It is through the private commerce of the auction house that many a precious relic of India’s history has come to light.
On May 22, a remarkable artifact that illuminates a watershed moment in India’s history will be auctioned by the leading London auction house Christie’s — and presumably thereafter vanish forever from the public eye.
A heavy gold ring worn by 18th century ruler Tipu Sultan during his last campaign against the British in 1799 will be sold as part of the ‘Raglan Collection: Wellington, Waterloo & The Crimea.’
Unusually, the 41.2 gm oval ring has the name of the Hindu God Rama in raised Devanagari inscribed on it.
It was taken off the finger of the dead ruler by the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, as his personal spoil of war after the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799.
The ring then found its way into the hands of another military family, that of FitzRoy Somerset, the 1st Baron Raglan. A famous soldier of the early 19th century, he joined Duke Wellington’s service in 1808 and rose to become his right-hand man for the next 40 years. He fought in major campaigns under Duke Wellington, including Waterloo and in the Crimea.
FitzRoy Somerset married the Duke’s favourite niece Emily Wellesley-Pole who was in possession of the ring, a gift from her uncle.
The ring has been valued at £10,000 to £15,000 and is part of the private collection of Fitzroy John Somerset, the great great grandson of the 1st Baron Raglan. The collection contains items that have been the possession of the family from 1858, including historical medals, arms and armour, militaria, pictures, furniture, silver, books, Indian weapons and works of art, as well as a selection of art.
Though a small object of personal use, the ring with its inscription awakens the spirit of the unusual 18th ruler who was its owner.
The historical record shows Tipu as Catholic in his religious outlook and forward-looking in his world-view. He sought out what was modern and transformatory for the time, putting it to use in his paramount objective of defeating the British.