«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
105-06, 140-147 As far back as 1621, Thomas Mun had written A Discourse of Trade from England unto the East Indies to defend the Company from print culture attacks, insisting that the India trade enriched the nation rather than causing its poverty due to a drain of specie.35 In the late seventeenth century, East India Company Director Josiah Child frequently wrote pamphlets under the pseudonym of Philopatris to defend the Company and its trade, arguing that the India trade was more valuable to the English nation than any other trade, that the Company was deserving of its official monopoly status, and so on.36 As an influential Director who determined much of the Company’s policy in this period, Child’s engagement with print culture reinforced the notion that the Company’s leaders believed in the importance of creating a positive public image. These authors and others like them were successful in maintaining political support for the Company’s status quo, although skepticism about the accumulation of wealth and political influence amongst Company shareholders remained a longstanding criticism.
Old fears and anxieties associated with the Company received new life in the middle of the eighteenth century with the advent of the nabobs, and the widespread perception that the Company’s acquisition of territory was leading to tyrannical and despotic rule in India. Fears and pessimism about the future of Britain’s empire overseas were still commonplace during this period, prior to the military successes of the 1790s, and this pessimism was reflected in many of the writings from the period. The belief that the British Empire was on its last legs, and that the overseas colonial project was doomed to end in failure, was a widespread sentiment in the British metropole in the late Thomas Mun. A Discourse of Trade from England unto the East Indies (London: Printed by Nicholas Oakes, 1621)
See for example Josiah Child [Philopatris]. A Treatise Concerning the East India Trade. (London:
Printed by J.R. for the Honorable East India Company, 1681) eighteenth century. Robert Orme, the official historiographer of the East India Company, chose to conclude his meticulous account of the trading corporation's history with the events transpiring in 1762, despite possessing copious materials with which to extend the narrative further in time.37 Orme had serious misgivings about the level of corruption that existed in the Company’s rule over Bengal, and had witnessed firsthand the graft and self-aggrandizement of Company servants during his own visit to Madras. Orme predicted in 1767, “Parliament in less than two years will ring with declamation against the Plunderers of the East… It is these cursed presents which stop my History. Why should I be doomed to commemorate the ignominy of my countrymen… which has accompanied every event since the first of April 1757 [since Plassey].”38 Instead of continuing the history of the Company after its acquisition of the diwani for Bengal, Orme chose instead to write a history of the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, seeing no future in the current exploits of his countrymen.
Nor was Orme alone in his beliefs, as Alexander Dow and William Bolts, both disaffected Company servants, went on to write critical histories of the East India Company during the 1770s, singling out Robert Clive in particular for vilification.39 These historical accounts provide a sharp contrast to the celebratory accounts of the Company’s rise to power which would emerge in the early nineteenth century, penned by enthusiastic empire-builders such as John Malcolm and Mark Wilks.40 Orme and Dow Robert Orme. A History of Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan, from the Year 1745 (London: Printed for John Nourse, 1763, 1773, 1775, 1780, 1803) Robert Orme. Quoted in Nicholas Dirks. The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of Imperial Britain (2006): 247
Alexander Dow. The History of Hindostan: Translated from the Persian, 3rd Edition, Vol. 1 (London:
Printed by John Murray, 1792, 1770, 1768). See Chapter 3 for further discussion of Dow.
John Malcolm. Sketch of the Political History of India from the Introduction of Mr. Pitt's Bill, A.D. 1784, to the Present Date (London: W. Miller, 1811); Mark Wilks. Historical Sketches of the South of India, in an Attempt to Trace the History of Mysoor (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1810-1817) believed that the Company’s overseas empire was on the verge of disintegrating, not on the cusp of massive military and economic expansion. As referenced above, Samuel Foote's contemporary play The Nabob echoed the same ephemeral sentiments about the future, with the main character Mathew Mite told near the end of the play how "possessions arising from plunder very rarely are permanent; we every day see what has been treacherously and rapaciously gained, as profusely and full as rapidly squandered."41 This advice could have applied equally to the ill-gotten gains of the nabobs, or the stability of their overseas territorial conquests in India.
One of the best ways to demonstrate the skepticism of this period about the future of Britain’s overseas holdings comes in the form of an extraordinary cartoon from 1783 by W.P. Carey. The satirical engraving, entitled "So fickle is the mind of Royalty!", depicts Charles Fox, Lord North, and Edmund Burke falling from a pedestal on which King George III sits; in other words, a literal falling from favor [Figure 4].42 Its nominal purpose was a commentary on the party politics of the day, with Carey suggesting that Fox would likely return to power again soon. However, the cartoon also drew a striking contrast between the reign of George II (pre-1760) on the left side of the image, with the reign of George III on the right side. Underneath a dignified bust of the previous king, crowned with a laurel wreath to signify victory, the text on George II’s pedestal reads “The Father of his People. British Meridian A.D. 1760. Just & necessary wars with natural & perfidious enemies; crownd with victory & success… Great Britain look’d up to as the Arbitress of Europe; fear’d by all the world; Sovereign of the Sea and possessed
Samuel Foote. The Nabob (1773). Quoted in Philip Lawson and Jim Phillips. “‘Our Execrable Banditti’:
Perceptions of Nabobs in Mid-Eighteenth Century Britain” in Albion XVI (1984): 237-38 W. P. Carey. “To day disliked, and yet perhaps tomorrow again in favour. So fickle is the mind of R_y_l_ty!” [royalty] Published shortly after 18 December 1783. Image #6291 in Mary Dorothy George.
Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (1978) of a greater extent of Territory than Rome in the zenith of her glory!!!”43 On the right side of the cartoon, George III cavalierly tips over the pedestal upon which Fox, North, and Burke had been standing, with a far less flattering inscription characterizing his
The Father of his – Children! British Sunset 1783… Stamp Act. Boston Port Bill.
American Remonstrance disregarded… Cornwallis taken. Drawn Battles at sea, in the East & West Indies, Europe & Am. Lose the Empire of the Sea… Hyder Ally defeats Col. Baily. Anarchy, Confusion & Destruction in East In[dies]. War concludes with an exhausted Treasury, distracted Councils, divided Senate decay’d Fleet, Enfeebled Army, discontented People & America not only for ever, ever lost to England, but thrown into the arms of our natural enemies!!! Oh!!!
Oh!!! unhappy ___!!!44 As if these obvious contrasts were not enough, Carey added a winged picture of Fame, who blows a trumpet with the word “Good” on it towards George II, and one proclaiming “disgrace!! How lost!!! How fallen!!” towards George III.
While Carey’s cartoon was of course satirical and not intended to be taken completely seriously, it nonetheless demonstrated how this was a period in which pessimism about the future of the British presence overseas was a very real phenomenon.
The contrast between the reigns of the two monarchs suggested that many Britons had lost an earlier sense of cultural confidence, and believed that their role in the world was in decline. Indeed, many eighteenth century intellectuals remained doubtful about their country’s achievements, and skeptical of the European political and social order in general; it was not until the developments of the early nineteenth century (industrialization, the ending of the slave trade, the extension of the franchise, etc.) that Carey, “So fickle is the mind of Royalty!” Carey, “So fickle is the mind of Royalty!” British thinkers would begin to feel confident that their political culture was superior to the rest of the world.45 When Carey produced this cartoon in 1783, there was no way to know that the future would bring unparalleled successes for the Company, resulting in his gloomy depiction of imperial decay and the belief (sounding strange in retrospect) that Britain’s empire had fallen past its “meridian” and had reached its “sunset”. The mention of Haider Ali and the disastrous defeat of Colonel Baillie in Carey’s cartoon anticipated the role that the Mysore Wars would later play in reshaping popular opinion of the East India Company’s role overseas. The figure of Tipu Sultan was enormously important in shifting British attitudes about their empire; it was increasingly argued during the last two decades of the 18th century that the true tyrants were Indian princes like Tipu, and not the servants of the East India Company. British victories in the Mysore Wars replaced the cultural pessimism regarding empire with a newly strident celebration of imperial grandeur, one which the public was happy to embrace. The triumphs over Tipu opened up a path for the former nabobs to be reintegrated into the British nation, popularly embraced as heroic figures who embodied the finest qualities of humanity and virtue.
This was a gradual process that took place over the course of the Mysore Wars, and even within the Company itself opinion was not always universal with regards to Tipu, but in the end it had a transformative effect on British perceptions of their empire, and established itself as the historical memory for future generations.
Sankar Muthu. Enlightenment Against Empire. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); Jennifer Pitts. A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005): 14-15 Tipu's Role within Company Politics Over the course of the last two decades of the eighteenth century, popular attitudes about the Company's overseas servants began to change. Increasingly there was less mention of the despotic actions of the nabobs, and more focus upon the supposed Oriental despotism of Indian rulers such as Tipu Sultan. This debate played out within the East India Company's own ranks, as well as amongst the broader British public. The competing tug of war between different elements within the Company, and their disagreements over how to view Tipu Sultan, indicated the shifting opinion about the role of the East India Company in these decades.
means a monolithic entity. There existed real disagreements between individuals and between the different presidencies over how to approach the 1784 Treaty of Mangalore, and how to view Tipu Sultan. In particular, the Governor General and Council in Bengal disagreed sharply with the conduct of the Second Mysore War carried out by the Madras Presidency, leading to a fascinating series of exchanges between the two groups which played out over the course of 1783 and 1784. The Bengal Council criticized the early peace feelers sent out by the Madras government to Tipu Sultan, stating in official correspondences, "It would be very painful to our feelings to give you our real Sentiments on the Propriety as well as Policy of the Steps you have taken to solicit Peace with Tippoo."46 The Bengal Council found it unseemly that representatives of the Company sent to Tipu "should be directed to beg [their] Commiseration to our People who are Prisoners in his Hands."47 The Madras Council shot back their own response, Bengal Council to Madras Council 11 March 1783 (p.811-22) IOR/H/179 p. 817 Ibid, 817 defending their actions on the grounds that their negotiations had been necessary to separate Tipu from his French allies.48 The Madras Presidency had been coming under criticism for their handling of the war effort, due to the poor military record of the Company forces in southern India during the conflict. In the process of defending their own position, the Madras council would advocate a very different view of Tipu than that promoted by the Governor General in Bengal, one which reflected divergent strands of popular opinion within the East India Company’s ranks.
General Norman Macleod wrote to the Bombay Council to argue against what he saw as an unseemly rush to make peace, believing that Tipu was hard pressed by the Marathas and would agree to handsome terms, if the Company was firm in its demands.