«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
Major Alexander Dirom. A Narrative of the Campaign in India, which Terminated the War with Tippoo Sultan in 1792 (London: Printed by W. Bulmer, 1793, 1794, 1985): 33-34 graves himself, and (somewhat morbidly) possessed a lock of hair from the severed heads of the three Europeans.61 The body of evidence for the prisoner massacre at Ossure is much stronger than most of the other atrocities allegedly committed by Tipu, and it is very likely he did order an execution of some kind. Whether or not these killings took place, the British believed that they did, and this shaped their opinions of Tipu accordingly.
Ossure caused the greatest reaction in the Anglo-Indian communities of Calcutta and Madras. Already the group that had most desired a vindictive war of retribution against Tipu, Anglo-Indians responded to Ossure by hurling more epithets against the name of the Sultan. The Madras Courier expressed hope that the stories were untrue, but in the event that they were correct, "Tippoo must indeed be the most depraved of mankind, a monster whose murderous deeds language would want force sufficiently to describe."62 The same paper lumped in Ossure with the prisoner cruelties from the past
war, when discussing a possible peace settlement:
When the generous MacNamara interested himself with Tippoo to procure the Liberty of our Fellow Countrymen, who then groaned under the most Deplorable Captivity – the Despicable Despot flew to the meanest sophistry, and declared He has not a british subject in His domains detained by force; although He had at that time given orders to put every one To Death who should attempt to make their escape, and Which Orders were too often Carried Into Execution.
The murder of Mathews and Baillie, and their unhappy Fellow Prisoners, is deeply imprinted on the minds of their Fellow Soldiers, and the butchery of Lieu.
Hamilton and two others, the companions of his miseries, is of very recent date [Ossure].
Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie. A Sketch of the War with Tippoo Sultaun Vol. 2 (Calcutta: Unknown printer, 1793; London: Imported and sold by J. Sewell, 1799): 118-19 Madras Courier (Madras, India) 27 July 1791, Issue 303 And yet the Monster can presume to proceed in his course of treachery and deceit, and dare to violate the terms of a capitulation, and then date a falsehood in the hope of evading the consequences.63 As the newspaper suggested, the Anglo-Indian community remained the group most consistently hostile to Tipu Sultan, with events like Ossure only adding fuel to the fire.
They were the group most directly affected by the wars taking place in southern India, and consequently the ones who had the most impassioned opinions on the subject.
There was much less newspaper coverage of this prisoner massacre in the London newspapers, with only a few brief mentions of the Ossure controversy. The St. James Chronicle wrote that Tipu had been guilty of the greatest cruelties since the war began, and "puts to death every Englishman he can obtain possession of."64 However, since the source for this information was a letter written by the printer of the same Madras Courier, the sentiments were more reflective of the Anglo-Indian community than the London one.
The Morning Herald also wrote briefly on the surrender of the British garrison of Coimbatore, charging that Tipu violated the terms of their capitulation and suggesting that they might suffer the same fate as General Mathews.65 For the most part, however, there was relatively little mention of British captives in the London press during the Third Mysore War. This was a direct contrast to the previous war against Tipu a decade earlier, in which the treatment of prisoners was overwhelmingly the most discussed subject. British newspapers were generally much less interested in these stories, no doubt due to the distances involved, but would on occasion reprint excerpts and editorials from the Anglo-Indian press. However, they failed to arouse the same public interest as the Mathews controversy from the previous war, and Madras Courier (Madras, India) 2 February 1792, Issue 330 Emphasis in the original.
St. James’ Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England) 3 April 1792, Issue 4841 Morning Herald (London, England) 13 April 1792, Issue 4093 took a back seat to the debate about the morality of the conflict being played out in Parliament.66 While captive accounts continued to be published, these stories had largely shifted away from the daily reporting of the newspaper press, and instead were increasingly fictionalized as a background setting for imperial adventure stories.
Religious Conversion and European Musselmen Despite all of the brutal circumstances mentioned above, crude and unsanitary living conditions for captured soldiers were hardly unusual in the eighteenth century, especially outside of Europe. What made Tipu's captivity so intimidating to contemporaries was the threat that he posed to the very identity of his British subjects.
Tipu Sultan sought to offset the technological and organizational advantages of his opponents by inducing Europeans of all nationalities to enter into his service, casting off their previous loyalties to become soldiers of Mysore. This process required a conversion to Islam and the renunciation of a European identity, complete with the process of circumcision, which accompanied the oath of loyalty to the Sultan. According to the contemporary British accounts, this was a mandatory ritual for all Europeans who intended to enter the service of Mysore. British captive accounts accused Tipu of forcing prisoners to convert to Islam against their will and become "European Musselmen", while Tipu insisted that he only held out encouragement for captives to join his forces, and that he kept no British prisoners after the signing of peace in 1784.
This crisis of identity lay at the heart of British anxieties and insecurities about overseas empire, the fear that the Company's servants would be enticed by the exotic Orient and "go native", turning their back on traditional British virtues. It was not uncommon for Europeans in India to take on a new Indian identity during the eighteenth See Chapter 4 century, crossing over and adopting the language, dress, and customs of a foreign culture that they found desirable.67 Tipu's attempts to convert Company soldiers into his own service existed as part of this long continuity of past history, in which personal identities were fluid and self-fashioned, and individuals moved back and forth between different cultures as need suited them. However, increasingly in the last decades of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the 19th century, this practice of self-fashioning multiple identities and living between two cultures became actively discouraged by the officials of the East India Company, due to growing cultural Anglicization and new theories of racial and ethnic hierarchies.68 The inducements of Tipu Sultan therefore posed a threat to the very core of the imperial project, suggesting an alternate Indian identity for British soldiers outside the purvey of the Company's control. Instead of understanding the complicated cultural context in which Tipu offered service in his armies, captive accounts portrayed the Sultan as a monstrous figure that forced prisoners to convert to a new religion against their will. This image of the brave British soldier valiantly refusing the temptations of an Oriental despot could (and would) then be spun into a morality play of empire, with the heroic white Europeans triumphing over the corrupted and morally degenerate Indians.
There were many examples of these religious conversion stories. John Baillie’s
captive narrative covers the main features of these incidents:
When on the 19th [Sep 1781] we were struck with horror at hearing that Several of the poor Soldiers had been taken out of Prison, circumcised and forced into the Service of the Nabob… We dreaded his approach as much as Criminals the day of execution and determined to die rather than be slaves for life, for this these Maya Jasanoff. Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850 (2005) William Dalrymple. White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India (2003) unhappy men were told was to be their fate. They were called the Children of the Nabob and desired to think no more of their Native Country.69 In each case, the religious conversion of the British soldiers to Islam was linked with the creation of a new Muslim identity for themselves; Baillie described how these men were to become known as “Children of the Nabob.” What remained controversial was whether these conversions were forced or voluntary; which interpretation one chose to believe had a great influence on how Tipu’s character was perceived. At least some of the British soldiers in the Company’s employ undoubtedly chose to switch over to Tipu’s side of their own free will. One Company report from 1784 writes of “many European Deserters from the Garrison of Mangalore… and other Garrisons, in his [Tipu’s] Army,” and includes these individuals separately from those who had been forced into Tipu’s service.70Another newspaper story detailed how six midshipmen captured by Admiral Suffrein from the Hannibal “have renounced both their country and religion, and voluntarily turned Mahometans; they have married Mahometan women.”71 It is important to recall here that many of the Company's white soldiers were not English in origin, or even from the British Isles, and may not have felt any particular national loyalty to the British Company.
British commentators in the metropole, outside of the context of the cultural traditions of South Asia, were highly skeptical that some of the Company prisoners might have voluntarily decided to switch sides rather than sit out the rest of the war in captivity, or may simply have preferred an Indian lifestyle to their prior European one. Instead, the narrative of this experience as understood in London, and at times actively promulgated John Baillie to his Father 14 June 1784 (p. 153-79) Account of his capture and captivity. IOR/H/223 p.
171-72 Prisoners in Mysore (p. 265-89), author and date unlisted. IOR/H/570 p. 267 General Evening Post (London, England) 21 April 1785, Issue 7981 by the East India Company, was that all religious conversions were forced upon the victims on threat of death. The General Evening Post related one account from a Company soldier, who was invited during his period of captivity to join in Tipu's service with the offer of handsome wages. However, according to this story, the British men "did not hesitate a moment to treat his offer with scorn" and upon being threatened with death for refusing to serve "some of our officers were taken out three times, and were mounted on a gallows, with the ropes about their necks, but they were firm in their behavior, and with manly fortitude resisted to the last." This was taken as a sign of the "cruelty, and arbitrary proceedings of a despotic Prince."72 The ability to link these religious conversion episodes with commentary on the barbarous character of Tipu only made them more effective in shaping public opinion about the ongoing conflict. The Mysore Wars could then be transformed into the aforementioned morality play, with the virtuous British forces of the Company heroically resisting the temptation to join Tipu’s forces, even on pain of death as detailed in another
It was much to the honour of the British soldiery in India that they rejected, surrounded with dangers, the temptations thrown out to them to enter into the Nabob’s service. Some of Tippoo’s head people promised them very handsome wages: “No!” said a young spirited officer, with the general consent, “No! we are Englishmen! we despise your offers!” Some of the officers were actually mounted on a gallows for having refused to enter into the service of the Nabob, and ropes were put round their necks. But this did not warp the virtue of their hearts! They were taken down; and Indian barbarity was relaxed by the all-glorious example of virtue in its fullest purity!73 This reimagining of the events taking place in Tipu’s dungeons could have been taken directly from the London stage; it served to demonstrate how the virtues of the British General Evening Post (London, England) 4 December 1784, Issue 7921 Whitehall Evening Post (London, England) 11 January 1785, Issue 5876 character would no longer be corrupted by their contact with decadent Asiatic luxury.
The soldiers of the Company were explicitly linked to the broader nation (“we are Englishmen!”) in rejecting the offer of Tipu Sultan. This patriotic recasting of the Company’s image began to shift opinion away from the stereotyped nabobs of the preceding decades, by means of contrasting the actions of white Europeans to Indian “barbarity.” More sympathy could be generated for the captives through lurid descriptions of the conversion ceremonies they were forced to endure. Innes Munro wrote of thirty “comely youths” who were selected out for Tipu’s service, stripped naked, and had every hair shaved from their bodies. They were then forced to swallow strong opiates before undergoing the process of circumcision; after thirty days of recovery, the youths were trained as Mysorean soldiers and said to exhibit great ferocity in Tipu’s service.74 William Thomson’s account of the conversion process was nearly identical, including the description that after recovering from the treatment these men were dressed in Islamic garb and expected to lead soldiers in Tipu’s armies.75 One wild rumor had Tipu delivering thirty young men, “whom he had made Musselmen,” to the Turkish court of the Grand Signor.76 These boys were intended to serve as janissaries in the Ottoman Sultan’s court, and would presumably never return to Britain or reclaim their European identity.
According to the captive accounts, the converts felt a deep sense of depression and alienation due to their position standing between two cultures: "It was the horror that Captain Innes Munro. A Narrative of the Military Operations of the Coromandel Coast (London: Printed for the author by T. Bensley, 1789): 358-59
Officer of Colonel Baillie’s Detachment [William Thomson]. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia. (1789):