Explain first anglo maratha war history | causes and significance

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Brief Introduction

First Anglo-Maratha war is one of the most popular Historical events of the 18th century fought between the British ( East India company) and the great Marathas. 

The whole episode started from the murder Of Narayan Rao on 30th August 1773 . Raghunath Rao who had murdered the Peshwa Narayan Rao took the help of the British who assured him of giving their assistance against the Marathas if he signed an agreement with them of dropping his hold on  Salsette (Shashti) , Bassein and his other territories. 

This whole phenomena initiated the chain of wars between the Marathas and the British. The war which started in 1774 AD ended after the Treaty of Salbai in 1782 . 

The war had both political as well as diplomatical approaches. Some of the battles were fought in the Konkan region of Maharashtra and Gujarat. And some other wars took place in different parts of India. 

The first phase of Anglo Maratha war was started with the sieging of Thana fort and then the Fort of salsette (Shashti) which came to an end with the Treaty of Purandar in March 1776.

 In this phase, there are two major events that took place i. e. seiging of Shashti Fort in the Konkan region and the battle of Adas in Gujarat. 

The second phase took place soon after the completion of the Treaty of Purandar. The second phase ended with the Treaty of Vadgaon in January 1779. It includes the first Borghat expedition which resulted in the battle of Talegaon between the British and the Marathas.

The third phase or the final phase of the first Anglo-Maratha war was started when the Mumbai and the Calcutta government of the British refused to avoid by the articles of the Treaty of Wadgaon and renewed hostilities against the marathas. This phase ended with the Treaty of Salbai in 1782.

The strong desire of capturing more and more territories of India so that they could send a high flow of money to their native country made them to play divide and rule policy. 

The British had the ambition of capturing the island of Salsette, Vasai, Khanderi, Elephanta, and Karanja for their political as well as for their economical and military benefits.

Accession of the Mumbai Harbour at all seasons of the Year particularly to one of the passes ( the Borghat pass) through which the whole of the country above the Ghats might be supplied by the articles of England ,was like a golden path for their personal growth.

These were the factors which chiefly engaged the attention of the British for the acquisition of the islands. By capturing these islands they can secure their monopoly of trade in India. 

Ramchandra Pant ( one of the members of Ashta Pradhan of Shivaji’s court) had clearly warned Indians about the greediness  and the sole cause of the establishment of the East India Company of the British in India and  their future plan of controlling the whole Indian system for their own betterment. 


The death of Peshwa Madhavrao heightened the desire of Raghunath Rao ( Uncle of Madhavrao ) to become the Peshwa. But his cunningness which was known to everyone in Pune court to become Peshwa was rejected and  the young Narayan Rao ( the youngest brother of Madhavrao Peshwa) was made the Peshwa. 

The strong desire of Raghunath Rao declined his Patriotism and inclined him towards the greediness of becoming Peshwa. And this desire left him to become a killer of Peshwa Narayan Rao and then accessed the throne of Peshwa with his mischievous act. 

This act of Raghunath Rao created a great Chaos in the Marathas. But soon the birth of Madhav Rao II ( the son of Peshwa Narayan Rao)  gave a glimpse of cherishment to every Marathas for their secured future. 

With consent of the Pune court, Raghunath Rao was dismissed from the post of the Peshwa and the infant was installed on the throne of Peshwa ( May 1774) and Barbhais council ( Nana Fadnavis key role) act as the regent of Peshwa. 

This whole phenomena disturbed and gave a kind of embarrassment and disgraced to Raghunath Rao . To take his revenge, he joined his hands with British. He tried to regain the post of Peshwa with the assistance of the British and from here the Anglo Maratha war came into the picture. 

The presence of Mostyn ( British agent) in Pune Court adversely affected the Marathas government. 

Mostyn was keenly watching the position of affairs at Pune with the sole object of weakening the maratha’s power by supplying day to day information to the Mumbai Council. He was totally aware about the serious internal troubles going on in the marathas. 

Mostyn left Pune and visited Mumbai on 8th December 1773. There he and the East India company planned an attack on the fort of Thana and the principal post commanding the whole Salsette regions. 

In December 1774, Brigadier general Gordon was appointed to command the island forces and John Watson was deployed in charge of the naval units . 

Marathas , through their spies, got the information of the attack by the British. On 28 December 1774 ,the fort of Thana was taken by the English after facing strong resistance from marathas. 

In further retaliation, marathas blocked the British coastal trade and stopped supplies reaching to the Mumbai from outside. This daring act of marathas compelled and brought them to backfoot. 

To save themselves, they tried hard to have a friendly relationship with the marathas. Maratha Warriors like Raghuji Angria, Ananad Rao Dhulap, Shivaji Vithal, Visaji keshav, Visaji Krishna and many more played a significant role in defending the coast. 

During the same time in Dec 1774 ,they attacked the islands of Salsette and it’s adjacent territories and overtook it .

