Madras Sepoy Battalions

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Armies >> British Army >> Madras Sepoy Battalions

Origin and History

In 1740, the French were the first to raise 4 or 5 companies of Indian soldiers at Pondicherry (present-day Puducherry). They were trained and accoutred in the European style. In 1745, the French sepoys routed a large and unwieldy army of the Nawab of Carnatic.

In September 1746, after the capitulation of Madras (present-day Chennai) to a French force, the Government of the Coast of Coromandel immediately began to raise troops. The troops raised were European cavalry, artillery, and infantry, and Native infantry (2,000 men). Native cavalry were not raised until 1784 and Native artillery before the 19th century.

The service of the Madras Sepoys commenced in 1746 when they took part in the defence of Fort St. David against the French. The first sepoy levies had no discipline. They were armed with matchlocks, bows and arrows, spears, swords, bucklers, daggers, or any other weapons they could get. They consisted of bodies of various strength, each under the command of its own chief, who received from Government the pay of the whole body, and was responsible to distribute it to his men. Sometimes those chiefs were the owners of the arms carried by the men, and received from each man a rupee a month, for the use of the weapons.

For the first 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 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. However, during this period, some improvement took place in the discipline of the sepoys. The pay was better and more regular than under any Native State. The best native officers were selected and appointed commandants. When two or more companies were employed together, European sergeants or commissioned officers were sent with the party. Muskets were issued in place of matchlocks.

In February 1747, the Government of Madras had 3,000 Native foot soldiers, designated as Peons serving at Fort St. David under Native officers. Among them 900 were armed with muskets.

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. He started reorganising the British forces for the defence of the factories of the company.

On June 17, 1748, the Madras European Battalion and the Madras Sepoys under Lawrence repulsed a French attack on Cuddalore. Lawrence was greatly impressed by the Madras Sepoys. In August, part of the Madras Sepoys took part in the unsuccessful attempt to take Pondicherry. These troops being undisciplined were used only to guard the camp.

From September 25 to November 14 (O.S.) 1751, some 200 sepoys took part in the defence of Arcot, where they behaved very well.

On May 29, 1752, some 600 Sepoys, who had previously served with the French and had been recently hired by the Government of Madras, took part in an action near Volcondali. The same year, the Government of Madras decided that 1,300 sepoys were sufficient for the protection to its possessions: 600 men at Fort St. George, 600 men at Fort St. David and 100 men at Devicotah (present-day Devakottai).

On June 26, 1753 (N.S.), a party of sepoys distinguished itself at the Battle of the Golden Rock near Trichinopoly (present-day Tiruchirappalli).

On February 12, 1754, 800 sepoys formed part of the escort of a British convoy which was intercepted and captured near Trichinopoly. On April 30, Muhammad Yusuf was appointed commandant of all the sepoys in the service of the East India Company.

On January 11, 1755, peace was concluded between the French and British in India. However, the British tried to bring under subjection to the nawab the polygar (chiefs) in the countries round Madura and Tinnevelly (present-day Tirunelveli).

In 1755, it seems that the typical organisation of a sepoy company was:

  • 1 subedar (officer)
  • 3 or 4 jemadars (junior officers)
  • 11 or 12 havildars (sergeants)
  • 11 or 12 naiks (corporals)
  • 104 privates

In January 1757, a paymaster of sepoys was appointed.

During the Seven Years' War, the sepoys were under the command of:

  • from February 12, 1754: Muhammad Yusuf Khan

In November 1765, when the Madras Army was reorganised, the establishment of sepoys was fixed to 10 battalions. In December, this establishment was increased to 13 battalions.

In June 1766, the 14th Sepoy Battalion was raised at Vellore. In December, a 15th battalion was added to the establishment.

In 1767, tom-toms and trumpets were discontinued and replaced by drums. In March, a 16th Sepoy Battalion was raised at Cuddalore. During the same year, the 17th and 18th battalions were raised. In July, two 3-pdr guns were attached to each Sepoy battalion.

In October 1768, a 19th battalion was raised.

In 1785, the 2nd Battalion was disbanded and the 5 remaining battalions dating from 1759, respectively became the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Regiments of Madras Native Infantry.

Service during the War


Early in 1756, the three companies of sepoys garrisoning the fort at Madura joined the mutiny of the troops of Mahfuz Khan.

On October 13, 1756, the Madras Government, which had already sent 250 men of the Madras European Regiment in July, sent every man it could spare (887 Europeans, 940 sepoys and 160 Lascars) under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clive in a punitive expedition against Calcutta to re-establish the affairs of the East India Company in Bengal. On October 28, another detachment of 250 sepoys embarked at Madras to join Clive's forces in Bengal. On December 20, after long delays, the fleet transporting Clive's force finally reached Fulta. On December 27, Keyser Sing marched overland with 7 companies of sepoys, keeping the ships of the expedition in view.


By March 1757, there were 1,057 Madras Sepoys, including officers, serving with Clive in Bengal. By April 7, the Madras Sepoys had 1,402 men, including officers, at the camp of Chinsurah in Bengal. On June 23, the sepoys accompanying Clive took part in the Battle of Plassey. By August 3, the Madras Sepoys had 2,038 men, including officers, at the camp of Sydabad in Bengal.

Meanwhile in Carnatic, at the end of March 1757, three companies of Madras Sepoys (100 men each) took part in Lieutenant-Colonel Forde's expedition against Nellore. In June, at the defence of the Pagoda of Conjeeveram (present-day Kanchipuram), two sepoy companies, under Sergeant Lambertson, beat off a detachment (200 Europeans and 500 sepoys with 2 field pieces) under M. de Saubinet. In November 1757, a party of sepoys under Muhammad Yusuf Khan defeated Hyder Ali at the southern end of the Nuttum Pass and forced him to retreat.


By 1758, most of the troops of the Madras Government were involved in the campaigns in Bengal and the government was compelled to turn its attention to the people of Carnatic to raise new units. In August, the Madras Sepoys were formed into regular companies of 100 men each, with a due proportion of native officers. The Madras Government then started to organise these companies into battalions.

At the beginning of August, during the French operations on the coast of Coromandel, as Lally was besieging the city of Tanjore (present-day Thanjavur). 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 (present-day Tiruvottiyur) 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.

In October, a body of 500 Madras Sepoys accompanied Colonel Forde in his expedition against the French in the Northern Circars.

On December 4, the Government of Madras resolved to form the sepoys at Madras, and in the neighbouring garrisons, into four battalions with a European subaltern to each, and a captain to command the whole. However, the advance of the French delayed the completion of this measure. Nevertheless, the first Madras Native infantry battalions were raised on that date as the 1st and 2nd Battalions of "Coast Sepoys".

On December 8, Lally advanced from Vandalur to St. Thomas' Mount on his way to Madras, which was defended by 1,758 British and more than 2,200 Sepoys, the whole under command of Colonel Stringer Lawrence. The Siege of Madras would last from December 1758 to February 1759.

By December 18, the return of the garrison of Fort St. George mentioned the 1st and 2nd battalions (a total of 2,213 men) of the Madras Sepoys. The 1st Battalion was under the command of Lieutenant Charles Tod.

On December 27, Muhammad Yusuf Khan left Chingleput with a body of infantry and marched towards St. Thomas' Mount.


On January 3, 1759, Muhammad Yusuf's infantry engaged a French force at St. Thomas' Mount. The French quickly routed Muhammad Yusuf's force but Captain Preston's detachment, which supported Yusuf, attacked the French and drove them back in disorder, recapturing Yusuf'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 Madras Sepoys 180 men. On February 17, Lally finally raised the siege of Madras.

After the siege of Madras, the formation of the Sepoy companies into battalions, which had been interrupted by the advance of the French, was resumed. In March and April, a force of Madras Sepoys under Moideen Beg took part in the capture of Masulipatam. In July, three companies of Madras Sepoys under Sergeant-Major Hunterman took part in the defence of the fort at Thiaghur but were forced to capitulate to the French, after losing nearly 100 men.

In September, the Madras Government formed his sepoys into 5 battalions (the 1st and 2nd battalions already existed). Each battalion consisted of 9 companies, one of which a grenadier company. Each company consisted of 115 men:

  • 1 subedar (officer)
  • 2 jemadars (junior officers)
  • 6 havildars (sergeants)
  • 6 naiks (corporals)
  • 1 trumpeter
  • 2 tom-toms
  • 2 colourmen
  • 1 vackeel (deputy)
  • 1 puckall
  • 93 privates

In addition each battalion had:

  • 2 captains (one residing in Madras and the other posted with the battalion)
  • 2 subalterns
  • 3 sergeant-majors
  • 1 Native commandant
  • 2 linguists (interpreters)
  • 5 armourers

The number of Sepoy battalions was fixed at seven and they were to be posted as follows:

  • 2 battalions at Trichinopoly (present-day Tiruchirappalli) and its dependencies under Captain Richard Smith
  • 2 battalions at Madras and its dependencies (At. Thomas Mount, Poonamalle) under Captain Charles Tod
  • 1 battalion at Chingleput and its dependencies (Covelong, Trichiconum, Salewauk) under Captain Stephen Smith
  • 2 battalions at Conjeeveram and its dependencies (Tripermadore, Tripasore, Tripati, Masslewauk) under Captain Stephen Smith

These seven battalion totalled 6,300 privates and 945 officers.

By mid October, six months after the capture of Masulipatam, 300 men of the Madras European Regiment along with 800 Madras 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 Madras Sepoys to garrison it.

By November, the three new battalions of Madras Sepoys (3rd, 4th and 5th) had been raised.

On November 18, 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 (2 companies of Madras 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 Wandewash 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. One company of the Madras Sepoys was entirely destroyed and the other suffered considerably.

In December, the Madras Government raised a 6th Sepoy Battalion. The Government of Madras then determined that these six Sepoy battalions would be sufficient.


On January 22, 1760, the battle of Wandewash was won by the first line, the 2,100 Sepoys of the 1st and 2nd Madras Battalions were in the second line. When their flank was threatened by the enemy's cavalry, they fell into confusion until rallied by the gallant example of the artillery.

In February, two companies of the Madras Sepoys under Sergeant Somers defeated two companies of French sepoys in the action of Devicotah, taking 4 officers and the colours. In March, a party of Madras Sepoys took part in the assault of Permacoil (present-day Perumukkal).

In July, two companies of the Madras Sepoys attacked the fort of Villanoor near Pondicherry and forced the garrison to surrender. The same month, the Subedar Muhammad Yusuf advanced from Madurah towards Dindigul while Captain Richard Smith left Trichinopoly with 50 Europeans, 700 Sepoys, 600 native horse and 1,000 peons and attacked and captured Caroor.

In September, during the siege of Pondicherry, three companies of the Madras Sepoys defended a redoubt in the boundary hedge of Pondicherry against an attack by 400 Europeans with two field pieces. In October, a detachment of Madras Sepoys captured and defended the Madras Redoubt at Pondicherry.


On April 5, 1761, a detachment of eight companies of the Madras Sepoys under Captain Stephen Smith obtained the surrender of Gingee.

In July, the Government of Madras determined to limit the number of its Native Infantry to 6,300 men of all ranks, and to effect this, it reduced the strength of each company from 115 to 100. They at the same time increased the number of battalions, creating a 7th Battalion. Each battalion was composed of nine companies, and officered by 2 European subalterns, 3 sergeants and 1 Native commandant.

On August 24, the reduction had scarcely been effected when it was found necessary to raise an 8th Battalion in consequence of the proposed operations against Vellore and Nellore.

At the beginning of September, Colonel Caillaud was authorised to raise the 9th Battalion of Madras Sepoys.

In September, Colonel Caillaud assembled a force at Arcot for his expedition against Vellore. This force included the following units of the Madras Sepoys:

  • 4th Battalion (4 companies for a total of 400 men)
  • 5th Battalion (6 companies for a total of 601 men)
  • 8th Battalion (9 companies for a total of 901 men)
  • 9th Battalion (7 companies for a total of 700 men)

From October, Caillaud besieged Vellore, which surrendered in December.


In August 1762, a contingent of 650 Madras Sepoys (selected among the various battalions) formed part of the expedition that sailed towards Manila.

In August 1762, after the departure of the expeditionary force for the conquest of Manila, General Lawrence, rearranged his forces in India:

The 10th Battalion was raised during the year.


In April 1756, the Government of Madras determined to dress the Indian Sepoys in red broad cloth as large surplus of this cloth was lying in the British factories and also because it was felt that if the Indian Sepoys were dressed identically like the European troops the entire British Line could be taken for European troops and would, therefore, have the desired psychological effect on the armies of Indian princes facing the Line. The Madras soldiers wore bright red coats and loose flowing breeches, buckled up below the knees. Their legs were bare, their feet were without boots and they carried muskets.

In 1759, when the Madras Government formed his sepoys into battalions, each of these battalions was distinguished by its uniform:

  • 1st Battalion: red uniform with blue facings
  • 2nd Battalion: red uniform with yellow facings
  • 3rd Battalion: red uniform with green facings
  • 4th Battalion: red uniform with black facings
  • 5th Battalion: red uniform with red facings
  • 6th Battalion: yellow uniform with red facings
  • 7th Battalion: green uniform with red facings

By that time, the Madras Sepoys wore shorts (drawers) coloured at the lower end with blue dye, appearing as if scalloped all round. They wore nothing around the neck.


A European officer of the 7th Battalion of Madras Sepoys is depicted with a green coat with narrow red lapels which meet on the upper part of the chest. The white buttonholes are in pairs and set far apart and the turned-back skirt lining is white. Each round red cuff has one chevron loop on it, and three others above, arranged in pairs. The narrow red collar is turned down with a single loop on either side.

A native officer of the 7th Battalion of Madras Sepoys is depicted with a similar coat cut shorter than that of the European officer's. The native officer also wears a white ungreeka over white drawers. No cummerbund (sash) is worn, nor is there any decoration on the drawers. The blue turban is a loose, flat pancake affair with a white line around the head. The native officers carries a locally made sword in a red-brown scabbard but the sword-belt is shown as white.

N. B.: before 1774, European officers of the Madras Sepoys did not necessarily wear the same colour and distinctive as the sepoys.


The uniforms of havildars (sergeants) and naiks (corporals) had some distinctions.


During the Seven Years' War, the Sepoy battalions had trumpeters and tom-tom players. In 1767, they were replaced by drummers.


In 1759, when the Madras Government formed his sepoys into battalions, each of these battalions was distinguished by its colours:

  • 1st Battalion: blue colours (the grenadier company with a red cross in their colours)
  • 2nd Battalion: yellow colours (the grenadier company with a red cross in their colours)
  • 3rd Battalion: green colours (the grenadier company with a red cross in their colours)
  • 4th Battalion: black colours (the grenadier company with a red cross in their colours)
  • 5th Battalion: red colours (the grenadier company with a white cross in their colours)
  • 6th Battalion: red and yellow diagonally striped colours (the grenadier company with three parallel stripes red, yellow, red in their colours)
  • 7th Battalion: red and green diagonally striped colours (the grenadier company with three parallel stripes red, green, red in their colours)


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

  • Anon.: The History of the Madras Army, Vol. 1, 1801, pp. 4-10, 17, 22-30, 72-78, 83, 87, 93-96, 98, 103-105, 125-132, 135-137, 142-145, 151-152, 157-158, 161-165, 175, 224
  • Carman, W. Y.: Indian Army Uniforms under the British from the 18th century to 1947 – Artillery, Engineers and Infantry, London: Morgan-Grampian, 1969, pp. 130-139
  • Longer, B.V.: The Madras Soldier in The Sainik Samachar, May 17, 1970, pp. 17-18