Oru perumazhakkalam – 155 years ago
I had introduced Collector Connolly to readers when I wrote about the canal and the teak gardens some months ago. Lt Henry Valentine Connolly (Connelly or Conolly or even Canoli in texts & records) was the Malabar Collector and district magistrate between 1841 and1855. Connolly was tragically murdered in 1855 by Moplah fanatics at the start of the Moslem revolt in Malabar. What led him to his death? Why was he so chosen for this? Who were the killers? The event was to prove momentous to the British, for it was the first and only case where a senior administrator was murdered while in office in Malabar. That he was an able and far seeing administrator is clear, with the development of the one and only man made teak plantation in Nilambur and the canals and roads he constructed in various parts of Malabar. In spite of the broad and firm measures taken by him in suppressing revolts, a retrospective study indicated him to be a very balanced and neutral collector for which he deserves to be commemorated to memory of the people in Malabar. Now to do that, let me take you some 155 years back, to the tail end of a monsoon season, to West hill Calicut, to the Collector’s Bungalow.
Writer and traveler Richard Burton had just left after a stay as a guest of the collector Connolly. His reminiscences of that visit are public and available and CHF had written about it some months ago. Calicut I understood, at that point of time had probably 20 Europeans living in the West hill area. Burton pitied the Malabar expatriate’s life in September, during the monsoon; as he remarked “what a dreary life they must be leading, with no other sounds in their ears but the roaring wind, the pelting of the rain and the creaking of the palm trees.” The richer families and nobles were having their traditional rain treatments of Ayurvedic oils and massages, the women busy making the ‘monsoon special’ porridge and reading the Bhagavatham at dusk while the Moplah women were busy preparing their goat leg and chicken broth soup for their spouse’s well being. It was a tranquil part of Malabar, a sleepy little hamlet as some others were to later describe this once busy trading entrepot. But was it? Beneath the tranquility of the tropical paradise lay a seething cauldron of discontent, religious fervor and the brimming of a revolt rising to pressure cooker proportions. It had exploded a couple of time already. The EIC bureaucracy was struggling to come to terms with the reasons and actions. The after effects of the EIC retaliation was soon to be felt on the figurehead of law and order in the area, the District collector HV Connolly.
|HV Connolly - Image provided by Anusha Arun|
He had been in India since the age of 18, after education at Rugby and joining the EIC in 1824, His bio reads thus - Writer by 1826: Assistant to the Principal Collector and Magistrate of Bellary. 1828: Head Assistant to the Principal Collector of Tanjore; Deputy Secretary in the Military Department. 1831: Canarese Translator to Government. 1834: Cashier to the Government Bank. 1835: Assistant to the Sub-Treasurer. 1836: Acting Additional Government Commissioner for Carnatic Claims. 1837: Cashier to the Government Bank and Assistant to Sub-Treasurer, and Canarese Translator. 1838: Proceeded on furlough. 1840: Returned to India. 1841: Collector and Magistrate, Malabar.
After 14 difficult years at Calicut, where he struggled with a revolt of a different kind with no straightforward rule book and formulating the POA, creating solutions on the fly and keeping a reasonable amount of control on the district affairs, but at the same time working to improve the lives of the people living there as well as the coffers of his masters, Connolly was sadly assassinated towards evening of the 11th September 1855, at Calicut.
Malabar 1805-1855 - The Moplah restlessness
The Pazhassi Rajah was killed in Nov 1805 and with it (barring another revolt in 1809) the Hindu populace of Malabar warily settled down to a long period of British rule. The proud Nair resistance had been subdued, their leaders slain and kings & suzerains gone, many decided that this was so fated by the course of destiny and started learning new trades such as overseeing the tilling and maintenance of ancestral property. While the coastal Moplah continued his trade, the inland Moplah (many of them recent converts) did not really have lands of their own and were working for the landowners. Then there were Tharavadi Moplahs like the Manjeri Athan Kurikkal who were to figure in these revolts. The lands that some Moplahs had usurped during the Hyder – Tipu interlude had been taken back by the landlords who returned from Travancore and the issues and problems started over ownership and revenues. The British apparently sided with the landlords and with it the Moplah’s directed their anger against the landlords and the British. Then again some say they were further instigated by the Arab religious leaders in their midst about equality and so on. This by itself is a long case best discussed separately on another day, for it requires even more thought and consideration.
Suffices to say that the Moplahs were a discontented lot embarking on expressions of revolt, which though heroic if viewed through a narrow lens, were largely unproductive and polarized opinion against them even more as time went by. All it ended up was creating a caricature of the Moplah as a brutish hopeless, illiterate fanatic driven by religious fatwa’s in the minds of the ruling EIC. Between 1836-53, a number of outbreaks took place (some 22 or so). The British retaliated in typical fashion, with a show of arms, confinement, deportation, collective fines and confiscation of property and weapons. The community was getting hopelessly alienated by this time and some illiterate youngsters as I read, were led to believe that their jihad will reach an explosive and victorious end with support by way of many ships arriving from Arabia loaded with arms, food etc for 40,000 people (Sadasivan- Social history of India) to annihilate the non believers. Many a youngster or recently ‘capped’ person then ended up as a Halar – a Shahid after the hal-ilakkam and conducted attacks on temples and landowners. Reasons attributed were the retribution exacted on the Moplahs by the Hindus after Tipu was slain, forced contributions towards temple constructions (this was a special case where the Manjeri rajah insisted on it because his temple was destroyed by the Moplahs). Another reason stated was that the Hindus used courts and the British to get back lands that originally belonged to the Hindus but were decreed for mosque construction etc by Tipu Sultan. Then there were issues related to the newly converted Cherumars who insisted that they be addressed respectfully and refused to work on Fridays and started to ‘dress up’. Some explained that it was all a case about land ownership. The Hindus would not sell them land and the Moplahs were not too keen on identity as indentured labor after being traders for long. Then again as the numbers of Muslims increased, the numbers of mosques or the need thereof increased and according to custom a mosque can only be built on freehold land, otherwise it had to be classified ramshackle or temporary. The attempts to procure land to build mosques of course met with little success thus becoming a major irritant to the community.
The Thangal Syeds on their part tried to force the British to find solutions to a number of these issues by increasing mass awareness with the issue of fatwas and booklets, but the results were on many occasions indiscriminatory riots. Another special situation was a fact that Moplahs were not considered for government employment, especially in the Police. The British wisely or unwisely backed out stating that these were either unfounded or private matters beyond the reach of the British government.
This was the situation HV Connolly was in. He was among the small British presence in West Hill and struggling to administer justice while at the same time conducting lengthy correspondence with his superiors in Madras for approval was needed every step along the way. Connolly on his part was considered a very fair person, analyzing most cases thoroughly, though he administered justice firmly as stipulated by the law. He was to prove balanced, as an example he had concluded that the possession of arms were proportionate by both Hindus and Muslims though the general rumor was that Muslims had amassed large caches of weapons.
An example of his fairness is cited in the Joint commissioner’s report - In Malabar, torture for revenue purpose/ is entirely unknown; and although traces of its use for police purposes still linger in the district, the ill-fated collector, Mr. Connolly, had been most active and energetic in repressing the practice and punishing the offenders. A peon, who, in 1843 (long before this agitation had been thought of), had ill-treated a prisoner so as to lead him to attempt suicide, was sentenced by Mr. Connolly to two years imprisonment and hard labor.
He also believed originally that Moplahs should be included in governance and increased Muslim adhikaris from 2 to 22 in Ernad. However the situation was rapidly careening from bad to worse. The alienation between the communities was reaching breaking point and the revolt in the name of land and tenure was rapidly taking a strong religious tone. Connolly saw and concluded an outside hand in this, the hand of the Arab cleric Mambram Pookoya thangal – Syed Fazal. With this observation, Connolly got into the thick of the revolts in 1851 and spent 4 years wallowing in the muddy waters seeing no quick fire solutions. He was forced to admit that he would need army/police help using battalions from Bangalore and Madras if things continued in this fashion or even mounted troops. As for himself, personally, he knew that he was in deep waters for he said
I wish for the utmost publicity. If any want of or mistake in management on my part has led in the slightest degree to these fearful evils (far more fearful in my times than they have ever been before) I am most desirous that a remedy be applied, whatever be the effect as regards my personal interests…..No measures taken as yet have reached the root of the evil which there is too much reason to fear is growing in place of decaying.
