British Attack French and Spanish Territory in Asia 1740-62 Part I

Joseph François Dupleix who initiated French intervention in Burma

Negrais Massacre

Coinciding precisely with Clive’s triumphal progress in Bengal, and yet utterly devoid of either glory or consequence, the Burmese or ‘Negrais Affair’ is readily consigned to oblivion. As with other things Burmese, the facts are obscure and the locations unfamiliar. Quite reasonably one could dismiss the whole business as just another example of that disastrous British obsession with off-shore properties – Pulo Run, Pulo Condore, and now the island of Negrais. Alternatively – and this was the view taken by Alexander Dalrymple, a man of whom more will be heard – Negrais was the first uncertain step towards the re-establishment of the Company’s trade in south-east Asia. It should be bracketed not with Pulo Run but with Singapore, not with Pulo Condore but with Hong Kong.

From the Company’s settlements at Masulipatnam, Madras and Calcutta, English private traders had been calling at the ports of southern Burma ever since the mid-seventeenth century. Syriam, their usual destination, was the main outlet for the Mon kingdom of Pegu which also controlled the wide Irrawaddy delta. Here rubies and lac (a resinous red dye) were sometimes available although the main attraction was Burmese teak, the finest shipbuilding material in the East. For repairing Indiamen the timber was freighted to Bombay and Calcutta while the smaller vessels operated by country traders were usually repaired and indeed built in Syriam itself. By the 1730s the volume of this business had justified the appointment of an English ‘Resident’ who although not a Company servant handled both Company and private business. His few European companions included a representative of the French Compagnie des Indes whose ships’ timbers were also repaired with Burmese teak. But there seems to have been no great hostility between the two and when in 1743 Syriam was twice sacked as a result of renewed fighting between the Mons and the up-country Burmans, both men withdrew to their parent establishments at Madras and Pondicherry.

With southern Burma in turmoil and with the European trading companies locked into their own war over Jenkins’s ear and the Austrian Succession, no further attempts were made to reopen a Burmese establishment until 1750. In that year Mon representatives appeared in Pondicherry with a proposal which Dupleix, having just handed Chanda Sahib on to the throne of the Carnatic, was happy to consider. The Mons wanted military assistance against their Burman rivals. There was the possibility of opening another grand field for French ambition. More to the point, Dupleix welcomed the proposal as a means of securing a safe haven on the opposite side of the Bay of Bengal.

The absence of harbours on the Coromandel Coast has already been stressed. With the arrival of those squadrons under Barnett (then Peyton), La Bourdonnais, and Boscawen and with the consequent inauguration of the Bay of Bengal as a theatre for naval warfare, this deficiency became critical. Every monsoon the fleets must desert their station or risk the sort of losses suffered by La Bourdonnais after the capture of Madras. Similarly every time ships needed refitting they must leave the coastal settlements to the tender mercies of the enemy and make for Dutch Trinconomalee (Sri Lanka), Mauritius or Bombay.

Under the impression that they might have found a solution, Boscawen and Lawrence had just wrenched the port of Devikottai from the Raja of Tanjore. But Devikottai proved as useless for ships of deep draught as every other inlet on The Coast. Word, therefore, that Dupleix had sent a French envoy to Pegu to negotiate for a Burmese harbour threw Madras into consternation. President Saunders wrote immediately to London and, without waiting for an answer, prepared to forestall the competition by occupying the island of Negrais.

At the south-western extremity of Burmese territory and therefore the nearest point to Madras, Negrais had been recommended by one of the numerous Englishmen engaged in private trade between The Coast and Burma. Curiously neither he nor Saunders seems to have been aware that the Company actually had a claim on the place. Sixty years previously it was to Negrais that Captain Weltden had repaired after he and Samuel White had been attacked at Mergui. Weltden had allegedly hoisted the English flag on the island and had left an inscription, beaten in tin, recording his claim. It was a pity that this memorial was not rediscovered. The memory of the Mergui massacre might have alerted the Negrais settlers to the possibility of a repeat performance.

Negrais had been chosen by Saunders on the grounds that it had potential for ‘a capacious harbour for shipping being well secured against all sorts of winds’. What he did not realize, but what the thirty-odd pioneers quickly discovered, was that it was not secured against all sorts of tides. After a few weeks of being flooded out every time a high sea and a spring tide coincided, the disgruntled and fever-ridden settlers sailed away to the mainland and the comparative comfort of Syriam.

In the meantime the Court of Directors in London had received Saunders’s letter and approved his anxiety about a French naval base in the Bay. In 1752 they wrote endorsing the Negrais settlement and in 1753, on learning that Dupleix’s envoy was in high favour at Pegu, Saunders made a second attempt to establish a settlement. This time it was on a much larger scale. Four ships were to convey the new pioneers across the Bay and two covenanted servants, one from the St Helena Council, the other from Benkulen, were to take command. The appointments were made by the directors in London who no doubt recalled the disastrous jealousies aroused when such matters were left to Madras. But it is indicative of the unpopularity of the enterprise that the Benkulen man opted out, preferring even Sumatra’s pestilential climate to waterlogged Negrais. Shipwrights and labourers had to be impressed into service; the guard of thirty-odd Europeans and seventy peons mutinied soon after arrival.

To the problems of fever and flood was added that of famine. It was hoped that the settlers would soon be either self-sufficient or able to obtain rice from the mainland. But the Burmese refused any trade and, though the island abounded in game, it was also a paradise for tigers. The settlers lived off turtles; the tigers lived off settlers. Hunt, the man from St Helena, died of dysentery, the work of fortification ground to a standstill, and the Mon authorities steadfastly refused to countenance the new settlement.

Nevertheless the disconsolate settlers, now commanded by Henry Brooke, a writer from Madras, stayed put. By 1754 the Mon-Burman war was going badly for the Mons. Disappointed in their French allies, there seemed to be a real prospect of the Mons granting, in return for military aid, not only Negrais but also the adjacent mainland port of Bassein plus extensive privileges in Syriam. The British contingent in Syriam played along with their Mon hosts; but to Saunders in Madras and to Brooke at Negrais it was now evident that they were backing a loser. When Burman troops occupied Bassein and much of the intervening Delta, Brooke therefore switched allegiance. Missions were exchanged between Negrais and Alungpaya, the Burman sovereign, who was then encamped beside the mighty Shwe Dagôn pagoda at a place which he renamed Yangon (Rangoon). The Company moved its Syriam establishment to the new capital and by 1756 both Company and private ships were calling there for repairs.

While the storm clouds gathered in Bengal, Burma seemingly basked in sunshine. At last the British had backed a winner and, within a month of Siraj-ud-Daula’s capture off Fort William, Alungpaya had taken Syriam, the French had been expelled, their agent roasted alive, and the British were constructing a fort at Bassein which, with a fine sense of Highland symmetry, they called Fort Augustus. Amazingly for a sovereign who considered himself more than a match for the Moghul, Alungpaya had even committed his favourable sentiments to writing by opening a correspondence with George II, or rather ‘The King of England, Madras, Bengal, Fort St David and Devikottai’. In a letter which took the form of a tray of gold covered with Burmese characters there was barely room to do more than recite the titles of the writer. But the ‘King of Burma, Thailand and Cambodia’, ‘the Lord of the Mines of Rubies, Gold, Silver, Copper, Iron and Amber’, the Lord, too, of ‘the White Elephant, the Spotted Elephant and the Red Elephant’ not to mention ‘the Vital Golden Lance’, many golden palaces, sundry other kingdoms, etc, in short ‘the Descendant of the Nation of the Sun’ did positively transfer the desired site at Bassein and looked forward to ‘a constant union and amity with His Majesty of England, Madras, Bengal [etc] and his Royal Family and subjects’.

Perhaps if this letter had received the gracious response it undoubtedly deserved, lives could have been saved. It did indeed reach George II but no answer whatsoever did either he or the Company send; the last that is heard of the priceless missive is an unseemly wrangle about whether the tray had originally been encrusted with rubies and, if so, what had happened to them. By opening a correspondence with a mere earth-ling the lord of all those elephants had chanced his solar dignity. It was not something he did lightly. In the following year he put his seal to a treaty of friendship with the Company but thereafter, as the months slipped by without so much as an acknowledgement from the Hanoverian, he began to take an exceedingly dim view of British protestations of amity.

There were, though, other sources of friction. British ships putting into Rangoon for repairs and cargoes had fallen foul of Alungpaya’s officials and had even joined the Mons in several abortive attempts to storm the place. The Bassein/Negrais settlers were not held responsible for these outrages but, under the terms of the new treaty, Alungpaya did expect them to supply him with the guns and powder which had so often been promised. Yet, excepting the odd presentation cannon and a few barrels of powder, of arms – as of answer – came there none. Worse still, it appeared that the Company was now keen to wash its hands of both Alungpaya and his country. In Madras Saunders had been replaced by the more sceptical Pigot, in Negrais Brooke had been relieved by a man who succumbed to the climate almost immediately, and in London, with rumours rife of Siraj’s advance on Calcutta, the directors had espoused a retrenchment which included withdrawal from Negrais. News of Plassey failed to change the corporate mind. ‘Schemes of this kind,’ they wrote in 1758, ‘must be deferred till more tranquil times.’ It was, after all, year two of the Seven Years War.

But it was also year six of the Negrais establishment which, against all the odds, now boasted some substantial buildings, plentiful stocks of teak and a modest population. A partial evacuation was effected in April 1759 but there remained a small guard under Ensign Hope and a considerable civilian population. In view of frequent French visits to the Bay of Bengal it seemed prudent to maintain a presence. Later in the same year Captain Southby came ashore from the Victoria as Hope’s replacement. His arrival coincided with that of an East Indiaman in search of provisions plus three small Burmese vessels accompanying the local Governor. October was one of Negrais’s better months. While the Victoria unloaded and the Indiaman took on water, Hope and Southby entertained the Governor ashore with two days of feasting and compliments. Of Portuguese extraction, he seemed to appreciate the hospitality and to enjoy the company.

His hosts were thus totally off guard when at the farewell reception the Governor’s Burmese escort suddenly bolted all the doors and drew their daggers. Hope and Southby were cut to pieces immediately. Of the other European officers and guards only one escaped and only two were taken prisoner. The rest were butchered along with countless Indians. If the figure of sixty men and four women is correct for those taken off by the boats, the carnage must have been at least three times that of Plassey. The settlement was then looted and burnt to the ground. A week later Captain Alves of the Victoria, while remaining on station to warn off other British shipping, went ashore for a last look. The corpses were now rotting, the tigers gorged, the fires out. Alves, then on the threshold of a long and intriguing career as a private trader, was profoundly disturbed. It was ‘one of the most shocking sights I ever beheld’.

What, if anything, lay behind the Negrais Massacre is unknown. Alungpaya would deny all responsibility and, nine months later, Alves would travel unmolested right up to Mandalay to secure the release of the prisoners. One can only bracket the mindless carnage with all those other tropical affrays in which the degree of premeditation is as unfathomable as the degree of provocation.

Happily no such uncertainty surrounded British thinking. The object of Company policy over Negrais had been to prevent the French from gaining a naval base in Burma and so supremacy in the Bay of Bengal. In the event Alungpaya had done the job for them. His sack of Syriam in 1757, which had resulted in the extinction of the French interest, coincided almost exactly with Watson’s bombardment of Chandernagar. Taken together, these two reverses meant that henceforth the French could operate in Indian waters only at a severe disadvantage.

It also meant that for the British Negrais became superfluous. Significantly the first, partial evacuation of the settlement had been carried out from Calcutta and it was from there that Hope, Southby and Alves all hailed. The Burmese adventure had been Madras’s initiative and Madras could no longer support it. Alungpaya had been disappointed in his expectation of military assistance, and the Negrais settlers had been left to fend for themselves, because Madras had neither the men nor the matchlocks to spare. Indeed when in 1758 the orders for withdrawal arrived from London, Fort St George was itself under siege. The Seven Years War had at last been joined in India.

In this war, as in that of the Austrian Succession, military manoeuvres in India would be restricted to the Carnatic, although with a related campaign in Hyderabad. And as in the old war so in the new, the French opened proceedings by attacking Forts St David (Cuddalore) and St George (Madras) while the British closed them, three years later, with a grand assault on Pondicherry. This helpful resemblance, though, is superficial; for the important point is that in every instance the outcome was different. This time Fort St David was attacked first and taken, Fort St George held out, Pondicherry did not. The result was therefore decisive. French ambitions in India collapsed. It was the end of a chapter, not the beginning.

The outcome owed much to the availability of supplies, troops and above all funds from Calcutta. If Madras’s troops had saved Bengal in 1756-7, Bengal’s rupees saved Madras in 1758-60. It was not just a question of repaying a favour. Had the French made good their second bid for hegemony in the Carnatic, Bengal itself would have been threatened. Clive was well aware of this and in not returning to Madras after the recapture of Calcutta – as he had promised and as Madras desperately urged – he took a terrible risk. It paid off thanks to the heroics of the squadron under Admiral Pocock, Watson’s successor. Not for the first time, Clive’s reputation was saved by the Royal Navy.

More even than in the earlier war, seapower proved crucial. Three naval battles, each more decisive than the last, offset the French superiority in land forces and dictated the course of the struggle ashore. As in the Americas so in India; it was courtesy of the King’s navy that Britain emerged from the Seven Years War with a global empire. Any narrative, therefore, that presumes to disentangle the Company’s history from that of the British Navy, or indeed of British India, may be excused from treating the final phase of the Anglo-French struggle in any detail.

British Attack French and Spanish Territory in Asia 1740-62 Part II

Fort St George on the Coromandel Coast. Belonging to the East India Company of England 1754

Briefly then, the French took the field first. In September 1757 the first reinforcements to reach India since the outbreak of war had been landed at Pondicherry. Because of the imminent monsoon, the fleet which brought them immediately scurried back to Mauritius. Without a fleet, the French held their offensive. In February Pocock’s fleet arrived on The Coast from Bengal and in April a second French fleet under the Comte d’Ache made its way up to Pondicherry. Pocock managed to intercept and just about came off best in a very untidy encounter. He failed, though, to disable the French vessels which duly landed a second regiment, a train of artillery, and the Comte de Lally as Commander-in-Chief and President of all the French settlements.

With d’Ache remaining on The Coast to distract Pocock, de Lally immediately took the offensive. His now formidable army crossed the dunes to Fort St David, quickly drove the garrison from straggling Cuddalore, and began the laborious ritual of constructing breaching batteries to pound the Fort. The British held out for less than a month. It was a great disappointment considering the supposed strength of the place and, true to form, the directors blamed their servants; ‘the whole siege was one scene of disorder, confusion, mismanagement, and total inattention to every branch’.

