Asian and African studies blog

9 posts from August 2014

28 August 2014

'A very ingenious person': The Maratha artist Gangaram Cintaman Tambat

When I became responsible in 1986 for what was then the Prints and Drawings section of the India Office Library, I spent many pleasurable hours going through the collections, many of which were not yet in printed catalogues.  An unexpected discovery was a group of five drawings from late 18th century western India in the hinterland of Bombay, an area from which not many paintings were known, whether traditional or done for British patrons.  These five drawings include a self-portrait and four animal studies by the Maratha artist Gangaram Cintaman Tambat from an album compiled around 1790-95 for Charles Warre Malet (1753-1815) of the Bombay Civil Service.  

Self-portrait of the artist with his guru, both seated facing the other in profile.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed (by Sir Charles Warre Malet): Gungaram by Himself, very like + a very ingenious Person at Poona in the service of CWM, by whom the subsequent native sketches were drawn chiefly from life + His Groo a celebrated holy Hermit near Poona.  Water-colour on paper; 250 by 362 mm.  Add.Or.4145
Self-portrait of the artist with his guru, both seated facing the other in profile.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed (by Sir Charles Warre Malet): Gungaram by Himself, very like + a very ingenious Person at Poona in the service of CWM, by whom the subsequent native sketches were drawn chiefly from life + His Groo a celebrated holy Hermit near Poona.  Water-colour on paper; 250 by 362 mm.  Add.Or.4145  noc

Malet’s importance stems from his last posting as the East India Company’s Resident to the court of the Maratha Peshwa at Poona, 1785-97.  The Marathas under the Peshwas, hereditary chief ministers of the Maratha rajas, were the principal power in western India and through their wide-ranging generals and their armies they controlled almost all of northern and central India as well.  The Company was growing alarmed at what it saw as the increasing belligerence of Mysore under Tipu Sultan and his pro-French policy and Malet was able to negotiate a treaty of alliance between the Company, the young Peshwa Madhavrao II (or rather his minister Nana Phadnavis) and the Nizam of Hyderabad, which since these two states were often antagonistic to each other was something of a diplomatic triumph.  When in 1789 Tipu Sultan attacked Travancore, a Company ally, the Governor-General Lord Cornwallis invoked his alliance with the Peshwa and the Nizam to attack Mysore and for a while to neutralise it.  In 1791 Malet received a baronetcy for his part in negotiating the treaty.

Malet lived in great style at his house near the junction of the Mula and Mutha rivers at Poona, maintaining gardens, orchards and a menagerie, as well as employing artists such as James Wales (1747-95) and Robert Mabon (d. 1798) (see M. Archer, India and British Portraiture 1770-1825, London, 1979, pp.333-55).  Malet returned to Britain in 1798 accompanied by Susanna Wales, the daughter of the recently deceased artist James Wales whom he had befriended, and married her the following year.

A Representation for the Delivery of the Ratified Treaty of 1790 by Sir Charles Warre Malet Bart to His Highness Soneae Madarou Peshwa.  Aquatint by Charles Turner after Thomas Daniell, 1807.  63 x 89,6 cm.  K.Top.CXV 59-1-c.
A Representation for the Delivery of the Ratified Treaty of 1790 by Sir Charles Warre Malet Bart to His Highness Soneae Madarou Peshwa.
  Aquatint by Charles Turner after Thomas Daniell, 1807.  63 x 89,6 cm.  K.Top.CXV 59-1-c.  noc

Susanna Wales brought back to England all her father’s unfinished work.  This included his sketches for a large composition commemorating the 1790 treaty.  Malet asked Thomas Daniell to work the sketches up into a large oil painting (now in Tate Britain), and subsequently had Charles Turner engrave it in 1807.  The setting is the Durbar Hall of the Peshwa’s Shanwarwada palace in Poona.  Wales’s estate also included views of Bombay, which Malet arranged to have published in London in 1800, as well as his drawings of the Ellora caves, which he had Thomas Daniell engrave and publish as aquatints in 1803.  Malet’s collection of Wales’s drawings and sketches, along with his diaries, are now in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (see the exhibition publication by Holly Shaffer, Adapting the Eye: an Archive of the British in India, 1770-1830, 2011).

As is the case with most traditional Indian artists, we know nothing of Gangaram other than through his work and what Malet and Wales tell us.  Malet persuaded the Peshwa to establish a school for drawing in the palace at Poona and Gangaram seems to have been trained there in European techniques.  In addition to his animal drawings, he was employed by Malet to sketch Hindu architecture to illustrate Malet’s writings.  Malet published a paper on the Ellora cave temples in vol. 6 of Asiatick Researches (1801), illustrated with nine engravings after drawings by Gangaram.  In a foreword to this paper dated 1794, Malet notes that Gangaram had already been to Ellora to make drawings of the caves, when he himself had been prevented by illness from making the journey.

Ravana shaking Kailasa (Siva’s abode), at Ellora.  Engraving after Gangaram.  From Asiatick Researches, vol. 6, 1801, SV98, pl. E
Ravana shaking Kailasa (Siva’s abode), at Ellora.  Engraving after Gangaram.  From Asiatick Researches, vol. 6, 1801, SV98, pl. E  noc

The Visvakarma cave at Ellora.  Engraving after Gangaram.  From Asiatick Researches, vol. 6, 1801, SV98, pl. I
The Visvakarma cave at Ellora.  Engraving after Gangaram.  From Asiatick Researches, vol. 6, 1801, SV98, pl. I  noc

Malet noted in 1794 that Gangaram would be accompanying James Wales to Ellora to assist with his drawing of the temples.  Thomas Daniell engraved Wales’s drawings of Ellora as Hindoo Excavations in the Mountains of Ellora (London, 1803) and it is possible that one of the plates shows Gangaram himself actually at work, although Wales also had another Indian artist from Goa named Josi with him as well.

An Indian artist possibly Gangaram sketching details of Hindu sculpture.  Detail from 'The Ashes of Ravana, interior view.' Plate 19 from Hindoo excavations in the mountain of Ellora, London, 1803.  X432/6 pl. 19 detail
An Indian artist possibly Gangaram sketching details of Hindu sculpture.  Detail from 'The Ashes of Ravana, interior view.' Plate 19 from Hindoo excavations in the mountain of Ellora, London, 1803.  X432/6 pl. 19 detail  noc

To return to where I started with Gangaram’s animal drawings.  All these drawings are outlined in water-colour with a brush, the outlines brushed in with very transparent washes, the details worked up, and then the whole outlined again where necessary, normally on European paper watermarked with a lily.  The album and other items associated with Malet and Gangaram passed down through the Malet family and were sold at various times.  The portrait and the four animal drawings were acquired in 1982.

A light brown saluki.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Chuba a Dog belonging to CWM.  Gangaram delint.  Water-colour on paper; 126 by 206 mm.  Add.Or.4146
A light brown saluki.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Chuba a Dog belonging to CWM.  Gangaram delint.  Water-colour on paper; 126 by 206 mm.  Add.Or.4146  noc

A black and white hound.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Spring, and below: Gungaram.  Water-colour on paper; 134 by 182 mm.  Add.Or.4147
A black and white hound.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Spring, and below: Gungaram.  Water-colour on paper; 134 by 182 mm.  Add.Or.4147  noc

A lynx.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above in pencil: Syah gush (Persian for lynx), and on the backing sheet: Lynx.  Water-colour on paper; 70 by 125 mm.  Add.Or.4149   A lynx.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above in pencil: Syah gush (Persian for lynx), and on the backing sheet: Lynx.  Water-colour on paper; 70 by 125 mm.  Add.Or.4149  noc

Add Or 4148
A lion.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Lion.  Water-colour on paper; 161 by 243 mm.  Add.Or.4148  noc

Gangaram, living up to Malet’s description of him as a ‘very ingenious person’ also produced models of some of these animals, so when a group of these models appeared on the market including a camel, elephant and rhinoceros (Hobhouse Limited, Indian Painting during the British Period, London, 1986, no. 9), it proved irresistible to acquire one, although not until 1993, that was already represented by its drawing in the collection.

A model of a lion.   By Gangaram, 1790.  Wax, possibly dhuna, the aromatic gum of the shal tree (Shorea robusta), painted; size of wooden base: 20.5 x 9.75 x 2cm; animal 12.5cm at highest point of mane.  F872
A model of a lion.   By Gangaram, 1790.  Wax, possibly dhuna, the aromatic gum of the shal tree (Shorea robusta), painted; size of wooden base: 20.5 x 9.75 x 2cm; animal 12.5cm at highest point of mane.  F872  noc

Gangaram’s lion.  F872, frontal view
Gangaram’s lion.  F872, frontal view  noc

Gangaram has faithfully translated from paper to model the unhappy and mangy appearance of the poor lion including the halter round its neck.  Although Malet kept a menagerie, including the lion, some of the animals drawn by Gangaram belonged to the Peshwa, as Malet noted on a drawing of the Peshwa’s elephant named Ali Bakhsh (see Indian Drawings of Plants and Animals, Spring 1986, Hobhouse Ltd., no. 7).  Some of the models have labels written by Malet ascribing them to Gangaram. 

Finally the opportunity arose again in 1987 to acquire another drawing by Gangaram from the same album, this time of a camel.

A camel facing.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed in ink: The Figure of the Common Camel of Hindostan accurately taken from a Living One by Gungaram Chintamun Tombut of the follg. Dimensions [with detailed dimensions].  Poona 1790.  C.W. Malet.  And in nagari: gangaram cimtaman tabat.  Add.Or.4364
A camel facing.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed in ink: The Figure of the Common Camel of Hindostan accurately taken from a Living One by Gungaram Chintamun Tombut of the follg. Dimensions [with detailed dimensions].  Poona 1790.  C.W. Malet.  And in nagari: gangaram cimtaman tabatAdd.Or.4364  noc

This drawing contains very precise measurements of the animal that must have been used when Gangaram made his scale model in wax - see Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox catalogue Indian Paintings for British Patrons 1770-1860, London, 1991, no. 5.


J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts (Emeritus)    ccownwork

25 August 2014

A rare Vietnamese map of China

One of the most interesting Vietnamese manuscripts in the British Library, Bắc Sứ Thủy Lục Địa Đô or, in Chinese, Beishi shuilu ditu, ‘The northwards embassy by land and water from Hanoi to Beijing’ (Or. 14907), has just been digitised. Written in the Vietnamese language in Chinese characters (chữ Hán) and dated 1880, the manuscript is a complete visual record of the route from Bắc Thành (the former name of Hanoi under the Nguyễn Dynasty) through China to Beijing, taken by envoys of the Vietnamese Emperor Tự Đức (r.1847-1883) on their tribute-bearing mission in 1880. This work was probably created as an archival record of the journey. Roads, mountains, waterways, bridges, buildings, cities and towns are all clearly depicted, as are the points of departure and arrival on the first and last pages. The title, written in Chinese characters (Beishi shuilu ditu), also includes the date (gengchen) of the journey, according to the Chinese 60-year cyclical system. The annotations on each page list place names and distances in Chinese miles (li or ly in Vietnamese) with occasional useful notes, such as ‘from here merchants used only Qianlong money’. Land routes are marked in red ink and water routes are recorded in blue ink.

The mission passed through Gong Xian County in Henan Province and crossed Luo River. British Library, Or.14907, ff.54v-55r.  noc

Towards the end of the 19th century Vietnam was faced with serious threats from French colonialism. After taking South Vietnam (Cochin China) in the 1860s, the French gradually fulfilled their territorial desire to occupy the rest of the kingdom.  In January 1874, after another defeat, the court of Emperor Tự Đức had to sign a treaty with the French which led to the occupation of North Vietnam. Under this treaty, Vietnam ‘s foreign policy was under the control of French colonial power. However, Vietnam still kept up its tradition of sending tribute missions to China.

The tribute system was employed in Chinese foreign policy for many centuries before its collapse at the end of the 19th century under the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). As the most powerful kingdom in East and Southeast Asia, China saw herself as ‘the Middle Kingdom’ and demanded that smaller and ‘inferior’ kingdoms in the region send her tribute on a regular basis. Small states in the region willingly sent tribute missions to Beijing, while not viewing this tradition as acknowledgement of vassalage to China; on the contrary, it was perceived as a reciprocal system, whereby Beijing was accepted as the patriarch of other, inferior, kingdoms. Once their missions had been received by the court in Beijing, recognition by China gave rulers of smaller kingdoms legitimacy to rule. The tribute system also provided security and political stability for smaller kingdoms against invasions from China so long as they did not implement any policy which would disturb the Middle Kingdom.


Arriving at Ansu Xian County in Hebei Province, north of the Yellow River, their route took them through temples and the White Pagoda. British Library, Or.14907, f.66r.  noc

As a neighbouring country, Vietnam had been one of the most active participants in the Chinese tribute system, which offered political gains allowing for peaceful co-existence with its powerful neighbour. As Brantly Womack points out, China was always Vietnam’s greatest political threat. Thus Chinese recognition of the Vietnamese court as the legitimate rulers of the country was invaluable and was tantamount to an acknowledgement of Vietnam’s right to exist.   In contrast to the colonialism of Western imperialism, China acted as the passive guarantor of a matrix of unequal but autonomous relationships, rather than as an active metropolitan power: to go to Beijing was more reassuring than to have Paris come to you (Womack 2006: 135).

From its very beginnings, not only did independent Vietnam publicly accept its status as a vassal, but it sent its most prominent scholars as emissaries on tribute missions.  William Duiker has characterised the historical relationship between China and Vietnam as follows: ‘To China, the Vietnamese must have resembled a wayward younger brother … Chinese attitudes toward Vietnam combined paternalism and benevolence with a healthy dose of arrogance and cultural condescension stemming from the conviction that it was China that had lifted the Vietnamese from their previous state of barbarism. As for the Vietnamese, their attitude toward China was a unique blend of respect and truculence, combining a pragmatic acceptance of Chinese power and influence with a dogged defence of Vietnamese independence and distinctiveness’ (Duiker 1986: 6).

Guangning Gate (30 ly before the main City gate). British Library, Or.14907, f.69r.  noc

The 1880 tribute mission took place against a backdrop of political difficulties in Vietnam. After the signing of the 1874 treaty, there was unrest in North Vietnam (Tonkin) among Vietnamese who saw the Nguyễn rulers as weak leaders who had readily capitulated to French power. The Black Flag rebellion, led by Lưư Vinh Phục, caused disruption to foreign commercial businesses and French religious missions, disturbing both Beijing and Paris. Hence two Chinese incursions took place in 1878 and 1879, while at the same time, the French kept putting pressure on the court in Huế with the threat of another invasion (Đinh Xuân Lâm 1999: 47). In order to appease the Chinese and to seek help from the Middle Kingdom, the Vietnamese court tried to send missions to Beijing.  Some missions were successful, but others were intercepted by the French. The 1880 tribute mission was therefore one of several attempts. It probably crossed the border in early October and arrived in Beijing in December 1880.

Zhengyang Gate, Beijing, leading to the Forbidden City. British Library, Or.14907, f.69v.  noc

The French perceived the Vietnamese court’s attempt to seek help from China as a violation of the 1874 treaty, which stipulated that Vietnam’s foreign affairs were under French authority. The colonial power thus used this as one of the pretexts to launch another attack against the Vietnamese. In April, 1882, French forces attacked Hanoi and consequently Huế. Emperor Tự Đức passed away on July 17, 1883 just before the court agreed to sign another treaty with the French (August 25, 1883), which brought all three parts of Vietnam under complete control of French colonial government.

The advent of French control over Vietnam seriously affected Chinese interests because trade between southern China and northern Vietnam was disrupted. Therefore, from 1882 China sent troops to northern Vietnam to protect its interests and fighting between French and Chinese forces erupted. However, the weakening Qing dynasty was not able to match the French might. The confrontation ended with Tientsin Agreement in May 1884 (Đinh Xuân Lâm: 1999, 58), in which China agreed to rescind its claims over Vietnam’s sovereignty. This also brought an end to the long-lasting tradition of the tribute system between China and Vietnam.

Further reading:

The manuscript Or. 14907 has been fully digitised and can be viewed here.

Đinh Xuân Lâm, chủ biên. Đai cương lịch sử Việt Nam, tập 2.  [Hà Nội] : Nhà xuất bản giaó dục, 1999.
Duiker, William J. China and Vietnam: Roots of Conflict. Berkley, California: University of California, 1986.
Trần Nghĩa. ‘Sa’ch Hán Nôm tại Thư viện vương quốc Anh’ in Tạp chí Hán Nôm (3[24], 1995). Hà Nội : Viện nghiên cứu Hán Nôm, pp.3-13.
Womack, Brantly. China and Vietnam:  The Politics of Asymmetry. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese

With thanks to Baohe Chen for help in reading the Chinese inscriptions.


21 August 2014

Persian letters from the Nawabs of the Carnatic 1777-1816

Following the Seven Years War or, in India, the Third Carnatic War (1757-63), the Nawabs of Arcot (styled Walajah)—former dependents of the Nizam al-Mulk of Hyderabad—were confirmed as independent rulers of the Carnatic region of India (covering Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana states) by the Mughal Emperor, Shah ‘Alam, in 1765. Fostering relations with European settlers establishing military outposts along the Coromandel Coast, at Pondicherry (Puducherry) and Madras (Chennai), for example, the nawabs became closely involved with the transactions and officials of the Honourable East India Company, the British parliament, and even members of the Hanoverian royal family. The character and extent of these relations is reflected in the record of correspondence, treaties, and legal documents of the time. The British Library has inherited from the India Office Library a small collection of such correspondence, consisting of 12 letters in Persian (the official and literary language of the Mughal state), from which a small selection is described here. These were described by M.Z.A. Shakeb in 1982 in a short catalogue which has long been unavailable. A PDF version can be downloaded here.

Aquatint based on a picture by Francis Swain Ward (1736-1794) of the mosque adjoining the palace of the Nawab of Arcot at Tiruchchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. Plate 1 from 24 Views in Indostan by William Orme, 1803 (British Library X768/2/1)

The letters written by or issued in the name of the nawabs are on thin oriental paper and are unified as a group by a number of common features: 1) the narrow, vertically elongated scroll format; 2) the placement of ruled panels of text in the lower left corner leaving broad margins along the upper and right edges; 3) floral motifs in gold; 4) 2 separate cartouches for a short invocation followed by the fuller quotation of the koranic basmalah (Qur’an, XXVII:30); and 5) fine flecks of gold (zar afshani) within cartouches and panels of text.

IO Isl 4359
Letter written in 1801 from ʿAzim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to King George III (British Library IO Islamic 4359)

The first of these letters, IO Islamic 4359, is distinguished by broad margins covered in opaque gold wash surrounding the ruled panel of text. In keeping with conventions borrowed from imperial ordinances (farmans), this opulent effect is commensurate with the importance of the letter’s addressee, George III, described as

King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Christian faith, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover), Chancellor and Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, Emperor of the Oceans, etc…

Written in an uneven Indian ta‘liq hand by the third nawab, ‘Azim al-Dawlah, the letter announces the death of the second nawab, ‘Umdat al-Umara, on 15 July 1801, and confirms his own accession with the aid of the East India Company.

IO Islamic 4361_1200
Letter written in 1801 from ‘Azim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to the Prince of Wales (British Library IO Islamic 4361)

The designs of letters communicating with other members of the British royal family are less opulent, but no less attractive, with repeated floral motifs in diaper arrangement, loosely painted in gold. The contents of letter IO Islamic 4361 are similar in tenor. Written again by the same nawab, this time in a more legible hand, it additionally requests the intercession of the Prince of Wales (George Augustus Frederick, later Prince-Regent, later King George IV) with his father, the king.

IO Islamic 4252_1200
Letter written in 1816 from ‘Azim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to the Directors of the East India Company congratulating them on the marriage of Princess Charlotte to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (British Library IO Islamic 4252)

Following a similar design scheme, the letter IO Islamic 4252 addresses this time officials of the East India Company. Commencing with a reference to the Battle of Waterloo (1815), the letter congratulates British forces on their ‘great victory’ in Europe (referred to here as vilayat) before going on to express pleasure at news of the marriage of the Prince-Regent’s daughter, Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales, to Prince Leopold Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duke of Saxony (later Léopold I, King of the Belgians), in 1816. The primary object of this letter is set out in the final few lines: to remind the Prince-Regent of his neglect in replying to earlier petitions, whereas the king did favour the nawab with a reply.

While other letters were written in the nawab’s own hand, this letter is written in a neat nasta‘liq hand by a practiced scribe. That its transcription was supervised by the nawab himself is indicated by the addition at the end of the text (bottom left corner) of the bold and stylised word, bayaz (fair copy), thus validating the letter’s authenticity.

IO Islamic 4251_1200
Letter dated 14 Rabiʻ II 1216 (24 August 1801) from Nawab Walajah III’s uncle to the Chairman, Court of Directors, East India Company (British Library IO Islamic 4251)

IO Islamic 4251_envelope_1200
Envelope with the seal of Anvar al-Dawlah Husam Jang Sayf al-Mulk Muhammad Anvar Khan Bahadur (British Library IO Islamic 4251)

Perhaps one of the least typical of this assemblage is the design and character of the letter IO Islamic 4251. Although lacking any ornamentation, defined panels and cartouches of text within rulings, and the narrow, elongated format seen in the previous 3 examples, it consists of 2 thin sheets of silver and gold-flecked paper (sim va zar afshan) covered on both sides in a densely-written nasta‘liq hand.

Written and composed by Muhammad Anvar Khan, brother of the second nawab, the first part of the letter sets out arguments disputing the East India Company’s decision to invest ‘Azim al-Dawlah as the third Nawab of Arcot. Although polite and coached in diplomatic prose, the letter is surprisingly direct in its expression of the extended nawabi family’s strong displeasure, specifying objections on grounds of illegitimacy, inheritance and succession rights under the shari‘ah, the author’s superior claims to the seat (masnad), and possible benefits to the Company if he were to succeed.

The second part of the letter discusses in greater detail the dynasty’s status as the confirmed rulers of the Carnatic region, the genealogy of the main claimants, the author’s claim, and the way in which the East India Company managed the succession. Taken as a whole, the letter vividly illustrates inherent tensions between the nawabs and the East India Company, which eventually took over the administration of the nawab’s domains following the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1798-99).

Saqib Baburi, Asian and African Studies

18 August 2014

A Javanese manuscript artist at work

This beautiful manuscript of Serat Jayalengkara Wulang (MSS Jav 24), written in Javanese language and script, has just been digitised and can be read in full here.  It relates the story of the wanderings of Prince Jayalengkara, and his visits to sages in secluded places who instruct him in mystical science. The copying of this manuscript was begun on 22 Rejeb in the Javanese year 1730, equivalent to 7 November 1803, by a servant of Sultan Hamengkubuwana II of Yogyakarta (who ruled, with interruptions, from 1792 to 1828).  The manuscript is written in the quadratic style of script characteristic of Yogyakarta court circles, and contains numerous finely illuminated frames and illustrations.

The text on the opening pages of this manuscript of Serat Jayalengkara Wulang contains an apology for the presumption of the author in attempting to contribute to literature, for the untidyness of the script, and for the awkward versification. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff.2v-3r.  noc

The art of manuscript illumination in Java reached its peak in the courts of Yogyakarta. It is not uncommon in paper manuscripts from other parts of Java to find more or less elaborate decorative frames on the first pages. But in Yogyakarta, and only very rarely in other areas, they can be found at selected places in the body of the text as well, marking major junctures in the narrative as a kind of chapter heading. These elaborate frames were known as wadana, a Javanese word literally meaning ‘face’. Like illuminated frames in other Islamic manuscript cultures, wadana often comprise symmetrical decorated frames across two facing pages and may consist primarily of geometric and foliate patterns.  But in this manuscript there are also wadana which occupy one page only, and which draw deeply on the Javanese iconographic repertoire, incorporating mythical creatures such as the naga, dragon, or makara, an acquatic animal with an elephant’s trunk.

Serat Jayalengkara Wulang. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff.30v-31r.  noc

Depiction of a battle scene, with the two opposing armies with their pennants, gun carriages and lances. British Library, MSS Jav 24, f.144v (detail).  noc

Although the text in the manuscript is complete, the illumination is not, and comparison of the finished and unfinished wadana provides a valuable glimpse into the techniques used by the illuminator. First, guidelines were prepared for the text, using a sharp implement and a ruler. The text was written between the ruled indentations, and then the process of decoration began. The straight lines of the frame were drawn in pencil with a ruler, while foliate patterns and other decorative elements were outlined directly in yellow pigment. Glue was then applied on the yellow outlines, probably with a fine brush, and thin gold leaf was then stuck on. The borders of the gilt were then outlined in black ink. Patterns could also be drawn on top of some of the patches of gold; a circle, for example, could be transformed into a rosette. Other elements of the pattern were also outlined in black ink.  Finally, the remaining parts were filled in with coloured pigments in blue, red, green and yellow, with the uncoloured background of white paper being left to function as ‘reserved white’ in some places.

Unfinished single-page wadana, with two entwined makara enclosing the text block. British Library, MSS Jav 24, f.182v noc

The final pair of decorated frames (wadana), which mirror the shape of the opening frames, are unfinished, with pencilled outlines and gold leaf on the left-hand page, and the additional use of black ink on the right-hand page to define the gold borders. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff.203v-204r.  noc

In this set of unfinished double decorated frames, the glue applied on top of the yellow pigment to attach the gold leaf appears to have corroded the paper, leaving brown burn marks. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff.171v-172r.  noc

Further reading
A.T. Gallop & B. Arps, Golden Letters: Writing Traditions of Indonesia / Surat Emas: Budaya Tulis di Indonesia. London: British Library; Jakarta: Lontar; 1991.
T.E. Behrend, ‘Textual gateways: the Javanese manuscript tradition’.  Illuminations: writing traditions of Indonesia, ed. Ann Kumar & John H. McGlynn; pp.161-200.  Jakarta: Lontar Foundation, 1996.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


14 August 2014

The accident that befell Sir Donald Friell McLeod

Even if the attendant or station inspector had shouted ‘Mind the Gap’ (the phrase first used in 1969 at rail stations in the United Kingdom), it would not have prevented the horrific accident that befell Sir Donald Friell McLeod at the railway station at Gloucester Road in 1872. Arriving at the Metropolitan Line platform on 28 November, the station inspector told McLeod that he was too late to catch the train heading towards South Kensington; moments later, he shouted ‘stop, you will be run over’ (London Standard, 3 December 1872).

In investigating the accident, the Belfast News wrote on 4 December, ‘It seems that he must have attempted to enter his compartment while the carriages were already in motion, and that, falling with the sudden and violent movement of the train, he was dragged along for several yards. The right arm, which probably to the last had retained its hold upon the platform and footboards, was uninjured. But the left arm and both legs were nearly severed from the body, although the train was stopped with praiseworthy promptitude.’ Sir Donald McLeod, formerly the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab (1865-70), died at St George’s Hospital later that day.

As an important figure in Anglo-Indian history, McLeod spent the majority of his life in the subcontinent. Born in Calcutta in 1810, he was the younger son of Lieutenant-General Duncan McLeod (d.1856) of the Bengal Engineers. When he was only 4 years old, McLeod was sent to the Scottish Highlands and raised by his grandfather. Educated in Edinburgh and London, he went on to attend the prestigious East India College at Haileybury before returning to Calcutta in 1828. McLeod entered into service for the East India Company and served as the Judicial Commissioner of the British Punjab in 1854 and ultimately as the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab between 1865-70. A devout Christian, McLeod committed his life to various philanthropic projects including helping to establish the University of Punjab (Lahore), also known as the Lahore Oriental University.

Lt. Governor [Sir Donald McLeod] and others, Murree, 1865. British Library, Photo 211/1(61). In the front row: Mr. Robert, Reverend Dr. George Edward Lynch Cotton, Sir Donald McLeod, Captain Alexander Taylor, and Major-General Edward John Lake.
Lt. Governor [Sir Donald McLeod] and others, Murree, 1865. British Library, Photo 211/1(61). In the front row: Mr. Robert, Reverend Dr. George Edward Lynch Cotton, Sir Donald McLeod, Captain Alexander Taylor, and Major-General Edward John Lake.  noc

Whilst living in the Punjab, the stories of McLeod’s philanthropy and devoutness captivated the locals. According to the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ‘cheap coloured lithographs circulated in Lahore showing him seated as a holy man being venerated by Sikh ascetics’. Although I could not locate a lithograph of the subject, I was surprised to locate a painting of the exact subject in the Wellcome Collection (London). In the scene below, the artist depicted Sir Donald McLeod seated on a cushion with his legs crossed and with his head encircled in a nimbus and accompanied by putti; these attributes, along with the attendant holding a flywhisk, which is of course an insigna of royalty, are suggestive that the artist or patron revered McLeod as royalty.

Sir Donald Friell McLeod surrounded by admiring Sikh elders, c. 1870. Wellcome Library, London
Sir Donald Friell McLeod surrounded by admiring Sikh elders, c. 1870. Wellcome Library, London. ccownwork

Local artists continued to be fascinated with McLeod, even after his return to England. A fascinating yet somewhat peculiar painting substantiates this claim. A painting in the British Library, by a Sikh artist, depicts the artist’s interpretation of the horrific accident at Gloucester Road station. While incident reports as well as obituaries in UK newspapers provided detailed accounts on McLeod’s death, the story must have been printed in either local English or Punjabi newspapers in Lahore.

The accident that befell Sir Donald Friell McLeod at Gloucester Road underground station, 1872, and its aftermath. By a Punjab artist, c.1885. Water-colour heightened with bodycolour and gold, on paper laid on card; 342 by 482 mm. British Library, Add.Or.5266.
The accident that befell Sir Donald Friell McLeod at Gloucester Road underground station, 1872, and its aftermath. By a Punjab artist, c.1885. Water-colour heightened with bodycolour and gold, on paper laid on card; 342 by 482 mm. British Library, Add.Or.5266.  noc

In the painting (above), we see the artist’s personal interpretation and understanding of the details of the accident. In the lower left corner, four members of the British public have come to McLeod’s aide and assist to remove him from the railway track. In nearby train carriages, curiously both British and Punjabi-Sikh figures observe the accident. The story continues to unfold with McLeod being transferred to the tent (middle-right) where British political aides tend to the injured. Based on the photograph of McLeod taken at Murree (at top), I wonder if the three men closest to McLeod are the Judicial Commissioner Mr. Roberts, Captain Alexander Taylor (holding McLeod) and the Right Reverend Dr. George Edward Lynch Cotton (d.1866)? From this point, the viewer’s focus is directed to the upper left corner of the painting where Sikh ascetics and members of the prestigious Akali Sikh military order bid farewell to McLeod who is carried away by angels on a palanquin.

The accident that befell Sir Donald Friell McLeod at Gloucester Road underground station, 1872, and its aftermath. By a Punjab artist, c.1885. Water-colour heightened with bodycolour and gold, on paper laid on card; Detail of the painting. British Library, Add.Or.5266.
Detail of the painting

As McLeod passed away within hours after the accident and was  buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London, it is rather strange and curious that the artist transported the incident to the Punjab, where both Punjabi-Sikhs and British officers witnessed the event and were with him during his final moments. However, as the local community revered Sir Donald Friell McLeod, the painting is  appropriate to commemorate McLeod.

Further reading:

Katherine Prior, ‘McLeod, Sir Donald Friell (1810–1872)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 12 Aug 2014]

Susan Stronge (ed), The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms, Victoria and Albert Museum Publications, 1999.


Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator  ccownwork

11 August 2014

The British capture of Java, 1811

In 1795, the Dutch ruler William V fled to Britain to escape Napoleon’s advances. There he issued the ‘Kew Letters’, giving Britain temporary authority over Dutch possessions overseas, in an attempt to keep them out of French hands. Over the next decade, the Napoleonic war arena spilled across the Indian Ocean and into Southeast Asia, and by 1800 the British had captured the Dutch territories of Padang in west Sumatra, and Ambon and Ternate in the Moluccas.  In October 1810 Lord Minto, the Governor-General of Bengal, sent Thomas Stamford Raffles to Melaka as ‘Agent of the Governor General to the Malay States’, with the confidential mission of planning for the British invasion of Java, at the time in Franco-Dutch hands.

View of Batavia from the sea.  From J. Nieuhof, An embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperour of China (London, 1669).  British Library, X.1202.  noc

The British expeditionary force set sail from Melaka in June 1811 and on 4 August 1811 landed at Cilincing in West Java. The city of Batavia fell on 8 August, and within six weeks the British had conquered the whole of the island of Java.  This proclamation in Malay announcing the capture of Batavia is dated 11 August 1811, exactly 203 years ago today. The manuscript (Or.9484), which has just been digitised, was issued in the name of Lord Minto and bears his seal but is signed by Raffles.  The document reflects the British desire to see trade return to normal as soon as possible, and invites the people of Batavia to compare conditions under British and Dutch rule, seemingly confidently anticipating a favourable response:
‘It is announced that Batavia is now British territory and is once again open to all ships, of whatever size and of any nationality, carrying trade goods and foodstuffs, who are all welcome to come and trade freely. There will be no obstruction by warships, because the port of Batavia is now controlled by the British and will be administered with justice. His Excellency the Governor General cordially welcomes merchants of all nationalities to trade in Batavia, and invites them to see how well their business and profits fare under the British administration of Java, and how this compares with Dutch rule.’ (Maka hendaklah diketahui bahwa sekarang ini negeri Betawi sudah menjadi bandar Inggeris dan adalah sedia terbuka akan menyambut segala kapal dan keci dan sebarang perahu yang ada bermuat dagangan dan makanan pada tiap2 bangsa dagang, supaya boleh datang berniaga dengan sukanya.  Maka tiada lagi boleh diadang oleh kapal perang sebab sud(ah) terdiri bandar Inggeris di dalam tanah Betawi serta dengan adilnya.  Adapun sekarang ini bahwa Seri Maharaja Gawarnur Jenderal Yang Maha Mulia dipersilakan segala bangsa orang dagang datang ke Betawi berniaga, serta boleh melihat untung dan laba dari sebab kedatangan Inggeris ke tanah Jawah dan bolehlah sekalian menimbangkan perintah Inggeris dengan Belandah atau persamaan.)

Malay proclamation of the capture of Batavia by the British, 8 August 1811.  British Library, Or. 9484.  noc

The proclamation is stamped with a red ink seal, inscribed in Malay. The seal was probably commissioned by Raffles while in Melaka as part of the preparations for the Java expedition. The inscription may have therefore have been calligraphed by Ibrahim, head of Raffles’s secretariat, the brother of Ahmad Rijaluddin whose account of a visit to Calcutta appeared on this blog recently. As discussed in another posting on this blog, there was a tradition of the use of ‘local’ seals in Arabic script by British officials in Asia and the Middle East, due to the long-established custom of using Persian seals by British East India Company officials serving in Mughal India.

Lord Minto’s seal, inscribed in Malay, ‘This is the seal of His Excellency the Maharaja, Gilbert Elliot Lord Minto, Governor General of Bengal, ruler of the whole of Hindustan, above the winds [and] below the winds’ (Inilah cap Paduka Seri Maharaja Gilbetelet Lard Minto Gurnur Jenral Benggala raja pada sekalian tanah Hindustan atas angin bawah angin adanya).  British Library, Or. 9484 (detail).  noc

Further reading

W. Thorn, Memoir of the conquest of Java.  London: Robert and Wilkes, 1815.
Victoria Glendinning, Raffles and the golden opportunity. London: Profile, 2012
Tim Hannigan, Raffles and the British invasion of Java. Singapore: Monsoon, 2012.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


07 August 2014

James Skinner's Tazkirat al-Umara now digitised

James Skinner (1778–1841) was one of the leading patrons of Delhi artists in the second quarter of the 19th century.  The son of a Scottish soldier father and Rajput mother, Skinner was a born soldier and leader of men, but was denied a place in the East India Company’s armies on account of his birth; he became a mercenary working for the Marathas who controlled Delhi at the end of the 18th century.  With the outbreak of war between the East India Company and the Marathas in 1803, he took advantage (as did others in similar circumstances) of the Company’s offer to come over to its side.  In February 1803, from the men who followed him, he founded a regiment of irregular cavalry, Skinner’s Horse, known as the ‘Yellow Boys’ on account of the men’s yellow surcoats, the first irregular regiment of cavalry in the East India Company’s army.  He raised a second regiment of Yellow Boys to assist the Company’s forces at the beginning of the war with Nepal in 1814.  It rankled with Skinner that he felt unacknowledged by the Company, which he had done so much to help, until the Governor-General Lord Moira in January 1815, when they met at Skinner’s base in Hansi, gave him the rank of honorary Lt. Col. with precedence over lower ranked gazetted officers (Hastings 1858, vol. 2, pp. 293-5).

Colonel James Skinner, attributed to Ghulam Murtaza Khan, Delhi, 1830.  19 x 12.5 cm (British Library Add.27254, f. 4r)

Skinner’s patronage of Delhi artists doubtless began on account of his friendship with the Fraser brothers, the commissioners of the Fraser Album of paintings from 1815-19 (see Archer and Falk 1989).  Skinner’s major commissions include the paintings in his album put together in the 1820s (British Library, Losty and Roy 2012 pp. 222-5), the three large watercolours he commissioned from Ghulam ‘Ali Khan in 1827-8 showing his regiments and his estate at Hansi and another two in 1836 marking his newly built church of St. James in Delhi (National Army Museum, see Dalrymple and Sharma 2012, nos. 58-60, and Losty 2012, figs. 102-3), and those illustrating his writings on castes and rulers (British Library and elsewhere).  This is a significant body of work that marks Skinner as the most important patron of the time in Delhi.  For overviews of Skinner’s patronage and literary compositions, see Losty and Roy 2012, pp. 222-8, and Dalrymple and Sharma 2012, pp. 32-9.

Skinner was a well-educated man and although his English was from all accounts never very good, his Persian was excellent.  This post is concerned with the newly digitised manuscript of one of the two texts that he wrote in that language.  His Tazkirat al-Umara (Add.27254, ‘Biographies of the Nobles’) deals with the history of the princely families of Rajasthan, Haryana and the Punjab, tracing their descent and including a portrait of the present head of the family (Rieu 1879, vol. 1, pp. 302-3).  The British Library’s copy is dated 1830 with 38 paintings and begins with a dedication (f.3v) in four baits of Persian verses to Skinner’s friend Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833), who had just retired as Governor of Bombay, together with an impression of Skinner’s seal with his titles Nasir al-Dawlah Kirnil Jams Iskinar Bahadur Ghalib Jang (‘Defender of the State, Colonel James Skinner, Lord, Victorious in War’) and the date 1830.  These were the Mughal titles which were given on 3 May 1830 to Skinner by the Emperor Akbar II and which are repeated beneath the portrait of Skinner himself on the facing page. 

Dedicatory verses to Sir John Malcolm, with Skinner’s Persian seal (British Library Add.27254, f. 3v)

The manuscript is beautifully bound and presented and rarely for an Indian manuscript is decorated round the fore-edge, top and bottom of the text block with decorations. 

Add.27254 foredge painting
Decorations on the top of text block (British Library Add.27254)

Another illustrated copy of the same work has a different verse dedication to one Watkin, again on a page with Skinner’s seal, and is now in the Chester Beatty Library (Leach 1996, no. 7.133, p. 726-41).  This is also dated 1830 and has 37 portraits listed but actually contains only 33 and does not include a portrait of Skinner.  Watkin is presumably the J. Watkins whose signature is on a flyleaf and is probably Lt. Col. James Watkins, who retired from the Bengal Army in 1838.  His regiment was based at Ludhiana during the 1830s and he must often have passed through Delhi or Hansi.  Another copy dated 1836 has recently appeared from the famous manuscript and early book collection of the Yates, Thompson and Bright families (Christie’s, London, 16 July 2014, lot 39).  This has 39 paintings; it lacks the opening portrait of Skinner, but has one of the Malcolm version’s double portraits in two separate paintings, and also has a portrait of Raja Balwant Singh of Bharatpur at the end, who is not noticed in the 1830 manuscripts.  The portraits are very much the same in each of these three versions except that the other two sometimes lack the beautiful architectural backgrounds of the Malcolm version or are in mirror reverse.  Unillustrated versions also exist (e.g. BL Add.24051, dated 15 April 1830).  The paintings would seem to have been added to existing copies of the text when needed for gifts.  The scribe of the Yates-Thompson-Bright version, Muhammad Bakhsh, is very possibly the unnamed scribe of the British Library version.

