«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
British Romantic Art and the Prospect of India (2005): 161 Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post (Exeter, England) 10 February 1803, Issue 2051 conception of historical painting, and continued to be influential on later artists long into the nineteenth century. Porter heroically captured in paint a staged moment of military drama, one that "patriotically advanced and enhanced the government's full-blown vision of empire as a historic spectacle of glory in which all amongst the British populace could participate."119 Porter's artwork helped bring the Company's military, earlier reviled and feared as an agent of despotism and moral decay, into the fold of British patriotism, making it acceptable and even laudatory for the wider public to share in.120 The mass popularity of Porter's work ensured that it would spawn a legion of imitators, all of which shared similar themes in expressing their excitement at the success of the Company's arms. All of these various paintings featuring the "storming" or "assault" or "taking" of Seringapatam depicted the Company military assuming control of Tipu's fortress, repeating the earlier messages from the previous war's artwork in a more explicitly martial fashion.
the city. Unlike Allan's landscape paintings of India, here the terrain has faded into the background and been reduced in importance; the subject matter of this work is unmistakably the soldiers that make up the Company's military. The theme of the painting, British soldiers seizing control of the fortress and occupying the Indian landscape, would have been obvious to the observer.
Joseph Turner created a similar work in his watercolor The Siege of Seringapatam, albeit with a bit of a thematic twist [Figure 6].122 The perspective of the viewer is very similar to Allan's painting, depicting row after row of impersonal soldiers in their red coats, striding towards the fortress with a pall of smoke hanging over the action. However, in the foreground of the painting there are several British soldiers lying slumped on the ground next to an artillery piece, with visible wounds indicating the casualties already suffered in the battle. The presence of these injured soldiers changes the tone of the piece from an unabashed celebration of triumph into a more reflective and ambiguous work, questioning the viewer as to whether the gains of the Company's military ventures were worth the cost.123 Few other artists of the period were as discerning or nuanced in their portrayals of the battle, however. Thomas Stothard's The Storming of Seringapatam was a straightforward glorification of the action, with the familiar waves of British soldiers rushing heroically towards the walls of the city with smoke and fire all around them [Figure 7].124 G. Thompson produced a rather crude engraving of the battle as well, showing the same events with a poor conception of depth and perspective [Figure 8].125 Joseph Mallord William Turner. The Siege of Seringapatam (1800). Tate Gallery, London.
Hermione de Almeida and George Gilpin. Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect of India (2005): 286 Thomas Stothard. The Storming of Seringapatam (1804). Private Collection of the Duke of Wellington G. Thompson (engraver) The Storming and Taken [sic] of Seringapatam by Lord Mornington May 4th 1799 (1800). National Army Museum, London.
Thompson's print indicated that these heroic renditions of the Company's military were not limited solely to the artists who gained the patronage of Leadenhall Street, but enjoyed a much wider basis of public approval, including from the same sort of printers and engravers who had mocked the Company for its nabobery in earlier decades.
Depictions of Seringapatam's storming were extremely popular in this period, and artists of both high and low culture were willing to supply the public with the images that they craved.
The subject matter of the Fourth Mysore War proved to be so popular that artists soon moved beyond the capture of the fortress itself, and began to portray imagined scenes of Tipu's last stand, his death, and the recovery of his body. Henry Singleton returned to this subject matter to paint The Last Effort and Fall of Tippoo Sultaun, likely trying to seize upon the great public desire for artwork featuring the Mysore Wars [Figure 9].126 Singleton's work portrays Tipu in his final moments of life, already wounded in the side and in the process of falling; the Sultan is depicted in an oddly off-balance position that gives no power or grace to his posture. On the left side of the painting, Tipu's soldiers appear to be cowering or falling back, unable to stand before the British invaders.
The redcoated soldiers advance confidently forward from the right side of the image, stepping over fallen Indians in the process, one of the men gesturing for a further surge ahead. One of the British soldiers has his bayonet raised to strike an Indian man in the face, while Tipu himself is being seized by another soldier, their positioning making it appear as though an adult is grabbing a child.127 The message of the painting clearly Henry Singleton. The Last Effort and Fall of Tippoo Sultaun (1800) British Library, Office of Indian and Oriental Collections.
Hermione de Almeida and George Gilpin. Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect of India (2005): 163 suggests once more the superiority of British soldiers over Indian ones, and invites the viewer to take pride in the downfall of Tipu. Singleton's battle painting is an example of laudatory praise for the Company's militarism, which would have been almost unthinkable a few decades earlier.
Other artists took up the subject of the discovery of the body of the fallen Sultan, which was not found by the British until several hours after the capture of the city. Robert Ker Porter was the first to address this topic once again, painting Finding the Body of Tippoo Sultan in early 1800 to go along with his enormous battle piece [Figure 10].128 Porter places this scene in the dark of night, with a group of British soldiers surrounding the body of Tipu using a torch for illumination. The Sultan's head lolls to one side, propped up on the knee of a British soldier like a hunting trophy, while an angry expression distorts his facial features. The soldier bearing Tipu's body has his hand raised upwards, as if to suggest a prayer of thankfulness that the world had been rid of the Sultan's menace. In addition to the overwhelming number of British soldiers surrounding the body, there is a single elderly Indian man present, with his hands clasped in prayer and a pitiful expression on his face.129 Porter's work suggests that the British soldiers have brought light to the darkness that was India, exorcizing the demon that was Tipu Sultan and making the subcontinent a safer place for all.
These discovery scenes were tackled by other artists, such as Arthur William Devis in his work Major-General Baird and Col. Arthur Wellesley Discovering the Body Samuel William Reynolds after Robert Ker Porter. Finding the Body of Tippoo Sultan (1800). British Library, Office of Indian and Oriental Collections.
Hermione de Almeida and George Gilpin. Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect of India (2005): 164 of Tippoo Sultaun at Seringapatam [Figure 11].130 Devis uses many of the same themes as Porter, employing a night scene brightened by the torches brought by British soldiers, but differs in including recognizable Company officers in the painting. David Baird kneels to check the body of Tipu to confirm his death, while Arthur Wellesley raises his hand in a confident gesture, similar in many ways to the British soldier bearing Tipu's body in Porter's work. The fallen Tipu lies slumped to the side, with his face hidden in shadow, and most of the other Indians have their backs to the viewer, their faces similarly obscured. The one visible Indian looks upwards with an expression of terror on his face;
the contrast between the tall, confident British officers and the crouching, fearful Indian attendants comes across obviously to the viewer.
These portrayals of the "Storming of Seringapatam" were not limited only to canvas; the same triumphant celebration of victory was depicted on the London stage as well. Advertised as The Storming of Seringapatam, or The Death of Tippoo Saib, Astley's Royal Amphitheatre sought out to create a grand military spectacle unlike anything seen previously by viewing audiences. In addition to new music, scenery, and costumes for
this production, Astley's promised to portray:
5th A Correct View of the City of Seringapatam, with the whole of Tippoo’s Army, Elephants, Camels, etc. in motion... 6th A British Battery, opening a brisk Fire on Tippoo’s Piquet Guard, particularly the blowing up of a Power Mill... 8th The Fortifications of Seringapatam, with the springing of a Mine 9th External View of Tippoo’s Palace, with his two Sons firing from the Windows. And 10th, The Zennana and City on Fire, with a variety of circumstances that attended this important conquest.131 More circus production than traditional theatre, Astley's new show was explicitly martial to a degree rarely seen before. Just as the artwork from the Fourth Mysore War glorified Arthur William Devis. Major-General Baird and Col. Arthur Wellesley Discovering the Body of Tippoo Sultaun at Seringapatam (1799-1802). Scottish United Services Museum, Edinburgh.
E. Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor (London, England) 29 September 1799, Issue 1039 the occupation of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, Astley's The Storming of Seringapatam placed the same military spectacle before the British public, incorporating new non-theatrical elements such as acrobatics, large animals, and drilling in formation to create a fantastic new form of entertainment. The application of these military techniques to the theatre allowed for a subjectification of the viewing audience, opening them up to greater control by the state's regulatory powers.132 Within the context of how Tipu Sultan was represented by the British public, it meant the elimination of alternate, dissenting discourses of thought about the East India Company and the Mysore Wars, further reinforcing Wellesley's increasingly dominant narrative of the Company having been forced into defensive warfare by the ambitions of Tippoo the Tyrant.
As far as the contemporary public was concerned, The Storming of Seringapatam was an exciting show that had to be seen. The Oracle and Daily Advertiser wrote that Astley's show exhibited a "light superior to every other", forming "a piece complete and perfect in every part."133 Other newspapers regretted the closing of the theatre season in October 1799 after so few performances; Astley's was happy to oblige them the following year, opening a slightly reworked The Siege and Storming of Seringapatam in May 1800.
While retaining all of the same scenes from the original production, the reworked show also promised "the grandest display of Horsemanship ever exhibited by 20 Equestrians" involving a series of jumps, grand trampoline tricks to be carried out through a balloon of fire, and over twenty soldiers with muskets and fixed bayonets.134 Astley's production would have made a grand spectacle, with its animals and marching soldiers, Indian Daniel O’Quinn. Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007): 312 Oracle and Daily Advertiser (London, England) 3 October 1799, Issue 22106 Morning Chronicle (London, England) 5 May 1800, Issue 9657 costumes and exotic Oriental scenery. This martial display encouraged the audience to shed political and ethnic divisions in favor of national consolidation, using the Company's multinational armies as the model.135 Newspaper records indicate that this production was taken on the road and performed in provincial cities, where large crowds would have taken in the same messages.136 With the ongoing wars against revolutionary France affecting public sentiment, there was no better time to forge a common British identity, in which one of the greatest unifying ties was support for the East India Company and Britain's overseas empire.137 The earlier criticisms of the Company and its servants no longer applied in this context. Instead, the British public joined together to celebrate in the spectacle of Tipu's defeat and death, reenacted daily on the stage.