Such bluster carries little conviction. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, and quickly deserted by most of their native troops, the Fort St David councillors had little chance. They had counted on Pocock coming to their rescue but adverse winds prevented his approach. With four batteries trained on their walls and with insufficient troops to mount a foray, they wisely capitulated. De Lally razed the place, then took Devikottai, and finally staged a triumphal march through Pondicherry. Apart from some insignificant garrisons at places like Trichy and Arcot, all that now hindered a continuation of his triumphal progress north to Hyderabad, de Bussy and Bengal was Fort St George.

De Lally favoured an immediate advance and had this been possible, Madras might well have fallen. But no siege could be effective with Pocock’s squadron still in the offing. De Lally therefore ordered d’Ache to engage it. D’Ache refused, probably because he preferred to cruise in search of the year’s fleet of Indiamen. This meant a four-month delay until the October monsoon would oblige Pocock to desert his station. De Lally passed the time with an attack on the still independent ‘Tanjoreens’, a traditional expedient for raising funds; Madras readied itself for action.

Thus far the British had not been wholly passive observers of French progress. Trichy had seen yet more manoeuvres as a French force invested the fort and was then drawn off by a largely sepoy army under Captain John Caillaud of the Company. Meanwhile Fort St George itself was being ringed with the whole Vaubanesque vocabulary of ravelins and lunettes, glacis and bastions. The vulnerable west front was said now to be ‘pretty well secured’ (Ives) with more angles and faces than the much-cut Pitt diamond. Partly overgrown and partly over-built, they are yet visible in today’s Fort St George, the most impressive relic of the Company (as opposed to the Raj) in India. But as well as an acute shortage of troops thanks to Clive’s absence in Bengal, Madras was hamstrung by an incompetent commander in the bumbling person of Colonel John Aldercron of the 39th. This was the regiment brought to Madras by Watson in 1756, the first Royal regiment to serve in India. Its artillery had been siphoned off to Bengal by Clive and for the next three years the efforts of the Madras Council ‘were directed to getting the use of Aldercron’s troops without Aldercron’ (Biddulph). They succeeded when in 1758, as the entire regiment was recalled to England, half its members signed up in the Company’s forces. At about the same time the first detachments of a new regiment, His Majesty’s 64th under the able Colonel Draper, landed at Madras. With Stringer Lawrence still at the head of the Company’s troops and Draper leading the royal troops, Madras awaited de Lally’s army of 6000 with a garrison of 4000, ten times that of 1746.

Meanwhile Pocock had at last cornered the reluctant d’Ache. Off Negapatnam – where else? – the British won a victory which, if not exactly resounding, confirmed d’Ache’s anxieties. Taking this engagement with the previous one, he had suffered 900 dead and wounded to Pocock’s 300 while his ships, though still afloat, stood badly in need of repairs. Nothing would now stop him, not even a Council of War, from withdrawing to Mauritius. He limped away in September. In so far as Pocock was also obliged to withdraw ahead of the monsoon, it did not materially affect the balance of power.

But it did mean that de Lally, unlike La Bourdonnais, had to reach Madras overland. It was not Lawrence’s intention to contest this advance but with seventy miles between the French capital and the English, it was obvious that their supply line would be vulnerable. Accordingly a small British force was left to hold Chingleput, a strategic fort twenty miles south of Madras. De Lally debated whether to take it but decided that he could afford neither the men nor the time. The monsoon was slowing his progress and, even without fighting, it was 12 December 1758 before he finally entered Madras’s Black Town.

The siege now began in earnest – but with a British offensive. Learning that the French troops had discovered Black Town’s main distillery, Draper deemed the moment ripe for action. Six hundred men with a couple of guns charged out of one of the fort’s gates and, having terrorized the township with a militarily pointless but psychologically useful manoeuvre, charged back through another. They lost both their guns and sustained heavy losses; but so did the French.

In the event this puzzling action proved to be the only serious engagement of the entire siege. De Lally’s batteries opened fire in January but the new defences stood up well to the heavy bombardment. Even when a breach was made, so properly contrived and so hotly defended were those ravelins and lunettes that no escalade was deemed possible. Siege warfare, like the art of fortification, depended heavily on convention. Each side knew what to expect of the other and, as the shot and shell whistled overhead, each was busy underground digging mines and counter-mines. Certain actions were, however, taboo. In the midst of hostilities de Lally had occasion to complain to Pigot, the Fort St George President, that someone had presumed to fire on his headquarters. It was, of course, a terrible mistake. Pigot had been under the impression that de Lally had based himself in the Capuchin church. Obviously he was wrong. ‘If you will do the honour to inform me at which pagoda [place of worship] you fix your headquarters, all due respect will be paid them.’ After all, ‘in war mutual civilities and mutual severities may be expected’.

De Lally, a stickler for the civilities if not the severities, had convinced himself that under the rules of engagement the British ought to have handed over Chingleput. In fact they had reinforced it. By February Caillaud (a Company officer in spite of his name) and the sepoys from Trichy had joined the Chingleput garrison and had advanced almost to San Thomé on the outskirts of Madras. A determined French assault failed to dislodge them; equally Caillaud was incapable of breaking through the French cordon. But once again the besiegers were beginning to feel like the besieged.

This impression was reinforced by news from further afield. Although Clive still declined to desert Bengal’s rich political and commercial pickings, he had at last dispatched a considerable force by sea to the Northern Circars. These were the coastal districts of Hyderabad north of Masulipatnam which had been ceded to de Bussy by the Nizam. The expedition, under Colonel Francis Forde, was intended as a diversionary tactic to prevent French troops being moved down to the Carnatic.

In the event Forde quickly exceeded these modest expectations. De Lally had obligingly recalled de Bussy to assist in operations against Madras. The ablest of French generals thus became a disenchanted and obstructive subordinate while his conquests were squandered by the less experienced Marquis de Conflans. In early December, as de Lally came in sight of Madras, a pitched battle was being fought near Rajahmundry in which the British and their local ally won a decisive victory. Three months later Forde would take Masulipatnam and sign a treaty with the Nizam for the expulsion of all French troops and the cession of the Northern Circars to the Company.

For the hard-pressed garrison of Fort St George still more cheering news arrived from Anjengo in late January. Pocock, who had been in Bombay, had met up with the fleet of Indiamen conveying the rest of Draper’s regiment from England and was now rounding Sri Lanka. Within a week the first vessel arrived off Madras with ammunition and treasure; and on the evening of 6 February six more ships were ‘descried in the north-east standing towards the road’. They anchored off the fort that night. Next day the garrison woke to the sight of de Lally’s entire army decamping towards the west.

‘Joy and curiosity carried out everyone to view and contemplate the works from which they had received so much molestation for…42 days,’ writes Orme. With that remorseless concern for detail that distinguishes his work, Orme claims that the fort had fired 26,554 rounds from its cannon and 7,502 shells from its mortars. 1,990 hand grenades had been heaved from the battlements, 200,000 cartridges fired from the muskets. His casualty count gives 934 as the dead and wounded amongst the British but ‘the loss of men sustained by the French army is no where acquired’. ‘Thus ended this siege, without doubt the most strenuous and regular that had ever been carried on in India.’ Orme, who had devoted seventy strenuous and regular pages to it, heaved a sigh of satisfaction. ‘We have detailed it, in the hopes that it may remain an example and incitement.’

Although the tide had turned, the British were slow to take advantage. Before moving against Pondicherry they needed more troops – the new arrivals barely offset those lost during the siege – and undisputed command of the sea. In September d’Ache and his fleet reappeared on The Coast. Pocock, for the third and last time, moved to attack. The result was much as before only more so. D’Ache limped into Pondicherry and two weeks later sailed back to Mauritius never to visit The Coast again. In the following month Eyre Coote, Clive’s second in command at Plassey, arrived with a new battalion from home.

With de Lally’s unpopularity and Pondicherry’s insolvency provoking open mutiny amongst the French troops, Coote moved rapidly to the kill. In January 1760 he routed the enemy at the battle of Wandiwash, half way to Pondicherry, and by May had reduced all the outlying French garrisons and had begun the blockade of Pondicherry. In desperation de Lally looked for allies among the native powers. His best hope, a formidable army under the adventurer Hyder Ali from Mysore, abandoned him in August. In the same month Coote also received reinforcements but of a more reliable nature. Among the new batch of recruits sent from home was ‘part of a Highland regiment supplied by the government’. Evidently excited by these first Highlanders ever to serve in India, Orme was moved to record the event in a sentence of such puzzling obscurity that only unedited quotation can do it justice.

These mighty aids [the Highlanders] witnessed in this quarter of the globe, as equal efforts, wheresoever necessary, in every other, the superior energy of that mind, who possessing equally the confidence of his sovereign and the nation, conducted the arduous and extensive war in which they were engaged against their great and only rival.

The Highlanders had little opportunity to exercise ‘the superior energy of mind’ because Pondicherry, unlike Madras, was to succumb more to starvation than bombardment. The blockade depended heavily on the British fleet which made only the briefest of monsoon excursions to Trinconomalee and was back off the city by December. There, like La Bourdonnais before Madras, it was overtaken by a cyclone; several ships were sunk, many more dismasted. De Lally hailed the event as his deliverance and, had d’Ache reappeared, the blockade must have collapsed. But d’Ache was still in Mauritius and, as Pocock’s scattered men-of-war returned to their station, French hopes evaporated. On 16 January 1761 the emaciated garrison finally surrendered. Not a cat, not a rat, not a crow had survived the ravenous attentions of the besieged. They marched out from a ghost town and the British engineers moved in to destroy its fortifications once and for all. Although peace in Europe would eventually restore both Pondicherry and Chandernagar to their rightful owners, they would never again constitute a threat to British supremacy.

Begun with a pre-emptive snip in Burma, the process of clearing France’s exuberant growth in Indian waters had continued with a lop in Bengal and a veritable felling programme in the Circars and the Carnatic. It ended with a cosmetic flourish when Mahé, the only French establishment on the Malabar Coast, was overwhelmed by an expedition from neighbouring Tellicherry.

But the British were not to have it all their own way. Britannia, in the words of the song written by Thomas Arne a few years earlier and now lustily sung by every Tilbury tar, ‘ruled the waves’ but only around India; elsewhere Britons were all too easily ‘made slaves’. In 1760 Benkulen and its satellite trading posts on Sumatra’s west coast were ‘shamelessly’ surrendered to a French flotilla; and in the same year the Company’s men were driven from their unhappy home at Gombroon in the Persian Gulf.

Even the trade with China was at risk to French warships lurking in the Straits of Malacca. Taken along with the withdrawal from Burma, the temporary loss of Benkulen highlighted the Company’s weakness east of India. Henceforth the protection of the immensely valuable China trade would become something of an obsession occasioning a significant reawakening of interest in almost every shoreline in south-east Asia. Many and often bizarre would be the solutions propounded. But few were quite as improbable and sensational as the first, a major offensive against the Philippines in 1762. It was launched, like so many of the later eastern initiatives, from Madras.

British naval squadron in the 1760s: Capture of Manila 6th October 1762 in the Seven Years War: picture by Dominic Serres

The Philippines Expedition

The Philippines still belonged to Spain, her consolation prize for losing out to Portugal in the spice race, and Spain had thus far stood neutral in the Seven Years War. But when, in 1761, after the breakdown of Anglo-French peace talks, the Bourbons renewed their Family Compact, Whitehall detected a hostile alliance and formally declared war on Madrid. Indeed, plans for an offensive had been hatched well ahead of the actual declaration and predictably they were directed at Madrid’s colonial empire. In a two-pronged attack Pocock, lately returned to England from his tussles with d’Ache, was to storm Havana while on the other side of the world Draper, who had left Madras immediately after the siege, was to lead an assault on Manila.

The Philippines expedition seems to have been the brainchild of Lord Anson, now First Lord of the Admiralty. Twenty years previously, in the War of Jenkins’s Ear, Anson had rounded Cape Horn, attacked Spanish possessions in Peru, and then crossing the Pacific had taken a Spanish galleon laden with Mexican silver off the coast of Luzon (the Philippines). One or two such galleons reached Manila every year giving the mother country an access to the trade of China, India, and the archipelago which, though small by comparison with the turnover of the English Company, was nevertheless immensely profitable. Anson’s idea was to close this Spanish trapdoor into ‘the eastern treasure house’ by occupying Manila.

To that extent the whole scheme was a product of Whitehall’s global strategy and not of the Company’s ambitions – a distinction that becomes increasingly relevant in the late eighteenth century. The first that the directors heard of it was when Anson divulged the plan to Sulivan, the Company’s chairman, in December 1761. The declaration of war came a week later and just seven weeks after that Draper and the British contingent sailed from Plymouth. If the idea was to take Manila by surprise, the effect was also to take the Company by surprise. The Philippines undoubtedly lay within the area covered by the Company’s trading monopoly and since the Company had come to rely on the British government for military assistance in India, the government argued that it had a right to reciprocal assistance for any national schemes within that monopoly area. Thus Draper was not only to find ships and troops from among the Royal forces in India but also to enlist Company troops, artillery and transports.

Time did not permit of an exploration of this novel argument but, by way of sugaring the pill, it was emphasized that Manila, once taken, would be handed over to the Company. The capture of Pondicherry, like the recapture of Calcutta, had occasioned an unseemly row between Royal and Company officers. It was important to reassure the Company on this score and, lest Manila should be handed back to Spain at the end of the war, there was also mention of a second base, ideally on the southern island of Mindanao, as an alternative settlement.

The directors, though, remained distinctly cool. As will appear, they had reason to believe that they already had an option on a settlement in the vicinity of the Philippines. But informed that their co-operation would be an ‘acceptable testimony of their due sense of the King’s most gracious attention to their interests’ during the struggle with de Lally, they could hardly refuse. They did voice serious doubts, particularly about depleting either their forces or their shipping in India; and they also made it clear that, whatever the commercial compensations Manila might or might not afford, they expected their assistance to be paid for.

General William Draper, British army commander at the Capture of Manila 6th October 1762 in the Seven Years War

These reservations were shared by President Pigot and Colonel Lawrence when Draper reached Madras in July 1762. Although such worries were genuine enough, a further concern that weighed heavily with the Madras Council was the likely effect of the expedition on Madras’s private trade with Manila. As with Burma so with the Philippines; English trade in a variety of guises had been reaching Manila ever since the middle of the seventeenth century. By Governor Pitt’s time one or two private vessels had been sailing for the Philippines every year with Indian piece goods and returning to Madras with Mexican silver. This invaluable source of silver must dry up if the Spanish were ousted from Manila. It was not obvious that the indigenous produce of the Philippines would ever sustain a like trade, nor that whatever security a British Manila might afford to the China trade would offset this loss.

Even now, as Draper frantically assembled his armada in Madras, most of the local councillors, his erstwhile comrades-in-arms from the days of the siege, were more concerned for a vessel that had just left for Manila. On board her was £70,000 worth of their private trade and, according to Draper, ‘they were afraid that the venture would suffer by the loss of Manila and took any method in their power to discourage the attempt’.

Faced with what he chose to construe as wilful sabotage, Draper was able to obtain from the Company only three small transports, 600 sepoys, and 300 European troops most of whom were deserters from the ranks of de Lally’s army. ‘Such banditti had never been seen since the time of Spartacus’, he observed. The Company did, however, provide him with a sufficient complement of civilians to form a Manila council and take over the administration and commerce of the place. They included Henry Brooke, lately of Negrais, presumably because of his experience of pioneering. Draper preferred to rely on the officers of his own (Royal) regiment, which seems now to have included some of those recently tamed Highlanders. They would be the backbone of the expedition and when he sailed from Madras at the end of July, he was still quietly optimistic. ‘Tho’ we cannot do all we wish,’ he wrote by way of valedictory, ‘we are determined to do all we can and try we will.’

Six months later he was back, en route to England, with news of a wholly satisfactory outcome. Word of the war having been slow to reach the extremities of the Hispanic world, the fleet had sailed into Manila Bay unopposed. Unopposed the British troops had been landed at Ermita, just a mile from the fort (and today the heart of Manila’s nightlife), and against only token resistance the first battery had been set up. A week later the first breach was successfully stormed. British and Indian losses had been ‘trifling’ – barely thirty fatalities – and under the terms of surrender the Spanish were to pay an indemnity of £1 million. In addition, one of the Acapulco galleons, a gigantic vessel of some 2000 tons, had been taken. And finally Manila had reluctantly been handed over to the Company. ‘In short’, announced the jubilant Draper, ‘it is a lucky business.’

Unfortunately the luck ran out with Draper’s early departure. The Company would hold Manila and claim sovereignty over the Philippines for only eighteen months. But that was long enough for some of the troops to mutiny, long enough for the Governor to fall out with his own council, with the military and the navy, and long enough for a Spanish-Filipino resistance so to harry the British that they scarcely dared venture outside the fort. It was with a sense of relief that in April 1764 the place was finally handed back to Spain in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Paris. All along the Company had been developing its own ideas about how best to support the China trade and re-establish its interests in the south-east Asian archipelago. They did not include the occupation of Manila and it was entirely appropriate that the man who eventually stepped in, when the Company’s governor had resigned in disgust, to hand back Manila was also the moving spirit behind these other initiatives. His name was Alexander Dalrymple.


c.1915–19 A photograph from 1915–19 of Jamrud Fort on the eastern end of the Khyber Pass. The fort was built in 1836–37 by the Sikh general Hari Singh Nalwa, a fort builder, after conquering the area from local tribesmen. Built with thick walls, the poorly protected fort was captured by the Afghans later in 1837. Jamrud later served as a British base, notably for operations in Afghanistan in 1878–79 and in the Tirah Campaign of 1897–98. It was the collecting station for the Khyber tolls and a base of the Khyber Rifles, an auxiliary unit for the army raised among local tribesmen.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837), the well-known Sikh general, proposed to build a big fort at Jamrud. The proposal was opposed; nevertheless the foundation of the fort that has survived was laid by General Hari Singh Nalwa on 6 Poh 1893 Sambat (18 December 1836) and the construction was completed in 54 days. “Jamrud…noted for its fort built with 10 feet (3 m) thick walls c.1836 by the Sikh Hari Singh Nalwa, one of Ranjit Singh’s generals, was originally named Fatehgarh to commemorate the Sikh victory over the disunited tribes.”

The establishment of unrivalled rule in the Punjab did not, however, provide for the removal of all threats: the Afghans were still in charge of the frontier and regularly took the opportunity to raid Sikh territory. In these early years of the nineteenth century, Afghanistan was riven with civil war as the multitudinous grandsons of Ahmad Shah Abdali fought each other for the throne. The kingdom descended into a period of vicious scheming in which princes were killed or blinded by their own brothers and no depravity was unexplored in the pursuit of the crown. Some of these royal pretenders sought succour from Ranjit, he being the new regional power most possessed of the capacity to assist their ambitions; one such supplicant was Shah Shujah, for a time king in Kabul before being deposed by Dost Muhammad. Ranjit agreed to ensure the safety of Shah Shujah, who then went into comfortable exile in British territory; the price of his rescue was the Koh-i-Noor. One of the great symbols of power in northern India was now in Sikh hands.

The other, however, was not: the Khyber Pass remained in Afghan territory, despite regular outbreaks of fighting between the Sikhs and their neighbours. In these first decades of the century, Peshawar changed hands several times, and the Sikh armies had some successes, but while the critical points of the frontier were out of their control, security would be elusive. It was not until late in the reign of Ranjit Singh that an attempt was made to fortify a border outside Peshawar in the hope of ending costly Afghan incursions. In 1836, the powerful Sikh general Hari Singh took charge of revitalising the frontier protections and built a fort at Jamrud, just outside Peshawar on the Khyber road. The rounded, pinkish castle that stands there today is of later British construction, but the value of a fortification at the site is clear, commanding as it does the approach to the mouth of the Khyber Pass.

Immediately upon its completion, Jamrud Fort became an alarm that set the Afghans on a path to war. The King of Kabul, Dost Muhammad, understood the fortifying of the frontier to mean that the Sikhs were planning an invasion of his territory and the capture of the Khyber Pass. Accordingly, he levied his forces – declaring a jihad against the infidel Sikhs – and advanced through the Khyber Pass in the spring of 1837, placing Jamrud Fort under siege on 23 April. Although the Sikh forces in the fort were under strength, and Hari Singh lay ill in Peshawar, stout resistance prevented the Afghan army taking the fort, even after heavy artillery bombardment; around 1,000 Sikhs held off an Afghan force of perhaps 25,000. Such an imbalance in numbers, however, made the Sikh position dangerous, as the Afghan army cut off all supplies of food and water and continued their shelling of the fort. The situation began to look hopeless. Sikh commanders inside the besieged stronghold met and decided that their only chance was to get a message to Hari Singh in Peshawar and trust in his bringing reinforcements to their aid. A volunteer was sought for the hazardous mission of taking a despatch through the siege lines, and it was a woman, Harsharan Kaur, who came forward. Accepting the risk of her death, Harsharan made her prayers, disguised herself as a dog, and set out in the middle of the night, walking on all fours, picking her way carefully through the Afghan encampments.

Against the odds, she was successful, and arrived in Peshawar several hours later: Hari Singh immediately ordered the cannon shot that would tell the besieged that rescue was on the way, and raised himself from his sickbed to set out to lift the siege. With his forces, Hari Singh advanced on Jamrud and heavy fighting took place outside the fort; eventually, the Afghan army began to lose ground and the Sikhs gained the advantage. Forced to raise the siege, the Afghans retreated the short distance into the Khyber. Once inside the Pass, the natural defensive excellence of the rocky cliffs provided refuge and respite for the retreating army, and hard fighting followed: for some time, both the Sikh and Afghan forces were static, none making headway amid such terrain. Eventually – despite the death of Hari Singh during this fighting – the Afghan forces withdrew and the Khyber Pass was finally in Sikh hands.

With their frontier now fixed upon the natural mountain border of the Subcontinent, the Sikhs had secured their kingdom and reached their apogee under Maharajah Ranjit Singh. Through long years of chaos – introduced in part by invasions through the Khyber Pass – Sikh rule had come to triumph, a native Indian state emerging from internal decay and outside invasion, just as the Mauryan Empire had done more than two thousand years before. This success was, however, long in coming but short in life: Ranjit Singh had taken the Sikhs to their most glorious days but his kingdom would not long outlast him. Just a few years after his death in 1839, Sikh rule in the Punjab was threatened by the rising new power in India: the British Raj.

Portuguese in the Indian Ocean

Under Malik Ayaz’s stewardship Diu at 1500 had risen to be one of the great ports in India. About one half of his income came from the port. This wealth and Diu’s strategic location enabled the Malik to acquire a considerable degree of independence from his overlord, the sultan of Gujarat. His initial reaction to the Portuguese seems to have been similar to that of many other independent or quasi-independent rulers of Indian port cities: he was happy for them to come and trade in his port on a basis similar to that of all the other foreign merchants there. As a Portuguese chronicler noted, he was always in these early years pressing them to send to Diu ‘two ships loaded with copper and spices so that he could trade with us’ (Fernao Lopes de Castanheda, Historia do Descobrimento e Conquista da India pelos Portugueses, 9 vols., Coimbra, 1924-33, II, lxxxv). In vain: we have noted Portugal’s designs. Malik Ayaz had to choose between resistance or submission. Co-operation in peaceful trade was not offered.

Resistance took two forms, military and diplomatic. In 1508 he helped the Egyptian fleet under Amir Husain defeat and kill the viceroy’s son, D. Louren^o d’Almeida, at Chaul. But he feared reprisals, so ‘on the one hand he wrote letters of condolence to the viceroy and on the other he fortified the city, as one who expected repayment for the help he had given Amir Husain, which repayment was not long delayed’ (Joao de Barros, Asia, 4 vols., Lisbon, 1945-6, 11, ii, 9). The viceroy at Diu in 1509 achieved a notable victory over the combined Egyptian-Gujarati fleet.

From then on Malik Ayaz concentrated on guileful defence. In 1513 he was able to out-manoeuvre Albuquerque’s attempt to establish a fort in Diu. Seven years later another Portuguese reconnaissance was defeated, as were Portuguese attempts to go above him and get his overlord, the sultan of Gujarat, to allow them a fort. At his death in 1522 he could be well satisfied, for he left a still independent and prosperous Diu to be governed by his son.

Diu’s downfall came because it was sucked into closer control by the sultanate of Gujarat. In 1526 a new ruler, Bahadur Shah, came to power. He was able to acquire much closer control over Diu, and change its governors at will. Meanwhile from 1530 he was involved in sporadic warfare with the Portuguese, who had become desperate to conquer Diu and so close it off as a haven for the ‘illegal’ spice trade. An open Portuguese attack in that year was beaten off thanks to Diu’s formidable defences. Five years later Bahadur’s situation had changed radically. He had been defeated by the Mughal emperor Humayon, and now desperately needed Portuguese help. In 1535, fatefully, he allowed them to build a fort at Diu. Two attempts by Gujarati forces in 1538 and 1546 to retake the port failed, and by the mid 1550s at least the Portuguese had finally achieved their main objective: all Gujarati ships leaving the great ports of the Gulf of Cambay had now to call at Diu, pay customs duties, and take a cartaz which obliged them to call at Diu again on the way back and again pay duties to the Portuguese. This was a very substantial accomplishment indeed. Nor was this Portuguese control threatened when Gujarat was incorporated into the Mughal empire in 1572.

Portuguese Superiority

One rather different case study can be used to complete this analysis of Indian reactions to the Portuguese. It concerns artillery, one of several areas where they did have an advantage and an impact.

Portugal’s important victories, such as the conquests of Goa and Malacca, the defeat of Amir Husain in 1509, the defences of Diu in 1538 and 1546, and their general superiority in naval warfare, need some explaining, for the Portuguese were operating with a comparative handful of men. A really big expedition would still include only about 2000 or 3000 Portuguese and mestizos. Typically these would be backed up by an at least equal number of local auxiliaries, while the ships on which they travelled would also be primarily crewed by Indians. In the whole empire, from Mozambique to Macao, there may have been a maximum of 10,000 men, Portuguese or Eurasian, available for military service at any one time. There were also complaints that the quality of soldiers sent out from Portugal declined during the century, so that at the end they were mere scum: beggars, jailbirds, and people taken forcibly off the streets of Lisbon. The brittleness of Portugal’s land defences was revealed in 1570 when a concerted attack on Portuguese areas (in part provoked by the Portuguese) from the rulers of Calicut, Bijapur, and Ahmadnagar was beaten off with great difficulty; indeed the Portuguese fort near Calicut, at Chale, was lost.

Portuguese success was based both on the fact that, except in 1570, they were never faced with united opposition from local powers, and on naval superiority. The first is obvious enough. There is no doubt that had the full weight of Deccan armies been turned on their areas in the Konkan and Kanara, in co-ordination with Mughal attacks in Gujarat, then the Portuguese could have been driven out. However most of the time Portuguese activities did not threaten the interests of these land-based states.

The reason why the Portuguese were successful in naval battles, and so could supply besieged forts like Diu from the sea, is also obvious enough. Their ships were better and, crucially, they had artillery on them. At first the Portuguese were confronted by galleys, or large merchant ships which carried soldiers but no cannon. These ships, whether oared or not, were comparatively flimsy because all they needed to be able to do was cruise before the monsoon winds in the Indian Ocean. But the Portuguese ships had to be able to sail from Europe to India, and to withstand much harsher weather.

The key was the cannon on the ships. Artillery had been developed during the fourteenth century in Europe, and was used on ships by the end of this century. In Asia generally crude cannon were occasionally used on land in the fourteenth century, and much more widely later: they played a crucial role in Babur’s victories in 1526 which established the Mughal empire. But it does seem that European cannon were better cast, and European gunners more skilful: hence the use of both when available by Indian states. The problem was that the concept of using them on ships at sea was not known when the Portuguese irrupted into the Indian Ocean, partly because Indian Ocean ships, being usually sewn not nailed, were too rickety to survive the recoil of cannon. Here lies the prime reason for their fast early successes. The Portuguese, indeed, were well aware of this advantage. From the very start they were routinely instructed not to board an enemy, but rather to stand off and, using artillery, slaughter the enemy with impunity.

The response of Indian rulers to this situation was a complex one. The advantages of cannon were early demonstrated, as an account of Cabral’s voyage in 1500 makes clear. While his fleet was in Calicut the zamorin asked him to capture a coastal ship. Cabral agreed, and the zamorin sent along a Muslim agent to watch how the Portuguese fared. Cabral sent off a caravel armed with a large bombard and sixty or seventy men. After two days they caught up with the local ship,

. . . and asked them if they wished to surrender. The Moors began to laugh because they were numerous, and their ship was very large, and they began to shoot arrows. And when the captain of the caravel saw this, he ordered the artillery fired, so that they struck the said ship, and it surrendered at once . .. The king (zamorin) marvelled greatly that so small a caravel and with so few people could take so large a ship in which were three hundred men at arms. (The Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India, London, 1937, p. 78).

