A horse, a carriage and the French Loge at Calicut

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

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.

TB Seluraj in his fine book recollects - Look Westwards from the French bakery to the beach and Northwards until today’s RC road. That was the boundary of the Loge. Today’s AIR radio station, the Baby marines and so on were part of this and once upon a time, there existed a fine bungalow later called the beach bungalow in those Baby marine grounds.
Before all that, in that fishing area where the French loge was situated, the perimeter contained a small factory and some private houses as you can see from the French maps posted here.  The name of Loge was given to ‘factories or isolated establishments comprehending one house with the adjacent grounds where some commercial activity was undertaken’, especially storage and processing of pepper for shipping to Westerly locations. Not many are too sure about when it was established and some of the earliest comments about it, oft repeated by others, were provided by our esteemed collector Logan, in his manual. He states, with that English tilt stamped purposefully, thus….

The French have a Loge -OccupĂ©e 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.

I recounted some events related to the French in Malabar during the Mysorean interludes in an earlier article, but therein, you would have noted that decisions came from Pondicherry and Mahe, in spite of a factor residing at Calicut. This was around 1773-1774 and the person involved was Duprat (In summary, the power of the Zamorin was snuffed when Hyder walked over the territories in 1764/66 and the events recounted, happened when a new Zamorin came back to take his place at Calicut in 1768. He then requested French assistance against the Mysore Sultans and it did not quite work out). But as we see it, the Loge at Calicut had little to do during all these events and is hardly mentioned. So we have little information about the loge during the period between 1701 and 1774.

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.
Following the transfer back to French hands, the Loge was a source of continuous irritation to the British and many an argument rested on Abkari or spirit sale rights as well as commerce undertaken from the French premises. The British had a spirit monopoly in Calicut and when the French opened shop, it was an affront to both the meager profits from Calicut but also to their sovereignty. They took offence and a number of missives were launched at each other. Let us take a look at some of those amusing episodes, but note here that the Calicut Loge was administered from Mahe and the Adhikari or man responsible for the outfit at Calicut was referred in French terms as the concierge. By mutual agreement no taxes were collected by the French or the English.

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.

Volkart’s attorney, Mr Ansell also sued M/s Bass, D’Mello and D’Mello’s father (hmm…wonder why!!) for having evaded the course of justice by acquiring the horse and carriage. The horse and carriage were seized and brought to the magistrate in Calicut. The furniture seizure did not take place because by then the Ameen pointed out that the property was in French territory. Ansell taking matters into his own hands moved the furniture from Saldanha’s (and with his connivance) house to Andre& Co’s house a mile away, in British territory. Now you know why Ansell did not sue Saldanha amongst the parties.
The court decided that what Ansell did was wrong and stated that the property attachment was illegal as they were located in French boundaries where British law was not exercisable. However even though Bass was able to provide evidence that he acquired this property from D’Souza legally, he was sentenced to 6 months simple imprisonment. Soon D’Souza returned and he was also caught and dumped in the nearby jail on similar charges. D’Mello and his father however, had to be released soon, as they were residents within French boundaries.

The D’Mello case came up again in appeal in Jan 1868. This time the court did not support the

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.
D’Mello was indignant as he was being tried by the British and repeatedly asked the authorities in Mahe & Pondicherry to intervene and provide proof that the Loge residents indeed had French rights. It does not appear he got any real support. But he also quietly tried to use the declining situation to his own advantage. He told the people in Mahe that the problems were due to a weak and powerless Adhikari the French had appointed to oversee French rights and that he D’Mello, would be a better candidate instead, for the future, perhaps in an elevated role as a resident.

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…….

