This is a life-sized mechanism of a tiger devouring a European man. It belonged to Tipu Sahib, who was ruler the Indian kingdom of Mysore until 1799. The Duke of Wellington started his long military career fighting for the British East India Company in their war against Tipu Sahib.
Tipu had two great passions, a fascination for tigers and a hatred of the British. Tigers and tiger symbols adorned most of his possessions, from his splendid throne to the uniforms of his guards.
Concealed within the tiger is a mechanical pipe-organ operated by a crank-handle at the tiger’s shoulder. This handle also operates bellows which create sounds of the tiger growling and of the victim crying out. The cries vary in intensity, as the mechanism raises and lowers the man’s left arm to cover his mouth.
The painted wooden casing of the tiger is Indian, but it seems that the mechanism came from a European manufacturer, probably French. Tipu employed many French artisans during his unofficial alliance with the French Revolutionary government.
In 1790, Tipu Sahib invaded the kingdom of Travancore but was beaten by an Anglo-Indian army in the Third Mysore War. In 1799 he began plotting with the French. Lord Mornington, Wellington’s older brother and Governor General of India, decided to forestall Tipu by ordering General Harris to storm Tipu’s capital at Seringapatam. Colonel Wellesley (Wellington) was one of the subordinate commanders.
Sir David Baird led the main assault on 4 May 1799 and Tipu was killed in the fierce fighting. Colonel Wellesley (Wellington) was appointed Governor of Seringapatam by his brother. Baird was disappointed, because he felt that the position of governor should have been his. Wellesley, however, had already demonstrated vital diplomatic skills in India when commanding an allied army. He would enhance these skills both in the Peninsula and at Waterloo. On the other hand, Baird had endured four years of imprisonment in Mysore and was known to be quick tempered. Politically he might have been a poor leader.
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This object is in the collection of Victoria and Albert Museum