«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
In the wider popular discourse surrounding the Third Mysore War, Cornwallis was commonly the subject of a direct comparison with Tipu Sultan, providing an example of the superior virtues of the British nation. Cornwallis received an outpouring of popular support when word reached Britain of his victory over Mysore.
expansion of the British power in India, rather than worrying over fears of moral corruption due to Eastern luxury, as had been so common a generation earlier.80 When Cornwallis returned to London in early 1794 after the conclusion of his Governor Generalship in India, he was greeted with a huge public celebration. According to the daily newspapers, "The triumphal entry of Lord Cornwallis on Saturday last into the City of London, bore a great analogy to that of the ceremonial of the Roman Emperor Trajan. All ranks have (without exception) borne testimony to the virtues of the gallant Marquis, and even the exalted approbation of the Sovereign has been added as the climax of applause."81 Cornwallis received the thanks of the East India Company, an annuity of £5000, promotion to the peerage, the aforementioned Freedom of the City, enthusiastic public receptions, and the composition of songs and paintings in his honor. He was the toast of the town, and continued to receive sumptuous dinners in his name weeks after returning to Britain.82 The overwhelming public support for Cornwallis indicated that his treatment of the hostage princes had not damaged his reputation in Britain. Cornwallis' claim that he had been forced into taking the hostage princes due to the faithless character of Tipu was widely accepted in the British metropole. Public commentary specifically praised Cornwallis for his morality and his moderation, traits that Tipu was said to be lacking. The rhetoric that Cornwallis used to justify the war, his argument that it had been fought as a war of liberation to defeat a tyrannical Oriental despot, was met with widespread approval, and became the generally accepted narrative of the conflict.
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.) (1992): 71-73 World (London, England) 7 April 1794, Issue 2270 London Chronicle (London, England) 20 May 1794, Issue 5899 Cornwallis was most often praised for his moderation and justice, which were qualities that were believed to embody the national character. The Governor General had become the anti-Tipu, the figure that represented the sterling morality of the British nation, and the antithesis of the Sultan's faithless and violent character. As Peter Marshall
wrote in his article on the public reception shown to Cornwallis after the war:
The moderation and benevolence which Cornwallis had shown in war was thought to be characteristic of the qualities which he had instilled into British rule of the East India Company's provinces. Thus the British invaded Mysore, not as conquerors but as liberators of the mass of the population from the "tyranny" of Tipu. The annexation of new territories would be an act of benevolence, not of ambition.83 The image of Cornwallis as the virtuous and patriotic soldier-hero could therefore replace that of the avaricious nabobs of the previous decades. The older pessimism and fears of moral corruption could give way to public enthusiasm about expansion of empire. The Mysore Wars and the image of Tipu Sultan were enormously important in providing a foundation for the creation of an imperial culture. This period in the early 1790s was the point at which wars of empire shifted from being perceived as wasteful and morally dubious enterprises carried out for self-enrichment to being perceived as missions of liberation, spreading the blessings of British rule to backwards subject races. Although it is possible to overstate the impact of these changes, this period was nonetheless a decisive breaking point with earlier understandings of overseas empire. The public reception of Cornwallis and the war's victory suggests that pride in Britain's Indian 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.) (1992): 72 empire and the military successes of the Company had become widely accepted elements of British nationalism in a way that had not existed even a decade earlier.84 The War of Liberation against Religious Bigotry Wrapped up in these claims about Tipu's role as an Oriental despot was the increasingly popular belief in the 1790s that Tipu was a poor ruler and a fanatical Muslim.
Tipu was represented as an usurper, the illegitimate conqueror of Mysore who had come to power by following his father's takeover of the proper Hindu ruling family. Tipu's exercise of power took the form of religious bigotry, as he destroyed the Hindu places of worship across his kingdom and forced his predominantly Hindu populace to convert to Islam against their will. Tipu was in fact a weak ruler, it was argued, and the people of Mysore were crying out for the deposition of this tyrant. Tipu's repeated displays of religious prejudice were a sign that he was unfit to rule. This new theme was an expansion upon the earlier treatment of the captured British prisoners; it was suggested that Tipu was guilty of excessive cruelties against not only a small number of soldiers, but the entire populace of Mysore. In the same fashion that British captives had been forced to convert to Islam against their will, the whole kingdom was being terrorized by the religious obsessions of their Sultan, demanded to convert to his religion or face death and destruction.
These claims were almost nonexistent during the Second Mysore War of the 1780s, but became commonplace during the later Mysore Wars of the 1790s. They provided the justification for a war of liberation against Mysore, with the East India Company portraying itself as the protector of freedom and religious liberty. When viewed from this perspective, the Company's military was no longer fighting aggressive wars of Ibid, 72-73 expansion overseas, but acting to protect the people of southern India from the religious excesses and cruel abuses of a fanatical Muslim tyrant. Tipu and his father Haider had furthermore been base upstarts of low birth to begin with, allowing the Company to portray itself as the champions of the traditional ruling family of Mysore. This liberation rhetoric, based upon "freeing" the people of southern India from Tipu's rule, became increasingly commonplace in the realm of British popular discourse in the last decade of the eighteenth century. It provided a much more positive lens through which the British public could view their overseas empire in India, one which did not conflict with British notions of liberty. Indeed, it could now be argued that the Company had shed its earlier role of avaricious nabobery and was working as a moral force for progress, trying its best to remove Islamic zealots like Tipu Sultan from power.
In the Third Mysore War (1790-92), Tipu Sultan was portrayed for the first time as a religious bigot and a fanatical Muslim, a characterization which had been absent from the previous conflict. This was an attractive claim for the East India Company to make as a means of driving a barrier between Tipu and the people of Mysore, a region with a Hindu population approaching 90% of the total.85 The Malabar coastal region of Tipu’s domains also had a sizeable Christian minority population (about 25%), which served as another potentially disaffected group. There was little doubt that Tipu himself was a devout practitioner of his Islamic faith; Alexander Dirom wrote in his history of the war that Tipu announced himself to be the restorer of the faith, and “sent forth proclamations inviting all true Mussulmen to join his standard,” adding the enthusiasm of Kenneth Jones. Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990): 154 religion to traditional military discipline.86 Modern historians have concurred with these sentiments, and Tipu has frequently been celebrated as a pan-Islamic hero.87 However, British accounts supportive of the Company went a step further during the war, charging Tipu with being not just a faithful Muslim, but a fanatical one.
Elaborating upon the conversion ceremonies faced by the captured British prisoners, writers portrayed Tipu as a bigoted ruler who forced his subjects to adopt his religion or perish by the sword. These measures were proof of Tipu's despotic nature, and his unpopularity with his own subjects. An early account from the Calcutta Public Advertiser in 1785 suggested that the “arbitrary and oppressive system of government adopted by the tyrant, more and more alienates the heart of his people,” while lamenting the unfortunate British captives who suffered under “cruelties daily exercised on them.”88 This was an example of how the supposedly tyrannical behavior of Tipu towards the captured British prisoners was expanded in contemporary accounts to include the rest of the people of Mysore as well.
The Anglo-Indian newspapers anticipated these charges of religious bigotry before the Third Mysore War's outbreak, with the Calcutta Gazette writing as early as 1789 about Tipu, “whose barbarity in circumcising, and persecution of all casts to turn Proselytes to the Mahometan faith is well known, and who whilst professing the strongest attachment and friendship, is meditating Tortures, murders, oppression.”89 The Calcutta Chronicle concurred in this characterization, describing Tipu at one point as driven into virtual insanity by the onset of religious fervor: “Extraordinary reports prevail of the Major Alexander Dirom. A Narrative of the Campaign in India (1793): 250 See Fazl Ahmad. Sultan Tippu (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1959, 1975) for one such hagiographic example.
India Gazette or Calcutta Public Advertiser (Calcutta, India) 28 November 1785, Issue 263 Calcutta Gazette or Oriental Advertiser (Calcutta, India) 8 October 1789, Issue 293 turbulent ambition of Tippoo being exalted into a sort of visionary madness; and of his assuming, in his holy paroxysms, more Mahometan merit than Mahomet himself.”90 The same paper claimed that Tipu boasted of creating 40,000 Muslims in one day, in another reference to the conversion ceremonies that aroused so much anxiety.
A frequent charge leveled against Tipu (and occasionally his father Haider) was the claim that they destroyed Hindu temples and drove out or murdered the Brahmins who had presided over them. A Company minute from 1792 wrote how the feudal and Brahminical system of Malabar was destroyed, with the upper-caste Hindus driven from the region.91 Lt. Roderick Mackenzie’s history of the war included a scene describing the
destruction of a Hindu temple:
Here, neither respect, for the grandeur and antiquity of their temples, nor veneration of the sacred rites of a religion whose origin no time records, proved any protection for the persons or property, even of the first Brahmins. Their pagodas, breached with sacrilegious cannon, were forcibly entered, their altars defiled, their valuables seized, their dwellings reduced to ashes, and the devastation was rendered still more horrible by the scattered remains of men, women, and children, mangled beneath a murderous sword, whetted on the bloody Koran. To contrast this scene of barbarism, even with the most detestable that ever disgraced protestant invasions, would stamp the cruelty of Mahomedan superstition and strongly mark the superior humanity of the christian persuasion.92 Tipu's destruction of Hindu temples was another example of his tyrannical status as a ruler, and the cruelties that he practiced against his own subjects. Mackenzie suggested in the final lines that the Hindu population would be better ruled by the “superior humanity” of Christians, an obvious hint that he hoped Mysore would be placed under Company rule.