Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria, to include the Brian Ritchie Collection (Part I) (17 September 2004)

Image 1

Click Image to Zoom

Date of Auction: 17th September 2004

Sold for £10,000

Estimate: £8,000 - £10,000

The Gold Seringapatam Medal awarded posthumously by the Honourable Court of Directors to Major-General Sir John Braithwaite, Commander-in-Chief Madras Army, a former prisoner of Tippoo Sultan at Seringapatam and Adjutant-General of the force that finally captured that city in 1799

Honourable East India Company Medal for the Capture of Seringapatam 1799, gold, contained in a substantial gold-rimmed glazed case, the edge inscribed ‘FROM THE HON’BLE COURT OF DIRECTORS TO MAJOR GENERAL BRAITHWAITE. 1801’, with integral gold loop for suspension, extremely fine and a truly outstanding specimen, one of only 30 struck


Ex Hyde Greg Collection, formed between 1860 and 1885 (sold by Sotheby in May 1887) and then stated to have come from the Ford Collection. At this time it was ‘in an old morocco leather case, on which is written in ink “Legacy to Colonel G. C. Boughton, to the care of Messrs. Coutts & Co., Strand.” Subsequently in the collections of Colonel Whitaker and David Spink.

John Braithwaite was the only son of Colonel John Braithwaite, Governor-in-Chief of the African Company’s Factories on the South Coast of Africa, and Silvia Cole of Amsterdam. He was born in 1739 and at the tender age of nine was admitted to the rough and tumble of Westminster School. He was commissioned Ensign in H.M.’s 53rd Regiment of Foot on 6 November 1765, and was promoted Lieutenant on 30 August 1768. In the November following he submitted a memorial to the Court of Directors, ‘representing the Posts he has held in H.M.S. [His Majesty’s Service] and praying Court to entertain him in a military capacity for Fort Marlbro’. In December 1768 he was appointed ‘Major and Commandant of all the Company’s Forces under that Presidency’.

He was confirmed in the rank of Major on 21 June 1770, and in September 1772 is recorded marching with a brigade against the Polygars [robber barons] of Madura and Tinnively. He met little opposition and, leaving detachments to occupy some of the principal posts, returned to Trichinopoly at the end of the year having been promoted Lieutenant-Colonel in his absence on 22 October 1772. Braithwaite is next heard of extending the influence of the Madras Presidency in the Circars in 1777, when in consequence of disputes between the Rajah of Vizianagram and his brother, he seized the former’s fort on 28 August, and, leaving a garrison there, comprising one company of European grenadiers, two companies of Sepoys and a detachment of artillery, he took the opportunity to occupy posts at Ankapilly, Coorpam, Royaguddah, Goonipooram and Madigole. In early 1779 Braithwaite was placed in command of a force, consisting of one battalion of Europeans, the 3rd, 4th and 20th Carnatic Battalions and three companies of artillery, which was sent against the French settlement at Mahé a few miles south of the English outpost at Tellichery. The French garrison surrendered in March and on St. George’s Day following Braithwaite and his men received the thanks of the Madras Government. In December 1779 he was advanced to full Colonel.

In November 1780, four months after Haidar Ali invaded the Carnatic with 60,000 men, Braithwaite was given command of the troops in the south at Tanjore. The surrounding country was soon wholly in the hands of Haidar who placed garrisons in most of the forts and defensible pagodas, and incited the Polygars of the neighbourhood as well as those of Madura and Tinnevely to rise in rebellion. In June 1781 General Sir Eyre Coote with a heavily outnumbered force of 8,000 men defeated Haidar Ali at Porto Novo thereby saving the beleaguered Presidency from being snuffed out, but the war thenceforth was far from an uninterrupted blaze of glory. At the beginning of August, Braithwaite attempted to storm a fortified pagoda at Tricatapully, but was repulsed and ultimately obliged to raise the siege through want of money to pay the troops. On 3 August he was repulsed again, this time at the fort of Puttoocottah, and, having been wounded in the assault, was obliged to hand over command to Colonel Nixon. In September Nixon captured the fort at Mahadavypatam after a fierce struggle, and Braithwaite resumed command.

On the 30th of that month Braithwaite met a detached enemy force at the village of Alangudi, which he described as standing like an island in the midst of paddy fields, and protected by deep water courses. He estimated the enemy strength at 5,000 men and six guns, and noticed that two of the enemy’s battalions were commanded by French officers. His own force amounted to a total of 2,461 officers men and eight guns. Braithwaite sent in two attacks, one under Nixon with the handful of Europeans, supported by the 6th and 13th Battalions, and the other, composed of the 10th Native Battalion. The village was resolutely defended but both attacks were successful and the enemy was driven out with the loss of a gun and ninety-eight men killed and 217 wounded. Both Frenchmen were captured, and an adventurer called Captain Mills who commanded two enemy battalions came over during the action. The British loss was comparatively small; nineteen killed and seventy wounded. In October preparations were made for the recovery of Negapatam which was accomplished the following month. This was followed early in the new year of 1782 with the eviction of the Dutch from their last settlement in southern India at Tuticorin. Just as matters in southern Madras began to look more prosperous, there occurred a sudden and severe disaster. In February Braithwaite was in camp near Alangudi with a relatively large force of some 1,660 men, when he was surprised by Haidar’s notorious son Tippoo Sahib, ‘The Tiger of Mysore’. Lieutenant Charles Salmon, Colonel Braithwaite’s A.D.C., who was on his way to the camp, submitted the following report:

‘Before you receive this you will no doubt have heard of the unhappy fate of our southern army, which surrended at discretion [on] the 18th at 12 o’clock, at Alanngudi [sic], a village about four miles from Pantanellore. Tippoo Saib [sic] and Lally with 600 horse, 12,000 infantry, and 20 guns came upon them before they had timely notice to retreat. I was proceeding [on] the 17th to join him and had not got as far as Sholaveram (about half way between Combaconum and camp) at 9 a.m. when I heard a very heavy cannonade, and soon after, quick platoon firing. As I had 2,000 pagodas with me, besides a very slender escort, and no intelligence, I thought it prudent to return to the fortified pagoda at Combaconum where we had two companies of sepoys; informing Colonel Braithwaite at the same time of the step I had taken. The next morning I had a chit from him of which the following is a copy: “Dear sir, we have had a very hard day of it, have kept our ground but are surrounded, do what the bearer tells you.”

Salmon continues: ‘The accounts of what passed afterwards from sepoys, and others who have made their escape, to the time of the surrender, are confused and contradictory. The following however, are the best I can recollect, and what the major part of them seem to agree on. The Colonel attempted to retire in the night, but it was then too late, being surrounded and closely watched by the enemy. He marched about ten with two battalions of sepoys, leaving the 13th battalion on the ground, who were ordered to make a show of entrenching themselves with mamoties, &c., and in two hours after to follow him as expeditiously as possible, leaving their tents standing. I am of the opinion his intention was to retreat to Negapatam as he advanced towards Mayaveram, but he soon found that the enemy had got between him and the 13th battalion. He therefore returned in order to join them which he effected with great difficulty, being obliged to fight all the way back. The enemy rocketed him very much, which not only created great confusion, but did great execution. It was daybreak before the Colonel joined, when they had guns opened from every quarter on them. They sustained this heavy cannonade, and were likewise engaged with the enemy’s infantry till 11 o’clock when the Colonel finding that his destruction would be inevitable if he remained longer on that ground, marched off, and pushed for the pagoda of Manargurdi (about a mile from camp) and he had nearly gained it when one of the battalions (most accounts say Tanjore grenadiers) seeing a large body of the enemy advancing to charge them, made a run for the pagoda, leaving their guns behind them. This occasioned almost a general confusion, when the enemy cut in amongst them, and did great exceution.

Wounded, captured and imprisoned at Seringapatam

At this time Colonel Braithwaite received a wound from an horseman across his back. The 13th battalion, that had the rear, behaved extremely well and made their way good to the pagoda. The sepoys, who had now been two days without provisions, and fighting almost the whole time against such superior force were so disheartened that they called out for cowle. There was a consultation of the officers, the result of which was that they offered to surrender at discretion. There are several black officers, and also 500 sepoys who escaped from the enemy that are come in here. All the officers except Lind are wounded.’

Thus after twenty-six hours of desperate fighting, Braithwaite and his officers were taken prisoner and dispersed amongst the strongholds of Mysore which contained a number of other British officers, notably those from the ill-fated commands of General Mathews and Colonel Baillie, together with a few junior naval officers and seamen captured by the French. Braithwaite was held at Seringapatam and arrived there, according to Captain David Baird, with Ensign Holmes of the 10th Battalion on 25 January 1783. By this time Haidar Ali had died and had been succeeded by Tippoo Sahib. Both Mathews and Baillie had also died, the latter in rat-infested solitary confinement, suffering from a number of untreated wounds and repeating his refusal to enter Mysorean service as Tippoo wished. For others the promise of better conditions was too great and they voluntarily joined Tippoo’s Chela Companies. Others, mainly Cadets and young Seamen, were forcibly converted to Islam, impressed into the enemy’s service, and eventually married off to girls captured from neighbouring territories.

Braithwaite, the senior surviving British officer in Mysorean hands, was quartered with Holmes in ‘a large dark house, part of which was used for keeping assorted wild animals’. Shortly after his arrival the paltry nature of his monetary allowance, on which he was obliged to survive, was communicated in smuggled messages to some of Baillie’s officers. Lieutenant John Lindsay entered the following entry into his diary on 1 March 1783: ‘Received a letter from Colonel Braithwaite; he and Ensign Holmes are allowed one fanam per day each. Colonel B. having represented to us their miserable situation, we raised by public subscription seventy gold fanams, and have desired the Colonel to convey, if possible, a part of the above sum to Captain Leach, who, we understand is starving on six cash per day.’ By bribing readily corrupt natives to act as messengers, Braithwaite kept himself abreast of the plight of his fellow prisoners and even managed to make contact with several officers held at Tanjore. But the risk he ran in doing so was great in the extreme, for the penalty for exchanging messages was the removal of one’s nose and ears. Besides the numerous deprivations of imprisonment, which for most included being left nearly naked and fettered hand and foot for several years, Braithwaite had also to contend with the petty thieving of his guards and messengers against whom he was of course powerless to act. On one occasion he discovered the loss of forty fanams.

As the senior officer, Braithwaite was frequently brought before Tippoo to answer for some misdeamenours committed by one or other of his officers. On 15 November 1783, Lindsay records his return from one such interview: ‘Colonel Braithwaite passed on his return from the Kellidar. He was well dressed, and under the charge of one Havildar and twelve Sepoys, with fixed bayonets. Several of us were so rejoiced at seeing him, that they forgot their situation, and called out to him by name through holes they had bored through the wall of the prison. The Colonel was astonished, and some of the prisoners diapproved of this conduct of their companions. But their emotions were so lively that they could not be restrained.’

Meanwhile, the French had come to terms with Britain at the Treaty of Versailles, and Tippoo had been thrown back on the defensive with the successful invasion of southern Mysore by Colonel Fullerton. Consequently on 11 March 1784, Tippoo was prepared to sign a treaty of peace with the Madras Presidency, thus ending the inconclusive war. For the prisoners however the future remained uncertain. On 2 March, Lindsay recorded: ‘In consequence of yesterday’s information, relative to our being sent to Kavel Drook, the whole of us have seriously and unaminously determined to avail ourselves of the first opportunity to make our escape, by murdering the whole of our guards, and selling every drop of blood as dear as possible; being thoroughly convinced that, if we submit tamely, we shall, on our arrival at Kavel Drook, be despatched in the same manner as General Mathews’ officers.’

