This should be a good post to christen the new Research page.
It all started when I read Julia Lovell’s Opium War in 2012, In honesty my main interest was in the first conflict, so once I finished that part, roughly halfway through, I put it aside until I developed more of an urgent interest in the second. When I finish it I’ll review it for you all, but the point of this little rant is to show you a mad coincidence that lead to a fascinating story.
While reading about the siege of Canton I was fascinated by the Sanyuanli incident where a company of British soldiers were surrounded and pinned down in a Paddy field by thousands of Chinese peasant militia. Lovell was a bit vague but after some digging I found out that these troops were first of all, not European, but actually the 37th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry, my brief investigation ended there, and I forgot about the subject until March 2014.
One of my other interests is Marine salvage/archeology, now don’t get me wrong I’m not spending my spare time diving wrecks or anything but who isn’t interested in treasure hunting? By chance I stumbled onto a really cool TV series uploaded to YouTube that had aired on the BBC in 2000, narrated by the ever villainous Ian McShane. It was called Journey’s to the Bottom of the Sea, I wasn’t originally going to watch the one called Priceless Cargo, but curiosity got the better of me and I watched with interest as salvager Steve Sargison attempted to raise Japanese Gold from a WW2 wreck. In the episode my attention had been caught when Sargison, who was originally searching for a Spanish treasure ship, ran into the wreck of a completely different vessel off the Cays of the Penagatan Atoll in the Philippines. It was the wreck of a EIC ship called Golconda, this was established by finds of belt buckles, musket balls, musket butt plates and trigger guards, the belt buckle identified the unit as one of the Madras regiments of the East India Company. These mixed with a musket butt plate with an inscribed GR (Grenadiers) identified the unit as the 37th MNI. I don’t remember whether I connected the two at the time or not, but I remember finding it interesting enough that I logged it away in some closet in the back of my mind.
Last year on a whim I began looking into their story again via the Victorian Wars Forum, but I didn’t find out much, five months later I restarted the investigation through the same site, in the scant hope of discovering something, and suddenly floods of info began pouring in, with hitherto forgotten stories, records and titbits. Then the story of Captain Duff, who suddenly went from company captain to battalion commander after a shipwreck drowned their Lt Colonel, intrigued me.
The story of a sunken EIC ship carrying Sepoy’s rang a very faint bell and following the chimes I began searching for references relating to transports that the 37th used on the voyage to China. I struck gold, and found a name, Golconda.
Then bam! I remembered the video, but it had been so long ago that I couldn’t remember the name of the Sepoy ship in it. I promptly searched for the series online. With a palpitating heart and nervous fingers ready to search again or give up on the idea, I tried to remember which episode of the series I had seen the Sepoy wreck on, my first try failed, in my mind I could remember the wide companionable face of a moustachioed man that slightly resembled an 80’s TV character, this was the face of Sargison, whose name I’d forgotten but I knew was diving for Japanese WW2 treasure, this face was my only lead but after a while I found his name and began searching through the video, dubiously I pressed the link and slid the slider along until I saw an image of a pistol being brought up from the water, I pressed play and suppressed a whoop of triumph as the gravely voice of McShane enunciated the words 37th Madras Native Infantry, and their ship, Golconda.
What was so fun was all the contemporary documents considered the ship lost at sea at an unspecified date, and Surgisson and his experts knew the basics but never mentioned the details, names, numbers, events etc, and I got to piece them together. Now I know that the final resting place of the Golconda, and the 3-450 men sailing on her, is actually below the crystal waters of the Sulu sea, just off the tiny Philippine Atoll of the Panagatan cay west of Malay, and I also know a few of their names.
All the real credit of course goes to Sargison and the experts that found the wreck and ID’d the find’s, but after stumbling over the story of doomed Colonel Isaac of the 37th MNI and his men, presumed lost forever, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had discovered something as well.
Check out the videos here, they are good, and maybe one day someone will go back and unravel the secrets of what happened to the Golconda and its men.
There’s still some research to do but I hope that gives you a taster of an adventure to come, the story of the 37th Madras Native infantry and the Opium War.
Thanks for reading.
See you again for another Adventure in Historyland