The Palghat Achans or Shekhari Varmas of Nedumpuraiyur

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The Achans of Tarur Swaroopam, the Edams of Palghat, and the events which prompted Hyder’s intervention

Some months ago we touched upon the topic related to the ancient royalty of Palghat. We covered the Palghat Achans and the Kollengode nambis briefly. As a number of requests came in for more detail on the history of the Palghat Achans, I decided to delve a little deeper, armed with details that I had collected from a few sources.

We start by covering some recorded descriptions. The following description of the Palghat royal family was given in Mr. Warden's report to the Board of Revenue dated 19th March, 1801 :-

"It originally consisted of eight Edams or houses equally divided from each other by the appellation of the northern and southern branch The members of these Edams are called Atchimars, five of whom, the eldest in age, bear the title of Rajahs, under the denomination of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Rajahs, ranked according to their age, the senior being the first. On the death of the 1st Rajah, the 2nd succeeds and becomes the senior, the 3rd becomes 2nd, and so on to the 5th, the vacation of which rank is filled by the oldest of the Atchimars. By this mode of succession, the eldest Rajah is very far advanced in years before he accedes to the seniority, in consequence of which it used to be customary to entrust the ministry of the country to one of the Atchimars chosen by the Rajah.
The eight Edams of Atchimars above mentioned multiplied so numerously in their members that they afterwards divided and formed themselves at pleasure into separate Edams, which they distinguished by their own names. The number now in existence consists of twenty-seven, of which twenty belong to the northern and seven to the southern branch. The number of Atchimars they contain including minors is about one hundred and thirty ".

You will now need to note that by the 18th century, there were 35 Principalities (Naads) in Malabar which are listed as: Kottayam (Malabar), Kadathanad, Kurumbranad, Tamarasseri-Wynad, North Parappanad, South Parappanad, Valluvanad, Vadamalapuram, Tenmalapuram, Kolathunad (All ruled by Samanta Kshatriyas); Polanad, Payyanad, Ramanad, Cheranad, Nedunganad, Naduvattam, Kuttanad, Chavakkad, Chetwai, Eranad, Neeleswaram, Konad, Kodikkunninad, Vettattnad, Kakkad, Beypore, Talapilli, Chirakkal, Kollamkode, Punnathur (All ruled by Samantan Nairs); Kavalapara, Kurangott, Payyurmala, Pulavai (All ruled by Moopil Nairs). We will be talking about the overlordship of three of them, in the Palghat region.

But let us get to some basics first. Some 10 km away from Alathur is the place called Tarur. How did the Swaroopam or royal family of Palghat get its seat rightly or wrongly connected to this place? Taru, Taravayur, Taravur and Tharoor are synonyms for the Swaroopam that can be seen mentioned in various sources. Looking at the Oriental library Granthas 263 & 266, we see the following - The name of the land was mentioned as Nedumpuraiyur and earlier as Taravayur – or Devalokesharajya in the times of the Cherman Perumal who is so deeply connected to mediaeval Kerala History. It was only much later that the location Tarur which was just one of the edoms intermingled with the old name of the region and the family and was considered a seat of the family (wrongly). The region is even considered to have been part of the Chera kingdom in ancient times and a part of the Perumal’s territory.

The rulers of Palghat it seems originated from the Athavanaad Amsam in Ponnani.  For some obscure reason they traded their original lands with the Azvancheri thampurans who gave them Palghat in return, a very strategic location due to the importance of the Palghat gap among the trade routes to the western ports. They are mentioned in the Rabban plates and at that time, Palghat also included the Talapilly taluk. There are also other rumors that they originated from Madurai but we also note that they were closely related by marriage to the Perumbadappu Swaroopam or the Cochin royals. The family did not really gain any sort of overriding importance in the Malabar events until the 18th century and when they did enter into it, it was to pave the way for the destruction of the old fabric, the ways and the practices of the land.  We will get to all that a little later.

As times went by, the splits in the family occurred owing to the kings relations with a non-Kshatriya woman resulted (read the earlier article). Two of the Kshatritya women from the family marrying Namboothiris went on to start the Vadamalappuram and Thenmalapuram family lines. The resulting families, many hundreds of them were aligned either to the northern or the southern factions. The various resulting Edoms were

Southern faction (Thekke Thavazhi)

Elayachan edom
Vadakke eleyachan edom
Thekke eleyachan edom

Paruvakkal edom
Vadake Paruvakkal edom
Thekke Paruvakkal edom
Akkare Paruvakkal edom

Northern faction (Vadakke Thavazhi)

Cherukottar (Cherukotham) edom

Pulikkel edom
Vadakke Pulikkel edom
Thekke Pulikkel edom
Maruthingal Pulikkel edom
Puthal pulikkel edom

Mel Edom
Malikamel edom
Kolamkulangurmel edom
Kizhakkemel edom
Tatchadmel edom
Vellambalaikkalmel edom
Vadakkmel edom
Valiyamel edom
Chitlanjerimel edom

Poojakkal edom

Konikkal edom
Valiya konikkal edom
Kizhakke konikkal edom
Tharoor konikkal edom
Kavasseri konikkal edom

Nellikkal edom

As is evident, only the Tharoor Konikkal edom maintained the original family name for some unknown reason. By the 19th century the northern branch had 20 families and the south seven. By 1879, the royal family count was roughly 519. They were also called the Shekhari varams or Shekari rajas.

Every Swaroopam maintained the structure and control with their Nair numbers. More the Nairs available for a fight, the more powerful they were. In that old principality, the chieftains exercised control over 8,000 Nair soldiers in the following fashion. Tenmalapuram contributed 3,000, Naduvattom 3,000 and Vadamalapuram with 2,000. You may of course recall the name Naduvattom which is towards the South eastern periphery of Palghat, and this was the area that was to become a bone of contention between the Paghat Raja and the Zamorin of Calicut.

With this background, let us join Francis Hamilton Buchanan who made some of the earliest accounts of Palghat.

I went a long stage to Pali ghat. The country through which I passed is the most beautiful that I have ever seen. It resembles the finest parts of Bengal; but its trees are loftier, and its palms more numerous. In many places the rice grounds are interspersed with high swells, that are crowded with houses, while the view to the north is bounded by naked rocky mountains, and that to the south by the lofty forests of the Travancore hills. The cultivation of the high grounds is much neglected.
Pali-ghat-shery, on the division of Malayala, fell to the lot of Shekhury Raja, of the Kshatriya cast; but as this family invited Hyder into the country, they are considered by all the people of Malabar as having lost cast, and none of the Rajas of Kshatriya descent will admit them into their company.
To a European the succession in this family appears very extraordinary; but it is similar to that which prevails in the families of all the chiefs of Malayala. The males of the Shekhury family are called Achuns, and never marry. The ladies are called Naitears, and live in the houses of their brothers, whose families they manage. They have no husbands; but are not expected to observe celibacy, and may grant their favours to any person of the Kshatriya cast, who is not an Achun. All the male children of these ladies are Achuns, all the females are Naitears, and all are of equal rank according to seniority; but they are divided into two houses, descended from the two sisters of the first Shekhury Raja.

The oldest male of the family is called the Shekhury, or first raja; the second is called Ellea Raja, the third Cavashery Raja, the fourth Talan Tamburan Raja, and the fifth Tariputamura Raja. On the death of the Shekhury, the Ellea Raja succeeds to the highest dignity, each inferior Raja gets a step, and the oldest Achun becomes Tariputamura. There are at present between one and two hundred Achuns, and each of them receives a certain proportion of the fifth of the revenue that has been granted for their support, and which amounts in all to 66,000 Viraraya Fanams a year, but one sixth part of this has been appropriated for the support of the temples. Formerly the whole was given to the head of the family; but, it having been found that he defrauded his juniors, a division was made for each, according to his rank; and every one receives his own share from the collector. (Note that this was written in 1807 and Thomas Warden then was district collector)

Every branch of the family is possessed of private estates, that are called Chericul lands; and several of them have the administration of lands belonging to temples; but in this they are too closely watched by the Namburis, to be able to make any profit. The present Skekhury Raja is a poor looking, stupid old man, and his abode and attendance are the most wretched of any thing that I have seen, belonging to a. person who claimed sovereignty. His principal house, or Coilgum, is called Hatay Toray, and stands about three miles north from the fort.

We note that during the 13th century, the Palakkad royal family had no male heir to succeed to the throne and only two Tampurattis or princesses of the royal blood remained. These princesses therefore cohabited with the chosen two of the Perumpadoppu Swarupam at the Vadakknathan temple at Trichur after some serious praying. Progeny were created and the line continued. The succession of Tarur Swarupam was thus maintained through these alliances. As compensation, the region around Kunisseri became part of Cochin, together with the Nair’s of the region. But as the tale goes on to state, this land was retaken by the Palghat rajas later.During this period the relation between the Raja of Perumpadappu and Tarur Swarupam was maintained in a cordial fashion and in the war between Zamorin of Kozhikode and the Raja of Cochin, we see that the Palakkad rajas sided with the Cochin kings.

KVK Iyer explains that the original family seat and shrine was near the Victoria College location. The formal accession of a new head takes place here and then they proceed to the banks of the Bharatapuzha termed Tirunilakkadavu for standing in state.

One other matter of interest is the battle between the combined forces of Malabar (which included the troops of the Zamorin) against the Vijayanagar forces led by Ramappayyar and Devapayyar at Palghat and I had detailed it separately in an earlier article. During this and after this event many forts of Palghat were destroyed including the old Tarur Kovilakom. The ancient forts at Akathethara were built following this event. Readers must  not confuse these mentions with the massive granite fort you can even now see in Palghat, but they were small mud fortifications at strategic locations. In later days many lakkidi kotta’s or wooden forts were constructed by the Mysore forces.

With this brief introduction, I will now continue with the 18th century situations that prompted the invasion of Naduvattom by the Zamorin and the arrival of Hyder. We will get to that story in greater detail, for there was not much detail mentioned in the popular history books other than the invitation of Hyder by the Kombi Achan of Palghat after the Zamorin invaded Naduvattom. Well, there is more to it than meets the eye!! And so we now traverse down to the year 1756-57.

In 1755-56, after the demise of the raja from the Cherukotha Edam, the raja from the Elayachan edam named Raman Kombi took over. It was during his reign that the Zamorin sent out his forces headed by the Chencheri Namboothiri ( Aiyers accounts mention the Zamorin’s son – the Kuthiravattom Chief as the head of this operation) to take over Naduvattom in 1757. Some geographical knowledge is a must and interestingly this is where my maternal family had settled down. Vadavannur, Palassena, Erimayur, Koduvayur, Manjalur, Kozhal mannam, Pallasena etc…, formed part of the Naduvatton area which the Zamorin forces eventually captured to trigger panic among the Palghat Achans. Aiyar mentions that they came through Pattikad and descended on vadakancheri and Trippalur and detoured to Kollangode. The Kollengode nampi submitted to the Zamorin quickly. The Kuthiravattom Nair then built a fort at Koduvayoor (the present town was formed after this event).

But let us continue with what we see in the Grantha - The Namboothiri was vicious in his execution of the order. He raided the area – comprising the Kavasseri and Pulikkel Edams as well as the Vadakachery Puzhakkal Edam and took them over. Bereft of leadership, the Tenmalapuram 3000 nairs decided to put closure to the situation by paying a reparation fee to the Zamorin amounting to a fifth of the total claim and suing for peace. The Chencheri namboothiri next trained his guns at Palghat and marched to the Yakkara banks, while Ittikombi atchan, nephew of the Elayachan Edam raja prepared for the attack with the Vadamalapuram 2000 nairs. A terrible fight took place where over 5000 were killed and the Chokanatha puram fort was taken over. As a result, the various remaining members in the Palghat Edams fled to Coimbatore and decided to approach the Coimbatore king Shankar raja for assistance. Peace was negotiated in the meantime by the Tiruvalathur Koikkatiri for another fifth of the reparation war expense claim. This amounted to 1/4th viraraya fanam per para of paddy during the harvest.

The Zamorin now paused and instead of moving northwards to Palghat saw a golden opportunity in Cochin where an opportunity presented itself due to other struggles. It appears that the Zamorin was victorious there and succeeded in obtaining large reparations from the Cochin kings in this effort. Not only did the overtures against the Palghat rajas grant him access to the rice lands of Palghat, but also the Kuttanad regions after the success at Cochin.

As it is stated in the grantha, the Pangi Achan (nephew of elayachan edam thampuran), Kelu achan of Pulikkel edam and a few of the important regional heads travelled to Coimbatore to meet the Sankara Raja who gave them known emissaries to accompany them to Srirangam (Mysore – Srirangapatanam) to meet the Dalawa there. From there they were redirected to meet Hyder Ali who was the Faujedar or commander in chief of the infantry at Dindigul, nearer to Palghat. Hyder then deputed his brother-in-law Muquadam Ali with his forces to Palghat. This resulted in a severe war with the Zamorin’s forces in Feb 1758 where the Mysore forces were victorious.  Muqadam Ali’s forces withdrew after collecting their compensation by way of gold melted out of the ornaments worn by the Emoor bhagavathi (the tutelary deity of the Palghat Achans), as rakshabhogam (equivalent of 12,000 old Viraraya fanams). The Zamorin it is said (not in this grantha though, but in British records) apparently sued for peace by promising to pay 12,00,000 fanams as reparation.

After the Mysore forces had left with their booty, the Zamorin’s forces visited Palghat to collect their previously agreed war reparation costs from the Palghat edoms. As negotiations were going (this was in 1760) on at Vaidyanathapuram, some 2,000 people surrounded the area and many of the elders of the Palghat edoms were massacred. Interestingly none of the records identify the perpetrators of the treachery or lay it at the doors of the Zamorin. The rest of the Palghat royals including the women fled to Coimbatore again through the dense forests. Sankara raja provided them asylum and Panki Achan and Kelu Achan went to Mysore to meet Hyder who had by then worked his way to take over the Mysore throne. However in all this the Mysore sultan profited greatly, not only getting reparations from the Palghat Raja, but also a promise from the Zamorin. The Zamorin’s reparation expenses as previously agreed was never met by the Paghat raja.

It is stated in other records that a Zamorin emissary met Devaraja of Mysore in the meantime and agreed to pay a reduced reparation of 3 lakhs instead of the 12 lakhs claimed by Hyder, This was agreed by Devaraja, but he was soon usurped by Hyder who refused to accept Devaraja’s agreements with the Zamorin. It was with this backdrop that Hyder proceeded to Mangalore with 12,000 troops and invaded Kolathunaad and later Calicut with a stated aim of collecting the 12 lakhs from the Zamorin. This quickly degenerated into the suicide of the Zamoirn in 1766 which we detailed earlier.

Following this, the Palghat ruler Kelu Achan was removed from his position and Ittikombi Achan was appointed ruler by Hyder and after an agreement to pay him 4 lakhs per annum. Hyder Ali moved to Coimbatore, displaced the Coimbatore raja and took over his palace. That was what Coimbatore raja got for supporting the Palghat raja. Following this the now famous fort was constructed at Palghat, we mentioned it briefly in another article.

The situation never improved for the Ittikombi achan’s descendants. A number of succession struggles took place, and we see the attempts of Kelu Achan in trying to wrest the power out of the Ittikombi Achan’s hands. More wars took place involving the British at Palghat. Hyder passed on and gave the reins to Tipu, who continued with warring efforts. It seems that when Haider took a stronghold over Palghat later, the Kallekulangara family moved to Kallekulangara. During Tipu’s arrival the dietey was saved in a pond and the family apparently took to the hills. During the British occupation, the diety was reinstalled in the shrine.

By 1790 the victors were the British and the Mysore Sultans gave way to another new order in Malabar and Palghat. By 1792, the Palghat Achan had to bargain with the British to maintain his title and signed a treaty with the EIC where he ended up paying 80,000 per annum to them instead! We see then that by 1794 that titular position was also lost and the Achan became a pensioner with just an annual malikhana. The roughly 1000 year old family thus slowly descended to pensioner staus like most of Malabar’s other royals, after leading lives sandwiched between the Zamorin and the Cochin king. Their choice of treacherous allies ultimately paved the way for the Mysore Sultans victorious march into Malabar.

In the next article we will dwell upon the British attempts at taking strong control over Palghat and study the role of Unni Moosa Moopan.


Oriental Manuscripts – Madras Library – D266, 263 – Malayalam transcript by KN Ezhuthachan
Kerala District gazetteers - Palghat – Dr CK Kareem
Malabar Law and custom – Lewis Moore
A journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar Vol 2 – Francis Hamilton Buchanan
History of Kerala – KV Krishna Ayyar

RH Hitchcock, the individual

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In the 20’s, after a troubled period with cries of Khilafat, freedom, Gandhi and so on, a large number of misguided attacks took place on both (religious) sides of a divided Malabar. During this phase, a person held the unenviable position of being the most hated and feared Englishman in power. That was Richard Howard Hitchcock, the district superintendent of police, Malabar. While his confidential accounts covering those troubled days are reference material for today’s historian dealing with the Moplah revolts, his life and times are hardly known to the lay Malayali. In fact other contemporary writers like Gangadhara Menon, Brahmadattan Nambudiri, Gopalan Nair, Tottenham, AR Knapp etc mention him briefly with references to his role in the matter, but hardly as an individual of flesh and blood.  The only place where he is described without rancor is the Malabar Special Police website, that too in the briefest terms.

I decided to pick up this individual today because I read the other day that the medals and effects of Hitchcock were under auction (asking price £1400-£1800) in England, though it is not clear if somebody picked them up. Anyway, it is close to a hundred years since Richard came to Malabar. He may have been iron fisted; he may have been cruel, he may have been following orders from the Military who were in control, so as to maintain law and order. Whatever said and done, he ended up as part of Malabar history and did add his own thread, good or bad to the fabric of Malabar. Interestingly, nobody has covered his character so far, I wondered why, when a number of Englishmen of his period, good, bad and terrible have been talked about and analyzed at will! So without further ado, let’s see what we can unearth about him from those musty old archives. I do not promise an extensive study, but just a brief caricature based on little data that I could unearth.
Richard Howard Hitchcock - that was his full name. He hailed from the East Midlands area of Britain, bordering South Yorkshire. The fella was born on 12 March 1884 at Basford - Nottinghamshire, but grew up in Fordwich in Kent. His father Richard happened to be a Rector of Fordwich for many years and as the auction notice indicates, there is a window commemorating the father’s memory in the parish church. RH was educated at King's School Canterbury, 1894-1903, had been termed academically bright, and he sat for the competitive examination to join the Imperial Indian Police coming ‘first’ in the results. As an indication of the times, a position in British India was coveted and competition was severe. Compared to Sandhurst where 200 places were annually available, only 15-20 places were available per year for entry into the Indian Police. Hitchcock got into the Indian police in 1903 and was posted to Bengal. But he was to soon find himself in the balmy, hot and rainy land of spices, Malabar. Well, his staid life was soon spiced up, as we know….

We see that he had been around in Malabar since the first days of the revolt, for in 1916 he was awarded the Kings Police Medal for heading off an uprising by the Mapillas. What was that about? We know that in 1915, KP Kesava Menon returned from England to take up the INC leadership and lead the home rule movement. We know also that the Malabar Tenancy association was formed and the tenant leaders took control of the INC. So that was the start of the organized agitation and Annie Besant had participated in the Palghat conference. But what did Hitchcock do to get a medal? The Moplah’s at that time apparently believed a rumor that the British were losing the war and that Turks and Germans were coming to liberate them. Also at that point of time a Tiya boy who was converted, got reconverted to Hinduism though that was not the cause for what happened next.  Well as it transpired, CA Innes the collector was attacked by five people. It failed and they took refuge in a temple near Alanellur only to be shot dead in a Special Police Force Police retaliation. Hitchcock was involved in the quick suppression and resolution (The special police force MSP1 was originally formed under HV Conolly in 1884). In addition two youths committed arson, pillage and murder at Pandalur and they were quickly hanged, but all this resulted in loss of public support for the British. So it is clear that he was in Malabar from the second decade of the 20th century and as Intelligence chief, had collected much information on the trouble makers.
We then see that he was involved in recruiting officers for the English army from Malabar, around 1915. RH employed Malayali officers to recruit a huge number of high quality men for the British army, topping the presidency polls and was able to repeat the feat even during the rebellion, with people from both the Hindu and Muslim sides. In the final year of the Great War, Hitchcock was seconded to the Army and granted the temporary rank of Captain. The LG March 1918 states that as of Oct 17th he was awarded the rank of captain but without the pay and allowances of that rank. He then helped raise the 2/73 Malabar Battalion at Cannanore for which he was awarded the M.B.E. in 1919.

