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39 posts categorized "Visual arts"

19 April 2018

The Plans, Maps and Views of Lieutenant-General William Skinner, Chief Engineer of Great Britain

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Born to a merchant in St Kitts in the Caribbean, William Skinner (1700-1780) lost his parents at a young age and was adopted by his Aunt and her new husband Captain Talbot Edwards, Chief Engineer in Barbados and the Leeward Islands.

Skinner was educated at military colleges in Paris and Vienna and received his warrant as practitioner engineer in 1719. By 1757 he had risen through the ranks to become Colonel William Skinner, Chief Engineer of Great Britain, and in 1770 he was made Lieutenant-General.

Image 1A View in Newfoundland (Add MS 33233, f. 26)

At the British Library we hold Skinner’s personal collection of maps, plans, surveys and views (Add MS 33231-33233) which show the variety of places where he worked throughout his career, as well as giving an insight into the working process of a military engineer in the 18th century. 

From the start of his career Skinner was sent all over the world.  He became known as an authority on fortifications, and worked on important projects including the building of fortifications on Menorca and surveying Gibraltar, where he later served as Director of Engineering.

Image 3A View of the South Front of the Mountain of Gibraltar (Maps K.Top.72.48.d.)

After the Jacobite Rising of 1745, Skinner was asked to lead a major project to build fortifications in the Highlands. Fort George, built on the sea front north-east of Inverness, was finally completed in 1769 and is still in use today.

Image 4A Plan of Fort George (Maps K.Top.50.33.)

Skinner became Chief Engineer in 1757, just after the Seven Years War (1756-1763) had begun, and many projects that he worked on at this time were as a result of this conflict. In 1761 Skinner was sent to Belle Île in France, which had been captured by the British in order to have a base from which to attack the French mainland. General Studholme Hodgson who had led the raid on the island, complained about ‘the set of wretches I have for engineers’, at which point Skinner was brought in to survey the defences and provide accommodation and shelter for the Armed Forces which had been left to hold the island.

Image 5Plan of the Citadel and Part of the Town of Palais Belle-Isle (Add MS 33232, f. 3)

As Chief Engineer all military building projects needed to be submitted for his approval. One such project was the building of fortifications around St John’s in Eastern Newfoundland. This area had been reclaimed from the French in 1762 after the Battle of Signal Hill, which was the final battle of the Seven Years War in North America.

Image 6A View of Conception Bay, Newfoundland (Add MS 33233, f. 34)

William Skinner died on Christmas Day 1780. He kept on working right up until the end of his life, and had passed on his engineering talent to his grandson, who worked successfully as an engineer in the US.

All the items from Skinner’s collection are available to be viewed in the British Library Reading Rooms, and one of his views of Newfoundland (Add MS 33233, f. 34) can currently be seen in our Treasures Gallery.

Stephen Noble
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Catalogue links:

Maps and Plans, chiefly of fortifications or surveys for military purposes, Add MS 33231 A-PP
Surveys of Belle Isle, France, and plans and sections of its fortifications during the British occupation after its capture in 1761, Add MS 33232
Views of fortifications and landscapes, Add MS 33233

 

22 March 2018

The creative genius of Edmund Dulac: Artist, illustrator and stamp designer extraordinaire

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Although Edmund Dulac graduated in law from Toulouse University his true passion was art, so he also attended a number of art schools whilst at university. Passionately Anglophile, Dulac studied English and often wore the latest English fashions thereby earning his nickname 'l’Anglais'. He moved to London in 1904, becoming a naturalised British citizen in 1912.

  Edmund-DulacEdmund Dulac by Howard Coster, 1938 NPG x11459 © National Portrait Gallery, London   NPG CC By

 Dulac is best remembered as a book illustrator whose works span over 116 published monographs including Edmund Dulac’s Fairy-Book. 

Dulac 3 aUrashima Taro from Edmund Dulac’s Fairy-Book: Fairy Tales of the Allied Nations (Hodder & Stoughton, 1916)

He also produced portraits, caricatures, posters, tapestries, carpets, furniture and theatrical props. Well known within Britain’s artistic and literary circles, Dulac was a close friend of William Butler Yeats, participating in the first performance of his play 'At the Hawk’s Well' in 1916. He also produced much of the play’s scenery, costumes, masks and music. 

Dulac 4 aMask for Young Man in “At the Hawk’s Well” from W. B. Yeats, Four Plays for Dancers (Macmillan, 1921)

Less well known outside philatelic and numismatic circles is that Dulac designed stamps, banknotes and proposed coinage. Notable designs for British stamps include the following.

Dulac 51937 (13 May) Coronation Issue [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

 

Dulac 61937-1947 Definitive Issue ½d to 7d stamps with Eric Gill [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Dulac 71937-1947 Definitive Issue 7d to 1s stamps alone [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Dulac 81939-1948 Issue 1s 6d to 5s stamps [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Dulac 91948 (29 Jul) Olympic Games Issue, 1s. [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Dulac 101951 (3 May) Festival of Britain 2½d. [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Dulac 111952 Elizabeth II Definitive Issue, 1s, 1s 3d and 1s 6d [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

General Charles de Gaulle also approached Dulac to design stamps and banknotes aimed at fostering unity and a common cause for the Free French Colonies against Vichy France and the Axis powers during the Second World War.
 

Dulac 12French Equatorial Africa 1941 Free French Issue 30c [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Noc

  Dulac 13St Pierre & Miquelon 1942 Free French Airmail Issue 5fr stamp [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Noc

  Dulac 14St Pierre & Miquelon Mutual Aid and Red Cross Fund Omnibus Issue 5fr+20f stamp [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Noc

  Dulac 15France 1944 Provisional Government Definitive Issue 5fr. [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: France] Noc

  Dulac 16French West Africa 1945 Definitive Issue 4fr [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Noc

Dulac suffered a heart attack following a strenuous bout of flamenco dancing, sadly dying on 25 May 1953. He left behind well over a thousand works of art and design spanning various mediums, much of it awaiting detailed research.

Richard Scott Morel
Curator, British Library Philatelic Collections

 

06 March 2018

Like father, unlike son: James and Frank Bourdillon

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Although there are many examples within the India Office Records of sons following fathers and grandfathers into military or administrative careers in the sub-continent, today we shine the spotlight on a family where the opposite appears to have happened.

Civil servant c13441-10'A civilian going out' from Twenty four Plates illustrative of Hindoo and European Manners in Bengal. Drawn on the stone by A Colin from sketches by Mrs Belnos. (London, 1832?) Images Online Noc

James Dewar Bourdillon was the son of a Huntingdonshire clergyman who entered the East India College at Haileybury in 1828, and arrived to take up a post in the Madras Presidency civil service early in the following year. He seems to have spent the 1830s and 1840s in a variety of administrative and judicial posts in Trichinopoly, Salem, and Nellore, later rising to become secretary to the Board of Revenue. The summit of his career was probably reached in 1856, when as a member of the three-man Commission tasked with investigating the local system of public works he wrote its Report. Unfortunately a few years later he was obliged to retire and return to the U.K. because of ill health, but he retained sufficient interest in Indian affairs to publish A Short account of the measures proposed ... for the restoration of the Indian Exchanges in 1882 under the pseudonym 'An ex-Madras Civilian'. He died in Tunbridge Wells in the following year aged seventy two.
 
So far, so conventional - Bourdillon's life and achievements were not radically different from other early Victorian servants of the Raj. One of his children, however, was to travel down a very different path.

This was his son Francis Wright Bourdillon, known as Frank, who was born in Madras on 7 November 1851. He appears first to have tried his hand at earning a living as a coffee planter, but also being a talented amateur artist he decided to leave India and undergo training at the Slade School of Art in London, following this with some time in the centre of the contemporary painterly universe, Paris.

Bourdillon On Bideford Sands 'On Bideford Sands' by Frank Bourdillon from The art-journal March 1890 Noc

After returning to England he settled in Cornwall, where in 1887 he became a member of the Newlyn School, a colony of artists who were stimulated by the local scenery, residents, and light quality (not to say the cost of living). His style may well have been influenced by the example of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Thomas Cooper Gotch who was living in Newlyn at the same time, as can be discerned in works such as The Jubilee Hat, Duel on Bideford Sands and Aboard the 'Revenge'. We shall no doubt never know whether his artistic career was in some sense an act of rebellion against his upbringing, or if his family encouraged him in such endeavours.
 
