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Pistols made for Tipu Sultan by Sayyid Ma'sum, 1795-6

Side view of pistols made for Tipu Sultan, Sayyid Ma'Sum, 1795-76. Museum no. IS.55-2005

Side view of pistols made for Tipu Sultan, Sayyid Ma'Sum, 1795-96. Museum no. IS.55-2005

This pair of flintlock pistols was made in the workshops of Tipu Sultan, who ruled the kingdom of Mysore in South India from 1782 until his defeat by the British in 1799. The Persian inscriptions in gold on the barrels record that they were made by Sayyid Ma'sum in 'Patan', referring to the capital, also known as Srirangapatan, and by the British as Seringapatam. They are dated 1224 (1795-1796 AD) according to Tipu Sultan's idiosyncratic 'Mawludi' calendar which he instituted in 1784 to replace the conventional Islamic system.

The barrels are also decorated with Persian verses praising the ruler and eulogising the State, and with a gold tiger mask similar to those found on several of Tipu Sultan's personal swords, composed of the Arabic words assadullah al-ghalib ('The Lion of God is Triumphant') and their mirror image. The carved wooden stocks have silver mounts chased with flower heads whose petals are in the shape of the tiger stripe found on most of the objects directly associated with Tipu Sultan.

His father, Haider Ali, was a soldier of fortune who had deposed an ineffectual Hindu raja in 1766, and controlled Mysore until his death in 1782, when Tipu Sultan was proclaimed ruler. Haider Ali had enlarged the boundaries of Mysore by conquest, and transformed it into a powerful state with an army reorganised on European lines which offered the only serious threat to British expansion in the region.

A key element in the success of the Mysore army was its use of firearms incorporating the latest European technology and replacing old-fashioned matchlocks with flintlocks. French mercenaries and armourers were employed at Mysore, and must have trained craftsmen like Sayyid Ma'sum to make perfect imitations of the mechanism. The unique character of Tipu Sultan's weapons, however, is their prolific use of tiger stripes and motifs in their decoration.

His treasury, including the royal armoury, was broken up after the British victory and after initial plundering was dispersed by distribution between the army, by auction in the city, or by despatch to London.

Top view of pistols made for Tipu Sultan. Museum no. IS.55-2005

Top view of pistols made for Tipu Sultan. Museum no. IS.55-2005

Underside view of pistols made for Tipu Sultan. Museum no. IS.55-2005

Underside view of pistols made for Tipu Sultan. Museum no. IS.55-2005

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