«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
If an agreeable demeanor be a Virtue, he is a man possessed of the most pleasing and courteous manners, under which he endeavors to conceal the most Blackest Crimes, and the most inexorable Cruelty of disposition to gratify his insatiable Avarice, and under the Mask of Religious enthusiasm, he drinks the Blood of his Subjects with a Savage Joy; and opens with his unrelenting Sword a Scene which plunges the Soul into the deepest emotions of Melancholy and Woe.50 This particular account's vivid, colorful language illustrated the intense hatred that Tipu inspired within some factions of the East India Company. The Sultan was represented in these sketches as the worst sort of tyrant imaginable, given the most savage and demonic qualities that the author could call to mind.
Bath Chronicle (Bath, England) 19 June 1788, Issue 1438 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 p. 821 Ibid, 823-24 Murray’s account provided one of the earliest examples of the fully developed, mature incarnation of the Tipu Legend. Tipu was represented as an inhuman monster, and his character employed as a means to persuade the reader in supporting the cause of the East India Company. When Murray wrote his Sketches in April 1789, it was done with the purpose of persuading Company officials to declare war on Tipu and intervene with the Nairs on the Malabar Coast. This was before Tipu's dispute with the Rajah of Travancore took place and drew the Company into another conflict in southern India.51 At the time, his characterization of Tipu represented the fringe element of extremist rhetoric, supported only by the Anglo-India community and their desire for a war of revenge. By the end of the Third Mysore War, however, this sort of polemicizing had become widespread, spurred on by the political debate between parties in Parliament, and the villainous incarnation of Tipu had become widely accepted in British popular culture.
The sending of “Sketches of the Character of Tippoo Sultaun” back to London in September 1792 for publication after the war nicely symbolized this shift in Tipu’s image that had taken place over the duration of the conflict.
The contemporary literature surrounding the Fourth Mysore War in 1798 and 1799 was noteworthy for the failure of any positive mentions of Tipu to appear in the British popular press. Following a long period of debate and competing representations of the Sultan during the previous wars, the Fourth Mysore War firmly established the image of Tipu as a tyrannical Oriental despot in public discourse. This is apparent both from the negative descriptions of his character published during and after the war, along with the complete lack of more positive representations that called to mind the "youthful and See Chapter 1 spirited heir" of two decades earlier. The image of Tippoo the Tyrant became firmly crystallized afterward this point as the historical memory of the Mysore Wars.
One such example was the rapid publication of Authentic Memoirs of Tippoo Sultan, written by an anonymous "Officer in the East India Service." It was little more than a biographical sketch of Tipu, written to capitalize on the public fascination with the Sultan in the last months of 1799. The account was rushed to publication in order to capture this market, and therefore was far from the most reputable of sources, but nonetheless served as a barometer of the public sentiment of the moment. The memoirs referred to Haider Ali as the "great and despotic usurper", who instructed Tipu in the general qualifications of Indian rulers, ambition and ferocity: "The use of warlike instruments is there esteemed the first part of education; cruelty too often mistaken for heroism, and impetuosity for magnanimity. Tippoo gave early proofs of all these Indian virtues, and was always admitted to his father’s councils..."52 As these opening lines to the memoirs indicate, they provided an extremely negative portrayal of Tipu's personality, one perfectly fitting with Wellesley’s characterization during the final conflict. The
authentic memoirs summarized their characterization of Tipu in the following manner:
From the example of his father he united all the qualities of a warrior and a statesman, but he inherited more of his turbulence and less of his policy. Young and enterprising, he was superior to his father in military talents, as he was inferior to him in the dissimulation of Indian politics… He was also more addicted to grandeur and pleasure, and discovered stronger traits of despotism and cruelty.53 Tipu was portrayed as a capricious Asiatic tyrant, with his great military skill offset by his savagery and cruelty. There was also a reprisal of the claims of Tipu's sensuality and Officer in the East India Service. Authentic Memoirs of Tippoo Sultan (London: Printed for the author by M. Allen, 1799): 1-3. Emphasis in the original.
Ibid, 33-34 uncontrollable lust, which would also become incorporated into the historical memory of Tipu in later decades.54 Like other Indians, Tipu had been a savage ruled entirely by his passions, lacking the civilized sophistication of the superior British character.
E. Johnson’s British Gazette denounced Tipu as a restless tyrant whose "boundless cruelties excited the indignation of his own subjects, and aroused even the meek Hindoo from his habitual submission." The Sultan had advanced forward without pause, until finally he was brought to bay by the Company, putting an end to "his career of despotism, cruelty, and oppression."55 This was a standard denunciation of Tipu's character, and can be taken as representative of the spectrum of public opinion on the subject, once again making explicit reference to despotism as a concept. Similar descriptions were commonplace in British print culture in the final months of 1799-1800.
The Whitehall Evening Post claimed that Tipu had been a poor ruler in addition to a cruel depot, expressing surprise that such a "weak Potentate" had been able to maintain his position for so long. Instead, his absurd and unprovoked antipathy against the Company had resulted in his downfall.56 This was a more subtle change from earlier accounts of the Sultan, where even Tipu's detractors who considered him a tyrant also conceded that he was a powerful and dangerous monarch. The reflections on Tipu written after the Fourth Mysore War's conclusion were not even willing to grant that he had been a capable ruler, as if to deny the fear and anxiety that Tipu had provoked for so long.
Alexander Beatson provided an extended sketch of Tipu's character at the end of his campaign narrative of the Fourth Mysore War, describing Tipu as a weak ruler See for example the fictional portrayal of Tipu in Sir Walter Scott's The Surgeon's Daughter. (Boston and New York: Houghton Miffling Company, 1923, 1827). This is discussed further in Chapter 2.
E. Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor (London, England) 22 September 1799, Issue 1038 Whitehall Evening Post (London, England) 7 June 1800, Issue 8249 completely incapable of making decisions and untrustworthy due to the constant changing of his tyrannical whims. Tipu was "an awful example of the instability of human power, unsupported by justice or moderation", his conduct a continued scene of "folly, caprice, and weakness."57 He paid no respect to rank or position, undermined the administration of Mysore, and was under a delusion that the walls of Seringapatam were impregnable. The whole of his conduct therefore "proves him to have been a weak, headstrong, and tyrannical prince... totally unequal to the government of a kingdom, which had been usurped by the hardiness, intrigue, and talents of his father."58 Once again, Tipu was given no credit for being an effective ruler, and was instead characterized as a foppish prince, the very image of a dithering Oriental potentate who acted through the caprice of the moment. He was not only cruel and tyrannical, but also an usurper who was never qualified to govern at all. These attacks on Tipu's suitability as a monarch were new to the Fourth Mysore War, and would have made little sense in the previous conflicts, when Tipu ruled over a large and powerful state. In the aftermath of his death and the Company's occupation of Mysore, they were a means to further undermine Tipu's legacy.
Finally, the General Evening Post produced an extended characterization of the Sultan which demonstrated the mature Tipu Legend, worth quoting at length as a summation of how the Sultan came to be perceived. In a passage entitled "Biographical
Anecdotes of the Late Tippoo Sultaun", the paper offered the following description:
His disposition is naturally cruel: his temper is passionate and revengeful; and he is prone to be abusive; and his worse are false and hypocritical, as suit his purpose.
His policy, thus far differing widely from his father, has been ruinous to his revenues, as well as hurtful to his government. He professes himself Naib to one of the twelve prophets, who, the Mahomedans believe, are yet to come; and he Alexander Beatson. A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun (London: Printed by W. Bulmer and Co, 1800):149 Ibid, 151 persecutes all other casts, forcing numbers to become Musselmen. He is jealous of, and prejudiced against, his father’s favorites; most of whom he has removed from their offices, giving to some lesser appointments. When compared to his father, his understanding and judgment are supposed to be inferior: he is esteemed as good a soldier, but a less skillful general: and he is wanting in that great resource which his father so eminently displayed in all cases of danger. His father discriminated merit, rewarded it liberally, and punished guilt with the utmost rigor of a despot; he gives little encouragement or reward; and he punishes more from the influence of passion and prejudice than from any attention to justice.59 This lengthy account encapsulated the negative imagery built up around Tipu Sultan, with Tipu deficient not only in character, but ineffective and clumsy as a leader as well, one who oppressed his subjects and destroyed his own kingdom through poorly chosen policies and religious bigotry. It was the completely caricatured vision of an Oriental and Islamic despot. With this description, public opinion had come full circle from the young and promising prince of twenty years earlier. The Sultan of these accounts was the sort of tyrannical ruler that the Company was fully justified in warring against to protect the people of southern India from violent depredations. This vision of Tipu - the one promoted by Cornwallis, Wellesley, and the East India Company in general - was the image which would establish itself in the British national consciousness and historical memory. The earlier, alternative representations of Tipu; the criticisms charging that it was the British Company that was truly acting despotically in India; both of these viewpoints died out during the Fourth Mysore War, and would largely be forgotten by future generations.
Faithless and Violent Character Although much of the literature on Tipu Sultan directly referred to him as a tyrant, and used this as a means to undermine his rule and advance in the interests of the East India Company, other sources made similar charges that played upon his supposed role as General Evening Post (London, England) 20 March 1800, Issue 10528 an Oriental despot. One common argument was that Tipu was capricious and untrustworthy, an individual who could not be counted upon to keep his word when it came to treaties and prisoner exchanges. Like a true tyrant, Tipu was willing to break past agreements whenever it suited his needs, making it impossible for Company administrators to trust his word. In practice, this reputation served as an excuse for Company figures to act in aggressive and expansionist fashion in southern India, charging Tipu with breaking the peace and then going to war once again to acquire more territory. For example, as Cornwallis wrote during the negotiations surrounding the 1792 Treaty of Seringapatam, "faithless and violent as Tippoo's character was known to be, I judged it incumbent upon me to be prepared to support by force if it should prove necessary the rights that we had acquired."60 The supposedly untrustworthy nature of Tipu Sultan provided a convenient rationale for the Company to pursue its own invasive designs against Mysore, in this case swallowing up a sizable portion of territory.
The faithless character of Tipu was also employed by British writers through means of a comparison with the superior virtue of the British nation. During the 1790s, this most frequently took the form of a comparison with Lord Cornwallis, who was praised for his humanity and moderation by British observers. Tipu Sultan was portrayed as lacking all of the higher character traits that were present in his British counterpart.
This was another means to justify the Company's invasion and annexation of Mysorean territory, through the symbolic suggestion that British men like Cornwallis were inherently better suited to rule over India than despotic figures like Tipu. The continuous usage of these unflattering comparisons with the Company's Governor Generals indicates Cornwallis to Directors, Conclusion of Treaty with Tipu Sultan 5 April 1792 (p. 91-107) IOR/H/251 p.
that this was another means by which the image of Tippoo the Tyrant helped to reshape popular perceptions of overseas empire.