Shropshire History

Robert Clive


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1725 - Robert Clive (aka Clive of India) was born at Styche near Market Drayton. His father was a lawyer and served in Parliament for many years, representing Montgomeryshire. Clive was sent to live with his mother's sister in Manchester while still a toddler and was reported to be "out of measure, addicted to fighting".


1734 - Clive returned to Shropshire and attended the Market Drayton Grammar School, where his unruly behavior prompted his father to send him to Merchant Taylors' School in London. His bad behaviour continued and he was then sent to a trade school in Hertfordshire to complete a basic education. When he was older, he and a gang of teenagers established a protection racket that vandalised the shops of uncooperative merchants in Market Drayton. He also climbed the tower of St Mary's Church and perched on a gargoyle, frightening those down below.


1743 - Clive's father got him a position as a clerk in the East India Company. On his way there, the ship ran aground on the coast of Brazil and he was detained there for 9 months while repairs were carried out. This enabled him to learn Portuguese, a language common in parts of India.


1744 - He finally arrived at  the East India Company settlement of Fort St. George at Cuddalore and spent the next two years working as an assistant shopkeeper, tallying books and arranging supplies.


1745 – The British navy attacked a French fleet off the coast of India and started the First Carnatic War.


1746 – In September, Madras was captured by the French. The British residents were asked to take an oath promising not to take up arms against the French but Clive and a handful of others refused so were kept under guard. Disguising themselves as natives, Clive and 3 others escaped and made their way to Fort St. David, 50 miles to the south. Upon his arrival, Clive enlisted in the East India Company army.


1747 – In March the French unsuccessfully attacked Fort St David and Clive was given a commission as an ensign.



1748 – At the siege of Pondicherry, Clive distinguished himself and one witness wrote "Clive's platoon, animated by his exhortation, fired again with new courage and great vivacity upon the enemy". Clive accompanied a British expedition to Tanjore, now promoted to lieutenant. It was, however, was a disastrous failure so General Lawrence took the entire garrison of Fort St David to Tanjore in response. At the fort of Devikottai, Clive commanded 30 British soldiers and 700 sepoys, with orders to lead the assault on the fort. The Tanjoreans abandoned the fort and it was said that Clive "behaved in courage and in judgment much beyond what could be expected from his years".  Madras was returned to the British in December as part of a peace agreement and Lawrence procured for Clive a position as commissary at Fort St George. This was a lucrative posting as he received commissions on all supply contracts.


1750 – The Second Carnatic War against the French started but Clive was ill with a nervous disorder and was sent north to Bengal to recuperate.


1751 – Clive returned to Madras and joined an expedition to attack a fort defending Arcot. Clive was only the commissary but was outraged at the decision to abandon the siege. He rode to Cuddalore and offered his services to lead an attack on Arcot if he was given a captain's commission. This was agreed and he was given 200 European soldiers, 300 sepoys and three small cannons.  The garrison abandoned the fort and Clive occupied Arcot without firing a shot. Over the next week, Clive and his men improved the defences since a force of 4,000 Indians and a small contingent of French troops was on its way to win it back. Clive successfully defended Arcot and a report said "... the commander who had to conduct the defence...was a young man of five and twenty, who had been bred as a book-keeper... Clive...had made his arrangements, and, exhausted by fatigue, had thrown himself on his bed. He was awakened by the alarm, and was instantly at his post.... After three desperate onsets, the besiegers retired behind the ditch. The struggle lasted about an hour...the garrison lost only five or six men". His conduct during the siege made Clive famous in Europe and the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Elder, described Clive as the "heaven-born general". The Court of Directors of the East India Company voted him a sword worth £700.


1753 – Clive left Madras for home after marrying Margaret Maskelyne.


1754 - Clive was made MP for the Cornwall rotten borough of St Michael's but only served for one year.


1755 - In July, Clive returned to India to act as deputy governor of Fort St David. On the journey, he lost a considerable fortune as the ship “Doddington” was wrecked, losing a chest of gold coins belonging to Clive worth £33,000. Clive was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in the British Army and took part in the capture of the fortress at Gheriah.


1756 – Clive and Admiral Charles Watson recaptured Calcutta and released the British prisoners who had been placed in a punishment cell which became infamous as the Black Hole of Calcutta. In stifling summer heat, 123 of the 146 prisoners had died as a result of suffocation or heat stroke.


1757 - Clive sent a fleet up the river against the French colony of Chandannagar, while he besieged it by land. His army had 1,100 European soldiers and 2,100 sepoys, with nine cannons. The enemy had 18,000 cavalry, 50,000 infantry and 53 cannons served by French artillerymen. Clive won the battle with very few casualties and raided the treasury, where he took booty worth £160,000. A grateful Indian ally presented him with the rent of lands in and around Calcutta, amounting to an annuity of £27,000 for life.


1760 - Clive’s health deteriorated and he returned to England with a fortune of at least £300,000 and the rents of £27,000 a year. A grateful nation made him Baron Clive of Plassey in Ireland, where he had bought land. He was elected as MP for Shrewsbury and received an honorary degree from Oxford University.


1764 – Clive was made a Knight of the Bath.


1765 – In May, Clive returned to Calcutta. He had helped to create the empire of British India, increased the salaries of civil servants, banned the acceptance of gifts from Indians and put down a mutiny of the British officers who resented the veto against receiving presents. He divided the whole Indian army into three brigades, making each a complete force.


1767 - Clive left India for the last time in February.


1768 - Clive lived for a short time in the Chateau de Larzac near Pezenas in France. Local tradition says that he was responsible for introducing a sweet pastry called “Le Petit Pate de Pezenas”, the size and shape of a large cotton reel with a sweet centre. He had brought the recipe from India as a refined version of the savoury Keema Naan. Later in the year, Clive was made a Fellow of the Royal Society .


1769 – Clive bought a house and gardens at Claremont near Esher and commissioned Capability Brown to remodel the garden and rebuild the house.


1772 - Clive was  appointed Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire.


1774 – In November, Clive committed suicide by an overdose of drugs at his Berkeley Square home in London. He was only 49  but had a history of depression and opium addiction, which he took to relive the pain from gallstones. He had recently been offered command of British forces in North America which he had turned down. Clive was buried in St Margaret's Church at Moreton Say, near his birthplace in Shropshire.