Fortunately it was unnecessary to act out this desperate course as no attempt was made to transport them from Seringapatam. On 22 March, Braithwaite was summoned before the Kellidar. On emerging from his ‘small, dismal dungeon’, he was joined under guard by Baird, whose leg irons had been removed earlier that morning. Together they ‘shouldered all hope of the prisoners’ salvation’. Lindsay was in fretful mood and feared ‘they intend very unfair means with Colonel Braithwaite, and indeed the whole of us’. His fears were however unfounded and on arrival at the palace it soon became apparent that they were to be released. But there followed a tense moment when Baird asked if all the British prisoners were to be set free by which he meant ‘the poor lads who had been compelled to become Mussulmans, and take service in Tippoo’s arrmy’. A number of them were present, and the Kellidar replied that not so much as a dog would be left behind. Baird swiftly moved over to the ‘converts’ and grabbed one by his tunic, declaring “Then, I claim these.” The Kellidar was outraged and had his guard immediately encircled the unfortunate youths who were then marched away. One, Midshipman Cadman, escaped seven years later and got through to Cornwallis’s army when it invested Seringapatam during the Third Mysore War (1790-92) but his health was broken and his mind thought ‘weakened if not deranged’.

Braithwaite and those fortunate enough to be released proceeded under guard to the village of Soomna Pettah, where amidst much rejoicing they were reunited with their Native Officers and Sepoys who had been treated considerably worse in captivity than themselves. After a brief stay at Bangalore, the prisoners were eventually met at Calle by an advance party sent out from Madras. On his return to the Presidency, Braithwaite was asked for any information he might have concerning the circumstantial accounts of the murder of General Mathews. He replied in a lengthy communication that it was not in his power ‘to account for the deaths of several officers, without concurring in the general belief that they died by violence of some kind’, yet he was of the opinion that no undue means had been resorted to in the case of General Mathews.

Following the outbreak of war with the French Republic in February 1793, a well-equipped force of some 10,500 men assembled under Braithwaite’s command at the Red Hills near French-held Pondicherry. Against all expectations the French refused to surrender. Siege operations were begun on 10 August and fire opened on the 20th. Two days later the French capitulated. In August 1792 Braithwaite was appointed acting Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army and on 20 December 1793 was promoted Major-General. He was a firm friend of the Madrassi Sepoy and understood and respected his peculiar wish to belong to a particular regiment for the whole of his period of service. In 1793 he wrote a paper complaining of the customary practice of forming the basis of a new unit by seconding drafts from established regiments rather than enlisting new recruits. ‘In a native corps of any standing’ he explained, ‘the ties of caste and consanguity are so strong and numerous, from frequent intermarriages ... that any separation amongst them must be felt by them as peculiarly distressful. The inhabitants distributed to different corps severed from their relations become disgusted with the establishment and from desertion are frequently lost to it, while their connections in the old corps, embarrassed in their domestic arrangements and put to much inconvenience, lose that confidence in the service which they have been used to have, and that faithful attachment to it for which they have been so eminently remarkable is greatly weakenened,’

During the Fourth Mysore War of 1799, which saw the Capture of Seringapatam and the demise of Tippoo, Braithwaite was employed in the executive office of Adjutant-General at the Presidency. On 26 January 1800 he succeeded General Harris to command of the Madras Army and held that appointment until his retirement to England 1801. He was created a Baronet on 18 December 1802 and died peacefully at Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square, nine months later in August 1803.

Although struck at the Soho Mint during 1801-02, the medals for Seringapatam were not sent out to India for distribution until 1805 when the gold, gilt and silver medals were sent out by the Albion in September of that year. The ‘bronzed’ and ‘tin’ medals followed early in 1808, accompanied by a Memorandum from the Court of Directors in London, dated 26 February 1808, to Fort St George, which contained the following clause amongst the instructions concerning distribution of the medals:

‘5. The Medals for the late Governor of Madras, for Generals Stuart and Bridges, and the late Generals Braithwaite and Hartley, have been presented here, and as all the remaining General Officers employed on the Expedition are in this Country, they will receive the Medals here.’

Refs: Hodson Index (NAM); Army Lists, 1766, 1769; History of the Madras Army (Wilson); Lives of the Lindsays (Lindsay); Life of the Rt Hon Sir David Baird (Wilkin); East India Military Calendar; Medals and Decorations (Mayo); Hyde Greg Collection (Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge).