George Gray’s embassy to Hyder Ali - 1780

"On 14th January 1780, I was appointed by the select committee to proceed to Srirangapatna, on an embassy to Nawab Hyder Ali Khan to demand the release of some English subjects who had been stopped at Calicut by Sirdar Khan, Hyder's foujdar there, but I was particularly instructed by Sir Thomas Rumbold to endeavour to bring Hyder into a better understanding with the English than he had for some time shown and if possible to gain his confidence". (The Journal of Mr. George Gray)

Followed by his victory in the Anglo-Mysore war, Hyder Ali Khan concluded a treaty with the British in 1769 (the Treaty of Madras). But when the Marathas invaded Mysore, the British did not turn up for his aid. Hyder never trusted the British after they had broken the treaty. But the British had always wished to conclude a strong alliance with Hyder. In the previous post, we have learned about Schwartz's mission to Hyder Ali and how respectfully Hyder treated the missionary. Here's an interesting account of George Gray's embassy to Hyder Ali and how Hyder treated Gray, the envoy of Thomas Rumbold, the governor of Madras.
Sir Thomas Rumbold, governor of Madras

The story begins when Hyder captured a British ship on the coast of Malabar in November 1779. On receiving intelligence of this capture, Thomas Rumbold determined to send an envoy to Hyder to demand the release of the British subjects confined by Sardar Khan, the governor of Calicut, and also to make an attempt for a friendly alliance. The person selected for this service was George Gray, formerly of the Bengal civil service. On 20th January 1780, Gray set out from Madras. He had to wait at Ambur (it was the British frontier) for a few days to get his passport from Hyder. By that time, the prisoners were already released and Gray met them at Ambur. Gray, however determined to proceed to Srirangapatna for his second mission. He got his passport after few days. When he reached Rayakottai, he got a letter from Hyder. "Hyder's letter deprives me of my title and is written in disrespectful terms", Gray wrote. Gray was allowed to proceed with only a small retinue; and when he reached near the capital, Hyder sent him another letter saying that he had set up a quarters for him about two miles from Srirangapatna.

Gray records that no officer of Hyder had come to welcome him. The quarters was an old ruinous shed; half part of it was filled with artillery ropes and yokes. None of his people were permitted to go out from the shed without attended by a spy. Hyder granted him an audience on the succeeding evening. When he reached Hyder's palace, Gray was conducted to an open veranda which was crowded with peons, sepoys, messengers etc.. He wrote, "There I was stared at and made an object of curiosity to all that passed...I was detained in this place nearly two hours. When ashamed of my situation and impatient at the indignity put upon me, I ordered one of the Nawab's messengers to go and tell that if the Nawab was not at leisure then to receive my visit I would go and come another time". Soon after that he was conducted to the durbar.

Description of Hyder's Court: When Gray paid his respects, Hyder returned 'a bare and silent salam with his hand to his turban'. Hyder was seated about the middle of the durbar between two pillars, and a crimson velvet musnud (a throne of cushions) edged with gold lace; a sword and shield by his side, a waiter behind him with a gold moorchal. He was dressed in a short Jama open on the left side; his sleeves were tucked up to show a pair of diamond bracelets, and he had a large diamond ring on his finger. Gray was conducted to seat on the carpet on Hyder's right side. He then delivered him  Thomas Rumbold's letter and some presents (a saddle and gun). "I told the Nawab that the gun was of an uncommon construction and required particular management. He looked a little at it and said he would send a man in the morning to learn the way of managing it".

