The Heart of Montrose

Madurai’s peculiar connection to Scotland, Logarithms, Colin Mackenzie, and a hero’s heart

Madurai has a great cultural history, and for a long time was Tamil Nadu’s cultural capital, and the ‘Toonga Nagaram, the city that never slept’. It was one of those cities which endured so many rulers and changes, notably by the Kalabhras, the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Tughlaq Sultanate, the Vijayanagar Rayars, the Telugu Nayaks, the Nawab of Arcot and Chanda Saheb, the British East India Company and finally the British Raj. Most would recall it as a Nayak-era temple town on the banks of the Vaigai river, or as a pilgrimage town, home to the magnificent Madurai Meenakshi temple and the Tirumala Naikar temple.

Plundered over time by the eunuch Malik Kafur and later the Arcot nawabs, it was once a home to Robert Nobili, the Roman Brahmin (see story)  when he tried to proselytize the Hindu populace in Tamil with the concept of the 5th Veda. Gandhi enthusiasts would also recall that it was here centuries later, that the nation’s father decided to cast off his clothes and wear his signature loin cloth (read the story here). But what if I told you that it also had a fascinating connection to logarithms, a reverted Scottish warrior and later on, a great archivist of Indian manuscripts? A senior Tamilian would quip (now I am speaking in jest, take no offense) – I told you long ago, nan annakke sonnen that Shakespeare was after all Sheshappa Iyer and kannakku – mathematics was always, annakkum, innakkum -in yester years & these days, child’s play for us..

And so, we go to Scotland to meet two stalwarts, one being Napier, considered to be the person who invented Logarithms and James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose. James was a Scottish nobleman from the 17th century (1612-1650), poet, soldier, later viceroy, and captain-general of Scotland. He led the royalists in the Civil war and had many victories, but did not fare well and following his defeat and capture at the Battle of Carbisdale, the Great Montrose was tried by the Scottish Parliament and sentenced to death by hanging in May 1650, followed by beheading and quartering. Sometime later, his excommunicated legacy was restored, and he was officially rehabilitated in public memory as a great man, his remains buried honorably at Holyrood in May 1661. All the distributed (quartered limbs) were brought back and buried with the main parts. Save one part, a critical one, that being his heart, for in 1650, his niece Lady Napier, had sent men by night to secretly remove his heart and bring it back to the family. This relic was placed in an egg-shaped steel case made from Montrose’s sword and this was then enclosed in a gold filigree box, and deposited into a silver urn, always kept at her bedside.

One of you may quip – why did this lady go after her uncle’s heart? Well, it seems the Marquis was very fond of his nephew as well as his wife and had always told the latter that he would leave his heart to her, as a mark of his affection, upon his death. Anyway, as the story goes, the urn and the gold box were lost for generations, but the box landed up in Holland where it was eventually located by the fifth Napier and restored to the family. Time went by and it was finally in the possession of Hester Napier, who went on to marry Samuel Johnston of the EIC, and soon, both were bound for India. The filigree box accompanied Hester and Samuel to Madurai, where he had found appointment as a civil servant. Misfortunes never ceased, for the ship they were voyaging on, was attacked by the French, off Cape de Verde. A shot or its resulting splinters destroyed the filigree box which Hester was clutching, but the steel case with the heart in it remained intact.

The description of the event by Alexander, Hester’s son is arresting – A shot from the frigate struck one of these guns, killed two of the men, and, with the splinters which it tore off the deck, knocked my father down, wounded my mother severely in the arm, and bruised the muscles of my right hand so severely that, as you know, it is even now difficult for me at times to write or even to hold a pen. My mother held me during the action with one hand, and with the other she held a large thick velvet reticule; in which she, conceiving that if the frigate captured the Indiaman the French crew would plunder the ship, had placed some of the things which she valued most, including the pictures of her father and mother, and the gold filagree case containing the heart of Montrose. It was supposed that the splinter must have first struck the reticule, which hung loose in her hand; for, to her great distress, the gold filagree box, which was in it, was shattered to pieces, but the steel case had resisted the blow.

The couple reached India and found their way to Madurai and thus the greatest Scottish national treasure had eventually found its way to the temple city. Hester located a celebrated goldsmith in Madurai, who recreated a new gold filigree case for the steel encapsulated heart, after listening to her description of it, and also made a silver urn for it. It was also engraved in Tamil and Telugu with the highpoints of Montrose’s life!! Imagine what they would have written in Tamil – Periyavar Montrose sayippode ascharyamana irudayam…. This was then given a place of honor, on an ebony table in the drawing room at the Johnston household.

Alexander, Hester’s son who knew this relic intimately describe it thus - The steel case was of the size and shape of an egg. It was opened by pressing down a little knob, as is done in opening a watch case. Inside was a little parcel, supposed to contain all that remained of Montrose's heart, wrapped up in a piece of coarse cloth, and done over with a substance like glue.

Interestingly, this led to a myth among the locals that anybody who possessed Montrose’s heart would never be defeated in battle or taken prisoner! Soon it was stolen from the house by robbers and after some time, purchased by the powerful Nawab of Arcot, in whose collection it rested for a while!! As it transpired, Alexander, Samuel’s and Hester’s son while hunting with the Nawab, helped him shoot down a hog and the grateful Nawab ( wonder why he was grateful – I doubt that the Nawab was a bad shot or had difficulty in shooting down a hog!) what he wanted in return as a gift. Alexander asked for the urn with the heart and explained the whole background to him. Upon hearing that it was a family relic stolen from Hester, the Nawab promptly restored the urn and the steel case to Alexander (The Nawab was killed some years later, by the British, as explained in Major Welsh’s military reminiscences).

Samuel and Hester returned to Europe in 1792, and were caught up in the French revolution where all their gold ornaments were confiscated by the revolutionary government. Hester however, entrusted the urn and the casket to a British lady named Knowles, for safekeeping. Unfortunately, the lady died, and the urn and the heart vanished, for all practical purposes. We will get back to the search for the urn as we go on, but let’s get back to Madurai after a short stop in Scotland to get to know the Napier who invented the Logarithms. Hester Napier passed away in 1819.

John Napier, after having traveled and studied abroad, came back to Scotland, as a scholar in Greek, Theology, Mathematics, and science. Towards the end of his life, he came up with many shortcuts for complex calculations and devices to aid calculations. His work, Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio (1614) contained fifty-seven pages of explanatory matter and ninety pages of tables listing the natural logarithms of trigonometric functions. He invented a well-known mathematical artefact, the ingenious numbering rods more quaintly known as "Napier's bones" (as well as the Promputary), that offered a mechanical means for facilitating computation. As a person involved in so much more, he was studied by his peers and later generations.  While his work was considered seminal in his times, in Europe, it has come to light in recent times that such methods were commonplace in distant India, where the English were yet to arrive.

Interestingly, a research paper mentions - A further link between Scheubel and Napier is that while abroad, the latter "studied the history of Arabic notation, which he traced to its Indian source”. Phillip Jones explains that the diagonal line separating the units and tens digits on the bones and the method of using the bones are counterparts of the popular gelosia or jealousy method of multiplication. This came into Europe from Arabic writers shortly after the introduction of Hindu-Arabic numerals,  and can be traced back to the Hindu  Bhaskara (1150) or earlier. I do not want to add more, simply because I do not want to make this a complex read.

Anyway, years passed by, and a young man named Colin Mackenzie, a Scotsman, was asked by the then Lord Francis Napier who was preparing a biography of the said mathematician John Napier, to collect all available information about Hindu mathematicians and mathematics as well as their use of logarithms (another mathematician Rueben Barrow was sent out in 1793 for the same purpose, while others such as Charles M Whish were already in Malabar collecting and archiving similar data). Lord Napier died in 1773, and Kenneth Mackenzie helped Colin to obtain commission with the British East India Company so that he could join the Madras Army. It was with the task of investigating Hindu Mathematics and Napier, that Colin set out for Madras in 1783. Little would he know that he would never return home, and that India would hold him in her firm grip, ever after. As Napier’s emissary, looking for information on Napier and Hindu Mathematics, where do you think he went to? To Madurai of course, where Lord Napier’s daughter Hester resided, in relative pomp and glory. That is where Mackenzie met and collaborated with the well-educated Brahmins, proficient in Mathematics, a subject we will study separately.

In hindsight, I can say that he was sent to the wrong place. Ujjain where Bhaskara lived and produced his mathematics treatises was no longer the right place, but he would have found many of his answers if he had gone to Malabar and met with Madhava’s pupils. But Malabar was still reeling from Hyder’s and Tipu’s onslaught, and it was much later that CM Whish and Thomas H Baber made their forays into these fields and Whish ended up publishing his paper on Malabar’s Mathematicians and Calculus.

Nevertheless, Mackenzie had good intercourse with the Math stalwarts in the erstwhile Nayaka kingdom with whom Hester had already established the right contacts. Math was Colin’s interest and though he would have seen the silver Urn with the Montrose heart, it held no interest for him, just that they were both in the same place, at the same time, far away from Scotland. Mackenzie’s life, both as an engineer and soldier as well as a collector of manuscripts is quite well known, his activities in Malabar (as a soldier at Palghat, his role in the fights against Hyder & Tipu, and his attempts to collect Malabar & Travancore history manuscripts) are not so well known, so they will follow in a forthcoming article.

As Alexander, Hester’s son put it - Mrs. Johnston introduced him to the Madurai Brahmins “who were supplying her with information on the Hindus’ knowledge of mathematics.” The more he interacted with these Brahmins, the greater his astonishment and admiration for their expansive learning, which “fired his interest in Indian antiquities.” This became the basis of his lifelong mission, and “the favorite object of his pursuit for 38 years of his life.”

However, I will not tire you with mathematics and Mackenzie’s deeds in India, at least in this article, let us get back to the heart of Montrose. We concluded earlier that it was lost for good, in France. I had also concluded that it was indeed lost, after my initial study, but then I saw that the Montrose Museum had on display a relic purported to be Montrose’s heart. Well, the heart, making its return from India to Europe continued with its adventurous existence, for it may have traveled long and crossed many oceans. Rachel Bennet, from the University of Warwick, came up with more conclusions.

One Capt H Stuart Wheatley-Crowe of the Royal Stuart society obtained an embalmed heart which was believed to have been brought to England from France during the Revolution by the ancestors of the Perkins family, who believed it was the heart of Montrose. Stuart had a medical examination carried out on the heart and they found it to be approximately 300 years old, but could find no other definitive proof of its authenticity or connections to Montrose. When a claimant for this heart surfaced in Canada in 1951, named Mrs. Maisie Armitage-Moore, the society sent the heart to her. She was the granddaughter of Alexander Johnston, now a Canadian from British Columbia. Maise, now Ms Maisie Hurley, was a larger-than-life woman who dressed in black, smoked cigars, loved boxing and American Indians, and was a publisher of the local newspaper.

Lloyd Graham, who investigated this further, takes it from here - Questions remained and Maise was no longer convinced the heart belonged to her ancestor, for an expert had told her that it seemed to have been mummified in the Egyptian fashion, using red lead and resin wax. She was tired of the controversy and wanted no part in the authenticity arguments and wanted to (as John Graham wished) cremate the heart and scatter the ashes over Edinburgh. But in 2012, when the Montrose Museum announced the James Graham collection, they had in their possession a heart, which may have been the lost one.

The only mention of the heart since then comes from Maise’s great-granddaughter Kerrie. In 2007, Kerrie recalls playing with the heart as a child and remembers being horrified when it fell into two pieces. She was very upset until she learned that “a bullet had apparently split it in half in its travels to Vancouver”– an inexplicable coda to an already bizarre tale. It was apparently sent to England, for safe keeping at her nephew’s home, from where it was eventually sent to the museum. When in Canada, it was discovered that the heart had a piece missing, and that piece had been retained by Wheately Crowe. The heart now in Scotland did have a missing piece and it corresponded roughly to the piece mentioned above.

Bennet concludes - Despite the lack of absolute proof of its authenticity, the heart was placed alongside other artefacts definitively related to Montrose, and this perhaps is a suitable final destination. Museum curator, Rachel Benvie, said: "There are two known hearts of Montrose and we have managed to locate and display one of them. "I was a little bit skeptical when I first saw it. "It is maybe slightly larger than a normal human heart, but the process of embalming could well influence that, and it is human. And anyway, I do feel it is right that the Marquis of Montrose should have a larger heart than other people."

Lloyd Graham is not convinced that the Canadian contender is the right heart and not much is known about the second contender – He explains From this (Alexander Johnston’s description of the urn, earlier narrated in red) it is clear that the heart was no longer the entire organ but a piece of cardiac tissue small enough to fit inside a container no larger than a hen’s egg; the fragment was also sealed inside a cloth wrapping. These points distinguish it from the unshrouded intact heart inherited by Capt. Wheatley-Crowe in 1931, which was forwarded to Maisie Armytage-Moore / Hurley in Canada and exhibited at Montrose in 2012. This exposed, enlarged and essentially complete heart is incompatible with Sir Alexander’s description.

How about the other heart in the possession of the museum? No information is publicly available about the other contender for the heart of Montrose. Unless it and its containers miraculously match Sir Alexander’s description, Lloyd states - we must conclude that the relic he described so carefully – which may well have been genuine –was in fact lost forever in Revolutionary France.

The New York Times dated 29th Jan 1911, however, mentions that the Johnston’s actually gave the trinket to an American named Mrs Stephen Brown who used to live in Boulogne, just before they themselves got arrested, assuming that it would be safer in American hands. However, all subsequent search for the Brown’s and the heart yielded no results. But the ‘veteran diplomat’ who wrote it believed that the heart was in America. Now, is the second heart relic in the museum’s possession? I don’t know.

The Arcot nawab’s connection with the Napier’s did not cease. It was another Lord Napier, the mayor of Madras, who was involved in reinstating one of the claimants as the Price of Arcot, in 1867.

And that my friends, is the incredible connection between Scotland’s hero, Madurai, Napier of logarithms and the first surveyor general of India – Col Colin Mackenzie, and the travails of the hero’s heart across continents and oceans, and shot at and split, even as a relic!. What an amazing story – the story of a heart, its obscure connection to the inventor of Logarithms, a distant city of Madurai in India and how it all connected to the very person who later on built the single largest archive and collection of Indian manuscripts!!


House GRAHAM From the Antonine Wall to the Temple of Hymen - Lloyd D. Graham
“A Candidate for Immortality”: Martyrdom, Memory, and the Marquis of Montrose - Rachel Bennett
Col Colin Mackenzie, First Surveyor general of India – WC Mackenzie
Memoirs of the Marquis of Montrose- MARK NAPIER
John Napier - W. R. Thomas
Napier's Education: A Speculation - Alex Inglis
Tangible arithmetic I: Napier's and Genaille's rods - Phillip S. Jones

 Images – Wikimedia – thanks to the uploaders


Chat GPT – An interesting demonstration

Newspapers, websites, podcasts, radio news, and TV programs are talking about the pros and cons of Chat GPT. I had just a cursory idea about the whole thing and when my younger son Arun visited us recently, my wife asked him what it was all about. After some prodding, he got on to the site and proceeded with a demonstration of how it works. Below is exactly what transpired, I have not made a single edit anywhere.

Q: Write an analysis on the blog Maddy's Ramblings

The answer came out in a line-by-line fashion, like a newsfeed, in a few minutes

Maddy's Ramblings is a blog that covers a range of topics related to India and Indian culture. The author, Maddy, writes in a personal and engaging style that draws readers in and makes them feel like they are part of the conversation. The blog is a mix of personal anecdotes, historical insights, and cultural commentary, which gives readers a well-rounded view of the topics at hand.

One of the strengths of Maddy's Ramblings is the author's passion for the subject matter. Maddy clearly has a deep knowledge of Indian history and culture, and this comes through in the writing. Whether discussing the history of Indian temples or the intricacies of regional cuisine, Maddy's enthusiasm is infectious and draws readers in. This passion is one of the reasons why the blog has built up a loyal following over the years.

Another strength of Maddy's Ramblings is the diversity of topics covered. The blog touches on everything from ancient Indian history to modern-day politics, and everything in between. This breadth of coverage means that there is always something new and interesting to read on the blog, and readers are constantly learning new things about India and its people.

The personal touch that Maddy brings to the writing is another standout feature of the blog. Maddy frequently uses personal anecdotes to illustrate points or provide context for the topics being discussed. This makes the writing feel more relatable and engaging, and helps readers connect with the author on a more personal level.

That said, there are a few areas where Maddy's Ramblings could be improved. One issue is that the blog can sometimes feel a bit rambling and unfocused. While the diversity of topics covered is a strength, it can also make the blog feel a bit scattered at times. Some readers may prefer a more focused approach that delves deeper into specific topics.

Another issue is that the writing can sometimes be a bit dense and difficult to follow. While Maddy clearly has a wealth of knowledge on the subjects he covers, he sometimes assumes that readers are familiar with certain concepts or historical events. This can make the writing feel a bit intimidating for readers who are not as well-versed in Indian history and culture.

Overall, Maddy's Ramblings is a well-written and engaging blog that covers a wide range of topics related to India and its people. The author's passion for the subject matter is evident in the writing, and the personal touch makes the blog feel more relatable and engaging. While there are a few areas where the blog could be improved, such as focusing on specific topics and making the writing more accessible to readers who are less familiar with Indian history and culture, these are relatively minor issues. Overall, Maddy's Ramblings is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about India and its people.

Review - Wow! I was gob-smacked, for it was a reasonably composite analysis, and it was quite pleasing to see that an AI knew my site and I existed and could say something of my work!

So then, he asked the next question

Q: How can Maddy's Ramblings be improved as a blog?

Out came the answer as below

Maddy's Ramblings is a great blog that covers a wide range of topics related to India and its culture. However, there are a few areas where the blog could be improved to make it even better. Here are some suggestions for how Maddy's Ramblings could be improved:

Narrow down the focus: While the diversity of topics covered is a strength, the blog can sometimes feel a bit unfocused. To address this, the author could consider narrowing down the focus of the blog to a few key areas. For example, the blog could focus exclusively on Indian history, or on regional cuisine, or on contemporary Indian culture. This would give the blog a more defined niche and help readers know what to expect.

Make the writing more accessible: While the author clearly has a wealth of knowledge on the subjects covered, the writing can sometimes be a bit dense and difficult to follow. To make the blog more accessible to readers who may not be as well-versed in Indian history and culture, the author could consider breaking down complex concepts into simpler terms or providing more background information on historical events or cultural practices.

Add multimedia content: While the writing is engaging and informative, the addition of multimedia content like photos, videos, or infographics could make the blog even more compelling. For example, if the blog is discussing a specific dish or cuisine, adding photos of the food being prepared or of the finished dish could help readers better understand and appreciate the topic at hand.

Encourage reader engagement: While the blog is well-written and informative, it could benefit from more reader engagement. The author could encourage readers to leave comments or ask questions, and could respond to comments and questions in a timely manner. This would help create a sense of community around the blog and foster deeper engagement with the content.

Improve the layout and design: While the content of the blog is the most important aspect, the layout and design of the blog can also play a role in how engaging it is for readers. The author could consider updating the blog's design to make it more visually appealing and user-friendly. This could include using a more modern layout, adding images or graphics, or making the blog more mobile-friendly.

Overall, while Maddy's Ramblings is a great blog, there are a few areas where it could be improved to make it even better. By focusing on key areas, making the writing more accessible, adding multimedia content, encouraging reader engagement, and improving the layout and design, the author could create an even more engaging and informative resource for anyone interested in learning more about India and its culture.

Review - Now you can see the cracks – the suggestions seem to follow a boilerplate and touch upon the usual areas, and suggestions about asking for comments seemed not on point, since the blog does request it on every page. Perhaps the output means – to ask for it in the blog post itself. Narrowing down on the focus, made some sense, and adding the multimedia content, seemed thrown in, since the Blogspot does have specific pictures, in each post, perhaps it meant - add more. The comment about making it modern is well taken, a few other readers have mentioned it to me, and is in the works.

But when Arun, took it to the next blog of mine, the output started to fall apart, since the AI seemed to have gotten lost a bit in the Malabar history labyrinths.

Q: Write an analysis on the blog Historic Alleys by Maddy

Historic Alleys is a blog that explores the lesser-known corners of cities and towns around the world, with a particular focus on the narrow alleys and lanes that are steeped in history and culture. Written by Maddy, the blog takes readers on a journey through time, exploring the stories behind these hidden gems.

One of the strengths of Historic Alleys is Maddy's writing style. She has a way with words that brings the alleys to life, and makes readers feel like they are right there with her, exploring the cobblestone streets and hidden corners. Her descriptions are vivid and evocative, and she has a knack for uncovering the little details that make each alley unique.

Another strength of the blog is the range of alleys that are covered. Maddy has explored alleys in cities as diverse as Istanbul, Paris, and Marrakech, and each post offers a glimpse into the local culture and history. Whether it's the bustling bazaars of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar or the tranquil gardens of Paris's Passage Verdeau, there is always something new to discover in Historic Alleys.

In addition to the excellent writing, Historic Alleys also features beautiful photography that complements the text. Maddy's photos capture the essence of each alley, from the intricate architecture to the bustling street life. The photos are not just beautiful, but also informative, giving readers a sense of the layout and atmosphere of each alley.

One area where Historic Alleys could be improved is in the organization of the blog. While the posts themselves are well-written and informative, the blog could benefit from a clearer structure that makes it easier for readers to navigate. For example, it would be helpful to have a list of the cities and alleys that have been covered, as well as a way to search for specific topics or keywords.

Another area where the blog could be improved is in the frequency of updates. While Maddy's posts are always worth the wait, the blog could benefit from more regular updates to keep readers engaged and coming back for more.

Overall, Historic Alleys is a fantastic blog that offers a unique perspective on the world's cities and towns. With excellent writing, beautiful photography, and a focus on the hidden corners and secret passageways that make each place special, it is a must-read for anyone interested in travel, history, and culture. With a bit of reorganization and more frequent updates, this blog has the potential to become even more popular and influential in the world of travel writing.

Review - The AI decided that Maddy has to be female, based on Western perceptions and name usage. I have not really written about Paris or Marrakech at Historic alleys! It does not really feature beautiful photography, architecture, or street life, but the comments about structure and topics is well taken, I have to improve. Making it more regular is a herculean task and the summary was way off mark, it did not touch upon the key aspect, which was Malabar’s history, after all.

Anyway, the next was to see if it could imitate me.

Q: Write a 500-word essay about the history of Malabar in the style followed by the blogger at Maddy's ramblings

Malabar, the coastal region of Kerala, India, has a rich history that dates back to ancient times. This region is known for its spices, silk, and seafaring traditions that have contributed to its vibrant culture and diversity. Let's take a journey through the history of Malabar, exploring its past, and discovering how it has evolved over the centuries.

Malabar was once a part of the Chera Kingdom, one of the four major Dravidian kingdoms of South India. The region has been mentioned in ancient Indian texts such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Chera dynasty ruled Malabar from around the 3rd century BC until the 12th century AD, and they left behind a rich cultural heritage.

In the medieval period, Malabar became a center of international trade due to its location on the spice trade route. Arab and Chinese traders visited Malabar to buy spices such as pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon. The region's seafaring traditions also meant that it was an important hub for the trade of silk and other goods. The port of Calicut, also known as Kozhikode, became the center of this trade and was visited by famous explorers such as Vasco da Gama.

During the 16th century, Malabar was ruled by the Zamorins, a powerful Hindu dynasty that was known for its patronage of art and culture. The Zamorins were also key players in the spice trade, and their court was visited by traders from all over the world. It was during this period that the famous traveler Ibn Battuta visited Malabar and wrote about his experiences.

In the 17th century, Malabar came under the control of the British East India Company. The British established their first factory in Malabar at Calicut in 1664, and they gradually expanded their influence in the region. The British were interested in Malabar's spice trade, and they also introduced new crops such as tea and coffee.

Malabar played an important role in India's struggle for independence from British rule. The region was a hotbed of political activity, and many leaders of the Indian National Congress such as K. Kelappan and K. Madhavan Nair were from Malabar. The region also witnessed the Malabar Rebellion of 1921, a violent uprising against British rule that was brutally suppressed.

Today, Malabar is a bustling region that is known for its unique culture, delicious cuisine, and stunning natural beauty. The region has a large Muslim population, and their influence can be seen in the region's architecture, food, and festivals. Malabar is also known for its martial arts traditions, including Kalaripayattu, which is believed to be one of the oldest martial arts in the world.

In conclusion, the history of Malabar is a fascinating story that spans thousands of years. From its ancient roots as a part of the Chera Kingdom to its role in the spice trade and its struggle for independence, Malabar has played an important role in the history of India. Today, it is a vibrant region that is known for its rich culture, delicious food, and stunning natural beauty, and it continues to attract visitors from all over the world who are eager to explore its history and traditions.

- After about 10 minutes, the answer came out as above, though it did not sound like me, and was quite generic. I told the AI that it sounded less like Maddy and was quite generic. The AI replied to me thus: I apologize for not meeting your expectations. As an AI language model, I strive to provide the best possible answer to your prompt. However, as an AI, I don't have the capacity to mimic a specific writing style or voice. I am programmed to provide accurate and informative content, while also trying to be engaging and interesting. If you have any specific requirements or suggestions, please let me know, and I will do my best to accommodate them.

I then decided to ask the AI a tricky question - tell me about the 1766 fire at the Zamorin's palace?

The Zamorin's Palace, also known as the Kozhikode Palace, was the residence of the Zamorin of Calicut, a powerful Hindu dynasty that ruled over Malabar in the medieval period. The palace was a magnificent structure that was built in the traditional Kerala style of architecture, with intricate carvings and frescoes. However, in 1766, a devastating fire broke out in the palace, destroying much of the building and its valuable contents.

The cause of the fire is not known for certain, but it is believed to have been started by a lamp that was knocked over in the palace's storehouse. The palace was made mostly of wood and thatched roofs, which made it highly susceptible to fires. The fire quickly spread to other parts of the palace, engulfing it in flames.

The fire caused extensive damage to the palace, including the destruction of the main building, the audience hall, and the council chamber. The palace's archives, which contained valuable historical documents and artifacts, were also lost in the fire. The Zamorin's family and court officials were forced to flee the palace, and many of them lost their personal belongings in the fire.

The news of the fire spread quickly throughout the region, and it was seen as a major disaster. The Zamorin, who was known for his patronage of art and culture, was devastated by the loss of his palace and its valuable contents. He ordered that a new palace be built on the same site, using the remaining structures as a foundation.

The new palace was completed in 1780, and it was a grander and more impressive structure than the previous one. It was built using more durable materials such as stone and brick, and it was designed in a combination of traditional Kerala and European styles. The palace was adorned with intricate carvings and murals, and it became a symbol of the Zamorin's power and wealth.

Today, the Zamorin's Palace is a popular tourist attraction in Kozhikode. It has been converted into a museum, which showcases the history and culture of the Zamorin dynasty and the Malabar region. The museum contains a vast collection of artifacts, including weapons, furniture, and musical instruments, as well as ancient documents and manuscripts. It also has a gallery of paintings that depict scenes from the life of the Zamorin and his court.

In conclusion, the 1766 fire at the Zamorin's Palace was a major event in the history of Malabar. It was a tragic loss of a valuable cultural and historical treasure, but it also led to the construction of a grander and more impressive palace. Today, the Zamorin's Palace stands as a testament to the rich heritage and culture of Malabar, and it continues to attract visitors from all over the world who are interested in exploring its fascinating history.

I wrote back - Sorry - I must tell you that much of the output is incorrect. Actually, the Zamorin set fire to the palace himself and was immolated. His family members had been sent to safety before the event. The palace was never rebuilt and did not become a museum.

I apologize for the misinformation in my previous response. As an AI language model, I rely on the accuracy of my training data, and in this case, my output was not accurate. Thank you for bringing this to my attention and providing the correct information.

After conducting further research, I have found that the fire at the Zamorin's Palace in 1766 was indeed intentionally set by the Zamorin himself. According to historical accounts, the Zamorin was facing pressure from the British East India Company and the Marathas, who were both seeking to expand their influence in Malabar. In order to avoid being captured or humiliated by his enemies, the Zamorin decided to end his life and destroy the palace.

The Zamorin's family members were reportedly sent away to safety before the fire was started, and the palace was left to burn. The palace was not rebuilt after the fire, and the site was later occupied by a school and a post office.

I apologize for any confusion that my previous response may have caused. As an AI language model, I strive to provide accurate and reliable information to the best of my ability. If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Review – as history enthusiasts would note, this was an impressive number of words, but still incorrect information, in fact, quite a bit of misinformation, so you can understand its ‘present’ limitations. Continued prodding made it tell me that a new palace was built at East hill. When I said that was also wrong, it agreed and then told me that the East hill palace was used by Logan and is the Calicut Law college today!

As I had enough material for my overview, I signed off.

So, this tells you in a small way what this AI can do. Asking such intricate questions may get you nowhere, and potentially result in misinformation. But for general-purpose work, more commonplace subjects, etc., it could be very good.

For example, you can ask it to make a formal complaint letter, about a lost wallet, after giving it some input and it would do a good job. There are other uses that the Chat GPT has been known to do, such as writing out essays or precis on something, once it is told – give me a 500-word output, that is what it does. You can reply in case a part of it was BS and it will review and try to correct it, but even with acceptable text, the personal style is gone, and the text has no feel. This type of output is quite good in a college essay or exam paper, but not in creative writing.

While CNBC defines it as a tool capable of taking written inputs from users and producing human-like responses — from poetry in the style of William Shakespeare to advice on what to do for a child’s birthday party, it has also sparked concerns over potential abuses. In classrooms, students have used ChatGPT to generate entire essays, while hackers have begun testing it to write malicious code. Responses from the chatbot can contain factual inaccuracies its output is mostly limited to data until 2021. The site states - While we have safeguards in place, the system may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information and produce offensive or biased content. It is not intended to give advice. But it is getting popular and will be fine-tuned. Today it boasts over 25 million users and Bing’s version puts you on a waiting list if you want to use it.

The tool, as you saw above, suffers from some limitations at present, but is still quite impressive and is an exciting tool, and you can imagine how such AI tools will soon transform the world. Writers on the other hand, would be forced to make their work more personable, and less generic, and perhaps, in jest, wise men may end up becoming reclusive and brooding hulks and get relegated to dark corners. People won’t queue up to them, and parents will be told by argumentative children peering at their iPad, that their answers don’t match up to the AI.

In the race between the human mind and the machine mind, there will be no real winners, ultimately both are bound to succeed, and such tools will be of great help in general situations. The problem is always going to be how much such tools would be applied to guide our activities. As it is, the chatbots we come across at e-commerce sites, drive you nuts. But you can’t and should not give up, I’d encourage all to embrace these new technologies and stay informed, lest you get condemned as aged relics.

Meanwhile, I am still a person who picks up his newspaper from the front door (in spite of tardy deliveries, post-covid), I still have a well-stocked set of bookshelves in my home library, my Kindle is hardly used, and I occasionally use a fountain pen filled with ink, though the ballpoint pen or pencil is the standard. I could use the ink pen, but the problem I face is the difficulty in sourcing notebooks where an ink pen could be used!

Nevertheless, welcome to the new world, my friends!


Surus and Dali

Dali’s elephants

Surus the war elephant, as some of you may know, belonged to a much older time frame, and its connection to the artist Salvadore Dali, who was born centuries later is quite interesting, to say the least. Some years ago, many news reports were published about the gifting of an elephant to Dali by Air India in return for the little giveaway sculpture designed by Dali. This article will touch upon that event, and also cover some antecedents, Dali’s preoccupation with elephants, and the events which followed the arrival of the baby pachyderm in Switzerland.

But before we get to the 20th century, let us get to know the war elephant Surus with a broken tusk. He was believed to be one of the last war elephants, part of the Carthaginian general Hannibal's army. While most people believed it to be a Syrian African elephant, it may have had Indian origins. Many believed, based on the image on a coin stuck during that time, showing the likeness of an African elephant, that Surus had African origins, added to the fact that Surus meant Syrian. However, we also know that the Ptolemies had seized Indian elephants in Syria during their wars, so Surus was most likely an Indian war elephant, who found its way to Carthage, from Egypt. Anyway, as the story goes, Hannibal Barca rode on Surus, during his march to Rome around 218 B.C. His force, which marched from Spain, comprising 100,000 men and some 37-38 elephants, apparently crossed the Alps, creating quite a furor at all the mountain villages they passed.  This legendary crossing of the Alps is still hotly debated as hard evidence of it has not been forthcoming. Nevertheless, that is not our topic for the day, it is Dali.

Salvador Dali (born 1904) was a prominent Spanish surrealist painter born in Catalonia and resident of Madrid, quite popular and considered an eccentric and a dandy. Art lovers mention that he was influenced by several different artistic styles, including Metaphysics and Cubism. Dali’s developing style continued to be influenced by Picasso and Joan Miró. The biggest influence in his life was Gala, whom he met in 1929, and married in 1934. Gala was not only a great influence and his muse but also his business manager. Dali’s surrealist work could appear to be striking and bizarre for many of us, he was outlandish at times and stated once that his “love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury and my love of oriental clothes” to an “Arab lineage”, claiming that his ancestors were descended from the Moors.

It is said that the elephants in his works were inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini's sculpture based in Rome of an elephant carrying an ancient obelisk. His painting ‘Swans reflecting elephants’ from 1937 projects an intriguing picture - Here, the three swans in front of bleak, leafless trees are reflected in the lake so that the swans' necks become the elephants' trunks, the swans' bodies become the elephants' ears, and the trees become the legs of the elephants. But it was in 1946 that he pictured a few of them differently in his oil on canvas work, The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Here he stretched their legs as if on stilts, much like a giraffe, and pictured them as Space Elephants.

The Temptations painting was made when he decided to partake in a US filmmaker’s contest. The winning painting was to figure in a film taken from the story, ‘Bel Ami’ by Guy de Maupassant. While Max Ernst won the contest, Dalí did not, but his work produced a masterpiece.

Repeating the motif again in 1948, he did the sketch ‘The Elephants’ as a backdrop study for the ballet As you Like it. The collection brochure by Robert and Nicolas Descharnes explains - In the Dalian menagerie, the elephant occupies a preponderant place. For Dali, this tranquil and slow pachyderm lacked aerial grace. In just a few strokes, Dali cured this God-given weakness: what could be more elegant than co graft the legs and hooves of a giraffe onto the greatest animal on earth? His normal behavior of course was completely upset. One could easily imagine Surus, the personal elephant of Hannibal, changing into such a beast, crossing the plain of the Ampurdan to conquer the Alps in a graceful balance with his trunk pointed skywards. This is the majestic representation of the Space Elephant, crowned by an obelisk and appearing to be a twin brother of a richly armored elephant of the troupe painted by Dali in 1946 in the painting, The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

In 1973, he installed a concrete sculpture of an elephant in Gala’s castle at Pubol and in 1980 the Space elephant versions in bronze and various paintings were completed.  The elephant theme appears various times in Dalí ‘s artworks of the 40-70s, and I have tried to collate some of the images I could find. Surely there are more, these are just some examples.

In 1970, Salvatore Dali, fascinated by the Hannibal story and Surus, sketched out The Hannibal crossing. Dalí captures the entire troupe of elephants as they walk along the bank of the river below the Alpine mountains.

But his fascination with the Hannibal story started well before that and is connected to Air India. It all came together when Dali met with the Air India PR manager Jot Singh in New York. Air India wanted an exclusive gift to be designed by Dali and Dali affirmed his interest by stating that he could do a porcelain double image-based porcelain ashtray with a shell-shaped center and a serpent around the perimeter supported by two surrealist headstands--a swan on one side and elephant on the other. Incidentally, the design of the ashtray was based on a work Dali had produced in 1937, the painting called Swans Reflecting Elephants and Dali explained the ashtray design thus: “The reflection of the elephant appears to be a swan and the reflection of the swan appears to be an elephant. That is what I have done for the ashtray”.

When it came to fees, Air India stalwarts mention that Dali asked for an elephant! Why? " I wish to keep him in my olive grove and watch the patterns of shadows the moonlight makes through the twigs on his back," he is reported to have said. Gala promptly added, ‘and $10,000’. Dali provided the concept, and Jules Teissonniere decorated and finished the design, had them manufactured at Limoges in France.  Air India ordered 500 of these Elephant Swan ashtrays, for their top clients!

Now for the payment part – the elephant. Air India’s deputy commercial director, went looking to Byculla zoo for a baby elephant, only to be told that they didn’t have one to spare. She finally acquired one from the Bangalore zoo and Air India flew it to Switzerland, together with its mahout. Dali’s plan was to cross the Alps on his back, Hannibal like, but the more practical Gala put a stop to that idea, and Surus (thus named after Hannibal’s war elephant) was on a flight to Basel in Switzerland.

The next part of the story comes from the Deputy Chancellor, State of Geneva  Mr Claude Bonard, who kindly translated an old article of his for me – He narrates slightly differently, thus – Dali known for his passions and a sense of happening, wanted to repeat the feat of Hannibal who would have crossed the Alps with his army and his war elephants in 218 BC, during the second Punic war led against Rome. It was the airline Air India which, sensing a good move and having ordered ashtrays signed by Dali (pardon me!) for its first-class passengers, offered to provide the elephant to the Master.

One fine day in 1967, the owner of the Meyrin carousel, Alain Jaggi, son of the well-known sculptor Luc Jaggi, received a phone call from an Air India representative in Cointrin who asked him if he would be able to accommodate an elephant in one of the boxes at his riding school. After a few moments of hesitation, Alain Jaggi accepted. This was the start of the problems and questions... how big would the elephant be? Would there be a box high enough to house the pachyderm? How to feed and water it? And above all, what would be the reaction of the horses in the stables......

On D-Day, in front of an audience of journalists and press photographers, we were all a little worried in Meyrin when the convoy arrived in the colors of Air India from which was extracted a gigantic wooden cage carrying an elephant that arrived the day before by plane from Bangalore! Unthinkable today, given animal protection standards!!

Great was the disappointment of the Indian sponsors and the press because Salvador Dali who was to be present was conspicuous by his absence. Anyway, It was important to care for the poor elephant so that he recovered from his emotions and could be led into his box, and event which caused a general panic in the neighboring boxes where the panicked horses neighed and kicked against the doors.

Finally, a bit annoyed, the representatives of the airline took possession of their baby elephant the next day. We learned later that the poor baby elephant had continued its journey to reach Spain and (became) the property of the painter, after which Salvador Dali posed theatrically, perched on his baby elephant.

The Meyrin municipality archives provide additional tidbits, following the above - On September 20, 1967, the baby elephant, baptized Surus in homage to the bravest of Hannibal's elephants, arrived by plane in Basel, Cointrin not having a cargo line from India. In Basel, the wooden cage containing the baby elephant was loaded into a Renault Estafette van driven by Air India driver Camille Yerly, heading for Meyrin, whose carousel has been chosen as a stopover for the night. The choice of this location was made by René Hug, Air India press officer and Surus trip coordinator, on the suggestion of Frédéric Herzig, the company's station manager and mayor of Meyrin.

This "event" gave rise to a small ceremony of which we have a photo (see below) and a few lines in the Journal de Genève of September 21, 1967: "In spite of the late hour [the convoy arrived in Meyrin several hours behind the projected schedule], the directors of Air India International, i.e., MM. Eric Pereira, Director for Switzerland, Marcel Alibrandi, Sales Manager, Frédéric Herzig, Station Manager, and René Hug, Press Officer, gave a cocktail party which took place in the premises of the carousel.

After having taken a little rest, and being honored with a bundle of hay, which was offered to him, with other food, "Surus" then resumed the road, to be transported to Figueras, in Catalonia, where Salvador Dali is domiciled”. During the trip to Figueras, one can imagine the surprise of the employee of the service station where Mr. Yerly had stopped to ask for water which, to his question "is it for your dog?", was answered as - no, an elephant! The arrival of Surus in Figueras and his reception by Salvador Dali was the subject of a public demonstration on September 22, 1967.

Failing to cross the Pyrenees on his back, Dali organized a parade with the baby elephant from a hill to the town of Figueres located below, thus symbolizing the passage of the Pyrenees. Another source added - There was a special parade that was organized at the plaza and a special drink that was prepared with wine and Indian tea, and pink champagne (Dali’s favorite) was served. An Indian astrologer (perhaps a priest) was flown from Bombay to take part in the festivities.

The Castle of Púbol or Gala Dalí Castle House-Museum, the Salvador Dalí House Museum in Portlligat, and the Dalí Theater-Museum in Figueres, form the Empordà Dalinian triangle. I believe Surus lived thence at the Port lligat residence.

Tim McGirk in his book Wicked Lady thinks it was an Air India publicity stunt and mentions the event so -  Besieged by all the hustlers, Gala’s suspicion of even her friends eventually bordered on the pathological. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse happened to visit Port Lligat when Dali was doing a publicity stunt for Air India. Baby elephants (there was only one) were romping on the beach, with Dali and a dozen Hindu girls (perhaps 2 stewardesses) in sparkling saris: Gala surveyed the spectacle with the loftiness of a maharani as the Morses approached. Was it a publicity stunt? I think a few believed so, Tim included, and it seems likely (befitting both parties), reading about the receptions, the filming etc.

Surus and Dali did not, unfortunately, have a great relationship, it was mutual non-admiration from the start, as one writer qualified it. The mammal grew too large and cantankerous to be kept on the grounds and eventually Dali lost interest. Even though Dali built a concrete likeness in Emporda later, he parted ways with it in 1971, donating the elephant to the Barcelona Zoo from where it was later moved to the Valencia Zoo. The zoo it appears, renamed Surus, as Noi.

NY Times reported - It was the end of a four‐year hate affair between Salvador Dali, the surrealist painter, and an elephant named Surus, given to him for a promotion stunt that failed. They loathed each other at first sight, and ever since the two‐ton beast had been deposited in Dali's keeping, the artist has been trying to get rid of it. Now Dali has turned over Surus to officials of the Valencia Zoo in Barcelona. “Good riddance,” he said, giving the elephant an anything but loving look last week. “This thing did not fit into the garden of my Gothic castle. My wife prefers to have a pair of rhinoceroses, which are the most cosmic animals in the word.” 

Dali’s wife Gala died on 10 June 1982, aged 87. After her death, Dalí moved from Figueres to the castle in Púbol, where she was entombed, and became quite despondent. In November 1988, Dalí entered the hospital with heart issues. On the morning of 23 January 1989, he passed away at the age of 84.

Now there is always someone out there who would wonder what happened to the original Surus, the majestic single-tusked elephant who wore a red blanket with a red shield– He is mentioned as the bravest elephant in the army by Marcus Porcius Cato, the elder in his book Origines. Aimee Jean LaFon adds - A line in Pliny’s Historia Naturalis mentions Surus, stating that “Cato, in his Annals, while he [had] passed over in silence the names of the generals, [had] given that of an elephant called Surus, which fought with the greatest valour in the Carthaginian army, and had lost one of its tusks. Since Hannibal was eventually blinded in his infected eye, he rode his one-tusked elephant into battle for fifteen more years until Romans captured Surus at the battle of Zama in 202 BCE. Once captured, the Romans gave Surus an honorable discharge, and he lived out his remaining years pastured at an estate outside of Rome.

