The Travancore War was fought between the British East India Company and the ministers of the states of Travancore and Cochin in 1808-9. British occupation of the Northern Malabar Coast (modern North Kerala in South India) at the end of 18th century had faced resistance from some of the locals and there were several revolts against British rule. Following the defeat of Mysore, the English East India Company took over the administration of the territories in Malabar which had been conquered by Mysore. The princely states of Tranvancore and Cochin were allies of the English East India Company, and as a part of the Subsidiary alliance which they had signed, the states had to maintain a British resident and an army to ensure both internal and external peace. At the request of the Dalawa (vizier) of Travancore, the Company's forces had put down a mutiny by some elements of the Tranvancorean army in 1805. However by 1808, fresh trouble brewed in the region, when the maharaja of Travancore defaulted on his payment of costs charged for the British involvement in the Third Mysore War, the 1805 mutiny and for the maintenance of the subsidiary British force. The British Resident at Travancore, Lieutenant Colonel Colin Macaulay, demanded prompt payment of the arrears and insisted on disbandment of some state infantry units to raise the money. The demand was rejected by the Dalawa Velu Thampi Dalawa of Travancore, who was the de facto ruler of the state. The Dalawa of Cochin, Palaith Achan, was upset with Col Macaulay over his friendship with Achan's sworn enemy, Kunhikrishna Menon of Nadvaramba. Both of the Dalwas planned the rebellion together and it is not clear how far their own maharajahs were involved in this. Following vague assurances of French support from Mauritius, they both decided to attack and remove the British from the Malabar coast. On December 18, 1808, open rebellion broke out in Travancore and Cochin. At midnight, the residents house at Cochin was stormed though Col Macaulay and Kunhikrishana Menon managed to escape. The British garrison in Cochin, under Lieutenant Colonel John Chalmers, found itself under attack by thousands of militia as well as the state forces of Travancore. Reinforcements including the 1st Battalion 17th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry (or 1/17th MNI, now 5th Battalion The Baloch Regiment, Pakistan Army) were despatched from Madras and arrived in Cochin in early January 1809. On 19 January 1809, a large force of rebels attacked the town of Cochin, which was being defended by six companies of 1/17th MNI and fifty men of the 12th Regiment of Foot under the command of Major WH Hewitt of 1/17th MNI. Major Hewitt and his men repulsed the attack after a gallant and skilful defence. In a despatch to the Resident, Major Hewitt described the action:
- … the detachment HM’s 12th Regiment, and the six companies 1st Battalion 17th Regiment under my command, were attacked by three columns of the enemy on three different points about 6 o’clock this morning, and after a very severe engagement of three hours, we repulsed them on all sides with considerable slaughter, and captured their two guns … from what I could observe in the field of action, the enemy’s forces appeared about 3000 excellent disciplined troops, but from what I can collect from report, they amounted to much more.
In a second despatch, Hewitt gave more details of the action:
- … the enemy advanced along the glaces in sub-divisions in most perfect order, with a six pounder in front of their centre … a four pounder flanking us … I drew my party up under cover of a small part of the glaces, and at the distance of thirty paces gave them a volley of musketry, and charged them with the bayonet, they gave us two rounds from the gun, some from their fire locks and ran away. This disposed off the first column. The other two columns captured the fort, and … I despatched Captain Jones with a company to take them on their right flank, (which he did with great value) … they ran in all directions … their loss amounts in killed and wounded to about 300 men.
The casualties of 1/17th MNI were ten privates killed and 45 wounded in addition to Captain John Reid, who later died of his wounds. For the gallant defence, the battalion was later awarded the Battle Honour of ‘Cochin.’ The British troops defeated the rebels in another battle at Quilon. In the meantime, following Thampi's Kundara proclamation (January 11, 1809), some British civilians and their native supporters were executed by the rebels in Travancore. In mid-January, the British assembled a force of 3000 in the south of Travancore to relieve pressure on Lieutenant Colonel Chalmers’ force and under Col. St. Leger, it entered Travancore via the Armboli pass and occupied the fortress there. On February 19, 1809, the strategic forts of Udayagiri and Padmanabhapuram fell to the British. The army marched to Trivandrum, the capital of Travancore and camped at the suburb of Pappanamcode, while another force entered Cochin and chased away the remaining rebels. The Rajas of both the states had not openly supported the rebels and at these turn of events, the Maharaja of Travancore defected to the east India company and appointed a new Dalawa.. Following a severe defeat at Cochin, Paliath Achan, the Dalawa of Cochin, defected from the anti-British alliance on February 27, 1809. The Maharajah issued an order for the arrest of Velu Thampi, who was chased to the ground by the Maharajah's soldiers at Mannadi. Velu Thampi committed suicide to avoid capture and with his death the rebellion ended.
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