In the spring of 1792, the Daniells left Calcutta for Madras and spent the rest of the year in the south. The area had been made topical for British audiences by the string of Mysore Wars. These protracted hostilities between the British and the Sultans of Mysore were not to be fully resolved until the final defeat and death of Tipu Sultan at the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799, but the Daniells were able to take advantage of a lull in the fighting as the Governor General, Lord Cornwallis, had arranged a temporary truce, involving the surrender of two of Tipu's sons as hostages. The Daniells, knowing that there was intense interest in these wars, revealed themselves as alert as modern press correspondents deciding to see as much as possible of the country which had been the scene of the recent fighting. They set off in two palanquins with a train of forty-eight servants through the dramatic hilly region south of Bangalore, visiting all the hill-forts or drugs which had been recently held against the British by Tipu's forces. They appeared to be quite unconcerned about personal danger or discomfort. The region was still very unsettled with remnants of Tipu's army roaming about, and the Daniells often engaged a sepoy as guard when they were sketching. The weather by then must have been extremely hot yet there is no complaint in William's diary. Uncle and nephew were indefatigable and not content with viewing the forts from a distance climbed to the top of every one.
This painting features Ryacotta Fort, important for its commanding position over the southern end of the Palakad Pass. The fort had been captured in July 1791 by Major Gowdie after Tipu's governor lost heart on seeing the British attempting to scale it. The artist proudly shows the British flag flying in the fortifications to the left with their military encampment at the base.
The countryside looks little different today. Although the main buildings have fallen into disrepair, the line of intricate fortifications can still be traced along the contours of the hill.
An inscribed watercolour showing a similar view of Ryacotta, dated '9 May 1792' also by Thomas Daniell was sold in Christie's, London, 10 June 1997, lot 80.
On the Daniell's return to Madras in December 1792, they advertised a lottery of their work in which this picture was included. The sale took place on 18 February 1793 and proved to be a great success. Since the exhibition of this picture at The Royal Academy in 1815, there has been no record of it; the picture having only been recently re-discovered earlier this year in New Zealand.
Dr. Maurice Shellim will publish this picture in his next supplement of additional oil paintings by the Daniells.
Sir Heaton Rhodes K.B.E., K.C.V.O (1861-1956), the previous owner of this picture, belonged to one of the most prominent early settler families in New Zealand's South Island. The Rhodes family were founders of the New Zealand Shipping Company and of Kaipoi Woollen Mills. Between 1912-1925, Heaton Rhodes served as a government minister and between 1899-1934 as Member of Parliament.