With the reduction of the Fort of Versova , all strategically important points on the island of Salsette fell into the hands of the British.

Raghunath Rao relation with British

 There is an astounding background behind the attack of the British on Marathas territories. 

When Raghunath Rao sought the help of the British to get back the peshwa’s throne, the British put a condition to him to drop his hold from Salsette and it’s adjacent area but Raghunath Rao wasn’t prepared for such a bargain.

In November 1774 the British government was informed by Henshaw, the English resident at Goa, that a new Portuguese general named Don Jose Pedro de Camera head came to India and had decided to take back the Salsette and Vasai. This announcement had made the British to capture Salsette by their forceful act. 

Robert Gambier played a trick with Raghunath Rao by convincing him that they wanted to save Salsette from the Portuguese attack, so he must fight with them in their war against the Portuguese.

 But their main objective was to capture Salsette from marathas and installing Raghunath Rao as Peshwa with a view to guiding the policies of the Maratha  for their own political and economical benefits.

Pune court (Marathas) with the object of arresting Raghunath Rao, sent his maratha warriors behind him. 

While the siege of the Fort of Salsette was in progress by the British in December 1774,the Maratha forces under the command of Barbhais council , were sent to capture Raghunath Rao. 

Under the leadership of Hari pant Phadke, the marathas were hotly advancing towards Raghunath Rao and his army who were running towards Malwa and Surat.

 Raghunath Rao was in fear of losing the war which made him to take the help of the British. The agreement which was signed between the British and Raghunath Rao was called as the Treaty of Surat. 

With the help of Mostyn and Gambier,a british agent,  Raghunath Rao negotiated for the terms on which the British reinstated him at Pune. Eventually on 6th March 1775 the Treaty of Surat came into the picture.

  • 2500 military contingents were deployed in the service of Raghunath Rao. Out of which at least 700 would be their soldiers with their sufficient artillery. 
  • For their expense one and half lakh would be paid every month by Raghunath Rao.
  • 600000 would be deposited to the British by Raghunath 
  • Raghunath Rao was to cede to the English all the Mumbai islands including Thana ,Bassien, Salsette and talukas of Jambusar and olpad near surat. 
  • He also deposited his jewels valued at 6 lakh rupees to the English as a security. In nutshell he Virtually sold the Maratha state to the British. He indirectly gave a golden opportunity to the British to interfere in the marathas affair.

Soon after the agreement, the British force left Surat for Cambay on 15th March 1775, by sea and finally reached Pune. 

Marathas under Haripath Phadke who had the expertise in the traditional Maratha tactics of ganimi kava ,  kept on hovering on the flanks of the English and Raghunath Army  which gave infinite pressure to them. 

Keating, British general, tried to resort to firing but marathas quickly scattered themselves in various directions and made them impossible to attack. 

When Raghunath Rao and the British army reached to the outskirts of Nappar on 18th May 1775 on the famous plain of Adas, the Maratha Army suddenly appeared into divisions and started cannonading. 

In retaliation, the British started to repel them but the Marathas’ activeness overpower them soon. Many Britishers of high post were killed by marathas. The battle of Adas between them eventually won by the marathas under Hari pant Phadke in May 1775. This was one of the greatest losses for the British ever faced in India. 

When Warren hasting was appointed as the supreme head of the three Presidency in India by the regulating act of the British Parliament, he realised that assisting Raghunath Rao by the Mumbai government had been proven  worthless. 

The way the Mumbai government ( Hornby as head) handled the issue made Warren Hasting to revoke the treaty of Surat and to create a new treaty with the Marathas which could be more favourable to the British. 

Warren hasting also found that there is no official data mentioned regarding the victory of Thana fort and other important events. 

But the rigidness of the British Mumbai government created a faultline between Hornby and Hasting . 

On 8th March, Hasting addressed a strong remonstrance to Mumbai, reminding the president that he (Hornby) had acted without authority by contracting the Treaty of Surat in violation of the existing relation with the marathas government.

Hasting soon sent his trusted agent, Colonel Upton, to the Poona govt. to make a friendly negotiation.

Sakharam Bapu, Nana Fadnavis and Krishna Kale where the spokesmen of the Pune Council. Upton put his terms to the Pune Council which was completely rejected by Pune court as these terms were favouring the cunningness of the British. 

The negotiation went on for months but nothing came out of it. Marathas didn’t want to go on any term which adversely affects the strength of the marathas. 

But unfortunately, a pretender calling him Sadashivarao Bhau , who had been confined  since 1765, suddenly escaped from the Ratnagiri fort on 18th February 1776 and raised a revolt against Marathas. 

This coming threat made Pune government to come with the agreement with Hasting . A Treaty was signed between the British and the Pune government on 1st March 1776 which was called the Treaty of Purandar. 

