Tellicherry British Influence


 Tellicherry,  The British Influence

The spices of Malabar,virgin beaches, a variety of folk arts, the forts and majestic monuments in both Kannur and Tellicherry make this an attractive destination for all foreigners centuries ago. The northernmost part of Kolathnadu was called so - Thalakkathe  Later to be known as Tellicherry by the British and then named Thalaserry recently.
 Then I was working at Tellicherry General Hospital  about 5 years ago and  astonished the British influence there  in every aspect of life. To me there is a treasure of historic activities which lead eventually Indian colonization  as well as modernization I would say. I was sitting the very near  or some same building that itself have a lot of stories, the Fort of Tellicherry. In the evening I explored the surrounding areas and town and found more and more evidence and remains of the above said colonisation. I was regularly visited this School near to my Hospital, in the evenings., only to enjoy the beautiful creativity.

Malabar cost 1598
The British settled in 1682 and set their strongholds here by the Arabain sea. They built a sea port to transport the famous Tellicherry peppers and built a fort by the sea to protect the trade (1708). An unsuccessful attack was carried out by Hyder Ali in 1781.

SPICE of Malabar Was the Attraction

Thalassery was the northern most settlement and in British Era   referred to as "Thalakkathe", which literally meant "head" (Thalak) and “direction” (kathe) in the Malayalam.(തലക്കത്തെ  ചേരി)  Tellicherry was known for it’s spices. Even today Tellicherry pepper, ground from locally grown black peppercorns, is famous around the globe. There are evidences of trade with Romans, Greeks and Arabians in ancient times. The rulers of Kolathunad were known as Kolathiris and had political and commercial rivalry with the Zamorins in the South. The Zamorin had gained wealth and power with the help of trade with the Arabs.

Open space near sea Tellicherry at 1850

Open space near sea Tellicherry at 2011 (Thalassery Ground)

Open space near sea Tellicherry at 2011 (Thalassery Ground)another view


It is located in the centre of the Thalassery city in Kerala. It was constructed in the year 1806 and it is believed that this mosque is 208 years old mosque. It is believed that it was constructed by the Arab merchant.


The place of the Odathil Palli was used as the sugarcane garden of the Dutch.(  And later it went into the hands of the British East Indian company. Chowakkaran Moosa, a local trader of Thalassery, one of the earliest to source and supply spices from Malabar to the British, was later made in charge of the upkeep of Odathil Palli.Moosakaka a Muslim person worked under the British East India Company . Due to his loyalty and truthfulness the British East Indian company presented the sugarcane garden to Moosakaka. Then he built the attractive and charming mosque in Karimbin-odam കരിമ്പിൻ ഓടം which belongs to the Dutch. The word in Malayalam refers as garden and Palli means mosque. As the mosque was constructed in the garden it is called as Odathil Palli. It is also called as Garden mosque.


It was constructed in traditional Kerala style of Architecture in the year 1806. This mosque is the  unusual combination of both Hindu and Muslim traditional architecture. The mosque is covered with wooden walls and copper plated roofs and along with golden doom. Brahmins opposed to keep this doom in the mosque as it is their customs.It has neither a central dome nor minarets, instead there is a roof covered in copper sheets and wooden walls and pillars with intricate carvings. Then the Zamorin ruler granted to keep the golden doom in the mosque. And it is again reconstructed with the assistance of Portuguese Fundaceo Oriente organization in Lisbon. Only Muslim peoples are allowed inside the mosque. The graveyard is located opposite to the mosque belongs to the Moosa family and CP Moosa, the great great grandson of the founder of the Moosa clan, runs the boutique homestay Ayisha Manzil in Thalassery

Oadtthil Palli 1850

Odathil Palli 2012
 Note the only modification done is a small minaret  constructed in modern times.I don't know when it modified. It is believed that  Zamorin granted to keep the golden doom.

an old photo 1901-1920


The English came to Kerala for trade,

 They were late entrants for trade as compared to their European compatriots. The first Englishman who came to Kerala is believed to be Master Ralph Fitch. In 1625 A.D, Captain Keeling arrived at Calicut. He con­cluded a treaty with the Zamorin according to which the English were to assist them in expel­ling the Portuguese. In return the Zamorin gave the English freedom of trade in their dominions. As the Por­tuguese withdrew, the English East India Company entered into an agreement where they got access to most Portuguese ports in Kerala. According to James Lawrence book, “Raj: The making and unmaking of British India”, this was how the British entered local politics and ended up colonizing India. They lent their army at a price that local kings/chieftains could never have afforded. Hence, wittingly or unwittingly, this region of Kerala became at testing ground for our colonizers. Yet it would take another hundred odd years before they took direct control of administration.

