Life of the Mysorean Hostage Princes in Madras

Tipu Sultan's defeat in the 3rd Anglo-Mysore war resulted in the surrender of his two sons as hostages to the British. Major Dirom and Roderick Mackenzie, contemporary chroniclers, provided a detailed account of the reception of the princes by the Governor General Marquis Cornwallis. British artists such as Robert Home (An eye-witness to this remarkable event), Mather Brown and Arthur William Devis painted their own versions of the Reception of the Mysorean Hostage Princes by Marquis Cornwallis.

Abdul Khaliq, aged ten, and Muiz-ud-din, aged eight, were taken to Madras and kept in a luxurious house at Fort St. George, for nearly two years (30th May 1792 - 27th February 1794) under the care of Captain Doveton, a highly esteemed officer in the Madras army. Accompanying the princes were Ghulam Ali Khan and Ali Raza Khan, the vakils of Tipu Sultan.

Reception of the Princes at Fort St. George, Madras:

As the princes arrived Madras, the British officials arranged a grand reception for them, similar to the one they had experienced in Srirangapatna. By that time, Governor General Cornwallis had also arrived in Madras by this time. On the morning of 30th May, 1792, the young princes, who had been delivered as hostages by Tipu Sultan to fulfill the late treaty, entered the Fort under the command of Major Stevenson. A salute was fired from the walls of the garrison in their honour, and they were given the customary military honours as they passed along. 

The princes were dressed in splendid attire, adorned with a profusion of jewels. Several valuable strings of pearls hung around their necks, with a large diamond buckle in the center, encrusted with a coloured stone of immense size. Their turbans were also decorated with rare jewels, arranged with great taste. As they crossed the plain and viewed the sea from the verandah of their house, the princes expressed surprise and delight at the sight of the ships on its surface.

The attendance of the princes was not only numerous but splendid in its kind. According to etiquette, the bodyguard of cavalry was not permitted to enter the walls of the garrison. Tipu Sultan's chosen Sepoys, numbering nearly a hundred, marched in with the princes, accompanied by forty or fifty pikemen, a procession of boys carrying flags, and an equal number of messengers mounted on camels. This impressive display of power and grandeur was a sight to behold.

Portrait of Abdul Khaliq by John Smart
Portrait of Muiz-ud-din by John Smart

During their stay at Madras, they were well looked after; they enjoyed the social scene and attended concerts, plays and dances. They had a charming house inside the fort, complete with their own servants, and everything was done in great style. A handsome stage was even built for them so they could watch the ships in the roads. During these two years, the princes had 4-5 meetings with the Carnatic Nawab Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah, and they were also taken to performances of Handel's Messiah, Judas Maccabeus, and Esther, as well as amateur dramatic performances.

Princes in the Ballroom: On 29th June, 1792, Lady Oakley, wife of Sir Charles Oakley, the Governor of Madras, hosted a grand ball in honor of Lord Cornwallis. The princes seated one on each side of Lord Cornwallis. General Medows, Nawab Umdat ul-Umara (son of Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah), Commodore Cornwallis (brother of Lord Cornwallis) and Tipu's two vakils were also present. Lady Oakley made a grand entrance wearing a dress adorned with Lord Cornwallis' initials and a coronet of laurel wreaths connected by purple foil. She also wore a bandeau in her cap with the word "Cornwallis" embroidered in foil. 'The minuets (ballroom dance), proved of too grave a cast to afford much entertainment to the young princes...but a cotillon (An elaborate 18th-century French dance) very well performed, and a strathspey (a slow Scottish dance), pleased them very much; their observations were frequently called forth, and their attention to the surrounding objects much remarked, from the anxious wish of their entertainer and her friends, that these extraordinary guests might be pleased', states the Madras Courier. Muiz-ud-din got a laugh by asking Lord Cornwallis which was his dancing wife.

