Who was Siraj-ud-Daulah?

Amal Chatterjee
15 min readDec 7, 2018

Source : Google photo of Siraj-ud- Daulah ( Last king of Bengal )

Synopsis : Very few know of Siraj- ud- Daulah who was the last king of Bengal . He was defeated by Robert Clive in the battle of Plassey on 1757 due to the betrayal of his generals in the battle field. All those people including Siraj died pitifully in the hands of assassins or committed suicide thus ending his rule and the start of the British East India Company that was the precursor to the British empire one hundred years later.

I have always wanted to write about Siraj- ud- Daulah. He was a historical figure in India and so was Robert Clive. Clive’s decisive victory over Siraj in the battle of Plassey was the start of the expansion of the British East India Co. that later paved the way for England to claim the entire country as its colony with direct rule from England in 1857.

Siraj Ud Daula had ordered his army to attack the Fort Williams in Kolkata to put an end to the British expansion in India and captured the fort with more than 150 British inside. They were put in a small room where most of them died of suffocation. This was the infamous Black hole of Fort Williams incident that Clive later took revenge of during the battle of Plassey.

Source : Google photo of Black hole in Fort Williams in Kolkata , Bengal, India

Robert Clive became enormously rich through his dealings in India that led him back to England where he was investigated for his illegally acquired wealth through shoddy practices there so he committed suicide fearing the consequences of the parliamentary investigations. Little did he know that they were considering a promotion for him as the Governor General of the British colonies in North America as a reward for his services in India.

This is however, the story of Siraj- ud- Daulah, the last king of Bengal and Clive’s victory. I have sourced this story mostly from Wikipedia that gives a great deal of detail .

Battle of Plassey :

The Battle of Plassey was a decisive victory of the British East India Company over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies on 23 June 1757, under the leadership of Robert Clive. The battle consolidated the Company’s presence in Bengal, which later expanded to cover much of India over the next hundred years.

The battle took place at Palashi (Anglicised version: Plassey) on the banks of the Hooghly River, about 150 kilometres (93 mi) north of Calcutta and south of Murshidabad, then capital of Bengal (now in Murshidabad district in West Bengal). The belligerents were the Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, and the British East India Company. Siraj-ud-Daulah had become the Nawab of Bengal the year before, and he ordered the English to stop the extension of their fortification. Robert Clive bribed Mir Jafar, the commander-in-chief of the Nawab’s army, and also promised him to make him Nawab of Bengal. Clive defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah at Plassey in 1757 and captured Calcutta.

The battle was preceded by an attack on British-controlled Calcutta by Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah and the Black Hole massacre. The British sent reinforcements under Colonel Robert Clive and Admiral Charles Watson from Madras to Bengal and recaptured Calcutta. Clive then seized the initiative to capture the French fort of Chandernagar. Tensions and suspicions between Siraj-ud-daulah and the British culminated in the Battle of Plassey. The battle was waged during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), and, in a mirror of their European rivalry, the French East India Company (La Compagnie des Indes Orientales) sent a small contingent to fight against the British.

Siraj-ud-Daulah had a numerically superior force and made his last stand at Plassey. The British, worried about being outnumbered, formed a conspiracy with Siraj-ud-Daulah’s demoted army chief Mir Jafar, along with others such as Yar Lutuf Khan, Jagat Seths (Mahtab Chand and Swarup Chand), Umichand and Rai Durlabh. Mir Jafar, Rai Durlabh and Yar Lutuf Khan thus assembled their troops near the battlefield but made no move to actually join the battle. Siraj-ud-Daulah’s army with 50,000 soldiers, 40 cannons and 10 war elephants was defeated by 3,000 soldiers of Col. Robert Clive, owing to the flight of Siraj-ud-Daulah from the battlefield and the inactivity of the conspirators. The battle ended in 11 hours.

This is judged to be one of the pivotal battles in the control of Indian subcontinent by the colonial powers. The British now wielded enormous influence over the Nawab and consequently acquired significant concessions for previous losses and revenue from trade. The British further used this revenue to increase their military might and push the other European colonial powers such as the Dutch and the French out of South Asia, thus expanding the British Empire.

Source : Google photo of Alivardi Khan , Nabab of Bengal

The Mughal Empire’s Nawab of Bengal Alivardi Khan adopted strict attitudes towards European mercantile companies in Bengal.

Source : Google painting of Mughal emperor Farrukshiyar

Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar adopted a lenient policy towards the British East India Company. Alwardi Khan ascended to the throne of the Nawab of Bengal after his army attacked and captured the capital of Bengal, Murshidabad. Aliwardi’s attitude to the Europeans in Bengal is said to be strict. During his wars with the Marathas, he allowed the strengthening of fortifications by the Europeans and the construction of the Maratha Ditch in Calcutta by the British. On the other hand, he collected large amounts of money from them for the upkeep of his war.

He was well-informed of the situation in southern India, where the British and the French had started a proxy war using the local princes and rulers. Alwardi did not wish such a situation to transpire in his province and thus exercised caution in his dealings with the Europeans. However, there was continual friction; the British always complained that they were prevented from the full enjoyment of the firman of 1717 (1) issued by Farrukhsiyar. The British, however, protected subjects of the Nawab, gave passes to native traders to trade custom-free and levied large duties on goods coming to their districts — actions which were detrimental to the Nawab’s revenue

In April 1756, Alwardi Khan died and was succeeded by his twenty-three-year-old grandson, Siraj-ud-daulah. His personality was said to be a combination of a ferocious temper and a feeble understanding. He was particularly suspicious of the large profits made by the European companies in India. When the British and the French started improving their fortifications in anticipation of another war between them, he immediately ordered them to stop such activities as they had been done without permission. When the British refused to cease their constructions, the Nawab led a detachment of 3,000 men to surround the fort and factory of Cossimbazar and took several British officials as prisoners, before moving to Calcutta. ( Kolkata)

The defences of Calcutta were weak and negligible so the army of Siraj occupied it on 16 June , 1756 and the fort surrendered after a brief siege on 20 June.

The prisoners who were captured at the siege of Calcutta were transferred by Siraj to the care of the officers of his guard, who confined them to the common dungeon of Fort William known as The Black Hole. This dungeon, 18 by 14 feet (5.5 m × 4.3 m) in size with two small windows, had 146 prisoners thrust into it — originally employed by the British to hold only six prisoners.

On 21 June, the doors of the dungeon were opened and only 23 of the 146 walked out, the rest died of asphyxiation, heat exhaustion and delirium. It appears that the Nawab was unaware of the conditions in which his prisoners were held which resulted in the unfortunate deaths of most of the prisoners. Meanwhile, the Nawab’s army and navy were busy plundering the city of Calcutta and the other British factories in the surrounding areas.

When news of the fall of Calcutta broke in Madras on 16 August 1756, the Council immediately sent out an expeditionary force under Colonel Clive and Admiral Watson. A letter from the Council of Fort St. George, states that “the object of the expedition was not merely to re-establish the British settlements in Bengal, but also to obtain ample recognition of the Company’s privileges and reparation for its losses” without the risk of war. It also states that any signs of dissatisfaction and ambition among the Nawab’s subjects must be supported.

Clive assumed command of the land forces, consisting of 900 Europeans and 1500 sepoys while Watson commanded a naval squadron. He easily retook Kolkata and started the final push to punish Siraj-ud-Daula that ended in the battle of Plassey later.

Bengal campaign:

Source : Wikipedia photo of Robert Clive (1773), by Nathaniel Dance-Holland

After retaking Kolkata, the army of Clive then attacked the surrounding areas outside the city that Siraj-ud-Daulah failed to protect and retreated back to his capital of Murshidabad. Clive emboldned by his success now turned his attention to the French in Chandarnagar where he laid siege and defeated the French.

Conspiracy :

Source : Google painting of Emperor Alamgir

Siraj believed that the Mughal Emperor Alamgir II had not given permission to the British East India Company to expand its influence in Bengal.

The Nawab was infuriated on learning of the attack on Chandernagar. His former hatred of the British returned, but he now felt the need to strengthen himself by alliances against the British. The Nawab was plagued by fear of attack from the north by the Afghans under Ahmad Shah Durrani and from the west by the Marathas.

Therefore, he could not deploy his entire force against the British for fear of being attacked from the flanks. A deep distrust set in between the British and the Nawab. As a result, Siraj started secret negotiations with Jean Law, chief of the French factory at Cossimbazar, and de Bussy. The Nawab also moved a large division of his army under Rai Durlabh to Plassey, on the island of Cossimbazar 30 miles (48 km) south of Murshidabad.

Popular discontent against the Nawab flourished in his own court. The Seths, the traders of Bengal, were in perpetual fear for their wealth under the reign of Siraj, contrary to the situation under Alivardi’s reign. They had engaged Yar Lutuf Khan to defend them in case they were threatened in any way. William Watts, the Company representative at the court of Siraj, informed Clive about a conspiracy at the court to overthrow the ruler. The conspirators included Mir Jafar, paymaster of the army, Rai Durlabh, Yar Lutuf Khan and Omichund, a merchant and several officers in the army.

When communicated in this regard by Mir Jafar, Clive referred it to the select committee in Calcutta on 1 May. The committee passed a resolution in support of the alliance. A treaty was drawn between the British and Mir Jafar to raise him to the throne of the Nawab in return for support to the British in the field of battle and the bestowal of large sums of money upon them as compensation for the attack on Calcutta. On 2 May, Clive broke up his camp and sent half the troops to Calcutta and the other half to Chandernagar.

Mir Jafar and the Seths desired that the confederacy between the British and himself be kept secret from Omichund, but when he found out about it, he threatened to betray the conspiracy if his share was not increased to three million rupees (£300,000). Omichund was given a fake promise by the British they had no itention of keeping so Omichund lost his mental balance and became insane.

Clive testified and defended himself before the House of Commons of Parliament on 10 May 1773, during the Parliamentary inquiry into his conduct in India. He justified his action of treachery to win support of Mir Jafar who was crucial in the forthcoming battle at Plassey. It was Mir Jafar who betrayed Siraj-ud-Daulah in the battle field where Siraj lost the battle and fled.

Approach march

Source : Wikipedia photo of Clive’s solitary reflection before the Battle of Plassey

Europeans with the supplies and artillery were towed up the river in 200 boats. On 14 June, Clive sent a declaration of war to Siraj. On 15 June, after ordering an attack on Mir Jafar’s palace in suspicion of his alliance with the British, Siraj obtained a promise from Mir Jafar to not join the British in the field of battle. He then ordered his entire army to move to Plassey, but the troops refused to quit the city until the arrears of their pay were released. The delay caused the army to reach Plassey only by 21 June.

Clive on his way to Plassey found large stores of grains and military supplies in Katwa Fort that had been abandoned by Siraj’s forces in a hurry. Now his troops in high spirit and with abundant supplies , Clive pushed on to Plassey where the final battle took place.

Battle of Plassey: June 23, 1757

Source : Wikipedia photo of the battle of Plassey

The battle of Plassey was short lived. The superior army of Siraj-ud-Daulah was defeated by a very inferior army of Clive because Mir Jafar as their general refused to give the order to fight at a crucial juncture and advised Siraj to flee.

Death of Mir Madan Khan

Only Mir Madan Khan proved to be loyal to Siraj-ud-Daulah so his troops continued the fight but he was killed in the battle that convinced Siraj that he must retreat to his capital.

Source : Wikipedia photo of English guns at The battle of Plassey, June 23, 1757

The British losses were estimated at 22 killed and 50 wounded. Of the killed, three were of the Madras Artillery, one of the Madras Regiment and one of the Bengal European Regiment. Of the wounded, four were of the 39th Regiment, three of the Madras Regiment, four of the Madras Artillery, two of the Bengal European Regiment, one of the Bengal Artillery and one of the Bombay Regiment. Of the losses by the sepoys, four Madras and nine Bengal sepoys were killed while nineteen Madras and eleven Bengal sepoys were wounded. Clive estimates that the Nawab’s force lost 500 men, including several key officers including Mir Madan Khan.


After losing the battle Siraj-ud-Daulah tried to escape west while Clive placed Mir Jafar on the throne and acknowledging his position as Nawab, presented him with a plate of gold rupees. Eventually Siraj was captured and murdered by the son of Mir Jafar.

