The following notes come from my recent research into one of my five x great grandfathers John De Morgan who arrived in India in 1711 as a private and eventually rose to become the commander in 1745 of Fort St David near Cuddalore.
In the course of this research I have unearthed many stories covering the lives of many of the ordinary soldiers, which I believe deserve a wider hearing.
The Dutch established the original factory at Devanampatam (Fort St David) in about 1670, and later built a fort 700 yards north of the mouth of the Gadilam River. They quitted both places in 1678. The Madras records say that their departure was partly owing to a dispute with Sivaji.
In 1680 the Dutch returned to Cuddalore and obtained from the Marathas a grant of land there and permission to erect a factory; as will be seen later, they were in possession of the Devanampatam fort and had a lease of Manjakuppam at the time that the English bought Fort St. David in 1690; in 1693.
As so often in British History, some of the earliest soldiers were recruited in Ireland.
"October Monday ye 24th1709 Captain Courtney producing a list of the soldiers, raised by him in Ireland arriv’d here in the Hallifax & came ashore the 15th Instant, y’t they are much out of all manner of Cloathing, they being in number about thirty three & y’t they are all in Generall wanting shirting, and by a list of 15 of them they want Coats, Shoes, and Stockings, does now make his application to the board requesting they may be Cloathed, Ordered that the doe deliver what coats he hath in stors, to those that want them, so farr as they goe, as likewise Shoes stockings, & white cloth enough to make y. 2 shirts a piece, & yt. an acc’t of ye same be kept apart to be deducted out of their monthly pay."
Just as in modern times, complaints of failings in the soldiers equipment were common place.
"Agreed and order’d ye bross Dougo, and Amaru Ferrara be entertained in Capt’n Hugonin Company as Topasses pay as usuall."
Topasses were "men of the hats", called as such to distinguish them from Peons who were native born Indian's and who wore turban's. Topasses were generally of Portuguese or mixed Portuguese descent at this date.
As was also the case in Britain wrecking, or the recovery of cargo from wrecked ships was seen as a perk belonging to the local rulers. Just as in Cornwall, the locals usually got their before the rulers. The East India Company attempted to write clauses into treaties which overrode this custom in neighboroughing states for East India Company vessels.
"Thursday October 27th1709 There having been a little boat belonging to a sampan bound from Cuddalore to Madrass but meeting with Contray winds were forced back again & by a squall of wind y little boat was broke away from her stern & drove ashoar a little way out of our bounds were Sirrup Sing Tuncaneers have seized her pretending (tho’ falsely) their masters have a right to all wrecks within his Government, which is contray to several Cowles & Perwanna’s granted to the Rt. Hon’ble Comp. By ye form’r and successive Kings of ye country, & of late years from Gulphus Cawne. Is therefore agreed & ordered ye Mr. Farmer do send out twelve soldiers & twenty Peons & ye the owner of the boat to go along with them, & y’t Mr Farmer do acquaint Capt’n Hugouin with our order to the end he may send out such men, as he may confide in under the command of Sergeant Brooks, to the end he may avoid any Hostility, but that they bring in the boat & w’t belongs to it.. "
Upkeep of the buildings and fort infrastructure was a constant battle. Gunpowder was key to the forts survival, I imagine that it was more regularly maintained than the other buildings.
"SatterdayOctober the 29th 1709 The Power rooms in the Fort being very much decayed, & not safe to keep a Quantity of Powder in, tis agreed to build a new Powder Room in such a place, as shall be thought most proper for it as also a new Choultry at Cuddalore which is ready to fall down so consequently very dangerous for any to be there."
It would appear that facilities for the troops were rather rudimentary. One poor man who had only just arrived in India, and who was quite probably already ill when he arrived slipped and fell into the moat. Did they have a washroom in the barracks?
"30th October This morning John Henry one of the new soldiers in ye Garrison was unfortunately drowned in the moat just by the Fort Gate going to wash himself.
MondayYe 14th November 1709 Inclosing in the aforesaid generall came a Commission from the Hon’ble Councill appointing y’t Lieutenant Hercules Courtney to Command a Company of Soldiers made out of Capt’n james Davies Company at ye Fort w’ch is to consist of 150 men besides new soldiers come upon the Frederick & Hallifax, Capt’n Davis, & Capt’n Courtney having divided the two companies ‘tis agreed y’t Capt’n Courtney’s Company be drawn up, & his commission read at the head thereof with ye usuall manner of delivering him ye half pike."
The offices were often as drunk and disorderly as the men, and often fell out amongst themselves.
"March 21st 1709/10 Quarrel between Capt’n Courtney and Capt’n Davis."
Just as in modern times Cuddalore is frequently swept with huge floods as the waters come down from the huge inland catchment area which stretches away over 250 miles to the west, nearly to the Ghats.
"April 3rd 1710 This day broke our a Large Barr to the Southward of the ffort occasion’d by Great Rains & Currants of Water w’ch came out of the Country. Fort St David."
The gunners were considered a cut above the rest of the ordinary soldiers, and lived apart in the gunroom. They had priviledges not granted to soldiers, such as the right to brew Toddy or Arrack for sale to the visiting sailors. Sadly however this did not always work in their favour, for when the ships were absent, which could be nine or more months away, they tended to drink themselves into oblivion. They were less likely to leave the fort on escort duty, and were more prone to commit suicide than were the soldiers.
"19th June 1710. Thomas Cassar is entertained in the Gunroom at the usual pay to serve 3 years.
Stephen Deas a Topass is entertained in Capt’n Davis’s company at the usual pay."
"20th June 1710. This morning Capt’n James Davies arrived from Madras overland & brought with him a general letter dated the 17th Instant.
21st June 1710. David Antony, Bastian Antony, Anthony Lopes, Lewis de Silva Topass are entertained in Capt’n Davis Compy at the usual pay.
Monday June 26 1710. Anthony de Rosiro is entertained in Captain Hugoens company at the usual pay."
In the unsettled conditions recruiting went on at an increased rate with many of the men being of Portuguese, or mixed Portuguese Indian race. These men were called Topasses and where valued more highly than Indian’s who were known as Peons, but less valued than northern European’s.
"Wednesday, August 2 1710.
Gaspar Roy, Joseph Row, Antony Texeira, Manuel De Costa, Dominigo de Mount, Pasqual Deas & Ventura Ferrera are entertained in Captain Hugonin’s Company at the usual pay of Topasses."
It would appear that the European's and the Topasses were paraded together in the same companies.
Conditions for the soldiers were often extremely harsh, and the distant EIC board was less than sympathetic to the conditions of their men who were often underpaid and in arrears.
The ready availability of drink did not help matters either. The right to sell or “farm” arrack to the troops was sold by “outcry” or auction every year. The farmers often gave credit to the soldiers, and then tried to claim the money back directly from the EIC at pay day. This led to many abuses.
"Monday August 21st 1710.
At a Consultation.
They allso order in said General that for the future no Retailer of Arrack do presume to trust any of the Millitary, below the degree of sergeant, on penalty of loosing their money & that no stoppage be made at the pay Table but for Diet & Ammunition Coats, which order they would have published in Cuddalore, & Tevenapatam, by beat of Tom Tom & fixing papers in Several languages at the usual places which is accordingly done & notice given that the arrack license (w’h expires the last day of this month) will be put up at Publick outcry at the fort on Monday next being the 28th Instant."
The combination of depression, homesickness and drink all to often led to men going off the rails. As is illustrated by the following deaths the following month.
3rd September 1710.
"Last night Corporal Knight run off his guard Villarenutta about one mile out of our bounds, where he killed a man & was brought in this morning after having been severely beat by the country people.
8th. This morning said Corporal died & was interred in the Evening."
Even without drink, life was often short. Between 30 and 40 men were landed as soldiers each year at Fort St. David. Within a year only about 10 would still be alive.
"17th This morning James Hearn a Centinell of this Garrison departed this life & was interred in the Evening."
These survivors were especially valued as they were considered as "seasoned" because they were seen as being more likely to survive than would new recruits. The soldiers contracts were for five years, and these seasoned men were often offered large bonuses to sign on again, rather than to return home. This was not alturism on the part of the East India Company, but hard headed business sense, because the cost and waste in new recruits was enormous. Only men at the margins of society, or refugees would sign on in Europe, as they recognised it to be a one way trip for all but a tiny lucky minority.
Even the officers were often so drunk that they could not maintain discipline.
"18th Sept 1710.
And it being ordered in said Genl; to break Ensign Carter his Commission for Sergeant Brooks to be made Ensign in his stead. Was this day read at the head of the Company & Delivered him.
Francis Sharhaler, Enoch Vouters, & Loucas Carly are entered in the Gunroom at usual pay."
Ensign Carter had been so incapacitated by drink when six of his men deserted, that he had not been able to take steps to stop them.
“They likewise advise that the orders sent them hence for reducing Military Officers pay according to what appointed by the Honbl Compas. Letter recd. Per the Susannah has caus’d a great noise and putt the Garrison upon a ferment, insomuch that on the 27th. last past a Sergeant & five Centinells deserted and run away with their arms, and a great many more designd to doe the like had they not been prevented in due time by a watchfull eye over them, They also advise that Ensign Carter was timely advis’d of their running away but being drunk took no notice of it till four hours after they were gone, and this having been his frequent practice, of which he has been often admonish’d, it’s therefore Agreed that he be broke and that a Commission be drawn out to appoint Sergt Edward Brookes (he being well recommended to us) Ensign, in his stead.”
Sergeant Brooks had previously run the armoury at Cuddalore.
"2nd October 1710. Sergeant Brooks being made an Ensign the care & charge of the armoury at Cuddalore becomes vacant thereby & Sergeant Hobey being esteemed a fitting Person to officiate in the said employ tis agreed that he should look after the same.",
Life as an East Company Soldier appears to have been fairly tough during this period.
Madras Gazetteers South Arcot published 1906 Page 38
From British Library
IOR G/18/2 PT2.
IOR G/18/2 PT2.
IOR G/18/2 PT2.
IOR G/18/2 PT2.
Diary and Consultation Book 1710. Page 92.
IOR G/18/2/ PT 2.