The tale of Palora Jamen

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Pallur Emmen Nair or (Muppainad Pallur Eman, Yemen, Yeman, Yemmin, Emman Nayar)
1809 Pulo Penang – Kampong Malabar - The stooping man who walked about the Georgetown - Fort Cornwallis area, looked nothing like the proud warrior he once was and one who roamed the forests of Waynad. The sinewy muscles had been replaced by sagging skin, the tone of his skin had darkened to a leathery hue, more like that of a water buffalo and his face wizened and filled with sorrow, showing eyes full of defeat. In fact he was not old at all, he must have been just 40 or so, but looked well past 60! He was a tired man and sat often with his head between his hands, near the Kapitan Kling mosque, making aimless conversation with a few of his country folk who came to pray. Often he sat at the pond steps looking at the pond or kolam. Sometimes he was seen near the Chowrusta lines, where other convicts from India were housed, on other days the old man could be seen looking for any new compatriots who had been transported from Malabar. The Pole or mata mata as the police were known, troubled him no longer nor did he bother with them. Sometimes he was seen helping with public works activities as other convicts did, but then again he was a political prisoner and not a convict bound in chains or imprisoned, he was a transportee. What a horrible word that was and what a terrible experience it was, for only the one who underwent it could understand it. Of the worst kind, if you ask the old man, being cut away from family, his land, and his people and its customs, to forget them forever. Banishment or exile of the worst sort!

Often he would look across the waters in the westerly direction to the land he once hailed from, sights now reduced to a distant memory. Malaria and other sicknesses had reduced him to a decrepit soul with no hope left, only looking forward to the deliverance promised by death. Nobody who saw him would connect him to a once proud overlord of Pallur or Mupainad.
Some years ago, John Leyden (remember my article about him and his ode?) too had moved to Penang to teach Hindoostanee and wrote with the same agony that our convict faced - for his heart was sad too, and his spirits depressed,

Friends of my youth forever dear,
Where are you from this bosom fled?
A lonely man I linger here,
Like one that has been long time dead.

Foredoomed to seek an early tomb,
For whom the pallid grave-flowers blow,
I hasten on my destined doom,
And sternly mock at joy or woe!

Pallur Emen Nair’s story has never been told and though we do not know about his youth or his family, we do know of his role in the Southern Indian rebellion against the British and we do know some about his last days in Penang. But before we go there, we must start at the dense jungles of Wynad, near the Kottayam region which is somewhat sandwiched between the Zamorin’s domains in the south and the Kolathiri kingdom in the North.

Emman Nair originally hailed from today’s Mayyazhi or Mahe and Palloor was a part of the Naaluthara comprising Chaalakkara, Pallur, Chembra and Pandakkal desas. How he got connected to Muppainad in the Meppadi area of wayanad is not clear, but Palloor Emman was also called Muppainad Emman, where he led the Kurumbar tribals there. His story intertwines the accounts, fortunes and diaries of Baber, Wellesley, Macleod, Dow and Duncan and of course that of Pazhassi Raja, Chandu, Kungan, Ambu and Kannavath Nambiar.
Tipu had accompanied his father Hyder during the 1766 Mysore invasion of Malabar. Various events occurred since then and it was finally in 1789 that Tipu lost to the Travancore forces at Nedumkotta and retired to Seringapatnam. After the 1792 battles with the British, he ceded Malabar to the EIC. However based on the premise ‘my enemy and your enemy is our enemy’ he carried on many intrigues with Malabar Nair lords who were dispossessed of their power or territories by the EIC. Some of these included the lesser princes of Calicut, the Kottayam raja and so on. The situation was exacerbated when it was rumored that Napoleon was setting his sights on India. We talked previously about the events concerning Ripaud and how Wellesley then laid a siege on Seringapatnam resulting in the killing of Tipu Sultan.

However the chiefs of Malabar had not given up. The next uprising the British faced was the loosely coordinated revolts in Southern India, at Coimbatore, Dindigiul, Panchalamkurichy (Polygar revolts), some Kannada chiefs and eventually the Pazhassi revolt headed by the Kottayam raja. The interesting aspect here is that there was some element of coordination between the Tamilians, Malabar people and the Kannadigas, only that it was very ineffective and was quickly nipped in the bud by the much militarily stronger British. K Rajayyam’s accounts provide quite some details of the confederation which included Polygars of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Backed up by brief mentions in the Malabar district records 1714-1835, we can trace the life and times of Emman Nair.

