FAMINES IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT, 1500 to 1767
|1733 (a) [to 1736]: Madras area|
|Documented causes: drought; poor water-tank maintenance|
|Documented effects: depopulation; official relief efforts in Madras|
|Fort St. George "Diary and Consultation Book, 1733" (1930)|
|p154 (consultation of 14 Nov 1733): "The Board being informed that a Chitty Merchant who had hoarded up Grain in the beginning of the Year was now selling it out by small parcels at his own house, and in the night and there being great Reason to believe that many others were guilty not only of the Same practice but also of Purchasing Grain in the Country which they kept there, and brought to town only in Small Parcels in order to keep up the Price and to make an advantage to themselves from the present Scarcity, RESOLVED to Publish Orders at the Gates and by beat of the Tom Tom forbidding the said Practices.|
Accordingly a draught of one was made and order'd to be translated and Published at the Gates:
Whereas the Hon'ble President and Council have been well informed That divers Persons have and do now take upon them to retail Grain in a Private manner out of their own houses which Practice if not prevented may be of General Inconvenience and Prejudice to the Poorer Sort of People, and is also contrary to the established Rules and Customs of the Place, By which all Persons who retail Grain are obliged to do it in the Publick Buzars and no where else, And whereas the said President and Council have also great Cause to believe That divers ill minded Persons prompted by a desire of Gain, & seeking to make an advantage of the Calamities of the Publick in the present Scarcity of Grain have in order to enhance the Price thereof taken measures to prevent People from bringing Grain from out of the Country, They have out of a just abhorrence of all such Practices thought fitt and do hereby Order and direct that no Person whatsoever Shall Sell by retail any Grain at any Place whatsoever but in the Publick Buzars, and according to the usage, and Customs of the Place and do also hereby Strictly Prohibit and Forbid all Persons belonging to this Place to buy or Contract for any Grain that is coming from the country to be Sold here, or to cause the Same to be bought for them, or to buy or cause to be bought any Grain in the country to be kept there, or to Use any means whether by Word, Letter, Message or otherwise to disuade People from Bringing grain to the Buzars or to cause them to enhance the Price after it is brought thither, As they Shall answer the Same at their Peril."
p180 (consultation of 6 Dec 1733): [letter from Fort St. David, including a request for:] "leave to take off the duties on grain during their present Scarcity …"
[Council's response] "AGREED to permit them to take off all the duty's on Grain the measurage excepted during this present Scarcity agreable to their request."
p189 (consultation of 17 Dec 1733) [letter from committee appointed to consider a petition from people living within the bounds of Company land around Fort St David]:
[quotations from this document make interesting reading in analysis of the 1770 famine]
"... We are assur'd that within these few Years great numbers of the Inhabitants have left the Bounds; The town of Mangy Copang almost depopulated and the town of Trepopolore that returned to the value of Pagodas 15000 in the Year 1727 did not last Year return above 4000 Pagodas; That great part of the Bounds lye uncultivated for want of hands, and the whole Settlement in So declining a condition that without Some Speedy releif there will be no Inhabitants left Except those only who depend upon the Company's Pay. The Farmes being Screw'd up too high was the first cause as we apprehend that Induced the Inhabitants to leave the Bounds; Those Farmes being Still continued at the Same height fell more weighty upon those who were left behind till at last the Yoak is heavier than they are able to bear; the natural and unavoidable Consequence whereof would in a very little While, have occasion'd all the revenues of the place to wither and dwindle away to nothing. ...
We apprehend that Paintings and Chay Goods are the cheif of what is made within the Bounds, for the French and Porto Novo Merchants, who being obliged to pay five Pr. Cent to the Company, besides the Juncan Duty to the Bound renter, they have encouraged most of those Weavers and Painters to leave Trepopilore and out of the Ruins of that Place it is that we See several Villages Erected tho' upon the Same River, Yet out of our Bounds and therefore pay nothing to the Company; whereas if the Customs were Reduced to two & a half [percent] we imagine they might be induced to provide those Goods again in our Bounds. ...
Your Honour &c. have already given the Deputy Governour and Co. liberty to take off all the Dutys upon Grain, brought into the Bounds by land, upon account of the Present Very terrible Famine, which they labour under, except the measuring duty, which is kept on more to prevent the poor from being imposed by false Measures than any great Benefitt it brings in to the Company. The reason You have given for taking of the Dutys on Grain, leaves You at liberty to lay them on again whenever the Scarcity is over if You shall think it reasonable, they have requested that they may be charged but twenty cash Pr. Ox load as they used to pay before the Year 1724 Instead of two and a half Pr. Cent ad Valorem. This last method if we compute right, was double what they used to pay before. We must observe to Your Honour &c. that the Cheif and most considerable Branch of their Land Customs arises from the Duty on Grain. On the other hand it must be allowed to be a Greivance, and that they do not complain of it without Reason, not only as it has been laid on but within these nine years, in all which time Grain has not been near so cheap as formerly but also as Perhaps they are not Ignorant the Company receive no duty either on Paddy or Rice, brought in by land here. Whatever Releif Your Honour &c. Shall think fitt to grant them it will behove the Dep'y. Grovernour to have a watchfull Eye upon the Country Government, that none of the Choukedars impose any additional duty at the Moors metta's which lye without the Bounds, for it will be to very little purpose to releive them within if we cannot prevent their being oppress'd without.
