«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
All throughout the summer of 1798, these fears about an alliance between Tipu and the French combined to generate an atmosphere of crisis and uncertainty over the fate of British India. However, as the months passed without any news arriving of an attack by Tipu against the Company's possessions, the tension gradually dissipated. A November article in the Observer stated that the latest accounts from India were of the most pacifistic tendency, and that Tipu had not manifested the least disposition to hostility, but was rather trying to cultivate the friendship of the Madras government.93 The article was meant to reassure the public that conflict could be avoided in India, and assist in easing the tension that had built up surrounding the security of the Company's Indian possessions.
At the same time that Wellesley was launching his invasion in India, in February and March of 1799, the public perception in London was that the threat to India had been removed, and the Company's prospects for peace in the immediate future were excellent.
It was widely believed that the failure of the French expeditionary force meant that Tipu would back down from conflict, ensuring a pacifistic solution to the crisis. In other words, the public perception of the situation in the metropole was exactly the opposite of the events taking place in southern India. The General Evening Post reported in February 1799 that although it was clear an agreement of some kind existed between Tipu and the French, there was no longer any apprehension of danger from the French Egyptian force, and therefore it was probable that Tipu's preparations for war would cease.95 There was no suggestion from this source that the Company's military might decide to go on the offensive of their own accord, nor any indication that this was what the newspaper's authors desired. The war scare with Tipu back in Britain, caused by word of the Malartic General Evening Post (London, England) 7 February 1799, Issue 10351 Proclamation, was largely finished before the actual war itself began in India. After Nelson's victory over the French fleet in August 1798, the British public no longer appeared to be worried overmuch about the fate of India. The advocates for pre-emptive war came almost entirely from the ranks of the Company's Indian servants and the Anglo-Indian community overseas; there was little support for further Indian wars in Britain prior to the news of Wellesley's invasion.
When news of the outbreak of the Fourth Mysore War did arrive from India, the newspaper coverage was entirely conducted from within the parameters of the Tipu Legend. Wellesley's interpretation of the situation, in which the Company had been forced into a defensive war to safeguard the territories and peoples under its protection, was the only one offered into the public sphere of print culture. The Times reported on 4 June 1799 that although Tipu at first appeared disposed to measures of conciliation, he was all the while making preparations for war, and stalling for time to await the arrival of the French force. Affairs had now been brought to a crisis and Tipu had "thrown off the mask", as he marshaled some 100,000 well-disciplined troops while not troubling to conceal his designs.96 From the way in which the article was written, it appeared as though Tipu Sultan were the one initiating conflict and conducting an invasion of the Company's territory, rather than the opposite. The Sun wrote that there was every reason to expect success in India, "if the British Army should be compelled by the ingratitude and injustice of Tippoo to take the field against him," once again reversing the situation and shifting culpability for war onto the Sultan.97 This editorial comment was noteworthy not only for maintaining the fiction that the Company forces acted defensively, but also Report from Bombay, 21 March 1799 (anonymous author). Times (London, England) 4 June 1799, Issue Sun (London, England) 4 July 1799, Issue 2116 for the way in which the Company's military in India was now called the “British Army” and was no longer viewed as a group of adventurers and plunderers, as had been the case earlier. Newspaper coverage of the Second Mysore War in the early 1780s had rarely made this association between the nation and the Company's military forces. This was another sign that the Company was successfully co-opting the patriotic symbols of the British nation and associating them with itself. In the earlier period of the nabobs, the fear had been that the Company and its servants would corrupt the morals of the nation, not embody them in the struggle against tyranny.
These villainous characterizations were nothing new, and had been used extensively by the Company during the previous Third Mysore War a decade earlier.
What made the Fourth Mysore War so different from the previous two conflicts, however, was the lack of any interest shown by the print culture of the public sphere in supporting Tipu or criticizing the actions taken by the Company. There were no commentators writing to defend Tipu, or to argue that he did not warrant this aggression, which was nothing less than a seismic shift from the earlier two Mysore wars. If anything, Tipu had done much more to justify a military response by the Company in the previous war, when he had carried out an attack on a native state (Travancore) allied with the Company.98 But while the morality of the Third Mysore War had been heavily debated in Parliament and turned into a political issue split along Whig and Tory lines, the ongoing war against revolutionary France meant that Wellesley's interpretation of the Fourth Mysore War would go almost completely unchallenged. There was no significant criticism of the Company in the newspapers at all, likely due to contemporary wartime patriotism, and virtually nothing written in defense of Tipu's character. The closest thing to praise See Chapter 4 granted to the Sultan was a backhanded compliment paid by the Courier and Evening Gazette, which claimed that Tipu was a wise and intelligent prince, but only in order to make a comparison with Zeman Shah of Afghanistan, who was said to be even worse than Tipu.99 The complete lack of an alternative narrative of the Fourth Mysore War in the public sphere meant that Wellesley's and the Company's discourse on the war would go uncontested, presenting itself as a hegemonic worldview of events.
News of the capture of Seringapatam and death of Tipu reached Britain in early September 1799, bringing word of the Company's total victory. Since news of the outbreak of war had only arrived in July, this conflict was extremely short in duration compared to the previous Mysore wars, which unquestionably contributed to the universally positive reception with which the news was greeted. The announcement of victory came mere weeks after the outbreak of the conflict, and it was easy for all parties to share in the fruits of such an overwhelming and painless success. The public reaction was one of wild celebration and excitement, mixed with a heavy dose of cultural arrogance and feeling of British superiority over the Indian people. The long anxiety over Tipu had finally been resolved, and the Company’s territories were considered to be permanently secured.
The Evening Mail wrote that the Mysore country had been reduced by the "British armies" (once again associating the Company with the British nation) in little more than three months, resulting in the death of "our perfidious and inveterate enemy" Tipu Sultan.
It was claimed that Tipu had shown no military talents in the latest war, and the capture of Seringapatam would result in the flow of "incalculable" resources into the Company's Courier and Evening Gazette (London, England) 6 August 1799, Issue 2172 treasury.100 Lloyd's Evening Post exaggerated the wealth captured inside the fort to £3 million, and happily proclaimed: "Thus at length are all fears removed, and every danger extinguished, which might have threatened our mighty Empire in the East; and thus has perished the perfidious Enemy, who was to stretch out his hand to Buonaparte at Suez."101 It was evident from these accounts that Tipu had remained a source of anxiety in Britain, even after the losses suffered in the previous war. And despite the near-total disappearance of the prisoners issue in this final conflict, many of the London newspapers took an unseemly delight in announcing the death of Tipu, who was perceived as having received his just desserts for the treatment of British captives earlier.
For example, the Star proclaimed, "It is with the most heartfelt and sincere satisfaction that we congratulate our readers on the Capture of Seringapatam, and the Death of that inveterate and most invidious of all our enemies in India, Tippoo Saib!"102 The reputation of Tipu as a tyrant continued to influence his public perception in Britain, and became even more dominant as a result of the latest war.103 In a clever public relations move, the Company had many of Tipu's private papers distributed to the press and printed in the daily newspapers. This included documents containing some of Tipu's wild fantasies on what he hoped to achieve in the event of defeating the Company’s forces, which were never intended to be publicly distributed, but were used nonetheless to further justify the war that had taken place. The St. James Chronicle expressed indignation on the behalf of the British public, to hear of an Evening Mail (London, England) 13 September 1799, Issue not listed Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England) 13 September 1799, Issue 6561 Star (London, England) 13 September 1799, Issue 3439 There was one brief account of prisoner atrocities from the Fourth Mysore War, in which Tipu had a dozen captured British soldiers executed. It received very little attention from the British public and disappeared quickly from public view. See Alexander Beatson. A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun (1800): 167-68. In the London newspapers, see St. James’ Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England) 10 December 1799, Issue 6550 "Asiatick Despot" dividing up the Company's territory and ports alongside the French.104 Once again the British public was asked to feel empathy with the Company, as a group embodying them in the struggle against a foreign Indian tyrant. The London papers further printed in October 1799 some of the damning correspondence between Tipu and the French governor at Mauritius, without mentioning the context in which they were written to put them in the most unflattering light possible. Wellesley had forwarded these letters to London in order to support his interpretation of the events that had transpired, and he seems to have been highly successful in promoting his view of the conflict. For example, the Morning Chronicle, an Opposition newspaper which had been highly critical of the Third Mysore War, summarized the causes of the Fourth Mysore War in
the following passage:
From the Governor General’s letters, it was evident that Tippoo had mediated the most perfidious designs against the British power in India early in 1798; that he had sent Ambassadors to the Mauritius to treat with the French and engage them to co operate with him in hostilities against us. That upon remonstrances strongly urged by the Government of Bengal, he temporized by every means that treachery could suggest, and made plausible excuses for his very questionable conduct, utterly denying his treachery, and asserting the most ardent attachment to the British interests. That at length his guilt was so unquestionable, that the Governor General thought it his duty to take the field against him...105 These sentiments were typical of the public mood in London. This interpretation placed all of the blame on Tipu, and did not consider the notion that the Company forces were aggressively invading a neighbor that had taken no military action towards them. At no point in time did the Morning Chronicle question the necessity of the war, or invoke Parliament's dictum for the Company to avoid engaging in wars of conquest in India. For St. James’ Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England) 19 September 1799, Issue 6515 Morning Chronicle (London, England) 26 September 1799, Issue 9467 a paper which had spent much ink decrying the injustices of the previous conflict, this was a dramatic shift in its perception of the Company.