The Zamorin’s Demise - 1766

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Hyder’s takeover of Calicut

April 27th 1766 - Hyder Ali and his troops are at the gates of Calicut. The rumors of his violent reprisals against the Nayars up north have reached the Zamorin’s ears. There is perhaps no hope now for Calicut and the people in the domains of the Zamorin. He decides to take his life and sets fire to his armory after locking himself into the powder room. With that comes the end of the long and unbroken 600 year reign of the Thamburan – the Tamuri or the Samoothiripad of Calicut. Soon the lands and domain go into the hands of the Mysore Sultans and some decades later, to the British, thus recording an inglorious end to the glorious fiefdom of Malabar. This is what most of us have learnt from various history books. What actually happened in those last days? There are quite a few versions, some wild stories while others are possibly closer to reality. Perhaps we should take a look.

I wished (as I have said a few times before) I could discuss this at length with KV Krishna Iyer, but in those days of his retirement, in our village of Pallavur, where he used to walk along majestically now and then on the road near our house, dhoti tied around his neck or chest (he was a little bit of an eccentric at times), I had no interest in history. But then I do have one source to refer, his oft mentioned work on the Zamorins of Calicut. So let us start with that.

The 116th Zamorin was a warring Thampuran from the Puthiya Kovilakom. The princes of Thekkamkoor, Vadakkamkoor and Kayamkulam had fled northwards to Calicut. The Cochin raja, a cause for much of the Zamorin’s problems, sent Ezekiel Rabi to Calicut for negotiations of support, and the Dutch were also in discussions with the Zamorin. The war that followed went in favor of the Travancore Raja and quickly the Cochin raja changed sides and went with the winner. Finally after the frantic efforts of captive Paliyat Komu Menon, Marthanda Varma signed a peace & friendship treaty with the Zamorin during January 1757. The Zamorin in return during the following months applied relentless pressure on the Dutch in Cochin and eventually a treaty was signed by March 1758. Finally the wars were over, the regions around Travancore, Cochin and Calicut were at relative peace…Soon the Zamorin behind all this died and the new person took over.

So they thought, for the enemies of the North, the Mysore rulers were having other ideas. Little were the Calicut rulers to know that they would soon be in full flight southwards, reversing the earlier flight from South to North.

This was the 117th Zamorin of Calicut, from the Kizhakke Kovilakom, not considered very able. He had problems at home too where his chief lieutenant Mangat Achan withdrew from the court and other commanders rebelled for some reasons. Prof MR Raghava Warrier concurs by explaining -The ruling Zamorin and his 3 sisters were all adopted from the Neeleswaram Palace and he was, thus, alien to the Calicut culture. Enough indications exist to show that the ruling bureaucracy was also reluctant to accept the ‘outsider’. The difference of opinion which arose about the engagement with Hyder’s forces and the humiliating defeat of Zamorin’s forces at the battle of Iringal, led to the ouster of Mangatt Achan, the Prime Minister-equivalent. The Zamorin came into power at a difficult juncture, for Marthanda Varma was in full swing again, trying to further his borders and the Zamorin soon lost Trichur and some other places. But the Travancore king was also under threat from the Carnatic rulers attacking from the south, so he soon concluded a treaty with the Zamorin at Padmanabhapuram in 1763. As one can imagine all these protracted wars depleted much of the Calicut treasury..

It was during this period, starting around 1756, that the Palghat Achan requested support and got it from Hyder at Dindigul. Haider sent his army to support the Palghat Achan, but the Zamorin decided to buy out Haider, due to the other wars and more pressing problems he had at hand. The settlement to pay 12 lakhs in compensation was to prove too dear very soon, as we shall see..

In the meantime, Hyder became the Sultan of Mysore and demanded the 12 lakhs owed, which the Zamorin did not have. As Hyder’s messengers (money collectors) came back with no money, Hyder moved to take Calicut in 1766. The Zamorin was soon becoming powerless for he had lost much support from other bastions such as the Moplahs after the treaties with the Portuguese and the Marakkar episodes.

So as we see, Hyder was bearing down the North with some 12,000 troops. The troops had a head on skirmish at Chirakkal where the Zamroin’s forces fought fiercely but had to withdraw for the Mysore army, infantry were too strong for their kind of fighting. The defense lines were breached, and Hyder paused to rest & recuperate. But by then he had an ally in the Ali raja of Chirakkal to carry on the cause. So he deputed the Ali raja to Calicut to take care of the Zamroin. Now we take up the story from Krishna Iyer

KV Krishna Iyer Zamorins of Calicut (pages 226-228)

Hyder sent Ali Raja by sea to Calicut. The Eralpad who was in charge of the fort refused to surrender whereupon the Aliraja infested it with the help of local Moplahs….The Zamorin tried to make peace but the demand from Hyder now was 1 crore gold mohurs (in fact Hyder was so sure even later that the Zamorin had this kind of money and spent much time hunting for it in various places at Malabar where did it go? Did it go with the folk that fled to Travancore? And is that part of what you see in the temple vaults? Perhaps…for it would have been natural for the Travancore raja to demand large sums to offer asylum to the whole family and others who came there)..On April 20th Hyder arrived and made camp at Palayam in Calicut, a few hundred yards away from the fort and palace.

With his arrival the siege became more rigorous. As provisions ran short, the Zamorin sent the Eralpad and the Thampuratis to his Ponnani palace. As his position became more and more desperate, he grew more and more stubborn in his refusal to surrender. As last he resolved to put an end to his life and with it the fort which no enemy has entered as a conqueror since the first Zamorin laid the foundation (KVK was wrong here, the Portuguese had entered it during Albuquerque’s time….See my blog on this subject). On the 27th of April, corresponding to 14th medam 941 ME, Chitra the fourteenth lunar asterism, he set fire to the powder magazine with his own hand and was blown up with the fortress, from which his ancestors had marched out, to conquest & annex.

KVK bases this on Michaud’s history of Mysore, so let us see what Michaud had to say

History of Mysore - JF Michaud (pages 23-24)

The city fell under the power of Hyder Ali and the Zamorin the king of Calicut became his prisoner. This prince belonged to the religion of the Brahmins and it was his custom to feed a large number of the poor of his own religion, he sent to demand provisions from the victor so as to be able to keep up his own charities. Hyder wished to have an interview with the king of the nayars but the latter, true to his principles of his sect which did not permit holding discourse personally with the Mohamedans declined the visit of Hyder Ali. The victor remained in his camp and sent the king of Calicut a quantity of grain to feed 500 people. But later it became impossible for Hyder to deprive himself of provisions which became even more necessary for himself and his army. The poor who were living on the charities of the king of Calicut were from this moment deprived of his generous help and the cry of famine made itself heard in the palace of the chief of nayars. Hyder sent some Mysore chiefs to visit him, they returned to inform him that something extraordinary was happening, they had noticed on the kings face a somber and sinister air. He had already been fasting for three days for a religious ceremony they learned ere long that the unlucky prince had collected together all his family (how about those who were sent to Ponnai?) and after having recited prayers in the presence of principal Brahmins, had set fire to his own palace and thrown himself into the fire.

History of Ayder Ali Khan-Nabob Bahadur - Maistre de La Tour written in 1784 (Pages 62-72)

Some contemporary historians like Kareem doubt the veracity of this book and the identity of the author, which I will discuss later in another article, however this is the account written closest in time to the event.

MDLT starts with a purported massacre of 6,000 Muslims by the Zamorin’s forces whereupon they go to Hyder and Aliraja for help (Note that this MLDT account was subsequently revised by Tipu’s son, so I doubt some parts of it especially this part, for now). He confirms that Hyder started out with 12,000 troops, but just 4 (or 12 mentioned later) cannons and his fleet of (some 95) ships to support from the sea, supported by 8,000 of Ali raja’s moplahs. The Zamorin assembled 100,000 forces but they were not tactically good or well disciplined. Now we zoom in to the event itself

Hyder caused his army to halt near these settlements (Kurumbranad), and sent an offer of peace to the Samorin, and other princes, on reasonable terms. The Samorin, who was old, remained quiet in his palace, and sent word that he waited for the conqueror, and trusted to his discretion. Hyder marched for Calicut, and found no other resistance in his route but from a large pagoda built on a mountain, and fortified. In this place the nephew and presumptive heir of the Samorin had taken refuge, and found means to make his escape from thence, though it was invested after his departure, the Bramins opened the gates to Hyder. The conqueror continued his journey to Calicut, and took up his residence at the English factory, where his fleet arrived before him. He inquired for the Samorin on his arrival, and was informed that he was in his palace, without any guard, waiting the commands of the conqueror; from whom he hoped for mild treatment, as he had always formally opposed the resolution to massacre the Mapelets, and had foretold the consequences to his nephews. On this intelligence, Hyder returned into his palanquin, and gave orders to advise the Samorin of his approaching visit. He met this Prince, who came forth and threw himself at his feet. Hyder hastened to raise him, and the Samorin offered his presents, consisting of two small basins of gold, one filled with precious stones, and the other with pieces of gold, and two small cannons of gold, with carriages of the same metal. The two princes (Ravi Varma’s) having entered the palace, Hyder testified his respect for the Samarin, and promised to restore his dominions (on condition of his paying a small annual tribute) as soon as his subjects had laid down their arms, and the affair of the Mapelets was amicably settled. These two princes parted, apparently much satisfied with each other but the world was highly astonished the next day, to behold the palace of the Samarin on fire and though Hyder himself assisted in procuring help, it was impossible to save anything, the edifice being entirely wood and the Samarin, with all his family, and, as it is presumed, much treasure, perished in the flames. This prince had himself caused the palace to be set on fire, being resolved to terminate his life in that manner, on account of some letters he had received from his nephews, and the kings of Travancore and of Cochin. These letters contained the bitterest reproaches and execrations, treating him as the betrayer of his country, and apostate to his religion, which he had abandoned to the Mohumedans. The Bramin who had conveyed these letters to him; vowed to him at the same time, that he was degraded and excluded from his caste and that all the Bramins and Nayres had sworn never to have any communication with him. The tragic end of the Samarin affected Hyder extremely and he was so irritated against the nephews of that prince, that he publicly swore he would never restore their dominions. (From here continues the story of the Ravi Varmas of Calicut that I wrote about earlier)

