There has been long-standing confusion pertaining to the site where Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, died on May 4, 1799. At present, there are markers at two locations in the town of Srirangapatna, separated by about 200 metres, both of which claim to be the spot where Tipu Sultan died.
In an attempt to clear this confusion and locate the actual site where Tipu Sultan fell fighting and from where his body was recovered, I studied contemporary and later paintings as well as photographs of the sites. Perhaps this strategy of using visual documentation could help clear this historical puzzle.
Sequence of events
Tipu Sultan, who reigned between 1782-1799, died while defending his island-capital of Srirangapatna during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore war. Historical accounts are largely consistent regarding the events of the day and the fate of Tipu Sultan, culminating in his death.
Tipu Sultan had returned to Kalale Diddi or Water gate (Figure 1 and Figure 3B), at the northern part of the outer fortress, around 1pm, where he had taken residence since the previous few weeks to oversee battle preparations. He was having a meal when he received information of Commander Syed Gaffur’s death due to bombardment.
He immediately got up from lunch, appointed Mohammed Cassim in place of the late Gaffur, and proceeded west towards the breach (Point number two in Figure 2, North-West corner of the fort) along the northern ramparts with a few servants carrying arms. He managed to shoot a few British soldiers but soon, the advancing columns of British soldiers forced Tipu to retreat eastwards along the outer ramparts.
Tipu complained of a pain in his leg and his favourite horse – a white mare – was brought and he rode it eastwards along with a few servants. He crossed a ditch and tried entering the new sally port leading into town. A sally port is a protected path to a fortified enclosure, often the connection between the outer and inner fortification
The gateway was crowded with people fleeing the city pursued by the soldiers of the 12th regiment and was the site of fierce combat, with the Mysorean soldiers falling to British musketry and bayonets.
Tipu was moving slowly because of the fleeing mass coming from the opposite direction and was also being pursued by advancing British soldiers from the outer ramparts.
By that time Tipu had received a few musket shots, wounding him. Tipu’s horse was then killed and he fell down inside the gateway. He was helped on to a palanquin by his servants and placed at one side of the main arch of the gateway. Tipu, already feeling faint by the loss of blood, was surrounded by dead or dying Mysoreans and the gateway was becoming choked.
Raja Khan, a faithful servant of Tipu, advised him to make his identity known to the British, and was rebuffed for suggesting this. Soon, a party of grenadiers came through the archway and upon seeing the rich sword-belt of Tipu, one of them tried to grab it, only to be struck by Tipu’s sword.
Immediately afterwards, Tipu was shot through the temple, possibly by the same grenadier or someone close by. He died instantly. This shot not only ended Tipu’s life but also extinguished the last beacon of staunch resistance against the expansion of the East India Company in India.
Two different locations today
Returning to the present, one can see a stone marker erected (Figure 3A) that says the body of Tipu Sultan was recovered from this spot.
However, a marble plaque on the Water Gate (Kalale Diddi) says that Tipu Sultan fell at the northern end of that archway, Figure 3B and 3C.
These two locations (Water Gate and the marker for Tipu’s death) are separated by around 200 metres (Figure 3D). Which is the spot where Tipu was actually killed?
An extinct gateway
East India Company engineer and surveyor Major Alexander Beatson, who was present during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore war, mentions that Tipu had taken residence at the Water Gate (Figure 3B) and walled it up with an external retaining wall sometime during 1793.
This Water Gate was known as Hale Diddi Baagilu (Kannada for old archway) or Kalale Diddi or Kalale Wicket Gate. Tipu had occupied a small room attached to this gateway, where he slept and had his meals.
Tents were pitched nearby for his servants and retinue. It was here that Tipu was told about Syed Gaffur’s death when he rose from lunch May 4, 1799 and headed towards the breach, westwards along the northern ramparts.
Several travellers’ accounts, such as those of Lord Valentia, Dr Francis Buchanan-Hamilton and Constance Parsons, are consistent in mentioning the existence of a sally port around 200 yards (around 180 metres) east of Kalale Diddi or Water Gate.
Lord Valentia, who visited Srirangapatna during 1804, mentioned it as being the location of Tipu’s death and that this sally port, mentioned in several sources as the Hoally Gate, was demolished to widen the road. This suggests that this sally port was already gone by 1804.
Where was the sally port?
While searching for the location and depiction of this extinct sally port, I came across paintings by Thomas Sydenham (1780-1816 Common Era) and the famous painter Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851 Common Era), depicting the Hoally Gate (sally port) as the location of Tipu’s death. According to the British Library’s online gallery, on the back of Sydenham’s painting (Figure 4A), inscribed in ink is:
“No.7. The Hoally Gateway (or Diddy) is situated on the North face of Seringapatam a short distance from the N.E. Angle of the Palace, and about 300 yards from the N.E. Angle of the fort. It was built about 5 years ago, and is only worthy of notice as being that part where Tippoo Sultaun was Killed”.
Sydenham, who was born in Madras, was a Captain of Guides (Madras Army) during the Mysore War and he was selected by Lord Wellesley to be the secretary to the Residency of Hyderabad. He was an expert military draughtsman too.