the most natural use and benefit of that Place to the Company can in our Opinion be only at least Chiefly by the Exportation of its own manufacture, and for that it is very happily Scituated more in the Cotton Country, and among those Sort of Weavers who are most expert in working the Sort of Cloth, which is most wanted in Europe, and besides the nature of the Soil, productive of the Best Indigo, and the Water of the Rivers that is most fit for dying and Painting, are all advantages w'ch. are in a manner quite lost by reason of the Duty's on Beetle, Tobacco, Grain and other necessarys of life which have kept the Poorer and labouring Sort of People from Inhabiting the Bounds.
We Observe with Pleasure the very handsome Subscription at the Close of the Merchants Petition and the Sanguine hopes they have that the complying with the Several requests they have made will be effectual to repeople the Bounds with the most usefull Manufacturers. The Present very Terrible Famine may for a while retard the Success of their Endeavours, but we doubt not a few years will convince our Honble Masters that Your Hon'r. &c. have not given away So considerable a part of their Revenues without a valuable consideration. The Merchants have Subscribed for Four Hundred Weavers, Shevenaigue Reddee for one hundred and fifty and Andiapa the Porto Novo Merchant for one hundred & fifty more, and allowing each Weaver to make but four Peices of Cloth Pr. mensem will amot. to thirty three thousand, six hundred peices Pr. Annum, a noble addition to the Company's Investment ...
But Your Honour &c. will consider besides that if we are Successfull in procuring the number of Weavers proposed, a little pollitical arithmetick will demonstrate that many other Sorts of People will attend them to Supply them with many necessarys of life, and will make out Sir William Temples remark "That when things are once in motion, Trade begets Trade, as Fire does Fire, and People go much where much People are already Gone" ...
Further we are to hope when the Famine is over, and the duty upon Beetle, Tobacco & Grain is taken off, the Inhabitants being able to live cheaper the Depy. Governour & Co. may find an opportunity to reduce the Price of Labour in many Particulars, for those Several dutys having for the most part been paid by those who were employ'd for the Company, It will not be difficult to make out that what they receiv'd with one Hand they payd with the other."
|Henry Davidson Love "Vestiges of Old Madras, 1640-1800" (vol. 2, 1913)|
|p252 (letter from Fort St. George to the Company in London, 1 Jan 1734): "Before this Country was Conquer'd [by the] Mogulls it was Divided into Several Circles under the Government of Particular Rajahs which descended from Father to Son. Their Revenues for the most Part arose from the produce of the Land, and they therefore were always carefull to keep up the Banks of the Tanks or Reservoirs of water, and to cleanse 'em of the Mud, of which they were at the Expence themselves, knowing that the Land wou'd produce more or less according as they had a Quantity of Water. But the Mogulls, who have now the Government of the Country, and are continued in those Governments only during Pleasure, do not think themselves under the same Obligation to be at that Expence for their Successors. By which means, in Process of Time the Tanks are almost Choack'd up, and great Part of the Lands lye uncultivated for want of Water. This alone wou'd Occasion Grain to be scarce, and of Cou[rse] Dear; To which if we add the Rapacious Dispositions [of] the Mogulls, altogether intent upon making the mo[st] of their Governments while they continue in 'em, We need not seek far for the Reason why even wit[hin] these 10 Years the Lands which are Tenanted are let f[or] more than double for what they were before. Your Honours will easily conceive what Effect it must have upon the Produce of such Lands, and we need not say much more to demonstrate it to you.|
Certain it is that Paddy at 25 Pagodas the Garce is in these times thought Cheap, whereas 20 Years ago at that Price it was reckon'd a Famine. The Scarcity at Present is so great that it Sells for 40 Pagodas a Garce, and our November Rains failing us this Year gives us a Melancholy Prospect for the next Harvest. We did in April Order the Purchase of 200 Garce, of which in May and June last we [brought] in 115 Garce for the use of the Garrison; more we did not think fit to Engage in, for it must have been a great Quantity to have Supply'd the whole Place, as we do not reckon the Number of our Inhabitants to be less than One Hundred thousand; And to them must be Added a great Number of People who Inhabit the Villages in the Country, that come every Morning from thence with Butter, Greens, Wood and many other Necessarys. ... However, when it shall please God that Grain falls to a tolerable Price, we shall lay in four or five Hundred Garce more than sufficient for the Garrison, to fling into the Market upon Occasion when we Observe the Grain Merchants Endeavouring to make an unreasonable Advantage of the Publick Calamity."