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  4.22 Flying News; or Seringapatam Taken by Stratagem!, 1792  

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British Museum
© Copyright The British Museum
Flying News; or Seringapatam Taken by Stratagem!, 1792

22.9 x 33.7 cm


he dead body of Tipu, his breast pierced with two swords and a bayonet, lies supine on the fortress of Seringapatam which Henry Dundas carries at full speed towards the King and Queen at Kew. The fortress is enclosed within a bubble, created by a blast from the left, inscribed 'Stock Exchange.' A bearded Jew looks over the wall, and a Yeoman Warder has been knocked down by Dundas in his haste. Both exclaim with mocking words, and the King and Queen peer excitedly through their telescopes. 'Scotch Harry' rushes through the royal garden where large thistles, emblem of Scotland, are gaining supremacy over wilting English roses.

Henry Dundas was Solicitor General for Scotland from 1766, and Lord Advocate from 1775. He was Senior Commissioner on the new Board of Control, established by Pitt's India Bill of 1784, and his unwavering objective was to formulate a financially effective India policy, controlling, or at least, containing the power of the East India Company. 'Dundas is more active and diligent than any other, but also selfish and Scotch. His interest is pillage and patronage: pillage by conquest and patronage at home,' wrote one of his detractors in Parliament, George Canning. Patronage - the gift of commissions in India in return for votes and support at home - become a flourishing industry. At the apogee of this system stood Dundas, so powerful and influential that he was nicknamed 'Henry IX, King of Scotland.' Predictably, he was a favourite target for political satirists, such as Dent and Gillray, who often depicted him swathed in garish tartan. In a more ugly demonstration of popular opinion, on 4th June 1792, the mob in Edinburgh publicly burned an effigy of Henry Dundas.

The 'News' was a letter, purportedly from Lord Abercromby and announcing the Fall of Seringapatam. The letter was actually fabricated, but the sensational news had the desired effect, and India stocks duly rose by 5%. The 'Bubble soon burst' however, and Prime Minister Pitt was accused of publishing false reports in order to improve credit. The political satirists issued a stream of venemous comments on the affair, and the rhyming couplets published with Newton's print (1st May 1792) perfectly capture the public mood :

  'The People of England most heartily damn
The Wonderful News from Seringapatam'

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