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South India: physical and towns

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1750
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Internet Archive
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Drawing
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Ahmad Shah Bahadur 1748–54
Stacked Wooden Logs

Description

In southern India the two centres of Company influence before 1760 were Madras and the rich provinces of the rivers Krishna and Godavari known later as the Northern Circars. The Northern Circars had been the scene of some of the English Company’s earliest trading and diplomatic ventures as towns such as Maslipatnam and Vizagapatnam rivalled Bengal in their production of fine cloths and printed designs. The interior of the country was held by large numbers of well-armed Hindu zamindars whose fortresses dominated local market villages. The whole tract was highly productive and commercialised. A British report of 1776 noted that ‘the forests to the west produce teak and other valuable woods; they have mines which might furnish iron for many useful purposes; saltpetre is made on the borders of Guntoor Circar; the sugar cane grows luxuriantly in Rajamundhry Circar, and
over the whole country are weavers in great numbers’.3 Muslim powers in search of revenue and produce had long been influential in this territory, battling with the Hindu zamindars for control of labour and resources. But as in Bengal the early eighteenth century saw the agents of regional powers - in this case the Nizam of Hyderabad — intensifying their pressure. Between 1732 and 1739, for instance, Rustam Khan, local governor of Rajamundhry, fought many campaigns against the Hindu chiefs, forcing them to pay regular revenue and putting over them revenue farmers from among client Muslim and Hindu families whom he rewarded with grants of
revenue-free lands. In the following decade Charles de Bussy, a French general fighting on behalf of Hyderabad, warred down more of the Hindu chiefs and expropriated rights and trade privileges.The new, more intense ressure generated by Muslim entrepreneurs and their Hindu servants for cash-revenue provided the context within which successive British commercial residents in the coastal towns of Maslipatnam and Vizagapatnam penetrated into the market for monopolies and perquisites, both on Company service and for their own private business. While the country was still formally a coastal province under the control of the Hyderabad regime British officials were
already working with a combination of Hindu revenue entrepreneurs, such as ]ogi Pantalu of Rajamundhry and big Gujarati banking houses,to secure rents of salt, saltpetre and other monopolies and gain controlof its forts, the key to local politics. In January 1765, for instance,]ohn Pybus, Chief of the Company factory at Rajamundhry, wrote to
Pantalu that the Company must gain control of the district of Mustafanagar ‘for it is not only a country very capable of improvements but has so_ many of its towns so intermixed with those of the Nizam’s districts as to give frequent cause for disputes among the inhabitants but the business of the Company’s merchants which is chiefly carried on there is liable to interruptions and impositions.” Once again, the lure of a rapid profit attracted the Europeans to the trade of the interior, but itwas indigenous social conflicts which encouraged their direct tervention.

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