«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
There are six Midshipmen, and about one hundred and twenty British Seamen, now in the military service of Tippoo Saib. They were sent to that Prince by Monsieur Suffrein, as French prisoners; and, after enduring the severest hardships of a long captivity, they were liberated on condition of abjuring their religion, and entering the service of Tippoo Saib… They are now lost to their relatives, and to their country, beyond the probability of redemption; for if a formal application were made to Tippoo Saib for their delivery, his answer would be, that he had not any French prisoners in his dominions; by entering his service, they had become his subjects.92 When the British prisoners agreed (or were compelled to agree) to enter Tipu’s service, they gave up their right to be included in the prisoner exchange after the peace, since Captain Innes Munro. A Narrative of the Military Operations of the Coromandel Coast (1789): 351 Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (London, England) 27 July 1785, Issue 3889 technically they were no longer prisoners at all. Nor was this process of "crossing over" an unusual occurrence in 18th century India; Indian armies of the period were always multinational, and Europeans from many different countries, including Britain, frequently served as officers in the armies of native princes.
Nevertheless, this was not an acceptable outcome in the eyes of the East India Company's officials, or within the British metropole. From the perspective of the British public, these captives had been forced to convert to Islam against their will, using cruel tortures and other threats, and Tipu's continued retention of these individuals was a shame upon the national honor. It never occurred to most British commentators that some of these prisoners may well have voluntarily chosen a new Islamic lifestyle as an officer commanding Tipu's forces, over that of languishing indefinitely in a rotting prison cell.
Whether or not the conversions were forced upon threat of violence and death, the public perception was that of Britons being held against their will as slaves, in violation of the peace treaty that Tipu had signed. This served as a significant contributing factor for future conflict between Tipu Sultan and the East India Company, as well as doing much to paint Tipu as a cruel tyrant in the British popular imagination.
Prisoner Masculinity and Sexuality The conversion stories of the prisoners were also rife with sexual anxieties, as Tipu demonstrated his mastery over the prisoners through a process of forced See for example William Dalrymple. White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India (2003). After the Company engineered a coup at the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, it had no objections to allowing former enemy soldiers to enter into the Company's own military.
emasculation. Tipu Sultan was portrayed as possessing an insatiable sexual appetite, one that demanded a constant stream of young women for his harem. Tipu’s supposed voracious sexuality represented another way in which India stood for the wild and untamed lure of the exotic East. His control over the British prisoners was made manifest most starkly in the form of their religious conversion ceremonies, as they were quite literally emasculated through the process of circumcision. These very real fears about masculinity and sexuality were reflected in the captive accounts, which continued to respond to British insecurities by demonizing Tipu Sultan as a threat that had to be defeated.
The many references to circumcision as part of the conversion process serve as the best example of this process, but there were other such cases as well. William Drake, one of the midshipmen captured on the Hannibal, wrote of young European boys who were “taught dancing in the Country Stile and forced to dance in female dresses before Tippoo - it was said that of late as they grew up they were transferred to the Cheylas Battalions.”94 Henry Becher corroborates this story in his own captive narrative, writing about a European boy named Willie: "When it was the pleasure of Tippoo, Willie was dressed as a dancing girl, covered with joys – and in this manner danced before him. He was not the only boy who was under the necessity of submitting to this degrading method of amusing the tyrant: most of them were dead or sent to different places..."95 These accounts help to demonstrate why Tipu prompted so much anxiety from British observers, quite aside from the military threat that he posed. Tipu’s hold over British captives, and his ability to reshape their image into effeminate dancing girls, was Abstract of the Narrative of William Drake, Midshipman of the Hannibal September 1791 (p. 341-58) IOR/H/565 p.357 Henry Becher. Remarks and Occurrences of Mr. Henry Becher. (1793): 55-56 a direct challenge to the widespread belief in the invincibility of white soldiers. His flaunting of power over Company prisoners was not only a means to force conversion into his military service, but also an effective propaganda tactic to inspire dread in the hearts of his opponents. Forcing captured British boys to dress in feminine clothing and dance for his amusement was another way for Tipu to exert his dominance over Europeans. It suggested that he was superior to his opponents not only militarily, but in terms of masculinity as well.
One of these additions to the characterization of Tipu during the Third Mysore War was his portrayal as a sex-crazed individual with an insatiable lust for women, playing upon the old trope of the East as the setting for harems and concubines. Lloyd’s Evening Post related the standard criticisms of Tipu’s personality, how he had “disgraced his personal prowess by an exampled perfidity and cruelty towards his enemies,” before moving on to a description of Tipu's lasciviousness towards women: "And yet, like other Monsters, Tippoo is not without his susceptibility, which is passion for the fair-sex fully evinces. Indeed his gallantries, like his warfares, have always been on the great scale; in proof of which, it need only be adduced, that the Seraglio of his present Camp exceeds 2000 women, selected for their superiority of personal attractions!"96 Tipu was characterized in this source as a beast, wholly dominated by his base passions and instincts, the sort of savage animal that could only be tamed through the use of force.
This was a new thread in the larger tapestry of the Tipu Legend, expanding Tipu’s hotheaded or emotional character into an irresistible desire to chase after women.
In a similar account written by Company military officer John Murray, Tipu was accused of murdering the beautiful daughter of a chieftain for “attempting to resist his Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England) 4 March 1791, Issue 5255 infamous Sensuality.”97 British authors writing on the subject of the Mysore Wars in later decades also came to accept this characterization of Tipu. Sir Walter Scott used this setting in his 1827 short story The Surgeon's Daughter, depicting Tipu as a lustful tyrant obsessed with capturing white women for inclusion into his seraglio.98 These portrayals of Tipu were likely a reaction to the sexual anxieties raised by the stories of prisoners forcibly being converted to Islam. British soldiers in India were afraid of losing their masculinity if they were captured by Tipu, forced to convert to an alternate native identity in which they would become emasculated. The response was the characterization of Tipu as hyper-masculine, entirely controlled through physical passions and desires, and unable to achieve the manners and proper restraint of a civilized gentleman. The supposed sensuality of Tipu became another example of his savagery, transforming his superior masculine potency from a virtue into a vice. Tipu’s sexual obsessions became in time another example of why the Company was ultimately more deserving of rule over the people of Mysore.
These same themes appeared in the dramatic productions of the London stage, which seized upon the popular enthusiasm for the Mysore Wars and used them as subject material for their shows. The Sadler’s Wells production entitled Tippoo Sultan; or, East India Campaigning was the first such show to enjoy widespread success, debuting on 25 July 1791. East India Campaigning promised in its advertisements to showcase a series of exotic Indian characters and scenes for its viewers, including The Friendly Brahmins (“With the attack and destruction of their Pagoda by Tippoo’s Soldiery”), Prisons At Col. John Murray, Sketches of the Character of Tippoo Sultaun (written April 1789, sent to Dundas 3 September 1792) (p.821-24) IOR/H/387 Sir Walter Scott. Count Robert of Paris and the Surgeon's Daughter. (Boston and New York: Houghton Miffling Company, 1923, 1827) Seringapatam (“The cruel treatment of the English Officers under General Mathews, when confined”), Tippoo Saib’s Camp (“with the Army in Motion, and an Eastern Divertisement with Parasols”) and even an Elephant.99 The themes of the play were very much in accordance with contemporary pro-Company and pro-ministry opinion, portraying Tipu Sultan as a tyrannical despot who tortured British prisoners and oppressed his non-Islamic subjects. Company soldiers were represented heroically, as the liberators would who put an end to the dark rule of the Sultan. The Company servants were no longer the immoral banditti of previous decades, having become instead virtuous soldier-heroes that embodied the British nation.
The Sadler’s Wells production was a very elaborate affair, promoting itself with entirely new costumes and set designs, along with an elaborate musical score. East India Campaigning would prove popular enough that the music to the play was printed separately, as The Overture, Favorite Songs, and Finale in the Musical Entertainment of Tippoo Saib. These song lyrics contained a number of revealing passages, making frequent mention of Irish soldiers serving in the Company military (complete with brogue in the lyrics) and referencing longstanding fears of sexual dominance and forced effeminacy implicit in the prisoners controversy. The song “Buac’aill lion Deoc’” sung by an Irish soldier demonstrated both of these traits, as the character Dennis O’Neal refuses the blandishments of Tipu and insists he will not lose his masculinity due to
(Verse) 1 Tippoo, your Highness, give over your fun, By my Soul you have got the wrong Sow by the Tail;
I’m neither Widow nor Maid, but a Soldier by Trade,
And my Name, if you like it, is Dennis O’Neal:
Diary or Woodfall’s Register (London, England) 25 July 1791, Issue 729 And a ranting, chaunting, Drinking, fighting, capering, pipering, Conjuring, blundering, skylarking, dram tippling, Dev’l of a Fellow is Dennis O’Neal!
Arrah. Buac’aill lion deoc’ for Dennis O’Neal… (Verse) 4 Tippoo take it from Dennis, he speaks to your face, Tis’n’t in your Black looks to make him turn pale;
Put a Sword in his hand and he’ll die like a Man, But you won’t make a Judy of Dennis O’Neal.
With your Jumping, Jungling, grinning, mouthing, Clout headed, thick headed, brazen nos’d, copper fac’d, Ill looking Thief! Who made you a Chief?
I wish, for your sake, I had an Oak Stake, For a Dev’l of a Fellow is Dennis O’Neal.
Arrah. Buac’aill lion deoc’ for Dennis O’Neal.100 The notes to the production indicate that this was one of its most popular songs, most likely to a special degree for the poorer elements of the audience.
While there were indeed significant numbers of Irish soldiers serving in the Company’s military forces, which perhaps the authors of the piece wished to recognize, the song was far more noteworthy for its bold assertions of masculinity, as a rejection of the threat posed by Tipu’s captivity of British prisoners. Dennis O’Neal asserted not only that he was neither “Widow nor Maid”, but also went on to insist that “you won’t make a Judy of Dennis O’Neal”, likely a reference to the stories of the “dancing boys” in Tipu’s service that had filtered back to Britain. The song was also explicitly racist in its mention of Tipu’s “Black looks”, and it reflected deep-rooted anxieties of defeat and implied feminization at the hands of the Sultan, which were commonplace in 1791.101 This was mentioned again in the concluding Finale to the production, with the cast singing together Mark Lonsdale (lyrics) and William Reeve (music). “Buac’aill lion Deoc’” in The Overture Favorite Songs and Finale in the Musical Entertainment of Tippoo Saib as Performed with Universal Applause at the Sadler Wells Theatre (London: Longman and Broderip, 1792) David Worrall. Harlequin Empire: Race, Ethnicity, and the Drama of the Popular Enlightenment (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2007): 91 how with the danger now passed, and Tipu fled at last, “We are Britons once again.”102 This odd phrasing served as another indication of how Tipu “unmanned” his captives through forced conversions (including circumcisions), and the implied effeminacy that resulted. Only after being freed from captivity could these prisoners reclaim their identity and once again become part of the British nation.