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Three Frenchmen in Bengal The Commercial Ruin of the French Settlements in 1757 online

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_Durbar_ which it was not wise for the French to set before them. A
naval officer writes: -

"From the letters that have lately passed between the
Nawab and us, we have great reason to hope he will not
screen the French at all at Cossimbazar or Dacca. I only
wish the Colonel does not alarm him too much, by moving
with the army to the northward, I do assure you he is so
sufficiently frightened that he had rather encounter the new
Mogul[52] himself than accept our assistance, though he strenuously
begged for it about three weeks ago. He writes word
he needs no fuller assurance of our friendship for him, when
a single letter brought us so far on the road to Murshidabad
as Chandernagore."[53]

The escape of the French from Chandernagore is of interest, as it
shows the extraordinary condition of the country. It is probable
that the peasantry and gentry were indifferent as to whether the
English or the French were victorious, whilst the local authorities
were so paralyzed by the Nawab's hesitation that they did not know
which side to assist. Later on we shall find that small parties, and
even solitary Frenchmen, wandered through the country with little or
no interference, though the English had been recognized as the
friends and allies of the new Nawab, Mir Jafar.

To return, however, to Renault and the garrison of Chandernagore.
The capitulation proposed by Renault and the Admiral's answers were
to the following effect: -

1. The lives of the deserters to be spared. _Answer_. The deserters
to surrender absolutely.

2. Officers of the garrison to be prisoners on parole, and allowed
to keep their effects. _Answer_. Agreed to.

3. Soldiers of the garrison to be prisoners of war. _Answer_. Agreed
to, on condition that foreigners may enter the English service.

4. Sepoys of the garrison to be set free. _Answer_. Agreed to.

5. Officers and crew of the French Company's ship to be sent to
Pondicherry. _Answer_. These persons to be prisoners of war
according to articles 2 and 3.

6. The Jesuit fathers to be allowed to practise their religion and
retain their property. _Answer_. No European to be allowed to remain
at Chandernagore, but the fathers to be allowed to retain their

7. All inhabitants to retain their property. _Answer_. This to be
left to the Admiral's sense of equity.

8. The French Factories up-country to be left in the hands of their
present chiefs. _Answer_. This to be settled by the Nawab and the

9. The French Company's servants to go where they please, with their
clothes and linen. _Answer_. Agreed to.

It is evident that the capitulation was badly drawn up. Civilians
who had taken part in the defence, as had all the Company's
servants, might be justly included in the garrison, and accordingly
Admiral Watson and Clive declared they were all prisoners of war,
and that article 9 merely permitted them to reside where they
pleased on _parole_. On the other hand, Renault and the French
Council declared that, being civilians, nothing could make them part
of the garrison, and therefore under article 9 they might do what
they pleased. Accordingly, they expressed much surprise when they
were stopped at the Fort gates by one of Clive's officers, and
forced to sign, before they were allowed to pass, a paper promising
not to act against Britain directly or indirectly during the course
of the war.

Another point of difficulty was in reference to article 7. The town
had been in the hands of the British soldiers and sepoys for days.
Much had been plundered, and both soldiers and sailors were wild for
loot. They considered that the Admiral was acting unjustly to them
in restoring their property to civilians who had been offered the
chance of retaining it if they would avoid unnecessary bloodshed by
a prompt surrender. Instead of this, the defence was so desperate
that one officer writes: -

"Our losses have been very great, and we have never
yet obtained a victory at so dear a rate. Perhaps you will
hear of few instances where two ships have met with heavier
damage than the _Kent_ and _Tyger_ in this engagement."[54]

Clive's total loss was only about 40 men killed and wounded, but
the loss on the ships was so great, that before the Fort surrendered
the besiegers had lost quite as many men as the besieged, and it was
by no means clear to the common mind what claim the French had to
leniency. Even English officers wrote: -

"The Messieurs themselves deserve but little mercy from
us for their mean behaviour in setting fire to so many bales
of cloth and raw silk in the Fort but a very few minutes
before we entered, and it grieves us much, to see such a
number of stout and good vessels sunk with their whole
cargoes far above the Fort, which is a great loss to us and
no profit to them. Those indeed below, to hinder our passage
were necessary, the others were _merely through mischief_.
But notwithstanding this they scarcely ask a favour from
the Admiral but it is granted."

