Malabar Under Hyder Ali: 1776-1782

In a previous post, we discussed Hyder Ali's second invasion of Malabar in 1773, with the narrative extending until the year 1776.

Hyder Ali and the Dutch:

Around the years 1774-75, Hyder Ali, who had determined to conquer Travancore, demanded the Dutch to allow a free passage to his army towards Travancore through the Dutch possessions of Chettuva and Cranganore.

Moens, the Dutch Governor of Cochin, believed that if the Dutch could rely on the support of Travancore and Cochin, they might be able to drive out the Mysoreans and establish their dominance over Malabar. Moens' response, stating that the matter could only be decided after consulting Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East India Company, failed to convince, as the same response had been given by the previous Governor a decade earlier.


Hyder's general Sardar Khan demanded the Dutch to provide evidence and accounts regarding the land of Chettuva. This land had originally been taken from the Zamorin by the Dutch, who had promised to return it after a certain period. However, as Hyder Ali had now conquered the Zamorin, he believed that Chettuva rightfully belonged to him.

In October 1776, Sardar Khan marched to Chettuva and demanded 20 years' revenue from those lands. Sardar Khan explained his action to Moens that he had not received any reply to two letters regarding Chettuva and therefore, on the orders of Hyder Ali, he had taken action and entered the Dutch possessions.

Moens replied by offering his mediation in the dispute between the Mysoreans and Travancore. Sardar Khan meanwhile laid siege to the Cranganore fort, but his attempt was unsuccessful. Rama Varma, the Raja of Travancore, became alarmed by these events and urgently requested assistance from the British.

Sardar Khan took control of Chettuva, as well as Pappinivattom, Ayiroor, and the lands belonging to the Raja of Cranganore. He also demanded that the Dutch pay him 5,000 rupees per day as compensation for war expenses.

Realizing that they were not strong enough to resist the Mysore invasion on their own, the Dutch sought assistance from Travancore and Cochin. Rama Varma declared that his allies, the British and the Nawab of Arcot, would only help him if he was attacked by Hyder Ali.

Busy preparations were made by the Dutch and Travancore from their end to meet the invasion. Hyder later disowned Sirdar Khan's actions and made overtures of peace to the Dutch. He expressed his desire to establish a friendly treaty with them. Governor Moens, on the other hand, was concerned about the Dutch Company's position if Hyder Ali were to conquer Travancore and gain more power.

The diversion caused by the fight between the Dutch and Hyder's forces saved Travancore once again from the threatened invasion.

Nair Rebellion of 1778:

In the beginning of 1778, a Nair rebellion broke out by the Zamorin princes in Calicut with support of the British. Hydros Kutty Muppan, Hyder's Governor at Chavakkad, who had quarreled with Hyder on the question of his annual tribute, also helped the rebels.

While Hyder's troops were occupied with suppressing this rebellion, the Dutch got a convenient opportunity to retook Chettuva and the lost districts. However, their efforts were in vain.

Advent of the Second Anglo Mysore War (1780-84):

During the American War of Independence in 1778, France joined America against British. In response, the British launched an attack on French possessions in India.

The French settlement of Mahe was within the territory of Kadathanadu, a tributary of Hyder. Hyder wrote the Governor of Madras, "Now you have set on foot an expedition against Mahe. In my country there are many factories belonging to the English, Dutch, Portuguese, Danes and the French, who trade in my country on the footing of subjects. None of those possess forts or countries which should cause any other to attack them and if anyone should attack them it will be proper for me to give assistance to those whom I consider my subjects."

Hyder assured Picot, the Commandant of Mahe at the time, all possible assistance and ordered his Malabar tributaries to assist the French.

The Tellicherry settlement, which had previously provided refuge to many natives during Hyder's second invasion of Malabar in 1774, once again became a safe haven for people from the country of Kottayam when troubles arose in 1779. The British also secured the alliance of the Raja of Kadathanadu, Zamorin, Kurangoth Nair, and Iruvazhinadu Nambiars.

The Kolathiri prince joined the French at Mahe, however the combined British and Malabar chiefs launched a joint attack against him, forcing him to retreat from Mahe. On March 19, 1779, Col. Braithwaite successfully captured the area.

Joining with Balwant Rao, the Kolathiri prince crushed the insurrection of the Kottayam Raja. He then proceeded to Kadathanadu, where the old Raja, a British ally, was deposed in favour of his nephew Shankara Varma, who was friendly to the Mysoreans.

In October 1779, the Kolathiri seized Randattara and a few other villages that belonged to the British.

Siege of Tellicherry:

On 31 October, in alliance with Shankara Varma of Kadathanadu, the Kolathiri laid siege to the British settlement at Tellicherry. Col. Braithwaite accordingly evacuated Mahe by November 1779, concentrating all the British troops in Malabar in Tellicherry to defend the settlement against the combined forces.

In February 1780, Hyder wrote to the Resident of Tellicherry, proposing that if the Nairs and other individuals seeking refuge in Tellicherry were handed over to the prince of Kolathunad, the troubles would cease. Soon after, Sardar Khan arrived at Tellicherry with a large army from Srirangapatna, injecting renewed vigor into the ongoing siege.

A few days after the siege of Tellicherry commenced, Hyder Ali with an army of 90,000 men descended upon the plain of Carnatic in July 20, 1780. This marked the beginning of the Second Anglo Mysore War.

Death of Sardar Khan and Makhdoom Ali:

In late 1781, British reinforcements arrived, and Major Abington assumed command of the garrison. The combined forces of the Raja of Kottayam and Major Abington defeated Sardar Khan, who was taken prisoner on January 8, 1782. Hydernama records that, consumed by shame and unwilling to face Hyder, Sardar Khan tragically took his own life.

The Mysore army was destroyed and Mahe was retaken on the following day. Major Abington subsequently seized Calicut on February 13, 1782. Followed by this, the Nairs wiped out Hyder's garrisons throughout Malabar, leaving Mysorean authority confined solely to Palakkad.

Upon hearing of these devastating losses, Hyder sent Makhdoom Ali to Malabar. However, the British troops in Calicut, now under the leadership of Col. Humberstone, who had taken over from Major Abington, bolstered by the Nairs and Mappilas, launched an assault on the Mysore army at Tirurangadi on April 8, 1782, in which Makhdoom lost his life.

Hyder sent his son Tipu to Malabar. Meanwhile, Col. Humberstone continued his advance towards Palakkad. However, upon realizing that the fortifications were stronger than anticipated and hearing rumors of an approaching large force, Col. Humberstone wisely decided to retreat.

By the time Tipu Sultan arrived in Palakkad in October, he found that the enemy had already withdrawn. Tipu chased the British until they reached Ponnani, where Col. Macleod took command of the army after receiving reinforcements from Bombay.

On November 29, with the assistance of the French, Tipu's forces launched a fierce assault on the British troops at Ponnani. While waiting for reinforcements, Tipu Sultan received the news of his father's demise on December 12th.

Death of Hyder Ali Khan:

Hyder Ali Khan had been suffering from a cancerous growth on his back for some time and passed away on December 7, 1782, near Chittoor in Narasingarayanpet.

Tipu was compelled to leave for Srirangapatna to occupy his father's throne. Before he left, Tipu ordered Arshed Beg Khan to take charge of the government of Malabar and defend Palakkad.

Accession of Tipu Sultan:

Tipu Sultan succeeded his father on 29 December 1782.


Memorandum on the Administration of the Coast of Malabar By Adriaan Moens
Kerala Under Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan By C. K. Kareem
Establishment of British Power in Malabar, 1664 to 1799 By N. Rajendran
The French in India, 1763–1816 By S. P. Sen