The Battle of Colachel (Kulachal) was fought between the Kingdom of Travancore and the Dutch East India Company in August 1741. The battle resulted in a famous victory for the Travancore forces, forever ending Dutch colonial endeavours in the Indian subcontinent.
This is considered one of the earliest instances of an organised Asian power overcoming a European army.
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Events preceding the Battle of Colachel
Early 18th century Kerala was a collection of small kingdoms in perpetual war against each other. It was in the 1730s when the new ruler of Travancore, Marthanda Verma, adopted a policy of expansionism. He conquered several small kingdoms of Malabar which threatened the economic interests of the Dutch East India Company. The reason being Marthanda Varma and his vassals had little interest in honouring the contracts the Dutch had made earlier with the conquered states.
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The Dutch Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff, visited Kochi and recommended military action to protect Dutch trade in Malabar. A military alliance was made with the neighbours of Travancore such as Kolam, Kochi and Kayamkulam. Van Imhoff used diplomacy as a last-ditch effort to avoid conflict, personally meeting with Marthanda Varma to negotiate peace. In the subsequent meeting, Van Imhoff threatened war if the terms were not met by Travancore. But Marthanda Verma simply laughed off these threats stating that “should the Dutch lose the war he would invade the Netherlands and Europe itself one day with fishing boats”. The negotiations broke down eventually with war eventually becoming a reality.
In late 1739, the Dutch army at Malabar declared war on Travancore deploying soldiers from Ceylon. The Dutch army and their allies achieved many victories forcing the Travancore army at Kollam to retreat. The British East India Company (founded on December 31, 1600), who were concerned about the growing power of Travancore sent 150 of their own men to supplement the Dutch forces.
The combined Dutch army marched towards Attingal, taking advantage of the Travancore withdrawal due to an invasion by Arcot in the south.
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The Dutch would have taken advantage of the precarious situation the Travancore forces were in, but for that, they needed reinforcements from their base in Indonesia. Problem was, local revolts there could make such a venture impossible. However, reinforcements did come from Sri Lanka. The arrival of this Dutch force would result in the battle of Colachel.
Siege of Colachel
On 26 November 1740, the Dutch sent a naval force to Colachel where they proceeded to bombard the town forcing its inhabitants to abandon it. In response, Marthanda Varma sent a force of 2000 to Colachel. The Dutch planned to occupy Colachel with the objective of taking Padmanabhapuram, Travancore’s capital.
After taking Colachel, the Dutch started capturing nearby villages and plundered the region between Colachel and Kottar.
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Reinforcements were requested from Sri Lanka and Indonesia, but the authorities in Indonesia had their hands full due to the rebellion by the natives there, but about 300-00 more men from Ceylon did arrive as reinforcements.
Taking advantage of the shortage of Dutch troops, Marthanda Verma launched an offensive to take back Colachel. Using his patrol boats to block any supplies from the sea, Marthanda Verma laid siege to the Colachel, encircling the Dutch with a 1,000 strong army. Despite the advantage in numbers, the Europeans had technological superiority through which they proceeded to inflict casualties on the Travancore army
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Adverse conditions such as rains and floods prevented any inflow of supply to the Dutch and their failure in keeping most of the gunpowder dry meant that they could not offer much resistance.
Then on 5 August 1741, a cannonball fired from the Travancore army hit a barrel of gunpowder inside the Dutch garrison which blew up the ammunition store as well as the food stores. Out of ammunition and food, the Dutch were forced to surrender on August 7 (although some historians considered 10 August as the official date of surrender)
Impact of the Battle of Colachel
Although the battle did not immediately end the Travancore-Dutch war it led to a chain of events which eventually led to the end of Dutch trade in Kerala. It did decrease the morale of the Dutch forces as the native chiefs saw that the Dutch force could be defeated. One significant outcome was that the Dutch prisoners offered their services who proceeded to modernise the Travancore army on European lines. The newly trained Travancore army proved to be devastatingly effective during Marthanda Varma’s war against other kingdoms of Kerala.
The Dutch trained Travancore military would go on to conquer most of modern-day Kerala. In addition, the forts that De Lannoy had designed would hold up the advance of the French-armed Mysorean army in 1791.
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The other significant event was the complete takeover of the black pepper trade by the Travancore kingdom. With the loss of their monopoly, the economic prospects of the Dutch further deteriorated, reducing their presence in the subsequent years. Ultimately the Dutch influence in India would dissappear altogether from in the ensuing decades.
Frequently Asked Questions on Battle of Colachel
Q 1. Who won the Battle of Colachel?
Q 2. When and between whom was the Battle of Colachel fought?
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