1759 - British operations on the coast of Coromandel

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1759 - British operations on the coast of Coromandel

The campaign took place from March to December 1759


Preparations for the Campaign

In September 1758, the French squadron of the chef d'escadre Anne Antoine comte d'Aché had left India and retired to Île de France (today Mauritius) where it had been reinforced by 3 ships of the line and several French East India Company's ships. But provisions were so scarce that d'Aché had to send one of the men-of-war and 8 of the Indiamen to South Africa to purchase supplies.

In January 1759, the French ships sent to South Africa reached Cape Town.

Reinforcements were sent from Great Britain to the East Indies under rear-admiral Samuel Cornish. These reinforcements consisted of 3 ships of the line, one 50-gun ship, 3 East Indiamen and some troops (including the 84th Foot).

After the failure of the comte de Lally-Tollendal in front of Madras (today Chennai) in February 1759 (see French operations on the coast of Coromandel during the campaign of 1758), several Indian rulers of the Carnatic sided with the British. The British authorities in Madras then resolved to recover and protect the territory adjacent to the town.

With the reinforcements received at the end of the siege of Madras and 2 companies lately returned from Bengal, the British could assemble a force of 1,100 British, 1,500 Sepoys and 3,000 Indian irregulars under Lawrence.

Meanwhile Lally had moved his army 50 km eastward from Arcot to Conjeeveram (today Kanchipuram), whence he returned himself to Pondicherry (today Puducherry), leaving the chevalier de Soupire in command with orders not to risk a general action.

By March 6, with the arrival of 200 additional men from the 79th Foot, the British force was ready to march. This force advanced on Conjeeveram. However, accounts arrived from colonel Forde, who had undertaken the siege to Masulipatam, of his distress for money and reinforcements, and Lawrence's army was halted.

For fully three weeks the British and French armies remained in sight of each other, de Soupire waiting to be attacked, and the British rightly declining to engage him except on the open plain. The capture of Conjeeveram was important to the British, since the fort would cover such districts as they had already regained, and so liberate their army for service farther afield.

During this period Lawrence fell sick and was obliged to return to the coast. His successor, colonel Draper, also loosing his health, the command of the King's troops fell upon major Cholmondeley Brereton of Draper's 79th Foot and that of the company's on major Caillaud.

On April 7, vice-admiral Pocock, who had refitted his squadron at Bombay (today Mumbai), sailed for the coast of Coromandel, endeavouring to get thither in advance of the French fleet, which was expected back from Île de France. He succeeded in this object and then cruised to intercept the enemy.

In April and May, the French ships sent to South Africa for provisions progressively returned to Île de France.

British Offensive

On April 1, Brereton determined to dislodge de Soupire, if possible, by threatening his communications south of the Paliar river; so marching upon Wandiwash (today Vandavasi), the most important French station between Madras and Pondicherry, he broke ground before it as if for a formal siege. De Soupire made no attempt to follow him, but finding himself pressed for money and supplies left a small garrison (700 sepoys) in Conjeeveram and retired to Trivatore.

Lally, hearing of the British attack on Wandiwash, left Pondicherry with 300 Europeans and ordered the army to meet him at Chingleput.

On April 13, informed of Lally's movements, Brereton set off at night.

On April 14, Brereton reached Trivatore and, finding it abandoned, destroyed the works. He then force marched towards Conjeeveram.

In the morning of April 15, Brereton arrived in front of Conjeeveram and, in the evening, invested the place. During this action, colonel Morison was wounded. Before the gateway of the pagoda, the French had thrown a strong ravelin en barbette on which were mounted guns. They had erected similar defensive works on each angle of the pagoda.

During the night of April 15 to 16, the British threw a parapet in front of the ravelin.

In the morning of April 16, the British mounted guns on the parapet erected the previous night. By 8:00 AM, the ravelin protecting the gate was sufficiently destroyed and Caillaud led the grenadiers of the Madras European Regiment to the assault. They rushed in and drove the defenders inside the pagoda. The British officers, having got into the ravelin, were forming up their men for an attack on the gateway when an old gun, loaded to the muzzle with musket balls was fired among them, killing 8 men and wounding 10. Of the killed, were captains Stewart and Bannatyn, and lieutenants Hunter and Elliot; of the wounded, major Caillaud, lieutenant Vaughan, dangerously, a lieutenant and 2 ensigns. During this time, however, lieutenant Airey with a small party of Europeans and the Sepoys under Mohamed Issuf had entered the pagoda on the other side; the place was instantly carried and the garrison received quarter.

Before de Soupire was aware of Brereton's departure from Wandiwash, the latter had taken Conjeeveram. Lally, who at the news of the siege of Wandiwash had advanced northward from Pondicherry, halted on hearing of the capture of Conjeeveram.

In April, an exchange of prisoners took place and 100 men of the Madras European Regiment, who had been taken when Fort St. David surrendered (June 2 1758), rejoined their regiment.

On June 20, Lally, who had joined his army at Arcot, finally took up a position 11 km to westward of the fortress. There major William Monson, who had taken the command from Brereton, thrice offered him battle; but Lally declined, and after a few weeks withdrew from the field, distributing his troops into cantonments at Arcot, Covrepauk (unidentified location), Carangooly (unidentified location), and Chittapett (today Chetpet). In truth his army was rapidly going from bad to worse. A recent exchange of prisoners had restored to him 500 French soldiers, who had lived in custody of the British for 5 years. Discontent soon spread in Lally's army which was irregularly paid. Indeed, the garrisons both at Arcot and Covrepauk offered to betray these stations to the British for money but renounced to their schemes at the last moment. Meanwhile, the British continue to gather strength on every side.

At the end of June, 200 recruits arrived from Great Britain for the Madras European Regiment, bringing news that colonel Eyre Coote was likewise on his way to Madras with his own battalion (84th Coote's Foot), 1,000 strong, which had been lately raised in Great Britain. Furthermore, 200 European prisoners were received from Pondicherry in exchange for the same number released from Trichinopoly (today Tiruchirapalli).

On June 30, Pocock was joined by the Grafton (70), and Sunderland (60), with 5 East Indiamen full of stores, of which he was greatly in need.

On July 17, d'Aché finally sailed for Bourbon and Madagascar to pick up further stores and thence for India.

During this period, the British received intelligence that a Dutch armament was fitting out at Batavia for operations in Bengal to reinforce the Dutch garrisons. Vice-admiral Pocock, who was cruising off Pondicherry in daily expectation of a French squadron, had already picked up transports with 5 companies of the 84th Coote's Foot, and had received permission to keep these troops to man his ships pending the engagement, for which he waited, with admiral d'Aché. A sight of the Dutch fleet at Negapatam (today Nagapattinam), however, convinced Pocock that the troops would be needed ashore and he accordingly sent them to Madras, recommending to send part of them to Bengal.

On July 25, 500 men of the 84th Coote's Foot arrived at Madras and were immediately sent off to join the army in the cantonments at Conjeeveram where major Brereton of the 79th Draper's Foot commanded.

On August 1, Brereton, who was once again in command, seized the opportunity afforded by his own strength and by French disaffection to send major Monson against Covrepauk.

On August 3, Covrepauk surrendered to Monson almost without resistance. The British were slowly but surely advancing southwards. Meanwhile, major Caniland with 200 Europeans, guns and some local troops had dislodged the French from Tirupoty (probably Tirupati).

At the beginning of August, Lally Infanterie, which was in garrison at Chittapett, broke into open mutiny and marched out of the fort with the avowed intention of joining the British. Their officers followed them, and by promises to discharge the arrears of their pay, now several months overdue, succeeded in conciliating most of them; but 60 men persisted in their resolution and deliberately carried it out. The authorities at Madras seized the moment to order an advance on Wandiwash but before the troops could march there came fresh important intelligence that d'Aché had arrived.

Arrival of the French Fleet

On August 3, Pocock sailed for Pondicherry and, during the rest of the month, cruised off that port. However, he could learn nothing of the French squadron and was at length obliged by lack of provisions and water to proceed to Trincomalee on the north-eastern coast of Ceylon.

On August 30, d'Aché reached Batticaloa in Ceylon where he received intelligence on the movements of the British squadron.

On September 1, Pocock sailed from Trincomalee, having a few days earlier sent the East India Company's frigate Revenge, to cruise off Ceylon and to keep a look-out for the French.

On September 2, d'Aché sighted the British squadron off Point Pedro (aka Point Palmyra) in Ceylon. D'Aché's force consisted of 11 ships of the line and 2 frigates. Vice-admiral Pocock had 9 ships of the line and 1 frigate. The same day at about 10 A.M., the Revenge signalled to vice-admiral Pocock that she saw 15 sail in the south-east, standing to the north-east. These were the French ships. Pocock signalled for a general chase and stood towards the French under all possible sail but, the wind failing, the British were unable to get up. In spite of his superiority, d'Aché apparently avoided an action. The British squadron finally lost sight of the French ships and Pocock then stood to the north for Pondicherry, where he expected to find his foe.

