«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
Princeton University Press, 2005); Graham Dawson. Soldier Heroes: British Adventure, Empire, and the Imagining of Masculinities (London: Routledge, 1994) See Chapter 3 line of thinking suggested that incompetent nabobs were responsible for the British captives in India, men of low birth who were more interested in their own enrichment than safeguarding the interests of the British nation. This was a subject of great debate during the last few decades of the 18th century.9 However, it was far easier to place the blame for the Company's losses on its opponents, the Indian princes who had no ability to represent themselves within the sphere of British public discourse. Scapegoating Haider and Tipu into terrible monsters was the path of least resistance for the Company to take, and also worked in accordance with changing racial attitudes about the backwardness of Indian civilization at the end of the eighteenth century.10 As a result, the process of capture for the British prisoners became interlinked with the villainization of Tipu Sultan.
This was visible on multiple occasions during the Mysore Wars.
The first sizable group of British prisoners were taken directly at the start of the Second Mysore War in 1780, in the aftermath of their defeat at Pollilur. Reports from the battlefield immediately accused Haider and Tipu of massacring the Company soldiers after Colonel Baillie had issued an order of surrender. Soldier Francis Gowdie wrote to his brother after the war that Baillie had held up a white handkerchief and was instructed to lay down arms; when the Company soldiers did so, “the Horse immediately broke in amongst us, and a most Shocking Massacre issued.”11 William Thomson, an officer in Baillie’s detachment, told a very similar account of the battle’s ending. After Baillie signaled for the surrender, “Our men received orders to lay down their arms, with intimation that quarter would be given. This order was scarcely compiled with, when the See Chapter 4 C. A. Bayly. Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988): 77-78 Francis Gowdie to his brother Dr. Gowdie 31 October 1783 (p. 79-89) IOR/H/223 p. 86 enemy rushed upon them in the most savage and brutal manner, sparing neither age nor infancy, nor any condition of life…”12 Robert Latham, one of the prisoners taken after the
battle, provided a lurid description of violence that verges on the point of hyperbole:
...we were at last ordered to throw down our Arms. At this Instant the Horse rushed in upon us. They killed or wounded most of us; few escaping except those who threw themselves amongst the Slain. The Cruelties exercised upon this occasion, and of which I was an unhappy witness, surpass all description. They were so enormous, that at this moment I can hardly help doubting my own Testimony of their evidence. Women and Children seemed particularly marked out as Objects of Vengeance. I saw a well dressed Woman, with an Infant in her
Arms, implore the Mercy of a Man whose Sword was uplifted for her destruction:
He paused and listened with a specious attention to her Prayers. The Barbarian then assumed an aspect expressive of his Diabolical Thoughts, and with one stroke cleaved the Infant to the waist. The Mother fondly endeavoring to avert the Blow, her left Breast was cut off. A Second Stroke put a period at once to her Misery and to her life. Many Officers were dragged from the crowd, with Promises of Protection, and after being stript to the Skin, were driven upon the Plain, and there massacred. All the sick and wounded were butchered in their Palanquins.13 These sorts of atrocities were commonly attributed to Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan by the prisoners afterwards, as a means of demonstrating the Indian “savages” against which the Company was fighting. The truth or fiction of these claims is less important for our purposes than their representation of Haider and Tipu before a public audience. The prisoners were predisposed to cast Tipu and his father in an unflattering light when they wrote on their experiences after the war.
After the slaughter on the battlefield had run its course, the victorious Mysorean army began the process of collecting hundreds of surviving prisoners, who would be taken back to Mysore and endure years of captivity. Many authors alleged that Haider showed further unnecessary cruelty to the prisoners after the battle was finished. One
Officer of Colonel Baillie’s Detachment [William Thomson]. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia. (London:
Sold by J. Sewell, 1788, 1789): 161-62 Extract of a Letter from Mr. [Robert George] Latham, a Volunteer taken prisoner by Hyder Ally [at Pollilur] no date given (p. 63-123) IOR/H/250 p. 77-78 report claimed that Baillie was stripped naked and forced to appear in chains before Haider, who exulted in his power over the defeated British colonel.14 Another account insisted that wounded soldiers were left for dead on the battlefield, suffering from the attacks of wild animals and terrible thirst: “While the enemy’s horse and elephants marched again and again in barbarian triumph over the field of battle, the wounded and bleeding English, who were not instantly trodden to death by the feet of those animals, lingered out a miserable existence, exposed in the day to the burning rays of a vertical sun, and in the night to the ravages of foxes, jackalls, and tygers, allured to that horrid scene by the scent of human blood.”15 The repeated use of references to “savage” and “barbarous” behavior suggested that the actions of Indian rulers like Haider and Tipu were beyond the boundaries of decent, civilized behavior.
However, other sources from Pollilur argued exactly the opposite regarding the treatment of the prisoners, namely that Tipu Sultan had been kind and generous to the defeated. John Baillie, another captive from the unfortunate detachment, wrote that, “A great many Officers and Soldiers when taken were carried before Hyder in the condition they were in who looked at them with great unconcern and desired them to sit down.
Many were also carried before Tippoo Saheb who treated them with great kindness,” although Baillie goes on to state that Tipu later acted much more cruelly towards the prisoners.16 William Thomson, whose account of the battle was not at all favorably inclined towards Haider and Tipu, nonetheless wrote that Tipu treated the British officers with great humanity, inviting them into his tent and providing them with biscuits and five M. Woods, Narrative of Hyder Ally and Baillie 10 September 1780 (p. 245-48) IOR/H/211 p. 247-48
Officer of Colonel Baillie’s Detachment [William Thomson]. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia. (1789):
1-2 John Baillie to his Father 14 June 1784 (p. 153-79) Account of his capture and captivity. IOR/H/223 p.
pagodas. Thomson related an anecdotal story of Tipu passing on a letter from Captain Monteith to his wife at Madras, as a further gesture of humanity.17 Early mentions of Pollilur in the newspaper press in London also had nothing negative to say about Tipu, instead praising his skill as a military commander. An early appearance from the London Chronicle in 1781 wrote how “Tippoo Saheb, with that Celerity which distinguishes every Operation of that gallant Prince, saw the Moment of Advantage, and without waiting for Orders, made a rapid Charge with the Mogul and Carnatic Horse, penetrated the broken Square, and… completed the Overthrow of that gallant Band.”18 The Morning Herald and Public Advertiser wrote of "the brave Prince Tippoo-Saib", who saw an opportunity in battle and moved "with that promptitude and rapidity which characterizes all his actions", leading the charge of cavalry at its head that broke the British ranks.19 There was genuine respect and admiration for Tipu's military abilities, even if he happened to be fighting for the opposing side. This praise for Tipu’s clemency after Pollilur, and his representation as a “gallant prince” in his first appearances in public discourse, demonstrated how the later vilification of Tipu’s image was yet to develop. If anything, most of the early impressions included favorable commentary on his abilities as a military commander.
In the case of both John Baillie's and William Thomson's accounts, a distinction was drawn between the generous conduct of Tipu towards the prisoners and the barbarous conduct of Haider towards the same. Yet when Tipu inherited the throne upon his father’s passing at the end of 1782, the same sources insisted that Tipu’s behavior had changed, and he became much crueler towards the captives. While it is possible that Officer of Colonel Baillie’s Detachment [William Thomson]. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia. (1789): 5 London Chronicle (London, England): Thursday 11 October 1781, Issue 3880 Morning Herald and Public Advertiser (London, England): 8 January 1782, Issue 372 Tipu’s demeanor changed during the intervening period, a more likely explanation is that those who wanted to defend the Company’s record required their opponent to be a ruler with despotic qualities. So long as Haider was the head of Mysore, Tipu’s character and abilities could be praised and contrasted to his father; once Tipu assumed power, however, he also had to become a stereotyped Oriental despot. It was necessary that the ruler of Mysore possess a villainous reputation, so that the war could be interpreted as a morality play highlighting the bravery and masculine qualities of the British soldier contrasted against the tyranny of his Indian opponents. Imagining the conflict in these simplistic terms was a way to divert attention away from the deeply unsettling and humiliating reality of British defeat and captivity. It is difficult otherwise to explain such a dramatic personality shift in Tipu Sultan over the span of a few months.
A similar process was in operation during the controversy surrounding the captured sailors on board the Hannibal. These British sailors had been taken prisoner by the French Admiral Suffrein in 1782, then transferred to Tipu's custody after failing to work out an exchange of captives with the Madras government.20 These men would spend the remaining years of the war in prison, dealing another blow to the prestige of the Company, and a search was soon underway for new scapegoats to blame. The Madras Council came under scrutiny for not acting decisively to secure the release of the British sailors when it had the chance. In the words of one Company military officer, “It appeared, however, that the unanimity requisite to effect a business, even of this trivial importance, did not subsist between the members of the Council and Commander of the army at Madras; and it consequently became the fate of upwards of three hundred British Captain Innes Munro. A Narrative of the Military Operations of the Coromandel Coast (London: Printed for the author by T. Bensley, 1789): 277-78 subjects, like too many others before them, to be immured in the prisons of Bangalore, and other garrisons in the Misore country…”21 The Governor and Council of Madras, embroiled at this moment in controversy over a bribery scandal with the Nawab of Arcot, appeared more interested in their own enrichment than securing the release of Britain’s native sons captured in war. Critics charged that it was another sign of corrupt nabobery.22 But it was much easier to blame the military opponents of the Company for the imprisonment of the British sailors, and Admiral Suffrein and Tipu Sultan ended up receiving the lion’s share of criticism on this subject. The General Evening Post of London detailed some of the pains suffered by these captives at the hands of Tipu: "Mons.
Suffrein, who, under pretense of the British Commander in Chief not agreeing to a mutual exchange, delivered them over to Tippoo Saib’s people, who treated them so barbarously, that most of them perished. Forty-three of these brave unhappy Britons died in one day from hunger and fatigue, and were buried in a hole in Travencore."23 The General Evening Post was a newspaper that usually adopted a Tory stance in politics, and with the Pitt ministry actively supporting the East India Company, it should come as no surprise that the paper took this opinion. Note the "pretense" of not agreeing to an exchange of prisoners in this passage, with the wording removing culpability from the Company's administration. In this fashion, blame for the fate of the captives was shifted from the mismanagement of the Company’s leadership onto the Indian prince that held the sailors in bondage. The supposedly cruel persona of Tipu Sultan here came to Ibid, 277-78 See for example the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (London, England) 4 February 1785, Issue General Evening Post (London, England) 10 June 1784, Issue 7846 embody British anxieties over the exotic and savage customs of the East.
This mixture of shock at the military setbacks of the Company and subsequent process of debate over how to assign appropriate blame reached its apogee during the controversy surrounding General Mathews. This public outcry surrounded a series of events taking place in 1783, which culminated in Mathews and his entire army surrendering the city of Bednur and becoming the prisoners of Tipu for the remainder of the war.24 The Mathews campaign was another embarrassment for the East India Company, and not simply because it ended in military disaster for the soldiers involved.
Mathews embodied all of the qualities of the nabob that the Company was trying to shed in the process of reforming its negative image.25 Mathews was greedy, unscrupulous, and accused of massacring the defenseless Indian population of Annanpur; in short, he had been acting in despotic fashion. Members of the British public reading about the plundering of Indian wealth at the hands of Mathews would have been unavoidably reminded of the nabob scandals of earlier decades, with Mathews appearing to confirm all of their worst qualities.26 The solution that the Company's advocates seized upon was to flip the story around and respond to criticism surrounding the British prisoners by vilifying the character of Tipu. This would serve both to redirect attention away from the embarrassment of the Mathews disaster and to provide a justification for the Company's actions in the war. By making the argument that Tipu Sultan was an Oriental despot, the reputation of Mathews (and the East India Company more broadly) could be rehabilitated.
See Chapter 1.