Madras European Regiment

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Origin and History

In 1644, 30 English recruits and a large quantity of ordnance and military stores arrived from England at Fort St. George in the Presidency of Madras (today Chennai). Early in 1645, 20 more recruits landed.

Since 1664, the recruiting of the corps has entirely been from Great Britain, except during the campaigns in 1752, 1753 and 1754; when a few Swiss mercenaries were incorporated with the regiment. Furthermore, a few French prisoners of war would, on their release, enlist in the corps, a system which was only resorted to from the great scarcity of Europeans in India.

In 1665, an armed-ship with a number of recruits on board arrived at Madras. In 1671, the garrison of Fort St. George being seriously depleted, the council was authorized to engage from the ships as many men as would fill up the complement of the troops for the garrison. In 1676, the Court of Directors of the East India Company decided that the garrison of Fort St. George should now consist exclusively of English soldiers.

In 1690-91, a company of European artillery, 3 companies of infantry and a troop of horse, formed part of the garrison of Fort St. George. In 1693-94, 70 recruits landed at Madras.

By 1706-07, the garrisons of Fort St. George and Fort St. David were so weak that 400 European soldiers were required to bring each them to full strength.

In 1732, large reinforcements of recruits arrived at Madras from England.

In 1741, a large party of Mahrattas appeared before Madras and invested the place but soon withdrew. In December of the same year, they made another unsuccessful attempt. In 1742, more recruits were sent from England and Madras put in the best posture of defence.

In 1745, war having been declared between England and France, a small English squadron landed a few recruits at Fort St. George in July. The garrison of this fort amounted to only 150 men with an equal number garrisoning Fort St. David. On September 3 1746, a French fleet appeared before Madras. On September 4, French troops landed. On September 7, they bombarded Fort St. George from a battery of 9 mortars while their fleet cannonaded the town. On September 8, another battery of 5 mortars opened on Fort St. George. On September 10, the fort surrendered and Madras was given up. The East India Company's troops were made prisoners of war but the officers managed to escape to Fort St. David. On December 9, a French force invested Fort St. David. However, the intervention of the nawab and a timely sally of the garrison drove them back. Nevertheless, the French continued to besiege Fort St. David. On February 19 1747, the garrison of Fort St. David, which had been reinforced by 20 recruits from Great Britain, marched out and gave battle to the French besiegers. The garrison was then reinforced by 100 additional recruits while 100 more men arrived from the Bombay European regiment. In September, 150 more recruits arrived from Great Britain. The European Battalion at this time was 500 men strong.

In January 1748, major Stringer Lawrence arrived from Great Britain at Fort St. David with a commission to command the East India Company's forces in India. The different companies of the Madras corps were formed into a regular battalion and a grenadier company was established. All the men of the battalion, except the grenadiers, ceased to wear swords. Officers carried, in addition to their swords, light fuzils, the sergeants halberds. On June 17, the Madras European Battalion under Lawrence repulsed a French attack on Cuddalore. On August 8, the battalion was part of the British force who marched to the siege of Pondicherry (today Puducherry). On August 30, ground was opened before Pondicherry and the battalion repulsed two sorties of the French garrison. On October 5, the British were forced to raise the siege.

In March 1749, 430 men of the Madras European Battalion joined a British force assembled at Fort St. David to reinstate the ex-rajah of Tanjore on his throne. On April 13, the battalion suffered so severely from a storm that it was obliged to march into Porto Novo to repair his material. After an unsuccessful campaign the entire British force returned to Fort St. David. The battalion soon joined another expedition under the command of major Lawrence to capture the fort of Devi Cottah. The fort was captured after a hard fight where the Madras European Battalion lost 30 men. In August, Madras was retro-ceded to the British. The British then sent 120 men of the Madras European Battalion to assist Mohamed Ali who had recently been defeated by a Franco-Indian army. From then until the end of 1754, detachments of the battalion were often attached to Indian armies fighting other Indian armies supported by the French.

From 1751 until the arrival of the first British regiment of dragoons in India, in 1783, details from the regiment, frequently upwards of a troop, were mounted and served as dragoons. Field pieces were attached to the battalion and were worked by its men.

On January 11 1755, peace was concluded between the French and British in India and the Madras European Battalion for a time was not called upon to act against the French. However, the battalion was employed to bring under subjection to the nawab the Polygar chiefs in the countries round Madura and Tinnevelly. This was entirely a jungle warfare.

From 1758, it was customary to receive volunteers into the corps from British infantry regiments returning home.

During the Seven Years' War, the battalion was under the command of:

  • since 1752 until 1759: major-general Stringer Lawrence

In 1766, the corps was formed into 3 battalions.

Service during the War

In February 1755, the battalion (500 men) took part in the expedition in Madura and Tinnevelly led by colonel Heron. In June, Heron was encamped with his force before Trichinopoly (today Tiruchirapalli).

In October 1756, 5 coys (570 men) and 80 artillerymen of the battalion formed part of the force led by lieutenant-colonel Robert Clive for the punitive expedition against Calcutta. On December 20, after long delays, the fleet transporting Clive's force finally reached Fulta. However two ships, one transporting 2 coys of the Madras European Regiment (200 men) and another carrying most of the field artillery, were still lagging behind. In the night of December 29 to 30, 3 coys of the battalion fought in the combat near Fort Budge Budge.

On January 2 1757, 3 coys of the battalion took part in the re-capture of Fort William near Calcutta. Around mid January, the 2 coys who had been lagging behind made their junction with Clive's force bringing the strength of the battalion to 5 coys. On February 4, the battalion fought in the combat of Calcutta. In March, a detachment of the battalion took part in the expedition against Chandernagore. The place surrendered on March 23. In May 1757, a distinct detachment of the battalion formed part of the garrison of Trichinopoly (today Tiruchirapalli) which, during the French operations in Carnatic, was besieged by a French force from May 14 to the end of the month. In July, a similar detachment took part in the Adlercron's failed attempt against Wandewash (today Vandavasi). On June 13, the detachment operating in Bengal was part of Clive's army who undertook its famous campaign in Bengal. On June 16, part of this detachment took part in the capture of the fort of Cutwa (today Katwa). On June 23, the Bengal detachment fought in the battle of Plassey. In August 1757, when the 39th Foot was recalled to Great Britain, most of its soldiers volunteered, those in Bengal joining the Bengal European Regiment and those at Madras joining the Madras European Battalion serving in Carnatic.

On June 2 1758, more than 100 men of the regiment were taken prisoners of war when Fort St. David surrendered. At the beginning of August, during the French operations on the coast of Coromandel, as Lally was besieging the city of Tanjore. Caillaud sent to the rajah a reinforcement of 500 of his best Sepoys, 2 sergeants and 27 men from the Madras European Battalion. On August 6, these reinforcements reached Tanjore. On August 8, hearing of the naval defeat at the combat of Negapatam 5 days earlier, Lally resolved to raise the siege of Tanjore. On the morning of August 10, the Tanjorine troops attacked the French camp, a party of horse managed to penetrate towards Lally's tent. He was severely wounded and trampled upon but saved. The British Sepoys captured 2 field-pieces and the French camp was thrown into the greatest confusion before they could repulse their assailants. After Lally's retreat, the British Sepoys and the few Europeans sent to Tanjore as reinforcements returned to Trichinopoly. On August 18, Lawrence with 520 men of the Madras European Battalion, 1,200 Sepoys and a party of the nawab's troops left Madras and took Trivatore by assault. At the end of August, the authorities at Madras being thrown on their own resources resolved to recall Caillaud and all his British troops from Trichinopoly, and to leave captain Joseph Smith in charge of that city with 2,000 Sepoys only. On September 25, Caillaud who had embarked his troops at Negapatam, arrived at Madras with 180 men. On December 8, Lally advanced from Vandalur to St. Thomas' Mount on his way to Madras. The defending force collected by the British in Madras amounted, not counting officers, to 1,758 British (including 64 Topasses, 84 Caffres and 24 mounted Europeans) and 2,200 Sepoys, the whole under command of colonel Stringer Lawrence. He had also at his disposition 500 horse from the nawab's force. The colonel drew the greater part of these troops into the field to watch the French movements. He then fell back slowly to Choultry Plain (unidentified location). It was never the intention of the British commander to risk an action with so superior a force. Lally's army had alone 300 European cavalry, excellently mounted. The regiment then took part in the successful defence of Madras which was besieged from December 14 1758 to February 17 1759. On December 27, 80 men of the Madras European Regiment formed part of Mohamed Issun's infantry who left Chingleput and marched towards St. Thomas' Mount.

