the tone of Admiral Watson's letter, and hoping to allay his wrath, replied that he had faithfully observed that part of the treaty which provided for an offensive and defensive alliance, and further denied that he had in any way assisted the French; adding "if your enemy with an upright heart claims your protection you will give him life; but then you must be well satisfied of the innocence of his intention; if not, whatever you think right, that do."
This letter the admiral considered a sufficient authority to warrant his joining Clive in the expedition against Chandernagore; but the nawab, on reflection, fearing that he had said too much in his letter, wrote to Watson next day, positively forbidding an attack on the French settlement. The admiral, however, determined to act on the first letter, which he considered had given him the desired permission: so he now treated all further communications with contempt, and issued orders for his ships to prepare for action.
The French settlement of Chandernagore was situated on the banks of the Hugli River some 50 km upstream from Calcutta; the territory covering only a space of about 3 km in length along the river bank and a 2.5 km inland; the Dutch settlement of Chinsurah (present-day Hugli-Chuchura) adjoining to the north.
The French Fort of Chandernagore, called Fort d'Orléans, was a square building, situated about 30 m. from the river, with bastions at the corners, each mounting ten 32-pdr guns. On the eastern side was a ravelin, abutting on the river and covering the approach to the water-gate; and on this ravelin eight 32-pdrs were mounted. There were 40 24-pdrs on the terrace surrounding the church which stood in the centre of the fort; many guns being also mounted on the walls behind the battlements.
Pierre-Mathieu Renault de Saint-Germain was in charge of the settlement. The French garrison consisted of 146 European infantry, 300 Cipayes, and about 300 militia formed from amongst the European inhabitants of the town; and there were, in addition, a number of French sailors, drawn from the ships lying under the guns of the fort.
On March 7, Clive's force began its march upstream. It consisted of 2,400 men (850 Europeans and 1,500 Indians):
- Bengal European Regiment (250 men)
- Bombay European Regiment (a detachment)
- Madras European Regiment (a detachment)
- European Artillery (150 men)
- Sepoys (1,500 men)
Clive was assisted by a naval force under Vice-Admiral Watson consisting of the following vessels:
- ships of the line
- Bridgewater (24)
- Marlborough (probably a vessel belonging to the East India Company but may also have been the HMS Marlborough)
- Walpole (maybe a vessel belonging to the East India Company)
The detachments of the 39th Foot were still acting as marines on board ship.
The French scuttled several large vessels in the river to block the progression of the British ships.
On March 14, Clive sighted Chandernagore. The British approach was made from the westward, along the high road leading towards the north face of the fort. Here the French had thrown up a battery held by strong detachments ordered to dispute the British advance. Clive drove back the French skirmishers, pushed on towards the French position, and gained possession of several houses offering admirable cover, and from which a continuous fire was kept up, compelling the French to spike those of their guns which they were unable to remove, and take refuge within their fort. Four of their outposts to the south of the fort were also withdrawn during the night, the guns being previously removed. The ship containing the newly arrived coys of the 39th Foot, having so many sick on board, was obliged to leave the river, and proceeded to Vizagapatam (present-day Visakhapatnam) where 90 men of the Madras European Regiment were later landed to reinforce the garrison. The ship then proceeded to Madras and landed the rest.
On March 15, British troops occupied the town surrounding the fort.
On March 16 and 17, siege guns were disembarked from the British vessels. These guns were then got into position under a heavy cannonade from the fort; notwithstanding which, a battery on the banks of the river was occupied by British troops and three 32-pdrs placed in position and started the bombardment of the fort.
On the morning of March 18, this first British battery was silenced.
On March 19, the British boats destroyed some French fireships which were collected near the town.
On March 20, the British vessels got closer to the scuttled French vessels.
The reinforcements sent by Siraj Ud Daulah under the command of Raja Dulab Ram never reached Chandernagore. Indeed, its commander had been falsely informed by Nandkumar, the nawab's governor of the town of Hugli, who had been bought over, that Chandernagore was on the point of surrendering to the British and that he should await further orders from the nawab.
On March 21, Rear-Admiral Pocock joined the flag but he had been obliged to leave his own flagship at Ballasore, as she drew too much water to come up the river, and he arrived in a boat. The same day, French fire beat down a house near one of the British batteries, in the ruins of which several men were temporarily imprisoned, but none mortally hurt.
On March 22 Pocock hoisted his flag in the Tiger (60). The British battery was repaired and so strengthened that the three 32-pdrs were again brought to bear on the fort.
