Clive of India and the Siege of Arcot
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
Peace was signed between Great Britain and France [Ed. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle], and direct hostilities between the two companies in India were precluded [Ed. The British East India Company and the French East India Company]. But Dupleix was bent on carrying out his own programme. The immense prestige which he had already achieved promised him an overwhelming influence in the native courts of the Deccan; but the British still stood in the -way, and were not yet prepared to own themselves beaten. The contest was renewed on different lines, which avoided a formal breach of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Dynastic struggles broke out in the Deccan; French and British took the field as auxiliaries, on opposite sides, and the British turned the tables on the French.
Anwar-ud-Din, an old and able soldier, had been appointed Nawab of the Carnatic by the Nizam in 1740. During the thirty years preceding the Nawabship had been held by the able and popular administrator Sadutulla, then by his nephew Dost Ali, and then by Dost All's son. The assassination of this last was the cause of the appointment of Anwar-ud-Din. The family of Sadutulla was now represented by an admirable and popular prince named Chanda Sahib. For some years Chanda Sahib had been a captive in the hands of the Marathas. He had been on particularly good terms with the French.
Dupleix now ransomed Chanda Sahib from the Marathas, with the intention of asserting his claims to the Nawabship to which he, not Anwar-ud-Din, would have been appointed in 1740 had he at that time been at liberty. The powerful old Nizam at Haidarabad would have had to be reckoned with; but at this opportune moment he died. The succession was seized by his son Nadir Jang, but was claimed by a grandson Muzaffar Jang, on the pretext that he had been appointed to it by the Lord Paramount of all India, the Mogul at Delhi. The two claimants to the Nizamship and the Nawabship, Muzaffar Jang and Chanda Sahib, made common cause against the Nizam and the Nawab in actual possession, Nadir Jang and Anwar-ud-Din, Dupleix gave the pretenders his active support, on the plea of loyalty to the Mogul.
The combined forces marched against Anwar-ud-Din, who was defeated and slain, whereupon his title was taken up by his son Mohammed Ali. The victory had been largely due to the services of a French force under the command of the able General Bussy. Mohammed Ali threw himself into Trichinopoli and appealed to the British for support; but the latter could do no more than send him some two hundred men.
On the other hand, they sent a contingent under Major Lawrence to join Nadir Jang, the de facto Nizam, who was now invading the Carnatic in force. But intrigue and conspiracy came to the aid of Dupleix. Nadir Jang was assassinated. Muzaffar Jang was proclaimed Nizam, and when he was killed in a skirmish his place was taken by the French nominee Salabat Jang, who fell completely under the control of Bussy, The new Nizam, accompanied by Bussy, retired to Haidarabad to establish his position, and it appeared that Dupleix had only to crush Mohammed Ali and Trichinopoli to be completely master of the situation, with a decisively controlling influence over both the Nizam of the. Deccan and the Nawab of the Carnatic.
Hitherto there had been a singular absence of vigour and audacity on the part of the Madras authorities. But now there was a new governor, Saunders, and Saunders was able to appreciate the need of activity. He despatched reinforcements to Trichinopoli; but, what was of still more importance, he listened to young Robert Clive. The story of Clive's youth is as familiar as that of Alfred and the cakes. The naughty boy, with whom his parents could do nothing at home, was sent out to India as a junior clerk or "writer" in the service of the East India Company.
The Siege of Arcot
When the fighting began the young clerk at once volunteered. He had found his true vocation, and was allowed to exchange his writership for a commission in the company's service, Trichinopoli was now in imminent danger of falling when Clive proposed to Saunders to create a diversion by attacking Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic. Saunders was bold enough almost to denude Madras of its garrison, by despatching Clive with eight officers, of whom only two had been in action, a couple of hundred British soldiers, and three hundred sepoys, to make the attempt upon Arcot. The blow was secret [and] sudden as a thunderbolt. When Clive arrived before Arcot the amazed garrison was siezed with panic and fled. Clive took possession and prepared to stand a siege. The desired effect was produced. Four thousand men marched from Trichinopli, gathering reinforcements as they went, till a force of ten thousand men sat down before Arcot with its little garrison of five hundred.
For seven weeks Clive held out, defying the efforts of the besiegers, inspiring his own men with the magnificent devotion which led the sepoys to make the spontaneous suggestion that the rice on which they were almost reduced to living should be reserved for the British; the natives could live on the water in which it was boiled.
The fame of the defence spread far and wide; the prestige of the British suddenly rose higher than that of the French. Rajah Sahib, the commander of the besieging force, Chanda Sahib's son, feared that if Arcot did not fall at once there would be a great accession of the natives to the British side. On the fiftieth day there was a grand assault. With desperate valour the assault was beaten back. Rajah Sahib raised the siege in despair and began to retreat; Clive's little band sallied forth in pursuit, scattered the great force at Arni, and again, having been joined by a force of Marathas, smote the foe at Kaveripak.
The tide had turned. Major Lawrence, the defender of Fort St David, was back at Madras after absence on sick leave. Clive and Lawrence together effected the relief of Trichinopoli, outmanoeuvred the opposing force, and compelled it to surrender. Chanda Sahib was murdered, and Mohammed Ali was Nawab of the Carnatic.
Bussy was still dominant at Haidarabad, and the resourceful Dupleix was still by no means beaten. But Dupleix was after all a subordinate; his policy no longer found favour with the authorities in France, and his recall in 1754 was a fatal blow. Dupleix himself would not in the long run have been able to win, because when once Great Britain had become thoroughly alive to the importance of the struggle in India, a new war with France, which was inevitable, would enable her to exercise her sea power with decisive effect. Even apart from sea power the diplomatic talents of Dupleix would hardly have prevailed against the military genius of Clive. But when the actual final struggle came the French had lost Dupleix; and the renewal of war between France and Great Britain had brought into the field the naval power which was not available when the two nations were nominally at peace.