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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of John Holwell, Black Hole of Calcutta Survivor

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100John Zephaniah Holwell, surgeon, an employee of the English East India Company, and a temporary Governor of Bengal (1760), is born in Dublin on September 17, 1711. He is also one of the first Europeans to study Indian antiquities.

Holwell grows up in London and studies medicine at Guy’s Hospital. He gains employment as a surgeon in the East India Company and is sent to India in 1732. He serves in this capacity until 1749. In 1751, he is appointed as zamindar of the 24 Parganas district of Bengal. He then serves as a member of the Council of Fort William (Calcutta) and defends the settlement against Siraj ud-Daulah in 1756.

In June 1756, Holwell is a survivor of the Black Hole of Calcutta, the incident in which British subjects and others are crammed into a small poorly ventilated chamber overnight, resulting in many deaths. His 1758 account of this incident obtains wide circulation in England and some claim this gains support for the East India Company’s conquest of India. His account of the incident is not publicly questioned during his lifetime nor for more than a century after his death. However, in recent years, his version of the event has been called into question by many historians.

Holwell succeeds Robert Clive as temporary Governor of Bengal in 1760, but is dismissed from the Council in 1761 for remonstrating against the appointment of Henry Vansittart as Governor of Bengal. He is elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1767.

Holwell has also become an important source for modern historians of medicine, as a result of his description of the practice of smallpox variolation in eighteenth-century Bengal, An Account of the Manner of Inoculating for the Small Pox in the East Indies with Some Observations on the Practice and Mode of Treating that Disease in those Parts (London, 1767).

Holwell dies on November 5, 1798 in Pinner, United Kingdom.


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The Battle of Wandiwash

fort-vandavasiGeneral Thomas Arthur, comte de Lally‘s French army, including his regiment of the Irish Brigade, is defeated on January 22, 1760 in the Battle of Wandiwash, a decisive battle in India during the Seven Years’ War, by Irish-born Sir Eyre Coote‘s British army. Wandiwash is the Anglicised pronunciation of Vandavasi.

When Lally is selected as commander-in-chief of the French expedition to India in 1756, he is one of the greatest living soldiers of France. Lally’s force is delayed and does not leave France until May 1757. Further delays occur en route and he finally lands at Pondicherry, India, on April 28, 1758. In less than two months, Lally clears the English forces from a huge area around Pondicherry and captures almost 300 pieces of artillery. Lally next lays siege to Madras, but his naval support abandons him and, in January 1759, the English are reinforced, forcing Lally to retire toward Pondicherry. Forces away from India are conspiring against Lally now, as the merchant fleets of the French have been rendered useless by the English navy.

Lally’s army, burdened by a lack of naval support and funds resulting in his troops having not been paid in six months, attempts to regain the fort at Wandiwash, now in Tamil Nadu. He is attacked by Sir Eyre Coote’s forces and decisively defeated. The French general Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau and the French are then restricted to Pondicherry where, facing starvation, they surrender on January 16, 1761.

This is the Third Carnatic War fought between the French and the British. Having made substantial gains in Bengal and Hyderabad, the British, after collecting huge amount of revenue, are fully equipped to face the French in Wandiwash, whom they defeat.

According to the 19th century book Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century by Author Eduard Cust, the French Army consists of 300 European Cavalry, 2,250 European infantry, 1,300 soldiers, 3,000 Marathas and 16 pieces of artillery while the English deploy about 80 European Horses, 250 Native horses, 1,900 European Infantry, 2,100 soldiers and 26 pieces of artillery. The Battle of Wandiwash involves the capture of Chettupattu, Thiruvannamalai, Tindivanam and Perumukkal.

(Pictured: The Vandavasi fort in Vandavasi, Tamil Nadu, India, where the decisive Battle of Wandiwash takes place.)