The death of a young Englishman named Munro carried off by a man-eating tiger in 1792 was the inspiration for some of the strangest artefacts in the collections of any museum.
Munro was the son of Sir Hector Munro, one of the East India Company's generals. His death was seen by Tippoo, sultan of Mysore as divine retribution against the British invaders. He commissioned the famous mechanical toy depicting a tiger mauling its victim, which contained an organ to reproduce the appropriate roars and screams, as well as play a tune. It was certainly a peculiar idea for a palace entertainment but then Tippoo was no ordinary prince.
It was Tippoo's tenacity, military prowess and the adoption of the tiger as his personal symbol that earned him the title of the 'Tiger of Mysore' . Tippoo's father, Hyder Ali, a commander-in-chief who had usurped the throne of Mysore began a career of military expansion in South India. Together father and son involved the British in no less than four wars.
Tippoo succeeded the throne in a turbulent era when the European powers were seeing the rise of revolution, first in America and then in France. Tippoo's ambassadors visited the court of Louis XVI and received among other gifts this bust of the king. But French power in India was on the wane and Tippoo also sought allies in Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran and among other Indian rulers. The British east India Company had fielded some impressive generals and administrators notably Sir Robert Clive and Warren Hastings who defeated the French and made allies of powerful leaders like the Nazim of Hyderabad.
The British for decades, indeed centuries, had had commercial interests in India. Tippoo was obviously a native ruler and resented the intrusion, a) of a foreign power and, b) what is more, of the infidel Christians and he was a Muslim, and he determined to lay down his life to rid his territories of what he saw as a usurping power and therefore I think conflict was indeed inevitable.
Dr Rajnarayan Chandavarkar
Well the main reason the British gave for their successful conquest, was related to the superiority of their civilisation, their technology of warfare their state craft, and Tippoo in a sense undermined all these myths not only because he often had British armies on the run, partly because he was a great moderniser and had very competent armies, his light cavalry were always capable of harrying and indeed did harry British troops. For all those reasons he was the obverse in a sense of the way the British presented themselves.
In 1780 at a time of shifting alliances Haider and Tippoo marched against the British with a huge army. Lieutenant Colonel Bailey with a detachment of 3000 troops was cut off en route to join Munro's forces near Madras. The ensuing battle of Pollilur was a disaster for the British. Haider and Tippoo managed to concentrate their forces joining those of their French allies under Lally. They had superior numbers, their famous light cavalry, rockets and canon.
The battle I'm afraid was one of a number of incidences where the British didn't shine in military management and organisation. It's not easy to fight a battle in India when your command may be at Madras and your ultimate command is the company's offices in London. The question of distance is one thing but there were very real problems in direct lines of command. Hesitation and indecision did cost the British in fact at many points in this battle.
Tippoo immortalised his triumph at Pollilur in a series of painted murals in his place at Seringapatam. The artist captured wonderfully the moment when a Mysorean shell landed in the British ammunition wagon. To the great consternation of Bailey languishing in his palanquin whose expression captures the moment perfectly. Bailey himself was captured after the battle and died in Tippoo's jail. But the sultan's reputation as a cruel despot was probably in part the result of British propaganda.
I think Tippoo did become a British obsession partly because Tippoo fitted with the Companies ideals of Indian Kingship if you like. It was also important to present him as a zealot and as barbarous, of course he wasn't always kind to the British. I mean I don't know that he compares particularly badly with some of the things the British did in pacification the mutiny or some thing's they did when they took back Deli. He clearly was militarily ruthless and that necessarily entailed savagery, but I don't think it's particularly helpful to make a moral judgement of that kind.
No one would deny that 18th century warfare had its bloody elements and the Pollilur murals made frequent references to the gorier aspects of battle. Ten years later when Tippoo was defending Seringapatam against an imminent attack from the Governor General and Commander in Chief Lord Cornwallis, he prudently had the whole mural whitewashed over. But Tippoo wasn't merely a warrior, he was also a patron of the arts and a diplomat. This side of his character may be due for reappraisal.
Tippoo has appeared in many history books to do with political and military affairs. He's never been studied in any depth as an inventor and a creator and as an artistic patron. I think a reassessment is long overdue. I think that the person who hasn't emerged as a character is the Tippoo who built gun roads across his territories focussing on Mysore, who introduced silk to Mysore, and that's now one of India's main exports, who built a great damn to control the river Cauvery on a spot where about 200 years later the Indians themselves decided it would be a good idea to build a damn and in fact found Tippoo's foundation stone when they themselves started their excavations.
I think that the side of Tippoo that hasn't been studied until very recently is the Tippoo who had an enormous library of all sorts of volumes many of which survive. The Tippoo who decorated all his objects with his motif of the tiger or the bubri, which is the stylised tiger stripe. And the inventiveness and the ingenuity with which he applied these motifs to everything that he possessed and I think the leitmotif of the tiger and the tiger stripe is something that is, well, is one of the most exciting aspects of Tippoo yet to be fully appreciated.
The tiger was ubiquitous, within the walls of his island capital of Seringapatam Tippoo built the great mosque with its twin minarets and the magnificent Darya Daulat Bagh, or garden palace of the wealth of the sea. In his Lal Bagh Palace he set his tiger throne, monumental by European standards. Made of heavy wood and entirely covered in the purest sheet gold. Magnificent hangings embroidered with gold glistened with tiger stripes. Illustrations show Tippoo enthroned but the Sultan it is said vowed never to mount it until he had expelled the British from India, and so he never did.
The city was a sight to wonder at, with its palaces mosques and minarets and its Hindu Temples. One of the grandest buildings with an impressive bulbous dome is the tomb Tippoo built for his father Haider Ali. It' s now possible to reconstruct something of the exotic magnificence of Tippoo's court. Here he is pictured outside the Lal Bagh Palace with his elephants which were taught to kneel before him. The elephants saddles varied from the relatively plain to the most sumptuous embroidered objects, and of course Tippoo and Haider on state occasions would have travelled in howdahs almost big enough to double as bandstands. Tippoo rose early donning a fine white Muslim gown or Jarma and in the lining of his draws he had a pocket in which he kept a European watch, this like his cane and so many other personal effects was among the objects found when Seringapatam finally fell. Of several portraits of Tippoo, that by George Cherry, secretary to Cornwallis is the most famous. It shows him a little corpulent, heavily bejewelled and wearing the broad flat turban which he generally favoured.
Tippoo devoted a good deal of his day to affairs of state. Indeed it would have been impossible to sustain his ambitious progress whether military or civil unless he'd been a capable and popular ruler.
They handled their economy very well, Cornwallis, no friend to Tippoo said, that Tippoo's Mysore was a garden from end to end, and Mysore was indeed very prosperous under Haider and Tippoo.
Their favourite pastime was hunting, Tippoo, maintained a stable of highly trained hunting cheetahs. Three of which with six trainers traveling cart and two bullocks were sent to George III after Tippoo's death. But the tiger was Tippoo's obsession.
Tippoo's tiger is a musical automaton made as the toy of Tippoo Sultan it contains on organ, pipe and bellows mechanism and a keyboard. I have a very simple tiger tune from South India which I thought it would be appropriate to play on the Tippoo keyboard. The Tippoo keyboard is a series of buttons and it lacks the black sharps that one associates with a piano, therefore when playing this tiger tune you have to be very careful with placing your intervals. The other problem with the tiger as it stands today is that the handle which operates the bellows has been added later and in fact obstructs the keyboard when you're playing it, therefore if the handle cannot be turned you need the assistance of somebody operating the bellows by another mechanism from the back.
Neither mellifluous nor now particularly awe inspiring as sounds go, the tiger's tone and volume may have been rather roughly adjusted when a German bomb caused extensive damage in the second world war. The continuing health of the mechanical marvel is now the responsibility of the conservation staff at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
John Kitchin and Nick Umney
The inside here with the top removed shows the bellows for the 'roar' and the bellows for the music.
So how does this work then John?
The bellows are operated from the handle via the crank, the crank has a worm gear which operates a wooden cog, which if I take these front bellows away you'll be able to see.
Oh, I see, yes, so that turns that around …
Yes, and this operates on the lug here
That lifts that up and when it gets to the long one it falls off the end …
Yes, that's right
And then continuing the mechanism through you've got the two connecting rods from the crank, the first one operates the bellows here underneath, you've got the main reservoir bellows on top here Nick, which then will blow up these bellows, which you can feel.
And if I revolve this you can see how the under bellows are moving
That rod goes through into his chest and that works the bellows for his wail …
That's right, that wail makes him shout.
The sound for that is coming from his head so it's nothing to do with the organ part of it at all?
Nothing at all
The condition of the piece, the actual bodywork is very fragile, having been damaged during the Blitz in the war, the mechanism on the inside, a lot of that has been redone and is in relatively good condition but weak.
Tippoo's tiger was a thing of macabre amusement but his tiger symbol also adorned his weapons of war. Some of his troops were clad in tiger stripe uniform and much of the military equipment carried exquisite tiger motifs.
These firearms were for the sultan's own use, an impressive pair of pistols with tigers carved on their locks such items are now keenly sought by collectors.
Robin Wigington, private collector
This is a fowling piece made for, using, or firing two charges. Known as superimposed loading so therefore you can actually fire two shots out of the same barrel.
It was made for Tippoo of course and it's absolutely covered with tiger stripes and tiger motifs. It's principal and unusual part being the tiger as part of the stock. It's signed by an Indian craftsman Assad Amin and it may well be that he was in charge of finishing it or assembling it but I don't think he made every part of it.
In contrast to the latest firearms of European manufacture much of the equipment of Tippoo's armies would have been familiar to Sassanid Persians or to Genghis Khan.
Tippoo wore a coat of the finest mail. The other favoured material for armour was cloth stitched in multiple layers and sometimes, as with this helmet, reinforced with a metal nose-guard. Marcus Wellesley presented some of Tippoo's cloth armour to George IV when he was Prince Regent, and it was this which sparked the monarch's interest in Tippoo objects. This quiver is embroidered in a similar style and testifies to the importance of archery, particularly from horseback as late as the end of the 18th century. Presumably the average horse archer equipment was not decorated quite to royal standards.
The other main weapon of Tippoo's feared light cavalry was the sabre. This is one of Tippoo's sabers and it's got the typical tiger hilt with the tiger's heads and very unusually the tiger striped Damascus steel blade. This would have been one of his personal swords and no doubt he used it.
It' s a strange mixture isn't it, a very ferocious individual with a very strong aesthetic sense?
Yes well he was a highly artistic and enlightened ruler.
When Tippoo rode into battle he was proceeded by splendid banners, once more proclaiming his tiger motif to the trembling world. On the canon manufactured at his own foundries Tippoo also made his mark.
It's an Indian 4-pounder garrison gun and it would have been used or kept in the palace at Seringapatam. A 4-pounder gun of this kind would have been used at a range of about two to four hundred yards, very effectively.
The armed forces of modern India are in a sense the descendents of both fractions of the Mysore wars. Happily the Indian Joint Services Band now visit Londons Victoria and Albert Museum in a positive spirit of cultural exchange.
The surrender of Tippoo's two sons as hostages at the end of the 3rd Mysore war was an event which captured the imagination of the British public. One artist was actually present at the time, Robert Home, and his painting is now in the National Army Museum of London. The reason the British were so interested in the scene was really a very sentimental one in many ways, in that here was the rather portly but benign gentlemanly Cornwallis, receiving these two small eight year old and ten year old sons of Tippoo clad in their long flowing muslin gowns and the local newspaper reports absolutely gushed about the scene, The Madras Courier waxes lyrical about it.
But seven years later the guns erupted again and the old combatants were locked into the fourth and final Mysore war. This time Tippoo's former decisiveness and flare seemed to have deserted him.
It was always said that Hyder was born to win an Empire and Tippoo to lose it. Towards the end he seems to have rather succumbed to the millstone of fate hanging around his neck and lost his real power and his vision for winning battles.
Throughout the 1790s Tippoo planned his revenge trying to cement an alliance with the new French Republic and Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon wrote to Tippoo in February 1799, 'full of the desire of delivering you from the iron yoke of England' . The same month under the new Governor General Richard Wellesley, Lord Mornington, the British made their move. This time the British were in no mood to compromise, an army of 21,000 men was dispatched under the command of General Harris. Tippoo rapidly fell back from Seringapatam. Many of the officers who marched on Seringapatam had fought him before, some had been his prisoners. On 3rd May the British breached the walls. Tippoo, surveying the breach at the end of the days fighting shook his head and said nothing.
The next day came the final assault, shortly after midday the British forded the river taking only 16 minutes and crossed the outer ditch and ramparts. They then divided, Colonel Dunlop swinging to the left, Baird and Sherbrooke to the right. Tippoo, fighting near the breach regained some of his former courage and ferocity but he was wounded fighting near the Watergate and was killed by a soldier for his jewels. Baird who'd been defeated by him at Pollilur and taken prisoner was now led to the body of the Tiger of Mysore, a scene which inspired a popular engraving.
A yet more fanciful version of Tippoo's death manages to create a Turneresque landscape with a distant view of Hyder's tomb. The fallen Sultan was given a sumptuous funeral by the British and was buried beside his father with full military honours. The officer charged with restoring law and order was the Governor General's younger brother, Colonel Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington. The great man's contribution to the fall of Seringapatam had been modest, never again would he move forces at night in unfamiliar terrain. Once again the surviving sons were carried off as prisoners and once again the event was published in popular illustrations.
The entire army received medals depicting the rout of the Indian Tiger by the British Lion but the victorious generals were kept waiting for their just desserts. The elder Wellesley received an Irish Peerage and a full 15 years passed before the field commander General Harris received the Barony of Seringapatam and Mysore, East Indies and of Belmount, County Kent. His coat of arms redolent with Tippoo imagery shows the flags of the company and the union held by the grenadier of the 73rd foot and a Madras sepoy above Tippoo's banners and furled tricolours.
Meanwhile in London the East India Company had been receiving so many books, manuscripts, treasures and curiosities from India that a museum was opened. The most curious object that it acquired in the aftermath of Tippoo's fall was the tiger or rather the wooden organ in the form of tiger and man, discovered in the palace after Tippoo's death.
Lord Mornington dispatched it from India with the recommendation that the company present it to the king, to be kept in the tower. In the event it was the company's court of directors that acquired this crowd puller for the museum at their offices in Leadenhall Street. There, curious visitors could make the tiger roar and the victim shriek, disturbing the peace of many a reader in the library next door.
It was the Tutankhamun of the day, thousands thronging to see it, the poet John Keats among them:
'that little buzzing noise, what e'r your palmistry may make of it
comes from a play thing of the Emperor's choice
from a man-tiger the prettiest of his toys'
Not exactly the ode to Autumn.
Tippoo also inspired various dramatic productions like this one at the Royal Coburg theatre in 1823 with no less than Henry Campbell treading the boards as the defiant Sultan.
Tippoo was very much a pantomime character and in fact as recently as 1905 Tippoo appeared in a mummers play in Sydmouth in Devon. So his popularity has endured I'm glad to say.
There was even Tippoo the board game or 'The New Game of Tippoo Sahib' as it was called. Staffordshire pottery figures were early on the scene depicting the demise of the unfortunate Munro. This lustreware terrine was created as recently as 1976. Nowadays in India Tippoo is back in the spotlight not only has he become a comic book hero but a massive television drama series has been broadcast, based on the events of his life.
In India today Tippoo has been seen as one of the first freedom fighters he pre-dates the Indian mutiny by a good 57 years at his death. He has been seen very much as an Indian hero obviously there is strong support for the Muslim community, but on the anniversaries of Tippoo's death Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs, and British, including myself, do come to Tippoo's tomb to pay their respects and their homage and he's becoming much more of a national figure than just a simply local hero.
There's some controversy still as a result of the fact that Tippoo was a Muslim ruler over a predominantly Hindu sate. This makes him a problematic hero for some Hindu nationalist groups. So how universal can be the appeal of the Tiger of Mysore?
Well the curious thing about the tiger of course is that it has a very double edged significance. There were lots of tigers in the forests of Mysore, the tiger was an old Persian symbol of kingship and power and so on, it's also of course the vehicle on which the Goddess Kali travels and in a sense that very neatly says something about the way in which one shouldn't really begin to reduce the history of Tippoo into some kind of battle between Hindus and Muslims as if they existed as two corporate clearly defined entities.
It seems that Tippoo is going to be around for a long time to come, probably as an Indian national hero. He'll certainly be a figure of huge interest to historians not just as a warrior but as an innovative and charismatic ruler and perhaps most of all he'll be remembered as an image maker who used the tiger as a symbolic device to signal his power and who' s peculiar genius dreamed up the man-tiger organ.