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  3.9 The Battle of Pollilur 1780: D/ The British Square  

©Otto Money
The Battle of Pollilur 1780, D/ The British Square

Gouache on five sheets of paper, with canvas backing
224.8 x 976 cm

Unknown Indian Artist c.1840

hen, in the Spring of 1780 Haidar's vast army poured into the Carnatic, they were joined there by M.Lally and his French troops. The British army did not take to the field until autumn. The Hon James Lindsay, whose brother fought at Pollilur, commented: 'The government of Madras were now fully roused from their lethargy, and began seriously to think of collecting an army to preserve their country ; they attributed all their misfortunes to the conduct of the late governor (i.e. Sir Thomas Rumbold), who, some time before the invasion, had gone home with an immense fortune, leaving behind him an exhausted treasury.' Now troops previously dispatched to watch events remote from Madras were hastily recalled, and Conjeeveram (modern Kanchipuram), 40 miles South of Madras on the Arcot road, was appointed as the point of rendezvous for the British forces. Col. Baillie's detachment was to proceed with haste towards Madras.

Even at this critical moment, the divisions and politics within the Madras Council seriously threatened the safety of their forces in the field. Because of these divisions, the Governor could not secure a majority in Council without the presence of his Commander-in-Chief, Munro. Command of the forces in the field thus devolved upon Lord Macleod, Colonel of the 73rd Regiment. News then arrived that Haidar was about to attack Arcot, and Mohammed Ali sent to Munro at St Thomas's Mount, Madras, for support, adding that Haidar would raise the siege as soon as the British army made a movement from Madras. Lord Macleod observed that firstly, with such a small body of troops, success was far from certain and secondly, that Baillie was within about 28 miles or two days' march of Madras, and it would be dangerous to move before Baillie's detachment was safely joined. Munro, irritated by this criticism, and giving instead support to Mohammed Ali's request, arranged for the appointment of a new member of Council to fill his place (illegally). Munro himself then took command of the forces in the field, and marched out of Madras towards Conjeeveram, which he reached by 29th August.

As soon as Munro's departure was reported, Haidar dispatched Tipu, with 10,000 men and 18 guns, to intercept Baillie's junction with Munro. Baillie's force had reached the R. Kortalaiyar on 25th August, but the river flooded that evening, and he was delayed there for a week. At Perambakkam, 14 miles from Conjeeveram, he was attacked by Tipu on 6th September. Munro, although he could hear the action, could not abandon Conjeeveram and the grand army's supplies, and move off to assist Baillie. In fact, Munro also was anxious: he had no carriage for his heavy cannon, and supplies promised by Mohammed Ali had completely failed to materialise. ' I cannot come on: I am in want of everything and expect you with anxiety,' wrote Baillie. After a Council of War, Munro dispatched 1,000 men under Col. Fletcher to assist Baillie.

The Journals of James and John Lindsay record the action of the next few days until, at first light on 10th September, Col. Baillie marched his men out of the cover of a long avenue of trees and across the open plain towards Conjeeveram. At once, Tipu's batteries attacked on the left, and the whole of Haidar's cavalry descended on Baillie's right. With remarkable stoicism and courage, Baillie's force eventually repulsed this attack, and then determined to storm the enemy's guns. Captain Rumley, with ten companies of sepoys, actually achieved this remarkable feat, but his troops were then cut to pieces by a counter-attack from Haidar's cavalry. Haidar's guns then resumed their fire - the action had now continued from daybreak until 10.00a.m. - but Baillie, still confident that Munro would be moving ever closer to his assistance, determined to remain fighting on the plain. John Lindsay records that 'A shout of joy was spread throughout the line' at the sight of an approaching cloud of dust, which the men assumed must be Munro's force at last. 'It is impossible to describe the feelings of Baillie's devoted army, when they found that, instead of reaping a complete victory, they were surrounded upon all sides,' wrote James Lindsay. The brave Highlanders and the valiant sepoys were doomed.

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