The sun is the hottest when the clock strikes one in the small town of Seringapatam, not far from the city of Mysore, in present day Karnataka, a state in India. Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who was leading two army units of the British East India Company, knew that the defenders of the fortress of Seringapatam would be taking a break for refreshment at this hour. That’s when he planned to strike.
The date was May 4, 1799—the final day of the final confrontation between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore led by the strong and assertive Tipu Sultan. At the scheduled hour, seventy-six men dashed across the four-feet-deep river Cauvery and in only sixteen minutes had scaled the ramparts and stormed into the fort. The defenders, taken by surprise, were quickly subdued and in two hours the fort had fallen completely. Later, in a choked tunnel-like passage in the interior of the fort, the bullet riddled body of Tipu Sultan, “the Tiger of Mysore” was found.
The victorious troops then proceeded to raid the royal treasury and over the next few weeks systematically emptied it, sharing the loot among the British army. Some time later, a curious object was discovered in the music room of the palace. It was a large wooden musical automata depicting a tiger mauling a man in European clothing. The man, which is nearly life-size, lies on his back while the tiger sinks its teeth into his neck. There is a crank protruding from the side of the tiger. When it’s turned, a hidden mechanism causes the man’s arm to go up and down, while a set of bellows inside causes the animal to growl and the man to emit distressing cries of agony. A flap on the tiger’s body can be opened to reveal a small organ and a keyboard capable of playing 18 notes.
Tipu Sultan’s mechanical tiger—known as Tipu’s Tiger— was a clear representation of his hostility towards the British—a feeling that he shared with his father, Hyder Ali, since his childhood. Hyder Ali regarded the British as their sworn enemy as they prevented Hyder from expanding his kingdom, and Tipu grew up with violently anti-British feelings. In 1792, when Tipu Sultan was forced to concede half of Mysore’s territories along with a large financial tribute to the British after the defeat at the Third Anglo-Mysore War, he had this machine built.