«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
During the decade following Tipu's death between 1800 and 1810, many of the same members of the political Opposition continued to repeat the old arguments that they had leveled against the East India Company a decade earlier during the Third Mysore War. Wellesley's military campaign against the Marathas (1803-1805) attracted many of the same political criticisms that had been used to argue against the Mysore Wars, namely that it was morally unjust, ruinously expensive, and only fought so that the Company's soldiers and servants could make off with more ill-gained Indian plunder.
However, there was now a crucial addition to the Opposition's critique of the Company's actions overseas: the government's Whig opponents specifically noted that the past wars against Tipu were not included in their current objections. For example, Cobbet's Weekly Register wrote in an 1806 editorial criticizing Indian wars that, "I must be understood to except from this observation the expences of the war with Tippoo, for as that was the only war he [Wellesley] entered into of real benefit to the Company."14 The Mysore wars against Tipu remained effectively depoliticized, too popular to be criticized and demanding a special exemption from the usual Opposition criticisms about Indian conflicts. Even if Wellesley himself remained a subject of some controversy, his prior war against Tipu was immune from political attack.
Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register (London, England) 26 July 1806, Issue 4 When Philip Francis and Charles Fox rose to speak in a Parliamentary debate on 5 April 1805 regarding the Maratha war, they argued at length about the "abuses" committed by Wellesley in his "excessive lust for power" and his seemingly endless campaigns of territorial annexation. Their objections were easily overrun by Lord Castlereagh's speech in favor of the government, who immediately turned to the subject of Tipu to make his defense: "The Honourable Gentleman [Francis] had also forgot to notice the two Mysore Wars; he surely would not pretend to say that these were wars of aggression for the sake of conquest only – he would not pretend to say that these wars were unjust or dishonourable in their nature."15 Francis made no move to dispute this argument from Castlereagh, allowing the morality of the campaigns against Tipu to stand unchallenged. Francis and Fox were unable to contest this claim, as the Mysore Wars were now overwhelmingly viewed as just conflicts fought to overturn the rule of an Oriental despot; the report on the proceedings even includes the note "[A cry of hear!
hear!]" to indicate the large majority that supported Castlereagh's pro-Company opinion.
The old outlook of men like Francis and Fox regarding empire had become politically outdated by this point; most Britons no longer viewed the Company's Indian territories with shame or fear, but saw them as a growing source of the country's strength.
Opposition newspapers almost plaintively called out for the British public to remember the earlier period in which the legality of the Mysore Wars had been heavily debated and contested, asking at one point in 1806, "Have we all fallen into forgetfulness about Lord Cornwallis? It is quite forgotten that... the most questionable act of any Indian government was his war against Tippoo Sultaun, in the year 1790: at least, there never Morning Chronicle (London, England) 6 April 1805, Issue 11196 was a measure more questioned in parliament."16 The British public most certainly had fallen into forgetfulness on this subject, as these alternate representations of the Mysore Wars were few and far between by this period, and continuing to fade with the passage of each year.
Belief in the villainous Tipu Legend had become nearly universal amongst the British public by the end of the first decade of the nineteenth century, and it continued to be further reinforced through the publication of a series of histories that portrayed Tipu in an extremely negative light. Colonel William Kirkpatrick, a close friend of Wellesley who had accompanied him in the 1799 campaign, published the translated Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan to Various Public Functionaries in 1811. The letters were chosen to emphasize Tipu's connections to the French and make him appear as an untrustworthy figure; Kirkpatrick's notes on the letters characterized the Sultan as "the cruel and relentless enemy; the intolerant bigot or furious fanatic; the oppressive and unjust ruler;
the harsh and rigid master; the sanguinary tyrant; the perfidious negotiator."17 There was a strong implication from Kirkpatrick that the Company was better suited to rule over the people of Mysore than Tipu, and that all Indian rulers were duplicitous and unethical by nature.
