A watercolour dating to 1800 by Anna Tonelli, an Italian artist who accompanied Lady Clive on her tour in South India as governess to the Clive children, shows an octagonal throne with eight finials and a large central tiger support and a small canopy; another drawing by Captain Thomas Marriott, aide-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief of Madras, dated 16th August 1799, shows an octagonal throne with a larger canopy, and the huma bird finial. Both depictions show eight small tiger head finials.
Tipu’s gold throne was broken up at the order of the Prize Committee to the regret of the Governor-General, who wrote from Fort St George that if it could be reassembled, it ought to be acquired by the Company to present to the King. In a letter to the Court of Directors of the East India Company in January 1800, Arthur Wellesley wrote: “It would have given me great pleasure to send the whole throne entire to England, but the indiscreet zeal of the Prize Agents of the army had broken that proud moment of the Sultan’s arrogance into fragments before I had been apprised even of the existence of such a trophy”.
Consequent to the breaking up of the throne, the tiger heads were wrested from the rails of the throne to be divided among the victorious British as spoils of war. Being quite small, they would easily have escaped attention and might as well be resting unknown to the current owners in some dingy attic in England or Scotland today. Where are these finials today?
The tiger head finial from the throne of Tipu Sultan has the main gold surface of the head worked decorated with fine dotted pointille punching; symmetrically set on either side of the centre line with foiled table-cut diamonds, foiled cabochon rubies and foiled cabochon emeralds of varying sizes, with larger rubies set on the eyes and the tongue, the teeth set with foiled table-cut diamonds. The ears projecting above the head decorated with chased lines and further pointille punching.
The square base of gold sheet is seen forming a collar. The inside of the base has a circular hole revealing the resin interior with two drilled holes, probably from originally mounting technique. The base chased with an arabesque-shaped mark. It is 8.4 cm. high and has a base width of 4.7 cm. The net weight of the tiger head is 346 gm. and is constructed in the South Indian fashion of the late 18th Century.
The probable order of work was that the head was hammered into shape from gold sheet and then filled with lac to enable the details of the decoration to be filled without the head collapsing. The settings of the stones can be compared to South Indian temple jewelry and jeweled objects.
Lady Clive’s notebook in Powis Castle which mentions a list of various miscellaneous items to be given away or bequeathed also contains the following entry: ‘An moulu basket, containing a head in pure gold set with precious stones and one of the 8 heads which were on Tippoo Sultan’s throne at Seringapatam given me by Lord Wellsly. On the base of the stand is a gilt metal plate with an engraved inscription “Tigers head which formed part of Tippoo’s throne“. So, now we know where the 1st of the tiger head finials rests. It may be seen in the Clive collection at Powis castle in Scotland.
A 2nd, acquired after the battle by Surgeon-Major Pultney Mein, the same Doctor who acquired the massive Gold Tiger’s head that supported Tipu’s throne, either by allocation or in the agents’ auction, was sold at Sotheby’s (19 March 1973, lot 180) and then offered by a London antique dealer in 1974 (advertised in Oriental Art and the referred to by Dennys Forrest as being in the collection of Alexander Bowlby of Hampstead, London) and has since disappeared from view, its current whereabouts unknown.
The 3rd known finial is called the Hope-Wallace finial and was sold by the Bonhams Auction house in 2009. It belonged to the collection of Thomas Wallace (1763-1844), Baron Wallace of Knarsdale. Lord Wallace was a prominent English politician in the late 18th and early 19th Century. In 1800 he was created Commissioner for the Affairs of India and in 1801 was appointed a Privy Councillor; he served as President of the Board of Control between 1807 and 1816, in which position he oversaw the East India Company.
In addition to these three, Forrest refers another 4th finial in a private collection in Cornwall, but no further information or explanation is offered and there is no corroboration to be found in other sources. Thus, the whereabouts of this finial too is unknown today.
And finally we have the Bowser finial, the 5th one, that was sold in Bonhams again in October 2010. It came into possession of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Bowser, K.C.B., H.E.I.C.S (1749-1833) and after him by descent to the current owners who decided to auction the piece.
As you can see, we have no clue about where the 2 finials whose whereabouts were known once are today. As for the other 3 one may only hope that they turn up someplace someday.
Perhaps the greatest of all the arts of the court of Tipu are the metalwork and jewellery. Tipu clearly loved beautiful objects, which filled his carefully amassed treasury and, as one observer described, he “passed the greatest part of his leisure hours in reviewing this various and splendid assemblage of his riches”. I am sure that he would have been proud of the 8 Tigers around his throne.
Beatson, A., A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun; comprising a narrative of the operations of the army under command of Lieutenant-General George Harris, and of the siege of Seringapatam, London, 1800
Bonhams, Islamic and Indian Art, 2nd April 2009.
Forrest, Denys, Tiger of Mysore.
The Life and Death of Tipu Sultan, London 1970;Oriental Art (Periodical), Vol. XX, no. 4, 1974, p. 357: Advertisement placed by Douglas Wright Ltd of Curzon Street, showing the Pultney-Mein/ Bowlby finial;
Price, David, Memoirs of the Early Life and Service of a Field Officer on the Retired List of the Indian Army, Woodbridge, 1839;
Robert Skelton et al., Treasures from India. The Clive Collection at Powis Castle, National Trust 1987;
http://www.bonhams.com 7 Oct 2010 auction