Schwartz's Mission to Hyder Ali - 1779

Just prior to the onset of the Second Anglo-Mysore War, when the British became aware of Hyder Ali's hostile intentions, they decided to send an envoy to Hyder in order to gauge his disposition towards them and assure him of the peaceful intentions of the Madras government.

Father Christian Frederick Schwartz, a Danish missionary working at Tanjore, was renowned for his remarkable language acquisition skills. Upon his arrival in India, Schwartz diligently mastered English, Persian, Hindi, and Tamil.

Thomas Rumbold, the governor of Madras, entrusted Schwartz with the crucial mission to engage with Hyder Ali. In a letter to Schwartz, the governor expressed his concerns, stating, "It has come to our attention that Hyder Ali Khan harbors warlike intentions. As we are eager to ascertain his true stance on this significant matter, we believe you are the most suitable person for this task. Your fluency in Hindustani eliminates the need for an interpreter. We trust in your impartiality and integrity, knowing that you cannot be swayed by bribes. Furthermore, your ability to travel privately throughout the country ensures that you remain unnoticed until you have the opportunity to speak directly with Hyder himself."

Hyder Ali and Schwartz, the Missionary

Father Schwartz had previously served as a mediator between the British and the native Princes of India on numerous occasions. He was looked upon as the suitable person for such services due to his extensive knowledge of the native languages and various other qualifications.

Schwartz documented his decision to undertake this mission for three specific reasons: Firstly, the mission to Hyder did not involve any political intrigues. Secondly, it provided him with the opportunity to spread the Gospel of God to regions where it had never been heard before. Lastly, due to the repeated kindness shown to him by the honorable Company, he felt compelled to express his gratitude through this journey.

On August 25th, 1779, Schwartz reached Hyder's capital at Srirangapatna. He observed that Hyder seemed indifferent towards religion, enabling him to freely discuss religious matters without offending him. Hyder himself did not follow any particular religion and allowed everyone to choose their own beliefs.

Description of Hyder Ali's Palace:

Hyder Ali's palace, which he built himself, showcased the exquisite beauty of eastern architecture. Constructed entirely from hewn stone, the palace boasted an array of majestic stone pillars. At the end of the pagoda, stood the ancient palace of the Mysore Rajas.

Hyder provided the Raja with an annual income, but the Raja was treated as a prisoner of the state. Hyder would often visit the Raja, assuming the role of a humble servant, so shockingly can men dissemble. The Rajas sons are all deceased, and it is widely believed that they were secretly eliminated.

Hyder's Officers:

While Hyder often rewarded his servants, it was fear that truly drove their unwavering dedication. Each individual diligently carried out their duties, fully aware of the dire consequences that awaited any negligence.

Hyder maintained a force of two hundred men armed with whips, always ready to administer punishment. Not a single day passed without numerous chastisements. Astonishingly, the governor of a district faced the same brutal treatment as the lowliest groom.

Hyder treated everyone equally, regardless of their status. Even his own two sons and his son-in-law were subjected to the same cruel treatment. When any one of his highest officers had been thus publicly flogged, Hyder compelled them to retain their position, ensuring that the marks of the whip on their bodies would serve as a warning against repeating the offense.

Hyder's army consisted of many Europeans, including the French and Germans. Some Malabar Christians were also among them. The officers of Hyder's court primarily consisted of Brahmins.

Meeting with Hyder:

Schwartz's meeting with Hyder Ali took place in a grand hall, adorned with magnificent marble pillars that opened up to a beautiful garden.

Hyder had assembled a battalion of young boys. Schwartz noticed several of these boys carrying soil into the garden. They were orphans whom Hyder had taken under his protection, providing them with shelter, clothing, and even wooden guns for their training.

Schwartz notes, "Upon being granted an audience, Hyder graciously invited me to sit beside him on the luxuriously carpeted floor. Surprisingly, I was not asked to remove my shoes. He listened to all I had to say; spoke very frankly, and said that notwithstanding the Europeans had violated their public engagements, he was willing to live in peace with them.

Eventually, Hyder ordered a letter to be written, which was read to me and said, "I have briefly outlined what I have mentioned to you in this letter. You will provide a more detailed explanation." Hyder perceived my visit as a preliminary step towards proposing peace. However, the Nawab at Madras, Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah, thwarted these intentions.

While sitting near Hyder, I was amazed by the efficient manner in which he handled public affairs. After our conversation, letters were read to him, and he dictated immediate responses. The secretaries hastened away, wrote the letter, read it before him, and Hyder sealed them. In this way many letters were written in one evening.

Although Hyder cannot read or write, he possesses an exceptional memory. Few dare to deceive him. He instructs someone to write a letter and reads it aloud. Then, he calls another person to read it again. If the secretary fails to accurately convey his intentions or deviates even slightly from his instructions, severe consequences follow.

On the last evening, when I took my leave of Hyder, he requested me to speak Persian, as I had done with some of his attendants. Although Hyder had a basic understanding of Persian, he was unable to speak it."

Schwartz then explained to him the motives of his mission - to promote peace between Hyder and the Company. Hyder expressed his agreement with the missionary's sentiments and expressed his desire for peaceful coexistence with the British.

Upon completing his mission, Schwartz returned in October 1779. To his surprise, he discovered that Hyder had sent 300 rupees to his palanquin as a gesture of goodwill for his traveling expenses.

The conscientious missionary wished to decline this present. Yet, Hyder's officers insisted that accepting it back would endanger their lives. Schwartz, determined to find a solution, proposed returning the gift in person. Unfortunately, he was informed that it would be against protocol to allow him back into Hyder's presence after their farewell audience. Furthermore, Hyder intentionally limited the value of the present to the bare minimum of travel expenses, as he was aware that a lavish gift would offend Schwartz.

Upon his return to Madras, Schwartz presented the three hundred rupees to the honourable Board, who insisted that he keep it. Graciously, he accepted the money as the initial capital for an English orphan school in Tanjore.

While Hyder Ali treated the missionary with respect, his true sentiments towards the British were revealed in a letter addressed to the governor of Madras. In this correspondence, he examined the British conduct in relation to Nawab Muhammad Ali of Arcot, from his refusal to resign the province of Trichinopoly, as he had promised in 1752. Furthermore, he pointed out their violation of the mutual support and defense treaty signed in 1769. Hyder also mentioned the capture of Mahe from the French, the behavior of the Nawab's officers on his frontiers, and the conduct of the Company's servants at Tellicherry, who provided shelter to his rebellious subjects, as proofs of the British's determination to break with him.

"I have not yet taken my revenge, and it is no matter. When such conduct is pursued, what engagements will remain inviolate! I leave you to judge on whose part treaties and promises have been broken. You are acquainted with all things; it is right to act with prudence and foresight."

The Second Anglo-Mysore war commenced when Hyder Ali invaded the Carnatic in July 1780. Despite the conflict, Hyder issued orders to his officers "to permit the venerable padre Schwartz to pass unmolested, and to show him respect and kindness, for he is a holy man and means no harm to my government."


Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of the Reverend Christian Frederick Schwartz

Remains of the Rev. C.F. Schwartz, missionary in India consisting of his letters and journals; with a sketch of his life by Christian Frederick Swartz