The interesting story of a remarkable man lies buried in the obscure pages of Kerala history. In available data, there is confusion about his name, nationality and designation. I understand that my brother Professor Emeritus PKM Tharakan in
I have chosen the name Delannoy from the versions of it given by different writers. Delannoy was part of, or commanded an assault fleet of the Dutch East India Company in early 1740s to Colachal (Kolachal). The objective was to capture the port in the south western corner of
The Dutch marines stormed the beach and advanced almost to the outskirts of the Venad palace. Then a surprise counter attack by the king’s Nair soldiers from the flank routed the Dutch. It is said that this was the first occasion when an Indian ruler defeated a western naval force. Delannoy and some of his men were captured alive.
The force that vanquished the Dutch had been raised in 1703 as bodyguards of the Venad raja. Today it is the 9th Battalion of the Madras Regiment, perhaps the oldest unit in the Indian Army, with uninterrupted service for over 300 years.
In spite of Delannoy’s defeat, Marthanda Varma was quick to appreciate the man’s military acumen. He offered Delannoy and his men freedom in exchange of training the Travancore soldiers in modern weaponry and warfare. Thus started Delannoy’s association of nearly 37 years with Travancore. Delannoy transformed the local army into an elite fighting force well-trained in the use of muskets. This contributed immeasurably to Marthanda Varma’s success in the several wars that he waged.
One of Delannoy’s great achievements was the designing and building of Nedumkottai, a 48 km long fort to defend attacks from the north. This bulwark was to play a crucial role when the
There is no clarity about the Delannoy’s official designation in Travancore. Several writers refer to him as Captain. He was perhaps a naval captain at the time of Colachal War. He was made the chief of the state’s armed forces, whatever the designation was. With affectionate respect the people called him ‘Valia Kappithan’ which means big captain or admiral or great naval chief.
Delannoy’s status seems to have been that of a Nair Lord (madambi) or slightly above that. He stayed at the old Udayagiri Fort, which Marthanda Varma had renovated, till his death in 1777. It came to be known as ‘Dillanai
Delannoy sleeps eternally in a chapel at Udayagiri. His wife and son were also buried there, on either side of his tomb.
Photos of Udayagiri Chapel and the Delannoy tombs are reproduced under GNU Free Documentation License. Click for enlarged view .
Also see: Indian who could have been the King of France?