This demonstration, and later Portuguese bombardments of his capital from the sea, made the zamorin stop marvelling and start catching up. In 1503 two Milanese cannon makers deserted the Portuguese and joined up with the zamorin. In three years they cast 300 cannon, and taught local people how to make and use artillery. By 1506 the zamorin had a fleet of 200 ships, protected by bales of cotton in the gunwales and carrying cannon on board.

Despite this the zamorin and other Indian rulers proved unable to challenge formal Portuguese naval dominance in the sixteenth century. Geoffrey Parker has provided the best explanation for this. Their ships were not strong enough to withstand an artillery bombardment from the Portuguese, nor to absorb the recoil of large ordinance. There was however no real reason why Portuguese-style ships could not have been built by Asian rulers. It was just that this would not have been cost-effective. It was cheaper to take cartazes and so not need to arm one’s ships. If the Portuguese failed to honour the protection they had sold, Asian rulers often could retaliate on land. As Parker neatly sums up: ‘The ultimate defence of local Asian rulers was, thus, not the gun but the permit and the prison.’

Here then is another area where, when we disentangle a specific case, we find the Portuguese having an impact and an advantage. Their naval dominance, based on artillery on ships, was comparable with other instances we have already noted where they had successes, where they ‘made a difference’, such as the rise of Cochin and the decline of Calicut; such as their central achievement of establishing a series of fortified areas around the Indian Ocean littoral; such as their contribution to the redirection of Gujarat’s massive trade in the sixteenth century.

Yet it needs to be stressed that this sort of impact was rather atypical. Thus their infantry was no better organized than that of most of their opponents. Proper regiments were not formed until the eighteenth century. Before then Portuguese soldiers simply joined up, without proper training, uniform, or even standardized weapons, with a fidalgo of their choice for the campaigning season. The companies were disbanded at the end of each season, that is when the rains started in May or June, and the soldiers left for several months to beg for their food in the streets of Goa.

In other technological areas also recent studies seem to make clear that the Portuguese enjoyed few advantages. Habib notes important technological changes in western Europe from 1450 to 1750, which cleared the way for the industrial revolution. In the most general sense, the two main areas of innovation were the development of mechanical devices, clocks, screws, and gear wheels being examples, and the more concentrated application of power and heat. The mass dissemination of many of these innovations in some parts of Europe (Italy, the Low Countries, France and later England, but not Iberia) was of crucial importance in explaining later European dominance in Asia. Indians generally failed to appreciate these new devices; this failure told heavily in the eighteenth century. But two points must be stressed. First, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries India was, on most criteria, one of the advanced countries of the world. Second, the Portuguese, at least in the sixteenth century, also knew nothing of these innovations except, ironically, for artillery. Leaving this aside, in the vital area of technology also, the European-Asian balance changed long after the end of Portuguese power.

Portuguese Man at War

This is the name given to a very dangerous species of jelly fish. The real reason behind it resides in how well equipped this creature is, and is a comparison to the way the Portuguese ships fought in India.

Vice-Roy of India, D. Afonso de Albuquerque, a military genius of the highest degree commanded a fleet of six ships manned by four hundred men, and entered Ormuz Bay, being surrounded by 250 warships and a 20.000 men army on land ready to dispatch the small Portuguese flotilla. When the King of Ormuz sent aboard an emissary to question Albuquerque, the great Commander told the messenger one phrase: Surrender yourselves!!!

This must have provoked an inner laugh from the messenger who left. When the battle begun, Albuquerque made his fleet circle like a carrousel and destroyed most of the ships. He then proceeded to conquer Ormuz with 400 men.

How could this be achieved one must ask. The technical explanation may make some sense, but will not explain the courage of taking such a risk. In fact we all know that during the U. S. Civil War, canons had to be loaded from their mouths. This was in the XIX Century. However, Albuquerque’s canons were equipped with breeches that did not require the canons to be brought backwards to be loaded. It meant that while the enemy’s canons fired a shot, the Portuguese canons could fire six with a range of 1,800 meters against 700 meters of the enemy’s canons. The next issue is that the Portuguese artillery men had discovered the propulsive effect of water. If you throw a stone at a low angle near the surface of the water, the stone will be propelled by the water’s surface and gain more speed. The second row of canons were placed very near the floating line and the stronger fire power was further enhanced by the water effect, causing the steel balls to not only hit the ship but hit the one behind the first one. Being fired at close to the floating line, the ships would start sinking very fast.

Then one must be aware that the Portuguese knew they were always outnumbered, a certainty that led them to employ all their courage and determination in the fights and battles they engaged. In many cases, just mentioning the Portuguese would distress an entire army or fleet, knowing the fierceness and bravery of the Portuguese warriors.

Running forward

One of the techniques that the Portuguese warriors employed against their enemies who held the Moorish bow was just more than unusual. They knew that the Moorish bow would be very effective within the range from 50 meters to 400 meters. So when 40 Portuguese soldiers disembarked to face a first row of 300 archers also armed with tulwars, their first act was to run like madmen towards the archers, with their rapiers and left handlers in hand. The archers would be stunned by this totally insane act, as due to the heat, very few would wear armors. This stunning delay would again act in favour of the Portuguese who would close de 50 meters range with a few more seconds of advantage.

The Portuguese knew about the 50 meters bow effectiveness and that their only hope was to run frontward to cut that distance, after which their highly seasoned maneuver of the rapier and the left handler would destroy the tulwar in no time, one after the other. One blade would stop the tulwar strike and the other would dispatch the enemy, and this was one methodically in no time.

Running front wards for cover was a tactic that brought the Portuguese warriors great fame and respect for their bravery.

A unique exchange of insults

In 1537 some Portuguese sailors committed a crime, considered a grave diplomatic offense. In front of the city of Diu, the Sultan Bahadur Shah was received on a Portuguese ship. The diplomatic conversations did not go well and the Sultan and his entourage left angrily. Some less disciplined Portuguese sailors made the Sultan’s boarding the small boat that would take him back a pretty difficult task, one of them managed to hit the Sultan’s head with an oar which caused him to drown. The shameful action caused an outcry of indignation and revenge which echoed from the Muslim kingdoms of the Gulf of Cambay to Egypt and Constantinople.

The Sultan’s widow offered all of her fortune to finance a punitive expedition against the Portuguese. The Portuguese fortress of Diu had a garrison of 600 Portuguese commanded by D. Antonio da Silveira. The Turk Suleiman Pasha and the Sultan of Cambay united their armies, and arrived at Diu with 70 Turkish galleys and a land army of 23,000 men. Having taken some Portuguese as prisoners, Suleiman Pasha sent a letter by one of the prisoners to be delivered to D. Antonio da Silveira. It must be said that Suleiman was a court eunuch that gained power after a Court Coup, having beheaded the entire Turkish royal family and therefore usurping the throne.

When Antonio da Silveira received the letter from the Turk, he turned to his companions saying: Let us see what does the castrated dog has to say, and read the letter in public.

Suleiman Pasha promised the Portuguese free leave of people and goods as long as they returned to the Coast of Malabar and handed over the fortress and their weapons. Suleiman promised to skin alive all of the Portuguese if they did not obey his conditions, referring that he had the largest army in Cambay, among which were many who participate in the taking of Belgrade, Hungary and the Island of Rhodes. Finally he asked Antonio da Silveira how would he defend the pig-sty with so few pigs!

D. Antonio da Silveira ordered paper and ink to be brought forward, and in the presence of all, dictated the reply to the Pasha:

“Most honored captain Pasha, I have carefully read your letter. If in the Island of Rhodes were the knights that are in this pig-sty you could be assured that you would have not conquered it. You are to learn that here are Portuguese, used to killing many Moors and are commanded by Antonio da Silveira that has a pair of balls stronger than the balls of your canons and that all the Portuguese here have balls and do not fear those who don’t have them”.

A bigger insult could not be imagined. The Pasha was furious and ordered that the remaining prisoners were killed, and a fight of giants begun. During more then a month Antonio da Silveira fought bravely, remaining only less than 40 Portuguese capable of fighting, but causing so many casualties to the Turks that these gave up the siege and retired from Diu.(in Gaspar Correia: “Chronicle of the Feats in India”, vol. IV, pages 34-36)

The bullet that was a tooth

It is sometimes in chronicles written by foreigners that for some centuries have studied Portuguese History, that some interesting details are found.

A Dutch priest, Philippus Baldaeus, who accompanied the Dutch fleets that fought the Portuguese in the Indic Ocean, tells a most interesting story: During the first Siege of Diu, a Portuguese soldier who was manning one of the bastions of the fortress that was being attacked by the Turks, found himself as the only survivor, having used all bullets but still having some gun powder for one more shot, and finding nothing else to charge his firearm with, decided to extract one of his own tooth and armed the weapon with it, firing against the enemy that was considering he was out of ammunitions.

It is just a little detail in a great battle that is readily forgotten. The Dutchman however, relates this fact with great respect for a brave warrior, which does honor to the Portuguese soldier.

Phillipus Baldaeus: “A Description of ye East India Coasts of Malabar and Coromandel” chapter X, page 533 of the English translation. Chronicles of the time

1415 To organize the expedition to Ceuta ships were rented while others were built in Portugal to carry the expeditionary forces that were formed by the King’s vassals and by men supplied by the nobles. The enthusiasm was so great and so great was the impatience to serve, that a nobleman aged 90 years old presented himself with his troops.

1512 Fernao Lopes de Andrade, with a fleet of 17 sails manned by 350 Portuguese and some Malays attacks the fleet of Pate-Onuz that was coming from Malacca, composed of 90 sails and a garrison of 12,000 men. After a brave fight that took many hours, victory descended at the hands of the Portuguese, at whose hands many ships fell, while others were burnt or sunk. This battle, which filled with terror the various kingdoms of the region, was one of the most outstanding victory the Portuguese achieved in India.

1516 The King of Fez, having placed siege on the Portuguese fortress of Arzilla with 100,000 men is forced to abandon the siege. Note: Nothing else is referred in this short chronicle.

1518 Conquered by the great Afonso de Albuquerque, the famous city of Malacca grew in trade, and the oppulence of its citizens and the grandiosity of its buildings excited the neighbouring princes and the wish for its dominance. Many tried to after the Portuguese Arm showed it was not invincible. Of all, Mahamet, now king of Bintan learnt from spies that the fortress had only a garrison of 200 men, many of whom were sick. Grabbing the opportunity of such a situation and its timing, Mahamet came with 1,500 chosen infantry men and many well armed elephants, and by sea a fleet of 60 ships full of men and of instruments of expugnation.

Here a Nature’s wonder happened. Once the alarm was sounded and word passed around that the enemy was at sight, it happened that the sick soldiers, excited by the military preparations, tried to get up and suddenly the fevers that opressed and tied them to their sickbeds left them and they ran to the walls, mixing with the healthy ones, and with noble pride and unique bravery faced the furious assault. Many have witnessed a bullet remove the head of a Portuguese and his body remaining still for a space of time. Mahamet kept fighting for 20 days, yet all the assaults on the fortress were bravely repelled, until, all hope lost and having suffered 330 casualties, the assault was ended and the King returned home. This glorious event costed the lives of 18 Portuguese. Note: The number of casualties is pointed out with such an exactitude that it may be questionable.

1529 Lopo Vaz de Sampaio, with a fleet of 6 galleons and 13 light ships defeats the Samorim’s fleet of 130 sails. Note: Nothing else is referred in this short chronicle.

1538 The pirate known as Pate-Marcar that infested the Indian seas with 50 ships and 8,000 men disembarked at Beadalla. There, Martim Affonso de Sousa with 400 Portuguese attacks and defeats the pirate. Of the enemy’s fleet that was anchoured, 25 sails were set on fire while the remaining where taken as well as 400 canons and 1,500 guns.

1546 In the second siege of Diu, the place became so narrow that the captain-major of the fortress proposed to his council that they got out of the fortress, and at the enemy’s ground would give them battle and die over the bodies of the turks. The enemy did not ignore the state of the fortress, deciding on a final assault, hoping for a most certain victory. Exploding a mine that they have placed below the tower of St. Thomas which was destroyed, the Turks attacked from all sides with such might that the Portuguese resisted in a very costly way. The battle was burning everywhere, often with the enemy riding on the fortress walls, fighting at close quarters. Many fell, but more took their place, and it was such the fire that the Turks threw that the Portuguese had to fight among the flames.

The captain-major ordered that some basins of water were brought so that the soldiers could refresh their bodies from the heath of the fire that surrounded them. At the occasion of this providence an unusual case took place that is worthy of note. Antonio Moniz Barreto commanded the defense of a tower, and was lowering towards a basin to refresh himself, was pulled by an arm by a soldier who shouted: how come? Do you want to loose His Majesty’s tower? Barreto replied: I am burning, I must refresh myself. The soldier shouted again if the arms are good, the rest is nothing! Antonio Moniz Barreto heard the admonishment of that courageous soldier that later gave him all sort of favours and named him the fire soldier.

1538 The illustrious Nuno da Cunha, Governor of India, to rescue the fortress of Diu that the Turks have dangerously surrounded, resorted to a most unique artifice. Having sent some ships to give battle, in each of them had four torches placed before arriving by night. The small fleet started firing their artillery, among war cries and shouts which caused great effect among the turks who though the lights corresponded to a much bigger fleet, seeming like the whole of Portuguese India was after them, immediately raised the siege, not wanting to taste their fortune against the Portuguese.

1550 Death of the celebrated D. Pedro de Menezes, captain of Tangere. Having commanded eighty horsemen against three thousand moors, he was killed; however his death was avenged with the retreat of the enemy.

1551 The Prince of Chembe with an army of 30,000 men is defeated by 4,000 Portuguese commanded by the Vice-Roy D. Affonso de Noronha.

1559 A Portuguese fleet of six sails manned by 200 soldiers defeats another from the Samorim, composed of thirteen sails and a garrison of 2,000 fighting men.

1559 The kings of Malabar, joined against the Portuguese, attack the fortress of Cananor with a mighty army. The besieged, with the aid of 400 Portuguese that arrived in a small fleet, defeat the enemy who lost 15,000 men. The battle lasted from 3 hours in the morning until 4 hours in the afternoon.

These accounts were published in “O Panorama” 1840 edition, vol. I and IV.

Nuclear Submarine Project – Arihant

INS Arihant is India’s first nuclear-powered submarine. The ship submersible ballistic, nuclear (SSBN) submarine was launched at the Indian Navy’s dockyard in Visakhapatnam, which is the headquarters of India’s Eastern Naval Command.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has inaugurated the vessel into the Indian Navy, asserted that the indigenously built submarine would be used for self defence. The name Arihant derives from two words – Ari meaning enemy and Hanth meaning destroy.

Arihant, India’s first indigenously built nuclear submarine, cost $2.9bn. It was jointly developed by the Indian Navy, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at the naval dockyard in Visakhapatnam. Russian designers assisted in building the vessel.

Other companies involved in the development of the submarine are Tata Power, a division of Tata Group and Larsen & Toubro (L&T), a technology, engineering, construction and manufacturing company.

The project, earlier known as the advanced technology vessel (ATV), has been under development since 1998. Construction of five more nuclear-powered submarines is also being planned. According to a report in the Indian Express, the hulls of the second and third submarines have already been constructed.

Arihant will be commissioned into the Indian Navy after extensive sea trials for at least two years. Initially harbour acceptance trials (HATs) would be conducted followed by sea acceptance trials (SATs).

Arihant has been developed as part of the military modernisation programme undertaken by India. The Indian Navy has a fleet of 16 diesel-electric submarines leased from Russia and Germany. However, the disadvantage with diesel electric submarines is that they cannot stay under water for an extended period.

“INS Arihant is India’s first nuclear-powered submarine.”

Conventional diesel-electric submarines have to ascend to the surface each day to eject carbon dioxide produced by the generator. Nuclear-powered submarines, on the other hand, can stay under water for long durations without being detected. Arihant is expected to enhance the Indian Navy’s capability of delivering nuclear weapons from all terrains.

Arihant’s design is based on the Russian Akula-1 Class submarine. It weighs 6,000t. At a length of 110m and breadth of 11m, Arihant is the longest in the Indian Navy’s fleet of submarines and can accommodate a crew of 95. It can reach a speed of 12kt-15kt on surface and up to 24kt when submerged.

Arihant will be able to stay under water for long periods undetected due to the nuclear-powered 80MW pressurised water reactor (PWR). The PWR was developed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre with assistance from a Russian design team.

The submarine’s exterior is uneven and the hull is placed on a mat covered with tiles. The tiles help in absorbing sound waves and provide stealth capability to the submarine. Compared to conventional submarines, the conning tower of Arihant is situated near the bow instead of the centre.

The central part of the submarine’s body consists of the outer hull and an inner pressurised hull. The starboard side consists of two rectangular vents that draw in water when the submarine submerges into sea.

The Indian Navy and the DRDO together designed the submarine. Once the design was finalised detailed engineering was implemented at L&T’s submarine design centre using 3D modelling and product data management software.

Tata Power designed the control systems for the submarine. Walchandnagar Industries, a company specialising in execution of heavy engineering projects, designed parts of the steam turbine.

Tests and delivery

The trials are being conducted at a concealed test area called ‘Site Bravo’. During harbour acceptance trials, the nuclear power plant and auxiliary systems of the submarine will be tested for stability.

“Arihant has been developed as part of the military modernisation programme undertaken by India.”

The most crucial part of the trials will be the firing of the reactor. Once the reactor is fired all systems on board are tested on the inherent power of the submarine.

Arihant will be taken for a series of high-speed runs during the sea acceptance trials and its various components will be tested at different depths, temperatures and pressure.

The final phase of the trials will include weapon trials. During these trials actual firing of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) will take place from the platform.

The crew of Arihant will be trained on the 12,000t Akula-II submarine. The submarine will be taken on lease from Russia in 2010 for ten years. Apart from the Akula-II submarine, six Scorpene attack submarines will also be acquired by the Indian Navy between 2012 and 2017.

Arihant armament

Arihant will be capable of carrying all types of missiles and will have underwater ballistic missile launch capability. It will carry 12 K-15 SLBMs that can be launched even under ice caps.

Tested in 2008, the K-15 missiles are 10.4m long and have a diameter of 1m. The 6.3t missiles can carry a 5t nuclear warhead targeted 750km away. The K-15 missiles, however, will be replaced later by the 3,500km range K-X missiles.

Apart from the K-15s, the submarine will carry a range of anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles and torpedoes.

Submarine propulsion

A significant progress in the development of Arihant took place when the land-based pressurised water reactor became operational in 2004 at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research in Kalpakkam, Chennai. Following this, miniaturisation of the land-based PWR had to be carried out to enable it to fit into a confined space in the submarine. The reactor consists of 13 fuel assemblies each having 348 fuel pins.

Several companies supplied components of the reactor. High grade steel supplied by Heavy Engineering Corporation, Ranchi was used to build the reactor vessel. The steam generator was provided by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL); and Audco India, Chennai built the pressure valves.

The PWR consists of a huge pressure hull, a tank containing water and a reactor. It also consists of a pressure vessel built from unique steel, a control room as well as an auxiliary control room.

The propulsion plant housing the reactor is 42m long and 8m in diameter. The complete propulsion plant along with the primary, secondary, electrical and propulsion systems occupy half of the submarine. To reduce the weight of the plant, light water and enriched uranium was used as opposed to non-enriched uranium used in land-based reactors.

Control and communication systems

Arihant is fitted with a combination of two sonar systems – Ushus and Panchendriya. Ushus is state-of-the-art sonar meant for Kilo Class submarines. Panchendriya is a unified submarine sonar and tactical control system, which includes all types of sonar (passive, surveillance, ranging, intercept and active). It also features an underwater communications system.

A new submarine promises to give the world’s most populous democratic nation a powerful second-strike nuclear capability. The INS Arihant, India’s first nuclear ballistic-missile submarine, will finally give the country nuclear weapons that could survive a surprise first strike and go on to deal a crushing retaliatory blow to the enemy. The new sub will complete India’s triad of air, land and sea nuclear forces.

India tested its first weapon, an eight-kiloton device nicknamed Smiling Buddha, in 1974. Although small in yield, the device was a remarkable technological achievement that thrust the young country into the exclusive, so-called “nuclear club” that had until then consisted of the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and China.

India is believed to have 520 kilograms of plutonium—enough for, according to the Arms Control Association, “100 to 130 warheads.” New Delhi describes this a “credible minimum deterrent” against neighboring nuclear powers China and Pakistan. India has a firm No First Use policy with regard to nuclear weapons, vowing to never be the first to use them in any conflict and only use them to retaliate in kind.

Nuclear-armed submarines are an ideal basing solution for a country such as India. While less accurate than land-based missiles and less flexible than air-launched weapons, ballistic-missile submarines are the most difficult to destroy in a first strike. Hiding in the vastness of the oceans, a nuclear-armed submarine is nearly invulnerable. And, in the logic of nuclear deterrence strategy, an invulnerable nuclear arsenal makes for an invulnerable country.

The Arihant program goes back more than three decades, to the vaguely named Advanced Technology Vessel. Begun in 1974, ATV was broadly conceived as a project to research nuclear propulsion and, down the road, field a indigenously developed and constructed nuclear-powered submarine. The program was a collaboration between the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, the Indian Navy and the Indian government’s Defence Research Development Centre.

By 1995, ship-sized reactor trials were underway at the Bhabha Centre in Mumbai. According to Combat Ships of the World, the reactor had been under development since 1985, weighed 600 tons and was “entirely unsuccessful.” By 1989, Russian nuclear scientists and engineers joined the project, and yet the program still failed to yield a viable reactor. In 1998, the Indian government threw in the towel and purchased a reactor design outright from Russia, and by 2004, a working eighty-megawatt prototype reactor had been built, tested and achieved criticality.

Hull began construction in 1998 at Visakhapatnam, but could not be completed due to the lack of a working reactor. The hull itself is variously reported as based on the Russian Akula/Project 971–class nuclear attack submarine or the ex-Soviet Charlie II class. Combat Fleets of the World claims it is based on the Akula, and lengthened an additional thirty feet to accommodate a missile compartment. Other sources claim it is based on the Charlie II class, one of which was leased to India from 1988 to 1991 and served as INS Chakra. At either rate, the submarine is estimated to be 330 to 360 feet long, with submerged displacement of 6,500 tons. It is the smallest ballistic-missile submarine in the world, with the possible exception of the North Korean Gorae class.

Thanks to nuclear propulsion, Arihant can do twelve to fifteen knots on the surface and twenty-four knots underwater. Maximum diving depth is unknown, and probably a closely held secret, but the Akula class is known to dive to six hundred meters. The submarine is manned by a crew of ninety-five to one hundred.

Arihant was officially launched in 2009. The onboard reactor reached criticality in 2013, and the ship began sea trials in late 2014. It was officially commissioned into service in August 2016. According to Naval Technology, the total price tag was $2.9 billion.

Arihant’s name literally translates to “Slayer of Enemies,” and the ship’s armament makes it the greatest concentration of firepower in Indian history. The submarine was built with four missile tubes mounted in a hump behind the conning tower. The four can carry twelve K-15 Sagarika (“Oceanic”) short-range ballistic missiles. K-15 has a maximum range of just 434 miles, making it capable of hitting just the southern half of Pakistan.

Alternately, the sub can carry four K-4 medium-range ballistic missiles with a 2,174-mile range, capable of hitting targets as far away as Beijing. Both the K-4 and the K-15 are nuclear capable, but the warhead yield is unknown. India has yet to master multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology, so whatever the yield of the warhead, K-4 and K-15 carry just one of them.

In order to be credible, a seagoing nuclear deterrent must have at least one submarine on patrol at all times. The second ship in class, Aridhaman, is under construction in Visakhapatnam, and India plans to have as many as four boomers by 2020—the same number as the United Kingdom and France. With the four nuclear-armed boats completed, India may finally achieve its goal of strategic invulnerability.

Covert Shores

The “Rani”1858 – A New Rebellion

Governor-General of British territories in India Charles Canning’s next decision meant that, instead of a series of mopping-up operations, conducted in the next campaigning season when Campbell had originally intended to take Lucknow, the British were suddenly faced by a whole new rebellion, requiring them once more to fight on through the hot weather and the monsoon. As a collective punishment for the support that so many taluqdars of Awadh had given to the cause of their deposed king, Canning issued a proclamation that all except for six named individuals would have their land-holdings resumed. Other than a promise of life and liberty to those who were not personally implicated in murder, the only concession offered was that dispossessed taluqdars should depend on the justice and mercy of the British government. In view of its previous dealings with Awadh, he might as well have said they should depend on the mildness of the summer sun or the gentleness of the monsoon rain. The result, as Outram and John Lawrence warned him would be the case, was to drive those who had previously been in arms to a more determined resistance. Those who had been neutral, or had helped British fugitives, took up arms themselves rather than suffer the loss of their place in the world. The insurgents who had been driven from Lucknow, instead of quietly dispersing to their homes, remained in the field with renewed hope.

Canning had prepared this proclamation long in advance and only waited for the recovery of Lucknow before issuing it, on the grounds that such leniency as it contained would otherwise be regarded as evidence of British weakness. He sent it to London for approval, unaware that Palmerston’s administration had fallen on 12 February 1858 and the Conservatives had returned to office after a generation in opposition. The new President of the Board of Control, Lord Ellenborough, a former Governor-General of India, wrote to Canning on 24 March saying that, once Lucknow was taken, Awadh should be treated with the conventions appropriate to a country conquered after defending itself to the last in a desperate war, rather than those applicable to the suppression of mutiny and rebellion. He was appalled when he received on 12 April the terms of the Awadh declaration, sent long before Canning knew of the change of ministry. It was especially unexpected given that Canning had previously insisted that no one be punished without due process, if only to avoid alienating the many respectable Indians who supported the maintenance of British rule (a policy pilloried in The Times and Punch as `The Clemency of Canning’). In a minute denouncing Dalhousie’s annexation of Awadh as based on fraud and deception, Ellenborough said that hostilities there `had rather the character of legitimate war than of rebellion’. Canning was told that the ministers wished to see British rule in India rest upon the willing obedience of a contented people. `There cannot be contentment where there is general confiscation.’

Due to an error on parliamentary procedure, the draft of this despatch was circulated among MPs for several weeks before it reached the Secret Committee of the Court of Directors. The subsequent scandal threatened to bring down the minority `Derby-Dizzy’ government. To save his colleagues Ellenborough resigned, though the Prime Minister, the Earl of Derby, supported his judgement by telegraphing to Canning that a clear distinction had to be made between the taluqdari militias and sepoys previously in the British service. Canning considered resigning, especially as the news of these proceedings soon reached India and thus prolonged the resistance in Awadh. After a few days, however, he decided, as senior officers in wellpaid appointments generally do, that it would be in the public interest for him to remain in post. The Times suggested that the ministers had tried to provoke his resignation so that they could lay their hands on a valuable piece of patronage.

While Campbell marched to Lucknow, the second front was opened according to plan. Major General Sir Hugh Rose, then aged fifty-six and more practised as a military diplomat than a field commander, had arrived in India for the first time on 19 September, to command of the Bombay Army’s Poona Division. He was resented by those who saw him as an inexperienced interloper, and at first the inevitable consequences of the friction of war on any plan was taken as evidence of his mismanagement. On 17 December he took over the newly formed Central India Field Force, consisting of the 14th Light Dragoons (who had returned to Bombay from the Persian Gulf in May 1857), the 86th Foot, the 3rd Bombay Europeans, the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry and 25th Bombay NI, elements of the Hyderabad Contingent, a siege train and four horse or field batteries, with sappers and miners from Madras and Bombay, totalling some 6,000 combatants organized in two brigades.

Rose, with the 2nd Brigade, left his base at Mhow, 10 miles south-west of Indore, on 6 January 1858. His first task was to relieve Sagar (Saugor), 200 miles away to the northeast, a mud fort held by seventy European gunners and the 31st Bengal NI since the mutiny of two other sepoy regiments in the original garrison eight months earlier, and containing 150 European women and children. On the way, he demolished the insurgent stronghold at Rahatgarh, despite a surprise attack by Mardan Singh, Raja of Banpur. This prince had previously supported the British, hoping that they would return his ancestral district of Chanderi, seized from the previous raja by Sindhia and then administered by the British to fund the Gwalior Contingent. When they did not, Mardan Singh decided to recover it irrespective of their approval and did so with the aid of the local nobles. After the fall of Rahatgarh he retreated to Barodia, but was again defeated by Rose’s column and was himself wounded. Sagar was relieved on 3 February and Rose was later joined there by a Madras brigade from Jabalpur, 80 miles to the southeast. While he waited, he collected supplies, bullocks and baggage-elephants, and augmented his siege train with heavy guns from the Sagar arsenal.

On 27 February he advanced northwards. Mardan Singh, with his ally the Raja of Shahgarh, tried to hold the hill passes between Sagar and Bundelkhand, but was outmanoeuvred at the cost of some British casualties, including Rose’s horse shot under him. Mardan Singh fell back, adopting a scorched-earth policy, and the British reached his capital only to find it deserted. Meanwhile the 1st Brigade (previously the Malwa Field Force), advancing on a separate axis, recaptured Chanderi for Sindhia. After marching 120 miles in twenty days, Rose’s main force had almost reached Jhansi when, on 20 March, urgent messages arrived from both Canning and Campbell. After his defeat at Kanpur on 6 December, Tatya Tope had rallied with the Gwalior Contingent at Kalpi and now suddenly struck southwards against Charkhari, a small Bundela state whose raja supported the British. The raja, holding out in Charkhari fort, 80 miles east of Jhansi, appealed for help and Rose was ordered to his relief.

Rose, supported by Sir Robert Hamilton, the Governor-General’s Agent in Central India, who accompanied his march, decided to maintain his aim. He reasoned that to leave a strong fortress and garrison in his rear would boost insurgent morale by giving the impression he feared to attack it. If the British laid siege to Jhansi, Tatya Tope would leave Charkhari and come to its assistance, whereas even if they headed for Charkhari, it might fall before they arrived. Accordingly, operations against Jhansi began on 21 March, the same day that Campbell completed his capture of Lucknow. The first siege batteries opened fire on 25 March and the remainder the next day, when the 1st Brigade joined Rose’s camp. The fort, built on a granite outcrop within a walled city 4½ miles in circumference, was one of the strongest in Central India, and had a garrison of about 12,000 troops, with over thirty guns. Many were regular soldiers from Jhansi’s former army, disbanded at the time of the British annexation. All trees and buildings around the city had been levelled to deny the besiegers their raw materials and to give clear fields of fire.

The Rani, since the massacre of the previous June, had been in correspondence with the British authorities, denying any responsibility for what had occurred and claiming that such support as she had given the sepoy mutineers was in response to force majeure. This was, however, much the same story as that told by the King of Delhi and Nana Sahib. Lurid tales of sexual assault had no more foundation here than elsewhere. The widely believed story (the subject of a touching poem by Christina Georgina Rosetti) that, after a spirited defence, Captain Skene, the British political agent, finding further resistance useless, shot first his wife and then himself, was quite false. Nevertheless, sixty people had been very cruelly killed and the British were not prepared to take the Rani’s words at face value. She was instructed to assume the government of Jhansi state pending the restoration of British rule, when they would investigate what had occurred. In the meanwhile, she had to face incursions from her neighbours, the rajas of Datia and Orchha, who had their own claims on Jhansi territory. In a spirited response, she made alliances with the rajas of Banpur and Shahgarh, reassembled her late husband’s army and called on the local land-holders to join her with their militias. They had driven out the invaders and now, with the apparent return of the good old days, stood ready to treat the Central India Field Force in the same way. As the British showed no sign of allowing the Rani to retain possession of Jhansi, she decided to defy them in arms rather than tamely submitting to their return.

As Rose expected, Tatya Tope left Charkhari and marched to relieve Jhansi. He arrived late on 31 March with some 20,000 men, including Mardan Singh’s troops, and over twenty guns. After crossing the River Betwa, they lit a huge beacon to signal their presence to the defenders, who acknowledged it with shouts and gunfire. During the night, leaving his siege works held by a third of his force and a contingent of Orchha troops, Rose redeployed the remainder, about 1,900 strong, to meet the anticipated attack. The next morning the insurgents’ first line advanced and began a firefight. Rose, meeting them with his 2nd Brigade, pinned them with his field artillery and ordered his infantry to lie down while his cavalry and horse artillery attacked on both flanks. Rose himself led a charge by a troop of the 14th Light Dragoons. The insurgent firing line crumpled and fell back to its reserve, 2 miles in the rear, where Tatya Tope had his command post. With the British closely following, the retreat become a rout before the second line was reached. Tatya Tope’s artillery opened fire, but was countered by the advancing British guns. The 1st Brigade, marching towards the sound of gunfire, drove a force of about 3,000 insurgents from a village with a bayonet charge, but in the heat of the day the men were too exhausted to pursue them and they withdrew in good order. Elsewhere, the British cavalry pressed Tatya Tope’s retreating men hard, and captured their guns before they escaped back across the river, covered by smoke and flames from forest fires burning behind them. British casualties totalled less than 100, against an estimated 1,500 among their opponents.

Rose resumed the siege, where a masking bombardment had prevented the defenders from sallying out to support their intended rescuers. The engineers had already reported a practicable breach and efforts to close it with wooden palisades had been defeated by red-hot shot. Women as well as men, inspired by the Rani’s proclamation that, even if defeated, they would earn eternal glory, laboured on the walls and the Rani herself was observed encouraging them. Accurate shooting by the British siege gunners had dismounted most of her guns, but nevertheless, when Rose launched a moonlight assault at 3.00 a. m. on 3 April there were still enough left, with other improvised explosive devices, rockets and missiles of various kinds, to bring it to a momentary halt. The engineers led the way to the city wall and while one column entered the breach, two others scaled the ramparts. The first two officers were killed as they led the way over the walls, but their men followed and fought their way through fiercely defended streets and houses to reach the palace, designated by Rose as the point where all three columns were to meet. A group of fifty Afghans of the Rani’s bodyguard held the palace stable yard until flames drove them out.

Fighting in the city continued into the following day. The 86th and the Bombay Europeans, fighting to avenge their massacred compatriots, gave no quarter to any male of military age, and their comrades of the Bombay Native Infantry followed their example. The estimated number of those killed varied from three to five thousand, with many others subsequently executed. British casualties amounted to about 40 killed and 200 wounded, including 2 killed and one wounded out of the 7 Engineer officers, always among those most at risk in siege warfare. The 86th lost men to suicide bombers who blew up buildings inside the palace as the British entered.

During the day the Rani was persuaded by her advisers that the battle was lost and that she could do more for her cause by escaping to carry on the fight elsewhere. Wearing a breastplate, sword and pistols, she rode in the midst of her Afghan cavalry with the infant maharaja on her saddlebow, and escaped with members of her household and a baggage elephant through the sector held by the Orchha troops. Rose seems deliberately to have left an opening there, with a view to allowing the Rani to leave rather than hold out in the citadel, which could only be stormed with heavy losses. They encountered an outlying picquet, but rode on for 21 miles towards Kalpi before halting. The Rani’s father and her finance minister became separated from the main party and sought refuge with the Raja of Datia, who sent them back to his British friends at Jhansi, where they were later hanged.

Rose had given strict orders against looting, but much destruction of valuable cultural property went on nevertheless. Everyone knew the story of how Mahmud the Iconoclast, the first great Muslim invader of India, had refused to accept an offer of ransom for the holy Shivalingam of Somnath, saying he would not stand forth on Judgement Day as one who took money to spare an idol, but then found it full of precious stones when he destroyed it. In the temples of Jhansi, images of Hindu deities were broken up, and the gold and jewels adorning them carried off by the victorious troops. Despite Rose’s orders to spare women and children, many were killed by collateral damage and others by their own husbands and fathers, as some of the British at Lucknow had planned to do, for fear of the usual consequences when a city was stormed. There were, however, other cases in which British soldiers, finding widows and orphans without food, gave them their own rations. The Rani’s scorched-earth policy had had little effect on the British, who received supplies from Sindhia and Orchha, but the ordinary people of Jhansi starved and Rose subsequently fed them with government grain seized as lawful contraband.

The next morning, 4 April, when the Rani’s escape was discovered, a squadron of light dragoons and Bombay light cavalry was sent in pursuit. They found the Rani at breakfast and one officer almost reached her before a bullet wounded him. Forty of her Afghan troopers sacrificed themselves to protect her flight and the British, with their own horses failing, could not overtake the rested mounts on which the rest of her party escaped. Late on 5 April, escorted by a party of Tatya Tope’s cavalry, she reached the headquarters of the Peshwa’s army in Bundelkhand, commanded by Nana Sahib’s nephew Panduranga Sadashiv, Rao Sahib, at Kalpi, 85 miles north-east of Jhansi.

China-India – Conflict Background

The Chinese, unable to understand the genuine resentment and anger the Tibetans felt about the occupation, were convinced that India supported the resistance. Sino-Indian relations deteriorated even further when the Dalai Lama fled to India after the failed uprising in Lhasa in March 1959. At a CCP Politburo meeting on 17 March, Zhou stressed upon what he saw as a connection between the uprising and the Indian government, and he went on to speculate that both Britain and the United States had provided support for the rebels in collusion with India, and that, ‘a commanding centre of the rebellion has been established in Kalimpong’.

There was no more Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai and it was at this time that Deng Xiaoping argued that India had to be taught a lesson The incursions into Longju in August 1959 and Kongka La in October were most likely meant to probe India’s defences. The American academic Donald S. Zagoria in his comprehensive study of the Sino-Soviet conflict has another explanation for the Chinese attacks in 1959; it once again shows that China’s conflict with India was never mainly about border demarcation or whether or not old treaties should be honoured. He refers to what was said by a Polish delegation that visited Beijing in October 1959 for the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China,

The Poles … supposed that Chinese Communist resentment at being left out of high-level negotiations was one of the motivations behind Peking’s (Beijing’s) decision to stir up trouble with India over the boundary question. The October incident in Kashmir, where several Indian soldiers were ambushed and killed, was said to be intended as a reminder to India, the Soviet Union, and the West that there were important areas of the world where settlements could be reached only by direct negotiations with Peking.

It was also becoming increasingly clear that Mao’s—and China’s—worldview was fundamentally different from Nehru’s ideals of non-alignment and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. The Western concept of the Three-World Model, as formulated during the Cold War, meant that the US and its allies belonged to the First World, the Soviet Union and its satellites to the Second, and neutral and non-aligned countries to the Third World. Mao’s Three Worlds Theory was different. To him, the US and the Soviet Union belonged to the First World; Japan, Europe and Canada formed the Second World; and Asia, Africa, and Latin America were the Third.

Naturally, China aspired to become the leader of the Third World and dethrone India from the position it held throughout the 1950s as the main voice of the newly independent Asian and African nations. Wang Hongwei, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, spelled it out in one of his studies, ‘India after annexing more than 560 principalities, sent forces into Kashmir and embarked on expansionism … Since then the bourgeois elite of India stepped on the stage of contemporary Asian history and strived for power and hegemony, and acted as if they were leaders.’ And in order to change that, China had to show that it was militarily superior to India. That was achieved in 1962. India never recovered from the defeat—Nehru himself died a broken man in 1964, and China under Mao became the beacon for most of the Third World revolutionaries. As Mao had said, ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’.

The 1962 War also forced India to abandon its non-aligned status, first by seeking support from the US and later by allying itself with China’s new enemy, the Soviet Union. Non-interference became history when Indian troops intervened in East Pakistan in 1971 and helped the resistance fighters there break away to form Bangladesh. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent ideals had definitely given way to a militarized India, which expanded its armed forces and even exploded its own nuclear device in May 1974. China had won. India was no longer an example to follow for the Third World. China was.

Even a cursory look at the history of China’s wars since 1949 shows that border disputes were never a main guiding principle in Beijing’s foreign policy. Apart from the invasion of Tibet and bombardments of the nationalist-held islands of Quemoy and Matsu in the Taiwan Strait in the 1950s (which were meant to consolidate the new communist government over what it considered its rightful territory) China’s wars have always been ideologically motivated, meant to show its superior strength vis-à-vis adversaries and to demonstrate socialist solidarity with its ‘comrades-in-arms’. Respect for international boundaries has never been an issue.

In Korea in the early 1950s, hundreds of thousands of Chinese ‘volunteers’ streamed down the peninsula to support the communist regime in the North and its war against the US-allied South. The Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, and a still-divided nation, a Chinese ally, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the North, and the pro-West Republic of Korea in the South. Chinese losses in that war were immense, as it resorted to ‘human-waves tactics’, i.e., sending wave after wave of inexperienced recruits to face the bullets and the artillery of the south. An estimated 152,000 Chinese died and 383,000 were wounded in that war, but China had for the first time showed that it was a military force to be reckoned with and that it would not hesitate to suffer heavy casualties if a political point could be made.

After the Mekong River Operation across the border into Myanmar in 1960–61, China embarked on a strategically even more adventurous campaign in the same region. In January 1968, thousands of Chinese crossed the border again into Myanmar—this time as ‘volunteers’ to fight alongside the insurgent Communist Party of Burma (CPB), which resorted to armed struggle against the Myanmar government shortly after independence in 1948. Since the early 1950s, more than 140 Myanmar Communists had been living in exile in China, but it was not until an unpredictable general, Ne Win, seized power in the capital Yangon in March 1962 that they began to receive substantial Chinese support for their cause. It is generally assumed by most Westerns scholars that the anti-Chinese riots in Yangon in June 1967 became the catalyst for China’s decision to aid the CPB. But, like the border dispute with India, that was only a pretext for China to move into action.

CPB cadres had already begun surveying the border areas for possible infiltration routes in 1963. At the same time, they were introduced to a group of ethnic Kachin rebels who had also retreated into China in the early 1950s. As most of the Myanmar communists were urban intellectuals, that group of warlike Kachin tribesmen were to become the nucleus of the CPB army. But, until the early 1970s, Chinese ‘volunteers’ made up the bulk of the CPB’s fighting force. Most of them were youthful Red Guards from China, who had received their political schooling during the Cultural Revolution. But among them were also more experienced PLA officers and political commissars.

Chinese support for the CPB continued until Deng Xiaoping, a political hardliner but an economic reformer, changed Beijing’s foreign policy in the 1980s from support of revolutionary movements to bilateral trade with China’s neighbours and other commercial activities. But the Chinese never completely abandoned the CPB. It was still a useful tool, which the Chinese could use to exert its influence inside Myanmar.

In March 1969, a border war broke out between China and the Soviet Union, ostensibly over the ownership of some sandbanks in the River Ussuri. But, as was the case with India in 1962, political motives were more important than the exact alignment of the border. Beijing wanted to show the Third World that revolutionary China was strong enough to stand up even against the ‘Soviet revisionist renegade clique’, as the Chinese called the Soviet leaders after Beijing had broken ties with Moscow in 1960. China, not the Soviet Union, was the true leader of all the oppressed peoples of the world.

