Although Captain Bickley and the English East India Company had traded briefly at Tegnapatam during 1624, it does not appear that the town was particularly attractive to the English merchants. Between 1624 and 1680 it appears that trading was carried out all along this coast but that no permanent base seems to have been acquired at Cuddalore.
The nearby towns of Porto Novo and Pondicherry seem to have offered better opportunities for trade. Porto Novo is located about 18 miles south of Cuddalore, and was originally founded by the Portuguese.
Alexander Hamilton described Porto Novo, which he visited at some time after 1688 and before about 1720 as: -
“the next Place of Commerce is Porto Novo, so called by the Portugueze, when the Sea-coasts of India belonged to them; but when Aurengzeb subdued Golcondah, and the Portuguese Affairs declined, the Mogul set a Fouzdaar in it, and gave it the Name of Mahomet Bandar. The Europeans generally call it by its first Name, and the Natives by the last. The Country is fertile, healthful and pleasant, and produceth good Cotton Cloth of several Qualities and Denominations, which they sell at Home, or export to Pegu, Tanasareem, Quedah, Johore, and Atcheen on Sumatra. The Bulk of the people are Pagans.” 1
Some idea of the scale of the trade by the East India Company from Porto Novo during this period can be gained from the following account of an attack by “Xaigee” on the port, which is contained in a letter dated 19th October 1661.
“Wee are much aggrieved to heare how you are abused by the Surat Governor, and that hee hath confined you prisoners to the Companies howse. If this bee indured by these governours, they will presume further; and wee have the like complaint to present concerning Xaigee (whoe is father to him that is the Visapore generall and hath Mr. Revington in durance); for hee came here in July last to Porto Novo and robbed and pillaged the towne; whereof the Companies merchants were the greatest loosers, having taken from them in elephants, calicoes, broad cloth, copper, benjamen, etc. goodes to the value of 30,000 pardawes, and are utterly unable to pay the Company their remaynes in their handes, being about 4,000 pa[godas], unlesse our masters will license us to vindicate them by their shipping at sea, for this Xaigee hath now Porto Novo in possession. And shall expect your advice how you will direct us for the vindicating of our masters in this businesse and their merchants. These happaing but two days before the arrival of Capt. Kilvert in the Concord in that port: whome we had appointed to take in those effects, but instead of goodes brought us these sad tidings." 2
William Foster identified Xaigee (as the English wrote in 1660) as Shahaji, Shivajis father, but it would appear that Shahaji died in about 1657 while on a hunt, after falling off his horse, so this does not appear to fit, and it must be another Mahratta.
It is not clear where these goods assembled at Porto Novo came from but it is quite likely that they came from not just the town itself, but also from the villages in the hinterland, including probably Cuddalore and its surrounding villages.
The requests for permission for “vindication” in the phase “to vindicate them by their shipping at sea” might be asking for the right to carry out retaliatory raids on Indian shipping by privateering. It would appear from correspondence in the following year that much of what the Mahrattas had seized was actually not just goods belonging to the East India Company, but also private trade goods belonging to the EIC merchants themselves. No doubt this personal loss gave an added impetus to seek revenge in order to try to recoup their losses.
A small team of East India Company employees were based in Porto Novo, and these men were employing local labour to wash and pack the cargoes for onward shipping.
“one Samuell Hanmer, whome the Company hath appointed, with some other English, to goe upon the ship for Pollaroone. This Hanmer hath had employement from us in Porta Nova and Pullecherry, imbaling our goodes and looking to our washers, till the places were destroyed by the Vizapore’s army… With this same Hanmer there goeth six English [Soldiers]" 3
On the 28th of November 1660 Chamber and Shingler at Madras wrote home that there was now no reason for ships to call at Porto Novo since “the towne is wholly destroyed and all the merchants totally ruined by Xagee, the Visapore King’s generall.”
The town of Porto Novo recovered in time, but the focus of trade moved to Cuddalore over the following years.
K. Kanniah in his book Cuddalore on the Coromandel Coast under the English says that Damiao Paes, a Portuguese was appointed Captain of Cuddalore in 1584, and that he rebuilt the port with the approval of the Nayak of Gingee.
There appears to have been an Indian fort on the northern bank of the River Gadelam, which pre-dated the arrival of the European’s.
The focus of development appears to have been at Devanampattinam, which later became the site where the English eventually laid out the site of Cuddalore New Town.
The Dutch had probably visited the port before 1608, however it was in 1608 that they secured permission from the Nayak of Senji to rebuild the old Indian fort at Devanampattinam.
In 1632 on the 5th of November Emanuel Altham an EIC factor at Armagon thanked Colley for sending some goods up from the south by a boat belonging to “Mallaioes” which had arrived in great danger at Tegnapatam, having narrowly survived a great hurricane. So it would appear that the port was being used for coasting trade.
The Dutch established factories at Porto Novo and Devanampatam (Fort St David) at a later period, and built a fort at the latter some 700 yards north of the mouth of the Gadilam River. They quitted both places in 1678. The Madras records say that their departure was partly owing to a dispute with Sivaji’s men about shipping dues at Porto Novo and partly owing to a dispute because their masters at Batavia, the Dutch head-quarters, had been “abating and cutting off of their Quallety’s, sallorys and allowances.”
However this may be, one day in 1678 several of their ships appeared off the coast and the Dutch “did then immediately imbarque all their goods, lumber and weomen and send them away to Pollicat.” In 1680 they returned to Porto Novo and obtained from the Marathas a grant of land there and permission to erect a factory; as will be seen later, they were in possession of the Devanampatam fort and had a lease of Manjakuppam at the time that the English bought Fort St. David in 1690; in 1693, they took Pondicherry from the French and held it for several years afterwards; but otherwise their doings had little effect on the chronicles of the district and it will not be necessary to refer to them again.” 4
Sadly at present we have not been able to locate any extant Dutch or Portuguese records of events in Cuddalore or Porto Novo during this period.
We would be very pleased to hear from anybody who can point us in the right direction for further contemporary accounts of these ports.
1 Alexander Hamilton, A New Account of the East Indies:… page 353.
2 William Foster The English Factories 1661-64 page 50.
3 Foster page 51.
4 Madras Gazetteers South Arcot published 1906 Page 38