27 AUG 1781 BATTLE OF PALILORE

Eyre Coote (East India Company officer)

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Lieutenant-General Sir Eyre Coote, KB (1726 – 28 April 1783) was a British soldier. He is best known for his many years of service with the British Army inIndia. His victory at the Battle of Wandiwash is considered a decisive turning point in the struggle for control in India between Britain and France. He was known by his sepoy troops asCoote Bahadur (Coote the Brave).[1]

Early life

A member of the Coote family headed by theEarl of Mountrath, he was born near Limerick,Ireland, the son of the Reverend Chidley Coote and Jane Evans, daughter of George Evans and sister of George Evans, 1st Baron Carbery.[2] He entered the 27th Regiment of Foot. He first saw active service in theJacobite rising of 1745, and later obtained a captaincy in the 39th Regiment, the first regular British regiment sent to India.

Seven Years War
Recapture of Calcutta

In 1756 a part of the regiment, then quartered at Madras, was sent forward to joinRobert Clive in his operations against Calcutta which had recently been captured by the forces of the Nawab of Bengal, which had been followed by the Black Hole of Calcutta. The city was reoccupied without difficulty in January 1757. However, Coote and Clive argued so violently over who should reoccupy Fort William that they almost fired at each other, which began a lifelong rivalry and hatred between the two men.[3]

Plassey

Coote was soon given the local rank of Major for his good conduct in surprising the camp of the Nawab of Bengal. Soon afterwards came the Battle of Plassey, which would probably never have taken place but for Coote’s advice at the council of war; after the defeat of the Nawab he led a detachment in pursuit of the French for 400 miles under extraordinary difficulties. His conduct won him the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and the command of the 84th Regiment of Foot, newly raised in Britain for Indian service, but his exertions had seriously damaged his health.

Wandiwash

In October 1759 Coote’s regiment arrived to take part in the decisive struggle between French and British in the Carnatic. He took command of the forces at Madras, where a French siege had recently been defeated, and on 22 January 1760 led them in the decisive victory of Battle of Wandiwash.

After a time the remnants of Lally‘s forces were besieged in Pondicherry. For some reason Coote was not entrusted with the siege operations, but loyally supportedWilliam Monson, who brought the siege to a successful end on 15 January 1761. In the latter year he sat for Maryborough in the Irish House of Commons.

Soon afterwards Coote was given the command of the British East India Company‘s forces in Bengal, and settled a serious dispute between the Nawab Mir Qasim and a powerful subordinate. In 1762 he returned to England, receiving a jewelled sword of honour from the Company and other rewards for his great services. In 1771 he was made a Knight of the Order of the Bath.

In 1768, he was elected M.P. for the borough of Leicester in the Parliament of Great Britain, before transferring to Poole, nearer his Hampshire estates, in 1774. He relinquished the seat in 1780 after his last return to India.[4]

American War of Independence
Return to India

In 1779 he returned to India as Lieutenant-General commanding in chief. He allied himself to Warren Hastings, the Governor General who generally deferred to him and gave him a free hand over military matters, in opposition to Hasting’s opponents on the ruling Council Edward Wheler and Philip Francis. He spent much of his time visiting outlying garrisons and chose to attend meetings of the Calcutta Council only when it was necessary to pass some important measure.[5] Without Coote’s support, Hastings was likely to be outvoted on the Council.[6] This situation only ended when Francis returned home where he began to stir up criticism of Hastings’ conduct with ultimately led to his failed impeachment.

Hyder attacks

Eyre Coote fought Hyder Ali.

Memorial for the Battle of Porto Novo, 1781 at Porto Novo

Following Hyder Ali‘s opening of the Second Anglo-Mysore War in southern India Coote returned to active service. It was not until 1 June 1781 that Coote struck the first heavy blow against Hyder in the decisive Battle of Porto Novo. The battle was won by Coote against odds of five to one. It was followed up by another hard-fought battle at Pollilur (the scene of an earlier triumph of Hyder over a British force) on 27 August, in which the British won another success, and by the rout of the Mysore troops at Sholinghur a month later. His last service was the arduous campaign of 1782, which finally shattered a constitution already gravely impaired by hardship and exertions. Coote died at Madras on 28 April 1783. The war with Mysore was brought to an inconclusive end by the Treaty of Mangalore in 1784. Subsequent conflicts were fought, the Mysorean capital was twice captured, and Hyder’s dynasty was eventuallyoverthrown in 1799.

Legacy

Memorial at Westminster Abbey byThomas Banks

Monument to Eyre Coote in West Park

Sir Eyre Coote died in Madras (now Chennai) on 28 April 1783 after a stroke.

He is generally remembered for his victory at Wandiwash and capture of Pondicherry which were decisive moments in the struggle between Britain and France for dominance in India.[7]Although he often quarrelled with other British officers and officials, Coote was adored by thesepoy troops under his command.[7] Following his death a monument was erected to him inWestminster Abbey and another, in the form of a tall column, within his estate at West Park,Rockbourne, Hampshire. His nephew was Sir Eyre Coote, GCB who served as Governor General of India.

He had married in 1769 a daughter of Charles Hutchinson, Governor of St. Helena. They had no children, and his property, worth over £200,000, was left to his brother, Doctor Charles Coote,Dean of Kilfenora, in County Clare, Ireland.[8] In his autobiography the American General andSecretary of State Colin Powell claims direct descent from Coote’s identically named nephew Eyre Coote while the latter was serving asGovernor of Jamaica, which has led to Powell sometimes being incorrectly referred to as a direct descendant of the elder General Coote.

Bibliography
  • Harvey, Robert. Clive: The life and Death of a British Emperor. Hodder and Stoughton, 1998.
  • Sheppard E. W. Coote Bahadur: A Life of Lieutenant-General Sir Eyre Coote, KB Werner Laurie 1956
  • Turnbull, Patrick. Warren Hastings. New English Library, 1975.
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