GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (93)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

The success of the Mughal attack on Hugli was only a matter of time. Nevertheless, the Portuguese, despite their heavy losses, kept a final card in their sleeves. The close and continuous bombardments of the enemy artillery had miraculously spared most of the city’s river fleet, which would allow residents to evacuate smoothly down the river, until close to the delta, out of reach of the weapons of the vice-king Mogul’s men. Once arrived, they could go to any of the several islets embedded in the most angled part of Hugli. They would be safe, since the Moghuls had neither ships nor the maritime ability to dislodge them.

Soon, the Portuguese of Bengal realized that this was the only way to save their skin. But such a decision implied the abandonment of all their belongings, with the exception of the vile cash. But collaborationist Martim de Melo had a sharp eye and, guessing the movements of his compatriots, he ran to warn the Mogul.

These, in a measure of anticipation, in three stages set up a bridge with barges to join the two banks of the river and in the place where it was narrower “they extended a great iron chain.” The cannons were well attested with gunpowder, all that was needed was to dig the trenches on both riverside banks where musketeers and archers would be positioned.

On the 24th of September, under cover of night, the besieged ones secretly embarked on fourteen barges and an indeterminate number of cargo boats equipped with removable lantacas attached to the railings, “small guns but more deadly than a blunderbuss,” in happy expression of our Jesuit.

In all, there would be some 250 Portuguese (one hundred of them women), pure breed or mestizo, that did not matter, as such a distinction had never been practiced there. Added to the figure are the many Indians and slaves who had managed to escape, some three thousand in total. Certainly due to a miscalculation, the dawn came to surprise the fugitives before they raised the anchors of their ships. There would follow one of the most amazing evacuations in memory!

Upon realizing the departure of Hugli’s brave defenders, that is, the valid men-at-arms, the Mogul troop burst into the city with great commotion and a display of bravery. “They did it as if they had met with tenacious resistance ahead,” commented Father Cabral with bitter irony.

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