Ports Of Coromandel Coast History Essay

When we talk about the term Coromandel, we see that it is generally believed to have hand and very early historical past and the term Coromandel, widely held to be derived from the classical Tamil regional name Colamandalam, when applied to the eastern coast of India has come to embrace a wider geographic area than that for which it was originally used. The visitor of the 19th century would be struck by the description given to Coromandel by the 17th-century writers. What exactly distinguishes both these sets of observations is that the 17th-century idea of Coromandel is too vast and wide than that of the 19th century and secondly it divides the Coromandel into two neat parts with the Godavari river as the dividing point. For contemporary visitors of the seventeenth century to the area, the Coromandel Coast was the wide expanse of India’s eastern coast from point Calimere, where the coastline takes a sharp northerly drift, to near the 200 N latitude or the port of Ganjam. It was divided into two parts, the north and the south, with the Godavari point being the dividing the between the two. In later times the Coromandel Coast proper was held to be to the south of this Godavari point and the north was known as the Gingelly coast or Golconda coast. By the seventeenth century usage, the term embraced the coastlines of the modern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh (Telugu Desam) and the southern tip of Orissa [1] . Contemporary visitors to the area looked upon the entire coast as forming one trading region, with common patterns of trade, common characteristics of seafaring and a broadly similar hinterland. The extent to which they were justified in this will become clear in the succeeding pages, where the trade of the region is considered [2] . This justice is the whole point that the geographical regions do not have an inherent constitution and are not defined merely by physical phenomena like rocks Rivers, mountains and many other such naturally occurring features. On the contrary, the human interaction with the region produces the region and thus we see that during the pre-modern period the Coromandel was region whose prime importance to outsiders was trade, whereas in the centuries preceding the mediaeval period no such large-scale trading activity was found. Therefore the constitution of the region of Coromandel by the Europeans was based on trade that took place during the height period of capitalism in Europe.

Another striking feature of the Coromandel cost and in general the western coast of India was the absence of natural harbours and also naturally occurring features conducive for shipping. This is one of the reasons that for trade to take place in the Western coastline of India was easy though the continental shelf was very deep. In the eastern coast, the low continental shelf and lack of deep harbours hindered the moment of big vessels from the reverse to the ocean. In the whole Coromandel coast, there were only very few points that are very favourable for shipping and it is only logical that, these points have become the major ports. A brief description of the ports would help us in understanding the nature of the moment of vessels and consequently the trade patterns. The western shores of the Bay of Bengal were generally inhospitable for shipping. There were no naturally endowed havens on the coast comparable to the Trincomalee Bay in eastern Ceylon. Kakinada, the place that came nearest to such a natural harbour, did not have other favourable characteristics as a trade outlet and was not one of the major ports of the area in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most of the ports of outlet were either exposed to the full force of the elements of the ocean or were sheltered behind mouths of rivers and creeks with problems of entry and exit created by shifting channels and sand bars. The coastline was generally flat and sandy with the exception of its northernmost parts, where it is somewhat undulating and less sandy. There were no soundings to help incoming ships outside half a degree from the coastline, a situation that contrasts with the eastern shores of the Bay of Bengal – which had soundings 4 degrees from the coast.

The northernmost port of Coromandel with some significance in coastal and oceanic trade in our period is Ganjam, situated at latitude. 190 22 N’, longitude 850 3′, at the mouth of river Rushikulya. It is better known in the records in the eighteenth century than it is in the seventeenth, but this may be because of increasing European interest in it. Ganjam was typical of the river mouth ports of Coromandel, with shifting sand banks and narrow channels. The banks were of sufficient depth to allow country vessels through and the river was navigable for some distance inland, being of considerable size. The surf was heavy and large vessels anchored on the roadstead. They were reached by the many local boats that operated from the river. The port derived its strength from the fertile Rushikulya valley, from where and from neighbouring Orissa rice was transported there for export. It was an important port in the coastal trade southwards to Madras, Paleacat and other places where rice was in demand. In the eighteenth century, as the south became an area deficit in food grains, Ganjam became the starting point of a provisions lifeline to these places. Ganjam was also proximate to textile producing centres. There is no evidence that it was prominent in the oceanic trade in our period, but appears rather to have been a feeder port to some of the neighbouring export centres of Golconda. [3] 

About twelve miles south of Ganjam is the port of Gopalpur, a port not of any great significance in our period, though it grew in importance in the nineteenth century. It does not find a mention in the contemporary traveller’s accounts, nor does it feature in the trade of the companies. In the nineteenth century it seems to have been looked upon as the principal port of the Ganjam district and to have become prominent in the export trade in rice, probably drawing trade away from Ganjam port. About twelve miles south of Gopalpur is the port of Sonapur, about which little is known, though there are enough hints of its undoubted commercial activities. There was a tradition related by merchants of Sonapur late in the eighteenth century that, because of a caste disputes among merchants at Ganjam, komatties decided to leave that port and settle in Sonapur. The shift seems also to have been caused by the need to escape oppressive taxation at Ganjam. Near it inland was the important market town of Berhampur. It appears that there were some major suppliers of textiles among these merchants, from which it could be inferred that the port was a fedder of export piece goods to other larger ports in the area [4] .

The next port in the south of any significance was Kalingapatnam at the entrance to the Vamsadhara river, known to contemporaries as the Kalingapatnam river. It was an open roadstead, protected on the south by a sandy point and some rocks, and provided safe anchorage. It is referred to occasionally in contemporary records, but little is known of its trade except that it drew on the rich rice growing and textile producing hinterland. About fourteen miles south of Kalingapatnam, on the Langulya river, is the town of Srikakulam known among the contemporary Europeans as Chicacole. It was situated about four miles upstream on its northern bank. Its port of outlet was Mufaz Bandar at the mouth of the river. Srikakulam was a district administrative capital under the Golconda kingdom and later under the Mughal empire. It was an important market for the supply of textiles from several weaving villages all around. Over time, however, the entrance to the river Langulya got choked and the port was not functional any more. There is evidence that this was happening in our period, since much of the cloth of Srikakulam was being transported by land northwards to Kalingapatnam or southwards to Bimilipatnam. A prosperous hinterland based on a surplus of rice cultivation and craft production with the primary emphasis on textiles mark to some of the ports like Kalinga Putnam. The rich land was very conducive for rice cultivation and the prosperity of this agricultural base led to diversification into production of cotton and textile production. With the increase of time, many of the weavers who worked part-time due to the uncertain nature of demand became full-time weavers and and did not participate in agriculture. This shift in patterns of production was mainly due to the development of the port over the centuries.

Bimilipatnam, situated on latitude 170 53′ N, longitude 830 27′ E, was an important trading port in our period. It was more important than the major modern port of Visakhapatnam, which lies about fifteen miles to its south. The coastline between Bimilipatnam and Kalingapatnam is dangerous and inhospitable, with a submerged ledge of rocks within six miles of the shore. Nor did the hinterland provide opportunities for trade. Bimilipatnam, port, though an open roadstead was reasonably well protected by headlands and provided safe anchorage in both south-west and north-east monsoons, being thus one of the well weather ports of this coast. It was therefore the resort of a large native shipping fleet, both the small coasting vessels and the large ships that sailed to Bengal and across the Bay of South East Asia. It was above all the chief rice exporting port of this coast, the main supplier by sea to South Coromandel, Ceylon and the Malabar Coast. The Dutch physician, Daniel Havart, who lived for many years in Paleacat, called it a ‘rice bowl’ for Ceylon and other ports. The large East Indiamen of the European Companies would resort here to pick up food supplies before sailing on long journeys. Dutch ships sailing from Masulipatnam to Malacca and Batavia called here on the way to stock up rice, meat and other foodstuffs for the journey. It was also a port for the export of textiles to South East Asia [5] .

Among the small ports listed on the eastern coast was Visakhapatnam as it was only rudimentary stages of development, though it had very good natural harbour that was only waiting to be developed. To the south of Bililipatnam was Visakhapatnam, which as noted above, had not yet achieved its subsequent importance. Situated on latitude 170 42′ N, longitude 830 17′ E, it was recognized as a port with natural advantages. It lay on a river which was barred at the entrance but, with eight to ten feet at the shallowest, was capable of admitting boats and ships of some size. There were a number of recognizable landmarks in approaching this port. While considerable interest has been paid to trade, not much focus has been levied on shipbuilding and by extension the repairs of ships in the eastern coast of India, whereas the western coast traditionally hand been engaged in shipbuilding activities to cater to the Arabian African demand. It is in this respect that we see the race of Visakhapatnam as a new port endowed with facility for both trade and shipbuilding. The convenience of the river le to the construction here of some dockyards, even in our period, for repairing ships, though the port was not yet the major centre of ship building on the coast. These facilities attracted European shipping increasingly to this port in the eighteenth century, when it began to grow in importance.

Proceeding southwards from Visakhapatnam, the next point of interest on the coast is Coringa Bay and a number of points in it within close proximity to each other: Coringa, Kakinada, Ingeram, Bandarmalanka, Yanam, and Jagannathpuram. There is evidence of all these ports being in the use in varying degrees at various times. Yanam, Ingeram and Jagannathpuram are on branches of the Godavari river in its delta area and were approachable in small boats and country vessels which good brought goods through to ships anchored in the Bay. At the bar of these rivers the water was shallow and no vessels of any substantial size could get through. These ports do not feature prominently in the seventeenth century, though it is possible they were mainly places of indigenous trade. In the eighteenth century they were frequented by Europeans looking for supplies of textiles in the region. The English shipped goods from Ingeram, the French from Yanam and the Dutch from Jagannathpuram. The Dutch were quite enthusiastic about Jagannathpuram later in the eighteenth century, referring to it as a good port and convenient place to ships goods. In fact by the end of the eighteenth century, when Dutch fortunes on the Coromandel Coast had sunk low in the face of English expansion, this was one of two places they were keen to retain for their trade [6] . The rise of Jagannathpuram is an instance of the constant dynamism in the status and activities of ports along the coast caused by a variety of internal and external factors.

To the south of this cluster of ports of the Godavari delta, on the west branch of this river, the Vasishta Godavari, also called Narsapore river, is the town of Narsapore with its port and docks. On the bar of this river was eight to nine feet of water at low tide, and inside the river, in the passage to the town, was three to five fathoms of water. The town is about six miles from the river mouth and could be entered by every type of vessel that was then in use. Adjoining Narsapore is the town of Madapollam, almost a suburb of Narsapore. Both these places, especially Nasarpore, were ship building centres, with excellently appointed dockyards for building, sheathing and caulking ships. Ships were built here for the Golconda royal merchant fleet, for native merchants and even for the companies and European free merchants. Bowery refers to a ship built in his time in Narsapore for the king of Golconda of 1000 tuns. European ships made use of these facilities in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and had vessels for their Asian trade built here. Ship building timber was shipped down river from the upper reaches of the Godavari river. The iron and steel foundries of the upper Godavari provided the raw materials for nails, couplings and anchors. Ropers and cordage were made there from coir imported from Ceylon, Malabar and the Maldives. The English and Dutch set up their own dockyards, employing their own personnel after some years . The Dutch, in particular, set about it with their customary thoroughness, bringing master carpenters, shipwrights and iron founders from the Netherlands and employing a large Indian skilled and unskilled labour force [7] .

All the places did not develop based only on purely commercial considerations like trade, as we see that there are also many other considerations like good weather and fresh and clean air that captivated the British. This is more important for them when they needed to take a rest from places nearby.

The two places were therefore not so significant as ports of trade, though there was some export of textiles from the neighbouring weaving villages, as for their ship building and repairing docks. They also had a reputation among Europeans for their clear fresh air, and company servants living in Masulipatnam (which was notoriously unhealthy) used to treat them as health resorts and have country residences there to which they would often retire. By the beginning of the eighteenth century the decline of these two river ports as centres of commerce and ship building had started. Madapollam was abandoned earlier because of the encroachment of the Godavari. The decline of Narsapore was more gradual, partly caused by the disturbed hinterland in which the raw materials for ship building were derived and partly by the rise of European controlled ports where dockyards and repair facilities were established.

Masulipatna, situated on latitude 160 9′ N, longitude 810 10′ E, was the port with the great publicity on the Coromandel coast in the seventeenth country, largely because of its high visibility to those who have left behind contemporary records, though Orme refers to a tradition that this town was founded by a colony of Arabs in the 14th century. [8] Fernandez Naverett who visited Masulipatam in 1670, describes it as a populous place of great trade, and John Fryer estimates the population of Masulipatam at the close of the 17th century at two lakhs. [9] Besides natives it was also attracted a large numbers of foreign traders from different parts of the world. The city developed separate localities of different ethnic groups such as the French Peta, the English Palem and Holland Palem. By the end of the 17th century the port and city of Masulipatam had developed considerably on account of their flourishing textile industries and growing inland maritime trade. [10] The port had links with the ocean trade of Gujrat and the Persian Gulf and also with the South-East Asian countries. A large number of merchants who came from different parts of Golconda were a great market for the goods imported through Masulipatam.

In the constant battle between man and nature and the role of man to master nature always leads to suppresses and in the case of instance of Masulipatam we see that the destruction that took place in the aftermath of the great cyclone would however be rectified by human effort. Many ports and declined or were totally neglected. However, the enterprise of the British and the resettlement of the traders saw the revival of Masulipatam.

The port city of Masulipatam continued to grow and expand till it witnessed a devasting cyclone on 13 October 1779, which destroyed and damaged a great part of the city’s houses, bridges and other buildings, besides the Dutch and English settlements. In addition to the loss of human life on the shore, several ships and boats sank during this cyclone. It was estimated that in Masulipatam and in the villages in its hinterland about 20, 000 people perished. However, soon afterwards, the wealthy merchants as well as the European factors reconstructed their establishments, and the inland and overseas trade of the port city revived. [11] 

About twelve miles to the south of Masulipatnam is Point Devy, and further to the south the Krishna flows into the ocean in many branches forming a promontory, crisscrossed by streams, rivulets and flood channels. Because this promontory was cut off from the mainland for most of the year by these rivulets, it was known to contemporaries as Devy Island. It was not a suitable place for a harbour or any form of outlet of trade, but it was extremely fertile on account of the alluvial deposits of the Krishna. The land there was well cultivated as well densely wooded, abounding in wild buffaloes and game. These features made it a great attraction to the larger European Companies facing provisioning problems. The Dutch first saw the potential of this place and made several attempts to get a grant of the ‘island’, first from the ruler of Golconda and then from the Mughals. They were more than once at the point of success but the cession was not confirmed because of the lucrative revenues the land produced to local lessees. The Dutch had grand plants to shift their trade from Masulipatnam to Devy, where they were going to construct port facilities, deepen the channel to take vessels of some size and attempt to develop inland navigation to the weaving villages. The place had the advantage of being defensible from attacks from the mainland, and would have made them independent of the hinterland power. With the decline of the port of Masulipatnam the English also had the same idea, and when Sir William Norris went on his embassy to the Mughal court in 1699 one of his requests was for a cession of Devy to the English. The concession was not given and the English sought to achieve it later in the eighteenth century, always without success. If Devy had been conceded, either to the Dutch, or to the English, there is no doubt that an effective port of outlet could have been established there, a feature that would have been consistent with the dynamics of growth and development of ports and commercial centres in Coromandel.

