William Logan (1841-1914)

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The author of The Malabar Manual and a friend of Malabar

There are many Scotsmen, Irish and Englishmen who have spent long tenures in India, and some have spent their entire adult lifetimes in India but have done little. Logan Sayipp as he was known in Calicut spent only a few years but left a huge mark, for unlike many others who followed, he loved the land (and the people) which he was sent to administer. This man of Scottish farming stock went on to write what we still consider as source book on Malabar and his history, the Malabar manual. Let’s now try to get to know the man behind it all, his life and times.

Interestingly, and many would not know it, he was the last foreign owner of the collectors bungalow in East hill, the very building which houses the Krishna Menon museum today. William Logan appointed as Collector of Malabar, purchased it from Athol MacGregor and lived there until his early retirement at the age of 46, after which he sold it to the brothers Koyotti and Chekutti Koya Haji in 1890. Some years later, the British government acquired it from the brothers. Those were the days when the British lived in a different Calicut than the one we see today and I had tried to recreate the scene in a couple of earlier articles. For William Logan, Malabar was a place which perhaps reminded him of the lowlands of Scotland and his farmer’s upbringing.

Logan (Courtesy KKN Kurup,
 Agrarian relations)
William Logan, the son of David Logan and Elizabeth Hasti, was born on 17 May, 1841 at Ferney Castle, a farmland near Reston - Berwickshire, Scotland. For over two centuries, the Logan’s were tenant farmers in these rolling arable lands of the Merse, lying a few miles north of the River Tweed and bordering England.

Calicut in those days was a bigger place though considered a dying entrepot, compared to the little village of Reston with 321 people and Malabar was where the young lad would soon head to, to better his fortunes. Even during his school days at the age old Musselburgh academy, William distinguished himself with a Dux medal in 1856, before moving on to Edinburg University. It was at this juncture that fate intervened and the Sepoy mutiny took place. In the aftermath of the Rebellion, under the provisions of the Government of India Act 1858, the British Government nationalized the Company. The Crown took over its Indian possessions, its administrative powers and machinery, and its armed forces. With the British crown now responsible for the governance of the presidencies of India, youngsters desirous of going to India did not any longer have to buy commissions, but obtained positions after open competition.

That was how William Logan, a bright and plucky lad, appeared and passed the exams to travel to India and join the MCS or Madras civil service, in Aug 1862. His first challenge was to pass the vernacular tests in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu which he did. At the age of 21, in 1864, he was appointed as an assistant to the collector and magistrate at North Arcot. He was then moved to Malabar as an assistant to the collector, but was quickly reposted to Tanjore and soon enough, right back to Malabar in 1866, as acting head assistant and then head assistant. He then took a number of positions within the Tellichery and Calicut Collectorate till he finally became the chief administrator of Malabar – The collector and magistrate, in 1876, aged 35.

But in between all that he did find time to settle himself by finding a wife, in 1872, while on furlough. His wife, Anne Selby Burrell Wallace, daughter of a banker, accompanied him to Tellichery where they begot a child Mary Ord. By 1876, moved to South Malabar, they had settled down at the East Hill collector’s Bungalow at Calicut which we talked about earlier, and went on to live there for the next 12 years. As DLH states -

Logan was often seen on horseback touring the areas of Malabar frequently, accompanied by one or two servants, constantly stopping and talking to small groups, and asking questions. His care for the people of Malabar, his passion for doing what was right, his built in faith in God, all of these were put to work during his stay in Calicut.

His other children William Malcom, Elizabeth Helen were delivered in Malabar while Anne Selby Burrel was born in Scotland.
Reston - Scotland

One of his first and notable involvements was related to the administration of the Lakshdweep or Laccadive Islands and the Ali Raja’s monopolies related to the coir trade. The islands had been controlled by the Ali Rajas and the Beebi of Cannanore and generally accepted so by the British who had agreed to a status quo, until W Robinson visiting the islands in 1847 suggested much needed reforms. The islands were later attached by the British due to unpaid arrears and it was in 1869 that Logan was deputed to the islands for a review, with the Ali Rajah in tow and trying his best to obstruct him from getting information. Logan completed his investigations and submitted different schemes for raising revenue, entailing the abolition of the monopoly but these suggestions were not accepted and from the time of the British government taking over the control of these islands in 1875, the prices paid were assimilated to those paid on the South Kanara islands.

But a bulk of his work was done in the mainland, all resulting from his love and sympathy for the people of Malabar. Even though he was a mainstay for the British Raj in Malabar, his appreciation for the unique culture of Malabar can be seen in his writings. I will not dwell in too much detail with his specific contributions and for that one only needs to peruse the commentaries in the Kerala gazetteers edition of the Malabar manual (circa 2000), especially the contributions of KKN Kurup, Ravindran Gopinath and Kesavan Veluthat. Additional analysis is provided in the works of KKN Kurup’s seminal work (study in agrarian relations) and VV Kunhikrishnan’s (Tenancy legislation) detailed analysis. Nevertheless, I will provide an overview for the sake of completeness. Editions of Malabar Law and custom which were published after the Malabar manual often refer to his works and his legal decisions, as a base.

As a collector he had a tremendous amount of work to do and we can still see the fruits of his efforts. He was very much involved with the plantations of Wyanad, starting of garden schools, and the development of the Calicut port. The railway link to Beypore had been completed and Logan wanted to link it to Trivandrum and other sections of the South eastern railway through Cape Comorin.

His efforts in understanding the issues with the Moplahs of Malabar is well documented and Hussein Randathani adds - As a political and economic analyst Logan had done a wonderful job in finding out various reasons connected with the peasant revolts of Malabar. He thoroughly goes through the economic grievances which precipitated Mappila revolts and at the same time he brings out the ideological factors behind them. However sympathies aside, he administered the law in very strict terms as was the case during the Trikkaliyur riots.

Perhaps his biggest contributions lie in the understanding and documentation of the traditional land and agrarian systems of Malabar. While it is said that he erred on the side of the peasant and did not quite side with the landlord due to his own background as a Scottish peasant, his recommendations on land tenure decisions did not find favor with his masters who for the sake of smoother administration decided to maintain a status quo. Ironically, some of the succeeding Kerala administrators of independent India, though many decades later, found many of his arguments perfect.

Following all this, in 1881, Logan took on the role of special commissioner to study the issues in the Moplah districts after the government’s receipt of an anonymous petition with public opinion explaining certain agrarian reasons as the reason behind Moplah violence. Logan found fault with the implementation of British law in tenancy cases and presented a very detailed study of the rules of the land vis-à-vis the situation faced by the tenants, coupled with their abject poverty, ending usually with forceful evictions. He also outlined various religious issues affecting Moplahs as well as the issues faced by Hindu lower caste tenants within the tenurial system, resulting in others describing his outlook to be one of a ‘primitive socialist’. The government did not agree and kept Logan out of the final committee drafting the revised Malabar tenancy bill. Eventually more revisions took place and the act came out in 1887, something I would assume was to Logan’s complete discomfiture and the principal reasoning behind the British governments transfer orders for Logan to Andhra, culminating in his resignation and departure from India.

During this period, while different committees were analyzing the various issues relating to Logan’s report, he was given numerous differing responsibilities. While he was an acting resident of Cochin and Travancore between 1883 -84, he was again on special duty relating to land tenures and finally sent back to Calicut as collector. Calicut remembers him for many an interesting action when he served as its collector. He was the first to record the peculiar trail of chastity or smartavicharam where an offending Nambudiri woman was cruelly outcasted. One should also not forget his relentless effort to create a classic botanical garden in the area where we have the SM Street these days. The idea for the government to acquire a 7 acre piece of land from the Zamorin’s family did not quite pan out due to the arrival of the railway and the resulting increase in land prices. Even when Logan changed his plans to have a much smaller 1 acre garden, the idea did not eventually get an approval from his superiors. 

He was the person who decided the location of Calicut’s railway station (the Chaliyam railway station lost out in the bargain) upon what once was the route of the dried up Robinson canal or the bazar canal. Logan was a just man, who was severe not only on people who disobeyed the law, but also errant government officials. He was also against the smalltime kuris of Malabar mainly because many of them were dishonest and robbed the poorest off their little earnings. He was once tasked with determining if explosive gunpowder was being misused to make crackers in Calicut (this was during the Moplah disturbances), and Logan after a careful study explained that gunpowder was as such only used in temples for the “kathana’ and not in any crackers. He also had some tiffs with the Zamorin’s family over matters such as appointments in their schools and college. His involvement in demarcating the lands of the French Loge was something we talked about earlier. Stories of his direct involvement in many such matters make interesting reading and prove that he was a collector who really loved and cared for the people of his district.

