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1st Mysore War - 1767-1769

So long as the French colony at Pondicherry was powerful and flourishing, the English at Madras remained without influence in the inland countries of that vast peninsula, included between the coast of Coromandel, and the borders of Malabar. But when the mistakes of Lally had opened to them the gates of Pondicherry, they concluded to extend their power over the adjacent fertile countries, and to take advantage of the weakness of the native chiefs whom their disinterested rivals had respected. The prodigious success of their countrymen in Bengal had excited their ardor, and the Governor of Madras wished to attain the same riches and power as the Governors of Calcutta. But a vast empire was founded near them, whose enterprising leader presented serious obstacles to their ambition, and gave new opportunities for the development of their perfidious instincts.

Hyder Ali had, by his talents, formed in the peninsula a vast kingdom, the capital of which was the ancient province of Mysore. We have already alluded to the rivalries in birth and religion which separated the Mussulmen from the Hindoos. After the battle of the 20th of May, 1740, the power of the former had decreased, and the kingdoms of Mysore, Canara, Tanjaour, and Calicut, of Villapour, and many others, had returned under the government of the rajah. Hyder Ali, as fanatical as he was ambitious, summoned around him all the Mohammedans, and availed himself of the interests of Islamism to increase his power.

Having first conquered Mysore, he left the rajah his title, and disdaining useless cruelties, he confined him in a fortress. He then attacked the kingdoms of Canary, Calicut, Tanjaour, and Villapour, and placed under Mussulman rule all those countries which, after the Persian invasion, had fallen into the power of the Hindoo rajahs. The powerful confederation of the Mahrattas alone preserved its independence and ancient faith. But from the frontiers of this warlike people to Cape Comorin, there was space enough to satisfy the desires of a vast ambition, and Hyder Ali, elated by his triumphs, attempted to bring together the scattered ruins of the empire of Aurengzeyb.

But the coast of Coromandel was occupied by foreigners more formidable than the feeble rajahs. The English government at Madras sought on their part to found a European empire*of the same territory, which Hyder Ali wished to concentrate under the rule of the Mussulmen. The chief of Mysore had become acquainted with his neighbors, and had often had occasion to know their policy. A companion in arms of Bussy, he had shared in the successes and reverses of the French, and his hatred to the British, which had commenced in his battles with them, had increased in proportion as his conquests approximated the English establishments.

The Governor of Madras, on his part, was aware of the danger arising from his powerful neighbors, and following their usual policy, the English attempted to corrupt the officers of Hyder Ali, with a view to betray him. But the latter, knowing their skill in intrigue, resolved to prevent them by open war; he therefore proposed to the soubah of Deccan, and all the nabobs on the coast of Coromandel, to join in a general confederacy against the foreigners. "Let us lay aside," said he, " all our rivalries, and unite our forces against the common enemy. These English, who merely come to trade, have robbed our country of its riches, its inhabitants, its fertility, and glory. They pretend to be merchants; they act like pirates. In exchange for our wealth, they have brought to Hindostan their vices, their diseases, and their wretchedness. The princes whom credulity or misfortune has placed in their power, have been treated as objects of trade, which are offered in the markets. These avaricious strangers have speculated upon the blood of our countrymen. The number of their treasons and perjuries is equal to that of their treaties and agreements."

There was much truth in these remarks, and they made an impression. The soubah of Deccan and the small nabobs joined Hyder Ali, with an army of one hundred thousand men. The other chiefs also joined him, and he soon found himself at the head of an army of two hundred thousand men. The English were forced to abandon all dissimulation, and to collect their troops from their different possessions. They amounted to ninety thousand men, most of whom were European soldiers and Sepoys. The troops of the allies of the English company numbered twenty thousand men.

The chief of Mysore had already advanced till within seven leagues of Madras; the English were preparing to dispute with him the passage of the river St. Thomas, when he suddenly disappeared, and before his line of march could be discovered, he appeared at the gates of the city, and dictated terms of peace to the British councils, April 3d, 1769. It was the first time that an Indian chief had triumphed over the British forces, and the government was obliged to regain by intrigue the advantages they had lost in war. Compelled to lay aside their arms, they used the arms of others for their plans, and whilst signing a peace, without risk to themselves, they excited new enemies against Hyder Ali.

The Mahrattas, who alone of all the Hindoos had resisted the Mussulmen, formed a vast confederacy of fierce and warlike people on the frontiers of the empire of Mysore. The agents of the British went among them, and excited the chiefs by presents, and the people by persuasion, to take up arms against the enemy of their religion. The territory of Mysore was suddenly invaded; Hyder Ali was surprised and beaten some distance from Bednore, its capital, into which he was compelled to retire. But the Mahrattas were ignorant of the art of sieges: and accustomed to live by pillage, they were deficient in the provisions necessary for a long campaign. They were soon obliged to leave a country which had been entirely desolated, and the famine which they had caused became the auxiliary of Hyder Ali.

The war of American Independence commenced at this time, and Pondicherry being suddenly attacked by the English, was captured and dismantled. The misfortunes of the French deprived Hyder Ali of his most powerful aid, for he could not depend upon his Indian allies. In fact, the councils of Madras and Calcutta despaired of conquering the confederation, and attempted to weaken it by intrigue. The Mahrattas, who were always avaricious, could not resist the power of corruption; the soubah of Deccan, jealous of Hyder Ali, and fearing his aggrandizement, was easily seduced; the rajahs were distrustful of the chief of the Mussulmen. Hyder Ali was soon abandoned by his allies, and was obliged to contend single handed against the united forces of the governments of Madras and Bengal.

The English company, however, depended so much upon the efficacy of their intrigues, that they neglected an enemy whom they supposed to be conquered, and the army of Mysore suddenly appeared in the Carnatic, marking its course by fire and desolation. The English were twice beaten before Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic, and the city, after a siege of a few days, fell into the hands of Hyder Ali. This skilful warrior profited by his successes, excited in every part the hatred of the population against the English, and proclaimed himself, in his march, the saviour and avenger of Hindostan.

The English were alarmed at his progress, and collected their troops from Bengal, and by their discipline soon arrested the progress of their formidable enemy. Hyder Ali, however, although beaten in several engagements, still had immense resources, and always rallied from victories which seemed decisive. His son Tippoo had routed General Matthews on the coast of Malabar, and Madras was again threatened. But the Mahrattas, excited by the English, armed themselves openly against the chief of Mysore; the rajahs also joined them; Hyder Ali suddenly found himself surrounded with enemies, and the British troops, making a diversion into Malabar, invaded the rich provinces of Canara.

This sudden treason of his ancient allies caused Hyder Ali to retrace his steps, when he was about to give his enemies their death blow, and forced him to despair. A cruel disease, symptoms of which had appeared long before, advanced rapidly, and his death, on the 9th of December, 1782, deprived Hindostan of the only man who could oppose British intrigue successfully.

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Page last modified: 22-12-2016 18:51:46 ZULU