There are two more twists and turns to record. In 1892 he all but abandoned art and went back to the land of his birth to work not as an administrator but as a Christian missionary. Eventually, however, he left India and died in the quintessentially English venue of Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, in 1924. 

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services 

Further reading: 
J.D. Bourdillon's application to Haileybury IOR/J/1/42/280-290, available on FindMyPast
F.W. Bourdillon's baptism IOR/N/2/30/568, available on FindMyPast
J.D. Bourdillon, First report of the Commissioners … digitised on Explore the British Library
J.D. Bourdillon, A Short account of the measures proposed ... for the restoration of the Indian Exchanges, London, 1882, shelfmark 8228.dd.22
 

22 February 2018

Mr Robertson and the Great Stupa at Amaravati

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In the British Museum’s Asahi Shimbun Gallery there is a permanent display of sculptures from Amaravati Stupa. These beautifully carved limestone sculptures originally surrounded a massive Buddhist monument in Andhra Pradesh, India. It was constructed between the 3rd Century BC and the 3rd Century AD. When Buddhism’s popularity in southern India went into decline, the Great Stupa at Amaravati became disused, and was eventually abandoned.

1 Asahi Shimbun GalleryThe recently reopened Asahi Shimbun Gallery in the British Museum. Noc

In 1816-17 a British survey team excavated Amaravati Stupa’s remains, and in 1859, 121 of the stupa’s sculpted stones were shipped to the British Museum. What few people realise is that some unusual things happened to these precious sculptures in the four decades between these two events.

 2a IMG_1743King standing with attendants -  in the Asahi Shimbun Gallery.Noc

2b WD1061f13largeKing standing with attendants - drawing taken during the 1816/17 excavation. WD1061, f.13.Noc

2c photo958 23b detailKing standing with attendants - photograph by Linnaeus Tripe taken at Madras in 1856, before it was sent to London. Photo 958/(23b). Noc

Francis W. Robertson was the East India Company’s Assistant Collector at Masulipatam from 1817 to 1819. Masulipatam was the closest seaport to Amaravati, and Robertson knew the man in charge of the stupa’s excavation in 1816-17. Together, they made plans to beautify Masulipatam’s market place by building a monument out of Amaravati sculptures.

The resulting monument, known locally as “Robertson’s Mound”, was probably completed in around 1819. It attracted virtually no outside attention until 1830, when the Governor of Madras, Sir Frederic Adam, paid a visit to Masulipatam. Adam wanted to establish a museum in Madras Presidency, and upon seeing Robertson’s Mound in the market place, he gave orders for it to be dismantled so the sculptures could be deposited in the new museum, once it was created.

3a IMG_1741Horse walking through gate - in the Asahi Shimbun Gallery. Noc

3b WD1061f28largeHorse walking through gate - drawing taken during the 1816/17 excavation. WD1061, f.28. Noc

3c photo958 32b detailHorse walking through gate - photograph by Linnaeus Tripe taken at Madras in 1856, before it was sent to London-  Photo 958/(32a). Noc

Over 20 years later, the Madras Government Museum was finally established. In 1854 the stones from Robertson’s Mound, along with some other sculptures from Amaravati, were sent to Madras. 121 of them were sent to the British Museum in 1859. By looking at drawings, photographs and other documentation in the British Library, one can identify which of the British Museum’s 121 Amaravati sculptures were part of Robertson’s Mound. One can also ascertain the condition of these sculptures before and after they were attached to this curious and short-lived monument.

4a IMG_1759Man and woman standing next to a horse - in the Asahi Shimbun Gallery. Noc

4b WD1061f31largeMan and woman standing next to a horse - drawing taken during the 1816/17 excavation. WD1061, f.31.Noc

4c photo958 31 detailMan and woman standing next to a horse - photograph by Linnaeus Tripe taken at Madras in 1856, before it was sent to London. Photo 958/(31). Noc

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:
Howes, Jennifer. “The Colonial History of Sculptures from Amaravati Stupa.”
In Hawkes, J. & Shimada, A. Buddhist Stupas in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Taylor, William. On the Elliot Marbles. Madras: 1856. (BL, V9700)
Tripe, Linnaeus. Photographs of the Elliot Marbles. Madras: 1858-9. (BL, Photo 958)

 

12 December 2017

Journals of Albert Hastings Markham

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Where in the library collections might you find watercolour arctic landscapes, playbills, squashed mosquitoes and first-hand accounts of whaling?

We are pleased to announce that the journals of Sir Albert Hastings Markham (1841-1918) have been processed and are now available to request in the Manuscripts Reading Room, under reference Add MS 89230. The journals were acquired at auction in 2015, drawing on the T S Blakeney Fund and with the generous support of the Friends of the British Library and the Eccles Centres for American Studies.

They cover the period from 1871-1902, during which Markham undertook polar reconnaissance in the Arctic and the Kara Sea, surveyed the conditions in the Hudson Bay for the Canadian Government, participated in the British Arctic Expedition (1875-1876), and served in the Navy in the Torpedo School, Pacific Station, and Mediterranean.

Sleddingscene

A sledging scene under sail, Add MS 89230/2/1 f 136

Importance and writing

Markham’s entries are richly detailed, and he does not shy away from recording his opinions on the behaviour of his crew and the places he visited. His account on the whaling vessel Arctic is probably best not read by those of a sensitive disposition, conjuring up as it does the sights and smells of decks covered with blood, fat and coal dust.

His journal as second in command of the Mediterranean fleet contains his first-hand account of the incident for which he is probably best known – the sinking of the flagship Victoria, following a collision with Markham’s ship Camperdown whilst undertaking manoeuvres off Tripoli.

These journals complement our existing holdings on Arctic research and exploration, from material relating to James Cook’s third voyage and attempts to find the Northwest Passage, and Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition. The British Arctic Expedition of 1875-1876 was in several aspects a precursor of later Antarctic explorations, and Markham’s role leading the sledging team to achieve farthest north makes this a vital first-hand account.

Accompanying materials

The British Arctic Expedition journals (Add MS 89230/2) contain beautiful watercolours and ink sketches of arctic landscapes, wildlife, and fellow crew members.

YeloomYe Loom, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 36

CaninetroopYe canine troop performing a melodious concert, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 82

During the cataloguing process I was pleased to find letters enclosed in the journals, many written by figures in the history of arctic exploration and 19th century naval history, including William Grant (arctic photographer), Captain Antonius de Bruijne (of the Dutch schooner Willem Barents), and Benjamin Leigh Smith. Markham was also careful to collect keepsakes such as dinner menus and playbills for the performances put on by the ship’s company.

ThurspopsProgramme for the Thursday Pops, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 191

The Hudson’s Bay journal (Add MS 89230/4) was partly composed by Markham whilst he journeyed from York Factory to Winnipeg by canoe. Markham and his party were plagued by mosquitoes - “the buzz and the hum of my relentless persecutors – the mosquitoes – will they never tire? Will they ever leave me unmolested?” -  and these flying irritants have literally left their mark on the journal, with folios 115-151 spotted with pressed remains.

MosquitoesJournals with the ick factor, Add MS 89230/4

The catalogue can be found at Search Archives and Manuscripts under collection reference Add MS 89230. We will continue to post images on @BL_ModernMss, so be sure to follow us if you aren’t already.

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

30 November 2017

The journal and drawings of Mary Emma Walter

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Mary Emma Walter’s journal and album of drawings in the India Office Private Papers are two of my favourite collection items.   The illustrated journal describes the voyage to India and her life as an army officer’s wife.  Letters sent to her mother in England have been copied in. The album contains pictures of views, flowers, people, and objects.

Mary Emma was born on 23 July 1816, the daughter of James Battin Coulthard and his wife Mary née Lee. The family lived in Alton, Hampshire, where James served as a magistrate for many years.  On 3 January 1838 Mary Emma married Edward Walter, an officer in the East India Company’s Bombay Light Cavalry, who was on furlough in England.  The journal starts with the couple’s journey back to India in October 1838, travelling via France and Egypt.

   Lyons 1838Lyons 1838 - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Cairo 1838A street in Cairo 1838  - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

The journal gives a fascinating insight into the Walters’ life as the regiment moved around India.  Mary Emma arrived at their new station at Deesa on 15 September 1839 and must have been heavily pregnant throughout the strenuous journey - she tells us that she was ‘unexpectedly confined with a little girl’ three days later.  She left her room on 23 September and resumed her usual amusements, including playing the piano. 

Walter bungalow DeesaThe Walter bungalow at Deesa - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

Unusual events such as an earthquake in April 1840 are described amongst the details of the Walter family’s daily routine. Mary Emma records how her baby was vaccinated against smallpox and how the child lost weight when suffering from the heat.

Mary Emma drew pictures of everyday life in India, both people and objects...

AyahAyah - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Bullock cartBullock cart - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  CarpenterCarpenter - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Pungi muscial instrumentPungi - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

….and buildings and their decorations -

Syed's tomb SukkurSyed’s Tomb at Sukkur - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1
 

Tiles - SukkurTiles at Sukkur - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

…and many beautiful botanical specimens.

Botanical 4India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Botancial 1India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Botanical 3 India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1
         

By the time Mary Emma and Edward took leave to England in 1843, they had two daughters - Emma Frances and Louisa. Two more girls, Mary and Alice, were born during their stay and both were baptised at Bishopstoke in Hampshire.

  Bishopstoke HantsBishopstoke in Hampshire - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

Edward returned to India in December 1846, but Mary Emma stayed on until October 1847 and then travelled back to Bombay with Alice.  Her three other daughters stayed on in England and were educated on the Isle of Wight. A fifth daughter Gertrude was born at Sholapore in 1849.

Mary Emma Walter died at Neemuch on 30 October 1850 aged only 34. She was buried there the following day by the splendidly named Assistant Chaplain, Hyacinth Kirwan.  Edward retired from the Bombay Army in 1851 and returned to England. He married Caroline Janetta Bignell in 1853. The 1861 census shows Edward and Caroline living on the Isle of Wight with their two young sons Herbert and Edward, four of Mary Emma’s daughters, a governess, and five servants. Edward senior died on 10 December 1862. 

Eldest daughter Emma Frances Walter had married Julius Barge Yonge in 1858.  In 1871 her sisters Alice and Gertrude were living with her. Gertrude suffered from chronic rheumatism.  In 1873 Gertrude moved into the home of Julius’s sister, the well-known novelist Charlotte Mary Yonge.  She acted as Charlotte’s secretary/companion until her death in 1897.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Journal and album of Mary Emma Walter (1816-1850) India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1-2
Article on Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) by Elisabeth Jay in the Dictionary of National Biography

 

27 October 2017

Paper bag reveals forgotten history

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This 130 year old paper bag reveals that Indian sweetmeats were being sold in London in the late 19th century, much earlier than most people would expect. This lovely piece of ephemera is one of my favourite items in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It is one of many items in the exhibition that illuminate the forgotten story of early South Asian influences on British life and culture.
  Item 29 Evan.9195 paper bag
Evan.9195

The paper bag is at the British Library thanks to the enthusiasms of Henry Evans, a conjuror and ventriloquist, who performed under the stage name ‘Evanion’. He collected this bag as well as posters, advertisements, trade cards and catalogues which give lively insights into popular entertainment and everyday life in the late 19th century. Connecting Stories also features this beautiful poster which gives more details of the Indian themed entertainments on offer at Langham Place – snake charmers, wrestlers and dancers known as nautch girls.

Item 28 Evan.2591 India in London
Evan.2591

A review in The Era newspaper for 16 January 1886 tells us that this ‘exhibition of Indian arts, industries and amusements’ was held under the auspices of Lord Harris, Under Secretary of State for India. The entertainments included a pageant representing the durbar or levée of an Indian potentate. The reviewer was most derogatory about this, complaining bitterly that he could not understand it because it was conducted in Indian languages. He was also unimpressed by the music, declaring that a performer on a tom-tom ‘rapped away like an undertaker on a coffin’! He was much more enthusiastic about a silent comedy sketch and the arts and crafts on display. The reviewer instructs his readers that ‘visitors to India in London should not leave without tasting the quaint Indian sweetmeats made at a stall in the gallery’ which may have been the treats destined for the paper bag at the British Library.

Despite being held under the auspices of the Under Secretary of State for India, all was not well with the organisation of the entertainments at Langham Place. The St. James’s Gazette for 19 February 1886 discloses that Mr W S Rogers of the India in London exhibition was charged with ‘having kept open that building as a place of public resort without first having complied with the requirements of the Metropolitan Board of Works’. Furthermore, it was ‘unfitted for the reception of the public with due regard to their safety from fire, and that the real and only remedy was to pull down the building and erect a new one.’ He was fined £50. Concerns for health and safety evidently came to London earlier than one might have imagined, as well as Indian sweetmeats.

Connecting Stories with logos

Exhibition details are on the Library of Birmingham website 

Penny Brook
India Office Records

Further reading
Evanion catalogue  
British Newspaper Archive 
Asians in Britain web pages

Untold Lives blogs about Connecting Stories:
Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage 
Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England 

 

 

29 September 2017

Spies or Pandits? Colin Mackenzie’s Indian Assistants, 1788 to 1821

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One of the British Library’s most iconic art works is a small oil painting of Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), the first Surveyor General of India, standing alongside three Indian men. The identity of the Indian men is lost to us today, but the level of attention and detail that Thomas Hickey used to paint their faces shows that this picture was intended to make them recognisable as distinct individuals.

F13 small
Portrait of Colin Mackenzie with three Indian assistants by Thomas Hickey, 1816. (F13)

Colin Mackenzie conducted extensive research, mainly in the south of India, during his four-decade career in Asia. The immense collection he assembled is the largest archive of information from South Asia to ever be gathered by an individual. However, to assemble such a vast collection, Mackenzie relied heavily on the assistance of educated, multilingual Indians who performed an astonishing variety of tasks for him. Known as 'pandits', they mainly worked as translators, but during field surveys they also collected manuscripts and transcribed oral histories.

F13 detail 1

F13 detail 2
Close-ups showing the faces of the three Indian men. (F13)

Another task performed by these Indian assistants was to walk ahead of Mackenzie and his survey team to announce their impending arrival. They would brief the inhabitants at these places of the arrival of foreigners, and the intentions behind Mackenzie’s investigations. The earliest documentary evidence of an Indian assistant working for Mackenzie appears to record one such advance foray in 1788. It is from a set of four maps by an anonymous Telugu artist. Mackenzie labelled one of these maps with the caption, 'Harcara Sketch of Guntoor obtained or observed by one of my Harcaras'. (WD2673) The word 'harkara' means a messenger, informant or spy.

WD2673 crop
Map of Gunthur prepared by a 'harkara' in 1788. (WD2673)

Mackenzie’s Indian assistants should not be viewed merely as passive employees. Their role was to explain Indian knowledge and culture to their European colonizers, and they understandably used this position to their advantage. In particular, it was possible for them to increase the social status of the communities they came from by conflating their importance in the documents they translated and interpreted.

Colin Mackenzie openly acknowledged the contribution of the Indian men who assisted with his research. It is impossible to say how many Indian assistants he employed during his long career in Asia, from the 1780s to 1821. In 1808 alone he was employing at least 12 Indian assistants. Mackenzie regarded many of these men as family, and in one version of his last will and testament he bequeathed a tenth of his estate to two of his Indian assistants. As for the painting by Thomas Hickey, Mackenzie chose to have his portrait painted alongside three Indian men, thus reflecting their central role in creating his collections.

Will
A passage from Colin Mackenzie’s will saying that Kavali Laksmiah and his younger brother Kavali Ramaswami should receive a tenth of his estate.  (IOR/L/AG/34/29/33, folio 249)

The portrait of Colin Mackenzie with his three Indian assistants is on exhibition in Stornoway’s Lews Castle Museum until 18 November 2017. Curated as part of An Lanntair’s Purvai Project, 'Collector Extraordinaire' celebrates the life and work of Mackenzie, one of Stornoway’s most famous natives. The Purvai Project aims to inspire artists and performers by looking at Colin Mackenzie’s work. But how should we view his Indian assistants? 

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:

David Blake, 'Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinary', The British Library Journal (1991), pp. 128-150
Jennifer Howes, 'Illustrated Jaina Collections in the British Library',  in J. Hegewald, Jaina Painting and Manuscript Culture, Berlin: EB Verlag, 2015. See page 263.
R. H. Phillimore, Historical Records of the Survey of India, 1800 to 1815. Surveyor General of India, 1950. See pages 355-356.
Phillip Wagoner, 'Precolonial Intellectuals and the Production of Colonial Knowledge', Society for Comparative Study of Society and History (2003), pp. 783-814