«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
The use of the negative characterization of Tipu Sultan in this pamphlet, which was a direct response to the criticism of the Company's military forces, suggests that the villainization of Tipu was not an unrelated byproduct of the Mysore Wars. It was instead deliberately crafted as a response to the negative perception of the Company in many segments of contemporary popular culture. The portrayal of Tipu as a tyrannical Asiatic Ibid, 30-33 Ibid, 35 despot distracted attention away from embarrassing conduct like that of Mathews, and provided a justification for the costly war effort. The Mysore Wars became recast as a righteous crusade to liberate the British prisoners languishing in Tipu's foul dungeons.
Their unhappy experience in jail was one that became an enduring image in the minds of the British public.
The Prisoner Experience The battles at Pollilur and Annagudi, the sailors of the Hannibal captured by Admiral Suffrein, and the disastrous aftermath to the Mathews campaign all had one feature in common: the survivors became prisoners who spent the rest of the war in captivity under Tipu. The captive narratives of these individuals drew widespread attention both in India and amongst Britons in the metropole, as well as from modern historians.45 The prisoners were kept in captivity for years, during which time many of them converted to Islam and adopted service in the armies of Mysore, discussed in further detail in the next section. The adoption of this new Indian identity on the part of the captives, whether or not it was forced under duress, struck at the heart of British fears about empire. It suggested that these men could be induced to renounce their "Britishness", become corrupted by the decadent morals of the East, and could potentially be turned against their fellow countrymen in battle. During the eighteenth century, it was not uncommon for Europeans in India to adopt local customs of dress and speech, sometimes even serving as high ranking Islamic noblemen in native courts.46 This scenario was anathema to Britons at home in the metropole, and therefore the captives Linda Colley. Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World 1600-1850 (2002): 253 The case of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British Resident at Hyderabad from 1798-1805, was one such example described in detail by William Dalrymple in White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India (New York: Viking, 2003) were instead portrayed as victims, forced against their will into religious conversion by the depredations of a cruel Oriental tyrant. The lengthy captive accounts detailing the great suffering endured by the British prisoners brought home feelings of national shame and humiliation to the metropole, and therefore furthered the growth of a negative perception of Tipu Sultan. As a result, the prisoner experience of these captives went a long way towards establishing the villainous Tipu Legend in the popular consciousness, as well as creating a rationale for future wars of revenge against Mysore to restore the honor of the British nation.
In each case, the prisoners were marched from their place of capture to one of the primary cities of Tipu’s domains. Multiple accounts detail how the prisoners were marched through different villages in Mysore, where the inhabitants were gathered together to gaze at them as they passed through.47 Innes Muro wrote that the captives were escorted around by a strong guard past every little village on the road, as a public testimony of the heroic exploits of the Mysorean soldiers.48 William Thomson provided a vivid description of this phenomenon from his personal memory as a captive: “Whenever we approached near a village, tom-toms, a kind of drums, and winding collery horns, advanced in front, that the inhabitants might, by this discordant music, be assembled together to gaze at us, as we passed through.”49 This appears to have been a deliberate strategy on the part of Haider and Tipu, as a means of demonstrating their power and mastery over the British. The Company’s claim to rule in India was based in large part Captain Henry Oakes. An Authentic Narrative of the Treatment of the English who were Taken Prisoners… by Tippoo Sahib (London: Printed for G. Kearsley, 1785): 15 Captain Innes Munro. A Narrative of the Military Operations of the Coromandel Coast (London: Printed for the author by T. Bensley, 1789): 165
Officer of Colonel Baillie’s Detachment [William Thomson]. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia. (1789):
upon a belief in the invincibility of white soldiers in battle. By parading about captured British soldiers from village to village in this fashion, Tipu posed a serious threat to the image of invulnerability that the Company tried to project.
Once brought to their place of confinement, the prisoners were put to work and subjected to a variety of humiliating conditions. Captain Henry Oakes wrote one of the earliest captivity narratives published in 1785, detailing how he and his fellow officers were imprisoned in one of Tipu’s fortresses and put to work grinding rice. Although their situation was a miserable one, in which many officers perished due to exposure to the elements and poor medical treatment, they do not appear to have been the victims of deliberate cruelty or torture.50 Other captive narratives accused their Mysorean overseers of much more brutal atrocities. Francis Gowdie claimed that the captured soldiers were forced to work as coolies, with irons on their legs, on an insufficient diet; anyone who made the least objection was beaten without mercy.51 The London Chronicle passed on a rumor to the effect that the prisoners were chained together without distinction (an affront to ingrained eighteenth century class divisions), and an officer was forced to remain chained to a common sailor for three days after the latter had died of dysentery.52 Another captive account contained some melancholy verses that the prisoners sang to one another while
imprisoned in Bangalore:
VI. As famine approaches our gate, More saving we grow in our fare;
Captain Henry Oakes. An Authentic Narrative of the Treatment of the English who were Taken Prisoners… by Tippoo Sahib (1785): 20 Francis Gowdie to his brother Dr. Gowdie 31 October 1783 (p. 79-89) IOR/H/223 p. 79 London Chronicle (London, England) 20 November 1784, Issue 4379. One gets the impression that the outrage was almost as great because the officer was forced together with a low-class sailor as the fact that the sailor soon expired!
Resolv’d to encounter our fate, We bury the thoughts of despair.
We feel with regret our decay, So meagre, so lank, and so pale;
Like ghosts we are rang’d in array, When muster’d in Bangalore jail.
The captive narratives abound with similar descriptions of days spent bound in chains, trying to stave off boredom and remain alive despite the unsanitary prison conditions.
Their miserable fate was a constant reminder of British weakness and humiliation.
An unknown composer created a similar song entitled "Hyder Alley", which was published in 1800 but almost certainly originally written during the 1780s. "Hyder Alley" was a melancholy song about the British defeat and disaster at Pollilur, with the bitterest scorn in the song cast upon General Medows for failing to come to the aid of Baillie’s
The succour we expected from General Merow, Which would have been a signal of a glorious victory, But his laying at a distance off, all for a sum of gold, So we marched back to Chingley Pot where poor Bayley he was sold.
Surrounded on all quarters, and from them cannot fly, We hoisted out a flag of truce their mercy for to try.
But instantly on every side on us came marching down, They stripped us naked to the skin and then they cut us down...
Now in Seringay in irons we do lay, Great numbers of us wounded with sickness we do die,
Officer of Colonel Baillie’s Detachment [William Thomson]. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia. (1789):
298-99 Here we are for to remain all in this prison strong.
When I get clear from all my foes then I’ll conclude my song.54 "Hyder Alley" touched upon the anxieties about overseas empire that were commonplace in the 1770s and 1780s. The song suggested that Medows was more interested in his own enrichment than ensuring the safety of British soldiers; as a result, the Company's troops were now languishing in captivity. In stark contrast to later representations of India, "Hyder Alley" depicted British soldiers who were weak and vulnerable, dying in captivity at the mercy of Indian rulers such as Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan.
Captive accounts detailing the horrors of the prisoner experience continued to appear during the Third Mysore War (1790-92), despite the far superior military fortunes of the Company. If anything, when they appeared, these accounts were distinguished from earlier captive narratives by alleging even worse treatment on the part of Tipu Sultan, with sheer boredom and neglect replaced by outright cruelty and execution.
Captivity was no longer described as mere drudgery and boredom, but posing a dire peril to life itself due to the innate savagery of the Sultan. Although there was considerably less focus overall on the British prisoners during this conflict, when captive narratives did appear they were often filled with the most lurid details of abuse.
A letter from Madras dated from 1791 wrote on how “the Tyrant caused poor Captain Rutlidge of the Coast Artillery to be blewn from a Gun on the top of a Rock,” after a captivity of ten years and when freedom was within reach.55 Stories once again circulated regarding the fate of General Mathews from the previous war, although without the context and public debate explaining why he had become a captive in the first Composer unknown. “Hyder Alley.” (London, 1800?) The Eighteenth Century [microfilm] reel 10868, no. 08.
Extract of a Letter from Fort St. George (authored by Commissioner Edgar?) 20 September 1791 (p. 697IOR/H/251 p. 699 place.56 The Anglo-Indian newspapers continued to be the most concerned with the subject of British prisoners remaining in captivity, endlessly harping on about the topic.
The Madras Courier wrote for example in August 1791 on the fate of the Company’s sepoys: "In the heat of battle our Sepoys mixed with those of Tippoo’s and were unavoidably made prisoners; they were immediately thrown into dungeons, and treated with every cruelty... such are the execrable effects of imported fury; such the traits that mark the conduct of a russian; such the returns which a despotic barbarian makes for extended generously."57 The treatment of these unfortunate individuals remained one of the principle justifications for the ongoing wars against Mysore.
A book of landscape art published in 1794 by Lieutenant R.H. Colebrooke, who had traveled with the army of Cornwallis during the Third Mysore War as a surveyor, continued to emphasize the continuing plight of the remaining British captives.
Colebrooke took jabs at the character of Tipu throughout his publication, writing in the description for “East View of Bangalore” how Tipu built an extravagant palace as a sign of his despotism, and chained British soldiers in irons down in the dungeons of the city.58 Colebrooke also painted the mausoleum of Haider Ali at Seringapatam, but unlike other British painters in India barely mentioned the building at all, instead commenting in the
accompanying description how Tipu had ordered four British prisoners clubbed to death:
“They were tied to stakes, affixed to the four corners of the tomb; and in order that a flow of their blood might not pollute the hallowed ground, the inhuman Tyrant caused them to See
of the Narrative of Mons. Burette (a French surgeon in the English service) 1791 (p. 359IOR/H/565 p. 367-68 for one such example.
Madras Courier (Madras, India) 18 August 1791, Issue 306 Lieutenant R.H. Colebrooke. Twelve Views of Places in the Kingdom of Mysore (London, 1794) “East View of Bangalore”, accompanying text.
be beat to death with bludgeons.”59 This account was based upon very dubious information, Colebrooke admitting he had the story from a Mr. Cadman who himself heard the story from an officer in Tipu’s service, and furthermore it had no bearing on the image that it accompanied. Nevertheless, it served as another example of the vilification of Tipu Sultan, helping to justify the war in which Colebrooke had served in the army of Cornwallis.
The greatest outcry from the conflict surrounded the alleged prisoner atrocities committed in the hill fortress of Ossure. Major Alexander Dirom's narrative of the
campaign provided this description:
Some poor people, who remained in the pettah, said there had been three Europeans, one of them called Hamilton, prisoners at this place; who were all very much respected, and regretted by the inhabitants; that they were alive till after the capture of Bangalore, when Tippoo sent orders to put them to death...
They shewed the place where the unfortunate men were beheaded and buried; and, on digging up the graves, the heads were found severed from the bodies, and, from the appearance of the hair, and some remnants of their clothes, no doubt remained of the truth of this murder; which is one of the many Tippoo appears to have committed, to prevent his false assertions being detected, of there having been no British subjects detained by force in his country, since the last war.60 This story, or some variation of it, appeared in virtually all of the later Tipu literature. If true, it demonstrated exactly the sort of injustice the British imagined themselves to be fighting against in India. Tipu Sultan was a brutal and callous despot, as seen from this perspective, an Indian prince who had to be removed from power. Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie's history of the war provided further information on Ossure, relating that the man Hamilton had been a British sailor who adopted an Indian identity, married a local woman, and had several mixed-race children. Mackenzie claimed that he had visited the Ibid, “The Mausoleum of Hyder Aly Khan at Laulbaug”, accompanying text.