In the early morning of September 8, Pocock arrived off Pondicherry but saw no ships in the roadstead. At 1:00 PM, nevertheless, he sighted the French fleet to the southeast. He was then standing to the northward with a sea breeze.

On the morning of September 9, the French were again visible and at 2:00 PM, the wind springing up, Pocock once more signalled for a general chase. Around 4:00 PM, the French appeared to have formed a line of battle abreast and in that formation bore down. But no action resulted.

On September 10 at 6:00 AM, the French bore S.E. by S., distant 14 km, sailing in line of battle ahead on the starboard tack. Pocock, in line of battle abreast, bore down on them with the wind about N.W. by W. Pocock wanted to prevent the landing of French supplies. The two fleets fought the battle of Pondicherry. The action though severe ended indecisively but the French fleet succeeded in reaching Pondicherry. It was therefore uncertain what French reinforcements might have been landed for the defence of Wandiwash. Meanwhile, French diplomacy was also very active at Hyderabad.

On September 15, the British anchored in the road of Negapatam.

On September 20, having hastily completed their refitting, Pocock sailed with his ships again. On his way to Madras, he had to pass Pondicherry where the French were lying.

Meanwhile, Brereton, knowing that Eyre Coote must shortly arrive to take the command from him, was burning to advance; and the authorities had not the heart to bid him halt.

On September 24, after some delay owing to heavy rain, Brereton marched from Conjeeveram, with 1,500 British (parts of 79th Draper's Foot, 84th Coote's Foot and Madras European Regiment), 80 Caffres, 2,500 Sepoys, 100 dragoons from the Madras European Regiment, 700 Indian cavalry and 14 pieces of artillery.

On September 27, the British dragoons came up with a party of French hussars, whom they defeated, taking one officer and 8 men prisoners. This skirmish took place about 5 km from Trivatore which surrendered on the main body of the British force coming up. Brereton then advanced rapidly towards Wandiwash.

On September 27 at daybreak, unwilling to pass Pondicherry by night or to do anything to prevent M. d'Aché from fighting another action, Pocock appeared off the town. There he lay with the wind about W.S.W., with his maintopsails to the mast and with but just sufficient steerage way on his ships for the proper maintenance of the line. Thus the British drifted slowly to leeward, yet not until Pocock had given d'Aché the fullest possible opportunity to come out and fight. But the latter had no such intention and, after weighing and making a few meaningless demonstrations, he returned to port and there announced his intention of sailing immediately for Île de France. Pocock, being short of water and stores and with ships in bad condition, then sailed for Madras.

During the night of September 27 to 28, misled by false information as to the strength of the French garrison and eager to distinguish himself before colonel Coote's arrival, Brereton launched an attack on Wandiwash with only 1,000 British. In fact the garrison of Wandiwash consisted of about 1,000 men and 20 guns. Brereton attacked in 3 quarters, hoping to carry both fort and gatewway. Though successful at the outset, Brereton was eventually repulsed.

In the morning of September 28, Brereton was obliged to retire from Wandiwash. In this action, he had lost 12 officers and 195 soldiers killed, wounded or prisoners. Among these losses were 2 officers and 30 soldiers of the Madras European Regiment killed. The French lost general Mainville and 2 officers killed and more than 200 men killed or wounded and about 30 men taken prisoners. Lally was in no position to take advantage of his success. The same day, Pocock's squadron anchored at Madras.

French Diplomatic Endeavours

On September 30, d'Aché quitted Pondicherry and sailed to Île de France, in spite of the anxious remonstrances of the shore authorities, and especially of M. de Lally. His principal motive for thus acting seems to have been his knowledge that Pocock was about to be reinforced by 4 ships of the line from Great Britain. Pocock was now master of the sea.

D'Aché's desertion was a hard blow to Lally, for the indiscipline of his troops was ever increasing. In despair of help from other quarters he reverted to that from which he had at first so hastily withdrawn, the court of Hyderabad; though affairs there had altered greatly since the departure of the marquis de Bussy-Castelnau. Salabad Jung had been won to the British cause by the storming of Masulipatam; his brother Nizam Ali had always been Bussy's worst enemy; but there was still a third brother, Basalut Jung, who hated his brethren and had shown a friendly disposition towards Pondicherry.

On October 1, Brereton was forced to abandon the siege of Wandiwash and to retire to Conjeeveram. He had lost some 310 men killed and wounded in this affair.

On October 5, Brereton's force reached Conjeeveram.

On October 16, Pocock sailed from Madras for Bombay.

Bussy approached Basalut Jung, offering him to become nawab of the Carnatic if he would join the French with a body of troops. The terms were agreed upon, Basalut Jung began to advance along the Penner river and Bussy was on his way to him with 500 Europeans.

On October 17, Bussy was recalled by the outbreak of a dangerous mutiny of the garrison which he had left behind him at Wandiwash. Turning back, he succeeded by payment of 6 months’ arrears in reducing the men to obedience but the incident was fatal to his negotiations with Basalut Jung. After a few days of fruitless haggling Bussy returned to Arcot, with no addition to his force but a few irregular levies of horse and foot.

On October 17, on his way to Bombay, Pocock fell in with rear-admiral Samuel Cornish, with 3 ships of the line (Lenox (74), captain Robert Jocelyn, Cornish's flagship; Duc d'Aquitaine (64), captain William Hewitt; York (60), captain Vincent Pearce), one 50-gun ship (Falmouth (50), captain Richard Hughes), and 3 East Indiamen, which last, and the troops which had been brought out as reinforcements, were sent on to Madras escorted by the Queenborough. Meanwhile Pocock proceeded to Bombay.

Foiled in this direction, Lally in despair determined to make a diversion in the south and sent a force of 900 French and 1,000 Sepoys under the chevalier de Crillon to alarm Trichinopoly. Meanwhile, Lally marched northward to join Bussy at Arcot. Lally's rash division of his force between points so distant as Arcot and Trichinopoly gave the British an opportunity which they did not fail to grasp.

British capture Wandiwash and Carangooly

On October 27, the 3 East Indiamen and the troops they transported (Coote with the remainder of the 84th Foot, in all 600 men) reached Madras. Though compelled to send 200 men forthwith to Bengal under Caillaud, Coote had been able to make good the deficiency with about the same number of exchanged prisoners who had arrived from Pondicherry.

By the end of October, Trichinopoly had only 250 men of the Madras European Regiment and 3,000 Sepoys to garrison it.

On November 11, foiled in his diplomatic plans, Lally in despair determined to make a diversion in the south and sent a force of 900 French infantry, 100 hussars and 1,000 Sepoys and 200 Indian cavalry under the chevalier de Crillon at Thiagur (unidentified location) to alarm Trichinopoly. Meanwhile, Lally marched northward to join Bussy at Arcot. Lally's rash division of his force between points so distant as Arcot and Trichinopoly gave the British an opportunity which they did not fail to grasp.

On November 17, Crillon's advanced guard occupied Munsurpet (unidentified location) near the island of Seringham (today Srirangam).

On November 18, a small detachment of the garrison of Trichinopoly, under captain Richard Smith, crossed the river unperceived, fell upon the French detachment in Munsurpet and drove them up rapidly; obliging them to throw their arms and surrender as prisoners with 2 guns, a large quantity of ammunition and all their baggage.

On November 20, Crillon passed the river, advanced in the island of Seringham in front of Trichinopoly and took position in front of the fortified pagoda of the island , defended by British forces (300 Sepoys, 500 Colleries and 2 field-pieces manned by European gunners).

On November 21, Coote arrived at the British camp at Conjeeveram and assumed command of the army. He immediately dispatched captain Preston to Wandiwash with 200 men of the Madras European Regiment and the material for a siege. The same day, Crillon battered down the walls of the pagoda and then stormed and took the place. The French refused quarter until nearly the whole of the garrison had been put to the sword. CaptainSmith severely reproached Crillon for this act of barbarity. Crillon left a battalion of French in the island of Seringham to keep Trichinopoly in awe.

On November 23, Coote was joined at Conjeeveram by the newly arrived troops. He had already made up his mind to attack Wandiwash; but to conceal his intentions he dispatched one detachment (parts of the 84th Coote's Foot and Madras European Regiment) under Brereton to seize the fort of Trivatore on the road, sent another detachment with the heavy artillery to Chingleput, and himself marched upon Arcot.

On November 25, Brereton captured Trivatore without difficulty.

