Madras European Regiment

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Origin and History

In 1644, 30 English recruits and a large quantity of ordnance and military stores arrived from England at Fort St. George in the Presidency of Madras (present-day Chennai). Early in 1645, 20 more recruits landed.

Since 1664, the recruiting of the corps has entirely been from Great Britain, except during the campaigns in 1752, 1753 and 1754; when a few Swiss mercenaries were incorporated with the regiment. Furthermore, a few French prisoners of war would, on their release, enlist in the corps, a system which was only resorted to from the great scarcity of Europeans in India.

In 1665, an armed-ship with a number of recruits on board arrived at Madras. In 1671, the garrison of Fort St. George being seriously depleted, the council was authorized to engage from the ships as many men as would fill up the complement of the troops for the garrison. In 1676, the Court of Directors of the East India Company decided that the garrison of Fort St. George should now consist exclusively of English soldiers.

In 1690-91, a company of European artillery, 3 companies of infantry and a troop of horse, formed part of the garrison of Fort St. George. In 1693-94, 70 recruits landed at Madras.

By 1706-07, the garrisons of Fort St. George and Fort St. David were so weak that 400 European soldiers were required to bring each them to full strength.

In 1732, large reinforcements of recruits arrived at Madras from Great Britain.

In 1741, a large party of Mahrattas appeared before Madras and invested the place but soon withdrew. In December of the same year, they made another unsuccessful attempt. In 1742, more recruits were sent from Great Britain and Madras put in the best posture of defence.

In 1745, war having been declared between Great Britain and France, a small British squadron landed a few recruits at Fort St. George in July. The garrison of this fort amounted to only 150 men with an equal number garrisoning Fort St. David. On September 3, 1746, a French fleet appeared before Madras. On September 4, French troops landed. On September 7, they bombarded Fort St. George from a battery of 9 mortars while their fleet cannonaded the town. On September 8, another battery of 5 mortars opened on Fort St. George. On September 10, the fort surrendered and Madras was given up. The East India Company's troops were made prisoners of war but the officers managed to escape to Fort St. David. After the capitulation of Madras, the Government of the Coast of Coromandel immediately began to raise troops. On December 9, a French force invested Fort St. David. However, the intervention of the '°nawab (viceroy) and a timely sally of the garrison drove them back. Nevertheless, the French continued to besiege Fort St. David. On February 19, 1747, the garrison of Fort St. David, which had been reinforced by 20 recruits from Great Britain, marched out and gave battle to the French besiegers. The garrison was then reinforced by 100 additional recruits from Bengal, while 100 more men arrived from the Bombay European Regiment. In September, 150 more recruits arrived from Great Britain. The Madras European Battalion at this time was 500 men strong.

For twelve years, from 1746 to 1758, the Madras Government seems to have had a low opinion of the natives of the Carnatic, and to have been ignorant of what might be made of them by discipline. This is the more remarkable that they had before their eyes the example of the French, who, from an early period, had trained their sepoys with good results. The Madras Government continued to enlist European adventurers, Topasses and Caffres and to hire Arabs, Rajputs and Hindoustanis at Bombay.

In January 1748, Major Stringer Lawrence arrived from Great Britain at Fort St. David with a commission to command the East India Company's forces in India. The different companies of the Madras corps were formed into a regular battalion of 6 fusilier and 1 grenadier company. All the men of the battalion, except the grenadiers, ceased to wear swords. Officers carried, in addition to their swords, light fuzils, the sergeants halberds. Each company consisted of:

  • 1 captain
  • 1 lieutenant
  • 1 ensign
  • 1 adjutant (only in the first company)
  • 4 sergeants
  • 4 corporals
  • 1 drum-major (only in the first company)
  • 3 drummers (only 2 drummers in the first company)
  • 70 privates

On June 17, 1748, the Madras European Battalion under Lawrence repulsed a French attack on Cuddalore. On August 8, the battalion was part of the British force which marched to the siege of Pondicherry (present-day Puducherry). On August 30, ground was opened before Pondicherry and the battalion repulsed two sorties of the French garrison. On October 5, the British were forced to raise the siege.

In 1749, the number of companies was increased from seven to eleven. In March, 430 men of the Madras European Battalion joined a British force assembled at Fort St. David to reinstate the ex-rajah of Tanjore on his throne. On April 13, the battalion suffered so severely from a storm that it was obliged to march into Porto Novo to repair his material. After an unsuccessful campaign the entire British force returned to Fort St. David. The battalion soon joined another expedition under the command of Major Lawrence to capture the fort of Devi Cottah. The fort was captured after a hard fight where the Madras European Battalion lost 30 men. In August, Madras was retro-ceded to the British. The British then sent 120 men of the Madras European Battalion to assist Mohamed Ali, who had recently been defeated by a Franco-Indian army. From then until the end of 1754, detachments of the battalion were often attached to Indian armies fighting other Indian armies supported by the French.

In 1750, the additional companies were broken up and their men incorporated into the seven original companies.

From 1751 until the arrival of the first British regiment of dragoons in India, in 1783, details from the regiment, frequently upwards of a troop, were mounted and served as dragoons. Field pieces were attached to the battalion and were worked by its men.

In July 1751, the Court of Directors of the East India Company made arrangements for raising two companies of Swiss in the Protestant Cantons for a term of service of seven years. Each of these two companies consisted of:

  • 1 captain
  • 2 lieutenants
  • 1 ensign
  • 6 sergeants
  • 6 corporals
  • 1 drum-major
  • 2 drummers
  • 1 fifer
  • 120 privates

In November and December 1751, the two Swiss companies sailed from England for Madras. The first company was under Captain John Chabbert; the second under Captain John Henry Schaub.

On July 26, 1753, the grenadiers of the Madras European Battalion under Captains Kilpatrick and Kink distinguished themselves in the battle of the Golden Rock near Trichinopoly.

About the end of 1754, 68 foreigners, of whom 50 were Germans, deserted from the French to Major Heron's camp near Trichinopoly and were divided equally amongst the British and Swiss companies of infantry.

On January 11, 1755, peace was concluded between the French and British in India and the Madras European Battalion for a time was not called upon to act against the French. However, the battalion was employed to bring under subjection to the nawab the polygar (chiefs) in the countries round Madura and Tinnevelly. This was entirely a jungle warfare.

From 1758, it was customary to receive volunteers into the corps from British infantry regiments returning home.

During the Seven Years' War, the battalion was under the command of:

  • from 1752 to 1759: Major-General Stringer Lawrence

In 1766, the corps was formed into three battalions.

Service during the War

In February 1755, the battalion (500 men) took part in the expedition in Madura and Tinnevelly led by Colonel Heron. In June, Heron was encamped with his force before Trichinopoly (present-day Tiruchirapalli). In November 1755, the establishment of each company was increased from 85 to 112 men all ranks, exclusive of 2 sergeants and 2 corporals detached for employment with the sepoy companies. Thus a company now consisted of:

  • 1 captain
  • 1 lieutenant
  • 1 ensign
  • 6 sergeants
  • 6 corporals
  • 94 privates
  • 3 drummers

By January 1756, the regiment was under the command of Major James Kilpatrick. In October, 5 coys (570 men) and 80 artillerymen of the battalion formed part of the force led by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clive for the punitive expedition against Calcutta. On December 20, after long delays, the fleet transporting Clive's force finally reached Fulta. However two ships, one transporting 2 coys of the Madras European Regiment (200 men) and another carrying most of the field artillery, were still lagging behind. In the night of December 29 to 30, 3 coys of the battalion fought in the combat near Fort Budge Budge.

Early in 1757, the Swiss companies were placed in all respects on the same footing as the British infantry in the service of the East India Company.

On January 2, 1757, 3 coys of the battalion took part in the re-capture of Fort William near Calcutta in Bengal. Around mid January, the 2 coys, which had been lagging behind made their junction with Clive's force bringing the strength of the battalion to 5 coys. On February 4, the battalion fought in the Combat of Calcutta. In March, a detachment of the battalion took part in the expedition against Chandernagore. The place surrendered on March 23. By April 7, 1757, the detachment of the Madras European Battalion at the camp of Chinsurah in Bengal consisted of 352 men.

At the end of March 1757, a detachment (3 captains, 5 subalterns, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 4 drummers and 100 privates) of the Madras European Battalion took part in the expedition of Lieutenant-Colonel Forde against Nellore in Carnatic. In May, this detachment formed part of the garrison of Trichinopoly (present-day Tiruchirapalli) which, during the French operations in Carnatic, was besieged by a French force from May 14 to the end of the month. In July, a similar detachment took part in Adlercron's failed attempt against Wandewash (present-day Vandavasi).

On June 13, 1757, the detachment operating in Bengal was part of Clive's army, which undertook its famous campaign in Bengal. On June 16, part of this detachment took part in the capture of the fort of Cutwa (present-day Katwa). On June 23, the Bengal detachment fought in the battle of Plassey. By August 3, 1757, the Madras European Battalion had 306 men at the camp of Sydabad in Bengal.

In August 1757, the 39th Foot was ordered to return to Great Britain. In November, Lieutenant John Carnac and 350 men of the 39th Foot, then about to leave for Great Britain, volunteered to serve the East India Company for three years., those in Bengal joining the Bengal European Regiment and those at Madras joining the Madras European Battalion operating in Carnatic.

On June 2, 1758, more than 100 men of the regiment were taken prisoners of war when Fort St. David surrendered. Around mid-July, the regiment was reorganised in two battalions: one under Captain Gardner, the other under Captain Maskelyne.

At the beginning of August 1758, during the French operations on the coast of Coromandel, as Lally was besieging the city of Tanjore. Caillaud sent to the rajah a reinforcement of 500 of his best Sepoys, 2 sergeants and 27 men from the Madras European Battalion. On August 6, these reinforcements reached Tanjore. On August 8, hearing of the naval defeat at the combat of Negapatam 5 days earlier, Lally resolved to raise the siege of Tanjore. On the morning of August 10, the Tanjorine troops 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. After Lally's retreat, 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 Battalion, 1,200 Sepoys and a party of the nawab's troops left Madras and took Trivatore by assault. 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 25, Caillaud who had embarked his troops at Negapatam, arrived at Madras with 180 men.

In September 1758, the survivors of the Madras European Battalion, who had served under Clive in Bengal since 1756, were transferred to the Bengal Establishment.

In October 1758, shortly before the commencement of the siege of Fort St. George, a company of foreign deserters was created and placed under the command of Captain de Monchanin.

On December 8, 1758, Lally advanced from Vandalur to St. Thomas' Mount on his way to Madras. The defending force collected by the British in Madras amounted, not counting officers, to 1,758 British (including 625 men of the I/Madras European Regiment, 572 men of the II./Madras European Regiment, 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. The colonel drew the greater part of these troops into the field to watch the French movements. He then fell back slowly to Choultry Plain (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. The regiment then took part in the successful defence of Madras which was besieged from December 14, 1758 to February 17, 1759. On December 27, 80 men of the Madras European Regiment formed part of Mohamed Issuf's infantry, who left Chingleput and marched towards St. Thomas' Mount.

On January 3, 1759, Mohamed Issuf's infantry engaged a French force at St. Thomas' Mount. The French quickly routed Mohamed Issuf's force but Captain Preston's detachment, who supported Issuf, attacked the French and drove them back in disorder, recapturing Issuf's guns. In this action, the French lost 100 men killed or wounded, including 2 officers. The Madras European Regiment lost 6 men killed or wounded and the Sepoys 180. On January 21, the British made a sally from Madras, destroying some of the works of the besiegers and killing or wounding several men. A detachment of the Madras European Regiment distinguished itself in this affair. On February 9, 103 men of the regiment took part in an engagement at St. Thomas' Mount. On February 17, Lally finally raised the siege of Madras. During this siege, the Madras European Regiment had lost 11 officers and 134 men killed; 10 officers and 82 men wounded; and 3 officers and 110 men taken prisoners.

On April 16, 1759, during the offensive on the coast of Coromandel, a detachment of the regiment took part in the storming of Conjeeveram. In April, an exchange of prisoners took place and 100 men of the Madras European Regiment, who had been taken when Fort St. David surrendered (June 2, 1758), rejoined their regiment. At the end of June, 200 recruits arrived from Great Britain for the Madras European Regiment, furthermore, 200 European prisoners were received from Pondicherry in exchange for the same number released from Trichinopoly (present-day Tiruchirapalli). On September 24, a detachment of the regiment formed part of Brereton's force which marched from Conjeeveram. On September 27, the detachment captured Trivatore and then advanced rapidly towards Wandiwash. During the night of September 27 to 28, misled by false information as to the strength of the French garrison and eager to distinguish himself before Colonel Coote's arrival, Brereton launched an attack on Wandiwash with only 1,000 British. In fact the garrison of Wandiwash consisted of about 1,000 men and 20 guns. Brereton attacked in 3 quarters, hoping to carry both fort and gateway. Though successful at the outset, Brereton was eventually repulsed. In the morning of September 28, Brereton was obliged to retire from Wandiwash. In this action, he had lost 12 officers and 195 soldiers killed, wounded or prisoners. Among these losses were 2 officers and 30 soldiers of the Madras European Regiment killed. On October 5, Brereton reached Conjeeveram. By mid October, 6 months after the capture of Masulipatam, 300 men of the regiment along with 800 Sepoys formed the garrison of the place. By the end of October, Trichinopoly had only 250 men of the Madras European Regiment and 3,000 Sepoys to garrison it.

Early in November 1759, a detachment (200 men) of Madras European Regiment sailed with Major Caillaud for service in Bengal.

On November 18, 1759, a small detachment of the garrison of Trichinopoly, under Captain Richard Smith, crossed the river unperceived, fell upon a French detachment in Munsurpet and drove them up rapidly; obliging them to throw their arms and surrender as prisoners with 2 guns, a large quantity of ammunition and all their baggage. On November 20, Crillon passed the river, advanced in the island of Seringham in front of Trichinopoly and took position in front of the fortified pagoda of the island, defended by British forces (300 Sepoys, 500 Colleries and 2 field-pieces manned by European gunners). On November 21, Coote arrived at the British camp at Conjeeveram and assumed command of the army. He immediately dispatched Captain Preston to Wandiwash with 200 men of the Madras European Regiment and the material for a siege. The same day, Crillon battered down the walls of the pagoda of Conjeeveram and then stormed and took the place. On the morning of November 27, a detachment of the regiment took part in the storming of the market of Wandiwash. On November 29, the garrison of Wandiwash (about 850 men) surrendered as prisoners of war. In this siege, the Madras European Regiment lost only 5 men wounded. From December 4 to 10, this same detachment took part in the siege and capture of Carangooly.

In January 1760, during the operations on the coast of Coromandel a detachment of the regiment took part in the defence of Wandiwash. On January 22, two battalions of the regiment were part of the British relief force and fought in the victorious battle of Wandiwash where they were deployed in the centre of the first line.

In February 1760, a party of picked men was selected from the French Company of the Madras European Regiment, and placed under the command of Ensign Rodolphe Marchand

In 1760, after the victory at Wandewash, the regiment took part in the gradual capture of all French places until, in July, the French were blockaded in Pondicherry.

In June 1760, the Government of Madras appointed a field officer to each of the two battalions of the Madras European Regiment: Captains Joseph Smith and Achilles Preston were promoted to major for this purpose.

From September 1760 to January 1761, the regiment then took part in the siege of Pondicherry. The place finally surrendered on January 15 1761.

In August 1762, shortly after the departure of the expedition that sailed towards Manila, orders were issued directing the formation of the whole of the European Infantry into one battalion of 13 companies: 2 grenadier coys, 9 fusilier coys, 1 foreigner coy and 1 Caffre coy. Each company to consist of:

  • 6 sergeants
  • 6 corporals
  • 3 drummers
  • 85 privates

Uniform

Information about the uniforms worn by the troops of the East India Company during the Seven Years War are scarce. Here we assume that this regiment wore the same regiment as the Bengal European Regiment.

Privates

Uniform in 1757 - Source: Richard Couture from a template by Frédéric Aubert
Uniform Details
Headgear
Musketeer black tricorne laced white with a black cockade (left side)
Grenadier ’’no information available’’
Neckstock black
Coat brick red lined buff with 3 white buttons under the right lapels
Collar none
Shoulder Straps red and fastened with a white button (left shoulder)
Lapels buff laced white with 7 pewter buttons
Pockets horizontal pockets with pewter buttons
Cuffs buff (slashed in the British pattern) with 3 pewter buttons on the sleeve above each the cuff
Turnbacks buff
Waistcoat buff laced white
Breeches buff
Gaiters white
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt buff
Waistbelt buff
Cartridge Box black
Bayonet Scabbard black
Scabbard black
Footgear black shoes


Troopers were armed with with a "East India" flintlock musket and a bayonet.

Officers

‘’no information available yet’’

Musicians

‘’no information available yet’’

Colours

‘’no information available yet’’

References

This article contains texts from the following sources, which are now in the public domain:

  • Smith, Brigadier General James George; Historical Record of the Honourable East India Company's First Madras Regiment, London: Smith, Elder and Co; 1843, pp. X-xvi, 3-203
  • Anon. The History of the Madras Army, Vol. 1, 1801, pp. 6-7, 24, 27-29, 48, 52, 61-63, 70, 94-98, 103-105, 115-122, 140-141, 173