| Our Empire Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Vivid and picturesque account of the principal events in the building of the British Empire. Traces the development of the British colonies from days of discovery and exploration through settlement and establishment of government. Includes stories of the five chief portions of the Empire: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India. Ages 10-16 |
THE SIEGE OF ARCOT
 IT seemed now as if Dupleix would sweep all before him
and that France should be supreme in India. Against
him were only a few hundred Britons in Fort St. David,
but the little fort held out against attack after
attack. At last came the news that at home peace had
been signed between France and Britain, that fighting
must cease, and that by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle
Madras was given back to Britain.
Thus after five years of fighting things seemed to be
exactly as they had been at the beginning. But there
was this difference, the French and the British,
instead of trading peacefully side by side, had now
become deadly enemies. Each was eager to banish the
other from India. And from now too, the Europeans were
no longer merely traders. They had begun to make their
power felt by the Indian princes. Now, instead of
being somewhat despised and looked down upon, the
Europeans were looked up to, and in their quarrels with
each other, the native princes became eager to have
European help. They had learned what European soldiers
could do. The native princes were nearly always
fighting. Now a very bitter quarrel began and as the
French and the British took different sides, they were
soon fighting as badly as before, although France and
Britain were at peace. They were therefore not
supposed to be
 fighting against each other, but only helping the
The part of India over which Anwaru-Din ruled was
called the Carnatic, and his capital was Arcot. The
Lord of the Deccan, another part of India, was
Anwaru-Din's overlord. In 1748 the Lord of the Deccan
died. At once his sons and relatives began to fight
for the crown, and Dupleix resolved to help one of
these relatives called Muzaffar Jang and his friend
Chanda Sahib. Anwaru-Din was on the other side, and in
a great battle he was killed, his army was scattered
and his son, Mohammed Ali, fled to the British for
With the help of the French, Muzaffar Jang was at
length proclaimed Lord of the Deccan, and Chanda Sahib
Nawab of the Carnatic. A great durbar or meeting was
held, to which all the nobles of the Deccan gathered to
honour their new lord. And amid the brilliant throng
was Dupleix, dressed in a gorgeous Mohammedan robe. It
was he who sat in the place of greatest honour. It was
upon him that the honours and powers were heaped. He
was made governor of all the land south of the river
Kristna, he was given the title of Commander of Seven
Thousand Horses, he was allowed to carry the ensign of
the fish among his standards, this being considered one
of the greatest honours in India, it was he indeed who
was the true ruler of Deccan. Near the town of Gingi a
monument was raised in his honour. Upon it in French,
Persian, Malabar, and Hindustani was written the story
of his greatness. And round it grew up a town called
Dupleix-Fathabad, or the place of the victory of
In a few months the French, from being simple traders,
 had become the greatest power in the land, and the
British looked on helplessly. In all that wide land
they possessed only Madras and Fort St. David.
Mohammed Ali was their only friend, and he was now
besieged by the French and by the army of Chanda Sahib.
For Dupleix had made up his mind to destroy Mohammed
Ali. He felt that French rule in the Deccan was not
safe or sure so long as he lived. The British, on the
other hand, had made up their minds to protect him as
their only hope of checking French power.
So to the help of Mohammed Ali they sent all the
soldiers they could. Among them went Robert Clive.
Robert Clive had come out to India as a clerk or writer
in the service of the Company. He did not like his
work and he was very unhappy in it. He was never meant
to be a clerk, but was a born soldier. Since the
taking of Madras by La Bourdonnais, Clive has seen some
fighting. He had been made an ensign, but when the
fighting was over he had to go back to his hated desk.
Now again officers were needed, and Clive was given the
rank of captain and sent to Trichinopoli where Mohammed
Ali was besieged.
But Clive had no sooner arrived at Trichinopoli than he
saw that there was little to be done there. He saw
that it would be far better to attack the capital,
Arcot, which had been left almost unguarded. So he
hurried back to Madras, told the president what he
thought, and begged for soldiers.
The president saw that Clive's plan was worth trying,
and he gave him all the soldiers that he could spare,
keeping only a hundred men to guard Madras and fifty
for Fort St. David. So with two hundred British and
three hundred Sepoys, as the native soldiers were
 now called, the young captain was soon hurrying along
the road to Arcot.
He had need of haste he knew, if his going was to be of
any use. So when a fearful storm of thunder and
lightning and rain overtook them, he still marched on.
When the Indian spies who were watching saw this, they
were filled with terror and admiration for the leader
who was not afraid even of the "voice of heaven." They
fled to Arcot with the tale, and so frightened the
garrison there that they rushed from the fort leaving
guns and ammunition behind them. Thus without needing
to fire a shot, clive and his men marched into the town
between lines of admiring, wondering Indians, and took
possession of the fort.
But Clive knew that he could not hope to be long left
in possession undisturbed. So he gathered food,
strengthened the fort, and made ready in every way he
could to stand a siege. Hearing, too, that the runaway
garrison were still lurking near, he marched out one
night and attacked them, killing many and scattering
the rest to the hills beyond, without losing a single
Soon the news of the taking of Arcot reached
Trichinopoli. And, just as Clive had hoped and
expected, Chanda Sahib sent back many of his soldiers
to recover his capital from the British. In this way he
weakened his chance of taking Trichinopoli, for he had
not enough soldiers to besiege both places properly at
Soon an army of ten thousand men, French and Indian,
came marching to surround the handful of daring
Britons. They made no doubt of crushing them very
quickly. The town of Arcot had neither walls nor moat
to protect it. Round the fort itself the moat had been
long neglected. In places it was dried up or bridged
 over, and the handful of British soldiers shut up there
were led by a clerk of twenty-five.
But the fort held out week after week. Side by side
Briton and Indian fought, catching something of the
spirit of splendid daring and patient courage which
filled their leader. Food grew scarce. There was
little but rice left, and not enough of that. And now
the sepoys showed the stuff they were made of. They
came to Clive, not to grumble, but to tell him that
they could live on the water that the rice was boiled
in, and that the British soldiers might have all the
So week by week the little garrison, Indian and Briton,
stood shoulder to shoulder, and worked and fought
together. At length the enemy made a breach in the
wall, and their leader sent a message asking him to
surrender. But Clive replied with scorn. He had no
thought of giving in.
The Indian leader then determined to make a last grand
attack on the fort. He chose the 24th of November,
which is a great Mohammedan feast day. It is said that
the soul of any good Mohammedan who dies fighting on
that day will be carried straight to paradise. All
night riotous sounds came from the Indian camp where
the men were working themselves into a fury of
religious zeal. They prepared for battle by making
themselves mad with a kind of drug called bhang. And
when morning came they were reckless of death, eager
for the joys of paradise. With wild prayers and
feasting they had become so frantic that they knew not
what they did.
But Clive had been warned by spies, and he, too, made
ready for the attack. All night he worked, and at
last, towards morning, utterly worn out, he threw
himself upon his bed, dressed as he was, to try and
snatch a few hours' rest.
 With the first streak of dawn the alarm was given.
Clive started from his bed. All was in readiness.
Every man was at his post.
The stars had faded in the pale sky, and in the cool,
dim light a sea of dark-faced fanatics surged and
howled round the fort, their white turbans tossing like
foaming crested waves on dark water. Armoured
elephants, wearing iron plates upon their foreheads,
with which to batter down the gates, led the way. On
came the seething mass with mad, triumphant yells.
Suddenly, from the walls, the sharp crack of musketry
rang out. It was unexpected; it was sharp and hot.
For every spare musket in the fort was ready loaded,
and men lay behind the shooters handing loaded guns to
them as quickly as might be. The oncoming wave reeled.
Stung to madness the elephants turned. In wild terror
they broke through the crowding ranks behind them,
trampling many to death.
It was not only the gates which were attacked. Where
the moat was dry, the besiegers swarmed thick and fast.
But the fire from the fort was sharp and steady, and
man after man went down. Part of the half-ruined moat
was still full of water, and here the besiegers
launched a heavily laden raft. The defenders fired
upon it again and again, but each time they missed it.
It had nearly crossed the ditch when Clive, noticing
how badly the gunners were aiming, took one of the guns
himself. He aimed coolly and well, hit the raft and
overturned it. In a minute the water was full of
wounded, struggling, drowning men. The few who could
swim made for the bank and escaped.
For an hour the fight lasted. Then the enemy fled,
leaving four hundred dead and dying round the walls.
Of the defenders, four only were killed and two
 Now and again during the day the firing was renewed,
but at last it ceased. The night passed in silence,
and when the next morning dawned the enemy's camp was
empty. They had fled in the darkness leaving their
guns and ammunition behind. The siege, which had
lasted seven weeks, was at an end.
The siege of Arcot was the turning point of British
fortunes in India. From there Clive marched out to win
battle after battle. Many a time he led his men with
reckless almost careless daring. But he seemed to bear
a charmed life. Again and again by daring he won.
Again and again his genius and his bravery carried him
through the greatest of dangers.
All this time the French and the British were only
supposed to be helping the native rulers. But the real
struggle was not between two Indian princes, but
between France and Britain, between Clive and Dupleix.
They were both great men, but Dupleix was a statesman,
not a soldier. He had to trust to others to carry out
his plans and orders. And the French generals were old
and stupid, while against them they had a "heaven born
general" young and eager.
"CLIVE FIRED ONE OF THE GUNS HIMSELF."
Soon it was the British, not the French, who were
all-powerful in the Carnatic. The French nawab, Chanda
Sahib, was killed, and the British nawab, Mohammed Ali,
was put in his place.
Then Clive, weary of war, and much in need of rest,
sailed home. He had set out for India a poor and
rather despised boy. He came home a hero and conqueror
of world-wide fame. Wherever he went he was fêted and
cheered. The directors of the Company called him
"General" Clive although he was really only a captain.
They loaded him with thanks, and presented him with a
sword, the hilt of which was set with diamonds.
 Meanwhile Dupleix, Clive's great rival, struggled on
trying to win back for France what had been lost. But
he got little help or encouragement from home. His
king did not care and did not understand what a great
kingdom Dupleix had won, and with proper help might
have been able to keep for him,—a kingdom larger than
the whole of France itself. So at last Dupleix was
called home in disgrace. For a few years he lived
miserably, and at last died forsaken. Three days
before he died he wrote, "I have given my youth, my
fortune, my life, to enrich my country in Asia. My
services are treated as fables, and I as the vilest of
mankind." La Bourdonnais too had been disgraced and
imprisoned, and died in misery.
They were not the last men who were to earn world-wide
fame in India, and discrace at home.
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