Clive had arranged to assault the fort the next day, when a drunken sailor, discovering the breach, entered it alone, and firing his pistol among a small group of the defenders who were sitting near, shouted out, “The fort is mine,” accompanying the exclamation by three loud cheers.
Continuing Clive Establishes British Supremacy in India,
our selection from Lord Clive; the foundation of British rule in India by Sir Alexander Arbuthnot published in 1899. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Clive Establishes British Supremacy in India.
Place: Calcutta, India
Clive says, in a letter to Pigot, reporting this affair a few days afterward: “You must know our march from Mayapur to the northward of Budge Budge was much against my inclinations. I applied to the admiral for boats to land us at the place we arrived at after sixteen hours’ march by land. The men suffered hardships not easily to be described; it was four in the afternoon when we decamped from Mayapur, and we did not arrive off Budge Budge until past eight the next morning. At nine the Grenadier company and all the Sepoys were dispatched to the fort, where I heard Captain Coote was landed with the King’s troops. At ten, Manickchand, the Governor of Calcutta, attacked us with between two and three thousand horse and foot, and was worsted. Manickchand himself received a shot in his turban. Our two field pieces were of little or no service to us, having neither tubes nor port-fires, and heavy carriages were sent with them from Fort St. David. Indeed, we still labor under every disadvantage in the world for want of the Marlborough. It seems the enemy were encamped within two miles of us, and we ignorant of the matter. So much for the intelligence of the country.”
There can be no doubt that Clive sustained a surprise that might have been prevented had the ordinary precautions been used; but in the circumstances there is much allowance to be made. Clive himself was ill, and had suffered much from the fatiguing march which he and his men had gone through, owing to Watson’s wrong-headed obstinacy. But notwithstanding illness and fatigue, and the unexpected appearance of a hostile force, Clive on this, as on other occasions, never for a moment lost his nerve. He at once rallied his men, who, awakened out of their sleep by being fired upon, were at first thrown into confusion, and then with scarcely a pause made dispositions which retrieved the situation, although not without heavy loss to the English.
When Watson and Clive entered the river, they found at Falta some of the fugitives from Calcutta, and the scanty remains of a small force which, on the receipt of intelligence of the seizure of Kasimbazar, but before the news of the Black Hole tragedy had arrived, the Madras authorities had sent to Bengal under Major Kilpatrick. Clive, after beating off Manickchand’s army, was met by Major Kilpatrick, who had been sent to his aid with reinforcements. In the mean time Watson had bombarded Budge from his ships, and had effected a breach in the ramparts of the fort. Clive had arranged to assault the fort the next day, when a drunken sailor, discovering the breach, entered it alone, and firing his pistol among a small group of the defenders who were sitting near, shouted out, “The fort is mine,” accompanying the exclamation by three loud cheers. He was at once attacked, but defended himself valiantly, and, some of the English soldiers and Sepoys coming up, the garrison abandoned the fort, which was taken possession of by Captain Eyre Coote, who had come up from Madras with a detachment of the Thirty-ninth foot. The squadron, with the troops, then moved on to Calcutta, which surrendered on January 2d, Manickchand having evacuated the place and returned with his army to the head-quarters of the Nawab at Murshidabad. Then occurred another of Watson’s arbitrary and ill-judged proceedings. Notwithstanding the orders of the Madras government, investing Clive with military and political control in Bengal, Watson appointed Coote, whose rank was that of captain, to be governor of Fort William. Clive declined to permit this arrangement, claiming the command as the senior officer, and threatened to place Coote under arrest if he disobeyed his orders. Thereupon Watson threatened to fire upon the fort unless Clive gave it up. The matter ended in a compromise, Clive surrendering the fort to Watson on condition that it was afterward handed over to the representatives of the company. In this, and in other disputes with Watson, Clive appears to have kept his temper, while acting with firmness. Writing to Mr. Pigot, Clive describes this affair in the following words:
“I cannot help regretting that I ever undertook this expedition. The mortifications I have received from Mr. Watson and the gentlemen of the squadron in point of prerogative are such that nothing but the good of the service could induce me to submit to them. The morning the enemy quitted Calcutta, a party of our Sepoys entered the fort at the same time with a detachment from the ships, and were ignominiously thrust out. Upon coming near the fort myself, I was informed that there were orders that none of the company’s officers or troops should have entrance. This, I own, enraged me to such a degree that I was resolved to enter if possible, which I did, though not in the manner maliciously reported, by forcing the sentries; for they suffered me to pass very patiently upon being informed who I was. At my entrance Captain Coote presented me with a commission from Admiral Watson, appointing him governor of Fort William which I knew not a syllable of before; and it seems this dirty underhand contrivance was carried on in the most secret manner, under a pretence that I intended the same thing, which I declare never entered my thoughts. The affair was compromised by the admiral consenting that I should be governor and that the company’s troops should remain in the fort. The next day the admiral delivered up the fort to the company’s representatives in the King’s name.”
Watson, it would seem, could not bring himself to recognize the fact that Clive was not only an officer of the East India Company, but had been granted a royal commission. In this he showed himself both stupid and headstrong. Notwithstanding this petty jealousy of the company’s service, a jealousy in which he was by no means singular, he was an honorable man, desirous, according to his lights, to serve his King and country; and in the important transactions which afterward took place, his cooperation with Clive appears to have been fairly cordial.
It was otherwise with the council at Calcutta, who greatly resented the independent powers which had been conferred upon Clive by the Madras authorities. At that early period those presidential jealousies which have so often interfered with the efficient administration of Indian affairs, and even now are not entirely extinguished, appear to have existed in full force.
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