FAMINES IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT, 1500 to 1767
|1719 (a) [from 1717, + see 1720]: Madras to Madurai|
|Documented causes: drought, then untimely rain|
|Documented effects: official relief efforts in Madras; corruption|
|Fort St. George "Diary and Consultation Book, 1719" (1930)|
|p2 (consultation of 5 Jan 1719): "The President represents that himself wth. Messrs. Jennings [Horden ...] have for above three months past giv'n rice for tbe subsistance [of ...] thousand of the poor Inhabitants who must have perish'd [without] that relief, in which time nine Garse have been delivered them [at] their proper Expence. The famine still continuing He propo[ses] three Garse should be deliver'd out of the Companys Godown Account, which will be a full months subsistance for about [ ...] people, the number that has been dayly fed.|
The Presidents proposal being Agreed to the Wareh[ousekr. is] ORDER'D to put it in Execution.
The President representing that the Stock of Grain which was [provided] the last year for the use of the Garrison is near Expended & that the [Famine] in all Appearance being very likely to continue He desires this Board [to] consider about making a timely provision for the Ensuing year, [so] that not only the whole Garrison, but also a great part of the Inhabitants (being those that Immediately depend upon'the Hon'ble Compa.) were thereby [pre]serv'd from starving the last year. The Board being truly sensible [thereof] very readily AGREED to the Presidents proposal & the Warehousekr. [was] ORDERED to lay in a stock of One Hundred Garse of Rice, or wch. is eq[ual] to it two Hundred Garse of Paddy for that purpose, but at the [same time] caution'd to provide it gradually for fear of raising the price of Grain."
p29 (consultation of 2 Mar 1719): "From the Deputy Gov'r. and Council of Fort St. David dated the 27th. ult. ... on rec't. of our Letter, wherein we caution'd them against lowering the rent of their Arrack farm (before let for Pags. 1450 Pr. Ann. wch. lease is now Expired) they put up the sd. farm at publick outcry, & could raise it no higher than Eleven hundred Pagodas Pr. Annum, for wch. reason it still remains in their hands till further order.
... the Dep'y. Gov'r. and Councills reason in behalf of the renters was Judged [substantiall] Vizt. that they who in time of plenty, could afford to drink Arrack, can hardly by reason of the present famine, preserve their familys from Starving, and therefore as the Vent for that Commodity is thereby very much lessened, the advantage of the Farm must be proportionably abated; However since our Hon'ble. Masters are ever unwilling to have their revenues lessen'd, We can by no means consent to the letting out the aforesaid Farm for less than it was rented before, choosing rather to increase the term of Years in the Cowle, that in case the Renters should be sufferers by the Scarcity of this year, they may repair their loss in future when plenty may be Expected; It is therefore,
AGREED that the Deputy Gov'r, and Council of Fort St. David have liberty to let out their Arrack Farm to any substantiall person at the former rent of Pags. 1450, Pr. annum for the term of four or five Years."
p36 (consultation of 11 Mar 1719): "Suncah Ramah & Ball Chittee appearing before the Board, were acquainted, that we were ready to contract with them for Seven hundred bales to be delivered by the end of September next, and the sortments as brought in by the Warehousekeepr. (according to order of last Consultation) were read to them; They answer'd that they were ready to undertake to provide the said Goods by that time: It was then proposed to them to make an abatement of the price giv'n on the same Goods the last year, to which they replyed that the Famine had so much impoverish'd the Country, and dispersed ye people that it would be more difficult to provide goods this year than it was ye last besides that Cotten is considerably dearer. We too Well knew the truth of wt. they alledged, however we thought fitt to deferr giving our answer till the next Consultation.
Muttamar Chittee & his son Vincatty were then call'd in, and the same proposals made to them in the same manner as above; to which they return'd the same answers, wth. this addition, that if the Famine should continue another year, the country would be so depopulated, that it would be difficult to procure any Goods at all."
p38 (consultation of 16 Mar 1719): "... Suncah Ramah &c. Rt. Hand Merchants were call'd in & the question put to them a second time, but they insisting in the Negative for the reasons they had giv'n the last Consultation, the Board could not but allow them to be substantial!, & therefore consented to their providing seven hundred bales of the sorts of goods, and at the prizes mention'd in the Contract, enter'd after this Consultation, to which they, Agreed, and the same was interchangeably signed."
p41 (consultation of 19 Mar 1719): "Muttamar Chittee &c. Left hand Merchants being call'd in the question was put to them a second time, whether they could make an abatement of five Pr. Cent on the prizes of the Goods before giv'n, or not, But they again plead'd the great scarcity and dearness of Grain, and the likelyhood of its continuance so, which makes it difficult to procure weavers in the Country, a great part of them being remov'd. to other places wth. their Family's where Grain is cheaper, and also renders it hazardous to trust those that can be procured, wth. mony, because they are often times forced by extreme want to lay out a great part of it in rice to Subsist their familys wth. and by that means become incapable of making full satisfaction in Goods for the mony so advanc'd them. The Merchants also urged as an Argument against an abatem't. in the prices of the Goods, the extravagant price of Cotton, wch. we were very well Satisfy'd of the truth of; These reasons made us determine to consent to their providing Seven Hundred bales of the severall Sortments of Goods, and their respective rates as Specify'd in the Contract, enter'd after this Consultation, which was interchangeably Sign'd."
