Tipu Sultan’s interest in imbibing new technology was evident from the beginning of his reign. His embassy to France’s Louis XVI which left Indian shores in July, 1787 carried requests to France to dispatch to Mysore ‘seeds of flowers and plants of various kinds, and for technicians, workers and doctors.’ This request was made by Tipu’s ambassador to France, Darwesh Khan who ‘delivered his address to the King in low tones’. The King informed the ambassador that such craftsmen and technicians, who could improve the manufacture of arms and introduce new industries in his kingdom could be arranged for.
The transcript of Tipu’s letter to the French King received from the reports of British Intelligence at the French court to London is preserved in the India Office library records makes for interesting reading. The letter requests for 10 masters for casting cannon; 10 gunsmiths; 10 foremen for casting incendiary bombs; 10 workers of Sevres porcelain; 10 glass workers; 10 wool-carders; 10 watch-makers; 10 textile-makers; 10 printers of Oriental languages; 10 weavers; one skillful doctor and one surgeon; one Engineer; one caster of bullets; clove plants; camphor trees; fruit trees of Europe; seeds of flowers of various kinds; seeds of linseed and 10 workers necessary for their cultivation.
We also know how many French artisans agreed to enter Tipu’s service: 10 casters of cannon; 10 gunsmiths; 10 casters of bullets; 10 porcelain workers; 10 glass makers; 10 weavers of cloth; 10 tapestry makers; 10 watch makers; 10 farmers and workers of hemp;2 printers of Oriental languages; 1 physician; 1 surgeon; 2 engineers and 2 gardeners. This list makes interesting reading because it is a comprehensive list of all what Europe at that time had to offer. While there were other rulers in India, contemporaries of Tipu who would spend vast sums of money buying and using European arms, watches, cloth and books; here was a ruler who aspired to learn these trades from the Europeans and manufacture these very items in his country.
The Iron and Steel industry in Mysore had already reached a high level of scientific proficiency and output by the end of the 18th C. These forges in Tipu’s time were optimized for labor efficiency and the wages earned by the labor force were on par or better than contemporary workmen in neighboring states controlled by the British.
Similarly ambassadors whom he sent to Constantinople in 1785 were instructed to seek besides military assistance, technicians who would be able to make muskets, guns, glass, chinaware and other things. However there is no record of Tipu having received any help from the Ottoman Caliph primarily because of British subversive activity in Constantinople and the Sublime Porte’s displeasure at Tipu’s camaraderie with France which had by then with Napoleon Bonaparte’s sword arm started to nip into the Turkish Empire in the Middle East.
Another aspect of Tipu’s economic prudence can be seen in how Tipu offered to pay for armaments procured from France and Turkey. Early in October 1788, the French sent proposals to Tipu for a commercial treaty proposing that Tipu allow the French company to purchase the annual produce of pepper in Mysore along with sandalwood, cardamom, cotton yarn, wool, gum, ivory and other goods. These imports would be paid for in cannon, muskets, ammunition, men-of-war, silk, woolen goods or other articles from Europe, as demanded by Tipu. Only, in case there was a balance, it would be paid for in bullion or silver. As for the military assistance in the form of technicians requested from the Ottoman Caliph, Tipu offered to send such workmen as were available in Mysore and required by the Caliph, This cashless trade served two purposes. The first was to provide a market abroad for Mysorean goods and workmen, but the most important of them was to stop the drain of bullion out of Mysore.
Mr. Montgomery Martin who in 1835, did a survey of records in India House from 1807-1814 of the condition of provinces in Bengal and Bihar for his book, ‘Eastern India’ writes “It is impossible to avoid remarking two facts as peculiarly striking – first the richness of the country surveyed and second, the poverty of it’s inhabitants…..The annual drain of British Pounds (BP) 3, 000,000 on British India has amounted in thirty years, at 12 percent compound interest to the enormous sum of BP 723,900,000 sterling….So constant and accumulating a drain, even in England, would soon impoverish her. How severe then must be its effects on India when the wage of a labourer is from two pence to three pence a day.’
Sir John Shore says in his minute of 1787 – “The export of specie from the country for the last twenty-five years have been great and particularly during the last ten of that period…..Upon the whole, I have no hesitation in concluding that since the company’s acquisition of the Dewany (of Bengal), the current specie of the country has been greatly diminished….; and that the necessity of supplying China, Madras and Bombay with money, as well as the exportation of it by Europeans to England, will continue still further to exhaust the country of it’s silver….”
Dadabhai Naoroji in his bold for that time book ‘Poverty and Un-British rule’ makes the point that the export of Indian Bullion by the British to China to finance the Opium trade and to England, remittances of English surplus in revenue from Indian trade as well as savings and bribes earned by company servants in Gold and Silver exhausted India of its bullion forcing an import of the precious metal into India. Dadabhai calculates from the returns of 1801 to 1869, only a paltry amount of 34 shillings per capita remained for all possible wants, commercial, social, religious, revenue, railways and other public works. And having no precious metal left to pay for the heavy English drain, India began to pay in goods which now began to affect supply of raw material for our own trade and Industry. By 1869, the debt that India owed to England had climbed to an astounding 82,000,000 British Pounds !
Tipu even thought of establishing depots in foreign territories for the purpose of commerce. These centers were to buy rare goods and send them to Mysore for sale, and also sell rarities of Mysore in the foreign markets. Including the two existing depots at Cutch and Muscat they were to be 17 in number. The Sultans purpose in establishing these trade depots can best be expressed in his own words:- “Sending in charge of your deputies or agents to other countries, the produce of our dominions, and disposing of the same there; the produce of those countries must be bought hither in return; and sold at such prices as will afford profit.”
The Revenue regulations of Mysore drafted under Tipu’s supervision himself is a very important source which helps us understand the importance Tipu gave to Mysore’s Iron and Steel Works. This book of regulations was to be compulsorily retained , read and followed by all Government functionaries throughout the extant of Mysore’s possessions from Malabar to Dharwar.
Instruction no. 68 in the booklet read thus:- If the Reyuts (Farmers) in discharge of their rents, shall offer Gold, Silver, Copper or Brass, these articles are not to be disposed of to traders, but are to be purchased for government; according to the current price of the Bazaar(Market), and to be entered in the accounts of the office, and to be forwarded with the account of them to the Cutchery, at the same time with the supplies of stores. If in breach of these rules, you shall allow these articles to be disposed of to merchants, and receive the purchase money on account of government, you shall incur the displeasure of Government.
This showed Tipu’s adamancy that even payment of taxes in bullion kind should not be disposed off to merchants but be sent to the seat of Government at Seringapatam for deposit in the treasury. It was this surplus of precious metal in the treasury that helped Mysore to pay off the 33 Million Rupee indemnity imposed upon it by the British and their allies after the 1792 Mysore war in 16.5 million Rupees cash and bullion and the remaining within a year!
Tipu’s preferred policy of commerce in kind and not cash helped Mysore to stay bullion rich and thus prosperous during Tipu’s reign. “Tippoo prohibited” writes a later contemporary of his “the importation of any foreign commodities so that the Canara merchants carried specie always out and thus the country so far as Arcot was drained of its gold.” Though this was a misrepresentation of Tipu’s policy, as Tipu only prohibited trade with hostile countries and paid in cash when payment in goods was declined, the statement by the British observer shows how Tipu had managed to keep the flow of precious metals reverse of what it would be just seven decades from then in an India that had by then fallen under British dominion.
- Tipu Sultans Mysore – An Economic Study, M.H. Gopal; 1971
- History of Tipu Sultan, Mohibbul Hasan; 1951
- The Mysorean Revenue Regulations, Translated by Burrish Crisp; 1792
- Poverty and Unbritish rule in India, Dadabhai Nauroji; 1901