The result was that the soldiers on guard began to beat the coolies
who were helping the French to secure their goods, until they were
induced by gifts to leave them alone, and much plundering went on
when the soldiers could manage to escape notice. On one day three
black soldiers were executed, and on another Sergeant Nover[55] and
a private soldier of the 39th Regiment were condemned to death, for
breaking open the Treasury and stealing 3000 rupees. Another theft,
which was not traced, was the holy vessels and treasure of the

Many individual Frenchmen were ruined. Of one of these Surgeon Ives
narrates the following pleasing incident: -

"It happened unfortunately ... that Monsieur Nicolas,
a man of most amiable character, and the father of a large
family, had not been so provident as the rest of his countrymen
in securing his effects within the Fort, but had left them
in the town; consequently, upon Colonel Clive's first taking
possession of the place, they had all been plundered by our
common soldiers; and the poor gentleman and his family
were to all appearance ruined. The generous and humane
Captain Speke,[56] having heard of the hard fate of Monsieur
Nicolas, took care to represent it to the two admirals in all
its affecting circumstances, who immediately advanced the
sum of 1500 rupees each. Their example was followed by
the five captains of the squadron, who subscribed 5000
between them. Mr. Doidge added 800 more, and the same
sum was thrown in by another person who was a sincere well-wisher
to this unfortunate gentleman; so that a present of
9600 rupees, or £1200 sterling was in a few minutes collected
towards the relief of this valuable Frenchman and his
distressed family. One of the company was presently
despatched with this money, who had orders to acquaint
Monsieur Nicolas that a few of his English friends desired
his acceptance of it, as a small testimony of the very high
esteem they had for his moral character, and of their
unfeigned sympathy with him in his misfortunes. The poor
gentleman, quite transported by such an instance of generosity
in an enemy, cried out in a sort of ecstasy, 'Good God,
they axe friends indeed!' He accepted of the present with
great thankfulness, and desired that his most grateful
acknowledgements might be made to his unknown benefactors,
for whose happiness and the happiness of their
families, not only his, but the prayers of his children's
children, he hoped, would frequently be presented to heaven.
He could add no more; the tears, which ran plentifully down
his cheeks, bespoke the feelings of his heart: and, indeed,
implied much more than even Cicero with all his powers of
oratory could possibly have expressed."

This, however, was but a solitary instance; the state of the French
was, as a rule, wretched in the extreme, and Renault wrote: -

"The whole colony is dispersed, and the inhabitants are
seeking an asylum, some - the greatest part - have gone to
Chinsurah, others to the Danes and to Calcutta. This
dispersion being caused by the misery to which our countrymen
are reduced, their poverty, which I cannot relieve,
draws tears from my eyes, the more bitter that I have seen
them risk their lives so generously for the interests of the
Company, and of our nation."

In such circumstances there was but one consolation possible to
brave men - the knowledge that, in the eyes of friend and foe, they
had done their duty. The officers of the British army and navy all
spoke warmly of the gallant behaviour of the French, and the
historian Broome, himself a soldier and the chronicler of many a
brave deed, expresses himself as follows: -

"The conduct of the French on this occasion was most
creditable and well worthy the acknowledged gallantry of
that nation. Monsieur Renault, the Governor, displayed
great courage and determination: but the chief merit of the
defence was due to Monsieur Devignes" (Captain de la
Vigne Buisson), "commander of the French Company's ship,
_Saint Contest_. He took charge of the bastions, and directed
their fire with great skill and judgment, and by his own
example inspired energy and courage into all those around

Renault himself found some consolation in the gallant behaviour of
his sons.

"In my misfortune I have had the satisfaction to see my
two sons distinguish themselves in the siege with all the
courage and intrepidity which I could desire. The elder
brother was in the Company's service, and served as a
volunteer; the younger, an officer in the army, was, as has
been said above, commandant of the volunteers."

