Tippoo's Tiger

Tippoo's Tiger

Wood, metal, ivory and paint
Mysore
About 1793
Museum no. 2545(IS)

Tippoo's Tiger was made for Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in South India (1782-1799). The almost life-size wooden semi-automaton consists of a tiger mauling a prostrate figure in European clothes. An organ is concealed inside the tiger's body, and when a handle at the side is turned, the organ can be played and the man's arm simultaneously lifts up and down. Intermittent noises are supposed to imitate the wails of the dying man.

The tiger was discovered by the British in the palace at Tipu Sultan's capital after the Siege of Seringapatam in 1799. The invading army stormed through a breach in the ramparts and, in the ensuing chaos, Tipu and a great many of his soldiers, generals and the citizens of the town were killed. The victorious troops then rampaged through the city, looting valuables from the palace and from private houses, until Colonel Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) gave an order for hanging and flogging which quickly restored order. The contents of the royal treasury were then valued and divided between the British army over the next weeks according to the conventional practice of the period. Some time later, the tiger was discovered in the music room of the palace and was shipped to London, where it arrived in 1800. It was sent to East India House, the headquarters of the East India Company which housed a library and new museum, and soon became one of the most popular exhibits. The Indian Museum, as it became known, moved several times before parts of the collection, including Tipu's tiger, were transferred to the South Kensington Museum, later renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum.