The seat of the Government of India in Madras, what is Chennai today is at the Raj Bhavan. The estate where the Raj Bhavan stands today was the home of successive British Governors of Madras from the time of Thomas Saunders in 1752 till Indian Independence. The Madras Government house where the Governors resided was greatly expanded in the last years of the 18th century by Lord Edward Clive (1798-1803) and boasted of two huge pediments that were decorated with trophies of two conquests that had laid the foundations of the British Raj in India; the Siege of Seringapatam (1799) over the Northern entrance and the Battle of Plassey (1757) over the Southern entrance.
Such were the British in thrall of the Tiger of Mysore. The last battle of Seringapatam on May 4, 1799 saw the defeat of the Mysore state and the deat of Tipu. The last great bastion of Indian resistance to the expanding British empire was overthrown. Colonel Beatson wrote in 1800 of the seige the year before – “The fall of this capital placed the whole kingdom of Mysore, with all it’s resources at the disposal of the British government, and extinguished the only power in India which was deemed formidable, or in any wise disposed to second the dangerous views of the French.”
The visual narrative was used by both sides – Mysore and British to put their point of view across. It was well known that towards the end of the 1780s, 1 out of 7 British were in Mysore’s prisons as prisoners of war of the first 2 Mysore wars that proved disastrous for the English. Here was an army that with not more than 750 English soldiers and 2000 native sepoys under Clive had vanquished the 50000 men strong army of Bengal under Sirajuddaulah. And 30 years later this army was being beaten repeatedly at battle by Indians better trained and better armed than them.
I have already written about Tipu using painting and wall murals as propaganda on behalf of Mysore. At the end of the third Mysore War the British exacted harsh terms from Tipu: the loss of nearly half his territory, payment of a large reparation, and the surrender of two of his sons Abdul Khalik and Moiz-Ud-Din, as hostages. They were delivered to Lord Cornwallis at Seringapatam on 26 February 1792. This event led to a lot of jubilation in the British press and kindled an interest in the public there to know about what was happening far away in Mysore.
Robert Home was born in Hull, the son of an army surgeon from Greenlaw in Berwickshire. A professional artist, he had trained under Angelica Kauffman, and worked in Italy (1773-78) and Dublin (1783-89) before leaving for India in 1790 as official war artist to Lord Cornwallis in the Third Mysore War. He arrived in Madras in January 1791, at the same time as Cornwallis, the successor to General Medows as Governal General. On 5th February, the Grand Army moved towards Bangalore, and Home was permitted to follow them.
After the Treaty of 1792, Robert Home painted the splendid ‘Lord Cornwallis Receiving Tipu Sahib’s Sons as Hostages at Seringapatam, 1793-94, which has remained one of the icons of the Mysore Wars. I will now use this painting which is at the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London to tell you more about Tipu Sultan, his people and the court around him.
Major Dirom, who also served in the 3rd Mysore War, published his comprehensive ‘Narrative’ of the campaign in 1793. In it, he describes this momentous event in vivid detail—-‘On the 26th about noon, the Princes left the fort, which appeared to be manned as they went out, and every where crouded (sic) with people, who, from curiosity or affection, had come to see them depart. The Sultan himself, was on the rampart above the gateway. They were saluted by the fort on leaving it, and with twenty-one guns from the park as they approached our camp, where the part of the line they passed, was turned out to receive them. The vakeels conducted them to the tents which had been sent from the fort for their accommodation, and pitched near the mosque redoubt, where they were met by Sir John Kennaway, the Mahratta and Nizam’s vakeels, and from thence accompanied by them to head quarters.’
In the days preceding this event Tipu had fought with himself into agreeing to the surrender terms of the British. Having no other option after being hemmed in by the grand army of the British, Nizam and the Marathas he would have watched in desperation as his children were led out of the fort as hostages to the British. Dirom writes of two separate gun salutes in honor of the Princes, one from Tipu’s battery in the fort and the other from the British encampment in Ganjam, the Cypress garden where Tipu’s father, Hyder Ali lay buried. They were provided with a guard of honour inside the British lines and were conducted by their vakeels.
