South African Military History Society


Having changed speakers for our curtain raiser on the Society Evening of 13th Jan., we were privileged to listen to Hamish Paterson once again. He introduced us to Medieval Knights. their armour and weapons. Judging by his slides, the Knights of the Middle Ages must have been extremely uncomfortable in their chain mail, steel breast plates, limb covers, and face covering helmets; especially if they were fighting in the high temperatures of the Holy Land. Dressing for battle took a long time. And, having been forcibly unmounted by the enemy (or unseated by the horses, which must have suffered almost equally under their protection and carpet covers), they were immovable and left to the not so tender mercies of the enemy foot soldiers with their wicked "tin openers". It was only after the invention of the mechanically operated crossbow and the blunderbuss, that the Knights lost weight and introduced tactical sweeping movements to fight their enemy. I understand their mounts were absolutely delighted.

Ian B. Simmonds then introduced us to a colourful era and country of conflict, intrigue and treachery. His topic was the "Tiger of Mysore", Tippoo Sultan. He first sketched the background of India, its politics, their cruel and/or wicked rulers, and the power of the British- and French East India Companies. They fought each other on the Indian continent and elsewhere in the world. Foolish management by the senior officials of the British East India Company in India, as well as the bungles and downright greed and dishonesty by officials in Madras, and inefficiency in London, eventually alienated their firm Indian friends and affronted many Indian rulers.

The most dangerous was Hyder Ali, the father of Tippoo Sultan. He was an outstanding military leader, but also ruthless enough to subjugate the petty Indian states close to his country. He upheld strict discipline, even hanging a French engineer because he had built a gigantic fortress on lower ground, when high ground was available.

Following a treaty between Hyder Ali and the government, immediately broken by the latter, the former raged through the countryside between Madras and Tanjore. It took him 18 months, and he destroyed every living thing.

Fortunately, there were British officials and officers, like Robert Clive, Warren Hastings and Arthur and Richard Wellesly. They, and a handful of other incorruptible gentlemen, managed to reverse the fortunes of the British in India. They tamed Hyder Ali and gained his respect.

However, after 1798, when French glory in India was in ascendancy, Tippoo Sultan, who had taken over the leadership from his father, and against his advice, thought the time ripe for revenge against the hated British. Urging the Hyderabadeans and Marhattas to make common cause with him, and expecting French support, plans were made. He had a good army of 50 000. Lord Wellesly, ably assisted by his brother Arthur, designed a strike against Mysore, after all peace overtures to Tippoo had failed. On 5th March 1799 the advance began in two columns towards Seringapatam, Tippo's base.

After attacking the weaker of the two columns unsuccessfully, Tippoo brought his forces to strike at the stronger column on 27th March. Falling for a brilliant tactical ruse, Tippo's forces rushed into an apparent gap and were soundly defeated. Tippoo pulled back to Seringapatam, where he made his last stand. On 2nd May, two heavy batteries opened up a breach in the wall of the fortress. Two days later British troops, under the command of General Sir David Baird, stormed the fort. The defenders fought ferociously but were overcome. Tippoo died bravely, sword in hand. He was buried with all the honours due to a prince. Mysore itself was handed back by Arthur Wellesley to the old Hindu dynasty that Hyder Ali had disposessed.

The Chairman thanked Ian Simmonds, who is the great-great-great nephew of Sir David Baird (hence his interest in Tippoo Sultan), for his very well researched and presented talk.

Interested members can borrow the manuscript from the Scribe.

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Forthcoming lectures:

10th February 1994
Terry Leaver: General D. MacArthur
A controversial curtain raiser with question and answer session.

Mark Coghlan (Regimental Historian: Natal Carbineers)
History of Natal Carbineers

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P.S.: Concorde Travel of Illovo, Tel.: 880 40 13, inform us that they have arranged a Tour of the Battlefields of France and Italy for July 1994. Details available from Ms Gill Sagar at the above telephone number or from the Chairman.

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The Johannesburg Historical Foundation offers a number of lectures and lecture tours in the forthcoming months. For details please contact Ms Helen Aron at 648 01 43 or the Chairman.

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Will the member, who borrowed Capt. Ivor Little's notes about the Naval war between Chile and Peru, kindly return them as soon as possible to the Chairman. (Please telephone for his address). There are three members waiting to take their turn.


(Chairman & Scribe) (011) 453 63 53

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