The Carnatic Wars
The British had to fight three wars (1746-1763) with the French to establish their supremacy, which in history are called the Carnatic wars.
The Carnatic is a region in South India lying between the Eastern Ghats and the Coromandel Coast. This region constitutes the present day Tamil Nadu, eastern Karnataka, north-eastern Kerala and southern Andhra Pradesh.
The Austrian War of Succession and Seven Years War fought in Europe had their repercussions in India. The Austrian ruler Charles VI died in 1740 and was succeeded by his daughter Maria Theresa. France did not support her succession and joined hands with German-speaking territories of Austria such as Bavaria, Saxony and Spain. Frederick II (known as Frederick the Great of Prussia) taking advantage of the emerging political situation invaded and annexed Silesia, an Austrian province, with the support of France. The wars fought between Britain and France in Europe also led to clashes between these two countries over their colonial possessions in North America and India.
When the war broke out, the new Governor of Pondicherry, Dupleix appealed to Morse, the Governor of Madras, to remain neutral. But a British squadron under Commodore Barnett captured some of the French vessels with Indian goods and precipitated the situation. Dupleix, shocked by this incident, appealed to Anwar- ud-din, the Nawab of Carnatic, to help him to avoid war with the English. Calm prevailed for some time.
Meanwhile Dupleix contacted La Bourdonnais, the French Governor of Isle of France, who appeared in the Indian waters with eight warships. Peyton, who led the English squadron with his four ships, intercepted the French squadron and in the battle on 6 July 1746 Peyton suffered reverses and retreated to Hoogly, Calcutta expecting some more ships from Britain.
The French squadron succeeded in capturing the undefended Madras on 15 September 1746. Governor Morse was asked to surrender but the Madras Governor turned to Anwar-ud-din for help. Dupleix was clever in convincing the Nawab that he was securing Madras from the British to be handed over to him. On 21 September 1746 the English were forced to part with Madras. But when the Nawab of Carnatic asked the French to hand over Madras to him as promised, the French dodged. Thereupon the Nawab sent a force of 10,000 men under the command of his son Mahfuz Khan.
Nawab’s forces blockaded Fort St. George but the French forces pushed the Nawab’s forces to San Thome. The French received reinforcement and Mahfuz Khan attempted to halt the progress of the French on the banks of river Adyar. The French forces were able to wade through the water and inflict a severe attack on the Nawab’s forces resulting in heavy losses.
Dupleix then set his eyes on Fort St. David at Cuddalore which was in British possession. The English, with the help of the Nawab of Arcot, was trying to regain the places lost but Dupleix again played a diplomatic game by promising that he would hoist the flag of the Nawab in the Fort St. George for a week and after that he requested the Nawab to hand over the town to the French. The Nawab agreed to withdraw his proposed help to the British. Two attempts of the British under Rear-Admiral Boscowen to take Pondicherry failed. By this time, in 1748, France and the English had signed the Treaty of Aix La Chapelle. Under this treaty the British and the French ceased their hostilities in India. It was agreed that the French would hand over Madras to the British in return for Louisburg in North America.
In Europe peace prevailed between the British and the French. But the two colonial powers could not live in peace in India. They played one native ruler against the other. Dupleix wanted to enhance the French influence by involving in the wars of succession in both Hyderabad and Arcot.
Anandarangam (1709-1761), was born to a leading merchant of the time named Tiruvengadam Pillai. After his father’s death at Pondicherry, in view of the support given by the French Governors Dumas and Dupleix became the greatest merchant at Pondicherry. Dupleix appointed him the Chief Dubhashi (one who knows two languages) and Chief Commercial Agent (1746) . This enabled him to emerge as a man of substantial political influence at Pondicherry. But his real fame rests on his voluminous Diary in Tamil which is a very valuable source of history for the period from 1736 to 1760, particularly for the Governorship of Dupleix. It is also a good summary of Anandarangam’s views and impressions on contemporary events.
Dupleix supported the claims of Muzzafar Jung, the grandson of Asaf Jah, who died in 1748 in Hyderabad, as the Nizam of Hyderabad. In the Carnatic, he supported the claim of Chanda Sahib. A triple alliance was formed amongst the French, Nizam and the Nawab of Carnatic.
The English, after losing Madras, a precious possession, had only Fort St. David under their control. In order to reduce the influence of the French, the English supported the rival candidates Nasir Jung for the throne of Nizam of Hyderabad and that of Muhammad Ali after the death of Anwar-ud-din in the Battle of Ambur in 1749.
The Battle of Ambur: Muzaffar Jung, the contender for Nizami of Hyderabad, and Chanda Sahib, a claimant to the Nawabi of Carnatic, with the help of the disciplined French infantry inflicted huge casualties on the Nizam and Anwar- ud-din’s forces. Anwar- ud-din was killed. Chanda Sahib entered Arcot as the Nawab. Muhammad Ali, son of Anwar-ud-din, escaped to Tiruchirappalli.
The battle of Ambur was followed by the entry of victorious forces to Deccan. Nazir Jung was killed by the French Army and Muzaffar Jung was made the Nizam of Hyderabad in December 1750. Dupleix’s dream of establishing a French empire appeared good for some time. Dupleix received huge money and territories both from the Nizam and the Nawab of Arcot. When Muzaffar Jung required French protection, Dupleix sent Bussy, the French general, with a large French force. Muzaffar Jung did not live long and the same people who killed Nasir Jung also killed him. Bussy promptly placed Salabat Jung, brother of Nazir Jung, on the throne. In order to reduce the influence of British and also with a view to capturing Mohammad Ali (who fled to Tiruchirappalli after Anwar-ud-din was killed) Chanda Sahib decided to take Tiruchirappalli, with the help of the French and the Nizam.
Robert Clive was born in September 29, 1725. He had no interest in studies and was expelled from three schools for his indiscipline and lack of interest in studies. However, Clive had developed notoriety for fighting. Disgusted by his behaviour his father secured him a writer’s post in the East India Company and sent him to Madras. Clive was later promoted as the governor of Fort St David and was involved in the Carnatic Wars and the siege of Trichinopoly. He won the Battle of Plassey in Bengal from where the British Empire came to evolve in India. Clive returned to India to take up his governorship and secured the Diwani rights from the defeated Mughal emperor in 1765. Clive amassed huge wealth and left India a fabulously rich man, with a personal fortune to the then value of 234, 000 pounds. This apart, his jagir in Bengal fetched him an annual rental income of 27,000 pounds. When he returned to England he faced a parliamentary inquiry over allegations of corruption. Though exonerated, Clive committed suicide.
Dupleix was also determined to take over Tiruchirappalli with the help of Chanda Sahib. Chanda Sahib’s troops were joined by 900 Frenchmen. Muhammad Ali had only 5000 soldiers and not more than 600 Englishmen to help him. Robert Clive’s idea changed the course of history. He suggested the idea of storming Arcot when the French and the Nawab were busy concentrating on Tiruchirappalli.
Clive moved from Fort St. David on 26 August 1752 with only 200 English and 300 Indian soldiers. As expected the English received help from many rulers from small territories. The Raja of Mysore and the ruler of Thanjavur rallied to support Muhammad Ali. Chanda Sahib dispatched a force of 3000 under his son Raja Sahib to take Arcot. Clive seized Arcot on August 31 and then successfully withstood a 53-day siege by Chanda Sahib’s son, Raja Sahib, who was helped by the French forces. In the battle of Arni the English and the Maratha ruler Murari Rao faced an unequal number of French and the forces of Nawab of Arcot. In several battles that followed, including one at Kaveripakkam, Chanda Sahib was captured and executed. Muhammed Ali became the undisputed ruler of Carnatic.
In Europe Britain and France were not involved in any war and so neither of them approved the policy of their Companies fighting in India. The French government recalled Governor Dupleix. The Treaty of Pondicherry was signed in 1755 with the English; both countries agreed not to interfere in the quarrels of the Indian princes. The Treaty also defined their mutual territorial possessions in India, a situation that was maintained for nearly two centuries until Indian independence.
The third Carnatic War was an echo of the Seven Years War (1756-1763) which broke out in Europe in 1756. It was a global conflict and was fought between the two arch-rivals Britain and France. The war was fought in North America (resulting in the American War of Independence), and West Africa (which later became the French West Africa) . In India it manifested itself in the Third Carnatic war. Before turning our attention to the Third Carnatic War, let us see what happened in Bengal in the meantime.
The East India Company abused the trade permits (dastaks) granted by the Mughal Emperor by not paying taxes to the Nawab of Bengal, and by involving itself in internal trade. This apart, the Company had given asylum to the son of the Nawab Siraj-ud-daula’s hostile aunt. As the Company refused to oblige the Nawab, who demanded the return of his nephew, Fort St. William was captured and Europeans imprisoned. Responding to this situation, the Company at Fort St. George despatched a strong contingent under Robert Clive and Watson. The battle that ensued is called the Battle of Plassey.
It was alleged that 146 European prisoners were kept in a room measuring 18 by 15 feet and it is said that all except 23 prisoners died of suffocation. The veracity of this incident, known as the “Black Hole Tragedy of Calcutta” in British accounts, has been debated among historians.
The battle of Plassey (1757) changed the position of the British from being a commercial power to that of a territorial power. It confirmed the privileges obtained by the Company and replaced Siraj-ud -daula with the betrayer Mir Jaffar. The Company’s sovereignty over Calcutta was recognized and it was given sufficient land to maintain a military force. Mir Jaffar also agreed for a Company’s resident in the court. Mir Jaffar was replaced by Mir Qasim and the latter tried to assert his independence, which was not to the liking of the Company officials.
After fleeing from Bengal Mir Qasim aligned with the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II and the Nawab of Oudh, Shuja-ud- daulah, who were equally aggrieved by the interference of the Company in their internal affairs. They declared war against the British. The battle was fought at Buxar (1764). By virtue of its superior armed the Company forces won the battle. The victory of the British led to the signing of the Treaty of Allahabad (1765) by Robert Clive with Shah Alam II. By this treaty the Company got the Diwani right to collect land revenue from the princely states of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Besides, the Company obtained three districts, Burdwan, Chittagong and Midnapur, in Bengal and sovereignty over Calcutta. British virtually became the rulers of Bengal.
With the outbreak of the Seven Years War, Clive captured Chandranagore, the French settlement in Bengal. With this the French influence ended in Bengal. But they retained their power in the south. The French government sent Count de Lally as the Supreme Commander of the French forces in India. As the British were active in Bengal, Lally promptly secured Fort St. David after a short siege. Lally’s next move was Thanjavur but the French were after money from the Raja which he could not give. Without a penny the siege of Thanjavur was lifted because there was a threat of British attack on Pondicherry.
Lally wanted Bussy to come from Hyderabad to help him to defend Pondicherry in the case of attack. Bussy left Hyderabad and joined Lally. In Deccan the political situation changed quickly and the French lost both Rajahmundry (1758) and Masulipatam (1759). Salabat Jung, the Nizam of Hyderabad, without fighting a battle signed an agreement with the British. The Nizam transferred Masulipatam and Northern Circars from the French to the English.
The combined forces of Bussy and Lally captured Kanchipuram and proceeded to take Madras. As the British were busy in Bengal, Madras had only about 800 Englishmen and 2500 Indian soldiers. The Siege of Madras began on 12 December 1758. The French could not progress till February 1759, but both sides suffered casualties. The French, however, could not continue with the siege as supplies were dwindling. Meanwhile General Pocock brought a fleet to the relief of Madras. Lally was forced to lift the siege and fall back on Kanchipuram.
Lally retired to Pondicherry leaving a French contingent in Arcot. The British moved towards Wandiwash but suddenly fell upon Kanchipuram and captured it. A fresh detachment of British forces arrived under the command of Sir Eyre Coote. The last ditch battle was fought between Eyre Coote and Lally at Wandawashi (Wandiwash) in January 1760. Bussy was defeated and taken prisoner. Lally retreated to Pondicherry but it was not besieged immediately. Meanwhile the British captured Senji and proceeded to Pondicherry and laid siege to it. Lally had reorganized the defences and put up a heroic resistance to the British. The siege of Pondicherry continued for several months and finally on 4 February 1761 Pondicherry fell. In the same year the British took control of Mahe, another French possession in the west coast. All French possessions were now lost. Finally, the hostilities came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) at the end of the Seven Years War. Pondicherry and Chandranagore were restored to the French. The French had to henceforth be content with Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanaon (Yanam) (all in Union Territory of Puducherry), Mahe (Kannur district in Kerala), and Chandranagore (Chandannagar in Bengal). The English emerged as the undisputed colonial power in India, changing from a trading company into that of a territorial power.
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