Tellicherrry Cost 1761

Google image for the above location  of Tellicherry Cost 1761

 Tellicherry Paniting

 The location of Tellicherry Paniting
Title: "Panoramic view of Tellicherry seen from a rock in the sea."
Creator: Richter, Christian Georg (Mr)
Date: 05.07.1855-31.05.1860


 Tellicherry is the name given by the British.

Records show its original name to be Thalassery. Even this is a distortion of the original references made to this area. After the reign of the Chera dynasty (9th to 12th century), Kerala was broken into smaller regions under chieftains. One of such regions was Kolathunadu of which  In 1498, they had a Portuguese visitor, Vasco Da Gamma. The Kolathiri extended their offer of trade with the Portuguese with the hope that the Portuguese would help them to acquire wealth and power the same way as Zamorins had with the help of the Arabs.

Tellicherry Cost 1865

Even today, the rivalry between Kolathiris and Zamorins are stored and relived in form of folk dance or songs called vadakkanpattu (ballads of North Kerala). Songs and stories about the legendary Kolathunad hero, Thacholi Othenan, who lived in the 16th century, are abounding. Thacholi Othenan is short for Thacholi Meppayil Kunjhu Othenan, i.e. Othenan was born in the family of Manikoth in Thacholi (near present day Vatakara). However, Othenan original name was Udayana. He was an extraordinarily skilled warrior and an exponent of Kalarippayattu (ancient martial art form of Kerala). Even the powerful Zamorin respected him. The Kolathiri’s relations with the Portuguese traders however, soured very quickly due to the Portuguese policy of religious persecution and forcible conversion. Loyalties shifted quickly and an alliance between the Kolathiri and the Zamorin was established and in 1558 against the Portuguese. The Kolathiris came openly into the field against the Portuguese.

European’s settling

Clive of India
Nirad Choudhuray in his book “Clive of India”, mentions Thalassery to be the first place that British established a settlement in India. The settlement came up in 1682, after obtainning permission from the Vadakkilamkur, The Prince of Kolattunad. The Keyi family was instrumental in helping the British to establish their settlement in Tellicherry. The Keyi Family procured spices from native farmers and supplied it to the British traders. To carry out trade of a variety of spices such as pepper and cardamom from Thalassery, they built a seaport in Tellicherry. The “Kadalpallam” (Pier) stands as an evidence of trade that took place from Tellicherry. Typical of the British-French rivalry, the French also around this period established a settlement (present day Mahé), south of Thalassery. The two settlements were separated by the river Mahé and suitably nicknamed the English Channel.

A question that comes to mind is whether the coincidence of Vasco Da Gamma lead to these European’s settling in Thalaserry with it’s proximity to the sea or there were any other compelling reasons. A possible answer to this is obtained from various travellers’ diaries which have vividly described Thalaserry of those days. Conrad Malte-Brun in his book “Universal Geography: Or A Description of All Parts of the World“ describes the villages in the region as the neatest in India where the houses were built of mud that was well smoothed and painted with roofs thatched with palm leaves to prevent the mud from being washed away by the rains. Also, the Europeans found the climatic conditions amiable.

East India Company

The natives of this area however, did not approve the British presence and in 1704 they organised a revolt against them. In due course of time (1708), the East India Company fortified their position and built a fort by the sea to protect and control their spice trade. The square fort, with its massive walls, secret tunnels to the sea was an imposing structure. The disintegration of the Kolathiri's dominion had started and with the death of Prince Udaya Varman in 1746, the English fanned dissensions in the royal family. The British started taking control of more and more area by purchasing land through consorts of the royal family. Tellicherry fort also witnessed attacks by Haider Ali (Mysore) in 1781. Repelling these attacks and to protect their commercial interest both personnel and that of the East India Company, such wars convinced Clive and Hasting the need to take administrations directly into the companies hand.

