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Battle of Plassey

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Battle of Plassey

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Battle of Plassey
Part of the Seven Years' War
Clive.jpg
Lord Clive meeting with Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey, by Francis Hayman (c. 1762).
Date June 23, 1757
Location Palashi, West Bengal, India
Result Decisive victory for the British East India Company
Territorial
changes
Bengal annexed by British East India Company
Belligerents
Flag of the British East India Company 
(1707).svg British East India Company Siraj Ud Daulah (Nawab of Bengal)
Armoiries de la Compagnie des Indes 
Orientales.jpg French East India Company
Commanders
Flag of the British East India Company 
(1707).svg Colonel Robert Clive
Major Kilpatrick
Major Grant
Major Eyre Coote
Captain Gaupp
Captain Richard Knox
Diwan Mohan Lal (C-in-C)
Mir Madan - Vanguard
Mir Jafar Ali Khan -Cavalry (defector)
Khuda-Yar Lutuf Khan (defector)
Rai Durlabh (defector)
Monsieur Sinfray - Artillery
Strength
1,000 European soldiers,[1]
2,100 Indian sepoys,[1]
100 gunners,[1]
9 cannon (eight six-pounders and a howitzer)
50,000 soldiers initially (but only 35,000 of them participated in battle),a
53 cannon
Casualties and losses
22 killed
(7 Europeans, 16 natives)
53 wounded
(13 Europeans and 36 natives)[citation needed]
500 killed and wounded
a Out of the initial 35,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry, 45,000 of them were withheld by Mir Jafar, leaving 5,000 men to participate in the battle.[1]
European settlements in India before the Seven Year's War.

The Battle of Plassey (Bengali: পলাশীর যুদ্ধ, Pôlashir Juddho), 23 June 1757, was a decisive British East India Company victory over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies, establishing Company rule in India which expanded over much of South Asia for the next 190 years. The battle took place at Palashi, West Bengal, on the riverbanks of the Bhagirathi River, about 150 km north of Calcutta, near Murshidabad, then the capital of the Nawab of Bengal. The opponents were Siraj Ud Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, and the British East India Company.

The battle was waged during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) and in a mirror of their European rivalry, the French East India Company sent a small contingent to fight against the British. Siraj-ud-Daulah had a numerically superior force and made his stand at Plassey. The British, worried about being outnumbered and so promising huge amounts in bribes, reached out to Siraj-ud-Daulah's demoted army chief - Mir Jafar, along with others such as Khuda-Yar Lutuf, Jagat Seths (Mahtab Chand and Swarup Chand), Umichand, Maharaja Krishna Nath and Rai Durlabh. Mir Jafar thus assembled his troops near the battlefield, but made no move to actually join the battle. Siraj-ud-Daulah's army was defeated by roughly 3,050 soldiers of Robert Clive.

This is judged to be one of the pivotal battles leading to the formation of the British Empire in South Asia [citation needed]. The enormous wealth gained from the Bengal treasury, and access to a massive source of foodgrains and taxes allowed the Company to significantly strengthen its military might, and opened the way for British colonial rule, mass economic exploitation and cultural domination in nearly all of South Asia. The battles that followed strengthened the British foothold in South Asia and paved way for British colonial rule in Asia [citation needed].

Pôlash (Bengali: পলাশ), an extravagant red flowering tree (Flame of the forest), gives its name to a small village near the battlefield. A phonetically accurate romanization of the Bengali name would be Battle of Palashi, but the anglicised spelling "Plassey" is now conventional in English[citation needed].

Growing French influence

At the connivance of the enterprising French Governor-General Joseph François Dupleix, French influence at the court of the Nawab was growing. French trade in Bengal was increasing in volume. The French also lent the Nawab some soldiers to operate heavy artillery pieces.[citation needed]

Ahmad Shah Abdali

Siraj-Ud-Daulah faced conflicts on three fronts simultaneously. In addition to the threat posed by the British East India Company, he was confronted on his western border by the advancing army of the Afghan Ahmad Shah Abdali, who had captured and looted Delhi in 1756—as well as the possibility of raids by the Marathas (who had raided/looted Bengal many times during the reign of his grandfather, and continued to raid Northern and Eastern India of which Bengal was part). So, Siraj sent the majority of his troops west to fight under the command of his close friend and ally, the Diwan of Patna, Ram Narain.[citation needed]

Court intrigue

In the midst of all of this, intrigues were occurring at Siraj Ud Daulah's court at Murshidabad. Siraj was not a particularly well-loved ruler. Young (he succeeded his grandfather in April 1756 at the age of 23) and impetuous, he was prone to make enemies quickly. The most dangerous of these were his wealthy and influential aunt, Ghaseti Begum (Meherun-Nisa) who had wanted another nephew to succeed to the throne; Shaw (who had suffered as a result of the siege of Calcutta); and Mir Jafar (who was demoted from the post of army chief and eventually brought into the British fold).[citation needed]

[edit] Company policy

The Company had long since decided that a change of regime would be conducive to its interests in Bengal. In 1752, Robert Orme, in a letter to Clive, noted that the company would have to remove Siraj's grandfather, Alivardi Khan, in order to prosper.[2]

After the premature death of Alivardi Khan in April 1756, his nominated successor was Siraj-ud-Daulah, a grandson whom Alivardi had adopted. The circumstances of this transition gave rise to considerable controversy, and the British began supporting the intrigues of Alivardi's eldest daughter, Ghaseti Begum, against that of his grandson, Siraj.

Instructions dated 13 October 1756 from Fort St. George instructed Robert Clive, "to effect a junction with any powers in the province of Bengal that might be dissatisfied with the violence of the Nawab's government or that might have pretensions to the Nawabship". Accordingly, Clive deputized William Watts, chief of the Kasim Bazar factory of the Company, who was proficient in Bengali and Persian, to negotiate with two potential contenders, one of Siraj's generals, Khuda-Yar Lutuf Khan, and Siraj's grand-uncle and deposed army chief, Mir Jafar Ali Khan.

On 23 April 1757, the Select Committee of the Board of Directors of the British East India Company approved coup d'état as its policy in Bengal.

Mir Jafar, negotiating through an Armenian merchant, Khojah Petrus Nicholas, was the Company's final choice. Finally, on 5 June 1757, a written agreement was signed between the Company, represented by Clive, and Mir Jafar. It ensured that Mir Jafar would be appointed Nawab of Bengal once Siraj Ud Daulah was deposed.

Order of battle

The East India Company's army led by Robert Clive, consisting of 950 Europeans and 2100 native Indian sepoys and a small number of guns was vastly outnumbered. The Nawab had an army of about 50,000 with some heavy artillery operated by about 50 French soldiers sent by the French East India Company. However, 16,000 of the 50,000 were under the control of Mir Jafar. Upon the promise of crown from the 'company masters', he chose not to fight, so the morale of the Nawab's army sank.[citation needed] Along with Mir Jafar, the troops commanded by Khuda-Yar Lutuf Khan and Rai Durlabh did not take part in the battle because of a secret pact made with the British. Only 35,000 troops actually engaged in battle under Mohan Lal and Mir Madan.

Principal British officers
  • Major Killpatrick
  • Major Grant
  • Major Eyre Coote
  • Captain Gaupp
  • Captain Richard Knox, 1st commanding officer of the 1st Bengal Native Infantry
Principal officers of the Nawab
  • Mir Jafar Ali Khan - commanding 16,000 cavalry
  • Yar Latif
  • Mir Madan
  • Rai Durlabh
  • Monsieur Sinfray - French artillery officer
British East India Company regiments
Queens troops (regular British army units lent to the EIC)

Battle

A plan of the Battle of Plassey, fought 23 June 1757 by Col. Robt. Clive, against the Nawab of Bengal. Depiction of the battlefield, with explanations of troop movements.

The battle opened on a very hot and humid morning at 7:00 a.m. on 23 June 1757, when the Nawab's army came out of its fortified camp and launched a massive cannonade against the British camp. The 18th century historian Ghulam Husain Salim describes what followed:

Mīr Muhammad Jafar Khān, with his detachment, stood at a distance towards the left from the main army; and although Sirāju-d-daulah summoned him to his side, Mīr Jafar did not move from his position. In the thick of the fighting, and in the heat of the work of carnage, whilst victory and triumph were visible on the side of the army of Sirāju-d-daulah, all of a sudden Mīr Madan, commander of the Artillery, fell on being hit with a cannon-ball. At the sight of this, the aspect of Sirāju-d-daulah’s army changed, and the artillerymen with the corpse of Mīr Madan moved into tents. It was now midday, when the people of the tents fled. As yet Nawāb Sirāju-d-daulah was busy fighting and slaughtering, when the camp-followers decamping from Dāūdpūr went the other side, and gradually the soldiers also took to their heels. Two hours before sun-set, flight occurred in Sirāju-d-daulah’s army, and Sirāju-d-daulah also being unable to stand his ground any longer fled.

[4]

At around 11:00 a.m., Mir Madan, the chief of the army and one of the Nawab's most loyal officers, launched an attack against the fortified grove where the East Indian Company was located. However, he was killed by a cannon from one of Clive's guns, his closest friends immediately mourned and left the battle (this was most of his soldiers).

At noon, a heavy rainstorm fell on the battlefield. The British quickly covered their gunpowder, cannons and muskets against the rain, but the untrained troops of the Nawab, in spite of French assistance, failed to do so. When the rains stopped, therefore, the British still had firepower while the Nawab's guns were useless. As a result, the cannonade ceased by 2:00 p.m. With the Nawab's troops scattered the 39th foot was sent in and cleared the battlefield pushing the Nawab's men into retreat. With their cannons and muskets completely useless, and with Mir Jafar's cavalry, who were the closest to the British, refusing to attack Clive's camp, the Nawab was forced to order a retreat. By 5:00 p.m., his army was in full retreat and the British had command of the field.

The battle cost the British East India Company just 22 killed and 50 wounded, while the Nawab's army received at least 500 casualties.>Robert Clive's letter to the Select Committee of the Board of Directors of the British East India Company reporting on the battle, 26 July 1757 - at the Project South Asia</ref>

[edit] Aftermath

File:Plassey Monument.jpg
The battle monument at the village of Plassey, Nadia; West Bengal, India.

The Battle of Plassey is considered as a starting point to the events that established the era of British dominion and conquest in India.

Mir Jafar's fate

Mir Jafar, for his betrayal of the Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah and alliance with the British, was installed as the new Nawab, while Siraj Ud Daulah was captured on 2 July in Murshidabad as he attempted to escape further north. He was later executed on the order of Mir Jafar's son Miran. Amina Begum (Siraj Ud Daulah's mother);Ghaseti Begum (Siraj Ud Daulah's aunt) and other powerful women were transferred to a prison in distant Dhaka, where they were eventually drowned in the river on pretext of taking them to Murshidabad in safety. This diabolical murder was the brain child of Miran as well who was in Bihar at the time, pursuing Nazim Khadim Hussain Khan, his cousin and governor of Purnia.

Mir Jafar chafed under the British supervision, and so asked the Dutch East India Company to intervene. They sent seven ships and about 700 sailors up the Hoogley to their settlement, but the British led by Colonel Forde managed to defeat them at Chinsura on 25 November 1759. Thereafter, Mir Jafar was deposed as Nawab (1760) and Mir Kasim Ali Khan, (Mir Jafar's son-in-law) was appointed as Nawab. Mir Kasim showed signs of independence and was defeated in the Battle of Buxar (1764), after which full political control shifted to the Company.

Mir Jafar was re-appointed and remained the titular Nawab until his death in 1765, though all actual power was exercised by the Company.

Rewards

As per their agreement, Clive collected £2.5 million for the company, and £234,000 for himself from the Nawab's treasury.[5] In addition, Watts collected £114,000 for his efforts. The annual rent of £30,000 payable by the Company for use of the land around Fort William was also transferred to Clive for life. To put this figure into context, an average British nobleman could live a life of luxury on an annual income of £800.[6]

Robert Clive was appointed Governor of Bengal in 1765 for his efforts. William Watts was appointed Governor of Fort William on 22 June 1758. He later resigned in favour of Clive, who was also later appointed Baron of Plassey in 1762. Clive bought lands in County Limerick and County Clare, Ireland, naming part of his lands near Limerick City, Plassey. It retains this name to this day and is now the site of the University of Limerick.

Diwani and Dual government In Bengal: Terms of Agreement

These were the terms agreed between the new Nawab and the Company:

  1. Confirmation of the mint, and all other grants and privileges in the Alinagar treaty with the late Nawab.
  2. An alliance, offensive and defensive, against all enemies whatever.
  3. The French factories and effects to be delivered up, and they never permitted to resettle in any of the three provinces.
  4. 10 lacs (1 million) of rupees to be paid to the Company, in consideration of their losses at Calcutta and the expenses of the campaign.
  5. 50 lacs to be given to the British sufferers at the loss of Calcutta
  6. 20 lacs to Gentoos, Moors, & black sufferers at the loss of Calcutta.
  7. 7 lacs to the Armenian sufferers. These three last donations to be distributed at the pleasure of the Admiral and gentlemen of Council.
  8. The entire property of all lands within the Mahratta ditch, which runs round Calcutta, to be vested in the Company: also, six hundred yards, all round, without, the said ditch.
  9. The Company to have the zemindary of the country to the south of Calcutta, lying between the lake and river, and reaching as far as Culpee, they paying the customary rents paid by the former zemindars to the government.
  10. Whenever the assistance of the British troops shall be wanted, their extraordinary charges to be paid by the Nawab.
  11. No forts to be erected by the Nawab's government on the river side, from Hooghley downwards.

Trivia

  • One of members of Clive's entourage at Plassey was a young volunteer called Warren Hastings. He was appointed the British Resident at the Nawab's court in 1757. Hastings later became the first Governor-General of India for the British East India Company from 1773 to 1786, he was impeached for corruption.
  • The French guns captured at this battle can still be visited at the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta [1].
  • The infamous meeting between Mir Jafar and Watts took place at Jaffarganj, a village close to Murshidabad. Mir Jafar's palace now stands in ruins at the place, but close to it is a gate called Nemak Haramer Deori (literally traitor's gate) where Watts is supposed to have entered the palace disguised as a purdanasheen (Urdu for veiled) lady in a palanquin.
  • One of the unseen protagonists of the court drama was a wealthy Marwari trader who went by the family name Jagat Sheth (English: World Banker (actual name - Mahtab Chand)). He was a hereditary banker to the Mughal Emperor and the Nawab of Bengal and thus well conversant with court intrigues. He negotiated a 5% commission from Clive for his assistance with the court intrigue to defeat Siraj. However, when Clive refused to pay him after his success, he is supposed to have gone mad. The family (i.e. Jagat Seth's) remained bankers to the Company until the transfer of the British head quarters to Calcutta in 1773 [7].

Notes

  • The Indian rebellion of 1857 began almost exactly a century later during May, 1857.
  • Plassey Day is still celebrated by 9 (Plassey) Battery, Royal Artillery.

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