The fate of the Indian Empire turned on the actions of a man who turned to the other side.
British dominion over modern-day India strengthened after the colonial rulers were victorious at the 1757 Battle of Plassey, a victory celebrated on a bronze medal being offered in Downies Australian Coin Auctions’ July 9 to 11 sale.
The victory over the Nawab of Bengal (the prince) and his French allies hinged on the betrayal of the prince by a general, Mir Jafar (or Meer Jaafar).
The repercussions have been felt long after the prince was killed by British forces, as the British extended their footprint over the Principality of Bengal, which covers an area including Calcutta and Bangladesh. The British East India Company ruled on behalf of Britain until 1858 when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British Crown took control.
Queen Victoria was declared the Empress of India in 1876, a few decades after the transfer. The title was a reflection of the British Empire’s near apex, the establishment of the British Raj or Indian Empire.
Leading the victors in the 1757 battle was Maj. Gen. Robert Clive, the 1st Baron Clive.
Lord Clive’s victory atoned for the fall of Calcutta in 1756 to a local ruler hostile to the British presence, which is referenced in the legend on the reverse of the medal. The legend translates to “injuries atoned, privilege augmented, territory acquired.”
Clive appears on the reverse, as a Roman general holding a staff surmounted with a British lion, presenting another staff to Jafar, who was appointed Soobah of Bengal, Behar and Orissa.
Victory rides an elephant on the obverse, symbolic of the subjugation of the Indian people.
The medal was the inaugural issue of a series of medals sponsored by the Society Promoting Arts and Commerce (a forerunner of the Royal Society of the Arts) commemorating victories during the Seven Years War. It was designed by James Stuart and engraved by John Pingo. The medal is classified as Eimer 655 by Christopher Eimer in British Commemorative Medals and Their Values. The piece was released in 1758.
The example in the Downies auction exhibits an even chocolate brown color and is graded Extremely Fine. It also displays obvious die cracks on the obverse and carries an estimate of $150 Australian (about $143 U.S.), though Eimer’s 2010 guide suggests a value of £475, or about $737 U.S. ■
Bronze medal honoring pivotal Battle of Plassey in 1757
Extremely Fine, chocolate brown,
with die cracks
July 9 to 11
Battle opened India to commercialization by the British East India Company