A vakeel is a Hindustani term for ‘agent or lawyer’. The vakeels sent by Tipu along with his children would have been the ones whom Tipu trusted the most to ensure the safety of the princes as well as to carry on negotiations with the British. We know their names from the account of this day passed on to us by other writers to be Ghulam Ali Khan, Ali Raza and Singayya Naik. Ghulam Ali Khan was a seasoned diplomat who was the leader of the Mysorean embassy to Turkey and from there on to France and England in 1785 – 1786. He was lame on account of sciatica and a letter from Tipu exists where he sends some oil to apply onto Ghulam Ali’s legs. Even in today’s Mysore, Ghulam Ali is called ‘Langda Ghulam Ali’ or ‘The lame Ghulam Ali’. Ali Raza was again another of Tipu’s notables who was pensioned off by the British after Tipu’s demise in 1799. Singayya Naik was another of Tipu’s confidantes who we see as recently as a week before the hostage handover assisting Mir Moinudeen as his deputy in checking the English advance at Periapatnam. As we read, the hostages are lodged in tents sent out from Mysore just outside the fort where they are received by the British.
I will talk about the British later but let us tarry a while within these tents. Tipu’s introduction of Silk into Mysore and encouragement of weavers from Saurashtra to settle in Mysore meant that his court churned out some of the finest textiles in India.
Dirom continues his narrative— ‘The Princes were each mounted on an elephant richly caparisoned, and seated in a silver howder (sic), and were attended by their father’s vakeels, and the persons already mentioned, also on elephants. The procession was led by several camel harcarras, and seven standard-bearers, carrying small green flags suspended from rockets, followed by one hundred pikemen, with spears inlaid with silver. Their guard of two hundred Sepoys, and a party of horse, brought up the rear. In this order they approached head quarters, where the battalion of Bengal Sepoys, commanded by Captain Welch, appointed for their guard, formed a street to receive them.’ Now, why do we still see elephants in Tipu’s army as late as 1792?
The reality is that though by that time elephants were not a part of actual war, they still served the part of draught animal is both the Mysorean and British armies. Dennys Forrest writes of elephants hauling heavy cannon when Tipu descended through the Satyamangalam ghats from Mysore into Coimbatore. In fact the use of elephants to haul heavy artillery continued in parts of central India till late in the 19th century. Though the British were never comfortable with riding elephants, Indian royalty still preferred their use. And this is why we see the two young princes riding to meet Lord Cornwallis seated in Silver howdahs on elephants. Tipu’s elephant howdahs were exquisite and so much valued that in the list of presents carried by Tipu’s diplomatic mission to Istanbul and France, 4 elephants and 3 silver howdahs were prominent. Unfortunately none of the elephants survived the long journey and the howdahs were lost when the ship carrying them sunk during a storm at Basra.
Dirom also speaks of the procession being led by several camel harcarras, and seven standard-bearers, carrying small green flags suspended from rockets. ‘Harcarras’ were the ‘runners’ of the time, men usually on fast steeds or camels who would ferry messages from one part of the country to another. The mention of rockets is very important here because it was during the Mysore wars that the western world was introduced to the efficiency of rockets in warfare. Tipu had several ‘cushoons’ or regiments of rocket-men in his army and British accounts of the confusion and destruction rained down upon them by these rocket regiments can still be read. Arthur Wellesley almost lost his life and definitely his prestige that was only recovered at Waterloo, after an encounter with Tipu’s rocket men during the closing days of the 4th Mysore war in Malavelly near Seringapatam.
Let us now follow Dirom through the final part of this episode. He narrates— ‘Lord Cornwallis, attended by his staff, and some of the principal officers of the army, met the Princes at the door of his large tent as they dismounted from the elephants; and, after embracing them, led them in, one in each hand, to the tent; the eldest, Abdul Kalick, was about ten, the youngest, Mooza-ud-Deen, about eight years of age. When they were seated on each side of Lord Cornwallis, Gullam Ally, the head vakeel, address his Lordship as follows. “These children were this morning the sons of the Sultan my master; their siutation is now changed, and they must look up to your Lordship as their father.’
Here we see Lord Cornwallis, victor of the 1792 campaign against Mysore receiving the younger of the Princes, Moizuddin while the elder of the Princes, Abdul Khaliq stands at a distance in the care of Sir John Kennaway. The 3rd Mysore war changed Lord Cornwallis’s fortune, still smarting as he was from the beating his American cousins had given him at Yorktown. Ghulam Ali is seen seated on a silver palanquin, more as a result of his handicap than just his exalted position. Observe Lord Cornwallis seen receiving the young Prince, holding the child’s palm and reinforcing the image of the British in India as a ‘loving paternal force’. Home through his work conveyed the impression that ‘Victory was not just of British arms alone, but also of British humanity’.
The Princes were dressed in long white muslin gowns, and red turbans. They had several rows of large pearls round their necks, from which was suspended an ornament consisting of a ruby and an emerald of considerable size, surrounded by large brilliants; and in their turbans, each had a sprig of rich pearls. I have written more about jewellery from Seringapatam here.
Immediately after their surrender, the hostage princes were sent to Madras, pausing en route to visit their great grandfather – Fatheh Mohammed’s tomb at Kolar, and arriving at Madras on 29th June 1792. Tipu’s sons were well looked after at Madras, where Col. Doveton was their kindly guardian. They attended a performance of Handel’s ‘Judas Maccabeus,’ and amateur dramatic performances, and on 5th July 1792, Lady Oakley, wife of the Governor of Madras, organised an entertainment with dancing.
So this brings us to the end of my walkaround of this incident, but I will not stop here without introducing you to some of the the other characters in the portrait.
Here, I would like you to observe the man holding a firearm with a bayonet at the right end of the picture. He is someone who for 30 years put the fear of Mysorean arms into every English heart from Calacutta to the Carnatic. He is seen wearing a ‘tiger striped’ shirt with the typical ‘bubri’ marks on it. Tipu identified himself with the strength and ferocity of the Tiger and his factories had the exclusive license to manfacture cloth spun with the tiger stripe design. A specific order from him to his taluqdars, preserved in the Hyderabad archives, asks that 300 pieces of bubri striped cloth called ‘thaan bubri reshmin’ be sent each year to the royal presence without delay or excuse. Tipu’s tiger soldier is also seen holding on to a firearm, most probably a flintlock manufactured in Mysore. The quality of weaponry manufactured in Mysore was second to none in India and even matched the quality of European arms. Shown below is a blunderbuss from Mysore in the reign of Tipu Sultan.
The musket is also seen with a bayonet and the tiger troops carried bayonets designed with Mysore steel and in the Mysore style.
Just behind the soldier is another of Tipu’s armymen mounted on a horse and clad in armour. This kind of body armour was outdated by the end of the 18th Century even though we such see a few pieces used at Seringapatam then. The reason for body armour no longer being popular was simple – firearms had begun to replace traditional edged arms like swords, spears and arrows on the Indian battlefield. This was even more the case in a technology driven state like Tipu’s Mysore.
The horseman’s war helmet is striking as Tipu owned a beautiful helmet in a style similar to this but clad in cloth typically called a ‘Peta’. We can observe Tipu Sultan’s war helmet, now in the National Army Museum in London. Note the bubri shaped nasal guards.
Standing at the back and to the left of the group can be seen Maratha soldiery keenly observing the fruits of their success. The Marathas along with the Nizam never reconciled themselves with Mysore’s growing power and inspite of Tipu’s several entreaties to them to unite together against the British never realised that the British were not in India merely to trade but were intent on giving themselves an Empire.
And lastly before I finish, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Robert Home himself. He is seen in the left foreground of the portrait, standing with legs crossed and holding a portfolio.
Very cleverly done, Mr. Home ! Thank you for the tour and your time.
Tipu Sultan, History painting and the Battle for perspective, Janaki Nair; Studies in History, 2006 22:97
The Tiger and the Thistle, Tipu Sultan and the Scots in India. National Galleries of Scotland, 2000
State and Diplomacy under Tipu Sultan, edited by Irfan Habib
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Knives, Daggers and Bayonets, Tobias Capwell
Tiger of Mysore: The Life and Death of Tipu Sultan, Dennys Forrest
History of Hyder Naik and Tipu Sultan, Ramchandra Rao Punganuri
Antique Arms, Armour and Militaria; Thomas DelMar Sale, London; December 7, 2011
Many thanks to Brian Isaac for all the detailed photographs and Jens Nordlunde for the bayonet photograph