  • Fort of Thana and the island of Salsette to remain in the English possession. 
  • 12 lacs paid to the British for the expenses they had incurred by Raghunath Rao. 
  • Raghunath Rao could receive an allowance of 3 lakhs and 15000 annually for his maintenance. 
  • The British would written the territories they had conquested in Gujarat.

But according to the British Mumbai court, Warren Hasting too gained nothing from this treaty. 

The imposter who was pretending as Sadashiva Rao got the support of Raghunath Rao and his Army. But soon, his followers were miserably defeated by Hari pant. 

The pretender was also caught by Raghuji Angre who later on handover him to Mahadji Scindia who had arrived then at Colaba. The pretender was brought to Pune and on 18th December 1776 he was put to death. The first phase of the first Anglo Maratha war came to an end.

In the battle of Borghat ( Feb 1781) ,Marathas defeated the British Bombay govt. 

The key role played by the Maratha side includes the names of Mahadji Sindhiya, Tukojirao Holkar, Nana Fadnavis, Haripant Phadke . 

Mahadji Shinde with his 15000 Army, Tukojirao Holkar with 6000 army, Bhivrao Phanse with his artillery and 5000 soldiers, Balaji Vishwanath Phatak with 4000 soldiers and the peshwa’s with 10,000 army and others together made around 40,000 troops, cavalry and infantry attacked on British. 

Nana Fadnavis’s brilliancy and right approach for the deplomacy and right calculation or reading of British mindset made the Marathas won the battle. 

On the other hand, British wrong analysis about the strength of the Marathas through the information of Mostyn made them to loose the war misearbly. 

The battle of Wadgaon (16th January 1779) was won by the marathas against the British. The Treaty of Wadgaon resulted in a wide difference between the approach of Mahadji Shinde and Nana fadnavis. Though they never disrespect each other , they had a different approach for moving forward. 

At one side ,Nana fadnavis was insisting on keeping the whole British army as hostages till the conditions of the Treaty were completely met by the British. But Mahadji Shinde found it an unnecessary act . 

This was the basic defect in the structure and working of the Maratha political structure and Organisation. Here, Mahadj Shinde didn’t have the legal and constitutional right to make a separate Treaty. 

His separate treaty created faultlines between Mahadji Shinde and Nana Fadnavis . But still both were ready to come together in case of protecting their country against foreign invaders. The letter of mahadji Shinde to nana fadnavis clearly shows the kind of gratitude he had for Nana Fadnavis. 

With the Treaty of Vadgaon on 16th January 1779 2nd phase of the first Anglo Maratha war came to an end. 

Nana fadnavis image had gone very high as he was the one who resisted every British move by a counter move. The British had the thought that some of Nana fadnavis’s Sardars would desert him and come to their side but contrary to their expectations the British and Raghunath’ soldiers started to Desert them. 

It was due to the correct report of Nana’s spies presence in Raghunath’s scamp that he came to know the secret plan of the British troops to retreat from Talegaon to wadegaon in the darkness of night.

Future Attack by the Marathas on British shook Warren Hasting to his core , so he found it better to make a peace agreement with the Marathas because he was totally aware of the fact that his army was not in position to take the battle with the Marathas. 

With this purpose he sent Anderson to Mahadji Shinde to make a peace treaty with them . 

On the other hand marathas , especially Mahadji Shinde army, was in dire need of funds as he had invested his army in strengthening the marathas position in northern India. He had purchased ammunitions from portugese but that weren’t enough to initiate expedition . He must be credited for strengthening the power of marathas in northern India which was ready to revolt after the death of Peshwa Madhav Rao. 

Mahadji Shinde had stated that if he would get the fund, he is ready for the expedition of Bengal but lack of funds stopped him from moving ahead. So it became a compulsion for Mahadji Shinde to come in an agreement with the British. 

Both parties had their own compulsion. So, after months of tiresome discussion and endless correspondence , a final Treaty was concluded and signed on 17th may 1782 which was known as Treaty of Salbai . It contains 17 articles . Some major ones are below 

  • All places including Bassein taken by the British during the war since the Treaty of Purandar should be returned back to the Peshwa.
  • The island of Salsette and it’s adjacent would be stayed back to the British. Broach would be in the hands of British too. 
  • Territories conquered by the British in Gujarat shall be restored to the Peshwa.
  • The English will not give any shelter to the Raghunath Rao. He would be paid 25000 a month by the marathas.
  • Peshwa agreed that Hyder Ali shall be made relinquish the territories he had recently seized. 
  • Marathas will not provide their support to any European countries.

References :

  • The first Anglo Maratha war ( Author – M.R. Kantak , date – 1977 , University of Poona )
  • New History of the Marathas ( Author – Govind Sakharam Sardesai vol III , date 1948 )
  • The Military system of the Marathas ( Author – Surendra Nath Sen , 1928 , Vishwa Bharti Library Santinikentan )

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