Samoothirimaar – PCM Raja

This interesting book provides some additional clues while referring to the above accounts. It also says that the agreement between the Palghat Achan’s and Hyder was that the Zamorin would be delivered to them as a prisoner after surrender. Accordingly they proceeded to Calicut to collect the Zamorin but heard of the account of immolation. The author also (quoting Lewis Rice states that the Zamorin was prepared to sign off all his wealth to Hyder ( which Hyder agreed to) , but when he saw Hyder bearing upon him with his army and horsemen was perturbed. Later hearing that his ministers were tortured and fearing shameful death by torture or hanging, committed the immolation act. A Sreedhara Menon also concurs with this account.

PA Syed Mohammed – Kerala Muslim Charitram

Syed Mohammed provides some more depth to these accounts, he states that the Zamorin met Hyder at Kurumbranad and agreed to settle the matters for 28 lakh Rupees. The discussions went amicably and the Zamorin invited Hyder to visit him at Calicut. This discussion and settlement were opposed by certain members of the Zamorin family who threatened him of dire consequences. The aforementioned Eralpad was ready for a stiff fight until death. During this period the Travancore kings also threatened him with consequences if he reached any agreement with Hyder. This continuous pressure forced the Zamorin to commit the act of immolation and the whole episode also saddened Hyder.

Campbell - History of Hindustan

The Zamorins, or Kings of Calicut, were ascertained to entertain 1,200 Bramins in their household, and until they had first been served with victuals, he never began to eat himself: it was etiquette also, that he never spoke to, or suffered a Mahomedan to come into his presence. Hyder, after taking the palace, sent his compliments, and desired to see the Zamorin, but was refused; but the Zamorin admitted Hyder's head Brahmin to speak to him, and carry his answer back to his master, who was to be at some distance from them. After this interview was over, Hyder sent them rice for only 500 men the first day; this they dispensed with; the second day he sent enough for 300, and the third day, for only 100; after which, all further supplies were refused, nor any notice taken of the Zamorin's complaints and applications. After fasting three days and finding all remonstrance’s vain, he set fire to his own palace, and was burned, with some of his women and three Brahmins, the rest having left him.

C. K. Kareem - Malabar under Hyder & Tipu

In spite of the entreaties of the Zamorin and his plea that he had no money available for the full settlement, the conqueror was unrelenting. Driven to despair, the Zamorin sought escape from his dilemma through death. The position was such that no one can blame either the Zamorin or Haidar Ali for creating a situation leading to such a crisis.

Logan - Malabar manual

Adds to the accounts above by stating that another fear the Zamorin had was shameful death either by hanging or by blowing from a gun barrel.

Gidwani – The sword of Tipu Sultan

This book provides the most preposterous commentary, though fictional. Now, it appears Gidwani by his own admission, consulted many sources and papers (not any that I could find) before he came to these astounding conclusions, which even a lay person in Malabar can easily rubbish. Not only did he make one error, but two combining the stories of Ayaz Khan and the Zamorin’s death into one.

According to his book Chapter 3, Ayaz Khan (See my earlier blog on him for more correct details) was born as the son of Ashila banu a famous courtesan of Calicut (ugh..he now equates Calicut with Lucknow – dances, mujras and so on, even before the Mysore Sultans brought in their brand of life to Feroke). Seems it cost a handful of gold to hear her sing and two to see her dance and the only person she was freely available to was the (old) Zamorin. Apparently Ayaz was born to her after her liaison with the stable boy Maqbool or Hayat her step brother. Ashila of course declared that Ayaz was the Zamorin’s son and the Zamorin was proud about it! Anyway let us humor Gidwani’s fancy for a while and see how far he goes. Ayaz is then brought up as a Nair, becomes the chief of the palace guard (ha!) but is more interested in composing (the real Ayaz never did that) poems!! Well, Hyder is in town and the Zamorin and 30 of his chiefs go to Hyder and declare allegiance. On the fateful night in 1766, the Zamorin was drunk, Ayaz tells the Chief minister to move the treasure and the Zenana and orders the army to march to the ‘Paldha’ fortress (where on earth is that in Malabar? Maybe in Atlantis). He then goes and tells Hyder that the Zamorin has ordered the troops against him. Ayaz is gladly taken in by the furious Hyder and is asked to go and capture the (already imprisoned) Zamorin. He quietly gets into the palace (hoodwinking all the guards) and the Zamorin’s bedroom and sets fire to it. He also tortures the chief minister, finds the treasure chests and hands them over to Hyder. Ayaz later joins up with Hyder and moves on to Mysore, fearing the wrath of the Malabar Nair’s. Hyder later converts him and makes him governor of Chitaldurg.

The book incidentally is dedicated to ‘the country that lacks a historian’. Perhaps you can get away with all this by titling it a historical ‘novel’.

Henry Beveridge - History of India

Maan Vicran Raj, the zamorin, convinced that resistance would prove unavailing, and being assured that early submission would procure for him special favor, made his appearance in Hyder's camp on the 11th of April, 1766; and, after a most flattering reception, and a present of valuable jewels, was confirmed in his territories as Hyder's tributary, on agreeing to pay a military contribution of four lacs of Venetian sequins. Mutual suspicions of insincerity soon arose, and as the monsoon was approaching, while the contribution was unpaid, Hyder believed that it was intended to delay payment till the season would make it impossible for him to enforce it. In this belief he placed both the Zamorin and his ministers under restraint, and endeavored to extort treasure from the latter by subjecting them to torture. The Zamorin, to avoid similar indignity and cruelty, barricaded the doors of the house in which he was confined, and setting fire to it, perished in the flames, with many of his attendants; several of those who happened to be excluded rushing in to seek a voluntary death with their master.

Mark Wilkes -History of Mysore

Maan Vicran Raj, the Samoree (Zamorin), perceiving that resistance would be ultimately unavailing, and having heard of the peculiar favor which the Poligar of Raidroog had secured by an early submission, opened a negotiation ,and proposed, if a safe conduct should be assured to him, to pay his respects to Hyder for the purpose of adjusting the terms of submission. His proposal being heeded to, the Raja proceeded to camp, where he was received by Hyder on the 11th of April 1766, with marks of particular distinction, and presented with valuable Jewels. The terms adjusted at this interview were the confirmation of the Raja in his actual possessions as the tributary of Hyder, on his payment of four lacs of Venetian sequins as a military contribution. This arrangement being made, the army moved forward towards Calicut, accompanied by the Raja; but at the very moment that Hyder was receiving him with the honors which have been stated, a column was in motion by a circuitous route to seize the post of Calicut, the garrison reasonably concluding from this movement that the Raja was a prisoner, considered defense to be unavailing, and evacuated the place on the same night. Hyder had adopted this precaution from his experience of the deception practiced by this Raja regarding the military contribution of 1757; and the Raja apprehended from this virtual infraction of the present agreement, measures of farther circumvention on the part of Hyder. After the expiration of a few days, Hyder intimated his expectation of receiving the stipulated contribution: and the Raja consulted with his ministers regarding the proper measures for its realization. But whether from inability, or design, they appeared to make but little progress in its collection. As the monsoon was not distant, Hyder, suspecting deception, placed both the Raja and his ministers under restraint; and applied to the latter the customary Indian methods of extorting treasure. The Raja, apprised of the cruelties and inanities offered to his ministers determined to anticipate the possibility of a similar disgrace to himself; and having barricaded the doors of the house in which he was confined, set fire to it in several places, and was consumed in the ruins in spite of all the exertions made by Hyder's command to extinguish the flames. In the remembrance after a lapse of years of ‘extraordinary a scène’ that which has been related, and even in the confusion of such a moment, a spectator may have misconceived what he saw; but I have been assured by more than one eye-witness, that several of the Raja's personal attendants who were accidentally excluded when he closed the door, afterwards threw themselves into the flames, and perished with their master.

Narendra Krishna Sinha - Haider Ali

even states

Apprehending that he was no better than a prisoner, the Zamorin, with the help of 4 or 5 Pathans who were with him, had cloths soaked in oil with which he put fire to the house in which he was kept and burnt himself to death.

Galletti in Dutch in Malabar

In conquering the kingdom of the Zamorin, he captured also the king, whom he treated with contempt, kept a prisoner in his own palace, mocked and threatened to flog as a common Malabari unless he pointed out his treasures. The Zamorin was worried that he would not be cremated according to religious tradition if killed by Hyder.

So in summary one can conclude that the reigning Zamorin, a product of both the ancient Zamorin lineage and the Kolathiri princes, hailing from Neeleswaram, was a deeply troubled man during this period of strife and stress. He was pressured by the internal politics of the Kovilakom, living as a misfit and stranger in the Calicut palace, with little support. The nephews the Ravi Varma’s were against his ideas of appeasement with Hyder, to survive. He had lost the most important war against the Travancore Army, he could not marshal support from the Dutch or the English, the Mangat Achan had resigned and the situation was in a state of proper shambles. The Moplahs had thrown in their lot with the enemy. Into this scene of turmoil entered Hyder with his impossible demands. The Zamorin first decided to continue the stonewalling, but finds that he has no choice but to settle up with Hyder. Perhaps they had an amicable discussion at Kurumbranad during which the reduced 24 lakhs was arrived at as compensation.

This of course was not acceptable to the Eralpad and others who then did nothing with the collection of the 24 lakhs. The caste issues had become stronger by this time, one can see that the Zamorin would not even talk to a Muslim. The kings of Travancore & Cochin built up the pressure further asking him not to accede under any circumstance to Hyder. They actually wanted the fighting to continue at Malabar so that Hyder would not venture further southwards into their territories. So if Calicut surrendered, Hyder would have time to venture south before the monsoons. Incredible pressure build up due to these palace intrigues and the pressure from the Cochin and Travancore kings troubled the old Zamorin no end. Then again many others, perhaps close relatives wrote to him and said that he was being a traitor in agreeing to Hyder’s demands. The threat of excommunication was perhaps the proverbial ‘last straw’ which made the Zamorin take the eventual step of setting fire to the palace built of wood and immolating himself. That was the end of the 600 year reign of the Zamorins.

Haider was not to last long – he died a painful miserable death by cancer, far from home and while on a march, a few years later, in 1782. Their (Mysore sultans) attempt at empire creation was very much shorter than the 600 year reign of the Zamorin’s, an unenviable 40 years. Like Vasco Da Gama, that was perhaps his destiny, to die a painful death, far from home, for all his misdeeds.


Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna Iyer
Malabar manual – Logan
History of Kerala – A Sreedhara Menon
Malabar under Hyder & Tipu – CK Kareem
History of Mysore - JF Michaud
History of Mysore - Wilkes
History of Ayder Ali Khan-Nabob Bahadur - Maistre de La Tour
Hindu Muslim relation in N Malabar - T Gabriel
The sword of Tipu- Gidwani
Henry Beveridge states in his History of India
Dutch in Malabar – Galetti

Related articles

Ayaz Khan article 
Ravi Varmas of Calicut 
Palakkad Fort story

The Danish factory in Calicut 1752-1796

Posted by Maddy Labels:

We had all kinds of foreign traders in Calicut in those medieval periods and in that cosmopolitan field which comprised Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, English, Turkish, Dutch, French and so on, there were also a few from faraway Denmark. Yes, you heard right there were Danes as well in Calicut once upon a time; in the 1750’s…..So I guess we should get to know them. It is perhaps interesting to look at that short period when they also staked their claim to get into the trade at Calicut. What interested them? Spices like pepper, cloth, tea or guns? In any case their stay and situation was at best precarious, for the Portuguese are gone, the Dutch were gingerly clinging on, with the Travancore Raja setting sights towards the North and the Mysore sultans planning their forays down South through Malabar. The Anglo Dutch and Anglo French wars were on, In the middle of all this, the English in Malabar, Calcutta and Madras were waiting and watching from the fences, scheming for the spoils.

Somewhere close to today’s beach hotel, a little to the south, near the old jail stood the first of the hospitals (it was also a travelers bungalow for some time, perhaps confused at times with the Malabar British club that the limerick king Lear stayed in) in Calicut. Before those medical personnel occupied it, this was the Danish warehouse or factory.

After the British East India Company was formed, some wealthy Europeans decided on forming competing organizations. The organization thus formed in 1717 was called the Ostend Company. Later on the Danish East India Company took shape and came down to the Coromandel Coast, planning liaisons with Malacca and other spice ports in the Far East. They established a base at Fort Dansborg in Tranquebar and other Eastern bases at Serampore and in the Nicobar islands. The Danish also established several commercial outposts, governed from Tranquebar: They were Oddeway Torre or Eddowa or Edava Tura South of Cochin (1696 – 1722) and Calicut.1752 - 1791 and later in Colachel.

First a few words of the Danish EIC – was founded in 1616, following a privilege of Danish King Christian IV. During those good days, the Danish East India Company and Swedish East India Company imported even more tea than the British East India Company but smuggled 90 percent of it, interestingly, into Britain, where it was sold at a huge profit. In 1733, it was renamed the Royal Danish Asiatic Company and the new company was granted a 40-year monopoly on all Danish trade east of the Cape of Good Hope. For the next 20 years some 60 ships covered the distance for trade and made over 20% profit. In 1772, the terms was extended for another 20 years but this time private persons were allowed to trade using Danish vessels. For various geopolitical reasons we won’t get into presently, the company lost its monopoly, and in 1779 the British EIC took over its assets.

So it was in 1618, that a fleet of six ships, including several men-of-war and 250 marines, set sail for India under the command of a young nobleman and admiral, Ove Giedde (1594-1660). The originally envisaged establishment of a trading post at Trincomalee on Ceylon failed (actually the entire expedition was undertaken at the instigation of a Dutch trader named Marcellius de Boschhouwer who apparently had the Ceylon kings support and a Lankan wife – but died during this voyage and the Ceylon idea was promptly scuttled after the Ceylon King had arguments over it with Giedde). In southern India, however, the Nayak of Tanjore, under the treaty of November 19th , 1620, and with a moderate annual payment, ceded to the Danes the small fishing and trading port of Taramgambadi on the Coromandel Coast. It was named Tranquebar by the Europeans and known as Trankebar in Denmark. With this deal, the ruler meant to counterbalance Portuguese predominance in Tanjore’s principal port of Nagapattinam. Hendrick Hess with 20 personnel and a few cannon took charge of this fort. The rent due to the Tanjore Nayak was Rs 3,111 per annum. With that the Danish presence in India was formally established and they continued to be part of the India trade much to the British annoyance for a period until 1808. By 1772, there were over 300 Danes in Tranquebar, but when Denmark ceased to be neutral in 1807 things changed.

In the scheme of things, they brought in luxury goods from Europe in small quantities and sold it or auctioned it to the British and others in Madras. Then again there was increased demand for ammunition and armaments. For the most part this was profitable, i.e. till the shipping lanes had too many ships or till money markets thinned out and purchasing power reduced. The return voyage took in mainly cloth from the Tamil weavers. The lading of the ships is interesting and tells you how things were done so differently. All ships needed ballast for even keel and so one of the goods had to be heavy. Then again there had to be stuff for filling up the hold tightly or filler cargo. A typical Danish ship was filled up as follows, 80% made up of textiles, ballast was Bengali Saltpetre or sugar, redwood as under cargo and bamboo as side packing between the cargo and the sides. Demand for pepper from Europe of course meant that it was one of the cargoes carried in the return voyage; the pepper was strewn about the ship and generally used as a filler cargo, though it meant the quality was affected. Pepper was poured between cargo or stowed between the bales of cotton. However the initial supply came overland to the Coromandel through the Palghat gap and at inflated costs. This coupled with demands for armaments from the Travancore kingdom meant that a Malabar coastal presence was to be established. But the problem was the Dutch and English opposition to the idea and the fact that they had already cornered most of the pepper supply.

So the next ‘lodge’ was a small warehouse (more aptly a thatched hut) in Edava established around 1698. But on the West coast the English and the Dutch were not too supportive of the Danes and the English also established a factory in Edava in 1629. "It is a thatched House", says Captain Cope about Edava factory, "of a mean Aspect and their Trade answers every way ... By 1702 the Danish resident Bertelsen left the factory for unknown reasons and by 1702 it was formally abandoned. In 1755 a very large portion of the remaining facilities were washed away by the sea, which was anyway eating up the shoreline. In the same year 1752 two Danish warships arrived at Tranquebar to reestablish the colony, and to protect it from the impact of the Anglo-French wars.

Edava was soon becoming untenable and that is when the Zamorin of Calicut induced them to come to his capital. Kulachel, south of Trivandrum was another location where the Danish traded.

In 1752, DAK established a pepper procurement lodge at Calicut. Ans Arnest Bonsark the Danish Governor in Tranquebar deputed Jacob Christove Suytenan (Christopfer Soetmann actually came to Calicut first in 1749 on a secret mission to sound out the Zamorin) to meet the Zamorin and conclude a deal with him based on three tenets, payment of customs duties, supply of armaments when needed and provide armed support if the Zamorin’s dominions came under attack. Accordingly the Zamorin allocated a plot of land next to the French factory across the beach, called ‘Valappil kadavathu’.

Let’s now take a look at the agreement with the Zamorin (3 translations)

Powers given by the King SAMOORIN to the Factory of the Royal Company - I the King Samoorin Pundorrecon give my powers to Jacob Christovo Suytman who came by the order of the Governor of Tranquebar to this port of Calicut to trade where I gave him a place in Vallappy Cadavattu in breadth from south to north 72 Malabar koles and in length from east to west 332 koles for the purpose of building a factory with godowns to reside and carry on trade. The cost of the said Factory can be deducted from the dues which will come to me in the trade which will be made in this port within the space of three years. I say that all exports and imports of goods from the north as well as from Tanoor and Ponnani as also from this port will be calculated per candy and of other goods agreeably to usage and custom and to the agreement which was made with the French and in the same manner the Company will be obliged to pay me all others. According to the stipulations made between us we are obliged to keep so according to the power I have given you Company may make contracts and trade This 17th April 927 (1752).

Treaty entered into between the King SAMOORIN and the DANISH COMPANY in the year 927 By the order of the Governor of Tranquebar Hans Ernest Bonsaco. I Jacob Christovo Suytman came to trade at Calicut where the King Samoorin gave a place in Ballapy Cadduttu 72 koles Malabar from north to south and 332 koles from east to west in order to build a Factory at the expense of the said King and carry on trade paying duties on customs on exports and imports as well as on all the goods which may be brought whether from the north or from Tanoor or Ponnani. All shall pay as above referred to and all these rights and privileges shall be the same as the French Company enjoy them. In case any European nation or any other be insolent towards the King the Company is obliged to give aid whether by land or sea with all the artillery and munitions of war, also if necessary, men to fire cannon, and for all balls powder and muskets which may be given their cost will be repaid and if necessary any money is wanted the Company must make the advances which will be repaid with interest. While the Company is at Calicut should any European nation or any other as well as the very vassals or inhabitants of the country commit any outrage the King Samoorin binds himself to help and defend the Company and give it entire satisfaction.

DANISH FACTORY I the King Samoorin hereby declare by the present Olla of my signature that on Wednesday the 17th May 1752 I granted that a Factory and houses of commerce for the Danish nation may be built in this Port of Calicut through a letter which was sent to me from the Governor of Tranquebar Mr Arns Arnest Bonsak by Mr Jacob Christovo Suytman under date the 19th April of the same year and I declare that for establishing the same I have granted the place named Valapil Cado in extent 72 cubits and from east to west (sic) 32 cubits to be enjoyed by the Danish nation who are to build a Factory and carry on trade freely on condition of contributing to me the rights of customs on every candy of goods imported into and exported from this port also on goods from the north and from Tanoor and Ponnani according to the agreement made with the French nation It has been conveyed to me by the said Jacob Christovo Suytman that his nation will assist me on occasions of any enemies making war against me by sea or land as much as I require with men arms artillery cannon balls powder and muskets their price I oblige myself to pay with interest Having agreed between us all that has been referred to further I bind myself to punish any Christian or any other person who insults or intends to obstruct the commerce of persons belonging to the King of Denmark.

After the above was concluded, construction of the factory started in1752 and was completed in 1754 and cost 25,000 rixdollars (rix$=5-6 shillings worth). In 1753 Soetmann was sent back to Bengal. As the Dutch VOC had a firm agreement with the Cochin Raja and the English were still dilly dallying, the Zamorin perhaps thought the Danes were a good option, but they proved to be at best a feeble ally.

The Calicut lodge was not very much in the scheme of things as far as the Danish were concerned and was just an outpost for pepper procurement. However it also served as a listening post to sound out the English overtures in the Malabar Coast. The Danish were wary of supplying arms and armaments to the Travancore kingdom and the Mysore rajas though they did quite a bit of that quietly under the British eyes and the response from the buyers were not too enthusiastic and the equipment was old, outdated and even unusable at times. But they continued on. Sometimes brown sugar and salt from the Calicut factory found their way to the ships headed back to Copenhagen. The ships came from Tranquebar in Jan/Feb and got back by April/May. During the incoming trip they brought in weapons offloaded at Colachel and later at Calicut for Hyder & Tipu. The principal items of trade were saltpeter, pepper, salt, soft brown sugar, textiles, rattan, indigo & tea (from China). For the Danish ships, the journey to Europe was direct from Tranquebar and not touching the Malabar coasts.

Trade from Tranquebar was accomplished initially with silver as capital from Denmark, but later the supply of money was primarily from independent wealthy British traders in Madras. The Danish Indian rupee was the currency of Danish India. It was subdivided into 8 fano, each of 80 kas.

By 1761 Hyder was in power in Mysore and looking down south for more wealth to expand his territory. His first venture was of course in 1757 to Palghat as Foujdar of Dindigul. By 1766 he encroached Malabar again with the summons from the Ali raja and soon the Zamorin was dead after the fire in the palace and Hyder’s men were ruling Malabar after entrenching themselves in Feroke and Calicut. In 1773, Hyder again came to Calicut and after a few skirmishes got involved further against the EIC, after allying himself with the French.

In 1767 time period Hyder on the trip south and the Calicut city was affected, the Zamorin died after setting fire to the palace. The Danes were almost decided on abandoning the Calicut factory by 1778 due to paucity of funds, mainly money. Requests to Tranquebar were not heeded and Passavant had to take loans from local merchants to pay salaries and upkeep. The situation was grim, for the buildings were soon affected by the weather, the flagstaff was rotten, the roof had a leak and by 1781 the entrance gate had collapsed. Then again they were forced by the Mysore invaders to erect palisades (a low wooden fortification) in front of the building to prevent or deter a British attack which the Mysore governor was worried about.

In 1779, the Natalia a Danish vessel reached Calicut. It was owned by a Jewish merchant (perhaps the Isaac Surgun we talked about in the previous article?) and carried eight British passengers including Ms Elizabeth Fay. By this time Calicut was in Mysore hands and Sardar Khan promptly confiscated the ship & imprisoned the passengers. The Danes finally gave up claims on the ship to avoid worsening the situation and the passengers were finally released after the intervention by Isaac Surgun. But the diary of Ms Fay provides some information of the Danish factors actions in helping them at Calicut. It is also mentioned that he maintained a tenuous relationship with Hyder (Hyder had charged them a hefty fine of £14,000 in 1780 for supplying arms to the Nawab at Arcot) and final support had to come with the arrival of Isaac surgun.

In 1784 the resident Leonhard Passavant died during a visit to Tranquebar. Interestingly he had married a lady named Maria Catherina at Calicut and was survived by his widow and two daughters. During the early period, the Danes supplied muskets and cannon balls to Hyder through the Calicut factory. Hyder was dead by 1782 and Tipu took over. But Tipu was not too keen about the Danish support and the Danish Resident at Calicut, Westerholt quit the post in April 1787 (some say he had gone mad) and proceeded to Tranquebar. His functions and the Care of the Factory were entrusted ad interim to a Portuguese trader named Manuel Bernandes. Meisner who was appointed to take over from Westerholt never reached in time. Bernandes fled before Tipu landed up in Calicut and Tipu took over the lodge or factory as a stable for his horses. It is also stated in various sources that Tipu destroyed parts of the factory. In 1787-89 Tipu came to Calicut, but by 1790 Calicut was taken by the English and Tipu’s forces were defeated. In 1792, Malabar was ceded to the EIC – Madras by Tipoo in the Seringapatanam treaty.

Factory description

A description of the hospital – previously part of the Danish factory in Calicut provides you a general picture of the construction - The hospital an upper storied building constructed of laterite is situated 60 yards behind the jail and 260 from the sea it was formerly part of a Danish factory and is enclosed by a high wall. A considerable space of ground between the two buildings which are separated by a wall is used as a work yard. There are four rooms on the ground floor (later used as the dispensary and two others are set apart for lunatics). The upper story is composed of three rooms having boarded floors, the principal being 30 feet by 20, with one on either side, measuring 26, by 15 feet. The hospital is capable of accommodating 100 patients. The ground on which it is built is sandy, and its upper-story is freely exposed to the sea-breeze, but owing to the outer wall, the rooms below are confined. During Tipu’s invasion the lower portion was used as a stable for Tipu’s horses. Until then the Danish lodge was well known for its beauty.

Paulinus of St. Bartholomew in his notes about Malabar seems to have spent time with the Danish factor during his visit around 1774. His anecdote about eating crabs in Malabar is certainly interesting..

Crabs, called in the Malabar language Gnanda, and in the Samscred Carchidaga, are poisonous in October and November; for about that period the poisonous aquatic plants, such as the blue tithymal, or wolf's milk, grow up; and as these animals feed upon them, they are rendered so poisonous as to occasion death to those who eat them. It would be therefore proper, that in Malabar, as is the cafe in the Isle of France, a law were made to prohibit crabs being caught during these two months. M. Passavant the Danish factor at Calicut, Father Louis Maria a Jesuit, now a bishop, and myself, once happened to be in company, and to eat of these animals. The other two gentlemen each ate two of them; but I contented myself with one. Three hours after, M. Passavant became pale as death, and was seized with so violent a vomiting, that we absolutely thought he would have expired. Father Louis Maria was attacked with vertigo; all the veins in his body were swelled; his face, lips, and hands became blue, and he experienced an oppression at the heart which threatened to prove fatal. I immediately gave him some theriac (a compound comprising 64 drugs), which the missionaries generally carry about with them, and sent for a barber to bleed him. In regard to myself I was seized with a giddiness and vomiting, the latter of which I endeavoured to provoke. This accident, and others of the like kind, which frequently happen in this country, ought to serve as a caution to those who travel through Malabar, not to eat crabs there during the summer' months.

Manuel Bernades, the Danish Factor fled from the Danish factory at Calicut, when ordered to leave by Fouzdar Arshad Beg Khan in 1788. It is at this point that Murdoch Brown reappears in the documentary record, when in 1792 and 1793, he wrote from Alleppy as the Danish Agent to the East India Company at Tellicherry requesting that they restore the Factory to the Danish Company. In 1795, the officers at Fort William decided that the Danish had abandoned the factory and ceded it by default to Tipu who in turn had ceded his territories to the EIC. The year 1796 witnessed the final act in the fitful connection of the Danish nation with Calicut with the passing of the decision that the Danish had no claim to the factory in Calicut.

By 1801 hostilities erupted between the BEIC and DEIC. In addition to all this was the immense frustration of the British EIC with the Danish owing to the support of private Anglo businessmen in the conduct of parallel trade. The DEIC properties were seized by the EIC, but returned in 1805. In 1811 they were again seized and returned in a dilapidated condition back to the Danes in 1815. Finally all properties were sold to the EIC in 1845 for 1.25 million Rigsdaler (Rs 4 lakhs). The Nicobar was handed over in 1868 FOC. With that the Danes left India forever…


Malabar manual – William Logan
Maritime Malabar & the Europeans – KS Mathew
The original letters of Eliza Fay
A history of European commerce with India – David Mcpherson
India trade under the Danish flag 1772-1808 Ole feldback
The Danish East Indies: They Once Existed - By Rolf Dörnbach
The land of the Permauls: or Cochin, its past and its present - By Francis Day
Doing business in India: a guide for western managers - Rajesh Kumar, Anand Kumar Sethi
Short essay on Danish Settlements – J Ravi

Some background of the period

During the Napoleonic Wars, in 1801 and again in 1807, the British Navy attacked Copenhagen in the Battle of Copenhagen (1807). As a consequence of the last attack, Denmark (one of few West European countries not occupied by Bonaparte) lost its entire fleet and the island of Helgoland (part of the duchy of Holstein-Gottorp; ceded to Germany in 1890) to Britain. Denmark finally sold its remaining settlements in mainland India in 1845 and the Danish Gold Coast to the British in 1850.

Pics – Calicut beach – sanjupalayat, trottertours