'The Strangest of all Empires'
In striking contrast to all his predecessors as governor-general, Lord Wellesley, a 37-year-old Anglo-Irish aristocrat, went out to India in 1798 as a convinced imperialist. His stated aim was 'the complete consolidation of the British Empire in India and the future tranquillity of Hindustan'. He arrived just as Napoleon Bonaparte captured Malta and invaded Egypt, clearly intent on destroying British trade. It did not take much imagination to see where the Corsican general's next step might be. Wellesley was married to a Frenchwoman, and had experienced the horrors of the revolution at first hand in Paris. As a result, he was violently opposed to the French and determined to thwart their ambitions. His first priority as governor-general, therefore, was to secure India for Britain, and to get rid of any lingering pockets of French influence among the native rulers — a policy in which he was encouraged by Henry Dundas, the autocratic president of the Board of Control in London, who was even more rabidly Francophobe than Wellesley himself.
Wellesley had hardly unpacked his boxes in India before he found an excuse to take action against the perpetually troublesome Sultan Tipu in the south. Like his father before him, Tipu had always flirted with the French, if only to upset the British, whom he hated. Now, he made the mistake of receiving a stranded French party. It was enough to allow Wellesley to put on his general's hat and mount a well-prepared expedition to destroy Tipu and put an end to French ambitions once and for all. Tipu died fighting bravely against overwhelming odds. Wellesley annexed half of his state to the company's existing territory in the Carnatic, which now stretched from coast to coast; he gave its northern part to the Nizam of Hyderabad as a reward for deserting the French and supporting the British; and he took control of what was left of Mysore by putting on its throne a child maharaja whose family had been deposed by Tipu's father.