Enclosed by the river Kaveri not far from Mysore in Southern India lies the island town of Seringapatam (Srirangapatna). Named after its main temple Sri Ranganathaswamy which was first consecrated in 984 AD and is dedicated to the Hindu god Ranganatha (a form of Vishnu), Seringapatam has been a place of pilgrimage and worship for Hindus for centuries.
In the mid 18th Century a young and assertive Muslim commander called Haidar Ali (1720-1782) altered the balance in Seringapatam which would last for around four decades. Probably originating from the migrant Arab Quraish tribe, Ali had worked as a soldier and military leader for the ruling Hindu Wodeyar dynasty in the area. He was a successful leader and gained power to such an extent that eventually in 1752 he usurped Nanjaraj and Devraj and around 1761 declared himself ruler of Mysore and took Seringapatam as his capital city.
Over the coming years Haidar Ali’s initial wish to be allied to the British East India Company which held power in a significant area of Southern India, turned to a hatred of the British and their actions. This led to the four Anglo-Mysore wars, the first (1767-1769) which was won with relative ease by Ali. Ali died of cancer in the middle of the Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-1784) and his son Tipu Sultan who was commanding part of his army at the time, returned to take leadership of Mysore. The Third Anglo-Mysore war (1790-1792) saw the first defeat for Mysore against Cornwallis, leading to the signing of the Treaty of Seringapatam and a curtailment of Mysore’s borders.
The Fourth Anglo-Mysore war (1798-1799) saw Tipu Sultan, encouraged by words of support from Napoleon, once again attempt to rid India of the British. In 1799 two British armies, one led by Colonel Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington), and an army from Bombay marched in to Mysore and besieged the capital Seringapatam. After losses on both sides, the attacking forces breached the defending walls. Tipu Sultan took to the battlements dressed in fine clothes, and with a small number of close servants and a variety of guns taken from his armoury. He fought bravely and defiantly, firing muskets loaded and handed to him by his servants, and incurring several wounds, the first being a musket ball in the right side near his chest, the second a further musket ball near the first, and then further various wounds. His horse was shot from under him. He initially resisted attempts from his followers to persuade him to step down from the fight, but eventually retreated. After the battle, with the British victorious, his body was found near the Water Gate of Seringapatam. The Tiger of Mysore, who had once stated that it is better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep, was dead. He was buried on 5th May at the Gumbaz next to the bodies of his mother and father, and the core territory around Seringapatam and Mysore was restored to the Indian prince of the Wodeyar dynasty from whose forefathers Haidar Ali had originally taken the territory.
Feared and hated by the British, Tipu Sultan had been portrayed as a cruel and violent man and oppressor. However he was loved and revered by many in India as an ambitious, courageous and innovative leader. Unlike his father who had come from humble origins and was illiterate, Tipu was a highly educated man with a library of around 2000 works, many of which he had commissioned himself, and had a great love of firearms and the mechanical invention. He employed European weapon makers to come to India and work for him, particularly French gunmakers largely due to his good relations with the French. They not only made weapons for him, but also instructed his own craftsmen in the European tradition. His weapons were particularly advanced for the day, including flintlock repeating mechanisms based on the systems developed by Italian maker Lorenzoni. He fine-tuned the rockets designed by his father Haidar Ali, using the superior quality hammered iron in Mysore to create advanced and highly effective weapons that inflicted many significant losses on the British troops.
Antony Cribb Ltd is fortunate to have been asked to sell an allocation from the fall of Seringapatam. Following the defeat of Tipu Sultan and his followers, the victorious British officers were allocated, acquired or purchased at auction various items from Tipu’s palace and armoury. Major Thomas Hart of the East India Company who had been with Wellesley in his tent the previous day, was present and received various items from the Royal Palace. These items have remained in Major Hart’s family, being passed down through the generations to the present day. Now, 220 years after the fall of Seringapatam they have come to the market from the Major’s descendants.
These items include a fine and rare flintlock musket built on the Lorenzoni principal and being a 21-shot repeater. Typically constructed in the French manner it is decorated in gold with Tipu’s tiger stripe “bubri” on the barrel. It also bears in gold the date and place of manufacture to the top flat of the barrel, the lock and on the companion bayonet. The bayonet is stored in the silver mounted butt which has a sprung trap released by a foliate decorated button incorporated into the design of the butt plate. The bayonet has suffered damage by being forced back down the barrel over the locking stud. Unlike the three similar examples attributed to Tipu, (one in the Tower Armouries and two at Windsor Castle,) the gun has incurred a not insignificant amount of damage. This damage is not as a result of age but instead was probably inflicted at the time of its capture. There has been significant damage to the underside of the breech area which has removed the vast majority of the trigger guard, the supplementary release trigger for the rotating breech mechanism and left a hole in the wooden stock. This damage has also left the cock stuck in the firing position. The entire fore-end has also been violently removed. Unlike the previous sales of Tipu related guns which included pieces in good order and condition and presumably taken directly from his armoury this gun appears to have been collected from the battlefield and even has mud or tar partially blocking the barrel.
Also included in the collection is a fine gold koftgari decorated Firangi featuring scrolling foliage and flower heads on the hilt, a design also reflected on the chape of the scabbard. While not traditionally decorated in the Tipu Sultan fashion it does feature a gold Haidar stamp to the blade. This mark, while traditionally associated with munitions generally manufactured for Tipu’s army, is generally expected to have been for Tipu’s personal armoury when filled with silver or, as in this instance, gold. This piece also retains its silver mounted shoulder and waist belt.
A further two Firangi also exist in the collection, the first reflecting the quality of the one described above and also bearing a gold Haidar stamp, it also retains its scabbard but has incurred some damage to the hilt. The last Firangi bears a very distinctive zig-zag geometric design finished in gold, copper and silver and is unfortunately in quite poor condition but still retains its scabbard. The final weapon in the collection is a gilt hilted Shamshir with ivory grips and contained in its copper gilt mounted scabbard. The last Firangi and the Shamshir both represent items acquired at Seringapatam but not necessarily from Tipu’s personal armoury.
A gold betel nut box and gold seal ring represent items of non-military interest and probably originate either from the palace or Tipu’s treasury. The betel nut forms part of traditional Indian society and custom and is normally chewed socially much akin to tobacco, though there are accounts that it was chewed before battle.