An Allens mail report - A correspondent, writing from Malabar, says, “Regarding the cause of these atrocities, two opinions prevail here, and we are informed that the collector and his sub are at issue upon the subject. The collector has hitherto been of opinion that fanaticism was the cause and martyrdom the object in view. Of late, we are told, he allows that this fanaticism is taken advantage of by evil-disposed men, and that the attention of the fanatics is directed to influential landlords, who may have offended their tenants either by expulsion or oppression. The sub-collector holds that this fanaticism is purposely created by the influential Moplahs and their head priest, and that parties are set aside for the purpose of gradually carrying into execution the extermination of the Hindoo proprietors by murder, or causing them to emigrate through fear. This opinion he grounds upon the fact that these atrocities are increasing in exact proportion with the success attending them. The collector advocates a more liberal policy towards the Moplahs, by admitting them into public employ, and giving them an interest in the peace of the district, by holding them, as public servants, responsible for the parish or umshan over which a party may preside. The sub-collector advocates a system of repression, and the establishment of a local corps to keep the Moplahs down, and protect the Hindoo landlords in the exercise of their just rights, holding the Moplahs as a race in general unfit to be entrusted with power, or to be admitted into equal privileges with the Nair population. —Madras Athenaeum, Feb. 13. (The collector was HV Conolly and the sub collector was Mr Charles Collet)
One could always discuss the caste system, the agrarian system, the feudalism, the enslavement of the lower class and so on. One could also say that the workers who were reasonably contented with their selves were instigated upon with a new identity and a glorious and free future ahead if they converted. Whatever may have been the case, some Cherumars and some Tiyas were in a state of uncertainty. Some converted but continued to work in the lands of the wealthy owners, but with a new moplah identity and new clothes (covered chests). This was a break from the age old traditions; some landowners like Krishna Panikkar did not quite like it and with it started retaliation and further turbulence. The British focused on the instigators to put an end to the disturbance, the Moplah’s worked to increase their ground strength which was obtaining more recruits & converts.
If only the instigators had studied Connolly’s original work in this area - In 1839 orders were issued "to watch the subject of the improvement of the Cherumar with that interest which it evidently merits, and leave no available means untried for effecting that object." Ultimately the Government of India passed Act V of 1843, abolishing Slavery in Malabar. Its provisions were widely published throughout the district by Mr. Connolly, the Collector, and he explained to the Cherumars that it was their interest as well as their duty to remain with their masters if treated kindly. He proclaimed that “the Government will not order a slave who is in the employ of an individual, to forsake him and go to the service of another claimant, nor will the Government interfere with the slave's inclination as to where he wishes to work." And, "again, any person claiming a slave as Jenmi, Kanom, or Panayom, the right of such claim or claims will not be investigated into at any of the public offices or Courts." Another aspect was a statement by Connolly that Cherumar slaves would be employed on Government works at the same rate of wages as free men (Cherumars of Malabar Vol 110-111 – CR)
But it was Syed Fazal Thangal’s writing of an article on equality for lower Cheruman classes and how they should be addressed etc that signaled broader rebellions against the British and the Hindu landlords and attracted the ire of the British who were finding slow solutions in the meantime as stated above. Pressure was slowly brought on the Thangal to move out of the troubled area. But rumors flew thick & fast that the British were going to attack and forcibly capture the man. A show of force was made by the Moplahs with the amassing of some 7000 men near in his house. Connolly did not want to precipitate the issue.
On 21st Feb 1852, he wrote
I thought it well to send a confidential person to intimate to the Tangul, that the reports which he had heard regarding his forcible seizure were exaggerated or false, and that no definite orders had come on his case, which was under the consideration of Government.
2. The person made use of was one Atra Coya, a connection of the Tangul by marriage, an extremely intelligent and respectable (half) Arab merchant, and a person, who from his position, commands that private access to the Tangul which the cupidity and evil designs of the immediate attendants of that personage render very difficult to most visitors.
3. Atra Coya returned with a message from the Tangul to the effect, that the crowd had assembled at Tiruwangady on the 13th instant, without his orders, on hearing that he was in danger; that he, the Tangul, was not conscious of having done anything to deserve the displeasure of the Government; that he repudiated the deeds of the fanatics; and that it was his misfortune that a general blessing intended to convey spiritual benefits to those alone who acted in accordance with the Mahomedan faith, should be misinterpreted by a few parties who acted in contradiction to its precepts.
The arguments were, indeed, just similar to those brought to notice in my letter of the 12th October 1849, paragraph 35, as having been advanced by the Tangul on a former occasion.
But the Tangul went on to make the very important addition, that as his blessing was sometimes misunderstood and his presence in the country unfortunately had led to deeds of horror, he was willing, if the Government chose it, to end further embarrassment by leaving Malabar and taking up his permanent abode among his people in Arabia. He had more than once, he said, thought of doing this before, but had been restrained by the remonstrances of his immediate connections and adherents, who insisted on the spiritual loss which Malabar would sustain from his departure.
4. How far this message and proposition came from the Tangul's own mind, or how far it was prompted by the shrewd connection who brought it—(from his intercourse with the world and knowledge of our power he was evidently alive to the inevitable consequences of a collision between the Tangul and the Government, as regards the former),—I could not say, but the opening presented seemed to me so providential a one, that I at once resolved on doing all I could to further it on my own responsibility, trusting to the Government to pardon what I had done, in case it seemed to them objectionable.
5.- The consequence of my resolve and of another visit to the Tangul by the same agent has been, as I am just informed by him, that the Tangul has determined on starting for Arabia with the whole of his family, some 60 or 70 people, in an Arab ship which will sail within twenty days.
On 19th March 1852, the Hadhrami family of clerics that had arrived from Yemen centuries ago sailed out of their temporary abode. I will not get into the description of the Tangal his antecedents or his life after he left, but they moved first to some Gulf states and finally to Istanbul. The Thangal then relocated to Yemen and eventually back to Istanbul, where he died.
Three years were to pass by. In the meantime a number of events transpired, including attempts by the Thangal to try & return to Malabar, for he himself stated that he had left on his own accord and so would not accept any edict barring his stepping back on Malabar soil. His relatives tried to test the waters, but did not succeed and settled in Mahe under French protection.
In the middle of all this Connolly got a warning from Aden asking him to be careful. As we know today, Connolly paid no heed to it. The result of all this was apparently what ended up with the event of 11th Sept 1855, a full 3 years later. Let us read the report of the event
It appears that on the evening of Tuesday, the 11th Sept., the ill-starred gentleman (Connolly) was sitting with his wife at their house, West Hill, in Calicut, when, about half-past eight o'clock, a noise on the gravel attracted the attention of Mrs. Connolly. She looked up and saw a man emerge from the darkness outside, and spring with a single bound on her husband, who occupied a couch just opposite her own. The place was a small verandah adjoining the house, and Mrs. Connolly fled inside, screaming for assistance. A peon and mussalchee (torch bearer) came forward at the summons, but both were grappled with by the assassins, who stabbed the mussalchee in the arm, and cut off four of the peon's fingers. There were three fellows engaged in the murder, and in an incredibly short time they had completed their work, and had disappeared. More assistance was procured, and Mr. Connolly was carried to his room, where he lived for an hour, but had only consciousness to commit his soul to God, and speak a single word to his poor wife. Dr. Barker was sent for, but living three miles from Calicut he only arrived to see the lifeless clay. On examination, it was found that Mr. Connolly was nearly cut to pieces, no less than twenty-seven wounds having been inflicted upon him : seven of these were on the head, three of which penetrated to the brain—one of them through the ear and mastoid process of the temporal bone must have caused death. Both hands were cut to pieces, and nearly severed from the arms; the lower jaw was cut through. There were two stabs by a bayonet on one arm, and seven or eight wounds on the back, very deep, apparently stabs with a dagger or knife. The right knee-joint was opened, and the lower part of the bone of the thigh fairly cut through. How the tortured Victim survived for a moment, is almost past comprehension. Mr. Connolly had been for upwards of fourteen years presiding over the wild districts of Malabar and the able way in which his administration was conducted received on more than one occasion the thanks of Government—Telegraph and Courier.
The Mappilas who murdered Connolly were escaped convicts from Calicut Jail (from the town Jail, not the courthouse) called Valasseri Emalu, Puliyakunat Tenu, Chemban Moidin Kutti and Vellattadayatta Parambil Moidin. They had escaped from a prison working party on the 4th of August 1855, spent the following month on the run in various houses in the foothills of the Ghats. At Mambram, they prayed at the shrine of the Thangal. Then they hid in a house three-quarters of a mile away, for several days, before taking vows at a Nercha ceremony where they sang a song called Moidin Mala Pattu. Their war knives were passed through incense smoke.
