Short Essay on Travancore-British Relations



The Rani of Quilon invited the Portuguese to her state and gave them some trading privileges, but their factory at Quilon was burnt down by the envious Arabs. Then they build a factory at Anjengo for whom the Rani of Attingal gave many trading privileges. But soon they alienated the sympathies of the Rani and her people by their rude and uncivilized behaviour.

When their trade declined their place was taken over by the Dutch and the English traders. The English were given permission to establish their first factory at Vizhinjam, a port south of Trivandrum, by Veera Ravi Varma in 1644. This was the earliest English settlement in the state which at that time was known as Venad.

The next milestone in the Travancore British relations was the grant of certain privileges to the English Company in the last quarter of the 17th century. Velu Pillai's Travancore State Manual states that it was Umayamma Rani who granted the English permission to establish their factory at Anjengo.

The State Manual seems to depend on Logan's Malabar Manual. Logan has stated that, "in this year (1684) the English Company obtained from the Attingal Rani (of the Travancore royal family)) of a sandy spit of land at Anjengo". We have no contemporary sources of information to confirm the statement, the early records of the Anjengo Factory having been destroyed by fire.

The English Factory records so for published (1618-84) do not give any clue to the date of establishment of the factory. A footnote a Vol. Ill of the English Factories in India by C. Fawcett mentions that the Anjengo factory was established in 1694.

Johan Bruce, who as the official historian of the English Company must have access to the official documents of the period, also gives the same date in his Annals of the East India Company. Whatever is the date of the establishment of the factory Anjengo had been frequented by the Portuguese and later by the Dutch Anjengo was a place which favoured trade in calico and pepper. It soon became an important possession of the English Company on the west-coast second only to Bombay.

In 1721 during the reign of Aditya Varma there was a riot in Anjengo when a set of malcontents attacked the English factory and burnt down their chapel. The English merchants clamoured for war but the Rani of Attingal restored peace by promising to punish the ringleaders and by conceding several additional rights to the English.

Rama Varma (1721-28) the successor of Aditya Varma wished to cement Venad's friendship with the English by a formal treaty. So in April 1723 he signed the first treaty of friendship with the English. He promised to compensate them for the loss suffered as a result of the Anjengo riots and gave a contract to mint coins for the state.

It was the King's desire to secure their help in times of trouble that prompted him to sign the treaty, but it had its evil effects. The Dutch had all along looked upon the favours shown to the English Company by the kings of Venad with great envy.

They now turned to the rulers of Quilon ad Kayamkulam and incited them to fight against the King of Venad, as they felt that unless they were able to check the rising power of Venad immediately they had no great hope of securing commercial or political power in the Malabar Coast. Martanda Varma, the heir apparent, who signed the above treaty with the English, undertook to build a fort at Colachel for the English.

The growing power of Martanda Varma was disliked by the Dutch. The prince was an ally of the English in Anjengo and his successes in war would naturally benefit them. The English settlement of Anjengo was growing prosperous and gaining in importance and the Dutch seemed to be casting eager eyes on it. They were then in league with the Kayamkulam Raja who being in possession of Quilon as well might any day march against Anjengo and capture it unless it was carefully protected.

So in 1731 King Martanda Varma assumed direct control over the demesne of Attingal. Later he annexed Kottarakkara Quilon, Kayamkulam, Ambalapuzha, Thekkumkoor, Vadakkumkoor, Karappuram and territories as far as Alangad and Parur.

By his annexations Martanda Varma made the small kingdom of Venad into the mighty modern state of Travancore and by strengthening his friendship with the English he sought to safeguard it future. The advice which he tendered during the last moments of his life to his successor Rama Varma Raja (1758-98) was that the friendship with the English should be maintained at any cost.

This was because the English had by that time, become masters of South India and seemed sure to win in the race for supremacy among the contending European powers. Rama Varma Raja, popularly known as Dharma Raja helped the Raja of Cochin against the aggressions of the Zamorin and gave asylum to the Malabar princes who fled before Tipu's mighty arms.

He stood firm by his friendship with the English and never wavered in his readiness to help them when they were fighting against heavy odds. The English at Anjengo got many concessions such as permission to erect a flagstaff at Vizhinjam and to build a factory at Verapoly near the Dutch settlement of Cochin.

The period between 1766 and 1792 was most critical in the history of modern Travancore. Haider Ali and his son Tipu wished to subdue the whole of South India including Travancore. The tussle between two powers has been described in the preceding chapter. In all their struggles with Tipu, the English had the sincere and solid help of Travancore.

In the treaty of Mangalore (1784) which ended the Second Mysore War, the Company gave up the claims on Malabar and declared the rulers of Kerala to be the friends and allies of Tipu. Travancore alone remained independent then.

To meet all possible dangers from Tipu, Travancore Maharaja entered into an agreement with the English Government of Madras (now Chennai) by which he undertook to station two battalions of the company's Native infantry on the frontier even in peace time and meet their expenses on condition that if they were inadequate at the time of war, the company would engage more forces at their own coast (1788).

Then two battalions of troops were secured by the Maharaja. When war ensued between Travancore and Tipu consequent upon the purchase of the two forts for Cranganore and Ayacotta from the Dutch the English troops remained inactive all this time as they had no orders from Madras to fight. The news of the attack of Seringapatam by Lord Cornwallis, the Governor-General, forced Tipu to retreat.

Third Mysore War was brought to an end by the treaty of Seringapatam in 1792 by which Tipu ceuded to the English all his possessions in Malabar including Alangad, Parur and Kannathunad. Dewan Raja Kesava Das of Travancore informed Lord Cornwallis that these three taluks belonged to Travancore. The matters were referred to the Joint Commissioners and Messrs William Page and Charles Bodham, who made a thor­ough enquiring and reported that the taluks in question actually belonged to Travancore.

When the war clouds had finally cleared, the Maharaja of Travancore requested the Madras (now Chennai) government to withdraw the troops stationed (in 1788) at Ayacottah. The English authorities pointed out the advantages of stationing an army in Travancore and gave a signal to the Resident for a treaty with the State.

Being convinced of the benefits of an alliance with a major European power, Maharaja agreed for a treaty of perpetual friendship to protect the State from external aggressions. This treaty signed between Travancore and the English East India Company in 1795, provided for the defense of Travancore by the Company against tall unprovoked aggressions.

Travancore should pay a sum of money equivalent to the expenses of stationing three battalions of troops, both in times of peace and war. The treaty ratified by the Court of Directors in 1797, bear testimony to the practical statesmanship of the then Dewan Raja Kesava Das.

Col. Colin Macaulay arrived at Travancore in 1800 as the British Resident. He was a staunch imperialist and his policy was to spread the tentacles of British paramountcy to this part of India too. When the Nayar troops mutinied in protest of the reduction of their allowances, Macaulay directed a battalion of the Company's troops from Tinnevelly to march upon Trivandrum to quell the revolt. It must be said that for this, he got the support of the Dewan Velu Tampi.

However the treaty of 1795 did not contain any definite clauses empowering the Company to interfere in the internal affairs of Travancore. The mutiny of the troops showed the need for such interference if the power of the Maharaja over his martial subjects was to continue unabated.

Governor-General Lord Wellesley's arch- imperialist scheme demanded the English to fish in the troubled waters of Travancore and he held that the preservation and improvement of British influence in Travancore was of the greatest importance to the interests and security of the British Government in India. So he proposed to make use of this favourable opportunity to effect a modification of the subsidiary engagements with the Maharaja and forwarded his suggestions to the Resident. The Treaty of 1795 was accordingly revised in 1805.

The Political Consultations in Madras (now Chennai) Archives how that this treaty was forced upon Travancore by the British Resident by threat of military interference the King even decided to sent Velu Tampi to Bengal to represent the case of Travancore before the Governor-General. For that too permission was refused.

By the Treaty of 1805 the Company assured protection against internal as well as external enemies. External defense alone had been provided for in the treaty of 1795. The Raja had to pay 8 lakhs of rupees annually to the Company as subsidy, thereby increasing the nominal sum to a considerably large amount; clause VII gave the Resident vast powers to interfere in matters of internal administration.

The treaty made Travancore completely subservient to the Company in foreign affairs and crippled her freedom even in internal administration. Thus from the status of an equal ally, Travancore fell and lay prostrate at the feet of the Company. The friendly advice of the Resident became the preemptory commands of the superior authority.

The over- interference of the Resident, the unbearable burden of subsidy payable to the Company and the peculiar political conditions of the time led the relations between Travancore and the English East India Company to a breaking point. When Velu Tampi, the Dewan (1801-09) pleaded for a remission of the subsidy, the Resident insisted on the payment at the appointed dates.

The finances of the State were not such as would warrant the payment of the stipulated sum without fail on due date. Correspondence on the matter between the Dewan and the Resident became bitter as they did not see eye to eye in this matter and Macaulay threatened to lay hold of that minister and throw him into the Valiathurai surf that would not pay heed to his advice.

This sort of correspondence made them personally bitter enemies. All these political, personal and financial reasons brought matters to a crisis to produce the revolt of Velu Tampi in 1809. A self-willed and assertive Dewan like Velu Tampi could not brook insult and suffer threat of annexation of his country.

The temporary breach in Anglo-Travancore relations in 1808-09 was restored to normalcy with the recall of Macaulay in 1810. However Travancore never recovered the freedom she lost in the Treaty of 1805. All later kings ruled the country strictly in accordance with the views and wishes of the paramount power.