The Humble Telegram and the Lofty Rocket mail

Human communication over long distances have evolved in very interesting ways. While American Indians and perhaps others elsewhere used smoke signals to start with, it was largely written instruments like messages and letters carried by messengers, horsemen, horse carts or stage coaches, pigeons, telegraph, airmail, sea mail, balloon mail, zeppelin mail, light and morse code, semaphore signaling, surface mail and now it is at lightning speed as email, SMS or other visual forms, which got news from point A to point B. Nothing beats that feeling or thrill of opening an envelope with a bunch of handwritten sheets – not something today’s world appreciates of will enjoy. Things like fountain pens which were the norm in the older days have become objects of collectors fancy, I had written about that before - if you recall my visit to an Office Depot store here in USA and my asking for ink, only to be asked what that was! Recently there was news that the Telegram facility in India was coming to a stop after all of 163 years, I guess it was meant to be, for it could never be a rival to the convenience of an email, but that is the cost of development.

Just go back some 20 years and you will remember how you tried to rake your brain for that greeting code number to wish somebody a happy married life, or frantically racking your brains to choose and limit the number of words to meet your budget but convey the full message, or you might even remember one of those telegram jokes like the mixed metaphor one where the babu (Indian clerk), who prided himself on his mastery of the English tongue and skill in its idioms, sent the following telegram in announcement of his mother's death: "Regret to announce that hand which rocked the cradle has kicked the bucket." Sadly those days are going away and as I profess, we will be a race with muscles on just our fingers and nowhere else, clickety claking the keyboard for hours and days without end.
Previously I had written about the dak harkara, in fact, in Kerala we even had Brahmin mail. But in

between all this, there was something else, the rocketmail or rocketgram, which was figuratively speaking, launched in British India. Who would have been the person behind it, a forerunner to our Rocket man Abdul Kalam? Well, it was an Anglo Indian DENTIST named Stephen Hector Taylor Smith living in Shillong, Assam during the 1930’s. He was not the global pioneer, because some years earlier Schmiedel and Zucker had tried it in Europe with little success. The fact however remains that the most successful early rocket mail pioneer was Stephen Smith in India who launched some 80 rocket mail flights, between 1934 and 1944.

As Barth Healey states in NYT 10/23/2008 - Rocket mail had its more or less official start in France, during the Siege of Paris by the Prussians. On Dec. 31, 1870, J. D. Schneiter applied for a patent for a rocket to carry mail out of Paris and thus ''enlighten soldiers'' on both sides to end the siege. He was not granted the patent until Feb. 9, 1871, or 12 days after the siege was lifted. There is no evidence any rockets were ever used.

Lighting the fuse of a rocket and sending it zooming up is one thing, but directing it to a specific point a distance away and making sure the payload reached the destination without blowing up, is another matter altogether. Smith in India was one of those people who found time to work on his hobby of using rockets for useful purposes. In this he found an ally in the owner or owners of the Oriental fireworks company in Calcutta, who supplied him large and crude versions of fireworks, approximately 6 feet long. The propellant occupied 4 feet and the remaining 2 feet carried the mail. The methodology employed was to fill the rocket up, keep it on a sloping stand generally aimed at the locale where the object was destined and finally lighting a paper wick of a fuse.
What an interesting guy he was, finding time for his many interests, for his career included working as a Customs Official, a policeman and as a dentist. He eventually became the secretary of the Indian Airmail Society. Born in 1891, he was in his middle ages when his experiments with rockets started, and one wonders if looking down people’s mouths were less interesting for this bloke compared to looking high up into the clouds. It is said that some of the firsts by Smith included firing rocket mail over a river, firing parcel rocket mail, rocket livestock transportation and the first vertical firing of a rocket East of Europe.

But what is also to be borne in mind is that use of rockets came to British attention a century earlier when they got involved with Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. These experiences of being at the receiving end and the capture of a few of those rockets, eventually led the Royal Woolwich Arsenal to start a military rocket research and development program in 1801, based on the Mysorean technology. Several rocket cases were collected from Mysore and sent to Britain for analysis. Their first demonstration of solid-fuel rockets came in 1805. By 1814, it had crossed the ocean to America, being used at the battle of Baltimore! But if you believe that Mysore was where rockets originated, you are still wrong, for it originated in China around the 11th century and then came to Malabar, where it is still known as China Vedi and China Padakkam. In China the tube of a rocket was made of bamboo and we also know that the Cheng Ho treasure ships had many rockets and launchers. One can presume that Haider and Tipu heard about these while plundering Malabar and the way Chinese had used it for war, but went on to perfect it together with the French artillerymen, as a hand launched firearm. The use of iron tube for rocket is also probably an Indian innovation.
Let us get back to Smith, as we read in the philatel2 site and Putnam’s article; Stephen Smith had a life-long interest in rocketry and was encouraged by British Indian officials to pursue experiments in this area. Between September 30, 1934 and December 4, 1944 he conducted some 270 rocket launches. Some 80 plus of these flights included rocket mail, 16 of which involved Silver Jubilee related postal items. Smith’s navigation system, which consisted of pointing the rocket in the general direction of its target, lighting a fuse, and running for cover, was perhaps not up to the demands of a sophisticated postal delivery network. Still, his launches found some measure of success, and soon he had moved up to tests with parcels, food, and live poultry (some of the earliest rocketeers) flown across short distances.

While some of the earlier flights were commemorative, carrying only envelopes, later launches carried cigarettes, medicines and so on classifying such launches as parcel launches. The first Indian Rocket Mail Experiment had taken place at sea, from Ship (Pancy) to shore off Saugor Island on 30th September, 1934. It carried 143 letters. Unfortunately the rocket burst mid-air and the mail was scattered. Smith then began with a service from Calcutta to Saugor Island, 84 miles away, in 1934. In the best of times this was a four-day trip; Smith's rocket covered the distance in minutes.The 1935 launches were in aid of the Quetta earthquake victims, and the June launch carried two startled fowls (two chickens named Adam and Eve) from Burnpoor across the Damodar River. Perhaps the most successful use of these rockets took place in India and Sikkim. Stevee was also a member of the British interplanetary society. But one of his later firings included a snake called Miss Creepy which was also provided an apple for sustenance during the traumatic flight or perhaps as an enticement in the first place. The snake survived, but readers may be amused to note that the apple was not bitten or eaten by the reptile during the death defying ride in the skies (facts from Stephen Smith’s diary).
Americans known for grandiose, toyed with rocket mail later in 1959 using a cruise missile, calling it missile mail but dropped the idea due to high costs. In the 90’s was the first free webmail service, and now belongs to Yahoo.

So much for rocket mail, how about the popular telegraph service, one that exists at present only in India? Regretfully that is also going to be consigned to history in a month. The world’s last ‘taar’ or telegram will be sent out on July 14th
Messages over wires

It was in May, 1839, 24 year old Dr. William Brooke O'Shaughnessy, a surgeon with the East India Company unaware or Samuel Morse’s work, erected an experimental line of wire, twenty-one miles in length, in the vicinity of Calcutta. There he began experimenting with electricity with his versions of the electric motor and a silver chloride battery. Then, in 1839, he set up a 13½-mile-long demonstration telegraph system near Calcutta. The wire was suspended upon bamboo poles and on the completion of the experiments, which were eminently successful, it was taken down and the results published.
More experiments on environmental effects and ravages of white ants were checked in following years. By 1854, plans to interconnect madras with Bombay and Calcutta were drawn up and by 1855; over3544 miles of connections were opened to the public. Nagpur, Allahabad, Peshawar and Agra were added to the network. Some route changes followed after the sepoy mutiny of 1857. Siemens & Halske were the main Morse equipment suppliers. By 1860 the knighted Sir O'Shaughnessy returned to Britain. Connection of India to Britain was the next issue. A cable was laid between Aden and Karachi, but by 1861 it was abandoned due to technical problems. A land route via Turkey was also employed in 1865, but that was also not satisfactory. Finally Pender was employed to get the submarine cable project underway.

Atalatic cable Aden end
The Atlantic cable site explains the successful culmination - Following the success of the 1866 Atlantic cable expedition, plans were drawn up to lay a similar cable from India to Egypt. Though it took a while for the Indian support, the British-Indian Telegraph Company was formed with £1,000,000 capital. A contract for the cable was signed and it was ready in October 1869. Special cables were manufactured and four cable laying ships left Portland for the job.
July 1870 - In addition to the usual preparations for a festive reception of honoured visitors, Mr. Pender had fitted up one corner of the saloon as a telegraph office, and had placed it, by wires, in electric communication with distant parts of the world. Sir James Anderson officiated at the instruments, by which, during the evening, instead of the ordinary amusement of ladies at the piano, friendly messages were sent to and fro between different personages several thousand miles apart. The Viceroy of India, being then at Simla, where the time of day was seven hours’ earlier than in London, communicated to the President of the United States at Washington, a distance of 8443 miles, or more than one third the greatest circumference of the globe, in forty minutes. To this message, which expressed a hope of “lasting union between the Eastern and Western hemispheres”—not only physical, but moral union—General Grant replied, with a characteristic American idiom, congratulating India upon its successful connection with “the balance of the world,” or, as we should say, the remainder of mankind.

Lord Mayo, in his bed-room at Simla, was likewise aroused at the good early hour of five o’clock in the morning (which is quite agreeable, indeed, to Anglo-Indian habits) with an affectionate greeting from his wife, the Countess of Mayo, who was one of Mr. Pender’s guests that night. The Governor-General of India also received a message from the Prince of Wales congratulating him on the achievement of the submarine telegraph, which is sure to prove of immense advantage to the welfare of the whole empire.
The first telegrams were sent using Morse code and were decoded from the clicks and clacks (di, dit’s and dah’s) of the sounds produced by this machine. People worked around the clock to receive and decipher the messages. Indians took to the new technology with gusto, using it for all kinds of interesting messages announcing jobs, sickness, need for funds, death, birth, congratulations and what not. While the use of words varied, the phrasing was circumspect on many an early occasion. The P&T department soon issued a code sheet where one could just print 17, pay for those two characters and ensure that the message received at the other end actually read - Wish you both a happy and prosperous wedded life. You can see the codes here if interested.

It was also the time when books like ‘how to write atelegram’ were needed not just by dummies, but for everybody!
Elwin writing about the time he spent in India, provides an interesting aside – he states that Indians used the Telegraph for the most trivial occasions. He explains how sickness and death were impressively announced using the erstwhile telegram and due to the urgent summons communicated with few words, many a person spent their life’s fortunes in a mad rush back to see the sick mother or grandfather only to find the person walking about, and providing the actual reason behind the summons which was perhaps dividing property or a ‘bride seeing’ ceremony. He explains another event where a telegram reaches a mother that her son was going to be hanged the following weekend. Rushing to the police station, only to find no such issue, she then goes to the place where her son lived, to find that it was an absurd attempt by the lad to get his mother across to his lodging.

Back then, sending a telegram over the shortest distance - up to 400 miles - cost an 'anna' for every word or one rupee for 16 words. Later, rates were revised and the sender would be charged for a group of words. Robert Clive, the first governor-general of India, merged the two to establish the Post and Telegraph Department by 1766. Over the next 150 years, the cost would go up to Rs 50 for fifty words. The Morse code machines were the 'katta-kat' machines and the receiver the ghirr-gitt. Soon Teleprinters replaced it and then came computers. Morse was taken over by IA-2 and then by the web based WTMS. As soon as SMS and email arrived, the lowly telegram met its timely death. Kerala had the first Telegraph offices at Thiruvananthapuram, Quilon and Alleppey in 1864.While the US post shuttered the service 150 years after it had started, in 2008, it took the Indian posts all of 163 years. I still recall how we used to use words sparingly to amusing effects at times.

Usually when a person got a telegram, the feeling of dread overtakes everything else. Is it a message of death or joy? It was also used to demand money – when the needy person sends a telegram ‘send Rs 20 at once’. In villages telegram reading soon became a public event with the postman being given the responsibility to announce the contents. Interestingly the telegram deliveryman even has access to the Presidents offices in Delhi, they had that security clearance (or so it seems)! It was also used with shattering effect - ‘father ill come home’ in capitals or later using the Indian code for greetings. Yes, there was a time when the foreign journalist wired his story as we saw in Gandhi or when an employee wired his employer GRANDMOTHER SERIOUS. 15 DAYS LEAVE EXTENSION. The telegram was ever present in Indian films, used to provide that eventful twists in the story with an untimely death.
This joke that does it usual rounds on the internet provides another example - A girl, who was appearing in B. Ed, got married. The result of B. Ed, was declared when she was in her in-laws house. She had secured the first position and in her excitement she sent a telegram to her father. SUCCESSFUL IN B. ED. When the father got the telegram it actually read: SUCCESSFUL IN BED. I do not know if he was happy, contended or confused.

That was how the telegraph system established itself in India and became a backbone for the bourgeoning bureaucracy. By 1985, 60 million telegrams were exchanged across its 45,000 offices. This figure further declined to 5,412 in the first half of 2012-13. But life changed, times changed, technology took over and today, only 75 offices exist, employing some 998 people, down from 12,500 telegram employees in the old times. The department has incurred a loss of Rs 1,473 crore since 2006-07. The average loss per telegram came to Rs 460 in 2010-11. To minimize the loss, the rate per telegram was revised from Rs 3 per 30 words to Rs 25 per 30 words - a first in 60 years. BSNL also ended its international service in 2011

Soon all those telegraph jokes will be forgotten, they will instead be taken over by the world of zeroes and ones, morphing, photo-shopping, plagiarizing and what not.
King George V Silver Jubilee - Rocket Mail 
Atalantic Cable  
The story of the telegraph in India - Charles C. Adley
History of Telegraphy - Ken Beauchamp
India and the Indians - Edward F. Elwin

The Veluthampi Revolt 1807-1809

Was Veluthampi a Hero or a Victim?

At the Sainik School Kazhakootam, students were divided into various resident halls named after freedom fighters and I belonged to the Veluthampi house, but at that time I hardly knew the persona behind the name. True, we covered a fair number of his heroic acts as narrated in textbooks, of course, retold with a lot of patriotic fervor, and I let the story pass by all these years, since Travancore was somewhat outside my periphery of studies. In fact, I was researching the Paliayth Achan family, but seeing the connections with Dalawa in the 19th century, I decided to go over that portion first and then get to the story of the Palaiyath family. While a number of books cover Veluthampi to a certain extent, the storylines seem to have originated from one or two accounts, perhaps those of Shangoony Menon or Nagam Aiya, of the TSM fame.  Anyway, let’s take a look at the known versions, the linkages to the Zamorin and the Cochin kingdom as well as the less talked about Ringletaube-Vedamanickam Christian angle and Macaulay’s involvement, in conclusion.

Velayudhan Thampi Champakaraman Pillai - that was the young man’s real name, hailing from a noble family in Kalkulam, a few miles away from Nagercoil (note that the Travancore kingdom covered areas now in Tamil Nadu). Champakaraman Pillai incidentally an order akin to Knighthood, started from the previous sovereign’s (Kulashekara Varma) rule which provided such a title and many attached benefits. Velu shot to fame during the not-so-stellar reign of the boy king Bala Rama Varma as the Kariakkar or Tahsildar of Mavelikkara. Before we get to Veluthampi, let us take a look at the sad situation the Kingdom of Travancore was in. As the story starts, Veluthampi was as seen in some accounts, no longer a Kariakkar. How he lost the position is not yet clear to me and perhaps he had a chip on his shoulder due to that.

Balarama Varma as an ineffective boy king, started his reign in 1798, and was fully under the control of one Oodiary Jayanthen Sankaran Nambudiri. By hook and crook, this avaricious man rose to the Dewan’s post - the Valia Sarvadhikariakar (prime minister), but was thoroughly untrained and unfit for such a post. He selected for his council Chetty Sankaranarayanan (finance minister), and Mathoo Tharaken, an influential Syrian Christian from the north, who controlled the salt, tobacco and other businesses. These two men according to Menon, Aiya & other historians were also as unprincipled as the Numboory himself.

 One of the first things they did was levy compulsory contributions on a list of people. Those who did not pay were flogged or put into prison. One such person who was ordered to pay Rs 3,000 was Veluthampi, the ex-Thasildar of Mavelikkara. He refused to pay outright and asked for three days’ time instead, which he got. During this time, he went to Najenad and exhorted the populace to rise against the monarch, and the ministry. The Nair military of the King joined forces with Velu Thampi’s march to Trivandrum. The alarmed Bala Varma immediately agreed to negotiate with Veluthampi who put three demands, dismiss and banish Namboodri, that the King will not ever recall him back, and finally that he would publically arrest and flog the other two persons - Sankaranarayanan and Mathoo, and have their ears cut off. After all this was done, a new ministry was formed and Velu Thampi was made the Mulakumadeseela Sarvadhikariakar (commercial, minister). Ayappan Chempakaraman Pillay was appointed Valia Sarvadhikariakar and he ruled wisely, but met an untimely death 14 months later. The next prime minister was one Padmanabhan Chempakaraman Pillay, but he lasted only 8 months. Velu Thambi who was camping on the periphery finally got the nod (a lot of intrigues took place in between and you can read them in Menon’s accounts, if interested) and took over the reins of the kingdom as the Dalawah, with formal recommendations from the new resident Colin Macaulay in Cochin, who saw Thampi as an energetic administrator with a good feel of the pulse of the larger populace..

The period that followed was strict and authoritarian if put in a milder term and Velu Thampi brought control to the disturbed kingdom using an iron hand. The penal codes he instilled were stricter than Hammurabi and corporal punishment the norm. Velu Thampi’s constant inspection tours around the state brought terror to the people’s doorsteps. Nevertheless, The Dalawah administering from Quilon (not Trivandrum) was severe and strict but also impartial and no partiality was shown to his family as well.

 Some years passed and it was 1803 when the first of the revolts occurred as the military and the others of the palace rose up against Velu Thampi, and asked the king to remove and execute him for his excesses. Velu Thampi quickly met Macaulay his benefactor, at Cochin and apprised him of the situation. Macaulay then came over to Trivandrum with his forces and arrested the kingpins among the rabble rousers and they conveniently died in confinement soon after. The alarmed king, worried over reports that the British were going to take over his kingdom next, complained formally to the British high command in Calcutta, asking that they withdraw Macaulay, but Governor General Marquis Wellesley, a personal friend of Macaulay would not budge. Velu Thampi continued his governance, this time focusing on Alappuzha, living at and improving the situation there. But one aspect that still remained to be cleared was payment of some old debts to the British. To do that, the Dalawa hit upon an idea of curtailing the allowances to the large army. While the Dewan was away in Alleppey, they mutinied and again with Macaulay’s help, Velu Thampi brought the situation under control ruthlessly killing and maiming many a key person involved. The situation was at best despotic.

Following this a revised treaty was suggested by the British for the defense of Travancore should untoward situations arise. While the Dalawa was agreeable to the treaty, he was not happy about paying extra monies (Rs 4 lakhs) demanded by the British for its sustenance, as the treasury was impoverished. The tribute was in return for British protection, which was promised to the Raja, when he accepted British suzerainty in 1805.The Maharaja and his advisers were also totally against it. With Velu Thampi’s help and many other pressures brought upon to bear on the king, the treaty was finally signed in 1805, but it placed the Dalawa on one side with the British and the people of the state and the Raja as the affected party on the other. To somehow produce the extra amounts, Velu Thampi this time, devised upon a scheme of disbanding the Carnatic brigade. As Shangoony Menon states – With that, the subordinates of Dalawah lost all confidence in him, while almost all the influential officials turned against him.

When the time for payment of arrears came, the treasury defaulted. They assumed that the Dalawa would obtain a postponement with his Macaulay connections, and in any case they had little money in the coffers. The indignant Macaulay shot off many letters of complaint to Velu Thampi, who was hurt and irritated with the tone used by his onetime friend Macaulay. One letter even arrogantly said that the Dewan "is a temporizing, equivocating, prevaricating and marauding boy".

The hurt Dewan offered to resign from his post and Macaulay seized upon it, but at this juncture came a ghost from the past, none other than Mathoo Tharakan, the person who was the victim of the very first salvo from Veluthampi Dalawa in 1799. Mathoo a very wealthy landowner continued to avoid taxes and was during the period of troubles in 1805 or thereabouts, taken to task again by Velu Thampi and asked to payout a huge amount. Now this man (who had in the meantime cultivated a good friendship with Macaulay) complained to Macaulay. Macaulay wrote to Velu Thampi “I will not allow you, from motives of base enmity to crush any man (though your subject or dependent) if I can possibly and honorably prevent it. What need I say more?”

Veluthampi was in a quandary. He had offered to resign, but Macaulay was intent on humiliating him which he could not tolerate. So he decided to go against the British. He went to the maharaja and convinced him that Macaulay was going to force the King to pay all the arrears and take over the kingdom, adding that the story of getting the Dalawa out of office was in reality, secondary. On the other side Macaulay kept up the pressure of inducting the ouster, he even stated the departure terms that “Valu Thamby should retire from public life, and take up his residence in Chirakkal (Tellicherry), on a pension of 500 rupees per mensem, which he was to receive from Mr. Baber, the Collector of Malabar.

Shungoony Menon explains - His Highness tried his best to bring about reconciliation between the Dewan and the Resident, but without success, as Colonel Macauly was a man of a vindictive nature, fond of command, of an imperious temper, and one who could ill-brook contradiction. On the other hand, Valu Thamby was of a haughty and arrogant disposition, of great resolution, and so sensitive that he would put up with insolence and affront from no man. His Highness was sadly disappointed, but it was not a matter for surprise that the attempt to reconcile two men who were so bitterly opposed to each other failed.

The Raja wrote to Madras that they preferred another resident, thus taking the attack to Macaulay. In addition he paid off a good amount of the arrears after selling or pledging some crown jewels. The situation eased until the next payment window came up when the same situation repeated with Macaulay firing his letters off at the Dalawa and the Raja asking the British to recall Macaulay. During this period, another event occurred, that of the death of Suba Iyen, the Raja’s emissary, who was considered by Dalawa to be somewhat against him, during his visit to meet the Dalawa at Aleppey. All fingers pointed at the Dalawa, but a snake bite in the garden was attributed eventually to the man’s death and the case closed.

While all this intrigue and acrimony was going on between the British and Travancore, the situation at Cochin was no better. Here is when the Paliayth Achan comes into play. For those who are not in the know, the powerful Paliayth family were virtually half-owners of Cochin and the Perumbadappu Swaroopam had to involve them in all major decisions. They possessed a lot of power and majority in Nair numbers. In some cases they hedged their bets by aligning with the Zamorin of Calicut against the Cochin king, the Dutch or the Portuguese as well, as we will study in a forthcoming article.

Anyway, during the period we were in, the Paliyath Govindan Achan was made a chief minister with Velu Thampy’s recommendation. The Achan was also friendly with Macaulay, so the King had no hesitation in elevating the Achan to ensure harmony. The Paliyath Achan however usurped the King quickly and took over the reins of the state, banishing the soft king to a hamlet in Vellarappali near Alwaye. After this was done, he apparently executed the prime minister and commander-in-chief by drowning them. His next target was a young and upcoming chap, the right hand of the king, one Nadavarampathu Kunju Krishna Menon. The king, who was very fond of Menon, decided to shield him and hid him in his bedroom at Vellarapalli. Paliayth Achan on the other hand was hell-bent on finding this boy and killing him. The king approached Macaulay for help. Macaulay gave Menon asylum in the British bungalow, further incensing the Paliyath Achan who took a vow to execute both Macaulay and Krishna Menon. But waging war against the British was no easy matter and the wily Achan decided to get the support of both the Zamorin of Calicut (the letter sent to The Zamorin was handed over to the British by the Zamorin’s Dewan) and Velu Thampi, in this matter. The CSM differs here in stating that the Achan was pulled into the fracas by Thampy.

 Veluthampi agreed to the plan and got his band of armed men together. He wrote a letter to Macaulay that
he was going on exile to Tellicherry and that he needed a well-armed escort for the same. The intention was to draw away Macaulay’s best troops out of Cochin and Quilon while he and the Paliyath Achan attacked the resident’s home. He planned a second attack on the British detachment in Quilon. He sought the help of the French in Mauritius and received vague assurances from them. Some historians have remarked that Velu Thampi had some communication even with the Americans, basing this on an Asiatic journal report. It appears however that communications had taken place between the Dewan and some Armenians, who had recently arrived from Persia.

All this culminated in violence. Velu Thampi’s forces supported by the Paliath Achan’s Nairs, attacked Macaulay’s home on 28th Dec. What happened was the following - As Shungoony Menon explains - They surrounded Colonel Macaulay’s house and opened fire. The sudden report of musketry, at an unusual hour, surprised Colonel Macaulay, and with the assistance of a confidential Portuguese clerk, he managed to conceal himself, and in the morning got on board a pattimar at first, and subsequently on board the British ship " Piedmontese" which had just reached the Cochin roads, Kunju Krishna Menon also effected his escape uninjured, and joined Colonel Macaulay on board the ship. The Travancore sepoys overpowered the few British sepoys who formed the Resident's escort, killing many who resisted, and afterwards entered Colonel Macauly's residence, ransacked the house, murdered the domestic servants and others whom they found in the house, and afterwards returned considerably chagrined at not finding the Resident and Kunju Krishna Menon. Valu Thamby quitted Alleppey at once and proceeded to Quilon. One Chempil Arayan figured prominently in the attack on the bungalow.

However during the post attack phase a group of 3 British officers, 12 soldiers, a lady and 33 sepoys were on the route from Quilon to Cochin. They were accosted by Velu Thampi’s forces and confined. Following the Dalawa’s order, three officers were butchered in cold blood at the sea-beach at Porakad, and the European soldiers and sepoys were drowned in the Pallathurthee River, on the eastern side of Alleppey. The lady was allowed to proceed to Cochin, unhurt.

As the British rose against the Dalawah, VeluThampi himself reached Quilon and made a vehement, strongly worded and patriotic proclamation from Kundra asking everybody to rise in revolt against the treacherous British. A number of skirmishes took place and the Dalwa +Achan forces could not hold their own, they lost both at Cochin and Quilon. In the meantime, a large British contingent moved into Travancore through the Arambooly pass (see my article on the Poole‘s ghost).

