«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
Captain Innes Munro. A Narrative of the Military Operations of the Coromandel Coast (London: Printed for the author by T. Bensley, 1789): 100-103 Edmund Burke. “Speech on Opening of Impeachment 15, 16, 18, 19 February 1788” in The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 6. Peter Marshall (ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981): 294 Captain Innes Munro. A Narrative of the Military Operations of the Coromandel Coast (1789): 298-300 These competing claims that drew upon the language of tyranny to criticize the East India Company continued to appear into the early 1790s during the Third Mysore War. The Bee or Literary Intelligencer of London wrote in early 1792 about how the British people had been told that Tipu was one of “the most cruel despots that ever ruled over a nation,” detested by all his subjects, only to find that “all these assertions have been contradicted by the most undeniable facts” as his soldiers and subjects stood firm and resisted the Company’s military. The Bee then further compared the character of Tipu with the character of the East India Company: "It now appears that this ferocious monster...
for the actions of the Company’s servants overseas:
As an Englishman, I find my character degraded, my judgment insulted, and my humanity sported with by them; and in these sentiments, I am persuaded, I shall not stand alone; for he that can read the accounts from India without grief and concern for the wounded honour of his country, and the cause of humanity must possess feelings I do not covet. “The glorious peace” we have made, from its nature, we cannot expect will be lasting, as compulsive acts are never considered as binding on the party they are imposed on, of course they never outlive necessity; we must, therefore, not be surprised, if “the tyrant,” out of whose power, I fear, we have put it to forgive us, should ere long be able to form a league against us in turn, get hold of some of our people, and then retaliate on us what we have so fair a claim to… that India would, probably, at a period not very distant, become another America to us.40 The editorial by Benevolus serves as an extremely important source, consisting of one of the most comprehensive denials and rejections of the negative Tipu Legend to be found anywhere in print during this period. The author denied the allegations of Tipu’s cruelty as exaggerations of the Company, and touched upon all of the major anti-Company "Benevolus". Pigs’ Meat or Lessons for the Swinish Multitude (London, 1794) Vol. 1, Issue 1, p. 148-51 Reprinting of the General Magazine of Sept. 1792 Ibid, emphasis in the original Ibid, emphasis in the original themes of the late eighteenth century: greed and avarice amongst the Company’s servants, cruelty towards Indians, irresponsible style of rule, and deception towards the British public. Benevolus also exhibited the spirit of pessimism regarding the future of India so common amongst the Opposition critics of the war, making an explicit comparison to the recent loss of the American colonies.41 Benevolus posed the by now familiar question of which party was acting tyrannically in India, and argued that the Company was much more guilty of that term than Tipu. The continued usage of this same language indicated how popular perceptions of Tipu Sultan were linked to the broader debate about the morality of overseas empire.
As a means of combating these claims, supporters of the East India Company also made use of despotism as a theme to contend that Company was engaged in a series of wars against Tippoo the Tyrant, a dangerous and fanatical ruler who represented the antithesis of British liberties. The struggle against Tipu was portrayed as a battle between British virtue and Indian vice, with the Company's soldiers and administrators embodying the British nation. Tipu Sultan was represented as a stereotypical Oriental despot, who exercised rule over his subjects and over the captured British prisoners in a master and slave relationship. The repeated and unending assertions of Tipu's tyrannical behavior in the sphere of British popular culture were responsible for helping to change the earlier skeptical attitudes towards the Company mentioned previously. Although these images of Tipu Sultan and the Mysore Wars were far from the only factor contributing to shifting perceptions of empire, they nevertheless played an important role in this process.
Tipu's representation as a despotic figure in the British metropole began during the Second Mysore War of the early 1780s. In one early example, Tipu briefly appeared See Chapter 4 during a speech in the House of Commons praising the conduct of Governor General Warren Hastings. In the words of Commodore Jobastone, "He [Hastings] had...
signalized himself in those very fields on which the Macedonian Chief had been victorious, and he had completely overset all the powerful operations, and all the diabolical machinations of Tippoo Saib, that bold and formidable invader of British liberty."42 Even at this very early period in 1783, the speaker used Tipu as a villainous prop that threatened British freedoms in order to win support for the administrative leadership of the Company. It was noteworthy that an early appearance of Tipu in parliamentary politics was again linked to an explicit threat to British freedom.
The first clear association of Tipu together with the concept of tyranny appeared in the London newspapers in early 1784. Quoting an "anonymous officer" in the Company's service, the text stated: "Tippoo Saib is far from the character he has been represented to us; instead of being a friend to peace, he had proved himself a restless, treacherous, inhuman tyrant. He is entirely influenced by French politics, and has four battalions of Dutch, Portuguese, and French in his service... his army is well appointed, and more formidable than that of his father Hyder Ally.43 This was one of the first associations of the word "tyrant" with Tipu, which in time was to become inextricably linked with his method of rule for the British public. The lack of sourcing for this account was also significant. Up to this point in time, no description of this sort about Tipu had appeared anywhere in British popular print culture, until it was supplied here by an anonymous Company officer. The officer notably failed to state why Tipu should be viewed as a treacherous tyrant, leaving this point unexamined. Although these assertions Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (London, England) 12 November 1783, Issue 3357 Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (London, England) 21 January 1784, Issue 1009 were rare during the early 1780s, and contested by opposition figures who favored peaceful engagement with Tipu when they did appear, they would become enormously more influential during the following decade.
By the time of the Third Mysore War (1790-92), Tipu was much more frequently portrayed both within Company documents and in the British popular press as a ruthless Oriental despot. The Public Advertiser wrote during this period of shifting attitudes in 1791, suggesting that although the Sultan was an exceptionally talented individual, he
was unfortunately twisted by cruelty:
That he is a Prince of uncommon ability; that he has a genius of vast extent, but a genius turned to ill, that he has a rapid succession of ideas, both as a Politician and as a General; that he has a bold and investigative mind in all his operations and pursuits; that the din of war, and the clangor of arms, are the music to which his ears are organized, must be readily admitted… But all the brilliancy of parts, all the elevation and splendor of talents which distinguish this Oriental Monarch, are shaded and degraded by a lust of ambition, a thirst for power, and an exercise of cruelty, which dishonour and debase the human character, be it in what sphere it may, or however signalized by nature abilities. This haughty tyrant, cultivated and educated as his mind is, follows, like a brute, the mere impression of passions, and, counteracting both reason and humanity, disgraces his species.44 This summation of Tipu’s character existed in a transitional state, bridging the earlier praise for Tipu the skilled general with the growing belief in Tipu the brutal despot.
Viewed from this perspective, Tipu was all the more of a disappointing ruler, as he had the potential to rise above his station and instead succumbed to baser instincts, much in the same vein as other accounts charging him with excessive sensual lust. Despite all of his talents, Tipu still ultimately remained a tyrant and a brute.
The World newspaper echoed similar thoughts, suggesting that Tipu’s education and military prowess were both compromised by his atrocities: “Tippoo Saib then is possessed of every qualification that can form the great warrior, but he is most defective Public Advertiser (London, England) 8 October 1791, Issue 17865 in that particular which can render the character most respected in the eyes of civilized society – he is without Humanity. His treatment of the British prisoners will mark him to all posterity as an unrelenting and sanguinary Tyrant, and the constitutional greatness of his mind, will be obscured by the ferocity and depravity of his heart.”45 This criticism further implied that this was the difference between the “civilized society” of the British and the more “barbarous” Indian one encountered overseas, with the British possessing the superior quality of “Humanity.” This was the critical difference between Tipu and the British, best symbolized by Lord Cornwallis, as the latter's possession of civility and morality justified his superior right to rule over Mysore's Indian population.
Further sources from the early 1790s were yet more critical of Tipu, failing even to acknowledge that he was a capable ruler and skilled military leader. A minute drawn up by the Madras presidency charged that Tipu was abusive towards his subordinates, his words false and hypocritical, with his overall policy differing widely from his father Haider and contributing to the ruinous state of his revenues.46 London’s Evening Mail echoed these charges, stating that Tipu’s disposition was “naturally cruel, passionate and revengeful,” his understanding and judgment much inferior to his father. The Evening Mail had no confidence in Tipu’s military prowess either: “He is a good soldier but an unskillful General: he punishes more from the influence of passion and prejudice, than attention to justice; and sometimes retains the pay of his troops for several months, whilst his own Saucars lend money at an enormous interest, which is stopped when they pay is issued.”47 Other newspapers leveled more fantastic claims about Tipu’s character; the World (London, England) 9 July 1792, Issue 1724 Some particulars relative to Tippoo Sultaun, taken from the Information of Mahomed Khoushro who left Tippoo May 1788, Madras December 1790 (p. 291-311) IOR/H/251 p. 292-93 Evening Mail (London, England) 7 May 1792, Issue 500 Bath Chronicle reported that Tipu and his father Haider had a habit of cutting off the heads of captured foes, then preserving them in pickling barrels afterwards for sport.48 These were the sort of capricious and cruel actions expected of Oriental despots.
This theme was one of many taken up by Col. John Murray in an extraordinary short account entitled “Sketches of the Character of Tippoo Sultaun.” Written shortly before the outbreak of the Third Mysore War in the hopes of encouraging the Company to begin another conflict, Murray’s hyperbolic tirade painted Tipu as an inhuman abomination, completely beyond redemption and without virtues. Describing Tipu’s interactions with the Nairs of the Malabar Coast, Murray wrote that Tipu “has tortured the Inhabitants, Violated and Plundered their Pagodas, Murdered every man of consequence who has not immediately shewn an example to his dependants by adopting the faith, and has at length thrown the Country into a Scene of Blood and Confusion, seldom to be equalled in the most inhuman actions of any Tyrant who ever existed.”49 In
summarizing Tipu’s deceptive nature, Murray stated: