«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
The military campaign of the Fourth Mysore War had been an unparalleled success, exceeding the wildest hopes of its supporters. Victory had been achieved quickly, at little cost in lives or military expenditures, and had resulted in the death of the fearsome Tipu Sultan, along with virtual annexation of his large and prosperous kingdom.
Accolades for the victors began pouring in immediately, full of triumphant rhetoric and bombastic support for the growing British Empire in the East.84 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 populace. The long anxiety over Tipu had finally been resolved, and the Company’s territories were considered to be permanently secured. Lord Wellesley, the man who had done more than anyone else to engineer the war against Tipu, was granted an enthusiastic reception and showered with praises from all corners of the British domains. While Wellesley remained in India and did not return to Britain to bask in the spoils of victory, the reaction he received was similar to that garnered by Lord Cornwallis seven years earlier. He received the thanks of Parliament, widespread public accolade, and an Irish lordship for his services. Wellesley faced virtually no criticism or opposition at home for his decision to enter into the war, which was a marked contrast from the public reception surrounding the earlier Mysore Wars. Tipu's "alliance" with the hated and feared specter of revolutionary France appears to be the crucial factor responsible for this difference.
Alexander Beatson. A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun (1800): 244 Ibid, 139 Conclusion Wellesley’s victory over Tipu brought an end to the Company’s wars against Mysore, although they were soon replaced by the Governor General’s wars against the Marathas. Tipu’s defeat represented the end of an era for the Company’s role in southern India, as it had become the dominant power in the region instead of simply one power among many. This newfound position brought with it an increased confidence in the ability of Britons to rule over Indians. Earlier military setbacks had suggested that the Company’s position in India was tentative, and potentially one step away from disaster.
Tipu’s dominance of the captured British prisoners similarly served to highlight some of the anxieties underlying the imperial project, the fear that Britons would be swallowed up and devoured by the wild and untamed Orient.
However, many of these worries were rapidly diminishing in the aftermath of victory over Mysore. Tipu’s defeat suggested that British arms could overcome their rivals, and British virtues triumph over Indian vices. The cruel and despotic tyrant of Mysore had been cast down from power, and the Company’s territories secured against every available contingency.85 British paintings and dramatic productions in the metropole exhibited to the public the spectacle of the great victories that had been achieved by the heroic soldiers of the East India Company.86 The Mysore Wars were therefore important not just politically and militarily for the strategic benefits gained by the Company in southern India, but at a cultural level as well, and it is the distinct way in which these conflicts resonated for the British public in the metropole that will be the General Evening Post (London, England) 12 December 1799, Issue 10485 For example: Robert Ker Porter. The Storming of Seringapatam (1800). Private collection; Unknown author, “The Storming of Seringapatam, or The Death of Tippoo Saib” staged 30 September (1799) through 10 October (1799) at Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre.
focus of the remainder of this study. The wars against Tipu Sultan played an important role in reshaping how Britons felt about their empire, and particularly in their growing acceptance of overseas conquests. In order to trace the development of this process, the next chapter begins with the origins of the negative Tipu Legend, in the capture of so many British prisoners during the Second Mysore War.
Introduction The image of Tipu Sultan was first defined within the context of the British prisoners captured during the Mysore Wars. British servants of the East India Company and Britons in the metropole first came into contact with Tipu through the lurid descriptions found in prisoner accounts, detailing various atrocities committed against helpless captives. It was the presence of these British prisoners that set Tipu apart from any number of other Indian princes, and drew wider attention to the spectacle of the Mysore Wars. The prisoner experience came to define the early wars for the British, becoming part of the historical memory of the conflicts, later used as an exotic set piece for imperial adventures in fiction and drama.1 Many of the prisoners wrote narratives of their period of captivity, which were widely published in popular print culture during the 1780s and 1790s. Captive narratives describing exotic locations overseas were commonplace in the eighteenth century, and their frequent reprinting in new editions testified to their popularity.2 Accounts described the poor treatment and foul living conditions that captives faced in the dungeons of Mysore, where many of them remained for years at a time before their eventual release.
Prisoners were often chained together, good food was scarce and disease commonplace, with many of the British soldiers failing to survive their period of captivity. Making matters more troubling still was the prospect of religious conversion; Tipu Sultan was For example, see Sir Walter Scott. Count Robert of Paris and the Surgeon's Daughter. (Boston and New York: Houghton Miffling Company, 1923, 1827) G. A. Henty. The Tiger of Mysore: A Story of the War with Tippoo Saib (London: Blackie & Son, 2001, 1896) Linda Colley. Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World 1600-1850 (New York: Pantheon Books, 2002) said to have forced British captives to convert to Islam against their will, renouncing their European identity by adopting Indian dress and becoming soldiers in the armies of Mysore. These “European Musselmen” were symbolically emasculated through the process of circumcision, turned into the dependent tool of a tyrannical oriental despot.
They were cut off from their former lives as members of the British nation, their identities remade against their will, potentially lost forever to families and loved ones at home. This was an often overlooked aspect of the British experience overseas: facing captivity, subjected to alien rule, forced to live in terror and vulnerability.3 At the same time, of course, this failed to tell the complete story of the prisoners.
