Views in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Northamptonshire/Shooter's Hill

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Views in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Northamptonshire by Edward Wedlake Brayley
An illustration of the Works of Robert Bloomfield: Shooter's Hill

Probably so called from the archers frequently exercising themselves here in shooting with the bow[1], is eight miles from London on the high road to Dover. It was in former times a place of much danger and dread to travellers from the narrowness of the road over it, and the many lurking-places afforded to thieves by the woods and coppices with which the hill was covered: many robberies were committed here even at noonday. In the year 1737 a new road was laid out much wider than the old one; the greater part of the wood has also been cleared off, and the above disorders have since been in a considerable degree prevented.

The summit of Shooter's Hill commands a most extensive and variegated prospect, overlooking as large a city and as fine a country as any in the universe. This place was visited by Bloomfield solely for the recovery of his health.

To hide me from the public eye,
     To keep the throne of reason clear,
Amidst fresh air to breathe or die,
     I took my staff and wander'd here.
Suppressing every sigh that heaves.
     And coveting no wealth but thee,
I nestle in the honeyed leaves.
     And hug my stolen Liberty.

The triangular Tower on the brow of the hill is an elegant erection surrounded by a neat plantation, on a sloping lawn, intersected by gravelled walks. It is an object of considerable interest, as it commemorates a train of exploits of the highest moment to our mercantile transactions with the eastern world. Over the entrance, on a broad tablet of stone, is this inscription:

This Building was erected m.dcc.lxxxiv. by the Representative of the late
Sir WILLIAM JAMES, Bart.,
To commemorate that gallant Officer's Achievements in the East Indies,
During his Command of the Company's Marine Forces in those Seas;
And in a particular Manner to record the Conquest of
The Castle of Severndroog, on the Coast of Malabar,
Which fell to his superior Valour and able Conduct,
On the 2d Day of April m.dcc.lv.

We have subjoined from Orme's History of Hindostan a more explicit account of the conquests here recorded, which must necessarily be introduced by some prefatory matter.

"The Malabar coast, from Cape Comorin to Surat, is intersected by a great number of rivers, which disembogue into the sea: it appears that from the earliest antiquity the inhabitants have had a strong propensity to piracy; and at this day, all the different principalities on the coast employ vessels to cruise upon those of all other nations which they can overpower. The Mogul empire, when it first extended its dominion to the sea in the northern parts of this coast, appointed an admiral called the Sidee, with a fleet to protect the vessels of their Mahometan subjects trading to the gulfs of Arabia and Persia, from the Malabar pirates, as well as from the Portuguese. The Morattoes were at that time in possession of several forts between Goa and Bombay, and finding themselves interrupted in their piracies by the Mogul's admiral, they made war against him by sea and land. In this war one Conageee Angria raised himself from a private man to be commander-in-chief of the Morattoe fleet, and was intrusted with the government of Severndroog, one of their strongest forts, built upon a small rocky island which lies about eight miles to the north of Dabul, and within cannon-shot of the continent: here Conagee revolted against the Saha Rajah, or king of the Morattoes, and having seduced part of the fleet to follow his fortune, he with them took and destroyed the rest. The Saha Rajah endeavoured to reduce him to obedience by building three forts upon the main land, within point-blank shot of Severndroog; but Conagee took these forts likewise, and in a few years got possession of all the sea-coast, from Tamanah to Bancoote, extending 120 miles, together with the inland country as far back as the mountains, which in some places are thirty, in others twenty miles from the sea. His successors, who have all borne the name of Angria, strengthened themselves continually, insomuch that the Morattoes having no hopes of reducing them, agreed to a peace, on condition that Angria should acknowledge the sovereignty of the Saha Rajah, by paying him a small annual tribute.

"In the mean-time the piracies which Angria exercised upon ships of all nations indifferently, who did not purchase his passes, rendered him every day more and more powerful. There was not a creek, bay, harbour, or mouth of a river along the coast of his dominions, in which he had not erected fortifications and marine receptacles, to serve both as a station of discovery, and as a place of refuge to his vessels; hence it was as difficult to avoid the encounter of them, as to take them.

"Eight or ten grabs, vessels from 150 to 300 tons burthen, and forty or fifty gallivats, or large row-boats, crowded with men, generally composed Angria's principal fleet destined to attack ships of force or burden. The vessel no sooner came in sight of the port or bay where the fleet was lying, than they slipped their cables and put out to sea: if the wind blew, their construction enabled them to sail almost as fast as the wind; and if it was calm, the gallivats rowing towed the grabs: when within cannon-shot of the chase they generally assembled in her stern, and the grabs attacked her at a distance with her prow guns, firing first only at their masts, and taking aim when the three masts of the vessel just opened all together to their view: by which means the shot would probably strike one or other of the three. As soon as the chase was dismasted, they came nearer; and battered her on all sides until she struck; and if the defence was obstinate, they sent a number of gallivats with two or three hundred men in each, who boarded sword in hand from all quarters in the same instant.

"It was now fifty years that this piratical State had rendered itself formidable to the trading ships of all the European nations in India, and the English East India Company had kept up a marine force, at the annual expense of £50,000, to protect their own ships, as well as those belonging to the merchants established in their colonies. Several attempts were made by different nations to destroy this piratical system; but all proving unsuccessful, the pirate, elated with the idea that his forts were impregnable, threw off his allegiance to the Morattoes: it is said that he cut off the noses of their ambassadors who came to demand the tribute he had agreed to pay to the Saha Rajah. The Morattoes, who were in possession of the main land opposite to Bombay, had several times made proposals to the English Government in the island to attack this common enemy with their united forces. Accordingly Commodore James, the Commander-in-chief of the Company's marine force in India, sailed on the 22d of March, 1756, in the Protector of forty-four guns, with a ketch of sixteen guns, and two bomb-vessels; but such was the exaggerated opinion of Angria's strong holds, that the Presidency instructed him not to expose the Company's vessels to any risk by attacking them, but only to blockade the harbours whilst the Morattoe army carried on their operations by land. Three days after the Morattoe fleet, consisting of seven grabs and sixty gallivats, came out of Choul, having on board 10,000 land forces, and the fleets united proceeded to Comara Bay, where they anchored, in order to permit the Morattoes to get their meal on shore, since they are prohibited by their religion from eating or washing at sea. Departing from hence they anchored again about fifteen miles to the north of Severndroog, when Rama-gee Punt with the troops disembarked, in order to proceed the rest of the way by land. Commodore James now receiving intelligence that the enemy's fleet lay at anchor in the harbour of Severndroog, represented to the Admiral of the Morattoe fleet, that by proceeding immediately thither they might come upon them in the night, and so effectually blockade them in the harbour, that few or none would be able to escape. The Morattoe seemed highly to approve the proposal, but had not authority enough over his officers to make any of them stir before the morning; when the enemy, discovering them under sail, immediately slipped their cables and put to sea. The Commodore then flung out the signal for a general chase; but as little regard was paid to this as to his former intention; for although the vessels of the Morattoes had hitherto sailed better than the English, such was their terror of Angria's fleet, that they all kept behind, and suffered the Protector to proceed alone almost out of their sight. The enemy, on the other hand, exerted themselves with uncommon industry, flinging overboard all their lumber to lighten their vessels; not only crowding all the sails they could bend, but also hanging up their garments, and even their turbans, to catch every breath of air. The Protector, however, came within gun-shot of some of the sternmost; but the evening approaching, Commodore James gave over the chase, and returned to Severndroog, which he had passed several miles. Here he found Rama-gee Punt with the army besieging, as they said, the three forts on the main land; but they were firing only from one gun, a four-pounder, at the distance of two miles, and even at this distance the troops did not think themselves safe without digging pits, in which they sheltered themselves covered up to the chin from the enemy's fire. The Commodore judging from these operations, that they would never take the forts, determined to exceed the instructions which he had received from the Presidency, rather than expose the English arms to the disgrace they would suffer, if an expedition, in which they were believed by Angria to have taken so great a share, should miscarry. The next day, the 2d of April, he began to cannonade and bombard the fort of Severndroog, situated on the island; but finding that the walls on the western side which he attacked, were mostly cut out of the solid rock, he changed his station to the north-east between the island and the main; where, whilst one of his broadsides plied the north-east bastions of this fort, the other fired on fort Goa, the largest of those upon the main land. The bastions of Severndroog, however, were so high, that the Protector could only point her upper tier at them; but being anchored within an hundred yards, the musketry in the round, tops drove the enemy from their guns, and by noon the parapet of the north-east bastion was in ruins: when a shell from one of the bomb-vessels set fire to a thatched house, which the garrison, dreading the Protector's musketry, were afraid to extinguish: the blaze spreading fiercely at this dry season of the year, all the buildings of the fort were soon in flames, and amongst them a magazine of powder blew up. On this disaster, the inhabitants, men, women, and children, with the greatest part of the garrison, in all near 1,000 persons, ran out of the fort, and embarking in seven or eight large boats, attempted to make their escape to fort Goa; but they were prevented by the English ketches, who took them all. The Protector now directed her fire only against fort Goa; where the enemy, after suffering a severe cannonade, hung out a flag as a signal of surrender; but whilst the Morattoes were marching to take possession of it, the Governor perceiving that the Commodore had not yet taken possession of Severndroog, got into a boat with some of his most trusty men, and crossed over to the island, hoping to be able to maintain the fort until he should receive assistance from Dabul, which is in sight of it. Upon this the Protector renewed her fire upon Severndroog; and the Commodore finding that the Governor wanted to protract the defence until night, when it was not to be doubted that some boats from Dabul would endeavour to throw succours into the place, he landed half his seamen, under cover of the fire of the ships, who with great intrepidity ran up to the gate, and cutting down the sally-port with their axes, forced their way into it; on which the garrison surrendered: the other two forts on the main land had by this time hung out flags of truce, and the Morattoes took possession of them. This was all the work of one day, in which the spirited resolution of Commodore James destroyed the timorous prejudices which had for twenty years been entertained of the impracticability of reducing any of Angria's fortified harbours."


THE END.


Printed by W. CLOWES, Northumberland court, Strand, London.

  1. It is said that King Henry the Eighth and his queen Catharine came to this place from Greenwich on a May-day, and were received by a body of 200 archers in green habits, headed by a captain who personated Robin Hood; and that after the bowmen had exhibited their dexterity before the king, his majesty and his train were conducted into the wood, and entertained in green arbours and booths with venison and wine, and all the parade of gallantry so peculiar to the age.