«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION
OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800
Michael Soracoe, Doctor of Philosophy, 2013
Dissertation Directed By: Professor Richard Price
Department of History
This dissertation argues that the figure of Tipu Sultan and the spectacle of the
Mysore Wars were a key contributor to shifting British attitudes about empire in the late
eighteenth century. Tipu was the ruler of the Indian state of Mysore, acknowledged by contemporaries to be a powerful ruler, a military commander of great distinction – and a hated foe of the British East India Company. Tipu fought three separate wars against the Company; during the course of these conflicts, he was portrayed by the British as a cruel and tyrannical despot, a fanatical Muslim who forced his subjects to convert to Islam and tortured captured British soldiers in his foul dungeons. The widespread presence of this negative "Tipu Legend" testified to the impact that empire and imperial themes exhibited on British popular culture of the era.
Tyrant! explores two key research questions. First of all, how did the Tipu Legend originate, and why was it so successful at replacing alternate representations of Tipu?
Secondly, what can this story tell us about how the British came to terms with empire – despite initial reluctance – and forged a new imperial identity between 1780 and 1800?
Using archival records, newspaper print culture, and popular art and theatre sources, I argue that the vilification of Tipu was linked to the development of an imperial culture.
Expansionist Governor-Generals consciously blackened the character of Tipu to make their own aggressive actions more palatable to British audiences at home. Through a process of reversal, preventive war came to be justified as defensive in nature, protecting the native inhabitants of Mysore from the depredations of an unspeakable despot. The increasingly vilified and caricatured representations of Tipu allowed the East India Company to portray itself as fighting as moral crusade to liberate southern India from the depredations of a savage ruler. Company servants were recast in the British popular imagination from unscrupulous nabobs into virtuous soldier-heroes that embodied the finest qualities of the British nation. The study of the faithless and violent character of "Tippoo the Tyrant" ultimately reveals much about how empire is constructed at home and abroad.
TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTIONOF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 by Michael Soracoe Dissertation submitted to the Faculty o
Professor Richard Price, Chair Professor Ralph Bauer Professor Dane Kennedy Professor Clare Lyons Professor Julie Taddeo ©Copyright by
Tippoo's Tiger In the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, there is a mechanical pipe organ known as "Tippoo's Tiger".1 Captured and brought back from India by the East India Company's soldiers, the apparatus consists of a huge tiger lying atop a prostrate man, the tiger sinking its fangs and claws into the helpless individual who, with his pale skin, red coat, and military attire, is easily identifiable as a British soldier. The tiger is also an organ, however, which when wound up would growl and roar menacingly to all nearby, although the passage of time has today robbed this fierce customer of his prior voice.2 Created by local artisans on the specific order of the Indian ruler Tipu Sultan during the 1790s, Tippoo’s Tiger was designed to encapsulate the fear and terror that the Sultan inspired in Europeans, the savagery of the tiger goring its unfortunate victim a reflection of Tipu’s own military prowess. The mechanical pipe organ represented the threat posed by Tipu, the mastery that he wielded over the bodies of Europeans who fell into his power, and the dread that the Sultan inspired in the contemporary East India Company.
Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) was the ruler of the Indian state of Mysore during the final two decades of the eighteenth century. He was known by the name of Tipu Sahib until succeeding his father, Haider Ali, to the throne of Mysore at the end of 1782, and thereafter claimed the Islamic title of Sultan as a means of legitimizing his own rule.3 Tipu (often spelled phonetically by contemporary British writers as "Tippoo") was “Tippoo’s Tiger.” Collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Mildred Archer. Tippoo’s Tiger (London: H.M. Stationery Off, 1959) Kate Brittlebank. Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy: Islam and Kingship in a Hindu Domain (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) acknowledged by contemporaries to be a powerful ruler, a military commander of great distinction – and a hated foe of the British East India Company. Tipu fought three separate wars against the Company in the last two decades of the eighteenth century;
during the course of these conflicts, he was portrayed by the British as a cruel and tyrannical despot, a fanatical Muslim who forced his subjects to convert to Islam and tortured captured British soldiers in his foul dungeons. This villainous caricature of Tipu proved to be extremely influential in the British metropole, and it would endure long after his death as a popular subject in imperial literature, still appearing today occasionally in works of historical fiction.4 The creation, dissemination, and ultimate widespread acceptance of this negative representation of the Sultan, referenced in this study as the "Tipu Legend", played an important role in reshaping contemporary British imperialism and is the subject of this dissertation.
Some of the most frequent imagery associated with Tipu Sultan was based around the use of the tiger symbol, as demonstrated by the mechanical pipe organ. Tipu actively cultivated the nickname, originally used by the British, of “The Tiger of Mysore”. He used the animal as his own personal symbol. Tipu kept a number of tigers as pets in his palace at Seringapatam, and tiger stripes adorned the uniforms of his elite soldiers. The tiger itself was a symbol of extreme, savage ferocity to the British, and Tipu Sultan was often characterized as a "wild beast", possessed with "inordinate passion", who threatened the peace and security of southern India.5 Tipu was portrayed by Britons living in India as a monster, "seeking whom he may devour", prowling about "in savage G. A. Henty. The Tiger of Mysore: A Story of the War with Tippoo Saib (London: Blackie & Son, 2001, 1896); Bernard Cornwell. Sharpe’s Tiger (New York: Harper Perennial, 1997) Resident at Poonah [Pune] to Bengal Government 28 October 1787 (p. 327-28) IOR/H/248 barbarity, and wanton cruelty."6 Tipu was represented as a savage animal, just like his pipe organ, waiting to pounce on and devour unwary Europeans. There was also an undeniable element of sexual conquest to the tiger organ as well, straddling atop the British solider in a position of masculine dominance, which reflected back on British anxieties about how their prisoners captured in battle by Tipu were being treated in his dungeons. War stories such as these, especially ones that took place in imperial settings, played a crucial role in the creation of British masculinity.7 As a result of the Anglo-Mysore Wars fought against Tipu, the image of the tiger took on a distinctly oriental context for the British, specifically as something imagined as ferocious and in needs of taming by means justifiably violent.8 Tippoo's Tiger symbolized the fear that Europeans traveling overseas would be swallowed up and devoured, their British morals and identity lost forever, their attempts at building empire abroad doomed to failure. And it was in the Company's military triumph over Tipu, the capture of his fortresses and the subjugation of his tigers, that helped the British public shift away from earlier anxieties about imperialism and embrace the project of overseas colonization in a way that had been unthinkable a few decades earlier.
Historiographical Background British fears about empire were not uniquely applied to Tipu Sultan in the second half of the eighteenth century, but were felt broadly across political and class divisions throughout the British nation. The eighteenth century was the first period in which a truly "British" identity was in the process of construction for the peoples of England, Scotland, Calcutta Chronicle and General Advertiser (Calcutta, India) 28 May 1789, Issue 175 Graham Dawson. Soldier Heroes: British Adventure, Empire, and the Imagining of Masculinities (London: Routledge, 1994)
John Barrell. The Infections of Thomas De Quincey: A Psychopathology of Imperialism (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1991): 49-50 and Wales.9 Driven on by the tremendous growth in print media, Britons increasingly began to perceive themselves as one cultural entity, a people that defined itself as Protestant, maritime, commercial, and free.10 This was an era of constant warfare against France, and the emerging British nation defined itself in contrast to an imagined French "other" which was the antithesis of British values.11 While the French were perceived as Catholic and despotic, the British believed themselves to stand for commerce and liberty;
Britain's possession of a maritime empire based on trade would allow them to avoid falling into the tyrannical rule associated with prior land-based empires of the past.12 However, the growing acquisition of overseas territory by the East India Company in the second half of the eighteenth century began to undermine and call into question this understanding of what it meant to be British. Company rule over tens of millions of Indian subjects were difficult to reconcile with the popular belief that Britain stood for a commercial and maritime empire of liberty, or at best only with extreme difficulty, giving rise to various scandals of empire.13 Company soldiers and administrators in India during the second half of the eighteenth century were increasingly known as "nabobs", as dubbed by a contemporary satirical play on the subject, accused of ruling India in despotic fashion before returning home to the metropole with vast sums of ill-gained wealth.14 Domestic critics viewed the nabobs as dangerous threats to the British Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983); Kathleen Wilson. The Island Race: Englishness, Empire, and Gender in the Eighteenth Century (London: Routledge, 2003) David Armitage. The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) Linda Colley. Britons: Forging the Nation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) David Armitage. The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (2000): 8 Nicholas Dirks. The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of Imperial Britain (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006)
Samuel Foote. The Nabob (London: Printed by T. Sherlock, 1773, 1778); Tillman Nechtman. Nabobs:
Empire and Identity in Eighteenth Century Britain. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) nation, interlopers of low birth who had been infected with the luxury and vice of the Orient, and now threatened to corrupt the metropole upon their return home.15 The most conspicuous of the nabobs engaged in profligate and highly visible spending, purchasing luxurious country estates and buying their way into Parliament through the exploitation of corrupt boroughs. The nabobs enjoyed decorating their new estates with Indian-themed art, which only emphasized their apparent alienation from the rest of the British public.16 It appeared to contemporaries that the nabobs had brought with them all the vices of the East, and threatened to destroy the fabric of the British nation.17 These profound anxieties about the dangers of overseas empire were commonplace in the second half of the eighteenth century, and manifested themselves frequently in the print culture of the period. Satirical cartoons and metropolitan plays criticized the nabobs, and the East India Company more generally, providing a source of contested ideologies, and a public space in which imperialism could be undermined.18 The popular belief that the Company was governing in reckless and tyrannical fashion in India led to increasing calls for Parliament to oversee and regulate its actions in the 1760s and 1770s.19 Although the Company had been a political actor as well as a commercial one from its origin in the seventeenth century, it was not until the second half of the eighteenth century that Parliament began to regulate its activities on a regular basis and Philip Lawson and Jim Phillips. “‘Our Execrable Banditti’: Perceptions of Nabobs in Mid-Eighteenth Century Britain” in Albion XVI (1984): 225-41 Pratapaditya Pal and Vidya Dehejia. From Merchants to Emperors: British Artists and India 1757-1930 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986) Nicholas Dirks. The Scandal of Empire (2006): 12-13 Mary Dorothy George. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Musuem, Vol. 5-7. (London: British Museum Publications, 1978); David
Worrall. Harlequin Empire: Race, Ethnicity, and the Drama of the Popular Enlightenment (London:
Pickering & Chatto, 2007)
H. V. Bowen. Revenue and Reform: The Indian Problem in British Politics 1757-1773 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1991) intervene more directly in Indian affairs, eventually creating a Board of Control to provide the government with direct input into the Company's affairs.20 Perhaps the most visible demonstration of the popular fears surrounding overseas empire during this period was the trial of Warren Hastings, who as the former Governor General of India was publicly called to stand to account for his supposed crimes. In the dramatic opening speech to the trial in 1788, Edmund Burke accused Hastings of crimes against humanity and against natural law, for enriching himself while ruling India in despotic fashion.21 While Hastings was eventually acquitted of all charges, the immense public spectacle of the trial testified to the popularity of imperial, and specifically Indian, subject matter amongst contemporaries.