Troubling accounts from India suggested that many of the Company’s soldiers and even officers had been acting in unscrupulous fashion, failing to keep their word and making off with vast sums of money for their personal enrichment. Tipu’s imprisonment of these men was designed as a punishment for failing to adhere to signed agreements and for despoiling the landscape of his kingdom. Other prisoner accounts contradicted the sensationalist claims in the popular press, indicating that many of the captives were reasonably well treated during their time in Mysore. The supposedly forced conversions to Islam could equally have been a deliberate choice on the part of some captives, preferring to cross over into a self-fashioned Indian identity and take up service under Tipu rather than remain in a prison cell indefinitely.4 When weighed as a whole, the evidence behind the prisoner experience painted a much more complex picture than the rather simplistic narrative of a cruel Eastern tyrant lording over stalwart British captives.
The presence of the British prisoners and the captive narratives that they Ibid, 1-2 Maya Jasanoff. Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850 (New York: Knopf, 2005) generated were nevertheless instrumental in shaping how the British public came to view Tipu Sultan and the Mysore Wars. The very existence of the prisoners was a symbol of shame and humiliation for the East India Company, one that it worked very hard to erase.
The captive accounts greatly influenced the popular perceptions of Tipu, lending support to the belief that he was a capricious despot out to destroy the British presence in India.
The prisoners issue was also ready-made for a narrative of redemption, suggesting that the Company could remove the stain on British honor by returning to war with Tipu and defeating him once and for all. Rhetoric of this sort was common in the years following the Second Mysore War (1780-84), both inside and outside of Company circles. The prisoner dilemma also served as a further way to spin their captivity into a morality play of empire. British captives were portrayed in song and on the stage as embodying the national honor, bravely refusing their blandishments of Tipu to convert to Islam and enter his service at great personal cost to themselves. This served as a means to transform weakness into strength, demonstrating the moral superiority of the British over the Indians, and provided further justification for the imperial project.5 It should be noted that the large majority of these prisoners were Indian sepoys employed in the Company’s service, who were mostly ignored by the British both in India and in the metropole, in their fixation on the white captives taken. Both the AngloIndian community living in the subcontinent and the larger British public barely mentioned the sepoys at all, and an uninformed observer would have been led to believe from their writings that the Company's forces were composed entirely of Britons. The outpouring of literature about the captured prisoners also made little mention of the Daniel O’Quinn. Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007): 313-14 multinational character of the Company's armies, in which Scots, Irish, and other Europeans of Continental descent were commonplace. It was far easier to project a universal "Englishness" onto the bodies of the imprisoned soldiers, making their plight more sympathetic to British audiences in the metropole. Since a perceived threat to British identity was at the heart of the prisoner dilemma, it was best for the Company and its supporters not to dig too deeply into the actual "Britishness" of the captives themselves.
These (European) prisoners were the overriding focus of both the Company and the British public during the Second Mysore War, and therefore serve as the focus of this chapter as well. They represented the weakness of the Company’s military and the serious threat posed by Tipu Sultan, the terrifying and savage Tiger of Mysore who held the power of life and death over his captives. However, with the passage of time, the prisoners became less and less important to the British, eventually disappearing almost entirely as a subject of discussion by the time of the Fourth Mysore War in 1799. With their growing strength in southern India, the British no longer experienced the same deeprooted anxieties that they had felt in the early 1780s, when it appeared as though they might be forced from the region entirely. The Company and the British public no longer wanted to focus on the weakness and powerlessness that the prisoners had represented for an earlier generation. Popular discourse instead turned to triumphant and celebratory displays, especially after Tipu’s final defeat and death in 1799. The dread that the Sultan used to inspire had been conquered, and the prisoners had been symbolically freed forever.6 This was an indication of the growing confidence in empire as the eighteenth This was perhaps best symbolized by David Wilkie’s painting of Sir David Baird Discovering the Body of Sultan Tippoo (1839). National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh century gave way to the nineteenth century, with the earlier gloom and uncertainty about the conquest of territory overseas replaced by an embrace of the Company’s masculine soldier-heroes.7 The Shock of Captivity and Assigning Blame The experience of captivity at the hands of Tipu Sultan and his father Haider Ali was unsettling and deeply humiliating for most of the Company's British soldiers.
Accustomed to looking down at Indians as their racial and social inferiors, these men now found themselves at the mercy of these supposedly savage individuals. This first component of the captive experience necessarily involved a loss of freedom and the passing into the custody of the Sultan's men. In most cases, this took the form of defeat in battle, the transfer of custody from the French to the Mysoreans, or the overrunning of territory previously held by the British Company. The humiliating process through which Europeans were put under the control of Indians greatly shaped the way in which Tipu came to be viewed, as the prisoners invariably blamed Tipu for the sufferings that they endured during captivity. This was the genesis for the image of the tyrannical and cruel Oriental despot of the Tipu Legend, which would later come to characterize representations of the Sultan.8 It was perhaps inevitable that the process of capture also invariably turned into a search for scapegoats, both within the East India Company's ranks and amongst the wider British public. When disasters befell the Company's military and delivered British sons into the hands of its enemies, attention quickly shifted into a search to assign blame. One
Jennifer Pitts. A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton: