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  1.1 Tippoo's Tiger  


©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

TIPPOO'S TIGER

Painted wooden carcase (the woods unidentified), the organ work including mahogany, rosewood, ash and oak ; containing a mechanical organ, cogwheel and worm gear, with 36 brass pipes, leather bellows, button keys. The man's left arm moves up and down from the elbow. Carving and painted decoration Indian, the mechanism possibly part French.

Mysore, c.1795
71.2 x 178 cm


he note which accompanied this remarkable object to England described it as a 'Man Tyger Organ,' a life-size, painted wooden effigy of a tiger (emblem of Tipu Sultan) mauling a European soldier. The design is said to have been inspired by the death of a young Scotsman, the son of General Sir Hector Munro, who had vanquished Haidar Ali and his son, Tipu, in 1781.

It contains a pipe and bellows mechanism, operated by turning a handle on the tiger's left side. Air is pumped into the bellows within its body and expelled as a wailing shriek and a loud roar. The victim's hand moves up and down and tunes may be played on the button keys in the tiger's side. It has been suggested that a Frenchman at Tipu's court may have assisted in assembling the mechanism. The internal mechanism has been much restored, and may originally have been operated by pulling cords attached to the crank shaft inside.

Following its arrival in London, Tippoo's Tiger spent some years in storage before being placed on public display at the East India Company's Museum in Leadenhall Street in 1808. Here it attracted the attention of 19c travellers, poets and playwrights, and retained its popularity as it moved with the Museum to various addresses in London. In 1879, the old museum was dissolved, and the tiger was allocated to that part of the South Kensington Museum which later became the Indian Section of the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it is still one of the most popular exhibits.

In 1990, in connection with the re-display of the Indian collections as the superb Nehru Gallery of Indian Art, a video was made to set Tippoo's Tiger in context, and to demonstrate the working of the mechanism. The tune played was a South Indian song about tigers. In 1995, the original tiger was too fragile to travel to Scotland for 'The Tiger and the Thistle' bi-centennial exhibition, but the full-size, painted fibre-glass replica exhibited in its place is also associated with a historic event in Scotland. The replica was made by Derek Freeborn for 'The Enterprising Scot' exhibition (1986), which marked the merger (October 1985) of the Royal Scottish Museum and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland to become the National Museums of Scotland.


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