Battle of Conjeveram, 16-18 December 1751

The siege of Conjeveram (16-18 December 1751) was the third victory won by Robert Clive in a short period, following his successful capture and defence of Arcot (September-November 1751) and the battle of Arni (3 December 1751), and saw him capture a strongly fortified temple at Conjeveram and rescue it's recently captured British garrison (Second Carnatic War).

Clive’s run of successes had been inspired by the need to distract the French from their siege of Trichinopoly (July 1751-April 1752). Most British troops in the south of India were trapped in that town, where they were being besieged by Chanda Sahib, the French supported Nawab of the Carnatic. Clive suggested distracting the Nawab by capturing his capital at Arcot. The plan was a partial success – Clive captured Arcot. Chanda Sahib dispatched an army under his son Raju Sahib to recapture the city, but Clive held out until Raju Sahib abandoned the siege. He then pursued the retreating Indians, defeating them at Arni (3 December 1751).

Clive’s next target was the town of Conjeveram (Kanchipuram). This had recently fallen into French hands, and was now defended by a small garrison commanded by a Swiss officer known as La Volonté. Clive was ordered to recapture the town partly because it was on the route between Arcot and Madras, and partly because the French had captured a party of wounded British soldiers and La Volonté was reported to be treating them badly.

La Volonté had around 300 European troops and 400 sepoys, and a strong defensive position at the great temple of Conjeveram, surrounded by two strong walls. His position was somewhat weakened by the treachery of Moden Sahib, Chanda Sahib’s governor in the town, who was secretly working for the British and their candidate for the post of Nawab.

Clive arrived at Conjeveram on 15 December at the head of a force of 200 Europeans, 700 sepoys and 600 allied Maratha cavalry. La Volonté threatened to execute the two British officers in his hands (Lieutenants Revell and Glass), but Clive ignored this threat, and on 16 December began to bombard the temple complex.

After two days of bombardment the walls were coming down. La Volonté tried to stop the bombardment by forcing Lieutenant Revell onto the walls, but the British officer was rescued by Moden Sahib. It was now clear that the British were almost ready to attack, and so that night La Volonté and the garrison slipped away. The prisoners were left behind.

After occupying the temple Clive demolished the fortifications. He wasn’t strong enough to garrison the place, and instead split his army, with most going back to Arcot while Clive himself went to Fort St. David. The French soon recaptured Conjeveram, and ravaged the area just west of Madras. Clive was ordered to eliminate this new threat, and but the French and their allies pulled back without a fight. After an attempt to capture Arcot they took up a new position at Kaveripak, where on 28 February 1752 they ambushed Clive and came close to defeating him, but were eventually defeated themselves, finally allowing the British to concentrate on lifting the siege of Trichinopoly (July 1751-April 1752). 

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (10 January 2012), Battle of Conjeveram, 16-18 December 1751 ,

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