«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
There was no question that Sadler’s Wells had a hit production on its hands. The day after its debut performance, Woodfall’s Register wrote a glowing review of the production, praising East India Campaigning as “one of the most elegant exhibitions the town has witnessed for many years”, which produced universal calls for encore from all sections of the audience. The review lavished extra praise on the set design for portraying a series of different Indian scenes, and upon the Irish songs discussed above, which “gave the publick as much pleasure any actor has had an opportunity of effecting on stage for some time.”103 Woodfall’s Register was far from the only newspaper to deliver a positive verdict on the show, with the Public Advertiser also following suit, and World going so far as to claim “we fairly predict Tippoo Saib will be the greatest favourite ever produced at Sadler’s Wells.”104 Discussion of the play continued to appear in the London print culture throughout the following months, as it had clearly become a popular topic in public opinion. Newspapers mentioned how East India Campaigning filled the house every night, and was “undoubtedly the best Entertainment that Sadler’s Wells has ever yet set before the public.”105 In an attempt to make the production even more exotic, Mark Lonsdale (lyrics) and William Reeve (music).
On the one hand, East India Campaigning created a stereotyped and racialized portrayal of the Mysore Wars, focusing on creating an exotic spectacle of elephants, subterranean dungeons, Eastern grandeur and “the voluptuous amusements of the Tyrant’s Seraglio.”107 In this sense, the production created a fantasy of native capitulation that mediated the threat posed by the capture and imprisonment of British soldiers.108 On the other hand, the play constructed an idealized portrayal of the Company’s military, creating morally upstanding soldier-heroes that the British public could embrace as representing the best aspects of the national character. Far from the embarrassment and potential for moral decay embodied by the nabobs, these new Company servants were both masculine and incorruptible. The Public Advertiser even suggested using the Company soldiers in East India Campaigning as an example for the rest of the British
army to follow, a comparison which would have been unheard of a few decades earlier:
The sentiment of true bravery, so nobly displayed by the Tyrant Tippoo’s English prisoners, in the representation at Sadler’s Wells, is worthy of being deeply engraven on the mind of every British Officer who tries the chance of war in an
East India Campaign:
Tyrant – behold the triumph of the brave, Whom Death affrights not when disgrace would save.
Fain would we live, our country’s foe to face;
Gladly we die, when Death prevents disgrace.109 Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor (London, England) 7 August 1791, Issue 614 Star (London, England) 26 August 1791, Issue 1039 Daniel O’Quinn. Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800 (2007): 325 Public Advertiser (London, England) 24 August 1791, Issue 17826 This was a perfect example of how empire was constructed at home in the metropole through the use of popular culture.110 In practice, it was not uncommon for British soldiers in captivity to renounce their identity and enter into the service of Tipu, becoming the "European Musselmen" that aroused so much consternation, but the London stage refused to admit this possibility, and offered up instead a pleasant fantasy of British soldiers who would always choose death over disgrace. These sentiments help explain why East India Campaigning proved to be so successful; in addition to being an exciting spectacle, it showed Britons the way they would like to see themselves, with brave and defiant Company soldiers standing up against vicious and cruel eastern tyrants. British prisoners refused to bow before the caricatured despotic figure of Tipu Sultan, boldly asserting on the stage their own masculinity identity and freedom from imprisonment. This was the crux of the shift in popular perceptions of empire taking place at the close of the eighteenth century, and the Tipu plays of the 1790s like East India Campaigning were an important component of these larger changes.
Disappearance of the Prisoners Controversy The subject of the British captives attracted the lion's share of the British public's attention when Tipu Sultan first appeared on the scene during the Second Mysore War.
Nearly everything that was written by British onlookers at the time could be traced back to the fate of the captives in some way. It was the very presence of these prisoners that caused the East India Company and the wider British public to devote so much interest to one particular prince in southern India. Rumors that Tipu had failed to keep his word and John Mackenzie. Imperialism and Popular Culture. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986) release all of the British soldiers in his prisons served as a rallying cry for future wars of aggression against Mysore, indicating the high valuation of this subject for the Company.
However, over the course of the following two decades, the importance of Tipu's captives gradually disappeared from view, until they had almost faded away completely by the year 1800. The withering away of interest in the prisoners partially reflected the smaller number of British soldiers held within Mysore; Tipu Sultan was forced to release all of his British captives in the 1784 Treaty of Mangalore, and the same demand was repeated in the 1792 Treaty of Seringapatam. Tipu never again held as many European prisoners as he had possessed during the Second Mysore War. But this fact alone remains an incomplete explanation for the diminishing role played by the captives in the British popular imagination. With the growing power of the British Company in India during the last two decades of the eighteenth century, combined with the simultaneously dwindling power of Tipu Sultan, the British felt a newfound sense of confidence in the project of empire overseas.111 Earlier fears and pessimism associated with the British presence in India increasingly gave way to triumphant and celebratory passages extolling the might of the Company's soldiers. The British prisoners were a reminder of earlier periods of weakness and humiliation, when white Europeans had been placed at the total mercy of dark-skinned Indian rulers. It was a historical memory that the British in the metropole were eager to forget. By the close of the Fourth Mysore War at the turn of the century, the subject of the earlier British captives was rarely mentioned, both within the Company and amongst the wider discourse of British print culture. The conquest of Tipu's kingdom Peter Marshall. “A Free Though Conquering People: Britain and Asia in the Eighteenth Century.” Inaugural Lecture in the Rhodes Chair of Imperial History, Delivered 5 March 1981: 3 in 1799 had served to wipe away the earlier stain on the national honor, replacing uncomfortable anxieties with bombastic celebrations of imperial triumph.
In the early years of conflict with Tipu, obtaining the freedom of the British captives took precedence over everything else. The internal documents of the East India Company make it very clear that securing the release of the British prisoners taken during the Second Mysore War was the top priority. Even before the war's conclusion, the Madras government emphasized the importance of returning the captive officers: "That no Measure can be considered as a part of a cordial Dispostition of Peace, until at least the English Officers now in the Hands of Tippoo shall be released on Parole, as many are detained contrary to the express words of the Capitulation."112 During the peace negotiations with Tipu in 1784, Governor-General Warren Hastings sent the following
instructions to the Madras government in charge of the treaty process:
On the 1st Article, If a mutual restitution of Territory shall be found Indispensably necessary to that which we feel as our principal object, namely, the recovery of the English Prisoners, and the Servants of the Nabob, who are also Prisoners in Tippoo's Hands, and who have an equal claim to our Interposition, We must consent, but we have hopes that you will not find it difficult to effect this point, by agreeing to a restitution of the Places taken.... [list of disputed territories] But even these we are willing to surrender rather than Hazard the actual Peace and the lives of so many of our Countrymen who have lingered during 3 years of Imprisonment in his Hands whatever concessions are made are on our part are optional and ought to be so declared to him since he has no right to them by the Treaties existing... nevertheless we are willing to yield so much to the urging of the Commands of the Court of Directors, and your repeated requisitions, and this Point we have intirely to your discretion.113 The East India Company was therefore willing to sacrifice any potential gains made during the conflict in exchange for the guaranteed return of the British prisoners. The Madras government concurred, noting in their own minutes that the Company reverses in Madas Select Committee Proceedings 14th August 1783 (p.134) IOR/H/178 Governor-General and Council to Madras 14 November 1783 (p.939-54) IOR/H/186 p.946-48 Emphasis in the original.
the war made it impossible to gain territorial acquisitions, and therefore, "a pressing and principal object was the saving the lives and the speedy recovery of the Liberty of the numerous Prisoners of ours, in the hands of the Enemy. To that humane End, the Sacrifice of our late acquisitions on the Malabar Coast was admitted."114 Removing the embarrassment of having British prisoners under the control of Tipu was more important than any other goals to be achieved in the impending peace agreement.
When the Treaty of Mangalore officially ended the war in March 1784, both sides agreed to return to the status quo. The second article of the treaty, immediately after a standard eighteenth century invocation of the desire for universal peace on both sides, stipulated the return of the British prisoners: "Article 2.... The said Nabob [Tipu] shall also immediately after signing the Treaty, send orders for the release of all the Persons who were taken and made Prisoners in the late War, and now a Live, whether European or Native and for their being safely conducted to and delivered at such English Forts and Settlements as shall be nearest to the Places where they now are."115 The appearance of the prisoners in the first real article of the treaty again confirmed the importance attached to their release in the eyes of the East India Company.
When a small number of captives failed to be released from Mysore, accusations that Tipu continued to retain prisoners in violation of the treaty began appearing almost immediately. Lord Macartney, President of Madras, wrote to Tipu on the subject mere weeks after the conclusion of peace, on 20 May 1784, charging him with retaining a "few people" in breach of the treaty. Macartney asked Tipu to release these men without delay, and assured the Sultan that he had "numerous, absolute and undeniable Evidence" of their Minutes of Madras Select Committee 8 December 1783 (p.117-23) IOR/H/189 p. 117 Treaty with Tipu Sultan 11 March 1784 (p.1011-14) IOR/H/178 continued captivity.116 Macartney would write to Tipu again on 21 July, insisting that "It is in vain for you to deny the existence of these people in your Country, for the Commissioners deputed by the Madras Government to negotiate the Peace, as well as other Englishmen, saw them; and Letters have been received from them; written since the conclusion of the Treaty."117 Tipu responded by writing back that he held no prisoners, only his own subjects, as part of the differing understanding of these individuals detailed above. This was clearly an insufficient response in the eyes of Lord Macartney, who continued to work to secure the release of those he believed to be prisoners.
The ongoing controversy surrounding these "European Musselmen" further colored Macartney's opinion of Tipu Sultan: "I must however observe that no Confidence can safely be placed in his professions. He [Tipu] is not likely, it is true, to break his Engagements for a trivial Consideration, but where any great Interest or Object can be promoted with a fair prospect of Success He is not to be restrained by any tie whatsoever."118 Macartney's choice of words here closely match the "faithless and violent" characterization of Tipu which would later be applied by Lord Cornwallis.
Macartney was either unable or unwilling to see the situation from a perspective of shifting and intermingling cultural exchanges, in which individuals could pass between different self-fashioned identities at their leisure. It was simply not acceptable from the point of view of Macartney, and the East India Company in general, to have their soldiers accept service in the pay of an Indian prince. Therefore, from Macartney's perspective, the remaining Europeans in Tipu's service had to be seen as prisoners, which made Tipu Lord Macartney's Letter to Tippoo Sultaun 20 May 1784. IOR/H/570 p. 270-71 Emphasis in original.
Lord Macartney's Letter to Tippoo Sultaun 21 July 1784. IOR/H/570 p. 274-75 Lord Macartney to the Secret Committee of the Directors 22 October 1784 (p. 353-55) IOR/H/247 p.
an untrustworthy and duplicitous individual in violation of the treaty. The ongoing unresolved situation of the "European Musselmen" therefore did much to contribute to the changing popular perception of Tipu.