1901 BEMP High school

2009 BEMP High school

British administration

Finally Tellicherry, Kolathunad and large areas of North Kerala was for administrative purpose given the status of a district, the district of Malabar. Malabar was made a part of the Madras Presidency in 1800. Major Macleod took charge as the first prin­cipal collector of Malabar on October 1,1801. The British administration was to evolve a judicial system for Malabar. In fact they had already promulgated a code for the administration of civil and criminal justice in 1793. Malabar district was divided into the District Judgeships of North and South Malabar, with headquarters at Tellicherry and Calicut re­spectively. Communica­tion saw improvement in the district under the British administration. The coming of the plantation industry in Wynad and Coorg gave a spurt to road building activities in this region. A road from Cannanore to Coorg was con­structed in 1848-1851. The construction of the Tellicherry Lighthouse in 1835 as an aid to navigation furthers the importance the Bristish attached to Tellicherry. Lord Murdoch Brown arrived in ‘Ancharakkandy’ (Tellicherry) around 1850 with the East India Company. Gradually, he acquired a lot of landed property in the region. He then started to document the acquired property by systematically measuring the property’s length and breadth. Soon he started maintaining records of demarcating boundaries of properties belonging to the locals. Thus, he created history and gave a new model of administration. This was the modest beginning of the Registration Department. The Madras Presidency recognized the importance of this process of Registration and officially made this Department a part of its administration from 1-1-1865 in Malabar, at Thalassery District Office.

Tellicherry Mission Station 1890

Educational institutes

The British also promoted modern education and their missionaries established schools and colleges in Tellicherry. These institutes stand even today. Foremost among them are B.E.M.P High school and Brennen College. B.E.M.P High school (Barsel Evangelic Mission Parsy) is the first English Medium school set up in Thalassery.This was the first school set up at Thalassery founded in the 1851. Brennen College, one of the oldest educational institutions in the region. The college evolved from a school established by English philanthropist Edward Brennen, who had made Thalassery his home. Another important educational institute of Tellicherry is St Joseph’s School which was established as apart of the Holy Rosary Church. The Church itself was established in the early years of 16th century. Herman Gundert, a German missionary who lived in Thalassery, wrote the first Malayalam dictionary (Malayalam-English) in 1872. Even in early 1900’s Tellicherry’s educational institutes retained a reputation and V. K. Krishna Menon was sent to completed his school education from Thalassery Municipal School, even though his father was a very rich man and the family lived in Calicut, nearly 100km south of Tellicherry.

Efforts of the Missionaries

Another contribution of missionaries is even felt today. The high rate of literacy in Kerala and especially in Malabar region has been due to the early efforts of the Missionaries. The missionary Christian Mullar brought a hand press, which printed ‘Malayalam Almanac’, to Illikunnu from Mangalore on 23, October 1945. Muller established the press known as “Tellicherry Mission Press” at Illikkunnu because it was the headquarters of Basal Mission in Thalassery and an Englishman who was a judge of Thalassery had donated a bungalow there for Basal Mission. It was in this bungalow that the hand press was established. It was known in Malayalam as ‘Thalassery Chhapitham’. The books brought out from here also had the inscription as ‘Thalassery Chhapitham’. This press was working till 1864. The Basal Mission brought out the first newspaper in Malayalam, which started publishing from Thalassery in June 1847. It was named “Rajyasamacharam“. Basal Mission activities in North Kerala flourished under Dr. Herman Gundert. Along with the British, came their way of life. As stated in “Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine” of 1892, `The Englishmen carries his cricket bat with him as naturally as his gun case or his India rubber bath.


The 3 C's: Cricket,Cake,Circus

Colonel Arthur Wellesley (Waterloo fame) is believed to have brought the game to this Malabar region town in the late 1790s. For a long time Tellicherry was the only Ranji Tropy playing centre of Kerala. It was here that the British also introduced cakes and the Mambally Bakery established in 1880 still stands, a testimony of history. Along with cultural influences, the British traders also took female companions from the local population. This resulted in a small population whose features were distinctly different from the natives of the region.


However, such influences were not just after the advent of the British in 1640’s. Migratory population and traders/visitors from abroad mingled with the local population. The Arab influence on the local population is distinct. Also, around 1360 AD families of Saraswats Brahmins, from North settled in Tellicherry. Even today, descendents of these Saraswats Brahmins live as a small community near Mukunda Talkies in Tellicherry. Most of them were engaged in trade of selling flowers for marriages and temple offerings. Today there is much scientific interest in studying how far and how much genetic mixing might have taken place.

Today’s Tellicherry

Diasporas of Tellicherry are now all over the world, achieving a name for themselves and contributing to their new home. A notable mention is Singapore’s third president, C. V. Devan Nair, who hailed from Thalassery. Today’s Tellicherry is just another crowded city bursting at its seams and lost in the crowd of urbanisation fast losing its identity. Also, the present generation is unaware of its history. The unfortunate title comes from these sentiments.

This Photo of 1850 misses title, but I believe it is in Tellicherry near back side Over burys Folly.

Overbury's Folly
This is my proof.( photo courtesy djib,Flicker)

Overbury's Folly

 It is a finished construction, or architectural folly, that now serves as a recreational park located in Thalassery.

The folly is located on a hill near Thalassery District Court and is adjacent to a park. It slopes down from the sub-collector's bungalow to the rocks below and is named after its builder, E. N. Overbury, a Briton who served as a local judge at Thalassery in the 1870s.

In 1879, Overbury wanted to construct a picnic spot at the cliff. He couldn't complete it, but the spot later earned the name "Overbury's Folly". The folly commands sweeping views of the Arabian Sea.

Today, Overbury's Folly has been renovated and redecorated as a tourist attraction. It is frequented by local people in the evenings as a place to relax. A seaside open-air coffee shop has also been opened on the folly.

Overbury's Folly 2011

An Old photo of Overbury's Folly

The statue of Sree Narayana Guru in Thalassery

The statue made in Italy and is a great model of metallic sculpture. It situates besides the railway line in a Temple known as Jagannada Temple, Tellichery)

Title: "Tyer temple in Tellicherry."
Creator: Dachwitz (Mr)
Date: 01.09.1926-31.12.1929

(Depicts a statue of Sree Narayana Guru in Thalassery, described as Thiyaa temple.
The first full body statue of Sree Narayana guru, unveiled by Swami Bodhananda in 1927 even when he was alive.

Guru had seen this statue at Colombo Port when it was bringing to Thalassery from Italy. It is made in Panchaloha -(Mix of five metals) by Thavarali, a famous sculptor.

Sree Gnanodayayogam the Prominent social organisation of North Malabar and the governing body of Sree Jagannath Temple, Thalassery consecrated by his holiness Sree Narayanam Guru, is in the light of centennial celebrations.
Sri. Varadur Kaniyil Kunhi Kannan visited Guru Dev in December 1904 and submitted the idea that Thiyya Community should have a Temple at Thalassery. Sri. Jagannath Temple had been consecrated by his Holiness in 1908 itself is a solid proof to discredit their version.
Guru Dev permitted Varadur to invite the celebration poet Kumaran Asan, as his representative and to convene meetings to ascertain the reaction of the people about the feasibility of a Temple for the community. Asan who was staying with Dr. Palpu in Bangalore accepted the invitation and consequent on his arrival the first meeting was convened at ‘Parambath House’ of Sri. Cheruvari Govindan Shirastadar on 9th July 1905.

 I am not able to complete the influence  of British in these post as it seems broader and broader . I will try them in a separate post.


  1. കൊള്ളാം തലശ്ശേരി ബ്ലോഗ്‌ തുടങ്ങിയാൽ ഇത്ര മനോഹരം ആവില്ല
    നന്നായി sketches

  2. Excellent .. Really appreciable work.. Thanks,,,

  3. Thanks a lot.It is helpful for my project titled 'Thalassery Muslims: a study on education development in last two centuries.'
    Can you please give more details about education of Muslims and persons who gave contribution?

  4. Thank you thanks a lot,Would be more happy if you could include some details about Sreeramaswami temple thiruvangadu,Even now we can se some English texts on the walls of these temple..


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