Others who are mentioned by Renault and his companions as having
distinguished themselves on the French side, were the Councillors
MM. Caillot, Nicolas, and Picques, Captain de la Vigne Buisson and
his son and officers, M. Sinfray (secretary to the Council), the
officers De Kalli[57] and Launay, the Company's servants Matel, Le
Conte Dompierre, Boissemont and Renault de St. Germain, the private
inhabitant Renault de la Fuye, and the two supercargoes of Indiamen
Delabar and Chambon. Caillot (or Caillaud) was wounded. The
official report of the loss of Chandernagore was drawn up on the
29th of March, 1757. The original is in the French Archives, and
Caillaud's signature shows that he was still suffering from his
wound. Sinfray we shall come across again. He joined Law at
Cossimbazar and accompanied him on his first retreat to Patna. Sent
back by Law, he joined Siraj-ud-daula, and commanded the small
French contingent at Plassey. When the battle was lost he took
refuge in Birbhum, was arrested by the Raja, and handed over to the

The immediate gain to the English by the capture of Chandernagore
was immense. Clive wrote to the Select Committee at Madras: -

"I cannot at present give you an account to what value
has been taken;[58] the French Company had no great stock
of merchandize remaining, having sold off most of their
Imports and even their investment for Europe to pay in part
the large debts they had contracted. With respect to the
artillery and ammunition ... they were not indifferently
furnished: there is likewise a very fine marine arsenal well
stocked. In short nothing could have happened more
seasonable for the expeditious re-establishment of Calcutta
than the reduction of Charnagore" (i.e. Chandernagore). "It
was certainly a large, rich and thriving colony, and the loss
of it is an inexpressible blow to the French Company."[59]

The French gentlemen, after having signed under protest the document
presented to them by Clive, betook themselves to Chinsurah, where
they repudiated their signatures as having been extorted by force,
subsequent to, and contrary to, the capitulation. They proceeded to
communicate with Pondicherry, their up-country Factories, and the
native Government; they also gave assistance to French soldiers who
had escaped from Chandernagore. Clive and the Calcutta Council were
equally determined to interpret the capitulation in their own way,
and sent Renault an order, through M. Bisdom, the Dutch Director, to
repair to the British camp. Renault refused, and when Clive sent a
party of sepoys for him and the other councillors, they appealed to
M. Bisdom for the protection of the Dutch flag. M. Bisdom informed
them somewhat curtly that they had come to him without his
invitation, that he had no intention of taking any part in their
quarrels, that he would not give them the protection of his flag to
enable them to intrigue against the English, and, in short,
requested them to leave Dutch territory. As it was evident that the
British were prepared to use force, Renault and the Council gave in,
and were taken to Calcutta, where, for some time, they were kept
close prisoners. It was not till the Nawab had been overthrown at
Plassey, that they were absolutely released, and even then it was
only that they might prepare for their departure from Bengal.
Renault surmises, quite correctly, that this severity was probably
due to the fear that they would assist the Nawab.

The following incident during Renault's captivity shows how little
could be expected from the Nawab towards a friend who was no longer
able to be of use to him. After the capture of Chandernagore the
English Council called on the Nawab to surrender the French
up-country Factories to them. Siraj-ud-daula had not even yet
learned the folly of his double policy. On the 4th of April he wrote
to Clive: -

"I received your letter and observe what you desire in
regard to the French factories and other goods. I address
you seeing you are a man of wisdom and knowledge, and
well acquainted with the customs and trade of the world;
and you must know that the French by the permission and
_phirmaund_[60] of the King[61] have built them several factories,
and carried on their trade in this kingdom. I cannot
therefore without hurting my character and exposing
myself to trouble hereafter, deliver up their factories and
goods, unless I have a written order from them for so doing,
and I am perswaded that from your friendship for me you
would never be glad at anything whereby my fame would
suffer; as I on my part am ever desirous of promoting" [yours].

"Mr. Renault, the French. Governor being in your power, if
you could get from him a paper under his own hand and
seal to this purpose; 'That of his own will and pleasure, he
thereby gave up to the English Company's servants, and
empowered them to receive all the factories, money and
goods belonging to the French Company without any hindrance
from the Nawab's people;' and would send this to
me, I should be secured by that from any trouble hereafter
on this account. But it is absolutely necessary you come
to some agreement about the King's duties arising from the
French trade.... I shall then be able to answer to his
servants 'that in order to make good the duties accruing
from the French trade I had delivered up their factories
into the hands of the English.'"[62]

Clive replied on the 8th of April: -

"Now that I have granted terms to Mr. Renault, and
that he is under my protection, it is contrary to our custom,
after this, to use violence; and without it how would he ever
of his own will and pleasure, write to desire you to deliver
up his master's property. Weigh the justice of this in your
own mind. Notwithstanding we have reduced the French
so low you, contrary to your own interest and the treaty
you have made with us, that my enemies should be yours,
you still support and encourage them. But should you
think it would hurt your character to deliver up the French
factories and goods, your Excellency need only signify to me
your approbation and I will march up and take them."[63]

The more we study the records of the time, the more clearly we
realize the terrible determination of Clive's character, and we
almost feel a kind of pity for the weak creatures who found
themselves opposed to him, until we come across incidents like the
above, which show the depths of meanness to which they were prepared
to descend.

As to Renault's further career little is known, and that little we
should be glad to forget. Placed in charge of the French Settlement
at Karical, he surrendered, on the 5th of April, 1760, to what was
undoubtedly an overwhelming British force, but after so poor a
defence that he was brought before a Court Martial and cashiered. It
speaks highly for the respect in which he had been held by both
nations that none of the various reports and accounts of the siege
mention him by name. Even Lally, who hated the French Civilians,
though he says he deserved death,[64] only refers to him indirectly
as being the same officer of the Company who had surrendered
Chandernagore to Clive.

We shall now pass to what went on in Siraj-ud-daula's Court and


[Footnote 12: Journal of M. d'Albert.]

[Footnote 13: Evidently the Parish Church of St. Louis. Eyre Coote
tells us the French had four guns mounted on its roof.]

[Footnote 14: In early accounts of India the Muhammadans are always
called _Moors_; the Hindus, _Gentoos_ or _Gentiles_. The _Topasses_
were Portuguese half-castes, generally employed, even by native
princes, as gunners.]

[Footnote 15: Captain Broome says there were fifty European ladies
in the Fort. The French accounts say they all retired, previous to
the siege, to Chinsurah and Serampore.]

[Footnote 16: Captain, afterwards Sir, Eyre Coote.]

[Footnote 17: The fullest account is one by Renault, dated October
26, 1758.]

[Footnote 18: The only one, excepting the battle of Biderra, between
the English and Dutch.]

[Footnote 19: Governor of Pondicherry and President of the Superior

[Footnote 20: Eyre Coote, in his "Journal," mentions an old ditch,
which surrounded the settlement.]

[Footnote 21: One hundred toises, or 600 feet; but Eyre Coote says
330 yards, the difference probably due to the measurement excluding
or including the outworks.]

[Footnote 22: Tanks, or artificial ponds, in Bengal are often of
great size. I have seen some a quarter of a mile long.]

[Footnote 23: Letter to M. de Montorcin, Chandernagore, August 1
1756. Signature lost.]

[Footnote 24: The Nawab, in July, 1756, extorted three lakhs from
the French and even more from the Dutch.]

[Footnote 25: British Museum. Additional MS. 20,914.]

[Footnote 26: A kind of fibre used in making bags and other coarse

[Footnote 27: Surgeon Ives's Journal.]

[Footnote 28: Letter to De Montorcin.]

[Footnote 29: Both English and French use this word "inhabitant" to
signify any resident who was not official, military, or in the
seafaring way.]

[Footnote 30: This he did through the Armenian Coja Wajid, a wealthy
merchant of Hugli, who advised the Nawab on European affairs.
_Letter from Coja Wajid to Clive, January 17, 1757_.]

[Footnote 31: A French doctor, who has left an account of the
Revolutions in Bengal, says there were eight outposts, and that the
loss of one would have involved the loss of all the others, as they
could be immediately cut off from the Fort, from which they were too
distant to be easily reinforced. The doctor does not sign his name,
but he was probably one of the six I mentioned above. Their names
were Haillet (doctor), La Haye (surgeon-major), Du Cap (second), Du
Pré (third), Droguet (fourth), and St. Didier (assistant).]

[Footnote 32: M. Vernet, the Dutch Chief at Cossimbazar, wrote to
the Dutch Director at Chinsurah that he could obtain a copy of this
treaty from the Nawab's secretaries, if he wished for it.]

[Footnote 33: See page 79 (and note).]

[Footnote 34: See note, p. 89.]

[Footnote 35: Governor.]

[Footnote 36: A document authorising the free transit of certain
goods, and their exemption from custom dues, in favour of English
traders. - _Wilson_.]

[Footnote 37: Orme MSS. India XI., p. 2744, No. 71.]

[Footnote 38: Orme MSS. India XI., p. 2750, No. 83.]

[Footnote 39: Still visible, I believe, in parts. The gateway
certainly exists.]

[Footnote 40: Mr. Tooke was a Company's servant. He had
distinguished himself in the defence of Calcutta in 1756, when he
was wounded, and, being taken on board the ships, escaped the
dreadful ordeal of the Black Hole.]

[Footnote 41: Neither of these accounts agree with the Capitulation

[Footnote 42: British Museum. Addl. MS. 20,914.]

[Footnote 43: Remarks on board His Majesty's ship _Tyger_, March

[Footnote 44: His maternal grandfather was a cousin of Aliverdi

[Footnote 45: Malleson explains this by saying that De Terraneau was
employed in the blocking up of the passage, but the story hardly
needs contradiction.]

[Footnote 46: This announcement seems superfluous after fighting had
been going on for several days, but it simply shows the friction
between the naval and military services.]

[Footnote 47: Clive's journal for March 16th. Fort St. George, Sel.
Com. Cons., 28th April, 1757.]

[Footnote 48: Eyre Coote's journal.]

[Footnote 49: The passages interpolated are on the authority of a
MS. in the Orme Papers, entitled "News from Bengal."]

[Footnote 50: Accounts of this detail differ. One says it was
stormed on the 21st, but if so the French would have been more on
their guard, and would surely have strengthened the second battery
in front of the Fort.]

[Footnote 51: Lime plaster made extremely hard.]

[Footnote 52: The Emperor at Delhi, who was supposed to be about to
invade Bengal.]

[Footnote 53: Orme MSS. O.V. 32, p. 11.]

[Footnote 54: Orme MSS. O.V. 32, p. 10.]

[Footnote 55: Sergeant Nover was pardoned in consideration of
previous good conduct. _Letter from Clive to Colonel Adlercron,
March_ 29, 1757.]

[Footnote 56: Captain Speke was seriously and his son mortally
wounded in the attack on Chandernagore.]

[Footnote 57: I cannot identify this name in the Capitulation
Returns. Possibly he was killed.]

[Footnote 58: Surgeon Ives says the booty taken was valued at

[Footnote 59: Orme MSS. India X., p. 2390. Letter of 30th March,

[Footnote 60: _Firman_, or Imperial Charter.]

[Footnote 61: The Mogul, Emperor, or King of Delhi, to whom the
Bengal Nawabs were nominally tributary.]

[Footnote 62: Orme MSS. India XI. pp. 2766-7, No. 111.]

[Footnote 63: Ibid., p. 2768, No. 112.]

[Footnote 64: Memoirs of Lally. London, 1766.]

[Illustration: MUXADABAD, OR MURSHIDABAD. (_After Rennell_.)]



A few miles out of Murshidabad, capital of the Nawabs of Bengal
since 1704, when Murshid Kuli Khan transferred his residence from
Dacca to the ancient town of Muxadabad and renamed it after himself,
lay a group of European Factories in the village or suburb of
Cossimbazar.[65] Of these, one only, the English, was fortified; the
others, i.e. the French and Dutch, were merely large houses lying in
enclosures, the walls of which might keep out cattle and wild
animals and even thieves, but were useless as fortifications. In
1756 the Chief of the English Factory, as we have already seen, was
the Worshipful Mr. William Watts; the Dutch factory was under M.
Vernet,[66] and the French under M. Jean Law. The last mentioned was
the elder son of William Law, brother of John Law the financier,
who settled in France, and placed his sons in the French service.
French writers[67] on genealogy have hopelessly mixed up
the two brothers, Jean and Jacques François. Both came to
India, both distinguished themselves, both rose to the rank of
colonel, one by his services to the French East India Company, and
one by the usual promotion of an officer in the King's army. The
only proof that the elder was the Chief of Cossimbazar is to be
found in a few letters, mostly copies, in which his name is given as
Jean or John. As a usual rule he signed himself in the French manner
by his surname only, or as Law of Lauriston.

His experiences during the four years following the accession of
Siraj-ud-daula were painful and exciting, and he has recorded them
in a journal or memoir[68] which has never yet been published, but
which is of great interest to the student of Indian history. For us
it has the added charm of containing a picture of ourselves painted
by one who, though a foreigner by education, was enabled by his
birth to understand our national peculiarities. In the present

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