Commentary Explorer Results
Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 6 : Seringapatam (1798–99)
AW complains at not hearing from home:
The only reference to this appears to be in AW to Mornington, 12 July 1797, WSD vol 1 p 16 where he says: “I have not heard from England since I left it, which is extraordinary, considering that that was in June ’96.” And this, together with the later reference “I acknowledge that I am a bad judge of the pain a man feels upon parting from his family” (same to same 27 July 1797 WSD vol 1 p 17-18) have a forlorn air. But was it really so extraordinary that he had not heard from home in the four months after his arrival? Letters sent by sea took as long to arrive as he had, and generally arrived in two bursts each year. Moreover, within a fortnight of his letter of 12 July he did receive letters from Mornington, dated 5th and 21 March, for the letter of 27 July was written in reply to them. On the whole, it appears that Guedalla and Longford make rather more of this than the evidence warrants. (Guedalla The Duke p 74, 76; Longford p 50-51).
Butler Eldest Brother p 134 quotes Mornington to Hyacinthe, 5 June 1798, describing his arrival in rather different terms:
Arthur met us a few miles from the town, and on arrival at the Fort I was saluted by a salvo of artillery. It was 3 pm and very hot and I did not disembark till 5.30 to spare the troops, rather than for my own convenience…. At 5.30 we disembarked among the troops commanded by Arthur, who were drawn up from the river bank to Government House, to which I went on foot.
“Informal chief of staff”:
Guedalla The Duke p 80 uses the phrase and also “technical adviser”. The latter is not unreasonable for these few months, but not for the relationship in India as a whole.
One instance of Mornington’s patronage which isn’t mentioned in the text, is that just as AW was about to sail for Madras, Mornington had the idea of sending him to Hyderabad to supersede Kirkpatrick and then on to Seringapatam as envoy to Tipu. (Mornington to AW 17 Aug 1798 WSD vol 1 p 90). Nothing came of this, but why? Possibly because AW sailed before he heard of it, or told Mornington that it was too late, or too obvious favouritism. It is interesting that Mornington was prepared to be so blatant, giving AW almost all the important jobs in order to push him forward.
Voyage to Madras:
Officially the 33rd was sent south to reinforce the Madras army in case of war with Mysore. It was part of a larger reinforcement which also included a battalion of marines, a battery of artillery and up to 2,000 volunteers from the sepoys of the Bengal army. (Indian Record Series. Fort William-India House Correspondence and other contemporary papers relating thereto. vol xviii (Foreign, Political & Secret) 1796-1800 edited by Rev. Father H. Heras p 436). But the officials at Madras were by no means eager to receive the 33rd and strongly objected to the transfer in the other direction of the 36th Regiment, arguing that although the latter was numerically much weaker, its men were seasoned to the climate making it more efficient. (Wellesley Despatches vol 1 p 238n; Lushington Life of Harris p 138-42 esp 140). Further, unofficial, motives for the Governor-General insisting on the exchange probably included sending Arthur nearer the scene of action, and the hope that he might persuade the government at Madras to be more co-operative.
The regiment sailed on or before 19 August and reached Madras on 13 September where the soldiers, officers and cargo had to be landed through the high surf onto the open beach, there being no port at Madras in 1798. It had not been a pleasant passage. The Fitzwilliam, with Colonel Wellesley on board, struck a reef at the mouth of the Hooghly and remained on it for about eight hours receiving a terrible battering until at last she got off thanks to ‘the bodily strength of the soldiers’. As a result she leaked, but there were plenty of men to man the pumps and she was still seaworthy. In the event the drinking water proved more dangerous than the sea, for the regiment suffered much from ‘the flux’, fifteen men dying and almost all, including the colonel, being afflicted. Wellesley made a formal complaint of the negligence of the authorities in Calcutta who had provided brackish tainted water, but after a year’s cogitation these same authorities, supported by the Medical Board, acquitted themselves of all blame. (AW to HW, Fitzwilliam 19 August 1798, and Madras, 23 September 1798 WSD vol 1 p 84, 93-6; Indian Record Series vol 21 p 405, report of 29 August 1799 paras 274-80).
Wellesley Despatches vol 1 p 238 lists the four ships on which the 33rd sailed.
AW and Clive:
Clive arrived in Madras on 21 August 1798 (Lushington Life of Harris p 158)
Clive may have been influenced, in accepting the post at Madras, by his wife’s ‘avid desire to experience “the magnificence of the East”’. (Birds of Passage. Henrietta Clive’s Travels in South India, 1798-1801 edited by Nancy K. Shields (London, Eland, 2009)
AW arrived in Madras on 13 September 1798 (WSD vol 1 p 85).
Clive was, naturally, more fulsome and less frank in giving Mornington his first impressions of AW:
I cannot express to your Lordship the satisfaction I feel in the arrival of Colonel Wellesley. I find him so easy in his manners, and friendly in his communications, that I cannot doubt but that the more I have the opportunity of cultivating his intimacy, the more I shall rejoice at the presence of a person so nearly connected with your Lordship, and so entirely possessed of your views and intentions. (Clive to Mornington, 22 September 1798, WSD vol 13 p 4).
AW’s more considered praise of Clive is also worth quoting here: ‘Lord Clive is very patient and not unlikely to get through all the intricate and teazing detail as well as any man.’ (AW to Mornington, 25 Sept 1798, WP 1/8).
Lady Clive wrote to her brother Lord Powis on 27 September, ‘Colonel Wellesley is here with the 33rd Regiment. He came ten days ago. Lord Clive sees him often and I believe he knows a good deal of Lord Morningtoon’s mind on peace or war. Colonel Wellesley told me that Lord Mornington is so miserable without Lady Mornington and their children that the name of Europe is sufficient to make him quite wretched. This does not look as if he would stay long.’ (Shields Birds of Passage p 65). She also suggests the opposition to war at Madras by writing, on 24 September to Lord Powis, ‘Lord Mornington [at Calcutta] torments Lord Clive a good deal. He is precipitate and rash and wishes to do too much at once. The treasury is empty and in debt and there are great fears that Lord Mornington will get into a war with Tipu without men or money. The offensive army here, when Ceylon is deducted, consists of but 2,000 men.’ (Shields Birds of Passage p 64).
Mornington himself was scathing about Clive, writing to AW in June 1799, after more than five months working together in Madras:
Puzzlestick is the best natured, the best tempered, the dullest, the most ignorant, the most (privately) honest, the least (publicly) principled, the meanest, the most avaricious, the slowest to conceive, the quickest to forget, in short the best private and the most ridiculously inefficient & undisciplined public man… He is universally despised to a very unjust degree… (Mornington to AW, 10 June 1799, WP 1/16).
See also Two Views of British India p 151-2 & 167-8 along the same lines.
Barry Close and Josiah Webbe:
There is no shortage of biographical material about Barry Close, or tributes to his ability. AW considered him ‘by far the ablest man in the Company’s army’ (AW to HW 23 Sept 1798 WSD vol 1 p 93-96; and Mornington later agreed: Two Views p 170). But AW saw little of him, at least in his first weeks at Madras, telling Henry in this same letter, ‘I have not seen him since I arrived here.’ Even on 12 October, a month after reaching Madras, he tells Henry, ‘I have not had five words of conversation with Close since I arrived at Madras’ (AW to HW, 12 Oct 1798, WSD vol 1 p 106-7).
Josiah Webbe was born in 1768 and joined the Madras Civil Service in 1783, becoming secretary to the government in 1797. There are a few tributes to his ability and integrity, although not as many as for Close. Lushington (Life of Harris) p 118n says that Wellington kept a large engraving of Webbe’s portrait at Stratfield Saye, and told a visitor: ‘”That man was one of the ablest I ever knew, and what is more, one of the honestest.”‘ And in July 1801 AW told HW ‘I think about Webbe as Mornington does; that he is a very able and a very honest man, and that in good hands he would do well.’ (AW to HW 8 July 1801 WSD vol 2 p 501-3).
Even in 1798 at the height of Webbe’s opposition, Mornington acknowledged his integrity, (Mornington to Clive 29 July [sic – August, see Butler p 163] 1798 Wellesley Despatches vol 1 p 229. Not that Mornington had much time for him at this point: he told Dundas:
He is a man of a certain degree of talents, and sufficiently informed in the details of the government of Fort St George, but his general knowledge is superficial, his understanding incorrect, and perpetually disturbed by the most violent and ungovernable temper I ever encountered in the whole course of my public life. (6 Oct 1798 Two Views p 87)
You will not be deceived by the professions of cordial co-operation contained in the correspondence of the government of Fort St George. The fact is that every art has been employed to thwart and calumniate my orders; a general feeling of despondency and discontent has been excited in the settlement; the advance of the preparations of defence has been delayed on the most frivolous pretexts; the conduct of the government has approached as nearly as was safe to positive disobedience; and the spirit of my orders has been counteracted in every instance….
These embarrassments are the more to be lamented as they have arisen when both Gen[eral] Harris and Lord Clive have sincerely intended to pay a prompt and zealous obedience to my orders. But neither of them are equal to cope with the arts of the faction which conducts the government. Orders have been retarded in their passage from office to office, or frustrated in their mode of executing them; and every contrivance has been employed to embarrass and to delay. (Mornington to Dundas 12 Nov 1798 Two Views p 107).
But compare this with what he told AW in the following June:
You will be glad to hear that I am on the best terms with Webbe, who has uniformly served me since my arrival on the Coast with zeal, ability & integrity. He has great merit, which would be more useful to the Public & to himself if he could correct some defects of manner. With me his manner is now perfectly good, & has been so ever since my arrival here during this visit. (Mornington to AW 10 June 1799 WP 1/16).
And he told Dundas:
I must repair the injustice I have done to Mr Jos[iah] Webbe, the secretary to gov[ernment], although I cannot acquit him of at least imprudent conduct in the summer of 1798. I have found him a most diligent and useful servant, with great knowledge of the details of this government. His understanding is very quick; not always quite correct: but he certainly possesses a considerable degree of genius. He has been very well educated, is a tolerably good classical scholar, and perfect in Persian and Maratha. His integrity is unblemished, and he really is animated by a true sentiment of public spirit. This quality has rendered him peculiarly acceptable and useful to me during the war, in which he has contributed materially to our brilliant success by the wonderful celerity with which he has executed all my orders for the movement of the vast machine which we pushed to Seringapatam. His temper is certainly not good; and his manners are haughty, ungracious, and forbidding; but in these respects he improves daily. He is young and was spoiled by Hobart. (Mornington to Dundas 31 July 1799 Two Views of British India p 169).
There is a chalk portrait of Webbe by Thomas Hickey in the BL India Office Material WD4311.
George Harris & Lord Clive:
Mornington told Dundas, after the campaign, that ‘Harris is a good old twodler, but a mere man of straw’ and that Close really commanded the army. (Mornington to Dundas, 31 July 1799, Two Views of British India p 170); while on 16 May he had described the problems at Madras: ‘The council were all engaged in private quarrels and petty intrigues; Lord Clive and Petrie detesting Harris; Harris (who himself is the most stupid and inefficient of human beings) despising Lord Clive and hating Petrie.’
The habitual interference of this government in all military patronage (a most fatal system established by Lord Hobart) rendering Harris even more contemptible than his natural character necessarily had made him in the eyes of the army. I immediately encouraged the best officers in the army to form Harris’ staff, I prevailed on him to listen to their advice, and I then delegated to him such ample and extraordinary powers as rendered his influence with the army decisive; and manifested my firm resolution to support him at all hazards. By these measures, the natural irresolution of Harris was animated to firmness and exertion, and the confidence and active service of all the best officers of the army was secured. Among these, L[ieutenan]t-Col[onel] Close stands first. I know no man to whose single exertions our success is so much to be attributed. He is one of the ablest officers in any service. You will not suspect me of partiality to him, as you know the part he acted in endeavouring to check the preparations in July 1798. (Mornington to Dundas, 16 May 1799 Two Views of British India p 153-4).
Henrietta Clive described Harris as ‘a poor fool, extremely good and all that, but has neither much knowledge nor much activity.’ (Shields Birds of Passage p 80).
The Mysore Commission:
Harris’s confidence and standing in the army cannot have been helped by Mornington’s decision to appoint a commission consisting of Colonels Arthur Wellesley, Barry Close, Patrick Agnew (Private Secretary to Harris) and Captain John Malcolm to supervise or even conduct any negotiations with Tipu, and ‘to transact various civil business under the authority of the Commander-in-Chief’ (editorial note in WSD vol 1 p 195).
After the fall of Seringapatam the composition of the Commission was changed to include Harris (if he had not been formally included originally) and Colonel Kirkpatrick, while Colonel Agnew may have been dropped. (Malcolm to Hobart, 30 May 1799 in Kaye Life of Malcolm vol 1 p 87). The Commission supervised the negotiation of the treaties with the new government of Mysore, and the Directors of the East India Company subsequently awarded Arthur Wellesley £4,000 for his part in these negotiations (AW to William Wellesley-Pole, 13 Sept 1809, ‘Letters to Pole’ p 24-25).
There is a considerable difference of opinion over Mornington’s real intentions towards Mysore, but even P.E. Roberts acknowledges that Mornington’s negotiations ‘do not seem to be quite bona fide‘ (p India under Wellesley 57) although he argues that ‘Wellesley had as good reasons for going to war with Tipu as any statesman could desire.’ (p 57) This seems fairly near the mark – certainly closer to Ingram who makes Mornington wholly cynical (Commitment to Empire p 134-5, though cf p 181 which appears to contradict it); or Butler who extends the benefit of the doubt far beyond breaking point (Eldest Brother p 169).
The terms intended to be demanded of Tipu – including the cession of Mysore’s coastal territory and the dismissal of French officers – would never have been accepted short of war; and Mornington was openly delighted when Tipu’s delay in accepting Doveton allowed him to commence operations (Mornington to Grenville, 21 Feb 1799, HMC Dropmore vol 4 p 474-6), but it does not follow from this that he was determined on war from the outset.
AW advises against War:
Arthur Wellesley hoped that war could be avoided. As late as 21 October he privately urged Mornington to make only minimal demands: simply that Tipu accept a British envoy, rather than risk hostilities. His reasons were purely pragmatic: he had no confidence in Harris’s ability to command the army if war broke out, there was insufficient money to conduct the campaign, and the state of the war in Europe made a war in India undesirable. (AW to Mornington 21 Oct 1798 WSD vol 1 p 110-112). Mornington was unconvinced. The success at Hyderabad gave him confidence, and he had plans for a public loan to provide the ready money the army would need. Not that Mornington regarded war as inevitable: he would give Tipu a chance to come to terms and submit to a settlement which preserved his throne and part of his state, which, in Mornington’s eyes, was striking proof of his own moderation and forbearance. If Tipu chose to reject such a generous offer, the blame for war would clearly rest with him.
Should Mornington come to Madras?
As early as the middle of September Harris had written to Mornington urging him to come to Madras and direct affairs in person. Arthur Wellesley agreed, although only if war was probable and there was no threat from Zeman Shah. A week later he felt that Clive’s dogged patience would probably be just as effective as the Governor-General’s more galvanic methods in working through all the tedious detail needed to put an army in the field, while with careful understatement he told Mornington ‘you would be much annoyed here.’ But two months later, when either intense diplomatic negotiations or the outbreak of war were becoming imminent, he was certain that Mornington must be on the spot to make immediate decisions. Meanwhile Harris had to be persuaded by Mornington to accept the command of the army, with the unspoken assumption that Barry Close would do much of the paperwork. (AW to Mornington, 19 September 1798 (includes a reference to Harris’s letter) WSD vol 1 p 88-92; same to same 25 September 1798 WP 1/8 (passage deleted from printed text); same to same 22 November 1798 WSD vol 1 p 130-33; Lushington Life of Harris p 175-6, 189).
AW leaves Madras for the Army:
AW left Madras in a great hurry, almost certainly in response to the news that Aston was incapacitated: ‘When I left Madras to take command of the troops, which, with their followers, are above 30,000 men, I had not even a servant with me, and I came away at an hour’s notice.’ (AW to HW, 7 Jan 1799 WSD vol 1 p 166-7). See also Barry Close’s instructions, dated 19 Dec 1798, and printed in WSD vol 1 p 146-7n. Judging by AW’s letter, these instructions would have been written and sent after him. They make clear that he was to succeed to the position held by Aston “(at present much indisposed)”, commanding the troops in the camp at Wallajah-Nuggur, near Arcot. (Lushington Life of Harris p 173 confirms that AW succeeded to Aston’s command).
There is no clear date for AW’s departure from Madras: it might have been as late as 20 December (if he didn’t go until after receiving Close’s written orders), but a few days earlier seems probable.
As Mornington arrived in Madras on 31 December (or possibly 30th: Wilks vol 2 p 674 & 697 says 31st; Butler p 182 says 30th), AW only just missed seeing him.
AW at Vellore:
AW did not remain stationary for a month at Vellore: the dating of his letters in WSD shows that he moved repeatedly:
He was at Wallajah-Nuggur from at least 28 Dec (p 151) to at least 7 Jan (p 166)
He was at Laulpet from at least 11 Jan (p 167) to 13 Jan (p 171)
He was at Vellore on 14 Jan (p 171)
And back at Laulpet from 15 Jan (p 172) to 26 Jan (p 184)
Returning to Vellore on 27 Jan (p 185) only two days before Harris arrived.
The map at the rear of WSD vol 1 gives the location of these places:
Wallajah-Nuggur is approx 20 miles east of Vellore, just NE of Arcot;
Laulpet is about 8 miles NNW of Wallajah-Nuggur – also approx 20 miles from Vellore.
Training exercises at Vellore:
Weller (Wellington in India p 41-42) says:
Many EIC battalions had not been assembled as a unit for years; individual companies were often spread about over a hundred miles. Hardly any battalion had drilled with other similar units. Wellesley insisted on daily battalion drill and also assembled brigades which operated together. The young colonel again introduced live fire target practice, something unheard of before him.
Weller gives no source and what he writes may simply reflect what he thinks must have happened – as is the case elsewhere in his work. There does not seem to be anything to support these claims in WSD or Fortescue, or Beatson or Wilson’s History of the Madras Army. The only first hand account of these exercises which I have seen (and Weller hasn’t seen this) is from Bayly, and is characteristically hostile:
Colonel Wellesley being the senior officer present, issued an order for the most intelligent officers to attend at his marquee daily for the purpose of being initiated into the principles of extensive field movements. These gentlemen were, of course, selected by the commandants of corps. I was not yet sufficiently experienced for this employment, but had sense of discernment to discover that the most brilliant talents are by no means an infallible recommendation to confidential places. The most distant ramifications of the aristocracy were invariably the objects of promotion to all Staff and lucrative situations. Even in this selection, the family of officers was considered in preference to the adaptation of qualifications. I attended the field days of instruction, and could not but smile at the various blunders committed by these choice, intelligent officers; nor was the honourable Colonel himself so great an adept in military evolutions as the world gave him credit for some years after. (Diary of Colonel Bayly p 68).
The bias in this is too obvious to need comment, while there would have been precious few sprigs of the nobility to flatter by promotion in the army in Madras in January 1799.
The infantry of the Madras army had formed in two-deep rather than three deep line since at least August 1794, although there is evidence that it had been in use earlier under Sir Eyre Coote in 1780 (Wilson History of the Madras Army vol 2 p 269 and p 112: I must thank Howie Muir for bringing this to my attention.) It is significant that all Wellesley’s Indian experience was evidently with infantry in two-deep line, the same formation which he employed in the Peninsula with such great success, and which seems to have become standard in the British army before 1808.
Distance from Vellore to Seringapatam:
Weller (Wellington in India p 45) says that from Vellore to the ‘Eastern Ghauts (all in British territory)’ was about 120 miles. Wilks (Historical Sketches vol 2 p 719) says that from the frontier to Seringapatam was 153 miles. Weller p 60-61 confirms this: 153.5 miles ‘measured by the perambulator’.
Harris’s praise for AW’s preparations, and AW’s complaint of 27 Feb. 1799
This is a puzzle. Harris’s letter as printed in Lushington (Life of Harris p 181) could be either public or private, but it is printed in Wellesley Despatches (vol 1 p 425-6) as clearly public: “General Harris to the Governor-General in Council” and WSD reproduces this (vol 13 p 4-5).
But if it was a public letter, why was AW complaining? Unless he was complaining that Harris didn’t issue a General Order praising his work…?
Another oddity is that AW’s letter is dated ‘Camp near Wallajah-Nuggur’ which is the same place as his letters of 28 Dec-7 January (WSD vol 1 p 150-66), 20 miles east of Vellore; but by 27 Feb he should have been approaching the frontier with Mysore. Perhaps it was another place of similar name? It can hardly be that he mistakenly wrote Feb when he meant Jan, for Harris didn’t arrive until 29 January.
Mornington’s proposed visit to the Army
AW’s comments on this idea are well known, but deserve to be quoted here:
I am entirely ignorant of the objects which you may have in view in coming, which may counterbalance the objections I have to the measure; but it appears to me that your presence in camp, instead of giving confidence to the General, would in fact deprive him of the command of the army, and that scene would be acted over again, probably in the presence of the enemy, which, to my annoyance, I have so often witnessed at Madras. Every thing which the General might think necessary will be thwarted and canvassed, not by you probably, but by those whom you will naturally wish to consult; the General’s own staff, and the principal officers of his army, who ought to think of nothing excepting how his orders are to be carried into execution, instead of their propriety, and in what manner they shall thwart them if they should not approve of them. All I can say upon the subject is, that if I were in General Harris’s situation, and you joined the army, I should quit it. (AW to Mornington, 29 Jan. 1799 WSD vol 1 p 187).
AW and the Nizam’s Army:
The possibility of this appointment was first raised in late 1798 when it was proposed to send a British regiment to reinforce the Nizam’s army to enable it to unite with Harris’s main army in Mysore, rather than pass through Madras. On 4 December AW wrote to his brother Henry,
Lord Clive thinks that it would be a good thing to send a regiment of European infantry to the Nizam’s army, in order to enable them to join ours in Tippoo’s country. This will save the time that it will take to bring them into our country to form the junction, and the destruction which they will cause in it. I should like to go there if the plan be adopted; but it is to be recollected that I am an older officer than Roberts, and indeed so are the commanding officers of all the King’s regiments upon this establishment. (AW to HW, 4 Dec 1798, WSD vol 1 p 138-9).
However this is not what happened. A detachment was sent to join the Nizam’s troops; but it was not commanded by AW, and they did advance through British territory, uniting with the main army near Vellore.
There is some useful information on the approach march of the Nizam’s army in WSD vol 1 p 152n: the contingent left Hyderabad on 26 December, crossed the Kistna on 6 January, and was to be met at Tripetty (about 50 miles NNE of Vellore) by a detachment from the Madras Army. Ibid p 184-5 adds a few more details.
In the end AW decided that he did not, after all, want to command the force sent to shepherd the Hyderbad troops to their junction, writing to Henry on 1 January,
I am not to go with the Tripetty detachment, and I rather believe that General Floyd is coming to take command of my camp. In that case I think it probable that I shall be ordered to join my regiment.
I should prefer not to go with the Tripetty detachment if I am to keep the command. (AW to HW, 1 Jan 1799, WSD vol 1 p 152)
One reason why AW lost interest in the command of the Tripetty detachment was that Colonel Aston’s death left AW in command of the troops camped around Vellore, and was not superseded until Harris arrived in late January. In other words, he had a better command than the Tripetty detachment.
Aston’s death made Wellesley the senior colonel with the army, making it much easier for Harris to give him the plum post with the Nizam’s army. The precise date and terms of AW’s appointment are not clear. I have been unable to trace any formal instructions he received, and the extent of his authority, if any, over the Nizam’s own troops is obscure. On the whole it seems most likely that he exercised authority over the British commander of the subsidiary battalions simply through seniority, and that Meer Allum, the Nizam’s general, chose to co-operate with him; but that in practise this gave him fairly effective control over the whole Hyderbad force together with his own 33rd Regiment.
