Malabar came under British rule in 1792, although it was only in 1800 that a proper administrative structure was put in place, after a prolonged period of turbulence. It constituted an important district under the Madras Presidency and covered the area of the present districts of Kasaragod, Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikkode, Malappuram and Palakkad.
Malabar under the British enjoyed a long line of able and benevolent administrators who tried to introduce many social reforms long before these were sought to be implemented in their home country. An instance is the abolition of slavery. The abolitionist movement under William Wilberforce was facing opposition in Britain and his bill had been defeated in the British Parliament in 1791. But the anti-slavery movement had influenced the British civil servants in Malabar considerably and the Joint Commissioners, Duncan and Botham who were deputed to establish British administration in Malabar had ordered the abolition of all forms of slave trade here. It took another 40 years for Britain to abolish slavery.
The sentiment affected not just civil servants of the Company. Captain Lachlan Macquarie had just moved into Calicut in 1794 as part of the Regiment which was fighting Tipu and later Pazhassi. He had settled down with his young bride, Jane in the beautiful bungalow which he had named Staffa Lodge. (There is no trace of this bungalow now in Calicut). He had picked up two slaves from Cochin to help his new bride set up home in Calicut. But, Jane persuaded him to set them free and even enrolled the two slaves in a parish school in Bombay. Macquarie later on rose to become the first Governor of Australia and is remembered as the ‘Father of Australia’ for his measures to rehabilitate convicts.
Another British administrator who worked to abolish slavery in Malabar was Thomas H Baber, the Sub Collector of Tellicherry, better known for his success in eliminating Pazhassi Raja and his loyal soldiers. Baber’s fight against domestic and agrestic slavery in Malabar saw him give evidence before a Parliamentary Committee. He had serious differences with his superiors on many matters of policy and did not mince words. He had the welfare of the people at heart and had repeatedly protested against the unjust revenue assessments made by East India Company against poor farmers. It was more than a 100 years later, in 1907, that the British Government officially acknowledged that its land revenue policy in Malabar was flawed!
|William Logan (Courtesy Wikipedia)|
Conolly who was the Collector in the 1840s was another administrator with vision and commitment to the welfare of the people. His strategy to deal with the communal disturbance might have cost him his life, but he will be remembered for his pioneering effort to cultivate teak and for planning a waterway from Payyoli to Mathilakam in Trissur District – what is known today as the Conolly Canal. The introduction of railways around the time the canal was being completed had eclipsed its importance. But with the increasing fuel price and the eco-friendly nature of water transport, Conolly’s plans are bound to be re-visited.
William Logan was not only a brilliant administrator but a painstaking chronicler of Malabar’s history. His contribution to bringing about peace in strife-torn Malabar is as valuable as his effort in compiling important papers relating to British affairs in Malabar (1879) and his monumental Malabar Manual ( 1887).
Logan’s successor in office Evans was also a chronicler as well as a hard-working administrator. To him is attributed the statement: ‘Give me a car and no wife, I shall manage two districts!’ Innes, his collaborator in writing the Malabar Gazetteer, was another illustrious administrator of Malabar.
Sri P.K.Govindan who worked in the Malabar Collectorate for many years has narrated his experience with ICS Collectors of Malabar in his delightful book of the same name. He describes the kind and generous disposition of H.H.Carleston, ICS Sub Collector who would fine a poor rustic accused of boot-legging and would pay the fine from his own pocket to avoid the poor man being sent to jail for 3 months. Once Carleston was travelling from Malappuram to Calicut when his car knocked down a pedestrian near the Kallai bridge. He not only ensured that the victim got prompt medical attention, but kept sending him some money regularly for his period of disability, even after Carleston had been posted out of Malabar.
The last of the British Collectors of Malabar was Bouchier, ICS, CIE, a person of high integrity. Govindan quotes an instance: while proceeding home on leave, the Collector wanted to take some local handicrafts. He visited Quilandy and wanted to purchase the beautiful finger bowls made of coconut shells which is still a popular item among tourists. Bouchier insisted that the entire transaction take place in the presence of the local Tahsildar and that he be charged the full price. Bouchier was on leave on the day India won Independence and did not return. Govindan concludes, quoting Gandhiji, ‘You may hate British imperialism, but not the Britishers’.
(Originally published in the Hindu, Calicut Edition on 30 January 2012. The original can be accessed here)