On November 26, Brereton advanced forthwith upon Wandiwash, made a junction with Preston's detachment.

On the morning of November 27, Brereton stormed and took the pettah (market) and immediately began to construct batteries. Coote force marched and joined Brereton and Preston in front of Wandiwash. By the time of his arrival, the battery was quite finished and the guns in it.

On November 28, Coote's batteries opened, nearly destroying the defences and breaching the wall. The same day, the detachments of captains Wood and Elliot, who had previously been detached by Coote while on his way to Wandiwash, entered the town of Arcot, invested the fort and erected a battery and prepared fascines.

On November 29, the garrison of Wandiwash (about 850 men) surrendered as prisoners of war. In this action, the Madras European Regiment lost only 5 men wounded while the French lost 5 officers, 100 Europeans and 500 Indians taken prisoners.

Without delay Coote pushed on to Carangooly (unidentified location), 56 km to the south-west.

On December 4, Coote occupied the pettah of Carangooly and invested the fort which was a large irregular four-sided one, built of stone after the native fashion; with round bastions at each corner and square towers at intervals along the faces. Before the main wall and bastions was a fausse-bray and wet ditch. The sides faced the points of the compass, the north being the nearest the pettah at 300 meters distance. The French had thrown up a glacis, all along before it, except under the north-east bastion where it had not been finished.

By December 6, the British had erected 2 batteries which opened against the towers and bastions of the north face of the fort of Carangooly.

On December 7, a British mortar was planted to the north-west of Carangooly, so as to enfilade the face attacked.

On December 9, Bussy arrived at Arcot to relieve the fort with a force of 350 French infantry, 150 hussars, 3,500 Sepoys, 500 Arabs, 800 Indian cavalry and 10 field-pieces. Captains Wood and Elliot fell back and joined Coote's army at Wandiwash. The same day, Lally hastily recalled Crillon, bidding him to leave 300 men only in Seringham and join him with the rest of his troops at Arcot. On their departure, captain Smith, the commander at Trichinopoly, sent out parties to posses themselves of some of the small forts and posts in the neighbourhood, in order that the rents of the district might be received.

On December 10, the garrison of Carangooly capitulated with the honours of war. During the siege, the French lost 5 men killed, the British artillery 1 officer mortally wounded and 2 privates of the Madras European Regiment mortally wounded. The same day, Bussy entered into Arcot.

On December 12, calling in all detachments to him, Coote reunited his entire force at Wandiwash. Now Lally perceived the evil consequences of his diversion in the south. The capture of Wandiwash and of the other posts retrieved at once any reputation that the British might have lost by Crillon's success at Seringham, while the possession of these forts was a solid gain to his enemy. By this date, captain Smith's detachments around Trichinopoly under ensigns Bridges and Hart had taken forts Cortalum and Totcum, captured a convoy, dispersed several parties of the enemy and taken prisoners 2 officers and 38 French grenadiers, besides collecting the revenue of the district.

Meanwhile Bussy's irregular horse from Arcot spread desolation on the north of the Paliar river to within 30 km of Madras itself. The terror of these marauding bands drove all the natives from the open country to take refuge in the hills.

Informed that French troops were assembling under brigadier-general Bussy at Arcot and that Crillon was on the march to join them, Coote advanced towards Arcot.

Coote, who had moved up to within a few km of Arcot, as if to intercept Crillon on his march, was compelled by lack of supplies and inclement weather to cross the Paliar and distribute his troops into cantonments.

On December 19, Coote's army entered cantonments at Connenpauk and he repaired to Madras.

On December 25, Coote's army moved out of cantonments to Chinesimandsum.

On December 29, both armies were in sight of each other and some skimishes took place at the outposts.

On December 30, a body of Mahratta horse cut down a few British Sepoys at an advanced post, but were ultimately repulsed with considerable loss.

Early on the morning of December 31, 3 Sepoys coys entered the Mahratta camp, taking the cavalry by surprise and dispersing it.

At the end of December, Lally took command of the French army assembled at Arcot.

So ended the disjointed and indecisive operations in the Carnatic for the year 1759.


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, pp. 478-481, 507-508
  • 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, 163-165, 168-175
  • 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. 196-200
  • Fortescue, J. W., A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 454-459

Other sources:

Castex, Jean-Claude, Dictionnaire des batailles terrestres franco-anglaises de la Guerre de Sept Ans, Presse de l'université Laval, Québec: 2006, pp. 292-293, 510-513, 545-549