Clive then demanded restitution to the tune of 22,000,000 Rupees ( 2,750,000 pounds) for his losses that were insignificant and got paid in gold and jewelries from the treasury of Siraj that was now under the control of Mir Jafar.

According to the treaty drawn between the British and Mir Jafar, the British acquired all the land within the Maratha Ditch and 600 yards (550 m) beyond it and the zamindari of all the land between Calcutta and the sea. Besides confirming the firman of 1717, the treaty also required the restitution, including donations to the navy squadron, army and committee, of 22,000,000 rupees (£2,750,000) to the British for their losses.

As a result of the war of Plassey, the French were no longer a significant force in Bengal. In 1759, the British defeated a larger French garrison at Masulipatam, securing the Northern Circars. By 1759, Mir Jafar felt that his position as a subordinate to the British could not be tolerated. He started encouraging the Dutch to advance against the British and eject them from Bengal. In late 1759, the Dutch sent seven large ships and 1400 men from Java to Bengal under the pretext of reinforcing their Bengal settlement of Chinsura even though Britain and Holland were not officially at war.

Clive, however, initiated immediate offensive operations by land and sea and defeated the much larger Dutch force on 25 November 1759 in the Battle of Chinsura. The British then deposed Mir Jafar and installed Mir Qasim as the Nawab of Bengal. The British were now the paramount European power in Bengal. When Clive returned to England due to ill-health, he was rewarded with an Irish peerage, as Lord Clive, Baron of Plassey and also obtained a seat in the British House of Commons.

Economic effects :

The Battle of Plassey and the resultant victory of the British East India company led to puppet governments instated by them in various states of India. This led to an unleashing of excesses, malpractices and atrocities by the British East India Company in the name of tax collection.

The battlefield today:

  • Source : Wikipedia photos of Obelisk near Palashi battlefield, Bengal, India

Source : Google photo of the Palace of Siraj Ud Daula in Murshidabad, Bengal, India

Source : Tomb of Siraj Ud Daula in Murshidabad, Bengal, India

Today a few tourists wander through the streets of Murshidabad and gawk at the opulent palace and the grounds and wonder who was Siraj-ud-Daulah. It is now a dimly remembered chapter of the Indian history that the young generation pays scant attention to. His unpainted mausoleum will be shown to you where the king sleeps in eternity in a simple undecorated grave.

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(1) “Firman of 1717”: In 1714, an Englishman, John Surman, was sent to the Delhi Court to secure commercial facilities for the company.

He managed to obtain a “firman in 1717” from Emperor Farukhshiyar.

The East India Company obtained valuable privileges in 1717 under the royal government

What is the Farman? It is a subsidy granted by Farrukhsiyar, which was achieved by the British East India Company. The delegation of the Company was very well considered in the royal court of Farrukhsiyar. In April 1717, the farmer (subsidy) of the emperor was issued, which complied with all the requests that the Company had made in their petitions. Permission was granted to buy 38 villages around the three already owned by the company (Sutanuti, Gobindapur and Kalikata, the predecessor of modern Calcutta). The Company also received commercial privileges in Bengal and additional fortification in Calcutta. This grant was instrumental in the creation of companies and the colonization of Bengal, which would then be followed by the rest of India by the East India Company.

The Company was allowed to make commercial transactions in Bengal, Bombay and Madras duty-free. The Company was also allowed to mint its own coins.

The Nawabs of Bengal, however, showed little respect for “the imperial farmer.” He granted the Company the freedom to export and import its products in Bengal without paying taxes. Right to issue passes or dastaks for the movements of said assets.

Company employees were also allowed to trade, but were not covered by this farmer. They had to pay the same taxes as the Indian merchants. — This “farmer”, grant or subsidy, (Farman) was a perpetual source of conflict between the Company and the Nawabs of Bengal. All the Nawabs of Bengal, from Mushid Quli Khan to Alivardi Khan, had opposed the English interpretation of the “firman of 1717”. They had forced the Company to pay sums to their treasury, and they firmly suppressed the misuse of the dastaks.

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