A report in the Pondicherry Progress of 1893 implored that the French flag had to be flown at the Loge as the practice had been discontinued and the British were not allowing the Loge’s existence to be a profitable one. In fact the British also did not provide proper police security t Calicut and also refused repair of the French premises. In the past (in 1859-1860)it seems that the French Governor  Mr Boutemps had to put pressure on the British by putting up the Abkarai rights at French Calicut (together with the Mahe bidding)for auction and got bids for it. The British who had a good and profitable sales (they had 5 canteens and a shop selling liquor in Calicut in 1860) inebriating the people of Malabar (yes, it was indeed the case even then!!)  were alarmed and apologized for the delay. But of course, they delayed it again and nothing came out of the nullified threat and so the writer was reminding the public again of the issue. The other idea was to sell the Loge to the British but the French had a nostalgic attachment to the plot of land.
Next to be reported was the continuation of the above dispute in 1906, this time reported in the Straits Times of 18th July. The French finally got fed up and granted a native of Mahe permission to open a Beer shop on the French Loge premises. The other beer sellers of Calicut protested to the British Collector and the AC of Salt & Abkari. The British maintained that the French did not have Sovereign rights, but only Landlord rights (but if that were so, commercial rights were then admissible and wanting to sell beer is a commercial right). The Madras mail first reporting this story opined that it would be best if the French sold off the land to the British and stopped this never ending cause of friction between the two countries.

And we have the interesting story recounted by TB Seluraj in his fascinating book ‘Kozhikodinte Paithrukam’. This takes us to 1924 or so, when a Mahe resident, a poor fisherwoman named Kappiriparambil Kotha decided to sell fish near the municipality office. She was promptly arrested by E Achythan the inspector, on grounds that a French national could not sell fish in English territory. She was sentenced by the court, fined Rs 5/- and big sum for a fisherwoman. The indignant Kotha returned to Mahe pledging never to come back to Calicut. But her place was soon taken up by another Mahe resident, one Kanaran, who actually built a shed to conduct his business. The police demolished the shed, and the legal wars soon began, now between the French Mahe administrator and the British Malabar collector. The Mahe man pointed out that both the fisher folk had been within French boundaries, and not in British land, so the entire episode was without merit. He also threatened escalation if this continued and demanded Rs 24/- compensation. The matter went to Madras and maps were compared. The British established that according to the 1895 map, Kanaran’s shed was within British territory. The decision thus rested in favor of the British.
In 1933, we had the Matticolly issue, nicely written about by P Anima in the Hindu issue of Dec 28, 2012. The French Government ordered in November 1932 from Pondicherry “forbidding the use in French waters on the Malabar coast of a fishing instrument called ‘matticolly’.” The English had no idea what the French were talking about and frantically went about trying to find out what a matticolly was. They alerted the Malabar district magistrate and informed him that the French also were insisting  that the Loge was their western boundary in India, so a careful eye had to be kept of the French goings on in Calicut. After a while the French governor himself is asked by the British to provide a description of the said matticolly with an illustration, which he does. “A matticolly consists of small mesh nets from 25 to 30 meters long, made of cotton or hemp threads…with nets of cord.” The practice of sardine fishing involves using the matticolly net (maybe mathi vala) and making a lot of noise to get the scared fish rush into the said nets. This noise scared away other fish and so the other affected fishermen were complaining as their revenues declined. Whether the practice was stopped or the fishermen went elsewhere, I do not know… but the matter appears to have reached an amicable solution and was closed.

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.

Finally things came to a close. The independence of India in August 1947 gave impetus to the union of France's Indian possessions with former British India. The lodges in Machilipatnam, Kozhikode and Surat were ceded to India in October 1947.
The declaration read - The French Government sincerely wishing to tighten the bonds of friendship already existing between India and France, have decided, as a token of their will to settle all questions pending between the two countries in the most friendly and comprehensive manner, to hand over to India the existing French "loges"

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.)

Accession to India
The administrative declaration by the Government of India

Under Section 290, Government of India Act, as amended, to clear all doubts the Government of India issued a notification which is styled the Madras (Enlargement of Area and Alteration of Boundaries) Order, 1948. It reads: Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred on him by the said section and of all other powers enabling him in that behalf, the Governor-General is pleased to make that following order: 1. This order may be cited as the Madras (Enlargement of Area and Alteration of Boundaries) Order, 1948. 2. The areas specified in the schedule to this order, which were known as the French Loges at Masulipatam and Calicut, are hereby declared to be included in the territories of the Dominion of India and shall be deemed always to have been included in the said territories. 3. The said areas shall form part of the Province of Madras and shall be deemed always to have formed part of the said Province and the boundaries of the said Province shall be deemed always to have been so altered as to comprise within them the said areas. 4. (i) The area comprised in the loge at Masulipatam shall form part of Bandar town in Kistna district and the area comprised in the loge at Calicut shall form part of Calicut town in Malabar district and the said areas shall be administered accordingly.