 The responsibility for the losses was taken personally by Velu Thampi in his personal meeting with the King following which he fled to the jungles with the British in pursuit. The British forces were too strong for the Travancoreans and soon prevailed and ran over Trivandrum. The British then issued orders for the arrest of Velu Thampi with a reward of Rs 50,000. Velu Thampi meanwhile fleeing through the jungles reached Munnady, and took refuge in a vacant house belonging to a Potti Brahmin. Valu Thamby who needed money sent out his servant to sell his gold & silver and this man was picked up by the British. Upon interrogation, he revealed to them Thampi's hiding place. Thampi on seeing the pursuers then fled to the Bhagavathi temple at Mannady near Adoor, with his brother Padmanabhan Thamby and decided to end his life. He asked his brother to stab him, but his brother did not want to do it, following which the Dalawah stabbed himself. As Menon explains - But as the self-inflicted wound did not prove mortal, he cried out to his brother ‘cut my neck,' which request, the brother complied with, and in one stroke severed the neck from the body. By that time, the pursuers reached the pagoda and forced open the door when they found the lifeless body of Valu Thamby and his brother standing close to it with a drawn sword.

The brother was seized and the body was removed to Trivandrum, where it was exposed to the public on a gibbet at Kannamoola. Padmanabhan Thamby was also hanged. Thampi’s house was razed to the ground and plantain and castor trees were planted thereon. Most of his relatives were transported to the Maldives, but enroute, at Tuticorin, some appear to have committed suicide, some died in the prison, while the rest were flogged and banished elsewhere. All these excesses were carried out by Velu Thampi's successor Ummany(i) Thamby. Ummani proved to be as unreliable as the others from whom Veluthampi took over and Ummani too was intent on enriching himself. The same situation continued with Macaulay, but this time Macaulay chose to complain about the Elaya Raja and not the minister. In the meantime, palace intrigues continued with the Elaya raja challenging the older one. The British wanted him out, but as luck would have it, Macaulay finally retired in 1810 and went back to England. Col Munro took his place. A tough man, Munro took tough measures and soon enough Ummani plotted against Munro only to get caught and imprisoned in Chingelput. Munro reinstated the Nair brigade of Travancore.

Ok, so for now we have covered the ‘usually detailed’ story of Velu Thampi and Paliyath Achan. How about the other aspect we talked about? What really brought about the estrangement between Veluthampi and Maculay? Was it really Mathoo Tharakan’s intrigues? Or was it something else? Here is where another character enters the story, a convert to Christianity named Vedamanickam, and yet another, a Prussian missionary named Ringeltaube.

The role of Tatchil Mathoo (Mathew) Tharakan of Paravur was not really detailed in the Menon accounts or by the British, but came to light much later and it certainly was one of the main ingredients of the boiling cauldron. In fact he may have precipitated the whole issue out of revenge, so let us take a look at that angle too. As it appears, Mathoo Tharakan retired to his vast estates after Velu thampi came to the fore and had his ears cut off. But how did he, a non- Hindu rise up in the Raja’s esteem in the first place? One, he had Eustachius De Lannoy the Dutch lieutenant as a good friend, and it comes to light that he had advanced large sums of money to both the kingdom and the British during and before (during the Pandipada attack) the Tipu Sultan incursions into Travancore. The British did return the loans, but the situation with the king is not clear. Anyway it helped him get a seat in the powerful corridors of governance as commerce minister. But as we saw he utilized the situation badly, perhaps goaded on by the Namboodri, and had a great fall and the loss of both ears, in return.

Somewhere along, the king realized his folly, perhaps when he found that he could ask Mathoo for more loans and forgave him by gifting him ‘golden ears’. Mathoo being close to Aleppey and being the founder of the port there was also foremost in salt, spice and timber export and built up a solid relationship with the British, especially Macaulay. Due to his pepper control, he was also known as Mulaku Madiseelakkaran. This relationship helped him get his own back at the Dalawa, and he retaliated through Macaulay when the Dalawa tried to take over his holdings and wealth.

But how did he forge a strong relationship with Macaulay? Here is where the politics of money & religion manifest. Let’s take a look. Mathoo hailed from the Canai of Thoma family and had been trying to unite the Christians of Travancore under the umbrella of Catholicism. He was actively involved in organizing the historic journey of certain priests to Rome in 1782 for representing before the Pope the grievances of the Syro-Malabar Catholics. So much so that even the pope even wrote to thank the king of Travancore for his benevolence. Mathoo Tharakan was thus virtually the head of the Syrian Catholics and figures in the execution of the famous Angamali padiola attacking the Carmelites (That however resulted in their estrangement from the papacy).

Now comes to light the interesting monetary links between Macaulay & Tharakan, as detailed in the book Christianity in Travancore - Gordon Thomson MacKenzie - about sums to the tune of some 6000 star pagodas which were invested in the EIC at 8% interest and its proceeds which were to go equally for the upkeep of some Syrian and Roman Catholic churches. The contentions vary that they belonged to either Macaulay or Mathoo Tharakan or both and that the amount found its way into this account in 1808, just as the crisis blew up! In addition, during Macaulay’s tenure in Cochin, it appears that Macaulay did get into the crosshairs of EIC auditors who felt he was making more money thus questioning the means (Asiatic journal Vol 16). Anyway we find out that Macaulay was firmly committed on Tharakan’s side during the intrigues against Velu Thampi and that they had a great relationship. We also see from Ruby’s book that there was a legend about the gold amassed by Macaulay and how he used them to make an escape once and how some of that gold found its way to making a new crown for the Cochin raja.

But who is Ringeltaube? The first Protestant missionary of the London Missionary Society to enter Travancore was Rev. William Tobias Ringletaube, a native of Prussia or Denmark. Vedamanickam, a recent convert invited him to Travancore and with support from Colonel Macaulay, who obtained permission from the Raja, Ringletaube settled at Mailadi, near Cape Comorin and wanted to establish a church there. Permission was not forthcoming and it appears that concerted efforts of evangelists Kerr, Buchanan and Ringletaube cast some alarm in the mind of the Caste Hindus of Travancore, since they believed (JOKS 1973 – RN Yesudas) that the new converts would never obey the King, but would obey only the British and act against them. They were subsequently persecuted against in some ways according to the works of RN Yesudas. Some Ezahava (Malitti Panikkars) conversions in Mavelikkara were further opposed by the Dewan. Macaulay and Ringletaube met the Dalava at Quilon and requested the redressal of the grievances of the Christian converts of South Travancore, and again for permission to build a church at Mylaudy and he states that the Dewan flatly denied his request (but other records show that he had actually granted permission (Rev Sydney Smith Vol 3-p50)). Various books by Yesudas provide conflicting information, in some he mentions that the Dewan did not reply and in another he states that the Dewan agreed to do so, but only after the Raja went on a pilgrimage to Suchindram.

But why did Dewan get upset with Ringeltaube? Shungoony Menon explains - This can be seen from a fact connected with the founder of the London Mission in Travancore, the Reverend Mr. Ringeltaube, who, on paying a visit to the then Dewan Valu Thamby, for the express purpose of endeavouring to obtain a footing for the London Mission in Travancore, in 1806, being asked by the minister what religion he professed, the Reverend gentleman answered "Colonel Macaulay's Religion" .Let the reader note the severe rebuke implied in the following remark which that great Hindu Statesman made on hearing what Mr. Ringeltaube said about his professing " Colonel Macaulay's religion," "I never knew that there was such a religion" said the Dewan, meaning of course, a religion invented or professed by a private individual, for Christianity was in existence in Travancore for more than a thousand years before that period. Nevertheless, the Dewan was indeed alarmed and against the conversions carried out by Ringletaube and party, as we can read from his Kundra proclamation that all this culminated in.

So we see some potential reasons for the rift and eventual conflict, with money, internal politics and religion driving a solid wedge between the Dalwa and Macaulay. Colin Macaulay by then had broken all bridges between him and Velu Thampy and no patch up was possible. But was Col Colin Macaulay really swayed by religion? Yes, we can confirm that for we see that since his retirement, he did take up seriously to religion as an active supporter of the British Bible Society. Colin’s strong relation with the Christians of Travancore is also confirmed in Iain Whyte’s book on Zachary Macaulay, Colin’s brother. With the help of the Travancore Evangelists, he even managed to meet with the Pope in 1818. Anyway in the end, the revolt happened and Veluthampy was dead.

How did the others fare after this revolt?  The Paliath Achan was forced to surrender during the key stages of the revolt, and defected to the British side, thus upsetting the Dalawa and his plans greatly. After the rebellion, the British deported him to Madras, where he was imprisoned at Fort St. George for 12 years and then taken to Bombay where he remained a prisoner for another 13 years, finally passing away at Benares 1832. The failure of the revolt of Paliyath Achan in 1809 led to the installation of his rival Kunhi Krishna Menon as Dewan of Cochin who was later fired for mismanagement of the affairs of the State; in 1812 (It will be also of interest to know that this Kunju Krishna Menon’s daughter later married a Rajah of Travancore).

As for Ringletaube, in the year 1816 he suddenly left Travancore, "no one seemed to know why, only that something appeared to have come into his strange head of other more hopeful work somewhere to the eastward. At Madras he called on the Rev. M. Thompson, with whom he spent an evening in a very ordinary costume, for even then he had no coat, although about to undertake a sea voyage: the only covering for his head was something like a straw hat of native manufacture: yet, wild as was his appearance, Mr. Thompson was greatly interested in his conversation and helped him on his way. Thus did poor Ringletaube close his missionary career, no one knew whither he went, nor was he ever heard of again." Ringletaube apparently went to Ceylon in 1816, already a sick man and then moved on to Malacca where he succumbed to a liver ailment while on a voyage to Batavia (LMS R Lovett). Vedamanickam continued the missionary work near Nagercoil and was well supported by Munro.

In conclusion, was the Dalawa a patriot? Was he a good man? Well, he certainly had a terribly large ego and this came in his way all the time. He saw law order and justice only in two colors, black and white. No shades of grey were allowable in his mind, such was his firmness. Perhaps that was needed to shake up the somewhat laid back Travancore peasant or the slumbering bureaucracy of the Kingdom, but it did not bode well for him in the long run. He did try to play both sides for a good amount of time, but ended up more with a fascist caricature and less a benevolent one. Personally he was above avarice and never siphoned riches for himself or his family, though he certainly lived well. But then he did not create and keep lasting relationships with the people of power and influence, so very much needed in politics, and that was his downfall.

But as we discussed the involvement of Velu Thampi, Paliath Achan, Macaulay and a few others in the Travancore revolt, precipitated primarily by the delay or nonpayment of arrears ( and perhaps a British desire to usurp control over the kingdom formally) to the British and secondarily by religion and the conflict of personalities, we also see a strange anomaly. All this forced the Travancore kingdom into signing a humiliating treaty with the English. This begs a question; the temple vaults of Padmanabha contained billions in treasure all these years. That the king and his courtiers knew about it is clear for not only were they were filling it on a regular basis, but Balarama Varma used it at least once as we saw, so why did they not pay off the small arrears, instead of signing the treaty that went against them? One could answer saying that the wily Veluthampy forced the Balarama Varma to sign the treaty, but would that not then make Velu Thampy a traitor? Some would argue that the royal family did not want to lay a trail for the British to discover and loot the vaults. But then again another question comes up, if the Kingdom had so much money in the vaults why did they borrow from Mathoo Tharakan and the British during the wars with the Pandi pada and Tipu? Logically the only answer in such a case is that the vaults were filled up with billions after the 1810 time period!! Hmm….Food for ample thought!!

So to summarize and tie up all loose ends, Velu Thampy died in 1809, Bala Rama Varma the king passed away in 1810, the Paliyath Achan spent ages in jail afterwards, Kunju Krishna Menon took over from him, to mess up the administration and Macaulay went back to England, a rich man. Not much is known about the fate of Mathoo Tharakan, but I assume he did well. The people fared none the better. The Shanar converts, rose up again during the days of the blouse revolt which I will cover another day. Sree Padmanabha, the deity of the Travancore kingdom lies in state, in the anantha shayana, serenely smiling on at the silly antics of his subjects, and continues to do so. Trivandrum is still what it always was, a place where politics is at play with the players continuing to master their game.


The Travancore State Manual - V. Nagam Aiya
History of Travancore - P. Shungoonny Menon
The Land of the Perumauls - Francis Day
The Asiatic journal and monthly register - Volume 30
A History of Tinnevelly - Bishop R. Caldwell, Caldwell R. Bishop
A hundred years in Travancore, 1806-1906: London Missionary Society
Zachary Macaulay 1768-1838- Iain Whyte
Cochin State manual – C Achyutha Menon
Ruby of Cochin – Ruby
JOKS paper - Travancore rebellion 1809 RN Yesudas
A people's revolt in Travancore: a backward class movement for social freedom - Yesudas, R. N
The history of the London Missionary Society in Travancore, 1806-1908 - Yesudas, R. N
British policy in Travancore, 1805-1859 - Yesudas, R. N


  1. About the Church funds, GT Mackenzie of ‘Christianity in Travancore’ opines- Exact information about the origin of the earliest endowments is not forthcoming, because in December 1808 the records of the Resident's office were burned by the rebellious Travancore troops, but such information as can be obtained is here noted. Three thousand Star Pagodas were invested with the East India Company at 8 %interest in 1808 for the benefit of the Syrian Christians and a like sum at the same interest for the benefit of the Roman Catholic Mission at Verapoly. These investments remain to this day. The Roman Catholic Archbishop at Verapoly draws the interest on one fund. The interest on the other fund is claimed both by the Jacobites and by the Reformed Syrians and this dispute is now before the district Court of Trivandrum in the form of an interpleader suit by the Secretary of State as the stakeholder. Mar. Dionysius says that the money was the amount saved by the Syrian bishop in those days, that Colonel Macaulay, in the troublous times of the revolt of 1808 borrowed this sum from the bishop and that instead of repaying the cash the money was thus invested. This suggestion does not seem likely. The fact that a like sum was invested for a Roman Catholic Mission is against it. Another story is that these two sums were the forfeited property of a wealthy Christian named Mathu Tharakan. Yet another surmise is that these two sums were the private monies of the Resident, Colonel Macaulay, given as a thank offering when he escaped with his life in the revolt.
  2. Another report suggests the following - In 1808 Marthoma VI (Mar Dionysius I) made an attempt to raise funds from among the community and was able to collect, 840 poovarahans (star pagoda gold coins = Rs 2,940 of that time) from the Malankara Syrian Christian community.  To this amount the British resident in Travancore, Col. Macaulay added another 2,160 Poovarahans (Rs 7,560) a contribution from the government of Travancore from money collected as fines from Hindus by the Travancore government for their crimes against the Syrian Christians - a total of 3000 Poovarahan equivalent to Rs 10,500/-  a large amount at that time.   Marthoma VII deposited this money at annual interest of 8% which was to be paid to the Church annually.  This investment was called Vattipanam (interest money).
  3. Some other reports suggest that Macaulay was rescued by a Cochini Jew named Naphtali Rothenburg (Henry Baerlin - Travels without a passport V2) during an attack by the natives and the grateful resident donated two silver lamp chandeliers to the Jewish Synagogue. A little confusion here as the dating is 1806/1807, so it may have been an earlier attack. This is possible as Ruby’s story mentions an attack on Macaulay by the Kings men, not Veluthampi. So this must have occurred in 1807. More on this another day after I get additional information. Another report suggests that the raja’s gold crown mentioned was also gifted by Macaulay. All surprising considering that Macaulay’s gross remuneration including all allowances was apparently 9,600 Pagodas or Rs 33,600 p.a.
  4. Colin Macaulay had further problems with his own administration. According to his bio - He had his knuckles rapped four years later for making an ‘unguarded’ and ‘imperfect statement’ of a transaction concerning tobacco, but Wellesley was anxious that such ‘an honest and deserving servant of the public’, who subscribed to ‘good principles of government in India’, should not be made to suffer unduly for this indiscretion. He was further involved in the controversy surrounding the dismissal of George Vaughan Hart, commissary of grain to the army of Mysore, for alleged peculation, and later sought to vindicate his conduct in two Letters to Lord Harris (1816). He left India for the sake of his health in April 1810.