Anderson versus the East India Company
Anderson's relationship with the Governor and the Board of Revenue who represented the Company's interests in Madras, and no doubt their own too, was a significant part of the problems he faced. Their priorities were different. The Company was concerned first with raising revenue in the form of rents and taxes. If there was a need for investment it had to be in enterprises which would clearly yield a profit to the Company, and in the shortest possible time. Anderson, on the other hand, saw the plight of the people, both as a result of the recent wars and other disasters and from a long-term absence of conditions to encourage development. He noted particularly the miserable condition of the lower classes and those who would later be identified as 'untouchables'. He saw an important part of their problems facing them as a shortage of demand for their labour over a large part of the year. Encouraging economic activity was therefore his priority, by making new crops and new enterprises available and by helping people to obtain the resources, land in particular, which they could make productive.
He did his best to persuade the Company, first, that putting money into sericultural development would be profitable for it. In doing so he certainly exaggerated the speed with which this could possibly be achieved; he had perhaps to do so in order to interest the Company at all. But it is also clear with hindsight that, as a pioneer, there was no way he could know either the hazards awaiting him or the timescale required for such a major enterprise. He was probably not the first, and certainly not the last promoter of development to find himself in this predicament.
It was over the second part of the policy, getting private people into sericulture, that the major clash came. There were two routes here. One was to lure ordinary people into sericulture by example and incentive. The example was to be provided by the the more or less official European plantations that he encouraged vigorously though his correspondence and its publication particularly. The wide scatter of such plantations achieved were intended to demonstrate rearing and even reeling. The incentives came later in trying to boost interest amongst Indians by providing mulberry cuttings and silkworm eggs and necessary equipment, and guaranteeing to buy villagers' output, both of mulberry leaves and cocoons.
It was this second route which caused the trouble. This was the provision of land for large-scale sericultural enterprises, either for Europeans, though Company policy at the time was in general against putting land into European hands, or for wealthy Indians. In Anderson's eyes the country was empty; there were huge amounts of land cultivated before the 1780 war that had dropped out of cultivation, in addition to waste land which had never apparently been used at all. Surely, he thought and repeatedly said in a barrage of increasingly heated letters to the Governor and the Board, when the future prosperity of the country was at stake land could be found and provided on terms which would encourage people to take it up and get on with planting the extensive areas of mulberry which would be needed.
The Company, however, was concerned - as always - with revenue, but also with the tangle of existing rights and claims to land. No clear policy had yet been arrived at for sorting out a system of landholding and revenue such as would later be achieved with 'permanent settlements', and there was as yet little understanding of principles and less in the way of surveys on the ground. The Company agreed with Anderson that the land had to be brought back into cultivation but it was also worried about the practical difficulties of doing this. A worry was that revenue incentives to take up new land would simply encourage people to abandon their existing lands for new on which they would pay less. There would be a net loss of revenue and no net gain in land farmed. With so much unresolved, there were long delays in dealing with applications and the terms ultimately offered were not encouraging.
Anderson raged at the officials, portraying them as bureaucratic nigglers and wasters who did not have the interests of the country at heart. Since he had powerful backing from the Directors in London, they put up with this patiently - in contrast to an earlier occasion when he had been told bluntly to mind his own business and stick to his medical department. They even did their best to oblige him. At the same time, however, having ceased to answer his letters over several months, the Board of Revenue wrote complaining of his behaviour to the Governor, taking the opportunity at the same time to formulate serious doubts about his schemes. The Governor replied: 'we hope the Doctor will, for the sake of the object he professes to promote, adopt a more conciliating and respectful conduct towards you in future'. The correspondence was copied to Anderson, who promptly responded, on 22 February 1794, that he had therefore to 'decline any further interference'; he would, that is to say, pull out of the enterprise, including, as it soon turned out, the supervision of Parkison's farm at Vellout.
He could not, after a delay of a few months, resist again pursuing his interests in sericultural promotion generally, and he continued to rear worms in Madras for some time, but his impetus behind official involvement with sericultural promotion was at an end. It took a little time for the Company's projects to be liquidated but, by the time of the last Mysore War in 1799 which was to put an end to Tipu's sericultural initiatives, it too had abandoned sericultural development.
In the event, neither in the Company's territory nor in Mysore was this the end of sericulture. It survived surprisingly in a few remote spots, but evidence now emerging suggests that there were two more major sources of continuity. From an early stage Anderson had been interested in encouraging Indian princes to concern themselves with sericulture. The Nawab of Arcot himself always perhaps had too many more urgent concerns; at any rate he did not pursue it. Two of his sons who held court at Trichinopoly were, however, interested and so, more importantly, was his brother, Abdul Wahab Khan, at Chittoor. He established a plantation and sent people to learn reeling in Madras. There it was possible to breed much more securely than on the coast where it turned out to be increasingly difficult even to maintain silkworm stock through the monsoon period. It was largely owing to eggs from Chittoor that it was possible to revive rearing on the coast in both 1795 and 1796. When the Company closed the Vellout farm it was to Chittoor that some of the staff went for work. No evidence has yet emerged for events there over the next generation, but it is suggestive at least that, in the 1830s, before the sericultural enthusiasm of the 1840s set in, there was already a substantial sericultural establishment at Chittoor, with a Mr Groves in charge.
The other focus of interest is the Baramahal, the area ceded by Mysore to the Company in 1792 which is now mostly Dharmapuri and Salem Districts of Tamil Nadu. This was new and the Company's own, and Capt. Alexander Read with the assistance of Thomas Munro and others were sent to take charge of it. Their first responsibility was to work out how revenue was to be raised from its land; it was here indeed that the ryotwari system of land revenue subsequently applied across large areas of India was first worked out. But they were also, in conjunction with this, concerned with the economic development of the country. They investigated crops which might be profitably grown and transported, and amongst these was silk. Another assistant, Eyre W. Lyte, a former planter in the West Indies, was responsible for this and he had the assistance of Mohamed Arif, the Bengali who had set up Anderson's filature in Madras and had worked with him for five years. In 1795/6, again with direct support from Anderson, they established a 54-acre plantation and started rearing and reeling at Tirupattur. This was an enterprise opening up inland at just the time when, on the coast, the decision to close down was being taken. As at Chittoor, there is then a gap in the record which waits to be filled, but it is at least suggestive that it was not far away, in Denkanicota, that sericulture was found already established in the 1830s. Whether this was a relic of Tipu's Mysore schemes or Anderson's from Madras remains to be established.
The creation and operation of the farm is the focus for the next section. Suffice it to say here that, despite all the best efforts and ingenuity of both Parkison and Anderson, the Company abandoned its silk projects and closed the plantation in September 1798. If, contrary to all Anderson's optimism, silk could not to be produced on the Madras coast, it was here that the practical and financial issues were experimented with and fought over and a conclusive decision reached.
Anderson died in Madras in 1809. Doubtless he was disappointed in the failure of the Company's sericultural schemes, but perhaps he died with the knowledge of Indian enterprise continuing. He wrote to Parkison in 1796, of new initiatives, that there would be 'time enough after the management of the worms is in the hands of the country people'. His many successors in sericultural development have indeed taken him up on this.