Life of the Mysorean Hostage Princes in Madras

Tipu Sultan had to surrender his two sons as hostages to the British followed by his defeat in the 3rd Anglo-Mysore war. Contemporary chroniclers like Major Dirom and Roderick Mackenzie had given a detailed account of their receptions by the Governor General Marquis Cornwallis. British artists like Robert Home (An eye-witness of this interesting event) Mather Brown and Arthur William Devis; all painted their versions of the Reception of the Mysorean Hostage Princes by Marquis Cornwallis.

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

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

As the princes reached Madras under escort, the British officials arranged a reception for them in the same way it was done in Srirangapatna. By that time, Governor General Cornwallis also reached Madras. On the morning of 30th May, 1792, the young princes, delivered over as hostages by Tipu Sultan, for the fulfillment of the late treaty, entered the Fort under an escort, commanded by Major Stevenson. On entering the fort, a salute was fired from the walls of the garrison, and they received the usual military honours as they passed along. The dresses of the princes were splendid; they were covered almost with a profusion of jewels. Several valuable strings of pearls were hung round their necks to which there was appendant a large buckle of diamonds with a coloured stone of immense size in the center. Their turbans were decorated likewise with rare jewels set with great taste. On their way across the plain and from the verandah of their house, the princes expressed some surprise and no inconsiderable pleasure on viewing the sea, and the ships upon its bosom.

The attendance of the princes, may be said to be not only numerous but splendid of its kind. The bodyguard of cavalry, according to etiquette, was not admitted within the walls of the garrison. The infantry consisting of near a hundred chosen Sepoys of Tipu Sultan, entered along with and preceded the princes, together with forty or fifty pikemen, a number of boys bearing flags and an equal number of messengers mounted on camels.

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

They were well looked after at Madras; they enjoyed the social scene and attended concerts, plays and dances. "They have a charming house inside the fort, and everything in great style. They have their own servants. A handsome stage has been built for them that they may see the ships in the roads", writes Thomas Twining:- See below: During their stay at Madras, they were taken to performances of selections from Handel's Messiah, Judas Maccabeus and Esther, as well as amateur dramatic performances. During these two years, the princes had 4-5 meetings with the Carnatic Nawab Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah.

Princes in the Ballroom: On 29th June, 1792, Lady Oakley, wife of Sir Charles Oakley, the Governor of Madras, organised a Ball (social gathering with dancing) in honour 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 appeared in a dress decorated with Lord Cornwallis' initials under a coronet enriched with wreaths of laurel, connected together by purple foil. She had worn 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 portrait painter, to draw their portraits. At Fort St. George, Thomas Twining, an East India Company officer, was introduced to the young princes by Captain Doveton on 8th August 1792. He visited the princes accompanied by the Captain of the Ponsborne (ship). 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 gave a dinner ['dinner a la Seringapatam' as the Madras Courier states] to Sir Charles and Lady Oakley. Pulaos, curries, kabobs, fruits etc abounded, but for the appearance of female charms and of some bottles on the tables, containing a liquid of a vinous semblance, the fete would have been completely Musalmani.

On all these occasions Muiz-ud-din appeared cheerful and even tried 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 are a few Persian letters related to the princes Abdul Khaliq and Muiz-ud-din, some of which were written by the princes themselves. The letters were probably written for them by Ghulam Ali Khan and Ali Raza Khan. But they were always signed by the princes themselves.

In July, 1792, Lord Cornwallis left Madras for Calcutta. When he reached there, the princes wrote to him expressing their joy on his safe journey and thanking him for the kindness shown to them when he was at Madras. Tipu's vakils also wrote to him mentioning that the princes were being taken every Friday to Sir Charles Oakley, who showed great favour and kindness to the princes.

"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 again wrote to Cornwallis thanking him for the presents sent to them by his Lordship.

When Lord Cornwallis was made a Marquis, the princes wrote a letter to congratulate him and requested that he should meet them before leaving for England. For the first time in their letters they also expressed a desire to be sent back to Mysore.

Tipu Sultan payments all installments punctually. He requested Cornwallis to send his sons back to him before leaving for England. When Cornwallis reached Madras on his way to England in September 1793, Tipu pressed him again for the return of his sons.

It had been Cornwallis's hope that before leaving India he would be able to return the hostage princes to their father; even to accompany them part of the way to Srirangapatna; but the restoration of the princes was delayed due to a dispute over some villages claimed by the Nizam with respect to the treaty of Srirangapatna. Meanwhile, Sir John Shore succeeded Lord Cornwallis as Governor General of India on 28th October 1793. So this task was left to John Shore.

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 on his departure and once again thanked him immensely for the kindness shown to 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