«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
All of these themes about Tipu, whether they focused upon his role as an usurper, his supposed religious fanaticism, or his cruelties towards his own populace, were attacks upon Tipu's legitimacy as a ruler. They suggested that Tipu was unfit to exercise dominion over Mysore, and that the superior humanity of the British provided the Company with a moral justification to exert its own stewardship over the people instead.
Arguments of a similar nature were applied not only to Tipu's sovereignty towards the populace of Mysore, his symbolic children as a ruler, but towards his own flesh and blood children as well. These viewpoints appeared during the hostage princes controversy, in which the captivity of Tipu's children was employed as a means to argue for Tipu's despotic outlook regarding his own progeny.
The Hostages Princes: Tipu the Uncaring Father One of the most famous and enduring images to emerge from the Mysore Wars was the spectacle of the hostage princes, the two young sons of Tipu Sultan who were delivered over to Cornwallis as part of the 1792 Treaty of Seringapatam. The hostage princes were a subject of great discussion in the British metropole, appearing for many months in the newspaper coverage of Indian affairs, and they were used as the subject matter for a series of popular paintings and plays. Although there were some British commentators who were uncomfortable with the abduction of these two young sons of Tipu, the majority of the discussion surrounding the hostage princes fell back upon the themes of tyranny and despotism that so often accompanied the Sultan. Tipu's apparent willingness to deliver up his sons for diplomatic purposes was another sign of his debased character, proof that he lacked the humanity of the British. It was an indication of his status as an Oriental despot: Tipu was an uncaring father who used his own children as pawns in realpolitik schemes.
This characterization was unkind to Tipu and not at all truthful, as he had pleaded with Cornwallis not to take away his beloved family members.110 This lack of factual veracity did nothing to prevent the despotic portrayal of Tipu from enjoying a great deal of popular success, however. Cornwallis again emerged as the virtuous counterexample to the supposed depravity of Tipu Sultan. British authors argued that the Governor General would provide a superior moral example to the young sons, who would benefit from their exposure to a more civilized upbringing. These sentiments were depicted and popularized in some of the artwork of the period, which spread the imagery of the Mysore Wars to a wider audience. This focus on the humanity of Cornwallis and his kind treatment of the hostage princes was a means of deflecting attention away from the uncomfortable fact that the East India Company was acting in a morally questionable manner. Under Cornwallis, the Company had initiated a war of conquest, annexed a great deal of territory, demanded a huge indemnity of Mysore, and taken two young boys as John Kennaway to Cornwallis 24 May 1792, Negotiations with Tipu Sultan IOR/H/254 20 February hostages until the further terms of the treaty were carried out. The hostage princes, aged eight and five years old, would spend the next two years as the captives of the Company honored and well treated captives, but still captives nonetheless. Only by pointing to the faithless and depraved character of Tipu Sultan could it be argued that the taking of the hostage princes was anything other than a petty measure of revenge, extracted from Tipu in return for the British prisoners that he had held a decade earlier. The spectacle of the hostage princes, and the need for the British public to depict their circumstances in a positive light, pointed at many of the anxieties about empire which were still lurking underneath the celebration of Cornwallis' military successes.
During the negotiations surrounding the 1792 Treaty of Seringapatam, Cornwallis had taken the unorthodox measure of demanding two sons of Tipu Sultan as hostages to help guarantee the peace. Written into the treaty itself was the following clause: "Until the due performance of the three foregoing articles [territorial exchange, indemnity payment, and prisoner release] two of the sons of the said Tippoo Sultaun shall be detained as hostages."111 This was a very unusual treaty article; although the taking of hostages to safeguard the peace was common during the eighteenth century, these individuals would typically constitute military or political advisors of a ruler, adults who were part of the administration of the polity in question. Tipu had asked in this circumstance, for example, that some of his vakils (advisors) take the place of the hostage princes, which was rejected by Cornwallis.112 The best explanation for these unusual circumstances was the desire amongst the soldiers and administrators of the East India Cornwallis to Tippoo Sultaun, Definitive Treaty of Peace Article 2, 17 March 1792 (p.312-25) IOR/H/252. See Chapter 1.
John Kennaway to Cornwallis 24 May 1792, Negotiations with Tipu Sultan IOR/H/254 22 February 1792 p. 55-56 Company to obtain a measure of revenge on Tipu for the British captives of the Second Mysore War. Since Tipu had taken the sons of Britain as prisoners in the previous decade, his own sons would be forfeit to the Company in the wake of its victory in the Third Mysore War. While this was never stated explicitly in the Company's records, it seems a reasonable interpretations of the events, given that much of the Anglo-Indian discussion surrounding Tipu focused on themes of vengeance for the humiliating losses of the Company a decade earlier.113 Cornwallis' decision to take the two sons of Tipu as hostages in the peace treaty generated a tremendous amount of public interest and commentary. The scene in which Tipu's ambassador delivered over the two princes to Cornwallis became one of the most iconic images of the Mysore Wars. Major Dirom was an eyewitness to the event, and
recorded a lengthy description in his history of the conflict:
Lord Cornwallis, attended by his staff, and some of the principal officers of the army, met the Princes at the door of his large tent as they dismounted from the elephants; and, after embracing them, led them in, one in each hand, to the tent;
the eldest, Abdul Kalick, was about ten, the youngest, Mooza-ud-Deen, about eight years of age. When they were seated on each side of Lord Cornwallis, Gullam Ally, the head vakeel, addressed his Lordship as follows. "These children were this morning the sons of the Sultan my master; their situation is now changed, and they must look up to your Lordship as their father."
Lord Cornwallis, who had received the boys as if they had been his own sons, anxiously assured the vakeel and the young Princes themselves, that every attention possible would be shewn to them, and the greatest care taken of their persons. Their little faces brightened up; the scene became highly interesting; and not only their attendants, but all the spectators were delighted to see that any fears they might have harboured were removed, and that they would soon be reconciled to their change of situation, and to their new friends.114 See for example the Calcutta Chronicle and General Advertiser (Calcutta, India) 2 October 1788, Issue 141, which called for this chance "to punish the Misore tyrant" for the cruelties visited on the British prisoners in the Second Mysore War. It was far from the only such source with this theme.
Major Alexander Dirom. A Narrative of the Campaign in India (1793): 228-30 Dirom recorded a glowing account of the encounter, with Cornwallis' empathy overcoming the initial reluctance of the two young princes and relieving all fears over their treatment. Everything about this description was designed to reassure the reader that it was a tender scene, and not a hostage-taking ceremony. Note how happy the princes were made to seem about their captivity, and that they would be reconciled soon to their "new friends." Like most other British written accounts or painted portrayals of this scene, Dirom overestimated the age of the hostage princes by several years, which was likely an attempt to downplay the extremely young age of the actual boys (ages eight and five) and render the occasion more palatable to the wider British public.
The General Evening Post of London provided a slightly different version of the same event, in printing a letter from another anonymous eyewitness, one that captured the uncertainty of the moment: "The spectacle [of the princes] was grand and affecting, and impressed all present with feelings not easily delineated. It was a proud scene to the conquerors, and most humiliating to the vanquished. An awful silence for a moment prevailed; and every one seem absorbed in the tumult of ideas which the occasion naturally called forth."115 Afterwards, the newspaper related the same particulars involving Ghulam Ali and Cornwallis, but the mention of the "awful silence" that prevailed for a moment was nonetheless significant. The use of the word "awful" was intended here in its alternate eighteenth century connotation, meaning full of awe, but it also pointed to the anxiety and discomfort which surrounded this entire enterprise. Much as the Company would have liked to pretend that this was a happy scene, it was clearly designed by Cornwallis to be a humiliation for Tipu, the fulfillment of a revenge fantasy in retaliation for his treatment of British captives. Despite the effort made to present the General Evening Post (London, England) 24 July 1792, Issue 9178 event in a positive light, it had the potential to undercut the civilized and reformed image that the Company was trying to promote about itself, suggesting that Cornwallis was himself capable of behaving like a capricious Oriental despot. This was the antithesis of the patriotic and virtuous imagining of Cornwallis that the East India Company wanted to advertise.
The result of this awkward situation was a continued series of paternalistic reports, detailing to the British public how merrily the hostage princes were fitting into their new surroundings as "guests" hosted by the Oakley family. Reports from the Anglo-Indian community of Madras made their way back to London and were printed publicly to satisfy curiosity about the princes. A letter from Madras dated 13 September 1792 described how the princes were being hosted by the high society of the city; taken to church, brought to a dinner hosted by the Oakleys, and so on. The readers were reassured how Lady Oakley "seems much pleased with the vivacity and pleasantry of the younger and fairer prince, who shews a great share of good humour, and a great disposition to please, being of a mild and gentle nature."116 Another report painted a congenial family portrait of the princes entering the house of the Oakley family: "His Lordship [Cornwallis] took each of the Princes by the hand upon entering the room, when Lady Oakley rose, and each of them made a low bow... When Sir Charles Oakley’s infant son was brought into the room, they most tenderly embraced him, kissing him in the warmest raptures."117 These stories made it sound as though Tipu's sons were off visiting family friends; there was no mention of how the hostage princes had essentially been kidnapped and held for ransom money as part of the peace treaty.
Bee or Literary Intelligencer (London, England) 31 April 1793, Issue 126, p. 312-13 Diary or Woodfall’s Register (London, England) 8 January 1793, Issue 1186 The princes continued to attract public interest for months and even years after the conclusion of the war itself, with further stories of their activities passing from India to Britain. A gentleman returning from India reassured the public that "the children of Tippoo who are hostages... have from acquaintance and kind treatment become extremely attached to the English."118 The tenor of these repeated messages, insisting again and again how pleased the hostages princes were with their situation, suggested that it was very important for the public both in India and in Britain to view the situation in the proper light of paternalistic benevolence. The messages also hinted at the psychology of empire, in which the act of hostage-taking became reimagined as a benevolent act. When viewed from this perspective, Cornwallis and the rest of the Anglo-Indian community hosting the two boys were doing them a favor, educating them to become proper gentlemen and removing them from the corrupting influence of their tyrannical father. In this fashion, the actions of Cornwallis anticipated nineteenth century justifications of empire that operated according to the ethos of the civilizing mission. The hostage princes symbolically stood for a childlike and backwards India, one which required the upbringing of a paternalistic British father. With the passage of time, it was argued, the young princes would come to prefer the benevolent rulership of Cornwallis to the "savagery" of their despotic father.
When it finally came time to return the princes back to their father, two years after the start of their captivity in 1794, the accounts from India made it seem as though they had little desire to leave British society. Captain Doveton was charged with the return of
the princes, and provided this account of the ceremony: