18th Century Maratha Navy Admiral
SuvarnadurgRatnagiri, Maharashtra, India
|Died||4 July 1729
Alibag, Maharashtra, India
|Years of service||1698–1729|
Kanhoji Angré (Marathi: कान्होजी आंग्रे) or Conajee Angria or Sarkhel Angré (Sarkhel is a title equal to Admiral of a Fleet.) (August 1669 – 4 July 1729) was the first notable chief of the Maratha Navy in 18th century India. He fought against the British, Dutch and Portuguese naval interests on the coasts of India during the 18th century. As a result, his European enemies labeled him a pirate. Despite the attempts of the British and Portuguese to subdue Angre, he remained undefeated until his death.
Born in the village of Angarwadi, six miles from Pune in the year of 1669, in a Sankapal Kshatriya family. They were guardians of small state named 'Vir Rana Sank' and therefore became known as Sankapal. His mother's name was Ambabai and his father, Tukoji, served at Suvarnadurg for Shivaji with a command of 200 posts. Little is known about his early life except that he was involved in daring exploits at sea with his father. He spent much of his childhood in the Suvarnadurg Fort, where would later become governor.
He was originally appointed as Surkhel or Darya-Saranga (Admiral) by the chief of Satara in c. 1698. Under that authority, he was master of the Western coast of India from Mumbai to Vingoria (now Vengurla) in present-day state of Maharashtra, except for the property of the Muslim Siddis of Murud-Janjira who were affiliated with the powerful Mughal Empire.
Kanhoji started his long history of heroic feats by attacking merchant ships of the British East India Company and slowly gained respect from all the colonial powers. In 1702, he abducted a merchant vessel from Calicut with six English sailors and took it to his harbor. In 1707, he attacked the frigate, Bombay which was blown-up during fight. In time, the British feared as he could take any merchant ship except large European ships. When Maratha Chattrapati Shahu ascended the leadership of the Maratha Empire, he appointed Balaji Viswanath Bhatt as his Senakarta (Commander) and negotiated an agreement with Angre around 1707. This was partly to appease Angre who supported the other ruler, Tarabai, who claimed the Maratha throne. As per agreement, Angre became head of the Maratha navy. He also played a role in the Maratha conflicts against the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who was campaigning in the Deccan.
When the Maratha empire was weak, Angre became more and more independent and in 1713, an army was sent headed by Peshwa Bhyroo Pant to control Angre, but Angre won the battle and captured and held Bhyroo Pant as his prisoner. Angre planned to march to Satara where Sahoojee was acting as a head of state and where Angre was requested to appear for negotiations, after which Angre was confirmed as Admiral (Surkhiel) of entire fleet. Angre was also placed as chief of 26 forts and fortified places of Maharashtra.
Europeans on rolls
Angre employed Europeans, generally Dutch, to command his best vessels. He also employed a Jamaican and a pirate named James Plantain and entrusted him significant responsibilities such as the chief gunner post. Angre reemployed Manuel de Castro, who was considered as a traitor and punished by the (British) Bombay Council for his failure in capturing Khanderi Island, which was controlled by Kanhoji Angre.
- In 1698, Angre located his first base at Vijayadurg ('Victory Fort') (formerly Gheriah), Devgad Taluka, located about 485 km from Mumbai. The fort which was originally built by Bijapur Kings and strengthened by Maratha ruler Shivaji, is located on the coast and has an entrance hollowed out in it to accommodate entry of a vessel from the sea.
- Angre created an operating base from the fortified islands of "Kolaba" at Alibaug. Khanderi and Underi off the coast of Thal, Alibaug, and attempted to levy a tax on every merchant vessel entering the harbour.
- He established a township called Alibag on seashore at southern tip of Mumbai. The main village at that time, was today's Ramnath. Kanhoji even issued his own currency in the form of a silver coin called the Alibagi rupaiya.
- In 1724, Angre built a port at Puranagad, located in Ratnagiri District, Maharashtra. Seven guns and 70 cannonballs were found in the port. The port was also used for limited trading activities.
- He attacked English, Dutch and Portuguese ships that were moving to and from East Indies.
Kanhoji intensified the attacks on colonial naval powers like Great Britain and Portugal on the western coast of India. On 4 November 1712, his navy even succeeded in capturing the armed yacht Algerine of the British President of Mumbai, William Aislabie, killing the chief of their Karwar factory, Thomas Chown, and making his wife a prisoner, not releasing the captured yacht and the lady until 13 February 1713 for a ransom of 30,000 Rupees. He seized EastIndiamen, Somers and Grantham, near Goa as these vessels were on their voyage from England to Bombay. In 1712, he disabled thirty-gun man-of-war which was conveying Portuguese "armado" and captured it.
Angre eventually signed a treaty with the East India Company President Aislabie to stop harassing the Company's fleet. Aislabie would eventually return to England during October 1715.
After the arrival of Charles Boone as the new Governor of Mumbai on 26 December 1715, Boone made several attempts to capture Angre. Instead of succeeding, in 1718 Angre captured three ships belonging to the British leaving them to claim that he a pirate. Angre blockaded the port of Mumbai and extracted a ransom of 8,750 pounds from the East India Company.
The British launched a fresh campaign in 1720, when shells from floating batteries burst in vain against the rocks of Vijaydurg fort. The attempt to land inside the fort ended in disaster, and the British squadron soon retired to Mumbai.
On 29 November 1721 a joint attempt by the Portuguese (Viceroy Francisco José de Sampaio e Castro) and the British (General Robert Cowan) to humble Kanhoji also failed miserably. This fleet consisted of 6,000 soldiers in no less than four of the European's largest Man of war class ships led by Commander Thomas Mathews. Aided by Maratha warriors including Mendhaji Bhatkar and his navy, Angre continued to harass and plunder the European ships. Commander Matthews returned to Great Britain, but was accused and convicted of trading with the pirates in December 1723. Also, during 1723, Governor Boone returned to Great Britain. After Boone's departure, relative calm prevailed between the British and Angre, until Angre's death in 1756.
- 1702 - Seizes small vessel in Cochin with six Englishmen.
- 1706 - Attacks and defeats the Siddi of Janjira.
- 1710 - Captures the Kennery (now Khanderi) islands near Mumbai after fighting the British vessel Godolphin for two days.
- 1712 - Captured the yacht of the British President of Mumbai, Mr. Aislabie, releasing it only after obtaining a hefty ransom of Rs. 30,000 .
- 1713 - Ten forts ceded to Angre by British.
- 1717 - Angre captures British ship Success bombard Kennery island and Angre signs treaty with Company paying Rs. 60,000.
- 1718 - Blockaded Mumbai port and extracted ransom. British storm Vijaydurg fort but lose the battle/ Governor Boom returns empty hand to Mumbai
- 1720 - British attack Vijaydurg (Gheriah), unsuccessfully.
- 1721 - British fllet reaches Mumbai. `British and Portuguese jointly attack Alibag, but are defeated.
- 1722 - Angre attacks 4 yachts and 20 ships of British near Chaul
- 1723 - Angre attacks two British vessels, Eagle and Hunter.
- 1724 - Maratha and Portugees pact.Dutch attack Vijaydurg but get defeated.
- 1725 - Kanhoji Angre and Siddi sign a pact.
- 1729 - Kanhoji Angre wins Palgad Fort.
By the time of his death on 4 July 1729, Kanhoji Angre had emerged as a master of the Arabian Sea from Surat to south Konkan. He left behind two legitimate sons, Sekhoji and Sambhaji; three illegitimate sons, Tulaji, Manaji, and Yeshaji. Angre's Samadhi (tomb) is situated at Alibag, Maharashtra.
After Kanhoji, his son Sekhoji continued Maratha exploits at sea till his death in 1733. After Sekhoji's death, Angre's holdings were split between two brothers, Sambhaji and Manaji, because of divisions in the family. With the Marathas neglecting naval concerns, the British soon found it easier to defeat the remnants of the kingdom. Angre and his sons' reign over the Western coast ended with the capture of Tulaji in a joint British / Peshwa attack on the fort of Gheriah (now Vijaydurg) in February 1756.
Kanhoji Angre stands as one of the most notable admirals of the Maratha Navy who offered significant competition and damage to the prestige of the colonial powers. Historically, these same British and other European shipping powers who fought with Angre would later claim that he was nothing but a troublesome pirate or privateer. In so doing they deliberately and conveniently forgot that he had been appointed an admiral in the Maratha Navy by its legitimate leaders. This is a case of the ultimate victors being able to write the "final history" to slant things in their interest - ignoring any uncomfortable facts.
Kanhoji is also credited with the foresight that a Blue Water Navy's ultimate and strategic role is to keep the enemy engaged far from the shores of the homeland. At one time, Kanhoji was so successful that he attracted enterprising Europeans in his fleet as mercenaries, including making one Dutchman whom he appointed to the rank of Commodore. At the height of his power, Kanhoji commanded hundreds of warships and thousands of sailors while the British Navy had little in the way of naval resources in far-away India that could significantly offset the growing strength of the Maratha Navy.
Kanhoji's harassment of British commercial interests (who hence called him a pirate) and the Battle of Swally led them to establish a small naval force that eventually became the modern Indian Navy. Today, a statue of Angre proudly stands in Indian Naval Dockyard in Mumbai. While the original fort built by Angre that overlooked the Naval Docks has vanished, its boundary wall is still intact and within it lays the Headquarters of Indian Western Naval Command and is called INS Angre (Indian Naval Station Angre).
The end of Angre family influences
The descendents of Angres continued to hold Kolaba till the 1840s and in 1843, it was annexed to British East India Company as per a despatch to Governor General of Bombay dated 30 December 1843.
Publication of family history
- Angria Bank, a submerged atoll structure located on the continental shelf 105 km west of the coast of Vijaydurg, Maharashtra, was named after Kanhoji Angre.
- The Western Naval command of the Indian Navy was named INS Angre  on 15 September 1951 in honour of Kanhoji Angre. Other important naval offices are also located at INS Angre. His statue is erected at the old Bombay Castle located within the enclave located at the Naval Dockyard, South Mumbai.
- During April 1999, the Indian Postal Service released a Rupee 3 stamp showing a ghurab of Kanhoji Angre's fleet as depicted in a c. 1700 AD painting.
- The old Kennery Lighthouse, on Khanderi Island which marks the southern boundary of the Mumbai Port, was renamed as Kanhoji Angre Light House.
- The large residential colony of Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilizers at Alibaug is named as " Sarkhel Kanhoji Angre Nagar".
- During the Malwani Jatrotsav festival in 1995 at Parel, Mumbai, a simulation of the naval battle between Angre and the British fleet led by Charles Boon was conducted using remote-control wooden boats in an open tank (70' x 30'). Radio Controlled boats carved out of Teak wood and powered by high torque motors were constructed by Vivek S. Kambli and Vishesh S. Kambli. A thrilling soundtrack complemented this Audio Visual 3 Dimensional depiction of an important chapter from Maratha Naval history. The show lasted 10 days and was witnessed by thousands of eager Mumbai citizens.
- An all-weather port at Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, named as Angre port, was inaugurated on 24 April 2012 by 9th descendent of Kanhoji Angre.
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