Sunday, 27 November 2016

Helen Baber, her life & final resting place

Helen Baber's grave stone, the English Church, Tellicherry. 
Photo courtesy of Jissu Jacob.

Throughout much of history there have been strong wives who have supported their husbands through thick and thin. These husbands would not have been nearly as effective as they were without their wives.

It is quite clear that Thomas Hervey Baber, was extremely fortunate in his choice of wife, and that Helen Somerville Baber must have been a remarkable woman in her own right.

Like so many of these wives, however it is extremely hard to discover their complete story because she was essentially a private person in the manner of those days, and one who was hidden away from sight. She only very rarely appears in the official records, and then we only occasional catch tantalising glimpses into her life. Yet when she does enter the records, the strength of her character, and the enduring nature of her love and support for Thomas Baber comes though very clearly.

Thanks to a great deal of good luck, and a great deal of kindness on the part of Jissu Jacob a local man from Periah, Helen has suddenly been brought into view.

View of Helen Baber's table tomb, in the newly cleared church yard.

On my visit to Thalassey in 2006, I had been so overwhelmed by hospitality, that I had run out of time for adequately exploring the town. Reaching the fort as dusk fell, and only able to view over the fence into the overgrown churchyard as dusk was falling, I had feared attempting to climb into the churchyard, lest I fell down a hole, or encountered a snake.

As a result of this blog, I have been having a substantial correspondence with quite a few local people from Kerala and especially Thalassey. One of these Jissu Jacob, a local historian and tour guide was good enough to go recently to the churchyard and to take the photos in this post.

We know very little about Helen Baber's early life beyond the following passage in a note book kept by my great great great grandfather Henry Hervey Baber, Thomas Baber's elder brother.

On February 7th 1798 Henry in England, records that his father had received the following letter from his brother: -

“Feb. 7 Father hears from Tom -- Letter dated Bombay August 1797 – about the same receives a letter which came overland enclosed (by just favour) with government dispatches, requesting his consent to marry a Mrs Cameron (wife of a Major Cameron who was lately killed in an excursion down the country) she is not 18 the daughter of Mr. Fearon of Edinburgh & niece of Mr Douglas of Fitzroy Square London. She had been married to the Major about a twelvemonth.

Thomas’s fiance, whose maiden name had been Helen Somerville Fearon, had previously been married during 1795 at the age of only 15 to Captain Donald Cameron, of the Bombay Army at Portsmouth. With the East India Company recruitment camp on the Isle of Wight nearby, this many have been a last minute affair prior to Cameron boarding an East Indiamen before setting out on the long journey east.

It had not been uncommon for girls, especially daughters of soldiers aged 15 or less to marry soldiers during this period, however it was much less common for officers to marry such young girls. Her father came from Edinburgh, and one wonders if she had perhaps run away with the Captain.

Following her marriage, she must have almost immediately boarded the East Indiaman for the voyage to India. One can only imagine what it must have been like for a teenage girl, who would still have been at school had she been born today. She would have travelled in a tiny cabin constructed towards the stern of the ship, divided from her fellow passengers by temporary timber and canvas curtains.

The ship would have been crammed full of soldiers, sailors and fellow travellers.

Conditions on-board would have often been cold, wet, and the air fetid with the smells coming up from the other decks. The relative seniority of her new husband probably meant that she ate with the ships captain and the other senior passengers in captains stern cabin. She will have been able to visit the upper deck for exercise, where no doubt she would have been an object of curiosity to the sailors.

The war with France was raging, and Britain had not yet achieved naval supremacy, so she faced not just storms and the possibility of shipwreck, but also capture by the French.

Helen will have arrived in India during 1796, probably arriving first and Surat where her husbands Battalion was stationed.  Very soon after her arrival, the Battalion was mobilised to proceed to Tellicherry. Presumably Helen travelled on with the Major to Tellicherry. Given the smallness of the fort, at Tellicherry, it is quite possible she lived in tents with the Major. However, she was not to experience married life for long, for hardly had she arrived in India than she had become a widow.

Major Cameron was killed on the 18th of March 1797 whilst fighting his way down the Periah Pass. (See )

One can only image the pain and grief that she must have experienced at that moment, on learning that her husband was missing and was believed to have been killed.

One can only imagine how frightening, must have been her situation, she was only 17, widowed. She was in a foreign town thousands of miles from her family, and she was dependant on the charity of others.

It is not clear how Thomas first met Helen Cameron. However it is very likely that she was staying either in Tellicherry, or at Cannanore with its fort and cantonment.

As Helen had only become a widow in March 1797, and that we know that Thomas was already writing to his father via Bombay by August 1797, we can only presume that their courtship was brief and intense as are many wartime courtships.

There were very few unmarried European women living in India at this time, and those that were their were considerably out numbered by European men, so Helen Cameron must have attracted quite a lot of attention from the single officers and officials in the settlement, who would otherwise have had little opportunity of marrying, until they either went on leave after ten or more years, or chose to live with a local woman.

Aged only 20 and with only a very small salary, it must be wondered how Thomas Baber expected to be able to support his new wife. East India Company staff generally had to wait for many years and have achieved promotions before they were in a financial position to be able to marry.

Helen will have had only a very small pension entitlement from the annuity that the East India Company would have set up for her following the Majors death, and a sum from Lord Clive's fund.

This would only be payable in England, and Helen would have been expected to return to Great Britain on the first available ship.

The Major's uniform and associated belongings would have been auctioned and the proceeds handed over to his widow following his death to his fellow officers, and in other similar occurrences, it was not unknown for very high prices to be paid for items like swords at these auctions by brother officers as a way of giving support to recently widowed survivors.

Sadly we don’t know what Thomas father wrote in reply to his letter. Thomas however had not waited for his father’s permission, for as Henry wrote on 24th August 1798: -

“Father heard from Tom – when he informs us of his being married Jan 16 – 1798 to Mrs Helen Cameron – soon afterwards was appointed assistant in the revenue department at Callicut - Mrs Baber writes to my Mother.”

During December 1798 Helen was delivered of a daughter, possibly on the 1st of December, or shortly before. It has not been possible to trace this daughter beyond this brief notice, so we must presume that she died shortly afterwards, like so many other children in India in those times.[2]

Throughout the early years of their marriage Thomas was fighting the Pazhassi Rajah who was trying to oust the English from his territory. Helen must often have been left on her own, and with every chance that she would become a widow once again.

We don't know where they lived before 1809, but by then they were living in the fort.

Thomas was by then a magistrate.

Most of Thomas Baber's East India Company colleagues would have lived in houses in the fort or in bungalow's nearby. The unmarried ones would have shared houses, and probably lived a male dominated life, which probably included a fair amount of drinking and hard living.

Surviving Bungalows inside Tellicherry Fort, one of which may have been the home of Helen & Thomas Baber

It is very likely that Thomas had missed out on much of this communal life, with its echos of an English boarding school common room. This was because following his arrival in Calicut in 1797 he had almost immediately been sent out into the district near Ponnani many miles down the coast to the south, in the company only of his Indian bodyguard and subordinates.  Once he married he was living with his wife and was therefore living away from the other officials.

This may account for his having very different attitudes to those held by his colleagues on many issues such as slavery. These attitudes in turn may well have had the effect at setting him at odds with these same officials.

His ability to retreat to his home and to the support of his wife, probably enabled him to survive in the face of the active hostility of his fellow officials. for years.

Thomas and Helen Baber’s first son, Thomas Francis was born on the 12th of May 1802 at Tellicherry.

Writing in 1832 [3] Thomas recorded how he had first learnt of the existence of slavery in the Malabar quite by chance, when out riding one day in 1803, he had met a man by the roadside who tried to sell him two slaves.

Appalled, he bought the two slaves, a boy and a girl in order to free them. He appears to have sheltered them, and to have provided them with an education, as he recorded how one later rose to become a gentleman’s butler and the other an ayah.

Helen must presumably accepted these two children into her household, and to have played a large part in developing them. One begins to wonder if she was not just as committed a reformer as he was.

By 1808 Thomas and Helen’s eldest boy had reached the age at which he was old enough to travel back to England to commence his education. Henry, the boys uncle, recorded his arrival in England on 27 August 1808: -

“Returned to town & saw my nephew at Mrs Jones’s – this little fellow arrived in England 14th augst: he went to his grandfather augst – 29.”

Aged only six this little boy must have had some tales to tell to his uncle and grandparents when he arrived in England. He had just sailed half way around the world in the midst of a convoy at the height of the Napoleonic Wars.

The boy appears to have been sent on to school almost immediately. On 14 October 1808 his uncle Henry recorded: -

“Took my nephew to school at Mr Rowes’s Bromley – Kent.”

It must have been a terrible moment for Helen as she had to part with her boy, knowing well that they would not see each other for many years, and quite possibly never again, should either of them die.

Life must have often been very anxious for Helen, as for instance when smallpox raged through Tellicherry and the district.

Judicial from 29th February 1809. 59261.

Soon after he was established in his Cutcherry at Tellicherry the smallpox broke out and raged with considerable violence, throughout the Zillah, Mr Baber made great efforts to stop its progress by the introduction of vaccination, in which his conduct was highly approved by the Court of Directors.

Thomas and Helen's attitudes towards the Indian's and slavery caused a substantial rift with his fellow English & Scottish colleagues, and I expect that a lot of the local EIC officials came to see him as both as a threat and well as a very great nuisance.  After all, judged by the standards of 1809, what was wrong with having a few slaves? There were masses of slaves in the Americas, and West Indies, and the Indian’s had had slavery themselves for centuries.

Everybody knew that you went to India to make money. The previous generation of Nabob’s like Barwell, Clive and the others had been able to make many thousands of pounds.  Why shouldn’t they too also have the opportunity to make a fortune?

What was all the fuss about?

One of the disputes that Thomas had entered into came to a head in 1809, and led to his eventually fighting a duel.

Thomas Lumsden Strange later recounted the story of the duel.  The local officials and offices had taken such a dislike to Thomas that they recruited a army office who had a reputation for fightinf duels.  This was with an officer by the name of Fortune.  The two were placed back to back to measure out six paces each, when Fortune, after taking but a step or two, turned round and fired and wounded Mr Baber on the thigh, before immediately bolting.  Strangely enough his second encouraged him, saying “run Billy, run!”

Billy however in his hurry to escape fell, and Mr Baber came up to him and shook his pistol in his face saying that he would be justified in blowing his brains out. [5] 

Thomas survived the duel, and was morally vindicated by the mores of the time, but he was in mortal danger. Helen immediately began to nurse him back to health. She realised that it would greatly help if he could be taken up the Ghats to a higher and cooler location.

She travelled to Ponnani, and it was there that an extraordinary event occurred, which was related to me by one of the descendants of the Brahmin priest who had taken part in the events.

During 1809 the Rajah's of Travancore and Cochin had been ousted from power, by an official supported by the East India Company.  This official had them begun to persecute many of the inhabitants of Cochin and the surrounding districts.  The Queen Mother and Aunt of the deposed Rajah had at first tried appealing to the EIC official in Cochin to prevent these abuses, before writing to Madras to no effect.

After several months they determined to try another way of getting help. They had somehow learned that Thomas Baber was an EIC official who was sympathetic to the plight of the Indian's so they determined to send three local officials to seek him out, and to try to get his support.

The story goes that these officials found Baber at Ponnani in a house with two floors.  They arrived at the house to try to meet him, but were told that they would have to wait as Thomas was too ill to come down to see them.  After a few minutes Helen arrived at the head of the stairs carrying a baby in her arms, and invited them to come up the stairs to see Thomas Baber.

As the three Indians climbed the stairs, all of a sudden the baby gave a great wringle and fell from Helen's arms.

Fortunately at that moment the Brahmin was stood immediately below Helen and was able to catch the baby, preventing its tumbling to the foot of the stairs.

As the Brahmins descendant related to me in 2006, this broke the tension for them.

Eventually the truth of the situation in Travancore and Cochin came out and an expedition was mounted to remove its abusive ruler.

Helen was to go on supporting her husband for many years ahead, through both thick and thin, as I will relate in future blog posts.

[1]Henry Hervey Baber’s Memoranda relating to the life of Henry Hervey Baber.
[2] The Asiatic Annual Register, or a View of the History of Hindustan, 1799. Page 147.
[3]Thomas Hervey Baber “An Account of the Slaves Population in the Western Peninsula of India”, page 36.
[4]OIOC O/6/9 folio 6.
[5]OIOC Mss Eur D.358, 20th Sept 1870 Page 131 to 133.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Death of Mr Conolly, murdered by Islamic Insurgents 1855.

The Hill and Barracks at Calicut. 
 The exact date of the photo is unknown, but it probably dates to within a decade of Conolly's death.

With the news today filled with stories about ISIS and the Paris outrage, it brings to mind only too clearly how we are witnessing just one of a centuries long string of events stretching back to the Seventh Century.

In the middle of the 19th Century very similar events were unfolding with the Muslim minority along the coast beginning to reach critical population densities that they could start to take over more and more of the area from the local Hindu population. Throughout the 1840's there had been a series of assassinations of local Hindu landowners and even Nayar labourers.  A sect believed to be called Hal Ilakkam had carried out the outrage.  On 11t December 1843 Anavattatt Soliman and nine others killed Karukamana Govinda Mussat, the adhikari of Pandikad in Walluvanad Taluk, together with his servant while they were bathing. They then attacked and defiled two temples.  A detachment of the 19th Native Regiment under Major Osborne marched from Palghat, towards the location, and into an ambush.

"I moved the detachment at half-past ten in the direction of the house occupied by the murders accompanied by H.D.C. Cook Esq., two tahsildars and peons.  Immediately after filing though the paddy field the murderers rushed upon the column, and in a few minutes were shot, ten in number." [1]

Further incidents occurred in 1849 with substantial forces required from the 39th and 43rd Regiments of Native Infantry making assaults on Hindu Temples that the Mopillas had occupied.  Further flare-ups went on throughout 1851 when many fights with the insurgents took place. [2]

Mr Conolly was heavily involved in these events, but he seems to have been "I wish for the utmost publicity.  If any want of, or mistake in, management on my part has led in the slightest degree to these fearful evils (far more fearful in my time than they have ever been before), I am most desirous that a remedy be applied, whatever be the effect as regards my personal interests.  I have acted to the best of my judgement, but my judgement may be in error, and I should be glad were duly tested.... No measures taken as yet have reached the root of the evil, which there is too much reason to fear is growing in place of decaying."

"For some years past the province of Malabar has been disgraced by a series of outrages of the most heinous character, perpetrated by the Mappilas of the Provinces upon the Hindus of wealth and respectability, murdered them under circumstances the most horrible, burnt houses or given them up to pillage, and finally, wound up their crimes by throwing away their lives in desperate resistance to the police and military."

As is the case today in Brussels, Paris, London and Bedford, the Mappilas were being led and encouraged by radical religious leaders.  In this case, one Saiyid Fazl, an Arab known as Pukoya, or the Tirurangadi or Mambram Tangal.  Fazl had managed by 17th February 1852 to raise between 10,000 and 12,000 supporters at his mosque at Tirurangadi.

The British authorities struggled to come up with a strategy to deal with him.  Mr Strange, the Special Commissioner was asked to decide whether to bring Fazl to trial or to detain him as a state prisoner.  Conolly negotiated with him, and then on the 19th March 1852 sent Fazl and his family back to Arabia.

The outrages however continued, and by 1855 it was being reported "the Hindu's, in the parts where the outbreaks have been most frequent, stand in such fear of the Mappilas as mostly not to dare to press for their rights against them, ad there is many a Mappilla tenant who does not pay his rent, and cannot, so imminent are the risks, be evicted.  Other injuries are also put up with uncomplained."


The following interesting account of this sad event is from a private letter of young Belfast gentleman to his friends here;— "I have little personal news to tell you, but a most melancholy event has occurred since I last wrote, which has thrown gloom over the whole population of Malabar, from which we are only now recovering. I informed you of the escape of four Moplah prisoners from jail, and the fears that were entertained of an outbreak. These men were not re-captured, and the thing was dying out. On the morning of the 11th instant, Mr. Connolly, Collector, had been sitting in his verandah talking to Mrs. C-- , and was just rising to in and read prayers previous to retiring for the night, when these four ruffians rushed in and murdered Mr. Connolly the most brutal manner. They attacked him with their four knives, and the first stroke severed his arm from his body, having him with twenty-seven frightful wounds. Poor Mrs. C ran to her room, and although there were two Peons about the bungalou only one came forward, and he had his arm taken right off at one cut; a servant who came in was served likewise with his fingers. The ruffians escaped, and posted a notice on the cutcherry door, that they were off, and would kill every 'Sahib' they met. Revenge is the motive for this most brutal act—Mr. Connolly having, 14 years ago, sentenced these men to transportation. They were not heard of for two days, when it was discovered that they were in a village at the foot of Oughant and expected to be coming up here. The two Peons at the head of the pass received orders to keep good look out, and to retire on their approach. The Peons being unarmed were in a state of excitement here, as at that time our information was imperfect, and we were j told that there were eighteen men coming up the Ghant. However, we were well prepared to receive them, and could have given good account of them had they only ventured up. The marching out of troops rather surprised them, and they made a quick transit to the heart of the Moplah district, where they perhaps thought they would safe. But no: the authorities traced them sharp, and before they were well sheltered in a house between Coondotty and Murgerry, twenty of the gallant 74th Highlanders rushed forward with the butts of their muskets to the door, and soon revenged poor Connolly's, death, and their own sergeant, who was shot by the Moplahs when coming towards the house. All the European population of Calicut were, of course, in great fear of repetition of this affair, and all assembled in Calicut The judge and second judge received 'notice' that within twelve days they would meet a fate similar to poor Mr. Connolly’s, if they did not leave Malabar. Mr. Connolly had received a similar notice that he and his sheristadar would be murdered if not out of Malabar within twelve days, but, unfortunately, did not take any notice of it as he had received several such before. Strange, he was about leaving this month, he had been appointed a member of Council. It’s sad affair, after toiling in this country for so many years, and when just about enjoying at home the society of his family and his numerous friends, to be thus cut off! The high estimation in which was held was amply testified his funeral. Government will now take some active steps against these revengeful Moplahs, since one of their highest servants, next to the governor, has been thus brutally murdered. We have large bodies of Peons along the Calicut road, and Mr-- has arrested a number of Mops who harboured and protected the runaways. A company of the Queen’s 74th is quartered in Calicut. There are many other strange facts connected with this affair that cannot be accounted for, and therefore there is want of confidence among the population, both European and native, and a great distrust of Moplahs.”

Belfast Mercury - Monday 26 November 1855

The assassination had been carried on by Valasseri Emalu, Puliyakunat Tenu, Chemban Moidin Kutti and Vellattadayatta Parambil Moidin, who had escaped from a working party of jail convicts at Calicut.

The assassins evaded the Calicut authorities and retreated to a Mosque at Morar, eight miles north-west of Manjeri.

A detachment of Major Haly's Police Corps and part of No  Company of the  74th Highlanders under Captain Davies came up to the location.

"The positionof the Mappilas was a most difficult one, consisting of gardens surrounded by ditches.  After some practice with the mortar and howitzer, the troops charged into the gardens, and after turning the Mappilas out of one house, the offenders retreated to a stronger one, which they barricaded; the outer door of this garden was on the edge of a deep nullah; this door was first forced, and the troops were in the act of firing the house when the Mappilas threw open the door and rushed out upon the troops, and were, of course, quickly disposed of.  It was quite impossible, I consider, to have secured them alive, though injunctions had been given to do so if possible.  The men of the new Police Corps emulated the Europeans in their steadiness, and were equally to the front at the last charge.  I have, though with great regret, to report that one European was killed by a shot from the house, and another very dangerously wounded by a cut on the throat whilst one of the Mappilas was on his bayonet."

A major security operation got under way and over 300 Moplahs were soon rounded up for questioning. Sub-Collector Collett.

By the 16th of January the Bombay newspapers were announcing that "At Calicut the Sub Collector, Mr Collett, has well nigh completed his investigation regarding Mr Connolly's Murder."

Mr Conolly had been a reformer, and had spent much of his life in Malabar. When he arrived he found a landscape where most of the existing Teak forest had been cut down and extracted in the previous decades. He undertook experiments into the propagation of Teak trees,  which was technically very difficult to achieve. He was successful in establishing nurseries for growing Teak seedings and established many new Teak plantations.

The troubles died down for a few years but there were further incidents in 1857, 1858 & 1864. With the advent of the Indian Mutiny the local authorities became stronger in their surveillance of the Muslims.  The situation has remained difficult ever since, and my Hindu driver was noticeably reluctant to drive through some villages inland of Tellicherry citing recent events where Hindu's had been attacked when their vehicles had been pulled over by mobs.  We witnessed demonstrations in the streets at Beypore run by Islamic Groups.

We need to understand that the events in Europe today are only the continuation of a 1500 year process, whereby the Islamic fundamentalists use a tried and tested strategy to try to undermine and subvert our communities.

[1] William Logan's Malabar Manual, vol 1, page 559.
[2] Logan page 560 to 566.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Mr. Hutchinson at Anjengo, 1796 and his families later claims on the Travancore Royal family.

Anjengo in the 1790's.
The period from 1760 until about 1790 had been exceptionally profitable for many of the senior East India Company officials.  They had been able to make huge sums of money from private trade, accepting bribes, commission and through lending money out to Rajah's.  This had become a matter of huge concern in Britain, where the existing political establishment was finding its position threatened by the returning Nabobs, who had become wealthy enough to challenge the status quo. 

Following the trial of Warren Hastings and the official enquiries into the loans to Arcot steps were taken by government to try to limit the opportunities for private gain amongst East India Company officials.

This was aim was relatively easy to achieve in the major settlements like Calcutta, Bombay and Madras,however it would prove much more difficult to achieve in remote locations like Anjengo and Tellicherry. Much of the political and physical conflict on the Malabar Coast from 1790 until 1809 can be traced directly to the corrupting effect that EIC officials like John Hutchinson, Torin and Murdoch Brown were having.

Anjengo was one of the first settlements by the British in India, and was often the first, or very last stop by East Indiamen travelling to or from India. It was frequently used as an outpost for the leaving of messages warning shipping of the event of war in India or Europe.
John Hutchinson, filled the office of Commercial Resident at Anjengo from 1782 until 1797.
Walter Ewer visited Anjengo in 1796 and wrote the following interesting report about the situation there.

Anjengo belongs to the Company,& some of the Pepper is shipped off from thence; Iron & other articles are sold here by the Resident on account of the company. I should be glad to see the event of my Tillicherry Investment, before I propose any alteration here. Indeed, an alteration wou’d be no easy matter, the Resident, Mr. Hutchinson being a very singular man. His salary is only 200 & odd Rupees, per month; he has made a very large Fortune by Trade saving; he once had the whole to himself but now the Rajah has got it all. I really think there ought not to be such a Difference between the two commercial Residents that the Anjengo ought to have the same Commission as the Tillicherry one, he has exactly the same Trouble weighing & shipping, & more in procuring it. He has a Commission on the Piece Goods, but the allowances of a station are far short of the consequence of it. Another will not find the same advantages Mr. H. has, by which means, there is a Risk of its falling to a junior servant, which will be very detrimental to the interests of the Company. I wou’d not however recommend an alteration in Mr. H’s time, he having made quite sufficient already. But, altho’ he has had the good luck to amass some how or other, an immense Fortune, his assistant Mr. Dyne, though honour’d with the Title of joint Factor, after 7 years service, has only 140 Rup’s per Month, without any other advantage; this is absolutely starving, he must quit the station, as there is not a writer of this year but has more. many of his juniors in the service have several Thousand Rupees per annum. This Gentleman with the Experience of some years resigning the Post, a Person quite ignorant of the Business, the weighing & shipping of the Pepper, will be sent to supply his place. Liable to be constantly imposed upon, by those who cut for the ships.
The retired situation & the great Distance from the Presidency, enable the Resident to exercise a Power over his Juniors, which wou’d not be submitted to in other places. Mr. Snow the other assistant has only got 90 Rupees per Month.
If I mistake not, the Court found fault with Mr H. for refusing to go into Council, they certainly ought not to have done so, for a more unfit man, they cou’d not have fixed upon. His long Residence, almost out of the World, independently of his singularity of Character, disqualify him totally for such a station.

John Hutchinson had been making the most of his situation, and was clearly amassing a substantial sum of money. 

He then in turn used this money to lend to the Travancore Royal family.  In time, and long after his death, these loans became subject to a court case in London, and were eventually investigated by a Select Committee of the House of Commons.

Martis, 10 die Aprilis, 1832.

That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Allegations contained in the Petition of Mr. Bury Hutchinson, presented to The House on the 15th day of December 1831, complaining of the interference of the East India Company in preventing the payment of a Debt due from the Rajah of Travancore to Mr. John Hutchinson's Estate, and to report their observations thereupon to The House: And a Committee was appointed of— The select committee heard amongst a great deal of other evidence. That during such Commercial Residency, a large debt became due to the said John Hutchinson, for money advanced by him to the Rajah of Travancore; and that all such money was advanced before the passing of the Act 37 George III. C. 142, by which loans from British Subjects to Native Princes were prohibited, unless made with the consent and approbation of the Court of Directors of the East India Company, or the Governor in Council, or one of the Company’s Governments in India:

"That in the year 1795 [the claims of the said John Hutchinson against the Rajah were inquired into, and examined at Travancore by] Mr. Duncan, then appointed Governor of Bombay, [who expressed himself fully satisfied with the justice of such Claims; and] by the desire of the Rajah, and in part payment of the balance due to the said Rajah from the Bombay Government, paid Mr. John in 1796, upwards of four lacs of rupees, by bills of exchange drawn on the Honourable Company in his favour: "That the said Rajah died in the year 1797,and the said John Hutchinson died a little earlier in the same year ; after which event certain officers of rank belonging to the nephew and successor of the said Rajah, were appointed by and on behalf of that Prince to investigate the matter of the aforesaid debt, in conjunction with George Parry, Esquire, the Company's then Resident at Anjengo, who acted, [with the permission of the Governor of Bombay], on behalf of the said John Hutchinson. "That the Accounts were fully gone into by the said Referees who, after a lengthened examination of the vouchers and other proofs, finally declared, on the 13th March 1800, that a balance then was due to the estate of the said John Hutchinson, deceased, of the sum of Rupees 4,89,734. 3 qrs. 80 reas, and directed the payment thereof by instalments of the several amounts, and at the times mentioned in a written Paper or Certificate, dated the said 13th March 1800, and signed by the said Referees, and which Certificate the Rajah confirmed: "That payments on account of the said balance to the amount of about R" 2,80,000 were made through the hands of the Company's Commercial Resident at Anjengo for the time being, [and, as Your Petitioner verily believes, with the sanction of the East India Company expressed by the proper authorities in India of the said Company:] [That the Debt so due from the Rajah to the said John Hutchinson as aforesaid was, in consequence of the repeated and vexatious interference of the Company's Political Resident at Travancore, subsequently inquired into and examined by the Marquis of Wellesley in 1804, by Sir George Barlow in 1806, and by Lord Minto in 1809, who were successively Governors General of India, and all of whom not only declared themselves fully satisfied with the justice of the said Debt, but sanctioned and directed its payment:]

This evidence can be read in full in Reports from Committees: Eighteen Volumes - Vol. V (Session 6 December 1831 ... from page 445 onwards, which is available on Google Books.

Thomas Baber had been in contact with the Travancore Royal family as far back as 1809, and possibly even earlier, and he had become sympathetic to their situation. Members of the Travancore Royal family had visited him at Tellicherry in 1818.

It appears that at some point he began to advise the family on their rights under British law, and he may have assisted them to find lawyers in London.

After the death of Sir Thomas Munro, Thomas Baber who had been trying to bring in reforms fell foul of the new governor of Madras, Sir Stephen Lushington, who was far more reactionary.

Baber returned to Britain for the first time since 1797, to a rapidly changing political situation, where Reform was in the air.  He was soon giving evidence to committees of the House of Lords on the situation in India.

At some point he decided to return to India. On February 1833, Thomas and Helen Baber sailed from Portsmouth on board the Herefordshire, a 1279 tonne East Indiaman, under the command of Captain. E. Ford. The ship was bound for Bombay and Whampoa. They arrived in Bombay on 11th June 1833, and almost immediately Thomas started writing to his many former Indian friends.

The EIC officials in India, were no longer allowed under the new India Act to control people coming out from Britain to India.  They had however decided to monitor very closely what Thomas Baber was doing in India. This included intercepting his post, and steaming open his letters.
A heated official correspondence started in which Thomas Baber was instructed to cease corresponding directly with Rajah's, and he was forced to provide lists of the Rajah's he had been corresponding with, and details of what he had been writing.

The letter below is particularly interesting because it illustrates how he was advising the Travancore Royal family on their rights under British law in respect to fighting the claims being made by the Hutchinson family against them for debts incurred as far back as 1797.

From T. H. Baber Esq. 
Sea Grove at Bombay
To John Bax Esq. Secretary to Government Political Department

Your letter of the 31st Ultimo – Calling upon me to explain under what circumstances I was induced to write to the two Umma Tamburettees and to the young Rajah of Travancore, except through the channel of the Resident of that Court, reached me only this day, and I now hasten to reply to it, that the Right Honorable the Governor in Council may not, for a moment entertain the idea that, either in the matter of, or mode of addressing my native correspondence, there can be anything that I am not fully prepared to justify – or that Government could possibly object to. Although I have not preserved copies of the many letters I have written since my return to this country, to the several Rajahs and other Chieftains,with whom I have been on terms of intimacy and have considered me, under all circumstances, their best, because disinterested, friend, and cannot call to mind the precise purport of my communications – I can have no hesitation in saying that the three letters in question were merely complimentary announcing the return of myself and family to this country and enquiring into their health etc.

With the first of these Ladies Mawilikara Umma Tamburette, and her relation attinga Umm Tamburette, my acquaintance commenced as far back as the year 1810 (When the former’s son, the late Kerula Wirma Rajah, who had been adopted and raised to the Ellen Rajah (Heir Apparent) to the prejudice of the attinga Umma Tamburetta, was placed order of the Governor General in Council, under my immediate charge / and continued up to the period of my quitting Malabar in 1818, in which latter year, I had the gratification of receiving and providing accommodation for the Elder of these Ladies during a visit she paid me at Tellicherry. At this time as well as at the present I was divested of any Official Character such as to render it a duty incumbent upon me beyond Courtesy to show her these civilities – and I have yet to learn that, in so doing I have infringed any order, or rule of Etiquette, and in regard to the complimentary Letters, the Subject of your reference, I could never suppose that any restrictions the Government have no doubt for the best of reasons imposed upon correspondence between Europeans and Native Princes, could possibly be construed as applying to such a correspondence as the one in question and especially to so old a Civil Servant, who never has directly or indirectly had any transactions of a pecuniary nature with a Native Prince – Who never has received and never would receive a favour from any one of them, and above all, who has, thro’ life, set his face against all sorts of understandings between Europeans and Native Princes that in any way compromised the honor and character of British Government. With respect to the letter to the Rajah of Travancore, to the best of my recollections, I did allude to, or at least intended so to do, to the proceedings carrying on in Parliament relative to the long standing alleged Claim on the part of the Heirs of the late Mr Hutchinson Resident in Travankore, conjunctively with the Office of Commercial Resident in Travankore state for the sum of Two Lacks of Rupees and upwards, with interest from March 1800, and to which having paid very considerable attention having been in communication with the Chairman of the Court of Directors and moreover having been called and Examined before the Committee of the House of Commons, I found myself bound, by every principle of Justice to the Parties, as well as to the Honorable Company to acquaint them with the view and part I had taken, and in which, and for which, I had no other object or motive than, to discountenance all hopes of the Claimants being able to fix the responsibility of this dormant demand upon the Rajah of Travancore, or the Honorable Company and especially to counteract the most erroneous impressions in regard to the measures adopted by the Honorable Company.
I have not preserved copies of my communications but the accompanying original letters from the two chairmen Sir Robert Campbell and Mr Ravenshaw, will be satisfactory to the Right Honorable the Governor in Council, that those authorities attached sufficient consequence to my information and my opinions, to deem them worthy of the Consideration of their standing Council and I have reason to believe that they did tend considerably to fortify the arguments of Mr Sergeant Spankie in his defence of the Honorable Company during that inquiry.  If necessary, I can also produce a document from the claimants themselves to show that from them I never concealed my candid sentiments of the utter hopelessness of their ultimate success, notwithstanding the strong disposition of the House of Commons in their favour.
My letter to the Rajah of Travancore upon the same subject, has, it appears, been transmitted by the Madras, to this Government. I will not enquire how and by what means this has been effected because it would be calling into question the acts of a Public Officer for whom I have the highest respect, I will therefore confine myself to observing, that I could not, consistently with my knowledge of the orders of the Honorable the Court of Directors to the Government of Fort St George in the Political Department dated 12th May 1824 “to abstain from all interference in the matters between parties, one way or the other” communicate thro’ the channel of the Resident, what it was, and is, of so much importance to the Travancore State to know, the events which have already, and are now taking place, in parliament with respect to the long standing and important demand upon it—and from whom could such a communication come with so much propriety as myself one who was totally independent of, or unconnected with both parties – but who at the same time had proved himself on various occasions, both in upholding the rights + of the present dynasty and in maintaining the Public tranquillity the staunchest and most disinterested of friends. If after this hurried explanation, the Right Honorable the Governor in Council of Madras should still think it open to objections my holding a correspondence with the Rajah of Travancore all I can do is bow to that decision, and at the same time to express my readiness to obey the directions of Government as to the disposal of the documents I have brought out with me from England, and which, I believe, compose all that has been done in Parliament Expressly for the information and use of the Travancore State. I have the honor to be etc. 

Bombay Sea Grove 
signed/T.H. Baber

+ Mr Baber’s letter to the Resident of Travancore dated 1st Dec 1810 The Right Honourable the Governor General’s letter dated 9 Feb 1811 Hamilton’s Hindostan Quarto Edition 2nd Vol page 316 Coll Munro’s Public thanks in his letter dated 29th No 1812 Mr Secretary Hill’s letter dated 15th June & Numerous other documents [2]

[1] Anjengo IOR/H/438 Papers of Walter Ewer Folio 205 onwards. [2] OIOC F/4/1460 (57461) folio 12 to 17.

Private Lappe's Providential Escape following the outbreak of the Pyche Raja Rebellion

It is only very rarely that we can get a glimpse into the lives of an ordinary soldier in India, let alone come across their individual names.

Here is the story of one such man, Private Lappe, who was extraordinarily lucky to survive a ferocious ambush at the outbreak of the war between the Pazhassi Rajah and the East India Company at Tellicherry.

The date that the actual battle took place is unclear, possibly before the 4th of November 1796, but certainly by the 18th of January 1797.  The following account however only appeared in the Sussex Advertiser many years later on Monday the 1st of September 1800.[1]

Had Private Lappe by that time been invalided home?

Perhaps he told his story to the local Sussex  reporter.

We will probably never know.


