Siege of Pondicherry, August-October 1748

The siege of Pondicherry (August-October 1748) was the last major action of the First Carnatic War, and saw a sizable British army and fleet fail to capture the main French stronghold in southern India.

Early in the war the French captured the British stronghold of Madras (14-21 September 1746) and for the next two years they held the initiative, but were unable to capture the main remaining British position at Fort St. David. The balance of power changed in July 1748 when Admiral Edward Boscawen arrived at Fort St David. He brought with him eight warships and 1,400 regular British troops. Once he had combined with Admiral Griffin and local East India Company ships and troops, Boscawen commanded a force of 30 warships, 3,700 European troops and 2,000 Sepoys. Boscawen decided that this was a strong enough force to besiege the French stronghold at Pondicherry.

Pondicherry was defended by 1,800 European troops and 3,000 Sepoys, under the command of the Marquis Joseph-François Dupleix. He had strengthened the fortifications of Pondicherry, and built an outlying fort at Ariancopang, two miles to the south.

Boscawen decided to take this outlying fort before moving to Pondicherry. He began with a costly frontal assault on the position, believing it to be weakly held. This was repulsed at great cost, and a regular siege began. This also went badly. The Swiss officer in charge of the defence, M. Paradis, sent his small cavalry detachment to attack the naval brigade trenches, causing a panic, and capturing Major Stringer Lawrence, the British victor at Cuddalore earlier in the year. The British then had a stroke of luck when one of the magazines in Ariancopang exploded. The French dismantled their fortifications and rejoined the main garrison at Pondicherry, after delaying the British for three weeks.

Boscawen suffered greatly from the incompetence of his siege engineers. On 6 September work began on the first parallel, but this was dug twice as far from the covered way as was usual, greatly increasing the amount of work needed to dig the siege works. The only bright point for the British was the failure of a French sortie, in which Paradis was killed (and in which the young Robert Clive made his first mark as a soldier).

These British successes convinced Anwar-ud-Din, the Nawab of the Carnatic, to side with the British, but the French position was not as weak as it seemed. It took the British an entire month to build two gun batteries, giving Dupleix plenty of time to modify his defences accordingly. On 7 October the British bombardment finally began, but the French counter-battery fire was twice as powerful. Shallow water prevented the British fleet from coming any closer than 1,000 yards, so a naval bombardment was also ineffective. To make things worse the monsoon rains began early, flooding the British trenches.

On 11 October, after three days of ineffective bombardment, and with casualties mounting, Boscawen decided to raise the siege. The British had lost over 1,000 European soldiers, and an unstated number of Sepoys, and had achieved nothing.

Back in Europe the War of the Austrian Succession was coming to an end, and on 18 October the Peace of Aix-le-Chapelle was agreed. The news reached India in November, and hostilities came to a temporary end. Madras was handed back to the British in return for Louisbourg in Canada. This peace would be short-lived in India. The British and French would soon be fighting against, this time as allies of competing Indian princes (Second Carnatic War, 1749-54).

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (12 December 2011), Siege of Pondicherry, August-October 1748 ,

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