The Baird Jewels and Archive (19 September 2003)

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Date of Auction: 19th September 2003

Sold for £150,000

Estimate: £150,000 - £250,000

The historic and evocative “Bedchamber Sword” of Tipu Sultan taken at the fall of Seringapatam on 4 May 1799

Sword, of the type called sukhela by Rawson, with a calligraphic hilt, a broad, straight, wide single-edged blade and a velvet-covered, silver-gilt mounted scabbard.

Overall length (in scabbard) 42ins. (1079mm.); blade length 36ins. (927mm.).

The polished, bright steel hilt of standard
talwar form, with a dished disc pommel, convex pommel cap fitted with a gold loop for a sword knot, bellied grip and short, waisted quillons curving slightly towards the tip of the blade; the hilt itself canted slightly forward and inlaid overall in gold with five of the qualities of God and an invocation of Him (twice), each of the qualities and one of the invocations rendered six times.

The straight backsword blade, 1.5ins. (38mm.) wide at the forte and with a double-edged point 10ins. (254mm.) long, inlaid in gold on the outside with the orb and parasol mark ascribed to Imperial Moghul swordsmiths, and deeply engraved in five lines, within an engraved border, on the inside of the blade,

THE SWORD OF TIPPOO SULTAUN
Found in his Bed Chamber after SERINGAPATAM was taken by Storm 4th May 1799
and Presented by the ARMY to MAJOR GENERAL BAIRD through their Commander
LIEUT. GENERAL HARRIS, as a token of their high opinion of his Courage and Conduct
in the Assault which he Commanded, and in which TIPPOO SULTAUN was slain.

the blade pierced with a small hole 3ins. (96mm.) from the tip. The blade inlaid in gold on the back edge at the forte with an inscription, “samsir al-malik”, in Persi-Arabic that translates as

The Sword of the Ruler

The wooden scabbard covered in faded, green, corded silk velvet and mounted with three silver-gilt mounts, the upper two mounts having loose gilded iron rings; the mounts engraved overall with panels of leaves within borders of
bubri stripes and the lower mount fitted with a gilded steel shoe. £150,000-250,000

Footnote

Surely one of the most important of the few swords with unquestioned close personal associations with Tipu Sultan, this sword, with its unimpeachable provenance and contemporary documented links with both Tipu and Baird, must represent one of the most evocative trophies of war to be sold in auction for many years.

National and private collections worldwide have examples of the arms and armour removed from Seringapatam after its fall. Inevitably, many of these have supposed links with Tipu. Equally inevitably, many of these links are apocryphal – the result as much of wishful thinking as of the power of the Tipu myth and its ability to confer status upon what were everyday objects in the palace of the ruler of Mysore. Few collections, other than the British Royal collection, possess items with the unquestioned provenance of The Bedchamber Sword: a weapon not only from Seringapatam but also from the private quarters of its prince, a weapon that was undoubtedly a part of his personal arsenal.

The sword itself is of great historical importance. It is also of great importance as a sword, calligraphic hilts being amongst the rarest type of hilt from the Indian sub-continent and involving extremely high standards of manufacturing detail. The combination of what is essentially a
talwar hilt with a wide backsword blade that is probably of Indian manufacture rather than a European import renders this sword, a sukhela.

What P. S. Rawson categorised as this type of sword is associated with southern India and particularly with south-eastern India: Madras, Mysore, the Mahratha territories and the Deccan (where the form is called a
dhup). There is evidence to suggest these were swords of state, rather than fighting swords: the lack of a knucklebow on this example would tend to support this. Similarly, the presence of such swords in Mughal paintings – where they are shown being worn by courtiers or being received as gifts by the Emperor – would explain not only the status of this sword as one quite likely to have been found in the private apartments of a prince but also the fact that the blade is probably of Mughal manufacture, with an inscription, The Sword of the Ruler, proving that this sword must have princely associations.

The blade may well be of an earlier date than the hilt since it follows in its form the style of German 16th century blades imported into India and obviously copied by Mughal swordsmiths, even down to the orb mark which – combined with a cross above it – is found on German blades of the period. By adding a Mughal Imperial parasol to the orb mark, itself an international symbol associated with blades of high quality, the Mughal swordsmiths were taking the status implied by such an imported blade and adding to it their own stamp. Such blades were not everyday items, even in a culture that set such store by the quality of swords, and so the existence of this blade in this hilt is further evidence of the high status of the sword and its owner.

Although Tipu ruled what was primarily a Hindu state, he was Muslim in faith and a pious and doughty defender of that faith. This accounts for the presence, in the very finest gold inlay, on the hilt of five of the qualities of God and of two invocations of Him. These qualities have been translated as
O! Patron, O! Victor, O! Defender, O! Helper and O! Supporter. The invocations call upon God by name O! God. Each of the qualities is repeated six times, as is one of the invocations, making a total of 36 occurrences. The nature of the inscriptions, together with the remarkably high quality of the inlaid calligraphy in which they are rendered, implies – without doubt – that this is the sword of a very high-ranking Muslim.

That this sword should have been the one chosen for presentation to Baird by those who had served under him at the assault upon Seringapatam is of great significance. It would have been selected with care from among the chaos that must have been present in Tipu’s apartments following his death. The survivors of Tipu’s family and retainers would have been asked about its significance in order to inform its choice as the weapon selected for presentation. There were officers in the occupying Army capable of reading the hilt and blade inscriptions, of understanding the significance of their presence and thereby appreciating the importance of the sword. In presenting this particular sword, not only one of Tipu’s personal swords but also one of great status, to Baird – and by doing so publicly – his officers were demonstrating the age-old ritual of the Trophy: taking an enemy’s most prized possession and presenting it to the victor. Had he been there, Tipu would have got the point.

The Background to the Sword’s Presentation

This sword was originally given to Baird by Colonel Arthur Wellesley (afterwards the 1st Duke of Wellington), together with ‘a very handsome note’. Hook, Baird’s official biographer, states that it was ‘Tippoo Sultaun’s state sword, which had been found in his bedchamber’, and that Wellesley ‘was convinced the Major General had the best right’ to it. This was patently a gesture of reconciliation, Baird having been mortified by Wellesley’s appointment to be Commandant of Seringapatam the day after the storming, details of which dispute may be found in this catalogue’s biographical summary.

Hook continues:

‘But here the good-natured intentions of Colonel Wellesley were crossed by the interference of the Prize Committee, who, in a letter addressed to the Commander-in-Chief, General Harris, by General Floyd, its president, stated that it having been understood that Colonel Wellesley had sent General Baird the state sword of Tippoo Sultaun, he, the Commander-in-Chief, was requested by the committee, in the name of the army, to desire that the sword might be immediately returned to them, as it was theirs and not Colonel Wellesley’s to give – and General Floyd added (which it should seem, under the existing circumstances, could not have been a very agreeable announcement to General Harris), that their object in pressing the immediate restitution of the sword was, that they might forthwith fulfil a resolution which they had formed of presenting it themselves to General Baird, by the hand of his Excellency the Commander-in-Chief, himself.

This letter coming less in the shape of an appeal than a demand, was answered by the issuing of an order from head-quarters for the general and field-officers to assemble in General Harris’s tent, where his Excellency “had the pleasure” of presenting the sword to General Baird, “in the name of the army, as a testimonial of their high admiration of his courage and conduct in the assault.’

Stephen Wood, M.A., F.S.A.

References

Archer, M., Rowell, C. and Skelton, R., Treasures from India: the Clive Collection at Powis Castle (London, 1987).

Buddle, A., Rohatgi, P. and Brown, I.G.,
The Tiger and the Thistle: Tipu Sultan and the Scots in India 1760-1800 (Edinburgh, 1999).

Hook, T.,
The Life of General, the Right Honourable Sir David Baird, Bart., G.C.B., K.C. & c. (London, 1833)

Moiennuddin, M,
Sunset at Srirangapatam: after the Death of Tipu Sultan (London, 2000).

Rawson, P.S.,
The Indian Sword (London, 1968).

Wigington, R., “A calligraphic sword hilt from the Armoury of Tipu Sultan”.
Journal of the Arms and Armour Society (J.A.A.S.), Vol. XII (1988), pp. 345-348; and “Souvenir weaponry from Seringapatam”, J.A.A.S., Vol. XV (1996), pp. 141-149.