Chinese support for North Vietnam and the communist guerrillas in the South was substantial until that war ended in May 1975. But centuries of mutual distrust between the Chinese and the Vietnamese let to strained relations, with Hanoi allying itself with the Soviet Union. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia, China’s main ally in the region, in December 1978–Janaury 1979, it was time for Beijing to teach another neighbour ‘a lesson’. In February 1979, Chinese troops—and they came from the same regiments as those that had taken part in the 1961 campaign against the KMT in Myanmar—crossed the border into northern Vietnam. But this time, the PLA was not as successful as it had been against India in 1962. The Vietnamese fought back, inflicting heavy casualties on the Chinese. No one really won that war—and it turned out to be the last of its kind that the PLA fought. Since then, efforts have been made to turn the PLA into a more modern and professional force, not the ‘people’s army’ of the past.

But back in 1962, the PLA was still an ideologically motivated entity guided by the political commissars from the CCP, and it is clear that India, and Nehru in particular, did not realize that. Nehru’s faith in Zhou was also misguided. George Patterson, a British Tibet expert who was fluent in several local dialects, writes in his Peking Versus Delhi, which was published in 1963,

There is another side to Chou [Zhou] which is not so well-known as the charming, brilliant, even ‘moderate’, exterior which he uses to win friends and influence people. In 1931, Kao Chen-chang [Gu Shunzhang], a member of the Communist Central Committee and Chief of the Communist secret police, broke with the Communists and informed to the police in Hankow [Hankou], a group of men led by Chou himself murdered the whole family, including servants and babies, by strangulation.

Gu himself was not among those killed, and the decision to punish the family was made as he had managed to escape from the clutches of the Party. When Gu had outlived his usefulness to the KMT authorities, he was executed by the police in 1935. Zhou, meanwhile, carried out many similar purges and killings of real or imagined traitors to the Communist cause. Zhou was as much a hardliner as the dreaded security chief Kang Sheng, who became notorious for his brutality during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

Moreover, Chinese articles and documents show that Nehru’s apparent fondness for Zhou was not reciprocated. The Chinese Communists always considered Nehru a bourgeois nationalist leader, and not even as a mild socialist. The earliest attacks on the Indian prime minister came even before the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed on 1 October 1949. Nehru was a ‘running dog of imperialism’, according to an article on 19 August 1949 in Shijie Zhishi (‘world knowledge’), a magazine published by the CCP’s Culture Committee. In its 16 September 1949 issue, the magazine proclaimed, ‘Nehru riding behind the imperialists whose stooge he is, actually consider[s] himself the leader of the Asian people… as a rebel against the movement for national independence, as a blackguard… as a loyal slave of imperialism, Nehru has always been made the substitute of Chiang Kai-shek by the imperialists.’

Even if Nehru was unaware of what Zhou and his comrades were writing in their Chinese-language publications, and saying about him behind his back during the days of Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai, the CIA certainly knew what the Chinese were up to. A top secret CIA report from 2 March 1963, which has only recently been declassified, states,

The Chinese diplomatic effort was a five-year masterpiece of guile, executed—and probably planned in large part—by Chou En-lai [Zhou Enlai]. Chou played on Nehru’s Asian, anti-imperialist mental attitude, his proclivity to temporize, and his sincere desire for an amicable Sino-Indian relationship. Chou’s strategy was to avoid making explicit, in conversations and communications with Nehru, any Chinese border claims, while avoiding any retraction of those claims which would require changing Chinese maps. Chou took the line with Nehru in Peiping [Beijing] in October 1954 that Communist China ‘had as yet had no time to review’ the Kuomintang maps, leaving the implication but not the explicit promise that they would be revised. In New Delhi in November–December 1956, Chou sought to create the impression with Nehru that Peiping would accept the McMahon Line, but again his language was equivocal, and what was conceded with his left hand, he retrieved with his right.

The same CIA report says that the former prime minister of Myanmar, Ba Swe, had written a letter to Nehru in 1958, warning him to be ‘cautious’ in dealing with Zhou on the Sino-Indian border issue. At the same time, Myanmar was engaged in talks with the Chinese about their common border, which was eventually demarcated in 1960 after an agreement, which was not unfavourable to Myanmar, had been reached.

According to the report, ‘Nehru is said to have replied by declaring Chou to be “an honourable man”, who could be trusted’. Nehru, and India, had to pay a heavy price for that trust when the PLA came storming across the Himalayas in October 1962.

Some analysts and historians have argued that China would have been willing to settle the border dispute with India through some ‘give-and-take’ on both sides. The Chinese would give up their claim to the NEFA in exchange for India’s recognition of China’s de facto control of Aksai Chin. After all, that was how China had settled its border disputes with Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. But this argument fails to make a distinction between Beijing’s relations with smaller neighbours such as Myanmar and Nepal, and the importance of a strategic alliance with Pakistan, and the fact that China’s disputes with India go way beyond drawing a line on the map and demarcating it on the ground. And, as noted, in the 1950s, China emerged as India’s main rival for leadership of the newly independent nations in Asia and Africa.

Today, an entirely new situation has emerged. Bilateral trade between China and India—not across the closed border but by sea—is booming; in 2015–16, it stood at US$ 70.73 billion, but it should be added, India’s trade deficit is US$ 52.68 billion. China imports minerals, ores, and cotton from India, while India buys electronic equipment, computer hardware, and chemicals from China.

However, the rivalry between India and China is far from over, and the distrust between the two countries remains deep and profound. To China, Arunachal Pradesh is still ‘South Tibet’ and travellers from that part of India get their Chinese visas stapled into their passports. According to the Chinese, they are not foreigners, as they are coming from a part of China that is under Indian occupation. This is a gesture that serves no purpose other than to humiliate India and the Indians.

More alarmingly, China has not ceased its support to rebels in India’s troubled northeast. Nagas, Assamese, and Manipuris have been able to buy weapons on what is euphemistically called ‘the black market’ in China. Paresh Baruah, the leader of the main outfit, the United Liberation Front of Asom [Assam] (ULFA), stays in Chinese towns and travels freely across the country. The Chinese may argue that they are only reciprocating India’s act of providing sanctuary for the Dalai Lama, allowing the enemy of one country to stay in the other. But while the Dalai Lama is not the leader of a band of armed insurgents, Baruah certainly is.

Bumla and other passes in the Himalayas may be quiet today, but there is growing concern over a cascade of dams the Chinese are planning to build on the Brahmaputra in Tibet, where it is called Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibetan and Yarlung Zangbo on Chinese maps. One dam, at Zangmu in southeastern Tibet, became operational in October 2015, and there are another 27 proposed dams on the Brahmaputra and its tributaries before the river enters India. Naturally, that plan has caused controversy as the Chinese have not consulted India and Bangladesh, the downstream countries that would be affected by these dams.43 China’s attitude towards its neighbours has been the same on the Mekong, where a number of dams have been built inside China without any consultation with Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, through which that river also flows.

Despite the tension along and across the border, the centre of frictions between India and China today is not in the Himalayas but in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese are making inroads into what India has always considered its ‘own lake’, and that could lead to conflict. China wants to keep a close watch on the sea lanes used by its suppliers of oil in the Middle East, but that means challenging India’s supremacy in the Indian Ocean. Recent joint naval exercises between India and the United States, and Japan’s interest in those, show that there is a new Cold War, this time with China rather than the Soviet Union as the main adversary.

In the middle of this imbroglio lies Myanmar, which has always strived to be a neutral buffer state between regional rivals, but more often than not ended up as an area of conflict between players, indigenous as well as foreign, vying for power and influence. During the decade 1968–78, the Chinese poured more aid into the CPB in Myanmar than they had into any other communist movement outside Indochina. A 20,000-square-kilometre base area was established along the Chinese border in Myanmar’s northeast. The Chinese built two small hydroelectric power plants inside the CPB’s territory, and a clandestine radio station, ‘the People’s Voice of Burma’, began transmitting from the Yunnan side of the border in 1971. It was later moved to the CPB’s headquarters at Panghsang inside Myanmar, where the entire leadership resided in houses built by the Chinese.

On the Thai border, ethnic Karen, Shan, and Mon rebels were allowed to set up bases, and buy supplies and weapons from the Thai side. The Thais wanted a border buffer between themselves and their historical enemy, Myanmar, which had invaded their country in the past and had sacked the old capital of Ayutthaya in 1767. While such concerns may seem anachronistic in today’s world, they were real enough for the Thais.

In the west, near the border with East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), Muslim guerrillas from the Rohingya community in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have been active since Myanmar became independent from Britain in 1948. India never supported any rebel movement in Myanmar, but gave asylum to U Nu, who was ousted by General Ne Win in 1962. During a pro-democracy uprising in August–September 1988, the activists received moral support from Indian authorities.

The situation in Myanmar’s border areas changed dramatically when, in March–April 1989, the once powerful CPB collapsed after a mutiny among the rank-and-file of the party’s army, most of whom were Wa tribesmen. The Wa were headhunters who lived in the mountains straddling Myanmar’s northeastern border with China and had been recruited into the communist army without having any clear idea of the ideology for which they were fighting and dying. Almost the entire old leadership fled to China, where they were given asylum. The CPB subsequently broke up into four ethnic armies, of which the United Wa State Army (UWSA) is by far the strongest.

The 1989 CPB mutiny actually suited China’s interests, and there are strong suggestions that China’s clandestine services actively encouraged the Wa and others to rise up against their leaders. In view of Deng’s new polices, which emphasized trade and economic expansion, the CPB’s old leadership, which remained staunchly Maoist, had become a liability.

In the years following the CPB mutiny, trade between China and Myanmar blossomed. China flooded Myanmar’s markets with cheap consumer goods and imported mainly raw materials such as timber and minerals. The annual exchange of goods soon reached the US$ 1 billion mark. The surge in bilateral trade between Myanmar and China was facilitated by Western sanctions and boycotts, which at that time were in force because of the Myanmar government’s gross violations of human rights. China did not have to face any competition and became Myanmar’s most important foreign trade partner.

But China was not going to give up the foothold inside Myanmar that it had had since the late 1960s. In May 1989, the UWSA entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government, which, on the one hand, suited China’s new commercial interests, and on the other, also helped strengthen the UWSA. After all, the Chinese had had a long-standing relationship with most of the leaders of the UWSA, dating back to their CPB days. Thus, the UWSA has been able to purchase vast quantities of weapons from China, including heavy artillery, surface-to-air missiles, and armoured fighting vehicles.

Today, the UWSA is better armed than the CPB ever was. It can field at least 20,000 well-equipped troops as well as thousands of village militiamen and other supportive forces. Moreover, the top leaders of the UWSA are usually accompanied by Chinese intelligence officers who provide advice and guidance.

In recent years, Myanmar has mended its ties with the West, partly because the Chinese influence, even dominance, was becoming overwhelming, and sanctions have been lifted. China’s sending of even more weaponry to the UWSA is a way of putting pressure on Myanmar’s government at a time when its relations with Washington are improving. As China sees it, it cannot afford to ‘lose’ Myanmar to the US and the West. A strong UWSA provides China with a strategic advantage, and it is also a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Myanmar government.

When Aung Min, the then president office minister, visited Monywa, a town northwest of Mandalay, in November 2012, to meet local people protesting a controversial Chinese-backed copper mining project in the area, he openly admitted, ‘We are afraid of China…we don’t dare to have a row with [them]. If they feel annoyed with the shutdown of their projects and resume their support to the Communists, the economy in border areas would backslide. So you’d better think seriously.’ By ‘the Communists’ he clearly meant the UWSA and its allies, among them the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in the Kokang area, another former CPB force in Myanmar’s northeast, which indeed resorted to armed struggle in February 2015.

China, predictably, has denied any involvement in that conflict, but the fact remains that most of the MNDAA’s weaponry and vast quantities of ammunition have been supplied by the UWSA. According to a well-placed source, China was indirectly ‘teaching the Myanmar government a lesson in Kokang: move too much to the West, and this can happen’. At the same time, China is playing another, ‘softer’ card by being actively involved in the so-called ‘peace talks’ between the Myanmar government and the country’s multitude of ethnic rebel armies.

Whether China wants to export revolution or expand and protect commercial interests, it apparently feels that it needs to have a solid foothold inside Myanmar. There is no better and more loyal ally in this regard than the UWSA and its former CPB affiliates. Myanmar is China’s ‘corridor’ to the Indian Ocean as an outlet for trade from Yunnan and other landlocked southwestern provinces, quite apart from Beijing’s strategic interests in the region. Although there are no, and have never been, any Chinese bases there, as some Indian writers have suggested, China has helped Myanmar upgrade its own naval facilities—and that is worrying enough for India.

In April 2015, India eventually ran out of patience with Myanmar’s turning a blind eye to the presence of Indian rebels on their soil. Indian commandoes crossed the border into Myanmar and destroyed a number of camps where Assamese, Manipuri, and Naga rebels were ensconced. The rebels were armed with weapons obtained from secret arms factories inside a former CPB area in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State. Although located inside Myanmar, the machinery and the technicians came from China. The Chinese may have no interest in independence for Assam, Nagaland, or Manipur, but they evidently want to keep the Indians off balance—at least as long as the Dalai Lama is alive and the Tibetan exiles are being provided with sanctuaries in India.

Besides the broader issue of the vast differences in the respective cultures and worldviews to which the sign at Bumla refers somewhat presumptuously to as ‘Two Old Neighbouring Civilisations’, the question of Tibet remains at the heart of the conflict between India and China. And if the proponents of the Chinese version of the border dispute and the 1962 War had paid more attention to the Chinese source material, even they would have discovered that border demarcation was never the main issue. On 6 May 1959, only weeks after the Lhasa uprising against the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua published an article titled ‘The Revolution in Tibet and Nehru’s Philosophy’, accusing the Indian prime minister of having adopted ‘the strategic aspirations of British imperialism’.

According to US security expert and former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, ‘On the day the article attacking Nehru was published, Zhou Enlai said in a public forum that Nehru “had inherited England’s old policy of saying Tibet is an independent country” and that this mentality was “the centre of the Sino-Indian conflict”’. Vertzberger was obviously right in his conclusion that Nehru and the Chinese leaders had incompatible worldviews, and, in a more modern context, it can be argued that China and India are still worlds apart when it comes to culture and strategic thinking.

China may have been grossly mistaken in believing that Nehru, of all Indian leaders, wanted to seize Tibet. But, the Chinese fear of ‘losing’ what they have always considered an integral part of their country has been a factor that has determined relations between China and India for more than a century, and still does. And events first came to a head at Shimla in 1914—at a time when China was weak as millennia of imperial rule were being replaced by a new, chaotic republican order.

