The attendant bearer for the figurehead from the 46-gun Fifrth Rate frigate HMS Seringapatam (1819)

A large-scale polychrome carving of an attendant bearer holding a kittasol (parasol/umbrella) for the figurehead from the 46-gun Fifth Rate frigate HMS Seringapatam (1819). An article in the 'The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany'. v.9 (Jan-June 1820, pp 306-7) records '...a new frigate, called the Seringapatam, built for his Majesty's service, and pierced for 46 guns, was floated out of Bombay dock...The carving work on the prow appears chiefly designed in compliment to the natives of Hindoostan, and represents the Mysore Raja, attended by his kittasol bearer.'

Previously thought to be the figurehead of Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), the attendant is wearing a red and white patterned top and a red, white, and blue turban. He is holding the kittasol in his left hand, with the metal shaft resting on the back of the Roc, on which he is also riding. The Roc is a mythical eagle-like bird closely links to the stories of Sindbad (the Sailor) in the 'Thousand and One Arabian Nights', where it is described as ‘a bird of extraordinary size’. . Across India, the Far East, and Africa, the umbrella (or kittasol) was a symbol of royal power under which a sultan would have paraded.

HMS Seringapatam was named after the battle in 1799 during which Tipu Sultan, the last ruler of Mysore, was finally defeated by the combined forces of the British East India Company (under Sir David Baird) and the Nizam of Hyderabad. Tipu and his father, Haider Ali, fought a series of wars against the advancing East India Company. The frigate ended up a receiving ship in 1847 and in 1852 a coal hulk at the Cape of Good Hope, where it was broken up in 1873. It is not known why the attendant bearer was saved but not the figurehead of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore.

One of the famous items in the Victoria and Albert Museum is the automaton known as 'Tipoo's tiger' – a large clockwork-driven carved toy comprising a wooden tiger savaging a British soldier, which also originally emitted mechanical growls and screams: this was part of the booty taken from Tipu's palace. This piece is also Indian work. Two parts of the figurehead, possibly replaced in conservation, have ID numbers FHD0102.1 and FHD0102.2 and can be found under the toggle next to the WHOLE/PART field.

Object Details

ID: FHD0102
Collection: Figureheads
Type: Figurehead
Display location: Display - Traders Gallery
Vessels: Seringapatam (1819)
Date made: 1819
Exhibition: Traders: The East India Company and Asia
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Overall: 1676 x 1143 x 1575 mm
Parts: The attendant bearer for the figurehead from the 46-gun Fifrth Rate frigate HMS Seringapatam (1819)

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