Anglo-Mysore Wars: Key Battles in British-Indian History

Haider Ali, son of Fatah Mohammad, descendant of Qureish of Mecca, served the state of Mysore. He rose to prominence with the siege of Devanahalli (a town 23 miles north of Bangalore) in 1749 and his return from Hyderabad with huge wealth. With that wealth, he augmented his troops and began to train them with the help of the French. In 1755, he was appointed as faujdar of Dindigul where he suppressed the Polygars and also established an arsenal with the help of French engineers. Later he took advantage of the rivalry between the Raja of Mysore and Nanjaraj, the commander-in-chief, became the de facto ruler in 1761, and made the Raja a mere pensioner. He never adopted the title of an independent king. Though his son Tipu is called Tipu Sultan, 'Sultan' was his name rather than a title.

The Anglo-Mysore War

The First Anglo-Mysore War (1767-69)

The First Anglo-Mysore War (1767-69) broke out at a time when the English were allied with the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas. Hyder was not only a good general but also a great diplomat; he broke the alliance. He sent his son Tipu to the court of the Nizam, who not only weakened him but also addressed him as Nasib-ud-daulah (the fortune of the state) and Fateh Ali Khan Bahadur. When Haider was in trouble at Tiruvannamalai, Tipu came to his rescue. Haider and Tipu captured Tiruppattur and Vaniyambadi forts. Tipu also captured Mangalore, and Haider expelled the English from the Malabar Coast. The British were forced to conclude a treaty near Madras in 1769 as dictated by Haider.

The Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-84)

The Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-84) started when the English attacked Mahe, which was one of Haider's territories. He and Tipu marched towards Arcot, the capital of Carnatic, and sent his second son, Karim, to attack Porto Novo. The English got their first reverses at Perambakkam when Tipu attacked and harassed their army led by Baillie. Baillie wanted to reach Conjeevaram, but Tipu's continuous attack with rockets and infantry made this difficult. Tipu's Jaish (infantry) was so disciplined that Baillie thought it was the British army led by Hector Munro who was coming to help him. Finally, Baillie surrendered; the defeat of Baillie was termed by Thomas Munro as "the severest blow that the English ever sustained in India."

However, Haider committed a mistake. Had he attacked Munro too with full force, he would have destroyed his army completely and would have reached up to Madras. Instead, he sent a small army under Tipu to pursue Munro. All this happened in the first two weeks of September 1780. Tipu then captured Arcot and also captured Satghur, Ambur, and Thiruvarur forts without any great difficulty. He wanted to capture Wandiwash, but the defeat of Haider at Porto Novo forced him to change his plan, though he inflicted a crushing defeat on Colonel Braithwaite at Tanjore in February 1782. Tipu was then sent towards the Malabar Coast, with French help. But the news of his father's death compelled him to leave.

Haider was suffering from a carbuncle and died on December 7, 1782, at Narasingarayanpet near Chittoor. The news of his death was kept secret for a few days, as Tipu was away, to check a possible rebellion in the army.

Haider left a large kingdom for his son and successor Tipu, who assumed the title of Nawab Tipu Sultan Bahadur. Tipu's empire extended from the river Krishna in the North to Travancore and Tinnevelly in the South, the Eastern Ghats in the east, and the Arabian Sea in the west. After strengthening his position, Tipu continued the war, which lasted until 1784. Both parties realized that 'peace' was in their interest. On March 11, 1784, a treaty was signed at Mangalore. Tipu recovered his territory, which the English had conquered in the course of the war. Both parties agreed that neither would they assist the enemies of each other, directly or indirectly, nor would they make war upon each other's friend. This arrangement rendered the Treaty of Salbai (1782) with the Marathas meaningless. Indeed, the Treaty of Mangalore was a diplomatic victory for Tipu. It was also a compulsion for the British, as McCartney wrote, "Peace was necessary for us, for had war continued for a few months more, we must have inevitably sunk under the accumulated burden of our expenses."

The treaty gave Tipu a breathing space to consolidate his position, focus on administration, reorganize his troops, etc. He called his government Sarkar-i-Khudadad (Government given by God). He gave complete freedom of worship to all religious communities. His government was influenced both by Mughals and Western political institutions. According to Dodwell, "Tipu was the first Indian sovereign to seek to apply Western methods to his administration."

He also took a keen interest in developing his economy. The cultivated area was enlarged. He gave tax relaxation for waste, barren, and fallow land. He encouraged the cultivation of cash crops like sugarcane, wheat, barley, betel leaf, and pine, teak, and sandalwood trees. However, bhang was prohibited. He abolished the custom of giving jagirs to his officers in lieu of salaries.

