India – History and Society – for those who wish to think and learn for themselves
Vandavasi (Wandiwash) is a small town of about 50,000 residents lying about 100 kilometres to the south west of Madras (Chennai). It lies in the arid Arcot region in the northern aspect of the state of Tamil Nadu. Currently, its main attractions are a crumbling fort, several large Hindu temples and a few Jain temples. The town was probably a centre of Jain learning about 800 to 1000 years ago, prior to the ascent of Hinduism in the region.
Vandavasi’s claim to fame is the famous Battle of Wandiwash which took place in 1760 between the French and British forces in India. It was the decisive battle of the Third Anglo-French war fought between the two dominant European powers in the subcontinent in the mid-18th century. After victories in the north in Bengal, the British were better armed and had more money to recruit a larger army, which was able to defeat the smaller French army.
Sir Eyre Coote, an Irishman from Limerick in Ireland, led the British forces. Coote had made his way up the East India company after arriving in India in the mid-1840s. He fought under Robert Clive at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, firmly establishing British control of Bengal, perhaps the most decisive step in the history of the British Empire in India.
At Wandiwash, equipped with better munitions and forces, Coote ensured that the French were easily defeated and then restricted to Pondicherry. Coote was immensely rewarded for this victory and more importantly became a public hero in India and Britain. He acquired the name “Coote Bahadur” (Coote the brave). Later he fought the King of Mysore, Hyder Ali in several of the Anglo-Mysore wars.
He was knighted in 1771 following his return to Britain. However, he returned to India only to die in Madras in 1783 at the age of 58. A memorial was installed in his memory at Westminister Abbey in London recounting his victories in India. After his death, his body was brought back to Britain and buried in Rockbourne, Hampshire. As he and his wife bore no children, his wealth was inherited by his brother and then his nephew, also named Eyre Coote, who became the Governor of Jamaica.
The portrait of Sir Eyre Coote is found in the National Portrait Gallery in London – and is in the public domain.