1758 - British operations in Deccan

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The campaign took place from October to December 1758

Description

Situation in Bengal

Affairs in Bengal in the autumn of 1758 stood on no very sure footing. Mir Jafar Khan was not wholly resigned to his puppet-hood; but his nobles were disaffected, his treasury was empty and he was threatened on his northern frontier by invasion from Oudh (today Awadh); so he was obliged reluctantly to throw himself upon the protection of lieutenant-colonel Robert Clive. So unstable a condition of affairs presented no ideal moment for weakening the small force on which British influence in those provinces might depend.

In September, accounts arrived at Calcutta (today Kolkata) of the French operations on the coast of Coromandel where Fort St. David had fallen and been destroyed and where the French had ultimately failed before Tanjore (today Thanjavur). Nevertheless, Clive determined not to send troops to Madras.

Situation in Deccan

In September, Bussy, who was commanding a French corps in Deccan, was recalled with his troop to reinforce Lally-Tollendal's corps and support him for the siege of Madras (today Chennai). The only French military presence in this region now consisted of a very small corps under M. de Conflans occupying the Northern Circars. This country lies to the south of Bengal, extending 750 km along the sea-coast in the direction of Madras, and inland to a depth varying from 50 to 160 km.

Clive, perceiving that Bussy's withdrawal from Hyderabad gave him a chance to substitute British for French ascendency at the court of the Deccan, determined at all hazards to seize it. When the French army proceeding to operations on the coast of Coromandel retreated from Tanjore in August, the ruler of one district of the Northern Circars, the rajah Anunderaj, seized the opportunity and rose in revolt against the French, assembling an army of 3,000 men.

On September 2, Anunderaj captured Vizagapatam (today Visakhapatnam), took the French chief prisoner, plundered the factory, and hauled down the French flag. Knowing that war existed between France and Great Britain in Europe, and hoping to obtain assistance from the latter, he hoisted the British flag, and at once dispatched a messenger to the Council at Calcutta informing them what he had done. He pointed out that his countrymen were only anxious to rid themselves of the French control, and that with the assistance of a small British force he would drive the enemy from his country. Mr. Johnstone was appointed by the Council to act as political agent and sent to concert operations with Anunderaj while Clive made arrangements for an expeditionary force.

Clive's preparation for his expedition

Lieutenant-colonel Francis Forde, formerly of the 39th Foot, had lately been sent from Madras to command the Company's troops in Bengal; and Clive, entertaining the highest opinion of his judgement, coolness, and capacity, entrusted to him the military command of the expedition. The troops with Forde comprised:

  • Bengal European Regiment (5 coys totalling 500 men) under captain Adnet, assisted by captains Christian Fischer, Martin, Yorke, and Moltimore, and captain-lieutenant Patrick Moran
  • European Artillery (1 coy)
  • Lascars (100 men)
  • 6 brass field-pieces
  • 6 24-pdr battering-pieces
  • Sepoys (2000 men)

By the end of September, the British expeditionary force was ready at Calcutta but its departure was protracted by foul weather.

On October 12, the British expeditionary force embarked and sailed for Vizagapatam.

On October 15, Mr. Andrews, who had been dispatched from Madras to arrange terms, concluded the following treaty with the rajah Anunderaj:

  1. The rajah to pay the extra expenses of the British army during the time it should be employed - ₤ 5,000 a month - and pay the officers double batta, ₤ 600 a month - these sums being payable as soon as the rajah should be put in possession of the town of Rajahmundry.
  2. The rajah to be possessed of all the inland territory belonging to the country powers, but the company to retain all the sea-coast from Vizagapatam to Masulipatam (today Machilipatnam), with the several towns and ports on that line.
  3. No treaty for the subsequent disposal or restitution, whether of the rajah's or the Company's possessions, to be made without the consent of both parties.
  4. All plunder and prize to be equally divided.

The British enter into Deccan

On October 20, Forde's corps finally reached Vizagapatam. It was anticipated that general Conflans would have resented the capture of Vizagapatam before the arrival of the British troops, but he was timidly awaiting reinforcements in the strong fortress of Masulipatam with a force of 500 French soldiers, 6,000 Sepoys and a brigade of artillery with 30 guns, and about 500 native cavalry.

At Vizagapatam more delay was caused by the unwillingness of the rajah to fulfil his engagement to pay the British troops. After considerable difficulty carriage was provided.

On November 1, lieutenant-colonel Forde from Vizagapatam.

On November 3, Forde reached Cossimcotah (probably modern Kasimkota) where he made a junction with Anunderaj's army (now counting 5,000 men for the most part undrilled and unarmed). Forde was also joined by 40 Europeans of different nationalities with 4 field-pieces, under an adventurer named Bristol. Forde and Anunderaj then determined to march on Rajahmundry.

On December 1, the combined forces of rajah Anunderaj's and lieutenant-colonel Forde marched towards Rajahmundry.

On December 3, Forde and his ally came in sight of the French who were encamped 60 km north of Rajahmundry within sight of the fort of Peddapore (unidentified location), a position well chosen and commanding the high road to the south. The French force was commanded by M. Conflans and consisted of his entire army and a quantity of native levies. Forde's army, on his side, had received the accession of 500 horse and 5,000 foot, chiefly armed with pikes and bows, which represented the contingent of Anunderaj.

On December 6, Forde advanced along the high road to within 6 km of Conflans and took possession of an eminence called Chambole, but each officer thought the other too strong to be attacked. Inaction continued for two days.

Battle of Condore

On December 8, both commanders simultaneously framed independent designs for extricating themselves from the dead-lock. Conflans' plan was to send 6 guns with a sufficient force to a height which commanded the British camp, and which Forde had omitted to occupy. Forde, for his part, had decided to make a detour of 5 km to Condore (unidentified location), from which he could turn Conflans' position and regain the high road to Rajahmundry.

On December 9, the two armies clashed in the battle of Condore where Forde won a clear victory. The French retired on Rajahmundry. After the battle, the British battalion being much fatigued was halted in the French camp. During the evening, captain Knox with the 1st Native Battalion of the right wing, along with Anunderaj's cavalry employed as scouts, was sent forward to pursue the French who were retreating towards Rajahmundry.

The French retire to Rajahmundry

On December 10, a further reinforcement of Sepoys led by McLean joined Knox; and the French, still under the influence of panic, evacuated the fort of Rajahmundry. Knox at once entered it. Thus Rajahmundry, the gate and barrier of the district of Vizagapatam, passed into the hands of the British, with all its artillery, ammunition, and stores. The same day, a party of the French fugitives were seen crossing the river with a quantity of stores, 4 field-pieces, and a howitzer, which they were landing on the opposite bank. No time was lost in dispatching a party in pursuit of the fugitives. Under cover of the fort guns, lately captured from the enemy, boats were manned and sent across the river, on seeing which the French, completely demoralised, left their guns and stores on the bank an easy prey to the British.

On December 11, Forde arrived at Rajahmundry with the rest of the army, eager to pursue his success by an advance on Masulipatam.

On December 12, Conflans reached the fortress of Masulipatam. En route, he had instructed all his outpost commanders to follow him as quickly as possible.

Forde crossed the Godavari River, preparing to advance on Masulipatam. This, the most important town and the centre of French influence in the province, was doubly important to the French as a base from which they might at any time recover their lost territory. Forde, however, was in want of money, for which he had relied on the promises of Anunderaj. The rajah now refused either to supply funds or to set his army in motion to accompany Forde.

On December 26, much to his disgust, Forde was obliged to recross the river; upon which, Anunderaj, thinking that Forde was returning to punish him for his perfidy, fled with his troops to the hills, where they concealed themselves.

Forde, without money, was unable to prosecute his war. He, therefore, left a small force to protect Rajahmundry and marched to a place called Peddapore, about 16 km from Condore, and there entrenched himself.

At length after much negotiation Anunderaj was induced to fulfil his undertaking but 50 precious days had been lost and the French had gained time to recover themselves.

Therefore, in January 1759, Forde undertook an expedition against Masulipatam to definitively oust the French from Deccan.

References

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

  • 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, 143-148
  • Fortescue, J. W., A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 441-445
  • 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. 72-82