Total Pageviews

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Clive Of India - 1725 to 1774

Clive of India
In 1707 a great Indian Emperor died. His Empire – the Mughal Empire covered much of India’s Bengal and more. The sub-districts within the empire were sectioned off as Viceroys, Nawabs, Sardars took control of various provinces. The Mughal Empire went into decline and various people across the world and from within India saw a chance to make huge sums of money. In this day and age, we might say these were ruthless men and perhaps they were. They lived in a ‘sink or swim’ world where the strong and treacherous got to the top, but had to watch their backs constantly. Shipping merchants from the European powers of United Kingdom (Great Britain), France, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Denmark all went into the melting pot of these rich Indian provinces, where competing Nawabs, Sardars and Viceroys were all jostling for control and using the ambitious European powers to secure and play one off against the other. Likewise the European powers could do the same thing. If a Nawab would not show favour to a specific European nation this nation could find a disgruntled Indian of high rank to usurp an unfavourable despot. Thus placing and supporting a loyal puppet of their own – a puppet that wanted to be rich and powerful also.

The British developed strategies and tricks that took them to the top enabling them to win all of India and its trade rights. In the beginning, the found a champion of intrigue – a young pen pusher, some might be bold enough to say. However, this young book keeper for the East India Company was to do some outrages things that would bring Britain great wealth and him too. The Man’s name was Robert Clive and perhaps if he were on trial today, he might have been convicted of corruption and extortion. I’m not trying to mar or dirty Robert Clive because he lived in a dog eat dog world. If a nation was not dominant then it could be over run. I just think that Robert Clive might have been an exceptionally ruthless man that belonged to Britain. Perhaps we should be grateful for this at the time when he was alive. I can’t help thinking that if he lived in 1920s New York or Chicago, he might have been slugging it out with gangsters. I admire him, but I’m not sure if I would have liked him socially. Of course this is just speculation, so…

Clive of India is a nickname given to Robert Clive who lived from the years 1725 to 1774 when he died aged forty nine. He is known to most people by his nickname and is probably known more by British Asians then most British Caucasians. He was born in 1725 at a place called Styche which is the family estate near Market Drayton in Shropshire – an English county that boarders Wales. The family had owned these lands during the time of the Plantagenet Norman Kings. Robert Clive was the eldest son of thirteen children.

He was believed to have been a mischievous boy and there are stories of his antics in Market Drayton. He is supposed to have climbed a church tower and posed as a gargoyle to scare people in the town. He was of a bullying nature and even tried to set up a protection racket with a gang of youths under his command. They threatened merchants who would not abide. Also he was expelled from a number of schools and appears to have been a very unruly person in youth. Because of this his educational development, where scholarship was concerned, suffered.

Robert Clive was certainly a cut against the grain. He does not appear to be a person of conformed habits perhaps a bit of a chance taker. He had writing skills and made some speeches in Parliament. Because of his social status he was able to get away with things that the more modest person could not dare to have done. He seems to have been able to enter into government or the fringes of such at a young age.
At the age of just eighteen Robert Clive went to Madras in India as a writer for the famous British East India Company. At this time India was a land of warring factions – feudal nations that had fragmented due to an Emperor's death about forty years earlier. Some of these fragmented states were Hindu and others were Muslim. European nation were competing for trade with these mini nations and Britain competed with France-each nation trying to out do one another concerning trade privileges among the emerging and powerful viceroys and sardars that ruled the various fractured provinces of this region of India-the declining Mughal Empire.
These various European traders tried to protect their trade interests in the various regions they began to raise independent armies for protection. The East India Company did so, recruiting Indians as soldiers to stand alongside British troops. In time the East India Company developed an independent armed force serving the interests of the British government and its own trade purposes. The company began to secure land and collect revenue.

Clive was in a part of India where France and Britain contested trade privileges by supporting warring fractions of the Nawab-left over from the declining Mughal Empire. The young political soldier (Clive) quickly gained influence and helped Britain gain dominance by installing tyrants that the East India Company and Britain could use for their own aims. There were challenges by other neighbouring Indian rulers but these were met with force as Clive earned himself a reputation for trying to over run and rule all of Bengal for the British East India trade company.

There were trials and tribulations during this time that brought about Clive's rise to prominence. When the city of Madras was attacked by French troops, there was a period of several days of bombardment before the British forces surrendered. During negotiations Clive and a few other officials managed to escape and for this Clive earned an ensign's commission. The siege ended with the arrival of Mughal troops.

In the following couple of years new alliances were made as new rulers gained power in different states. Many of these Indian rulers were sympathetic to France. The British took sides with the ousted Muslim ruler called Mahommed Ali Wallajah. The French for their support of the new regimes were awarded vast areas of land that yielded sizable incomes each year.

The British East India Company had weakened forces due to the withdrawal of troops from India under Admiral Boscawen. Clive remained and had been made a Captain. He drew up a plan to divide the opposing enemy's forces. Britain and France were not at war during this period but an industrial trade company (East India Company) was and in a far off land. In effect, the French were fighting a war against this overseas company.

In 1751, the French supported Chanda Sahib led an army to attack British supported Mahommad Ali Wallajah in a place called Trichinopoly, but Captain Robert Clive led a sneak attack on the vacated fortress at Arcot during a thunderstorm, with two hundred European soldiers and three hundred Sepoys. By the time Chanda Sahib and his French allies realised what was afoot, Clive and his small army were securing the fortress at Arcot – the very place Chanda Sahib had left to begin his campaign. He was forced to divide his force and send his son (Raza Sahib) back to lay siege on his own fortress

Clive and his force held the fort until two thousand Maratha horse were sent by Mahommad Ali Wallajah under the command of two Sardars. The short campaign ended in a victory and Mahommad Ali Wallajah won his status in a peace treaty. The British had championed his cause and gained further influence by this. The success of this inflated Clive’s reputation and he became a household name in Britain and earned a celebrity throughout Europe.

He returned home in 1753 to much praise and was spoken highly off my Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder. He had married before leaving India and was able to set up home in London and other areas of Britain and Ireland. He had won vast wealth for himself and high praise for the East India Company and Great Britain.

He returned to India in 1755 to be deputy governor of Fort St David, the place he had escaped to during the capture of Madras by French troops in 1746, nine years earlier. He was now a Lieutenant-Colonel in the King’s army. On the way to India, a ship containing his wealth of £33,000 was shipwrecked and sunk off of Port Elizabeth in South Africa.

Clive took part in a siege at Gheriah. It was a joint army and navel affair with Maratha allies. The fortress was taken easily, but upon return to Fort St David, Clive received disastrous news from Calcutta. A new Nawab of Bengal had come to power in early 1756. His name was Siraj Ud Daulah and he had captured Calcutta and imprisoned one hundred and forty six British people – his soldiers cramming them into a cell that was inadequate for their needs. It was during the blistering hot summer and due to the confined and heated conditions one hundred and twenty three of the prisoners died. It became known in history as, The Black Hole of Calcutta. There was also a catastrophic cost to investors as an estimated two million pounds was lost. The British government made the usual diplomatic protests to the Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah, but there was no response. By the end of 1756 Clive and Admiral Charles Watson were despatched with an army to confront the Nawab of Bengal’s forces.


First the fortress of Baj-Baj was attacked from sea while Clive lead ground troops to assault. The fortress fell with considerable ease. Then two days into the new year of 1757, Calcutta was recaptured by British forces of Lieutenant-Colonel Clive. One month later the Nawab of Bengal led his forces to a position east of Calcutta where Clive had his army encamped. There were five hundred and forty British soldiers, six hundred Navy personnel and eight hundred Sepoys plus some artillery pieces under Clive’s command. The Nawab was said to have had some forty thousand horse and sixty thousand infantry. It took two days for his forces to assemble. The actual figures are probably over estimated because they were taken by a British officer who was present at the battle. However, the Nawab,s numerical advantage was considerable. What happened next was called the ‘Calcutta Gauntlet’ as Clive launched an attack on the Nawab’s camp in the early hours of 5th February 1757. The small force marched through the camp running a gauntlet of fire but returning fire as they went into the enemy position. The whole affair was a sight to behold as the British had fifty seven men killed and around one hundred and twenty wounded.


