HOW CLIVE SAVED THE ENGLISH
THE story which now follows is both extraordinary and romantic. It is a story of plot and counter-plot, of battles
and adventures of the most desperate description, and the heroic deeds of stout-hearted Englishmen which saved
us from complete disaster.
When peace was made between England and France the warfare in India naturally ceased as well. But, although he
could not fight the English, Dupleix, who could never rest, saw that he might get the better of them in
another way. And this is how he went to work.
A desperate struggle was just then breaking out in two of the native States between rival princes who claimed
the chief power. Dupleix at once plunged boldly into the general confusion. Now the English and French
settlements of Madras and Pondicherry were both situated in a province on the sea-coast called the Carnatic,
and the cunning French leader planned to set up a ruler of this part who would be friendly to the French and
have to obey them. That
 was the first move in the game. The second, which was even more important, was to set up a ruler in the Deccan
who would also be under French influence. As the Deccan was the most important State in southern India,
Dupleix saw that if he could succeed in both these schemes it would undoubtedly make France the greatest Power
in the country, and leave the English of no importance at all.
For some time the French were successful in every direction. They helped their Carnatic pretender to defeat
the ruling nabob, or prince, and seized Arcot, his capital. They then marched with their Deccan pretender
against the Nizam of that State, who meantime appealed for help to the English. This was granted, but very
shortly afterwards this Nizam was murdered by his own men, and as the French at once placed their friend on
the throne, they seemed everywhere victorious. They had got hold of the Deccan, and had all but seized the
So far the game had gone entirely in favour of Dupleix, and the English realised that they were in greater
danger than they had ever been before, because, as they wrote home, the French would soon be able to surround
their settlements and prevent provisions or merchandise being brought to them. Of course this would drive us
out of India, which was just what Dupleix wanted. Only one place in the Carnatic still held out against the
French and their nabob. This was Trichinopoly, which was defended by Mohamed Ali, a son of the old nabob whom
the French had driven from Arcot.
 The English, knowing that all was lost if this place were captured by Dupleix's native friends, scraped
together two thousand men and sent them to the rescue. But the next news of them was that they had been driven
back on Trichinopoly and shut in there by the enemy. What was to be done? Scarcely any more troops were left,
still fewer officers, and, if Trichinopoly fell, it would be all over with us in India.
The prospect seemed black enough, but it was at this moment that out of the darkness there stepped the figure
of the hero who was not only to save the little beleaguered garrison but to win India for the English.
In the little Shropshire town of Market Drayton twenty-six years before had been born a boy called Robert
Clive. As he grew up he became a terrible scapegrace, known and reprobated throughout the place as a daring
good-for-nothing, a leader of a band of equally bad boys, whom the good people of Market Drayton called
"lawless resolutes." It was, therefore, with a feeling of general relief that he was at last shipped off to
India as a clerk in the East India Company's service.
He seems to have hated the loneliness and drudgery of his life, and one day a friend found him sitting
dejectedly at a table with a pistol before him. Fire that thing out of the window, will you?" said young
Clive. His friend did so. And as the pistol went off Clive remarked, "I have twice held it to my head, but it
missed fire both times, so I suppose I must be meant to live for something."
When fighting began Clive at once left his office
 work and was quickly in the thick of it. Several times he had wonderful escapes from death, and his daring
courage was soon noticed by his superiors. But in addition to this he was now to show that he possessed
soldierly skill of an unusual kind.
The garrison of Trichinopoly were beginning to despair and the enemy outside were in high spirits at the
thought of its speedy capture, when their confidence was suddenly turned to blank dismay. The astounding news
had reached them that Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic, whose prince, aided by the French, was attacking
Trichinopoly, had fallen into the hands of the English.
It was true. Young Clive had proposed this daring scheme for the relief of Trichinopoly to Mr. Saunders, the
Governor of Fort St. David, who, sharp enough to see its cleverness, had sent him off with all the men they
could scrape together, no more than five hundred, mostly sepoys, with eight officers, six of whom had never
seen a shot fired.
Five days later, in the midst of a tremendous thunderstorm, Clive and his gallant five hundred rushed the
defences of Arcot, to find that the garrison had fled before him and that the capital of the Carnatic was in
By this deed of splendid daring the whole state of things was changed. It was, of course, no good for the
French and their allies to take Trichinopoly if they lost Arcot. The capital must be retaken at all costs,
they decided, and a force of ten thousand men was detached from the siege and sent off to Arcot.
Meanwhile Clive had thrown himself into the fort,
 where he and his men worked their hardest to strengthen the old fortifications and build new ones, collect
stores, and mount guns. But when all was done the position was a very weak one. For the walls were low, the
towers ruinous, and the ditch around the fort was dry. Few could have hoped to hold such a place with a tiny
force against the attack of ten thousand.
But for two long months Clive did so, even though fighting and sickness had reduced his little garrison to two
hundred men. The story of that defence is one of the wildest of the romances of war. Away in his mountain
stronghold Morari Rao, the fierce Mahratta chieftain, was so affected by the splendid heroism of the battle of
the few against the many that he swore that if the English could fight like that they should not fight alone.
And so one day the news came that a relief column, escorted by clouds of terrible Mahratta horsemen, was
coming from Madras. Hearing this the French and their allies determined on one more desperate attack.
Accordingly, in the early morning of November 25, which was a great Mohammedan festival, when the Moslem
soldiers were worked up to the wildest pitch of excitement, the besiegers rushed to the attack from all sides.
But Clive had learnt from his spies of what was intended, and all was ready when the moment came. That is to
say, as ready as the weakened garrison, now numbering scarce two hundred men, could make ready against twenty
times as many foes. Two places in the walls had been broken down by the enemy's
 artillery fire, and these points, as well as the two gates, were the real objects of attack.
Well might Clive and his brave little garrison have felt their hearts sink as the attacking columns rushed
forward in the sunrise of that November morning. Charging in front of the enemy's ranks were elephants, their
heads encased in steel to drive in the gates like living battering rams. Two broad causeways led to the gates,
and these were swept by a murderous hail of bullets from Clive's men lying behind the ramparts. The huge
beasts, struck by the British fire, turned in a frenzy of fear and pain and plunged back in a murderous
retreat through the dense masses which were charging behind them.
For one desperate hour the assault went on. At every point of danger there was Clive. At one place where the
wall was broken the enemy rushed on in a dense swarm with loud yells and nearly broke in, but Clive, darting
to a cannon covering the breach, fired at close range into the faces of the oncoming masses, who fell back in
confusion. In the space of sixty minutes Clive's 200 men had fired 12,000 rounds with deadly effect into the
crowded ranks of their assailants. Their bravest were lying in heaps in front of the walls, and now the rest
refused to face the British fire again.
WAR ELEPHANTS CHARGE THE GATES OF THE FORT AT ARCOT.
The siege of Arcot was over, and from that moment the power of the French gradually declined. The news of
Clive's wonderful defence rang throughout southern India. The Indians called him "Sabut Jung," the "Daring in
War," and such was the terror of his name that wherever he went hundreds of native troops began to desert the
 There were years of hard fighting before we finally triumphed, but only three months later Clive dealt the
French another deadly blow. A strong French force of horse, foot, and artillery made a secret dash for Arcot,
most of whose garrison had gone with Clive in another direction. Hearing of this, Clive pursued them. Our men
at Arcot had been warned, and as the native troops of the French were afraid to attack those deadly walls
again, they turned back and concealed themselves in a strong position on the road by which Clive and his weary
troops were hurrying along in the pale light of a rising moon.
Suddenly, to their utter surprise, a heavy fire burst upon them from the mango-groves of Covrepauk. Without a
moment's delay Clive sent his baggage-carts back, threw his men into a watercourse on his left, and brought up
his artillery to fire on the French guns. But these were too numerous and too well placed, and Clive, whose
gunners were falling fast, saw that unless he could silence the French artillery his force was lost.
Accordingly he sent away Ensign Symmonds—let us record this gallant officer's name—with orders to
creep round behind the French position, if possible, with a party of picked men and attack them in rear.
Symmonds succeeded in getting well round, and then, crawling forward by himself, stumbled over a trench full
of Frenchmen. They shouted to him, but as he replied in their own language they did not bother about him any
Then Symmonds, having found out where to make his attack, crept back in the darkness to his own party
 and, leading them forward to within thirty yards of the very centre of the unsuspecting enemy, lay down and
fired a sudden volley right into their midst. That one volley was enough. The French force, panic-stricken to
find themselves attacked from behind, at once broke and fled, leaving their guns and baggage in Clive's hands.
Instead of defeat it was a brilliant victory, and proved the death-blow of French dominion in India.
Following this, Clive and Major Lawrence pressed the French hard, cut their communications, broke up the army
besieging Trichinopoly, and captured the French officers who were with it. To complete the overthrow of
Dupleix's plan to set up native princes in the Carnatic and Deccan under French management, his two native
princes were shortly afterwards slain by the Mahrattas, and after two more years of further disaster Dupleix
was recalled to France, where the unfortunate man eventually died in poverty and discredit.
The strangest thing about this war in the Carnatic was that all the time England and France were at peace in
Europe, so that, although their officers and native soldiers were fighting in India, it was always pretended
that their troops were merely lent to the rival native princes. Consequently the English could obtain no help
from their fleet, nor could they attack the French town of Pondicherry. For the same reason the French could
not attack Madras. This very curious state of things was soon to be ended, but in the meantime the English
were assailed by a fresh and more powerful foe.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics