Tellicherry Beach, from the graveyard below the fort.
The action described below occurred just beyond the rocks in the middle distance.
Please click on this image for a larger version.
The action described below occurred just beyond the rocks in the middle distance.
Please click on this image for a larger version.
If you stand today in the churchyard at Thalaserry and look out to sea, the view is generally peaceful, and there is little to disturb the ones view besides the passing of the small local fishing vessels, on their way out to sea or back, on their way to the fish market.
This has not always been the case however.
On Friday 19th April 1798, the bay was the scene of a fierce battle fought between a French privateer and two East India Company ships, the Raymond and the Woodcote.
The Raymond (993 tonnes) had been launched in 1781 and was on its sixth voyage to India, whilst the Woodcote (802 tonnes) was slightly younger, having been launched in 1786, and had made 4 voyages.
The Woodcote and the Princess Amelia had been part of a convoy from Bombay that had left that port on or shortly before the 5th of April bound for Tellicherry with supplies and men.
Captain Smedley commanding the Raymond arrived at Tellicherry on the morning of the 19th of April.
Accounts from the coast of Malabar, of the 21st April, mention, that on the afternoon of the preceding day, a French frigate had stood into Tellicherry Roads; and, after a short action, captured the Hon. Company's ship Woodcote, then at anchor in the Roads. At the time of the capture, the Company's ship Raymond was standing into Tellicherry Roads: she was immediately attacked by the frigate, and, after a short and ineffectual resistance, was taken possession of by the enemy. About six o'clock, the frigate, accompanied by her prizes, made sail, and stood out to sea, steering S.W. The Raymond had on board a cargo, which, with the ship, is valued at twelve lacks of rupees; she had also a quantity of specie on board, not included in the estimate. Admiral Rainier had sailed from Tellicherry Roads on the 16th ult. The enemy had captured a ship belonging to the Queen of Cannanore, previous to falling in with the Indiamen; from which ship they received the information of their being in the Roads of Tellicherry.
The French Frigate that had done all the damage was La Preneuse. This powerful 46 gun frigate had been operating out of Isle de France attacking British shipping for several years.
"La Preneuse is well known in the Eastern seas, and is now the largest ship of war the French have left on that station, being a similar frigate to La Forte, captured by the much lamented Captain Cooke, late of his Majesty's ship La Sybille. She belongs to the Mauritius squadron, and has done more damage to our trade than any ship the enemy had in that quarter. She captured the Raymond and Woodcote Indiamen in Tellicherry Roads, in April 1798, besides many other vessels of considerable value.
La Prenense had on board when she captured the above ships, forty-six guns, viz. thirty twenty-four pounders, eight nines, and eight thirty-eight pound carronades, with about 400 men."
The following very interesting French account of the action was written soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1818.
Le 8 mars, les ambassadeurs de Tippoo partirent avec les volontaires pour Mangalore, sur la frégate la Preneuse, et cette mission fournit au capitaine L'hermitte une nouvelle occasion de se signaler et de causer des dommages à l'ennemi. Après une courte relâche à l'île de la Réunion, pour y embarquer les volontaires de cette île et compléter les vivres de la frégate, cet officier se dirigea vers la côte de Malabar. Sa traversée, qui fut près de quarante jours, n'offrit rien de remarquable.
Le 18 avril, étant près de l'île Caroli, l'une des Laquedives, la Preneuse arrêta un bâtiment indien parti depuis trois jours de Cananore. Le patron de ce navire, qui fut relâché parce qu'il coulait bas d'eau, rendit compte que deux vaisseaux de la compagnie des Indes étaient, à Tellichery, occupés a charger du poivre. Le capitaine L'hermitte conçut le projet de s'emparer de ces bâtimens. Il vint, en conséquence, prendre connaissance de la côte de Malabar, le 20 avril, près de Tellichery ; mais il ne vit dans cette rade qu'un, seul bâtiment, au lieu de deux qu'il devait y avoir, suivant le rapport qui lui avait été fait. La frégate passa le reste du jour et une partie du lendemain à croiser le long de la côte, sous pavillon anglais.