Calcutta Gauntlet

This action intimidated Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah and even though his large army was not defeated, he sued for peace terms recognising control of Calcutta to the British and compensating the East India Company for the losses it had incurred.

In many ways this show of weakness left the Nawab in a bad light among his own sub commanders and secretly they began to plot against him. One such man was Mir Jafar – an ambitious man who saw a chance to become the new Nawab if Siraj Ud Daulah could be illuminated. He entered into a pact with the British who were willing to support the treacherous man if he could help them defeat the French colony at Chandemagore and pay a million in sterling for the losses at Calcutta. There was a meeting, at which, Clive was present. The Nawab (Siraj Ud Daulah) was going to aid the French in a new war between Britain and France. If the British tried to take the French colony at Chandemagore, the Nawab and French troops would confront them.

When summer of 1757 came the British under Clive marched towards the colony following the Houghly river tributary. They were making for the fortress of Murshidabad, the capitol of the Mughal viceroys. A few miles before Murshidabad are a large grove where mango trees were growing. The place was called Plassey and it was here that Clive would burn his way into the history books. To be fair it was not the battle one might expect, but its result would have far reaching concequences. Again, Clive was vastly outnumbered and as he arrived at Plassey there was a downpour of monsson rain. The British kept their cannon covered knowing that they could ill afford wet gun powder.

The soldiers under Clive numbered a little over three thousand men – one thousand British and two thousand Sepoy with nine cannons. Clive was concerned and did hesitate for some time. His pact with the traitor Mir Jafar was not a sure thing and such a devious man could not be relied upon. In the end Clive decided to gamble on Mir Jafar’s lust for power and greed.

The battle began with cannon salvos. The Nawab’s (Siraj Ud Daulah) forces were held back during this exchange of cannon fire. Eighteen thousand horse, fifty thousand foot soldiers and fifty three cannon. Some of the Nawab’s artillery force was manned by French units and these were able to keep up with the British cannon fire. However, the larger section of the Nawab’s Indian artillery had become ineffective in the rain. When the rain began to ease and the British artillery stopped firing, one of the Nawab’s commanders named Mir Madan Khan supposed the British had spent all their shells and decided to lead an attack of horsemen.


As Mir Madan Khan lead the charge, the British artillery units filled their cannon with grape shot while Sepoys and British soldiers formed lines in the mango groves. The sudden controlled fire power was withering. It caused carnage for the Nawab’s horsemen and Mir Madan Khan was killed. At the appointed time the British saw their traitor (Mir Jafar) lead a sizeable section of the Nawab’s army away from the battle. The odds had changed and Clive’s forces had lost just twenty two men in the battle while five hundred of the Nawab’s men had been killed.

The British force then marched on Murshidabad and instated Mir Jafar as Nawab. The French colony of Chandemagore was taken. Siraj Ud Daulah tried to escape with what wealth he could muster but was captured by Mir Jafar’s troops. He was executed by an assassin. This victory instated the British in full control of Bengal. It was the beginning of British imperial Indian rule – the British Raj. Though there would be more conflicts to come, Clive had established the foundation.

In 1760, Clive returned to Britain as an extremely rich man. He was hailed as a hero although others thought him ruthless. The ordinary Indian peasants were taxed to the hilt by the East India Company and new Nawab Mir Jafar was forced to levy many charges on them to pay the East India Company. It has often been said that the British did good for many Indians when it was under the Raj. But during these preceding years there was a great deal of corruption. One type of tyranny had been replaced by a foreign one.

In 1765 Clive returned to India in a vain attempt to reform what was going on amid the extortion and corrupt developments between viceroys and businessmen. In this he was unsuccessful though he did bring about some reforms to the army in India. Try as he might, concerning the gift and inappropriate money making schemes, Clive was not able to reform these things. Some even think his vast wealth came from the same type of foundation.

He returned to Britain in 1767 and was again caught up in parliamentary debate concerning money ventures within the East India Company. He even attended Parliamentary hearings, the result of which acquitted him of any wrong doing. He was offered the office of governor of North America which he turned down.

In 1774 he committed suicide by stabbing himself with a penknife. Some say it was due to depression caused by opium addiction, while others maintain that he was taking opium because he was suffering from an illness that caused excruciating pain.

Post a Comment