Tipu’s Treasury – which was stuffed with jewels, gold arms and fine cloth – was dispersed after his eventual defeat and death in the Siege of Seringapatam in 1799. The British victory was followed by extensive looting as well as a more orderly division of the spoils and the pendant ended up in the possession of Major General Harris who brought it to England.
Jewels had disappeared wholesale from the treasury, yet the value of those which the prize agents recorded was reckoned by them of not less than 360,000 Pounds sterling. Dodwell (Nabobs of Madras, Page 67) tells the story of a private of the 74th who is said to have found a pair of Tipu’s armlets, set with great diamonds. He passed them on for 1500 Rupees to a surgeon, who after carrying them around his waist for 2 years, sold them for a sum which brought him an annual income of 2000 Pounds. Out of this he generously allowed the private 200 Pounds. The surgeons name was Mair.
The results was that even the senior most field officers had to take part of their prize money in jewels. Colonel Wellesley received nearly a third of his entitlement of 10000 Pagodas in this form. General Harris challenged the Prize Agents over a ‘gorgeous’ emerald necklace which had been valued at 50000 sultany Pagodas but which he declared were full of flaws; alternate baubles were supplied to him.This pendant may well be another piece that fell to Harris’s share.
General Baird got a large Ruby ring and Thomas Dallas got a festoon of slightly tarnished pearls. Though Major General Popham complained that his diamonds were mere Glass chippings, they fetched 1000 sultany pagodas more than the Prize Agent’s estimate., but he did not ‘return’ the surplus.”
At the Victoria and Albert museum in London are an emerald and diamond set along with another Ruby and diamond set, the gems of which are set from the booty taken at Seringapatam. The descendants of Lord Harris have loaned another splendid diamond and ruby bracelet composed of square cut diamond collets, alternating with brilliant cut ruby and emerald collets, to the V&A collection.
Tipu adopted the practise of varying daily the gemstones in his rings in accordance with the movements of the planets. Both Hindus and Muslims in India believed that the influence of the planets was strengthened by the wearing of certain stones, with the appropriate combination producing the same effect as a planetary conjunction. He is said to have worn a ruby ring which he regarded as the most valuable in his treasury.
Tipu’s pink silk turban discovered from him at his death had three exquisite diamonds and ruby flowers. His gold brooch at the V&A was set with diamonds and turquoise. The brooch was originally part of Captain Cochrane’s share of jewels.
A gem-set gold pendant from the treasury of the legendary Indian ruler, Tipu Sultan, was among the star lots in the sale of the contents of Lord Glenconner’s St Lucian home at Bonhams in London on 28 September. It was estimated at between £80,000 and 120,000 and finally fetched £217,250 inclusive of Buyer’s Premium.
The pendant is described in the auctioneeer’s catalogue as
The gold pendant is set with a 38 carat emerald surrounded by nine precious stones including topaz, blue sapphire, ruby, diamond and pearl. It is one of the very few pieces of jewellery from Tipu Sultan’s fabulous treasury to have survived in its original setting.
The form of this pendant would have been universally recognisable within the Indian subcontinent as a powerful amulet. Its nine stones (navratna) each represent one of the planets of the Hindu cosmology: ruby for Surya (Sun), pearl for Chandra (Moon), coral for Mangala (Mars), emerald for Budha (Mercury), topaz for Bhaspati (Jupiter), diamond for Shukra (Venus), blue sapphire for Shani (Saturn), zircon for Rahu (the ascending node of the Moon) and cat’s eye for Ketu (the descending node of the Moon). It was a symbol of celestial relationships and a manifestation of the divine plan for every living creature and a symbol of the universe.
Tipu took several measures to synthesise Hindu and Islamic beliefs and cultural concepts without giving any scope or cause for dissensions and contradictions within society.
On the reverse of the pendant is a control mark bearing the name “Haidar” in Arabic contained in a bubri-shaped stamp. The bubri motif symbolises the tiger stripe, the tiger being an animal whose bravery and strength Tipu admired. This mark can be found on all types of metal and even on wooden stocks. It does not seem to be a hallmark of quality or standard, but more likely was used only on items that were made in or passed through Tipu’s royal workshops and signifying state ownership. Similar use of a mark with the first letter of “Haydar” can be seen, like the full version, on Tipu’s weapons, where it is chased, stamped, engraved or inlaid into the metal (Stronge 2009, pp. 34-6), for example on a pair of silver-mounted pistols made for Tipu by Asad-e Amin in Seringapatam and dated AH 1223/ 1794-5 (Robin Wigington, The Firearms of Tipu Sultan 1783-1799, Hatfield, 1992, TR23, pp. 109-11), and on several other pieces formerly in the Robin Wigington collection. Interestingly, the throne finial of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Bowser bore a similar bubri-shaped mark on the inside of the collar.
General Harris had no intention of keeping the valuable jewellery except two of them which were retained for his wife, Lady Harris. The General’s son-in-law Stephen Lushington was assigned the task of selling most of the remaining jewellery. However, efforts to sell much of the jewellery proved difficult since the market in India was poor and the European market was in a downward spiral because of the aftermath of the French revolution. General Harris tried persuading the Earl of Mornington to buy the best pieces of jewellery for the East India Company, to be presented to the Queen, a suggestion the Earl politely declined.
There were many offers and suggestions from Indians eager to possess the jewels. Among them was Shamim, a moneylender and another, the Nawab of Arcot, Haidar Ali and Tipu’s sworn enemy.
But within some time, all the jewellery was sold and is dispersed all over the world today much of it broken from the original settings and set in varied European designs.
The Tiger of Mysore’s jewellery collection was truely among the most impressive that existed anywhere in those times.
References: Bonhams Sale 19576 – The Contents of the St Lucian Property of Lord Glenconner, 28 Sep 2011 London, New Bond Street
Mohammad Moienuddin, Sunset at Seringapatam, Orient Longman, 2000