Indian Campaign 1799-1806

Anglo-Mysore Wars between the Kingdom of Mysore against the British East India Company during the Indian Campaign in south India 1799-1806.

The French occupation of Egypt in 1798 opened up the strategic possibility of an overland advance on India. Tipu Sultan of Mysore, became intent on vengeance against the British. Their attacks on his state six years earlier, had openly courted French support. The Indian Campaign began with troops of the East India Company. Reinforced by British regulars, including the 33rd Foot under Colonel Arthur Wellesley. They invaded Mysore from both East and West in 1799.

4th May 1799, after a short siege, the capital, Seringapatam, was taken and the army of Tipu was destroyed. Among the 10,000 dead was Tipu himself. This left the East India Company in complete control of southern India. It had brought it into direct confrontation with the Mahratta Confederacy further North.

the last effort and fall of tipu sultan 1799
The last effort and fall of Tipu Sultan – painted by Henry Singleton

Two of the Mahratta leaders, Daulat Rao of Scindia and Ragoji Bhonsla of Berar, combined forces in 1803. An army of nearly 100,000 men was raise. In response the British Commander-in-Chief, Lord Lake (last seen in Ireland in 1798), ordered a two-pronged assault on Scindia. It was to protect Company possessions at Bombay in the West and Calcutta in the North-East.

Taking personal command in the North, Lake assembled an army of 10,000 men at Cawnpore. In July 1803, set out up the River Ganges to seize the fortress at Aligarh. From there he advanced to take Delhi before moving South to Agra.

1st November 1803, he defeated the remains of the northern Mahratta army at Laswari. A month later entered Gwalior, the capital of Scindia. Meanwhile, further South, Wellesley (now a major-general) had advanced from Poonain August 1803 to capture Ahmednagar.

The mahrattas fell back to Assaye. On 23rd September 1803, Wellesley’s army of about 6,000 men, including the 19th Light Dragoons and 78th Highlanders, achieved a costly but crushing victory. After a pause to recover, Wellesley resumed his advance, sweeping the enemy aside at Argaum on 29th November 1803. A month later, Daulat Rao and Ragoji Bhonsla sued for peace.

battle of assaye 1803
Battle of Assaye, 23rd September 1803 – coloured aquatint by J.C Stadler after William Heath

But the war was not yet over. In early 1804 Jeswunt Rao Holkar, a Mahratta leader who had hitherto remained aloof, suddenly entered the fray. He pushed Lake’s forces back towards Agra before advancing on Delhi. A series of forced marches allowed Lake to recover the initiative and Holkar fled, closely pursued by British cavalry.

January 1805, Lake laid siege to Bhurtpore (an operation that ended in failure in April) but Holkar was no longer a major threat. Eventually retreating into the Punjab. Peace was negotiated in January 1806, ending the Indian Campaign. Although it would take another war (1817-1819) before the Mahratta Confederacy was finally crushed.