«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
Wellesley and the Company's Response Wellesley had become the new Governor General of India in the spring of 1798, replacing the unassuming (and non-aristocrat) John Shore. Unlike his predecessor, Wellesley was a vain and ambitious man with dreams of expanding British power over the rest of the Indian subcontinent.43 He was well known as an exceedingly difficult man to work alongside, and he traveled to India determined to eliminate all French influence from the courts of the native rulers.44 Wellesley made little attempt to turn a profit for the Company, and was contemptuous of the mercantile Directors on Leadenhall Street. By the end of his seven years as Governor General (1798-1805), Wellesley had conducted so many wars against Indian princes and run up such large debts in the process that he was forcibly recalled home to Britain. Wellesley embodied the increasing shift of the East India Company's administration away from earlier generations of merchants and towards an aristocratic and militaristic command. His official portrait painted by Robert Home while serving as Governor General in 1801 [Figure 1] suggested the growing imperial style of rule practiced by Wellesley in India, far removed from the more humble portrayal C. A. Bayly. Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988): 81 William Dalrymple.
Robert Home. Richard Colley Wellesley, 2nd Lord Mornington (1801). Stratfield Saye House See Chapter 1 Edward Ingram (ed.) Two Views of British India: The Private Correspondence of Mr. Dundas and Lord Wellesley, 1798-1801 (Bath: Adams & Dart, 1969): 4 See for example Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England) 3 August 1798, Issue 6387, with an article on how "Buonaparte and His Expedition" would link up with Tipu in India.
These restrictions from London greatly influenced Wellesley's response to the situation, and dictated how he represented events in the wider public sphere. Wellesley had immediately determined to attack Mysore regardless of the actual threat posed by Tipu, seeing the Malartic Proclamation as ample justification for his war of conquest, but it was very important to portray his actions in the proper context. Wellesley took pains to insist that Tipu Sultan was responsible for the conflict, and that the Company's preemptive invasion of Mysore was in fact a defensive act, one within the restrictions laid down by Parliament and the Board of Control. Wellesley was familiar with the controversy surrounding the beginning of the previous Third Mysore War (1790-92), not least because he had been a member of Parliament and argued in defense of the Company during the debates engendered by that war.49 Wellesley had spoken out against the political Opposition at that time, insisting that their criticisms had caused a negative effect on the war in India, undermining the confidence of the Company soldiers and elevating the fortunes of Tipu. As Governor General, Wellesley took steps to play up Tipu's supposed alliance with France, placing all of the blame for the fighting on the shoulders of Tippoo the Tyrant, and continued to insist that his own invasion was a purely defensive act. In these efforts, Wellesley would be extremely successful, helping to ensure that there was virtually no criticism of the Fourth Mysore War in the metropole, and persuading the British public to accept his interpretation of events wholesale.
Wellesley first received word of the Malartic Proclamation in June 1798, while he was traveling through Cape Colony en route to India. The Governor General immediately determined that he would go to war with Tipu upon receiving this information, even before his arrival in India. In his letter of 21 November 1798 to the Court of Directors, Evening Mail (London, England) 14 March 1792, Issue 477. See Chapter 4.
Wellesley wrote that he issued "final orders" for war to the governments of Madras and Bombay as far back as 20 June, calling their armies into the field against Tipu.50 All of the later correspondences between Wellesley and Tipu Sultan were therefore little more than a sham, designed to stall for time until the Company's military was prepared to invade the country of Mysore. The decision for war had already been made.
It is difficult to say how Wellesley's actions would have been interpreted in the British metropole if no further events had taken place; it would not have been out of the question for a sizable political opposition to emerge in the same fashion as in the previous war against Tipu. However, Wellesley was able to take advantage of unrelated military events taking place in Europe to exaggerate the threat posed by Tipu's supposed French alliance, and suggest that British India was in far more danger than actually existed. Fear of the contemporary French expedition to Egypt became associated in the mind of the British public with fears of Tipu Sultan overrunning the Company's territory, and ultimately provided a carte blanche for Wellesley's own preemptive invasion. In point of fact, Wellesley was well aware that the French soldiers in Egypt had no possibility of reaching India, but he led the Company's Court of Directors and the British public to believe the opposite.
At roughly the same time that Wellesley left Britain en route to India, a French naval expedition left the port of Toulon in late May 1798. This would become Napoleon's ill-fated Egyptian expedition, but the destination of this force was not immediately known at the time, and there was much anxiety in London that the French were planning to land in India. Henry Dundas learned of the departure of the French expedition on 1 East India Company. Copies and Extracts of Advices to and from India, Relative to the Cause, Progress and Successful Termination of the War with the Late Tippoo Sultaun (London: Printed for the Proprietors of East India Stock, 1977, 1800). Governor General to the Court of Directors, 21 November 1798: 6 June 1798, and shortly thereafter received word of the Malartic Proclamation on 14 June, which appeared to confirm the worst fears of a French invasion of India.51 The Company's Court of Directors responded by sending a letter to Wellesley on 18 June warning him of the possibility of the French landing in India. The Directors wrote that it was "highly improbable" that Tipu would have entered into an alliance with the French without making preparations for war ahead of time; therefore, if it were proven that he was building up for war, "it would be neither prudent nor politic to wait for actual hostilities on his part" and "to take the most immediate and most decisive measures to carry our arms into the enemy's country."52 However, at the same time the Directors also warned Wellesley to use his utmost discretion, so that the Company would not be involved in another war in India without the most inevitable necessity. The Directors and the Board of Control were therefore authorizing Wellesley to use force, and even invade Mysore if necessary, but only on the grounds of stopping a French invasion force from landing there. If it could not be proven that Tipu was planning for war, then Wellesley was advised to use his discretion and refrain from further conflict. For the Company's policy makers in London, it was the French who were the threat, not Tipu Sultan.53 News of the French landing in Egypt did not arrive in India until 18 October, and due to this late date, the news would not factor into the Governor General's consideration of the situation at all. Wellesley had already issued to Madras and Bombay his "final orders" for war against Tipu as far back as 20 June, months before any word arrived that Edward Ingram (ed.) Two Views of British India: The Private Correspondence of Mr. Dundas and Lord Wellesley, 1798-1801 (1969): 4 East India Company. Copies and Extracts of Advices to and from India (1977, 1800) Court of Directors to the Governor General, 18 July 1798 Ibid, Court of Directors to the Governor General, 18 July 1798 the French were in Egypt.54 Wellesley also learned of Admiral Nelson's destruction of the French fleet only two weeks after hearing the initial news of its landing in Egypt, on 31 October, and therefore long before war with Tipu broke out, he knew that Napoleon's force had no prospect of making its way to India. All of this information about events taking place in the Mediterranean had little bearing on the situation in India because Wellesley had long been committed to war with Mysore, ever since the early summer when he initially heard of the Malartic Proclamation. In a later letter to the Directors, Wellesley restated that he made his decision for war in June 1798, and added: "I have no hesitation in declaring, that my original resolution was (if circumstances would have admitted) to have attacked the Sultaun instantly, and on both sides of his dominions, for the purpose of defeating his hostile preparations, and of anticipating their declared object."55 He was prevented from doing so only due to the poor state of the Company's army, and the lack of supplies for a campaign at that time. The next six months were therefore a stalling period to build up the Company forces for war, as Wellesley readily admitted in his dispatches back to Dundas.
In order to defend his aggressive policy, Wellesley was preoccupied with finding enough local Indian justification for attacking Tipu. All throughout 1798 and 1799, Wellesley had to write to the Court of Directors as if Tipu were about to attack the Company, when in fact the Company was preparing to attack him. It was necessary to suggest great provocation, because when the war was fought the Company's military would immediately go onto the offensive into Mysore. 56 The war could only be Ibid, Governor General to the Court of Directors, 21 November 1798: 6 Ibid, Governor General to the Court of Directors, 20 March 1799: 25 Edward Ingram (ed.) Two Views of British India: The Private Correspondence of Mr. Dundas and Lord Wellesley, 1798-1801 (1969): 4-5 characterized as defensive in nature if Tipu had provided enough provocation to justify a doctrine of pre-emptive invasion. This necessitated emphasizing the familiar themes of the Tipu Legend, in which the Sultan was envisioned as a duplicitous and untrustworthy negotiator in his correspondences with the Governor General, and exaggerating the threat posed by the connection to France.
The narrative of the war written by Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Beatson, Wellesley's aide-de-camp, provided an example of how these negotiations were rationalized. Writing on the situation in 1798, Beatson contended, "Although the Governor General deemed it his duty, at this period, to call the armies into the field... his Lordship's views and expectations were all devoted to the preservation of peace; which there was no prospect of securing, than by a state of forward preparation for war."57 Passages such as these neatly reversed the burden of culpability, placing responsibility for the conflict onto the Sultan. In truth, Wellesley would be negotiating with Tipu in bad faith during their exchange of letters, having already determined upon going to war regardless of Tipu's response. The Sultan's reputation would once again be deployed here as a means of justifying aggression overseas and making it palatable to British audiences at home.
Wellesley's early letters to Tipu in the summer of 1798 were cordial and made no mention of the Malartic Proclamation or his plans for war, confining the discussion instead to minor issues such as a border dispute in the district of Wynaad.58 Strangely, the French were not discussed in these letters at all, given that the "alliance" with France was Alexander Beatson. A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun (London: Printed by W. Bulmer and Co, 1800): 49 East India Company. Copies and Extracts of Advices to and from India (1977, 1800). Governor General to Tipu Sultan, 14 June 1798: xxi-xxiii the alleged justification for going to war later. After receiving word of Admiral Nelson's victory over the French fleet, Wellesley wrote to Tipu on 4 November 1798 to taunt him with the destruction of his supposed allies. After outlining the details of Nelson's triumph and heaping scorn upon the French ("the general enemy of mankind"), Wellesley concluded by stating how "confident from the union and attachment subsisting between us, that this intelligence will afford you sincere satisfaction, I could not deny myself the pleasure of communicating it."59 The last line was an obvious taunting jibe directed at Tipu. What makes the message so interesting was the context in which it was delivered;
this was the first letter Wellesley had sent to Tipu since 7 August, and that message had not mentioned France at all. This exchange provided further evidence that Napoleon's expedition to Egypt was not a motivating factor in Wellesley's decision to go to war, but rather used as a pretext to justify the decision afterwards.