He preferred to give in cash, though he gave inam land to temples, mosques, and Brahmins. He promoted trade and commerce, established factories at Hormuz and Jeddah. He also established various types of factories at Bangalore, Chitradurga, Srirangapatna, and Bednur, where not only Indians but also Europeans were employed. These factories manufactured scissors, knives, guns, muskets, powder, paper, watches, cutlery, etc. He was the only Indian ruler who was self-sufficient in arms. He also sent his embassy to many countries, like Burma, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, France, etc. He celebrated the French Revolution, planted a liberty tree at his capital, and became a member of the Jacobin Club, a famous radical group.

The Third Anglo-Mysore War (1790-92)

Tipu Sultan continued his father's mission of establishing supremacy in Southern India, so he attacked Travancore (1789), which led to the Third Mysore War. Cornwallis saw a great danger to all British interests in India. The Marathas and Nizam were in greater fear of Mysore than of the English. Thus, the enemies of Tipu, i.e., the English, Marathas, and Nizam, joined hands together. In 1790, three British armies marched towards Mysore. The first, under the commandership of General Medows, was to seize Coimbatore. The second army, led by General Abercromby, was given the task of attacking the Malabar Coast. But Tipu's swiftness in protecting his territories forced Lord Cornwallis to lead personally. Cornwallis captured Bangalore in March 1791 and advanced to Srirangapatna. Tipu succeeded in cutting the food supply, which led to a famine-like situation in the British camp, but timely help from the Marathas, who came with huge supplies of grains, saved them. Srirangapatna was besieged again in January 1792, and Tipu was compelled to sign a treaty on February 23, 1792, known as the Treaty of Srirangapatna.

Treaty of Srirangapatna

  1. One-half of Tipu's kingdom was to be ceded to the allies.
  2. Three crores and thirty lakh rupees were to be paid by Tipu either in gold mohurs or bullions. One crore and sixty-five lakh rupees were to be given immediately, and the rest in three instalments but within a year.
  3. All prisoners belonging to the four powers (English, Marathas, Nizam, and Carnatic) were to be released.
  4. Two sons of Tipu were to be given into English custody till the treaty was fully honoured.

The two sons who were made hostages were Abdul Khaliq (8 years old) and Muiz-ud-din (5 years old). However, they were well treated, and Cornwallis even presented a gold watch to them.

Tipu Sultan failed mainly because he had to fight three enemies at a time. There is no doubt that had he been confronted only by the English, he would have emerged victorious. Cornwallis admitted that "Tipu's lotees were the best troops in the world for they were always doing something to harass their enemies," and Munro accepted that "Cornwallis could not have reduced Tipu without the assistance of the Marathas."

Tipu's failure also lies in the fact that his defence was relatively weaker than his offence. Perhaps he took literally the phrase "offence is the best form of defence." He failed to defend Bangalore and Srirangapatna. He also made a mistake of not advancing against the English after his success at Arikere on May 15, 1791, when the English army was weak and demoralized. His father, in the course of the Second Anglo-Mysore War, made a similar mistake. Tipu's defeat is also related to the overall superiority of Europeans in the field of science and military organization. Though Tipu and his father had modernized their forces, it was still inferior to the English army in infantry and artillery. The English received large supplies of men, money, and material from England, the Nizam, and the Marathas. On the contrary, a large part of Tipu's territory was occupied by the Marathas, who cut off his supplies of recruits and money. Despite these odds, Tipu carried on a gallant struggle against a powerful combination for nearly two years, and he continued to rule with the same enthusiasm even after the treaty. He was down but not out, and the English knew it. For them, he was the most formidable opponent in India. Without winning Mysore, the English had no chance to become 'Power Paramount' in India. This is why when Lord Wellesley came as Governor-General, he was determined to force Tipu to sign the Subsidiary Alliance. Tipu refused, which led to the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (March-May 1799).

THE Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (March-May 1799)

Once again, the English made an alliance with the Nizam and the Marathas. Though the Marathas remained neutral in this war, Hyderabad continued to prove its 'loyalty and friendship.' Three units of the English army led by General Harris, General Stewart, and Arthur Wellesley (the Governor-General's brother) marched from three different directions on Tipu's kingdom. On March 8th, Stewart defeated Tipu at Sedaseer, and on the 27th, he was defeated at Malaveli by Harris. The English besieged Srirangapatna on April 17th, and with the help of Mir Sadiq, an insider, succeeded in storming the fort. On May 4, 1799, Tipu was killed while defending his fort. Krishnaraja, the descendant of the Wodeyar dynasty, was restored and was compelled to sign the Subsidiary Alliance in 1799. Kanara, Coimbatore, and Srirangapatna were annexed to the company's dominions. With the fall of Srirangapatna, the 'Empire of the East' was now under the British feet.

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