With this background, let us ascend to the hills of Wynad where the next events took place starting with the 1797 time frame. Dhondia Waugh, another Kannada rebel also played a link role in these affairs but his death ensured rebel disarray in front of the well-organized British. In many ways it was an ineffectual alliance, with vast distances and bad terrains separating the various groups. The Pazhassi Raja himself first settled for peace with the EIC after his house and treasure were restored by them, but fell out again when the EIC insisted that Wynad belonged to them as part of Tipu’s territories, following the sultan’s death. Pazhassi of course contented that Wynad was part of Kottayam and the continuing struggles between the two were primarily based on this difference of opinion. The common man too cast his support to the rebels as they too were suffering heavily from heavy taxation (3 gold fanams per pepper vine, ½ a gold fanam per coconut tree, ¼ fanam per arecanut tree) amounting at times to double that of the produce!!

Readers - Note that I have used the names Yemen, Emman signifying the same person and similarly Kottayam and Pzhassi raja to mean the same person)
In 1796 the EIC took the first misstep of raiding the Pazhassi palace and looting the kovilakom and money worth Rs 17,000 therein, and the raja fled to the jungles. The Bombay government decided to let him back but did not return all the money. When the people threw their lot with the king and refused to pay any taxes, the EIC took heed. However there was no respite for 2 years which followed. We start with the relations between the Pazhassi raja and Tipu Sultan, 1797 as reported by the Coorg raja. It appears that Emmen Nair was deputed to Seringapatnam to meet and discuss potential alliances on behalf of the raja. The Sultan gifted him a Palankeen, a pair of gold bangles a necklace and a shawl. It appears that Emman promised some of the tax collection to Tipu but did not carry out the promise. We also see from the files that the people discussing anti-British activities with Tipu are the Raja, Yaman nair and the Padinjare kovilakom rajas. It is mentioned that Emman nair was the Kariakkar of the Kottayam raja. We also see that meetings are arranged and messages sent, Ranga Pandit being an emissary from Tipu’s side and Emman Nair from the Malabar side. Between 1796 and 1798, a number of skirmishes take place and finally the EIC concluded a treaty with the Raja in 1797 after restoring the house and treasure of the Raja.

We also note that Yeman nair was held or imprisoned by Tipu in 1798 over nonpayment of tax arrears by the Kottayam raja. Presumably this caused a rift between the Raja and Yeman Nair. All this was reported to the EIC by their faithful ally, the Coorg raja. The EIC promptly relinquished claims on Wynad, but later discovered that the Raja and Dhoondaji Waugh had been corresponding. They get alarmed and Wellesley is involved in quelling the disturbances and the death of Dhoondaji Waugh.

Records from March 1799 detail the fallout between the Kottayam Raja and Emman Nair. Apparently the Raja wanted Emman to go and visit Tipu Sultan at Seringapatnam, again. Emman refused (perhaps due to the bad treatment he suffered) and informed Spencer of the EIC as well as the Ganabadiya (Kannavath?) Nambiyar. Yeman is now in a standoff with the Raja who is reportedly trying to take his life with 500 men at Kunjimangalam while the Emman Nair is trying to defend himself with 300 men. Emmen Nair talks about being oppressed by the Raja, signifying some kind of a monetary quarrel. At the same time, Tipu is expected to arrive in Wynad and the Raja is not feeling too happy about it. The Parappanad Raja has informed the Kottayam raja that the British are planning to send troops up the Ghats. Coincidentally there are a series of Moplah attacks in the region. The British also expect the Pazhassi raja to attack their Tellichery factory and get prepared.

Ganabadiah who is allied to the EIC however brings around Emmen Nair and the Kottayam Raja to the EIC side. The EIC decides to provide Emman Nair support, in their own interests. The British also play the Kurumbranad raja and Ambu who are allied with them, against the Pazhassi raja and try to split the people’s support. In June the EIC informs Emman Nair to try and go on an offensive against the Raja. Emman Nair continues to feed the EIC with information about rebel movements in Malabar and Wynad. The EIC also obtain an agreement from the Travancore king that they will not allow any asylum to anybody going there from the Malabar region without their permission.

1799- Pazhassi refuses to meet Tipu when summons him. Soon Emman Nayar announces his allegiance with the EIC and requests 10,000 cartridges and 10,000 flints to fortify himself and his troops. Pazhassi raja decides to get rid of Yeman Nayar. Emman Nayar requests protection and an allowance of Rs 200 for him and his family per month. The EIC provide Emman Nayar with an assurance that his family and children are now under EIC protection and that he could attack the Kaikeni kottah and the Edatara kottah. The Pazhassi Raja quickly contacts the EIC to mend fences and tells them that he sent his emissary to Tipu only to ensure security for his people in Kottayam and had nothing to do with securing Wynad. The EIC continue to try and drive a wedge between the Emman Nayar and Pazhassi raja. Emman reports that Pazhassi Raja has raided the house of Tondura Chatu and has decided to stop the Kurumbranad Raja from coming up the Ghats. We also note here that Emman Nayar’s assistant (karyasthan) is one Krishna Ayyar. Was Emen Nair at this stage a Pazhassi spy? It is not quite clear, though many have provided such a hypothesis.
Anyway by May, Emman is accorded formal protection and an allowance of Rs 200 per month. At the same time, Seringapatnam has been taken and Tipu finally killed. So Tipu has no more role in this story and the Raja is now on his own. He cannot use Tipu’s name to play against the EIC. However as the EIC prepares to consolidate once and for all, it is seen that the Pazhassi raja now forms a coalition with the Dhondia Waugh, other Nambiars and Unnimoota. And Yeman Nayar, a key player aligned to the EIC surfaces often in the Wellesley dispatches. Wellessley has been deputed to quell the rebellion in Malabar and cleanse the area after his successes against Tipu in Mysore.

1800 - Emman Nair is in those days living at Muppainad (Parahmetal Hoobly of Nemeyn) and over lording the Kurumbar’s (gold dust collecting tribe) and offers many ideas to Col Wellesley about effective troop movements against the Pazhassi Raja. The EIC record that Yeman Nair’s influence, it appears, is most prevalent in the districts to the southward of the great road to Tambercherry
Wellesley is by now considered Yeman Nair’s friend and considering that Wellesly is already in high standing after his successes in Mysore and his relation to the Marquis Wellesley (brother), Yeman Nair gets his way often. However the prospect of a Napoleonic invasion is feared by Wellesley. Later in the year he requests the presence of Yeman Nair in Seringapatnam so they can formalize the relationship and have a detailed face to face discussion which happens. It has been decided to keep Wynad under the Malabar administration. He has big plans for he states – “It is proposed to leave to the decision of this Council all the future arrangements in Wynaad, whether regarding the settlement with Yeman Nair and other chiefs of the same description, or the employment of the Nairs in general in the service”. Yeman Nayar then meets the iron Duke and suggests various courses of action against the Raja, though it is not clear if Wellesley used them. I believe he also gets the title of a Tahsildar of the EIC by then and Major Macleod, the principal Collector, took charge of the district of Malabar on October 1, 1801

The Pazhassi raja is soon dispossessed of his lands and he becomes a fugitive in the jungles with his friends. A couple of years pass and we are now at the tail end of 1802. Kannavatt Nambiar and his son have been hanged by the EIC, much to the disgust of some British soldiers (G Stratchan – Indian atrocities, Sep 20, Sept 27, Nov 1- 1818) one who even wrote three articles detailing the atrocities without fear of being tried for treason. Nick Balmer had written about part 1 of the article, in his blog dated 30th May 2010 and provided some detail on what happened to Stratchan afterwards. Part 2 is actually more detailed about the gruesome atrocities committed by those sepoys and Part 3 concludes his opinions and commentary. These two articles provide details of the barbarous fashion in which the war was fought, and shows ample reason for a native like Yeman Nair to switch sides. After he absconded, his movements are not recorded and he is elusive, sighted rarely, so we know little of his activities, but only that he is in league with the Raja.
Following this, a sense of normalcy was seen in North Malabar, but it was not to remain so. Collector Major MacLeod ordered a total disarmament of Malabar and threatened death penalty for those who carried arms. Taxation issues also created discontent. The rebels retaliate at the Panamarathu kotta in Oct 1802 where EIC soldiers are killed, and for the first time, a British report mentions that Yeman Nair has changed sides. Wellesley reports - It is said that the Rajah himself, with Coongan and Yeman Nair, were present; but this can only be mere conjecture, as every inhabitant in the vicinity of Pancoorta Cottah had deserted their houses. On Dec 6th 1802, Yeman Nayar’s duplicity is seemingly brought to light by the EIC and Yeman Nair is now seen as an enemy rebel.

In 1803, Wellesley left for Europe, after three years of inconclusive war with the Pazhassi Raja, becomes the Duke of Wellington, and goes on to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo. Emman Nair, his friend is still in the jungles, now supposedly involved in the Calicut Sub Jail attack - One thing I am not sure if Eman was really involved in the jail attack at Calicut in March 1803 though some articles state so. KKN Kurup who provides some details of the attack in his Modern Kerala book does not name Eman as a leader. As it appears, rebels marched through Thamarasseri towards Calicut and overran the Sub-Jail. They tried to free the prisoners, through a hole in the wall. In the melee, 40 of them were killed, some 130 escaped and 38 were retaken by the British. This prompted a resignation by the then Collector of Malabar, Major McLeod but historian KKN Kurup is clear in stating that the leadership could not be ascertained. Perhaps it was Emen, for the Calicut leadership was very severe in the case of Emman‘s petition later

In 1804 a reward is posted by Col Macleod where Pallur Eman (Col Wellesley’s friend) carries a bounty of 1000 pagodas. We also note that Pallur Eman has an elder brother Pallur Rayarappan who carried a 300 pagoda bounty for his head. And that is about the time frame when TH Baber has entered the scene and is in pursuit of the rebels.

We note from his reports that the Koormers - Kurumbrar’s are under the leadership of Pallur Eman , termed in his report as Palora jamen (It surprises me why Baber called him so when even in Wellesley’s reports he is named more correctly as Yeman Nayar).
Baber states - As these people were exclusively under the influence of Palora Jamen, it is not difficult to explain whence this unfortunate notion originated: it is only those who have had a personal opportunity of knowing the extensive abilities and artifices of this man who can justly calculate upon the mischief and dire consequence that must ensue where such qualifications are employed against us. This was unfortunately instanced in the Kooramars, who, from the time of Palora Jamen’s defection, had become in a manner desperate; they had been foremost amongst the rebel ranks, and there is no crime, no species of cruelty and outrage, which they have not committed.

We note then that during May or June of 1805, an attack on a post at Choorcharry took place, led by Welatory Rama Thareakarar accompanied by Palora Yemen who exhorted his men to fight - Palora Yemen urged and persuaded the party to proceed, saying “go on never fear” according to Rama Tharakar.
Later, we see the last mention of Emman Nayar in Wynad, in the report of final decisive foray by Baber during 1805 against the rebels. With many agents, I could not fail of success in some one of them. On the 30th ultimo, three of them at last brought me intelligence of the Pyche (Palassi) Raja and all the rebel leaders, with the exception of Palora Jamen (Pallur Eman) being then in the opposite side of the Kangara river, a short distance in Mysore, and this so unequivocally that I determined to act upon it.………..Previous to this I had deemed it expedient to make a feint to divert the attention of the rebels (who I thought it probable might have their spies in camp) by detaching 70 of my kolkars, under the Sheristadar, under the pretext of going in pursuit of Palora Jamen who was reported to be in the Komanpany Mala in the South-eastern direction, while they had secret instructions after marching half-way to this mountain to strike off eastward to the Kallir Mountain and there lie in ambush near to paths to cut off the retreat of any fugitives who would, in most probability, go off in that direction in the event of our party coming up with the rebels.

Nov 1805 - As we now know, this supposed pursuit of Yeman Nair led to the discovery and death of the Pazhassi Raja who was hiding in the area. Thereafter Emman Naiar was captured in 1806 together with his brother near the mountains near Nilambur where his brother Rayarappan died in the fighting. The trial reports suggest that it was actually the Coorg Raja who (a big time EIC supporter) who discovered his hideout. Pallaur Eman, Colonel Wellesley’s friend was captured alive and sent to Seringapatnam to face a trial. In April 1806, he and four of his friends were sentenced after trial and sent to the Dindigul jail. The Court Marshall found all the men guilty and sentenced them to hang, but an appeal resulted in the men having their sentences commuted to transportation to Prince of Wales Island. The official transcript states - Yemen Nayar, the principal adherent of the Pyche Raja of Cotiote, is captured and put on trial for rebellion - he is sentenced to transportation for life to Prince of Wales Island. Papers regarding the trial of the rebel Yemen Nayar - question as to why the death sentence was not imposed and a finger of doubt is pointed to the fact that it was perhaps due to his earlier friendship with Col Wellesley. Macleod questions the court repeatedly why he was not executed and the court emphatically replies that its ruling is commensurate with the crime.
Accordingly the five were transported to Penang in 1807 where a number of Polygar prisoners captured in South India had already been dispatched. Some of these people were apparently known to Emman Nayar and they were involved in some amount of coordination on rebellious matters. Wellesley, who heard about this, expressed some alarm that Penang was not entirely a wise location to send them to, for Penang was frequented by south Indian Muslim traders who could try to bring them back to India. But his doubts were soon to prove farfetched.

Now we refer to a couple of papers written by the eminent Anand Yang, who deals with the subject of Indian convicts in Penang, and transportation as such in great detail. The British evolved the method of transportation as an effective way to ostracize these culprits. Foremost, it would effectively result in a loss of caste position due to the ocean crossing taboo. British officials considered transportation to be "a weapon of tremendous power as it packed an extra punitive punch because of its negative cultural and religious implications. In fact they fell upon the base that banishment was a very Hindu way of punishment since Vedic times.
It was different in those days, for the journey of the banished to Penang took 50-80 days by sea!! These convicts were not kept behind bars in Penang, but were allowed to roam about and even paid a small stipend and live amongst the other Polygar prisoners. It is said that at least some of the Polygar prisoners knew Eman or of him, as he had been one of those who coordinated with them on the matters concerning rebellion. They were provided 1 seer of rice per day, 1 ½ seers of ghee per month and a piece of cloth per annum.

They also kept themselves active by sending petitions for pardon and return to India.  Many of them wrote asking for better conditions and escalation of status compared to others. Seven years is the usual banishment or exile term, but in the case of Emen Nayar it was for a lifetime. The Polygar prisoners were not allowed to return by the Tinnevelly magistrate. In fact they tried to compare that even Rama in Ramayana had to remain banished for 14 years and not more, so they should be allowed to return. It fell on deaf ears but some got an increased stipend of 7 Spanish dollars per month and later up to 15 dollars, but it is not clear of Emman Nair received such amounts. In Penang, the situation deteriorated and owing to the acute depression many convicts suffered and adding the rigors of tropical confinement, by 1817 only 15 of these political prisoners survived from the original 71.
So after 7 years, Emman Nair appealed for relief in March 1814. Some appeals were collective, some individual like in the case of Emman Nair. Krishna Iyer, his accomplice was allowed to return to Malabar. Emman Nair’s appeal was disallowed. We are not sure about the other four Malabar accomplices.

The Malabar magistrate refused to allow release of Emman nayar. The magistrate wrote to the secretary of the Madras Government expressing no objection to the release of the rebels of 1798 and 1801 EXCEPT Yemen Nair: "he is a character who ought never to be allowed to revisit Malabar.  His determined opposition to government, his treacherous conduct on various occasions, his talents as a partisan, his daring courage, are all so many arguments against it."  He then goes on to say that Malabar although in a "tranquil state" had "many disaffected persons, who would, if men of rank and situation secretly encourage opposition and tumult, and if otherwise, would readily join any gangs which might hold out to them hopes of plunder."
The Polygar convicts were finally sent back to India in 1819 following deliberations in Britain as they felt that the situation was somewhat unjust. Finally only five remained and then four out of the five were repatriated to Madras, but only one remained for fear of national security.

You guessed right, that was Pallur Emman Nair. He did not live long and died shortly thereafter in 1819, with all hopes of seeing his beloved land, shattered. Nobody in Pallur or Muppainad remember him, nothing is known about his progeny, no tombstone of his exists in Penang so far as I know, nor is there a picture or statue of this rebel. He may soon be forgotten, but I did not want it to be so and hence, this article.
Now who could that magistrate be, the person who hastened the death of Emman Nair? It was the very same James Vaughan who was mentioned by Walsh (if you recall Walsh also wrote about Karunakara Menon’s house etc). Vaughan was also the person who believed that the practice of slavery in Malabar should continue (Baber was against it) and one who had to contend with the beginnings of the Moplah disturbances.

