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  4.31 General Sir Hector Munro  

©Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
General Sir Hector Munro; 1796, this cast 1893


Height 8.3 cm

After JAMES TASSIE (1735-1799)

he son of Hugh Munro of Novar, Cromartyshire, Hector Munro enlisted with Loudons' Highlanders in 1747, at the age of 21. He fought in the Low Countries and Ireland before embarking for India with the 89th Regiment of Foot in December 1760, arriving at Bombay in November 1761. Three years later, at Buxar, Munro faced the forces of Mir Kasim and Shah Alam II - some 50,000 men. Although hopelessly outnumbered, Munro and 7,000 soldiers from the Bengal Presidency were victorious, thus establishing British power in Bengal. Munro went on to take Pondicherry from the French in 1778, and was knighted in 1779. However, his indecision at Pollilur the following year precipitated one of the greatest military disasters the British had known: the near annihilation of Baillie's detachment and a grim sentence in Tipu's prisons for any survivors. Munro fought under General Sir Eyre Coote in 1781, when British confidence was restored with a significant victory on 1st July at Porto Novo.

Munro returned to his native North Briton, where he was well respected as a benificent and public-spirited country gentleman. Much time was spent enlarging and improving his estate, and a Plan of the Mains of Novar shows that the field names still current in 1771 were changed in 1788 to 'Buxar Park';' Madras Park';'Mount Delly'; 'Calcutta Park.' Scots back from India often felt themselves 'exiles' in Scotland, so far away from the intense heat, vast landscapes, numerous deities and languages, exotic courts and palaces of India. Munro also received a cruel reminder of India's dangers: his son was savaged by a tiger while picnicing on Saugur Island, in December 1792, and died of his wounds. The fatal catastrophe was reported in detail in The Scots Magazine of July 1793, and as far away as Philadelphia by 1804.

Portrait medallions such as this were intended to evoke the antique cameos and gems of Classical Greece and Rome, and were produced in a vitreous glass paste, in imitation of the antique. The formula for this paste was invented by James Tassie, of Pollokshaws, near Glasgow, working in Dublin with a physician and Professor of Physics, Henry Quin. Tassie had already studied modelling at the Foulis Academy, Glasgow, and from Quin he learned the art of manufacturing imitation gems and cameos. Tassie moved to London in 1766, to develop this business, and continued to supply Scottish clients and patrons, both with 'gems' and with portrait cameos. From about 1769, he was also supplying casts to the Wedgwood, and a complete collection of his pastes, gems and cameos was dispatched (c.1783) to that voracious collector, Catherine the Great of Russia. By 1791, the 'Catalogue of a general collection of ancient and modern gems, cameos as well as intaglios, taken from the most celebrated cabinets in Europe…by James Tassie, modeller…' included descriptions of 15,800 items.

From about 1785, Tassie had employed Rudolph Eric Raspe (1737-1794), to catalogue his extensive and expanding collection, and Raspe published an initial Account of the collection in 1786. A man of many talents, Raspe had also edited a text of 'The Travels and Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen,' (1785) in which the Baron juggles with canon balls hurled at him by Tipu; unseats Tipu from his elephant; fights Tipu hand-to-hand and finally kills Tipu with a single blow of the sword. Among the illustrations 'from the Baron's designs', three relate to these episodes, including 'The Baron besieges Seringapatam.' Thus Raspe, the cataloguer, Tassie, the modeller, and Munro, the sitter, not only share professional associations, but also their associations with Tipu, Seringapatam and the Mysore Wars.

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