At sunrise on March 23, the British batteries opened their fire. Meanwhile, Watson finally found a passage among the scuttled ships and sailed up. The Tiger (60) first fired on the ravelin forcing its evacuation, the Kent (70) joined her and fired on Chandernagore while Clive's batteries did the same. The Salisbury (50), owing to an accident, was unable to get into action. The Tiger (60) then took up position opposite the north-eastern bastion pouring a heavy fire from her guns; and at the same time her sailors, mounting to the tops, discharged a constant musketry fire into the body of the fort. Meanwhile, the Kent (70), carrying Admiral Watson's flag, took up the centre position; but just as she was about to drop anchor a deadly fire was brought to bear upon her deck, killing several of her sailors and disabling her commander, who, stunned by his wound, could not give his directions with sufficient rapidity. The Kent (70) in her confusion slipped her cable and was carried by the tide about 50 m. down the river to the position which should have been occupied by the Cumberland (66) and became exposed to a withering fire both from the south-east and south-west bastions of the fort. The cannonade was now terrific some 80 guns pouring forth their fire simultaneously; the broadsides of the Kent (70) and Tiger (60) being assisted by the British batteries on shore, which ably assailed the two bastions of the fort with their cross fire. But the French guns were not to be easily silenced;: and indeed it soon appeared that although the Tiger (60) which was pitted against the north-eastern bastion, held her own. she was getting badly mauled. The admiral, nothing daunted, now brought the guns of his lower as well as those of his upper deck to bear against the bastions, and for a few moments succeeded in silencing several of their guns, but the French commander, rallying his men, concentrated the whole of his fire upon one particular part of the deck of the Kent (70) and at once the ship was on fire. The conflagration spread rapidly, and with it a panic ensued, during which some 80 men left their quarters and attempted to escape. It was an anxious moment, but Admiral Watson stood firm, surrounded by the flames, whilst his officers strove manfully to get the fire under. They were soon joined by some of the sailors who, recovering their self-possession, and finding that courage and exertion might still save their ship, rejoined their officers and set to work with a will which soon mastered the fire. The cannonade from the ships was now resumed in all its fury, the French on their side giving signs of exhaustion. One after another their guns had been dismounted, and their fire had perceptibly slackened; but for two hours more the battle raged, every minute giving greater promise of victory for the British. At 9:00 a.m., a white flag was seen floating on the walls of the fort, and the combat suddenly ceased. Admiral Watson was now requested to receive a deputation of the French on board his ship; but, fearful lest they should see the damage which had been done and the plight to which he was reduced, he deputed Captain Eyre Coote of the 39th Foot to go ashore and receive the French proposals. But whilst the terms of surrender were being discussed 50 of the French officers and soldiers escaped from the fort and took the road towards Cossimbazar (aka Kasimbazar) to join M. Law of Lawrieston, who, with a small body of French artillery and infantry, held the French factory at that place. After proceeding a few km the fugitives reached Raja Dulab Ram's force, sent by the nawab to assist the French; and under Dulab Ram's protection they succeeded in reaching their destination. At 3:00 p.m., the British took formal possession of the French fort.
The British captured 500 Europeans, 700 Indians, 183 guns, 3 small mortars and a large quantity of ammunition. The Royal Navy lost 130 men killed or wounded (Kent lost 19 killed, including First-Lieutenant Perrot, and 49 wounded; the Tiger 13 killed and 50 wounded). Among those hurt was Rear-Admiral Pocock. The British land troops lost about 35 men killed or wounded. The Kent was soon afterward condemned. The French lost 40 men killed and 70 wounded.
When Clive had decided to move against the nawab. Vice-Admiral Watson garrisoned Chandernagore with sailors to allow Clive to bring his entire force with him. Furthermore, Watson reinforced Clive's force with 50 sailors. On June 13, Clive marched upstream, beginning his famous campaign in Bengal.
This article incorporates 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, pp. 181-184
- Anonymous staff officer: Historical Record of the Honourable East India Company's First Madras Regiment, London: Smith, Elder and Co; 1843, pp. X-xvi, 125-126
- 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. 163
- Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London: 1899, pp. 415-416.
- 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. 39-45, 48
Castex, Jean-Claude: Dictionnaire des batailles terrestres franco-anglaises de la Guerre de Sept Ans, Presse de l'université Laval, Québec: 2006, pp. 68-73
Kershner, Tod: Major Battles in India 1756-1763, Seven Years War Association Journal Vol. VI No. 2