p56 (consultation of 9 Apr 1719): "The President represents, that whereas an order of Council was made the 21st. of July, the last year for cleansing the Tanks in the Washer town, of the mud and dirt, wth. wch. they were choackd, and for sinking them somewhat deepr. in order to renew the springs, wch. failed by reason of the great drought, that order was happily prevented from being put in Execution by an unexpected supply of rain, soon after it was made, wch. answ'd. the intent of that work but the Washers now renewing the same complaints of that ill convenience occasion'd by the Excessive drought of this year, The President proposes that the aforesaid order should be now Executed, wch. is AGREED to, and the Paymaster is ORDER'd to set about the work as soon as possible, it having the last year been computed upon a calculate made, to be likely to cost about three Hundred Pagodas."
p62 (consultation of 30 Apr 1719): [Sea Customs Collector's account] Ballance due from him Pagodas Eight thousand & fifty five, fifteen fanams and sixty eight Cash, whereof He now pays in three thousand Pagodas, and represents that the large ballance standing out, is for the most part owing from the Patans, who having imported large quantity's of Goods from Bengali this season, are not able to sell them by reason of the deadness of the market (occasion'd by the Famine) & therefore desire a little forbearance.
p91 (consultation of 25 Jun 1719): The Accomptant delivers in a report concerning the Washers by wch. it appears that they are considerably in debt to ye. Hon'ble. Comp. for rice deliver'd them during the Scarcity these two years past; It appears to us absolutely necessary, either to permit them to take up rice on credit, or to advance their pay, because at the present high price of Grain, It is impossible for them to subsist on their labour, especially at this time when by reason of the want of water, they are not able to wash more than half the usuall quantity; The objection to raising the prices is, That when they are once rais'd, It will be very difficult to get them lower'd again, even in a time of plenty, whereas ye debt may be then recover'd; We compute the present debt wch. is about 1300 [Pags.] wch. might wth. ease be paid off in two years of plenty; On the whole it is AGREED that the Warehousekr. do permitt them to have what rice is absolutely necessry. for their Subsistence least they starve, or be oblig'd to leave the place.
The Cawn Gohee duty for the Villags. of Trivatore &c. for one year being due the 17th. Octo'r. 1718, and a demand being made for the same, The Presidt. Agreed for one Pr. Cent upon ye Produce, wch. being no more than Pags. 544. 17. 14 by reason of the Famine the last Year, the sum of Five Pags. is ORDER'D to be paid out of Cash on that account.
p115 (consultation of 9 Jul 1719): "Messrs. Horden & Fowke (pursuant to order of Council the 2d. Inst.) having examin'd the stewards representation relating to the advance upon the prizes of provisions occasion'd by the continuance of ye. Famine Reports, That what he Alledges is no more than matter of Fact; The Steward is therefore permitted to purchase them at those rates, and his remonstrance is Order'd to be entred after this Consultation."
[The Steward's remonstrance:]
"The long continuance of the Famine wth. the melancholly prospect of its encrease lays me under some more then ordinary necessity of addressing to Your Hon'r. &c. on behalf of my People who daily repeat to me their incapacity of serving the Hon'ble. Compa. any longer, and how much they have already suffer'd, and that they and their Familys must be inevitably reduc'd to the utmost Ruin, should they continue to serve on the usuall Terms.
I have therefore stated to Your Hon'r. &c. the present prices of Provisions, wth. the advance I propose to raise, wch. I hope will more readily be concurr'd wth. because some of this Hon'ble. Board, will by a calculation of their own Buzar Expences, allow that even after this advance is made the Compy. are yet serv'd much cheaper then they are.
As for what in me lies towards frugality in the Expences, I can but at present give assurances that no endeavours shall be wanting to recommend myself in an affaire, where both my Duty and the Interest of my Hon'ble. Masters, are so nearly engaged."
[Examples given show price rises of around 25%; e.g. butter, 7 bowls for 1 Pagoda instead of 9 bowls; eggs, 8 for 1 Fanam instead of 10]
p123 (consultation of 16 Jul 1719): [report from the Sea Customs Collector]
"The Hon'ble. Court of Directors in their Ge'll. Letter by the King William having been pleas'd to take notice of the decay in their Customs, I beg leave to lay before yor. Honr. &c. the reasons of it, wch. indeed will be no more than a repetition of wt. I have wth. great concern been oblig'd verbally in severall Consultations to acquaint this Hon'ble. Board wth. and the Spring, its too well known arise[s] from the long drought we have labour'd under, but I think it necessary to particularize on this occasion, that the affair may more clearly appear at home to prevent any aspersions.
And First. It is well known that most sorts of Bengall Goods have differ'd near 40 Pr. Cent from what they us'd to be, and even at these prizes few or no buyers, and the Quantitys imported much less than usuall. The Pattans, that [w]ent to St. Thoma, us'd to be our cheif Importrs. and tho' some time after our President persuaded them to return, yet in Consideration of their having paid Customs there, I was oblig'd, (and the Board Agreed) that they should have some favour shown them in ye Custom.
Secondly, The Elephants imported here for these two years last past, were not of half the Value they us'd to be, by reason the Ownrs. would gladly have sold them; at any rate almost, rather than maintain them at so great an expence, for rice is their Cheif dyett.
Thirdly, There us'd to come yearly from Ganjam, and our northern ports, a great number of grain Vessels, wch. the drought that had reach'd those ports, now prevented, and tho' many Vessels were persuaded to come hither wth. Grain from the Southwd. yet it was thought convenient for the encouragement of others to import their grain here to be very moderate in the Customs, and th6 we took five Pr. Cent upon what we Valued it at yet we agreed that valuation should be at a medium price.
Fourthly, The Persia & Surat trade have faild, and by the drought & Lowness of the Markets of those ports, there has been but little goods imported from either of those places."
p172 (consultation of 21 Sep 1719): [Rent collector and scavinger's report] "... there are Pags. 119. 6. standing out in debt owing from the poor people, who by reason of the Famine are Scarce able [to] Subsist, much less to pay the Hon'ble. Compa. duty of Quit rent.
Order'd, therefore that the sum of Pags. 119. 6. be wrote off [on] that account, and there being Pags. 75. 18. 50. in debts due from pers[ons] in the like circumstances acccot. Scavingers duty, The Accomptant is Order'd to write off that sum likewise, The Board being well assur'd, they are both irrecoverable."
p178 (consultation of 28 Sep 1719): "The Presidt. represents that the Washers have heen very urgent wth. himself and the Warehousekr. to make some addition to the price of Washing on acco't. of the great scarcity of Rice, alledging that at the present prizes they were not able to Subsist, and that in Gen'll. they were so weak for want of Food that they could not wash the usuall quantity especially of the heavy cloth, of wch. they have a great deal on hand; The truth of their allegations is but too evident, however we thought it an ill precedent to raise the prizes for washing, it being difficult to lower ym. again, and yet it seems necessary so far to comply wth. their request, as to give them an additionall allowance of Rice.
AGREED that three Garse of Rice be d'd ym. by the Warehousekr. as a present for their encouragemt. under their present distress."
p195 (consultation of 2 Nov 1719): "The Sec'ry. having pursuant to order of last Consultation, demanded of Suncah Ramah &c. Renters of Trivatore &c. Villages the 12 mos. rent due upon their Cowle, they now appear, & deliver in their acco'ts. of the produce thereof, whereby it appears that they have actually yeilded no more the last year than Pagodas Nine Hundred Ninety Nine, fifteen fanams and Ten Cash, and there being provision made in their cowle (as usuall) for abatements in case of Famine, Devastation by war &c. (the former whereof is the present case) the Board think themselves oblig'd by their Agreement to accept that sum in full of the last 12 mos. rent thereof, and do therefore Order a rec't. to be giv'n the Renters accordingly.
Accordg. to ordr. of last Consultation Vizago Choultry Dubash was brot. before the Board on his tryal for Extorting exorbitant fees beyond w't. had ever been practis'd, particularly on the Register of Slaves; the most that had ever been allow'd was 20 fans. in the whole, including ye. Comp's. duty, whereas he had obliged great numbers of people to pay him 24 fans, and took ye. 4 fans. to his own use, also in House bills register'd at ye. Choultry, where the true fees are 2 Pags. 2 fans. Pr. Cent, he extorted 2 Pags. 18 fans. and in many instances a larger proportion, and also in House bills register'd at ye. Court, He extorted in Gen'll. abot. 16 Pr. Cent above ye. usuall Fees, and that besides the abovemention'd, he has been guilty of great Neglect in his office, by putting off the poor people, and refusing to do their bus'ness.
A great number of Persons of all ranks appear'd to prove the sever'll. branches of the charge, but there was no occasion to hear any witness except to the last article, he confessing all the rest on their being propos'd to him; Some Witnesses were call'd for the proof of that, who very fully convicted him of delay, and putting off their business from time to time withot. any reasonable Excuse.
The Prisonr. and Witnesses being withdrawn, It was considered that the practise was in itself scandalous & abusive, and particularly oppressive to the poor, many of them being oblig'd in this time of famine to sell their children for rice, and the extorting 4 fans. in ye. fees was a considerable hardship on them; That therefore it was necessary to put a stop to such abuses by making the Offender a publick Example, and accordingly it was,
RESOLV'D that Vizago the Choultry Dubash aforem'd. be turn'd out of the Hon'ble. Comp's. Service, and disabled from any future employing therein, That he stand in the pillory the next Choultry day, and that he be fin'd Five hundred Pagodas …"