«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
These were hardly the only paintings and dramatic works to emerge from the Fourth Mysore War; Henry Singleton alone produced more paintings on the subject matter of Tipu's death, and there were at least two other imitation theatre productions on the London stage.138 However, at the risk of overgeneralization, the works of art featured here serve as broadly representational of the whole. Unlike the earlier cartoons and caricatures which were so critical of the East India Company, the Third and Fourth Mysore Wars saw the emergence of formal history paintings of imperial subject matter, employing artists who were frequently patronized by the Company and created artwork designed to represent their benefactors in a more positive light. Paintings and plays featuring The Storming of Seringapatam glorified the Company's military conquests, Daniel O’Quinn. Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800 (2007): 346-47 See for example Hull Packet (Hull, England) 11 November 1800, Issue 695 Linda Colley. Britons: Forging the Nation (1992) Henry Singleton. The Finding of the Body of Tippo Sultaun Recognised by his Family (c. 1802).
Conclusion In surveying the popular literature from the three wars that took place against Tipu Sultan during the 1780s and 1790s, the difference in tone of the Fourth Mysore War (1799) immediately stands out. Whereas the two earlier conflicts witnessed commonplace differences of opinion, and frequent debates over the morality of the East India Company's actions, the print media from the period of the Fourth Mysore War contains no such disagreements. Instead, the contemporary sources unconsciously accepted the Company as a component part of the British nation, a sharp contrast to the distinction made between the two by earlier commentators, and contained almost universal praise for its actions. Most of the literature regarding the war from 1799 and 1800 was celebratory and triumphant in nature, embracing the Company's conquest of Mysore as a cause for patriotic displays of pageantry. It begs the obvious question: what made this conflict so much different from its predecessors?
The best explanation points to the connection between Tipu Sultan and the French, which was greatly emphasized during the Fourth Mysore War over any other potential motivations for action. Tipu's "alliance" with the French united all segments of British opinion against the Sultan, raising the specter of the fearsome Oriental tyrant joined together with the terrors of unchecked Jacobin mob rule. Although these fears were wildly exaggerated, they prevented any potential criticism of Wellesley's heavy handed actions in India, made even more difficult due to the careful manipulation of the dialogue surrounding the war by the Governor General. The conflict itself was short and overwhelmingly successful from the perspective of the Company, rendering the sort of Opposition critiques that had taken place in the past effectively impossible. As for the Sultan himself, Tipu had been killed and his family deposed from power at the end of the war, effectively ending any further discussion about his image. Tipu certainly could not speak in his own defense, or take any actions to change the minds of the British people.
Wellesley's interpretation of events was embraced by the public in the metropole, and became the historical memory of the Mysore Wars. The earlier, alternative representations of the events of these conflicts faded with time and were largely forgotten.
It was not until well into the twentieth century that South Asian historians began to reclaim this history, and change the memory of Tipu.
Summary As the East India Company began to acquire a territorial empire overseas in the years following 1750, Britons in the metropole were faced with an identity crisis. They perceived themselves to be a maritime and commercial people who lived in a society based upon the protection of individual liberties and private property, and yet they increasingly found themselves ruling over a vast Indian population which was accorded none of the same rights.1 The large amounts of wealth brought back from the subcontinent by Company servants, and the conspicuous spending in which they engaged upon their return, gave rise to the popular satire of the nabobs, status-seeking men of ill repute who had amassed their fortunes overseas through the exploitation of helpless Indian subjects.2 The nabobs were perceived as a threat to the natural order of British society; they had been corrupted by the vice and luxuries of the Orient, and it was feared that they would infect the British nation with their decadent morals and political bribery.3 The result was widespread condemnation of the nabobs from across the political spectrum, and a public skepticism towards imperial projects in India during the 1760s and 1770s. For most contemporaries at this time, the Company's Indian territories represented the scandals of empire and a source of consternation, not a source of national pride.4 David Armitage. The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Robert Travers. Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth Century India: The British in Bengal (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007) Tillman Nechtman. Nabobs: Empire and Identity in Eighteenth Century Britain. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) Philip Lawson and Jim Phillips. “‘Our Execrable Banditti’: Perceptions of Nabobs in Mid-Eighteenth Century Britain” in Albion XVI (1984): 225-41 Nicholas Dirks. The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of Imperial Britain (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006) However, during the period between roughly 1780 and 1830, Britons underwent a profound shift in their attitudes about empire. The growing Second British Empire came to be characterized by more autocratic and aristocratic methods of rule, with governmentappointed military men who wielded centralized power replacing the loosely organized merchant councils from earlier periods of the Company's history.5 There was an increasing emphasis upon racial hierarchies and racial difference between Europeans and the rest of the world, with Indians placed at a lower point on the scale of civilization.6 Whereas in the past, European travelers to India had often adopted Indian dress and customs to some extent, and learned to speak some of the local languages, this process of crossing over between cultures was officially repressed by the East India Company's new aristocratic leadership as the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth.7 At the heart of this shift in attitudes about empire and race was a shift in culpability. Whereas in the past, Britons had feared being morally corrupted by the despotic actions of Company soldiers and administrators acting as nabobs overseas, beginning in the final decades of the eighteenth century, Britons instead began to view themselves as the paternalistic champions of a benighted and hopelessly backwards Indian people. The true tyrants of the East were increasingly perceived to be the native rulers of the subcontinent. It was the immoral and tyrannical actions of Indian merchants and princes who were undermining the Company's rule overseas, not the servants of the C.A. Bayly. Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World, 1780-1830 (London: Longman, 1989); Philip Lawson. The East India Company: A History (London: Longman, 1993)
Jennifer Pitts. A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2005) William Dalrymple. White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India (New York: Viking, 2003) Company themselves.8 This allowed the Company and its servants to be reimagined as patriotic heroes of the British nation, as opposed to being a vile force regarded as a separate entity to be cordoned off from the rest of the nation. They would serve as a force for moral progress and the advancement of civilization, thereby anticipating the civilizing mission ethos that came to dominate nineteenth century imperialism.
The Anglo-Mysore Wars fought against Tipu Sultan, and in particular the enormous public interest generated in Tipu during the 1790s, played an important role in this shift in British popular attitudes about empire. The final decade of the eighteenth century was a period in which a real transformation of attitudes took place, where the Company's Indian territories ceased to be regarded as a problem to be solved and began to be viewed instead as a source of national pride.9 After attracting initial interest from the British public for his capture of large numbers of British prisoners during the Second Mysore War (1780-84), Tipu came to be perceived as the quintessential Oriental despot.
Most often referenced as "Tippoo the Tyrant", Tipu was believed by most of the British public to be a monstrous ruler who tortured his British captives and forced them to convert to Islam against their will. The Tiger of Mysore became a stand-in for the anxieties and uncertainties associated with colonialism; Tipu's absolute power of life and death over his British captives, and his ability to remake their Europeans identities as he saw fit, inspired terror both within the Company's ranks and at home in the British metropole.10 C. A. Bayly. Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988): 77-78 Peter Marshall.. “British Expansion in India in the Eighteenth Century: A Historical Revision”, History 1975 60 (198): 28-43 See Chapter 2 Through the process of fighting extended wars against Tipu and conquering his domains, the East India Company was able to overcome these anxieties associated with empire, and convince the British public of the legitimacy of its place within the larger fabric of the British nation. The widespread popular belief in "Tippoo the Tyrant" became a convenient way to disprove allegations of continued nabobery amongst the Company's ranks. Within the contemporary print culture of newspapers, journals, and cartoons, as well as on the London stage and on painted canvas, the defenders of the Company argued that Oriental despots like Tipu Sultan were the true tyrants, not the East India Company.
Tipu's supposed repression of his own populace in Mysore led to claims that the Company's invasions of the region were undertaken as acts of liberation, designed to protect the local population from the depredations of a mad tyrant in true paternalistic fashion. By fighting against an imagined despotism in southern India, the Company simultaneously reformed its own reputation in the realm of British popular opinion.11 These shifts in attitude about the East India Company and its overseas territories were not universal, and did not occur overnight. There was a minority political Opposition that continued to view the Company's Indian territories through the old context of the nabobs, and believed the Mysore Wars to be immoral acts of naked aggression designed to make off with additional Indian plunder. Their voices swelled to a crescendo during the Third Mysore War (1790-92), at which time Parliament held numerous hearings on charges that the wars of conquest in India were immoral and antithetical to British liberty. These political debates were reflected in the contemporary See Chapter 3 print culture as well, which pulsed with disagreements over who were the true tyrants in India: the Company servants or Indian rulers like Tipu Sultan.12 However, these were still ultimately minority positions, and the political Opposition was never able to secure passage of any resolutions in Parliament condemning the actions of the Company, losing every vote on the subject by large margins. The military victories won over Tipu by Cornwallis in 1792 and Wellesley in 1799 were successful in settling most doubters. Their triumphant conquests served to stifle debate, making it politically untenable to criticize the Company's actions overseas;
Tipu Sultan was effectively depoliticized as an issue over time. Tipu's connections to the hated French, skillfully exaggerated in 1798 and 1799 by Wellesley as a means to justify his invasion of Mysore, made it virtually impossible for anyone to defend the Sultan, or argue against the Company in the same fashion that had been commonplace a decade earlier. The final defeat and death of Tipu in the Fourth Mysore War (1799) provided the breaking point at which alternate, competing viewpoints of Tipu Sultan, and more broadly the East India Company's role in empire building, were pushed aside from the mainstream of public opinion. Pride in British rule in India as well as pride in British military successes there had become widely accepted elements of British nationalism, and would not come under serious sustained criticism once more until the advent of the twentieth century.13 Remembering Tipu Although representations of Tipu Sultan and the Mysore Wars had been heavily contested subjects for contemporaries during the 1780s and 1790s, this earlier period of See Chapter 4 See Chapter 5 debate would soon become forgotten by later generations and largely written out of the historical memory. The villainous and caricatured Tipu Legend of a heroic East India Company fighting against a monstrous Oriental despot eventually became the dominant memory of these events for the British. This section provides a brief overview of how this process unfolded in the early decades of the nineteenth century.