«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
The subsequent Third Mysore War (1790-92) was contested in a situation far more auspicious for the Company. Governor General Charles Cornwallis was able to secure alliances with the other principal states in southern India, the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad, which joined together with the Company to combat the rising power of Mysore. Tipu’s French allies from the previous war also made no appearance in this conflict, due to their preoccupation with the nascent French Revolution. Despite occasional military setbacks, over the course of three years of campaigning Cornwallis was able to carry out a systematic reduction of the fortified positions across Tipu’s kingdom, and carry the war into the heart of Mysore. When his capital of Seringapatam was on the verge of capture, Tipu was forced to sue for an unhappy peace. The 1792 Treaty of Seringapatam stripped Tipu of much of his territory, forced him to pay a large indemnity, and insisted on the surrender of two of his sons over to Cornwallis as hostages to guarantee the peace. This was the decisive breakthrough that the Company had been so desperate to achieve, enormously strengthening its position in the Carnatic and minimizing the danger posed by Tipu, if not removing it entirely.
Tipu’s defeat and death were symbolic of the ascension of the Company to the status of dominant power in southern India. The popular perception in the metropole was that British prisoners would never again be terrorized and placed at the mercy of a foreign ruler. In the span of two decades, the Company had gone from one political entity among many, struggling to avoid being swept away, to a near-hegemonic actor able to do as it pleased in southern India. British representations of Tipu Sultan and the Mysore Wars were responsible for helping to shift attitudes about empire in these final decades of the eighteenth century, with the events of these conflicts providing the context for a newfound support of the imperial project.
The First (1767-69) and Second (1780-84) Mysore Wars The East India Company at the time of the Mysore Wars was a complicated entity with a long prior history, and care must be taken not to view it as a monolithic body. The Company in the late eighteenth century was going through a series of structural changes, many of them forced by acts of Parliament in the British metropole, as it adapted to its new role as a territorial sovereign. The Company had traditionally been headed by a group known as the Council of Directors, a mercantile body based in London appointed by the proprietors who owned East India Company stock. Administration of Indian territory was divided into the three Presidency towns of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, each of which possessed its own Governor and Council. In addition, there was also a small British community living in each of the Presidency towns, referred to today as the Anglo-Indian community, which published their own English-language newspapers and engaged in the print culture debates of the period. The governors and their councils of these Presidency towns suffered from chronic disagreements, and their inability to work together often proved to be a major drain on the Company's military resources, as would again be the case during the wars against Tipu Sultan.
In the closing decades of the eighteenth century, this loose and decentralized administrative structure was replaced with a much more authoritarian system of rule, to be exercised by hereditary aristocrats appointed by the British government. The Regulating Act of 1773 established that Parliament had the right to sovereignty over the Company and its territory, as well as the ability to pass legislation overseeing its actions.
It also created the office of a Governor General who would have priority and administrative power over the rest of British India. A further India Bill passed in 1784 created the Board of Control, a political body that included the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State, and four Privy Councilors, establishing that the Company was under the direct control of the British government. Future Governor Generals would be appointed directly by the Crown. The boundaries between the East India Company and the British government were highly nebulous and ill-defined during this period, and led to frequent disagreements between the Directors, the Board of Control, the Governor General, and the individuals Governors and Councils of the Presidency towns. The disputes between these groups are important to keep in mind in order to understand the chronology of the Mysore Wars.2 Conflict between the Company and the kingdom of Mysore took place in southern India over the course of four wars in the second half of the eighteenth century. This period of struggle began in the 1760s and was not resolved until culminating in the complete defeat of Mysore, including the death of its ruler Tipu Sultan, in 1799. The source of the dispute concerned the territory surrounding the presidency town of Madras, known as the Carnatic. This region was the source of contention between four competing powers in this period: the British Company, the kingdom of Mysore, the Maratha polity, and the Nizam of Hyderabad. These were the major territorial powers in southern India during the second half of the eighteenth century; the French also intervened at times to undermine the British, but no longer possessed significant territory of their own in India.
The state of Mysore was ruled at this time by Haider Ali, a Muslim soldier who rose to power from humble origins by overthrowing the previous Hindu ruling dynasty in 1760 through a successful coup d’etat. Haider proved to be a skilled and ruthless military leader, acquitting himself well in a series of wars against the other powers in the region and expanding Mysore’s territory. The rising power of Haider's state of Mysore inevitably drew it into conflict with the other regional powers in southern India. The First Mysore War (1767-69) was a confusing and indecisive series of campaigns, in which both the Marathas and the Nizam switched sides at various points in time, fighting for or against Mysore depending on the circumstances of the moment. In the end, Haider fought the Company to a stalemate that eventually restored the status quo antebellum. The This summary adapted from Philip Lawson. The East India Company: A History (London: Longman, 1993) primary result of the war was the signing of a treaty of mutual defense between the Company and Haider in Madras on 29 March 1769, in which both sides agreed to support the other if attacked. Haider had sought an alliance with the Company to protect Mysore from the Marathas, against whom he would end up fighting in a series of conflicts that lasted throughout the 1770s. Despite the terms of the 1769 peace agreement, the Company failed to honor its pledge to assist Haider against the Marathas in these wars.
The result was a grudge that Haider would hold for the rest of his life, and which would be passed on to his son Tipu Sahib. Haider awaited a chance to renew the struggle with the British Company, and found his opportunity in 1780.3 Unlike the other Mysore Wars, the Second Mysore War (1780-84) was a defensive war for the British Company, one in which it faced a coalition of the other powers in southern India. The war was initiated by Haider Ali, with the assistance of the Marathas, the Nizam, and the French, and can be seen as part of the worldwide conflict generated by the American Revolution. It was a war which the East India Company had no intention of fighting, and was ill-prepared to contest in its opening stages. The conflict grew out of the larger worldwide war taking place between Britain and France; earlier, in 1778, the British Company had initiated hostilities against the remaining French possessions in India. Company forces captured Pondicherry with relative ease, then proceeded to attack the French port of Mahé on the Malabar coast the following year in
1779. This was a contentious location, however, as Mahé was located within Mysorean territory and Company soldiers had to march through Mysore in order to reach the port.
Furthermore, Haider Ali had explicitly told the British that the city was under his 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 protection, and sent forces to contribute to its defense. When the Company attacked and captured Mahé despite this warning, Haider began preparations to enter the war against the British, along with the two other great powers in southern India, the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad. The East India Company would soon find itself in dire straights, at war with the French and all three Indian powers together in confederation.4 Despite this dangerous predicament, the Madras government in charge of the Company’s possessions in southern India remained unconcerned about potential attack from Haider Ali, and took no precautionary steps against the threat of impending attack.
A military observer in Madras wrote in May 1780 that widespread rumors existed of imminent attack from Haider, but considered the reports to be without foundation, due to the “unsuspicious tranquility” of the Madras governing council.5 When word did arrive that Haider had descended the mountainous Ghats from his own kingdom and invaded the Carnatic with an army, “no attention was paid by the people in power to this intelligence, which they treated with contempt.”6 Sir Eyre Coote, who was later appointed to command the Company forces in southern India after a series of military disasters, blamed the situation on poor policy, and rued the folly of unnecessarily creating an enemy of Haider, which was the fault of Company administrators in Madras.7 This combination of Indian powers was extremely dangerous to the Company’s tenuous holdings in the south, and the very poor military performance of the Company’s forces would bear witness to this difficult situation.
Haider and Tipu brought the Mysorean army into the Carnatic during the summer Ibid, Chapter 15, “The Carnatic 1761-84” p. 273-92 Captain Innes Munro. A Narrative of the Military Operations of the Coromandel Coast (London: Printed for the author by T. Bensley, 1789): 97 Norman Macleod to Charles Jenkinson [Madras] 13 October 1780 (p. 543-49) IOR/H/150 p. 545 Eyre Coote to Directors 30 November 1780 (p. 571-600) IOR/H/150 of 1780, and had little difficulty overrunning the territory claimed by the Madras Presidency. Accounts differ on their treatment of the Indian populace during this campaign, with initial sources reporting widespread clemency and leniency, but later British sources accusing the Mysoreans of mass slaughter and cruelty.8 Company forces under the command of General Hector Munro moved to oppose the passage of Haider’s army. On 10 September 1780, Haider managed to isolate and surround a group of 3800 British reinforcements under the command of Colonel William Baillie near the village of Pollilur. According to descriptions of the battle, the grossly outnumbered Company soldiers formed into squares, which were successful at repelling the attacks of Haider’s mostly cavalry force, although they took heavy fire from Haider’s siege guns. At the climax of the engagement, two tumbrils (ammunition carts) were hit by artillery shells and exploded, tearing open huge gaps in the Company squares which the Mysorean cavalry poured through and ended the battle.9 While there is some dispute over whether the tumbrils actually exploded, or if this was simply a convenient excuse for Baillie’s defeat, the facts of the battle are relatively clear, with a smaller Company force overwhelmed and defeated by a much larger Mysorean one.10 In the aftermath of the battle, hundreds of Company soldiers were taken prisoner by Haider and Tipu, where they would spend the remainder of the war in captivity.