1758 - French operations on the coast of Coromandel
The campaign took place from April 1758 to February 1759
Arrival of British and French reinforcements
The previous year (March 6 1757), a French squadron under the command of Admiral d'Aché had left Brest to reinforce the French posts in India. The squadron consisted of 3 ships of the Marine Royale, and 1 ship and 1 frigate belonging to the French East India Company, with about 1,200 troops on board under the command of the Comte de Lally. D'Aché's squadron had initially been driven back to Brest by foul weather. Then 2 ships of the line had been taken from it for service in Canadian waters, and the squadron had waited till May 1757 for their place to be supplied by 5 French East Indiamen fitted out as ships of war.
On May 4, d'Aché finally sailed from Brest towards Île de France (present-day Mauritius).
Since the death of Watson in August 1757 at Calcutta (present-day Kolkata), Vice-Admiral Pocock commanded in chief the British squadron operating in India.
On December 18 1757, Comte d'Aché reached Île de France where he joined a small squadron under M. Bouvet (4 additional East Indiamen).
On January 20 1758, the small British squadron of Commodore Charles Stevens, which had been much delayed at Bombay (present-day Mumbai), finally arrived on the Coast of Coromandel.
On January 27, d'Aché and Bouvet sailed from Île de France and made for the Coast of Coromandel in India. Owing to the monsoon, he was much delayed.
On March 24, Stevens' squadron reached Madras (present-day Chennai) and joined with Vice-Admiral Pocock's squadron in the Hooghly River. With these reinforcements, Pocock's squadron now consisted of:
- Yarmouth (64) 540 men under Captain John Harrison, flagship of Vice-Admiral Pocock
- Elizabeth (64) 495 men (or 595 men) under Captain Kempenfelt, flagship of Commodore Stevens
- Cumberland (66) 520 men under Captain Brereton
- Weymouth (60) 420 men under Captain Nicholas Vincent
- Tiger (60) 400 men under Captain Thomas Latham
- Newcastle (50) 350 men under Captain George Legge
- Salisbury (50) 300 men under Captain John Somerset
- Queensborough (24) (probably belonging to the East India Company)
- Protector storeship
On March 28, Pocock hoisted his flag on board the Yarmouth (64) at Madras.
On March 27, Pocock put to sea with his squadron with design to intercept the French squadron under the command of M. d'Aché.
On April 17, the combined squadrons of Pocock and Stevens sailed, with the object of getting to windward of Fort St. David (near Cuddalore), to intercept d'Aché's squadron which was expected on the Coast of Coromandel. Pocock missed the French squadron on his voyage south and bore up to the northward.
On April 25, the French squadron arrived near Fort Saint-David. This was the long-expected armament on which the French had built all their hopes for the expulsion of the British from India, and it had consumed nearly twelve months in its passage. It had lost about 350 men through sickness during its journey. The squadron carried on board Lally Infanterie (1,080 men) and 50 French artillerymen, together with Comte Lally himself, who had been appointed to the supreme command of the French in India.
On April 28
- At daybreak, a fleet of 11 sail was seen standing into the roadstead of Fort St. David and was presently recognised to be d'Aché's squadron. Lally's instructions from Versailles directed him first to lay siege to Fort St. David. Accordingly, d'Aché detached the Comte-de-Provence (68) and the Diligente (24) to carry M. de Lally to Pondicherry (present-day Puducherry) to give the necessary orders. The 9 other sail of the French fleet then worked down 3 km to southward and dropped anchor off Cuddalore: 7 sail in Fort St. David’s road and 2 sail farther off eastwards.
- The Bridgewater (24) of Captain John Stanton, and Triton (24) of Captain Thomas Manning, which were lying at Fort St. David, saw their escape cut off by the French squadron. To save them from capture, their captains decided to run them ashore and to burn them. Their crews were added to the garrison.
- At noon, Admiral Pocock made Negapatam (present-day Nagapattinam).
Combat of Cuddalore
On April 29
- Under the energetic impulse of Lally, the French horse entered into the territory of Fort St. David. They were followed by the Comte d'Estaing at the head of 500 men of Lorraine Infanterie and 200 men of the Compagnie des Indes with 1,000 Cipayes, artillerymen and 8 pieces of cannon. The French drove back the British Sepoys and plundered the neighbouring villages. Several Lascars and Sepoys and most of the artificers forming the garrison of Fort St. David deserted.
