«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
The central driving plot element of the play concerns Mite's relationship with the Oldham family, members of the gentry who have fallen on hard financial times. Mite demands that the Oldhams marry their young daughter Sophy to him in exchange for paying off their extensive debts. Mite makes it clear that love has nothing to do with this match, as he is only interested in obtaining further social status from the pairing; Sophy is compared to an adornment for the head of Mite's table, a fine piece of furniture, and an antique bust or picture.20 At the conclusion of the play, the Oldham family bands together to reject Mite's imperious designs, sending him and his lawyer (named "Rapine") away for good. Thomas Oldham concludes the play with a statement repudiating the actions of the East India Company: "For, however praiseworthy the spirit of adventure may be, whoever keeps his post, and does his duty at home, will be found to render his country best service at last!"21 Foote's play therefore not only reinforced and popularized the image of the greedy and unrefined nabob, it also suggested that the East India Company and its servants were acting against the national interest. True Britons were those who did their duty at home, as represented by the traditional gentry of the Oldham family. The illreputed nabobs were a blight on society, corrupting the old pillars of the establishment through the temptation of their profligate spending.
Ibid, 36 Ibid, 71 Foote's satirical play was far from an isolated criticism of the nabob phenomenon;
his character Lady Oldham, in disparaging Matthew Mite, even states plainly "I only echo the voice of the public", and Mite rejoins with "I am sorry, madam, to see one of your fashion, concur in the common cry of the times."22 There was a very real visceral reaction to the nabobs in this period, as the British public rejected their intrusion into polite society. One way to illustrate this reaction comes in the form of illustrations themselves, by looking at some of the cartoons and other satirical prints produced during the 1770s and 1780s to address the subject of the nabobs. The demand for caricatures of the nabobs was so great in this period that certain printing establishments, such as the one run by William Holland, specialized in turning out cartoons about the East India Company.23 Principal themes of these caricatures included the venality, dishonesty, and corruption among Company servants, and the fashions and faux pas committed by the nabobs as social misanthropes. Many of these images made use of the political language of tyranny and despotism, suggesting that the Company and the nabobs that it generated were responsible for bringing Oriental despotism home with them to Britain.24 An easy target for these prints was the wealth amassed by the nabobs in India, and the corrupt means with which they had obtained it. One such cartoon from 1773 was engraved for the Oxford Magazine, and entitled "The Nabobs Clive and Colebrooke Brought to Account" [Figure 1].25 It depicted two well-known nabobs of the day (Clive Ibid, 65-66 Pratapaditya Pal and Vidya Dehejia. From Merchants to Emperors: British Artists and India 1757-1930 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986): 55-56 See Chapter 3 Author unknown. "The Present Times, or the Nabobs Cl__ve and C__l__ke Brought to Account."
Engraved for the Oxford Magazine, 1 May 1773. Image #5111 in Mary Dorothy George. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Musuem, Vol. 5-7. (London: British Museum Publications, 1978). I am indebted to George's guide for help in interpreting the satirical prints of the period.
and Colebrooke) kneeling before Lord North in supplication. They are both handing him bags of money; North states, “I know the vileness of your deeds! But I must have more hush Money.” Colebrooke has a tag on him reading “Job in the Alley £30,000” while Clive entices with “You shall have the tenth of my Jaghire”. Clive and Colebrooke are both chained to a demon in the foreground, while in the background, a blindfolded Justice tries to strike them down, but is held off by another member of the ministry, Lord Bute.
The message of this cartoon was fairly obvious, charging nabobs like Clive with bribing the unpopular North ministry to avoid prosecution for their unethical acts in India. The demonic imagery associated with the two nabobs, and the figure of Justice poised to strike them down, together serve as good signs of the general scorn with which the popular press treated Company servants in this period.
A decade later in 1783, the cartoonist Gillray produced a similar print entitled "The Nabob Rumbled" [Figure 2], a play on words poking fun at the aforementioned Thomas Rumbold, who was under investigation by Parliament at the time for corruption charges related to his time as Governor of Madras.26 The print depicted Rumbold vomiting a stream of guineas (golden coins) into a chamber pot held by Henry Dundas, soon to become the head of the East India Company's Board of Control. He is supported by a man in military dress, his son Captain Rumbold, who is saying “Ah! these damn’d Scotch Pills will kill poor Dad,” the mention of Scottish nationality serving as another reference to Dundas. In the background, a man (Captain Rumbold again) sits atop a huge sack labeled Roupees while riding an elephant, attended by an Indian servant. This particular print visibly displayed the wealth that nabobs such as Rumbold had Gillray. "The Nabob Rumbled or a Lord Advocate’s Amusement." Published by E. D’Achery, 21 January 1783. Image #6169 in Mary Dorothy George. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (1978) accumulated overseas, and hinted at the foul means used to obtain it by having the nabob expel it physically from the body through vomiting. The dialogue between Rumbold's son and his Indian servant suggested that their only decent course of action would be to quit Britain, which would be the best way for Rumbold to demonstrate good manners.
Other prints attacked the subject of electoral corruption, playing upon fears that the nabobs were subverting the British political system through the control of tainted parliamentary seats. The Shaftesbury election of 1774 became notorious as a particularly rotten piece of electoral fraud, as two different nabobs (Francis Sykes and Thomas Rumbold again) both competed to see who could successfully bribe the electorate. Not only were both men caught purchasing votes and called to appear before Parliament, but in addition the magistrates of the town were also implicated in the scheme.27 The public outcry from this latest exercise in nabob corruption spawned further satirical prints. One anonymous author produced "The Shaftesbury Election or the Humors of Punch", a very large print showing several different rooms in a house, each room depicting a different type of electoral fraud, with an overall theme of bribing voters in the election.28 The central room portayed an Indian scene: a corpulent man sits on a canopied howdah on an elephant; he is crowned and holds a sceptre; money-bags are piled on both sides of the howdah; a mahout sits on the animal’s neck. The elephant appears to be picking up money-bags from the ground with its trunk; an Indian in a turban who lies across these bags is being beaten and kicked by a European.29 The image suggested that the nabobs had themselves become Oriental despots, corrupted by their wealth and subverted by T.H.B. Oldfield. The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, 1816) Author unknown. "The Shaftesbury Election or the Humors of Punch" Mezzotint, circa 1776. Image #5341 in Mary Dorothy George. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (1978) Mary Dorothy George. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, Vol. 5 (1978): 224 foreign political systems. The use of the elephant imagery made clear that the nabobs had become part of an alien, non-British system of exercising authority. The assault on the Indian man also raised another long-standing criticism of the nabobs, reminding the viewer that they had obtained their fortunes through the exploitation of the Indian masses.
Cruelty and even savage behavior were often attributed to the Company servants in this period, and was reflected in how they were represented in the popular media of the day.
This is not to suggest that all of the depictions of the nabobs were entirely negative; popular representations of any subject are notoriously difficult to categorize, and opinion on the Company and its servants was far from monolithic. Cartoons and satirical prints by their very nature were designed to poke fun at the popular subjects of the period, and the nabobs were an easy target for their mocking. For their part, the nabobs used their newfound wealth in an attempt to purchase respectability through the commissioning of Indian-themed works of art, which would decorate their expensive new country estates. The nouveau riche administrators, civil servants, and officers in the Company's armies frequently commissioned portraits or bought engravings to decorate their homes, creating a thriving new market in the late eighteenth century for Indianthemed art.30 Regardless of their backgrounds prior to arriving in the subcontinent, these men desired paintings that could depict the place where they had achieved success or made their fortune. As a result, the nabobs often had their portraits painted in Indian attire or in Indian settings, such as the 1765 portrait of Captain John Foote by Joshua Reynolds [Figure 3].31 Not only does Foote appear in non-European dress, he stands in the regal Pratapaditya Pal and Vidya Dehejia. From Merchants to Emperors: British Artists and India 1757-1930 (1986): 24 Joshua Reynolds. Captain John Foote (1765). York City Art Gallery.
pose of an Indian nawab, with sword in hand and a jeweled turban on his head.32 Aside from his skin color and facial features, there is nothing to differentiate Foote in this painting from a wealthy Indian prince.
Foote's image appeared to be the very embodiment of the nabob stereotype, a Company servant who was corrupted by the wealth and luxury of the Orient, and he was far from the only individual to be portrayed in this manner. The nabob desire for landscapes depicting Indian scenery and trading posts was similarly an apparent rejection of the conventional neoclassical art favored by the British gentry, another way in which they stood out from conventional polite society. By having themselves painted in scenes of their Indian triumphs, the nabobs had hoped to impress upon others a sense of their moral responsibility; for the Company, commissioned artwork was "the purchased opportunity for good public relations."33 But popular opinion remained skeptical about the nabobs prior to the 1790s, and about the East India Company more generally. Opinion differed on how to view the growing overseas empire; was it a threatening sign of moral corruption, or a valuable addition to the nation? The anxieties and opportunities of empire were both apparent in these nabob portraits, the rich wealth brought back from the East along with the potential for foreign contamination. These fears contributed to a number of serious critiques of the Company's overseas role during this period, and led to widespread feelings of pessimism about the future of the empire. It was entirely possible that the nabobs were laying the seeds for the imminent destruction of the British Empire, at the very same time that they were creating it.
Hermione De Almeida and George Gilpin. Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect of India (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005): 104 Ibid, 108 Criticisms of the East India Company for the threat that it posed to the nation were nothing new in the middle of the eighteenth century, and had long antecedents dating back to its founding in 1600. From an early date, the Company's servants had been willing to address these anxieties directly by engaging in print culture debates with their detractors. These exchanges made clear the fears and pessimism that were commonly associated with the Company's actions overseas. In particular, the doubts associated with empire that were exhibited by contemporaries are striking to modern observers. The poor track record of governance overseas in India and America during the 1770s and 1780s offered little confidence at that point that the British Empire would stand the test of time.
The East India Company had always been subject to criticism in the realm of print culture from its inception. During the early periods of its existence, the Company had often tried to use official censorship and regulation of print to eliminate its opposition;
however, the continued proliferation of print culture made this tactic increasingly difficult to enforce during the seventeenth century, and essentially impossible by the middle of the eighteenth century. Instead, the Company responded by wading into the realm of popular discourse, printing its own counterarguments to defend against attacks on its profitable trade and chartered monopoly status.34 Print produced by the Company was often created with a parliamentary audience in mind, and could be intensely political in nature. The Company’s willingness to engage in the rough and tumble of popular discourse via print culture demonstrated the importance of maintaining a positive image in public opinion.
From the early days of the Company, the Directors (and later the Board of Control) made the Company’s image an important priority.
Miles Ogborn. "The Discourse of Trade: Print, Politics, and the Company in England" in Indian Ink:
Script, Print, and the Making of the East India Company (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007):