Une pirogue que l'on prit le matin du 21, confirma que le bâtiment mouillé sous Tellichery était un vaisseau de la compagnie qui chargeait du poivre, et ajouta qu'il portait vingt-six canons de 12 en batterie, et qu'il avait un fort équipage, dont cent cinquante Européens faisaient partie. A une heure de l'après-midi, on découvrit un grand navire à trois mâts, qui venait toutes voiles dehors chercher le mouillage de Tellichery. Le capitaine L'hermitte, après l'avoir reconnu pour vaisseau de la compagnie, diminua de voiles et manœuvra de manière à ce qu'il mouillât avant la Preneuse.
A deux heures et demie, un orage terrible se déclara, et à trois heures le tonnerre tomba sur la pomme du grand mât de la Preneuse. Il descendit tout le long de ce mât jusque dans la cale, où il mit le feu, remonta ensuite dans la batterie et sortit par un sabord. Un homme fut tué roide dans la batterie , quinze ou seize autres plus ou moins grièvement blessés. Le capitaine L'hermitte lui-même fut renversé, et s'imagina d'autant plus facilement être blessé, que les éclats de bois enlevés du grand mât par la foudre et qui volèrent en ce moment, lui firent croire que c'était le vaisseau qu'il avait près de lui qui lui envoyait sa bordée. Ce qu'on peut regarder comme très-extraordinaire, c'est que , dans cette circonstance où tout était disposé a bord pour le combat, aucun, artifice, aucune gargousse n'ait pris feu, et qu'il ne soit pas parti un seul canon.
L'état du grand mât de la Preneuse obligea de serrer toutes les voiles qu'il portait, et le peu qu'il en resta dehors servit le dessein qu'avait le capitaine L'hermitte de laisser arriver le vaisseau ennemi au mouillage avant lui. Un peu avant quatre heures, ce bâtiment vint jeter l'ancre a cent brasses de celui qui était déja en rade depuis quelques jours. Le capitaine L'hermitte fit alors gouverner droit entre les deux, et il s'avança avec sa batterie armée des deux bords, résolu, aussitôt la première bordée lâchée, d'enlever un des deux vaisseaux à l'abordage.
Arrivée au milieu des deux navires ennemis, la Preneuse arbora les couleurs francaises, et envoya une bordée a celui qui venait de mouiller. Ce vaisseau riposta de toute la sienne, coupa son câble et largua ses voiles, dans l'intention de se jeter a la côte. L'autre, par sa position, ne put envoyer à la frégate francaise que deux ou trois coups de canon et un grand nombre de coups de fusil; mais le capitaine L'hermite ayant manœuvré pour l'aborder, en faisant sur lui un feu terrible de mousqueterie, son équipage évacua les gaillards. La Preneuse, canonnaut toujours l'autre vaisseau, se trouvait présenter le travers a la poupe de celui-ci, lorsque le capitaine anglais, redoutant l'effet d'un bordée envoyée dans cette position, coupa avec son sabre la drisse du pavillon, demandant quartier a grands cris. On lui intima l'ordre de venir i1 bord de la Preneuse avec ses officiers, ce qu'il fit sur-le- champ'.
Le second vaisseau ne se défendait que faiblement, cherchant à se jeter a la côte sous les batteries de Tellichery, qui tiraient des boulets et des bombes sur la frégate française. Il fut, malgré cela, bientôt joint et contraint d'amener son pavillon.
Ces vaisseaux appartenaient tous deux à la compagnie des Indes, et étaient du port de neuf cents tonneaux. Le premier s'appelait le Woodcott, et l'autre le Raymond. Leur capture donna à la république plus de six cents prisonniers, dont la moitié Européens, parce que le Raymond avait, en Océan indien, outre de son équipage, une partie des soldats de deux bataillons des troupes de la compagnie avec leurs drapeaux, qui furent remis au capitaine français. On trouva à bord du Woodcott deux caisses de roupies.
Embarrassé de ses nombreux prisonniers , le capitaine L'hermitte conclut avec le colonel anglais commandant a Tellichery une convention, par laquelle les officiers, soldats et marins pris s'engagèrent à ne point servir contre la république jusqu'à parfait échange contre un pareil nombre de Français. La première chose dont il s'occupa ensuite fut d'équiper ses prises; cela fait, il les expédia pour l'Ile-de- France, où elles arrivèrent heureusement.
Ce coup de main du capitaine L'hermitte sous Tellichery ne retarda pas beaucoup sa mission: il arriva à Mangalore le 24 avril. Il débarqua sur-le-champ les ambassadeurs de Tippoo et les volontaires français, et, après avoir passé deux jours seulement dans cette rade, il eu partit, et fut rejoindre, vers la mi-juin, à Java , l'amiral Sercey, qui venait d'y arriver sur la Br1lle-Gueule, avec l'intention d'établir son quartier-général dans cette île.
Tellicherry Bay, showing the location of the battle, in about 1778. By Forbes, Published in 1818. Click click on picture for larger image.
Most East India Company ships carried only the minimum of crew, and these crews had often been denuded of experienced sailors in Indian waters because of forced recruiting by press gangs sent aboard by Royal Navy ships operating on the India station, leaving them shorthanded if they had to operate their guns.
La Preneuse was carrying an especially important set of passengers on this voyage, in the shape of two ambassadors from Tipu Sultan returning from an embassy to the French authorities on the Isle de France. These ambassadors had been trying to gain support for Tipu Sultan from the French, in his struggle against the growing power of the East India Company, and to co-ordinate plans for future joint operations between the French and Tipu's forces.
The activities of these two ambassadors was of the greatest concern to the East India Company governors and officials in India, because Tipu Sultan was the only force in being left in India at this time capable of opposing the East India Company. If Tipu could draw in French technical support the situation in India might easily become be critical.
Embarking from Isle de France on the 7th of March 1798, with one hundred French offices and fifty private soldiers to act as instructors and advisors to Tipu Sultan's army, La Preneuse was bound for Mangalore which Tipu controlled at this time.
Monsieur L'hermitte,(1766-1826) Captain of the La Preneuse
Unwittingly, the captain of the La Preneuse Monsieur l'Hermitte was to provide the English with a pretext and reason to resume their attack on Tipu Sultan, which led to the fall of Seringapatam in 1799.
The ambassadors left a particularly good account of the action in Tellicherry Bay.
The ship on which we were, arriving near the Lacadives, took a patamar, in which there were some Malabar men; and we asked from whence they came? they said,from Cannanore : We asked what news there was from Tellicherry, and whether there were any English ships there or not? they replied, that there were two ships there, the Raymond and Woodcote. Immediately on hearing this news, the patamar was released, and the ship was steered towards Tellicherry. Every body, however, objected; observing, that as the vakeels were on board, it would be improper to go to Tellicherry for the purpose of fighting. The captain of the ship replied, that after receiving accounts of the English ship, should he not go in quest of them, he should be highly culpable, and deserve to be put to death : he would, therefore, by no means acquiesce.
Accordingly, on Friday the 19th of April 1798, we arrived at Tellicherry,and found one ship at anchor there. Near the evening another ship had come into the road of Tellicherry, when on a sudden, a violent storm arose, and the lightning striking the ship, she was dashed to pieces on the shore—one man was killed by a stroke of the lightning, and eight were wounded.
At this time another English ship, which had come from Bombay, made her appearance, and entering the roads of the port, came to an anchor. Neither of the ships had yet furled their sails, when the French ship, on board of which we were, went in between the two English ships which were in the roads of Tellicherry, and came to an anchor. She called out to each of these ships to haul down their colours; upon which both ships fire off their guns, and an engagement ensued. The ship which had been previously at anchor,struck her colours, and the one which had come from Bombay, getting up her anchor, was making off; but she was also taken and brought back.
Passing by the fort and battery, the two prizes and our own ship, were anchored in the river (or sea.) The number of the prisoners, chiefs and others, taken in the prizes, amounted to about 500 Europeans. Having put our own men on board their ships, we confined their crews on board our own ship.
In the morning, a Sirdar came on board our ship from Tellicherry, and a French Sirdar set off for Tellicherry. What conferences were held by them, or what arrangement they made, we did not ascertain : some few of the English were detained, and the remainder were set at liberty. Both the prizes were dispatched to the island of Mauritius. We heard that the two ships were worth five lacks of rupees, and that the goods, money, effects, and different articles, were valued at five lacks. The remaining persons having been sent off to Tellicherry, the next day we weighed anchor, and pursued the route to Courial.
The loss of these two ships was played down by the British at this time, and although the voyage is covered in great detail in many of the accounts of the renewed outbreak of hostilities with Tipu Sultan, authors like Sir John Malcolm however fail to mention it at all.
Other authors like Christopher Biden writing in 1830, in his book Naval Discipline... says
H. C. S. Raymond and Woodcot and La Preueuse. 1798. The Company's ships Raymond and Woodcot were surprised, in Tellicherry-Roads, and captured by La Preneuse, French frigate, which ran in between the Indiamen, under English colours, then at anchor, engaged on both sides, and, after as much resistance as the one ship, receiving cargo, the other just come to an anchor, and taken by surprise, could make, they struck their colours.
This suggests that the French captain used a ruse de guerre, to get close to the English ships, before opening fire. Indeed this was a method that Captain l'Hermite was to employ at Algoa Bay during the following year, in an unsuccessful attack on shipping at anchor in that bay. So whilst it would have been in keeping with the captain's way of operating, it was not uncommon for the Royal Navy at that time to have used the same tactic in other cutting out operations.
There was an especially large crew on board the Woodcote because she had just rescued the Captain and crew of the HEIC Ship Princess Amelia which had caught fire off Cannanore, on the 5th of April 1798.
"CHRONICLE FOR MAY 1798.
Lost of the Princess Amelia,
to Robert Richards, Esq. Secretary to Government, Bombay.
With extreme sorrow I acquaint you, for the information of the Hon. Governor in Council, that the Hon. Company's ship the Princess Amelia caught fire on the 5th of April, at one o'clock in the morning, off Cannanore, in the after-hold; and, notwithstanding every exertion, was entirely in flames, fore and aft, in a quarter of an hour, and every soul obliged to jump over-board. Nothing of any description was saved from the ftip, except the people of whom I inclose you a list. I have not been able to trace any circumftance that might lead to true origin of this dreadful accident. I shiould have come back to Bombay myself, but am exceedingly ill; and if I did, I might not be in time to save the season to England, which I think I ought to reach with all possible expedition, to give the Hon. Court of Directors an account of this melancholy accident. Mr. Vautier, the purser, who arrives with this, and to endeavour to get copies of the owners' accounts, will use his utmost endeavours to join me again on the coast.
I am, Sir,
Your most obedient Servant, John Ramsden.
Ship Woodcote, April 5, 1798.
List of the Crew saved from the Princess Amelia.
Mr. J. Ramsden, commander
Mr W. Fairley, chief officer
Mr. R. H. Brown, 2d do.
Mr. J. March, 3d do.
Mr. J. Locke, 4th do.
Mr. J. J. Vautier, purser
Mr. C. Dakers, surgeon
Mr. W. Schoot, surgeon's-mate
Mr J. Farrington, boatswain
Mr. J. Braham, boatswain's-mate
Mr. T. Potter, do.
Mr. J. Petney, quarter-master
Mr. T. Hoskins, do.
Mr. J. McKinnon, do.
Mr. S. Sayer, carpenter
Mr. T. Howell, carpenter's-mate
Mr. J. Thompson, Ship's-steward
Mr. M. Florence, sailmaker
Mr. T. Dunkin, gunners-mate
Mr. N. Hughes, midshipman
Mr. G. Frith, do.
Mr. Т. Dunkley, butcher
Mr. C. Meffo, ship's cook
Mr. W. Barneld, late surgeon's-mate
Mr. J. Mathews
J. Poole, J. Gabriel, A. Behrons, D. Zhan, F. Gunkell, W. Hornburg, O. Shaumburg, J Krug, J. Burke, S. Shandley, N. Smith, J. Kelley, T, O'Hara, J. Nalemate, G. Nalemate G. Recardo,J. Ember, A. Josea, J. Ferrara, A. de Cruz, J. Pedro, T. Gunn, P.Green,W. Fairbrother, G. Hughes, M. Dickenson, W. Brown, J. Ryan, H.Nail, J. Carrol, J. Harrison, H. Land, S,Hughes, T. Watson, J. Swift, R.Gatty, P. Obury, S. Sayer, E. Worsley, W. Colthurst, J. Campbell, and J. Myers, seamen.
Miss Dick, Major Conran. Captains Evans and Torrians. Lieutenants Savage, Burdett, Stanney, Gilbert, Moreland, Martin, Elphinstone, and Brown. Serjeants Hum, Mathews, Darby, Smith, Sloper, Moor, Kelley, Jefferys, Pool, Harding, Frazer, and Nevill. Corporals Garrel, Burns, Wild, Campbell, Wethers, Winwood, Henby, Colins, and Mackenzie. Privates, Fox, Simpson, Jones, Phillips, Hammond, Helegfelt, Rees, Rully, Moloney, Kelly, Wilks, Coburne, Whittane, Bhoomer, Cullen, and Grimming. Conductors, Hasty and Ryan, 2 followers, 2 wometen, 2 bullock-wallahs, 14 lafcars belonging to the ship, and Miss Dick's female servant and a boy.
TOTAL NUMBER SAVED.
Ship's company .......... 80
List af the Crew drowned.
Mr. Millet, 5th officer
J. Stamp, captain's steward
J. Barber, gunner
J. Nances, cooper
R. Davis, cooper's-mate
J. Cook, baker
F. Hall, captain's servant
T. Smith, surgeon's ditto
R . Fidgetts, carpenter's boy
B. Wood, gunner's ditto
J. May, C. Legnam, J. Bony, W. Sedgewick, J. Murphy, and A. Josea, seamen.
Master Selby. Serjeants Cannick, Bodycoat, and Tedence. Corporals Nicholls. Brett, Welwood, Ruson, Double, апd Wiggins; 9 women, 1 follower, 1 Dutchman, 3 women, 1 child.
TOTAL NUMBER LOST.
Ship's company ........... 16
Passengers...... . ....... 24
It is quite probable that many of these passengers and crew from the Princess Amelia would still have been aboard the Woodcote when the French frigate hove into the bay. For many of the survivors of the Princess Amelia, there was to be a second highly traumatic event just two weeks after their escape from the fire.
The fire must have been clearly visible to many of the inhabitants of Tellicherry who would have been able to see to Cannanore, as would have also been the case during the capture of the Woodcote and the Raymond.
Amongst those prisoners taken from the Woodcote and Raymond was Captain Smedley. He appears to have been well looked after aboard La Preneuse, as he was to give evidence that he had seen a copy of the treaty between the French on Isle de France, and Tipu Sultan on the wall of the captain's cabin.
From Governor Duncan. Mr Lord, Bombay, 23rd May, 1/98.
I beg leave, on the occasion of this first communication, to assure your lordship that it's not having been earlier has Certainly proceeded from no other motive than a reluctance to appear forwardly intrusive on your lordship's time, having otherwise little else to impart than what will have much sooner reached you through the correspondence of the Commissioners in Malabar and of the Board here, with the Government of Fort St. George, and with the acting Governor-General; nor have our lastest advices from the coast tended hitherto to throw any satisfactory light on what may he the Sultan's intentions, but should he have been induced to more peaceable councils, so fortunate a change must, no doubt, have been the happy effect of the influence of your lordship's opportune arrival, and of its consequences.
Being still, however, uncertain here as to the event, I think your lordship may consider as meriting some degree of attention, the following memoranda, collected from such information as could be furnished by Captain Smedley and the officers of the Raymond, from the opportunities they had whilst in company with their captors of deriving insight into the views of the French as connected with Tippoo; all which seems but too corroborative of the other indications on the same subject, which were such as to have induced us very earnestly to convey all the knowledge we possessed on the subject to the Admiral, with the hope of thereby frustrating the arrival of succours to Tippoo by the way of Mangalore, as might, no doubt, have been ensured but for the early departure of the Suffolk and Arrogant to the other coast, which was immediately followed by the surprise and capture of our Indiamen, the loss from which to the Company will not, including the Amelia destroyed by fire, exceed four lacks and thirty thousand rupees, instead of the very large amount which by the newspapers it appears to have been understood to amount to on the other side of India, and we have taken measures to provide against the recurrence of such a misfortune by fixing the seat of the commercial residency at Cannanore, under the guns of which fortress several Indiamen may at a time, or separately, find effectual protection from any enemy.
With the best wishes for the success and honour of your lordship's administration, and the sincerest desire to contribute towards it by every exertion that in my station I can make, as well as thence to merit and enjoy the gratification of your lordship's correspondence and advice. I have the honor to be,
Your Lordship's very obedient humble servant,
The Rt. Hon. the Earl of Mornington, K. P. 
La Preneuse herself sailed on from Tellicherry to Mangalore arriving and disembarking both the ambassadors and the French officers and advisers.
With the evident defenceless of the shipping in Tellicherry anchorage clearly demonstrated, a decision was taken to move the settlements main function to Cannanore, and with this began the steady decline of Tellicherry, as the garrison moved away to Cannanore.
La Preneuse would meet with her own destruction on the 11th of December 1799, when HMS Tremendous, 74 guns, under Captain John Osborne, and 50 gun ship Adamant under Captain William Hotham, would trap her whilst cruising off Port Louis on the Isle De France. She was run aground on the western shore of the River Tombeau about 3 miles from Port Louis, when she was set on fire and destroyed.
The sinking of La Preneuse by Auguste Mayeur
A possibly more accurate print of the same action is shown below.
 From the Asiatic Annual Register, or a view of the History of Hindustan, for the year 1799. Published 1801. Translation of the Narrative of Mohammed Ibrahim, one of the Ambassadors despatched by Tippoo Sultaun to the Isle de France in 1797. Page 175 - 196.
 The Naval Chronicle, Published 1800, volume III, page 411-412.
 Victoires, conquêtes, désastres, revers et guerres civiles des Français: published in 1818,by Charles-Théodore Beauvais, Charles-Nicolas Beauvais, Jacques Philippe Voïart, Ambroise Tardieu, Page 303.
 See http://www.etab.ac-caen.fr/lebrun/histoire/affiche.php?choix=49 for an excellent article on the history of this very effective French naval officer.
 From Naval Biography; or Memoirs of the Services of all the Flag-Officers, etc. published 1829, page 169.
 From the Asiatic Annual Register, or a view of the History of Hindustan, for the year 1799. Published 1801.Page 193.
 Courial was the French (and Tipu Sultan's?) name for Mangalore.
 Naval Discipline, Subordination Contrasted With Insubordination; or, a view of the Necessity for Passing a Law etc. etc. Christopher Biden, Published 1830, page 212.
 From the Asiatic Annual Register, or a view of the History of Hindustan, for the year 1799. Published 1801.Page 3.
 The Despatches, Minutes, and Correspondence, of the Marquess Wellesley. by Montgomery Martin, 1836. Page 41.
 From http://www.peguesthouses.co.za/portelizabeth_history.htm, with the story of the battle of Algoa Bay and La Preneuse eventual destruction at Port St Louis.
 From http://historic-marine-france.com/gravures/garneray.htm