An empty cupola in Chennai

ONE OF THE FIRST things that a visitor sees when entering Chennai’s Fort St George is a cupola supported by eight fluted pillars topped with Ionic capitals. It looks as if it ought to contain something, but it is empty.

In 1792, after losing a military campaign against the army of the British East India Company, the ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, surrendered two of his sons as hostages to be held by the British. They were handed over to the British commander Lord Cornwallis. Tipu’s sons were taken to be held by the British until he had paid them an enormous sum of money, deemed to be reparations for damages that were supposed to have been inflicted on his British opponents. He managed to pay this ‘ransom’ after a couple of years, and his sons were returned.

Cornwallis was regarded as a great hero by the British. In about 1800, Thomas Banks sculpted an enormous stone statue of Cornwallis standing on a tall stone cylindrical base. The base has figures sculpted in bas-relief. The bas-relief depicts the moment when Tipu’s sons were handed over to Cornwallis.

At first, the statue was housed in the above-mentioned cupola. Later, it was moved indoors, first to the Long Room of the Connemara Library, and then later to the museum in Fort St George. It was moved indoors from its original position beneath the cupola, because, to quote an informative panel near it:
“… of ill feeling caused by certain reliefs on its base.”
Well, at least it was never toppled to the ground as was the case with, for example, statues of Stalin, Enver Hoxha, and the Bristol slaver Edward Colston.

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