Thomas Twining's Meeting with the Princes: Lord Cornwallis commissioned John Smart, a renowned portrait painter, to capture the likenesses of the young princes. On August 8th, 1792, Thomas Twining, an East India Company officer, was introduced to the princes by Captain Doveton at Fort St. George. Accompanied by the Captain of the Ponsborne (ship), Twining was welcomed into the princes' chambers with enthusiasm. He writes, "On our entering their rooms they seemed quite glad to see us, asked us, through Colonel Doveton, to sit down, inquired whether we had breakfasted, our names and many other questions. There is not much difference in their size. The youngest is the most pleasing. He is fair, with large, handsome eyes. He was very cheerful and polite; talked a great deal to us, and very sensibly, though not eight years of age. When he heard that we should see Lord Cornwallis, he desired, with tears in his eyes, to be remembered to him, "Tell Lord Cornwallis that he is always with me". Mr. Smart, a miniature painter, who told me to my surprise that he had taken my mother's picture, was taking their likenesses (portraits). They are to be sent, when finished, to Tippoo Saib; for Lord Cornwallis having asked him if he would like to have his sons' pictures, "Yes", said he, "provided they be accompanied by Lord Cornwallis's". The princes gave us some betel-nut and some very fine attar of roses". Cornwallis sent those portraits to Tipu Sultan, who observed that 'the miniatures were very well finished, and the likeness remarkably strong'.

Arthur William Devis also painted their portraits as part of his painting 'Lord Cornwallis receiving the two sons of Tippoo Sahib as hostages'. As a contemporary noted, 'During the time the Princes and their attendants were sitting for their portraits they frequently wrote to the Sultan giving a full description of the progress of the artist and were much delighted at seeing themselves represented on canvas, always cheerfully dressing themselves for the accommodation of Devis, in the identical habits and ornaments they wore on the day they quitted the palace of their father. The youngest was particularly anxious to have his ear-ring painted- he wore but one- which he had received as a present from his mother'.

Dinner a la Seringapatam: On 15th August, the princes hosted a dinner ['dinner a la Seringapatam' as the Madras Courier states] for Sir Charles and Lady Oakley. The feast was a lavish affair, with pulaos, curries, kabobs, fruits, and other delicacies. To add to the festivities, bottles of a vinous liquid were also present on the tables, creating a truly Musalmani atmosphere.

On all these occasions, Muiz-ud-din displayed a cheerful demeanor and even attempted to speak English. "He seems of a gentle and mild disposition. The elder boy, who shows more mind, is more silent and reserved, and looks of a stern disposition and commanding aspect. We think we see the father in his countenance", writes Dr Andrew Bell, a Scottish priest and educationalist.

Letters of the Princes:

There exist several Persian letters associated with the princes Abdul Khaliq and Muiz-ud-din. These letters were likely composed by Ghulam Ali Khan and Ali Raza Khan, yet were always signed by the princes themselves. Interestingly, some of the letters were even written by the princes themselves.

In July 1792, Lord Cornwallis left Madras for Calcutta, and upon his arrival, the princes wrote to him expressing their joy and gratitude for the kindness he had shown them during his stay in Madras. Tipu's vakils also wrote to him, noting that the princes were taken to Sir Charles Oakley every Friday, who showed them great favor and kindness.

"By the blessing of God the two young princes are very well and are for ever discoursing on the subject of your Lordship's goodness and friendship, but particularly Sultan Muiz-ud-din, who continually says that Lord Cornwallis has brought me away from Tipu Sultan and has left me here, going himself away for Bengal; this was by no means proper. If his Lordship will return in a week or ten days very well, otherwise you must carry me to him", wrote Ghulam Ali Khan and Ali Raza Khan, Tipu's vakils, in a letter to Lord Cornwallis, received on 15th September, 1792.

In January 1793, the princes wrote a letter of gratitude to Lord Cornwallis for the presents he had sent them. Furthermore, they congratulated him on his recent elevation to Marquis and requested a meeting with him before his departure for England. For the first time, they also expressed a desire to be sent back to Mysore.

Tipu Sultan had been punctual in his payments and implored Cornwallis to send his sons back to him before leaving for England. When Cornwallis arrived in Madras on his way to England in September 1793, Tipu once again pressed him for the return of his sons.

Cornwallis had hoped to be able to return the hostage princes to their father before leaving India, and even to accompany them part of the way to Srirangapatna. However, a dispute over some villages claimed by the Nizam with respect to the treaty of Srirangapatna delayed the restoration of the princes. Consequently, this task was left to Sir John Shore, who succeeded Lord Cornwallis as Governor General of India on 28th October 1793.

Before the princes left Madras on 27th February, 1794, they sent their last letter to Lord Cornwallis. In this letter, they expressed their deep sorrow at his departure and thanked him profusely for the kindness he had shown them


Some Unpublished Persian Letters of the Hostage Princes By Mr. I. H. Baqai
Selections from Calcutta gazettes of the year 1794 By W S Seton-Karr, C.S
Tiger of Mysore: Life and Death of Tipu Sultan By Denys M. Forrest
The London Chronicle
Image credit: The British Museum