A soldier, of the name of Lappe, who belonged to an European battalion, and who made his escape from the Jungle, after the action between a detachment of Europeans and Sepoys belonging to the Bombay Army, and the insurgents in the Cotiote country, has related the following" miraculous “ account of his gaining the British Military post, after the defeat of the detachment, given at Bombay, the 4th of November:—"I was shot, says Lappe) about noon, with a musket ball, in my right breast; and, to resist or escape being utterly impossible, as the only means left me to save my life, I threw myself down among the mortally wounded and the dead, without moving hand or foot. Here, in the evening, the Chief Surveying his conquest, ordered a Jamedar to begin instantly to dispatch those who were likely to survive. This fellow, having already killed Captain Bowman, and several other Europeans, left the remainder to die of themselves, or to fall a prey to the voraciousness of the wild creatures with which the Jungle abounds; for in places it is almost impenetrable. They then filed off to the right, towards the hills, carrying along with them five or six prisoners alive; I believe they were all Sepoys but one, with their hands tied behind their backs, of whom I never since have heard. When I apprehended these sanguinary rebels had entirely left the scene of action, it being very quiet, and rather dark, I found means, on my hands and feet, to creep out from among the carnage, for many men were killed that day by the Rajah's troops, owing to our force having been weakened by sending it in small detachments into the Jungle, where they had never before been, and the enemy firing at them in ambush, where it was impossible to trace them: I got at length at some distance from the place where I lay, and met another of our party, who was less wounded than myself, with whom, after some days wandering in torment and despair, not knowing which way to proceed for fear of being intercepted, we at last fortunately arrived at the military post, worn out with fatigue and the loss of blood, where, we understood, the account of the defeat had been received four days before.

The news slowly spread out from London to the regional towns of England and Scotland.  Many families with relations in India must have anxiously wondered what had been happening in the passing months, it took news to travel around the globe.

On Saturday 5th July 1797, readers in Norfolk came across the following report in their newspaper.

We learn from the Coast of Coromandel, that on the 18th of January [1797] the Rajah of the Cotiote had commenced hostilities against us, and that Captain Bowman and Lieutenant Bond, who had been sent to take possession of One of his strong holds, had, the perfidy of their guide, been led into defile, where they were both killed with most the Sepoys of their party. Captain Lawrence, who went to relief, was like wise led into a defile, from whence he fought his way to a pagoda, where passed the night and following day, till permitted to proceed with his party to Tillicherry. Captain Troy, on his return from a muster of the native troops, had been killed, and Captain Shean desperately wounded. Twenty-four Sepoys were killed, and 50 wounded and missing. General Stuart immediately appointed Major Anderson to march against the Rajah with 250 of the Bombay regiment, a detachment of light artillery, 1,000 Sepoys, and Mopals.

Over the following weeks, more details came out from Leadenhall Street. Readers of the Oxford Journal on Saturday the 29th of July 1797, were given more details about the outbreak started by the Pychy Rajah.

From the Madras Gazette, January 28. By letters from the Malabar coast of the 15th instant, we have been advertised of the revolt of the Cotiote Rajah on that coast, who is said to have commenced his refractory conduct on the 28th instant, by firing on a detachment of Sepoys under the command of Capt. Lawrence, in the neighbourhood of Cootiungarry. On the same day, Capt. Bowman and Lieut. Bond were sent with a detachment to take possession of a strong hold, near the last mentioned place, and were decoyed by an Hircarrah, employed on the occasion, into a narrow defile, where, a strong party of Nairs, in ambuscade, availing them selves of the disadvantageous situation of the detachment, and their mode of attack, beset the party with a ferocity peculiarly their own, when Captain Bowman and Lieutenant Bond were almost immediately overpowered and killed. Several Sepoys, it is also added, were killed and wounded on the spot. Captain Lawrence, on hearing the report of the musquetry, proceeded with all possible expedition, at the head of a body of grenadiers, towards the succour and support of Captain Bowman's detachment; but having experienced a similar breach of faith in his guide, was also attacked in the same defile, but after a warm and fortunate resistance effected his retreat, and took post in a Pagoda the whole night, and part of the next day, hemmed in by upwards of a thousand of the Rajah's troops. On the 9th, however, he was permitted to retire with his men to Tellicherry. In addition to the above melancholy relation, Captain Troy, who had been employed in mustering the native troops, and Captain Shean on his return from a visit, fell in with a party of these sanguinary savages, who having surrounded them, coolly and unprovokedly put the first to death, and wounded the latter in a shocking and barbarous manner. General Stuart, to whom the intelligence was sent to Cannanore, recommended to Major Anderson immediately to take the field to punish so daring an outrage. The force to be assembled for this purpose, will consist of 250 men of the Bombay regiment under the command of Captain Grammant. A detachment of artillery, with light guns, about one thousand Sepoys, together with a Corps of Mopals, consisting of about 200, raised expressly for the purpose of hunting and counteracting the Nairs in the woods and fortresses. The unhappy fate of so many officers, in being cut off from their friends' and relations, in this cruel and insidious manner, cannot be too much lamented; and provides a melancholy example of the inherent ferocity which has ever been the characteristic of the cast of Nairs.

[1] The Old Soldier's Story - Edward Bird (1772–1819), ca 1808.
[2] These reports and many more from British regional newspapers going back to 1700 are now available at

Calicut Prison Break outs & Riots, 1802 to 1808


During the putting down of the Pazhassi Rajah's uprising and the associated outbreaks of resistance by the Moplahs to the presence of the East India Company in the Malabar, large numbers of Indian's were thrown into gaols in Calicut, Tellicherry and Canannore.

These gaols were run both directly by the East India Company and also by private gaolers would contracted with the EIC to run prisons.

The gaols were almost certainly highly over crowded and insanitary. The prisoners inside the gaols were actively in planning their escape and attempting to make prison break outs.

The following two accounts from Calicut in 1802 and 1808 describe events during these breakouts. It is not entirely clear exactly when these events took place.

Communications were often slow in those days. The first breakout probably took place in the months immediately before March 1803. The second event probably took place a year to 18 months before the news of the event appeared in the British papers.

The first breakout was yet another worry for the future Duke of Wellington as he was planning the concentration of his forces in the South of India for the campaign he was to fight later that year with the Mahrattas, and which would be capped with his victory at Assaye on the 23rd of September 1803.

Lieut. Stuart.

'Camp at Tuddus, 17th March, 1803

'I have received a letter from Colonel Montresor, from Calicut,of the 6th, from which I learn that the rebellion has spread much in Malabar, and that the rebels were in force not far from that place. The criminals confined in the gaol at Calicut had also got loose; sixty had made their escape, many were killed and some wounded in attempting it. The guard over the gaol had been surprised. Those people were chiefly rebels confirmed by Colonel Stevenson. 'I mislaid Colonel Montresor's letter yesterday evening, otherwise I should send it to you, but I have above stated the outlines of the information which it gives. I now enclose a letter which I have written to Colonel Montresor upon this subject, and if you should approve the directions it contains, I beg you will allow it to be forwarded to him. In fact, no more can be done in this season than I have there stated. It will be useless to leave more posts, or to have more men in Wynaad than the post at Manuntwaddy and those on the tops of the ghauts. If there were two battalions in that district they would be obliged to remain shut up in their posts, where they would be useless; at the same time, the greater the number of troops to be left in Wynaad, the greater will be the difficulty of providing for them. 'I received yesterday your letter of the 15th instant. I have sent Govind Rao with a message to Bappojee Scindiah of the same kind with that which I formerly sent, of which you approved. 'I shall march to-morrow to Misserycotta, where I shall halt next day to allow Major Malcolm to join me, and to give time to Govind Rao to arrange every thing with Bappojee Scindiah'

Believe me,

Lieut. General Arthur Wellesley. [1]

The second report is taken from the Morning Chronicle, one of Britain's leading papers at the time published in London, and reports a desperate act of resistance on the part of a band of Moplah's or Mappilas who knew that they otherwise had no hope of surviving beyond the following morning, when they were going to be executed by the EIC authorities.

They went down fighting, successfully killing and wounding several of the EIC forces.

"The following very extraordinary circumstance lately took place at Calicut: -Seven desperate Mallays who had been the terror of the adjacent country, having carried away the cattle, set fire to the cottages, and murdered several of the natives who opposed their depredations, were apprehended and lodged in the public gaol, when, during the period of their confinement, they behaved in the most refractory and resolute manner. On being brought to trial, several charges were brought home to them,. and they-all received sentence of death; but the evening previous to their execution, they rose on their guards, whom they murdered ; and possessing themselves of their muskets, 'bade defiance to the keeper of the prison and his assistants. The Officer commanding in the district, with a small detachment of seapoys, attempted to scale the walls of the prison; the doors and windows being blockaded. within; but he was repulsed with the lost of several men ; the assailants however being reinforced from an adjacent station, and the desperadoes finding themselves overpowered, set fire to that part of the prison in which they were confined, and refusing all assistance, perished in the flames. Fortunately the rest of the prisoners were rescued, and a part of the building was saved from destruction. [2]

[1]The dispatches of ... the duke of Wellington, compiled by Lieut. colonel John Gurwood, 1837... page 422.
[2] Morning Chronicle. Monday 08 August 1808. From the British Newspaper Archive Site.
Prison photo courtesy of Epoch Times.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Forests, Conservators and other Evils

Kerala Rainforest picture courtesy of

Like so many of the other Englishmen sent out to India, Thomas Baber had an in-built love of hunting and therefore affection for forests. When he arrived in India in 1797 the areas immediately surrounding Calicut and Tellicherry had already largely been cleared of all the larger trees, which had previously felled for many miles around the actual settlements themselves.