Though Turner himself did not visit India, he painted various locales and fortifications based on the sketches of several other painters who drew at the original sites.
Turner has depicted no less than four views of Srirangapatna: The Siege of Seringapatam (1800), The Hoally Gate (1800), Cullaly Deedy (1800) and Residence of Mysore Rajah within the Fort of Seringapatam (1800). The Hoally Gate by Turner is known to be based on Sydenham’s original drawing.
Sydenham’s painting (Figure 4A), which now is at The India Office Library in London, has the following inscription in ink on the front: “View of the Hoally Gateway in which Tippoo Sultaun was killed. T. Sydenham.”
This watercolour-gouache shows an elegant gateway constituted by five multi-foil archways, with four smaller parallel arches present on either side of the principal central archway. Also conspicuous in the painting is the armoury, shown on the right-hand side of the street.
Thus, this painting not only gives an image of this long-lost gate but also its location with respect to other structures of the fort.
Visiting the fort, though no remnants of this gateway are visible, at the site of the marker (around 200 metres east of the existing water gate), the armory is still visible, around 50 metres away.
This matches considerably the location of these structures in the painting (Figure 4B). So, this means that the current marker may be at or near the site of the now-demolished sally port.
There was also another clue left behind as mentioned earlier. This was what we know from Constance Parsons (1931), that the distance between the (demolished) sally port (Hoally Diddi) and the (still-existing) Water Gate (Kalale Diddy) was about 200 yards or 182 metres.
I used satellite image photos to try and verify the distance between the present marker near the sally port that could have existed and the still-present Water Gate.
The satellite image (Figure 5) shows the location of the stone marker around 200 meters east of the Water Gate and around 260 metres from the north-east angle of the fort, consistent with the inscription on Sydenham’s painting. Thus, there is no doubt that the site of the stone marker is consistent with the site of the new sally port, where Tipu breathed his last while trying to enter the town.
Decoding an old confusion
Though there is an indication that the stone marker for the location of Tipu’s body was erected by Colonel Wellesley, as mentioned on the information board at the site, it is not clear on which date or year the wall plaque (Figure 3C) was embellished on the existing Water Gate.
Neither Colonel Malleson (1876) nor Lord Valentia mention the wall plaque on the Water Gate (Kalale Diddy). The plaque is not visible in a photograph of the Water Gate from 1895. Lt Colonel HA Newell (1921), who visited Srirangapatna, mentions the wall plaque at Water Gate, indicating that this plaque was installed as late as between 1895-1921.
This confusion about the location of Tipu Sultan’s death has persisted for more than a century with Stephen Basappa, the author of A Guide to Seringapatam and its Vicinity (1897) acknowledging the confusion regarding the site of Tipu’s death. He suggests that though the local tradition points to the existing Water Gate, most travellers’ accounts give the location consistent with the current stone marker.
Since then, many writers including Constance Parsons (1931) and Rev EW Thompson (1923), included the account of both the markers and supplemented it with corrections.
Rev Thompson (1923) mentioned the incorporation of the plaque on Kalale Diddy and to quote him, “The water Gate on the north face of the Fort is usually pointed out as the place where Tipu fell; and the Government of Mysore has lent its sanction to this error by recently placing an inscription on the gate to the effect that Tippu fell ‘at the northern end of this archway’.”
He further adds:
“Disappointing as it may be, the plain and undeniable fact is that the gate in which Tippu was slain is standing no longer. It led into the town, through the ‘inner rampart’, which was demolished and thrown into the ‘inner ditch’ within a year after the British troops took possession of the Fort.”
Despite these efforts, the exact location of the Hoally Gate was never referred to, including in the earliest sources such as Major Beatson (1800), the East India Company engineer and surveyor, and Mir Hussain Ali Khan Kirmani (1864), a Persian who served in Tipu Sultan’s court.
Art and history
Thus, after a survey of historical literature, site-visits and examination of paintings, I am confident that the present stone marker stating that “the body of Tipu Sultan was found here” is the correct spot where the Tiger of Mysore fell and not at the present Water Gate where the wall plaque has over time added to the confusion.
In fact, the location of the old sally port was not to the north of the gate as the wall plaque says but to the east. Thus, the contributions of Thomas Sydenham and other artists and photographers in demystifying this old confusion is crucial and again underscores the vitality of illustrations and record keeping in constructing the firm edifice of history.
The author would like to thank Nidhin Olikara, Charles Greig, Ameen Ahmed, Mohammed Masood and Susan Stronge for valuable suggestions and discussions. Author also wishes to thank Late. Selvaraj Subramanyam, Guruprasad Puttamadhappa, Manu Krishnamurthy, Shivaprakash Adavanne, Chandranna Nayak, Shivakumar SM and family members for accompanying him to site-visits and at short notices.
Harshavardhana Yadumurthy has a PhD in Biochemistry from Indian Institute of Science and teaches biochemistry at Central College, Bengaluru City University. His interests include the history of Mysuru, contemporary figurative arts and natural history. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.