The paintings come from different stylistic backgrounds, some being new versions of older Rajput paintings in that style, others being newly minted in the latest style of Delhi.  The portrait of Skinner himself (above) is in this latter style.  Seated in a black japanned chair placed on a carpet and nearly full face, he wears the uniform of the colonel of his regiment as well as his CB star given him by Lord Moira in 1815.  It may be attributed with some confidence to Ghulam Murtaza Khan, to whom Skinner wrote in 1834 commissioning a portrait and describing the artist as the ‘counterpart of Mani and Bihzad’ (Losty and Roy 2012, p.227).

The iconography of Skinner’s portrait is somewhat different from the others.  The opening Rajput portrait (f. 8v), of Maharana Jawan Singh of Udaipur (reg. 1828-38), is more typical of the Delhi manner:  it shows the subject seated on a carpet smoking a hookah with bolsters and cushions behind him and a young attendant fanning him, with a background view out to a terrace and a garden (ibid., fig. 162).  This is very different from the sort of portraiture practised at this time at the Udaipur court.  The portrait of Raja Kalyan Singh of Kishangarh is similarly treated, but this is easier to explain.

Raja Kalyan Singh of Kishangarh (b.1794, reg. 1798-1832, d. 1839).  Delhi, c. 1830.  20 x 13 cm (British Library Add.27254, f. 63v)

Kalyan Singh succeeded as a minor in 1798, but after he came of age was unable to resolve disputes with his nobles and fled to Delhi where he spent most of his time.  Here he seems to be in his 30s and has obviously been portrayed taken from the life during his self-imposed exile in Delhi.  Here the artist has combined a beautifully detailed Mughal pavilion with a typically European curtain swag derived from the type of portraits done by British artists in India.  Many of the Rajput nobility, at least those who were not too far from Delhi, would seem to have maintained houses in the city and hence could be portrayed in contemporary fashion.  

Maharaja Jagat Singh II of Jaipur (reg. 1803-18).  Delhi, c. 1830.  2- x 13 cm (British Library Add.27254, f. 68v)

Typical of the more old-fashioned Rajput portrait (including those of Jodhpur and Bikaner) is that of Maharaja Jagat Singh II of Jaipur, showing him standing in profile, his jama flaring out at the hem, and holding a long sword.  Several of these portraits are of rulers already deceased in 1830, but in this case Jagat Singh had a posthumous son, Jai Singh III, born in 1819, so that perhaps portraits of so young a prince were not readily available.  Skinner follows his account of Jaipur with notices of fifteen of its thikanas or tributary states, an area of research yet to be tapped.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab (reg. 1799-1839).  Delhi, 1830.  20 x 13 cm (British Library Add.27254, f. 176v)

Skinner’s text includes accounts of all the contemporary Sikh rulers, beginning of course with Maharaja Ranjit Singh himself.  By 1830, his appearance was well known and our Delhi artist has been able to produce a good likeness of him, albeit playing down somewhat his blind left eye.  He is seated on a hexagonal gold throne which may be an attempt to render the Maharaja’s actual golden throne now in the V&A.  This has the shape of two octagonal tiers of lotus petals, the traditional seat of Hindu deities, which our artist has perhaps attempted to suggest by portraying Ranjit Singh seated in one of the traditional postures of Hindu deitiesInstead of the divine attributes, he bears instead those of a warrior – sword, dagger, shield, bow and arrows.  Otherwise the setting is that of a refined Delhi interior with a view to the terrace and curtain swags.

Maharaja Karam Singh of Patiala (reg. 1813-45).  Delhi, 1830.  20 x 13 cm (British Library Add.27254, f. 197v)

Other Sikh rulers described in Skinner’s text include those of the major Cis-Sutlej states Patiala, Jind, Nabha and Kapurthala, all of which accepted British suzerainty in 1809 rather than risk be swallowed up in Ranjit Singh’s still expanding empire.  Karam Singh ruled the largest territory of the Cis-Sutlej chiefs as suggested perhaps by his large and sprawling person in this portrait.  As if to contain him, the artist closes the vista with an arcaded wall behind him.  Karam Singh was very helpful to the British in the Anglo-Nepal war of 1814-15 and received in reward a large tract of the Himalayan foothills below Simla.

Whereas the history of the major Sikh princely states is well known, many of the small ones disappeared in the first half of the 19th century.  These include all those established in what is now northern Haryana, which in British India were in the Punjab districts of Ambala and Karnal.  James Skinner notices several of these small Sikh states, which were his neighbours to the north from his base in Hansi, including Kaithal, Kalsia, Radaur, Ladwa, Jagadhri and Buria along with portraits of the incumbent rulers.  These small states were founded in 1763 after Sikh warriors fled south across the Sutlej to escape the carnage wrought on the Punjab proper by Ahmad Shah Durrani.  When the land around Delhi was parcelled out after the British victory over the Marathas in 1803-05, these small rulers like their larger neighbouring ones were confirmed in their status and privileges, reinforced again in 1809.

Bhai Uday Singh of Kaithal (reg. 1819-43).  Delhi, 1830.  20 x 13 cm (British Library Add.27254, f. 204v)

Bhai Uday Singh (reg. 1819-43), as with others of the rulers of Haryana and the Punjab, appears to have been painted from the life, as the melancholy ruler sits amidst his cushions, a magnificent Kashmir shawl round his waist, holding his sword upright with his katar and shield on the rug beside him between two stylized vases of flowers.  The artist has absorbed enough of European portraiture to depict the carpets in perspective and to provide a standard column, but he also provides other more mysterious uprights and diagonals of undisclosed purpose.  Horizontal bands of saturated colour set off the whiteness of the Bhai’s gown.  Perhaps the Bhai’s apparent melancholy is owing to his childless state, since after his death in 1843 his state lapsed to the British.

Rani of the late Rup Singh of Radaur.  Delhi, 1830.  20 x 13 cm (British Library Add.27254, f. 227v)

One of the most striking of the pictures is the only female portrait in the manuscript.  Radaur is one of the small former Sikh states in the Ambala district, but its history is as yet very obscure.  Nonetheless, the Delhi artist has lavished his invention on the widow’s portrait, showing her seated in a richly ornamented window arch in the zenana with a bed behind her, and producing a sumptuous array of colours in the lower part of the painting contrasting with the cool grey of the decorated plaster work above.

Skinner ends his survey of princely families with four states under Muslim rule.  Two of these, Farrukhnagar and Dujana, are just west of Delhi and were established like Jhajjar (Losty and Roy 2012, pp.230-2) from land grants to Afghan military chiefs helpful to the British 1803-05.  The portrait of Nawab Zabita Khan, who held land round Rania now in western Haryana (ibid., fig. 163), is the only one in Skinner’s manuscript which is based on a portrait from the Fraser Album. 

Nawab Dalil Khan of Bahawalpur.  Delhi, 1830.  20 x 13 cm (British Library Add.27254, f. 262v)

Skinner concludes with the large state of Bahawalpur on the left bank of the Sutlej and Indus, although the portrait of the ruler labelled Nawab Dalil Khan is enigmatic.  The ruler should have been either Nawab Sadiq Khan II (reg. 1809-26) or Bahawal Khan III (reg. 1809-52).  The portrait’s composition seems based on one from earlier in the 18th century, but no Nawab Dalil Khan seems known from that time.  The text of the Tazkira has never been published or translated and its on-line digitisation will surely be welcome not just to admirers of late Mughal Delhi but also to historians of early 19th century India. Follow these links for the online digitised version and a complete description of the manuscript and illustrations.

Further reading:

Archer, M., and Falk, T., India Revealed:  the Art and Adventures of James and William Fraser 1801-35, Cassell, London, 1989
Dalrymple, W., and Sharma, Y., Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857, Asia Society, New York, 2012
Hastings, 1st Marquess of, The Private Journal of the Marquess of Hastings, K.G., ed. by the Marchioness of Bute, London, 1858
Leach, L.Y., Mughal and Other Indian Paintings in the Chester Beatty Library, Scorpion Cavendish, London, 1995
Losty, J.P., Delhi: Red Fort to Raisina, Lustre Press Roli Books, New Delhi. 2012
Losty, J.P., and Roy, M., Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, British Library, London, 2012
Rieu, Charles, Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum, London, 1879-83
McBurney, N.G., The 1836 Tazkirat al-umara of Colonel Skinner, London, Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 2014. 2 vols with 49 colour illustrations

J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts (Emeritus)

05 August 2014

A Malay letter from Madura

The Malay letter of 1815 shown here, which has just been digitised, is from Pangeran Nata Negara, ruler of Sumenep on the island of Madura north of Java, to Captain James Clark, British Resident of Sumenep. The letter is swiftly written, probably by the prince himself, and is intimate in tone, and the Pangeran states that he is sending Clark presents of a Malay-style keris and a brazier or incense-burner (tempat bara api) belonging to his late father, the Panembahan.
A keris and scabbard from Madura. Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, 903-13.  noc

Pangeran Nata Negara, later known as Panembahan Nata Kusuma II and then as Sultan Paku Nata Ningrat, ruled Sumenep from 1812 to 1854.  He succeeded his father, Raden Temenggung Tirto Negoro, Nata Kusuma I, who reigned from 1768 to 1812. During the British administration of Java from 1811 to 1816, Nata Kusuma II became one of Thomas Stamford Raffles's chief informants on Javanese culture and history, appreciated for his knowledge of not only Javanese literature but also texts in Arabic.  Raffles lavishes praise on Nata Kusuma in his History of Java (London, 1817), concluding 'He is revered, not only for his superior qualifications and talents, but also for the consideration and attention he pays to the happiness and comfort of the people committed to his charge' (Vol.1, p.272).

James Clark was a British officer in Java who in December 1811 was appointed by Raffles to the temporary command of ‘Samanap’.  In April 1812 Clark was transferred to Banyuwangi but in November of that year he was appointed Commandant of Madura and civil administrator of Sumenep, where he remained until 1816. Thus it is likely that Clark had known Pangeran Nata Negara’s father before his death in 1812, albeit briefly, and therefore a gift of precious heirloom items (pusaka) belonging to the late Panembahan would have been particularly meaningful.

Malay letter from Pangeran Nata Negara of Sumenep to James Clark, Resident of Sumenep, dated 19 Jumadilawal 1230 (29 April 1815). The letter was given to the British Library in 1994 by Lt. Col. James de D. Yule, a descendant of James Clark and also of Sir Henry Yule, co-author of the Anglo-Indian dictionary Hobson-Jobson. British Library, Or.14858.  noc

The letter begins with a religious invocation, Qawluhu al-Haqq, ‘His Word is The Truth’.  This was the most popular letter heading (kepala surat) used on Malay letters addressed to European officials, and the same heading is found in a letter from Bengkulu dated 1718. It is positioned towards the left side of the paper, traditionally regarded as a sign of politeness and respect, and is written diagonally upside down. The letter is written in a swift, competent and cursive hand, and as the signature is written in the same ductus and with the same brownish ink, the letter was probably written by the Pangeran himself.  In this letter, as in all other written communications in Malay from Madura of this period, the placename is always written as Sumeneb with a ba rather than the present-day spelling Sumenep.

The full text of the letter, in Malay followed by an English translation, is given below.

Qawluhu al-Haqq
Bahwa warkat al-ikhlas yang termaktub di dalamnya beberapa tabik dan hormat yang beserta selamat al-khair selama-lamanya datang mengadap ke hadapan majlis sahudara saya Tuan Kaptin Jims Klarq Residint di dalam negeri Sumeneb adanya.  Wa-baadahu maka adalah saya melayangkan nubdhah yang sedharrah ini ke hadapan majlis sahudara akan seperti saya sendiri bertemu dengan sahudara, lain tiada hanya saya hendak kasih kepada sahudara satu pertanda daripada saya yang saya sudah dapat pusaka daripada sahudara [sic] punya bapa Panembahan yang sudah meninggal, iaitu satu keris cara Melayu lagi satu tempat bara api, keduanya itu dahulu Panembahan punya pakaian, melainkan saya harab sahudara terima tiada dengan sepertinya hanya cuma pertanda sahabat, demikian adanya.
Tersurat kepada 19 hari bulan Jumadilawal sanat 1230.
[signature] Thalib al-da‘i al-Pangeran Nata Negara al-amir

'His Word is the Truth
This sincere epistle, containing greetings and respects together with eternal best wishes, is sent into the presence of my brother Captain James Clark, Resident of Sumeneb.  After that, the reason I am sending this fragment of a note into my brother’s presence, in lieu of our meeting, is that my only wish is to give my brother a memento from me which I inherited from my brother’s father the late Panembahan, namely a Malay-style keris and a brazier, both of the Panembahan’s own using, and I hope my brother will accept these, though they are not as they should be, merely as a token of friendship.
Written on the 19th of Jumadilawal in the year 1230.
[signature] Student of The Summoner, the Pangeran Nata Negara, the prince'

Several other letters from Nata Kusuma have survived from his long reign, but this is the earliest known.  A future blog post will present Nata Kusuma's beautifully illuminated farewell letter to Raffles of 1816.

Further reading

A.T.Gallop, ‘Three Malay letters from Sumenep, Banjarmasin and Brunei’, in: Malay-Indonesian studies: dedicated to the 80th birthday of Vilen Sikorsky.  Moscow: Econ-inform. (Issue XIX), pp.117-127.

Thomas Stamford Raffles, The history of Java.  2 vols. London, 1817. [Facsimile reprint, with an introduction by John Bastin. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1965.]

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia