Description of Seringapatam
May 20 1800
“Seringapatam is commonly called Patana, or Patan, that is to say, the city; but the name used in our maps is a corruption from Sri Ranga Patana, the city of Sri Ranga, from its containing a temple dedicated to Vishnu under that name. The temple is of great celebrity, and of much higher antiquity than the city, which did not rise to be of importance until the time of the princes of the Mysore dynasty.
The island is about three miles in length, and one in breadth, and has a most dreary, ugly appearance; for naked rock, and dirty mud walls are its predominant features. The fort or city of Sri Ranga, occupies its upper end, and is an immense, unfinished, unsightly, and injudicious mass of building. Tippoo seems to have had too high an opinion of his own skill to have consulted the French who were about him; and adhered to the old Indian style of fortification, labouring to make the place strong by heaping walls and cavaliers one above the other. He was also very diligent in cutting ditches through the granite; but, as he had always on hand more projects than his finances were adequate to defray, he never finished any work. He retained the long straight walls and square bastions of the Hindus; and his glacis was in many parts so high and steep, as to shelter an assailant from the fire of the ramparts. In the island also. in order to water a garden, he had dug a deep canal parallel to the works of the fort, and not above eight hundred yards distant from them. He was also so unskilled, as to look upon this as an additional security to the place; but had it been deemed necessary to besiege the town regularly from the island, the assailant would have found it of the utmost use.
Had Tippoo’s troops been capable of defending the place properly, this mode of attack would have been necessary; but the confidence which our officers justly reposed in the superiority of their men, and the extreme difficulty of bringing up the immense stores necessary to batter down many heavy works, made them prefer an attack across the river, where the works were not so strong, and where they ventured on storming a breach, that nothing, but a very great difference between the intrepidity of the assailants and defendants, could have enabled them to carry. The depth of the river was of little importance; but the assailants, in passing over its rocky channel, were exposed to a heavy fire of artillery, and suffered considerable loss.
On ascending the breach, out men found an inner rampart lined with troops, separated from them by a wide and deep ditch, and defended at its angle by a high cavalier. By this they were for a little while discouraged; as, from the information of spies, they had expected to have been able to mount the cavalier from the breach, and to form a lodgement there, till means could be taken to gain the inner works, and expel the garrison, which consisted of about eight thousand men, nearly the same number with that employed on the storming party.
After however, the first surprise occasioned by this disappointment, the troops soon recovered their spirits, and pushed on, along the outer rampart, towards both the right and left of the breach. Those who went to the left found great opposition. At every twenty or thirty yards distance, the rampart was crossed by traverses, and these were defended by the Sultan in person. The loss of men here was considerable; but the English troops gradually advanced, and the Sultan retired slowly, defending his ground with obstinancy.
The enfilading fire from the Bombay army, on the north side of the river, had been so strong, that the defendants had been entirely driven from the ramparts on the right of the breach, and had been prevented from raising any traverses. Our people who went in that direction did not meet with the smallest opposition; and the flank companies of the 12th regiment, having found a passage across the inner ditch, passed through the town to attack the rear of the enemy, who were still opposing the Europeans on the left.
The Sultan had now been driven back to the eastward of the palace, and is said to have had his horse shot under him. He might certainly have gone out at a gate leading to the north branch of the river, and nothing could have prevented him from crossing that, and joining his cavalry, which, under the command of his son Futter Hyder, and of Purnea, were hovering round the Bombay army. Fortunately, he decided upon going into the inner fort, by a narrow sally-port; and, as he was attempting to do so, he was met by the crowd flying from the flank companies of the 12th regiment; while the troops, coming up behind, cut off all means of retreat. Both parties seem to have fired into the gateway, and some of the Europeans must have passed through with the bayonet; as a wound, evidently inflicted by that weapon, was discovered in the arm of the Sultan.
His object in going into this gateway is disputed. The Hindus universally think, that, finding the place taken, he was going to the palace to put all his family to death, and then to seek for his own destruction in the midst of his enemies. But, although such is considered by the Hindus as the proper conduct for a prince in his situation, we have no reason to think that a Mussulman would conduct himself in this manner; nor was Tippoo ever accused of want of affection for his family. I think it more probable, that he was ignorant of the British troops having got into the inner fort, and was retiring thither in hopes of being still able to repel the attack.
No individual claimed the honour of having slain the Sultan, nor did any of either party know that he had fallen in the gateway. The assailants were, indeed, at that time too much enraged to think of anything but the destruction of their enemy. Each division pushed on towards the eastern end of the town; and, as they advanced, the carnage increased. The garrison threw themselves from the works, attempting to escape into the island, and from thence to their cavalry. The greater part, however, were either killed by the fall, or broke their limbs in a most shocking manner. Meer Saduc, the favourite of the Sultan, fell in attempting to get through the gates. He is supposed to have been killed by the hands of Tippoo’s soldiery, and his corpse lay for some time exposed to the insults of the populace, none of whom passed without spitting on it, or loading it with a slipper; for to him they attributed most of their sufferings in the tyrannical reign if the Sultan.
The two divisions of the storming army now met at an open place surrounding a very fine mosque, into which the remains of the garrison withdrew, and their destruction the fighting nearly ceased. The number of burials amounted to somewhat above seven thousand; several of these were towns-people of both sexes and all ages; but this was accidental, for our soldiers killed none intentionally but fighting men. Those who are disposed to disclaim on the horrors of a town taken by assault, may always find room to dwell on women, infants, and aged persons killed, and on the little protection given to places, however sacred, for such terrible things must always happen when an enraged soldiery with firearms are pursuing an enemy through a populous place.
When our two parties had met, and no longer saw before their eyes the enemy, by whom they, or their countrymen, had been often most barbarously used, they soon cooled, and were disposed, by their officers, in the manner most proper to secure their new conquest; many, however, left their ranks; and the followers of the camp, under pretext of taking refreshment to their masters, poured into the town, and an entire night was employed in plunder. In this, I believe, very little murder was committed; although there can be no doubt that many persons were beaten, and threatened with death, in order to make them discover their property.
The women on this occasion went out into the streets, and stood there all night in large groups; I suppose, with the view of preventing any insult, but their exposed situation; few men being capable of committing brutality in public. This precaution was probably little necessary. The soldiers had mostly been in the trenches two days; they had been engaged in a hard day’s work; and their hopes and their rage having then ceased, they were left in a state of languor, by which they were more inclined to seek repose, or cordial refreshments than to indulge in sensual gratification.
Next day the wounded and bruised of the enemy were collected from the works, and neighbourhood, to which some of them had crept; and the mosque, which had been the great scene of bloodshed, became now a place of refuge, in which these poor creatures had every attention paid to them by the British surgeons.”
Buchanan, Francis A Journey From Madras Through The Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar… London: East India Company, 1807 [3 vols] Vol. 1 pp. 62-66.