By 1919 the war had ended, there was a usual amount of robbery and unrest in South Malabar, Ernad and Valluvanad areas. The Zamorin, my great grandpa had passed on, and the new Zamorin was in place. My grandfather on my mother’s side had returned from the war…Jobs were scarce, timber prices had fallen, the Moplah population had risen, and life was not looking too rosy.
The Khilafat movement in Malabar (we will detail this another day) was the next trigger in 1921, when all kinds of wild rumors that Afghans were on the way (offshoot of a comment by Gandhi about foreign invasion being welcomed) to liberate their wretched lives and help them get land, started a frenzy.

At the end of April came the two Conferences, at Calicut and Ottapalam. A lot of talk resulted from the latter about the collision between the Police and some Khilafat volunteers at Ottapalam which led up to the filing of a civil libel suit by Mr. Hitchcock against the five authors of the non-official report and the Hindu. The sub-Judge, Calicut, decided it in favour of Mr. Hitchcock, the defendants being ordered to pay Rs 30,000 damages to him. The Judge recorded a finding that the assault was committed by the men of the Special Force and that, to that extent the facts stated in the report are true," but the charge of conspiracy was groundless.
Soon he was to be involved in what was according to the historian Charles Townshend, ‘the most serious insurrection since the mutiny of 1857 or the Malabar Rebellion, a.k.a. Moplah revolt.

Khilafat-Non-cooperation meetings were held with increasing frequency, and these were sometimes accompanied by incidents of violence. Some incidents were resulting from the picketing of toddy-shops, a part of the non-cooperation campaign that particularly appealed to Muslim sentiment. There were stories, too, that in anticipation of Swaraj, Khilafat leaders had already parceled out the land among poor Mappillas and were only awaiting the movement to take actual possession.
Hitchcock sneered at all this - It was 'pure mockery,' Hitchcock wrote, to deck the excitable Mappilla 'in the garb of a soldier and yet tell him that he should attain his aims by spinning!!

He was a sharp guy indeed for he quickly identified the methods used by the Moplah’s for communication. He said - Perhaps far more important than the network of the Khilafat movement, however, was the traditional system of communications among the Mappillas, something which constituted a major difference between the Hindu and Mappilla. The few bazaars that exist are entirely Mappilla and most Mappillas do congregate at least once a week for Friday prayers and often at other times in Mosques. They can therefore form some kind of a public opinion of their own and combine but the fact that this is done under the cover of religion makes it difficult for Hindu or European even to become aware of it. Except at very occasional festivals the Hindus have no such opportunity of meeting.
This was to become a source of all kinds of problems. Hitchcock focused time and again on this problem, the mosque as a source of news and motivation. It was to play havoc in the minds of the Moplah, who was led to believe that their religion was under attack, while Hitchcock was trying to stop the flow of orders to revolt and jihad and bring about peace.

In the autumn of 1921, the revolt boiled over. Late July, I92I, in the village of Pukkottur north of Malappuram in Ernad taluk, a dispute arose between the Nilambur Raja and a Mappilla active in the Khilafat movement. Tension grew in the village, and on August 1, drums began to beat in the mosques of the area, and in the course of the day, several thousand Mappillas shouting war cries, had gathered in Pukkottur before the palace gates. The district collector EF Thomas said - 'the crowd was heard to express a desire or determination to add the heads of Mr. Hitchcock and myself to the bag.' As you can see, Hitchcock was by now already identified as the face of the British retaliation, for he had provided information and local police support to precipitate the actions and was always at the head of the physical force that confronted them, fielding European and Malyali constables to beat them up.
Accordingly Thomas reported to the Governor of Madras that the Moplahs were organizing a resistance using force and that it will not be possible for the police to quell the unrest. He requested a battalion of infantry for support together with two companies of British troops. ET Humphreys of the Leinsters regiment came in August and was soon joined by other officers such as CG Tottenham and AR Knapp. They decided to act at Tirurangadi and arrest 24 or so identified persons in connection with the unrest. By this time, Mohammed Haji was proclaimed the Caliph of the Moplah Khilafat and flags of Islamic Caliphate were raised and Khilafat kingdoms declared. Martial law was not introduced until three weeks after the rising began, and then in such a diluted form that the civil authorities retained much of the responsibility for its suppression and the restoration of government control. The commander of the Madras Military District, General Burnett-Stuart, had under his command a British cavalry regiment, a brigade of Field Artillery, two British battalions, including 2nd Dorsets and seven Indian battalions (including a battalion of Pioneers), and a company of the Madras Sappers and Miners. Malabar.

