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Naval Resistance to Britain's Growing Power in India, 1660-1800

Naval Resistance to Britain's Growing Power in India, 1660-1800: The Saffron Banner and the Tiger of Mysore

Philip MacDougall
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Naval Resistance to Britain's Growing Power in India, 1660-1800
    Book Description:

    Most books on the colonisation of India view the subject in Eurocentric imperial terms, focusing on the ways in which European powers competed with each other on land and at sea and defeated Indian states on land, and viewing Indian states as having little interest in naval matters. This book, in contrast, reveals that there was substantial naval activity on the part of some Indian states and that this activity represented a serious threat to Britain's naval power. Considering the subject from an Indian point of view, the book discusses the naval activities of the Mahratta Confederacy and later those of Mysore under its energetic rulers Haidar Ali and his successor Tipu Sultan. It shows how these states chose deliberately to develop a naval strategy, seeing this as the most effective way of expelling the British from India; how their strategies learned from European maritime technology, successfully blending this with Indian technology; how their opposition to British naval power was at its most effective when they allied themselves with the other European naval powers in the region - France, Portugal and the Netherlands, whose maritime activities in the region are fully outlined and assessed; and how ultimately the Indian states' naval strategies failed. Philip MacDougall, a former lecturer in economic history at the University of Kent, is a founder member of the Navy Dockyards Society, editor of the Society's Transactions, and the author or editor of seven books in maritime history, including The Naval Mutinies of 1797 (The Boydell Press, 2011).

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-392-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  8. Part I: Early Naval Resistance:: The Historical Background

      (pp. 3-4)

      The existence, during the late fifteenth century, of a powerful navy under the control of at least one indigenous Indian state would have created a very different scenario to the one played out upon the first arrival of the Portuguese and their subsequent monopolising of the spice trade. Furthermore, the updating and development of such a navy or navies would have ensured the continued independence of the sub-continent. That no such substantial navy existed in 1498 CE (903 AH) resulted in the three relatively insignificant ships brought to the shores of India by Vasco da Gama, paving the way for...

      (pp. 5-19)

      Towards the end of May 1498 Vasco da Gama hove to off Calicut having successfully confirmed in the most practical way possible that a sea route existed between Europe and the Indian sub-continent. The immediate objective was King Manuel I of Portugal (1495–1521) hoping to gain direct entry into the profitable spice trade that had previously been monopolised by Venetian merchants using the land route that connected the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. However Manuel I had a further object and one that extended beyond simple trade. He wished, with the support of the papacy, to eliminate the extensive...

      (pp. 20-38)

      For the Mughals, Surat was the port where they developed a navy of not inconsiderable importance, with vessels built here that would eventually come to adopt many European technical developments. On a few occasions only were these to be directly employed against either the Portuguese or any other European naval force. Instead, they were used to defend the empire against internal indigenous opposition. As for both the Dutch and English, the two European nations that the Mughals identified as potential allies in their attempt to undermine the Portuguese, Surat was to provide them with important shore-based facilities that included not...

  9. Part II: The Saffron Banner:: Irregular Naval Warfare against an Emergent Britain

      (pp. 41-45)

      A plain saffron-coloured swallowtail banner was the ensign flown by many of the fighting ships of the confederated Maratha Empire, although saffron-coloured sails were another feature of identification.¹ The precise date of adoption is unclear, Fryer noting that in 1676 the flagship leading a thirty-strong fleet of Maratha warships flew a ‘white flag’ aloft. If nothing else, this suggests that the saffron flag, a colour sacred to Hindus and the Maratha polity, was not to regularly appear until a later date.² Originally a warrior caste, the Marathas were primarily found in the Maharashtra, an area of land that had essentially...

      (pp. 46-60)

      Bombay, at that time an archipelago formed of seven islands with the more central and largest of these bearing the name Bombay, was first acquired by the English in June 1661. Although nowadays a major port, financial centre and the fourth most populous city in the world, this was not how it appeared in the seventeenth century. The seven islands were at that time sparsely populated and separated by an area of swamp, covered at high tide and known as the ‘Flats’. It was only as a result of a series of major land reclamation projects that took place from...

      (pp. 61-79)

      The naval war fought between the Siddis and Marathas and which continued into the first decade of the eighteenth century created for the Presidency of Bombay an undeserved illusion of safety. If these two powerful indigenous forces were determined to channel their energies upon attempting to annihilate each other, EIC possessions along the Indian coastline would be relatively secure from acts of hostility. Strengthening this illusion was not only the death of Bhosale Shivaji in 1680 but the failure of his immediate successors, Sambhaji (1681–89) and Rajaram (1680–1700), to show the same level of military prowess as Shivaji....

      (pp. 80-105)

      The war fought by the EIC against the Angres, or more precisely against the Maratha state navy, was, in theory, masterminded from London. Here, on the south side of Leadenhall Street was East India House, the Company’s headquarters, an ageing building that was to be completely demolished and rebuilt during the second decade of the eighteenth century. It is this later building that most especially represents the Company as, within its various meeting rooms and offices, policy was determined and instructions issued that led to the East India Company achieving control over most of India.

      Completed in 1729, the Company’s...

      (pp. 106-132)

      Vijaydurg lies on the bank of the River Vaghotan, some 250 miles south of Bombay. Here was located the chief naval base of the Marathas, its importance marked by numerous endeavours on the part of the British to capture this facility; one particular siege marking the beginning of the war and another bringing this same war to a conclusion. Nowhere along the Konkan Coast was there a naval harbour better defended or better placed to control the movement of shipping along the west coast of India and it is for this reason that Vijaydurg is often referred to as the...

  10. Part III: The Tiger of Mysore:: A Conventional Navy to Oppose British Dominance

      (pp. 135-138)

      The last of the Indian states to develop a navy with the potential to resist the growing power of the EIC was Mysore. This was during the mid- to late eighteenth century, with the rulers of Mysore, Haidar Ali (1760–82) and Tipu Sultan (1782–99), recognising the dangers to native sovereign states that resulted from the British gaining a secure foothold on Indian soil. In particular the rulers of Mysore, a rapidly growing state in possession of much of the Malabar Coast south of Karwar, felt especially threatened by the EIC, whose fortified factories, presidencies and alliances with other...

      (pp. 139-166)

      Haidar Ali, as founder of Mysore’s father and son dynasty, was a great moderniser. In analysing his European adversaries, he realised not only the importance of their efficient and well-equipped armies but that of their navies which ultimately sealed their presence in India. While merchant ships helped create the wealth by shipping sizeable amounts of commodities back to Europe, it was the navy that provided ultimate protection. In turn, of course, with the wealth secured, the construction of a larger and more powerful navy was possible. If, therefore, Haidar Ali was to better his enemy, he must take similar steps...

      (pp. 167-191)

      Tipu Sultan, as a result of his decision to develop a blue-water navy underpinned by an expanding mercantile economy, had become the single greatest potential threat to the presence of the British in Asia prior to the Indian mutiny of 1857. Reinforcing this threat were various moves on the part of Tipu to form alliances not just with a number of Muslim states that included Persia and the Ottoman Empire but also with France under Louis XVI and later the Directory. If such alliances had evolved and prospered, the possibility of the EIC or the British government clinging on to...

    (pp. 192-195)

    The surest way for the nation states and principalities of India to resist the growing power of the British or, for that matter, any other European power would have been through the presentation of a united front. It was fundamentally the disunity existing across the continent that permitted first one and then a number of other European powers to gain a series of secure footholds. Having done so, and through collaboration with one indigenous ruler against another, each of the more powerful European contenders was able to extend their influence not only across the coastal regions but ultimately into extensive...

    (pp. 196-200)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 201-205)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 206-207)