I have already shown how the battle of Kaveripak virtually decided the fate of India south of the river Krishna. There still remained north of that river and south of the Vindhayan range the large territory belonging to the Subahdar of the Dakhan, covering almost the entire northern portion of the peninsula, bounded on the west by the Western Ghats, and on the east only by the sea. This important territory was then, and was likely to remain, under French influence, that influence being maintained by the presence at Haidarabad of a considerable body of French troops, commanded by an officer of rare intelligence and capacity, the Marquis de Bussy. It was soon made to rest on a basis still more solid. In 1753, an intrigue, set on foot by Sayud Lashkar, Minister of the Subahdar, to rid his master of the French, had been completely defeated by the energy and resolution displayed by the
French general. Marching on Aurangabad, where the court of the Subahdar held high revelry at the time, Bussy had virtually dictated his own terms. These terms comprehended the cession, with zamindari rights, to the French, of the provinces of Elur, Shrikakolam (Chicacole), Kondapilli, and Murtazanagar,16 the guardianship of the person of the Subahdar, and the transfer to Bussy himself of an authority very similar to that now exercised by a British Resident at a native court. By this arrangement the French were relieved of the necessity of relying upon the favour of the Subahdar – the cession of so important a territory made them practically independent.
The districts so ceded, inclusive of the territories in and about Machhlipatanam, previously granted in 1750, covered four hundred and seventy miles of sea-coast from the Chilka lake to the south bank of the Gundlakamma. It stretched inland to distances varying from thirty to a hundred miles, was watered by the Krishna, the Gundlakamma, and the Godavari, and contained the important towns of Ganjam, Shrikakolam, Vijiyanagaram, Vishakpatanam (Vizagapatam), Koringa, Yanun, Machhlipatanam, Elur, and Nizampatanam. It possessed an area of about seventeen thousand geographical miles, and yielded an annual revenue of four hundred thousand pounds sterling. The forests within its limits abounded with teak. One of its districts was famous for its manufacture of cloths, another for its growth of rice. Nor was it wanting in capabilities of defence. Resting on the sea on the one side, it was covered on the other by a chain of mountains running at unequal distances nearly parallel with the coast. These mountains were covered with forests, then almost impenetrable, and traversed by three or four passes capable of being held by a very few men against an army. In
fine, to borrow the language of Mr. Orme, “these territories rendered the French masters of the greatest dominion, both in extent and value, that had ever been possessed in Hindustan by Europeans, not excepting the Portuguese at the height of their prosperity.”
From December 1753 to July 1758 these territories were administered, under the general supervision of Bussy, by a French agent residing at Machhlipatanam, M. Moracin. At the disposal of this official Bussy placed a force of one hundred and fifty European and two thousand five hundred native troops. He farmed the revenues to Vijiyaram Raji, Rajah of Vijiyanagaram, a man conspicuous for character and ability. Of the manner in which the country was administered under this high official, one of the greatest of the English authorities, the late Captain Grant Duff, wrote in terms of high praise. “The rent was moderate, enforced without rigour; accurate accounts were prepared, and most of the hereditary officers, if not those possessing rent-free lands, were confirmed in their property – facts which do Bussy and his nation great honour.”
One of the first cares of Bussy, after obtaining possession of his new districts, had been to expel the few English from the places they had occupied in and near Machhlipatanam. This was a matter of policy for one who held it to be dangerous that a rival European interest should take root within the borders of Franco-Indian territory. During the four years and a half that followed nothing occurred to affect the stability of the French rule. In the various intrigues by which Bussy was occasionally hampered at Haidarabad, the possession of the-northern Sirkars proved to be of all the value he had anticipated. They became the seat of French power, from which Bussy was enabled on more than one occasion to turn the tables on his enemies. Never did the French hold upon them appear more secure than in the beginning of 1758. But never was the French hold upon them in greater danger than at that particular
period. At the end of April of that year a considerable French force, commanded by the Count de Lally, had arrived at Pondichery with the avowed intention of expelling the English from Southern India. From the moment of his landing to the period of his embarkation as a prisoner on board an English vessel, Lally’s movements were characterised by a rashness, by a contempt for the Indian experience of others which seem the peculiar property, even in the present day, of men possessing ability and reputation, but whom Nature has endowed with one-sided minds. An initial success did indeed attend his first movements. He expelled the English from Fort St. David. The next move he contemplated was against Tanjur. But before he set out on this expedition he despatched an order to Bussy to repair at once to Arkat, leaving no French troops at the court of the Subahdar, and only as many in the northern Sirkars as would suffice to maintain them. The command of these and the general supervision of the province he directed Bussy to entrust to the Marquis de Conflans, an officer new to Indian affairs, but just arrived from Europe; and, as if still further to embarrass French interests in the province, he removed Moracin at the same time.
This letter of recall painfully affected alike Bussy and the Subahdar. It called upon the former to renounce, for an uncertain issue, the work of the best years of his life, to leave the province he had won for France a certain prey to the victors in the struggle which was then beginning. Not so would he have acted had the supreme direction been entrusted to his hands. Whilst fighting for the Karnatak, he would never have relinquished his hold upon provinces the possession of which, combined with the influence over the Subahdar which it assured, would have compensated for defeat even in the Karnatak. But, as he wrote to Lally, there was one thing which he had always known how to do better than anything else, and that was to obey. Five days after he received the order, after a painful parting with the
Subahdar,17 he set out from Haidarabad at the head of two hundred and fifty European and five hundred native troops. He reached Waiur on the north bank of the Krishna on the 3rd of August. Here he made over the charge of the northern Sirkars to M. de Conflans. The next day he turned his back for ever on the provinces which he had gained for his country by the exercise of firmness, energy, intuition, and knowledge of native character such as have been rarely equalled, even in India.
His successor, M. de Conflans, younger brother of the general who commanded at the same period the French army of Germany, had, up to that time, placed on the record no achievement to illustrate his family name. A courtier in a corrupt court, he lacked the talents and the experience which were necessary to succeed in a task which had taxed all the great qualities of Bussy. From the moment of his taking charge, his difficulties began. At first he had to deal with a people to whom he was a stranger, who were strange to him, and always ready to test the qualities of a new administrator; a little later he had to meet the combined dangers of insurrection and invasion.