Penang is a teeming city today which has showcased its history, but tells little of the efforts of the Indian prisoners who built it up. They were the ones who laid the foundations and got the place running for the British. The Malays today talk more about the Chinese and English in their history and are at times unkind in referring to the Indian convicts or klings, but little do they know of the imposition of transportation by the British and the sad stories from those early days.
Wynad – It is a beautiful place and people go there these days to spend a few days in solitude. But in the 1796-1804 time frame, it was full of action, soldiers, cannons and guns, bows and arrows, spies, bravery, valor, cowardice, Frenchmen, Englishmen, locals, tribals, kings, princesses and what not. Their stories are consigned to what they call ‘forgotten history’.

South Indian Rebellion: the First War of Independence, 1800-1801 - K. Rajayyan
From Contact to Conquest: Transition to British Rule – M Frenz
“Bandits and Kings: Moral Authority and Resistance in Early Colonial India,” The Journal of Asian Studies 66, 4(2007):881-96 - Anand yang
“Indian Convict Workers in Southeast Asia in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries,” Journal of World History, 14, 2 (2003):179-208 - Anand yang
Indians in Malaya: Some Aspects of Their Immigration and Settlement (1786-1957) - Kernial Singh Sandhu
Various dispatches by Col Wellesley
Malabar manual – W Logan

Authors note – Emman Nayar was perhaps one of the most complex characters in the rebellion and perhaps the most important rebels of all, even rivaling Pazhassi Raja, in my opinion. If anybody knows more at Pallur Emman Nayar or Krishan Ayyar or any of their descendants, please do let me know.

I thank Dr Anand Alan Yang and Nick Balmer for helping me with their own notes and comments, without which this story would have been incomplete.


A naval officer who met some of these Polygar prisoners (perhaps the last lot who were finally pardoned and sent back to Madras), wrote in the United Service magazine thus….

The day previous to the sailing of the fleet, we received on board as passengers, or rather prisoners, for the island of Pulo Penang, whither they were exiled for some political delinquency, two Polygar Chiefs, or Rajahs, Currapoovance and Shunderlingum, by name. The situation of these unfortunate men was truly pitiable: torn from their country, from friends, and home—for the first time in their lives on board a ship, on a strange element, and among a strange people ; it was not the least among the catalogue of their ills at this trying moment that they should be separated from the only beings to whom they might look for sympathy or consolation, whose services were indispensable, and the only persons, in short, from their religious prejudices, with whom they could hold communion. It so happened, they had arrived on board the evening prior to the intended sailing of the fleet, and not having completed the arrangements for their voyage, two or three native servants, the only portion of their household which accompanied them, were sent on shore for that purpose: owing, however, to some misconception, the convoy having weighed early the ensuing morning, they were left behind. To those acquainted with the tenets of the Hindoos, and the scrupulous tenacity with which they adhere to them, it will readily be imagined that this circumstance, which among any other people would have occasioned but a temporary inconvenience, was in this case an irreparable misfortune. We had, it is true, some few natives, Lascars, on board, but these not being of the same caste, their services were not available. It was amusing to observe to what various and minute circumstances their scruples extended: the touch of an European, as of another sect, was shunned as pollution; and it was no easy matter to avoid at all times on a crowded deck, where they sometimes came for air, the contact of someone or other, and whenever this occurred their chagrin was evident.
They were men of an uncommon stature, robust, and of noble men, and bore their lot with dignity and resignation: part of the great cabin was screened off for their use, here they shifted for themselves as well as circumstances would permit. They cooked their own plain rice meal; fortunately their simple habits required but little, and they had provided their own stock of water, and a few other necessaries. Nothing remarkable occurred during the remainder of the passage to China, the coast of which, after a few days' stay at Penang, where we took in a cargo of rattans, we reached in little more than a fortnight from Madras, and proceeded to the usual anchorage of the East India fleets off the village of Whampoa, in the river of Canton, where we remained between three and four months to take in a cargo of tea.