The story that Meer Allum had specifically asked for AW and that the appointment was chiefly or partly political, emerges from what Harris told Baird (see Baird to Harris, 4 March 1799 in Lushington Life of Harris p 295-6, and Hook Life of Baird vol 1 p 174-5). This may be true, but it is also quite possible that Harris was merely trying to placate Baird. It is significant that Baird’s point is that no one in the army knows that this is the reason for AW’s appointment, and thus he is seen to be slighted. Surely, if there had been such a request, other traces of it would have survived and been published in one or other of the primary sources. Beatson, the obvious source, says only
In order to give the whole force with Meer Allum Behauder the utmost respectability, and to render it equal to any service in which it might be employed, the Commander in Chief deemed it proper to strengthen the Company’s battalions serving with it, under the command of Colonel Roberts, with one of his Majesty’s regiments; and, as that officer had expressed a wish to be relieved from his command, his Majesty’s 33d regiment was appointed to join the Nizam’s contingent; and the general command of the British force serving with his Highness’s troops was given to the Honourable Colonel Wellesley. This arrangement, which was highly pleasing to Meer Allum, added greatly to the confidence of his troops, and could not fail to render them essentially useful. (Alexander Beatson View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun (1800) p 54)
It appears that AW retained his authority (whatever exactly that was) throughout the siege. (Baird to Harris, 6 May 1799, Lushington Life of Harris p 300-303 complains that Wellesley ‘continues to hold the command of the Nizam’s detachment’; and AW to Mornington, 8 May 1799 (discussed below) says that his authority has been usurped ‘particularly latterly’ AW to Mornington, 8 May 1799, WP 1/16 printed, with Malcolm’s name suppressed, in WSD vol 1 p 215-6). Apparently Meer Allum retained nominal authority (for AW received ‘orders’ purporting to come from Meer Allum). It is also likely that the native Hyderabad cavalry acted independently of AW and under Meer Allum at Malavelly, and possibly at other times. On the other hand, AW says, in his draft letter to Gen. St Leger: “The Nizam’s army, under my command…” (WSD vol 1 p 203) and is clearly referring to the whole of it, which probably describes the effective, if not the nominal, position, most of the time. (I am most grateful to Howie Muir and Ron McGuigan who spent many hours probing this question).
Baird’s complaints of favouritism:
Lushington (Life of Harris p 294-8) demonstrates Hook’s inaccuracies, and the weakness of Baird’s arguments. Wilkin (Life of Baird vol 1 p 76-77) referring to the Seringapatam supersession says that Baird had been involved in a furious row with the native government at Tanjore a couple of years before and ‘even if Wellesley had not been present, it seems likely enough that Harris would have hesitated long before placing Baird in a position where tact and address in dealing with civilian authorities were indispensable.’
It is also true that the Hyderbad subsidiary force was a colonel’s command throughout its entire history; Baird could argue that the detachment that AW was given amounted the something more (the 33rd plus the subsidiary force plus some authority over the Nizam’s own troops) but precedent and practise were not on his side.
Malcolm’s interference with AW’s command of the Nizam’s army:
Wellesley also had some problems with Malcolm who, it seems, on several occasions sent him orders purporting to come from Meer Allum which, and least in Wellesley’s opinion, would have endangered the detachment if they had been obeyed. Wellesley, convinced that Malcolm was the real author of these orders, ignored them, and remained on good terms with both Malcolm and Meer Allum; but he found the incident most disagreeable, and feared that he might be left to take responsibility if things went wrong, without being able to exercise effective control over the contingent. Naturally he saw no parallel whatever between Malcolm’s presumptuous and unwarranted interference, and the assistance he himself provided to General Harris.
The evidence for this is AW’s complaint in his letter of 8 May to Mornington (which has Malcolm’s name suppressed in the printed version). AW’s complaint is rather inconsistent. At first he says: ‘I have felt so sensibly my disagreeable situation in the Nizam’s army for which I was responsible, although another man by a political manoeuvre in fact commanded it (particularly latterly), that I should have resigned it if it had not been for the fear of displeasing Meer Allum.’ Which makes it sound as if he was not in effective command of the army at all; but he immediately retracts part of this: ‘I do not mean to insinuate that Malcolm and I are not upon the very best terms; but what I mean is, that upon one or two occasions he sent me orders which he said came from Meer Allum, and which never could have entered his head excepting from his own suggestions, and which if I had obeyed I should probably have lost part of the detachment. This is of course between ourselves.’ (AW to Mornington, 8 May 1799, WP 1/16 printed, with Malcolm’s name suppressed, in WSD vol 1 p 215-6).
Weller Wellington in India p 61n quotes the letter as printed in WSD but where there is the ________ adds the name ‘Dalyrmple’, not even putting it in square brackets. In other words he read the letter and assumed – wrongly – that the name must be Dalrymple, and then treated this assumption as incontrovertible fact, without even giving readers a hint that it was an assumption. As good an example as one could wish of his lack of scholarship.
AW and the advance on Seringapatam:
A significant problem for Arthur Wellesley on the advance was the lack of guides and clear directions from head quarters. Although the Nizam’s army marched parallel to the main army and only a few miles away, it was often out of sight and contact was sometimes completely lost. Without maps or reliable intelligence it had to feel its way forward as best it could, and several times went astray completely in difficult terrain. Captain Colin Mackenzie of the Madras Engineers, whose journal provides the most detailed record of this march, generally accompanied the advance guard or scouted ahead with a small escort looking for a route through the jungle and rocks which the ponderous army could use. Mackenzie’s assistant, Ensign Rowley wrote in his diary, “It is possible that the Grand Army may know whither they are going, but our detachment, after losing their way more than once, encamped amidst rocks and thickets. The army is not far off, out of sight. My baggage and servants are all missing.” (Captain Colin Mackenzie ‘Journal of Remarks and Observations made on the March from Hyderabad to Seringapatam and during the Mysore Campaign along with the Subsidiary Forces serving with the Nizam in 1798 and 1799’ (henceforth cited as Mackenzie’s Journal) BL Add Ms 13,663 f 34, 39, 40; Rowley quoted in Vibart Military History of the Madras Engineers and Pioneers vol 1 p 294)
Letter of Lieutenant Patrick Brown
There is a problem with this colourful and useful letter. The transcript (which is all we have, only a typescript copy, not the original) states that he was in the 1/1st Madras Native Infantry in the Hyderabad Contingent. But the order of battle given by Weller (Wellington in India p 301-303 and based on Beatson) states that this unit was in the main army (Gowdie’s brigade of the right wing) and that the only 1st btn of the Madras Native Infantry with the Contingent was the 1/11th. (Typescript of a letter from Lt Patrick Brown, 1/1st Regiment of Native Infantry to his Father, camp at Hyderabad, 20 February 1800 NAM Ms 6810-46).
Several explanations are possible – most obviously that the transcript has mistaken 11th for 1st – or that he transferred to the 1/1st after the campaign, or had been seconded to the 11th. The letter is certainly genuine, though it is irritating that such a niggle arises.
The size of the Nizam’s contingent:
AW told Gen St Leger:
The Nizam’s army, under my command, consisted of the 33rd, six excellent battalions of the Company’s sepoys, four rapscallion battalions of the Nizam’s, which, however, behaved well, and really about 10,000 (which they called 25,000) cavalry of all nations, some good, some bad, and twenty-six pieces of cannon. (AW to St Leger, draft, WSD vol 1 p 203).
cf Malcolm’s account in his journal, 22th [January] 1799
The Infantry Chiefly consists of 5 Battalions of 1,000 Men formed from the late Corps De Raymond and Commanded by Meer Allum’s son Meer Dorraun, but tho’ Cloathed and Armed in the European Manner, have no European Officers with them. In a Conversation with Meer Allum respecting this Corps it was his Opinion that the Corps would be useless unless European Officers were immediately appointed to it and had better be left either in the Nizam’s or Company’s Districts… (Malcolm ‘Journal of the Mysore Campaign’ BL Add Ms 13,664 f 6)
24th [January] Besides the English detachment there are:
6,300 regular Infantry + field pieces
approx 1-2,000 irregular infantry
approx 3,000 horse
* and an innumerable train of followers
Infantry: 5 btns of approx 1,000 men each (ex Raymond)
+ 1,600 under Major Grant
‘The five Corps from the late Corps De Raymond are fine looking men, the greater part Cloathed and Armed with a respectable Train of Artillery.’
[Elaborates on their discontent]
‘The rest of the Infantry is of a very inferior and despicable kind and Meer Allum tells me he was so sensible of its being so that he solicited the Durbar to keep it at Hyderabad and send Cavalry in its room.
‘The Cavalry that has already joined in numbers about 5,000 are not of a superior quality either in Horses or Men, but those which are expected are said to be much better. (Malcolm ‘Journal of the Mysore Campaign’ BL Add Ms 13,664 f 8-9).
28th February At Harris’s request, Meer Allum detached 1,500 Cavalry and Major Grant’s corps of infantry, now 3 btns + 6 guns, approx 2,500 men, to join Col Read’s force. (Malcolm ‘Journal of the Mysore Campaign’ BL Add Ms 13,664 f 25).
Lt Patrick Brown, on the other hand, says that they were joined ‘by Meer Allum, one of His Highness the Nizam’s Generals, with about 10,000 of his horse and about 6,000 foot, but they were a mere rabble, without any discipline, commanded by black officers.’ (Typescript of a letter from Lt Patrick Brown, 1/1st Regiment of Native Infantry to his Father, camp at Hyderabad, 20 February 1800 NAM 6810-46)
Wilks writes that it amounted to
thirty-three thousand effective firelocks, including the garrison of Seringapatam, but no other garrison, exclusive of officers and of a numerous artillery, which, with drivers and other establishments, amounted to eighteen thousand more, and about fifteen thousand cavalry and rocket-men, making an effective total, including officers, of about fifty thousand fighting men; of which, at the commencement of hostilities, about five thousand were detached, and eventually not available during the war. (Wilks Historical Sketches vol 2 p 687)
Even allowing for some exaggeration of numbers, and the dubious quality of many of these troops, Tipu’s resistance was feeble, and displayed very little skill.
In addition to the comments in the main narrative see Wilks Historical Sketches vol 2 p 712-13:
The southern road from this river to the point where General Harris first entered it, presented numerous situations, where the advance of the English army might have been obstructed, and at least materially delayed by steady troops, without any risk of disaster to themselves; but it was a close woody country, and we have had occasion to observe, that after some early experience of disadvantage, it had become the fixed system of Hyder, as well as Tippoo, to prefer an open field; and although, on his arrival at the river, he opened several roads through the woods which indicated an intention of departing from this general rule, he not only abstained from any effectual attempt, but even, after examining and occupying the finest imaginable position for opposing the passage of the river in front, and placing beyond it a strong corps to operate at the same time on the enemy’s right flank, from very advantageous ground, with an open rear and a secure retreat from both positions; he abandoned the intention of giving battle on this ground, as strongly recommended to him by Monsieur Chapuis, and his own best officers, because the plan of defence necessarily involved the risk of a few guns; and he determined to fight on ground which he had examined about two miles to the westward of the fort and village of Malvilly; which, among other advantages gratuitously bestowed on his enemy, gave them, during the intended action, the most convenient cover for their unwieldy impediments.
This may be a little too pat, and it suggests (pace Buchanan’s theory) that Tipu intended to fight a battle at Malavelly; on the other hand, AW (quoted in the narrative) did say that if Tipu had used his troops more effectively the British would have struggled to get beyond Bangalore. So perhaps the general point Wilks is making is sound, even if some details of his instances are exaggerated.
Devastation of the Countryside:
The countryside was devastated by Tipu’s forces and by plunderers from the British and Hyderabad armies. Bayly writes, ‘As we continued our march the towns and villages were in flames in every direction. Not one atom of forage or food could be procured; every tank or reservoir of water was impregnated with the poisonous milk-hedge, many horses and bullocks falling victims to the deleterious infusion.’ (Diary of Colonel Bayly p 72) William Harness confirms this (with a little exaggeration), writing to his wife on 16 May 1799: ‘In my long march through Tippoo’s dominions not a single house was left standing. He had done much by way of distressing us for forage etc, but whatever he had spared was plundered and burnt by the Nizamites. All round Seringapatam the same devastation prevails.’ (Trusty and Well-Beloved p 135).
Arthur Wellesley explained the problem with bullocks in characteristically forthright language:
We had much difficulty to contend with after the army entered the Mysore country. The bullocks in the department of the Commissary of Stores failed almost entirely, notwithstanding that there were quantities of forage in the country, of which they might have had their fair share. This failure of the bullocks increased in so alarming a manner by the time that we got in the neighbourhood of Bangalore, particularly on the last march towards that place, that I had serious apprehensions that we should have been obliged to take post there, and defer our farther operations to an ensuing season. However, upon inquiry it was found that the root of the evil lay in a parcel of absurd, impracticable, shopkeeping regulations which had been made for the bullock department, under which no great undertaking could ever prosper, and the first step taken was to abolish them all. The spirit and zeal of the army were then called forth with the greatest success. (AW to Mornington, 5 April 1799, WSD vol 1 p 207).
Weller (Wellington in India p 53) confirms ‘low hills’ and adds in a footnote: ‘Captain Sydenham’s Sketch with a sheet of explanations given in [Lushington’s] Harris is the best contemporary map of the battle, but in March 1968 I found a number of inconsistencies between it and the terrain around Malavelly.’ (p 53n).
Sydenham’s map is printed in A Selection from the Despatches, Memoranda, and other Papers relating to India of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington edited by Sidney J. Owen.
The point that Harris was not eager to fight is worth stressing as Weller says the reverse: ‘Harris felt, however, that the opportunity to defeat Tipoo in the field was so valuable that he made every effort to close.’ (Wellington in India p 53).
The most important part of Mackenzie’s account of the battle reads:
Colonel Wellesley ordered the 33rd to move on; which advanced with the utmost alacrity towards the heights, leaving the guns behind which could not be dragged in front tho’ the Pioneers assisted. The Enemy appeared advancing down towards us; some shot fired from the guns on our flanks took place among them, and their Infantry took to their heels; tho’ said to be drove on by their horse behind them. A very severe fire of Musketry [‘Musquity’] took place at the time close on the right where it appears the enemy descending from the height 400 of their Cavalry absolutely broke through the European Brigade with considerable loss. The 33rd pushed up the hill with great spirit, driving the enemy before them, who kept up an irregular fire of Musketry and threw [?] several rockets; on the left the same took place; the Bengal regiment advanced a little in rear of 33rd on their left, firing as they moved, and the Corps on their left received the enemy who advanced towards them with a file firing, with some execution; a body of horse on the right of the height attempted to penetrate this way [?]; on getting the crown of the ridge the enemy appeared to have carried off all their guns, which probably accounts for their advancing in so unusual a manner upon us – many wounded and dying were on the ground; the Cavalry now broke in and cut down several but did not follow up the blow; from a view of preserving [f 56] this useful Corps for more important services, the enemy on the left were seen moving off in confusion, and on the right they moved in like manner, but I must confess I did not see any great body, and I suspect the resistance on the hill and advance was made to cover the retreat of the great body; a wounded man says Purneah commanded the right. (Mackenzie’s Journal BL Add Ms 13,663 f 55-56).
AW’s own account is as follows:
In the action of the 27th of March, at Mallavelly, his troops behaved better than they have ever been known to behave. His infantry advanced, and almost stood the charge of bayonets of the 33rd, and his cavalry rode at General Baird’s European brigade. He did not support them has he ought, having drawn off his guns at the moment we made our attack, and even pushed forward these troops to cover the retreat of his guns. This is the cause of the total destruction of the troops he left behind him, without loss to us, and of the panic with which we have reason to believe all his troops are now affected. (AW to Mornington, 5 April 1799, WSD vol 1 p 208)
Captain Charles MacGrigor, of the 33rd, recorded the events of the day in his diary:
March 27th. Marched at 5 o’clock this morning about twelve miles to Mallavilly where, about 1 o’clock, we came up with Tippoo, who had pushed his army on some heights on our front. After forming on the left of the army, the 33rd Regiment with the five battalions under Colonel Wellesley were ordered to move forward by eschelon (sic) of battalions from the centre, 33rd in advance. The enemy were at this time marching very regularly down in front of us, at about 300 yards they commenced a heavy fire of musketry but with little effect, we all [at ?] this time were ordered to charge and set off as fast as we could, at about 10 yards we halted and fired, but their cavalry seeing us not well formed tried to come round our flanks and were repulsed with great loss, our cavalry under General Floyd, who were formed in our rear …. moved briskly on, did a great deal of execution, about 500 of enemy were killed and left wounded; 33rd had six men slightly wounded; a most fatiguing day. (Quoted in Brereton and Savory The History of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment p 99).
Lieutenant Patrick Brown says,
The left wing of our army, part of the cavalry and our Detachment now advanced upon them and after exchanging a few shots the whole of Tippo’s line gave way except a few Battn of Sepoys and some horse, the most part of which were cut down by our sabres or experienced European bayonets. The cavalry pursued the rest but their flight was too precipitate for them to be overtaken. We got a few prisoners and it was reported that the enemy had lost about 2,000 men. Our loss was but small. This was called the Battle of Malavelly, a village of that name being close by. (Typescript of a letter from Lt Patrick Brown, 1/1st Regiment of Native Infantry to his Father, camp at Hyderabad, 20 February 1800 NAM 6810-46)
Malcolm praised the performance of the Nizam’s cavalry:
A considerable body of them Charged on the Left Flank and Rear of our Cavalry and tho’ it would not be expected or Supposed that they charged in the Style or Spirit of our Cavalry, yet the desire and attempt to Shew any kind of forwardness is a thing so uncommon with the Nizam’s Cavalry that the mere attempt deserves to be applauded.
And puts the whole into perspective:
The Action however unimportant it has been speaking of it as a Military Achievement will no doubt have the good effect of … [depressing] exceedingly the spirit and courage of the Enemy and rendering that of the Army if possible more confident. (Malcolm’s Journal, 27th March 1799, B.L. Add Ms 13,664 f 37-38)
Vibart adds to Rowley’s comment: ‘General Harris’s account of it is short and unassuming. Colonel Beatson manufactured a famous battle.’ (Military History of the Madras Engineers and Pioneers vol 1 p 297n). But even Beatson is relatively modest cf Fortescue and Weller, having AW attacked by 2,000 Mysorean troops (View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun p 81) and Tipu suffering only 1,000 casualties instead of the 2,000 estimated by Harris (Lushington Life of Harris p 208).
British losses are put at 66 by Harris (Lushington Life of Harris p 208) and the 33rd officially suffered only 2 casualties, although MacGrigor puts it at six (quoted above).
Fortescue’s ‘Ten thousand infantry…’ is surely a slip of the pen for ‘Two thousand…’ But even allowing for this both Fortescue and Weller make more of the battle than is justified and accept too many claims at face value. And Weller makes too much up, for example: ‘The enemy column was still coming straight for the British colours; they were not much more than a hundred yards away. An incisive, well-known voice rang out: “Thirty-third, Halt! Half-right, Face! Make ready!”’ (Wellington in India p 55). Which is undiluted invention.
Bayly confirms his obvious unreliability with a highly exaggerated account of the battle (concentrating on Baird’s brigade, but including rare praise for AW). He estimates British casualties at 500 and Tipu’s at 5,000! (Diary of Colonel Bayly p 72-5).
Meer Allum’s Discontent:
Malcolm had noted this on the day before Malavelly:
26 March … After Meer Allum’s Tents were pitched today the Line was altered and his Tents struck and removed to another place – I notice this circumstance here because it has several times happened before and notwithstanding the inconvenience and trouble it has given Meer Allum he has not ever taken serious notice of it. Perhaps there are few if any Natives of his Rank and Consequence in India who would so easily have submitted to such inattention and disrespect. I have written to Col. Wellesley on the subject and trust nothing of the kind will happen in future. (Add Ms 13,664 f 37)
Nonetheless, AW probably deserves credit for co-operating relatively smoothly with Meer Allum, for there is little other sign of friction – although it is always dangerous to draw conclusions from a lack of evidence.
Description of Seringapatam:
There is a long excellent description of Seringapatam in Welsh Military Reminiscences vol 1 p 147-9.
Baird’s attack on Sultanpettah:
Lushington Life of Harris (p 210-11) makes it clear that Harris intended Baird only to ‘beat up’ the Tope and not to occupy it permanently.
AW’s attack on Sultanpettah Tope:
Harris’s diary for 4 April indicates over-confidence: ‘our beating them up instead of their attempting us, will have the best effect. If our intelligence is true, Tippoo’s whole army are in a complete state of terror. Of course we should keep it so. (Lushington Life of Harris p 210)
However the account of his anxiety on the night of AW’s attack rather contradicts this:
6th April 1799. Remained under great anxiety till near twelve at night, from the fear our troops had fired on each other. Lieutenant-Colonel Shawe very soon reported himself in possession of the post, but a second firing commenced, and as he had previously sent to know what had become of the two Native battalions, I could not be satisfied but that, in the dark, they had mistaken each other. It proved that all the firing was from the enemy… (Lushington Life of Harris p 214)
Which raises the point that if Harris was so anxious – indeed, even if he wasn’t – why was he sitting around at headquarters, not nearer the front. Similarly, Bayly’s, and other tales of how AW went to headquarters and found Harris asleep, imply considerable negligence on Harris’s part, if they are taken at face value.
As the incident affected Wellesley’s reputation, and is still much misunderstood, it is worth quoting several eye-witness accounts. First there is a memorandum by Captain John Chetwood of the 33rd:
At about seven the same evening we again stood to our arms and proceeded with Colonel Wellesley in the utmost silence towards a wood close to the village of Sultanpettah. As soon as the 33rd Regiment arrived near the post to be attacked, Colonel Wellesley called the officers together and informed them of his intention to proceed immediately with five companies, to attack the enemy, whilst the remaining five were to remain outside the wood to sustain the attack, should their assistance be thought requisite. He gave orders to the officers in command of companies, to warn their men, not on any account to prime and load, but to use their bayonets. The grenadiers, however, were excepted. They were to commence a running fire in order to draw off the attention of the enemy. He then concluded that the countersign was “India”.
Our little party proceeded very quietly along the bank of a deep and dry ditch which bounded the wood on our side, not imagining that the enemy was drawn up in any great force on the opposite side, waiting our arrival, and screened from our view by a very thick aloe hedge. There was also a body of the enemy posted in our front, behind some houses, and we got into the midst of them without knowing it, and exposed to their cross-fire, which commenced by signal, as we perceived a light held up high; upon which signal 2,000 of Tippoo’s best troops received us with a warm but ill-directed fire of musketry.
A momentary confusion arose, but the officers encouraged the men both by word and action, for with three hurrahs we leaped into the ditch, got through the hedge, and drove the enemy before us.
At this time we lost our commander, Colonel Wellesley, who with many others, missed their way in the extreme darkness of the night, owing in a great measure to the necessity of dividing our force as much as possible in order the more effectually to clear the wood of the enemy. (Quoted in Albert Lee History of the 33rd p 167-8).
Chetwood’s account is corroborated by Mackenzie, who remained with Wellesley, and so is able to carry on the tale:
we … advanced in silence in the dark, following the winding of the bank, the windings of which sometimes interrupted our progress; as we approached the w[estern] end, an opening was observed among the trees on our left and in front, and while the Officers at the head of the Column deliberated on the road to be taken, one of the men said he observed a light in front; another said it was only a glow-worm and immediately after, while we were speaking, a discharge of musketry from the Tope threw the Party into some confusion; for being at the moment crowded on a steep narrow bank the men naturally running to their arms, the expansion of the whole suddenly overset such as were on the declivity.
I was among several others thrown down and on extricating myself from the crowd that pressed me down found I was nearly alone, but surprised to find no enemy had advanced; all was dark and silent; Col. Wellesley came up to the head of the advance on hearing the firing and with the assistance of the Officers endeavoured to form the Party but the firing commencing again from the Tope, and to our left, extending so as to inclose us, the Party were again wavering; the Grenadiers’ march was ordered to be beat, and at this moment the enemy’s fire extending still further to our left, the greater part of the party suddenly disappeared. I was so much impressed with the idea of the effect of the Grenadiers’ march that I supposed the Party had crossed the Nulla into the Tope, and going in that direction met a stone bridge; I returned instantly to Colonel Wellesley; whom I found forming and encouraging a very small party to fire upon the enemy on our left, and proposed his following our Party over the bridge; at that moment Captain Cosby came up to report the state of the Column & the sheet of fire extending further in a very considerable direction, so as to enclose us on the left. After several spirited attempts to form, under a fire which increased every moment, it was thought necessary to call up the reserve.
Captain Hunter & afterwards Captain Cosby were sent for this purpose, but the reserve not appearing and the firing becoming more general, indicating Col. Shaw to be warmly engaged and finding it difficult to form the companies with us under these impressions, it was determined to move back to meet the reserve, for fear of missing them in the dark. We accordingly moved, but in a straight directions (instead of the winding by the bank which had brought us up) to the Corner of the Tope where the two guns were found with Lieutenant Green; but to our surprise found the reserve had gone on, and that we had actually missed them; to have retreated again would have added to our perplexity, especially as we were encumbered with the guns; to have left them here would be now dangerous, as it appeared from the firing now repeated on all sides that the action was pretty extensive.
In these critical moments decision must be prompt; and Colonel Wellesley instantly took that which the result fully justifies; he instantly ordered the line escorting the guns to move towards the nearer part of the camp; on coming near the De Meuron Regiment he rode off to Head Quarters, and we lay here on the ground, till one in the morning expecting to be ordered back to support our comrades engaged, who enveloped in a long winding sheet of fire (occasioned as afterwards appeared by the shape of the nulla), maintained a very sharp conflict.
Mackenzie adds, by way of explanation, that
The reserve consisting of [the five companies of the] 33rd under Major Shee, and the four companies of Bengal sepoys, all commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Grant, had, when called on by Captain Cosby, pushed on directly to join us, and must have passed us in the dark within a very few yards, which is not at all surprising, in the silence and regularity of our night movements; not finding us in the position Captain Cosby had left us, Colonel Grant pushed directly forward, where sheets of fire showed our people were engaged with the enemy; he met with no opposition, till he came up to Colonel Shaw, whom he found critically situated. (Mackenzie’s Journal BL Add Ms 13,663 f 72-75).
Finally there is a letter written in 1820 by Colonel Taynton of the Madras Artillery who, in 1799 was a mere lieutenant, and was asked by a friend, Colonel Ashley Sturt, for his account of the night’s events:
On the evening of the 5th of April, 1799, a detail, consisting of his majesty’s 33d regiment and one battalion of the 10th regiment Bengal Native Infantry, under the command of the Hon. Colonel W., was directed to attack the Tope; being attached to the guns of the 33d regiment, I accompanied the detail. We left camp a little after seven, and reached the vicinity of the Tope without opposition. About 150 yards from the Tope, the detachment halted, and the Hon. Colonel W. proceeded to the attack, with half the 33d regiment. Shortly after, the remainder of the regiment entered the Tope, and in about a quarter of an hour, in consequence of the heavy fire of musketry and rockets, were followed by Lieut-Colonel Grant with his battalion of sepoys, leaving a reserve of two complete companies, with the guns, 4 six-pounders. I then became the senior officer, and immediately threw out advanced sentinels towards the Tope, along the whole front. In about forty minutes, my sentries challenged a party issuing from the Tope; and we were nearly coming to action, when we mutually recognized each other. I advanced to meet Colonel W., who had several officers and seventy or seventy-five men with him. He stated that he was much fatigued, and had, I think he said, been struck with a spent ball on the knee. I gave him a little refreshment of brandy and water, and he then ordered us to return to camp, and marched at our head. When we reached the front of the European brigade, commanded by Colonel Sherbrooke, he halted us, and directed that we should remain there till further orders. He then, I believe, proceeded to the Commander-in-Chief’s tent…. If it be allowed that a young officer (which I at that time was) should say any thing regarding the failure of the attack, I beg to observe, that the ground was perfectly unknown, and the Tope intersected with aloe hedges in various directions. This, added to the extreme darkness of the night, will fully account for the failure, however gallantly the attack was conducted. (Colonel Taynton to Colonel Sturt, 21 June 1820 printed in The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c no 504 16 Sept 1826 p 577 – thanks to Ron McGuigan for bringing this to my attention).
AW was only just recovering from a bowel complaint, ‘which teazed me much’ (AW to Mornington 5 April 1799, WSD vol 1 p 208 NB letter written before the attack, so no question of using it to excuse his failure). So it is possible that this was the reason he retired from the Tope and went to headquarters – and even went to sleep (and rolled round on the table in paroxysm of despair, if Bayly is to be believed). In other words, he may have been weakened and exhausted. Or not. The argument can be made, but it is a little too convenient for my taste.
AW’s own account of the affair, comes from his letter to Mornington of 18 April 1799 (WSD vol 1 p 209-10):
On the night of the 5th we made an attack upon the enemy’s outposts, which, at least on my side, was not quite so successful as could have been wished. The fact was that the night was very dark, that the enemy expected us, and were strongly posted in an almost impenetrable jungle. We lost an officer killed, and others and some men wounded (of the 33rd); and at last, as I could not find out the post which it was desirable I should occupy, I was obliged to desist from the attack, the enemy also having retired from the post.
Sultanpettah Tope and night attacks:
The later operations of the siege, and of most sieges, involved night attacks. Does this justify the Harris’s decision to make a night attack on the Sultanpettah Tope? Not really: establishing siege lines within range of the guns of a fortress was almost always done at night, but the attack on the Tope was quite different in nature, and ground was too rough for success to be likely, and the attack on the previous night ensured that there would be no chance of securing a surprise.
It is not true to say that AW learnt a lesson that he never forgot and henceforth avoided operations at night, for he made a night march leading to a dawn attack in Denmark in 1807 (the attack on the Danish troops and levies at Roskilde, see WSD vol 6 p 5-7 which proves that the plan originated with him) and again in Portugal on 9-10 May 1809, and the proposed attack on Victor a few days before Talavera. There were arguments for and against each of these operations, but none is directly comparable to the attack on the Sultanpettah Tope.
Sultanpettah Tope and Wellington’s reputation in later years:
The events at Sultanpettah Tope were frequently revived in later years, particularly by those who felt an interest in damaging Wellington’s reputation. (See Diary of Lady Shelley 4 Feb 1819 vol 2 p 26 and The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c no 504 16 Sept 1826 p 577). This in turn led his friends to be defensive on the subject, as can be seen by a letter from John Wilson Croker to Mrs Arbuthnot written in 1832:
I want to consult you on a very delicate matter, at least so it appears to me. I have just seen for the first time, Mr Hook’s Life of Sir D. Baird – of which I never saw a line before [it was published that year]. I find in it the old story of the tope near Seringapatam, told, with, as it seems to me, no great kindness to the Duke. I am sure that Mr Hook admires & respects the Duke above all men, but somehow the story is told in a way that does not please me. Now, I have been asked to write or to get written an account of the book for the Quarterly Review, but I don’t like to meddle with it. I should not like to notice the book without adverting to that part – it would have a bad effect; & on the other hand I cannot but think that the story might be better & more truly told. …. if you have not seen the book, you must have seen that extract from it, which has been going the round of the newspapers …. But perhaps, after all, the best way will be that the Quarterly should not notice the work at all. Indeed it has greatly disappointed me & is but a poor performance for so clever a man.’ (Croker to Mrs Arbuthnot, 23 November  Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 163).
No review appeared, but the issue was discussed two years later in the Quarterly’s review of volume one of Wellington’s Dispatches where Hook’s account is critically examined.
And Longford (p 63n) says:
As late as 1839 a Life and Exploits of Wellington by G. L. Hutchinson was advertised at 2d – ‘Splendid original work’ – ‘Embellished with beautiful engravings’. Part of the ‘originality’ consisted in giving full weight to Wellington’s ‘mistakes’ and Tipoo’s courage at Seringapatam. By these means the author hoped to find his ‘well thumbed pages in the hands of the Peasant and the Artisan’ rather than ‘in the ringed fingers of the most spruce dandy.’
The Morning after Sultanpettah Tope:
The whole story of AW’s failure to arrive on time for the renewed attack in the morning, and Baird or Harris insisting that he be given more time, appears highly improbable, not necessarily a complete fabrication, but building an elaborate edifice on a tiny and inconsequential incident.
Essentially it is an example of smoke without fire, for what is the implication: that AW was a coward? that he was habitually slack and unpunctual? or that he was so exhausted/unnerved/frightened by the events of the night before that he was hiding in his tent? More plausible than any of these is that he had a recurrence of his bowel complaint, but the whole story is too shadowy and insubstantial to disprove.
The Siege of Seringapatam:
There are a number of short notes from AW to Harris during the course of the siege printed in Lushington Life of Harris p 218-20 which are not printed in WD or WSD. They add little of substance, but confirm the confident tone adopted by AW. (They were first printed in a review of Wellington’s Dispatches in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine vol 41 Jan-June 1837 p 1-20).
The definitive account of the siege operations is in Vibart’s History of the Madras Engineers. Weller (Wellington in India p 67-76) provides a convenient summary, while Lushington (Life of Harris p 225-41) gives excellent material for the problems facing Harris.
During the siege Tipu made several overtures to Harris suggesting negotiations but without making any great concessions. Harris rejected them, but it is not clear what role in any AW, or other members of the Mysore Commission, played in advising him. (Forrest Tiger of Mysore p 285-7 and Wilks Historical Sketches vol 2 p 730-1 provide good accounts of these overtures).