Logan’s involvement in the Attapadi silent valley suit and his recording of facts and evidences helped in the preservation of the Attapadi forest including the Silent Valley, something ecologists of Kerala proudly mention even today. RJ Herring observes, citing Logan - the effect of colonial law was to simplify, collapse and locate concretely the bundle of rights in land with the objective of creating property rights in the sense of market property. Simultaneously, vast tracts were "reserved" for the state on the claim that unused "waste" land had traditionally been "the property of the state"

But his superiors were in general not too pleased with all this I suppose, for Logan was transferred in 1888 to Cudappah as the district and sessions judge, and for Logan I believe, that it was the last straw, and just two months later he resigned and went back aged just 47, to Scotland to lead a life in obscurity, to retire as they say and become a gentleman hunting and playing golf. His picture from Scotland does show a portly country man in breeches, with his cap and a bent pipe hanging from his lips. It is mentioned that for a while he continued correspondence with some of his friends in Malabar.

But he left behind what is considered to be his magnum opus- the Malabar manual in 3 parts. A fine 1200 page manual later printed in two parts, he recorded all that he could about the people of Malabar, their history, culture and varied practices. (‘A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and other papers of importance relating to British affairs in Malabar’ written by him was earlier referred to as the Part 3).  

Logan is sometimes titled the Gazetteer of Malabar. Now what was a Gazetteer supposed to do? Gazetteers became popular in Britain in the 19th Century, many of whom were Scottish, documenting activities to meet public demand in Britain for information on an expanding Empire. Logan simply put, produced in ‘Malabar manual’, the work of an enlightened administrator, an assiduous scholar and an authority on British affairs in the region. Dr. M. G. S. Narayanan opines "Logan was sincere and serious about the task entrusted to him. He was an efficient Collector who had an affinity with the people of Malabar. The personal contribution is evident all along. The details given by Logan with regard to dress, festivals and other social customs go a long way in providing insights on the social history of Malabar. The cultural heritage of Malabar, the race for hegemony in the trade of pepper and spices, the Mysorean invasion, and finally British supremacy find mention in his book”.

Logan’s admiration for the Nair community is something he exemplifies in words in the Malabar manual. He stated "I would more especially call attention to the central point of interest, as I look at it, in any descriptive and historical account of the Malayali race - the position, namely, which was occupied for centuries on centuries by the Nair caste in the civil and military organization of the province, - a position so unique and so lasting that but for foreign intervention there seems no reason why it should not have continued to endure for centuries on centuries to come. These Nayars," he wrote, "being heads of the Calicut people, resemble the parliament, and do not obey the king's dictates in all things, but chastise his ministers when they do unwarrantable acts."

The manual does have its deficiencies and in certain cases does not reflect all the truth. It is said that the manual shows a stellar administration in charge of Malabar and issues such as the 1876-78 famines were not depicted correctly.But Logan with characteristic humility states in the preface of his work "I shall consider that I have
MM sculpture Calicut
failed in one main object if I do not succeed in arousing a feeling of interest on many points whereon I have necessarily touched, but briefly in this work." He added “Many things I would no doubt find wherein my knowledge was defective , and many more still in which fuller investigation would through new, and perhaps altogether different light on what seems plain enough now”.

A wonderful man, all in all. I only hope that the people of Malabar will continue to prove that they deserved him and I do hope they do more to remember him. There is a road  in Tellicherry, the town up north, where he had served, carrying his name but William Logan's presence was not very much visible anywhere in Calicut, save for an alcoholic bar with his name in the local 5 star hotel and recently a nice sculpture of the famous Malabar manual.

Himmat Sept 22, 1978 – William Logan Bio – DLH
A Short Account of the Laccadive Islands and Minicoy By R. H. Ellis
Tenancy legislation in Malabar - VV Kunhikrishnan
A study in the agrarian relations of Malabar – Dr KKN Kurup
Malabar manual – Malabar gazetteers (2000)
Kozhikodinte Paithrukam – TB Seluraj
The Collector of Malabar - John Logan Marjoribanks, Our valour, Clan Logan society, vol 3 issue 1, Jan 2008

Reston - a village in Coldingham parish, Berwickshire, near the right bank of Eye Water, with a station on the North British railway at the junction of the Berwickshire branch, 8¾ miles NE of Duns, 11¼ NW of Berwick, and 46½ ESE of Edinburgh. It has a post and telegraph office under Ayton, an inn, a market cross, a public school, and a Free church (1880; 260 sittings), erected at a cost of £1150. Pop. (1881) 321.—Ord. Sur., sh. 34, 1864.

MM sculpture - Midhun Chunakara
Logan - KKN Kurup