An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799
Lot 369
An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799
Sold for £86,400 (US$ 141,184) inc. premium

Lot Details
An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799 An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799
An important and previously unrecorded, contemporary eye-witness account of the Siege of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan, written by Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806), written at Seringapatam on the 25th May 1799
manuscript on paper, in sepia ink, approximately 28 lines to the page, 24 pages, folded horizontally, loosely joined in top left corner with metal thread tag, some staining
375 x 230 mm.

Footnotes

  • Provenance: Acquired from a London antiquarian book-dealer.

    Captain Benjamin Sydenham (1777-1828) was the son of Major-General William Sydenham (1752-1801), and elder brother of Thomas Sydenham (1780-1816), British Resident at Hyderabad (1806-1810) and Poona (1810-11). A talented amateur artist, Benjamin served in the Madras Engineers from 1794 to 1808, and was present with the Grand Army at the Fall of Seringapatam in 1799, as assistant to Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Mackenzie.

    Following the battle Sydenham was given the task of preparing a memorandum on Tipu Sultan's sixteen hunting cheetahs, three of which with their own retinue were sent as a present to George III (Moienuddin,Mohammed, Sunset at Seringapatam. After the Death of Tipu Sultan, Hyderabad, 2000, p. 33). Another task was to create an inventory of Tipu's extensive wardrobe which had been bought by the East India Company to avoid a possibly rebellion if they were to fall into the hands of locals, whom Colonel Wellesley believed would distribute them as "relics of his [Tipu's] pretended Prophetic and holy Character" (quoted in Strong, Susan, Tipu's Tiger, London, 2009, p. 54).

    Benjamin Sydenham was aide-de-camp to Richard, 1st Marquis of Wellesley, during his Governor-Generalship of India, and a protege of the Marquis' younger brother, Colonel Arthur Wellesley (later 1st Duke of Wellington), with whom he served at Seringapatam. Sydenham's obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine records the life of a colourful character: "after serving a few years in India, where his distinguished talents and prepossessing manners introduced him to the notice and intimacy of Lord Wellesley, at that time Governor-General, Mr. Sydenham returned to England with his Lordship, and shortly afterwards obtained an appointment of Commissioner at the Board of Excise." In a letter dated January 1803, now in the possession of Witwatersrand University, Lord Macartney asks the Secretary of State for War, Henry Dundas, to intercede with Lord William Bentinck on Sydenham's behalf. This further testifies to the high level of patronage that Sydenham enjoyed both at home and abroad.

    In 1819 Sydenham was forced to retire from official life, having found "his health was not equal to the mingled pressure of active business and of those seductive and undermining habits which were almost unavoidable for a member of society so much liked and sought after as Mr. Sydenham, in the choicest circles of the convivial world." He left England for the Continent and died at Bruges at the age of 52. "Mr. Sydenham", his obituary concluded, "was a gentleman of polished manners and of exquisite taste in the arts. His animated and interesting conversation was enlivened by anecdote and various knowledge; to these social qualifications he united uncommon buoyancy of spirit under every change of scene and circumstance, great warmth and steadiness in his attachments, and a kindly recollection even of those whom he might, without reproach of injustice or ingratitude, have forgotten." (Gentleman's Magazine, April 1828, pp. 371-72).

    George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, K.B., (1737–1806) was the Governor of Madras from 1781 to 1785, and is often remembered for his remark following Britain's success in the Seven Years War, that Britain now controlled "a vast Empire, on which the sun never sets". During his Governorship of Madras he improved the fortifications of Fort St George, proposed the first police force, and advocated measures for the naming and lighting of streets, for the regular registration of births and deaths and for the licensing of liquor. In 1782, he commented on Tipu that: "the youthful and spirited heir of Hyder, without the odium of his father's vices, or his Tyranny, seems by some popular acts and the hopes which a new reign inspires, and by the adoption of European discipline likely to become an even more formidable opponent than his father" (Madras Military Consultations, 14th December 1782). In 1786 he declined the Governor-Generalship of India and returned to England. In 1792 he was raised to the peerage as Earl Macartney and appointed Britain's first envoy to China. His mission was not successful, although significant knowledge was acquired. In 1796 Lord Macartney was appointed Governor of the newly acquired territory of Cape Colony until November 1798 when ill-health forced his return home.

    He married in 1768 Lady Jane Stuart, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bute, and died at Chiswick in May 1806.

    The contents of Earl Macartney's library were sold by public auction in 1854, some of which were purchased by the British Museum in 1858. An extensive collection of his letters and papers was in the possession of a Dr Hugh Hyndman of Belfast, which probably forms part of the collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, acquired in 1916. A further group of Macartney papers were sold by Sotheby's in 1931. Another substantial group is now in the National Archives and in various collections around the world.

    The connection between Sydenham and Macartney
    General William Sydenham, Benjamin's father, was a central figure in the Madras Army at the time of Macartney's Governorship and there is evidence of a correspondence between the two many spanning a number of years, including a letter of October 1786 from Sydenham to Macartney discussing Roman coins found in the Nellour country (The Critical Review or Annals of Literature by A Society of Gentlemen, London, 1790); and another letter of September 1797 from Macartney to Sydenham is recorded (Peter Roebuck, Macartney of Lisanoure, 1737-1806, 1983). There were also links with the Marquess of Wellesley and Macartney, and in 1798, Wellesley stopped en route for India at the Cape where Macartney was Governor.

    By the time Benjamin Sydenham wrote to Earl Macartney, the latter's career was largely over, and in view of the connection between William Sydenham and Macartney, it is possible that the letter was written out of a filial duty to keep Macartney informed. He states on the first page that he last wrote to him in February 1799 and is now writing again to update him on events. Sydenham was a member of the Wellesleys' inner circle, and since both Macartney and the Wellesleys had such direct Irish roots, it would be inevitable for a man like Sydenham to cultivate this connection. His position within this elite society was confirmed in 1801, when the Marquess of Wellesley sent Sydenham to London with his dispatches, recommending him at the same time to Lord Bathurst: "His particularly good conduct under my Brother Colonel Wellesley during the War [against Tipu Sultan] originally recommended him to my notice [....] his talents and temper are uncommonly excellent and he possesses very extensive information on every subject connected with our military and political interests in India" (Butler, Iris, The Eldest Brother, The Marquess of Wellesley, London, 1973, p. 360).

    The letter
    As aide-de-camp to the Governor-General and assistant to Lieutenant Mackenzie, Sydenham had a privileged view of people and events at Seringapatam, which makes this letter an interesting addition to existing accounts. In the opening page, Sydenham states that: "I shall proceed to detail what chiefly passed under my own eye, before and during the siege". Details of events are confirmed by contemporary and later accounts, including those of Major Alexander Allan, Major-General David Baird, Colonel Alexander Beatson and Major David Price, and throughout the letter Sydenham has drawn on a number of sources in addition to what he has seen, something which is confirmed when writing about Tipu's last day and death when he states that the details given by him were taken from several authorities and confirmed by Rajah Cawn, Tipu's slave; and he quotes Captain Gerard's report on the surrender of Abdul Khaliq, before adding his own observations.

    Descriptions of particular interest within the letter relate to the negotiations at the palace for the surrender of the family and the safe-guarding of the women in the zenana, which gives sense of how volatile the situation was during the early stages and that the British forces were barely under control; the detail into which Sydenham goes in describing the fallen Sultan's body and attire; the burial procession through the town; and his description of Tipu's gold tiger throne, which implies that the object was still intact when he saw it (quoted in the footnote of lot 370).

    Also of interest are the depictions of the characters involved, for example, Rajah Cawn, of whom he writes: "The Cawn is exceedingly heavy in person, his countenanced [sic] is dark and his appearance indicates neither talent nor ability; he is said to possess both, and his late conduct has certainly been a proof of good sense and judgement".

    The description of the slain Tipu notes similar injuries to David Baird's report to Lieutenant-General Harris (quoted in Buddle, Rohatgi and Brown, 1999, p. 37); but is more detailed and closer to that of Major Allan (Beatson, 1800, Appendix No. XLII, pp. cxxvii-cxxxi), both in terms of the injuries sustained and the Sultan's clothing. Of the dead Sultan, Sydenham writes: "Tipu was wounded a little above the right ear, and the ball lodged in the left cheek, he had also 3 wounds in the body, he was in stature about 5'8" and not very fair, he was rather corpulent, had a short neck and high shoulders, but his wrists and ankles were most delicate. He had large full eyes with small arched eyebrows and very small whiskers, his appearance denoted him to be above the common stamp, and his Countenance expressed a mixture of haughtiness and resolution".

    Within the final few pages, Sydenham describes the aftermath of the British attack on the fort: "Houses in the Fort bear everywhere marks of the destructive effect of the fire from our Batteries" and then goes on to say that the "people seem in general well satisfied with their new masters". He also points out that: "The Families of Hyder Ally and Tippoo Sultaun are maintained in the same manner they were during the life time of the latter". He rounds off the letter by hinting at his own prospects for advancement and, as if tying up the loose ends of the story, he says: "All the Hill forts in the neighbourhood of Seringapatam have surrendered upon the first Summons, and the Country is approaching fast to a State of perfect Tranquility", reassuring Earl Macartney that all is well and now firmly under British control.
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