The complete account of the little ‘French Loge’ at Calicut
and its impact on the mighty British establishment is a lengthy topic which I
will not cover in detail here. Nevertheless, one can conclude that the Calicut loge
was a thorn in the British flesh. This small area of Calicut created many an administrative
issue for the British bureaucracy (I guess it was the French idea of fun, during
their mundane stay at Malabar, sans wine, women and gaiety) some quite silly and
it was only later and closer to Indian independence that affirmative action was
finally taken, to close the loge once and for all. This 6-7 acre plot thus
lasted as French property for all of 246 years after its establishment in 1701.
The French have a Loge -Occupée par un gardien (Loge or Comptoir is an isolated factory or establishment where France had the right to fly its flag and to form factories)in Calicut. The loge consists of 6 acres on the sea shore about a half mile north of the light house and adjoins the old district Jail site. The exact facts connected with the foundation of the French factory are involved in doubt. It was apparently obtained by the French from the Zamorin, but there is nothing to lead to the supposition that the Zamorin had ever conceded to them anything more than mere commercial privileges within the limits of the Loge. The Zamorin appeared to have exercised fiscal and judicial authority within its limits – an authority which neither Hyder Ali nor Tipu Sultan ever bestowed on the French after the Zamorin’s power ceased.
Beyond the fact that the landed property and the house are untaxed, there is nothing to distinguish the Loge from the rest of Calicut. It is doubtful what rights the French government has in it. As it has been altogether omitted from the treaty of Versailles, dated the 3rd Sept 1783, it has been held that the French has no sovereign rights in it. The Loge was restored to the French on 1st Feb 1819. In the first capitulation of Mahe made by Monsieur Louet, Commander in Chief of the Garrison at Mahe, and signed on 10th Feb 1761, it was agreed in Article 9 that ‘the French factory at Calicut shall be suffered quietly to enjoy the privileges of neutrality observed there’.
MO Koshy (Dutch power in Kerala p144) points out that the Loge was first built in 1701. By 1722, the French had moved major operations to Mahe. Anyway it went on to do its business, albeit quietly in a small scale until their newfound friends the Mysore Sultans decided to venture south. That was when the French equations with the English in Malabar started to change.
The Calcutta Review (1903) article on Imperial Calicut provides the next tidbit as follows - Meanwhile, we find that in 169S the French also had managed to establish a factory in the place (Calicut), though at this time they were apparently not doing much, for Hamilton tells us they neither had money nor credit and were "not in a condition to carry on trade. The French quarter or loge, as it is called, still exists as one of the foreign dependencies of the Republic, but it yields absolutely no material return to France, and the wonder is that France should cling to it so tenaciously when she might any day obtain a fairly good price for the land from the British Government.” W Francis in his South India gazetteer also opines that it was started in 1698. He states that it went to British hands thrice during the wars and was reinstated to the French in 1819 and was located south of the pier. So we can perhaps infer that a pier (perhaps the Calicut landing) existed well before the British built one in the mid1800’s. Murkot Ramunny in his book Ezhimala states that the French Calicut factory of 1698 was started after their unsuccessful experiments at Tellicherry. However Shantini in her doctoral thesis re- confirms that 1701 was the year when it was established.
During the Hyder - Tipu Interlude, an interesting event involving the Zamorin and the French Loge took place, and is recounted by Maistre de La Tour. It appears that the English had destroyed the French estate and buildings at Pondicherry and the French were looking for good wood to rebuild their property. As it happened, a Moplah trader of Calicut who owed a lot of money to the French got a consignment of wood released by Hyder Ali. The French requested the trader to provide the wood in order to pay off the monetary debt. As the wood was on its way, the English hearing of the deal pressured the Rajah of Coimbatore (Satyamangalam palayakar??) to seize it. The French complained to Hyder who opined that the Dutch, Portuguese and Danish factors should meet, discuss and decide on the next course of action. They did so and decided in favor of the French. The English not in agreement, and taking matters into their own hands (with the connivance of the Coimbatore raja), sawed up the wood into small pieces and made it useless for any rebuilding work. Now it was fit for use only as firewood. The French again complained to Hyder and the Coimbatore Raja seeing immense trouble looming, offered monetary compensation to the wood trader who then paid back the French, whatever money he owed them. Hyder observing this smelt a rat and saw that the raja had paid the French money that was actually due to him as some kind of tax and that the compensation to the French did not actually originate from the English. The enraged Hyder imposed a penalty of 4 lakhs on the raja for the deceit and applied further pressure by ensuring that water was not delivered to his palace. The raja who was a Brahmin (perhaps Kshatriya), could not take his mandatory baths and so finally dug into his secret treasure trove (apparently under the very seat of Hyder – i.e. in the house where Hyder was then residing) and paid Hyder the penalty. That was the first salvo fired by the French from the Calicut Loge against the British.
The most alarming was when the French planned to open a French port in front of the loge in 1865. Even though it was not a real possibility, the British were overly worried of competition, with the threat of the French sponsored opening of the Suez Canal as a backdrop (already the biggest global challenge to British supremacy over the ocean trade). This was when the British decided that from then on, sovereign rights would not be accorded to the Loge’s. The British argument was that the British inherited the rights from the Mysore sultans and the Zamorin and that the French only had commercial rights.
But by and far, the incident that provides most amusement is the one recounted by Akhila in her absorbing paper titled L’Inde retrouvee, Loss and sovereignty in French Calicut 1867-1868. I will provide an overview with all acknowledgements to her and many thanks for telling us the story.
As you can see, this takes us to French Loge in Calicut during 1867 with people of all types involved. There is D’Souza and D’Mello of Portuguese heritage, a Saldanha also of Portuguese extract, a Mr Bass of unknown (perhaps Portuguese) heritage, the Volkart brothers a Swiss company, the English bureaucracy and the residents of Calicut. As the story goes, Mr Bass lent some money to Mr R D’Souza, his brother in law. In lieu of the money, D’Souza gave Bass a horse, a carriage and some furniture as a payoff. These were sizeable objects and Bass did not have a place to put them in, nor as it appears, did he want to sell it. Let us not try to get to their motives (to me they were ulterior as you will soon agree), but Bass parked the carriage in the compound of a house belonging to one D’Mello and the furniture and horse in the house of one Saldanha (both these people being residents in the premises of the French Loge at Calicut). The horse ate its grass in a new location, munching away happily I suppose, the carriage rusted in the sea air in D’Mello’s shed and the furniture gathered dust. But events otherwise kicked into the next gear quickly.
Now comes along the Volkart brothers (agents and exporters), who if you will recall had a warehouse along the beach, perhaps adjoining the French. They were owed money by this D’Souza (It looks like he made a habit of borrowing money and not returning it) and as Volkart did not get it back, filed suit. D’Souza rushed to Cochin and Madras to argue and settle the case during this messy period.
French territory ruling on the grounds that it did not matter since the property was actually conveyed to a part of Calicut where Bass, a British Indian territory resident, did not ordinarily live, and so the property seizure as such was still pursuant under British law.
Bontemps in Pondicherry then took up the case in Madras as another instance of British disregard for international treaties. He also specifically complained about the British disregard for proprietorship in the case of Calicut.
Anyway as the authorities argued on, we come to the end of this interesting event, so what would have happened to D’Mello case? After the sentence was passed, the horse and the carriage were returned to him. D’Mello knew what odds were stacked against him. He refused to take them back and insisted that since the British had unlawfully seized them, they themselves had to return it to him. Think about it, the property was still up for seizure in British territory, but not from French territory. The court was in British territory, and so if D’Mello sat on the carriage himself, he would set himself up for re-arrest. The magistrate refused to deliver them back to him and D’Mello had no choice but to take possession of the horse and the carriage. As soon as he did it, the police seized the carriage and this time promptly sold it off. What happened to the horse is not known; perhaps it languished in eth Zamorin’s stable sin Kuthiravattom. Nothing more is known about the people involved. Maybe they or their descendants eventually moved on to Goa ort Bombay….
What is interesting is that D’Souza and Bass got sentenced rightfully, for knowingly relocating their property after facing imminent seizure, to the French loge. Perhaps D’Mello’s got financially compensated for renting their space out, but Saldanha quietly colluded with the British when faced with trouble. The D’Mello’s saw opportunity in the face of justice at courts and tried to further their personal advancement.
The problems continued…….
Later, there were attempts by the Madras authorities to demarcate the seaward boundary of the French loge as the high water mark together with a number of other complaints about improper taxation and nonpayment of taxes. Records where the Madras authorities had levied distress warrants against residents of the Calicut loge for nonpayment of municipal taxes can also be encountered. Petty cases of fines against tea sellers in the French compound were also recorded in 1939.
Volkart who became Carrier AC agents, went on to create Voltas together with the Tatas. The British left in 1947 and the Calicut AIR radio station started its broadcast from where the French once traded, broadcasting in MW in May 1950. The French Loge together with all the intrigues was soon gone, and the only remnant is the French bakery at its periphery, which now serves nothing French to my knowledge. I do not know how long it will last, and I still remember how they would deliver mutton cutlets and coffee to your car window – the only place of its kind in the Calicut of the 70’s and 80’s.
Pondicherry Progress Dec 24th 1893 – retold in Jan 27, 1894 Colonies and India news
Straits times 18th July 1906, Page 9, French India
HinduArticle P Anima
French maps – From and this
Anglo-French sovereignty disputes in India, 1918-1947: Attempts at peaceful settlement - Geoffrey Marston
France's Lost Empires: Fragmentation, Nostalgia, and la Fracture Coloniale - edited by Kate Marsh, Nicola Frith, (L’Inde retrouvee - Article by Akhila Yechuri)
Kozhikodinte Paithrukam – TB Seluraj (Meenkari Kothayum Antharashtra Athirthiyum)
The history of Ayder Ali Khan, Nabob-Bahader: By Maistre de La Tour (M.)