Col. Arthur Wellesley's defeat in Malabar, Kerala against the Nair Army guided by Pazhassi Raja

Arthur Wellesley (Duke Wellington). 

Many of us may not have come across an important historical fact related to  the early colonial era in the Malabar area of Kerala and, in particular. Waynad.  Surprisingly, this place has links with Arthur Wellesley, an Irish-born soldier of the British Army who  started his career at the age of 28 in Calcutta (Kolkata) by joining the 33rd regiment of the East India Company.  Two years later on  a war  mission to  Mysore, Southern India  to confront the sworn-enemy of the British, Tipu Sultan.  In the final Angelo-Mysore war, the regiment led by Wellesley  saw the down fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799.  Backed by vast experience in various phases of war and administration in India that stood him in good   he took on the mighty powerful ruler Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France  (June 1815) at Waterloo, Belgium  and emerged victorious. In the later years, he became the Prime Minister of Britain. 

Waynad, Kerala.

Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington) served in Waynad as a military strategist.  How did he appear on the scene here- in the Malabar area?   If you turn the pages of the history of waynad that is situated in a mountainous area surrounded by thick jungles and aromatic spices for which the environmentally sensitive  Western Ghat mountains are quite famous, you are in for a surprise. 'Official Records' reveal that his string of victories got broken here. Wellesley leading the colonial forces of Malabar, South Canara and Mysore,  as a commander to suppress the growing aggression posed by Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan on one hand and Pazhassi Raja of Waynad on the other side. The Nair army adopted guerrilla war tactics against them and  Arthur Wellesley ran out of luck and faced defeat and indignation in the final years of  war duty in the subcontinent.


Waynad,Kerala.  Tea plantation.

Kottayam district, Kerala state,

The reason why the EIC was interested in this fertile region endowed with nature is  this area was (and is)  popular for all kinds of spices, etc and the possession of land   became a contentious issue. The Raja of that area, hailing from the Kottayam Royal family, as the son of the native land had every reason to claim rights over it. But the East India Company in the midst of its land- grabbing  spree set their eyes on the fertile land that produced superior quality pepper, turmeric, cardamom, etc that would fetch a bundle on the international market. Besides, they could also get quality wood from the forest as well.  Obviously EIC rejected local ruler's  claim as it had special trade interest  and commercial exploitation of the rich land and the profits derived from the sale of spices,

According  to the Malabar Manuel, compiled  by William  Logan,  historian and colonial administrator of Malabar  under  the Madras Presidency that had jurisdiction on this land  "The military control of the province was placed under the Madras government, which appointed Colonel Arthur Wellesley as Commander of the forces in Malabar and Canara as well as in Mysore,"  The local hill tribes had been protesting over the EIC 's threats  to take over of their land under Pazhassi Raja, (reign 1774 to 1804) a highly respected and influential person in this area. 

Pazhassi Raja, Kerala.

Above image: Pazhassi Raja (3 January 1753 - 30 November 1805) born as Kerala Varma .was a warrior Hindu prince and de facto head of the kingdom of Kottayam ,also known as Cotiote. The kingdom cosisted of mostly rich hilly areas with tough geography.  He fought  wars of resistance against the Mysorian army from (1773–1782 and then  to 1793). led by Hyder Ali and later by Tipu Sultan.  He was young and  in the early 20s. His wife was Kunjani.  His consistent fight against the raiders  of Mysore got the support from his people because they were demanding heavy taxes and trying to take over the Hindu temples.  The EIC got the control of Kottayam  region and other places after the 3rd Angelo-Mysore war  that ended in a peace treaty.(Srirangapatna) and in the wake of it  after 1792 the Kottayam area became part of Madras Presidency.  This time the local ruler  took the cudgels against the English company and tried hard to uphold  the sovereignty of  his kingdom. By virtue of the peace treat with the Mysore ruler,  the EIC, unethicaaly, staked its claim over the land ruled by the ruler of Kottayam dynasty.  Till his last days of his life the English company's army  led by Col. Arthur Wellesley could not subdue the protests led by him. Puzhassi  Raja  died in 1804 and became a prominent freedom fighter in the South western peninsular India, frequently referred to as God's own county because of its rich flora, fauna, numerous rivers and fertile lands.  ............ 

To suppress the activities of the tribes, Wellesley took the extreme step of strengthening the British army and started laying roads in the wooded areas - a way to  displace the natives from their ancestral lands; thus Wellesley  earned their ire. To add fuel to the fire,  Wellesley wrote to the higher-up in Madras, his fellow army man, Lieut. Col. Kirkpatrick, (dated April 7, 1800,)  expressing his displeasure over the  vast  tough wooded terrain where military operation was a difficult one. as the whole area was densely forested, with  poor visibility for troop movement. As for the natives living there,  he mentioned  that they were resolute,  troublesome and would  cause turbulence.  The unfortunate fact is, as per records, he one step went ahead and described  the natives  as ''savage   and cruel''.

The Battle of Panamarathukotta (or Pancoorta Cottah) -Oct. 1802 was fought between the British Company and the Nairs  of  Wayanad.- Cotiote and after a long struggle they  defeated the British army. Not withstanding his serious efforts, Wellesley  made a futile attempt to round up Pazhassi Raja who hadto live in exile to get protestas against the Europeans going. The dragnet kept failing evry time the highly spirited British officer tried to catch the ruler. Both Wellesley and his brother holding the  highest post of  Gov. Gen. in Calcutta (Kolkata)  had to return to England before Raja was defeated by the  EIC.  Wellesley had to leave Waynad for his home country  quite disappointed over his failure to trap  Pazhassi  Raja as his military strategies did not work well  in this land   that had complex geography. Pazhassi  Raja died in 1805 and his end was a controversial one. Some historians say he was captured by the British and others mention that he committed suicide before being caught by the colonial army. 

Wellesley  was bestowed with the covetous peerage  of the Duke of Wellington in 1814 for his  distinguished services in the British army and administration. In 1815,  he became the ''Conqueror of the Conquer of the World''  after his war with Napoleon at Waterloo, Belgium.  As Wellesley had a flair for administration of  the government, being close to the King  George IV,  he entered  British politics on Tory ticket.   He ultimately became the Prime Minister in 1828 and was politically active till 1846.. He died in 1852 at Walmer Castle.


The Cotiote War

There had been continuous skirmishes and protests  by the Cotiote Kottayam king, Pazhassi Raja Kerala Varma, and his subjects against the  East India Company for a long time spanning  between 1793 and 1806. Perhaps, longest  struggle in India- longer than   Anglo-Mysore Wars (beween  Hyder Ali and Tipu  Sultan, Anglo-Maratha Wars, Anglo-Sikh Wars and Polygar Wars of Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu.  Spear-headed by daring Pazhassi Raja who was keen to be free the land and people from the British yoke, his continuous struggle gave a big headache to the British  who were determined to annex areas under his rule. Being dishonest and deceitful as usual, the English company betrayed the Raja and the natives with persistent exhortations of his two patriot noblemen, Kaitheri Ambu and Kannavath Sankaran. Consequently, war broke out between Cotiote Nairs and the EIC army. 

The war lasted from 1800 to 1804 led by Arthur Wellesley after his fresh victory against Tipu Sultan who died in 1799. (The EIC's mission was supported by the ruling dynasty of Kottayam (a sort of temporary alliance). The EIC army when facing the war in Malabar against the Nairs, initially had  6,000 men; later  it increased  to 14,000 in 1804.  The Nair army had between 2000 to 6000 equipped with flintlock (uses flint striking mechanism for ignition). Later they ran out of musket and other weapons and they used bows and arrows swords.  They  inflicted heavy injuries on the European army men and soldiers - about 80%. suffered. The Nairs were quite familiar with the mountain terrain and well-versed in gorilla warfare and caused severe blow to the EIC army. On 18 March 1797,  a big army of 1000 plus  well-equipped soldiers led by Major Cameron  was ambushed  by Pazhassi's men. The lightning attack in the jungle was so brutal, the English army suffered heavy causality.  Literally, the army was driven to the wall.    The 10 year long  struggle ended in favor of Nairs. For Wellesley, it was a great defeat. (