Very soon after Conflans had taken charge of the northern Sirkars, a rumour reached those districts that the main French army, which was to reconquer southern India, had been compelled to beat an ignominious retreat from before the walls of Tanjur. The rumour, promptly confirmed, gave birth to a conviction in the minds of one or two disaffected nobles that the time had arrived when an attempt to shake off the foreign yoke might be successfully made. Prominent amongst these nobles was Anandraz Gajapati, son and successor of the chief, Vijiyaram Raji, who had administered the provinces with marked ability. The son had not, however, inherited the predilections
of the father, and, dissatisfied at certain changes which Bussy had introduced on the death of Vijiyaram, he had from that moment become a conspirator. Before the departure of Bussy had even been contemplated, Anandraz had made overtures to the English in Madras, and when he became convinced that the paucity of their troops would not allow him to hope for any assistance from that quarter, he had transmitted similar proposals to Bengal. Before he could receive a reply, the discomfiture of the French army before Tanjur, following on the departure of Bussy, induced him to strike a blow on his own account. Summoning all his retainers, and enlisting as many men as it was possible to attract to his standard – amounting in all to about three thousand – he suddenly (2nd September 1758) marched upon and took possession of Vishakpatanam, hauled down the French and planted the English flag, made prisoner the French chief, and plundered the French factory. Having done this, he despatched a second messenger to Calcutta, charged to inform the chief of the Bengal Presidency of all he had accomplished, to assure him that the native chiefs of the country were unanimous in their desire to be rid of the French rule; and that, with the assistance of a very small body of Englishmen, he would engage to drive them out of the country.
This messenger reached Calcutta early in October. The letters which he carried, and the message of which he was the bearer, were duly laid before the Calcutta Council. To every member of that Council, with one exception, his schemes seemed rash, chimerical, and dangerous. Bengal was threatened at the time by an invasion from the Shahzadah, eldest son of the Great Mughul, and the feeling of the Murshidabad darbar was unmistakeably hostile. To denude the Presidency at such a conjuncture of a large body of troops, in order to support the revolt of a chief who had been able to muster only three thousand followers, seemed, in the eyes of the majority, to be little short
of madness. The exception to these views was the Governor, Robert Clive. The experience in the Madras Presidency of this ruler of men induced in his mind the conclusion that, although the weakening of the British force in Bengal would entail some risks, yet the prospects opened out by the letters of Anandraz were so brilliant, and promised results so decisive, that sound policy counselled closing with his offers, and acting upon them without delay. Clive realised, in fact, that the success of an expedition sent from Bengal would transfer from the French to the English not only the valuable districts on the coast, but the predominant influence till then exercised with so much effect by the former at the court of the Subahdar of the Dakhan. A diversion of this nature would likewise prevent the French in the northern Sirkars from aiding Lally in the designs which, it was known, he was about to put in action against Madras. Whatever might be the result of the struggle then waging in the Karnatak, the transfer of those districts and of that influence would compensate for disaster or add enormously to the solidity of a victory.
It was impossible that he should go there. He must remain to ward off the evils threatening Bengal. But he had at hand an officer not second even to himself in capacity on the field of battle. This was Lieutenant-Colonel Forde, an officer who had risen to the rank of Major in the 89th Foot, and whom, by reason of the coolness and ability he had displayed under many trying circumstances, Clive had recently summoned from Madras to command the Company’s troops in Bengal. It was a characteristic of Clive, that he was entirely devoid of military jealousy. He always sought out the best men he could find, and trusted them implicitly. He trusted Forde on this occasion. Having first carried his point in Council, he made over to him five hundred Europeans, two thousand native troops, six 6-pounders, and a small battering train, and bade him sail for Vishakpatanam, disembark his troops, and drive the French from the
northern Sirkars. Forde sailed on the 12th, and arrived at Vishakpatanam on the 20th October.
Meanwhile Conflans had been doing little to re-establish his outraged authority. Having under his orders a force composed of five hundred seasoned European troops, – men trained by Missy, and inspired by the recollection of many a victory – of four thousand native troops, and a brigade of artillery, he might by marching with all speed on Vishakpatanam, have crushed this rebellion in the bud. When the news of the revolt of Anandraz reached him, he was at Machhlipatanam, about a hundred and eighty miles from Vishakpatanam. An easy march of five days would have taken him to Rajahmahendri; thence to Vishakpatanam, twelve days would have sufficed to march with ease and comfort. The rebellion had broken out on the 2nd September. Making every allowance, then, for difficulties, Conflans should have been able to reach Vishakpatanam some days before the English force under Forde had even sailed from Calcutta (12th October). But instead of using speed, the French leader displayed a hesitation which it is possible to explain only on the grounds that he believed himself to be face to face with a formidable insurrection, and that he feared to commit himself without assistance. Instead, then, of marching at all, he sent messenger after messenger to Lally, then straining every nerve to undertake the siege of Madras, begging him to send troops to strengthen him. It was only when he received an intimation from Lally, that he had directed Moracin to proceed with three hundred men to support him, but that meanwhile it behoved him to act with vigour, that he marched at all on Rajahmahendri.
This delay had been of enormous advantage to Anandraz. One proof of the little vitality of his rebellion is to be traced in the fact that, notwithstanding all his endeavours, he had in six weeks been able to increase his force to a strength of five thousand men, and these for the most part a very miserable
rabble. But few of them had fire-arms; the large majority only spears and bows and arrows. His main strength consisted in a body of forty Europeans, deserters and renegades of all nations, to whom he had entrusted four field-pieces. But neither these, nor the rabble with which they were associated, would have withstood for half an hour the force of Conflans had Conflans only chosen to advance.
His delay gave the English their opportunity. To herald the approach of Forde, these had despatched an agent with several assistants to Vishakpatanam, alike to encourage the revolted Rajah, to re-establish their factory, and to prepare the place for the reception of an armed force. Forde arrived off the coast on the 20th October, and without delay disembarked his troops and stores. This operation and the provision of bullocks and means of transport took up some days, and it was not before the 1st of the following month that his army was able to move. Meanwhile the English agent was endeavouring to negotiate a treaty with the Rajah on the terms which he subsequently subscribed to. The main points of this treaty were that the Rajah should pay all the extra-expenses of the British force while it should co-operate with him; and, in the event of success, he should assign to the English all the country between Vishakpatanam and Machhlipatanam, whilst the territory inland belonging to native chiefs in the French interest should be transferred to himself.
Meanwhile Conflans – forced into action by letters from Lally – had reached Rajahmahendri. The day after his arrival there, he learned that an English force had landed on the coast. Conscious that the opportunity of crushing the rebel Rajah had escaped him, he resolved to take up a commanding position, difficult to assail, if not impregnable, and to await in it the movement of the combined forces. For this purpose he selected a position about forty miles from Rajahmahendri, within sight of the fort of Peddapur, and commanding all the approaches from Vishakpatanam. Here he entrenched himself,
His force consisted of five hundred Europeans, six thousand native infantry, and about five hundred native cavalry; his artillery amounted to thirty pieces of sorts. He was still in this position when on the 3rd December Forde, who had at length surmounted the many difficulties to which I have referred, came in sight of it. The numbers on both sides were about equal; for whilst Forde had under his own orders four hundred and seventy Europeans and one thousand nine hundred sepoys, with six guns, Anandraz accompanied him with his forty Europeans, his ragged rabble of five thousand men, five hundred horsemen, and four guns. Forde, after reconnoitring the French position, came to the opinion that it was too strong to be attacked. He, therefore, took possession of a village called Chambol, between three and four miles from the French camp, and almost as strong and commanding.
For four days the two armies remained watching each other; the leaders on both sides thinking the position of the other unassailable. On the 8th December, however, it occurred alike to Forde and Conflans, almost simultaneously, to make an attempt to place his enemy in a false position. The plan of Conflans was to send six guns, guarded by a respectable force, to occupy a small height which had been neglected by Forde, but which, Conflans had been assured by an intelligent deserter, commanded his camp. Of the confusion, which the sudden opening of a fire from these pieces would cause, Conflans would hold his army in readiness to take advantage. He fixed the night of the 8th for the carrying out of this project, so that the guns might open fire at daybreak on the 9th. Forde, on his part, designed another plan for the same morning. Tired of looking his enemy in the face without attacking him, he had arranged with Rajah Anandraz, also on the 8th, that the whole force should quit the encampment at Chambol, at a quarter past 4 o’clock the following morning, and move to a point whence it would be easy to reach, by a short cut, the main road leading
to Rajahmahendri. The march was to be a short one; only three miles, to the village of Kondur.
It will be noticed that if the two rival plans had been carried out at the same moment, and with the same order and exactness, the English plan would have foiled the French plan. The French guns, in that case, would have reached the coveted eminence only to bombard a post which had been vacated. But, as it happened, of the three parties to the two transactions, one was unpunctual. This one was the Rajah. The French guns started for their destination at night, and reached it before daybreak. At daybreak their whole force was under arms, ready for any emergency. Forde marched in the direction of Kondur at a quarter past 4 o’clock, but the Rajah and his troops had no thought of starting for two or three hours to come. It resulted from this delay, that a few minutes after daybreak he and his followers were unpleasantly aroused from their slumbers by the deadly messengers despatched by the six French guns which commanded their camp.
The fire of these guns was indeed most deadly and effective. The panic and confusion which it caused amongst the Rajah’s half-armed followers is not to be described. Terrified out of his wits, the Rajah sent messenger after messenger to Forde, begging him to return. These met Forde – who had been equally surprised by the fire – hastening to the Rajah’s rescue. The latter and his followers had meanwhile bestirred themselves to hurry on in the direction Forde had taken. The allied parties, therefore, met; then turning, they hurried on to Kondur, which they reached in safety.
The partial success achieved by the French guns was fatal to Conflans. Ignorant of the exact state of affairs, he became confirmed in his belief of the truth of the story told him by the deserters, that the English force was composed of raw levies, and he was satisfied now that his guns had frightened them from their position at Chambol. He resolved to take instant advantage
of their panic, as he believed it to be, and to act with his whole force.
About midway between the new position taken up by the English and the position occupied by the French, was a small village. Whilst the troops of Forde were entering Kondur, those of Conflans were approaching this village, and taking up such a position that Forde could not advance without fighting, nor fall back without exposing himself at a disadvantage. Conflans, however, did not content himself with obtaining this good position. Still under the belief that the English force was composed of panic-stricken raw levies, he marched on towards Kondur. Forde had not been half an hour in that place before he discovered first the enemy’s native troops, and presently their whole line, at a distance of about a thousand yards from his left flank, moving on him in good order.
It was then half-past 8 o’clock. Forde instantly prepared for the inevitable battle. He placed the Rajah’s troops, not yet recovered from the morning’s panic, on the extreme right and left of his line; next to them he disposed his trained native soldiers, and in the centre, the English, including the Rajah’s forty Europeans, with the guns equally divided on their flanks. He then advanced to take up a good position. Before, however, he had advanced far, the enemy’s guns opened fire. Forde then halted his line in a position the centre of which was covered by a field of Indian corn which had grown so high as to conceal his Europeans entirely from the view of the advancing enemy. Connected with this fact was another, apparently of no moment whatever, but which combined with it to exercise a very decided influence on the battle about to ensue. This was, that whereas in the contests in Southern India between the French and English, the native troops in the service of both nations had been dressed in white, it had become the custom in the colder climate of Bengal to assimilate them in respect of clothing to their European comrades. The native soldiers, then, whom Forde
had brought from Calcutta wore red coats. It was the first time that the French had met native soldiers so attired.
Conflans, meanwhile, had advanced in an oblique line towards the English with the intention, apparently, of turning their left flank. But when he noticed the movement in advance of which I have spoken, he halted, and directed his guns to open fire. This fire was very soon after replied to by the English, and was kept up on both sides for about forty minutes. At the end of that time Conflans, impatient for a more decisive result, ordered his army to renew its oblique advance, and to fall upon the troops on the left of the field of Indian corn, whom he believed to be Europeans. His orders were obeyed to the letter. His men advanced with great alacrity, and attacked the red-coated sipahis simultaneously in front and on their flank with so much vigour that, notwithstanding all the exhortations of Forde, they broke in disorder, many of them, headed by the Rajah’s followers, running for shelter as far as Chambol, pursued by the enemy’s horse.
This easy success over an enemy who was not the enemy he was believed to be was fatal to the French. Believing that this first shock had won the battle for him, Conflans, with the impetuosity worthy of a Rupert, resolved that it should be decisive. Without stopping to inquire whether there might not be other enemies behind the field of Indian corn, he detached several platoons of his European force to join in the pursuit. These platoons started off, and were marching in haste without order, when they were suddenly confronted by the whole line of English troops, moving solidly to take up the position from which the red-coated sipahis had been driven.
The positions of the two armies were at once reversed. Between the solid and compact array of the English, and the surprised and scattered platoons of the French, the contest could not be doubtful. In vain did the latter endeavour to re-form, to get together. Whilst they were still endeavouring, in
the manner of men taken suddenly at a disadvantage, to bring about this result, the English line had opened a rolling fire, beginning from the left and reaching gradually to the right. The effect of this fire was so decisive, that before the last musket on the right had been discharged, the French had broken their ranks, and were running as fast as they could, without order or formation, to regain their guns, which were about half a mile in their rear.
Whilst matters had been thus progressing on the English left and centre, the French sipahis on their left had been pressing the English right, and, for the moment, with some show of advantage. Forde, however, well aware that the contest in that quarter would be decided by the action of the Europeans in the centre, paid little heed to that part of the field, but, the moment he observed the French run in the manner I have described, he pressed on his Europeans, supported by the sipahis who had just given away, but who had now rallied, in hot but orderly pursuit. This was the more necessary as the ground was open, the enemy’s field guns were sufficiently numerous, counting thirteen, and, with a little time at their disposal, the French might yet have turned the fortunes of the day. He pressed on so vigorously, that although the French reached the shelter of their guns, they had time only to fire one or two rounds before his men, charging home, drove them from their pieces.
The day was thus virtually gained. The attack of the French had been repulsed, they had lost thirteen guns; the English were masters of the ground on which the battle had been fought. War has produced leaders who would have been satisfied with a result so brilliant. Not of such a school was Forde. He belonged to the class of men who believe that no satisfactory result has been achieved if anything yet remains to be accomplished. The French had been repulsed; they had not been thoroughly beaten. Forde resolved to improve his advantage by attacking their camp.
He halted till all his own sipahis, and possibly the Rajah’s troops, should join him. Regarding the former, there was little delay. The native left wing had, we have seen, rallied after their first defeat and had rejoined him. The contest on his right had been decided in the manner he had anticipated; the French sipahis had fallen back when they had seen their centre and right routed; their retreat enabled the English right wing to rejoin Forde. The Rajah’s troops however, could not be induced to come on. To his cavalry, who, it was thought, might be useful in the pursuit which everyone now considered certain, message after message was sent, “but” – to use the language of the contemporary historian, Mr. Orme – “they could not be prevailed upon to quit the shelter of a large tank, at that time dry, in which they, his foot and himself” – Rajah Anandraz – “in the midst of them, had remained cowering from the beginning of the action.”
Forde, however, cared little for the Rajah and his rabble. As soon as his own sipahis had all joined, and he had made all his preparations, that is, about one hour after the capture of the French field-pieces, he advanced to attack the French camp; leaving, that nothing might retard his march, the field-pieces, which were drawn by bullocks, to follow.
A deep hollow way traversed the country leading to the French camp. Behind this all their troops had rallied, and their heavy guns had been planted so as to defend the passage of the hollow way. Several shots from these were fired as the English approached. These pressed on, however; and the defenders, not yet recovered from the effect of their defeat in the plain below, did not stay to meet them. As the English halted to give their fire, the French went suddenly to the right-about, abandoned their camp, and retreated, every man seemingly as he listed, in the utmost confusion, in the direction of Rajahmahendri. The English then took possession of the camp with all its ordnance, ammunition, stores, tents, and camp equipage. The only things
which the French succeeded in preserving from their hands were four small pieces and two camels laden with money and papers, which Conflans had despatched to Rajahmahendri, there to await his orders, on the first repulse of his force. Conflans himself, accompanied by his commandant of artillery and staff, fled without making any attempt to rally his troops, and, riding hard, reached Rajahmahendri before midnight. In the first and second divisions of the fight, and in the pursuit, he lost thirty-two pieces of cannon, and a hundred and fifty-six men, including officers, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, besides a number of native soldiers. The English loss amounted to forty-four Europeans, and five officers killed and wounded, in addition, likewise, to many sipahis.18
Such was the battle of Kondur, written then, incorrectly, as was the custom of our countrymen – one of those clinging customs which men find so difficult to shake off – Condore; a battle won solely by the genius and resolution of the English leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Forde. It was with design that that officer had placed his red-coated sipahis in a position to attract the first attack of the French. Knowing the character of that nation, he had dared to risk the defeat of his left wing, in order that he might the more surely and with the greater effect smite the enemy when, scattered and careless, they would least expect him. He succeeded because he dared; he dared, because he had full reliance, first, on himself, on the coolness and calmness with which he could, in the storm of battle, direct a well thought-out movement; and, secondly, on the troops who had shown themselves during their service in Bengal thoroughly handy, amenable to the guidance of a skilful leader. Forde displayed, likewise, on that day a second quality, the possession of which is rarer than is generally supposed. He showed that he knew how to follow up a victory. Many a man would have been satisfied with the repulse of the first attack and the capture
of thirteen guns. On Forde the repulse of the first attack had the effect of bringing him to the resolution that within the limit of the northern Sirkars there should never be a second; that he would turn this repulse into a defeat which should be decisive and irretrievable. Of such stuff are made the leaders of men who never know failure, and of such stuff was Forde.
The defeat was made irretrievable. The very same day Forde despatched a battalion of sipahis under Captain Knox to follow up the enemy and to prevent their rallying. Knox pressed on so vigorously that he reached the vicinity of Rajahmahendri on the evening of the 9th. He was reinforced during the night by two more native battalions. The fugitives had entered that town before him, but the spirit which had induced them to abandon their camp had entered with them. The sight of the red-coated sipahis, undistinguishable from Europeans, deprived them of whatever nerve they had till then retained. Although Rajahmahendri occupied an elevated position on the north bank of the Godavari, and contained within its walls a mud fort in which were stored considerable supplies and some guns, the French had no thought of defending it. Their sole hope was to escape. The sight in the distance of the red-coats stimulated this hope. No sooner had darkness set in than they began to give vitality to it by evacuating the place. The Godavari, however, presented great difficulties to the operation. This noble river, which at Rajahmahendri has in the rainy season a width of nearly two miles, was in those days not crossed without much previous arrangement. Confusion, the child of panic, added on this occasion to the natural difficulties of the passage. The result was that when, at daybreak on the 10th, Knox forced his way into the town, he found fifteen Europeans hovering on the bank, eagerly expecting a return boat. He distinguished another party just landing on the southern bank, and about to disembark the guns and stores which their boat contained. His action was prompt and decisive. Making prisoners of the
fifteen Frenchmen, he opened a fire from the guns in the fort on those who were landing on the opposite bank; and although it is certain that the missiles did not reach them, yet the booming of the guns and other demonstrations added so to the terror of the fugitives that they fled for dear life, leaving their guns behind them. These Knox at once secured. Forde, with the remainder of the force, reached Rajahmahendri the following day. Conflans and his troops fled to Machhlipatanam.
But Forde was not yet satisfied. The large plan which had loomed before Clive, and which he had adopted – the plan which would secure for the English in the northern Sirkars and in the councils of the Subahdar of the Dakhan the place which till then had been occupied by the French – could not be carried out so long as a single Frenchman remained in the former. Now the French still held Machhlipatanam and the districts adjoining. Machhlipatanam was by far the most important place in the province. Situated on the north side of the mouth of a branch of the river Krishna, on the western shore of the Bay of Bengal, it was in those days famous for the various branches of industry which it supported and encouraged. In its trade it rivalled Madras. Its cession to the French in 1750, and the subsequent expulsion from it of the English agents, had been regarded as a great misfortune. In fact, the possession by the French of Machhlipatanam and of the towns dependent on it, Kondapilli and Elur, gave that nation a base whence it would be easy to move, on a convenient opportunity, to the recovery of the more northern districts. So long, then, as Machhlipatanam remained to the French, Forde’s work was but half done. Forde was not the man to leave his work unfinished. But it was necessary for him to strike quickly. The state of affairs in Bengal and at Madras was such that at any moment he might be recalled.
His main difficulty was the provision of funds. He had no money; but before moving from Vishakpatanam the Rajah,
Anandraz, had promised to supply him. But in the flush of the success, towards which he had contributed nothing but intense personal fright, Anandraz would not only give no money, he even declined to refund twenty thousand rupees which Forde had in the earlier days advanced to him. It was only after six weeks’ negotiation, under considerable pressure, on the giving of a solemn undertaking that all the sums advanced by the Rajah should be considered as loans, and that the revenues of all the districts south-west of Godavari which might be reduced should be divided equally between the Company and the Rajah, that the latter at length relaxed his purse-strings. Much precious time, however, had been lost. In fact, the end of the third week of January had arrived before Forde – who, the better to bring his influence to bear on the Rajah, had fallen back to the fort of Peddapur – could make arrangements for the forward movement he had so long contemplated.
But on the 28th of January he, though with great trouble, completed those arrangements and did move. Crossing the Godavari, he marched on and occupied Elur. (6th February), an important provincial capital near the great Kolar lake. But here he was forced to make another halt. The Rajah, procrastinating according to his wont, had not yet brought the promised supplies. It was necessary to wait for the Rajah. Forde, however, was not the man to allow time to slip away unemployed if he could find the means of utilising it. He set to work, therefore, to ascertain how far he could disturb the preparations which the French had made to hinder his further progress.
Conflans, fleeing from the field of Kondur, had reached Rajahmahendri, and had as speedily left that place without making any attempt to rally his forces, without even paying any heed as to their fate. He did not deem himself safe, in fact, till he reached Machhlipatanam. When, however, he found that Forde did not follow him across the Godavari, that he had even fallen back on Peddapur, he recovered part of his courage,
and turned his attention to the defence of the country that still remained to him. He was by no means destitute of resources. Notwithstanding his losses at Kondur he still had under his own personal orders upwards of seven hundred men, the gaps made by those losses having been more than replenished by the garrisons he had left behind him; he had the certainty that Moracin, at the head of three hundred men, was coming by sea to his assistance; and, in consequence of his urgent entreaties, Salabat Jang, Subahdar of the Dakhan, was marching with an army to support him. Regarded from the point of numbers, then, the prospects of the French were very promising. They required but one thing to make success for them an absolute certainty – that was the possession of a man to command them. Unfortunately for them, in Conflans they had a leader who could not lead, a man whose lack of mental capacity was only equalled by his deficiency in the lower quality of personal courage.
The crisis which was now approaching offered to a man possessing any pretensions to capacity a rare opportunity. The chiefs of the country south of the Godavari were still French in their sympathies, the country abounded in places capable of offering stubborn resistance to an invader, armed assistance was approaching. To throw every possible difficulty in the progress of the invader till that assistance should arrive, or – what was of scarcely less importance – till Anandraz should grow tired of furnishing him with supplies, was the course which would have recommended itself to a man of even average intelligence.
But Conflans possessed neither average intelligence nor average courage. He ordered Elur, which possessed a very strong mud fort, and was in other respects advantageously situated, to be abandoned. He remained himself shut up within Machhlipatanam. The utmost of which he was capable was to send into the field, under the command of an officer named du Rocher, a force which he called “an army of observation,” composed of
two hundred European and two thousand native troops, with four field-pieces, to watch the strong places in which he had allowed garrisons to remain. One of these strong places was Narsipur, twenty miles south-east of Elur. This place was garrisoned by one hundred European and about three hundred native troops, under the command of M. Panneau, chief of the French factory there.
To understand clearly the position, the reader will bear in mind that Elur, in which Forde and his army were halting, waiting for, Rajah Anandraz, lies forty-eight miles due north of Machhlipatanam, held by Conflans; that Narsipur lies twenty miles south-west of Elur, on the north bank of the mouth of the Godavari; whilst du Rocher’s “army of observation” had taken up a position nearly due west of Elur, and thirty miles distant from it, with the object, apparently, of giving a hand to the army of the Subahdar. Narsipur, then, was isolated, more distant from Conflans and du Kocher than from Forde. Noting this, Forde resolved to take it before it could be relieved.
With this object, taking first the precaution to secure, by a threat of destruction in case of refusal, the neutrality of the zamindar of the district, Forde despatched, a day or two after his arrival at Elur, a battalion of sipahis, under his best officer, Captain Knox. Panneau appears to have been a man formed in the mould of Conflans. The moment he heard that the English sipahis were marching against him, and that the zamindar of the district had been “got at,” he caused to be sunk or destroyed all the ammunition he could not carry away, abandoned Narsipur, and marched off to join the army of observation. Knox found in the place only a few old guns.
At length Rajah Anandraz arrived, and Forde was able (1st March) to march. Crossing the great Kolar lake, which was then nearly dry, he arrived on the 3rd in the vicinity of a small but strong fort, called Konkal, garrisoned by thirteen Frenchmen
and two companies of sipahis, commanded by a sergeant. This sergeant was a man of a higher natural stamp than either Conflans or Panneau. He had received the day previous a letter from du Rocher, requiring him to defend the fort to the last extremity, and promising to march to his relief. The sergeant did defend the place to the last extremity, repulsed two attacks, and only gave way when the gates were battered in and the English rushed in in overwhelming numbers. The small relieving party sent by du Rocher, learning in time of the disaster, fell back to rejoin him. Forde pushed on from Konkal, and on the 6th March arrived before Machhlipatanam. Conflans up to that day had occupied a very advantageous position in the town, about two miles from the fort of Machhlipatanam. He had here five hundred Europeans and two thousand sipahis, whilst close at hand was du Rocher’s army of observation, which hitherto had observed nothing. It was important to the French to maintain their position in the town, as it contained an abundant supply of water, whereas there was none in the fort, except a certain amount hoarded up in cisterns. The position would have been difficult to attack, and a retreat from it, had a retreat been necessary, would have been covered by the guns in the fort. But Conflans had not forgotten Kondur; he would not risk a second action. When Forde approached he retired behind the defences of the fort.
That fort was well capable of offering a prolonged defence. An irregular parallelogram, with an average length of about eight hundred yards, and a breadth of from five to six hundred, it stood nearly a mile and a half from the sea-shore, on the edge of a sound or inlet of the sea, upwards of five hundred yards in breadth, and was surrounded on the three other sides by a morass of considerable extent. This morass varied in depth in different parts, from three to eighteen feet. The outline of the works consisted of eleven bastions of various sizes and shapes, connected by long curtains; round the whole was a
palisadoed berm and a wet ditch, but no curtains; the ramparts and the counterscarp were of earth faced with masonry.
The reader will not fail to observe that the face of the fort, which rested on the inlet of the sea – the southern face – was practically unassailable. Nor did the three other faces fail to offer extraordinary difficulties. A range of sand-hills extended on the western and eastern sides of the fort to about half a mile inland. On the eastern side they approached to within eight hundred yards of the fort, and – the morass lying between them and it and a creek running between the two – they formed here the nearest point whence the place could be assailed. The town, which Conflans had evacuated, lay nearly two miles to the north-west of the fort, and was also surrounded by the morass. The mode of communication between the two was by means of a narrow raised causeway, about two thousand yards in length, leading to the north-west bastion of the fort, in which was the only gateway. The last hundred and twenty yards of this causeway was formed into a long caponnière, which, at the part furthest from the fort, terminated in a strong ravelin.
On the 7th March, Forde invested this strong place with a force inferior in Europeans to that which defended it. Regular approaches being out of the question, he took up a position on the sand-banks I have described as being within eight hundred yards of the eastern face of the fort. Here he began to erect his batteries.
From the 7th to the 25th March, Forde was engaged in erecting these batteries. During this period he was exposed to difficulties and obstacles sufficient to madden any man. Scarcely had he sat down before Machhlipatanam when du Rocher’s army of observation woke into sudden life and acted on his communications. Du Rocher’s movements towards Rajahmahendri, and the threats, which he took care should be reported, that he would make a raid upon the ancestral domains of Rajah
Anandraz, so terrified the latter, that he closed his hands, and refused to advance money to his allies, or to pledge his credit on their behalf. The effect of this, coming at a moment when the British treasure-chest was empty, and when Forde depended for its replenishment on supplies known to have arrived at Rajahmahendri, or, failing them, on Anandraz, was most disastrous. To add to his troubles, certain intelligence reached him that the Subahdar of the Dakhan, the ally of the French, with an army of forty thousand strong, was approaching.
Was it possible for a position to be apparently more hopeless than that of Forde at this conjuncture (18th March)? He was besieging an enemy who, strong in their superior numbers and the mud walls behind which they fought, literally laughed at him. His communications were cut off, and the supply of money on which he depended to pay his troops was threatened by the enemy; his native ally was abject with terror, and ready to betray him; the overlord of the country was marching at the head of an army forty thousand strong to force him to raise the siege. That was his position on the 18th March – a position full of despair, not offering one ray of hope. But his cup of troubles was not yet full.
Up to that date Forde had managed to subsist his army by using the prize money gained by the troops, but not yet distributed, by expending all his own private funds, the private funds of his officers, and the money which otherwise would have gone to pay his soldiers. One consequence of this was that his troops were several months in arrears of pay. This alone was a hardship; but when they saw, for they could not help seeing, that their hard-earned prize money had disappeared, that nothing was left, that their food was bad and insufficient, that they were engaged on an impossible enterprise – they, too, lost heart. On the 19th the European troops broke into open mutiny, and, turning out with their arms, threatened to march away. Forde, by a mixture of firmness and tact, succeeded in
quieting them, and, assuring them that their money was on its way from Bengal, persuaded them to return to their duty. Four days later the money, which had reached Rajahmahendri, was, to preserve it from the French, hurriedly shipped on board boats to be conveyed to the coast town of Kakinada, and was thus lost for the time to the English. The next day du Rocher entered Rajahmahendri, and made as though he would march on Vishakpatanam. The day following, 25th March, the English batteries were sufficiently completed to enable Forde to open fire. The bombardment which then began continued to the 6th April, without any substantial result. It is true that it demolished many houses in the fort and made many breaches in the bastions. But not only were the breaches made by day repaired by night, but the French, erecting a battery on the unapproached side of the inlet, poured in during this time a fire which, taking the English batteries in flank, caused considerable damage. To add to Forde’s embarrassment, the day after his batteries had opened, the Subahdar of the Dakhan, Salabat Jang, arrived at Baizwara, forty-four miles from Machhlipatanam, and sent an express to Rajah Anandraz ordering him to quit the English camp and to join his standard.
These items of intelligence reached the English camp on one and the same day. They appeared to bring the misfortunes of Forde to a climax. Rajah Anandraz showed his appreciation of their importance by marching off the next morning, without notice, in the direction of his territories. When, however, it was pointed out to him that between himself and his territories there was du Rocher, and that his only chance of prosperity, perhaps even of existence, lay in contributing as far as he could to the success of the English, he returned. Meanwhile, Forde himself opened out negotiations with Salabat Jang. The result was a ray of light. Salabat Jang consented to receive an English envoy in his camp, and, meanwhile, to remain at Baizwara.
But this ray of light was soon succeeded by a darkness blacker
even than that which had heralded its appearance. On the 5th April there fell heavy rain, which added greatly to the swampy nature of the morass. The following day intelligence arrived that Salabat Jang had broken up his camp at Baizwara, and was marching on Machhlipatanam, and that du Kocher, retracing his steps from Rajahmahendri, was hurrying to effect a junction with him. That morning the senior artillery officer reported to Forde that not more ammunition than was sufficient for two days’ service of the batteries remained in store!
The issue had now greatly narrowed itself. It had become a battle to the death between two men, Forde and Conflans, with every advantage on the side of the latter. However greatly though Forde might dare, Conflans had only to remain firm to baffle him. Let him but display ordinary intelligence, ordinary courage, ordinary forethought, and he had him safe and secure in the hollow of his hand. According to every rule of war Forde, in fact, was lost. With fewer than four hundred Europeans and about fourteen hundred sipahis, he had before him a fortress which defied him, behind him an army which he could not beat; his ammunition, his supplies, his funds were alike exhausted. Never was a commander, not even Wellington before Talavera, in a position so radically false. He was in a trap, apparently lost.
If Forde had been Conflans he had been lost indeed, without redemption. It is too much to say, looking at the record of the men who were his contemporaries, of men such as Clive, as Eyre Coote, as Caillaud, as Munro, and as Adams, that if he had not been Forde he had been lost. But this, at least, may be asserted, that if he had not held a double first-class degree in the university of nature, if he had not possessed to a supreme extent the qualities which mark men amongst their fellow-men, and if, it must in fairness be added, he had not been opposed to a leader who in all qualities, soldierly or other, ranked as much below the ordinary humanity of the age as Forde ranked above
it, he could not have emerged from the crisis in which he found himself with success, or even with credit. As it was, his conduct stands out a brilliant example to all men beset by difficulties. He faced them with coolness, he met them with a calm determination to conquer them.
No sooner had Forde become aware that the avenues behind him were closing up, and that he had but two days’ ammunition left, than he determined to bring matters to an issue by attempting to storm Machhlipatanam. Success there would be success everywhere. Defeat there would be no greater calamity than the calamity which stared him in the face on the sand-hills on which he stood.
Resolved, then, to make a supreme effort to conquer – to venture all to obtain all – Forde, on the morning of the 7th April, opened a fire from his batteries so fierce, so continued and so concentrated, as to surpass all his previous efforts. Calculating that the tide would be at its ebb about midnight, that then the depth of the water in the ditch of the fort would not exceed three feet, he ordered the whole of his force to be under arms at 10 o’clock. To mislead the enemy as to the intended point of attack, he directed the fire equally upon all the bastions, and, to prevent their repair, he continued it to the latest moment. He had resolved to make the real attack on the bastion mounting ten guns at the north-east angle of the fort, but – again to mislead the enemy – he ordered that Captain Knox should distract them by making a demonstration, to be converted, if necessary, into a real attack, against its south-west angle, between the bastion resting on the sound, and that to the north of it. At this point the broad swamp, bounded externally by a small rivulet, served the purpose of a ditch, and rendered the face apparently impregnable; but Forde had discovered, on the night of the 6th, that the passage through the swamp, though difficult, was practicable. In a desperate attempt, desperate efforts must be resorted to, and it was considered possible that this
point, considered impregnable, might be left comparatively unguarded. Still further to distract the attention of the garrison, it was arranged that Rajah Anandraz, with all his following, should proceed along the causeway and make an attack upon the ravelin covering the caponnière.
At 10 o’clock that night the various attacking parties were under arms, awaiting the signal. As the party led by Captain Knox, comprised entirely of sipahis, seven hundred in number, destined to wade through the swamp and attack the south-west angle, had a longer distance to traverse, they started first.
The main attack, formed in three divisions, and composed of three hundred and twelve European infantry, thirty gunners, thirty sailors, and seven hundred sipahis, was to set out about half an hour later, but some time was lost in waiting for the officer appointed to command it, Captain Callender, and eventually the party started without him. The camp was then left in charge of Rajah Anandraz. It was arranged that he and his followers should remain halted there till they should hear the sound of attack from one or the other quarter – it having been settled that neither attack should begin before midnight, but that each party was free to act the moment the gongs of the fort should strike twelve – and that then they should advance to the attack of the ravelin.
Precisely at 12 o’clock the sound of firing from the direction of the southern face of the fort, proved that Knox had begun operations. Rajah Anandraz at once sent his men along the causeway, whence they opened a musketry fire on the ravelin, which served at least to distract the attention of the defenders. Leaving them at this task, I propose to follow the main attack. Setting out a good half hour late, this party – led by Captain Fischer – proceeded across the morass from a point opposite the bastion they intended to storm. Notwithstanding all their efforts, the unfortunate delay in starting interfered with the symmetry of the projected assault, for before they could reach
the ditch they heard the fire indicating that Knox had begun his task. Rendered more eager by this sound they marched on as fast as they could, up to their knees in mire, across the swamp, and up to the middle in water and mud in crossing the ditch. The first division had just waded through the latter, and were engaged in tearing up the palisades on the berm, when the French, who had discovered them only just before they had reached the palisades, gathered on the breach, whilst other of their troops opened an artillery and musketry fire from the next bastions on their right and left. This opposition, however, only increased the ardour of the assailants; and whilst the first division, composed of Europeans and sipahis, led by Captain Fischer, attacked the breach; the second, composed only of sipahis, under Captain Maclean, replied to the fire from the bastion on their right; and the third, composed only of Europeans, led by Captain Yorke, answered that pouring on them from the left. Several men were killed, however, before Fischer succeeded in gaining the breach; but no sooner had he accomplished this feat than Yorke’s men, clambering up, joined him, and the united parties, turning to the left, seized the bastion whence Maclean had been fired upon. This left a clear way to Maclean’s party. But before his men could clamber up, Fischer turned along the ramparts to the right to secure the bastions in that direction. Leaving him for a moment, I must follow the fortunes of Yorke.
Fischer had but just set off when it was reported to Yorke that one of the guns was on the bastion he had gained, ready loaded. Yorke at once brought it to bear along the southern face of the rampart, and was preparing to follow in the same direction, when he beheld a body of French sipahis advancing between the foot of the rampart and the buildings of the town, with the object of reinforcing the Frenchmen on the bastion, of the capture of which they were evidently not aware. With rare courage and presence of mind Yorke ran down to the detachment,
and, seizing the French officer who commanded it, bade him order his men to lay down their arms, as the defences of the place had been gained. Surprised and half stupefied, the officer obeyed; his men laid down their arms and were sent as prisoners to the conquered bastion. Yorke, observing that the way below the bastion was free from interruption, and broader than the rampart, then brought his men down and pushed along it parallel to the rampart. He had successfully reduced and secured two out of the three bastions which still remained on that face, when an event occurred which had almost marred the success of the whole plan.
Yorke’s men had followed him at first with alacrity, but as they pressed on in the darkness, separated from their comrades, towards unknown dangers, their leader had discovered, not only that their alacrity had vanished, but that it was difficult to urge them on. This difficulty became more marked after the second bastion, counting from that by which the stormers had entered, had been gained. Many of them held back when Yorke, after securing his prisoners, urged them to advance. They had yielded, however, to his threats and persuasions, when suddenly they came upon a small building close to the rampart. It was simply an expense magazine; but some of the men, who had stopped from curiosity to examine it, discovering that it contained gunpowder, called out “a mine, a mine!” The words had scarcely been uttered before the whole division ran back panic-stricken, leaving Yorke, who was marching at their head, alone, with two native drummer-boys, who continued to beat the Grenadiers’ march. In vain did they beat; not only would not the men advance, they ran back to the bastion by which they had entered, and, disregarding their officers who tried to rally them, began to debate whether they should not leave the fort. They were discussing this question when Yorke, whose patience had been exhausted, appeared amongst them. Infuriated at what he heard, he jumped to the breach and threatened to kill
the first man who should offer to come near it. Yorke was an old 39th officer, and there were some men in the grenadier company he was leading who had served in that regiment. These, ashamed of their previous behaviour, at once sided with him; their example became contagious, and in a minute Yorke found thirty-six devoted men ready to follow him. At the head of these, and leaving the others to follow as soon as their officers could bring them round, Yorke started off, always with the two native drummers at his side, to resume his task.
But the delay caused by this blind panic had given the enemy time to rally. The officer who commanded the third and last bastion, towards which Yorke had been advancing when his men recoiled in the manner I have described, had brought down a gun loaded with grape and pointed it towards the roadway along which the English were advancing. When they arrived within a few yards of it he fired it. The effect was most disastrous. Yorke himself, always in front of his men, was struck down with a ball through each thigh; the two native drummers were killed at his side; several of the men were killed, and sixteen were wounded. The survivors, carrying with them their wounded captain, fell back to the breach and to the two bastions beyond it, where Fordo was with a small reserve. There they awaited the result of the movements of Fischer.
I have already recorded that when, on gaining the breach, Yorke had moved along the rampart to the left, Fischer had moved to the right. He gained without difficulty two bastions in that direction. The third was connected with the caponnière covered by the ravelin which Rajah Anandraz was feebly assailing. But feeble as was his assault, the effect on the French garrison was just as great as if it had been made with vigour. The French officer who commanded at the ravelin, losing all thought of the common danger, and treating as serious an attack which the slightest perception would have shown him to be a simple demonstration, allowed
himself and the hundred men with him to be isolated – to be kept from the important part of the field of action; for Fischer, advancing from the second bastion, and taking in at once, as he approached the third, the position of affairs, promptly closed the gate leading to the ravelin. Just as he bad done this, Captain Callender, whose want of punctuality had, it will be remembered, delayed the advance for more than half an hour, appeared on the scene and assumed command; as the party, however, advanced to the fourth bastion, a stray shot from that post killed him, and Fischer resumed it.
Whilst matters were thus progressing to the right and left of the breach, where was Conflans? Roused from his slumbers by the musketry discharge of Knox’s false attack, that officer had not quitted his house, but had increased the general confusion of the garrison by sending to the various posts repeated and contradictory orders, based on the exaggerated reports which reached him every minute. Never very strong in his head, he was driven wild by the fact that the attack was made on four different faces of the fort, and he had not the sense to distinguish the feigned from the real. First, Knox’s attack had alarmed him. He had met that by sending to his southern face the greater part of his reserves, when a very few only would have been sufficient, for Knox had been unable to cross the swamp, and his men had no ammunition beyond that which they carried in their pouches. Then, Rajah Anandraz, as powerless to cause him evil as was Knox, had disquieted his nerves. It would have been easy for him, on the first alarm, to send to the ravelin, and ascertaining how feeble was the attack, and how easily the position could be held by twenty men, to have drawn off the remainder to meet the only assault which was really formidable; but he did nothing of the sort, and thus another hundred men were isolated. Again, when the breach was stormed, the fact that the rampart was assailed on the right and left simultaneously, completed his mental prostration. A
few reserves well in hand might yet have retrieved the day, might have converted the repulse of Yorke’s men into a defeat, and might have checked the advance of Fischer. But, as I have said, the double attack of the storming party, combined with the continued rattle of musketry from the assailants of the southern face, and of the ravelin, finished him. Believing that all was lost, he sent a messenger to Forde to propose to capitulate on honourable terms. This happened just at the moment when the ammunition of Knox’s party was all but exhausted, when Yorke’s men, repulsed, were bearing their wounded leader back to the breach whence they had started, when Callender, dropping from the clouds, had been shot dead. Forde, who had joined Maclean’s men on the rampart, was eagerly watching Fischer’s advance, upon the progress of which the fate of the fort seemed to depend, when he received the offer of capitulation. He answered it in a manner becoming one who felt it necessary to complete the discouragement of his foe. The surrender, he replied, must be a surrender at discretion: the garrison must instantly lay down their arms, and constitute themselves prisoners. Conflans acceded – and the contest ceased. The garrison laid down their arms. The most important stronghold of the French fell into the hands of our countrymen.
Mr. Orme has well remarked that “the improbability of the attempt” on Machhlipatanam “was the principal cause of its success, for its garrison from the beginning had regarded the siege with mockery, and, being in daily expectation of the arrival of a body of troops which were coming by sea from Pondichery, had concerted that the army of observation, joined by this reinforcement, and a great detachment if not the whole of Salabat Jang’s army, should then surround and attack the English army.” Yes – but admitting that mockery, the result, but for the incapacity of their leader, would undoubtedly have corresponded to their anticipations. It would have been so if a Forde had occupied the place of Conflans; it would have been
so if a man of ordinary intelligence had occupied the position of the French leader.
After all, the work was the work of one man. It was the consequence of a display of daring, of calm courage, of cool calculation, not surpassed in the history of the world. Imagine once more the position of Forde, his gun ammunition reduced to a supply barely sufficient for two days, facing a fortress garrisoned by an army superior to his own, cut off from his resources, two armies behind him, and another expected daily on the coast. All way of retreat for him by land was cut off; to remain where he was was impossible. He might, it is true, have embarked his troops on board the ships which were on the coast, but such a course he rejected as dishonourable. In whichever direction he might attack, he must meet a superior force. In a moment of supreme danger Forde chose the straight, direct, and simple course, which, not in war only but in every other circumstance of life, it becomes a man to follow. He followed it, and won!
At the storming of Machhlipatanam, Forde lost twenty-two Europeans killed and sixty-two wounded, among the former two officers. Of the sipahis, who vied with the Europeans in courage, fifty were killed and a hundred and fifty wounded. He captured a hundred and twenty pieces of cannon, besides many military and other stores. The garrison which surrendered numbered five hundred Europeans and two thousand five hundred and thirty-seven natives, the latter all capable of bearing arms, but of whom only a proportion were trained sipahis.
When he stormed the place the army of Salabat Jang was within fifteen miles of it; du Rocher’s army of observation was still nearer. A week later ships conveying a corps of three hundred Frenchmen under Moracin appeared off the coast. Had he failed, then, Forde would have left few traces of his enterprise behind him.
His success, well earned, gained for England the five districts
which had constituted the most valuable possession of France in Hindustan – the districts constituting the province of the Northern Sirkars, and including those now known as Ganjam, Vishakpatanam, Rajahmahendri, Machhlipatanam, and Guntur. Salabat Jang, after a little bluster, signed, on the 14th May, a treaty conferring upon the English, as a free gift, the whole sirkar of Machhlipatanam with eight districts, as well as the Sirkar of Nizampatanam, and the districts of Kondavid and Wakalmannar.
Three years after this date, Nizam Ali, who had succeeded Salabat Jang, offered the whole of the Sirkars, with the exception of Guntur, to the English, on condition of their aiding him with troops. They declined, but four years subsequently the grant of the whole, made at the instance of Clive by the Court of Dihli, was confirmed by the Subahdar, then and ever subsequently known as the Nizam. The right of the English to those Sirkars has never since been questioned.
But the cession of the Northern Sirkars was not the most important result obtained by the storming of Machhlipatanam. From the date of that capture the paramount influence at the Court of Haidarabad was transferred from the French to the English. By the treaty made by Salabat Jang on the 14th May, the French were not only expelled, they were forbidden to have a settlement in that country. The corps of Moracin which had landed at Ganjam was, after a few fruitless efforts to disturb the new arrangements, completely dispersed. Du Rocher, it is true, lingered some time longer. But the fiat had gone forth. The victory of Forde laid the foundation of that predominance at the Court of the Nizam which, placed some forty years later on a definite basis by Marquess Wellesley, exists at the present day.
Rightly, then, may Kondur and Machhlipatanam rank among the decisive battles of India. Few battles have produced more brilliant results. If Kaveripak was the turning-point in
the contest between the French and English for the possession of Southern India south of the Krishna, the capture of Machhlipatanam most assuredly secured for them the authority they now command and the influence they now exercise in the provinces lying between that river and the Vindhayan range.
One word regarding the man who gained for his country that splendid position. Forde had been recommended by Clive to the Court of Directors for the command of the Company’s troops in Bengal. The recommendation was not listened to. Nor, though immediately after his expulsion of the French from the Northern Sirkars, Forde proceeded to Calcutta to gain, in the vicinity of Chinsurah, another victory over another European enemy of superior force, did he receive any proof of the gratitude of the corporation he had served so well. In spite of this neglect his name has descended to this generation, and it will descend to posterity, as the name of a great Englishman, of one who nobly upheld the honour of his country, and who, by the display of a calm and cool courage, aided most materially in laying the foundation of the British Empire in India.
15. The English of a hundred and thirty years ago chose to call this place, which is written and pronounced by the natives Machhlipatanam, or “the town of fish,” Masulipatam, a name which conveys no meaning whatever. The “Machhli” was evidently first corrupted into “Masli”; later on the “Masli” became “Masuli.” This barbarism has been continued to the present day.
16. The names of these districts underwent subsequently a partial revision. Shrikakolam was divided into Ganjam, Vishakpatanam, and Rajahmahendri. Machhlipatanam absorbed Elur and Kondapilli; Murtazanagar became Guntur.
17. Salabat Jang, writes Mr. Orme, “took leave of Bussy with the utmost despondency, called him the guardian angel of his life and fortune, and foreboded the unhappy fate to which he would be exposed by his departure.”
18. Cambridge’s War in India, second edition, published in 1762.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage