36th Foot at the Storming of Bangalore (1791)

Bangalore fort was captured by the British armies under Lord Cornwallis on 21st March 1791 during the Third Anglo-Mysore War and formed a centre for British resistance against Tippu Sultan. It was later incorporated into the British Indian Empire after Tippu Sultan was defeated and killed in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1799.

In the spring of 1791, a force of British and Indian, under the command of Lord Cornwallis, came to lay siege to the place. They were engaged in the attempt, which was unsuccessful, to subdue the enterprising Tippoo Sahib, ruler of Mysore, with his headquarters and fortified harem at Seringapatam. His father, Hyder Ali, had been anti-British, so Tippoo was also a sound conservative in that respect, He even went so far as to put the French cap of liberty upon his head just to be one hundred per cent anti-British.

After the fall of Bangalore, Lord Cornwallis' expedition got little further than within striking distance of Seringapatam, but could not proceed with the siege of the place, owing to the innumerable camp followers, i.e. saices, dhobies, bhesties, and houries, which an army in India took with them in those days; an unruly and hungry host, which far exceeded the fighting troops in numbers. Had the assault on Bangalore not succeeded, Cornwalli's force, with its encumbrances, would have been in a very sorry state.

The account of the Storming of Bangalore, taken from Fortescue's History of the British Army is given below:

Storming of the Pettah Gate of Bangalore

Death of Colonel Moorehouse at the Storming of the Pettah Gate of Bangalore

ARMY, Vol. III. (pp. 566-570)

Cornwallis now proceeded with the very difficult task appointed to him, namely, the capture of a strong fortress in the presence of a superior force without the aid of a covering army. He had encamped, as has been told, on the north-eastern side of the place, and there he remained, for he had not nearly troops enough to invest it completely. Bangalore consisted, as was usual in India, of a fort proper and a pettah, or fortified town, adjoining to it. The fort proper was of oval form, with a total perimeter of about a mile. It was solidly built of stout masonry, with twenty-six round towers at equal intervals from each other, and was surrounded by a ditch; and it possessed two gates, the Mysore or southern and the Delhi or northern gate. Immediately to the north of it lay the town, some three miles in circumference, which was enclosed first by an indifferent rampart with redoubts and flechee (see note 1), then by a belt of impenetrable thorn about a hundred yards in width, and finally by a ditch, these barriers being intermitted only in the space that lay immediately opposite to the fort. Tippoo had thrown eight thousand men into the fort, nine thousand more (of which three-fourths were irregular troops) into the town, and then had retired with the remainder of his force to a position some six miles to westward. Cornwallis decided that the town should first be carried, in the hope that its position and the supplies hoarded within it would facilitate the regular operations of the siege.

Bangalore area map 1792

Accordingly at dawn of the 7th March, the Thirty-sixth Foot and a battalion of Bengal Sepoys moved off with their battalion-guns to the attack of a gateway on the northern face of the town, four heavy guns following them in support. A flèche which covered the gate was speedily carried with the bayonet, and the storming party then pushed on by a winding way, hardly wide enough to admit half a company abreast, across the ditch and through the belt of thorn to the inner gate. Here the advance was checked, for the gateway had been built up with masonry upon which field-guns could make no impression; and the party perforce remained halted for some time under a galling fire until the heavy guns could be brought forward. By their shot a small opening was at length made; and Lieutenant Ayre, a small and slender subaltern, being hoisted up by the grenadiers, contrived to creep through it. General Medows, who was always most facetious when the fire was hottest, watched the gallant fellow disappear through the gap, and then turned to the grenadiers of the Thirty-sixth with the words, "Well done. Now, whiskers ! Support the little gentleman." A few more men managed to crawl after Ayre, and opened a sally-port for the entry of the rest. The garrison was then quickly beaten back under the guns of the fort, and within two hours two-thirds of the town were in possession of the British. Large stores of forage, valuable beyond estimation to Cornwallis, thus fell into his hands.

Meanwhile, Tippoo, frantic with rage at the audacity of the attack, set his whole army in motion as if to turn Cornwallis's left, at the same detaching six thousand men to reinforce the garrison, which had rallied under the cannon of the fort, and with them to re-take the town. Cornwallis, divining his intention, manoeuvred to foil the turning movement, but lost no time in strengthening his force within the walls. The attack of the Mysoreans upon the town was delivered with unusual spirit and resolution; but after a short exchange of volleys the Thirty-sixth and Seventy-sixth, with two Sepoy battalions, cut matters short by clearing the streets with the bayonet. Gathering impetus from success, they then drove the enemy from quarter to quarter, until they fairly swept them out of the town, with a loss of over two thousand killed and wounded. The casualties on the British side amounted to one hundred and thirty, of which no fewer than one hundred occurred among the Europeans. Among the fallen was Lieutenant-Colonel Moorhouse, who was killed while bringing up the heavy guns to the first attack on the gate; his ardour being such that, though wounded in two places, he never relaxed his exertions until two more bullets laid him dead. Colonel Wilks has sketched the character and career of Moorhouse in words which should not be forgotten. "He had risen from the ranks, but Nature herself had made him a gentleman; uneducated, he had made himself a man of science; a career of universal distinction had commanded universal respect, and his amiable character universal attachment." There are few soldiers who might not envy the death and the epitaph of this humble taker of the King's shilling.

The forage captured in the town was very welcome to the army, for the draught-bullocks were already dying by hundreds, and even the cavalry dared not move outside the circle of their piquets in the face of the swarms of Mysorean horse.

