Robert Clive, founder of British Empire for the first time learnt the nuances of military leadership in Arcot, Tamil Nadu 01

1751. Arcot Siege, S. India, Robert Clive.

Since the late 1700s till August 1947  the Britain had ruled India in a repressive way, following the dictum of "Dive and Rule". During the colonial rule, they looted India  as much as they could and boosted their economy from the Indian revenue. Historically speaking, Robert Clive, the man who laid the foundation of the British Empire in Bengal  had  duplicated the model of annexation of kingdoms  he had   pioneered on the soils of present Tamil Nadu. The place was  the Arcot fort, then ruled by the Nawab of Arcot . Now one could see only a few remnants  of the old fort. This small town changed the persona of Robert Clive  who later  successfully raided Ft. William in Calcutta and recaptured it. from the Nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-daulah.  Later Clive conspired with  Nawab's  dissident Amirs  in his court and finally  had  Siaj killed after the battle of Plassey (June 1757). After the fall of Bengal, the Brits ingeniously planned  to capture many lands, thus they  began their land gabbing binge  with  military might. Over  a period of time, using various strategies,  they captured the Indian lands from the rulers with support from the British Crown which gave them  to use military power to run the business. EIC was the proxy government for the British Crown. The employees got a good salary and on  the sides did illegal trade  with corrupt practices; their income was enormous and Clive turned a blind eye to them as he himself was greedy and money-minded. The very  idea of the British Empire, believe it or not, had its roots  on the soils of what is now called Tamil Nadu  The town  Arcot, now in Ranipet district of North Tamil Nadu occupies an important place in the success of Robert Clive. 

 Baron Clive Of Plassey, India.

That Robert Clive, the man whose behavior was untruly through out his  childhood with  poor education  became the eeliest  founder of the British empire in India, is an unexpected historical event. He had no mentor whom he could  emulate.  Devoid of scholarship,  good education and amiable  behavior  while growing,  at one stage of his later life,  he took a decision to improve himself to lead  a meaningful and adventurous  life.  Armed with  firm determination, while working   he had  spent much of his time  to improve his education and other skills  to keep himself safe in his job in a competitive environment. His continued efforts stood him in good stead  when he held  the most powerful job in India.  His good writing skill  and  speech which he developed in the early part of his career  got him a name  in the House of Commons in the later years. His speech on the Corruption charges raised by some powerful men  regarding his wheeling dealing in Bengal is a good example.    .  

1751 siege of Arcot, S. India.

With the help of his father,  Robert Clive  got a humble position  with the EIC.  He joined the English company in June 1744  and at that time  it  had a small settlement at Fort St. George facing the Bay of Bengal near the village of Chennappanayaka Patnam,  later Madras  now called Chennai (a major Indian city and an IT and automobile manufacturing hub). At Madras for about two years  Clive worked as an assistant  shopkeeper; it was a sort of  clerical job  involving book keeping and desk job. Here, his  easy access to the library made  him  a good reader. What made Clive  become the first Governor General  of  India?   How did he learn the military and administrative skills  to  run the  mercantile trading company that was to become the proxy government for the British crown in the late 18th century? 

The emerging French East India company that  had a settlement at Pondicherry, S. India about 110 miles south of Madras on the east coast  became an arch rival  for the EIC  and their influence grew as months went by. During  Clive's tenure  the French forces raided the English settlement in Madras and captured it in 1746. Clive and others were taken as prisoners  by the French.  Subsequently, Clive. and   others managed to escape from there  disguising as natives and mostly traveling at night. After 3 days they  reached  Ft. David, Cuddalore (now in Tamil Nadu).  Built in 1725, the two-story colonial style structure, served as the seat of power of the English on the Coromandel coast.  

Location. Arcot (Tamil Nadu), India

Realizing the necessity to have military training to get better job opportunities,  Clive  joined the British forces   to undergo the needed training there,  When in 1747 the French army attacked Fort . David,  for the first time Clive took charge of the situation and he successfully managed to  defend the fort.  Thus he had gained a first-hand  experience in war  and this exposure made him become a resolute soldier. 