In his history of the 74th (and 71st) Highlanders, Lt-Col L. B. Oatts is critical of AW’s conduct of operations on the night of 26 April, alleging that although AW’s initial attack was successful in capturing the enemy entrenchments it left the troops enfiladed by fire from a circular work. ‘Wellesley still had a lot to learn; in this instance the fact that “time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted.” Wellesley was extricated from this ‘trouble’ by the initiative of Alexander Campbell of the 74th who, according to Oatts, led forward two companies (the light company and a battalion company) of his battalion, took the circular work and pushed on ‘right into the Sultan’s entrenched camp, where they played havoc with the bayonet and spiked a number of guns’. This caused consternation and alarm, but Campbell refused to be rushed and slowly withdrew his men back to the line. Campbell’s conduct was highly praised by the Commander-in-Chief but ‘Wellesley … whom one would have expected to have been particularly interested and appreciative, either failed to understand the position or was under some misapprehension, perhaps that the 74th were still in possession of the circular work… At any rate he did not occupy the circular work, and on the following night the enemy did so instead…. What Alexander Campbell thought of this omission when he again arrived in the second parallel must be left to the imagination.’ (Oatts Proud Heritage vol 2 p 58-59).
This contains many details which are not supported by Vibart, Lushington or any other source that I have seen, and it is not easy assess their reliability as no source notes are given. However even on the material given by Oatts it is possible to conjecture a quite different interpretation: that the 74th were always supposed to take the circular work, and that they got carried away, pushed on too far, and were then forced to retreat abandoning their initial objective, and that the blame – if we are to bother with blame – rests on Alexander Campbell for not keeping his men in hand. However that is pure conjecture, and one can hardly expect a regimental historian to be entirely impartial when the regiment’s reputation is at stake, but it also suggests that it would be unwise to take his criticism of AW too seriously without supporting evidence.
On the whole, this was probably just one of the inevitable accidents that occur in any extended operation, especially a siege; but it was far more costly than the attack on the Sultanpettah Tope, and yet it is almost completely forgotten, and attracted little or no notice at the time.
AW and the Storm:
There is the curious quote from Mornington to Harris, 3 April 1799. ‘Do not allow Arthur to fatigue himself’ (Lushington Life of Harris p 228). This is the only evidence that in any way justifies the slur Harness, and apparently some others in the army, cast over AW (writing two years later):
Colonel Wellesley is here…. He was not allowed to storm Seringapatam, although the Governor-General’s brother, because there was risk … He is a very amiable man, and I have great esteem for him, but the army don’t forgive his taking the Command of Seringapatam without sharing the dangers of the Capture. (Harness to his wife, 10 Feb 1800 [sic, 1801] Trusty and Well Beloved p 154)
It is easy to point out that this was grossly unfair; that if AW had commanded the storm Baird and the other malcontents would have complained long and loudly of yet another example of preferential treatment, and that AW clearly had not been kept safe during the campaign and siege; but the significant point is rather that an officer like Harness – who claimed to like AW and even described him as ‘amiable’ – should have believed and repeated the tale nearly two years after the siege. It was probably inevitable that the preferential treatment AW received should arouse strong resentment, and Baird’s anger helped keep it alive.
Incidentally, according to Lushington (Life of Harris p 242) Harris had decided that if Baird failed, AW should lead a second attempt to storm the fortress, and if that failed, he, Harris would lead a final effort. (Which tends to confirm the insignificance of Generals Bridges and Popham).
Discovery of Tipu’s body:
His eyes were open and the body was so warm that for a few moments Colonel Wellesley and myself [Major Allen] were doubtful whether he was not alive; on feeling his pulse and heart, that doubt was removed. He had four wounds, three in the body and one in the temple; the ball having entered a little above the right ear, and lodged in the cheek.
His dress consisted of a jacket of fine white linen, loose drawers of flowered chintz, with a crimson cloth of silk and cotton round his waist; a handsome pouch with a red and green silk belt across his shoulder; his head was uncovered, his turban being lost in the confusion of his fall; he had an amulet on his arm, but no ornament whatever. (Major Allen’s account quoted in Forrest Tiger of Mysore p 293).
Wellesley’s supersession of Baird:
George Elers gives the most colourful account of the incident:
With respect to the unjust affair of the superseding poor Baird in the command of Seringapatam, I heard it from Colonel Wellesley’s own statement, in the apartment of the palace, the Dowlet Bagh, where the scene occurred. Colonel Wellesley said, in his rapid manner of speaking: ‘I went down to Baird one morning early, and found him at breakfast with his staff. “General Baird, I am appointed to the command of Seringapatam, and here is the order of General Harris.” Baird immediately rose, and addressing his staff, said: “Come, gentlemen, we have no longer any business here.”‘ Wellesley said: ‘Oh, pray finish your breakfast.’ (Memoirs p 103)
Hook quotes Baird, “Before the sweat was dry on my brow I was superseded by an inferior officer.” (Hook Life of Baird vol 1 p 226). Hook vol 2 p 235-41 also prints Baird’s protests and Harris’s replies but cf Lushington p 303-7 where Harris is shown asserting his authority.
AW was not appointed governor immediately, as is clear from his letters to Harris over the next day or two; but equally it seems clear that he was always destined for the position.
It is tempting to wonder whether Harris was being inept or malicious in the supersession of Baird. Baird had clearly made himself vulnerable by his request to be relieved, and Harris may genuinely have taken it at face value and been puzzled by the subsequent outcry; or – though this seems not in character – he may have had his revenge on Baird (and also, to some extent on AW) for his/their presumption earlier in the campaign – but on the whole this seems too elaborate, reading back from what actually happened.
Mornington later commended Harris’s appointment of AW and added:
My opinion, or rather knowledge and experience of his discretion, judgement, temper and integrity, are such, that if you had not placed him in Seringapatam, I would have done so of my own authority, because I think him in every point of view the most proper person for that service. (Mornington to Harris, 7 July 1799, Lushington Life of Harris p 320).
In 1831 Wellington gave Croker an account of the affair,
I have often heard of Sir D. Baird’s dissatisfaction on my appointment to take command at Seringapatam when he had commanded the successful storm of the town, on which I was not even employed, having been appointed to command the reserve in the trenches. Of course I had nothing, I could have had nothing to say to the selection of myself, as I was in the trenches, or rather in the town, when I received the order to take command of it, and instructions to endeavour to restore order.
Baird was a gallant, hard-headed, lion-hearted officer, but he had no talent, no tact; had strong prejudices against the natives; and he was peculiarly disqualified from his manners, habits, &c, and it was supposed his temper, for the management of them. He had been Tippoo’s prisoner for years. He had a strong feeling of the bad usage which he had received during his captivity, and it is not impossible that the knowledge of this feeling might have induced Lord Harris, and those who advised his Lordship, to lay him aside.
However, of course, I never inquired the reason of my appointment, or of Baird being laid aside. There were many other candidates besides Baird and myself, all senior to me, some to Baird. But I must say I was the fit person to be selected. I had commanded the Nizam’s army during the campaign and given universal satisfaction. I was liked by the natives.
It is certainly true that this command afforded me the opportunities for distinction, and thus opened the road to fame, which poor Baird always thought was, by the same act, closed upon him. Notwithstanding this, he and I were always on the best terms, and I don’t believe that there was any man who rejoiced more sincerely than he did in my success. (Wellington to Croker, London, 24 Jan 1831, WND vol 7 p 396).
This only needs to be qualified by noting that while not being given the command at Seringapatam denied Baird one opportunity, it certainly did not close the road to fame to him and was less significant than his disappointment, also at AW’s hands, in 1803. Even that, however, did not prevent him being employed at home, as he was in the Coruña campaign, and might have been again if he had not been badly wounded.
By and large Wellington’s account is fair and honest in an almost naïve way, although it was hardly true to say that the two men were on ‘the best terms’ again in India. Still, Baird did not hesitate to recommend his ADC Alexander Gordon to Wellington when he, Baird, was out of action; nor did Wellington hesitate in giving Gordon a place on his staff.
 Some of the Officers affirmed this; I cannot say that I observed it, though it is evident that their movement down towards us must have been designed to cover the retreat of their guns.
 It has been supposed that the Contingent advanced in Echellon up the hill; the fact was that the 33rd Regt. only being formed, when the musketry on the right showed that our Army was actually engaged, tho’ the swell of the ground did not admit of our seeing them; Colonel Wellesley wishing to avail himself of the favourable moment when the enemy in front of us seemed to be in Confusion, moved on his own Corps & ordered the Bengal and other Corps on the left to advance each as fast as they could be formed. The several Corps thus forming successively on the left were advanced as fast as they had formed & gave this appearance to the movement; the left of the whole (Col. Bowzer’s) received the party attempting to turn the left, with a file firing most effectually.
© Rory Muir