Arcot and the Carnatic Wars

26 Feb


I visited Arcot town on 17 Feb 2017, which is 280 years after the above map was published.

In the 18th Century, “Arcot” was a feudal kingdom, part of the Mughal empire, the seat of the Nawab of the Carnatic, owing fealty to the Subahdar of the Deccan, Nizam-ul-Mulk.

Please see the attached map of the Nawabdom of Carnatic which borders the Kingdoms of Madurai and Thanjavur in the South, Mysore in the West and the settlements of Madras and Pulicat to the North.

Today, Arcot is a Taluk of Vellore District in Tamilnadu.

Robert Clive, who landed in Madras in June 1744, got an unexpected opportunity to dabble in Indian politics during the first two of the three Carnatic Wars.

The First Carnatic War between the English and French Companies in India coincided with the Wars of Austrian Succession (1740-48).

During the First Carnatic war, Robert Clive joined the Company Army where his leadership and initiative were noticed by his Commander, Major Stringer Lawrence.

The English and French realised the importance of naval support in the battles of the Carnatic War. England had an extra advantage in having a base in Bengal from where reinforcements and supplies could be delivered to the Cormandel Coast. The French Navy was anchored at a far greater distance in Mauritius in the Indian ocean.

During the Second Carnatic War, Chanda Sahib, the Nawab of Carnatic was besieging Trichinopoly with the support of Joseph Francois Dupleix, Governor of French India. Dost Ali, the English backed contender for Nawab of Carnatic was hiding out in Trichinopoly.

Robert Clive suggested to the new English Governor Thomas Saunders that an attack on Arcot would divert the attention and forces of Chanda Sahib away from Trichinopoly.

On 26 August 1751, with 200 Europeans and 300 sepoys, Clive marched from Madras to Arcot, a distance of 117 kilometres. He completed the forced march in 5 days, of which on the last day, the detachment marched in heavy rain. When Chanda Sahib’s troops heard of the determined English advance, they abandoned the Arcot Fort. Clive and his men easily occupied the fort, strengthened the fortifications and prepared the cannon left behind in readiness for the siege. He held out heroically for 53 days (Sept-Oct 1751) until the besieging force withdrew.

It is reported that he lived in the small room above Delhi Gate of Arcot Fort. Please see map of Arcot Fort.

As expected by Clive, Chanda Sahib sent his son, Raju Sahib with a large force to Arcot. He arrived at Arcot on 23rd September 1751 and besieged the fort.

While Governor Saunders was organising a relief of Arcot, on 14 Nov 1751, Raju Sahib’s troops concentrated on the breach in the walls of the fort. Elephants were used to batter the Delhi Gate. Heavy musket fire from the defenders of the fort caused the elephants to turn back and create confusion in the ranks.

Robert Clive distinguised himself in this siege, at one point even manning a cannon himself and firing several rounds into the besieging army.

The next day Raju Sahib marched away with his army leaving behind several of his guns and ammunition which were captured by the English army.

On 3 Dec 1751, Clive followed up the siege by engaging Raju Sahib’s army at Arani, 28 km to the south of Arcot and defeating it.

The Siege of Arcot and the Battle of Arni considerably increased the prestige of Robert Clive and the English Army.

Timeline of Carnatic Wars:

First Carnatic War: 1746-1748
Second Carnatic War: 1749-1754
Third Carnatic War: 1756-1763


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