Wellington in India part 2: Wellesley Inc.

At about the same time last year I posted my first Adventure in Historyland, it has taken a little while to get the next intallment out, but here it is… Do read on.


Landing in Calcutta in February of 1797 Wesley as then he still was had little to do but familiarise himself with his new surroundings and recover from the trip. In August he was given the task of inspecting the state of the troops garrisoning the Philippines and to make recommendations for improvement where he saw the need. It was a routine staff assignment and on the way he drew up hygiene precautions for his men, aboard ship, who now scrubbed their hammocks every fortnight and where ordered to wash every day, it is not unthinkable that the ships pumps where put into service for this duty. The journey ended at Penang after a not too uneventful voyage in which the 33rds chaplain got atrociously drunk on deck, where they were recalled to Calcutta to find that by the most fortuitous of coincidences that Richard, who had changed the family name to Wellesley, had been made Governor General by the board of the East India Company. On the 19th of May 1798 the HMS Virginie arrived in Madras with Richard on board had arrived with Arthur’s other brother Henry as his secretary, and was already making big plans.

Mornington felt that the British interest in India had to be dramatically expanded and it was a belief that all the Wellesley brothers had in common. Together they formed a small little clique

Richard Wellesley, Lord Mornington.
Richard Wellesley, Lord Mornington.

that was to change the fate of India. It should be noted that official British policy was to maintain rather than expand British interests, after a slew of overindulgent Governor General’s.

To begin with Mornington sought to strengthen links with the East India Company’s allies especially the Nizam of Hyderabad, this was achieved by October 1798, through the auspices of the Britsh resident, James Kirkpatrick, who bloodlessly nullified the interest of France at the Nizam’s court & negotiated the subsequent treaty. Though in all truth it was as much the return of the venerated pro British minister Mir Allum that allowed him to do so. Interestingly Wellesley did not as is often thought serve as his brother’s de facto chief of staff, or secretary. Actually it was James Kirkpatrick’s brother William, Mornington’s private secretary, who he credited with the inspiration for much of his policies. Now confident of support Mornington cast around him for an enemy to fight by which he might make use of his powerful position, he did not have to look far.

Mornington had probably heard of a Sultan called Tipu before arriving in India. He was the Muslim ruler of the state of Mysore and was nicknamed the Tiger and he had inherited his late father Hyder Ali’s hatred the British. As a young man he had defeated two EIC armies and when Ali died and Tipu became Sultan just before the end of the 2nd Mysore war he famously became the last Indian ruler to dictate peace terms to the British. A previous Governor General had also realised the threat that he posed to the EIC, Lord Cornwallis, came within an ace of taking his capitol, the wondrous island city of Seringapatam but the Monsoon intervened in the Sultan’s favour. Neverthless Tipu’s prestige was dented and in the resulting treaty lost him ½ of his kingdom, yet he did not give up his hostile stance towards the British and courted French assistance to drive them from India. How much attention Napoleon or the Republican government actually paid “Citoyen Tipu” is up for debate, he sent a letter essentially offering an alliance, but only the local French colonies gave any active support. Napoleon might have considered a useful Indian ally, but his priorities were in Egypt at that moment, though he wrote to him from Cairo in 1798, in a letter essentially amounting to “I’ll get around to it” he promised to come soon and free Tipu from the “Iron Yoke of England”, fatally this would give the Sultan of Mysore a false hope of French assistance. Mornington knew Tipu’s sympathies and understood that he needed to be done away with, and preparations where under way to put his plan in motion. But the governor of Madras, Lord Clive, was dragging his heels a bit, so in August Mornington sent his brother Arthur with his regiment there to give him some encouragement. This trip almost ended it tragedy when the ship the Fitzwilliam ran aground on a Shoal luckily the soldiers helped to get her off averting disaster and they arrived safely, reporting fifteen dead from bad water, Wellesley got off with a touch of the Flux.

Lord Clive, a rather slow, plodding heir to Clive of India, needed to be brought into the war party to ensure a successful campaign, nicknamed “Puzzlestick” by the Wellesley brothers, Arthur saw that he was more intelligent than he was being given credit for and with great diplomatic skill brought him around to their side, to all intents and purposes the Wellesley brothers had gotten their war.

As a result relations with Tipu which had been left to get bad now got worse. The French colonies had called for volunteers to fight for Mysore. Now after cordially informing Tipu of Nelson’s victory at the Nile, Mornington informed him that his friendliness towards France would not be tolerated by the EIC. This put Tipu into a quandary, he now either had to give in to the British or fight them without the French, and the French were now out of the equation, he knew that he was not strong enough to do this and he needed to play for time that Mornington was not prepared to give.

Meanwhile an expeditionary force was being put together under command of General George Harris. Wellesley was attached to his staff but played second fiddle to other officers like Colonel Henry Ashton but as fate would have it Ashton was mortally wounded in a duel and Wellesley took his place. Wellesley was fond of Ashton and when he heard he was in a bad way he rode to

Arthur Wellesley as Colonel of the 33rd foot by Hoppner.
Arthur Wellesley as Colonel of the 33rd foot by Hoppner.

see him, the dying colonel lived long enough to bequeath Wellesley his grey Arab charger Diomed as a farewell gift, and then passed away. Once back he took full control of preparations for the army. To Wellesley supply on the long march to Seringapatam through hostile territory was of paramount importance, the army needed to be able to feed itself or it would die of starvation, and he couldn’t guarantee what they could steal or forage. Here his preparation on the long voyage to India came into play. Instead of buying en masse from bazaars he contracted local merchants to supply the army, and paid local Brinjarries to bring their long trains of Bullocks, so that he didn’t have to buy his own. Despite his new responsibilities he did not ignore his own regiment, the 33rd, for he found that his second in command, Major John Shee, was not doing his duty as he should be, so he made sure he told the sometimes troublesome Major that he would never fail to interfere with the 33rd whenever he found it necessary.

Gathering supplies and arranging logistics was a long job but it was vital to the success of the expedition, he had no easy time of it and wrote that “It seems a rule of policy here never to give

Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore.
Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore.

assistance to your friend when he stands in most need of it and always break your treaty with him the moment when it would be most convenient to him that you should fulfil his stipulations” nevertheless by early 1799, he had assembled a train of 40 cannons, (two 28 pounders, thirty 18 pounders and eight 9 pounders with 1,200 rounds of ammunition per gun,) while this arsenal was being gathered he organised battalion and brigade drilling to make sure the army was used to large scale manoeuvres. By December the army was 20,000 bayonets and sabres strong and the Governor General had arrived to see things for himself. He was impressed by his younger brother’s efforts, that until know he had only heard of through Henry Wellesley and Arthur had gained immeasurable confidence because of the trust put in him by Mornington, who he briefed on all the preparations that had been made and when Richard asked Wellesley what he thought about himself taking command he replied candidly that if he was General Harris and the Governor came to take command he would have quit it.

Harris himself praised Wellesley’s “masterly arrangements” but did not wish to ruffle feathers amongst the other officers, like General Baird and Barry Close, who resented one of Wellesley inc being favoured and Wellesley admitted that because he was Mornington’s brother he was seen as little more than a spy. Despite these impressive achievements Wellesley was very much a behind the scenes player at this point, and it would be a mistake to shed an aura of invincibility quite yet.

Then having no word of submission from Tipu, the army was ordered to march, and on the 3rd of February 1799 the long columns of infantry, cavalry, artillery and Wellesley’s endless teams of Bullocks set off towards Mysore. The plan was to march in two groups, Harris leading the force from Madras, picking up the Nizam of Hyderbad’s contingent on the way and General James Stuart with a smaller army would also advance on Seringapatam from Malabar.

Harris rendezvoused with the Nizam’s force of a horde of 10,000 Mughal cavalry, ten battalions of infantry and 36 guns under 1st Minister Mir Allum, at Amboor on the 18th of February.

Mughal Cavalry did not look much different to that of Mysore
Mughal Cavalry did not look much different to that of Mysore

Interestingly Allum made a point of asking that Wellesley be made advisor to him during the march, doubtless a calculated diplomatic move to flatter Mornington, (effectively giving him command of a brigade) and Harris was pleased to oblige him, glad to have distance from Wellesley’s frenetic and often overbearing presence, and sent his promising subordinate and his fine regiment to join the Hyderbad contingent much to the displeasure of General David Baird who felt had been given an inferior command.With these petty tensions in the air the army marched onwards on the 21st  at the slow pace of 5-10 miles a day with a rest every third day. It was quite a sight. Rigid swinging columns of redcoats marched either side of a migratory mass of 100,000 camp followers, merchants and army contractors, with 100,000 bullocks & 30,000 sheep. With such colossal marching markets, it wasn’t until the 6th of March that they entered enemy territory, were they found the land scorched and wasted by Tippu’s men. On the 10th of March the Sultan’s cavalry, whom Wellesley described as the finest in the world, attacked the rearguard at Kellamungellum overrunning a company of Madras Native Infantry. With the plain awash with Mysori cavalry Wellesley personally lead the counterattack that drove them off, these splendid horsemen would prevent large scale foraging for the rest of the march but having tested the columns metal and found it steady they never attack so boldly again.

Well armed Mysore Cavalryman
Well armed Mysori cavalryman

Five days later on the 15th word came that General Stuart had won a victory at Sadaseer and Tipu was withdrawing eastward. They where now marching through lush green unburned land full of topes of trees & the odd burning temple. Harris caught up with the Sultan’s army at Mallavelly on the 27th and rushed to engage him, when he heard that General Stuart was also nearby. Yet Harris was not inclined to face them, his goal was Seringapatam, and any delay could be fatal.

 Tipu’s men attacked that day, and a rather scrappy confused fight occurred, with the two Company columns attempting to crush the Mysori army between them and failing. Wellesley and the Hyderabad force performed well, advancing en echelon & waiting until the very last moment before firing, in the crashing volleys that followed, the  Sultan’s army, was checked and routed,  escaping under cover of a desperate cavalry charge against General Baird’s flank. Wellesley was all admiration for the conduct of Tipu’s men saying that they never behaved better.

The next day Harris crossed the River Cauvery, upon which sat the walled city of Seringapatam and outflanked Tipu, who now saw that he had no hope of stopping the British outside of his capitol and withdrew behind his walls in the hope of holding out until the Monsoon came. The British came in sight of Seringapatam in early April 1799 and set up camp having taken 31 days to cover 153.5 miles.

With the Tiger of Mysore trapped inside his layer the race between the big guns and the monsoon could commence, the siege of Seringapatam had begun.

Read Part 1 Here.


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