Lord Cornwallis

The singular nature. of the operations became more and more unpleasantly manifest. Batteries were indeed thrown up to breach the defences of the fort ; but the besiegers, as at Delhi two generations later, were themselves in a fashion besieged, for the garrison opposed to them was constantly relieved, while the whole of the enemy's field-force lay in constant menace before them. From sunset to sunrise every man of Cornwallis's troops was accoutred and every horse saddled; and on every day Tippoo's manoeuvres became more threatening and more dangerous. At length, on the 21st, though the breach was still very imperfect, Cornwallis resolved to assault without further delay, trusting to a narrow causeway to carry his stormers across the ditch. At eleven o'clock in bright moonlight, the Grenadiers of his European regiments (see Note 2) advanced with scaling-ladders in perfect silence, made their way over a trench that had been cut across the causeway, and gained not only the breach but the ramparts on its flank before they encountered serious resistance. The supporting battalions then swarmed after them, the companies turning right and left alternately to clear the ramparts; and after an hour of deadly work with the bayonet all opposition was overcome, and the fort was in possession of Cornwallis. Tippoo, who, in spite of his adversary's secrecy, was fully aware of his plans, had given timely warning to the garrison to expect the attack, and had himself advanced to within a mile of the walls during the assault. But he came too late to avert the disaster, and after standing in silent stupor for a while, he returned to his camp. Over one thousand bodies of the enemy were actually buried after the storm, but the casualties of the British during the whole operations of the siege were less than five hundred.

The Orders issued by Lord Cornwallis on the day after the fall of the fortress are preserved in the records of the 36th Foot, and are as follows:

"LORD CORNWALLIS feels the most sensible gratification in congratulating, the officers and soldiers of the army on the honour able issue of the fatigues and dangers they have undergone during the late arduous siege. Their alacrity and firmness (see Note 3) in the execution of their various duties, has, perhaps, never been exceeded, and he shall not only think it incumbent on him to represent their "meritorious conduct in the strongest colours, but he shall ever remember it with the sincerest esteem and admiration."

"The conduct of all the regiments which happened, in their tour, to be on duty that evening, did credit in every respect to their spirit and discipline; but his Lordship desires to offer the tribute of his particular and warmest praise to the European grenadiers and light infantry of the army, and to the THIRTY-SIXTH, Seventy-second, and Seventy-sixth regiments, who led the attack and carried the fortress, and who, by their behaviour on that occasion, furnished a conspicuous proof, that discipline and valour in soldiers, when directed by zeal and capacity in officers, are irresistible."


In the picture above, the Delhi Gate can be seen, in front of which are the Siege guns and the gunners. There is a thicket of thorns on each side of the track leading up to the gate. The central figure is the dying Col. Moorhouse. Round him are grouped three officers and a sergeant of the 36th, another officer who may be a gunner, and Colonel Moorhouse's Indian orderly. The figure on the horse is the facetious Major-General Medows. On the right of the picture is an officer of Madras Light Cavalry, wearing a sabretache, which is decorated by a star, very similar to the Regimental badge ; he is accompanied by his Indian orderly. Behind these two is an officer of the 36th, also privates of the Light Company of the 36th, and the colours of the 36th, upon one of which the numeral is clearly to be seen. On the left of the picture a sergeant of the Grenadier Company of the 36th is taking a pot shot at the scalliwags on the ramparts. Two privates of the Grenadier Company are carrying out the motions of loading and firing. The dead are a sergeant of the Light Company (on the steps) and two privates of the Grenadier Company.

The picture is interesting, not only as a record of "Bangalore," which is one of the "missing" battle honours of the Regiment, but because it illustrates almost every type of uniform then worn by the 36th Foot.

At that time the kit worn by Light Companies was a matter for the individual Colonel's taste, and the 36th seem to have adopted a helmet (or cap), which was similar to that worn by several cavalry regiments at that period; very like that worn by the Madras Light Cavalry officer in the picture.

Other features of interest are departures from the regulations of the period, probably to meet the climatic conditions of India. The Grenadiers are wearing cocked hats instead of their fur grenadier caps, and they are wearing white, instead of black, cloth gaiters. The Sergeant in the centre in wearing long boots. Further, the wearing of feathers in the hats was not regulation, but was unofficial in several regiments. It appears that officers in the 36th wore black and other ranks wore black and white.

Points which are of interest to note are shown in the picture are:
1. Grenadier and Light Companies wore "wings" on the shoulder, as worn by bandsmen nowadays in full dress.
2. The Sergeant's badge of rank was a sash round the waist, knotted on the right side. Officers wore their sashes knotted on the left.
3. The 36th wore their buttons in pairs.
4. The Grenadiers are wearing moustaches. This is a very early instance of a practice which was copied from the Austrians.

It is very surprisingly dedicated to Richard Marquess Wellesley, Arthur's elder brother and more frequently referred to as Lord Mornington, who was appointed Governor General of India in 1797, five years after this action. The print was published 1st June 1811.


Note 1: A fleche is a field-work of two faces, like an arrow's head : a redoubt has, properly speaking, four faces.

Note 2: 36th, 52nd (now 2nd Ox. & Bucks L.I.), 71st (now 1st H.L.I.), 72nd (now 1st Sea-forth), 74th (now 2nd H.L.I.), 76th (now 2nd Duke of Wellington's Regt.), 102nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers (disbanded).

Note 3: In allusion to the above expression "firmness," it has been supposed that the word "FIRM" was adopted by the regiment: this supposition, however, does not agree with the statement of Lieut.-Colonel Burne (see pages 129, etc.), by which it would appear, that the THIRTY-SIXTH had borne this distinction for many years prior to the capture of Bangalore. In 1817, the regiment was permitted to revive the word "FIRM," under the authority contained in the letter inserted at page 94 from Sir George Naylor, the inspector of regimental colours.