Though the police went into a secondary role as soon as the military took over, their conduct was not exemplary. As later enquires revealed, many of them took advantage and TK Madhava Menon the police inspector was dismissed. Neelakantan Nair was found to be extorting people as well and thrown out. As they all reported to Hitchcock, he was culpable.
His moves against mosques and the Khilafat flag have been cited as the very reasons for subsequent armed revolt, whatever be the underlying reasons agrarian or religious motivation by Syed fazil’s exhortations. Nevertheless we do find evidence in the many documents that first Thomas and later Evans vacillated often and this resulted in large losses of life and a bloody revolt. But we will study this separately when we get to the analysis of the revolt itself and its many after effects. Hitchcock was the British instrument, the person involved in collecting field and inside information as the head of the CID and also partially responsible to suppress counter insurgency, which he did effectively, looking at it from the British angle, for within 6 months, law and order had been implemented and a sullen peace was restored.

Hitchcock had during the revolt spearhead the formation of the regular MSP and clarified the reasoning - the extent of the rebellion and the spirit of the rebels soon made it obvious that a force would be required to maintain peace after the rebellion and the value of such a force would depend on the experience it might have in the present rebellion.
Hitchcock organized a new Police force on the model of the British Army and this came into existence on 30th September 1921 as Malabar Special Police-2. Hitchcock himself was the first Commandant of M.S.P. In 1932 the strength of the force was increased to 16 companies. Thus 300 extra police were added, 12 Indian officers, and 30 NCO’s. By October all had been trained, armed and ready for field operations. The force then comprised fully of Hindus and Christians from the Ernad and Valluvanad areas, some from Calicut. Hitchcock also makes it clear that this firmly dispelled the notion that Hindus would stay away from such action and were cowardly in hostile situations. Soon enough this was increased to 600 following William Vincent’s visit and they were owing to Tottenham’s efforts - in place by Jan 1922. The M.S.P. was equipped with magazine Lee-Enfields because the single-shot Martini Henry rifles of the Malappuram Specials had been disastrously ineffective against the Moplahs. Towards the end of the rising each company was supplied with two Lewis guns to increase its fire power. Recruitment of the first three M.S.P. companies (almost entirely from recently demobilized Malayali sepoys) was very rapid and by November I92I they were in action) following behind army thrusts into Moplah territory and tracking down isolated guerrilla bands.

Underlying the development of the MSP as a striking force was the belief prevalent in government and army circles that the Malayalis of the west coast were the finest fighting material in the presidency and were in great demand to stiffen Tamil and Telugu forces.
If you were to dispassionately read the reports of Hitcock, you will realize the seriousness in which they were written, and though many say this was very biased, does remain an account recorded with little malice or partiality. He holds the people he dealt with, both Muslims and Hindus in the right level of respect though often viewing them from a higher plane, wearing glasses with a British tint. He has done a serious amount of introspection and analysis and I would at no time call him a fanatical suppressor of the people involved and one who acted with utter contempt of the masses, like Gen Dyer at Jalianwala Bagh. In fact I found him as a man who did his job, ruthlessly, clinically and well, perhaps with a “Himmler bent”. But it is a matter widely known that the smooth working of martial law was largely due to Messrs Evans and Hitchcock.

A British report explains - It has already been noted that the special police working under the Martial Law commander gave a very good account of themselves. Its company commanders were C.G.Tottenham, l.M.Farser, King Colebrook, Charsley and Bayzand. Elliot and Bishop also worked with the troops during the martial law period, but the services of Mr Hitchcock stood apart as altogether exceptional. With his unique local knowledge and splendid devotion to duty, he might be truly said to have been the mainspring of the suppression of the rebellion both as the Chief Intelligence officer of the martial Law Commander and as the superintendent of Police after the abrogation of the martial law. The magnitude of the devastation caused by the rebellion can be seen from the fact that, during its progress, 19 Police stations had been sacked, 8 revenue officers including sub treasuries looted, 10 sub registrar’s offices destroyed and 16 post-offices pillaged. The destruction of village office, travelers’ bungalows and bridges was terrific. Railway lines and stations also did not escape the hands of rebels.
But then those were turbulent times and it is not really possible to be impartial in a period of Martial law. Everybody had cross purposes. Today when we see the revolt through words, it is not possible to realize the pain, suffering, fear, revulsion and so on that the witnesses and participants went through. So from that angle, Hitchcock was at the inflicting end and the only one seen by the masses, leading the armed constabulary. And that resulted in him getting the brunt of the blame.

In November 1921 Hitchcock was involved in the 'Moplah Train Tragedy'. Hitchcock was the police officer who ordered the transportation of Moplah prisoners in an enclosed wagon, during which 70 prisoners died in a terrible fashion. The subsequent enquiry found that the deaths were due to a defect of the van (painted mesh which prevented air from coming in) but also that that Hitchcock and Evans (the civilian in joint charge of the operation) failed to exercise proper supervision of the vans containing the prisoners. Police and railway officials of lesser rank were found guilty of culpable negligence.  
However it should also be noted that Sgt Andrews had previous experience in this kind of transportation and had transported 112 people once in a luggage wagon without problems. In this case the air vents were painted over and that was the reason for the deaths. Nevertheless the escorts should have taken care of the prisoners and their wellbeing, in general terms. That one event destroyed his name, in posterity.

Mr.  Hitchcock's Responsibility as concluded by the Knapp report.
We have considered whether some part of the indirect responsibility would fall on Mr. Hitchcock, It is not certain that he was present at the first selection of a van, but we have it on his own statement that he did witness and take part in the despatch of prisoners on September 3 and saw no reason to object to the arrangements made. The actual care of prisoners during their journey and responsibility for their safe delivery at their destination lay upon the Police and to this extent at least it was for Mr. Hitchcock to see that the arrangements made for their transport wore safe and satisfactory. But the obscurity arising from the Martial Law arrangements is again found here, for Mr. Hitchcock and his force were themselves under the orders of the Military Commander, We shall not, however, labour this technical point. Mr. Hitchcock having been continuously employed from the beginning of September with the troops in active warfare with the rebels, it would be unreasonable to expect that he would have had time or opportunity to give personal attention to the local arrangements at Tirur.

After he left, a Hitchcock Memorial was erected at Mongam – Evans outlived him and oversaw the inauguration of the memorial. The police training college was named the Hitchcock Police School, Malappuram.  The memorial statue in Malappuram was removed after popular protest after 1936. See note below
It looks like he moved to Salem in Coimbatore district as DIG. Not much more is known about him as a person and no accounts can be seen of a family with him or outliving him. We note that he was a keen hockey player at Calicut and played for the ‘Early closers’. We also note that during the latter half of July, at a very critical juncture, Mr Hitchcock was not in the Calicut district, but at Coonoor undergoing treatment for dog-bite.

In June 1922 he was awarded the C.l.E and was also made a Member of the British Empire. Hitchcock eventually died of a perforated ulcer on 31 August 1926, aged 42 years, whilst on home leave in Tunbridge Wells. A memorial was erected to his memory at Vizagapatum.
After the rebellion, the Malabar Special Police was not allowed to rest on its laurels. Its fame as experts in guerilla warfare spread. When a similar rebellion broke out in the Gudem Hills in the Vizagapatam Agency, the local reserves could not make any headway and the Government wisely thought of utilizing the Malabar Special to put down the insurrection in preference to a martial-law administration.

Mappila Muslims of Kerala – Roland E Miller
The Moplah rebellion and its genesis – Conrad Wood
The Mappilla Rebellion, 1921: Peasant Revolt in Malabar: Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr.
The Mappilla Outbreaks: Ideology and Social Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Kerala Stephen F. Dale
The Moplah Rebellion 1921 – C Gopalan Nair
Khilafat Smaranakal- Brahmadattan Nambudiri
Jividhakatha –Moyarath Sankaran Nambiar
Malabar Kalapam – Madhavan nair
MP Narayana Menon – MPS Menon
Peasant revolt in Malabar: a history of the Malabar rebellion, 1921– RH Hitchcock
See Historic alleys – Wagon tragedy articles 1 and 2


My friend Premnath provides the following additional information
Please find below the photo of the memorial for the fallen Policemen (MSP) during the Mopla Rebellion, inside the old Dist Police Office near Mananchira.It is also known as Hitchcock memorial.This was in Malapuram and was shifted to Calicut due to public opinion against this in Malapuram
Hitchcock memorial reinstalled at Calicut DPO - Photo provided by Premnath Murkoth