In the spring of 1767, Robert Clive, then a “writer” for the East India Company (EIC) planned to return to England, having earned a sizable fortune in legitimate trade of spices and textiles.  Several Bengali nobles, including asked him to remain in Bengal and offered him £1 million and the EIC another £1 million  if he would help them end nawab Suraj ud-Daulah’s reign of terror and to set up Mir Jafar, the commander-in-chief of the army and naweb.  Clive and the Calcutta Council entertained the proposal while they amused Suraj ud-Daulah with empty negotiations. 

In the course of the negotiations with the conspirators, Clive, with the support of the Council, drafted two copies of a treaty containing the required promises but the copies were not identical.  One copy, contained all the promises made to Mir Jafar.  The other, written on red paper, omitted these clauses.  When Suraj ud-Daulah was shown the red treaty with the British signatures, attached to it, he signed both not realizing that the second was different.  He had, legally, abdicated.

When the treaty was signed, Clive no longer considered it necessary to play with Suraj ud-Daulah. He sent a dispatch, setting forth a list of British grievances, and announced that he was coming with his men to the nawab’s capital of Murshidabad to receive his answer.  Marching with over three thousand men and ten guns, Clive marched toward Katwa. Suraj ud-Daulah moved to meet him with sixty thousand men.  They met at a grove near Plassey five days later.

There was no indication that Mir Jafar would honor his promises.  Clive and his three thousand troops were surrounded and outnumbered, and the march was checked by stormy weather. The next morning, the British force, wet and weary, lined up face to face with twenty times their own number of the nawab’s troops but the evening’s storms had soaked the powder of Suraj ud-Daulah’s soldiers.  After a brief cannonade and a failed sally by a small body of fifty French calvary, the Indian guns fell silent.  The nawab’s guns were put out of action.  Clive’s men had protected their powder and were still able to fire punishing volleys.  They advanced, and the whole vast Indian army broke before it and fled. So slight was the resistance offered that the vanquished lost only a few hundred men, the victors only seventy.

Suraj ud-Daulah, fleeing in disguise, was caught and murdered by the son of Mir Jafar. Clive, according to promise, proclaimed Mir Jafar nawab, but would allow no further bloodshed. To the natives Clive became at once a sort of demi-god; and he found himself not only effective master of Mir Jafar himself, but for all practical purposes responsible master of all Bengal; while the fame of his miraculous powers spread over half India.

This victory provided a morale boost and a sense of invincibility for the EIC.  Prior to Passey, the EIC was one of many competing powers for the trading rights in India.  The French, Portuguese, and particularly the Dutch were direct competitors and often better manned and equipped.  This victory, however, established the EIC as a power that could match the ranks of mighty Indian emperors.

Many historians want us to believe that superior armory and military tactics of the British were the reasons behind their conquest of India. Like all things associated with the EIC, it was treachery and treachery alone that caused the Indian defeat. While on paper we find 3000 English army fighting 40,000+ Indian army, in reality only less than 15,000 soldiers were fighting from the side of the Nawab and all others either remained neutral or took sides with the English.  That and a few Indian made tarpaulined thrown over barrels of gunpowder.

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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