Tipu’s Tiger: UK sculptor’s royal mischief becomes a big hit

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Dec 21, 2014 11:01 IST

An automated sculpture of a tiger and Queen Victoria based on Tipu Sultan’s iconic ‘Tipu’s Tiger’ automaton that was brought to England after his defeat at Seringapatnam in 1799, has become a hit after a major trust rejected it for its anti-royal family overtones.

The controversial model by sculptor Bill Sample was rejected by the National Trust for a recent exhibition that explores the legacy of the British empire at Powis Castle. The trust, which is reputed to have a ‘royalist tradition’, found the production too bold.


The original ‘Tipu’s Tiger’ is placed in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where it is one of the major draws. It depicts a ferocious tiger attacking a soldier of the East India Company pinned to the ground. It was commissioned by Tipu Sultan in the 1790s.

Instead of the soldier, Sample has Queen Victoria – the then Empress of India – pinned to the ground. After being rejected by the trust, his model has gone on display at the Visual Art Gallery in Shrewsbury, north England, until December-end.

Sample told HT: "The National Trust…were worrried that some people might get offended. They felt it wasn’t suitable for display because Powis Castle had such a strong royalist association. I tried to emphasise that it was a comic take, but had a serious side as well".

His model is powered by seven electric motors that make the tiger roar, swish its tail and move its head while Queen Victoria flails her arms, wriggles her feet and swivels her eyes.

He added: "I thought that if I had been the sultan, I too would have wanted to fight to defend my kingdom. The sculpture is a symbolic act of revenge for Tipu who lost his kingdom, but it is done in a humorous way. I didn’t expect them to to say ‘no, that’s a bit too much’".

As the production draws crowds and reviews, Sample said it had been "very well received. No one has been offended or upset by it. People think it’s amusing but get the serious side too."?

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