Tipu’s folly

As I mentioned previously, I am not a great fan of the Mysore Sultans Hyder and Tipu; in fact I have scant regard for them and disagree vehemently with those who tend to bracket them as freedom fighters. My studies on them however, are far from complete, especially their violent forays and ‘padayottam’ (military marches) periods in Malabar. Nevertheless, I must at the outset make it clear that British accounts of the Mysore sultans were filled with gross fabrications made in order to prop up and legitimize Richard Wellesly’s declaration of war against Tipu and justify the capture of the Mysore kingdom. But then this is more a story of Francois Ripuad and his masquerade, how it unwittingly brought about the downfall of Tipu Sultan.

The English in India greatly outnumbered the French who were finding their plans of creating their own allies and possibly an empire, thwarted at every turn. They possessed but a few small pockets of territory while the English were slowly increasing their grip and making and breaking agreements with the various Indian rulers. The French were gamely trying and we have read about some of their forays into Malabar in other articles. But from the onset they had stronger relationships with the arch enemies of Malabar chieftains, the Mysore Sultans. The wars, intrigues and resulting treaties between the English and the French in Europe and America however tended to regulate actions in India during this time.
The third Anglo Mysore war had been fought over Travancore and Tipu was defeated by the English. The grip he had over Malabar was weakened and as spoils of the war, Malabar was ceded to the British. Tipu was smarting badly (considering also that he had to give away three of his sons as ransom) and he was trying to find out if he could marshal more support from the French to get back at the British. Until then he, like his father Hyder maintained a loose but cordial relationship with the French, and many French soldiers had worked in his armies as mercenaries and trainers including people like Lally and Bussy. But even so, these French commanders had let him down on crucial occasions, and Tipu was yet to learn a lesson.

So in 1787, seeing that he was getting boxed in, Tipu made a decision to contact the French King Louis XVI directly, by deputing three of his ambassadors. The intentions were not only to seek assistance from the French, but also to show the English that he had good connections with the French High command in Europe. While they were received cordially in Versailles, the threesome soon became a spectacle in France, more for their dressing and bearing. The French would not extend their hand any further as the treaty of Versailles had just been signed (act 16 stated that neither party would involve themselves in the internal problems between Indian princes) and they did not want the status quo upset. The French revolution had followed and the French were in no mood for deeper intrigues at a time when the Mysorean ambassadors arrived in France. Anyway the visit came to naught and by 1794, the hostages were also returned after Tipu paid his dues to the British. So it was time for Tipu to plan again and it was finally in 1797 that an event in Mangalore made Tipu raise his hopes (In fact he had one of his dreams in May 1796 which told him that a person of rank from France was to arrive soon, promising support with a 1000 soldiers!!). But before we get to Mangalore, we have to go to the Isle de France or Mauritius and get to know the next person in our story.

Mauritius came under French rule during the period 1715-1810 after the Dutch had abandoned it.  During the Napoleonic wars, Isle de France became a base from which the French navy lead military expeditions to support French troops in India who were fighting the British. In addition to colonial trade and slavery, Mauritius was also home to a number of French Corsairs or privateers, a loose term synonymous with pirates. These Corsairs attacked British merchant vessels and looted their precious cargoes loaded in India and consigned for trading in Europe. One such corsair who took to that lucrative but risky trade was a failed businessman named François Fidèle Ripaud de Montaudevert who hailed from Brittany and had moved to the isles in 1773. In 1984, he married Jeanne Françoise Boyer also called Chounette, daughter of an officer of the militia of Bourbon and two years later their first child was born. But the peaceful life in the island of Reunion and farming was not befitting the character of this adventurer. It did not improve, by 1791, for a business venture together with his brother had gone bankrupt and so with no other opportunities around, he decided to become a brigand. The next six years were spent as a privateer, attacking the British shipping off Malabar. In 1797, he was operating in the Malabar Coast and continued his attacks on British shipping, but soon he had run out of ammunition and had no choice but to call in to the port of Mangalore with his ship.
The opportunist he was, Ripuad hatched up a plan to contact Tipu Sultan and announce himself as an emissary from France seeking Tipu’s audience. Whether it was of his own doing or whether he was set up to do this by Ghulam Ali, Lord of the admiralty of Mangalore (It is stated in various English sources that this was one for the 1787 ambassadors and thus he knew a little French, but I am not too sure as his name does not figure in the list of 3, he was actually the legless ambassador sent to Istanbul) is not clear, but Ripuad succeeded in meeting a suspicious Tipu, who had been altered by his ministers that this Frenchman was an imposter. Ripuad had stated that he was number two in Mauritius to Governor Malartic and that he had arrived to pass on the message that a large contingent of soldiers were waiting in Mauritius to disembark to Malabar and fight the English alongside Tipu. Even though Tipu had been altered, he took the chance and after first imprisoning the Frenchman, later getting swindled in the process of purchasing Ripaud’s boat twice, he decided to retain Ripuad as his Vakeel or advisor.

Boutier explains – Tipu’s minister of commerce had said, "This Ripaud, that is come, God knows, what an ass he is, whence it comes and for what purpose." To shake off such suspicions which led him to prison for some time, Ripaud tries to give visible proof of his official status. Thus, every Sunday, after mass, republican rituals are celebrated, evidently to restore Tipu's confidence and legitimize Ripaud's claims of being "representative of the French people besides prince Tippo."
Ripaud then organizes meetings and sets up the so called Jacobin club (a disputed issue discussed at length by Prof Jean Boutier in his paper listed under references), plants a tree of liberty in Seringapatanam and confers the title of Citizen Prince to Tipu, who formally becomes a member.

A French paper was found in Tipu's Palace in 1799, entitled 'Proceedings of a Jacobin Club formed at Seringapatam by the French Soldiers in the Corps commanded by M. Dompart. A Scotsman, Capt W Macleod, attested to its authenticity. The Paper listed by name 59 Frenchmen in the pay of 'Citizen Tippoo'; it described the gathering of a Primary Assembly on 5th May 1797, to elect a President, Francois Ripaud, and other officers. The 'Rights of Man' were proclaimed, and Ripaud presented a lecture on Republican principles. Further deliberations and formalities followed before, on 14th May, the National flag was ceremonially raised and a small delegation were formally received by Tipu. The 'Citizen Prince' ordered a salute of 2,300 cannon, all the musketry and 500 rockets, with a further 500 cannon firing from the Fort. A Tree of Liberty was planted, and crowned with a Cap of Equality, before Ripaud challenged his co-patriots: 'Do you swear hatred to all Kings, except Tippoo Sultaun, the Victorious, the Ally of the French Republic - War against all Tyrants, and love towards your Country and that of Citizen Tippoo.' ‘Yes! We swear to live free or die,' they replied.
Dr Soracoe explains the move - Against the wishes of the rest of his court, Tipu agreed to move forward with plans for an alliance with the French, and began preparing an embassy to travel to Mauritius. Tipu's desire for revenge and desperate search for allies against the British Company appear to have overridden more sensible judgment and led him into this poor decision. The contemporary Indian historian Mir Hussain Kirmani wrote years later about how sometimes Tipu would act rashly and without thought, refusing to listen even to his most faithful servants, and cited the interactions with Ripaud as one such example of poor judgment.

On one side this led to the British conjuring up an international Jacobin plot, touching the distant tip of South India while on the other side Tipu was now determined to obtain the required support from France through the isle of France and prepares a new Secret embassy of two or three persons to sail to Mauritius with Ripaud.  This is of course downplayed by various writers taking the ‘Tipu is a martyr’ line - Some leave out this entire Ripuad chapter from their accounts of the glorious Tipu, in fact one even goes on to say that Tipu actually sent his emissary to obtain artisans from Mauritius! Well that was a tall tale, in my opinion, taller than that narrated by Ripaud when he landed in Mangalore!
The idea was to make a new alliance proposal to France which briefly covered in five articles the following - After two preliminary articles of friendship, Tipu asked in the third article for 10,000 French soldiers and 30,000 French sepoys, to be provisioned for and commanded by Tipu's officers. The fourth article detailed how the Company possessions were to be divided; Tipu wanted half of the British territories, taking Goa for himself and leaving Bombay and Madras to the French. The fifth article stipulated that both alliances partners would also declare war on any native princes that sided with the British Company.

Port Louis Mauritius
Ripaud and party sailed out to Port Louis in Jan 1798. It is said that the trip to Mauritius was not very pleasant for as soon as the ship had set out, Ripuad changed colors, ill-treated the Mysoreans and proceeded only after making sure that the secret treaty papers from Tipu did not speak ill of him. General Malartic received them cordially but at the outset made it clear that Ripaud had nothing to do with the French officialdom and that Ripuad was nothing but a privateer and an imposter. He then proceeded to make public disclosure of the treaty proposed by Tipu Sultan (which was immediately conveyed to the British in Madras by English spies!).

Malartic then explained that he himself had no soldiers to spare but could of course advertise for volunteers, which he did. They also sent ships to France asking for support on the basis of Tipu’s entreaty. In a public proclamation and advertisement it was made clear that Tipu desired to form an offensive and defensive alliance with the French and was waiting for arrival of French troops to declare war against the British. This again is disputed by others , and some say that there was much dillydallying going on about what words to use and to keep it all neutral, but only to mention an alliance between Tipu and the French. Tipu’s plan was to check out the French and only form a military alliance if Ripaud's promise of tens of thousands of soldiers proved to be true. A few people decided to travel to Mangalore and as it finally turned out, fewer than a hundred French volunteers returned to Mysore together with the ambassadors (The party included two generals, 35 officers, 36 European soldiers, 22 colored troops, and four shipbuilders all under the leadership of L’Hermitte). Those who support the ‘Tipu is a martyr’ theory may take note that Tipu clearly had plans to enrich himself further and affirm his own safety, also to bring in the French at the expense of the English and the Marathas and the Nizam, nothing about all this to free India of foreign dominance or the British yoke.
And that brings us to Lord Mornington, the third player in the drama which followed. Richard Wesley (he always used the archaic Irish usage - Wesley, never the modernized usage Wellesley which his brother Arthur changed to) was known as The Earl of Mornington from 1781 until 1799. Wesley became the new Governor General of India in the spring of 1798, replacing John Shore, and arrived with a burning ambition to implant British superiority on these distant shores and perhaps to snuff out any French ambitions. As he learnt about the activities concerning Tipu, Ripaud and Malartic in Mauritius, he saw a window of opportunity and wanted to attack Tipu’s stronghold rightaway.

Wesley heard about the Malartic Proclamation and immediately resolved to invade Mysore,  believing that it provided sufficient rationale for a preemptive war of conquest. But in Europe, Britain was involved in an ongoing war against France and there was no enthusiasm for further military expenses and conquests in India. They generally decided to take a wait and watch attitude. Wesley was asked to, adopt a cautious approach, safeguard the EIC’s investment and await further instructions from home. Mornington however taking preemptive steps, went on a war footing and planned for an eventual war with Mysore. The first step was to disband French troops working for the Nizam of Hyderabad. In addition, a flurry of correspondence ensued between Tipu and Wesley made it clear that they knew what was going on. Various offers of peace were discussed, but Tipu curiously took little notice, sidestepped the serious issue and went on acting as though nothing had happened.

Richard Wellesley on the other hand took to exaggerating the issue with London. He made a big noise about the threat posed by Tipu's supposed French alliance, and implied that British India was in far more danger than actually existed. Then again the news of Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition and plans about India made the British even more nervous.  Wellesley was quite aware that the French soldiers in Egypt had little possibility of reaching India without adequate supplies, but then again, he led the EIC management and the larger British public to believe just the opposite by linking Tipu to the whole fracas.
The war of disinformation was quickly started with the British overstating Tipu’s purpose and instead of accusing the French made it look as though Tipu was about to attack the British. Tipu of course made matters worse by his own vacillation and foolishness. Tipu’s reputation, his forays into Malabar and other places were overstated by the British and he was soon portrayed a tyrant of the worst kind. The correspondence between Tipu and Wesley touched on various topics, and when Wesley mentioned the French, Tipu replied that it was nothing and that some 40 people had come from France in search of employment, adding that all the rest were malicious rumors parlayed by the French. In reality, when Mornington complained to Tipu that he was harboring hostile Frenchmen in his court, the Sultan diplomatically remarked that Ripaud had drifted to Mangalore in a ship during a storm at sea. "I am having no discussions with him at all” wrote Tipu to Mornington "In fact my sincere wish is that the French, who are of crooked disposition and are enemies of mankind, may be ever depressed and ruined."

But in Jan 1799, Mornington played his hand, and mentioned in clear terms that Tipu had violated the treaty and demanded that Tipu meet with Gen Doveton and accept reparations and new arrangements or face dangerous consequences (It was exactly the game Hyder had played on the Calicut Zamorin). Tipu still did not realize that his adversary had no interest in diplomacy and replied in the most bizarre fashion – he stated that he would receive Doveton as an envoy later, as he was proceeding upon a hunting expedition for the moment.

By then it was all too late, Wesley had already given the order for the EIC armies to invade Mysore on 3rd February, which was before receiving Tipu's response. His brother Arthur also participated in the onslaught. A quick and decisive war was fought, Seringapatanam was stormed and Tipu met his cruel end, justly so (for he was indeed a tyrant in the eyes of us, the people of Malabar). Richard Wesley did not do well in later life, though his brother did. Richard continued warring and racked up huge debts for the EIC and was called back in 1805, but only after converting the EIC business into an imperial colony.

In 1809 Richard was appointed ambassador to Spain. He started getting occasional and inexplicable "black-outs" when he was apparently unaware of his surroundings. He was also deeply hurt by his brother's failure to find a Cabinet position for him (Arthur made the usual excuse that one cannot give a Cabinet seat to everyone who wants one). They were soon estranged though they made up much later. Not satisfied with just an Irish peerage, which he contemptuously referred to as a "double-gilt potato, Richard passed away and is remembered by the Township of Wellesley, in Ontario, Canada which was named after him. Arthur Wellesly known Duke of Wellington continued on his marches in Malabar and Madras, became a British prime minister.
Thus we see that the primary causes of a decisive war in India, and the ruin of Tipu Sultan's ill-gotten empire and power, was all due to the accidental circumstance of Ripaud's cruise to the Malabar Coast and his playing with Tipu’s ego and false pride. That was Tipu’s folly.

But we have to tie all loose ends up, so let us now see what happened to Ripuad and the hundred odd Frenchmen who ventured out to Mysore. Well Ripaud left India (not clear if he came back) and went back to Reunion to continue the fight against the British, while at the same time arguing with French authorities about some war titles. He finally got the titles in his 50th year, after 30 years of fighting the British, perhaps being one of the few who fought them the longest.
The British took over Isle de France in 1810 and the island was ceded to them in 1814 to be renamed Mauritius. As part of an agreement all Frenchmen would be sent back to France. Thus François Ripaud returned to France after thirty years of absence. He landed there with his sons (one of them, a soldier who served under Napoleon, was killed in Russia).  Ripaud continued fighting the British. He next assumed command of the frigate La Sapho and was injured mortally in 1814.

As for Citizen Chapuy and his 150 Frenchmen, from whom much was anticipated by the Mysore Sultan, well they hardly participated in the war it is said that they had locked themselves in a dungeon, during the siege according to a British chroniclers. The more neutral account states that Colonel (Brevet) Louis Auguste Chappuis led a group of 450 soldiers. These men, and others already serving in Mysore, fought with distinction in the final campaign; however, their numbers were too small to make a significant difference to the final outcome.

Anne-Joseph-Hippolyte de Maurés, Compte de Malartic, father of the Mauritius colony died of apoplexy in 1800. A memorial was erected at Champs de mars in France. The Canadian town of Malartic is named after him.
After Tipu  was defeated & killed in War, his family (4 wives, 16 sons, 8 daughters) was exiled to Calcutta in 1806 & his son Ghulam Mohammed Sultan Khan (the fourteenth son) was recognized by the British administration as head of Mysore family & successor to Tipu and knighted in 1870. Their possessions in Calcutta apparently included the Royal Calcutta Golf Club and Tollygunge Club which were worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but the present day descendants don’t seem to be doing well.

Les lettres de créances du corsaire Ripaud - Jean Boutier
Widows, Pariah’s and Bayaderes – Binita Mehta
Historical Sketches of the South of India – Mark Wilkes
Tipu Sultan and the re-conception of the British Imperial Identity 1780-1800 – Dr Michael Soracoe
Ripaud’s Bio

Notes –
1.       Wiki definitions - A privateer or "corsair" was a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign vessels during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend treasury resources or commit naval officers. The actual work of a pirate and a privateer is generally the same (raiding and plundering ships); it is, therefore, the authorization and perceived legality of the actions that form the distinction.
2.       Gautier article on Outlookindia mentions that Ripaud made mentions in his diary of the atrocities against Hindus in Calicut. This is not quite correct. Even though I am convinced that they took place, it was impossible for Ripaud to have seen them for they were perhaps carried out in 1783-1784, decades before Ripuad set foot in Mangalore.


harimohan said...

Well interesting read typical Maddy style with verve style and substance ,
I agree that making Tipu a freedom fighter is like calling Mayawati a mother Teresa !

Maddy said...

thanks hari..
all of them were in my opinion rulers with purely sefish interestes..and deserve no glory

Parvathy Sukumaran said...

I was searching for this article 4 the past 2 days Maddy, thought it was on the Historic Alleys. Nice one again, I'm glad that you didn't called Tippu a freedom fighter or didn't added any angle of nobility to him. I am not from Mlalabar, yet i think of Tippu as a ruthless being (don't even consider him human). Now there is an effort by some relegious organizations to re-paint Tippu as a freedom fighter & all other crap. What amazes me is their audacity to stoop to any level to attain their nefarious goals.

"I agree that making Tipu a freedom fighter is like calling Mayawati a mother Teresa !" You hit the nail Harimohan.....

Maddy said...

Thanks Jk47..
I agree that the Myrosre Sultans brought in a different kind of order to malabar, especially when it came to breaking some bad customs and also by building some good roads, but it was all for a selfish purpose, to further their own aims. The same with respect to the anglo mysore wars...The bad was that they tore apart the fabric and brought a lot of turmoil. Their return with large spoils of these wars resulted in so much of poverty in Malabar - which still remains...

പുരാണതത്വങ്ങൾ said...

Calicut was the richest state in the world during 15th century. A lot of wealth including gold was earned through Spice trade with Arabs and Chinese. Calicut was a stopover for all the seven expeditions of Zheng He. The gold was stored in temple vaults. Tipu's father Hyder Ali attacked Calicut specifically in search of these gold. He had posted numerous spies in the region to know about the exact location of these treasures. Tipu attacked with a huge battery of soldiers. The interesting fact is that the Opium merchant Rothschild, who owned the British East India Company, was also monitoring all these events. The French army also had Rothschild agents. The only purpose of Anglo-Mysore war was to transfer these gold treasures to Rothschild bank. The British handed over the Mysore kingdom to Wodeyar family after defeating Tipu Sultan