A huge manhunt commenced, and eventually on the 17th Sept near a village called Eddamannapara the attackers were tracked down to a building where the Police Corps and a part of No. 5 Company of H.M. 74th Highlanders under Captain Davies attacked the house they were holed up in. A mortar and cannon were used to force the men out of the building, whereupon they were cut down, but only after they had killed a Scottish soldier and wounded another in the throat.
Why did the three decide to murder Conolly?
A clue comes up from the investigation of the involvement of one Malakel Mammu (who was imprisoned in the aftermath and is termed 1st prisoner) of Calicut in whose house the murderers stayed. Apparently Mammu had some monetary issues involving Connolly.
He (Mammu) had also had a good deal of intercourse with Mr. Conolly since the canal was begun. On account of his being in default for some work he undertook on the canal, Mr. Conolly was forced to bring a suit against him and obtained a judgment for the money (Rupees 156). As he had little property, Mr. Connolly out of compassion recovered the sum (except interest which he forgave him) by keeping back the rent for the temporary Jail. Nevertheless the 1 st prisoner in a petition in October 1854 demanded this rent, which as he strictly owed money to Government, Mr. Conolly refused, telling him he should think himself lucky to be let off what he owed. The necessity for bringing a suit against him and his subsequent unjust demand of rent render it probable that he had a personal bad feeling towards Mr. Conolly.
Initial reports also linked the murder to the Thagal – Collet reported - In the course of this enquiry it was clearly ascertained that the object of the attack upon Mr. Conolly was to inflict vengeance on him for the part he had taken in the banishment of the Tungal to which he had already adverted. "The murderers," said Mr. Collett, the Joint Magistrate, "in more than one place declared this to be their motive. "It is now clear, he observed," That, from an early date, they shaped their proceedings with a view to this end. It is from the knowledge that they were plotting to retaliate upon the person of the Chief Officer of Government for this offensive measure, that their caste people generally conspired together to aid them, and preserved their secret inviolate, though it was literally known to scores, including women and children."
Most reports thus mentioned that the murderers were avenging the deportation of the Thagal (One Pathumah who was interrogated was asked why Connolly was singled out, replied - Is it not the case that our Thagal is not to be seen in the country?? Conrad), but it was never established. Magistrate Walter Elliot in his report of 1856 stated
Several speculations are advanced to account for the cause of Mr. Conolly's murder. But the attempt to connect its origin with the deported Tangul is not to my mind successful. No doubt his name was used by the murderers as a means of obtaining more general sympathy and support, and the vindication of his cause entered largely into the motives of all concerned. But I am inclined to think that the irksomeness of the continued imprisonment to which the assassins were subjected, and the certainty of further prolonged incarceration if recaptured as they must have been, made them desperate, and induced them to fling away their lives in a manner far more daring, and more likely to invest their memories with the reputation of distinguished martyrs than had previously been heard of.
The anonymous letter angle - Collett had originally reported - Mr. Connolly had received an anonymous letter warning him, but unfortunately thought it needless to take precautions, and had not even mentioned it to Mrs. Connolly. It later transpired that Capt Haines in Aden had written to Connolly in Nov 1854 that his life was in danger. An intense search was launched to get to the details of the tip, however the result seems to have been somewhat of a whitewash and ends up in intriguing fashion with Haines himself in some Indian prison, and Mrs Haines writing on his behalf that it was just an innocent observation in private and so on. It would have made a lot of sense at that time to prove that all this was instigated or premeditated from Arabia by the irate cleric or his relatives, for that was what the EIC and Collett would have preferred to establish. Or was it quashed for political expediency? Perhaps so, in the name of peace, but we can only speculate. Perhaps it was the truth.
One recent writer Bob Williams remarked - Sometimes it seemed that the English came to India just to die. And died they did in their droves, often quite young, and invariably in a very English kind of way. Connolly’s memorial sports the following epitaph - Henry Valentine Connolly Esq. 49 of Madras Civil Service Collector and Magistrate of Malabar who “after nearly 12 years devoted to the improvement of the province committed to his charge, fell at the hands of a band of fanatics.”
To most Malayalees, Hindu, Muslim or Christian, Connolly was a collector, who lived in Calicut and administered the masses with a firm hand, under the British flag. He was to them a British ruler to the core, even equated to the likes of Gen Dyer, not interested in the development of the land he was administering, all he was interested was in collecting the taxes for her majesty. How wrong we are is proven if you study Connolly’s life, for he was a man with a vision and he lived 30 years of his life in India and died in India.
Younger brother Arthur Conolly participated in many reconnaissance missions into Central Asia and coined the term ‘The Great Game’ to describe the struggle between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for domination over Central Asia. Often travelling in disguise, he used the name "Khan Ali" in a word-play on his true name. In November 1841 he was captured on a rescue mission to free fellow British officer Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stoddart held in Bukhara. The two were executed by the Emir of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan in June 1842 on charges of spying for the British Empire.
Edward Connolly, the first discoverer of Seistan, was shot from an unknown fort in Kohistan. Sīstān is a border region in eastern Iran and southwestern Afghanistan , the vanished paradise, the ‘sakake’ of the Greeks.
John Connolly - British political officer who remained in Bala Hissar during negotiations in 1841-42; was taken prisoner by Afghans; died of fever in 1842.
They were born a year apart, they died in India. While three of them died in Afghanistan, the fourth died in Kabul. None died a natural death. They were so fated
Charles Collett who was threatened with death during the trails moved on to Madras and wrote a reader in Malayalam (written in 1856). Whether he is the same person who later wrote a number of law books is not clear.
After all this one other attempt was made on the life of a sitting collector. In this case, CA Innes interfered (upon a complaint by the boy’s father) in the case of a 11 year old tiya boy who was (forcefully?)converted.
Connolly was survived by wife Anne who returned to England. The family had two sons, one of whom I read was named Edward and who became a lawyer. More details of the family are not available. Some Rs 31,000 collected by way of fines from the Moplah locales was paid to the widow as compensation.
Connolly was buried in Calicut, in the old burial-ground close to the pier. After his death a monument was erected in St George’s Cathedral Madras and a scholarship and endowment named after him was created at the Madras University.
The "West Hill bungalow" continued to be a collector’s bungalow. West hill itself was purchased by the Government and converted into barracks for the European detachment comprising an Officers' quarters, the Racquet Court, the married men's quarters and other buildings. The collector’s bungalow in which Mr. Conolly was murdered in 1855 became part of the European barracks on West Hill. A flagstaff on East Hill opposite the barracks marks the bungalow of the Collector, which was guarded nightly. In its heydays, this bungalow had one of the most extensive wine cellars in India. A report in 1906 stated - It takes the form of a central single-storied block containing a large drawing room (40'X25') and a dining room with wide verandahs (17') round drawing room, and entirely distinct blocks (1) for occupants and (2) for guests.
I used to think all this time that the East hill Krishna Menon Museum was the collector’s bungalow, it was apparently not. If somebody could clarify this I would be happy.
One person who was somewhat troubled by the religious places bill and the burial grounds issue was Judge Hobart in Madras. His deliberations on this issue are of immense value to the historian and show the seriousness accorded by a person of responsibility in disposing such a heavy issue. It provides for fascinating reading and shows a balanced thought process. I wish sometimes that the judiciary today worked with this kind of seriousness and were less guided by matters of self gain and political pressure.
In 1881 a commissioner was appointed to enquire into all these Agrarian grievances and that was none other than William Logan, whom some of us know pretty well from the Malabar manual.
20 years later another famous man came to Calicut, and it was another perumazhakalam, another monsoon when the rain came down in huge torrents. This famous writer and artist lived for some days at the Malabar Club (today’s Beach hotel premises). He looked at the sea, he sipped gin tonics, he read the Punch, he observed the populace streaming by, he wandered around Mananchira and rode bullock carts and he sketched and he wrote about them and the crows – ‘Ye crows of Malabar, What a cussed bore you are’ was a famous utterance. More of those interesting days and sketches of Calicut will follow in the next article.
No disrespect is meant to any religion involved, with any part of the text of this article, all events are sourced from historical accounts as referenced. If any personal inference or reference is erroneous, I invite the reader’s views for corrections.