Siege of Madras, 14-21 September 1746

The siege of Madras (14-21 September 1746) was a major French success early in the First Carnatic War that saw them capture the main British stronghold in southern India.

Previous wars between Britain and France had not spread to India. The same would be true in Bengal for the War of the Austrian Succession, but in southern India the activities of British and French fleets would soon lead to conflict on land. In 1745 a British squadron arrived in the area and drove French ships off the seas. The situation was reversed in the summer of 1745, when a French squadron under Admiral La Bourdonnais arrived from Mauritius. The two fleets fought an inconclusive battle at Negapatam (6 July 1746), but in the aftermath of this clash the British fleet sailed to Ceylon. It briefly reappeared in southern seas, before heading to Bengal.

This left Madras very vulnerable to attack. The town was split into three parts, of which only the southern part (White Town or Fort St. George) was fortified. This area, the European part of the town, was surrounded by a narrow wall, with four bastions and four gun batteries (containing as many as 200 guns). The garrison was only 200 strong, and was commanded by an elderly Swedish officer. Governor Morse, the senior East India Company official, was a merchant with little knowledge of Indian politics, and he was unable to get protection from Anwar-ur-Din, the Nawab of the Carnatic, who had earlier declared his province to be a neutral area (both the British and French enclaves in southern India were part of the Nawab's province, itself officially part of the Mughal Empire).

The French fleet appeared off Madras on 29 August, and bombarded the town before sailing away. The respite only lasted for two weeks, before the French appeared once again (14 September). This time La Bourdonnais brought troops with him - 1,100 Europeans and 400 Sepoys. The French built gun batteries, and began a short bombardment of Fort St. George. The bombardment caused a panic amongst the European population of the town, who demanded that Morse agree to surrender. On 21 September, after losing only six men, Morse did so.

The terms of the surrender caused some controversy. La Bourdonnais wanted to ransom the town, returning it to its British inhabitants for a price. The French governor, the Marquis Joseph-François Dupleix, disagreed. In order to placate the Nawab, he had promised to hand the town over to him, but the handover was delayed and by the time La Bourdonnais was forced to sail away it was too late. The Nawab had lost patience and sent his son with 10,000 men to besiege the French in Madras. Despite being massively outnumbered the French won two victories over the forces of the Nawab (battle of Madras, 2 November 1746 and battle of St. Thome, 4 November 1746), securing French control of Madras, at least until the end of the First Carnatic War.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 December 2011), Siege of Madras, 14-21 September 1746 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_madras_1746.html

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