«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
Introduction One final connection that contributed to Tipu's villainous reputation in the British popular imagination was his association with the French. Britain and France had been colonial rivals throughout the eighteenth century, and their long-running series of wars played an important role in the creation of a British national identity during this same period.1 Tipu's connection to the French helped to cement his status as an inveterate foe of the British nation, a figure who could never be trusted due to his ties with Britain's longtime enemy. Tipu had been allied with France during the Second Mysore War (1780and worked closely together with French generals and admirals stationed in India, even if their partnership often suffered from poor communication. One of the reasons why Cornwallis had been inclined to fight another war with Tipu in 1790 was due to the inability of France to provide any assistance, with Paris wrapped up in its own revolutionary crisis at the time. Without French military aid, the Third Mysore War (1790-92) had been a striking success for the British East India Company.
This association with France became even more dangerous in the late 1790s, as Tipu was believed to be in league with the French revolutionaries as part of a plot to overthrow the Company's holdings in India. Travelers to Mysore carried back rumors telling how Tipu had founded a Jacobin club in Seringapatam, and placed a liberty cap upon his head.2 The British press mockingly referred to the Sultan as "Citizen Tippoo", Linda Colley. Britons: Forging the Nation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) Proceedings of a Jacobin Club formed at Seringapatam, by the French Soldiers in the Corps commanded by M. Dompard (173-95) Quoted in Official Documents, Relative to the Negotiations Carried on by Tippoo but the situation still held very real fears for the Company. If Tipu had in fact concluded a new alliance with revolutionary France, and if French soldiers could somehow find a way to land in India, then the British Company had reason to be afraid. This formed the justification for Governor General Richard Wellesley's invasion of Mysore that began the Fourth Mysore War in 1799. Wellesley argued that Tipu had entered into an "offensive and defensive alliance" with the French, in violation of the treaty which had ended the previous conflict, and therefore served as a rationale for a new period of conquest.
The reality of the situation was more complex than the British public was led to believe. Tipu had indeed sought assistance from the French after his defeat in the Third Mysore War, but the French colonial government was unable to provide any military aid of substance. Tipu's ambassadors broke off the discussions with the understanding that they had failed to reach a new agreement. However, in the process of negotiation with the French, Tipu's secret plans were publicly announced in a French proclamation calling for volunteers to serve in the Sultan's armies. This foolish decision left Tipu with no alliance of consequence with France, while simultaneously providing the British with ample cause to renew their struggle against Mysore. This association between Tipu and revolutionary France made it even easier for the British public to accept the claim that the East India Company was representing the interests of the British nation overseas, fighting against an Oriental despot who was also in league with Britain's hated enemy. Based on the misleading claim that Tipu had an alliance with France, Wellesley was able to prosecute a pre-emptive invasion of Mysore with virtually no criticism from the British public, in stark contrast to the debate surrounding the previous Mysore Wars of the 1780s and early Sultaun, with the French Nation and Other Foreign States, for Purposes Hostile to the British Nation.
(Calcutta: Printed at the Honorable Company's Press, 1799): 187-88 1790s. Wellesley carefully crafted his correspondences with the Sultan, intending them for open publication at a later date, in such a way as to shift the blame for the conflict onto Tipu, insisting that his own invasion was a defensive and just act. Due to the quick and easy victory over Mysore, and Tipu's connection with revolutionary France, the British populace accepted Wellesley's interpretation of events without question.
In the British metropole, there was little anxiety in 1798 and 1799 about the threat posed by Tipu to the safety of the Company's possessions in India. That fear was directed instead to the potential combination of Tipu together with the French, who inspired public panic far out of proportion to the actual danger that they posed to British India.
Tipu alone no longer inspired the same dread as he had at an earlier date, which was reflected in the near total disappearance of prisoner accounts and captive stories during the Fourth Mysore War. News of Wellesley's invasion came as a surprise to the British public when it arrived in the summer of 1799, but almost before there could be any popular unease about the situation in India, news arrived a few weeks later of the Company's victory and Tipu's defeat. The short and victorious war led to a festive public mood, with widespread celebration over the fall of Mysore and the death of Tipu Sultan.
This was best embodied in the form of "The Storming of Seringapatam", a series of popular paintings and theatre productions designed to capture the moment of victory over the Sultan. These public spectacles were unabashedly militaristic and nationalistic, bringing the Company and its soldiers into the welcoming embrace of British patriotism.
Far from serving as a symbol of moral unease, or potentially polluting the British metropole, the Company had instead become a pillar of the nation, its military exploits serving as an occasion to rally around the flag and sing Rule Britannia.
Ultimately, Tipu's connection to the French was responsible for bringing about his final defeat and death. The Fourth Mysore War of 1799 also provided the breaking point at which alternate, competing viewpoints of Tipu Sultan, and more broadly the East India Company's role in empire building, were pushed aside from the mainstream of public opinion. Through Tipu's association with France, even though the connection was often more imagined than real, the Sultan was effectively depoliticized, a figure forced outside the realm of British politics. By the year 1800, it was no longer acceptable for a political party to defend the actions of Tipu, or to criticize the morality of the Company's actions, as had very much been the case just a decade earlier. It was the same story in British popular print media as well, with the earlier satires and mockery of the Company's servants disappearing from view, to be replaced with the jingoistic celebration of events like the "Storming of Seringapatam". After the Fourth Mysore War, the historical memory of Tipu Sultan and the Mysore Wars had effectively been fixed and ceased to change further. Tipu became remembered by the British as a tyrannical Oriental despot in league with the French, and the Mysore Wars as a justified stance against oppression.
Tipu's association with France was the final key component in understanding this shift in popular opinion over the last two decades of the eighteenth century.
Tipu's "Alliance" with France The connection between Tipu Sultan and the nation of France in the British popular imagination dated back to Tipu's earliest appearance in the Second Mysore War (1780-84). As part of the worldwide conflict generated by the American Revolution, France had earlier declared war on Britain, bringing France's remaining small colonial holdings in India into the war as well. It was the British Company's invasion of the French port of Mahé in 1779, a location which Haider Ali had pledged to protect, which brought Mysore into the conflict in the first place.3 Tipu and his father Haider worked together with the French in a true military alliance for the rest of the Second Mysore War.
There were two French commanders known as Lally and Pimoran advising Haider and Tipu at the Battle of Pollilur in 1780.4 The French Admiral Suffrein had infamously delivered captured British sailors from the ship Hannibal over to Tipu, which became part of the controversy surrounding the prisoners during and after the war.5 Tipu's forces were also joined by his French allies in some of the key events of the conflict, including the siege of Mangalore in 1783.
This partnership with France was fraught with its own problems, however, and the French General Bussy and Tipu were both thoroughly disillusioned with one another by the end of the war for failing to support one another properly.6 When the French government at home signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the French soldiers in India were forced to cease their efforts as well, leaving Tipu's Mysore in an uncomfortable position.
His allies had deserted him at a crucial moment in the war, and this was a major factor in the Company's ability to secure a treaty that preserved the status quo antebellum despite its poor combat record. Tipu was so angry with the French for having forsaken him that he threatened to march an army to Pondicherry, the largest and most important French establishment in India.7 H.H. Dodwell. The Cambridge History of India, Vol. 5: British India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963, 1929) Chapter 15, “The Carnatic 1761-84” p. 273-92. See Chapter 1.
Officer of Colonel Baillie’s Detachment [William Thomson]. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia. (London:
Sold by J. Sewell, 1788, 1789): 162 Captain Innes Munro. A Narrative of the Military Operations of the Coromandel Coast (London: Printed for the author by T. Bensley, 1789): 277-78 Mohibbul Hasan, "The French in the Second Anglo-Mysore War" in Confronting Colonialism: Resistance and Modernization under Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. Irfan Habib (ed.) (London: Anthem, 2002): 44-45 Anonymous author [1798?] Notes on Tipu Sultan (p. 281-470) IOR/H/609 p. 289 Tipu Sultan was widely portrayed in the British popular press as a pawn of the French, who secretly pulled the strings of Indian tyrants like Tipu and encouraged the Sultan's antipathy towards the British Company. Writing in the years following the Second Mysore War, William Thomson described how the coalition of Indian powers that the Company faced during the conflict had been "encouraged by emissaries from France", which had then been confirmed through "military succours from the French islands of Mauritius and Bourbon." This association with France had been "a source of great danger and alarm to our government in Asia", and had led to many of the sufferings of the British prisoners taken during the war.8 A letter written from an anonymous officer stationed in Madras and published in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser discussed how the French continued to encourage Tipu, in "underhand" fashion, to take advantage of the Company's internal disputes by renewing the war, which in the worst case would mean "Great Britain may be adieu to her power in the East."9 From this perspective, Tipu was part of a wider French plot to weaken the British Company and bring it to eventual ruin through endless warring.
The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser wrote in 1785 that popular rumor had Tipu "assisted with ships and military stores in abundance from the several ports of France", while other sources simply stated that Tipu was "surrounded" by the agents of France.10 According to the Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, Tipu Sultan had not only "proved himself a restless, treacherous, inhuman tyrant", but he was also "entirely Officer of Colonel Baillie’s Detachment [William Thomson]. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia. (1789): 1Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (London, England) 10 May 1784, Issue 17288 Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (London, England) 17 October 1785, Issue 3965; General Evening Post (London, England) 12 February 1784, Issue 7796 influenced by French politics", with nearly 900 French soldiers entered into his service.11 This last source from 1784 was particularly noteworthy, as it was one of the first times that Tipu was referred to as a "tyrant" in the British popular press. Tyranny was explicitly connected in this case to the influence of French politics upon Tipu, suggesting that their association together was part of the reason for the negative reputation that grew up around Tipu. Along with the treatment of the captured British prisoners during the Second Mysore War, Tipu's association with France played a major role in shaping the villainous role credited to him in the British popular imagination.
When the Travancore controversy broke out at the start of the Third Mysore War in 1789-90, most British commentators both in India and in the metropole argued that it was a particularly opportune moment to renew the struggle against Tipu, due to the lack of assistance that France could provide.12 The Daily Advertiser of Kingston, Jamaica wrote on how Tipu "unsupported as he must be by France, or any European State, will hardly hazard a rupture with the British Power in India."13 The lack of an alliance with France was seen as the rationale for why Tipu would refuse to take further aggressive action against Travancore. This colonial newspaper reflected contemporary popular opinion in the London press, and was noteworthy in its own right for displaying the public interest in Tipu throughout the wider British Empire.
Tipu had in fact requested assistance from the local French colonial government, only to be turned away. The French would instead observe strict neutrality during the Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (London, England) 21 January 1784, Issue 1009 See Ibrahim Kunju, "Relations Between Travancore and Mysore in the 18th Century" in Confronting
Colonialism: Resistance and Modernization under Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. Irfan Habib (ed.) (London:
Anthem, 2002). This is discussed in more detail in Chapter 1.