«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
In sharp contrast to the situation during the Second Mysore War, by the end of the 1790s the captives issue had disappeared almost completely.
Cornwallis to Tippoo Sultaun, Definitive Treaty of Peace 17 March 1792 (p.312-25) IOR/H/252 See Chapter 5 General Harris to Tippoo Sultan, with Draft of Preliminaries, 22 April 1799 Governor General to Directors 20 March 1799 IOR/H/255 (p. 1-57) The lack of attention placed on the British prisoners was equally reflected in the wider sphere of popular culture in the metropole. The most popular Tipu play during the early 1790s had been East India Campaigning, described earlier in this chapter as featuring captured British soldiers who refused to swear themselves into the Sultan's service. Productions of this type were a means to transform British weakness in India into a symbol of national virtue, through the brave resistance to the machinations of an Asiatic tyrant, but they were still an acknowledgement of the power that Tipu had over his European foes. By the late 1790s, this show had ended its run and been replaced with The Storming of Seringapatam, a production of Astley’s Royal Saloon and Amphitheatre that depicted the military conquest of Tipu's capital, complete with acrobatics, large animals, and soldiers drilling in formation.123 The focus was no longer on British prisoners at the mercy of Tipu, but instead British soldiers storming an Indian city and killing Tipu Sultan.
The same themes were on display in the largest and most popular piece of artwork from the Fourth Mysore War, Robert Ker Porter's Storming of Seringapatam.124 Exhibited to the public on a massive canvas stretching over 120 feet long at a height of 21 feet, Porter's enormous work depicted the overthrow of Tipu by the force of the Company's arms. There was no mention of prisoners, and no implication that Britons had ever been subjugated by their Indian opponents. The earlier period of weakness and vulnerability had largely passed out of the British popular imagination, replaced with images of strength and martial masculinity.
Conclusion As advertised in E. Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor (London, England) 29 September 1799, Issue 1039 Robert Ker Porter. The Storming of Seringapatam (1800). Private collection. This subject is considered in more detail in Chapter 5.
The controversy surrounding the prisoners served as an introduction to Tipu Sultan and the Mysore Wars for most of the British public. Captive accounts suggested that Tipu was a cruel tyrant, one who tortured the poor soldiers at his mercy and forced them to convert to his religion at the point of a sword. The existence of the prisoners was a great embarrassment for the Company, a living symbol of its failure to protect its own soldiers from falling into the hands of a foreign ruler. Much of the antipathy generated against Tipu was a reaction to his control of these prisoners, an objection to his total power of life and death over British subjects. Tipu seemingly had the ability to remake their identity as he willed, converting them into Muslims and unearthing all of the fears and anxieties associated with the project of overseas colonialism.
The villainous reputation ascribed to Tipu was both a reaction to this deep-rooted fear and a means of striking back against it. The Sultan’s treatment of the prisoners became a rationale for further wars of revenge, designed to conquer Mysore and remove Tipu as a threat for good. British prisoners were transformed into living embodiments of the idealized qualities of the British nation, heroically refusing to bow before foreign tyrants. The wars against Mysore became reinterpreted as a struggle between freedom and despotism, between liberty and subjugation, with the British happily portraying themselves as a “free though conquering people.”125 The next chapter investigates more fully this connection between Tipu Sultan and the concepts of tyranny and despotism, the political systems that Britons believed were characteristic of his rule. Popular belief in "Tippoo the Tyrant" also became an important part of shifting attitudes about empire in the closing decades of the eighteenth century.
Introduction While the British prisoners of the Second Mysore War had been responsible for the initial public interest in Tipu Sultan, it was his image as an Oriental despot that helped to keep Tipu in the public sphere for the better part of two decades. British representations of Tipu drew upon older, pre-existing political tropes about tyranny and despotism. According to these beliefs, Tipu was a tyrant who ruled in capricious fashion, granting no rights to the subjects in his domains and acting as he saw fit, holding the power of life and death over the poor souls living in Mysore, much as he had over the captives in his possession. These characterizations of the Sultan, which were initially rare but became increasingly commonplace during the 1790s, shifted Tipu's reputation for cruelty from the relatively small number of European prisoners onto a much larger group.
All of the people of Mysore were effectively victims of Tippoo the Tyrant, subject to the mad whims of a savage monster.
This villainous reputation emerged in part as a response to earlier criticism of the East India Company. Identical charges centered upon the concepts of tyranny and despotism had been leveled against the Company and its servants in the years following Plassey.1 The soldiers and administrators of the Company were accused of acting in unscrupulous fashion during their time overseas, ruling over their Indian subjects in despotic fashion, pillaging and plundering Bengal without a care for the destruction that they left in their wake. The increasing emphasis on Tipu's own supposed Oriental Tillman Nechtman. Nabobs: Empire and Identity in Eighteenth Century Britain. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010): 11-12 despotism during the course of the Mysore Wars was a means to counter these charges. It was argued that vile Indian rulers like Tipu Sultan were the true tyrants, best demonstrated by his treatment of the captured British prisoners, while the Company was in fact a progressive force that embodied the best qualities of the British nation. This allowed the Third Mysore War to be portrayed not as an expansionist war undertaken to acquire more wealth and territory in southern India, but as a war of liberation designed to free British prisoners and unshackle the people of Mysore from their horrible ruler. It was a much more positive way of envisioning the rule of the East India Company overseas.
In addition to the endless association of tyranny and despotism with Tipu, the Sultan was also accused of being a faithless ruler who could not be trusted. Tipu was said to break treaties whenever it suited him, making it impossible to honor his word. This became a convenient rationale both for explaining away some of the military disasters of the Company, due to the "broken word" of the faithless Sultan, and the justification for imposing very severe and humiliating terms on Mysore after the war's conclusion.
Governor General Charles Cornwallis argued that Tipu's lack of humanity forced him into taking Tipu's two sons as hostages to guarantee the peace in 1792, an otherwise extraordinary and morally dubious act. This explanation was widely accepted in the British metropole, and Cornwallis was held up as a paragon of justice and moderation. He became the anti-Tipu in the mind of the British public, an example of the superior British character, and all of the values that the depraved Tipu Sultan was lacking.2 Tipu was furthermore represented as a poor ruler in his own right. It was claimed that Tipu was a fanatical Islamic bigot, in another expansion of the conversion Peter Marshall. “Cornwallis Triumphant: War in India and the British Public in the Late Eighteenth Century” in War, Strategy, and International Politics. Lawrence Freeman, Paul Hayes, and Robert O’Neill (ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992): 61-63 ceremonies associated with the British prisoners earlier. Tipu was said to persecute the mostly Hindu populace of his kingdom, by destroying their temples and forcing them to convert to Islam or face execution. Although these claims proved to be untrue, British commentators used the widespread belief that Tipu was a despotic ruler to suggest that Mysore would be better governed by the British Company, and the people would prefer the blessings of British rule to their current state. In similar fashion, just as Tipu was argued to be a poor ruler over Mysore, the great public interest surrounding the two hostage princes was employed to suggest that Tipu was a poor and uncaring father as well. Written accounts and formal paintings of the hostage princes implied that Cornwallis was a superior parent when compared to Tipu, and that he would do a much better job of instructing the young boys in the proper manly virtues.3 British written accounts of the hostage princes even suggested that the boys preferred their new living arrangements to their original home, due to the despotic nature of Tipu. The wildly popular images of the hostage princes therefore anticipated many of the paternalistic elements of the nineteenth century British Raj, with childlike and backwards Indians looking up to a kindly British parental figure.4 This broadening of the despotic aspects of Tipu's image, from tyranny over his captives to tyranny over his entire kingdom, did much to shift popular perceptions about the Mysore Wars, and overseas empire more broadly. Although the Second Mysore War (1780-84) had received a mixed reaction in the British metropole, victory in the Third Mysore War (1790-92) led to a much wider acceptance of the East India Company and its Constance McPhee. “Tipu Sultan of Mysore and British Medievalism in the Paintings of Mather Brown” in Orientalism Transposed : The Impact of the Colonies on British Culture. Dianne Sachko MacLeod and Julie F. Codell (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998): 202-03 Hermione De Almeida and George Gilpin. Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect of India (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005): 149 servants in the British popular imagination. The conflicts against Tipu in the 1790s were frequently portrayed in the popular press as wars of liberation fought against a faithless and cruel Oriental despot. This allowed for a wider embrace of the Company and its military, who were increasingly represented as British patriots that embodied the national honor. Instead of the older fears and pessimism about the dangers that empire posed, the British public increasingly identified with imperial heroes like Cornwallis and Wellesley.
By fighting against an imagined despotism in southern India, the Company salvaged and remade its own reputation.
Tyranny and Despotism Out of all of the various pejorative terms attributed to Tipu Sultan, the epithet that was employed the most often by the British was that of "Tippoo the Tyrant". It was an association that almost seemed to flow off the tongue in a fit of alliteration, and innumerable British writers connected Tipu together with the concept of tyrannical rule over his subjects in India. In making this association, British authors were not only making a case for the Company's superior moral claim to rule over the Indian populace, they were also tapping into an established language about despotism and despotic rule.
For centuries, Europeans had argued that what separated them from peoples in other parts of the world was their love of freedom and liberty, in comparison to the tyranny and Oriental despotism practiced by Asiatic monarchs.5 The representation of Tipu Sultan as a tyrannical ruler provided a means to tap into these long-standing tropes about despotism, arguing his own unfitness to rule and the superior claim of the East India Company to provide governance.