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Tipu Sultan (reg. 1782-1799), found in his private apartments following his death.
Major General David Baird (1757-1829), presented by the Army of the East India Company in May 1799, thence by descent.
Dix Noonan Webb, The Baird Jewels and Archive, Including Tipu Sultan's Sword, 19 September 2003, lot 3.
Private UK collection.
The inscriptions are as follows:
THE SWORD OF TIPPOO SULTAUN
Found in his Bed Chamber after SERINGAPATAM was taken by Storm 4th May 1799
and Presented by the ARMY to MAJOR GENERAL BAIRD through their Commander
LIEUT. GENERAL HARRIS, as a token of their high opinion of his Courage and Conduct
in the Assault which he Commanded, and in which TIPPOO SULTAUN was slain.
To the spine, shamshir-e malik, 'The sword of the king';
To the hilt, ya allah! ya nasir! ya fattah! ya nasir! ya mu'in! ya zahir!,
'O Allah!, O the Helper! O the Ever-opener! O the Aider! O The Helper! O The Evident!.
Impressed mark to chape, hayder
The Bedchamber Sword
As the cannons fired their last shots, and the waves of battle receded at Seringapatam, Tipu Sultan lay dead amid a heap of wounded, killed fighting hand to hand in the heat of the action. Major General David Baird, commander of the East India Company forces that day, who had previously spent almost four years in Tipu's dungeons, was led to the body by one of the sultan's courtiers. An eyewitness recorded that "His eyes were open and the body was so warm that for a few moments Colonel Wellesley and myself were doubtful whether he was still alive" - Baird was able to look his adversary in the eye one last time (see Denys Forrest, Tiger of Mysore. The Life and Death of Tipu Sultan, London 1970, p. 293). Later, a sword was recovered from the defeated ruler's private apartments which was subsequently presented to Baird by the Army as a Trophy of his victory. In this way 'The Bedchamber Sword' became the symbol of the late sultan himself – his power and authority yielded to the British General in defeat.
It was recorded by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton that "The Sultan, lest any person should fire upon him while in bed, slept in a hammock, which was suspended from the roof by chains, in such a situation as to be invisible through the windows. In the hammock were found a sword and a pair of pistols." (Francis Buchanan, A Journey From Madras Through The Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar..., London, East India Company, 1807, Vol. 1, p. 72). One can only conjecture that this was the same sword, but considering that it was presented as the Trophy to Baird signifies that it must have been one of his most prized possessions, and its importance would presumably have been known by Tipu's family and retainers at the time the prize was selected. Of all the arms and armour removed from Seringapatam after its fall which have subsequently been sold at auction, the present lot is undoubtedly the most important, with an unbroken provenance taking it back to the final day of the battle itself; moreover, to the bedchamber of the Tiger of Mysore himself. It is almost certainly the most important relic of Seringapatam still in private hands.
The sword itself is a masterpiece of Indian art leaving aside its legendary history. With its wide straight blade and tulwar style hilt, it is of a type known in south-eastern India as a sukhela and typically associated with the sword of state. Furthermore, the fact that the blade is of Mughal manufacture, and perhaps of an earlier date, renders the weapon all the more worthy of its kingly ownership and this symbolic status. The gold-inlaid orb, a motif found on 16th Century German blades of the same design, is surmounted by the Mughal Imperial Parasol which was reserved only for the highest quality blades; the gold-inlaid Persian inscription to the spine reads shamshir-e malik, 'The sword of the king'. Topping off the regal blade is an exquisite calligraphic hilt, amongst the rarest types from the Indian sub-continent, decorated in the very finest gold-inlaid Arabic, listing invocations to God. For despite ruling a predominantly Hindu state, Tipu Sultan was a Muslim and a pious and doughty defender of the faith, his sword befitting the extremely high ranking Muslim he was.
The sword was originally presented to Baird by Colonel Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) who was convinced that the Major General had the best right to it. It is likely that this was a gesture of reconciliation from the Colonel, who had been made Commandant of Seringapatam the day after the storming, an appointment that had mortified Baird. When word of this gift reached the Prize Committee, however, they insisted that the sword be returned to them as it was not Welleseley's to give. This was, in part, due to the fact that General Harris wished to make it an official gift from the Army to Baird. Subsequently, an order was issued from head-quarters for the general and field-officers to assemble in Harris's tent where the sword was officially presented to Baird as a token of the Army's gratitude to him for his courage in leading the final assault on Seringapatam. After all, it had been Baird who had led the storming party into the deadly breach just hours before the city was conquered.
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