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