After the discovery of the first sea route to India by Vasco de Gama in 1498, the European countries began to land in India  and evinced keen interest in the affairs of local rulers, taking advantage of their non cooperation lack of unity among them

After the death of  the Nizam of the Deccan, Asaf Jah in 1748, the succession to the Carnatic region (part of present Tamil Nadu and Karnataka) became a disputed issue. The Carnatic region was ruled by the Nizam's agent Nawab  Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah. British who dominated  over other European powers gave full support to Nawab Wallajah. On the other hand, the French who were a force to reckon with in this part of India,  backed  Chanda Sahib, a relative of Wallajah.  In the war of succession the French candidate  Chand Sahib, son-n-law of Nawab  Dhost Khan  ultimately won out.  

Siege of Tirchinopoly 1751 by Chanda

death of Anwaruddin Muhd. Khan, Ambur (Carnatic war)

Statue of Dupleix, Pondicherry, India
French Gov. Gen. Joseph François Dupleix

Above image: Joseph François Dupleix (23 January 1697 – 10 November 1763) , a man of commanding stature was Governor-General of French India and rival of Robert Clive. Under his command the French East India company gave a stiff competition to the EIC operations in Madras and also in Bengal. Widely traveled, his father, a director of the French East India Co hehad sent him on  voyages to the Americas and India and in 1720 was named a member of the superior council at Bengal. Using his business acumen on his own,  he made many business ventures on the sides  and acquired a big fortune. He was the one who turned the succession disputes among the  Indian rulers to his advantage and pushed the French influence to the fore......................  

As part of consolidation of his  throne,  Chanda Sahib decided to get rid of  his  rival, Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah,  who  fled to Trichinopoly following the Battle of Ambur in 1749, in which his  father Anwaruddin Muhammed Khan was slain.  After raising needed funds in 1751, assisted by Joseph François Dupleix,  Chanda Sahib led a large force to  besiege the fort town of Trichinopoly.  Ali was supported by a handful of his own men and about 600 British troops. This siege was not well handled by the EIC;s forces as the English commander lacked  the skill to break the siege.  The French army gave an effective and adequate support  to Chanda Sahib. The political situation at  Trichinopoly  was  in favor of the French and their alley.

Clive and his army marching to Conjeeveram.

Now the military genius of Robert Clive,  the one-time clerk of the EIC at Madras  and who had already seen action in the first Carnatic war, came out in full bloom,  Clive, quite concerned about the ineffective British troops  at Trichinopoly,  decided to checkmate Chanda Sahib.  No greater incident, perhaps of his sagacity and ingenuity could be furnished than the unerring choice of  choosing  the right  tactical  military strategy to divert the attention of Chanda Sahib.  Clive advised the governor at Madras, Thomas Saunders. to siege Chanda's  capital at Arcot instead  of confronting him at Trichinopoly. If the siege is  on at Arcot,  Chand's attention will be more on his capital city than  at Tiruchinopoly. 

1751 Siege of Arcot,

Above image: Siege of Arcot 31st August to 15th November 1751 in the War in India: picture by Cecil Doughty..............................

Robert Clive at the Arcot Siege

Above image:  Robert Clive who headed the army was firing  a cannon in the Siege of Arcot 31st August to 15th November 1751 in the 2nd Angelo-Carnatic  war in India: picture by Cecil Doughty. It is reported that Clive’s garrison fired 12,000 musket rounds during the final assault. That is an average of 24 rounds per man.  Clive turned to be a  war hero, a big turning point in his professional life............ 

Clive led an army  from Madras on 26 August 1751 with 200 British soldiers, 8 European officers, 300 sepoys and   three small cannons.  Though the garrison at Arcot was a large one, when the English army reached there after two day's delay, soldiers in Chanda's  garrison panicked and  abandoned the fort. Surprisingly, without any casualty or any firing Clive's army took control of the town and the fort on 23 Sept, 1751. 

Siege of Arcot war elephants

Above image: War elephants belonging to the Mughal Empire's Nawab of the Carnatic, Chanda Sahib, assisted by a small number of troops from the French East India Company batter the gates of Arcot.............

Upon hearing about  the capture of his capital Arcot, under the command of his son Raza sahib,  Chanda Sahib immediately  dispatched 4,000 of his siege force  with many Europeans  and 300 cavalry to recapture  Arcot.   At  Trichinopoly  the siege was  finally lifted on 10 April 1751 and Wallajah was released from there.  As for Chanda Sahib, he was killed by the  Tanjorean forces who supported the British, 

Being clever, as he was, Clive who  had already put the town of Arcot under his control   was  satisfied with  water supply and the  60 day supply of  provision available in the fort.  When firing broke out between them and the Arcot forces the British killed  15 French men, but their casualty was low. In the mean time Clive  secured big cannons  and additional soldiers from Madras to handle the siege on the fort.   The French on their part  brought  powerful guns from Pondicherry and pounded the British positions in the fort . Some British cannons were damaged and the French pounding continued.  The siege  had lasted  more than a month  and Clive and his men were low on provisions and  ammunition at this point of time. The Arcot forces asked Clive to surrender.  The French had  additional reinforcement  to assist  Raza Sahib in the siege. Undeterred   and refused to be cowed down, Clive made up his mind to hang on to the fort as long as he could despite heavy pounding from the French forces  and the size of Chanda's army.  Clive and his men were nearing exhaustion. A tough job for his men to defend the damaged fort that was open with just a moat separating the fields on three sides  and the Palar river on the other side. Clive then knew that if he had to  win the battle,  then he had to defend his position against the Arcot forces.

 War elephants in the siege of Arcot,

 Above image:   Elephants with iron plates on the front part of the head ramming at the gates of Arcot Fort: Siege of Arcot, 1751......................... 

 Raza sahib with the help of the  French army decided to go for the final assault on 14th November 1751  and luckily Clive got the prior information from the spy about the imminent attack. Spearheaded by war elephants with iron plates on the forehead to storm the fort's gate, Arcot's  huge army moved forward. Unexpectedly, the elephants panicked upon the firing  of musket-balls and ran amok trampling on  innumerable  army men.  Heavy firing from the British on the Arcot soldiers on the dry moat caught them unaware and  after an hour or so 400  Arcot  soldiers fell to the shelling  but the English casualty was low.   

The  unpredicted 52 day long siege at Arcot  was well handled by Robert Clive  despite odds  and lack of war experience.  But, his  military strategies  in  Arcot  against a formidable army provided him a chance to improve and experiment his war strategies,  depending on the emerging odd situation on the war front.  Clive  dwelled into the realm of  fundamentals of military scouting,  planning, offensive, defensive strategies, maneuvers, anticipation, contingency plan, etc. Clive also got a chance to know all about the siege  by the enemies  and the survival skills in case  the siege lasted for a long time. 

When emerged out of Arcot town   the deserving victory gave Clive  more confidence than ever before to   handle any odds  on the war fronts.  It  was a remarkable show of efficiency, patience  and quack planning despite the  challenges  by someone who was not a professional army man   To him  sheer guts and commitments  were an added advantage. The British  finally installed Muhd  Wallajah on the throne and Arcot came under their control. Clive's  tactical military strategy and its execution at Arcot won him laurels and he became a war hero.  His string of successes  in the later years was phenomenal. Subsequently, after the battle of Plassey - 3 June 1757 and Buxar - 22 October 1764  Clive captured Bengal in NE India, consolidated the British supremacy. Thus he  laid the first  foundation of the British Empire in India. The English economy, with poor GDP - around 03, had begun to grow, causing the Indian economy with a  strong GDP - roughly 23  to slide downhill. After persistent sacrifices, toil and pain for centuries India became a free country on 15 August, 1947.