The Baird Jewels and Archive including Tipu Sultan's Sword

General Sir David Baird, Baronet, G.C.B.

This remarkable collection, with its unimpeachable provenance, its excellent condition and its nationally important items, must constitute what will be the auction sale of the decade of this type of material. Carefully preserved, initially by the Baird family and subsequently by The National War Museum of Scotland, it is now offered for sale: what are being sold are - individually and corporately - National Treasures. They are National Treasures for Britain, but most especially for Scotland, and National Treasures for India -the personal sword of Tipu Sultan, remaining in the family of the victor until now, constituting one of the few items that can be unquestionably linked with one of India's greatest heroes.

If there is any truth in the oft-made assertion that one of Scotland's chief exports has been men, then surely General Sir David Baird, Baronet, G.C.B., must be its personification. Exhibitions have been staged, books, catalogues and articles written on the subject: none are without the Scotland-and-India connection and all mention Baird.

Baird was, though, not just a good example of the type of soldier-Scot successfully exported in the interests of Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: he was also, above all, a survivor. Survivors get their names in the papers, rather than on memorials. If Baird's exploits had been limited to India, as they were for many another Scot ambitious to make his way, then they would have been remarkable enough. His activities wherever there were battles to be fought -Egypt, South Africa, Denmark, Portugal and Spain -not only exemplify the global nature of contemporary British activities (and the resultant ubiquity of its servicemen) but also how, inevitably, there would be Scots there, doing their bit-and often a bit more besides.

Having had the privilege of being responsible for the care of these National Treasures for seventeen years, I am honoured to write the introduction for this catalogue. As David Erskine-Hill rightly points out in his lively essay on Baird, and on Tipu, both were men who exemplified the standards, mores and attitudes of their time: both inspired not only respect but also tales of their exploits; both were just a little larger-than-life. To be able to handle the sword taken from Tipu's bedchamber on 4 May 1799-a sword that was unquestionably his personal property-must give anyone who has any sense of history a frisson of excitement. To handle the General Officer's cocked hat worn by Baird at Corunna in 1809 and imagine the sights of mayhem, panic and personal injury that it must have witnessed on that occasion is to transport one immediately back to that bloody day in Galicia: did he wear that hat while walking, cradling his shattered arm, down to the harbour to seek medical attention? No-one who is sound in wind and, especially, limb can surely look upon his general's coat, with its unused left sleeve, without an immediate proximity to Britain's most famous one-armed general of the Napoleonic Wars. The gold sabre given to Baird by a grateful City of London must inspire consideration of how exploits, such as the capture of an immensely strategic harbour, were regarded and rewarded two centuries ago.

Baird and Tipu are long since dust but the items in this catalogue, so inspirational of superlative adjectives, remain: tangible evidence of History and the stuff of which Heroes are made. Just as it is unlikely that we will see such men again, it must be unlikely that there will be many future auction sales such as this -when a family collection of military antiquities of both national and international importance, having been kept together for centuries, will be sold and inevitably dispersed. Britain's days of Empire are long gone; India is now a great and independent nation: perhaps it is time for such a sale.

Stephen Wood, M.A., F.S.A., Keeper of the National War Museum of Scotland, 1983-2000
September 2003