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The ICS Collectors of Malabar

Posted by Maddy Labels: , , ,

British Governance - Calicut

There is a furor at Calicut these days resulting from the transfer of a benevolent collector popularly known as ‘collector bro’ and it appears that this resulted from the differences in opinion between bro and a member of parliament. I am sure much debate and argument will continue over this, but then again, it has always been like this. These positions of administrative bureaucracy though very important for any district are unfortunately at the mercy of the politicians. One only needs to look at the career of Malabar’s premier administrator William Logan. He was moved in and moved out of the Malabar Collector’s position no less than 7 times between 1869 and 1887 till he finally threw in the towel.

For a while, I have been toying with the idea of checking out the life and times of various collectors who spent a while administering British Malabar. Starting from 1800 (1801 to be more precise) almost 60 British individuals ruled, sitting in that position and mostly living at the East Hill Collector’s Bungalow. Eight of the initial administrators were actually called ‘principal collectors’ and the lot starting with the eminent HV Connolly were titled ‘district collectors’. I will list the lot (though I have not been able to get a list of those between 1932 -1943) and mention about the contributions of some of the more popular of those ‘gora sahebs’ or sayips. Strangely enough not one of them put their personal experiences in Calicut to paper, though Logan came close by accounting much of his observations into a district manual. Robert Rickards was another who mentioned his time in passing, in his huge twin volume book on India.

But first I think we should spend a while understanding the ICS, what was popularly known as the heaven born service and its responsibilities, during that era. It was in a way just that and for most Indians the ICS officer personified the British administrative arm. Before the advent of British rule we had the East India Company and a college which would secure aspirants a position in India. That was the HEIC’s East India company college in Hailey which started in 1806. In fifty years it trained over two thousand so-called "writers" or Haileybury men to administer the Indian subcontinent. The curriculum was wide, detailed, and targeted to the career responsibilities. It included political economy, history, mathematics, natural philosophy, classics, law and humanity, Indian languages and philology. In 1855, the British Parliament passed an act "to relieve the East India Company from the obligation to maintain the College at Haileybury" and the King's College, London, hosted the first open competitive examinations for appointment to the Indian Civil Service. The open examination which ICS aspirants had to undergo was nothing short of a month long, vicious, viva voce which Hilton Brown an ICS man characterized as – a solid month of answering questions, skilled torturers can devise with the knowledge that a single inadequate answer may ruin your chances for life!!

Thus the Indian Civil Service governed the British imperial possession through an elite and sparsely manned network to govern some 250 Indian districts, was a close well-knit administrative service, designed to maintain stability and continuity of the British power. The lower ranks were manned by British as well as Indians, hand selected by the ICS officer. Interestingly Indians who may have qualified could either not foot the bill to travel to London or would not, for fear of losing their caste. Satyendranath Tagore, the elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore, was the first Indian to qualify the ICS in 1863. What many of you may not know is that postings to districts of the Madras presidency were considered lowly compared to the exotic locales of the North. Officers in Madras acted singularly and not always in synchronism (characterized as slow, cumbersome and reactionary) with the center, promotions were slow and red tape quite amply manifested. The collector in the South reported directly to the Madras government and had much higher responsibilities.

Many of you would still imagine that these officers had a fascinating time, only people who have lived as expatriates in another country would understand their difficulties and challenges. I am confident that many a reader would have imagined that the life of an officer typically began with his waking up and stretching his hand for his cup of tea held at a ready by his chaprasi, then going about on a morning ride on his magnificent stallion, or his Morris minor or whatever car, taking care of issues along the way, sorting out matters even handedly, listening to the wah wah’s from the lowly Indian peasant populace, coming back and signing off on land issues and criminal cases, going off to shoot a tiger or deer, or even an elephant, supervise its skinning, having a pint or two and supping at the club as the sun set, and lounging at home and writing his journal or a few poems before a bath, eventually retiring to a camp bed and dreaming of his younger days in the Scottish highlands. Well, in reality it was far from that and was unflattering, for he had to work with very tight budgets, face disease, a rough climate not suited to them and sometimes hostile people, a large number of corrupt, bureaucratic, opinionated and self-serving superiors who hated the land they had to govern and its people. On top of all that they were not well rewarded and that is why many were prone to building up their own retirement nesteggs and making hay while the sun shone.

Then again, there were many such as ACS Thorne the Malabar Collector who governed during placid times and who did live that kind of a life, as recorded by SK Chettur. Chettur writes - Thorne awoke at 6AM, and started with a ½ hour bird watching session until 730. After breakfast at 8, he started work at 830 and briskly moved files until 1PM, after which he took lunch and had a short ½ hour nap. Two more hours in the office, tea at 415PM and local inspection tours followed until 630PM. To end the day, he would settle under a petromax lamp to read. In between and during trips or weekends, he found the time to swim and do some snipe shooting, taking his new protégé along. Etiquette was very important to him and Thorne was a smalltime poet in his spare time.

But the case of a collector in the North during the early days of the 19th century would be vastly different – John Beames explains - a hard, active man in boots and breeches, who almost lived in the saddle, worked all day and nearly all night, ate and drank when and where he could, had no family ties to hamper him, and whose whole establishment consisted of a camp bed, an odd table and chair or so and a small box of clothes such as could be slung on a camel. Nevertheless while life at the outpost was difficult, the posts at the headquarters and presidency secretariats was quite different. This was where bureaucracy was born and perfected. Ridiculous practices re-developed: letters were placed in docket covers and their contents 'summarised' at greater length than the original; documents were printed only to be sent a few yards down the corridor. As we can readily imagine, officers often rose by seniority, connections and relations, rather than by merit.

By the end of the century and into the first decade of the 20th the conditions had changed and exams for ICS were also held in India (Allahabad 1922). The money earned was not commensurate to living expenses, the officer’s dowry market had declined, the fishing fleet had dried up and a push was on to get more Indians employed in the service. Even the pension of a thousand pounds became meaningless when the exchange rate for the rupee crashed following the First World War. The complex requirements and problems after the war were no longer some a limited set of officers governing at times by goodwill could handle. And then to top it all, Gandhi had arrived.

But that was not the subject we started with and so let us hasten to the district headquarters, to Calicut to be precise. The original district collector’s bungalow was in West hill and it was moved to East hill only after the terrible murder of Collector Connolly Sayip. Mr. W. B. Dewinton, late Chief Engineer of the P. W. D stated in 1905 ‘I wish we could devise something like it now-a-days. It takes the form of a central single storied block containing a large drawing room (40'x 25') and a dining room with wide verandahs (17') round drawing room, and entirely distinct blocks (1) for occupants and (2) for guests’.

It was from this abode (and later from the Bungalow at East hill, the Krishna Menon museum these days), that the figurehead of the British Empire ruled the erstwhile district of Malabar, devoid of any pomp. Let’s take a look at some of those collectors, a topic which PK Govindan had covered briefly in a thin booklet which I have not had the opportunity to access or peruse and one which Calicut Heritage had mentioned, some years ago. The British PM David Lloyd George once said of the ICS that it was "the steel frame on which the whole structure of our government and of our administration in India rests". Chettur borrowed that popular usage to title his memoirs.

Some might ask - Why were Britons willing to go to India if they faced sudden reversals of fortune and rampant epidemic disease? Ruby Daily’s explanation is that it was demographic: the period of 1760 to 1860 saw a huge population growth in Britain, with birthrates rising by up to 18 percent. The average elite woman of the early nineteenth century could expect to give birth to around eight babies, whose infant survival rate was around 90 percent. Upper-class families were reaching unprecedented sizes at unprecedented rates. Desperate to find careers for so many children, families looked to the East India Company, whose administrative and military staffing needs grew constantly as they took over more territories and instituted more taxation. Because many people were propelled by their families into Indian colonial service, it is unsurprising that these connections remained important after they arrived in India as well. Family networks could provide recommendations for jobs, practical advice, places to stay on first arrival, and moral support (extract courtesy Ruby Daily’s Digital collection, Newberry library) 

The position of the Principal collector of Malabar was originally created in 1801 after the first Pazhassi rebellion broke out and the British found it difficult to manage the revolts from Bombay. You may recall that Malabar was originally under the Bombay presidency and run through a military authority. Lord Clive wanted to ensure establishment of a civil administration and Major William Macleod was appointed the first principal collector with 3 supporting subordinate collector’s (Strachey, Hodgson and Keate) wef 1st Oct 1801. His fist act was to capture Kannavat Nambiar and he then followed it up with an order for all Nairs to lay down and surrender their arms. He then manipulated the exchange rates between local coins and rupees to the gold and silver fanams, fourfold based on totally wrong revenue estimates and this led to huge discontentment. As the public rallied against these orders or totally disregarded it, Macleod resigned and handed over charge to Judge Rickards. Rickards wisely reverted to the original rates, but the rebellion continued and Panaramam, a military outpost was attacked as the Pazhassi rebellion continued. Rickards gave way to Thomas Warden in 1804 and it was under him that Thomas Baber the sub collector excelled and worked to bring about the demise of the Raja and the end of the Pazhassi revolt.

Macleod was also involved in many of the Murdoch Brown activities as well as the man behind the infamous Macleod Seer. The MacLeod seer or grain measure is defined as a liberally heaped measure and its concept and comparison is interesting. In fact his name is also given to a land measure of that time. In North Malabar, an extent of land is known as so many Macleod yedangalies, and it is supposed that the acre ranges from 55 to 72 Macleod yedangalios, 60 being generally assumed as the average. As a gain measure, 4 nauzhies = 1 yedangaly or Macleod seer. 10 such seers yields one parrah. The seer introduced by Mr. Macleod in 1802 contains, when liberally heaped, 130 tolahs of rice. It was used in Chirakkal, Kottayam, Cooroombranaud, Valluwanad and Palghat. In Calicut and Ponnany, Macleod's half seer liberally heaped and containing 65 tolahs was used. The ' parrah' varies from 61 to 10 Macleod seers. So much for that.

Rickards went on to pen a set of books on India where he also covered his experiences on land administration in Malabar.During Warden’s strict and what is defined as straightforward rule, the Zamorin of Calicut became a malikhana receiver of a fifth of the revenue collected from their districts, as security for their good and dutiful behavior towards the company’s (British) government. In 1809 the administration of Cochin was transferred to the resident at Travancore and by 1813, the Anjengo factory was closed. In 1817 Mahe was given back to the French and in 1819, the Calicut loge was also handed over to the French together with certain other minor territories.

Then came James Vaughan who was behind the Emman nair episode, one which I had covered
earlier. During his tenure we note again the restlessness of the Moplahs of Malabar after whom Sheffield took charge, followed by Huddleston and both these chaps tackled the thorny issue of land and tax assessments in Malabar. In 1834, Karunakara Menon was sent to Coorg as an EIC emissary only to be imprisoned and this led to the Coorg war. Clementson and Thomson followed, as the Eranad area became the hotbed of discontented Moplahs. Thompson was the last of the Principal collectors. In 1841 Henry Valentine Connolly, the first of the benevolent collectors of Malabar took charge and did some real good with his teak plantations, water canals and many other export related activities. However as we studied before, his involvement in the Moplah outrages resulted only in his getting hacked to a brutal death in 1855.

Clarke, Robinson and Grant followed him and spent brief tenures as collectors. Robinson was the first to get involved with the Laccadive Islands taxation issues and was responsible for bringing W Logan into the scene for the first time in 1857. Grant on the other hand loved Malabar elephants and tried hard to build a sanctuary for them. In 1862, GA Ballard took charge at East Hill. An able administrator, he was also very interested in fishing, he recorded and translated day to day legal correspondence in Malayalam into a couple of very interesting books, and these books remain to portray Malabar life in the late 1880’s.

People arrived in Calicut those days by ferry and the exalted were driven to the bungalow. Mary Carpenter who visited during the time of A Ballard, writes “It was a long drive to my new abode, but very beautiful; we passed along a road bordered with palm trees, forming a canopy through which the bright rays of the diamond-looking stars could hardly penetrate. The residence of Mr. Ballard, the collector, is on a bill, three miles beyond the town. From thence the morning rays revealed a splendid view over extensive woods of cocoanuts and richly cultivated land, to the grand range of the Western Ghauts…. Mary continues - Though Calicut has the elements of British civilization introduced into it by the presence of the various official gentlemen connected with the Government—a collector's office, various institutions, an excellent High School, a factory, etc., yet these do not appear to have produced as much effect on the general habits of the educated portion of the community, as in the Presidential capitals; but, on the other hand, there is not that air of dirt and dilapidation, which was so painfully depressing and repulsive in many parts of the empire which I had already seen.

After Ballard left, Hannyngton, Thomas and Alexander McCullum Webster, were collectors. Then came the ever famous William Logan in 1869. We traced his story in a previous blog, but what I did not mention then were his seven transfers, perhaps for his forthrightness and refusal to toe the line. During Logan’s tenure, Empress Victoria’s 50th year of reign was celebrated at Calicut like it was, in many other district capitals.

Many came after Logan and have their names recorded in the annals of history. Some names that people may remember are Dance, Tottenham, Pinhey, Hall, Evans, Thomas, Ellis etc. If you recall, I had written in detail about JA Thorne earlier.

Two names which deserve singular attention are CA Innes and Knapp. The former prepared the popular gazettes and went on to become the governor of Burma. The second is the ‘knappan’ governor Arthur Rowland Knapp, who left behind the ever popular usage ‘knapp’ on colloquial Malayalam. In his first posting in Malabar at a young age of 21, Knapp set in motion various administrative, policy and police reforms that were at best, quixotic in nature. His efforts were futile, garnering no benefits despite looking good on paper. The word Knapp-'an' which describes a person who is incompetent and a failure, lives on to this day. However even though Khapp gave way to Francis in 1907, he was called back in 1921 as the Moplah revolt raged, to the appointment as special commissioner of Malabar. Perhaps he was hated by the populace though revered by the British. Nidheesh has an article on the very subject

By 1871, only four Indians had joined the service. By 1883, the total number of Indian ICS were 12 and in 1915, exactly 60 years after the first competitive examination of ICS, only 63 Indians had joined the ICS. In the late 1890s, JN Tata set up a scholarship/loan fund for Indians to study abroad, which included as a condition that they appear for the ICS exam (by 1924, over a third of all Indian ICS officers were Tata scholars). The upper age limit for the ICS exam always remained 24 years from 1855 to January 1943 - when the last exam was held. However, the lower age limit varied from time to time. The only Indian to top the ICS examination in 88 years was Kumar Padmanabha Sankara (KPS) Menon who stood first in the 1921 batch. In the 1920 batch of ICS, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose stood fourth. Bose reported for training but resigned in April 1921.At the time of India's Independence, there were 980 ICS officers in pre-Partition India.

An old article in Keralaforum records the work of a later Malabar governor Lawrence, in 1943. Many of the ICS fellows of those days had personal integrity and ability, though they were (rightly from their side) loyal to the British Empire. People could approach them with justifiable causes. We give one example: In the village of Engandiyur, Trichur District, there was no high school during 1943 period. People were mainly farmers of low castes (which mattered those days). A few educated people joined and submitted a memorandum to the Malabar Collector for a school. Mr Lawrence who was the Malabar Collector at Calicut immediately responded. "Yes, you get a high school, but first you must collect a sum of 10.000 rupees for the initial expenses of the building etc)!" This was a large sum of money those days, when 100 coconuts brought probably not more than 10 rupees. But the people collected this money and the school was granted! (Recall no third class politician is involved here, unlike now). This is the National High School. When this happened, the local Church submitted a request to Mr Lawrence. Another high school was granted. So the village had two high schools within 700 meters, something unthinkable in a village those days. The main point here is that there was no politician, no bribe, nothing of that sort was involved here!

One should not forget administrators TH Baber and Charles Whish though Baber officiated from Tellicherry and Whish spent long periods in South Malabar. You can obtain details of these fine gentlemen from my previously poste and linked reference articles.

While HW Bouchier was the last of the tailenders, he was on leave during August 1947. Thus it was Welshman John Calvert Griffiths who held the position as the last white man to rule Malabar on the eve of independence in 1947. On 15th August, John Griffiths sub collector of Malappuram was in charge as the acting Collector of Malabar. Ironically, his first task was to arrange the Independence Day celebrations at Calicut. He remained in Malabar and did not go back to Britain, wanting the freedom to be his own man and be with the Indian ICS. He said - I felt myself a part of a long line that started with Vasco Da Gama and passed through Clive and Munro and the old collectors of Malabar and ended with me. He lowered the union jack at Calicut and took it with him, to be buried with him when he passed away, and made a formal speech praising the contributions of Indian leaders, Gandhi and Nehru. It was a non-event in Calicut and the only two Brahmin lawyers dressed in conventional black and dancing down the aisle in suppressed excitement set an exception to an otherwise orderly and matter of fact kind of day. After a couple of years, he moved to Malaya, Rhodesia and finally Hong Kong to continue working for the British government.

The first native collector of Malabar following Indian independence was NS Arunachalam. The next in order were, R Prasad, ICS, NES Raghavachary ICS and V V Subrahmaniam ICS. Interestingly, both Prasad and NES became advisors to the Governor in 1956 when the new Kerala state was formed. The first Kozhikode district collector (after Kerala integration) was Mr. P K Nambiar, IAS.

Malabar manual – William Logan
A people’s collector in the British Raj – Arthur Galletti – Brian Stoddart
The last days of the Raj – Trevor Royle
The steel frame and I – SK Chettur

Note: Malabar history enthusiasts will remember A Galletti’s ‘Dutch in Malabar’, a source of excellent information. A good amount of information on the workings of an ICS man’s life and his many tribulations can be gleaned from Stoddart’s book, profiling Arthur Galletti. Galletti was quite chummy with Sir CP and Chettur SK Nair. Though Galletti never administered Malabar, he was close to getting appointments at Travancore and Cochin as a Dewan, efforts which were scuttled by his superiors, as he was considered a recalcitrant ICS man. Chettur SK Nair’s accounts, books and stories also present interesting reading and an Indian’s insight into the ICS of later years.

Many thanks to Mr CK Ramachandran, IAS who provided me with information on the native collectors appointed after independence. People who want to study the responsibilities of that office today may refer to the book ‘Community development Administration in Kerala’ by KK Panikkar.

Tail noteMuthiah’s article on SK Chettur provides an insight of the transition of an ICS officer 
working under a native Indian government – Chettur says - "I have been often asked whether it was pleasant to work with ministers after `ruling the roost' in the old I.C.S. autocratic set-up. My answer has always been that the I.C.S. man has been trained to accept the discipline of his `Superior Officers'. In a democratic regime, I made the transition easy by the tacit principle that elected ministers responsible to the public were my `Superiors', however much I may have doubted their individual intellectual superiority to me. I regarded them as the bosses who were in the position to give the orders, and while I had the right to offer advice to them (based on my own knowledge and experience) I had to accept and implement the orders even in cases where my advice was over-ruled. And I took very good care to record my views very clearly and unmistakably so that they could know exactly what they were up against in over-ruling me. I found that my refusal to be a `yes-man' had a most salutary effect on ministers. Apart from the respect it created for me personally, they knew they could get genuine advice from me and that I would not lightly let them down. As a result, I got on very well with them and when they found that I had the sense of discipline to implement orders, once I had been over-ruled or differed from, there was no difficulty at all in our relationships. And that is as it should be."


  1. Calicut Heritage Forum

    Nice summary of the good work by the ICS Collectors of Malabar. It is difficult to summarise their work in one post. We had tried to highlight some of their contributions in our post
    The contribution of Connolly will require a full length book treatment, such a versatile administrator with a heart which instinctively felt for the common men and women. We had dealt with the making of Connolly in one of our posts Incidentally, he was not from the ICS, having been recruited into the Madras Civil Service locally. But, even as a probationer, he stood apart, as our post showed.
    It would, however, be a bit unfair to compare the pre-independence collectors with the post independent ones. Before independence ICS collectors had to deal with politicians only sporadically from 1938. All along, they had the implicit faith that when it came to a confrontation, the British rulers would support the ICS against the local politicians. The equation is very different now, and rightly so, as we have a democratic set up where people's representatives have to be shown due respect.
    Incidentally, when it was decided to shift the Collector's bungalow from East Hill to a nondescript building in West Hill, the then Collector, Sri R Gopalaswami refused to implement the decision so long as he remained the Collector. When he left the office on transfer, he would proudly tell every one : 'I am the last of the Logans!'

  1. Maddy

    Thanks CHF..
    Yes, as you rightly said,one can write a book on this subject or even more on certain people such as HV Connolly. No doubt, politicians are a must in a democratic mix, though political decisions taken are not always the right ones, and this was a point made by Chettur and recounted in the tail piece.

  1. Nick Balmer


    Once again, an excellent article. You touch on two points that accord with my observations from having read letters and articles by several of the men you mention, is just how hard and lonely life must have been for many of these officials. They are often as you state the "spares" as in "heirs and spares" who having had fairly privileged up bringings in Britain as children, suddenly found themselves packed up and shipped half way around the World.

    Having myself been an expatriate several decades ago in a fairly similar situation through economic necessity having to get a job in the Middle East, I have a very good idea of just how much adaption that it takes to make ago of it in a foreign land, as these men did.

    It is telling how many of them "went native" and probably arising from this sense of rejection at home, became protectors of the rights over who they ruled. Many of them fought the cause of the people under their rule against edicts from Madras and London, even in the knowledge that they were putting their careers and pensions in severe jeopardy by so doing.

    The second is just how badly they were affected by illnesses and the climate. Thomas Baber as a Circuit Judge knew for instance and wrote of his having to visit Seringapatam about once a year, and knowing that each time he did, that he would go down with fever yet again.

    So many of them died much earlier than their brothers in England, who in my own family often got into their late 80's or early 90's, while their "Indian" brothers were in their graves by their late 60's.