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  3.12 The Battle of Pollilur 1780: D/ Tipu's archers  


©Otto Money
The Battle of Pollilur 1780, D/ Tipu's archers

Gouache on five sheets of paper, with canvas backing
224.8 x 976 cm

Unknown Indian Artist c.1840

rrow power still played a part in Indian campaigns, although Tipu's interest in the developing technology of firearms is a reminder of his curiosity, ambition and fascination with novelty. Tipu himself used a bow, and two of his quivers survive, one of velvet embroidered with bubris in silver thread. The accompanying description records 'Taken from the Bed Room of the late Tippoo Saib and (the arrows) supposed to be poisoned.' The other surviving quiver is part of a suit of elaborately embroidered cloth armour, with quiver, belt and armguards all thickly embroidered in gold thread, and a strong pattern of bubris in blue and crimson silk thread and velvet, with applied sequins. The quiver has a ground of crimson velvet, with stylised flowers embroidered at the opening, and silk tassels hanging from it. The designs and technique are very similar to those on the cloth-of-gold shamiana associated with Tipu's throne.

It was, however, the rocket which was Tipu's deadliest missile, 'a weapon hitherto held almost in derision,' wrote Wilks, 'because seen in small numbers it is easily avoided.' These 'weapons of fire' are mentioned in the Vedic hymns and in the Ramayana (c.300BC) and have a long tradition in India. Rockets could be of various sizes, but the general design was an iron tube about 8" long and 1½ - 3" diameter, closed at one end and strapped to a shaft of bamboo about 4ft. long. The cylinder was filled with combustible material and some powder - a large rocket, carrying about one pound of powder could travel some 1,000 yards. A watercolour by Robert Home painted during the Third Mysore War, shows one of Tipu's rocket men in his 'tyger jacket' bending to pick up just such a missile. Although rockets existed also in Europe, they were not iron cased, and their range was far less than that of their oriental counterparts. Indeed, it was a study of the Mahrattas' use of the rocket which eventually led to the publication of 'A Concise Account of the Origin and Progress of the Rocket System', published in 1804 by William Congreve, son of the Commander of the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, London.

Rockets had already been used against the British in 1755, and at Plassey in 1757, but it was at the Battle of Panipat (1761) , against the Marathas, when the British first experienced the truly formidable power of massed rockets - some 2,000 fired simultaneously. Tipu's own military manual, 'Fathul Mujahidin', copies of which were distrubuted to all his officers, gives 200 rocketmen in each Mysorean cushoon, and a total of 16 cushoons of infantry (Lieut. Bushby, describing Tipu's infantry, intimates that 24 cushoons may have been nearer the total).Rocket men were trained to assess the parabolic curve of the rocket's flight and vary the angle of dispatch, depending on the diameter of the cylinder and the distance from the target. For multiple launching, Tipu created his own 'rocket organ', capable of launching 5-10 rockets at once - as used at the siege of Honore (1784) . 600 'engines of iron for throwing rockets' were found at Seringapatam in 1799, together with 700 serviceable and 9,000 empty rockets. Some of these had iron points or steel blades bound to the bamboo, to inflict greater damage, and some of Haidar's rockets had pierced cylinders, so that the wind could catch the burning flame, and the passing rocket would then act like an incendiary. Tara-mandalpet or 'Galaxy Bazaar' was thus an appropriate name for the areas of towns where rockets and fireworks were manufactured.

Beatson refers to 'a dreadful explosion' caused on 2nd May, when a shot from one of the British batteries struck a magazine of rockets within the fort at Seringapatam. The explosion is recorded in one of Beatson's illustrations for his account of the final Mysore War: a towering cloud of black smoke, with cascades of exploding white light, rising from behind the battlements. The aquatint process used for the illustration dramatically captured Beatson's 'View of the North West Front of Seringapatam, Shewing the Approaches of the Batteries, the Breach, and the explosion of the Rocket magazine.'

For those, like Baird, who had fought at Pollilur nineteen years earlier, there must have been a grim memory of a similar situation in reverse: the havoc wrought by one of Tipu's missiles and the explosion of the British ammunition tumbrils.


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