- In the morning, Pocock came in sight of d'Aché's squadron at its moorings before Cuddalore. D'Aché at once weighed anchor and stood out to sea but owing to the heavy sailing of some of the British vessels, it was not until the afternoon that Pocock could engage him with 7 ships against 9. The Combat of Cuddalore that ensued though indecisive was to the advantage of the French. Nevertheless, they lost 600 men killed and wounded, while one of their ships of the line was so badly damaged that she was perforce run ashore and abandoned. For their part, the British ships lost little over 100 men but their rigging was so much cut up that they were unable to pursue the French and were forced to return to Madras (present-day Chennai) to refit. Meanwhile the French fleet anchored some 30 km north of Pondicherry in the roadstead of Alumparva (unidentified location).
Siege of Fort St. David
On April 30, M. de Soupire joined d'Estaing with additional troops (among which part of Lorraine Infanterie) and with siege-guns.
On May 1
- Lally himself escorted by 2 troops of hussars appeared before Fort St. David. He immediately detached a force under d'Estaing against Cuddalore. Lally dreaded the return of Pocock from Madras so he hurried the first detachment forward to Cuddalore without any transport or supplies whatever. The defences of this town were slight and the garrison consisted of only 5 companies of Sepoys and some British artillery. About 50 French were kept prisoners at Cuddalore.
- Around 6:00 a.m., Pocock came to an anchor about 5 km north of Sadras (present-day Sadurangapattinam).
On May 3, the town of Cuddalore near Fort St. David surrendered to the French on condition that the British garrison would be allowed to retire with its arms to Fort St. David and that the French prisoners should be transported to neutral ground in the south until the fate of Fort St. David should be decided. During the short siege, French troops, having no supplies, had been obliged to plunder the suburbs for food.
On May 4, the small garrison of Cuddalore retired to Fort St. David.
On May 5, the rest of the French fleet got safe to Pondicherry.
On May 6, d'Aché's squadron anchored again before Fort St. David and disembarked the remaining troops.
On May ?, Admiral Pocock received 120 recovered men from the hospital and more than 80 Lascars (Indian sailors) from the Governor of Madras.
On May 10, Pocock, having repaired the worst damages of his ships, stood to sea as far south as latitude 9° 30', hoping to fetch to windward of Fort St. David. However, he met with strong westerly winds and the leak of the Cumberland (66) increased.
On May 15, the French began the erection of their first battery for the siege of Fort St. David, about 1,000 m. from the fort. Lally had now the considerable force of 2,500 French and about the same number of Cipayes assembled before the town; but his difficulties none the less were very great. The authorities at Pondicherry were disloyal to him; the military chest was absolutely empty; and, long though his arrival had been expected, no preparation had been made for his transport and supplies. With no other means open to him, Lally decided to impress the natives for the work of carriage, without respect to custom, prejudice, or caste. The defences of Fort St. David were respectable, but the garrison was too weak in numbers to man them properly, and the quality of the troops was remarkably poor. The Sepoys numbered about 1,600 and the British about 600; but of the latter less than half were effective, while 250 out of the whole were sailors, recently landed from the burnt frigates and most defective in discipline.
On May 16, two French guns opened on Fort St. David from Cuddalore. Major Polier, who was in command, made the mistake of attempting to defend several outworks with an inadequate force, instead of destroying them and retiring into the main fortress.
During the night of May 17, the French stormed 4 outworks and drove their defenders out. The French successes sufficed to scare nearly the whole of the Sepoys into desertion.
On May 17, five French mortars opened on Fort St. David from the new town.
On May 18, the French opened the trench in front of Fort St. David, even if they had yet no siege artillery.
On May 26
- The French opened on Fort St. David with a battery of 7 guns and 5 mortars located some 750 m. west of the fort.
- Pocock, being unable to get higher than Alumparva, anchored there.
On May 28, Lally was informed of the approach of the British squadron and immediately set off for Pondicherry with 400 regulars and 200 Sepoys.
On May 30 French
- The French opened on Fort St. David with two new batteries
- a battery of 9 guns and 3 mortars located less than 700 m. to the north
- a battery of 4 guns located less than 700 m. to the north-east
- The French opened on Fort St. David with two new batteries
- Pocock sighted Pondicherry, and saw the French squadron in the road. D'Aché, upon descrying the British, called a council of war, which decided that the ships should remain moored close under the batteries to await attack; but M. de Lally, arriving from before Fort St. David, insisted that the British should be met at sea. He also sent out as a reinforcement to the fleet the troops which had accompanied him from Fort St. David. As Lally had the supreme command in India, d'Aché weighed with 8 ships of the line and a frigate; yet, instead of bearing down on Pocock, who could not work up to him, he kept his wind and plied for Fort St. David to prevent any communication between the fleet and the fort. Lally then returned by land to prosecute the siege, the trenches being now within 200 m. of the fort. But no sooner had Lally departed than the governor and council of Pondicherry, who had full powers during Lally's absence, recalled d'Aché to protect their town. This order was most serviceable to the British; for, soon after the return of the French squadron, 3 valuable East India company's ships, which must otherwise have been taken, got safely into Madras.
By the beginning of June, most of the Lascars and Sepoys of the British garrison of Fort St. David had deserted. Furthermore, 30 guns and carriages had been dismounted and disabled and several defensive works were ruined. Ammunition were running short and water had to be gathered at night in the covered way.
On June 1
- The French artillery (21 guns and 13 mortars) kept up an incessant fire on Fort St. David.
- At noon, d'Aché's squadron (8 ships of the line and 2 frigates) entered the roads.
- For want of powder, the British artillery could not return fire. Captain Polier asked Alexander Wynch, the Deputy Governor of Fort St. David, to call a council of war where it was unanimously agreed to surrender.
On June 2, Fort St. David, though not yet breached, capitulated, its garrison surrendering as prisoners of war and Lally's first great object was gained. Among the hostages held in confinement in the fort, the French found a pretender to the throne of Tanjore (present-day Thanjavur). Moreover, Lally was not a man to be content with a single success. On the very day of the surrender, he detached a force under d'Estaing against Devicotah (present-day Devakottai), which was perforce abandoned by the British (30 British and 600 Sepoys) at his approach ; and there was every reason to fear that his energy would now be bent towards the capture of Madras. Furthermore, Lally destroyed Fort St. David. On this same day Lally returned to Pondicherry with his army from Fort St. David and made triumphant entry. Te Deum was sung, and thanksgiving was followed by banquets and festivities - all at a time when the public treasury was empty.
On June 2 and 3, Pocock's squadron lost ground considerably.
The fall of Fort St. David gave great alarm at Madras, and with reason, for the defence had been discreditably feeble. Polier had formerly proved himself in repeated actions to be a gallant soldier; but making all allowance for the defects of his garrison, his conduct was not such as was to be expected. The British government at Madras called in all its scattered garrisons in the Carnatic at Arcot, Chengalaput (present-day Chengalpattu) and Carangoly (present-day Karungalikuppam); maintaining only that of Trichinopoly (present-day Tiruchirapalli), and concentrated them in Madras; thus adding 250 British and 2,500 Sepoys to the strength of that city. Meanwhile the garrison of Devicotah was instructed to evacuate the place if ever the French tried to invest the place and to retire to Madras or Trichinopoly. The British also sent a proposal to the Maratha Mora Rao to hire a party of Marathas.
In fact, however Lally might long for it, there was no possibility for him yet to attack Madras.
French invasion of Tanjore
On June 4, declaring that his duty summoned him to cruise off the coast of Ceylon, d'Aché sailed for the south. He refused to spare the fleet to aid in the enterprise against the seat of British power in the Carnatic. With the fleet gone, Lally's Army required equipment for a march overland upon Madras. However, equipment meant money, which the authorities at Pondicherry averred that they could not supply. Acting therefore on the advice of a Jesuit priest, Lally resolved to march into the region of Tanjore and to extort the sum of money which he needed from the rajah. The civil authorities in alarm recalled d'Aché to protect Pondicherry.
On June 6, Pocock was informed that Fort St. David had surrendered and that Fort St. George near Madras was likely to be invested; and, realizing that should this be so, his ships would be unable to re-water on the coast, he made for Madras, where he brought his defaulting captains to court-martial. Captain George Legge of the Newcastle (50) was dismissed the service; Captain Nicholas Vincent of the Weymouth (60) was dismissed his ship; and Captain William Brereton of the Cumberland (66) was sentenced to the loss of one year's seniority as a post-captain.
On June ??, a French force appeared in front of Devicotah, the British garrison retired towards Trichinopoly, marching through the Tanjore country. The French then took possession of Devicotah.
On June 17, d'Aché arrived at Pondicherry.
On June 18, Lally ordered out a force of 2,500 men (including 1,600 French troops and a large number of Cipayes) and started with them for the south. Lally crossed the Coleroon (present-day Kollidam River) with his whole army. He had left behind 600 Europeans and 200 Cipayes under M. de Soupire for the defence of the French territory. His march was one long succession of blunders and misfortunes. The harsh measures employed towards the Indians during the advance to Fort St. David had alienated every man of them from taking service with the army, so the force started without transport.
The French force had barely reached Cuddalore that Lorraine Infanterie had to leave their tents behind for want of carriages. Gross excesses committed by the French troops in plundering the country drove the villagers to hide away all their cattle, hence neither transport nor supplies were to be obtained on the march. The soldiers were therefore of necessity turned loose to find provisions as best they might, and their discipline, already seriously impaired, went rapidly from bad to worse. When they entered Devicotah, they had not tasted food for 12 hours; and finding that only rice in the husk awaited them there, they set fire to the huts within the fort and went near to kindling the magazines.
On June 25, Lally's Corps reached Karaikal, after traversing fully 160 km. There the troops at last received a real meal. Fresh follies marked the progress of the march. The sea port of Nagoor (present-day Nagore), belonging to the King of Tanjore, was seized and its ransom farmed out to the captain of the French hussars, a corps which had only recently arrived in India and had distinguished itself above all others by violence and pillage. Ammunition again, for even this was not carried with the army, was extorted by force from the Dutch settlement of Negapatam (present-day) and the Danish settlement of Tranquebar (present-day Tharangambadi). Lally's difficulties were doubtless great but it is hard to understand how a man calling himself a soldier could deliberately have led about 3,500 men for a distance of 160 km from his base without making the slightest provision for its subsistence, or the least effort to maintain its discipline.
On Lally's arrival at Karaikal, 7,000 Tanjoreans under Monacjee (prime minister of the Kingdom of Tanjore) advanced to Trivalore (maybe present-day Thiruvarur) to oppose him. At Trichinopoly, the British ordered 1,000 Sepoys and 500 Coolies and 10 British gunners to reinforce the Tanjoreans.
On July ??, Lally marched to Trivalore, a pagoda on the road to Tanjore, where he established a magazine. Monacjee had to retire in front of Lally's force. Finally, two pagodas of peculiar sanctity were plundered, though to no advantage, and the brahmins were blown from the muzzles of guns
Lally summoned the King of Tanjore to pay arrears, to allow free passage towards Trichinopoly and to supply troops to assist the French. The king consented to a passage through his country, but not by the desired road. He also offered to pay a small part of the arrears but refused to supply troops.
The French remained at Trivalore until July 12, sweeping the country around of all the cattle. When the French finally advanced, Monacjee fell back before Lally step by step to the city Tanjore, but his cavalry never ceased to harass the French foraging-parties, to drive off the cattle which they had collected, and to intercept supplies.
On July 18, Lally arrived within sight of the city of Tanjore. At night, the advanced guard of the French army fired some shots against the town which put an end to all negotiations. The French fielded some 2,370 regulars, a great number of disciplined Cipayes, 14 field pieces and 3 heavy guns (they had 14 more at Trivalore).
The King of Tanjore sent out a body of horse, soon joined by the palaiyakkarars (barons) of the country, to cut off Lally's communication with Karaikal. Tondeman, an Indian ruler, sent a large body of troops to assist the King of Tanjore.
On July 19, the French erected batteries in front of Tanjore, but being exposed to superior fire from the wall, they lost many men and were unable to make any impression.
On July 25, Vice-Admiral Pocock’s squadron (7 ships of the line) sailed from Madras with a favourable wind southward along the shore to seek the French fleet.
In the evening of July 26, Pocock anchored off Alumparva. He sent armed boats to burn and sink 7 chelingas (boats of light draft pointed at both ends, used on the Coast of Coromandel). They also captured a snow.
In the evening of July 27, Pocock's squadron got up within 15 km of Pondicherry road where the French squadron (8 ships of the line, 1 frigate) was at anchor.
On July 28, at 10:00 a.m., the French squadron got under sail and stood to the southward with a land breeze; on which Pocock signalled for a general chase; but the enemy kept to windward.
Early in the morning of July 29, d'Aché's squadron anchored off Porto Novo (present-day Parangipettai) about 50 km south of Pondicherry. When the land breeze arose, the French weighed and stood to windward and at about 8:00 a.m. were out of sight. At 4:00 p.m., Admiral Pocock discovered a ship in the south-east quarter and gave chase. At 5:00 p.m., the ship hoisted French colours (it was the Restitution a British prize on her way to Pondicherry from Karaikal) and stood for land. Pocock ran her on shore about 10 km north of Porto Novo and sent the boats on board to endeavour to get her off. Finding it impracticable without losing too much time, he finally set her on fire.
Combat of Negapatam
In early August, the authorities at Madras appealed to Bengal for assistance. It was refused. Clive was not indifferent to the peril of the sister Presidency, but he had matured designs of his own for a diversion in favour of the Carnatic.
- At 10:00 a.m., Pocock again sighted d'Aché who was getting under sail off Tranquebar and who soon afterwards formed his line of battle ahead with starboard tacks on board, and seemed to edge down towards the British squadron. But when Pocock made sail and stood for the French, they hauled on a wind. At about 1:00 p.m., however, they formed line of battle abreast and bore down on Pocock under easy sail. He, at 1:30 p.m., signalled for a line of battle ahead with the starboard tacks on board, and stood to the eastward under topsails, or with the maintopsails square so as to allow his ships to take station, in waiting for the French. At 5:00 p.m. the French van was abreast of the British centre at a distance of about 3 km. The French stood on till their van was abreast of the British van, and then kept at about that distance until 6:30 p.m., when they hoisted topsails, set their courses and stood to the south-east. Admiral Pocock signalled to his van to fill and stand on, and made sail to the southward, keeping his line until midnight, when he judged the French to have tacked.
- In the besieged city of Tanjore, the rajah rejected the terms offered by Lally.
During the night of August 1 to 2, Pocock signalled his fleet to wear, and stood after the French to the westward.
On August 2
- Lally's batteries opened fire on the city of Tanjore.
- Caillaud, posted at Trichinopoly, immediately sent to the rajah a further reinforcement of 500 of his best Sepoys, 2 sergeants and 27 men from the Madras European Regiment.
- Pocock was vainly trying to locate the French squadron which was not to be seen. In the evening, however, 4 sails were sighted inshore to the north-west.
On August 3 at 5:00 a.m., the British sighted the French fleet off Negapatam, about 5 km to windward, formed in line of battle ahead, with the starboard tacks on board. The Combat of Negapatam lasted two hours. The British had so battered the French squadron that it had crowded all sail to escape and taken refuge under the guns of Pondicherry. D'Aché then refitted and, being apprehensive of an attack there, anchored his ships close under the town and forts. Feeling also that he could not, in his then state, again fight the British, and that his remaining on the coast might lead to disaster, he again announced his intention of proceeding to Île de France.
On August 5, the Queensborough intercepted the Rubis, a French snow of 120 tons, sailing for Pondicherry loaded with shot and medicines.
On August 6, the reinforcements recently sent by Caillaud reached Tanjore.
On August 7
- French batteries opened against the south side of Tanjore and a practicable breach was effected.
- The French seized a Dutch ship from Batavia (present-day Jakarta) bound to Negapatam and brought her to Pondicherry where the money was confiscated, the cargo unloaded and the ship detained.
French retreat from Tanjore
On August 8, disquieting intelligence reached Lally of the defeat of a French squadron by the British, and of a British occupation of Karaikal, the only port from which his army, already much distressed by want of stores and ammunition, could possibly be relieved. Lally resolved to raise the siege of Tanjore.
On August 9, Lally sent the sick and wounded (more than 150 men) to the rear and made preparations for a retreat.
On the morning of August 10, the Tanjorean troops executed a sally and attacked the French camp, a party of horse managed to penetrate towards Lally's tent. He was severely wounded and trampled upon but saved. The British Sepoys captured 2 field-pieces and the French camp was thrown into the greatest confusion before they could repulse their assailants. During this sally, the Tanjoreans killed some 100 Europeans and captured 1 gun, 2 elephants and some horses.
On the night of August 10 to 11, Lally raised the siege of Tanjore and retreated towards Karaikal, leaving 3 spiked heavy guns behind him. Instantly the Tanjoreans were after him, hovering about him on every side during his march, swooping down on stragglers and cutting off supplies. They captured 50 men, 2 guns and 2 mortars.
The sufferings of the French troops were frightful. During his retreat to Karaikal, Lally was informed of d'Aché's decision to sail for Île de France. He immediately despatched the Comte d'Estaing to d'Aché to protest against it. But d'Aché was supported by his captains and maintained his decision.
It was only with the greatest difficulty that Lally brought his force through to Karaikal, to find on his arrival that the British fleet was anchored at the mouth of the river.
Meanwhile, the British Sepoys and the few Europeans sent to Tanjore as reinforcements returned to Trichinopoly.
On August 18, Lawrence with 520 men of the Madras European Regiment, 1,200 Sepoys and a party of the nawab's troops left Madras and took Trivatore (present-day Tiruvottiyur) by assault.
On August 20, Pocock's squadron sailed from Madras for Bombay (present-day Mumbai), calling at Trincomalee on the Island of Ceylon for water.
During the month of August, the French took all the small British posts in the neighbourhood of Madras, except Chengalaput (present-day Chengalpattu) which was soon reinforced with 3 Sepoys coys under Lieutenant Airey.
In the last week of August, M. de Soupire arrived at Pondicherry after making a march towards Wandiwash (present-day Vandavasi) and back by the way of Alumparva.
On arriving with his army at Pondicherry from Karaikal at the end of August, Lally repeated his remonstrances to d'Aché, but in vain. D'Aché had secured 30,000 pounds by illegal capture of certain Dutch ships in Pondicherry roads, and this he was content to leave with his colleagues, but he was resolute as to his departure from the coast.
At the end of August, the authorities at Madras being thrown on their own resources resolved to recall Caillaud and all his British troops from Trichinopoly, and to leave Captain Joseph Smith in charge of that city with 2,000 Sepoys only.
On September ?, the French withdrew their whole garrison from Seringham (present-day Srirangam), except a few Cipayes, who were left to deliver the place to the Mysoreans.
Departure of the French fleet
On September 3, having landed 500 marines and seamen to reinforce the army on shore, d'Aché sailed away from Pondicherry. Pocock could not believe that d'Aché had any idea of withdrawing from the scene of operations and supposed that he would presently set out on a cruise. The Queensborough (24) was therefore despatched off Ceylon to get news of the French but she failed to obtain any.
Before his departure from Trichinopoly, Caillaud made disposition to attack the French Cipayes defending Seringham. Upon the approach of Caillaud's force, the Cipayes evacuated the place and the British took possession of Seringham.
On September 17, the Queensborough returned from Ceylon where it had not located the French squadron.
The money taken by d'Aché furnished Lally with sufficient funds to initiate preparations for a march on Madras and since the British had seized the opportunity of his own absence to recapture some of the scattered forts in the Carnatic, he despatched expeditions to Trinomalee (unidentified location, maybe Thiruvannaamalai), Carangoly, and Trivatore to clear the way to Arcot, ordering them to concentrate about 55 km south-east of Arcot, at Wandiwash (present-day Vandavasi). The several columns having done their work, Lally joined the united force in person at Wandiwash and marched with it on Arcot.
On October 4, Arcot, having no British garrison, surrendered without resistance.
There now remained but two posts in the occupation of the British between him and Madras, Conjeeveram (present-day Kanchipuram) on the direct road from Arcot to Madras, and Chengalaput on the Palar River, neither of them strongly garrisoned and both therefore easy of capture. Failing, however, to appreciate the importance of these two forts, and finding that his stock of ready money was exhausted, Lally sent his troops into cantonments, and returned to Pondicherry to collect funds. Thereby he threw away his last chance of worsting the British in India.
While at Trincomalee, Pocock ordered the Revenge, a company's ship, to cruise off that port and she actually sighted, and was chased by, d'Aché on his way to Île de France. The British squadron put to sea but could not come up with the French. Pocock afterwards continued his voyage to Bombay. He had left a captain, a lieutenant and 103 marines to strengthen the garrison of Madras.
Siege of Madras
On September 14, several ships of the East India Company escorted by 2 men-of-war arrived at Madras with a most reinforcement in the shape of the 79th Draper's Foot (850 men) with Draper himself, lately an officer of the First Guards, in command.
On September 25, Major Caillaud who had embarked his troops at Negapatam, arrived at Madras with 180 men. Such an accession of strength made it possible to profit by Lally's omission to capture Chengalaput. That post covered a district which, being rich in supplies, would spare Madras the exhaustion of the stock which had been laid up for the expected siege; and in view of its importance the troops at Conjeeveram were withdrawn to it, and the garrison gradually strengthened to a force of 100 British and 9 Sepoys coys (1,200 men) with 12 gunners. The garrison of Chengalaput was placed under the command of Captain Richard Smith. Further, it was determined to hire a contingent of Marathas and of Tanjoreans so as to harass the enemy's convoys and lines of communication during the siege.
On ???, the French took possession of Tripassore (unidentified location) and took position at Conjeeveram, collecting ammunition and stores.
On ???, M. de Bussy effected a junction with the French force assembled at Conjeeveram with some 350 foot and 350 horse from Golkonda.
On ???, the French took Trinomalee.
On ???, some 350 French and 500 Cipayes with 5 guns advanced on Chengalaput but they were prevented by the arrival of 4 Sepoy coys. The British then decided to reinforce the garrison of Chengalaput (then 9 Sepoy coys, 1 sergeant, 1 corporal and 12 gunners) with 70 Europeans. Captain Preston was ordered to take command of the fort and to repair the defensive works.
In mid-October, it was decided to send Colonel Draper with 1 bn as far as Vandeloor (present-day Vandalur) while Colonel Lawrence took post with 1 bn at St. Thomas Mount, an eminence about 15 km from Fort St. George and Madras.
In October, an agent of the Maratha Mora Rao arrived at Madras to negotiate the hiring of 2,000 Maratha horse by the British.
On November 2, a French force consisting of 800 Europeans with some Indian cavalry and Sepoys, marched against Chengalaput. However, Draper and Lawrence preceded it and the French force retired.
The British preparations were well completed some time before Lally was ready to move. That general was indeed concentrating all French forces for his great effort against Madras, but in blind pursuance of this object he had removed the most dangerous enemy of the British from the post in which, of ill others, he would have been most formidable. In plain words, he had recalled Bussy, with his army, from the court of Salabad Jung and from the administration of the Deccan. Further, he had ordered him to entrust the occupation of the Northern Circars to M. Conflans, an officer who was only just arrived from France, together with the smallest possible force that would enable him to maintain it. Bussy obeyed, but in perplexity and despair; for it was hard for him to abandon the work at which he had toiled for so long with unwearied zeal and unvarying success; and it was scarcely to be expected that he should feel cordially towards this new and impulsive commander who, whatever his merits, possessed not a quarter of his own ability. Lally on his side entertained decided antipathy towards Bussy. He therefore treated Bussy's supplications to return to Hyderabad as designed merely for the thwarting of his own enterprise, and disregarded them accordingly. The junior officers of the army, with a sounder appreciation of Bussy's powers, generously petitioned that he might rank as their superior, to which request Lally, though with no very good grace, was forced to accede. Thus, for one preliminary disadvantage, there was little prospect of hearty accord and cooperation in the French camp. Then there was the deficiency of funds to be faced, which was only overcome by subscriptions from the private purses of Lally and other officers; though Bussy, the wealthiest of all, declined, if Lally is to be believed, to contribute a farthing. Finally, there were endless troubles over the matter of transport, for which Lally had no one but himself to thank; and, what with one embarrassment and another, it was the end of November before the French troops were fairly on the march for Madras.
Lally's force comprised in all 2,300 French, both horse and foot, and 5,000 Sepoys. The main body moved from Arcot along the direct road towards Conjeeveram, and a large detachment followed the bank of the Palar upon Chengalaput.
On November 11, Colonel Draper evacuated Vandeloor and joined Lawrence's battalion at St. Thomas Mount.
On November 20, hoping to delay the French advance, Captain Joseph Smith, who commanded at Trichinopoly, detached Yusuf Khan with 2,000 disciplined Sepoys and 2 light pieces to operate behind French lines. On his way, Yusuf Khan took Ellavanasore (present-day Elavanasur).
On November 29, the main French army left Conjeeveram and advanced against Madras.
On December 4, Lally in person joined the column along the Palar, but having reconnoitred Chengalaput decided to leave it in his rear, and to continue his march northward to Madras.
By December 6, Lawrence's and Draper's battalions were still posted at St. Thomas Mount.
On December 7, Lawrence sent back 3 coys with the two 12-pdrs to Madras.
On December 8, Lally advanced from Vandaloor towards St. Thomas Mount. The defending force collected by the British in Madras amounted, not counting officers, to 1,758 British (including 64 Topasses, 84 Caffres and 24 mounted Europeans) and 2,200 Sepoys, the whole under command of Colonel Stringer Lawrence. He had also at his disposition 500 horse from the nawab's force.
In the afternoon of December 9, the French advanced within sight of St. Thomas Mount. Colonel Lawrence drew the greater part of his troops into the field to watch the French movements. In the evening Lawrence retired from the Mount with his entire force and encamped in the plain of the caravansary. Lally's Army encamped at St. Thomas Mount and its vanguard took post at Marmelan (unidentified location). It was never the intention of the British commander to risk an action with so superior a force. Lally's Army had alone 300 European cavalry, excellently mounted.
On December 12 at daybreak, Lally's Army (3,500 Europeans, 2,000 Cipayes and 2,000 horse) appeared upon the plain of the caravansary. The French cavalry lost some men while occupying the Triplicane (present-day Thiruvallikeni) road, when 2 British field-pieces fired on them. After a cannonade which lasted about two hours, Lawrence retired into Fort St. George after placing guards at the different avenues leading into the Indian Town. The French soon occupied the ground abandoned by the British. Their vanguard took possession of the Garden House. Lally also detached 300 Europeans and two 12-pdrs against Poonamallee (present-day Poovirundhavalli) defended by a small detachment under Crowly. The British managed to repulse the first assault where the French lost 30 men killed. However, his garrison wavering, Crowly marched out at midnight in silence, reaching Madras early the next morning.
On December 13, Lally's entire force encamped in the plain, about 2 km to south-west of Fort St. George. Nearer approach to the fort was barred by two rivers, the more northerly of them, called the Triplicane, entering the sea about 1,000 meters south of the glacis; the other, known as the North River, washing the actual foot of the glacis, but turning from thence abruptly southward to join the Triplicane and flow with it into the sea.
Early on December 14, Lally advanced in two columns round to the other side of Fort St. George to make himself master of the town of Madras. The British evacuated their outposts before him as he advanced, and they retired hastily to Fort St. George where a large number of the Indian inhabitants of Madras were also trying to take refuge. Colonel Draper made a sally at the head of 500 men with 2 field pieces, covered on his right flank by Major Brereton and 150 men. Initially, several French soldiers and Cipayes confused them with Lally Infanterie who also wore red uniforms. When the British opened fire, they finally realized their mistake and fled abandoning their cannon. However, the French soon rallied and the British retreated. In this affair, the French lost more than 30 officers and 220 men killed or wounded and Brigadier-General Comte d'Estaing was taken prisoner. The Britsh lost Major Polier, mortally wounded; Captain Pascall and Lieutenant Elliot, shot through the body; Captain Hume, mortally wounded and taken; Captain-Lieutenant Bilhock, killed; Lieutenant Smith, Lieutenant Blair and Ensign Cook wounded and taken; Ensign Chase, mortally wounded and taken; 50 men killed; 50 men wounded and 103 men taken prisoners (including 19 wounded). Lally then established himself in the Black Town on the north-western front of the fort, and thence along its northern side to the sea. With his right thus resting on the town and his left on the beach, be prepared to open the siege of Madras.
The same day (December 14) near Chengalaput, Lieutenant Airey captured the only French mortar, on its way from Pondicherry.
The siege of Madras lasted from December 14 1758 to February 17 1759. The French had neglected to capture the town of Chengalaput before opening the siege and this proved to be a fatal error. Furthermore, on February 16, a British relief force arrived at Madras aboard 8 vessels under the command of Captain Richard Kempenfelt.
On February 17, Lally’s force precipitously evacuated Madras and marched to St. Thomas Mount where Lally ordered to blow Colonel Lawrence’s country house.
On February 18, Lally’s Army reached Conjeeveram and immediately began to fortify it against a sudden attack. However, the British, who with the recent reinforcement of 600 men could now field some 1,350 Europeans in addition to the army of Yusuf Khan, just occupied Poonamallee and Tripassore.
So ended the last offensive movement of the French in India. Lally had retired with bitter rage in his heart against the authorities at Pondicherry, to whose apathy and selfseeking he attributed his failure.
This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 249-252
- An anonymous staff officer; Historical Record of the Honourable East India Company's First Madras Regiment, London: Smith, Elder and Co; 1843, pp. X-xvi, 137-143, 148-163
- Cambridge, Richard Owen: An Account of the War in India between the English and French on the Coast of Coromandel from the Year 1750 to the Year 1760 together with a Relation of the late Remarkable Events on the Malabar Coast, and the Expeditions to Golconda and Surat; with the Operations of the Fleet, London: T. Jefferys, 1761, pp. 124-145, 197-198
- Clowes, Wm. Laird, The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 164, 174-181
- Fortescue, J. W., A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 428-438
Castex, Jean-Claude, Dictionnaire des batailles terrestres franco-anglaises de la Guerre de Sept Ans, Presse de l'université Laval, Québec: 2006, pp. 213-215, 244-246