The Elephant of Surprise: An Appraisal of Surus the Military Elephant - Aimee Jean LaFon,
Claude Bonard: When Dali's elephant stayed in Meyrin
Surus, un éléphanteau à Meyrin (1967) - Archives de la commune de Meyrin, 2016
Of Salvador Dali, Air India and Ashtrays – Reema Gehi – Parsi Khabar
You can see the video of Dali and the Surus arrival here


African elephants have rounded heads, while Asian elephants have a twin-domed head, which means there's a divot line running up the head? African elephants have much larger ears, shaped a little like the continent of Africa. Asian elephants’ ears are smaller and more semi-circular. The African elephant is the larger of the two elephants, with bulls growing up to 4 meters tall. By contrast, the biggest Asian males reach no more than 3.5 meters. One interesting note on elephant height – the African elephant is tallest at the shoulder, while the Asian elephant’s tallest point is its back. Both male and female African elephants can have tusks, but only male Asian elephants have larger tusks. An African elephant’s trunk has more visible rings on it, and is not as hard to the touch as the Asian elephant's trunk. The end of their trunks is also very different – the African elephant trunk has two distinct ‘fingers’ that they use to pick up and manipulate objects. The Asian elephant has only one ‘finger’ at the end of its trunk, which they compensate for by holding objects against the underside of its trunk. An African elephant’s lower lips are short and round, whereas Asian elephants have long, tapered lower lips. The African elephants’ skin is more wrinkled than the Asian elephants’ smoother skin. African forest elephants: 5 toenails on the front feet and 4 on the back feet, African bush elephants: 4 toenails on the front feet and 3 on the back feet, Asian elephants: 5 toenails on the front feet and 4 on the back feet. African elephants tend to have more ribs than the Asian species, with up to 21 pairs of ribs vs the Asian elephant's average of 20 pairs of ribs. African elephants can live up to 70 years, and Asian elephants can live up to 48 years. (Courtesy Safaris Africana)

General Motors has developed a new autonomous re-configurable system with potential military applications using its fuel cell technology – It is the Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure or SURUS for short. GM envisions SURUS as a system serving the soldier, not unlike Surus served Hannibal!!

Tail note

Those interested in elephants should not miss watching the lovely documentary - The elephant whisperer – an Oscar nominee. Kartiki & Priscilla Gonsalves and Garima tell you the story of Bomman and Bellie, a couple in Mudumalai, who devote their lives to caring for an orphaned baby elephant named Raghu.

 pics - thanks to Claude, Wikimedia 


Bolgatty or Bastion

The attack at the British Residency – Cochin Dec 29, 1808

As we read in the lengthy article that I wrote some years ago on Velu Thampi Dalawa’s reign in Travancore, and his revolt against the British EIC, leading to his death, there is a mention of the attack by the Travancore Nair’s on the residence of the first British resident for Travancore & Cochin, Colin Macaulay. We will get into the events of that night in more detail and as promised, discuss the details of Macaulay’s escape and the person who helped save him, if only to clear some conflicting information between sources.

Where did it happen?

The Bolgatty Island is a short ride away from Kochi, North of Willingdon, and complete with its own palatial building. This was apparently the place where Colin Macaulay resided according to some sources, during the attack.  Other sources simply mention that he was at the residency house in Cochin, when the attack occurred. Let’s revisit the scene to check it all out.

The attack

The Cochin state manual says - At midnight on the 18th December six hundred men commanded by the Acchan and two of Velu Tambi's officers entered Cochin, surrounded the Resident's house, and opened a smart fire of musketry. They soon overpowered the guard, entered and pillaged the building, and destroyed all the public records, but to their chagrin, they could nowhere find Macaulay and Kunjikrishna Menon, whose murder was one of the first objects of the insurgents. With the help of a confidential Portuguese clerk under him, the Resident managed to conceal himself in a recess in the lower chamber, and in the morning escaped to a British ship that was just entering the harbor with part of the reinforcements from Malabar. Kunjikrishna Menon similarly escaped from Mattancheri and joined Macaulay on board the ship. The insurgents in their fury broke open the jail and let the prisoners loose, plundered the houses, and spread consternation and havoc in the town. But on the approach of reinforcements, they retreated from Cochin and joined the forces that were being collected to the north of the town…

The Land of the Perumals - Francis Day - On December 29th, 1808, at half-past 2 A. M., nearly six hundred armed sepoys, belonging to Travancore, arrived at the southern side of Cochin: and rushing to the Resident's house, then occupied by Colonel Macaulay, at once obtained possession, and destroyed everything they could discover including all the Public Records, both of the Magistracy, and Revenue. They searched everywhere for the Resident, but he was enabled to escape, with his escort of sepoys, and got on board a Pattimar. The jail was broken open, and the prisoners set loose: consternation, and fear, were so universal, that no resistance was at that time attempted. 

Col. Macaulay, feeling his insecurity at Cochin, embarked in the grab Snow, taking with him the treasure, and also the men, of H. M. 12th foot. He lay off Cochin, in hopes that should reinforcements arrive, he might be able to land the few men with him, who alone, were insufficient to defend the place, but might be serviceable, in conjunction with other troops. Many of the inhabitants, removed to Calicut. But on the following day, matters did not appear so serious, and accordingly, the Resident and his escort re-landed.

Shungoony Menon’s History of Travancore - The detachment moved from Quilon and Alleppey in covered boats, accompanied by Vycome Padmanabha Pillay, an intimate friend of the Dewan, who acted as his chief secretary, and the troops collected in the northern districts under the command of Cunju Cuty Pillay Sarvadhikariakar, stationed at Alangaud, also moved in covered boats to Cochin and both the forces effected a junction at Calvathi, at about midnight on the 28th of December. 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, Cunju Krishna Menon also effected his escape uninjured, and joined Colonel Macaulay on board the ship.

Padmanabha Menon’s notes on Vissicher’s ‘Letters from Malabar - This state of unpleasantness continued for some time, the Cochin Dewan making attempts to encroach on British power till at last, inspired by the Travancore Dewan Velu Thampy, the cochin minister, Paliath Achan, joined the former in violently attacking Cochin and attempting to murder the British Resident, Col. Macaulay, who was then living in what is now the Court house and Cutchery. Six hundred of the Travancoreans made a mad rush on the Resident's house at half-past two A. M., on the 29th December 1808, obtained possession of it and destroyed everything. They failed in finding Col. Macaulay, as he had already effected his escape along with his escort and got on board a Pattimar.


We can see that the original mentions are residency, however, recent writeups have started to mention that this occurred at Bolgatty. Macaulay does not mention in his report the details of his escape, but only mentions the attack and the pillage. We can also note that as the attack occurred, Macaulay fled to the Jew town. What can thus be established is that he stayed at the residency building in Mattanchery, the old Cutchery.

Where was the old Courthouse situated?

Lawson describes it in British and Native Cochin - This was located in Mattanchery. The Flagstaff, erected on the ruined Tower of the Cathedral, is in front; behind is the Cutcherry or Courthouse, a painfully white building; around are heavy-looking white, yellow, or grey houses, all tiled, mostly surrounded by high walls, and generally very economical in windows. It is generally opined that this became known as the Bastion Bungalow, a sea-facing Dutch heritage structure originally built in 1667.

The Residency –Taluk Cutcherry

Francis Day provides further details - The British Resident of Travancore and Cochin, at first took up his quarters, in the house now employed as a Cutcherry, whilst the town was of course garrisoned by British troops…. The Cutcherry, is reputed to have been in Portuguese times, the residence of the priests, of the neighbouring ruined Cathedral of Santa Cruz. Many are the vicissitudes through which this building has passed. Here the Nairs broke in, and tried to murder the British Resident: since this period, it has been appropriated in the following manner: The lower rooms as prisons for criminals, some of the upper ones as a jail for debtors. When troops were in the town, it was a mess-house for the officers, the Fiscal otherwise resided in it, and one room was set aside for the Magistrate, whenever he should visit the place. When the troops were decreased, and a “mess-house no longer required, still the Magistrate of Malabar, for a considerable period, retained his room there." At last, it was decided to locate the Sudr Ameens Court at one end, and that of the Fiscal with the record-room at the other: the prisoners were placed in the centre, and the rooms surrounding the yard, on the ground floor, were appropriated to their use. This partition of the building, still remains in force: the portion occupied by criminals, is calculated to hold 60, allowing each 519 cubic feet of air. Solitary cells have been erected for Europeans, in which they are generally tormented by mosquitoes, and irritated by prickly heat.

Malabar and Anjengo – CF Innes we note that -The old Commandant's house still stands on the north-west bastion of the fort near the river bank, and a few hundred yards south of the English Club are the gates of what was once the Governor's residence. The lighthouse stands on the south-west bastion of the fort, and near the bishop’s palace traces of the walls and moat are still visible. The Deputy Collector's office is an interesting building with a history going back to Portuguese times, when it was the residence of the priests attached to the cathedral. In the rising of 1808 the Nayars burst into the buildings and tried to murder Colonel Macaulay, the Resident. When Cochin was a military station, it was the officers' mess and subsequently the upper rooms were the Fiscal's office and the lower were used as a jail.

The Bastion Bungalow

Although much of the Immanuel fort was destroyed, the bastions survived without much damage. Subsequently, the Dutch built a smaller fort around these older bastions. The Bastion house was constructed as a part of the Stromberg Bastion of the Dutch fort. The building survived through the British period in Kochi and was the official residence of the Sub-Collector of Fort Kochi.

The Cochin light-house was on a small mound that formed the bastion of the old fort to the south of the harbor. At some point in time, this building became Rev Williams’s parsonage, and there is also a mention that it had been used as the home of the Portuguese R.C. Bishop of Cochin and a convent. It is believed that this was used by resident Colin Macaulay.

But was the Bastion Bungalow the residency and later the sub-collector’s office? Looking at Innes’s accounts, we can conclude it was. However, the advent of its name - as the Bastion House or Bungalow is not clear, since it cannot be found in any British records I chanced on. VVK Valath adds that ‘Bastion house’  was originally the name associated with Dutch Governor’s house, which had been destroyed by the British and partially rebuilt, but per the British accounts, the Parsonage became the British Residency/Cutcherry. Presumably, they are one and the same!

Note: The new court and Dewans Cutcherry building were later built in 1813 at Ernakulam. The fort Cochin building was the Taluk Cutcherry, later the Deputy collector’s office and residence.

Jewish records of Macaulay’s escape

Let us zoom into the account of Naphtalie Rotenburg, the person who saved the life of Macaulay, drawing from Prof Dr Walter J Fischel’s study of the Rotenburgs of Cochin

Quoting Dr Fischel - The circumstances which saved Macauley's life and allowed him to escape are recorded in Hebrew sources. They credit his survival to one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Cochin at that time, namely Naphtali Rotenburg, and reported that Macauley escaped and fled to the Jewish quarter (rehov hayehudim) in "Jew- town", where he did hide himself in the house or more specifically in the washroom of the house of Naphtali Rotenburg, a prominent White Jew of Cochin.

It seems that Colonel Macauley was acquainted with Naphtali Rotenburg as evidenced by a reference to "a Jew named Naphtali who enjoys the confidence of the Rajah of Cochin" in a letter sent by him to the government of Travancore on November 23, 1808.

In any case, the view continued to persist that Macauley's life was saved through the help of this Cochin Jew and this view was strengthened by tangible evidence, in the form of a gift consisting of silver lamps and a gold and silver cylinder for the scroll of the Torah, presented by Colonel Macauley to the Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin as a token of gratitude for being helped to escape. This connection between Macauley, Naphtali Rotenburg and the Jews of Cochin is also confirmed by the report of James Welsh, who during his visit to the synagogue of Cochin in 1818 refers to silver cases of "five copies of the Pentateuch written in Hebrew characters" on vellum and describes how "each case is covered with rich brocade and one is surmounted with a golden crown and other ornaments, the of Colonel Macauley, when Resident there."

There is also a separate mention of a crown gifted to the synagogue by Colin Macaulay. It is also mentioned by Welsh that Naphathalie was the Jewish Chief at that time.


It ended badly for Veluthampi who after a desperate flight, committed suicide seeing that his co-conspirators had deserted him. Macaulay let his murderous rage come to the fore and paraded the dead Dewans’s body gleefully in Travancore, later ordering the loot of his house and those of his relatives. Macaulay thus fell afoul of his superiors and was quickly replaced as resident. After falling seriously ill, Macaulay retired to Britain in 1810. Ill health plagued him for the rest of his single nomadic life, later spent in Biblical pursuits, abolition of slavery, and public service. He was credited with the popularization of the Tarisapalli copper plates and the Codex Zacynthius. It is said that the assassination attempt was overplayed by him and went on to fetch British public support.

The British high command at Madras, however, mistrusted Colin Macaulay and withheld reinforcements, feeling that he was providing wrong reports about people and the situation at Travancore and Cochin, much prone to exaggeration. As Hannah puts it - By misrepresenting the goings-on in Travancore, Macaulay endangered his credit with the Company, which in turn meant that he could not rely on their support when his very life was in danger.

The Bolgatty Palace

Concluding therefore that Colin Macaulay’s residence during the attack was not at Bolgatty, let us add some details on that fine building for completeness – It is one of the oldest existing Dutch palaces outside Holland, built way back in 1744. While the Dutch commander’s office remained at Ft Cochin, he used this bigger mansion at Bolgatty Island where the air was supposedly fresher and the water tasted better. This mansion which later served as the home of future British Residents, was formally acquired by the British later in 1909 from the Cochin Raja. It was this later acquisition as the British residency building which led to the confusion that Colin Macaulay lived there, during the attack.

The Land of the Permauls, Or, Cochin, Its Past and Its Present – Francis Day
History Of Kerala Written in The Form of Notes on Visscher’s Letters from Malabar – KPP Menon
Cochin State Manual - C. Achyuta Menon
The Rotenburg family in Dutch Cochin of the eighteenth century - Walter J. Fischel
British and native Cochin - Lawson, Charles Allen
The Residents of the British East India Company at Indian royal courts, c. 1798-1818 - Callie Hannah Wilkinson
Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Claudius Buchanan, Volume 1 - Hugh Pearson

1- Thoufeek Zakriya, points out that the lamp presented by Macaulay has an 1807 date inscribed, and I saw that the same has also been noted by Dr Fischel, however, another researcher feels there were 2-3 lamps in the synagogue and one or two of those may have been gifted later by Macaulay. This is a matter to be investigated in detail. Some of the other gifts e.g. the crown may have been presented as a token of gratitude.
2-  Persuing Dr Buchanan's diary we come across notes that he stayed with Macaulay at Bolgatty on one occasion, as early as 1806. So, we can presume that Macaulay maintained two residences and that the official residence was shifted to Bolghaty after the attack and ransacking. I have added the said reference to the list. Anybody who can provide additional clarification, may please write to me or comment.

Maddy’s Ramblings – The Veluthampi Revolt 1807-1809

For nice pictures of the Bastion Bungalow – check this link

Other Pics – Wikimedia, Archeology India, thanks to uploaders