Bombay Presidency

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 »

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 »

Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III, Gaekwad of Baroda

This is a portrait of Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III  (1863-1939) of Baroda from the album Delhi Coronation Durbar, 1st January 1903 by Wiele and Klein. In 1721, Pilaji Rao Gaekwad defended and reclaimed the city of Baroda from the Mughals as a lieutenant for the Dabhade family, the Marathas in Gujarat. He was granted the… 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 »

Tower of Silence, Bombay

Tower of Silence, also known as the dakhma or funerary tower, is where deceased Zoroastrians are exposed to the sky to be devoured by scavenger birds—it’s known as a ‘sky burial’. According to the community’s belief, a dead body is impure not only because of its deterioration and infection but also because evil spirits conquer… Read more »

View of the Watson’s Hotel or Esplanade Mansion, Bombay

The Watson’s Hotel, earlier the Esplanade Hotel, is the oldest surviving cast-iron structure in India. It was named after its first owner,  John Watson, an English businessman in Bombay. The original cast iron objects were designed by the engineer Rowland Mason Ordish, who constructed the various parts in Britain and shipped to India. The construction… Read more »

Panoramic view, Bombay

This is a 2-part panoramic view of Bombay (Mumbai) from the late 19th – early 20th century by and unidentified photographer. Read about the birth of commercial photography in 19th-century Bombay here.

City of Stars

From a poor little island to the first city of India. We go back in time to visit the sleepy port town at the heart of the Bombay Presidency that would transform into the Mumbai of today. We bring you rare photographs, engravings and other precious archival material to piece together a picture of how… Read more »