These had occurred by the middle of the 18th Century when drawings clearly shown barren treeless hills.  The records of the factory at Tellicherry are full of correspondence arranging for the acquistion of wood for fuel from locations up the coast as far as Mt Deli, or from Calicut.

However further inland the situation was very different, as is apparent from the following account by James Welsh, written to describe his experience when marching through the Wayanad in 1812, where he assisted Thomas Baber and the other troops to put down the rebellion that had broken out there.

"On 15th, two parties formed, under Captain James and myself, Mr. Baber accompanying mine. We saw no more rebels in arms, but many of them came in with Mr. Baber, who appeared to know every man in the country; and pledged themselves to give up their leaders in six days on a promise of a pardon to the rest. This part of the country is strong, wild, and beautiful; consisting of a number of small hills, covered with jungle, and separated by narrow valleys, in which there are neither rivers or paddy fields. Yesterday in particular, we passed through a narrow defile, nearly a mile in length, in which we discovered trees of such enormous height and magnitude, that I am fearful of mentioning my ideas of their measurement, further, than that some of them did not commence spreading from the parent stem, until they had reached the height of the topmast-head of a man of war; the name of these trees is Neer parum, the wood of which is not valuable, and the Ayany, or wild jack, the tree from which the largest canoes are made, as well as the best beams for building".[1]

Welsh's observations must have been a regular experience for Thomas who had been travelling within these regions since 1797.

That Thomas Baber was aware of the great potential of the huge trees contained within these forests is demonstrated by the events in 1807.

"Extract of a letter from Sir E Pellew to the Hon’ble Wm Pole Secretary to the Admiralty dated his Majesties Ship Culloden Bombay Harbour 20th May 1808.

A twelve month since I had an opportunity of receiving much valuable information from Mr Baber at Cannanore one of the Coll’tors of the Province of Malabar by whom I was satisfied that great impositions had heretofore been experienced by the Confederacy & the Merchants on the Coast from whom as the only dealers in timber the Naval Service had been formerly supplied & he gave me management to make the experiment of procuring them by means of an agency which supported by his authority would enable me to obtain a considerable supply at a trifling comparative expense –

The result has proved most satisfactory, a native agent has been employed under my directions to cut 50 large spars for the use of the squadrons who has accomplished his undertaking by bringing the whole of them down to the beach in Tellicherry at an expense of less than 6,000 rupees from which they will be conveyed to Madras & Bombay by the men of war which touch thereon their passage along the coast without any further charge & creating a nett saving for His Majesties government of £18,730.

I have the honour to enclose a list of their dimensions and have not to observed the price at which 52 large spars have thus been procured, has heretofore been paid at Bombay for two only by individuals as well as for the King’s service.

I consider the supply has been obtained upon these very advantageous terms entirely under the Benefit of Mr Baber’s local authority in preventing imposition & by the aid he has been able to give to the agent & proceedings."

The Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean was engaged at that period in a life and death struggle with the French Navy and privateers based on Bourbon and Isle de France.

In the days of sail, suitable masts were vital not just to victory, but also for very survival.

With the French in possession of most of Continental Europe's ports, and controlling the routes to the vital Baltic forests, which traditionally provided the masts so important to the Royal Navy, it was becoming difficult to refit the navies ships.

Although a large dockyard existed at Bombay, the nearby forests on the Konkani Ghats were exhausted, and masts had to be brought up from Malabar or half way around the World from a less than friendly America.

The merchants were taking the maximum advantage of the navies desperate need for new masts, by applying very high margins to the price of these mast timbers.

The details of the naval events in the India Ocean, are too complex to set out here, but are ably described in Stephen Taylor's recent book "Storm & Conquest, The Battle for the India Ocean, 1809."

Between 1807 and 1809 the East India Company and Royal Navy were to come within an ace of loosing control of the Indian Ocean, and suffered some appalling loses due to the unmanning and the weak condition of many of their ships.

Thomas Baber had more cause than most to dislike the French on Isle de France and Reunion. His younger brother John Baber (1783-1807) had been captured by French privateers operating out of Isle de Reunion.

It appears that for some reason John, possibly from ill health, who had arrived in India in 1802, as an EIC infantry officer was travelling aboard the East India ship Phoenix, which was captured on 20 Vendemaire an 14 (12th October 1805), by the French Corsaire ship “La Henriette.”

French records show that a “Jean Barber Lieutenant d’infanterie passager” was landed as a prisoner on “1er Brumaire an 14” (23rd October 1805) on the Ile de la Reunion.

Presumably Jean Barber was as close as the French clerk could get to spelling John Baber.

It is possible that John was already ill, or that perhaps the conditions in the prison killed him, for he died on 20 Pluviose an 14 (9th February 1806)

The records say “cet homme est rest√© malade √† l’Ile de la Reunion – mort le 20 Pluviose an 14" [3]

There was considerable uncertainty over the date of his death. According to Hodsons' Index of officers of the Bengal Army, he died on Mauritius 16th July 1807.

It is clear that for a long time after the event that the Baber family in England had no idea what had become of their brother. In the flyleaf of his “Memoranda relating to the life of Henry Hervey Baber” is a rough draft by his eldest brother of a family tree. Sadly it is not possible to exactly date the tree, but from the dates given by later additions on January 28th 1809, it would appear that as late as January 1809, John was thought by the family in England to have “perished by some unknown means (supposed shipwrecked) in the East Indies.”

Thomas Baber in India, may have been the first to learn of the loss of the Phoenix.

The death of his brother, may well have strengthened Thomas resolve to get back at the French, or at least prevent this happening to others.

It appears that he identifed fifty suitable trees and organised for them to be brought down to the coast for shipment to Bombay.

"-- Of the Duty of a Conservator of Forests I never could understand that it extended beyond receiving and paying for timber felled in the Malabar Forests when brought down to the coast, the whole timber being contracted for with the proprietors and former timber merchants – A greater misnomer than conservator cannot be conceived, Mr Fell, to my certain knowledge, never has seen the Forests, and although his assistant Captn Pinch has occasionally visited them, it is the most ridiculous idea conceivable to suppose that it is in his or any mans power to superintend such a prodigious extent of mountain jungle as the Malabar Forests, with an establishment of 3 inspectors and about 40 peons (that is I believe at utmost extent) and if they could, eui bono when not a tree can be exported, nor brought down to the coast without permission from the Collectors of land or sea Customs – So that in fact all that the Conservator & his officers have to do is, to take care of the Timber, which can be done just as well, and to a great deal better by a Collector than any other person – That never was a more useless appointment or establishment than that of Conservator of Malabar, and if my opinion was allowed to have any weight it should be in favour of a petition from the Merchants I sent up to Government in 1808 praying to be restored to their rights in the Forests, and to be allowed to continue to trade in such timber as the Government do not its self require for naval purposes, and all such timber they offered to give to the Company at ---- cost, and to give security, required of them, that they would not cut down any trees than such as the Government permitted them to __ I know not what the profits to the Company are upon the timber they sell, but they must be very trifling and go a very little way to defray the enormous annual expense of the Conservator & his establishment. I never heard that the cost of Timber before it reaches Bombay is more Now then when the trade was open and the company were obliged to buy their wants from the Merchants – But the monopoly is so odious a measure and one that has given rise to so much discontent , that one sacrifice a little for the care and welfare of those whom we are bound to conciliate there is most objection which seems wholly to have escaped the Consideration of Govt and that is, that the monopoly has put a total stop to ship building amongst the coast merchants, and this indeed may be considered as one of the causes of the great stagnation of trade in Malabar – The old Bupee of Cananese wanted to build a new ship of 4 to 500 tons burthen, and applied to the conservator of the Forests for the necessary Timber – who answered He has no orders to sell timber – I send the original answer, as a specimen of the uncourtly reception the old Lady’s application met with." [4]

From our knowledge of Thomas Baber’s forthright opinions, and his directness, I imagine that poor Mr Fell must have felt the full weight of Tom’s displeasure on more than one occasion.

In his 1830 evidence to the House of Lords Thomas explained the difficulties brought about by the timber monopoly.

Was there not, during the Period of your Residence in Malabar, a Monopoly of Timber?

There was, both of the Timber and of the Forests, which were taken Possession of by the Government.

Did that Monopoly extend, not only to the Forests but to Timber in the Gardens and Fields of the several Proprietors?

It was not, I imagine, so intended in the first instance; but the Conservator, the Officer whose Province it was to superintend the Monopoly, extended it to Timber grown in Gardens; but I believe it was that Officer's own Act. Great Complaints were frequently made, but I never heard of any Redress, until Sir Thomas Munro abolished the Monopoly altogether. This, I think, was in 1823.

During that Time was the Price of Timber much raised, so as to stop Shipbuilding on the Coast of Malabar?

It was not procurable on any Terms. The Company took the whole Quantity, except what was called the Refuse, which was of little Use in Shipbuilding.

Was Shipbuilding stopped on the Coast of Malabar in consequence?

Entirely. I have seen Applications from the principal Shipbuilders to the Conservator of the Forests and to the Government, to sell to them, or to be allowed to purchase, Timber to build and repair their Vessels. They offered to purchase at any Price.

Since the Monopoly was taken off, has Shipbuilding improved?

Yes; Four or Five Vessels have been built, or are building.

What is the State of the Government Forests since the Cessation of the Government Monopoly?

The Forests were given up wholly to the Proprietors.

Are there no Forests belonging to the Government now?

In the Northern Part of Canara, that is, from the Subramanny Pagoda, East of Mangalore, there are; all the Forests to the Eastward, or on the Ghaut Mountains that is, are the Property of the Government; I never, at least, heard of any Individuals laying Claim to them. But the whole Tract of Forests South of Subramanny is claimed, and I have no doubt is the Property of private Individuals. I have seen many of these Title Deeds upwards of a Century old.

The Reason for the Monopoly originally was, that the Timber might be supplied at a lower Rate to the Dock Yard at Bombay?

The ostensible Reason given in the first Proclamation by the Principal Collector of Malabar, dated 18th July 1806, stated, "That The Honourable Company had Occasion for Teak Trees for the Purpose of building Ships, and therefore the Government had resolved to grant a Monopoly to one Chowakkara Moosa, in order that it might be furnished with the Trees it wanted at a low Price," &c. The subsequent Proclamation by the Madras Government, dated 25th April 1807, announced, "the Assumption, in pursuance of Orders from The Honourable Court of Directors, of the Sovereignty of the Forests in the Provinces of Malabar and Canara."

Was Timber cheaper in consequence of that Monopoly at Bombay than it is at present?

I rather think the Price was considerably enhanced to what it was before the Monopoly, owing to the Expense of the Conservator's Establishment.

Was the Conservator sent by the Government of Bombay, or by the Governor of Madras?

By the Governor of Bombay; the Forests were re-transferred to Bombay by Orders from the Court of Directors.

There was no Survey originally of the Forests?

There never was. I beg to refer their Lordships to a very able Minute, one of the Documents published in Sir Thomas Munro's Life, containing full Information on this Subject:

Once Thomas had decided on a course of events, or on the rightness of his opinions, he would pursue his cause, through thick and thin, and in the face of any amount of opposition.  No wonder he was often deeply unpopular.

[1]James Welsh, Military Reminiscences volume 2, page 12.
[2]Taken from the Appendix to the Report on Indian Affairs letter 188. OIOC Collection.
[3]I am much indebted to Philippe Lahausse,and Marina Carter for this information taken from the Mauritius archives.
[4]From letter written by Thomas Hervey Baber to Sir Thomas Munro, 5th May 1817. OIOC Private Papers IOR:MSS. F151 / 43 folio 30 -- 31. to Sir Thomas Munro

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The fate of the slaves "rescued" by Thomas Baber

Modern Dalit Slave [1]

For most of history we have absolutely no idea how those at the bottom of Society lived, and it is also very hard to understand what they went through.

Just very occasionally their voice comes through the years and with startling power.

For nearly decade I have been aware that Thomas Baber in the early 1800's had been one of the first of a number of idealistic East India officials in India who had tried to try to put a stop to slavery. He had felt so strongly about slavery that he was prepared to take on his fellow officials and existing Indian custom and practise. See

I had assumed that the story had a happy ending, however as the following evidence provided by F.C. Brown, son of Murdoch Brown in 1833 to the House of Commons proves every story has two sides, and the fate of these released slaves was less than a happy ending.

It appears that on their return to their former homes in the south of Kerala they had been unable to resettle into their villages, and in many cases their former owners had not wanted them back.

They in many cases drifted back to Anjarakandy to work for Murdoch Brown.

No. 5.

Narrative of Teepadee Ayapen a Betwan, taken at Anjarakandy.—

"30 Chingom 1008. 13 September 1833.

Question. When Mr. Baber's people carried away from here all the slaves, were you carried away ?—Answer Yes, I was.

Q. Where were you taken? What were you asked? And what did you say?—A. From here we were taken to Irrivery Cutcherry; after remaining two days I was asked, “Who is your master?" I said, “My present master is Mr. Brown." "Who brought you here? Who sent you from your country? Who sold you to Mr. Brown?" I said, “It was the Karwakar Moopen." We were then all sent to Tellicherry and kept one, or one and a half months. The same questions that were asked at Irrivery were asked at Tellicherry and we were made to take an oath. After that two menons, with armed peons, took us all to our own country. At Kootangel Cutcherry (Chaughaut), from whence orders were issued to the owners to come and take away their respective slaves, some of the slaves were sent with the peons to Kakat Fort. From thence they were again brought to Kootangel. The Vellatichees and the Cochin Pooliars were embarked in a boat and sent south. After that I alone remained I said, “My owner is not come, what am I to do; my country is Tokye." When I said this to the menons, they desired me to go where my family was. I went to my country and staid with my family.

Q. Do you know the menons and kolkars who came here to take away the slaves?—A After we were taken to Tellicherry I knew them by sight; I did not know them before; I know the name of one of the peons, it is Cheknoo; his country is Ellatoor, so I heard him say.

Q. Who questioned you at Irrivery Cutcherry and at Tellicherry?—A. At Irrivery Cutcherry the menon who took us away from here; his name is Chatoo Menon; and at Tellicherry Mr. Baber himself.

Q. Do you know Mr. Baber?—A. At that time I saw him at Tellicherry.

Q. When did you lose your sight?—A. It is now, I think, about five or eight years.

Q. Do you know the menons and kolkars who took you away from Tellicherry?—A. I do not know them.

Q. After Mr. Baber's people took you to your country, how did you come here? and why did you come ?—A. Bappen Cooty Mapilla (in Mr. Brown's employ) came in a boat to load paddy from Jegnee Mapilla; he (Bappen Cooty) told me that Valia Saib (Mr. Brown) desired me, if I wished, to come back; I then came by land.

Q. When you were coming by land, how did you pay the ferries and subsist?—A. I took it from my own hand (what I had).

Q. When in your country, what employment had you?—A. I worked for any one who would hire me, when they would give me something; I remained in this way for one year.

Q. When you returned here, did any of your relatives come?—A. No one; I came alone.

Q. Who is your owner in your country?—A I have no owner, but my mother had, Karrakat Moideen Mapilla; they are all dead and gone; none of his family now remain.

Q Altogether how many slaves from here were sent to the south?—A. Of the Betwan caste alone there were 28, big and little.

Q. Of that number how many are there to return?—A. Five Betwan females and three children remain to come.

Q When you were at Irrivery Cutcherry and Tellicherry did the persons who examined you put questions to make you say what they liked, or only to learn truth?—A. We were told not to be afraid. "Tell the truth, it is for your good." Then they said loud for us to hear, "These slaves have all been got for nothing."

Q. At what time did Mr. Baber's people come here? When did they find you? And where were you kept?—A. Mr. Baber's people took us away twice; I do not recollect the time they first came; the second time they came in the morning at six o'clock, when we were all sent into the karembala (a walled enclosure). When the southern slaves were being separated, the menon here, Kanarachen, came and said something; in consequence of which words passed between him and Mr. Baber's menon; and Kanarachen went away about 10 o'clock without allowing us to take food or our clothes. We were marched to Irrivery Cutcherry and kept there. At six o'clock in the evening all the northern Dooliars were returned, and the southern Pooliars and Betwans were kept there. To us of the Betwan caste was allotted a shop on the border of a paddy field west of the Cutcherry; rice was given us, which we cooked and ate, and slept outside. To the Pooliars rice was given, which they cooked and ate, and slept round the Cutcherry in the paddy field. In this manner we were kept there for three days.

Q. At that time was there only Kanaren here as menon, or were there any others?— A Whether the Tambooran (Brahmin), who died in Cotiate, was here at that time I do not perfectly recollect; I think he was.

Q. How many years before the rebels burnt this house did you come here?—A. I was here before the burning, but how many years before I do not recollect; I was then a child.

Q. You have said there are eight individuals of the Betwa caste who have not come back; is your country and theirs far or near? what is the reason that they have not come back ?— A Their country and mine may be as far as from here to Mamakoon; that country is the Cochin country; it is under the orders of another gentleman. They have not come, because their masters will not let them.

Q. You have said that in your country you hired yourself to any one who called you, and so lived; was there constant employment?—A. There are many people that have constant work, but there is not the same comfort as here.

Q. You were detained at Tellicherry one or two months; were you kept under restraint or free ?—A. We were kept on the west side of the tank, where, during the day, one kolkar, and during the night two kolkars, stood guard always.

Q. At Tellicherry where were you all lodged?—A. At the tank, in a hut about the size of the kitchen here." [2]

The strength of F. C. Brown's feelings against Thomas Baber come out in the following paragraphs in his letters to the House of Commons.

Francis Brown had previously served a term in prison for having challenged Thomas Baber to a duel, and he evidently greatly resented Baber's attitude towards his father Murdoch Brown, as is shown in the following passages.

"It would be easy for me to proceed with the refutation of every other of Mr. Baber's assertions and references, by the evidence of the facts and authorities furnished, or referred to by himself, did it become me, on so grave a subject, to come before the Government armed with no better defence; but I cannot forget that the gist and gravamen of his accusation against the late Mr. Brown, an accusation which he signed as a magistrate, attested with his seal of office as a judge, and reported officially to the Government, which he has since sworn to before the House of Lords, deliberately repeated, in writing, to the Indian Board, and finally published to the world, is, that " 76 persons, found" by him "in the possession of Mr. Brown, made affidavit before him that they had been stolen, banished from their country, and transported, against their will, to Anjarakandy," and that he had "liberated," he had restored to " liberty and to their country," these aforesaid persons. Words of more dreadful import, against the character of any human being, were never uttered, and never, I believe, more deliberately, more reiterated, more perseveringly, or with more solemn invocations to their truth. Read, then, Sir, I beseech you, the following testimony of one of those very persons, now delivered without dread of violence, delivered to a native writer, himself wholly ignorant of the transaction, whom I directed to question the witness apart relative to what she now remembers of it, on my seeing Mr. Baber pointing out himself to the public of India as the protector of slaves (Bombay Gazette, 17th August 1833). This pamphlet I have seen only within these few days." [3]

"Such, Sir, is the simple affecting narrative given at this distance of time, by this poor woman, of the real manner in which she, her husband, her child, and all the other slaves were barbarously driven from their homes. No man acquainted with the condition of the caste can read it, I believe, and doubt its truth.

Mark, I beseech you, the ultimate design stamped upon the cruel deed from its commencement to its close. The native officers, deputed by Mr. Baber to Anjarakandy, immediately they appear, rush up stairs, followed by the armed peons, to where Mr. Brown was sitting, in order that the slaves may see, from the insulting treatment received before their eyes by their master, a European gentleman, well known, advanced in years, and never approached by the highest natives without respect, the treatment which was reserved for them. The circumstances make an indelible impression, as terror does upon an uninformed mind. All the slaves, male and female, are next collected from where they are at work, by strange armed men, driven, with their children of all ages, into a walled enclosure, like cattle into a pen ; their master's people are forcibly ejected, the gates shut, and the whole, upon their answering truly and simply to the questions put to them, are kept, the women with their infants at their breasts, without food for that night. The day following they are taken under custody, to a public cutcherry, four or five miles off, turned into a paddy field, and there kept three days and three nights, so that one child dies on the spot. They are here again called up, one by one, and authoritatively questioned by Mr. Baber's deputy.

Those who still tell the the truth are grossly abused by him, called liars, and threatened with instant mutilation; a E. I. Company and violence admitted by Mr. Baber to be practised upon persons of their caste (p. 25). Being Board of Control, now thoroughly intimidated, separated from all succour, and dreading what is to befal them, (Documents.) they are next taken under continued custody to Tellicherry, where a man dies; they are brought up before Mr. Baber, and separately examined, having gone through a form of being sworn. This poor woman has the courage to repeat to him what she had said twice before to his deputy, that she had been regularly sold by her former master, mentioning his name. The magistrate exclaims "that she is telling a falsehood," bids her "tell the truth; that she has been stolen;" which declaration, the very reverse of what she has all along said, and then desired to say, is written down as her voluntary deposition upon oath before Mr. Baber, and is by him quoted and appealed to, from that hour to this, in proof of the truth of his charge against Mr. Brown. She and all the other slaves are detained in custody day and night for many weeks; at the expiration of this imprisonment, disregarding her entreaties to be suffered with her child to return to her home, she is made to accompany the others; rejoiced to escape anywhere and on any terms. Part of them are taken to Chowghaut, a distance of 110 miles; part double the distance, to Cochin and Travancore. Instead of being "liberated" she and her child are delivered with her husband to the latter's former master, with written injunctions from Mr. Baber to report their deaths in writing, that is, in other words, to detain them while alive. In a state of actual starvation, she, her husband, and child, set out on their return, begging and working their way by such field work as they can get (the only work slaves are employed in), and in about two months succeed in reaching Calicut, 60 miles distant, where they find Mr. Brown.

This is the declaration of one of those slaves. Shall I be credited when I state, that not one, but 21 of them returned, and that 13 of the number still survive (one died in August) to bear witness, in terms almost similar, against the inhuman outrage perpetrated upon them. I am ready to produce them at any time, at any place, before any persons who will descend to the level of their capacities, and permit them to tell their artless tale without fear. Gratefully and lowly do I bow down before that all-seeing Providence, which, in its infinite justice, has permitted this black iniquity, renewed and relevelled against the memory of a revered parent, to be exposed to the eye of day, in all its turpitude, by the mouths of the victims appealed to to attest it. Not to swell this letter to an inconvenient size, I annex only two more of the depositions (No. 4 & 5). Let them, I entreat, be compared with the letter of Mr. Brown (No. 7), penned after the slaves had all been removed, and with the See p. 733-735, of testimony of an eye-witness of the scene (No. 6.) Even some of the Pooliars returned; of the printed volume. Pooliars, interdicted the high way, who cannot approach within 40 paces of their fellow slave, the Vettoowan, without polluting him. Let the sufferings they endured in tracking back their way be pictured! But the majority of the Pooliars (they amounted to 23, the Vettoowas to 28) were transported by Mr. Baber to the Cochin and Travancore countries, and delivered back with the same written injunctions to their former masters. He therefore transported them, from the British territories, and from under the safeguard of British laws, which, he admits, make no exception as to slaves, and have repeatedly visited their murder with death (p. 2607), to countries, where he also admits (p. 19) adopting General Walker's words, that "a proprietor is accountable to no person for the life of his own chaumar, but is the legal judge of his offences, and may punish them with death; and where it is feared that the only check upon the unrestricted exercise of this power is the presence of the Resident." Gracious God! and this wholesale, forcible reduction of these poor creatures to native slavery and to death, Mr. Baber has dared to call, in the sight of God and man, "liberating them, restoring them to liberty and their country." Sir, Mr. Brown possessed, I inherit from him, 155 slaves; I have also upon my estate 105 other slaves, voluntary settlers, of 10 and 20 years' habitancy. I further employ 250 free labourers. I implore you in the strongest words, the most earnest, I will even add, the most abject, that language supplies, to examine and satisfy yourself, by any mode of inquiry you may think proper to adopt, of the treatment and condition of these slaves; as to whether the whip or the lash has ever been known among them ; as to the restraints imposed upon their personal liberty ; as to their well-being compared with slaves elsewhere; and lastly, as contrasted, whether as regards their persons, their food, their houses, their comforts, and the kinds of labour they are employed in, with those of the free persons employed with them. After this examination, I will leave you to say whether those transported to Cochin and Travancore would not try to escape; and then to think, without shuddering, of the fate which awaited their hopeless attempt at the hands of irresponsible masters, burthened in the name of the British Government with the compulsory guardianship and maintenance of refractory slaves worth each the sum of 12 rupees.

The judges of the Provincial Court residing on the spot, who had all served for many years in the province, and were thoroughly acquainted with Mr. Baber's character and motives, (for these exemplary men, like every other gentleman, civil or military, in Malabar, had long before spumed the unhappy man from society,) sought to avert the consequences which they foresaw were designed, from the wanton and forcible removal, without cause or complaint, of these helpless victims, by ordering their restitution to Mr. Brown until a claimant to them appeared. It is this humane interposition which the judges considered themselves bound to exert in favour of the most defenceless party, which Mr. Baber studiously and repeatedly calls the singular protection extended by the court to Mr. Brown! To mention only the names of the judges even now would be to confound the defamer, did such men need a defence. The judges of the Sudder Adawlut were of opinion, upon a review of the proceedings, that the interposition of the Court of Appeal could not be upheld, Mr. Baber having acted towards Mr. Brown in his capacity of justice of the peace, not of zillah E. I. Company and judge, and hence that his conduct was cognizable only by the Supreme Court at Madras."[4]

The whole report extends to many volumes and reports on slavery in many areas of India from Assam, to Dehli, the Konkan and the Malabar. The testimonies on Malabar run from approximately page 409 to 430, and are especially detailed and powerful.

The terrible thing is that even today in India many people are living in conditions of slavery much like those found by Thomas Baber, as the following article about the film Papilio Buddha dated 1st October 2012 makes clear.

[2] From Slave trade (East India) Slavery in Ceylon: Copies or abstracts of all ... Volume 16. Page 407 onwards.  Published by the House of Commons in 1838.

[3] From Slave trade (East India) Slavery page 409.
[4] [2] From Slave trade (East India) Slavery page 411 to 412.