Return of the Presents: Next morning, Muhammad Usman, a confidant of Hyder, returned both the presents and said that as the saddle is not of the Hindustan form, it's of no use to the Nawab, and because the gun is liable to be put out of order, and the workmen of this country do not know how to repair it.
Hyder Ali Khan-Sultan-of-Mysore

A few days afterwards Gray proceeded to the private audience which he had requested. This time a personal audience with Hyder had been declined and Gray was obliged to convey his messages to Hyder through Muhammad Usman and Muhammad Ghias, Hyder's confidants. Gray talked to them about his second mission, that is, to strengthen the alliance between Hyder and the British by entering into a closer union of interest. The confidants passed to the durbar and soon arrived with Hyder's reply. Hyder said that he would have been glad of the friendship of the British but to what purpose is it. Of the treaty of 1769, the British had broken every article. His affairs had been reduced to the brink of ruin by their refusal to aid him against the Marathas. That was the Time for friendship. Gray cleverly replied that he had not come to speak of grievances under former governments, but to propose a remedy against new ones, and such a junction could be of great service to Hyder by assisting him with troops when necessary. One of the confidants replied that Hyder does not need any assistance and he was strong enough to take care of himself. Muhammad Usman said that he had seen how the British treated their allies, when he was at Madras the Nawab Muhammad Ali Wallajah had shown him several letters from the king of England expressing in terms of the greatest friendship; but he complained at the same time of the lacs of pagodas which each of those letters cost him. Gray expressed his satisfaction that Muhammad Ali had friends at Srirangapatna. He added that it was not from weakness or alarm that the British wished for Hyder's friendship; and also informed them that he had now executed his commission and would either return with Hyder's answer or to write to the governor of what had passed. Hyder desired him to write to Madras and stay at Srirangapatna till he receive any replies. Since it was denied to send his letters by Hyder's post, Gray was obliged to send them by messengers. On 19th March, Hyder notified Gray that he would give him his audience of leave on that evening. 

Final Meeting with Hyder: "I was conducted to the same outward apartment as on my last visit; where I waited near two hours before I was sent for. I was placed at a greater distance from the Nawab; separate from the other people in his front, so as to be an object of exhibition to the whole durbar. I determined as he had sent for me for a particular purpose, not to be the first to speak, especially as I was seated so far from him. I could not address him without being heard by the whole durbar although it was his desire that I should write to Madras an account of the conference I had at my preceding visit. He could not but suppose that the letter I had received was an answer to what I wrote. I thought it would not only be ineffectual, but degrading to speak concerning it; as every thing concerned me I had no favourable answer to expect, I was resolved not to give him an opportunity of making me an insulting one, in the face of the durbar. After I had sat above an hour in silence, some gold stuff, a shawl and two bags of 500 rupees each were brought to me with betel and attar". Hyder then gave him passport and a letter for the governor. Here's that letter:

"I had the pleasure of receiving your letter by means of Mr. George Gray, and I understand the contents thereof, as also the representations of the above gentleman. When Chanda Sahib and the French formerly invested the fort of Trichonopoly, the promises and engagements you then made have not been performed on your part; afterwards the governor and council concluded a treaty of friendship between me and the company; the substance of which was as follows: they would consider those who are my friends or enemies, to be friends or enemies to them, and that we should mutually assist each other when circumstances required. I assured myself that the Company would not swerve from their engagements. The treaty above alluded to you will have in your possession, and which you will please to peruse. At the time of the war between me and the Marathas, although I did not stand in need of your assistance, yet, in order to know whether you regarded your engagements, I repeatedly requested you to send me a small body of troops, pursuant to your promises; but you then omitted to send them. Some time ago you wrote me you would assist Basalat Jung with troops, and you did so accordingly, and a skirmish happened between my troops and those of yours; besides this, yours and my boundaries bordering on one another, from Dindigul to Cuddapah, frequent disturbances arise from the people on your side. The commandant of Tellicherry in particular has afforded protection to the nairs belonging to my country and has given refuge to their families within his bounds, has supplied them with arms and ammunition, and incited them to raise disturbances in my territories, and they have plundered a country worth 20 lacs of rupees and are still continuing to ravage it. When such improper conduct is pursued, what engagements will remain inviolate? I leave it to the judgment of you and your counsel to determine, on whose part the engagements and promises have been infringed." (19th March 1780).

