The Mysore Wars

The Mysore Wars, fought between 1767 and 1799 were the gravest threats to British rule, after they had established their supremacy in south India during the Carnatic Wars. There were several reasons why they proved particularly difficult for Britain. Both Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan were determined and energetic in their opposition to Britain. Hyder Ali who was an ally of the French, employed foreign officers in his armies, and possessed sophisticated European weapons. As an important example, the rockets utilised by Hyder Ali during the Battle of Pollilur were much more advanced than the ones used by the East India Company at the time, primarily because of the use of iron tubes for holding the propellant, which enabled higher thrust and longer range for the missile. They were clever diplomats as well as generals, and even succeeded in turning several of Britain’s allies against her. Secondly, the East India Company did not have effective leadership for many years from the time Clive left India to the arrival of Warren Hastings in 1773, and the Madras presidency, which was directly responsible for the wars, was poorly administered.

Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan remain controversial figures. They bravely and competently resisted British rule, yet at the same time they were brutal tyrants who held human life in low regard. They had courage and resolve but they also burned villages, often terrorised the populace, forced many of their subjects to relocate or convert to Islam, and ruled mainly by ruthless coercion.

First Mysore War: 1766-1769

The first Mysore war broke out shortly after the close of the Seven Year’s War, and only two years after Britain had established their dominant position in India. As a strong French ally, and a leader of the most sophisticated and well equipped army in the south of India, Hyder Ali was recognised as a dangerous foe even before the outbreak of the Mysore Wars. Britain controlled the area immediately around Madras, but depended on alliances with other principalities in the area. These allies agreed to provide troops to help the Nizam of Hyderabad fight Mysore, but instead Hyder Ali turned Britain’s allies against them. After several battles, a treaty was signed establishing peace and restoring the status quo.

Second Mysore War (1780-1784)

The Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-1784) witnessed bloodier battles with fortunes fluctuating between the contesting powers. In October 1780 Haider Ali took possession of Arcot defeating an English detachment under Colonel Baillie marking a severe setback for the British. But the Governor General Warren Hastings took strong steps to retrieve the military power of the company. He dispatched a powerful army to the south under Sir Eyre Coote, the victor of Wandiwash and the then Commander-in-Chief of the British army in India. He also resorted to diplomacy and detached the Raja of Berar, Mahadji Sindhia and the nizam from the alliance with Haider Ali. This war saw the rise of Sir Eyre Coote, the British commander who defeated Hyder Ali and his superior army. The war ended in 1784 with the Treaty of Mangalore, at which both sides agreed to restore the others’ lands.

Third Mysore War (1789-1792)

In the Third Anglo-Mysore War (1789-1792), Tipu Sultan, who had succeeded Hyder Ali, invaded the nearby state of Travancore in 1789 , which was a British ally. The Pitt’s Act of 1784 had reiterated the Company’s own intentions by forbidding aggressive wars and annexations. Lord Cornwallis and his successor Sir John Shore were eager to comply with this, but Cornwallis found himself involved in the third Mysore war (1790-1792) with Tipu Sultan as a consequence of the attack on Travancore.

Lord Cornwallis decided to declare war against Tipu. He concluded a treaty of offensive and defensive alliance with the Marathas and the Nizam, in 1790. According to this triple alliance it was agreed upon that the conquered territories would be equally divided among the three allies. Cornwallis thus isolated Tipu Sultan and attacked from all sides. The third Anglo Mysore war broke out and Tipu fought with characteristic vigour for long two years. The first year of the campaign under Major General Meadows proved to be indecisive. So Cornwallis himself took over the command of the British troops and marching through Vellore and Ambur, captured Bangalore on 21 March 1791.

Meanwhile Tipu Sultan could not get any help from the French on account of the outbreak of the Revolution in France and was left without any external assistance. While the Marathas ravaged Mysore territory, British troops reached Arikera by 13th May about 14 km east of Seringapatam, the capital of Mysore.

Despite the heavy odds Tipu fought gallantly against the English and displayed brilliant military tactics. In fact Cornwallis had to retreat to Mangalore as the rains set in and on account of the shortage of supplies. The fighting was resumed in the summer of 1791 and Tipu Sultan occupied Coimbatore.

Cornwallis in the meantime occupied all the hill forts of Tipu and on 5th February 1742 arrived near Seringapatam. Tipu Sultan found his position helpless and opened negotiations. Finally the Treaty of Seringapatam was concluded in March 1792 between Tipu Sultan and the English, ending the conflict.

The Treaty of Seringapatam and Tipu Sultan’s Efforts to Strengthen his Position

According to this treaty, Tipu lost half of his dominions which were divided among the British, the Marathas and the Nizam. The Marathas got the area lying between Wardha and the Krishna and the Nizam acquired the territories stretching from the Krishna to the Pennar river and the British obtained Malabar and the sovereignty over Coorg. But Tipu Sultan remained formidable and, not unnaturally, more hostile than ever. He could not forget the humiliation which he had suffered at the hands of the English and exerted himself to repair the ravages of war. Among other measures he took steps:

  • To add to the fortifications of his capital
  • To remount his cavalry
  • To recruit and provide better training and discipline for his infantry
  • To punish his recalcitrant tributaries
  • To encourage the cultivation of country which was soon restored to its former prosperity.

Through such measures Tipu strengthened his military and financial resources with astonishing rapidity.

Tipu, as a shrewd diplomat, also tried to secure an alliance with France against the English in India. He even enrolled himself as a member of the Jacobin Club of France. He permitted some French men in his service to hoist the flag of the recently established French Republic and to plant a tree of Liberty at Seringapatam. Tipu also sent emissaries to Kabul, Persia, Arabia and elsewhere to secure help against the English in India.

In response, the French Governor of the Isle of France (Mauritius) Compte de Malartic issued a proclamation inviting volunteers to come forward to help Tipu against the English. A few French soldiers even landed at Mangalore in 1798.

Meanwhile Lord Wellesley came to India as the Governor General in April 1798. He realised the hostile intention of Tipu Sultan and immediately made preparations for war. Like Lord Cornwallis he tried to secure an alliance with the Marathas and of the nizam. The nizam of Hyderabad concluded a subsidiary treaty with the English. As part of this treaty, the nizam, hard pressed by the Marathas, was persuaded to disband his contingent of French-trained troops in return for a promise of protection. This was the first of Wellesley’s subsidiary treaties. However,td the Marathas did not respond positively to the appeal of the Governor General. Although Wellesley did not succeed in reviving the triple alliance of 1790 , he could secure the peshwa’s neutrality by promising a share in the spoils of the war.

Fourth Mysore War

Lord Wellesley demanded the absolute submission of Tipu Sultan considering his designs to be hostile particularly with French involvement. Tipu refused and the British used this as a pretext to declare war. Tipu’s troops were outnumbered 4:1 in this war. Mysore had only 35,000 soldiers, whereas the British commanded 60,000 troops. The Nizam of Hyderabad also launched an invasion from the north. The campaign against Tipu was brief but quite decisive. The British army besieged Seringapatam which was captured on 4th May 1799. They won a decisive victory at the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799. Tipu was killed during the defence of the city. Thus ended the career of an “inveterate and dreadful foe of the English.” The dominions of Tipu Sultan were occupied by the English. They were partitioned among the allies. The English got Kanara on the west, Wynaad in the south-east, the districts of Coimbatore, and Daraporam, two districts on the east together with the town and island of Seringapatam. This substantially enlarged the area of the Madras presidency.

The nizam was given the districts of Gooty, Gurainkond and a part of Chitaldrug without the fort. The two districts like Harpanhalli and Sunda were offered to the peshwa. But the peshwa declined to accept the offer. So these districts were divided between the nizam and the English. A scion of the old Wodeyar reigning dynasty, whose forefathers had been the actual rulers before Hyder Ali became the de facto ruler, was given the remainder of the kingdom of Mysore. This new state of Mysore was placed under British protection. The minor ruler of Mysore had to conclude a subsidiary treaty with the English. The treaty provided for the maintenance of a British force for the defence of his kingdom. The ruler of Mysore was to pay an annual subsidy to the English which could be increased by the Governor-General in time of war. Above all, the British retained the right to intervene and take over the administration of the kingdom if they were dissatisfied with its government.

The Wodeyars ruled the residual state of Mysore until 1947 when it joined the Union of India by signing an Instrument of Accession.

The British Ascent to Paramountcy

After the Pitt’s India Act the British had become’somewhat restrained in their territorial ambitions. But’in the late 1790 s a radical change occurred in British’policy. Two causes were principally responsible. There’was a growing body of opinion within the company’that only British control of India could end the constant’wars and provide really satisfactory conditions for’trade; full dominion would be economical as well as’salutary. The more-compelling immediate cause was’the transformation of European politics by the French’Revolution. A new French threat to India emerged, this’time overland, with Napoleon I’s Egyptian expedition of’1798-1799. It was certain that a French army under such’a leader would find many friends in India to welcome it,’not the least, Tipu Sultan.

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