19th Century Photography

Traders (Marwarree Brokers), Bombay

This photograph of traders from the Marwari community was taken by William Johnson in late 19th century Bombay. The port city of Bombay attracted early photographers, and the first official Indian photography organisation was founded here in 1854. William was a founding member of the Bombay Photographic Society and one of the first to produce… Read more »

Parsee (Parsi) Ladies, Bombay

This photograph of the women from the Parsi community was taken by William Johnson in late 19th century. With the British granting freedom of religion and equality before the law to migrants and minority communities, the city saw an influx of Parsis, who went on to play a pivotal role in the making of metropolitan… Read more »

Unidentified Prince of Rewa

This is a portrait of an unidentified prince of Rewa, an important princely state in Central India, second only to Gwalior.  Rulers in the Indian Subcontinent were typically chosen from the ranks of warrior nobility and given legitimacy by a council of ministers and nobility. Kingship was often hereditary and princes—and, less frequently, princesses born… Read more »

Unidentified Woman, Bombay

This is a studio photograph of an unidentified woman by an unidentified photographer. Early Indian photography was defined by the gaze of the coloniser. So, these images are accompanied by information meant to serve the British administration in tidily cataloguing by community, profession or faith the diverse populations of the Subcontinent. Towards the end of… Read more »

A Group of Thugs, Simla

Derived from the Sanskrit’ sthagati’ for ‘he covers/deceives’, the word as it is used in the caption of this photo—’A Group of Thugs’—referred to men who were hereditary murderers and thieves. Some historians argue they killed to appease their deity, Goddess Kali, and the stealing was just incidental; others make the case that they were… Read more »

Jayajirao Scindia, Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior and his suite

This photograph is of Jayajirao Scindia (1834-1886), the Maharaja of Gwalior, with his counsels. The Maratha Confederacy was an invincible force in 18th-century India. Ranoji Shinde, a Peshwas lieutenant who was pivotal in the Peshwas’ fight against the Mughals in Malwa, was one of the army’s rising stars. In 1731, Ranoji established his rule in… Read more »

Sultan Shah Jahan Begum, Begum of Bhopal

This is a Carte de Visite portrait of the Begum of Bhopal, Shah Jahan Begum (1838-1901). The state of Bhopal was unique in Indian history for being ruled exclusively by women for over a hundred years. Their line began with the 19-year-old widow of the second Nawab of Bhopal, Qudsia Begum. A remarkable matriarch, Qudsia fought… Read more »

Palanquin Bearers, Bombay

This photograph of the Palanquin Bearers was taken by William Johnson in Bombay. The root-word for the English ‘palanquin’ is the same as the one for the Hindi ‘palang’: ‘palyanka’, Sanskrit for bed. Baked into the word itself is a promise of comfort. Palanquins were the transport of choice for wealthy travellers in 18th- and… Read more »

Mir Mahboob Ali Khan Siddiqi, Nizam of Hyderabad

This is a Carte de Visite portrait of the sixth Nizam, Asaf Jah VI Mir Mahboob Ali Khan Siddiqi, who reigned from 1869 to 1911.  During this time, he developed the railways and established cotton and silk mills in the State. In popular culture, Mahboob Ali Khan is probably best remembered for his legendary collection of gemstones,… Read more »

Jagatjit Singh, Maharaja of Kapurthala

This is a portrait of Jagatjit Singh, Maharaja of Kapurthala from the album Delhi Coronation Durbar, 1st January 1903 by Wiele and Klein. Jagatjit Singh (1872-1949) carried his royal Sikh heritage with pride. He was the descendant of Sardar Jassa Singh, founder of the Ahluwalia dynasty, who led the various misls or ancestral warrior clans… Read more »

Ranbir Singh, Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir

This is a Carte de Visite portrait of  the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Ranbir Singh (1830-1885). After the decline of the Mughals, power over Jammu was seized briefly by the Afghan Durrani dynasty who were defeated in the early 19th-century by the armies of the Lion of Punjab aka Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja… Read more »

Shivaji Rao Holkar, Maharaja of Indore

This photograph is of the Maharaja of Indore, Shivaji Rao Holkar (1859-1908). Maharaja Shivaji Rao Holkar was the 13th monarch who took the throne in 1886. On his chest is the medal for the Knights Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India, an honour awarded to Indian princes and chiefs and British… Read more »

Nautch Girls, Bombay

This is a studio portrait of unidentified Natuch girls by Edward Taurines. Edward Taurines was one of the early European photographers to ply his trade in Bombay, and he ran a commercial studio in the city for nearly two decades. Of the presidencies, Bombay was the most active centre for the medium; the Bombay Photographic… Read more »

Rai Bahadur Shankar Rao, Hyderabad

This is a cabinet card print of Rai Bahadur Shankar Rao, Hyderabad by Lala Deen Dayal & Sons. After graduating from the prestigious Thomason College of Civil Engineering, today’s IIT Roorkee, Deen Dayal (1844-1905) landed a government job as a draughtsman in the Public Works Department in Indore. In a field dominated by Europeans, Deen… Read more »

Nripendra Narayan, Maharaja of Cooch Behar

This is a portrait of Maharaja of Cooch Behar (present-day West Bengal), Nripendra Narayan (1862-1911). Bounded in the north by Bhutan, Cooch Behar was once a part of the ancient Indian kingdom of Kamarupa. Two centuries later, the East India Company would recognise the location as strategic to their imperial ambitions in Bengal and ally… Read more »

A Bhisti (Water-carrier)

Water-carriers in the Subcontinent were named Bhishti, after the Persian ‘bihisht’ meaning paradise. For centuries before the invention of the bottle and refrigeration, these men were the sole providers of succour to anyone who ran out of water on the road. The Bhisti’s trademark bag or mashaq was made from animal hide and it could… Read more »

Madras Harbour

This photograph, by Francis Frith (1822-1898) & Co, is of the Madras Harbour. This vista of commercial facilities and warehouses on the Mardas beachfront illustrates Britain’s extensive commerce with the world. In 1639, a British trading corporation was granted permission to establish a factory on a three-mile-long stretch of the shore on the Coromandel. The Nayakas,… Read more »

Mowbray Road, Madras

This photograph, from the late 19th century, is of the Mowbray Road in Madras (Chennai), Tamil Nadu. The long avenue lined with trees on either side got its name after a house built by George Moubray, the Moubray’s Cupola (presently, the Madras Club). George Moubray served the EIC (East India Company) and was the first… Read more »