«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
1791.91 His caricature depicted British soldiers floating downhill in a river, which originated from the urination of a rearing horse labeled "Tippoo’s Horse." The soldiers (one carrying a royal standard) are swept away by the raging waters, which are entitled "Heavy Rains or Monsoon Tip! O!" An officer in the foreground of the print has a speech bubble mocking the retreat, stating "They cant call the being driven thus a defeat – its only a retreat to return with more vigour – or, why not a compleat Victory – for they don’t follow us…." The message of the print was an obvious satire on the military setbacks encountered by the Company's armies. Dent was also mocking the Company's attempts to claim that the retreat from Seringapatam was a victory of some kind, which had been advanced by some of the conservative London newspapers.92 Dent's print indicated how some segments of popular opinion continued to be skeptical of the Company's claims, reflecting the same currents of thought that backed the political Opposition and criticized the conduct of the war.
Dent's cartoon was popular enough to spawn immediate imitators, as was common in eighteenth century print culture. Rival cartoonist Gillray printed "The Coming-On of the Monsoons; or, The Retreat from Seringapatam" the very next day on 6 W. Dent. "Rare News from India, or, Things going on swimmingly in the East." Published by W. Dent, 5 December 1791. Image #7928 in Mary Dorothy George. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (1978) See for example the St. James’ Chronicle and the British Evening Post (London, England) 1 December 1791, Issue 4788 December 1791 [Figure 5].93 The print shows Cornwallis retreating backwards, riding an ass, with an expression of sheer terror on his face. Tipu Sultan stands on top of a fortress, grinning maniacally, as cannons fire and he urinates onto the retreating British soldiers. A long reference to Falstaff is printed beneath the action, further satirizing Cornwallis. A similar caricature was printed by I. Cruikshank a little over a week later, depicting Tipu on the back of a horse galloping past Cornwallis on elephant-back, with Tipu and his horse launching a spray of excretion onto Cornwallis.94 Although this was a very crudely drawn print, it demonstrates the popularity of Tipu in public discourse at this point in time, with three different cartoonists creating different renditions of the same event; their repeated use of the urination motif also shows how the artists were in communication with one another as part of a larger print culture.
The cartoons from Gillray and Cruikshank demonstrated the same themes as the one published by Dent, mocking the retreat from Seringapatam and serving as much harsher attacks on the person of Cornwallis. These criticisms of the Governor General would later disappear in the wake of Cornwallis' triumphant victory, but during the course of the war itself, popular opinion was still very much divided on the Third Mysore War, and dubious about the morality of the Company engaging in Indian wars of conquest. Tipu Sultan was not seen in a particularly negative light in these representations of the conflict, and if anything appeared as a rather jovial figure, laughing at the incompetence of his Company opponents.
Gillray. "The Coming-On of the Monsoons; or, The Retreat from Seringapatam." Published by H.
Humphrey, 6 December 1791. Image #7929 in Mary Dorothy George. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (1978) I. Cruikshank. "How to Gain a Compleat Victory, and Say, You got Safe out of the Enemy’s Reach."
Published by S.W. Fores, 15 December 1791. Image #7932 in Mary Dorothy George. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (1978) The retreat from Seringapatam in 1791 was the low point of the war for the Company's military fortunes, and as such produced the most critical response from contemporary print culture. In addition to the cartoons mocking the onset of the monsoon with urination references, this period also produced an extraordinary companion piece to an earlier cartoon entitled "Good News from Madras." Once again bearing the same title, this time the cartoonist's print shows not a Company victory, but a British observer gazing on the triumph of Tipu Sultan over the British in India [Figure 6].95 Tipu sits atop an elephant, receiving the sword of Cornwallis as part of an official surrender. British corpses, broken cannons, and dead oxen lay strewn about the ground next to the Sultan's elephant. On the fortress in the background, the British flag is being lowered to the ground, with Tipu's own flag flying atop it. Beneath the scene, the caption for the print reads "Lord Cornwallis defeated, Tippoo Sultan Triumphant, and the British Oppressors extirpated from India."
This was a truly extraordinary cartoon, especially when compared to its companion piece from earlier in the war, which predicted an easy victory for the Company over Tipu. While the print may possibly have been intended as a satire against the political Opposition (hinting that they wanted the Company to lose the war), it could just as easily be argued that the cartoon's message was intended as written, showing a realistic depiction of a British defeat. Tipu is not caricatured in the print, and he and his men appear in rather dignified positions. If anything, H.W.'s print was created in support of the war's critics, flipping the script around to argue that it was the Company who was acting tyrannically in India, much as John Hippesley and Philip Francis had been arguing H.W. "Good News from Madras." Unknown printer, December 1791. Image #7939 in Mary Dorothy George. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (1978) in Parliament. The print from W.H. served as a plebian strand of protest against the East India Company, mocking their claims by styling the British themselves as “oppressors."
While the outcome of the war was in doubt, this was a very real current of public opinion.
The subject of the war's morality continued to be raised in Parliament fully two years after the war's outbreak, with the same Opposition figures insisting that the East India Company and its servants were acting in despotic fashion in India. During a meeting of Parliament on 9 February 1792, Major Thomas Maitland once again reopened the question of how the conflict had begun, drawing the conclusion that "Tippoo had committed no offense, by breach of existing treaties, to justify an offensive alliance."
Maitland then turned the standard narrative of Tipu and Cornwallis on its head by reversing their roles: "It had been much the fashion of late to launch forth into praises of Lord Cornwallis, and reprobation of his antagonist.. he could not but think that the one [Cornwallis] had acted with all the rashness and precipitancy of an Eastern tyrant; the native Prince had assumed the moderation of a British Governor."96 Maitland's speech helped make explicit the way in which image of Cornwallis was deployed as a shining contrast to the image of the Sultan. His line of criticism undercut the stainless reputation of Cornwallis that the East India Company tried to promote, and called to mind the old nabob imagery of the British as "Eastern tyrants" once again. This would have been a cutting remark because of the underlying fear of Britons being morally compromised by Indian luxury, which played such a major role in the reaction against the nabobs.97 The notion that Cornwallis had been corrupted by exercise of absolute power, and was acting Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England) 8 February 1792, Issue 5401 Tillman Nechtman. Nabobs: Empire and Identity in Eighteenth Century Britain (2010): 16 in the fashion of an Oriental despot, touched on a number of subjects that made Britons very uncomfortable about their growing empire.
In a further Commons debate held on 15 March, Maitland once again argued that the war "was directly contrary to every principle of policy; that it was carried out on the principle of robbery, and that it would be attended with the ruin of our settlements in India."98 Maitland charged the Company with plundering the territory of the Nawab of Arcot (Britain's longtime ally in the Carnatic) in order to pay for the war's expenses, and went on to propose a resolution of censure against Cornwallis. In Cornwallis' defense, Richard Wellesley, MP for Windsor, stated that Cornwallis sought to act through pacific measures, but was prevented from doing so by the "violent conduct of Tippoo Sultan," and "his cruelties and enmity to the English nation."99 Wellesley further argued that Maitland's resolutions would have a pernicious effect on the war in India, undermining the confidence of the Company soldiers and elevating the fortunes of Tipu. Wellesley also wanted the debate itself to remain secret, to avoid affecting morale in India. When Maitland's resolution was put to a vote, it was soundly defeated by a margin of 159 to 43, indicating once again that the opinions of Maitland were not those of the majority.
Nevertheless, the war itself remained a controversial and even unpopular subject in public opinion; a letter printed in Woodfall's Register from the same period mentioned in passing how "the war in India appears to be condemned in England."100 It is important to establish this more nuanced perspective of the Mysore Wars in the realm of popular discourse, in light of how they were portrayed in later decades.
Evening Mail (London, England) 14 March 1792, Issue 477 Ibid. Wellesley would later became Governor General of India from 1798-1805, and led the final Mysore War against Tipu Sultan. This is discussed further in Chapter 5.
Diary or Woodfall’s Register (London, England) 4 February 1792, Issue 896 All of this earlier debate vanished overnight in the aftermath of Cornwallis' victory, and the arrival in the metropole of news regarding the 1792 Treaty of Seringapatam. Cornwallis immediately became a national hero, receiving the thanks of the East India Company, an annuity of £5000, promotion to the peerage, the Freedom of the City of London, enthusiastic public receptions, and the composition of songs and paintings in his honor.101 The House of Commons voted on 19 December 1792 to offer its official congratulations to Cornwallis, the resolution stating: "That the thanks of this House be given to the most Noble Charles Marquis Cornwallis, Knight of the most Noble Order of the Garter, for his able, gallant, and meritorious conduct during the late war in India, by which an honourable and advantageous peace has been obtained."102 It is perhaps noteworthy that the Commons felt compelled to add that the war had resulted in an "honorable peace", which remained in dispute by certain members of the Opposition.
Philip Francis spoke on the proposed resolution, and was effusive in his praise for Cornwallis, but Francis indicated his continued disapproval for the treaty itself, which he thought "inconsistent with the principles of the war." Francis also condemned the acquisition of further territory for the Company, which he did not feel was consistent with the original stated goals of the war.103 His objections were brushed aside, and the vote of thanks passed without a division, indicating overwhelming approval. This exchange demonstrated how noted Opposition figures like Francis were forced to tiptoe around the subject of the war, as Francis carefully stated that he supported Cornwallis but 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.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992) Evening Mail (London, England) 19 December 1792, Issue 597 Ibid didn't feel that the peace concluded was a just one. Cornwallis himself was untouchably popular, leaving critics of the Company in a very weak political position at this juncture.
The peace treaty itself was not quite so universally popular as Cornwallis himself, although a strong majority of the public gave their approval. Most of the debate surrounding the treaty questioned whether or not Cornwallis should have continued the war until he achieved the complete destruction of Tipu; hardly anyone outside of Francis and a few extremists felt that the treaty itself had been unjust. This shift in the locus of debate - no longer about the war itself, but about how far it should have been prosecuted indicated how successful the Company had been in persuading popular opinion onto its side. The Company's Indian wars were no longer considered beyond the pale of morality, and it was rather a question of how successful and profitable they could be.
The conservative London newspapers certainly had no issues with the peace settlement, with the Public Advertiser writing on how "the brilliant success of the gallant Cornwallis, has so completely dazzled and confused the false Prophets, that all is at present silence in their discomfited corps." The mention of false prophets was a swipe at the Whig Opposition, who were now ripe for mocking over their earlier criticism of the fighting: "Those who condemned the War last year, who said it could not be so speedily ended, and who at the same time urged the impolicy of annihilating Tippoo, will surely be unable to open their patriotic mouths against Lord Cornwallis – for he has, to indulge them, speedily ended the war, and he had not annihilated, but contented himself by completely crippling their friend."104 The Evening Mail reassured its readers that the expenses of the war would not be as large as imagined, due to contributions from the Marathas and the Nizam. Furthermore, the Evening Mail argued, the treaty concluded by Public Advertiser (London, England) 4 July 1792, Issue 18095 Emphasis in the original.