• Omer Haq

New Blood- Clive of India

Updated: Aug 8, 2020

The Rise of Clive and the beginning of the end of the Nawab of Bengal. Decisive and prudent acts of of Clive changes the Politics of India's most prosperous region- Bengal.

The troops along with Robert Clive and Admiral Watson were at Madras to fight the French, not the Nawab of Bengal. Several members of the Madras council argued that the fleet should stay in Madras, lest that they should lose another strong fort by an attack of French without the troops here to protect the fort. It would be an act of extreme carelessness.

Robert, Lord Clive, 1764 (c). Oil on canvas by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)
Robert, Lord Clive, 1764 (c). Oil on canvas by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)
Clive was not going to lose this chance. He had personally invested substantial sums in Bengal and indirectly in the Company stock. He forcefully and successfully argued to let these forces move up to Bengal.

Watson, however, insisted that they wait until the monsoon set in- early October when the french were unlikely to sail in open waters, which would give them enough time to finish the task at Bengal and return, and not be guilty of leaving Madras at the risk of naked aggression. The Select Committee of Madras shared the ambitions of Clive and wrote to London: “The mere retaking of Calcutta should we think to be by no means the end of the undertaking, not only should the Bengal settlements and factories be restored but all the privileges established in full and ample reparations be made for all the loss they have lately sustained. Otherwise, we are of the opinion that it would have been better than nothing had been attempted….”

Two months with all detailed planning of refitting ships and loading cannons, they eventually set sail on the 13th of October, but the same monsoon winds blew all the ships, scattering them, some even until the shore of Sri Lanka. Two months later, on the 9th of December, the first ship arrived at Hoogli, and eventually, the rest of the ships came soon after. While waiting for the rest two ships which carried the bulk of the artillery and troops, Clive wrote to Raja Manik Chand, the fort keeper of Alinagar, that he had come with a force to be reckoned with, one which never in such strength appeared in Bengal. But all this had little effect on Manikchand, as Ghulam Hussian wrote, “The English were only known as merchants and no one had an idea of the abilities of the nation at war.”

With no reply, Clive sailed upriver on the 27th of December and by sunset reached near the fort. Manikchand sprung an ambush and surprisingly attacked the troops. Clive was rattled, almost ordering a retreat, but the new brown “Bess Musket ” won the day and alarmed the Raja. He was even shot in his turban. While Manikchand fled, Watson’s ships unleashed on the broadside of the fort. The fleet proceeded further up and Siraj’s two more forts were abandoned without a fight. On the 2nd of January, the squadron came in sight of Fort William and Manikchand again withdrew after a brief resistance. Nevertheless, ‘half ruined’ Calcutta was back in the hands of Company on the 2nd of January, 1757.

Fort William of Calcutta C. 1735
Fort William of Calcutta C. 1735
On the 3rd of January, Robert Clive declared war on Siraj-Ud-Daulah in the name of the Company and Watson did the same in the name of the crown. This was the first time the EIC had declared a formal war on an Indian Prince. “The chessboard of time presented a new game,” said Ghulam Hussain Khan.

Clive started preparing the walls of Fort William and demolishing all the buildings which overlooked its walls. Clive and Watson then set off to attack Siraj-Ud-Daula’s principal fort, Hooghly Banda. Once again, Clive was able to become master of the place in less than an hour on a full moon night. Then they set about looting and burning the port. Two weeks later, on 23rd of January Siraj-Ud-Daulah set onto Calcutta with an army of sixty thousand strong. Clive was surprised by the news that Siraj and his forces were already camping outside Calcutta

Two senior company negotiators were sent at the Nawab’s invitation to speak with him, but Siraj treated them with a mixture of haughtiness and contempt which gave little hope of making any great progress in their business. Clive asked Watson for 500 sailors and ammunition with artillery to which Watson agreed.

Both attacked the Nawabs camp the next day with the thick early winter morning fog blowing off the river Hoogli. By 11 o’clock in the morning, Clive’s forces had returned de-spirited to the city, having lost nearly 150 men, including Clive’s secretary and his personal men that were by his side.

Clive was unsure of what happened in the thick fog as they shot wildly into the gloom, unclear if they were hitting or missing the targets. According to Ghulam Hussain Khan and the Mughals, the two men, Clive and Siraj, though ever so close could not distinguish each other. The darkness made them mistake their way and miss Siraj-Ud-Daulah's private enclosure helping the prince narrowly escape.

Unknown to Clive at that time, his attack was in fact a decisive turning point. Siraj struck camp and retreated ten miles and that morning he sent an ambassador with a proposal for peace. On the 9th of February, he signed the Treaty of Alinagar which granted almost all the Company’s demands restoring all the existing English privileges and freeing all English goods of taxes as well as allowing the company to keep their fortification and establish a mint. His only insistence was that Drake be removed. “Tell Rodger Drake not to disturb our affairs,” said Siraj-Ud-Daula, something the Company was more than happy to grant.

The next morning Siraj-Ud-Daula began to march back to Murshidabad leaving Clive and Watson astonished at their own success. He was ready to return to Madras having fulfilled all his war aims with minimum cost and casualties. He wrote to his father on 23rd February, “I expect to return very shortly to the coast as all is over here.”

But all was not over.

Watson, who reported to the Crown, not the Company, got an official notice of the outbreak of what the future generation called ‘The Seven Years War between England and France

Seven Years' War: Battle of Zorndorf Frederick II leading his Prussian troops against Russians at the Battle of Zorndorf during the Seven Years' War, August 25, 1758.

Around the world, from Quebec to Senegal river, from Ohio to Hanover, Minorca to Cuba hostilities were now breaking out between Britain and France in every Imperial theatre.

Watson now knew what he needed to do and that was to attack the French wherever they were to be found. In the case of Bengal that meant starting by attacking the French colony of Chandannagar, 20 miles upstream.

What happened at Chandanagar and the victory of Clive and Watson over Fort D’Orleans is a story for a different post.

Soon after they were successfully done with taking down the French in Bengal and their troops never returning again, Clive and Watson began to backup and prepare the troops to leave Bengal. They were nervous about how long they had left Madras open and undefended to the French.

But fate had something else in store...

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