Gheria 1756

On 12 February 1756, a British naval squadron under RearAdmiral Charles Watson demanded the surrender of Gheria, a stronghold on the west coast of India of the Angrias, a Maratha family whose fleet was a factor in local politics and had been used for privateering attacks on European merchantmen. When the Indians opened fire, Watson `began such a fire upon them, as I believe they never before saw, and soon silenced their batteries, and the fire from their grabs [ships]’. The five-hour bombardment also led to the destruction of Tulaji Angria’s fleet, which was set ablaze with shells. The next day, the British warships closed in to bombard the fort at pistol-shot distance in order to make a breach in the wall for storming and this breach swiftly led to its surrender. Watson noted that `the hulls, masts and rigging of the [British] ships are so little damaged, that if there was a necessity we should be able to proceed to sea in twenty-four hours’. Attacks in 1718 and 1720 had failed. In 1756, Watson co-operated with Robert Clive and with Maratha troops.

The storming of Gheriah would have a faintly ritualistic air. Such were the overwhelming forces at the Company’s disposal on this occasion that the outcome can never have been in doubt. It was a set piece in which the attackers agonized more over the division of the spoils than over tactical niceties. With ample time for reconnaissance, Commodore William James in command of the Bombay Marine, had volunteered to make a survey; and after another typically bold foray right into the pirates’ nest he had reported favourably on the prospects. In fact he was ‘exceedingly surprised’ to find Gheriah nothing like as formidable as it had been painted. ‘I can assure you it is not to be called high nor, in my opinion, strong’ – an opinion amply substantiated by drawings of the place made after its capture. It was big and, like Colaba, impressively sited on the end of a promontory. But there was nothing to prevent warships getting within point-blank range nor to prevent troops from landing nearby and setting up their batteries on a hill that commanded the whole position.

This last consideration was of interest in that, besides the Royal squadron with its two admirals and its six warships mounting some 300 guns, and besides the Company’s ten somewhat smaller vessels, and not to mention the Maratha contingents both naval and military, the action was to be graced with the presence of three companies of the King’s artillery, 700 men in all, plus a like number of Indian sepoys, all under the command of the then Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clive.

Clive’s presence at Gheriah was incidental and, in the event, not particularly decisive. He and his troops had arrived in Bombay en route to some unfinished business with the French in the Deccan. That expedition was cancelled at the last minute as a result of the Anglo-French peace. And so Clive had indented for a slice of the action – and of the spoils – at Gheriah. What these spoils might amount to was uncertain but surely considerable. It was known that the contents of most of Tulaji’s prizes, including the treasure-rich Derby, had been taken to Gheriah. It was there that he kept his family and his prisoners – mostly English and Dutch; and where a pirate kept such valued possessions, there too would be his treasure.

Before setting out from Bombay, Admiral Watson summoned a meeting of the English commanders to thrash out the question of prize money. A scale was agreed on by which Watson himself would receive a twelfth of the proceeds, his rear-admiral half that, Clive and the captains of the Royal ships rather less, and James and the captains of the Company’s ships less still. It would appear that James and his commanders accepted the subordinate role that this arrangement implied. But Clive did not, demanding for himself parity with the rear-admiral. To resolve the argument Watson offered to make good the difference out of his own share. As he would put it to Clive in Bengal at the next division of the spoils, ‘money is what I despise, and accumulating riches is what I did not come here for’. But Clive, we are told, then refused to accept the Admiral’s money. ‘Thus did these two gallant officers endeavour to outvie each other in mutual proofs of disinterestedness and generosity’, wrote Ives in a footnote that was doubtless designed to deflect some of the criticism which would dog Clive’s every triumph.

Obviously if these arrangements were to be honoured, it was a matter of some consequence that the English and not their Maratha allies should actually take Gheriah. By mid-February 1756, when the armada finally arrived on station, they knew that Tulaji was already negotiating with the Maratha commander; they trusted their ally no more than the enemy, and clearly time was running out. When a first formal demand for the surrender of the fort was answered with procrastinating tactics, Watson realized that to be certain of their reward they would have to earn it. He ignored the possibility of a peaceful handover and gave the order for the fleet to move in.

The English entered the harbour in two columns, five great battleships plus the Company’s Protector forming an inner ring round the fort while the nine assorted ‘grabs’, sloops and ketches went round the outside to reach the enemy fleet as it lay penned upriver. Naturally the first shot is said to have come from the fort. It was repaid with compound interest as one after another the broadsides were brought to bear. Just over two hours later the entire ‘Angrian’ fleet was ablaze and the guns of the fort silenced. Briefly they ‘briskened their fire’ once again; then they fell silent for good.

That night Clive took his men ashore to set up their batteries while the bomb ketches continued to pour their shells into the fort. In the morning the bombardment was taken up both from the land and from the line of battleships. There was no answering fire, the object now being simply to effect a breach or cause such slaughter as would persuade the garrison to surrender. This they did in the course of the afternoon; by six o’clock the English colours were fluttering atop the smoking ruins. Nineteen men of the attacking force had been killed or wounded; of the carnage amongst the defenders there is no record.

Next day the victorious English got down to the serious business – plunder. According to Ives, who was Admiral Watson’s personal surgeon, they ‘found 250 pieces of cannon, six mortars, an immense quantity of stores and ammunition, one hundred thousand pounds sterling in silver rupees and about thirty thousand more in valuable effects’. It was less than expected but sufficient for several small fortunes, Watson’s share being about £10,000 and Clive’s about £5,000.

A painted scroll depicting different types of ships of the Marathan Navy including some captured English ships.

The Pirates of Malabar

The ransoming of the Colaba prisoners was part of a wider non-aggression pact signed between Kanhoji and the Company in 1713. Under its terms the Marathas agreed not to molest ships belonging to the Company and not to interfere with any shipping in Bombay harbour. In return the Company undertook to see that only ships ‘what belong to subjects of the English nation’ should fly the Company’s colours. Peace of a sort was restored. But it was this latter definition of English shipping which would provide a new bone of contention. Just as in Bengal the Company’s servants persistently abused the privileges of the 1717 farman by granting custom-free passes (dastak) to anyone, English or Indian, who would pay for them, so in Bombay they abused the agreement with Kanhoji by interpreting the term ‘English shipping’ as denoting not ownership of the vessel but ownership of its cargo. Thus any vessel, whether owned by the Company, a private English trader or an Indian trader, was deemed a Company ship if it carried a consignment belonging to the English or any of those living under their protection.

Needless to say, this was not how Kanhoji understood the matter. In 1716 recriminations flew between the ‘pirate’ and Bombay over the capture of four Indian vessels which supposedly carried English-owned cargoes. In 1717 the richly laden Success belonging to the Company’s Indian broker at Surat was taken and another ship, belonging to the Company itself, was relieved of part of its cargo. Again Kanhoji seemed willing to discuss reparations; but Bombay under Charles Boone, its new and vigorous Governor, was not. Boone had made the suppression of ‘piracy’ his personal crusade; £50,000 a year was being spent on building up the Bombay Marine; the Company’s own fleet of ‘grabs’ and ‘gallivats’ was coming off the stocks at Surat and elsewhere; and Bombay itself was being readied for war with the construction of the first city wall. Repeated requests for troops were sent to Madras and Calcutta, and from England as many as 500 recruits arrived in Bombay in a single year.

‘Let the bottom [i.e. the vessel] be whose it will’, wrote Boone to Kanhoji in protest at the latest prize-taking, ‘the money lent on it is worth more than the ship and the goods are English, you well know.’ But Kanhoji could not accept this logic. Today the English governor might be chartering only a single ship ‘but tomorrow Your Excellency will say that you have a mind to freight fifty or a hundred ships of Surat merchants. If so, what occasion have they to take the pass (dastak) that they formerly took of me?’ And whence, then, was the Maratha admiral to derive his revenue? But the Bombay Council was unmoved and in 1718 Boone resolved to hit back hard. When one of Kanhoji’s ‘gallivats’ was taken while peacefully going about its business in Bombay harbour, it was the end of the truce. ‘From this day forward’, wrote the Maratha, ‘what God gives, I shall take.’ It was no idle threat.

First, though, it was Boone who took the offensive with a raid on the Maratha fleet as it was being laid up for the monsoon in a sheltered inlet behind Gheriah (Vijayadrug), the most impressive of Kanhoji’s strongholds. So formidable were the rocky cliffs of Gheriah that an English historian would liken the place to Gibraltar. Not to be outdone, an Indian historian (writing in the first heady days of India’s independence) describes Boone’s surprise attack as ‘Pearl Harbor two centuries before its time’. There was, though, one difference. In spite of a motley armada and some 4000 troops, Boone’s raid was a total failure.

Downing, whose claim to have taken part has since been discredited, reports that the considerable firepower of the Company’s ships made little impression on the fort, whose rocks were too slippery for a landing and whose walls were too high for the scaling ladders. ‘We soon found that the place was impregnable.’ A simple boom across the river prevented the Company’s fireships, including one hopefully named the Terrible Bomb, from reaching the Maratha navy; and when a landing party was sent to deal with this obstacle it first blundered into a swamp and was then raked by fire from the fort. The only mystery was why the Marathas did not take greater advantage of the situation. Downing’s explanation, though scarcely consoling, probably contained much truth. ‘I question’. he wrote, ‘whether there were a hundred men in the castle during the siege.’ After four days the ‘siege’ was lifted and the Company’s armada returned to Bombay.

Undismayed, Boone used the closed season of the 1718 monsoon to plan a second assault, this time on Khanderi, an island only ten miles down the coast from Bombay itself. Again the fleet was packed with more than enough troops to carry the place, again a landing was effected, and again through sheer incompetence aborted. When Kanhoji himself appeared on the scene at the head of his fleet and threatened Bombay, the Company’s ships quickly scuttled back to the protection of the big guns of Bombay castle.

‘This ill-success was a great trouble to the President [Boone]’ noted Downing. In 1719 no new attack was mounted and there was even talk of peace. But as Kanhoji’s confidence had grown, so had Boone’s bulldog spirit. ‘He now did all in his power to suppress this notorious pyrate’, building in addition to more ships ‘a great and mighty floating machine’. Called The Phram, this contraption seems to have been half raft, half castle, ‘pretty flat’ with a draft of only six feet, and a single mast and topsail. But what impressed Downing was the thickness of its sides ‘made by the nicest composition cannon-proof’ and its twelve monstrous guns each of which fired a forty-eight pound cannon-ball. (Twenty-four pounders were the largest guns then favoured by the Bombay Marine.) ‘It must of course prove of great service to us against any of those castles which we could approach near enough to cannonade.’

With just such a demonstration in mind, Boone launched a second assault on Gheriah in 1721. As in 1718 the landing parties effected nothing. But great were the expectations of The Phram. It was manoeuvred into position, the massive gun carriages were wheeled to the ports, the charges laid and the fuses lit: With an almighty splash the great shells fell into the sea rather less than a stone’s throw from the vessel. Someone had miscalculated the angle of fire; either the carriages were too high or the ports too low. The Phram was withdrawn for modification.

By the time it was ready for further trials, word had got round the fleet that those armour-plated sides were not much use either; once again insufficient allowance had been made for the elevation of the ‘Indian Gibraltar’. If The Phram discharged its guns from a distance, its murderous missiles were more of a danger to the waiting landing parties than to the fort, but if it moved into a more effective range the guns of the fort could lob their own shells onto its flat and crowded decks. Both expedients were tried and, amidst heavy casualties, both failed. It was thought that two of Kanhoji’s ‘grabs’ had caught fire as a result of a separate bombardment and with this very doubtful claim to ‘victory’ the English fleet withdrew.

Meanwhile more merchant shipping was falling into Maratha hands. The trade of beleaguered Bombay was suffering and in a bid to end piracy once and for all the Company’s directors in London applied for the assistance of the Royal Navy. With great ceremony a squadron was duly dispatched to the Indian Ocean in 1721, ostensibly to root out those Anglo-American buccaneers still operating out of Madagascar but additionally, and perhaps primarily, to take on Kanhoji Angrey. By now it was painfully obvious that the Company’s ‘sentinels’ made indifferent storm-troopers even when primed with copious liquor and fired by the promise of cash bonuses. Similarly their counting-house masters made dismal admirals. It was time for the professionals to try their hand.

Commodore Matthews in charge of the Royal squadron reached Bombay in 1722 to a welcome soon noted for its acrimony. In a rerun of the quarrels between the Old Company and Ambassador William Norris – the last occasion on which Royal ships had visited India – Matthews claimed precedence by virtue of his commission and was soon planning a series of voyages designed to ensure for himself a handsome share of the Company’s profits. He seemed bent on discrediting the Company and, worse still, he completely repudiated the Company’s contention that any ship carrying an English consignment was entitled to fly English colours, thus in effect supporting Kanhoji’s case. Governor Boone, however, was resolved on one last, all-out offensive. His term of office was drawing to a close; he had just engineered an offensive alliance against the Maratha admiral with the Portuguese; and he desperately needed Matthews’s cooperation. Swallowing his pride, he deferred to the Commodore and set about planning the downfall of Colaba.

Unlike previous attacks, that on Colaba was waged from the land, an odd choice given the importance attached to the presence of Matthews’s squadron. With a combined strength of 6,500 plus an artillery train, the Anglo-Portuguese forces surrounded Kanhoji’s stronghold while the English fleet prevented any relief reaching it from the sea. In spite of the unexpected appearance of a Maratha detachment of horse and foot, the arrangements were more than adequate for the task in hand.

But once again the affair was woefully mismanaged. Without waiting to set up their batteries, and leaving the Portuguese to deal with the Maratha detachment, the English charged the fortress. The gates held, the English ladders were too short, and casualties were heavy. Meanwhile the Portuguese had been routed by the Marathas who now threatened to cut off the English attackers. A chaotic retreat ensued. Had the Marathas followed up their advantage it would have been the worst ever defeat for English arms in India. Matthews’s squadron had contributed nothing except 200 marines lent to the land forces; compared to the conduct of the Company’s reluctant sentinels, their bravery had been conspicuous.

Immediately after this fourth failure Boone sailed for home while Matthews took his squadron on a trading venture to Surat and Bengal. Ever open to anything that might discredit the Company, in Calcutta the Commodore was approached by a distraught but still pretty widow who was being detained in India pending payment of £9000 from her late husband’s estate. Matthews listened to her long and heart-rending story with interest; and convinced that no one who heard it could fail to condemn the Company’s ingratitude, he promptly took the young lady under his wing and into his cabin. She was, of course, none other than Mrs Katherine Gyfford, previously Harvey and Chown, née Cooke, lately of Karwar, Colaba, and Anjengo. Together the Commodore and the widow sailed back to Bombay, where old acquaintances were duly scandalized by Mrs Gyfford’s new liaison, and then to England. Years of litigation over the tangled affairs of Anjengo followed, their outcome unknown. But evidently Mrs Gyfford returned to India for she died in Madras in 1745.