Robert Clive believed in religion, destiny

Robert Clive

A prankish childhood and unsuccessful schooling – three schools in Britain had expelled this mischievous boy-- Clive was perhaps least fancied as a Generalissimo for the English forces when he first landed by a ship in old Madras in 1743, to take up a “writership post” in the East India Company.

Those were the days when the French were in the ascendant in the Deccan area. But with one stunning military victory after another, starting from the capture of Arcot near Madras, Clive deftly leading a small army force turned the course of history to vanquish the French and enlarge British influence.

With more campaigns, the company sent Clive, who by then rose to be a “redoubtable troubleshooter”, to a “Bengal in firmament”. His crowning glory came in Plassey, after which he was made Governor of Bengal. The rest, as they say, is history since British recaptured Fort William in Calcutta.

It was an astonishing military career for this famed general who, according to historical documents preserved in ‘Clive House’ in Madras (now Chennai) where it all started, “in a lifespan of just 49 years achieved ever lasting fame, as a general, a military strategist and an Empire builder.”

However, one interesting, quasi-metaphysical facet to Clive that is not so well known is that the general had befriended a turtle when he was the Bengal Governor. It was mystically named ‘Adwaita’ (meaning the one and only one reality), as revealed in a rare document displayed in ‘Clive’s Corner’ which houses rare memorabilia, letters, pictures and records of the general.

“Historical records show that it was a pet of the British Governor Robert Clive of The East India Company and that the tortoise spent several years in his sprawling estate before it was brought to the (Calcutta) Zoo about 130 years ago. Probably, the British sailors brought it from Seychelles Islands and presented it to Clive,” says the document pinned in that collection. 

‘Clive’s Corner’, is a unique kaleidoscope into history at the southern end of the grand ‘Clive House’, earlier known as ‘Admiralty House’ in the Fort St George here. The renovated over 300-year-old imposing brick and mortar structure where Robert Clive had lived with his wife in 1753, now houses the Archaeological Survey of India’s Chennai Circle Office.

Yet, for all the astute, daring achievements of Robert Clive, his own personal life was a collage of pathos. Born on Sept 29, 1725, in Shropshire in the British Midlands, as one document on his life-sketch reveals, there was sadly a “suicidal streak” in his life. Suffering from a painful disease, he finally took his life at the age of 49 after he had returned to England.

“Clive died by his own hand on Nov 22, 1774,” avers another document, referring to an inscription in the ‘Church of Moreton Say where Robert Clive lies buried.’ But his pet, the ‘giant Aldabra tortoise’ which he left behind, had amazingly outlived its master by 232 years! This is known from another exhibit. “The tortoise, considered to be around 250 years old, died on March 26, 2006, in the Calcutta Zoo,” the document reads.

‘Adwaita’ is our philosophy about the one eternal reality, ‘Brahman’. And strangely, Robert Clive’s favourite tortoise by the same name in Bengali seems to have shared that rub-off effect until its demise five years ago. That rang an occult bell, as Clive’s mood swings as seen in some of his own writings show him to be a believer in religion and destiny.

For instance, Mir Jaffer, the Commander-in-Chief of Siraj-Ud-Daula, whom Clive tactfully befriended to win the British battle for Bengal, had on his death bequeathed 70,000 Pounds Sterling to his dear friend Robert Clive. But Clive left the entire money to the Army Welfare Fund, says a document. 

However, in November 1858, after the British quelled the Sepoy Mutiny and Queen Victoria became the Empress of India, “this fund was reverted to the descendants of Clive,” the document adds. Soon after Clive’s arrival in Madras, he attempted suicide in vain. “I feel that I am reserved for some end or another. I twice snapped that pistol at my own head and it would not go off,” he wrote in a prophetic tone of that Madras episode.

A copy of the Agreement (1765-66), in Persian, between Nawab Najmud-din-Ali Khan Bahadur Mahabat Jung, Nizam (Governor) of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and the Agents of the East India Company to which Robert Clive was a signatory, excerpts from a speech Clive made to the ‘House of Commons’ on the Plassey victory and pages from the ‘Marriage register’ at St Mary’s Church in Fort St George here showing entry of Clive’s marriage are among the rich array of primary sources for researchers and scholars.
Also are telling pictures of the smoking pipe used by Clive- fashioned in silver, gilt and enamel and set within a glittering array of rubies, diamonds and emeralds-, a flask used by him and an equally glittering ceremonial dining set that make ‘Clive’s Corner’ a quiet archaeological delight.

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