Hyder had often personal audiences with Schwartz, as the Father writes, "I frequently sat with him in a room..". Gray wrote, "I was rather received and treated as a spy than an ambassador, and rather confined than lodged.. He never permitted me to visit him again till 19th March, when he gave me an audience of leave". According to Colonel Lindsay, "When Schwartz approached the throne, Hyder rose and advanced to receive him, declaring that he was now sensible the Company wished his friendship, by sending such a man to communicate with him. The prince parted with the priest highly satisfied with the assurances he had received of the Company's amicable feelings, acquiesced in the measures offered to his consideration and, as a token of his esteem, Hyder pressed Mr. Schwartz to accept a valuable diamond and a sum of money. These proffered presents were refused, with dignity tempered with respect, Mr. Schwartz observing that he could not receive them in his ambassadorial character; but, duly appreciating the kindness and generosity of the donor, he would appropriate the money to the erection of a church he was about to build at Tanjore, if his highness would permit him to put it down as a benefaction of the Mysore prince in the promotion of that undertaking. Hyder answered, with a smile, "Be it, my friend, as you please", and his name now stands, or ought to do so, at the head of the list of benefactors of the Christian church at that place". Following is Lindsay's narrative of Gray's mission, "Mr. Gray delivered to Hyder a letter addressed to him by the governor of Madras which stated that, in addition to the Company's immense military resources, a fresh army had arrived from England; that the object of the Company was to maintain peace in India with all the native powers, and that their warlike preparations had subjected them to very heavy disbursements, which would be still further increased by keeping in constant readiness a disposable force sufficient to quell all disturbances and prevent any hostilities. The letter concluded by demanding from Hyder ten lacs of pagodas, to assist the Company in carrying out its peaceful policy, the payment of which would entitle him to their uniform support and alliance. "The request of the East-India Company," Hyder said, "is doubtless fair and reasonable; the money shall be forthcoming; but, as I am a strict observer of my word, I purpose bringing the tribute in person. In the mean time. Sir, you and your monkey (Mr. Gray had one of those animals with him) may return to Madras". (Colonel Lindsay's narrative of the battle of Conjeveram)

Below is Hyder's reply to the governor received by Schwartz:

"I had the pleasure of receiving your letter by Mr. Schwartz, containing friendly assurances towards me, and a desire that the friendship between the Company and me, may be firmly established. Before this, when a friendship confirmed by a solid treaty subsisted between the Company and me, I imagined it would increase daily, and would not be broke through. You, setting aside all faith and treaties of the Company, have lately send troops against Mahe, a French factory situated within my territories, and plundered it; and besides this, have committed depredations in the countries of Calicut and Cabingury, belonging to me. There are, in my countries, many factories belonging to the English, Germans, Dutch, Portuguese, Danes and others, among those, was one belonging to the French, and there was no person in it who bore the procession of arms; it was no more than a factory, such as the English, on many places of the sea-cost. Notwithstanding the friendship subsisting between the Company and me, you, without any regard or consideration for it, sent your troops, and destroyed the factory of the French, and pillaged the countries belonging to me. What property was there in this? You wrote me besides, that you were sending a body of your troops to the Nawab Basalat Jung, from which I conceive you pay no regard to the friendship between the Company and me, but do whatever your inclination leads you to, and are determined at any rate to break with me. I was convinced that the king of England and the Company were one, and that there would not be the smallest deviation from the treaties made by the Company, but I now think otherwise from your proceedings. Having a consideration for the friendship of the king of England and the Company, I have made no reprisals, or taken any revenge till this time; it is no matter; but if you, henceforth forgetting all treaties and engagements of the Company, still are intent on breaking with me, what advantage can attend writing to you? You are acquainted with everything, it is right to act in all things with prudence and foresight."

"Mr. Schwartz came here some time ago, and brought me a letter from you, to which I have wrote an answer, containing all the particulars and sent it to you by him. He also will acquaint you with several matters which I have charged him with." (28th September 1779)


Historical Sketches of the South of India by Mark Wilks
The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
Reports from Committees of the House of Commons 1781-82