An Englishman at Calicut

The Occupants of Staffa lodge, somewhere near Westhill

Calicut as they said in history books, was on the way to everywhere. Many Westerners came and went, some stayed, some loved their stays while others detested the damp little town with hardly any social life and later drifted on to the hustle and bustle of Bombay, Delhi or Calcutta. In the process, many a white man made their fortune at and from Malabar, with the list is too long to tabulate. But the story of Lachlan Macquarie, a proverbial soldier of fortune, stands well above most. His travails around the world and the various written accounts of them make interesting reading, but the founder of Australia did spend a couple of years at Calicut. This article while briefly touching on his overall story, will hover around the years spent in Calicut for they provide a good understanding of colonial life in Calicut during the late 18th century.

Lachlan the Scotsman had his eyes on money early on in his youth and I guess life in Mull or Staffa
at Scotland was tough and dreary, enough to dream of warmer climes. But when a sojourn to the American shores fighting for the British earned him no prize money, his mind was set on the east, especially India, for the next adventure. Macquarie was intent on enriching himself along the way and planned to settle down eventually in Scotland, to be one among the landlords. This may look like the typical dream of a Malayali searching for Gulf jobs, but as far as Lachlan Macquarie was concerned, money could be made by soldiering. And this he did, traversing the world, to America, the West Indies, India and finally Australia. The last stop at Australia was even to earn him the title ‘Father of Modern Australia’. In this journey which spanned all of 45 years from one end of the globe to the other. In between he married an heiress, made and spent a lot of money, loved and lost, saw good days and some very sick days, enslaved and emancipated lesser beings, saw and experienced the world, and eventually returned to his roots. But when he did, much like the Gulf returnee to Kerala, his investments proved to be not so worthy and he died poor.

Starting with the Royal Highland Emigrants or the 84th regiment, he served at Nova Scotia, New York. Moving on as Lieutenant to the 71st at Charleston, he transferred to Jamaica for a while and then decided to travel to India. Retired at half pay in Scotland and living with his mother, he used his uncle’s (M Maclaine) contacts with Col Marsh to rejoin the military, as famine hit Scotland. Life in those days was not easy, to get a position as senior lieutenant in the newly formed 77th regiment, and to get full pay, he had to find and select 15 recruits (it was to prove quite tough for he had to walk hundreds of miles to find the blokes, but he did eventually, rounding up 21 of them for a price of 3 guineas each. Sadly four were eventually rejected as unsuitable and Marsh was furious as he was led to believe that the Scotsman was arriving with a 100 recruits). The pompous fella he was, Lachlan also employed a servant who had to satisfy the advertised needs of ‘dresses hair remarkably well, waits table, and plays very well upon the Fiddle’ and went on to command the 5th company in the 77th.

In 1787 tensions in India between Britain and France were high (matters concerning Holland) and the East India Company decided to raise four regiments to defend its interests there. However, by the time the regiments had been raised, the threat of war had passed and the EIC refused to pay for them. The Prime minister got involved and the matter was finally resolved with a declaratory bill. That was in 1788 and Lachlan was a member of Colonel James Marsh’s new unit, the 77th (Hindoostan) Regiment of Foot, arriving in India in August 1788, remaining there until 1807. And so, the 26 year old indebted man (enlisted as Lt Lauchlan M’Quarrie) sailed for Bombay with 10 guineas in his pocket, shouting ‘Ich Dien’ (I serve), the 77th motto, at the top of his voice, member of the 77th regiment nick named pot hooks. 

So many chaps from these regiments are known to us through the musty pages of Malabar history, names like Campbell, Dunlop, Gordon, Hartley, Lawrence, Marshall, Paterson, Sartorius, Stuart,  Griffith, Moncrieff, Walker and so on…But as you may not have seen Macquarie among them, we shall soon bring him to light. Lachlan was a bit worried that he was not going to Madras or Calcutta where better opportunities were at hand, but Bombay was where his regiment were headed, and thus began a 19-year stay in India.

The regiment cooled its heel in Fort Bombay for 2 years, and Lachlan was ensconced at Colaba rooming with a Dr Anderson (whom we will hear more of, soon), a place where the English ate too much, drank too much, fornicated with gusto, catching clap, creating ‘blue skins’ and employed too many servants to do too little work. The bored young man desperately wanted to get promoted and work his way into high society, and try he did writing to the top brass in Calcutta and Bombay. By a stroke of luck, he got his promotion as a result of this pestering correspondence. Now his desire was to get into the heat of a good battle and make money off the event as booty or prize money.

Down south, the British were being troubled by Tipu who had threatened to invade Travancore and the third Anglo Mysore war which would drag on for close to three years, was soon to commence. And when Tipu attacked Travancore in Dec 1789, and continued to press for spoils in 1790, the 77th which was itching for action, got exactly what the doctor ordered. The 77th comprising 673 soldiers were finally deputed to Malabar in November and were in position at Tellicherry by Dec 5th 1790. Cannanore had fallen by the 16th and the next step was to march towards Mysore. It was an arduous task, going up through the guards with the equipment in the rain, something the British had not planned for. After five long months of struggle, and intense rains, the 125 miles proved to be a million miles and Abercromby abandoned the plan to attack Seringapatanam.  Many died and became violently sick, Macquarie included. He had fever, bowel complaints and what they called liver (presumably syphilis). They got back to Malabar in June and had an extended R and R until November, after which a new plan to take Seringapatnam was hatched. Teaming up with the Madras troops of Cornwallis, they reached Mysore in Feb 1792. After a quick battle, Tipu surrendered and soon the British exercised control over Malabar which as a result of the defeat, was ceded to the EIC by Tipu. 

Back in Bombay, Lachlan was nursed back to health by three doctors, one of them being his friend Dr Anderson, who took care of his liver problem, by getting Lachlan’s wick dipped in a bowl of mercury for a period of time and after getting him to drink dilute nitric acid (those were the syphilis treatments in those days)!. Though he obtained only £308 as prize money, he utilized his additional responsibility as regimental paymaster to use the company coffers for personal profits. Not only did he clear his debts, but also did he (and his family whom he would always help in times of need) gain eminently from this enterprise. We also hear of a later treatment for the liver which perhaps involved a mercury wash of his waterworks. Surgeon Colin Anderson and his understudy Helenus Scott pioneered many such methods of treating the lower level issues of the 77th.

In Nov 1792, life was to change when he met a 20 year old pretty heiress Jane Jarvis whose father, a
judge had made his fortunes at Jamaica. The meeting took place at John Forbes’s home. Forbes and his bank were also to play a role in his future life. Lachlan went after Jane, but her brother in Law, James Morley would not agree, sensing an opportunist in the Scotsman. Another turn of luck got him a promotion to Malabar at the right moment and Lachlan proposed to Jane again. The brother in Law agreed, provided Lachlan signed a prenuptial agreement forfeiting any of Jane’s wealth and the suitor committed £1000 of his savings to Jane’s trust fund. Lachlan, very much in love, agreed. Two years of wedded bliss and partying turned out to be financially disastrous for him, for he had monthly expenses of Rs 800 when his salary was Rs 500. When he tried to draw money from Jane’s account to order a chariot and some silver, he was threatened with legal proceedings by his brother in law. Just in order to avoid bankruptcy, he had to retire and live low, away from Bombay.

Where else do you think, was he headed? Calicut of course. And so he sailed to Calicut with his wife Jane, in Dec 1794. Here we can take up the tale in first person, by referring to the meticulous journals kept by Lachlan Macquarie.

In those days at Calicut, officers and their spouses rode horses and at times the spouse rode in a palanquin carried by native servants. So the first thing Lachlan did was to buy Jane a Turkai breed horse at Calicut for Rs 300. The house or bungalow at the cantonment (Westhill) was more a cottage, with perhaps two bedrooms and a hall. It was thatched with cajan (cadjun – coconut palm) leaves. Considering that a seasonal thatching required about 15,000 cajun leaves, the house does seem somewhat big. They had outhouses for the servants and a large lawn. The house was purchased from Dr Kerr for Rs 400 and Lachlan spent another Rs 700 modifying and repairing it, to suit the new memsaheb’s tastes. They called it the Staffa lodge after Lachlan’s home town in Scotland. Life there was typical tropical colonial style, drinking, dancing, partying and riding to Calicut town often for dinners.  They had three things to think about the bungalow, the cantonment and finally the nearest hill station. Both Lachlan and Jane seemed to enjoy it. Looking at contemporary accounts, how would one document that life?

