This is the third and final in a trilogy of articles providing the reader with an introduction to Tipu Sultan’s technologically advanced and vigorous arms industry. We started with studying about the process and economics of steel production in Mysore moving on to the second article dealing with Tipu Sultan’s scientific exchange with European powers and his perseverance to stop the drain of bullion from Mysore to Europe. In this final article we look up a few of Tipu Sultan’s handguns that I have selected as the finest representatives of the repertoire of skills that his gunsmiths possessed.
By the mid 1750s Haidar Ali had schemed and fought his way to power in Mysore where he eventually took control of both state and crown. Around this time while the armies of the myriad Indian kingdoms still relied upon the matchlock which was used by the elite troops only with the majority of the soldiers using the Swords and other edged weaponry, the flintlock action gun was being adopted by the more enlightened native rulers and was even being manufactured in such places as Lucknow, Pondicherry and Hyderabad. As a soldier at the siege of Devanahalli in 1749, Haidar Ali observed the superior skill of the French and Indian Sepoys amongst them trained by Marquis de Bussy in the use of the flintlock and the advantages the former enjoyed over the matchlock.
He subsequently became one of the early pioneers to equip an Indian army with flintlock guns on account of which he even picked up a nick name ‘Chaqmaq Jang’; alluding to the ‘chaqmaq’ which is purse-like tinder lighter containing flintstones and combustible material. On the lower edge or the bottom of the purse is fixed a broad band of iron. When a light is required a flintstone is held in one hand and the ‘purse’ in the other, with the bottom edge striking sparks on to the tinder. Unfortunately, no firearms produced by Haidar Ali can be identified. This does not mean that they weren’t there. It was not a practice in those times in India, for a gunsmith to identify his work. Armory marks were prevalent but not gun maker marks. Firearms were as a rule made to supply demand and they were made in two or three common patterns making it very difficult today to establish their exact place of origin.
Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan nurtured and encouraged Mysore’s Iron Smelts and Forges which churned out large quantities of some of the world’s best steel that the father and son put good use to in their drive to rid Mysore of her foreign aggressors. But raw material alone would not be able to match the European trained and equipped armies which confronted Mysore at every step. Tipu Sultan made every effort to procure the best of weaponry along with technicians and technology – gunsmiths, cannon casters, shot casters that France had to offer and on top of that, at the best commercial terms to Mysore.
What makes Tipu’s firearms truly unique in their design, both superficially and physically, is the incorporation of the bubri or the tiger stripe. Although this mark as an art form was widely used throughout the world of Islam, and in India even before the advent of Islam, Tipu’s particular pattern of the bubri was very much his own choice. It was an S-shaped figure, wide at the middle with a hollow center, and with re-curving ends of equal size. It is sometimes decorated with pellets. Expanding the bubri theme further, the plantain plant was used to great effect. It, too, was engraved on gun and pistol barrels but with it’s leaves actually adopting the bubri shape and often enclosing calligraphy.
Gold, Silver bubris were inlaid in his gun and pistol barrels and were cast in relief on his bronze cannon and mortar. In the field of decorations and design using a specific decorative motif, no firearms manufactory has worked so consistently within such closed confines over a 20 year period. The Bubri was adopted in about 1780 and continued in use till the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799. As the self-styled Tiger of Mysore it is appropriate that the striking and rather menacing form of ornament should have been his.
Another motif frequently found upon Tipu’s arms is also derived from the Tiger. It is the cipher written in Arabic ‘Asadullah Al-Ghalib’ meaning ‘The lion of God is the Conqueror’. When the Arabic characters are carefully arranged and then mirrored, they remarkably resemble the face of a tiger.
Another device found on Mysorean firearms is the heart shaped or Rectangular shield with four quarters containing the four letters ‘HIDR’ which stand for Haidar, Tipu Sultan’s father. The device is either inlaid in gold or silver, or engraved, and like the other motifs served as a type of armorial marking. The ‘HIDR’ device was obviously influenced by the shield shaped badge of the Honourable East India Company which contained the letters ‘VEIC’ arranged in four quarters of a shield denoting the ‘United East India Company’.
Further, in regard to Tipu’s firearms the following 5 features are to be generally seen:
- The S shaped cock of the firearm is of Tipu’s unique design being formed a large bubri terminating at the throat, with a tiger head holding the flint in it’s
- The grip of the small end of the butt sweeps downward to the butt plate of the gun.
- The tang of the barrel has a ‘shell’ carving which has two elongated bubris running down on either side of it, resembling the leaves of the plantain plant.
- The thin iron ramrod is threaded at the tail end with a threaded hole to secure cleaning tools.
- The ramrod pipes are unusually short and astral in section.
The barrels, locks and mounts were decorated most tastefully with the victorious Tiger being the preferred theme of decoration on the weapons manufactured at the Royal workshops (Karkhane Huzur). The artists’ imagination would run riot on the ample space that gun barrels afforded. God and Silver smiths would work most intricate patterns on butt plates and trigger guards. The top flat of the barrel was retained for calligraphy. The gunsmith’s name, name of the town where it was manufactured, date of manufacture, the talismanic HIDR shield and a control mark would invariably adorn this portion of the barrels of the important pieces. Control marks on the Mysorean firearms were of 3 distinct types:
- The name Haidar would be mentioned within a bubri stamp.
- The letter H , in Arabic small in size within stamps of various sizes.
- The letter H , in Arabic big in size within stamps of various sizes.
The control marks are found on firearms from both the Royal and Public workshops. The Royal workshop churned our firearms for Tipu’s personal use as well as for the use of members of his court and diplomatic gifts to other states. The Public workshops provided arms for the Mysore army. So they may not denote high quality but only provenance to the Sultans workshops. While some of the weapons of the lowest quality are not stamped, the control marks on Tipu’s pieces are filled with gold or silver sheet en suite with the décor of the arm. The control marks on munition grade pieces are either left plain or in some cases is filled with brass.
When Seringapatam was taken by storm on 4 May, 1799 a vast armory, military stores and treasure were captured. Lt-Col Alexander Beatson writes in his book ‘ A view of the origin and conduct of the war with Tippoo Sultaun’ : ‘In his palace was found a great variety of curious swords, daggers, fusils, pistols and blunderbusses; some were of exquisite workmanship, mounted with gold, or silver, and beautifully inlaid and ornamented with tiger’s heads and stripes, or with Persian and Arabic verses.’ Out of that vast store of weapons only those which are Tipuesqe in character and those few which are stamped with his peculiar marks described above can be positively identified today.
I have at the beginning of this article mentioned that Tipu’s father had initiated the task of reforming the Mysorean military establishment including tactics as well as ordinance. The transformation of a Matchlock equipped army to a Flintlock equipped army had already begun under him. While matchlocks would continue to be used in Indian armies till way into the mid 18th Century, Tipu and his father had discarded its use in Mysore by the 3rd quarter of the 18th Century.
The firearms that I have chosen to exhibit in this article are what I consider to be the finest among the ones that can be positively identified as being entirely of Mysorean manufacture produced between the years 1782 – 1799 when Tipu was the ‘Sarvadhikari’ of Mysore. Since I will be going into the technical aspects of the actual working of these firearms, I hope that the reader will not grudge me providing them with a brief idea of how a Matchlock and a Firelock gun actually work.
A – Flash pan cover B – Flash pan (with touch hole) C – Serpentine (or cock)
D – Trigger E – Slow match (i.e. a lit rope) F – Sear
G – Pivot H – Flat spring I – Tumbler link
J – Barrel K – Lock plate
To fire a matchlock, the soldier would perform the following steps
- He would load the barrel with gunpowder and after it insert a ball into the barrel.
- He would then pour a little extra gunpowder into a flash pan (B) after pushing the flash pan cover (A) to the side. The cover was used to keep the flash pan safe from the elements, until the moment of use. The flash pan had a tiny touch hole leading into the
- A cord of hemp or cotton called match (E) would then be attached to a curved lever called the Cock (C). The cord would then be lighted at one end and start burning very slowly.
- After taking aim, the trigger (D) connected to a lever (F), which was connected to a tumbler link (I) was pulled. This caused the serpentine C to be pulled towards the flash pan B and lights the gunpowder charge in the flash pan. The fire in the flash pan burnt through the touch hole and ignited the main gunpowder charge inside the barrel which exploded in that constricted space of the barrel and discharged the ball towards the target. A flat spring (H) then returned the lever back to its normal position.
The matchlock wasn’t always reliable though – many a time, the gunpowder in the flash pan could be blown off or become wet in the rain, or the slow match could go out. Sometimes when the trigger was pulled, the contents of the flash pan would ignite, but it wouldn’t burn through the touch hole and therefore fail to ignite the main gunpowder charge inside the barrel. There was always a chance that the open flame from one person’s matchlock could set off another person’s supply of gunpowder as soldiers would all be in close proximity setting off their charges. Besides, the glow of the match could give away a person’s position at night time and the slow match also had a distinct smell that could let people know that a person carrying a matchlock was nearby.
The flintlock mechanism is amazing from an innovation standpoint as it solved so many of the problems of the time using the fairly primitive tools and technology already available then.
The basic goal of the flintlock is simple: to create a spark that can light the gunpowder stored in the barrel of the gun. To create this spark, the flintlock uses the “flint and steel” approach. The idea behind flint and steel is straightforward. Flint is a very hard form of rock. If you strike iron or steel with flint, the flint flakes off tiny particles of iron. The force of the blow and the friction it creates actually ignites the iron, and it burns rapidly to form Ferric Oxide. The sparks are the hot specks of iron burning. If these sparks come near gunpowder, they will ignite it.
The main parts of a flintlock are:
The hammer, which holds and accelerates a piece of flint
The mainspring, which powers the hammer
The frizzen, which is the piece of steel the flint strikes
The pan, which is the place where a small quantity of gunpowder waits to receive the sparks.
This weapon has a hammer, which has jaws at the end, to which can be screwed on a piece of flint. It has a steel “frizzen” facing the piece of flint. To operate a Firelock, the soldier would perform the following steps
- One would first half-cock the hammer. This was a “safe” position from which the hammer would not normally spring back.
- Then one would pour a measure of gunpowder down the barrel and wrap a lead ball in a small piece of cloth or paper and ram it down the barrel on top of the gunpowder. The ball/cloth combination should have a nice, tight fit.
- After this, placing a small amount of gunpowder which is finer and more combustible than the regular gunpowder charge, in the flintlock’s pan the gunner would snap the frizzen in place over the pan. The frizzen also protects the powder in the pan from outside elements.
- He would now pull back the hammer from it’s ‘safe’ position to where it would be farthest from the pan.
- The trigger is now pulled to fire the gun.
When the gun is fired, the flint strikes the frizzen and shaves off iron to create sparks with the hammer holding the flint falling down to uncocked position. The hammer’s blow also snaps the frizzen back to expose the gunpowder in the pan. The pan’s gunpowder ignites aided by the sparks falling upon it, and it flashes through a small hole in the side of the barrel to ignite the gunpowder inside the barrel and shooting the ball out of the barrel.
Unlike the matchlock, this weapon doesn’t require the user to carry a lit match at all times to discharge the weapon. Hence it is much safer to use, especially in larger groups of soldiers or near gunpowder supplies. It can also be used more reliably in rainy weather and the time lapse between pressing the trigger and the shot being discharged was far less than the matchlock thus providing the quarry with far less time to adopt a defensive posture. Having understood how Matchlocks and Firelocks work, let us move on to the purpose of this article – to show you some of the best of these pieces manufactured in Tipu Sultan’s Mysore. I will start describing each of these pieces by alluding to a particular problem that each piece contrived to solve.
THE PROBLEM OF FIRING A GUN FROM ATOP A CAMEL
In the beginning of 1789, Alexander Read, a British Officer, estimated on ‘good authority’ the Mysore forces as below:
Four cushoons or Brigades each composed of 300 cavalry, 70 artillery, 2842 infantry, 50 rocketmen and 50 pioneers – 13248
22 cushoons and bar or infantry with firelocks – 78864
2 bodies of silladars (Lancers) – 4500
A party of looties (irregulars) – 500
Fighting camels – 500
Young charters trained to arms ( Asadilahi Troops) – 3000
Infantry with matchlocks (Kandachar militia) – 30000
Total – 130612
The observation of ‘fighting camels’ is interesting here because although camels were a part of many an army’s train in South India right from Vijaynagara times asmay be observed from depiction of camels on the wall friezes at the Hazara Rama temple in Hampi, they were primarily used as pack animals for carrying men and material. Tipu used them very effectively as fighting animals. Each camel had 2 soldiers mounted upon them, with one soldier reloading his weapon and the other firing his. This enabled a continuous fire from atop the camels into the enemy massed below. For the camel rider-soldier, maneuvering the camel as well as shooting from atop the moving camel presented the problem of ineffective fire as the rounds would often miss their target. Tipu surmounted this problem by providing a swivel blunderbuss to his mounted soldiers. The blunderbuss was fitted with a swivel that enabled the shooter to turn the gun o er a 360 degrees circle, though in most working situations a swivel arc of fire of more than 180 degrees across 2 quadrants was not needed as the rider would turn the camel towards the target being aimed at.
The blunderbuss is a muzzle loading firearm with a short, large diameter (caliber) barrel, which is flared at the shooting end of the barrel (muzzle) and frequently throughout the entire bore, and used with shot and other projectiles of relevant quantity and caliber. The muzzle was flared with the intent not only to increase the spread of the shot, but also to funnel powder and shot into the weapon, making it easier to reload on camelback. It was typically loaded with a number of lead balls smaller than the bore diameter. When fired the gun would release all the lead balls at once making the weapon very effective against massed troops on the opposite side of the barrel. It eliminated the need to aim at the enemy; it was enough to point at him from an effective distance and fire.
THE ‘BUKMAR’ – FLINTLOCK BLUNDERBUSS
Bukmar in Farsi means ‘Stinging Wasp’ an apt name for this Mysorean firearm whose discharge of pellets would inflict similar agony on one’s flesh as when one was stung by a vicious wasp. The blunderbuss was not a weapon unique to Tipu’s army as it had been used by armies in Europe since the 17th C. What is important here is how Tipu identified the efficacy of this type of firearm for his Camel corps and manufactured them in Mysore.
This flintlock blunderbuss has a slender iron barrel formed in two stages with a belled muzzle, inlaid in silver at the median with the tiger mask cipher of Tipu Sultan, as well as a brief inscription, decorated with scrolling foliage incorporating plantain leaves and Haidar talismanic square at the breech. The engraved tang is inlaid in silver with a brief inscription again. It has a beveled bubri shaped lock, inscribed with bubri shaped cock with jaws chiseled as a Tiger’s head in steel.
The stock is made of hard wood , carved in low relief about the lock with a bubri on either side of the tang. The butt is carved and has engraved brass mounts including pierced bubri shaped side plate as well as a trigger guard with a five point leaf shaped finial. The escutcheon (shieldlike surface on the wooden stock) is engraved with a tiger mask. The ramrod consists of three small molded pipes and the firearm is fitted with steel swing swivel as well.
This number represents a curse in the Urdu language which is read as ‘Theen Therah’ – Theen for 3 and Therah for 13. Strategically situated close to the charge with which the weapon is loaded, it is intended that on firing, the target is both cursed and then destroyed.
Since this particular blunderbuss that we are studying is missing it’s sling swivel, I will show you a contemporary blunderbuss with a sling swivel – this particular one of British manufacture, 1775 A.D.
This is how a scene of a Mysorean soldier shooting his Bukmar mounted atop his camel and swinging the weapon around in the target’s direction as and when needed would have looked. But, do we have any depiction of such a camel mounted soldier in Mysore. For this, we need not look far but only at Robert Home’s Painting that was done on the spot where the Mysorean Princes were taken as hostages by the British in the year 1792.
Robert Home’s famous Painting of the ‘Reception of the Hostage Princes by Marquis Cornwallis’ painted in 1793-94 has a number of Camel riders stationed on the side of Tipu’s forces just behind his ‘Tyger Men’. So, this is the closest that we can come to any contemporary image of the Camel-men in Mysore’s army. Camel mounted soldiers were not new to the East but it was Tipu who used them efficiently in battle in the Deccan. And equipping them with the bukmar would help create a posse of armed Camel-men who sowed terror into the hearts of Mysore’s opponents by tearing their flesh with the fire balls of metal that spewed from their bukmars.
This gun carries no inscription of it originating either from the Karkhaneh-ye-Khas, the Royal armoury or the ‘Karkhaneh-e-Aam’, the Public armoury. It just mentions the place of manufacture – Patan and the year of manufacture – 1794/1795. The gun itself is made of wood, steel and brass devoid of any silver of gold work. All this points to the fact that this is well made piece with quality of work not at par with the guns that came out of the Royal or even the public workshops but far better than the regular munitions grade pieces that were used by most of Mysorean army men. This shows that the Mysorean Came Corp occupied an important place in the military hierarchy. The gun was not particularly difficult to manufacture, yet the beauty of the piece looking at the bell shaped barrel end, the engraved cock and the swivel mechanism also testify to the efficiency of the Mysorean armorers.
THE PROBLEM OF TIME WASTED IN BREECH-LOADING A FLINTLOCK
A well-trained soldier in an 18th Century army could load and fire a firelock musket three or four times a minute. The elaborate step-by-step infantry drill of the eighteenth century armies, including the French drilled Mysorean one was designed to make this possible. The rate of fire fell, however, as the musket became fouled with powder residue and it became harder to ram home the ball and powder charge. Also there was a high misfire rate as the numbers of consecutive loading and firing increased. Volley fire was practiced by Mysorean infantry too wherein a line of soldiers would let off their flintlocks just as the line behind them was loading theirs. This shortened the time between consecutive discharges of musketry and was a common practice in modern armies of that time.
Of the 15 odd seconds that it took for a soldier to discharge his firelock, more than 10 seconds were consumed by the act of taking out the ram rod, ramming in the powder and lead and putting the rod back into place, usually along the barrel of the gun. If this loading time could be shortened, more vollies of fire from an infantry line could be managed. This was where the Mysorean armory rose to the occasion and produced firelocks that could fire multiple shots from a single barrel without reloading!
THE SUPERIMPOSED LOAD FLINTLOCK GUN
Superimposed loads are loads that are placed in the barrel, one on top of the other, so that there is an alternating sequence of (from the breach end) powder, ball, powder, ball, etc., for the desired number of charges. Each charge is accompanied by a corresponding touch hole that allows ignition of that charge. Each ball behind the first acts as a seal, to prevent ignition of the next charge.
A very ingenious innovation, a superimposed flintlock is muzzle loaded in the same way as any other flintlock with a charge and then another complete charge is rammed down on top.
The blued barrel is decorated with silver koftgari bubris in a close-set regular pattern over its full length ahead of the breech and fitted with a silver fore-sight cast as a tiger in high relief. The trigger-guard and escutcheon are each decorated in continuation of the Tiger theme, with two short ramrod-pipes, the third cast with a tiger mask, silver fore-end cap, original iron sling-swivels and ramrod. The entire rear half of the gun is finely chiselled in relief as a seated tiger, the jaws of the cock forming the tiger’s head, heightened with silver bubris throughout, the eyes and subsidiary detail inlaid in gold, inscribed with both the date and a ‘Haydar’ talismanic square in gold on the haunches, fitted with safety-catch chiselled in the form of a miniature tiger moving on the back of the principal subject.
A gold-lined ‘Haydar’control mark along with a band of three gold cartouches filled with the maker’s signature, the place and date of manufacture, and a ‘Haydar’ talismanic square, with decorated breech tang inscribed with the silver magic numbers ‘313′, can be seen on the flintlock.
The breech is a two-stage octagonal one formed with an additional chamber for the superimposed charge and the pan incorporating a rotary tap-action chamber for the sequential priming and ignition of successive charges, finely inlaid with with strips of stylised bubri ornaments framing both the an inlaid quatrain and the royal Sun device of Tipu Sultan.
So, how does this flintlock work? How does it enable the shooter to fire two rounds one after the other without loading the powder and ball in between the two shots? At the breech of the barrel are two touch holes, instead of the usual one hole, leading from the pan to the base of each charge. These have to ignited separately and this is achieved by having a tightly fitting tolling shutter in the base of the pan which serves the rear charge only. Thus, when the pan is primed and the forward charge has been fired, the rolling shutter, hollowed to contain further priming powder, is turned through 180 degrees by means of a wing nut on the outside of the pan, exposing the fresh priming, and at the same time, permitting passage to the rear touch hole.
To operate this firelock, the soldier would perform the following steps
- He would first half-cock the hammer. This was a “safe” position from which the hammer would not normally spring back.
- Then he would pour a measure of gunpowder down the barrel and wrap a lead ball in a small piece of cloth or paper and ram it down the barrel on top of the gunpowder. The ball/cloth combination should have a nice, tight fit.
- He would then again pour the same measure of gunpowder down the barrel and after that ram another ball of lead into it. So at this point we have inserted 2 alternate charges of powder and ball in the same gun barrel one after the other.
- The gunner now places a small amount of fine gunpowder in the flintlock’s pan to prime the forward charge – the charge that is towards the muzzle of the
- He would now pull back the hammer from it’s ‘safe’ position to where it would be farthest from the pan.
- The trigger is now pulled to fire the gun. The flint strikes the frizzen with the resultant friction causing sparks to fly from the retreating frizzen which burns the fine powder in the pan. The flame reaches the front charge through the first touch hole at one end of the pan and the ball is discharged.
- Once this is taken care of, the gunner turns the wing nut at the base of the pan by 180 degrees activating the rolling shutter which is tube like with a cylindrical slot in it. The tube consequently rotates exposing the slot to the outside. This slot is connected to the rear of the barrel and thus to the charge first rammed into the gun, via a touch hole in the barrel. A small amount of gunpowder is put into this slot thus priming the rear charge. The gunner would snap the frizzen in place over the pan.
- Once again the hammer is half-cocked and the trigger pressed. Sparks from the frizzen burn the charge in the slot and subsequently burns through to the rear charge and discharges the ball that was rammed into the barrel first.
So, in a very short span 2 consecutive shots are discharged from the gun! Where it would take a gunner with a regular flintlock over 30 seconds to fire 2 shots, in this case with the superimposed load flintlock, the same 2 shots could be discharged in a span of about 20 seconds. This saving of 10 seconds between consecutive volleys was extremely useful on the battlefield where the opposing army with soldiers firing at you with regular flintlocks would be unable to shoot at you before you shot a round at them.
In my opinion, the technology incorporating the rolling shutter with twin touch holes on this flintlock reflects the apogee of the technical might of the Mysorean industrial state. From an engineering perspective, what were the points that the gunsmith would have to keep in mind while designing this kind of a flintlock?
- The barrel would have to bored to precision. Remember, that what separated the first charge from the second was only the first ball enclosed in a wad of cloth or fibre. Unless the barrell was bored uniformly and the soldier trained well to ram the ball tight there was every danger of hot exploding gases from the second charge after being expelled reaching to the first charge behind it and the resultant multi charge explosion causing the entire breech to burst! So, Mysore’s gunsmiths had learnt the art of boring gun barrells to perfection. Contemporary British accounts after the sack of Seringapatam record the British discovering machines that Tipu’s gunsmiths used to bore more than one barrell at the same time.
- The heart of this flintlock is the rolling shutter mechanism, which upon activation provided the priming charge access to the second touch hole leading to the first charge. Again, if this circular tube controlled with a wingnut is not made to precision, we would have encountered problems like the shutter tube getting stuck because of the powder, grime and heat around it as well as the danger of it’s improper seating around the second touch-hole leading to flame and gas from the first priming escaping through the second touch hole and creating a simultaneous combustion of both the charges leading to catastrophic failure of the barrel tube at the breech.
This particular flintlock was manufactured in the Royal workshop at Patan – Srirangapatna, as can be made out from the inscriptions on the gun and would have been intended for Mysorean royalty. It is improbable that like the blunderbuss, this kind of flintlock would have been manufactured in large numbers in the Public Workshop, if manufactured there at all, on account of the complexity of the mechanisms involved.
While the effectiveness of this kind of flintlock is beyond doubt it also required a soldier with very good training to operate it as he had to ensure that he inserted the correct amount of charge and rammed the first ball in properly to ensure smooth firing. He would also have to keep the touch hole as well as the pan clean with tools available with him to prevent the touch holes from getting clogged up as well as for proper buting of charge in the pan and the shutter. Thus only a relatively limited number of these flintlocks would have been made at the Mysorean armory.
Though guns with superimposed loads were known in Europe right from the 17th C, they only started to be manufactured in larger numbers only in the early part of the 19th C. That the Mysorean armory was up to the challenge of manufacturing such a weapon which was scarcely found in Europe as well at that time shows the technological prowess of Mysore at that time.
THE SERINGAPATAM MATCHLOCK
This matchlock is one of a select group manufactured in the Mysore Public Armouries for making and finishing small arms under Tipu’s patronage. These have been made dual-purpose, in that they can easily be adapted for use as a flintlock, which it resembles from a distance. So we have a gun here that can be easily disassembled and reconfigured either as a Matchlock or a Flintlock.
The barrel, is a re-used Indian barrel. It has 4 convex flutes with silver calligraphy on the top, two flutes and two rows of bubris on either side also in silver. There is a Haidar control mark and ‘Patan’ stamp at the first girdle, which is also decorated with silver trellis work and calligraphy. Past another 8 convex flutes, we have another girdle with floral trellis and bird patterns. The muzzle has a brass foresight. The short section between the rearmost girdles is inlaid with the maker’s signature, the date and place of manufacture all in silver; the butt-plate finial, the side-plate and the trigger-guard all formed as series of bubris and the gun retains it’s small ramrod-pipes, brass fore-end cap, original brass sling-swivels, along with the original iron ramrod.
Inscriptions on the Matchlock
On the Barrel:-
1225 (Mauludi Year 1796/1797)
“tofang-e-kebriya’ist sultan-e jahan ara
Ze Haydar bar ‘adu fath-e-muhammad shod zafar peyda”
(It is a magnificent gun of the World-adorning Sultan
Through Haidar, the victory of Muhammad over the enemy became triumphantly apparent)
On the Lock:-
The talismanic square with the letters H/Y/D/R
This firearm was made to be fired by flintlock ignition. There is no integral pan as on the standard matchlock barrel, and the lock can be described as a matchlock which can be adapted for use with flint. Normally the serpentine is in the upright position and it is retained there solely by the bolted catch corresponding to the standard safety catch bolting the tumbler. The pan cover is fitted with a roller bearing riding on a standard frizzen spring.
When the trigger is pulled, the serpentine is rotated downwards by the action of the sear on the tumbler being activated solely by the pressure of the trigger finger. The movement of the tumbler, through the linkage, also cantilevers the pan cover open. It’s opening is accelerated by the action of the frizzen spring, so it snaps open smartly. When the trigger is released the serpentine returns to the upright position under pressure of the sear spring. The pan cover may then be operated manually.
THE PROBLEM OF FINDING FLINTS
To Meer Kumruddeen Ali Khan ; dated 11th (Extra) Ahmedy,
Your letter, informing us of your arrival at Chekry, and applying for a supply of gun-flints, powder, &c., has been received, and its contents are duly understood. Send to Burhanuddeen for gun-flints, powder, and whatever else you may want. The Sipahdar Mahomed Ali, has no doubt joined you by this time with the troops under his command, orders for this purpose having been repeatedly dispatched to
him. That part of your forces which was at Kurpah has also marched from thence, and will soon join your army. What more?
The letter from Tipu to Meer Kumuruddeen Ali Khan who was his one of his Meer Marans, the highest ranking officer in Mysore is evidence of the importance of armament stores, specifically flint for a marching army.
Although any quartz bearing material can be used to strike a spark from hardened steel, only flint or other, similar micro-crystalline quartzose material was strong enough to hold a sharp edge for reliable, and continued use. Gunflint making in many regions was a typical cottage industry. Flint was mined locally by hand. Labor was usually organized according to three main steps. The cracker or quarterer broke raw nodules into suitable sizes for making cores. The flaker produced long blades from these cores. The knapper finally segmented the blades, and trimmed the finished gunflints. The ideal gun flint is tabular in shape with a sharp sloping front face. Flint was available in India and mined locally but some of the best flint was imported from England and France as well. Only in 1805-06, 42,658 C. Rs. worth of powder and flint was imported by the East India Company to their Indian possessions. The value of a flint was even less than a paisa!
While Tipu Sultan would not have depended upon imports for goods as vital as flint for his army, getting flints to armies on the move and stocking them safely was not easy. And this is why only in Mysore, was a unique firearm invented and used which was aptly named by her British foes as – The Seringapatam Matchlock!
But, what makes them so unusual is that they are matchlocks, produced towards the end of Tipu’s reign when his armories had been producing high-quality flintlocks of the most up-to-date design for nearly twenty years. We have already discussed earlier in the article, how matchlocks predated firelocks by several centuries and why firelocks were superior to matchlocks in terms of both technology used as well as convenience.
There was also no shortage of flintlock firearms in Mysore as many thousands of them were captured by the British after the fall of Seringapatam. For almost 2 decades prior to Tipu’s death, his armouries had already been turning out excellent examples of these pieces. As a matter of fact, from the Return of Ordinance and Military stores found at Seringapatam dated 20 May, 1799 it is interesting to note that there were 99000 flintlock arms captured and only 320 Matchlock guns! This was back in 1799, when all Indian armies were largely fighting with shield, saber and matchlocks; which only goes in showing how modern for its times was the Mysorean army!
So what could be a reason for Tipu to outfit a flintlock gun with a regressive matchlock mechanism? Contemporary and later visitors to Mysore and scholars noted that Tipu’s unique designs were at best “…intended to be no more than another piece of inventiveness with which to feed his insatiable appetite for the mechanically unusual.” Much of this writing off Tipu’s scientific zeal as mere ‘whim and fancy’ was rooted in British prejudice against Mysore’s formidable strength.
An example of this attitude may be seen in C. Buchanan’s writing about a canon boring machine operated with water and purportedly designed by French engineers for Mysore that he saw in the environs of Seringapatam during his travels through Mysore, Madras and Malabar around 1800-1801. He derides Tipu Sultan when he observed the machine had been altered to be operated by bullocks instead of water forgetting that now the machine could be operated at any place where bullocks were available instead of only at those places where power was obtained from water, primarily water falling down from a height.
It is my opinion that the reasons for the design of the Seringapatam Matchlock were the following:
- Some of the disadvantages of the flintlock system being a great number of misfires as the flint chips and wears away, fails to spark, with resulting wear to the tempered face of the frizzen. It is a main object of this invention to provide in combination with a flintlock mechanism, through conversion by the invention to the use of matches within the flintlock mechanism, resulting in a superior method of producing a more intense and reliable primary ignition and effective delivery of the improved ignition to the flashpowder within the cavity of the flashpan and the adjacent prime-hole.
- As seen in the letter from Tipu to his Meer Maran, flints were not always in abundant supply and the outcome of wars depended upon each gunner having good quality flints upon him. So, in eventualities, however rare where a flintlock was made useless because of lack of flints, it could be speedily transformed into a matchlock with the replacement of the lock mechanism and vice-versa from a matchlock into a flintlock.
It is to Tipu’s credit that he encouraged his gunsmiths to work around the problem of finding flints for the flintlock and they in turn invented a mechanism found nowhere else in the contemporary world and patented only as late as 1983, of all places in the United States! Not many of these Seringapatam matchlocks were made from the fact that till date only 5 known examples exist. It is most probable that this gun was only made available to his chosen troops in Seringapatam. As the figures of captured ordinance show, matchlocks were hardly used in the Mysorean army and could only be found in the hinterlands among the ‘Kandachar’ or irregular troops.
Tipu was immensely proud of this and other products from Mysore and in a letter to the Executive Directory of France, dated 29 July 1798, Tipu has included an account of presents for ‘5 French Chiefs’ and ‘their wives’. The gifts included:
Guns – 3
Matchlock – 1
Another Kind of Gun -1 , all of which he states were manufactured in Mysore. In view of the date of the letter and 1 of the guns being described as a matchlock, it is most probable that the Proud Tipu was gifting the Seringapatam Matchlock to his French allies. Another letter to the French King, Louis XVII himself has Tipu saying mentioning – “A double barrelled gun made in the arsenal of the Sarkar together with an embroidered dress is sent for the noble rank and will arrive”.
Under Tipu’s orders, scholar and theologian Zainulabedin Shustari compiled a military manual for the Mysorean army, called the Fateh-ul-Mujahidin or ‘The Truimph of the Holy Warriors’. This manual deals with the military maxims and observations of Tipu Sultan with respect to military maneuvers and training. A copy of this manuscript was carried away by the British in 1791 and partly translated into English with 21 copies finding their way to the India Office library alone.
An illustrated copy of the manuscript dated 1782/3 has on its margin a detail of an ink and watercolor illustration of one of Tipu’s infantrymen in 2 different stages of loading his firelock.
The soldier is observed here in two stages of using the firelock, first using the ramrod to load the charge into the barrel and in the second, cleaning the touch hole using a cleaning tool. The touch hole would get clogged with ash and grime over several firings; this would cause the charge to misfire or just ‘flash in the pan’. So frequent cleaning of the touch hole as well as the pan was necessary to ensure passage of the fired priming charge through the touch hole into the barrel.
Firelock-men were drilled through the year on their weapons, often taught by experienced French officers on the latest infantry techniques. No wonder Tipu’s men stood their ground in battle after battle with British and European trained Sepoys. The latest methods of training along with the best possible weaponry made the Mysorean army, though small in numbers when say compared to the Marathas or the Nizam’s, a very formidable fighting force towards the end of the 18th C. The Mir Sadar Cutcheri (Ordinance and Garrison Department) supervised the stores and manufacture of arms and ammunition. It was in charge of the garrisons and kept the army accounts as well. Ghulam Ali Khan, was the Mir Sadar or Head of this department and had eight officers or Bakhshis serving under him. This network of bureaucrats reporting to the court at Seringapatam itself ensured a steady supply of workmen and material right from the smelting irons to the flintlocks.
There is no evidence that the manufacture of firearms was continued in Mysore after Tipu’s fall in 1799. It must be assumed that his gunsmiths would have dispersed after the fall of the Khodadad Sarkar. The Indian workmen moving on to other pastures and his European artificers deported from Mysore. In a newly conquered country, it is highly unlikely that existing munitions factories would have been left intact. Of the ‘eleven armories for making and furnishing small arms’, nothing remains today.
But the inscriptions on the arms provide us with some clues about his gunsmiths and location of his arms factories. The factories at Patan and Nagar come up prominently as do Muhammad Almas, Asad Amin, Sayyid Masum, Sayyid Hasan and Sayyid Ali among the names of gunsmiths. We have arms from both Patan and Nagar bearing Sayyid Ali’s name which means that gunsmiths were also moved across factories. Tipu even gave a new name to firelocks, which were called ‘bundook’ till then. At least in the nomenclature of the scribes at court and inscriptions on the firearms themseves, they were henceforth to be called ‘Tofang’.
Such was the allure of the weaponry from Mysore that only a few survive today, in museums all over the world and private collectors owning the rest. They were so eagerly sought after as objects of curiosity that most of them were brought back to England by the early years of the 18th C, which account for the fact that there are virtually none of Tipu’s personal arms to be found in India today.
The reason of British interest in Tipu’s ordinance can be summed up in an observation made by a contemporary English visitor to one of his arms factories after his fall – ‘A degree of perfection has been achieved in every stage of the process, truly astonishing to those of our officers who visited the different workshops.’ The English were petrified at the idea of Tipu himself. Here was a brown ruler who unlike his contemporaries around him did not waste time and resources in wine, women and outlandish palaces. He would not borrow money or men from the East India Company nor would he ally with any European power against an Indian foe. Add to this the fact that he built up an army along modern European lines and armed them with armament equal to European arms that he made in his own factories. This was the quintessential Tipu the British were frightened of. And in vanquishing and felling him in that gateway on that afternoon of May 4, 1799 they had vanquished their greatest foe in India then. This was exactly why the English valued as war trophy any Mysore weaponry that they could lay their hands upon!
But what about the Mysoreans who worked Tipu’s factories and manned his defences and loaded his firelocks? Did they forget him after his bones became dust and his factories ravaged with neglect and time? No, the memory remained for a long while after Tipu. The evidence for this lies in a percussion cap pistol sourced from Kollegala, near Mysore which is now in a private collection.
This kind of pistol which was the next advancement in firearm technology after the firelock uses a small cylinder of copper or brass with one closed end containing a small amount of a shock-sensitive explosive material such as fulminate of mercury. The cap is placed over a hollow metal “nipple” at the rear end of the gun barrel, on a chimney. Pulling the trigger releases a hammer that strikes the percussion cap and ignites the explosive primer causing the resulting flame to travel through the hollow nipple to ignite the main powder charge. Percussion caps were made in small sizes for pistols and larger sizes for rifles and muskets. They solved the problem of flintlocks misfiring in wet weather to a large extant.
Percussion cap pistols were first introduced circa 1820 and did not really become popular till the 1840s. So this particular piece would be from that period. This pistol is of Indian manufacture quite crude in construction and uses as it’s lock an old flintlock lock stripped off its parts.
What is striking about this piece is the observation of 3 bubris marks on the chimney. What are bubris marks doing on a piece produced in Mysore more than four decades after the fall of Tipu and his Kingdom? It could only mean one thing that there was some gunsmith in some corner of Mysore who inscribed the bubris onto the piece remembering the value that stamp once held! We will never know if this gunsmith had worked half a century ago in Tipu’s gun shop or had worked with the previous generation who probably had. What is amazing is that the memory of that stamp of quality still held! There could be no greater appreciation of Tipu Sultan’s role in fostering this arms industry, than this.
Thus ends the third and final of my trilogy on Mysore’s Firearms industry during the rule of Tipu Sultan. I can only hope that the reader, whichever part of the world he may hail from, is inspired to cultivate the same inquisitive mind that Tipu possessed and which transformed the Mysorean arms industry in the span of less than a generation.
No study of the firearms of Tipu Sultan is complete without the mention of the Late Robin Wigington, a dealer-collector based out of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. He was Tipu obsessed and his home in Stratford, where his collection was housed, backed on to the river Avon where he kept a boat painted with Tipu bubri stripes. His interest in Tipu predated the hysteria over him seen over the last decade. From the 1970’s, Robin started acquiring Tipu pieces and writing about them primarily in the prestigious Journal of Arms and Armour Society. He never believed in keeping knowledge acquired from his study of these arms to himself; his book “The Firearms of Tipu Sultan 1783-1799”, published in 1992 is testimonial to his efforts. As his collection grew, he set up a private museum to display the major pieces and make them known to a wider audience. He is no more with us now and is up there with Tipu Sultan perhaps, discussing niceties with him over Sherbet.
Much of his collection, after his passing away was disposed through his estate in collaboration with the esteemed auction house Sotheby’s in ‘The Tipu Sultan Collection” Sale of 25 May, 2005.
- The Firearms of Tipu Sultan, Robin Wigington; John Taylor Book Ventures, 1992
- Sotheby’s – The Tipu Sultan Collection; 25 May 2005, London
- Thomas DelMar Ltd., in association with Sotheby’s
- Tipu Sultan’s Mysore – An Economic Study, M.H. Gopal; Bombay Popular Prakashan, 1971
- Confronting Colonialism-Resistance and Modernisation under Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, Edited by Irfan Habib; Tulika, 1999
- The Tiger and the Thistle, Tipu Sultan and the Scots in India; NGS, 1999
- Tigers round the Throne, The Court of Tipu Sultan; Zamana Art Gallery, 1990
- History of Tipu Sultan, Mohibbul Hasan;Aakar Books, 2005
- Sunset at Srirangapatam, Mohammad Moienuddin; Orient Longman Ltd., 2000
- History of Tipu SUltan, M.H.A.Khan Kirmani;Asian Educatioanal Services, 1997