«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
This same language of tyranny and despotism was reinterpreted during the Mysore Wars, directed away from the Company's own servants and targeted at Tipu Sultan instead. This redeployment of which party was acting tyrannically in India played a crucial role in reshaping British popular attitudes about empire, and it began almost immediately when Tipu first appeared on the scene. When Tipu and his father Haider invaded the Carnatic at the start of the Second Mysore War in 1780, they were accused at once of acting in despotic fashion towards the populace of the region. A letter from the Madras council written in November 1780 gave evidence to the contrary, and stated that Haider “has conducted himself with a degree of Policy which was hardly to be expected from a Man of his tyrannical and sanguinary disposition. The Inhabitants of Arcot and other conquered Places have been treated with great lenity.”22 Similar arguments have been advanced by modern Indian historians, who view the destruction attributed to W.G. Phillips. "The Mirror." Published by S. Fores, 17 May 1784. Image #6582 in Mary Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (1978) Madras President and Council to Directors 29 November 1780 (p. 683-89) IOR/H/150 p. 686 Haider’s invasion as British exaggerations or fabrications.23 However, other British writers publishing for a much larger public audience in the metropole associated the
arrival of Haider and Tipu with mass slaughter and cruelty:
Mean-while, his [Haider’s] numerous cavalry over-ran and ravaged the country.
Numbers of inoffensive and unresisting people were sacrificed to a savage thirst of blood: some were cruelly tortured that they might be induced to give up treasures they were supposed to conceal; others were wantonly mutilated, and at this day, many wretched men, without their hands, or ears, or noses, record the inhumanity of a barbarous conqueror. Women were subjected to the brutality of lust, or forced to save their honour by the forfeit of their lives; a ransom which some had the fortitude to pay.24 This description by William Thomson mirrored the situation laid out in Dow's history of Bengal above, with poor Indian peasants ravaged by a callous and unstoppable force.
Notably, however, the subject of the despotic actors had changed. Thomson's atrocities were committed not by British nabobs acting out of control, but by savage Indian rulers whom the Company had to defeat to restore order.
This situation provided an early example of the divergence in how Haider and Tipu were portrayed by the British, between competing views of honorable and tyrannical behavior. This divergence in opinion was characteristic of the debate that surrounded the Indian prince during the early years of the Mysore Wars, before more negative characterizations eventually won out. With the passage of more time after Haider and Tipu's initial invasion of the Carnatic, the atrocity stories surrounding the events became more elaborate and fanciful. For example, Mark Wilks, author of one of the first formal histories of the Mysore Wars, wrote in 1817 that Haider “drew a line of merciless desolation, marked by the continuous blaze of flaming towns and villages. He B. Sheikh Ali. Tipu Sultan : A Study in Diplomacy and Confrontation (Mysore: Geetha Book House,
1982) and Mohibbul Hasan. History of Tipu Sultan, Second Edition. (Calcutta: World Press, 1971)
Officer of Colonel Baillie’s Detachment [William Thomson]. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia. (London:
Sold by J. Sewell, 1788, 1789): 172 directed the indiscriminate mutilation of every human being who should linger near the ashes.”25 The original, alternative descriptions of Haider's invasion became lost as eyewitness accounts receded into historical memory. Although the 1780s was a period of competing viewpoints about Tipu, with the passage of time the supporters of the villainous Tipu Legend's interpretation of events gained more and more credibility amongst the general public.
There were many British authors who praised Tipu's character during the early period of the Second Mysore War, and offered a very different interpretation from later accounts. These characterizations frequently drew upon the same language of despotism to make their case, arguing that Tipu was not the monstrous figure that he was often portrayed. Lord Macartney of Madras provided this glowing opinion of his character in early 1783: "The youthful and spirited heir of Hyder without the odium of his Father's vices, or his tyranny, seems by some popular acts, and by the hopes which a new reign inspires and by the adoption of European discipline, likely to become a more formidable foe even than his father."26 Perhaps holding this same impression in mind, Macartney encouraged a policy of diplomatic engagement with Tipu after the war's conclusion, believing that Tipu would hold to the terms of the treaty: "There seems a friendly, or rather a pacifistic Inclination on his part which is favourable to the public Tranquility, and I am inclined to think he will not break with this, unless some extraordinary, and certain Advantage should tempt him."27 Macartney was far from the only individual Mark Wilks. Historical Sketches of the South of India, in an Attempt to Trace the History of Mysoor, Vol.
3 (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1810-1817): 2 Lord Macartney to Directors 22 January 1783 (p.147) IOR/H/176 Lord Macartney to the Secret Committee of the Directors 30 January 1785 (p. 373-86) IOR/H/247 p.
379-80 within the Company who suggested a policy of engagement with Tipu, hoping to turn him into an ally against the Marathas.28 Major Alexander Dirom’s narrative of the Third Mysore War adopted a slightly different stance on this subject. It lauded the prosperity of Tipu’s kingdom, stating that the countryside was full of inhabitants and the soil cultivated to its full extent. Although according to Dirom Tipu's government was strict and arbitrary, it was “the despotism of a politic and able sovereign, who nourishes, not oppresses, the subjects who are to be the means of his future aggrandizement: and his cruelties were, in general, only inflicted on those whom he considered as his enemies.”29 This representation suggested that Tipu's method of rule fell short of European standards of liberty, but was nonetheless effective and prosperous in its own right.
Others waxed poetically on the character of Tipu himself. The French author Maistre de la Tour compared Haider and Tipu to Philip and Alexander of Macedon: "The total defeat of a detachment commanded by Colonel Brawlie [Bailey] is likewise an exploit of Tippou Saeb; who having began, like Alexander, to gain battles at the age of eighteen, continues to march in the step of that Grecian hero, who he may one day resemble as well by the heroism of his actions as by the multiplicity of his conquests."30 This was not an uncommon comparison, referencing Philip and Alexander, and was used by other authors in addition to de la Tour's translated account of the Second Mysore War.
William Thomson praised Tipu's education, and compared his struggle to that of Hannibal's against Rome: "Both at once subtle and brave; studious of the knowledge of These divergent opinions regarding Tipu within the Company are discussed further in Chapter 4.
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): 249-50 Maistre de la Tour. The History of Ayder Ali Khan, Nabob-Bahader, Vol. 1-2. (London: Printed for J.
Johnson, 1784) French original (Paris, 1783): 309 their times; trained by their fathers in hostility to the first power of the age; exciting the vengeance of all nations against that power; and in this career, taking a wider range than that which usually bounded their views."31 The comparison to Hannibal portrayed Tipu as an antagonist to the British power, but as an honorable one, not as the tyrannical figure of the Tipu Legend. Thomson's stress on the education of Tipu, who was instructed in multiple languages along with mathematics and military gunnery, undermined the accusations of other sources that Tipu was an ignorant savage.
Voices critical of the Company in the early 1780s made the case that its injustices were far worse than anything that Tipu Sultan had done during the Second Mysore War.
An editorial letter written in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser contended:
I defy any Asiatic cruelty to exceed the cruelties practiced by some of the English servants of the East India Company resident in Asia… Such as have been practiced, for example, may be practiced again; as blowing off gun powder in an Indian’s ear, flicking an awl through an Indian’s ear to peg him to the boarded side of a room, putting lengths of gun-match between another’s fingers bound together and lighted, to bring them to confessions about treasures to be plundered.
Oh! shameful, dishonourable, shocking to humanity – and this by the servants of the United Company of Merchants trading (monopolizing and plundering) to the East Indies.32 This unnamed individual blamed the Company for inflicting the same kind of savage cruelties upon the Indian people as those alleged of Tipu. This was a direct reference to the controversy surrounding the captives taken by Tipu during the war; it was therefore no surprise that British prisoners received cruel treatment back in turn from the Sultan, due to the injustices committed by the British themselves. The anonymous open letter serves as an interesting reversal of the typical narrative of Asiatic despotism, charging that the East India Company was guilty of being the true tyrants in India.
Officer of Colonel Baillie’s Detachment [William Thomson]. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia. (1789) Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (London, England) 26 Novemer 1784, Issue 17460 Innes Munro, despite being an officer in the Company's military, wrote to criticize how the Company combined war and commerce, and disgraced the British nation overseas: "They soon became so formidable and renowned in arms as to take the responsibility of invasion, conquest, and innocent bloodshed, upon themselves, attacking the powers of India upon selfish speculation as their avarice and ambition dictated, and continuing wantonly to sport away the lives of their countrymen, until they had, by the most dishonourable acts of injustice and oppression, rendered the British name odious in all the Indian courts, and usurped the immense territories now in their possession..."33 Munro published his narrative of the war in 1789, and his critique was likely influenced by the proceedings of the Warren Hastings trial, as the wording in the passage above was very similar to many of the charges made by Edmund Burke a year earlier.34 Munro's critical account further accused the Company of bringing about a mass famine in Madras during 1782, writing of the streets and roads strewn with bodies and the "frightful skeletons" supplicating for a morsel of rice to eat.35 This was very much not the image of itself that the Company wanted to promote, and represented a direct attack upon its legitimacy as a territorial sovereign. All of these sources grounded their criticism of the Company in regard to its treatment of Indian subjects, often accusing the Company of the very same prisoner atrocities as Tipu Sultan had been charged. The implication was that the Company's servants were no better than Tipu, if not worse, and they were guilty of acting in despotic fashion towards the people of India.