On January 3 1759, Mohamed Issun's infantry engaged a French force at St. Thomas' Mount. The French quickly routed Mohamed Issuf's force but the captain Preston's detachment, who supported Issuf, attacked the French and drove them back in disorder, recapturing Issuf's guns. In this action, the French lost 100 men killed or wounded, including 2 officers. The Madras European Regiment lost 6 men killed or wounded and the Sepoys 180. On January 21, the British made a sally from Madras, destroying some of the works of the besiegers and killing or wounding several men. A detachment of the Madras European Regiment distinguished itself in this affair. On February 9, 103 men of the regiment took part in an engagement at St. Thomas' Mount. On February 17, Lally finally raised the siege of Madras. On April 16, during the offensive on the coast of Coromandel, a detachment of the regiment took part in the storming 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. At the end of June, 200 recruits arrived from Great Britain for the Madras European Regiment, furthermore, 200 European prisoners were received from Pondicherry in exchange for the same number released from Trichinopoly (today Tiruchirapalli). On September 24, a detachment of the regiment formed part of Brereton's force who marched from Conjeeveram. On September 27, the detachment captured Trivatore and then advanced rapidly towards Wandiwash. 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. On October 5, Brereton reached Conjeeveram. By mid October, 6 months after the capture of Masulipatam, 300 men of the regiment along with 800 Sepoys formed thegarrison of the place. By the end of October, Trichinopoly had only 250 men of the Madras European Regiment and 3,000 Sepoys to garrison it. On November 18, a small detachment of the garrison of Trichinopoly, under captain Richard Smith, crossed the river unperceived, fell upon a 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 of Conjeeveram and then stormed and took the place. On the morning of November 27, a detachment of the regiment took part in the storming of the market of Wandiwash. On November 29, the garrison of Wandiwash (about 850 men) surrendered as prisoners of war. In this siege, the Madras European Regiment lost only 5 men wounded. From December 4 to 10, this same detachment took part in the siege and capture of Carangooly.

In January 1760, during the operations on the coast of Coromandel a detachment of the regiment took part in the defence of Wandiwash. On January 22, two battalions of the regiment were part of the British relief force and fought in the victorious battle of Wandiwash where they were deployed in the centre of the first line. The regiment then took part in the gradual capture of all French places until, in July, the French were blockaded in Pondicherry. From September to January 1761, the regiment then took part in the siege of Pondicherry. The place finally surrendered on January 15 1761.

Uniform

Information about the uniforms worn by the troops of the East India Company during the Seven Years War are scarce. Here we assume that this regiment wore the same regiment as the Bengal European Regiment.

Privates

Uniform in 1757 - Source: Richard Couture from a template by Frédéric Aubert
Uniform Details
Headgear
Musketeer black tricorne laced white with a black cockade (left side)
Grenadier ’’no information available’’
Neckstock black
Coat brick red lined buff with 3 white buttons under the right lapels
Collar none
Shoulder Straps red and fastened with a white button (left shoulder)
Lapels buff laced white with 7 pewter buttons
Pockets horizontal pockets with pewter buttons
Cuffs buff (slashed in the British pattern) with 3 pewter buttons on the sleeve above each the cuff
Turnbacks buff
Waistcoat buff laced white
Breeches buff
Gaiters white
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt buff
Waistbelt buff
Cartridge Box black
Bayonet Scabbard black
Scabbard black
Footgear black shoes


Troopers were armed with with a "East India" flintlock musket and a bayonet.

Officers

‘’no information available yet’’

Musicians

‘’no information available yet’’

Colours

‘’no information available yet’’

References

This article contains texts from the following sources, 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, 3-203