South of Devy Point is the port and town of Petapuli, lying on the estuary of a river. It was quite a substantial place of trade and traffic, situated close to a cluster of weaving villages. From the end of the seventeenth century the port was called Nizampatnam, a name it has retained since. The port was by all accounts good by contemporary standards, the river providing entry for vessels of up to 100 tons. Streynsham Master, when he visited this area in 1766, observed several vessels of 50 to 100 tons in the river. It was a port with a considerable country trade, besides providing goods for export for the oceanic trade. It was the home of a number of wealthy Telugu Hindu merchants). South of Nizampatnam, for some considerable distance, there are no major ports. There are some minor ports such as Motupally, Cottapatnam and Ramapatnam, which were shipping piece goods in small vessels to the larger ports of the north and the south. There is a suggestion that Cottapatnam, lying on the estuary of a river, was at one time a port of some importance. There was a tradition there, that after a quarrel between balijas and komatties in an adjoining port, the komatties migrated in a body to Cottapatnam and established their trade there. Likewise an early seventieth century European account talks of Motupally as formerly a famous mart and seat of extensive trade. So there seems to have been some shifting around of trade outlets in this area. The mouth of the Gundlakamma river, lying at latitude 150 27′ N, is generally held to mark the northern boundary of the Coromandel Coast proper [12] .

On the border between the district of Ongole and Nellore, at the mouth of the Menneru, on its right bank, is a port referred to in contemporary records as Karedu. This port appears to have been of some importance in the seventieth century, being linked directly by road to the capital city of Golconda. The bar of the river was always open to let in vessels of medium size. Customs duties were considerably lower here than in Masulipatnam, and merchants were importing and exporting goods here in some quantity. It must have been a port of some importance at one time and it is possible that it was one of the ancient ports of trade in Andhra. In Master’s time it had already declined to it significance.

South of Cottapatnam up to Palecacat, the only ports of any description are Kistnapatnam and Arumugam, the latter known to contemporary Europeans as Armagaon. This port is located on the eastern coast in the taluk of Gudur of Andhra Pradesh. Once, itwas a flourishing port centre stated by the Chola and Telugu Chola inscriptions. The port was referred to in the inscriptions as Kollitturai alias Kanda GopalaPattinam. Probably it could be named after the Telugu Chola king ViraRajendran dated in 1256-57 A.D. this port was engaged by the foreigners of various countries (pandine} bhumisamashaparadesigal and merchants. It also records that various types of vessels and boats were anchored in this port.They were referred to in the inscriptions as kalam, tonuru, tuli, kalavam, vidavu etc. Kalam is identical with kalam (small boat) mentioned in the Tamil literature and to}Uru probably identical with Tamil Toni. It has two words Toni+ Uru which ultimately became Tonuru. Uru is also a small vessel used both for inland and coastal navigation for boarding a ship, loading a ship and fishing in the coastal areas in addition to their use in the rivers as ferry boats. It is not clear to give the meaning of tuli, kalavam and vidavu.During Irumadi Tirukkalattudevar (1279 A.D.) time, the merchants of various countries residing in this port donatedone fourth percent on the appraised cost of all he goods exported and imported at this port. During Vijayanagara period the port was renamed as Rajavibhadan Pattinam.

About thirty-five miles south of Arumugam was the port of Paleacat on latitude 130 26’N, longitude 800 20′ E. In common with many other ports of the region it had no natural merit as a port, though contemporaries considered it better than Madras. The coast was shallow and there was a dangerous reef offshore, which larger ships of a later period were instructed to avoid. The main port was on the southern end of an island formed by the sea, and a lagoon or backwater called Paleacat Lake. A river flowed into the sear by the side of it but the bar was not deep enough to admit vessels of more than 50 tons. The island was called Sriharikota and a spit of sand separated it from the mainland. Ships anchored about a mile from the shore and had to be loaded and unloaded in small boats of the masoola type which were beached on the shore. Paleacat was an important port of Indian shipping dating back well before the seventeenth century, featuring prominently in the trade to South East Asia. Its hinterland, Poneritaluq, had several villages engaged in handloom manufacture, and Paleacat was the port of outlet for these goods. When the Dutch secured considerable rights and privileges here, they began to dominate the trade. They erected a fort, Fort Geldria, at the point where the river flowed into the sea, and dredged some of the sandbanks to enable the use of the river and the backwaters for transport in small boats. There were villages all round the port, some of which were ceded to the Dutch. They brought all these villages into the service of the port and developed the complex, by the end of the seventeenth century, into a substantial port town. The shifting of the river estuary, the sandbanks and coastal erosion appear to have made Paleacat less functional as a port in the eighteenth century. Outside the Dutch fort was a section of the port where Indian owned ships plied their trade. But they had to submit themselves to Dutch restrictive controls and appear to have moved out of Paleacat to other Coromandel ports. Under the Dutch, Paleacat was drawn in to the Dutch-Asian trading system and established close shipping links with important Dutch centres of trade such as Malacca, Colombo and Batavia. In the eighteenth century, in addition to climatic factors, political and economic events led to the decline of the port. In the nineteenth century Paleacat disappeared as a trading port and was not in use even in the coastal trade [13] .

About twenty-five miles south of Paleacat is Fort St. George or Madras (originally Chennapatanam, situated on latitude 130 5′ N, longitude 800 18′ E. Generally recognized as among the worst harbours of the region in terms of physical situation, it has futures that were positively dangerous to shipping. It was not a place to which local shipping had restored before the foundation of the English settlement. Its precise origins are not clear but it appears that a town had been founded there a few years prior to its cession to the English. Whatever the origins, it is clear that the place was no more than a few fishing settlements when the English arrived there. The ruler though this a means to achieve his ambition of developing a commercial centre in his dominions. This proved eminently successful, though not in the way conceived by the ruler. Madras grew as yet another port along the coast with an open roadstead. In the beginning it was primarily used by English shipping. It later attracted indigenous Indian shipping, though Madras in our period never became the home of a large Indian merchant fleet.

Four miles south of Fort St. George is the port of San Thome, built by the Portuguese as a fort and town near the older Tamil port of Mylapore. Mylapore occurs as a port of significance in the trade to South East Asia, long before the Portuguese came to San Thome. After they settled there and built the fort, the better to control the trade and derive some tribute from it. Mylapore and San Thome seem to have functioned as an extended port, inland market and manufacturing town. Mylapore had settlements of weavers producing for an export market. The port was an open roadstead, much the same as Madras, though the rivulet of Adayar and the backwaters may have provided some facility for small boat traffic. The St. Thomas Mount rising just behind the port was visible from out at sea and was a good sounding point of sailors. Despite Portuguese presence, possibly because of it, Indian shipping continued unaffected by the English settlement of Madras. Like Madras, it drew from the Chingleput hinterland for its textile exports and imported goods for that market.

About seventeen miles to the south of Madras was Kovalam, which appears to have been use as a port of outlet at certain times. It never really grew to any importance, despite efforts by the rulers of the hinterland to achieve this in the eighteenth century. The obvious attractions of revenue from customs due on imports and exports persuaded the regional officers of the nawab of Arcot to foster the growth of this port and to initiate the construction of a town ship called Sadat Bandar. There is evidence that shipping was attracted to the port in the first decades of the eighteenth century. The Ostend East India Company was given permission by the nawab to establish a factory there with trading concessions. The company folded up and Kovalam never developed a trade of any consequence [14] .

South of Kovalam, past Mahabalipuram and the so called Seven Pagodas, was the port of Sadurangapatnam, lying at latitude 120 32′ N, longitude 800 10′ E. It was an important port of oceanic trade in the seventeenth century, known to the Europeans as Sadraspatnam or Sadras. Though without a river, there was an outstretched headland that provided some protection to ships which could lie close to the coast. The temples Mahabalipuram just seven miles to the north were a good sounding point for ships sailing into this port. The port derived its strength from a well populated hinterland, with numerous weavers’ villages and with good access to internal markets by road. Indian shippers carried on an import and export trade from here across the Bay of Bengal. Its importance persuaded the Dutch to take the port and neighbouring village in lease in 1705, after which native shipping seemed to have moved elsewhere.

The coastline south of Sadraspatnam was in our period a busy area of trade and traffic. It was littered with a number of ports situated within a few miles of each o

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