Major-General Robert Clive a name synonymous with East India Company and the British India had a very different job with the company at the beginning and had nothing to do with battlefield or the conquest over the Mughals. Being from Kolkata I was well aware of Robert Clive and his role in the city for defeating Siraj Ud Daulah and recapturing Fort William(old) but it did not strike me that much before his accomplishment in my city he had done something dramatic in the city of Arcot.
Clive as a Clerk
Robert Clive started working for East India Company in 1744 as a clerk mostly keeping the records and other desk jobs. He was posted in Madras (Chennai) and it was also during this time that the French were also consolidating their influence in Southern India and with their base from Pondicherry attacked Madras in the year 1746. The company’s forces were heavily defeated by the French and the town was captured.
Clive along with others was captured and taken as prisoners, somehow few of the British soldiers along with Clive managed to escape and reached Cuddalore at Fort St. David which was some 80 kilometres away.
Clive Joins the Army
This was the changing moment in his life, he decided to leave his desk job behind and enlist in the army. In 1747 the French army attacked Fort St. David and it is then for the first time Clive took charge of the situation and manage to defend the fort. This was the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
What followed next was some major war first at Tanjore (Thanjavur) and then at Second Carnatic war. Slowly the Southern theatre was warming up between the British and French forces who were constantly at log ahead for capturing more and more territories in the Indian subcontinent.
What happened next catapulted Robert Clive to prominence. In 1751 a Siege of Trichinopoly (Tiruchirappalli) by Chanda Sahib who was the Nawab of the Carnatic on Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah. Chanda Sahib was backed by the French and Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah was supporting the British.
Clive sought this opportunity and offered his service on the condition that he would lead the force as a Captain. Thus along with 200 European soldiers, 300 sepoys, and 8 officers. This combination was important since on papers this was no match for the standing army at Arcot. Moreover, the eight officers who were supposed to assist Clive had no previous experience of any conflict thus Clive was completely depending on his strategy than strength. With the monsoon at its peak, Clive managed to march on with his army on September 6th.
Clive showed his natural leadership quality by managing this untrained army and within 6 days managed to enter Arcot and take over the fort on 23 September 1751 which had more than 1100 soldiers who completely abandoned their position and fled.
The Siege & Final Attack
Clive then knew that if he had to succeed then he had to defend his position from an imminent repulsive attack from the forces of Chanda Sahib. The position of the fort was important, three sides were open with just a moat separating the fields and on one side he had Palar River.
In the meantime, the French had also sent their army to assist Chanda Sahib thus making the siege more dramatic but Clive managed to hold on with the small forces against such vast numbers of opponents.
Negotiations continued between Chanda Sahib and Clive with Chanda Sahib constantly asking Clive to surrender with his small forces. When all these failed Chanda Sahib decided to attack the fort with full might on 14th of November. This major offence was successfully defended by Clive and his men, while Chanda Sahib’s army suffered heavy casualty Clive’s company had very less casualty’s amount to only six.
The siege which had lasted for 52 days was successfully defended by Clive and his men, moreover, this gallant defence was a remarkable show of efficiency by someone who was not trained in warfare but showed courage when it was most needed.
Clive became Major-General Robert Clive and the rest, as they say, was history.
Vellore (Arcot) Delhi Gate
Only this portion of the fort which was originally built by Daud Khan Panni around 1698 remains visible now. Much of the original fort was destroyed by Tippu Sultan in 1783. Apart from this gate inside you can see some of the last remaining portions of the old fort, nothing much can be made out of except the foundations and some pillars.
Not many people know that the very ground that the gate now sits saw one of the longest sieges something which made Clive a key figure in the political history of British India. This very battleground transformed a clerk into one of the fiercest general of East India Company which ultimately and eventually took over the Mughals and ruled subcontinent India for nearly 200 years.
The gate that we can see now was named “Delhi Gate” to signify the next move of the company to capture the Mughal throne in Delhi and ultimately ruling over entire India. There is a room atop this gate which was Clive’s personal room.
Palar River is like a barren land now, with the water either diverted or stored in holding tanks upstream the riverbed now is being used for cultivation. Only the portion of the gate is fenced and I am sure if ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) excavated the surrounding they would sure find a major portion of the fort underground.
The significance of this gate is unknown to many and even for the locals it’s just some British monument but in reality, it’s much more it stands a witness in the history of a man who forever changed the map of India.
Google Map (Exact Location)
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