Naufragus gives us a taste of life in the Calicut of 1790’s- The English at Calicut reside in
bungalows, of a capacious size, and well built: society here more resembles the unanimity of a family, than anything else, the only residents being the civil, military, and naval officers of the Company; and as they are all, in point of respectability, upon an equal footing, few or no discords arise among them. Typically the bungalow contains four or six spacious rooms, all on one floor, with back and front verandahs: the roof is thatched; and its external appearance is not unlike that of a large barn in England. It is built of brick, or "pucka," as the native term is, sometimes of bamboos and matting alone; and its price is about fifteen hundred rupees (So it looks like Lachlan got a good deal unless Staffa lodge required extensive repairs). In the daytime, the members of our little society usually repaired to the habitation of Mr. so and so. In one room a few English ladies would charm the votaries of music with their performance on the harp and piano, the gentlemen accompanying them on the flute, or bass viol; while in an adjoining apartment, billiards were the amusement: in another room were newspapers and other periodical works, recently brought from Europe, with pamphlets, etc. for the literati; and wide verandahs afforded a cheerful promenade. In the evenings, I was favored with the loan of a fine Arabian horse; and a ball frequently concluded the day's entertainment.

Another description by Richardson goes thus - The country surrounding Calicut is exceedingly beautiful; from the plain near the sea, which is fertile and well wooded, the ascent to the uplands is easy and gentle, and admits of good roads over hill and dale. Behind this the same degrees of acclivity and descent are preserved in undulating ridges, which here and there interrupt the monotony of the plain, till at length the hills begin to rise higher and higher in successive beds, and the horizon of the east is at last intercepted by the towering range of the Ghauts, 'on whose broken summits the clouds themselves repose.

The dwelling-houses of the English families at Calicut, are mostly to the northward of the town, and stand at some distance from each other, having gardens and grounds attached to them. Some indeed are several miles in the country, and stand on elevated situations from whence the finest views are commanded, and where the purest air is breathed. The house of the Collector at which we dined on Sunday, was of this description, and the friend with whom I was staying, had lately constructed a bungalow, on a still more elevated site, from which a scene was displayed, that whether for extent or beauty could scarcely be surpassed perhaps in any part of India. The houses themselves had nothing peculiar in their construction, but resemble those common to European residences in India, being contrived for comfort rather than for show; and being considered perfect in the degree in which they ensured shade, and a cool and free circulation of air.

No article written about the life in a Bungalow surpasses the one found in the Saturday review dt 28th June 1902, and I will proceed to give you a sample to get a feel for life in one.

At all times and seasons the Indian bungalow is a very Zoological Gardens. The human occupant scarcely counts; is but one among many. The number of his uninvited guests is legion. They look upon the building of houses for the shelter of animals as the excuse for man's existence. The flies seem to increase a thousandfold. In India these insects, like the poor, are always with us; they, however, favour us during the rains more than at any other season. The Indian fly is far more depraved than his English brother. If one of the latter settle on your nose and you drive him off, he seeks another playground. Not so the Indian. You are writing and he selects your right hand as his resting place, you blow him off and resume your writing. By the time you have written half a word he is again comfortably settled on the identical spot on your hand. You drive him off, he again settles. After three or four repetitions of this operation you seize the fly-flapper and murder him. The fly-flapper is an indispensable piece of furniture in India. It is a short stick with a flat piece of leather attached to one end. The fly is slain with the leather flap. The fly plagues the Anglo-Indian during the whole of the day, the mosquito torments him throughout the night. With the setting of the sun the mosquito, refreshed by sweat sleep in an old hat or other secluded spot, relieves the wearied fly and takes up the flagging attack with renewed vigour. The mosquito adopts the following plan of campaign. He, not being able to live in the draught caused by the punka, hovers about just outside its sphere of influence, emitting the most unholy sound. As the punka-coolie grows sleepier and the motion of the punka diminishes the mosquito is able to approach nearer his victim. When at last soft slumber overtakes the coolie the patient insect reaps his reward and settles down to his meal. The gnawing of the rats, the chirruping of hundreds of crickets to which the rain appears to act as a stimulant, and the unceasing croaking of the frogs in and around the bungalow, combine to curtail the sleep of the unfortunate Anglo-Indian.

You return from the club at 8 P.m. to find that in spite of the chiks in front of the doors, the floor of the bungalow is strewn with wings which the termites have shed; while a couple of toads are making merry with the soft succulent bodies of the insects. On the wall the lizards are devouring white ants by the hundred. The lizard is a great institution in the bungalow. He is as much a part and parcel of the house as the dog is. Every bungalow in India contains its pair of lizards. Daring the day they live behind pictures or in other sheltered places. At dusk when the lamp is lighted they leave their cover and come out and hunt. Their hunting-ground is the zone of light on the wall round the lamp………
There is one insect—a little, flat, brown, shining, creature—which emits the worst odour in the world. If one of these touches your food the whole is tainted and rendered inedible. You dare not kill these pests, for if one be squashed the whole room becomes filled with its disgusting smell and is uninhabitable for the next half-hour. So these abominable insects fly about with impunity while the poor Anglo-Indian must perforce look helplessly on and inwardly sigh "Spero meliora "(means - I hope for better things)

So that must have given you a little taste of what Lachlan and Jane lived through. Though we have no trace of that cottage or bungalow left, we are provided literary detail of its existence from Lachlan’s journals. They rode often to Calicut town, to eat with the civilian British gentry there.One of their first indulgences was the purchase of two slave boys from Cochin. He records

Sat Jan 24 - Saturday. Lieut. Gray returned from Cochin, and brought me two very fine, well–looking healthy Black Boys; both seemingly of the same age, and I should suppose from their size and appearance that they must be between six and seven year old. — The stoutest of them Mrs. Macquarie has called Hector after my Brother: and the smallest I have called George after her Brother. Lieut. Gray has executed his Commission much to our satisfaction, for which I conceive myself much obliged to him. — The Two Slave Boys cost One Hundred and Seventy Rupees. We had the Boys immediately well washed, their Hair cut and combed, and well clothed.

By May they have settled down and he writes - On this day I am happy to find I have finished all my repairs and improvements on my Houses and Out–Houses, and also upon all my Estate at Staffa–Lodge, the name I have given to the sweet spot we now reside on and inhabit. The amount of my repairs and improvements, including Cajans and enclosures, since my arrival at this Cantonment, upon the whole of my Estate, I find to be about Seven Hundred Rupees; which with the original Price I gave Doctor Ker for the Property (vizt. 400 Rupees) has now I find cost me altogether Eleven Hundred Rupees: – but, I have the satisfaction to find both Mrs. Macquarie and myself very comfortably and commodiously lodged.

They grew fruits and vegetables in the garden, and expanded their estate with more trees and crosswalks. It appears his plan was to spend six more years there and they got regular parcels of goodies from Bombay containing ham, ale, cheese, coffee etc. The only other Lady in the neighborhood was one Mrs. Shaw, but she moved, to spend her pregnancy in Bombay. Jane was but naturally the most popular woman in town, according to Lachlan. The only other event to note was the arrival of Jane’s brother George, which overjoyed the couple.

By July Lachlan got his summons to go to Cochin, for the Dutch siege. Leaving servants to take care of Staffa, Lachlan and George (as a volunteer) left Jane in a friend’s house in Calicut town while he marched off to Cochin with the 77th. Jane is heartbroken, but Lachlan and George participate merrily in the takeover of Cochin after the Dutch surrender. As this is going on, Lachlan is ordered to go to Bombay to give evidence in a court martial case. The battle over, he arranges for collection of his prize money and organizes travel plans to Bombay with Jane who is still unwell, with a severe cold and cough.

He writes - My dear Mrs. M, George Jarvis and myself dined today with our friend Major Gore, at whose House we had a very pleasant Party. During the forenoon we had sent out our Servants and Baggage to our House at Staffa Lodge in Cantonments; and in the Evening after drinking Tea at Major Gore's we ourselves removed thither, accompanied by George Jarvis, and Slept there this Night. My dearest Jane went out in her Palanquin, and her Brother and myself rode along with her on Horseback – it being a most beautiful moonlight Night. We found everything right at Staffa Lodge, and we both felt extreme joy at finding ourselves there once more so comfortably settled.

Sunday Nov 15th 1795. Lachlan and Jane bid goodbye to Calicut. At that time, Jane was not to know that she would never come back to Calicut, for tragedy was soon to strike.

He writes - After Breakfasting with Major Gore we proceeded, attended by him and all our friends, to the House of Doctor Moir situated close to the Beach, and from which it was agreed we should take our final departure as Doctor Moir himself was to be one of our fellow Passengers. At the Doctor's House we found Capt. Seton waiting for us ready to escort my dear Mrs. M. in his own Boat on board the Helen. — We here took leave of all our good friends, and Mrs. M. embarked about half past Ten O'Clock. I staid [sic] on shore till the Post came in to get some Letters I expected from Madras, which having received and answered, I embarked on board the Helen at half past 11,O'Clock, which weighed anchor and made sail immediately on my getting on board. I found my dearest Jane in high spirits, and most genteely and comfortably accommodated, Capt. Seton having allotted us Half of his Round house with a Quarter Gallery which gave us ample room and which we found very neatly furnished and conveniently arranged for our reception. He had also allotted very good accommodation for our Brother George; who accompanies us to Bombay principally with a view of getting a Passage the easier from thence to Madras to rejoin his Regt., his leave of absence being now nearly expired.

The story of Lachlan changes a lot after this embarkation. Jane’s cough becomes worse, and treatment with mercury and warm milk (Lachlan even buys a Surat cow for daily fresh milk) does not help at all. In between all this he is now summoned (Feb 1796) to Ceylon to fight the Dutch.  He shone in the mission and gets promoted to major. But then he hears of a bad turn in his wife’s health from Bombay, he rushes back, stopping enroute at Calicut where he sees new letters from Jane announcing she is feeling better and perhaps pregnant. Lachlan is overjoyed and eventually docks at Bombay in May 1796 only to find that Jane is seriously ill with TB and that the pregnancy was just a delusion. Listening to advice that sea air will do her good, he finds a passage to Portuguese Macau, where the charade continues but within days she breathes her last. The distraught Lachlan gets back to Bombay with the lead coffin only in Jan 1797 and buries her with a long 475 word eulogy after which he slips into a period of deep depression and goes about wearing a black armband.

The Staffa lodge was soon sold, all of Jane’s stuff disposed of and Lachlan finds himself left with a legacy of £6,000. The two slave boys Hector and George were put into Parish school at Bombay. Soon he found his way back to Malabar joining in the British fight against the Pazhassi Raja of Kottayam. That done, he moved on to fight Tipu in the final battle at Seringapatanam and as expected obtained a share of the loot. On 18 September 1800 when he took office as president of the Sans Souci Club in Bombay he finally abandoned the black arm-band he had worn since his wife's death

As all this happened the next three years passed by hazily, and by 1800, we see the 40 year old career soldier back as secretary to Jonathan Duncan, Governor of Bombay. Simultaneously Arthur Wellesley the future Duke of Wellington lands in Bombay and passes over Lachlan Macquarie whom he does not take a liking to. Lachlan is instead recommended to go to Egypt to fight the French as Dy Adjutant General.

His future however had greater things in store, for he spends all his life’s earnings, some £15,000 to hold on to his uncle’s land within the family. The Egyptian campaign had been so profitable that raising such a sum presented no difficulty; at the beginning of 1803 he estimated that he was worth £20,000 in money and land, twice the amount of his wealth only two years before. He was also desirous of becoming a Highland laird, an estate owner. It is here that he meets and becomes fond of his cousin Elizabeth Campbell whom he later marries.

He spends a few years in high society in London, gets into trouble (he did participate in or even organize many a swindle during his life) with the Duke of York and soon ordered back to India to fight the Holkars. In 1807, he happily bids goodbye to India for the last time, which he considered a land of death, after Jane’s demise. After another two years he is appointed as governor (curiously recommended by two people who posed trouble for him earlier – the Duke of York and Arthur Wellesley!! Maybe they were acting in unison to exile him?) of New South Wales where trouble was brewing. This was where he made his name, finally, and today many consider him as the founder of modern Australia. But that and the fortunes and misfortunes which followed this Scotsman, is another story, for another day. In any case Bombay, Staffa, Calicut and all those places in India may have always been in his dreams. It is said that he used the Indian columned model to build the famous Rum hospital in Australia.

Whatever happened to the two slave boys of Cochin? Hector was kidnapped during the Tipu war in 1799 and never to be heard of again, but George Jarvis, the Malayali slave boy (perhaps a Topass) was at his side always and continued to serve him in Australia (first Malayali in Australia?) and England. When Lachlan died, he willed a house and an annuity to George, but George followed his master beyond this world, just a year later. Elizabeth, Lachlan’s wife outlived him, and George Jarvis the Scottish educated servant boy continued to serve her, marrying the chamber maid Mary Jelly. Their daughter Elizabeth Jarvis died in 1835. Lachlan’s and Elizabeth’s son Lachlan Jr died in 1845, falling down the stairs of Craignish castle. Colin Anderson, his surgeon friend, fathered many children, and one of them was curiously named Jane Jarvis Anderson (?) as seen in his will. Anderson is mentioned in a suit for the unpaid Cochin prize money and Forbes went on to create a company in Bombay. Francis Gordon his friend in Calicut Town, the resident of Calicut, returned to Britain, never recovering from a bad attack of sunstroke.

There are no English bungalows in Calicut anymore, in fact not a single colonial building survives time, but a healthy respect for the Ingriz administrators remain amongst the old timers of Malabar.

Lachlan Macquarie, A biography - John Ritchie
Governor Macquarie: His Life, Times and Revolutionary Vision for Australia Derek Parker
The adventures of Naufragus, written by himself - M J. Horn
Girt: The Unauthorized History of Australia, Volume 1 - David Hunt
Historical records of Australia – Vol 8

Photos - from the net - thanks to the uploaders