«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
Although the news of the victory had been known since mid-September, the East India House on Leadenhall Street did not formally convene for discussion until holding a large meeting of the Directors on 13 November 1799. These proceedings were later published, granting insight into the outlook of the Company's wealthiest stockholders. A Mr. Johnstone spoke and contended that Wellesley's actions had been thoroughly justified by a thesis of circumstance, that India had been in a crisis posed by the French which excused the taking of extraordinary measures. In his view, pre-emptive war was entirely appropriate due to the "great law of self-preservation."106 Johnstone then went on to claim a moral progression for the Company forces, who had been "long denounced to their country as plunderers and oppressors" and yet now had been accepted as part of the British nation, celebrated as patriots and their exploits cheered at home.107 Johnstone's reflections further demonstrated how much the public perception of the Company had changed in the past few decades, a shift which had been greatly influenced by the recurring wars against Tipu Sultan.
As the architect of the victory over Tipu, Wellesley was the recipient of an outpouring of popular acclaim in the British metropole. Although he remained in India as Governor General until 1805, Wellesley was showered with praise and affection from all parts of the political spectrum. The official thanks of the House of Commons was voted to Wellesley on 4 October 1799, after a lengthy speech by Henry Dundas praising his conduct and reiterating many times over the defensive nature of the war: "The East India Company. The Proceedings at the General Court at the East India house, on Wednesday, November 13, 1799. Debates at East India House Series. (London: J. Debrett, 1799): 5-6 Ibid, 9 propositions established by those papers were, that the war was inevitable, and that every exertion had been made to avoid hostilities with the late Tippoo Sultaun..."108 The thanks of the House were passed unanimously ("nemine contradicente"), or without need for a division on the vote, another indication of the shift in opinion since the last Mysore War.
A similar vote of thanks was championed in the House of Lords by Grenville, and passed in the same session of 4 October 1799.
One of the results of the conflict was that Tipu had been effectively depoliticized, no longer the subject of the partisan politics of the day as in the 1790-92 period. The role of the French had unquestionably been key to this process. It was no longer possible for members of the political opposition to sympathize with the Sultan and condemn the immorality of the Company's overseas servants; instead, the full body politic had united around the Company's military forces, as part of the struggle against France, leaving no room for alternate interpretations of Tippoo the Tyrant. On the few occasions when the Opposition chose to attack the conduct of the government, they now endorsed the proCompany stance regarding India, while criticizing the larger conduct of the war against France in Europe. For example, when Whig politician Charles Grey spoke out against the government in a Commons debate on 27 November, he stated he that viewed the war against France in Europe in the most disastrous light, and that it had caused unparalleled calamity to the country, comparing Britain to a sick man dying with every symptom of health. However, Grey had nothing to say against the conduct of the East India Company or the immorality of its wars, merely noting that "we" (again linking the Company with the British nation) had acquired an additional portion of territory in the East and General Evening Post (London, England) 3 October 1799, Issue 10456. Dundas was the head of the Board of Control and a major influence on Prime Minister William Pitt; he was likely the single most important colonial policymaker in this period.
dethroned Tipu.109 This was drastic reversal from the politics of a decade earlier, when John Hippesley and Philip Francis argued vehemently in the Commons on the immorality of the Mysore Wars. This example demonstrated how Tipu had been effectively depoliticized, made over into a contemptible figure that no one in the government was interested in defending. The Indian empire had become a subject of national pride, rather than an embarrassing stain upon the national honor.
Perhaps the best example of this shift in popular perception of the East India Company and the overseas empire can be seen in the form of "The Storming of Seringapatam", the term that came to be applied to various different depictions of the conquest of Tipu's capital city in the final battle of the Fourth Mysore War. Created and marketed to the public on a wide scale, these images of the Storming of Seringapatam celebrated the actions of the Company to the British public, and implicitly justified the wars of territorial conquest in India. They served to internalize the narrative that Wellesley and the rest of the Company promoted about the Mysore Wars, that they had been fought to stop the tyranny of a mad Oriental despot in league with Britain's most hated enemy. Paintings and other visual media based on the Fourth Mysore War were more overtly military than their predecessors, depicting Company soldiers in the midst of raging battle scenes, assaulting the walls of Seringapatam and gaining control over the fortress. With direct Company patronage backing the most famous of these paintings, they continued to draw together the association of the East India Company with heroic patriotism and the British nation, using the conquest of Tipu Sultan as a means to glorify the growing overseas empire in the eyes of the British public. Due to their widespread London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England) 26 November 1800, Issue 8439 popularity, these representations of the Storming of Seringapatam played a crucial role in disseminating new ideas about empire to the wider British populace.
Robert Ker Porter was the first artist to advertise for subscriptions on a new work of art depicting the death of Tipu and fall of Seringapatam, which appeared in the London newspapers on 11 October 1799. This was only a few weeks after the arrival of news from India of Tipu's defeat, and reflected again the competition to be first to capture the drama of the Mysore Wars on canvass. Porter benefited from the patronage of the East India Company, which helped to supply him with additional details about the individuals present on the campaign against Tipu. Porter's painting The Storming of Seringapatam was first exhibited to the public on 29 March 1800 at No. 17 Old Bond Street, and remained open for weeks afterwards, then shown again more publicly at the Lyceum Theatre beginning on 26 April [Figure 2 & 3].110 The painting itself was a gigantic panorama, stretching over 120 feet long at a height of 21 feet, and covering 2550 square feet of canvass in total. Porter depicted hundreds of individual figures engaged in the process of storming Tipu's capital, including 20 portraits of British officers and Tipu Sultan himself manning the walls in vain defense, helpfully identified by a descriptive sketch of the panorama [Figure 4].111 The painting captures the moment in the battle when the walls were breached in two places, and Company soldiers surged into the gaps to take possession of the fortress. Full of fire, smoke, and guns on all sides, Porter's Robert Ker Porter. The Storming of Seringapatam (1800). Private collection.
Robert Ker Porter. The Storming of Seringapatam (1800), Descriptive Sketch. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
enormous work of art portrays the Company in a moment of triumph and dominion, with Tipu's Indian soldiers falling before the might of the British conquerors.112 As a visual spectacle, The Storming of Seringapatam was without equal for the London public at the dawn of the nineteenth century. An advertisement in the newspapers explained how the painting was on display to the public at the Lyceum every day (Sundays excepted) from nine until dusk, with an admittance fee of one shilling. For another two shillings, visitors could pick up the accompanying pamphlet Narrative Sketches of the Conquest of Mysore, which was described as "giving a comprehensive View of the rise, progress, and termination of the late War with Tippoo Sultaun...
collected from the authentic and original Information which regulated the design and execution of the Painting."113 Written by an anonymous Company author, the pamphlet became so popular that it was reprinted four different times in two editions between 1800 and 1804, as thousands of viewers sought after more information about the captivating scene on display. Narrative Sketches of the Conquest of Mysore drew most of its source material from the correspondences of Richard Wellesley, and predictably reflected the same biased interpretation of the events leading to the Fourth Mysore War. The Narrative Sketches outlined how "it is now incontestable that Tippoo Sultaun’s thoughts were perpetually intent upon the ruin of the British power" which explained why the Company was forced into war, due to Tipu's continued "prevarication and falsehood".114 It also accused Tipu of further atrocities towards British prisoners, describing graphically how Hermione De Almeida and George Gilpin. Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect of India (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005): 160 Sun (London, England) 18 July 1800, Issue 2441 Robert Ker Porter. Narrative Sketches of the Conquest of Mysore, Effected by the British Troops and their Allies in the Capture of Seringapatam, and the Death of Tippoo Sultaun. 2 editions (London, 1800;
Edinburgh, 1801; Bath, 1803; Hull, 1804): 8, 12-13 six grenadiers and one drummer boy were strangled through the breaking of their necks.115 These accounts of violence towards British prisoners had been rare during the Fourth Mysore War, but were revived in this pamphlet as a means of further denigrating
the character of Tipu. This led up to the triumphant conclusion of the war:
Thus have the wisdom and energy of British councils, and the steady bravery of British soldiers, united to overthrow one of the most powerful tyrants of the east;
to accomplish as complete and as just a revolution, as can be found on the records of history; and to produce such an increase of revenue, resource, commercial advantage, and military strength to the British establishment in India, as must for years to come ensure a happy and prosperous tranquility, not only to the Company’s possessions, but to the native principalities, and to millions of inhabitants on the fertile plains of Hindostan.116 The victory of Tipu was advertised as creating advantages not only for the British, but also producing a better lifestyle for the Company's new Indian subjects as well, anticipating the civilizing mission rhetoric of the later nineteenth century. This "liberation" rhetoric had not been employed by Wellesley at all, but was broken out in the metropole after the war was over as a justification for the annexation of so much territory by the Company. The great popularity of Porter's painting helped lead to the widespread dissemination of its accompanying pamphlet, which repeated all of the old tyrannical representations of the Tipu Legend.
Viewers of Porter's artwork were overwhelmed by the size and spectacle of the production. The panorama design meant that viewers were encircled by the action taking place, causing many to feel that they were themselves participating in the battle unfolding before their eyes. The Reverend Thomas Dibdin recorded his impressions of being
overwhelmed by the scene:
Ibid, footnote to p. 45 Ibid, 122-23 I can never forget its first impression upon my mind. It was a thing dropped from the clouds - all fire, energy, intelligence, and animation. You looked a second time - the figures moved and were comingled in hot and bloody fight. You saw the flash of cannon, the glitter of the bayonet, and the gleam of the falchion. You longed to be leaping from craig to craig with Sir David Baird, who is hallooing his men on to victory! Then, again, you seemed to be listening to the groans of the wounded and the dying - and more than one woman was carried out swooning.117 As mentioned by Dibdin, there were multiple accounts of viewers actually fainting while taking in the spectacle, overwhelmed by the violent action of the panorama. After months on display in London, Porter's Storming of Seringapatam was taken on a tour of the British Isles, awing thousands of further spectators. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post wrote a glowing description of the painting when it toured the city, once again drawing "crowded audiences from nine till evening", who expressed their admiration "at the grandeur of the scene."118 The painting was even taken to Ireland, where a lighted rotunda had to be built in Belfast specially to display the huge work of art.
Porter's painting was a novel work, the first battle painting showing the British taking active possession of an Indian site. Earlier historical paintings of India had tended to show durbars or treaty ceremonies, much as the works produced by Robert Home and Mather Brown from the Third Mysore War had focused upon the exchange of the hostage princes. The Storming of Seringapatam did away with the older image of the British in India as peace-loving commercial traders, replacing it with a militaristic celebration of the Company's martial prowess. Porter was also working with the full financial support and patronage of the East India Company; he gained both a substantial fortune from the public admission fees of the painting, as well as a knighthood from the British crown.
The panoramic spectacle of The Storming of Seringapatam changed forever the
Rev. Thomas Dibdin (1836). Quoted in Hermione de Almeida and George Gilpin. Indian Renaissance: