Sunday, 5 March 2017

Cannanore Fort, Part 2, & the Beebe of Arrakal


Figure 1. The former palace of the Bibi of Arrakal. [1]


One of the most interesting of the many Indian's who Thomas Baber came into contact with, and one who he evidently had a right regard for, was the Bibi of Arrakal, known today as the Arakkal Beevis.

"The old Beebe of Cananore having written a Petition the other day she wanted me to forward to you, but which I declined, not from any wish to with hold her Petition, but that it appeared more consistent with Propriety in her writing to you herself – Whether she has done so or not I know not, but if she has you will see her case (the Subject is her Lacadive Islands) fairly stated enough and will, I think agree with me that our faith has not been preserved to her – The Court of Directors under the idea that the Islanders were adverse to her Government, were of the opinion that it was not advisable to restore the possession of the Islands to her but that to the consideration in (money?) should be allowed her on account of them – nothing however can be so erroneous as the idea of the accession of the inhabitants to the Government, and it is but reasonable to approve that they would be far better treated by her than a Farmer or even Deputy, removed at such a distance from all control, I don’t know what the advantages are the Company at present derive from these islands, but when the Beebe says (which she has repeated to me) that she will pay the Company as much as ever they received from them, and will hold herself accountable to our Government or our Courts for all her acts, there can be no objection to restoring her to her rights – She has received no compensation, not withstanding the Court of Directors orders, -- Should you view the subject in the light I do, I shall be most happy to afford my personal aid in concluding with the Beebe, (or if necessary making a survey of the Islands themselves) any arrangement that would be most acceptable to Govt for, I am convinced the Old Lady would come into any terms to regain possession of her islands." [2]

Cannanore had been an important international trading port long before the Portuguese arrived off its shores.

A Muslim dynasty based at Cannanore had controlled much of the trade from the Northern Malabar Coast to the Gulf. Following the arrival of the Portuguese who tried to control the coastal trade, this same dynasty had helped to maintain the Indian Arab trade via its Laccadive homelands, circumventing the Portuguese naval blockade by adopting routes away from the Malabar coast.

This redoubtable family was traditionally led by a matriarch called the Beebee (or Bibi) of Arrakal. Although much diminished in status by Thomas Baber's time the Beebee was obviously highly regarded by Thomas, who tried to restore her rights and previous trading business.

The extent of the former trade carried on by the Beebee and her other Muslim trading partners is demonstrated by the following answers given in evidence by Thomas Baber to the House of Lords committee on the 31st March 1830.

When discussing Mopillas... he gave the following evidence when the following questions were posed to him by the members of the committee.

Therefore they invested the Fortunes they have had in Trade?

Yes.

Do they trade much with the Coast of Arabia?

Yes.

With the Persian Gulf?

Yes; with the Red Sea, especially Judda, Aden, Mecca, and Medina, and generally with all the Ports in the Red Sea.


Are their Vessels numerous?

They were; but they are not now Half what they were, in consequence of the Monopoly of Timber by the Government, who assumed and declared the Forests to be Royalties, instead of which, those in Malabar have been purchased or inherited in the same Way as every other Description of Landed Property.

Are they unable in consequence to build Vessels?

They were for some Years. I have seen several Applications, both to the Bombay and Madras Governments, requesting Permission to fell Timber themselves, or to purchase Timber of the original Proprietors; which Requests were invariably refused, on the Ground that the Timber was required for Naval Purposes.

Has it been used for such Purposes?

Yes, it has, to a great Extent: but a certain Portion has been sold, chiefly what is called the Refuse, or Second and Third Sorts.

What Description of Wood?

Chiefly Teak and Poon.

Who were the Purchasers of the Timber which was sold, which you call the Refuse Timber?
Arabs, Parsees, and occasionally some of the Inhabitants themselves.

What is the Size of the Vessels?

The Size of the Vessels was from One hundred to Five hundred Tons. I can mention the Names of some of the Ship Owners: the Beebee or Queen of Cananore. This Lady is Queen in her own Right.

How many Vessels has she?

She had previous to the Monopoly Nine; she has now Four or Five. Chowakkara Kunhy Packey, the Heir of old Moossa, a Man well known on the Western Coast, had Twelve; that is, Moossa himself had. These are reduced, I think, to Seven. I can mention their Names and Burthen.

What was the total Number of those Vessels?

At one Time, from Twenty to Thirty of from One hundred to Five hundred Tons Burthen, belonging to the above Two Persons and other Ship Owners; besides which there were other Descriptions of Vessels, such as Botillas, Dows, Dingeys, and Patamars and Munchoos.

Those smaller Vessels carried on the Coasting Trade?

Yes; and some of the largest of them go up to Mocha, Judda and other Places in the Red Sea; also to Muscat, Bushire and Bussora, in the Persian Gulf; Porabunder, Cambay, Cutch, Sind, and a long Way up the Indus.

To what Town on the Indus did those Vessels go; did they go to Hydrabad or Sind?
Yes; I believe they go up so far at least. I have seen Bales of Cashmere Shawls brought amongst the Return Cargoes.

Are you aware whether they have ascended the River of Punjab?

No; I am not aware of any Communication with the Punjab Rivers. They go up the Indus; but I am not aware of their going there further than that. I know that Peishwoor Merchants have come down in Sind Boats.

Trade to a considerable Extent is carried on to Shiccapore, is it not?
No, I am not aware of that.

What are the Articles which are exported in those Vessels to the Red Sea?

Pepper, Cardamums, Rice, Paddy, (or Rice in the Husk,) Grain of all Descriptions, Arrow Root, Ginger, Cocoa Nuts, Kopra, (Kernel of the Cocoa Nut,) Cocoa Nut Oil, and Coir, which is made from the Fibres of the Cocoa Nut. The Value of the Produce of the Cocoa Nut Tree alone, exported from the Western Coast, is supposed to be an Hundred Lacs of Rupees.

From what Ports do those Exportations chiefly take place?
From Cochin, Chowgaut, Panany, Tanore, Perperangady, Beypoor, Calicut or Kohicote, Quilandy, (which is a favourite Arab Port,) Kotah, Barragurry, Mahe, Tellicherry, Cananore, Cavai, Bekklum, Mangalore, Cundapore, Onore, Cumpty, Seedashagur, besides numerous intermediate Ports.

Is Quilandy a good Port?

Yes; there are more of the Arabs congregate there, and more Mosques, than in any other Port on the Coast. The Mopillas here are the fairest of all the Mohamedans.

Can Vessels of 700 Tons enter every one of those Ports?

They can approach as near as a Thousand Yards of the Shore with perfect Safety, nearly all along the Coast.

Are they safe in those Ports during the Monsoons?
No; the strongest Vessel that was ever built could not ride out a Malabar Monsoon. One or Two Attempts have been made within my Observation, but they were obliged to go off.

Where do they go to when they are obliged to go off?

To Bombay; some to Cochin, where there is a very fine River.

What are the chief Importations from the Red Sea?
Coffee, Dates, and Gold Dust; Almonds, Kissmisses, (dried Grapes,) Prunes, Gums, Drugs, Perfumes, Elephants Teeth. There are several others which I cannot call to Recollection at this Moment; but chiefly, however, they bring Specie, in Venetians or Sequins and Dollars.

Do you know how far up the Red Sea those Vessels go?
The full Extent of the Red Sea. Very few of the Malabar Vessels go up that length, but they have Agents or Commercial Dealings the whole Way to Suez.

How far do the Vessels go?

To Cosheir, I think.

Have you heard of their being frequently lost?

No; very rarely indeed.

What Time do they occupy in going and returning?

They generally go before the Monsoon, and return after the Monsoon; or rather from January to April, and return from the Beginning of August to January.

From what Part of the Coast of Arabia do the Arabs chiefly come?

Chiefly from Arabia Felix.

From any principal Port?

From Aden, Judda, Mocha and Muscat, and all the Ports at the Mouth of the Red Sea.

Is much Trade carried on with Muscat?

A great deal, particularly with the Port of Cochin.

Are you aware whether any great Difficulties were experienced by the Merchants who come down the Indus?

No, I am not aware of any. Pirates were common some Years ago, but they are all destroyed, I believe, now.

The Question applies to the Navigation of the Indus itself?

No, I am not aware of any Impediment. I have often talked to the Sind Merchants whom I have met with at Tellicherry, Calicut, and Mangalore, but I have never been apprized of any particular Difficulties.

What are the Returns from Sind?

Cotton Piece Goods are all I can call to Recollection just now, except Shawls; but chiefly Specie. I think they generally purchase their Return Cargo with Money, which is so valuable to them.
[3]

It is very sad that today the ancient palace that the Bibi inhabited and which she was almost certainly visited at by Thomas Baber is now empty and decaying.  A recent article about the palaces fate can be found here..
http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/article3509127.ece



[1] From http://xpsajeevk.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-me.html by Sajeev
[2]Taken from a much longer letter by Thomas Baber to Sir Thomas Munro on the 25th June 1817. OIOC Private Papers IOR:MSS. F151 / 43 folio 50 – 54. to Sir Thomas Munro.
[3]From: British History Online Source: Affairs of the East India Company: Minutes of evidence: 06 April 1830. House of Lords Journal Volume 62. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=16423 Date: 22/08/2004

Cannanore, the Portuguese Fort Part 3.



Figure 1. Cananor Fort from Gaspar Correia’s Lendas da
Índia (mid-1500’s). National Archives (DGARQ), Lisbon (reproduced
from Correia 1975). North is to the left, right is south.[1]
(Please click on image for larger version.)

The drawing above comes from a book written by Gaspar Correia, who is believed to have travelled out to India in 1512, and to have subsequently returned to Portugal in 1529. He left Portugal once more for India, living out the balance of his life there until he died in 1563. It is not clear when the drawing was done. Some authorities believe that the drawing probably pre-dates 1550.

The most striking object in the drawing is the tall tower or keep that stands over the centre of the fort. This tower is essentially a Medieval keep of a form commonly used in Portugal and indeed Spain as well. It is designed to resist weapons like bows and arrows, but would not be suitable to withstand cannon fire.

This suggests that at the time when the tower was built the Portuguese believed that the possibility of an attack by cannon on the fort was low.

Cannon had been present in significant numbers at sieges in Europe since the 1450's. Although cannon had been in use in small numbers since the 1360's, the first really effective use of cannon against castles had been in France when in 1449 Jean and Gaspard Bureau had used a siege train to reduce sixty English held castles in Normandy within a single year of campaigning, bringing to an end the English colonies in France.

At the time that the Portuguese fort at Cannanore was being conceived, the techniques for the use of cannon to defeat castles had developed very rapidly, especially in Italy after 1494 when King Charles VIII of France who had equipped himself with a state of the art, highly mobile artillery train, and had been able to rapidly defeat the Italian armies.

This dramatic series of campaigns, which changed the balance of power in Italy led to a fundamental rethinking of the designs of fortifications, first in Italy where huge new forts surrounded with earthen banks and angled bastions beginning to be built, and then further afield.

Italian architect Antonio da Sangallo was one of the first of this new breed of military engineers.  Between 1492 and 1495 he added octagonal bastions to Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome to provide protection against cannon, whose stone balls could destroy high stone walls with ease. By 1500 many fortresses and towns across Italy, France and Spanish controlled Naples were receiving similarly designed new walls and bastions. [2]

The fort drawn by Correira appears at first glance to be medieval in style, however on closer inspection of the drawing the fort can be seen to have a number of strikingly new features, linked to the development of forts designed specifically for artillery.

For example, the drum shaped tower in the north east corner  is surprisingly squat for a medieval tower.

Indeed it could almost be taken for a circular bastion of the type that was often used by German cities when they first adapted their town defences to cannon.

It is interesting to try to compare the fort at Cannanore with other forts in Portugal or in its overseas possessions.

By 1415 the Portuguese had largely defeated the Moors in Portugal, and as a newly assertive country had acheived a balance of power with Spain.

Most of the wars fought between Portugal and Spain, before 1500 had taken place when artillery was of little real importance in warfare. So although there are lots of later artillery forts along the Iberian border, these cannot tell us much about the design of Cannanore's defences.

However, when the Portuguese had first arrived in India they had already had nearly 75 years of colonial experience behind them gained in North Africa and West Africa.  So I began extending the area of my search to Morocco, where I have begun to find examples of forts that are very similar in style to that shown in Correia's drawing of Cannanore.

It has proved possible to find several forts in Africa with details showing similarity to Cannanore.

The fort with the greatest similarity is Castelo do Mar at the former Portuguese colony called Safim located in Morocco, and which is called Safi today.

This colony is especially significant for our purposes because the Portuguese control of Safi was of a very limited duration between 1508, and 1541. This enables us to assign a sequence of dates to the features at Safi, and because very similar features are also present at Cananore, we can make an attempt to date the sequence the development of the Portuguese fort at Cananore.


 Figure 2. Castello do Mar, Safi, Morocco, showing a very similar
keep to the one shown by Correia at Cananore. [3]

A number of modern authors including André Teixeira [4] and Martin Elbl suggest that the Portuguese typically built their forts in Africa and India over a number of phases, with the first stage being the very rapid construction of a rudimentary fort to secure their position, followed by subsequent upgrades and expansions.

This pattern of development appears to be borne out by the development of the Cannanore settlement and fort.

The very first Portuguese "fort" at Cannanore was built in November 1502. Da Gama had failed establish a trading post in Calicut, which was the best location for trade on the Malabar Coast at that time. Forced by Moor hostility to avoid Calicut he tried trading with Cochin next, where he was able to obtain pepper, before returning to Cannanore, which was also hostile to Calicut.

In order to lighten his ships before the long journey back to Lisbon, he decided to negotiate with the Kolattiri Raja to leave many of his ships cannon at Cannanore. Agreement was reached that the cannon could be buried, and the store would be surrounded by a security palisade and a door fitted with a padlock.  The key of which was keep at night by the Raja. Two hundred Portuguese were left behind when Da Gama left on the 28th December 1502. It doesn't appear that the enclosure was used for accommodation, and one must presume that the Portuguese went to live in the nearby Mopila town along the beach to the east.

It is not clear where this first stockade was, and it may not have been located on the site of the current fort at Cannanore.

In September 1503 Don Francisco de Albuquerque arrived with a new fleet at Cochin, and soon began to construct a fort out of coconut tree trunks and earth to protect his settlement and his local ally, the Rajah of Cochin better against the serious hostility of the Zamorin. This fort was the first fort built by the Portuguese in India.

The next major fleet to arrive was that led by Don Francisco de Almeyda which arrived off the coast of India in September 1505 in eight ships. He had set out from Lisbon with twenty two ships and 1500 troops on board, but many ships were lost or delayed along the way. Almeyda had been issued with instructions dated 25th March 1505 specifically tasking him with building four forts at Anjediva Island, Cannanore, Cochin and Quilon.

He left a party at Anjediva on the 13th of September to start work a fort there, and then left for Cannanore, arriving on the 23rd October 1505, where he disembarked Lorenzo de Brito with 150 men and two ships to commence work on the fort, which he named St. Angelo.

It is not clear what the first fort that was besieged by the Raja of Cannanore and successfully defended by the Portuguese from 27th April 1507 for a period of four months looked like, or it's exact extent. [5]

However, there is a vital clue arising from events during the siege.

During the course of this first siege it had been discovered that the original design of the fort had been deeply flawed.  The only place that the water supply for the fort could be obtained was from a well located outside the walls of the fort on the side occupied by the attacking forces. 

I believe that this original wall was probably aligned along the line of the wall shown to the south (right) of the keep or tall tower in Figure 3 below.


Figure 3. The suggested extent of "fort" built by Lorenzo de Brito
in 1505.

When Lorenzo de Brito was building the fort, it was as an ally of the local ruler, and it is quite possible that it was being built at a trading post, rather than as a full scale fort. The most important thing was to be ready to defend themselves as quickly as possible, and at this first period the most likely enemy was the Zamorin.

By walling off the headland they protected themselves with the minimum of effort. The most likely route that the Zamorin would arrive by was from would be by sea from the south.

In the second stage in the development of forts proposed by Elbl the forts were consolidated and permanent defences were built. I believe this second stage included the construction of the keep and its associated wall immediately to the north of the keep. The tower may have been built to dominate both the entrance door as well as the well which was now securely inside the new wall.[6]

It is not possible to date the keep or tower at Cannanore exactly, but it was almost certainly built immediately after the 1507 siege.

It is interesting to compare the keep at Cannanore with the keep constructed at Castelo Do Mar at Safim in Morocco on the western seaboard of North Africa in about 1512, which is very similar in construction, and this enables us to picture what the tower at Cananore must have looked like, and how it functioned.


Figure 4. Safi Fort from Google Earth showing both the keep tower
and early drum towers fitted for artillery along the southern
elevation.

One significant difference between the circular towers at Safim, which were built shortly after 1508, and those at Cannanore are their respective diameters and construction.  The towers at Safim appear to be taller, and to have rooftop positions, and to have been of a  smaller in diameter than those built at Cannanore. This suggests that the Castelo do Mar towers pre-date the Cananore ones.

I believe that the towers were constructed because although the defenders intended using handguns or small cannon to defend the fort, that these were still small hand held, or tripod mounted weapons.  Notice how the towers in Figure 5 have embrasures set into their walls from which cannon can fire both away from the walls, but also in some cases along the base of the walls.


Figure 5. Towers along the southern face of Castelo do Mar, Safim.
Note the letter box apertures installed for handguns or small cannons. [7]

The towers at Safim are approximately 9 metres across the top of the fighting platform, and were probably equipped with breech loading cannon like the one below.  


Figure 6.  Wrought iron breech-loading swivel gun with reinforcing bands around the barrel, cast in Portugal, circa 16th century. [8]

It is probable that the earliest cannon used in the forts at Safim and at Cannanore were taken from ships, and that they were therefore relatively small.



Figure 6. The area of second phase construction after 1507, marked in red.
Note the polygonal gun tower at the shore. 

Because it is not possible to attribute exact dates to the various drawings and maps that survive showing Cannanore, it is not possible to prove an exact sequence to the maps.

However, a valuable clue to the dates of these plans exists, when Figure 6 and Figure 7 are compared. Figure 7, fails to include the polygonal tower. Therefore it is probably earlier than figure 6.



Figure 7.  Another edition of Antonio Bocarro map from the Livro das fortalezas,
showing Cananore at an earlier period without the polygonal tower.  The earlier largely Muslim trading settlement belonging to the Bibi's of Arrakal can be seen across the bay.

The Polygonal Tower is again significant, because it offers another parallel with a polygonal tower at Safi, which helps to date the Correira drawing.

Safi has two fortified areas, the Castelo do Mar on the seashore, and a larger walled town on top of a nearby hill. The Portuguese were able to capture this Arab town, and they proceeded to fortify it in turn.


Figure 8. A photo showing the Polygonal Tower on the southern face
of the walls surrounding Safim town [9]

This polygonal tower at Safim must have been built before the town was lost by the Portuguese in 1541, and it is very likely that it was built to reinforce the earlier walls that had earlier circular towers. The Moroccan forces had by the 1520's acquired considerable numbers of cannon, and the weaknesses of circular and square towers with their concealed zones were becoming apparent. 

Figure 9.  A diagram from "Firearms and Fortifications" by Simon Pepper and
Nicholas Adams, illustrating the way that both round towers and square towers
have areas (hatched) at their bases which are unable to be covered  by fire
 from their adjacent walls. [10]

It is possible that this polygonal tower was an attempt by the Portuguese to address the weaknesses of the round towers with their covered zones, that they had previously been building.  The covered areas at the bases of these towers would have enabled besiegers to get into cover at the base of towers, where they could shelter from fire and from where they could start to undermine the bases of the towers. The use of polygonal towers, perhaps demonstrates the comparative isolation of Portugal from events in Italy where the angled bastion was being developed at around this time, and which would prove to be the most effective form of artillery defence for the next two centuries.

From Figure 7 above it is possible to see that the polygonal tower was added after the outer wall had previously been built with it's three semi circular towers. So it is likely to date not much later than 1540 to 1545, but it was built after the three cannon bastions were added.  When were these three semi-circular bastions and the outer wall built?

Again, it is not entirely possible to be sure.

Elbl writes that the Portuguese forts in Morocco first came under serious attack by cannon in the 1520's when the Sa'dians began to acquire cannon with which to attack the Portuguese.  By 1526-9 the threat had become serious enough for the Portuguese to begin to employ Italian military engineers in Morocco to remodel some of their forts.

However, there are clues from Morocco and elsewhere in India like at Shirgaon, which is a small coastal town north of Vasai, that has another Portuguese fort that appears to date from about this same period. Unlike the fort at Cannanore, however Shirgaon was not upgraded at a later date, so that many more of the original early features survive to this day. 


Figure 10. Shirgaon Fort from Google Earth.

Shirgaon is interesting because like Cannanore, it also experienced a series of re-constructions in its early period as it evolved from a manor house like structure with two large walled compounds (gardens?), as shown in Figure 11 below, into a fort.

 Figure 11.  Shirgaon from Livro das fortalezas, Antonio Bocarro,
showing the first phase.

It is quite possible that when the first buildings at Shirgaon were constructed the Portuguese had not gained full control of the region from it's existing rulers, as was also the case at Cananore in 1505.  

The first settlements at these coastal settlements were only there at the sufferance of the local ruler's, and therefore could not be seen to present too overtly hostile a style.

After a period of time, and as the Portuguese grew more dominant, there was a matching and equal increase in hostility on the part of the previous rulers and their supporters, towards the Portuguese presence.

It was not until 1541 that nearby Vasai fell to the Portuguese. While it is not possible to assign firm dates to the various phases at Shirgaon, it is probable that the country estate in Figure 11 pre-dates 1520, while the fort shown in Figure 10, which replaced it probably dates from after about 1520.

The fort at Shirgaon was probably originally built as a keep to which was subsequently added a curtain wall fitted with four matching circular corner towers. These towers are approximately 9.9 metres across the upper fighting platform. 

The fort then experienced two subsequent re-builds, as first a polygonal tower was added. I believe that this polygonal tower was probably added to Shirgaon at around about the same time as the towers at Safim, and Cannanore.

It is not possible to precisely date these additions, however they were probably added in the later 1530 to 1545 period. The final phase at Shirgaon was the addition of an angled bastion, facing out towards the creek. This creek is now silted up, but it was probably an enclosed anchorage open to the sea at one end when the bastion was originally added.

I am not able to date this bastion, however it very possibly dates from the period when the Portuguese began to loose control of the coast line. This may link construction of this bastion to the arrival of the Dutch and English off the coast in about 1600, with their much more powerful armament.



Figure 12. The polygonal bastion at Shirgaon.  Photo by S. Patel.

At some point between about 1510 and 1540, the settlement at Cananore began to attract greater numbers of settlers, who all had to be accommodated within the new fort, or the surrounding area.

It is not clear if these were new Portuguese arrivals, or if they were the offspring of the many relationships that were formed between the Portuguese and local women.

At other later European settlements in India like Madras or Tellicherry, suburbs or shanty towns soon began to form around the European forts made up of displaced persons or migrant workers drawn to the new towns by their relative freedoms from the reach of the local rulers, as well as the economic draw provided by trade, so they may have included Indian families.  This may account for the fact that the wall between the older section of the fort, and the new suburb remained in place.  The wall and the old tower would have allowed the Portuguese garrison to overawe the inhabitants of the new suburb in the event that trouble broke out in the new town.

Over time a substantial suburb grew up to the north of the fort, and this had then to be defended by additional walls.



Figure 13. The area of third phase construction after
1510, marked in red.  


These new walls at Cannanore appear to have been designed to be defended by artillery from the very beginning.

They differ however in one highly significant way from the earlier towers at Safim and Shirgaon. The towers are open to the rear, and the cannon are designed to be placed at ground level.

These developments suggest that these towers are designed specifically from the start for small wheeled cannon, and not handguns. These cannon were also expected to be able to fire more rapidly than had been the case before.


Figure 14. A bronze cannon on an early land carriage. [11]

One significant issue with towers like the ones at Safim would be that when handguns or cannon were fired inside them, the gun room would rapidly fill with smoke.  Here at Cannanore, this was avoided by leaving them open to air.  The lack of 360 degree cover would have also allowed the Portuguese to clear these walls, in the event that they had been taken over in a successful assault, by firing at them from the old tower.

Accounts of the return to Cannanore in late February or early March 1509 of the Portuguese Viceroy Almeyda describe how he hung at Cannanore, Turkish prisoners that he had taken in Gujarat on the 3rd of February 1509 when he had defeated the combined Egyptian Fleet manned by Ottoman Turks, and that of the Zamorin from Calicut. He then went on to blow other Turks from guns, showering the bits over the Moorish town across the bay.[12]

The Portuguese used the fort extensively throughout the 1520's as a supporting subsidiary base in support of their settlements at Goa and Cochin, and as a base from which to attack the Zamorin at Calicut. 1524 Vasco de Gama who had made the first Portuguese voyage to India returned as Viceroy of India. On his way from Goa to Cochin he spent three days at Cannanore during which time he forced the Kolattiri Raja to had over Bala Hassan, who the Portuguese considered to be a pirate. Hassan was thrown into a dungeon located in the Fort.

The local seafarers suffered enormously from the Portuguese attacks, and their previous trade was greatly reduced as many of their ships were attacked and plundered.  The local Rajah's however evolved a system of beacons on the local headlands, so that coast watchers could spot the Portuguese shipping, and thereby warn local coastal shipping of its presence.  The local vessels were often able to run for the inlets and coastal channels, so that the Portuguese were unable to capture them.

Throughout the 16th Century a bitter and protracted war was fought all along the West Coast of India predominantly between the Muslim traders and the Portuguese.  In 1564 the Muslims were able to defeat the Hindu dynasty from Vijayanagar, and this enabled them to move more extensively down to the coast from Inland.  Cannanore was besieged, but managed to hold out.  Once the Muslims had retreated the Portuguese are said to have cut down forty thousand coconut trees to punish the local inhabitants.

During 1580 the Portuguese King Henry I died and the Spanish gained control of Portugal.  The great local rival and threat to the Portuguese was the Zamorin of Calicut.  His kingdom was exhausted by the constant warfare and disruption of the trade to his port, and by 1584 had reached an accommodation with the new Viceroy Mascarenhas.

In many ways this represented the peak of prosperity for the Luso-Spanish settlements, as with 20 years first the Dutch and then the English started to arrive on the coast.  As the Netherlands was at war with Spain, and would remain so until 1648, the former Portuguese settlements were seen as legitimate targets of Dutch aggression.

The Dutch established themselves at Vingorla in 1655, and attempted to capture Goa in 1660, but were unsuccessful.  In 1661 they then attacked the Portuguese at Cochin, and found allies in the Paliat Achan, and the Raja of Cochin, as well as amongst the Jews resident in Cochin.  On the 8th of January 1663, Cochin fell to the Dutch, and shortly afterwards the fort at Cannanore also surrendered to the Dutch.



[1] I am grateful for Zoltán Biedermann who brought this illustration to my attention. Biedermann published a very interesting comparison between Kannur Fort and that in Columbo, called "Colombo versus Cannanore:
Contrasting Structures of Two Colonial Port Cities (1500-1700)" in the Journal of the Economic and
Social History of the Orient 52 (2009) 413-459.
[2] See Simon Pepper and Nicholas Adams, "Firearms Fortifications, Military Architecture and Siege Warfare in Sixteenth Century Siena" published Chicago, 1986, and Christopher Duffy, Siege Warfare, The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660.  Published London, 1979.
[3] Photo by Horto P.
[4] André Teixeira "Fortalazas, Estado Português da India" published Lisbon, 2008. 
[5] William Logan, Malabar Manual, volume 1. Page 313.
[6] Martin Elbl writing in "City walls: the urban enceinte in global perspective," page 354 edited by James D. Tracy.
[7] Photo by Rui Ornelas from http://farm1.static.flickr.com/104/261641968_c22e223396_z.jpg?zz=1
[8] Photo by elakramine.
[9] http://silverhawkauthor.com/artillery-preserved-in-portugal_403.html, Photos taken at the Museu Militar de Lisboa (Portuguese Army Military Museum of Lisbon), Portugal by Harold Skaarup.
[10] Simon Pepper and Nicholas Adams, page 4.
[11] Photos taken at the Museu Militar de Lisboa (Portuguese Army Military Museum of Lisbon), Portugal by Harold Skaarup.
[12] William Logan, Malabar Manual, Vol. I, page 315.

Cannanore Fort, a discussion over it's development . Part 1.


Figure 1. Cananoor during the Dutch Period. [1] Please click on the image for a larger image.

The following article is an attempt to respond to a call for help from Sujith Kumar, a member of the Kannur Tourism Police who works at St Angelo Fort in Kannur. Sujith has developed a very good knowledge of the forts history and is trying to collect more detailed background to the forts history.


 Figure 2. 2009 Google Earth Image of St Angelo Fort. Please click on image for larger version.

He regrets however his inability to access original sources of research material, and especially archives from the British period of the forts history. He asked if I had any knowledge of the existence of any maps or drawings from the period? 

Could I help?

A number of maps and drawings survive of the fort at Kannur from the Portuguese and Dutch periods.  [2] 

An particular good one was drawn by Bellin and appeared in several 18th century books including J Van Schley's work of 1760. This is shown in Figure 1. above.

By comparing the 2009 Google Earth image in Figure 2 with the 1760 Dutch plan in Figure 1, it is easy to determine the extent of the Dutch and earlier Portuguese Fort, which is situated towards the end of the promontory. Apart from the later land filling into the bay on the eastern side of the fort, the area is very little changed since 1760, so where was the British Fort situated?

We know that the East India Company [EIC] spent a very large sum on the fort in the years after its final capture by Captain Wiseman, part of General Abercromby's force on 16th December 1790?[3]

In 1796 Walter Ewer, an EIC official from Bengal visited the Malabar and wrote a series of reports to Henry Dundas back in London. [4] The Right Honourable Henry Dundas (1742-1811), was War Secretary in William Pitts Cabinet from 1794 to 1801 and was also responsible for the colonies.

Ewer wrote the following from Tellicherry.[5]

"Cannanore.  Very expensive works are carrying on at this place, tis said they will cost two lacs of Rup's & that when finished they will be useless, being commanded by high ground. I am told it is proposed to level this, the expense of which would be many lac.  One half of the money expended at Tellicherry wou'd make it a strong place, besides here are storehouses, & magazines, & some thousand militia can be raised in case of need.
I mention this on the authority of the first Military Character in the Country." 

The first European fort at Cannanore had originally been built by the Portuguese, and was indeed one of the very first forts that they built in India.  The Portuguese had intended to trade in India and were well informed about the potential locations where the trade took place in India before they had first arrived off the coast.

The first voyage had been intended for Calicut to trade with the subjects of the Zamorin. At this period Calicut was the prime trading location, but it was also very closely connected with the Arab trading system to the Gulf, and it was this same trade that the Portuguese were attempting to redirect via Lisbon. So from the first the Muslim merchants quickly realised that the Portuguese had the potential to destroy their livelihoods.


From the earliest days the Portuguese had had relationships with the Kolattri Rajah. At first this was limited to leaving goods and merchants at the settlement. However King Emmanuel of Portugal decided to send out Don Francisco de Almeyda as his first Viceroy of all the Indies. His appointment on the 25th March 1505 included instructions to built forts at Anjediva Island, Cannanore, Cochin and Quilon.

His fleet arrived at Anjediva on the 13th September 1505 and a fort was commenced straight away.  Leaving a garrison on the island De Almeyda sailed south to Cannanore arriving on the 23rd of October 1505.  He landed Lorenzo de Brito with one hundred and fifty men to construct the fort, and two ships to be used to guard the site and to patrol out to sea. These were not the only Portuguese at Cannanore, some two hundred had been left behind in December 1502 by Da Gama, and some of these had probably survived.


Figure 3. Showing the fort before 1572.[6]

The first fort was probably just a palisade and ditch across the promontory. This was probably soon replaced by stone. The site is built onto a rocky outcrop and the underlying rock of a very soft red ironstone like material that hardened after exposure to air.


Figure 4. Google Earth Image marked to show suggested locations
of the Portuguese walls.
Please click on image for larger version.

The first fort was soon under attack. The Zamorin had wide spread contacts across the Muslim World and the attacks of the Portuguese pirates and fleets in the Indian Ocean was beginning to threaten the long established trading routes from India through the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. Communities like Muscat, Aden, Alexandria and Damascus and even Istanbul and Venice were suffering shortages of goods.

Ambassadors had travelled to Egypt and Istanbul to request help to rid the Ocean of the Portuguese. Preparations were commenced in Egypt to prepare a fleet to sail to India to attack the Portuguese. Aware of how marginal their hold was in India the Portuguese decided to abandon the Fort at Anjediva, and to concentrate at Cannanore and Cochin.

Lorenzo Almeyda brought his fleet to Cannanore on the 16th March 1506, and was soon faced with a huge enemy fleet of about two hundred and ten ships, including ones crewed by Ottoman Turkish troops. The Portuguese had of course had experience of fighting Ottoman troops before, and this was going to be far tougher than fighting the local Indian troops. A tremendous battle at sea took place in the bay immediately south of the fort.  Eventually the Portuguese cannon prevailed against the allied fleet.  It retreated towards Dharmapattanam as it tried to retreat, but a strong wind got up driving back towards the north.

The Muslim fleet sent messages to the Portuguese asking to be allowed to sail north unmolested, put the Portuguese refused and attacked again causing over three thousand casualties in the Muslim fleet.

Unable to prevail by sea, the Zamorin and the local Muslim's put sufficient pressure on the new Kolattiri Raja that he deserted his former allies, the Portuguese.  Da Gama's former friendly Kolattiri having died, and the Portuguese had abused the Rajah's subjects by taking their ships and possessions.

Gonzalo Vaz had captured a ship near Cannanore with passes, which he claimed to be forged, plundered the ship and then had murdered the crew who were sewn up into a sail and cast into the water. The bodies had floated ashore and included those of the son in law of Mammali Marakkar one of the most important local merchants. After confronting Lorenzo de Brito to demand recompense, receiving an unsatisfactory reponse the merchant when to the Kolattiri Rajah with many supporters, and the Rajah agreed to go to war with the Portuguese.  From the 27th April 1507 the fort came under siege.

The Rajah's obtained 21 cannon from the Zamorin, and forty thousand Nairs were believed to have arrived to fight in the seige. This seems unlikely due to the size of subsequent armies, but it is clear that a substantial force was involved. The Zamorin sent twenty thousand more men to assist.

Many assaults were made, and it was at this point that it became apparent that the Portuguese had made a fundamental error when they had designed the fort.  The only well was situated a" bow shot" from the wall on the enemy side of the walls. Every time the Portuguese needed to draw water they had to fight for it.

This suggests that the first wall in Figure 4 above was along the line of the defences in 1507.

Eventually an engineer called Fernandez came up with the idea of driving a tunnel through the soft rock under the wall and into the shaft of the well. They were then enabled to draw water without exposing themselves.

Most of the surviving Portuguese had been wounded at least once and food was running out. Miraculously on the 15th August 1507 shoals of crabs and prawns were swept ashore by the tide, and the garrison was able to re-supply itself. 

The siege went on until 27th August 1507 a relieving fleet of eleven ships under De Cunha arrived with three hundred men from Europe and were able to drive off the besiegers.

During the siege the fort had been very exposed to fire from the higher ground to the north, and this was to be an issue for the rest of its existence as an active garrison.  The attackers had used bales of cotton to raise themselves up above the height of the walls so that they could fire into the interior of the fort.

As result of the experience of this siege, and in order to enclose the well and to increase the defences it was probably decided to build a second wall in Figure 4 was built outside the first wall.

The drawing in Figure 3 was published in 1572, and it shows only one wall. However the map was probably drawn many years before the print was published.

Figure 5 below comes from a Portuguese Atlas published in 1630. It is likely however that the drawing from which the engraving was done was drawn much earlier.  The text refers to events in 1567, so although the date below the fort says 1505 it refers to the founding of the fort, and not the date of the map.

As the map shows a second wall and refers to events in 1567 it suggests that the second wall pre-dates 1567.


Figure 5. Portuguese atlas, 1630.
Please click on image for larger version.

In figure 5 a town can be seen to have sprung up outside the fort itself. This town was probably under what is now the Dutch fortress. It appears to extend into the older Indian town, although there is still a substantial suburb outside the walls. This suggests that the town was segregated into several communities, Portuguese, Indo Portuguese and the Muslim subjects of the Ali Rajah.

It is interesting that the guns are shown facing out to sea. This is clearly where the greatest perceived threat was seen to lie. By the 1630's Dutch & English ships were beginning to pose a serious threat to the Portuguese settlements, and this threat is probably why these cannons have been mounted facing out to sea.

This poses an interesting question. Was the Portuguese printer re-using an older engraving and had he decided to re-engrave it to show the situation in the years leading up to 1630, when the Dutch and English shipping arriving in the Indian Ocean had become a very real threat to the Portuguese possessions?

Figure 6. Map of the fort and town of Cannanore shortly 
before about 1632
during the Portuguese period, from the
Livro das Plantas de todas as fortalezas, 
by António Bocarro. [Click on for larger image]



Figure 7. Google Earth Image marked up with suggested
extent of the Portuguese settlement before it's destruction by the Dutch.
[Click on image for larger version]

Working from Figure 6, and by using proportions, it is possible to mark up a modern satellite photo with an approximate line of where the two outer suburbs of the Portuguese settlement might have been situated.

Ancient property boundaries are often preserved long after the original reasons for their existence has gone.

I believe that the northern boundary of the Portuguese settlement where it met the territory controlled by the Ali Rajah or Bibi of Arrakal has been preserved down to the present day along the route taken by the Portuguese Walls. There was probably a ditch between the wall and the edge of the Arrakal settlement.

The original Portuguese fort was quite small, and would only have had a limited garrison. This would have required the fort to be built with as short a set of walls as possible.  During the siege it had become apparent that these walls guarded too small and area of ground, leaving the access to the well exposed.
A second set of walls was built, enclosing the well.

As the settlement grew the population increased and required more space for housing.

Most of the new population will have been Indian's or the offspring of Indo-Portuguese marriages or concubinage. These offspring may have been regarded as insufficiently trusted to be allowed to live in the fort itself, but had to be provided with protection, so that the outer township developed within a third set of walls.
By inspection of spot heights on Google Earth it appears that the average elevation of the fort was 8 metres above sea level. The land rises up to about 15 metres above sea level to the north.

Initially this had not mattered as the potential Indian adversaries had only limited access to cannon. They were unlikely to have weapons capable of doing serious damage to the fort walls.

However, as the 16th Century wore on cannon became both more numerous and  effective. The advent of Dutch and English shipping in the area opened up the possibility of attacks on the original fort from the north.

The outer wall in Figure 7 sits almost exactly at the top of the slope climbing up from the fort. By having an outer wall and suburb the Portuguese had strengthened the original fort.

For most likely scenario's against Indian forces the Medieval style walls would be sufficient against most attacks.

In the event of an insurrection amongst the Indo-Portuguese, or a successful attack on the town, the Portuguese themselves could fall back onto the fort, to await rescue by sea from one of the other settlements.

Figure  8. Portuguese Map of Cananor town.
from Plantas das Cidades de Fortalezas
da conquista da India Oriental by 
João Teixeira Albernaz circa 1630
[Click on image for larger version]

I have been unable to date the map of the town of Cannanore shown in Figure 8, which appears to show an earlier fort inside the town lived in by the Ali Rajah's subjects, that pre-dated the arrival of the Portuguese.

This fort might have belonged to this family, or it may have been a trading post inside the town.

It was quite common for map makers at this period to re-engrave using information from much earlier maps.

I believe that it is just possible that this map may show the situation in the period not long after the Portuguese arrived, and before they became sufficiently powerful to overawe the Muslim rulers into allowing them to extend their settlement from the fort and to build walls that run out towards the existing settlement.


Figure 9. Google Earth Image showing the same area
that is shown in Figure 8. above. The modern town
appears to have much the same street pattern as the
16th Century one.
[Click on image for larger version]

If you have access to Portuguese or Dutch material about the fort at Kannur, I would be very pleased to hear from you. It is quite possible that I have missed important points, or may have misidentified maps, ad dates of maps. If you can narrow down the dates or origins of these maps, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

It is unlikely that very much remains of the original Indo-Portuguese town that was demolished by the Dutch. This would be especially true close to the old fort, because it is known that the area was scarped and re-worked both by the Dutch and later British to clear fields of fire.

It is also very probable that the fabric of the old Portuguese walls was robbed out to provide materials for later building works. It would still be very interesting to field walk the area to the north and east of the site old town, as it is quite possible that demolition materials, debris and the remains of buildings may remain at or near the surface of the ground.

As it is quite likely to be several years before, I am able to go back to Kannur, I would be fascinated if you are able to find remains.

In my next blog I will go on to explore the Dutch period of occupation of the fort.


[1] Bellin's plan of Cananore, by Prevost, from Frances Pritchett's website. [http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/1700_1799/malabar/cananore/cananore.html
[2] See the following website for a particularly good collection http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/1700_1799/malabar/cananore
[3] Malabar Manual, by William Logan, volume 1, page 443.
[4] IOR H/438 Papers of Walter Ewer.
[5] IOR H/438 folio 147.
[6] Source: http://historic-cities.huji.ac.il/india/cannanore/maps/braun_hogenberg_I_54_3.html
(downloaded Feb. 2006)
"From Braun and Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum I 54. Date: first Latin edition of volume I was published in 1572. After: an unidentified Portuguese manuscript."
[7] From Biblioteca Pública de Évora's photostream, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/bibliotecapublicaevora/ which contains many very interesting maps of forts in Asia during the Portuguese colonial period.

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.
[1]

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 http://malabardays.blogspot.com/2006/12/death-of-major-cameron.html )

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.
[4]

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.