Similar messages could be found in histories of British India written during the same decade by Major General John Malcolm, a long service military commander in India, and Mark Wilks, who became the British Resident of Mysore following Tipu's ouster. Malcolm's Sketch of the Political History of India (1811) was a triumphant celebration of the growing British Raj, which he claimed would become "the theme of Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register (London, England) 15 March 1806, Issue 11
Col. William Kirkpatrick. Select Letters of Tippoo Sultan to Various Public Functionaries (London:
Black, Parry, and Kingsbury, 1811): x wonder to succeeding ages."18 Malcolm insisted that all of the Company's wars had been defensive in nature, its many campaigns in India fought only due to a principle of selfpreservation. Its rule was justified due to the "tranquility and happiness which they [Indians] enjoy under our dominion" in contrast to the "falsehoods and treachery which mark the intercourse of the native states of India with each other."19 Malcolm took great lengths in his history to place all of the blame for the Mysore Wars upon Tipu, while absolving Cornwallis and Wellesley for any culpability. Wellesley's policies in 1798-99 were "moderate and just", "altogether defensive", and "dictated by a desire of security and peace, not by a spirit of ambition or aggrandizement."20 Wilks' Historical Sketches of the South of India, published between 1810 and 1817, was the first full history of the Company's conquest of Mysore, and was written to present Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan in harshly negative fashion.21 They were characterized as savage barbarians, guilty of severe atrocities against British prisoners, and incapable of holding to any treaties or prior agreements. Wilks denigrated all Indian rulers, even British allies like the Nawab of Arcot, whose government was described as possessing "duplicity and iniquity", "an audacity of falsehood and ingratitude" towards the British, and suffering from "the ordinary misrule of a wretched native government."22 Histories like the ones written by Malcolm and Wilks indicated the increasingly racialized view of India and Indians, their rulers perceived as inferior brutes. In both cases, native princes were portrayed as morally John Malcolm. Sketch of the Political History of India from the Introduction of Mr. Pitt's Bill, A.D. 1784, to the Present Date (London: W. Miller, 1811): 1 Ibid, 145 Ibid, 201 Mark Wilks. Historical Sketches of the South of India, in an Attempt to Trace the History of Mysoor (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1810-1817) Ibid, 94-95 corrupt and unfit to rule over the populace, thereby providing a legitimation for the Company's own governance.
On occasion, there were voices in the wilderness that argued against this characterization of Tipu Sultan and the Mysore Wars. James Mill published The History of British India in three volumes in 1817, which was often highly critical of the Company's actions overseas and drew upon many of the older criticisms of the nabobs from past decades. In his chronology of the wars against Tipu, Mill compared British attitudes towards the Sultan with how Britons had viewed other enemies of the country such as Louis XIV and Napoleon, noting, "It is so common for nations to ascribe the most odious qualities to every party which they dread... several remarkable instances stand in our history of a sort of epidemical frenzy in abusing our enemies."23 Mill briefly recounted how Tipu was invariably described by contemporary Britons as "a hideous monster", "covered with almost every vice", and "an object of dread and abhorrence", before concluding that the Sultan's reputation was wildly exaggerated.24 In contrast to the claims of the East India Company, Mysore was well-governed and prosperous under Tipu, and it was the Company who had repeatedly made the decision to go to war. Mill criticized Tipu for excessive pride and poor judgment, but nonetheless believed that he had been a strong and capable ruler, with his treatment of British prisoners no worse than their treatment of captured Indian soldiers.25 These arguments were unique to Mill's history, appearing in none of the other major summaries of Indian history from the period, and were reminiscent of the Opposition critics of the East India Company during the Third Mysore War (1790-92).
James Mill. The History of British India, Volume 3 (London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1817): 257 Ibid, 257 Ibid, 445-49 These unusual callbacks to an earlier era of politics were perhaps understandable, given Mill's liberal political leanings and close friendship with many Whig politicians. His history was unorthodox enough to warrant a lengthy response from the pro-Company Asiatic Journal, which wrote no less than six articles to discredit the material, concluding that Mill had made "deep and vital mistakes" due to "his unjust and indefensible prejudices" which "blemish and considerably impair the utility of the elaborate work of Mr. Mill".26 Even Mill's liberal history was derisive in its opinion of the Hindu residents of India, viewing them as living under "the most enormous, irrational, and tormenting superstition, that ever harassed and degraded any portion of mankind", making the Hindus "the most enslaved portion of the human race."27 In this respect, Mill's history was not so very different from those penned by Malcolm or Wilks, placing Indians on a lower scale of civilization and providing implicit justification for British rule over them, even if he regarded Tipu Sultan as an individual in a more objective fashion.
There was also an appearance of a new Tipu play in 1823 which portrayed the Sultan in favorable terms. Henry Milner's Tippoo Saib; or, The Storming of Seringapatam depicted Tipu as a tragic hero, fighting to protect his kingdom from the cruel invasion of the East India Company. The British were specifically referenced with the phrase "English tyrants" in one of Tipu's speeches, and in a remarkable reversal of the standard tropes of the Tipu Legend, the Sultan went out of his way to free captured British officers as a sign of his faithfulness and proof of safe conduct.28 The stage production ended in an arguably melancholy tone, with Tipu falling in battle, his fortress Asiatic Journal (London, England) 1 May 1829, Issue 161, p. 525-38. The journal was writing in response to the second edition of Mill's history, published in 1829.
James Mill. The History of British India, Volume 1 (1817): 451-52 Henry M Milner. “Tippoo Saib; or, The Storming of Seringapatam” first staged 20 January (1823) at the Royal Coburg Theatre captured by Company soldiers, and without any celebratory or patriotic speeches to suggest that the audience should approve of the event. This brief revival of alternative representations of Tipu was most likely a lower class form of protest that ran counter to the triumphalist support of imperialism taking place in elite culture. Playhouses like the Royal Coburg Theatre served a more working class and multiracial audience, which allowed it to serve as a progressive form of dissent against the ongoing redefinition of Britain's imperial role overseas.29 The viewpoints offered by Mill's history and Milner's play were very much not the norm of British public opinion, however, which only grew more accepting of Wellesley's narrative of past events with the passage of time. By the 1820s and 1830s, even former bastions of Opposition politics that had strenuously argued against the East India Company and its wars in India had come to accept the Tipu Legend interpretation of the Mysore Wars. For example, the Morning Chronicle, the same paper which had expended vast sums of ink protesting against the morality of the Third Mysore War, now suggested in 1825 that the current Governor General of India should look to "the most enlightened Statesmen who ever held the office of Governor-General of India: the Marquesses Cornwallis, Wellesley, and Hastings."30 This was a complete reversal of the politics of the 1790s, and the same message would be repeated in future editions of the Chronicle. An 1827 report on the meetings at the India House described Wellesley as the man "who had saved our empire in India by the destruction of the power of Tippoo Saib".31 An editorial letter to the same paper at the end of Wellesley's life in 1841 went so ); David Worrall. Harlequin Empire: Race, Ethnicity, and the Drama of the Popular Enlightenment (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2007): 100-101 Morning Chronicle (London, England) 21 July 1825, Issue 17527 Morning Chronicle (London, England) 27 September 1827, Issue 18108 far as to refer to him as "the greatest statesman this country every produced", and argued that "his principles and policy have stood the test of time: and after an interval of forty years, they are held forth by the Honourable East India Company as models for the guidance of their civil and military servants."32 The seismic shift in the Chronicle's treatment of men like Cornwallis and Wellesley, who had been portrayed as avaricious and immoral during the period of the Mysore Wars, demonstrated how even formerly oppositional political groups had come to embrace overseas imperialism in later decades.