Lion overpowering the Tiger; The Seringapatam Medal

The Seringapatam campaign of the British Army in 1799 was an immensely successful one with it’s result leading to the swift annihilation of Mysore and the death of Tipu Sultan on the   battlefield.

The British assembled two large columns under General George Harris. The first consisted of over 26,000 British East India Company troops, 4,000 of whom were European while the rest were local Indian sepoys. The second column was supplied by the Nizam of Hyderabad, and consisted of ten battalions and over 16,000 cavalry. Together, the allied force numbered over 50,000 soldiers.

The European regiments that took part in the storming were the 33rd Regiment (now the 1st Batt. West Riding Regiment), the 19th and 22nd (late 25th) Light Dragoons (both disbanded), the 12th and 73rd Regiments, 74th Highlanders, 75th and 77th Regiments, the Scots brigade, afterwards the 94th (disbanded in 1818), and the 103rd. The Indian sepoy forces consisted of the 1st Madras Native Infantry, 2nd Madras Native Infantry, 1st Madras Native Cavalry, 2nd Madras Native Cavalry, 3rd Madras Native Cavalry, 4th Madras Native Cavalry, Madras Pioneers, Madras Artillery, 1st Bengal Native Infantry, 2nd Bengal Native Infantry and Bengal Artillery.

On the British side Twenty-two officers were killed and 45 wounded; 181 men of other ranks killed, 624 wounded, and 22 missing; 119 native soldiers killed, 420 wounded, and 100 missing.  On the other hand Mysore suffered nearly 10000 casualties.

For the excellent services of the army, the Honourable East India Company issued a medal, of which two kinds exist – one produced in the Soho Mint near Birmingham, the famous place established by Matthew Boulton, and the other from dies cut in Calcutta after strikings of the Soho medal.

The Gold Seringapatam Medal awarded posthumously by the Honourable Court of Directors to Major-General Sir John Braithwaite, Commander-in-Chief Madras Army. Image Courtesy-DNW Auctioneers.

This medal, 1.9 inches  in diameter, bears on the obverse a representation of the British lion, with a defeated Mysore tiger beneath him, a long pennon flying above, arid held erect by the lion’s tail, bearing near the staff the Union Jack, and in Arabic the defeated Tipu’s title, “Assad Allah Al Ghalib,” meaning ‘Conquering Lion of God’ and in the exergue IV MAY MDCCXCIX which was 4 May, 1799 the date when Seringapatam’s walls were breached and British arms triumphed.

On the reverse is represented the storming of Seringapatam, with the meridian sun indicating that when the sun was in its full glory around 12 Noon, the successful assault was made and glorious victory was won. We see the walls of Seringapatam breached and British troops entering carrying ladders and facines through this breach. Prominent landmarks of Seringapatam that exist to this day are depicted with great artistic merit here – the Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Masjid-E-Ala Mosque and the flagstaff.  Underneath is the legend in Persian which translated into English reads  ” Seringapatam God conquered 28th day of the month Zikadah, 1213 of the Hegira.” 

Since Boulton did not know enough about the event, Kuchler, a recent German emigre to London and Boulton’s engraver, had asked for reference drawings: ‘weil mir aber die gantze Begebeheit nicht genug bekannt ist, so wolte ic Eur. HochEdlen bitten mich in den Standt suselzen, das ich durch einem guten Muyster in zukumft zeygnungen kan machen lassen, gleich wie andere Graveurs auch thun.’ (‘ But as I do not know enough about the event, I would beg you to put me in a position to have drawings made in future by a good artist, as a guide, as other engravers do’). Sir Charles Wilkins from India House advised them on the medal’s design.

For the 1799 medal, a view of Seringapatam was supplied, and the business of designing the medal began in earnest. Mr Willis, at India House, complained that the sun and its rays on the reverse should be ‘softened down.’ Kuchler retorted that it would not then be a sun, but Mr Willis persisted: ‘all Medallists laugh at it as it is.’ Mr Willis then suggested that Kuchler should ‘make the Tyger much stronger in the shoulders.’

Quite a variety were struck. Gold for His Majesty, the Governor-General of India Lord Melville, the Marquis Cornwallis, the Nizams, certain Nabobs and Rajahs, the Commander- in- Chief  and the General Officers on the Staff, and one for the Oriental Museum.  Silver gilt for the members of the Council of the three Presidencies, the Residents of Hyderabad and Poona, the Field Officers and the General Staff on Service. Silver medals were awarded to the captains and subalterns. To the native commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers, sergeants, bandsmen, and trumpeters of European corps, and to others who might be ranked as non-commissioned officers, the bronze medal was also granted, while the tin medals were given to corporals, gunners, and European privates, and to native doctors, guides, and general-utility men with the Army. Over 50,000 Seringapatam medals were finally struck: three hundred and fifty gold; one hundred and eighty five silver gilt; eight hundred and fifty silver; five thousand bronzed copper; and forty five thousand of pure grain tin.

Although struck at the Soho Mint by 23rd April 1802, the medals for Seringapatam were not sent out to India for distribution until 1805 when the gold, gilt and silver medals were sent out by the Albion in September of that year. The ‘bronzed’ and ‘tin’ medals followed early in 1808, accompanied by a Memorandum from the Court of Directors in London, dated 26 February 1808, to Fort St George and on 29th August 1815, official permission to wear the medal was granted by the Prince Regent;  issued without suspenders, this permission led to the addition of loops and suspenders, and the adoption of a ribbon for suspension, and while some used a dark orange ribbon suggestive of a tiger’s skin, in allusion to the victory of the British arms over Tipu Sultan ,  the claret- coloured ribbon with dark blue edges was the recognised ribbon, although some officers wore a watered yellow ribbon too.

The same medal struck at the Calcutta mint is slightly different owing to mistakes on the part of the die-cutters. The sun at its meridian, a significant and symbolic feature in the Soho medal, is omitted in that struck at Calcutta ; moreover the medal is not so large, being only 1.8 inches in diameter, is thinner, has a loop for suspension by a cord, and, what is very important, of inferior craftsmanship. The Calcutta mint issued 83 gold and 2,786 silver medals. No bronze or tin medals were struck from the Calcutta die.

This was the first time in a British campaign, that medals were presented to all ranks who had participated in battle and not restricted to certain ranks only. Such was the prestige associated with this medal. The British Lion had finally vanquished the Mysore Tiger.

References:

The Tiger and the thistle; Tipu Sultan and the Scots in India

British Campaign Medals

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About Olikara

An engineer, history buff, collector of South Indian antiques.
This entry was posted in Tipu Sultan & his times. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Lion overpowering the Tiger; The Seringapatam Medal

  1. anish says:

    50,000 of them were struck… It would be great if one were to find one of them for one’s personal collection 🙂

  2. Meera says:

    Absolutely fabulous blog! I particularly like your line: Let us sit by the Tiger of Mysore and hear him Roarrrrrr!

  3. J.h.adams@gmail.com says:

    Is there an easy way to tell the difference between silver gilt and gold

    • olikara says:

      Dear Mr. Adams,
      It is difficult just by visual inspection alone.

      However in my early collecting days, I would drop the silver coin/medal to the floor and if I heard a sweet sound like the clear strike of a bell, I would know that the base was silver and not gold or tin alloy.

      Nowadays I do not do that and with something as rare as a silver gilt/gold Seringapatam medal, I’d take it to a jeweller.

      Hope this helped.

      –Nidhin Olikara

      • olikara says:

        Further, the gold medal(without any external appendage-mounting, loop, suspender) will have a diameter of 47.9 – 48 mm and a weight of 61 – 61.5 gms.

  4. Bharat says:

    What is the weight of the silver medal?

    • olikara says:

      I do not know. However, you may find the answer in Puddester’s book on British Indian Medals. I do not have it on me at the moment.

  5. Pingback: Big Cat Hunting at Seringapatam | Lugubelinus

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