DUPLEIX'S GREAT PLOT
 BUT before we could catch a distant view of our final triumph we had to fight and conquer another great European
rival who sought to sweep us from his path.
We have now reached the early years of the eighteenth century. The Portuguese and Dutch are no longer our
competitors, and the French have taken their place. Pondicherry, which they founded in 1674, was now a
flourishing city with seventy thousand inhabitants, and they had also occupied Chandanagore, which had become
a settlement of first-rate importance. Both these places were in the neighbourhood of the English stations on
the eastern shores of India.
Led by clever and energetic men, the progress of the French had been as astonishing as our own. Now they
seemed likely to surpass us, and the reason was this. The English Company, organised and managed by merchants,
cared for nothing but trade and profit. The French, however, under their new Director-General, Dupleix, a
daring and far-sighted soldier and statesman, saw that not only might trade be increased, but that an empire
might be won by taking advantage of the confusion and anarchy which were turning India upside down outside the
England and France were then at peace, but Dupleix saw that war might come, and laid his plans carefully.
 Courteous, tactful, and firm, he won the friendship of the neighbouring Indian princes, fortified Pondicherry,
and carefully trained his army. So when, in 1744, war was declared between France and England, it found him
Dupleix, victorious by both land and sea—for a British fleet had to withdraw to Ceylon—took Madras
after a short siege. He seized all the British Company's property and, carrying the governor with his officers
to Pondicherry, marched them through the town as captives in a triumphal procession. He failed, however, to
take Fort St. David, a few miles to the south of him, and the arrival of a powerful British fleet compelled
his army to scamper behind the walls of Pondicherry. The tables were now turned. The fleet brought a strong
force of English soldiers, and with our native troops we were strong enough to besiege Dupleix in his own
town. But our attack was such a clumsy affair that Dupleix beat us off. This added greatly to his renown
amongst the native princes and chiefs, to all of whom he sent letters boasting of his victory over the English
fleet and army.
Thus, although Madras was returned to the British when a treaty of peace was arranged with France in 1749,
Dupleix had been so successful that the native princes were more than ever inclined to take his side.
So ended the first round in the great struggle which had now begun for the mastery of India. The British
forces both by land and sea, except at one or two places, had been used with the most ridiculous want
 of skill and energy. Everything thus seemed at this stage to point to the success of France. That victory,
after all, went to England was due to two causes, neither of which Dupleix had thought of. The first was the
chance which sent young Robert Clive to a clerkship at Madras, and the second was the great power of the
British fleets upon the seas.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics