Thursday, 1 May 2008

Kanhoji Angre

Kanhoji Angre or Conajee Angria or Sarkhel Angre (Sarkhel is a title meaning Admiral of the Fleet)(? – June 4, 1729) was the first notable chief of the Maratha Navy in 18th century India. He fought successfully all his life against the British, Dutch and Portuguese naval interests in the Indian Ocean during the eighteenth century, and hence was alleged by them to be a pirate. Similar work was carried out against the colonial powers by the Kunjali Marakkars in the sixteenth century. Despite the attempts of the British and Portuguese to subdue Angre, he remained undefeated until his death.


Born in the town of Alibag, little is known about his early life except that he was involved in daring exploits at sea and that his father was Tanoji Angre, a commander under Maratha Chhatrapati (Emperor) Shivaji.He spent much of his childhood in the fort at Suvarnadurg Fort, of which he would later become governor.

He was originally appointed as Darya-Saranga by the chief of Satara in 1698 [1]. Under that authority, he was master of the Western coast of India from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Vingoria (now Vengurla) in present day state of Maharashtra, except for the property of the Muslim Siddis of Janjira who were affiliated with the powerful Mughal empire.

Kanhoji initially started by attacking merchant ships of the British East India Company and slowly gained respect from the sovereign and notoriety with the colonial powers. When Maratha Chattrapati Shahu ascended the leadership of the Maratha kingdom, he appointed Balaji Viswanath Bhatt as his Senakarta ('Commander'), and negotiated an agreement with Angre around 1707. This was partly to appease Angre who supported the other ruler who claimed the Maratha throne, Tarabai. Under the agreement, Angre became head of the Maratha navy.

He also played a role in the Maratha conflicts against Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who was camped in the Deccan.


  • In 1698, Angre located his first base at the Maratha fort of Vijaydurg ('Victory Fort') (formerly Gheriah) located about 425km from Mumbai. The fort which was originally built by Maratha ruler, Shivaji is located on the coast, and has an entrance hollowed out in it to accommodate entry of a vessel from the sea.
  • Angre created a base on the Khanderi and Underi islands off the coast of Mumbai, and attempted to levy a tax on every merchant vessel entering the harbour.
  • Angre established a township called Alibag towards the end of the seventeenth century. The main village at that time, was today's Ramnath. Kanhoji even issued his own currency in the form of a silver coin called the Alibagi rupaiya.
  • Angre even established a base in the Andaman Islands, and is credited with attaching those islands to India.


With official Maratha backing, Kanhoji intensified the attacks on colonial naval powers like Great Britain and Portugal on the western coast of India. On November 4, 1712, his navy even succeeded in capturing the armed yacht Algerine of the British President of Bombay, Mr William Aislabie, killing the chief of their Karwar factory, Mr. Thomas Chown, and making his wife a prisoner. The yacht and the lady were released on 13 February 1713 for a ransom of 30,000 Rupees. He also signed a treaty with the President Aislabie to stop harassing the Company's fleet. Mr. Aislabie departed for England during October 1715.

After the arrival of Charles Boone as the new Governor of Bombay on 26 December 1715, Boone made several attempts to capture Angre. But instead in 1718 Angre captured three ships belonging to the British leaving them to claim that Kanhoji Angre was a pirate. Angre blockaded the port of Bombay, and extracted a ransom of 8,750 pounds from the East India Company.

The British launched a fresh campaign in 1720, when shells from floating batteries burst in vain against the rocks of Vijaydurg fort. The attempt to land inside the fort ended in disaster, and the British squadron soon retired to Bombay.

On 29 November 1721 a joint attempt by the Portuguese (Viceroy Francisco Jose de Sampaio e Castro) and the British (General Robert Cowan) to humble Kanhoji also failed miserably. This fleet consisted of 6,000 soldiers in no less than four Man of war ships led by Commander Thomas Matthews. Aided by Maratha warriors Mendhaji Bhatkar and Mainak Bhandari in his navy, he continued to harass and plunder the European ships. Commander Matthews returned to Great Britain, but was accused and convicted of trading with the pirates in December 1723. Also, during 1723, Governor Boone returned to Great Britain. After Boone's departure for a few years for some unknown reasons relative calm prevailed among the British and Angre, until his death.


  • 1702 - Seizes small vessel in Cochin with six Englishmen
  • 1706 - Attacks and defeats the Siddi of Janjira
  • 1710 - Captures the Kennery (now Khanderi) islands near Bombay after fighting the British vessel Godolphin for two days
  • 1712 - Captured the yacht of the British President of Bombay, Mr. Aislabie, releasing it only after obtaining a hefty ransom of Rs. 30,000 [2]
  • 1713 - Ten forts ceded to Angre by British
  • 1717 - British ships bombard Kennery island and Angre signs treaty with Company paying Rs. 60,000
  • 1718 - Blockaded Bombay port and extracted ransom
  • 1720 - British attack Vijaydurg (Gheriah), unsuccessfully
  • 1721 - British and Portuguese jointly attack Alibagh, but are defeated
  • 1723 - Angre attacks two British vessels, Eagle and Hunter


By the time of his death on 4 June 1729, Kanhoji Angre had emerged as a master of the Arabian Sea from Surat to south Konkan. He left behind two legitimate sons, Sekhoji and Sambhaji; three illegitimate sons, Tulaji, Manaji, and Yeshaji.

After Kanhoji, his son Sekhoji continued Maratha exploits at sea till his death in 1733. After Sekhoji's death, the Angre might was split between two brothers, Sambhaji and Manaji, because of divisions in the family. With the Marathas neglecting the navy the British soon found it easier to defeat the remnants of the kingdom. The Angre reign over the Western coast ended with the capture of Tulaji in a joint British / Peshwa attack on the fort of Gheriah (now Vijaydurg) in February 1756.


Kanhoji Angre stands alone in the Indian list of early freedom fighters as the one person who stood undefeated and inflicted many casualties on colonial powers. However, the British and other shipping powers who were heckled by Angre claimed that he was a privateer, purposely forgetting that he was the appointed admiral of the Maratha Navy.

Kanhoji is also credited with the foresight that a Blue Water Navy's role is to keep the enemy engaged away from the shores of the land. At one time he was so successful that he even employed certain Europeans in his fleet, including making one Dutchman his Commodore. At the height of power, Kanhoji's commanded hundreds of warships and the British Navy could do little to combat the Maratha Navy.[3]

Kanhoji's harassment of British commercial interests (who hence called him a pirate) and the Battle of Swally led them to establish a small naval force that eventually became the modern Indian Navy.

Angre's tomb is situated at the city of Alibag, Maharashtra.

A statue of Angre stands tall in Naval Dockyard in Mumbai. The fort which overlooks the Naval Docks may not be there but the boundary wall is still intact and within it lays the Headquarters of Western Naval Command and is called INS Angre ( Indian Naval Station Angre).


  • The Western Naval command of the Indian Navy was named INS Angre on September 15, 1951 in honour of the valiant sea commander. A statue of him exists at the old Bombay Castle located within the enclave located at the Naval Dockyard, South Mumbai.
  • During April 1999, the Indian Postal Service released a Rupee 3 stamp showing a ghurab of Kanhoji Angre's fleet as depicted in a circa 1700 A.D. painting
  • The old Kennery Lighthouse, on Khanderi Island which marks the southern boundary of the Mumbai Port, was renamed as Kanhoji Angre Light House
  • The huge residential colony of Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilizers at Alibaug is named as " Sarkhel Kanhoji Angre Nagar".
  • During the Malwani Jatrotsav festival in 1995 at Parel, Mumbai, a simulation of the naval battle between Angre and the British fleet led by Charles Boon was conducted using remote-control wooden boats in an open tank (70' x 30'). Radio Controlled boats carved out of Teak wood and powered by high torque motors were constructed by Vivek S. Kambli and Vishesh S. Kambli. A thrilling soundtrack complemented this Audio Visual 3 Dimensional depiction of an important chapter from Maratha Naval history. The show lasted 10 days and was witnessed by thousands of eager Mumbai citizens.

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