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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

Drawn from the Royal Library's collection of South Asian books and manuscripts

Chapter 3

Rulers from across the world, including several in South Asia, sent letters and gifts to the young Queen Victoria on her accession in June 1837 (see cat. no. 73). Two months after her coronation the Queen showed her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, a list of presents she was to receive from the ruler of Muscat (Oman) and recorded their conversation in her diaries: ‘[I] said I liked to show a disdain for these things, for fear I should be accused of common female weakness; which he approves.’[1] They spoke of Queen Charlotte’s presents from Marian Hastings (Lord Melbourne said that ‘the King was thought rather to go with Hastings’[2]), the jewels from Arcot and of Queen Adelaide’s ‘having got all those Shawls which the King of Oude sent, and which they should not have accepted’.[3] Queen Victoria did accept the gifts from Muscat, which included six horses, a tiara of precious stones and other jewels.[4]

Despite her outward reluctance, Queen Victoria would continue to receive many such gifts from the subcontinent in the early years of her reign. In the mid-nineteenth century, however, there was to be another fundamental change in the diplomatic relationships between Britain and South Asia as the Crown assumed full and direct control of those territories formerly belonging to the East India Company. The stimulus for this was the Uprising of 1857, when Indian soldiers within the Company armies rebelled against their employers. The commercial origins of the British presence in South Asia was forgotten and replaced by a new Victorian myth of the benevolent, ‘civilising’ British Empire. A ban came to be placed on Indian princes and nobles giving costly presents to the Queen. It also was during the latter part of the nineteenth century that members of the royal family, although not the Queen herself, travelled to India for the first time. Extravagant presents were discouraged but paintings, manuscripts and books from across the subcontinent were among the gifts presented during these royal tours.

Fig. 22: Attributed to Madho Prasad, Prabhu Narayan Singh, Maharajah of Benares, Presents an Album to Queen Victoria, c.1889, hand-coloured albumen print, 16.6 × 23.1 cm, RCIN 2907350©

Nineteenth-century Britain saw ‘reportage’ imagery of South Asia for the first time as documentary artists accompanied journalists across the globe. Queen Victoria herself commissioned two painters, Egron Lundgren and Rudolf Swoboda, to travel in India and paint images of her Indian subjects. Sketches by amateur artists in India such as Emily Eden, a correspondent of Queen Victoria, were also published, further increasing the British public’s awareness of the people and places of South Asia. Even more important was the rise of professional photography in India from the midnineteenth century. Albums and photographic portraits, including painted and composite photographs (fig. 22), were sent as gifts to the Queen. The 1851 Great Exhibition, organised by Prince Albert, brought Indian art and design to London. A sequel of sorts, the South Kensington Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886, ushered Indian artisans and craftsmen to the Empire’s capital, and Queen Victoria invited them to a reception at Windsor Castle. She recorded, ‘One of the Indians, a miniature painter, read an address in Hindustani & presented it with 2 really wonderfully painted miniatures of me.[5]



The earliest South Asian painting presented to Queen Victoria is likely to have been a portrait of Maharajah Ranjit Singh (r. 1801–39), the Sikh ruler of the Punjab (cat. no. 75). While members of the royal family in Delhi were ‘all but begging their bread’,[6] Ranjit Singh revived the splendour of the Mughal court at Lahore and projected himself as heir to the great emperors of the past. For a short time in the mid-eighteenth century the city had been under Afghan rule, with Hindu rajahs controlling the surrounding Pahari hill kingdoms (see cat. nos 4959). By the late 1760s, Sikh chieftains had annexed Lahore and declared control over much of the Punjab region. Ranjit Singh occupied the city from 1801 and was declared Maharajah of the Punjab.[7]

Fig. 23: Emily Eden (1797–1869), Maharajah Ranjit Singh, 1844, lithograph, 34.2 × 26.0 cm (plate), plate 13 of Eden’s Portraits of the Princes and People of India, RCIN 1070252©

The East India Company recognised the advantages of a strong Sikh state as a buffer between Afghanistan and their territory in northern India and signed an agreement of perpetual friendship with Ranjit Singh within the first decade of his reign. At the Company’s request, the British monarch sent a present of five horses ‘of the Gigantic Breed which is peculiar to England’ and a carriage to the Maharajah in 1830.[8] As Charles von Hügel, an Austrian visitor to Lahore, noted, these were not well received: ‘To send four brewer’s horses and a monstrous dray horse to a prince who had a peculiar fancy for the most elegant saddle horses, is something like giving a man who loves rare flowers which adorn his beautiful hot house, a cart-load of potatoes.’[9]

Eight years later, the Maharajah sent a letter of congratulations to mark Queen Victoria’s coronation, and the East India Company’s Board of Control in London decided that gifts should be sent in return, more fitting then those previously sent.[10] The official presentation of gifts took place on 29 November 1838 in a durbar tent in the British camp at Firozpur. In addition to jewels, shawls, horses and cannon sent from England, Lord Auckland (Governor-General 1836–42) commissioned his sister Emily to copy a portrait of Queen Victoria for presentation to the Maharajah.[11] Emily Eden was a talented painter and later published her sketch of Ranjit Singh as a lithograph in her Portraits of the Princes and People of India (1844) (fig. 23). For her portrait of the Queen, the Company provided a frame of solid gold encrusted with precious stones, allegedly the work of 40 jewellers in Delhi at a cost of £500.[12] Emily Eden recorded its presentation in her diary:

Sir W.C. [Willoughby Cotton] with some of our gentlemen marched up the room with my picture of the Queen on a green and gold cushion; all the English got up, and a salute of twenty-one guns was fired. Runjeet took it up in his hands, though it was a great weight, and examined it for at least five minutes with his one piercing eye […] then [he] said it was the most gratifying present he could have received and that on return to his camp the picture would be hung in front of his tent, and a royal salute fired.[13]

Henry Fane, aide-de-camp to the commander-in-chief of the Company army, recorded the event rather differently, remarking ‘I do not think he quite understood it, but seemed to think her majesty made a very decent Nautch girl.’[14]  Fane’s assessment may have been correct. A Company officer passing through Lahore a few weeks later was informed that the Maharajah had already given the portrait away to one of his courtiers.[15]

Within months of Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, a bitter war of succession led directly to the fall of the Sikh kingdom. His son Sher Singh seized power in 1841, only to be assassinated two years later. Nine months before his death, Sher Singh sought the support of Queen Victoria, sending her a letter of belated congratulations on her marriage and the birth of her first son accompanied by numerous ‘tokens of friendship’.[16] Among these were the painting of his father (cat. no. 75) which one onlooker described as ‘a wretched portrait’ while noting that Prince Kanwar Pratap Singh who delivered the gifts was more taken with it that any of the others, a reminder of the veneration in which the late Maharajah was still held.[17]

After Sher Singh’s death, Ranjit Singh’s youngest son, the five-year-old Duleep Singh (r. 1843–9), was named Maharajah with his mother, Rani Jindan, as regent. Having suffered a crippling defeat in the first Anglo-Afghan War of 1842, the Company observed the ongoing events in Lahore with keen interest. Strategically, the Punjab was more important than ever as a buffer zone between British India and Afghanistan. Company officers were also greatly impressed by the prowess of the Punjabi armies, and it was decided that now was an opportune moment to annex the rich Sikh kingdom. In 1845, thanks largely to the support of the Hindu Rajah of Jammu, Gulab Singh, the Company seized Lahore in the course of the first Anglo-Sikh War. To recoup the cost of the conflict, the Company sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh, who bought it with money stolen from the Lahore treasury and thus became the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir.[18] Duleep Singh was soon ordered by the Company to relinquish all claims to sovereignty over the Punjab, for himself and his heirs. In return he was allowed to retain his title and enjoy a Company pension. All property formerly belonging to the state was confiscated; the famous Koh-i Nur Diamond, sent to Queen Victoria as a trophy, was soon given pride of place in the Indian Court of the 1851 Great Exhibition.

Fig. 24: Queen Victoria (1819–1901), Maharajah Duleep Singh dressing Prince Arthur in Punjabi Attire, 1854, watercolour, 17.6 × 11.0 cm (sheet), RCIN ©
Meanwhile, the young Maharajah was placed under the guardianship of a Bengal Army surgeon. Duleep Singh converted to Christianity and moved to England in April 1854 where he became a favourite of Queen Victoria who was much impressed by the ‘truly amiable young Maharajah’.[19] Duleep Singh became a regular visitor at Osborne (fig. 24) and Windsor Castle where, the Queen noted, he ‘seemed particularly pleased with some very valuable Indian illuminated works in the Library’.[20] Victoria commissioned paintings and a bust statue of him and he became close friends with her sons, particularly Albert Edward, the future Edward VII.[21] In time, however, Duleep Singh’s sentiments became increasingly anti-British and he unsuccessfully fought to reclaim his kingdom, outlining his arguments in a book, The Maharajah Duleep Singh and the Government. He re-embraced his Sikh religion in later life and died in self-imposed exile in Paris in 1893.[22]
Duleep Singh was not the only deposed Indian prince to venture to England. In 1854, the fourteenth and sole-surviving son of Tipu Sultan, Ghulam Muhammad (1795–1872), and his son Feroz Shah (b. 1811) gained permission from the Company to travel to London. They followed in the footsteps of Ghulam Muhammad’s elder brother, Jami al-Din Muhammad (c.1792–1842), who had arrived in London 20 years earlier where he gave a book narrating his family history (cat. no. 67) to William IV during a private audience. The young Princess Victoria recorded seeing ‘Prince Jame o deen, son of the famous Tippoo Saib’ at a concert in Kensington Palace in June 1835, dressed ‘in his oriental attire’.[23] Almost 20 years later she recorded her first meeting with Ghulam Muhammad and Feroz Shah at Buckingham Palace:

Pce Gholam & his son were presented at the Drawingroom. He is the last surviving son of the Tippo Sahib, & a fine, kind, modest old man, who bears the highest character & always lives at Calcutta as a private gentleman, although treated by the Governors General with the greatest distinction, as a Prince, the son of a powerful & gallant fellow enemy [...] He speaks English perfectly & expressed himself again & again as so happy to see me, it having been his greatest wish, — saying all this with the graceful phraseology of the East [...] As usual with all natives of the East, they were full of self possessiveness & had perfect manners. — The good old man touched me, for I could not but think of his poor Father, & what he might have been, instead of now only being a Pensioner![24]

The Queen also noted that Ghulam Muhammad walked her mother, the Duchess of Kent, into dinner (placing him ahead of the Duke of Wellington in rank) and he sat next to Victoria for the duration.
During their stay, the two Mysore princes were granted permission to view at Windsor Castle the trophies of Seringapatam, including a seal inscribed with the words ‘God give me the victory as long as the sun and the moon shine’: RCIN 65358. They made a wax impression of the seal, signing their names underneath it, which was pasted into another book on the history of Mysore: RCIN 1197007, one of two that Ghulam Muhammad presented to Victoria.[25] Writing to Governor-General Dalhousie (1848–56) six months later Queen Victoria argued that ‘the more kindly we treat Indian Princes, whom we have conquered, and the more consideration we shew for their birth and former grandeur, the more we shall attach Indian Princes and Governments to us, and the more ready they will be to come under our rule’.[26]



By the middle of the nineteenth century, the annexation policy of the new Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, known as the Doctrine of Lapse, meant that several states including Arcot had ‘lapsed’ to the Company after their rulers died childless. Awadh was the only Indian-ruled state still causing difficulties for the British. Although Wajid Ali Shah, King of Awadh (r. 1847–56) had no political power, Company officers in Lucknow complained of what they saw as corruption and debauchery at court. Wajid Ali Shah did make attempts at reform in Awadh, but, after his efforts were continually frustrated by the British Resident, the King chose to withdraw from public affairs.[27] On 18 June 1855, he was ordered to vest all power, jurisdiction, rights and claims to the Awadh throne in the hands of the East India Company. He refused and was banished to Calcutta.[28] Within a year the mother of the deposed King, ‘shrewd and energetic beyond most Musulman ladies’,[29] arrived in England with a petition to Queen Victoria, lamenting the consequences of the East India Company’s annexation. Despite protestations from the Company, Queen Victoria received her in July 1857. A few words were exchanged and she gave Victoria a letter, a jewelled ornament and a small perfume flask[30] but the meeting had no repercussion. Wajid Ali Shah then wrote to the Queen himself and sent her a book he had written in response to the Company’s charges. Both of these arrived in London but appear not to have been passed on to their intended recipient.[31] Wajid Ali Shah resigned himself to a new life in Calcutta and, despite his deposition and the events that ensued, continued to write to the Queen throughout his exile.[32]

On 11 May a group of sepoy rebels marched to Delhi where they were joined by the city garrison. Once the seat of the great Mughal Empire, Delhi became the symbolic centre of the uprising and Bahadur Shah Zafar, the 82-year-old King of Delhi (r. 1837–57) and the rebels’ symbolic leader, defiantly declared himself ‘Emperor of India’ once more. Lady Canning, the wife of the Governor-General and former Lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber, anxiously reported back to the Queen, ‘No doubt the miserable insurgents of Delhi are proud enough of having possessed themselves of the ancient Capital and set up a King, but they are in truth actually in a trap & it is fearful to think of the retribution they will meet when European soldiers encounter these cruel murderers.’[33]

In early June, a British base was established on the Delhi ridge with the aim of recapturing the city. There was further slaughter of British soldiers and civilians, including women and children, in Fatehgarh and Cawnpore (Kanpur) in June and July while the British in Lucknow retreated into the Residency. Delhi was eventually captured by the British on 20 September after a four-month siege. Bahadur Shah Zafar was arrested and three of his sons shot dead. The first ‘relief’ of the Lucknow Residency took place five days later, followed by a second on 17 November. As predicted in Lady Canning’s letter, the British reaction in Delhi took the form of massacre followed by the eviction of its surviving inhabitants who were forced to spend the winter outside the city walls. Lord Canning wrote to Queen Victoria of the ‘violent rancour of a very large portion of the English Community against every native Indian of every class […] There is a rabid and indiscriminate vindictiveness abroad, even amongst many who ought to set a better example, which is impossible to contemplate without something like a feeling of shame for one’s fellow countrymen.’[34] In her reply, the Queen wrote that she shares his ‘feelings of sorrow & indignation at the unchristian spirit shown – alas! Also to a great extent here – by the public towards Indians in general’, although she conceded that ‘stern justice must be dealt out’ to those guilty of the atrocities committed against British women and children.[35]

Fig. 25: Orlando Norie (1832–1901), The Relief of Lucknow, c.1858, watercolour, 33.5 × 47.8 cm (sheet), RCIN 990620 ©

The Red Fort was looted and its contents sold off in auctions by Company prize agents.[36] The remains of the Mughal imperial library, now numbering approximately 3,500 books and manuscripts, were purchased for the India Office and now form a group known as the ‘Delhi Collection’ in the British Library.[37] It was debated amongst the British whether the fort should be destroyed. Four-fifths of the old palace complex were raised to the ground and the remainder converted into British barracks.[38] The Lahore and Delhi darwazas (gateways) were renamed the Victoria and Alexandra Gates and Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled to Rangoon in Burma, departing without ceremony on the back of an ox cart. Lucknow was not recaptured from the rebels until March 1858 (fig. 25) and the Company’s Sikh troops then set about looting the Qaiserbagh Palace. A number of prize objects were sent as gifts to the British monarch,[39] among them a large scale and richly illustrated volume of poetry written by the recently deposed King (cat. nos 7781). 

Fig. 26: Egron Sellif Lundgren (1815–75), Scene at the Nautch Festival, c.1859, watercolour, 34.9 × 57.7 cm (sheet), RCIN 919185©
Shortly after the Uprising, Victoria also received several watercolour paintings from India painted by the Swedish painter Egron Lundgren including a scene depicting an entertainment hosted in Lucknow by Man Singh, the Sikh former advisor to Wajid Ali Shah (fig. 26).[40] Lundgren had been hired by a Manchester art dealer to travel to the subcontinent and make a post-event pictorial record of the Uprising, and Victoria commissioned him to paint watercolour scenes of his trip to send back to her as well. By then the anonymous British officers depicted in Lundgren’s paintings were no longer representatives of the Company but of the British Crown, and the Indian figures were all Victoria’s subjects.
The cost of suppressing the mutiny had left the Company’s finances in ruin. On 1 November 1858, Lord Canning read a proclamation in Queen Victoria’s name officially declaring the end of the rebellion and announcing that all the East India Company’s territories and responsibilities in India were now transferred to the Crown.[41] Some 250 million South Asians were now subjects of Queen Victoria, who was to be represented in the subcontinent by the Viceroy. The remainder were ruled by more than 500 ‘Native Princes’ whose ‘Princely States’ became British protectorates. Thus began the 90-year British Raj. 
Fig. 27: Bourne & Shepherd (active 1864–1900s), Sultan Shah-Jahan Begum, GCSI, Begum of Bhopal, 1875–6, albumen print, 27.3 × 23.3 cm, RCIN 2701710 ©

After the East India Company’s dissolution, a heroic myth coalesced around the Uprising of 1857, bringing a renewed sense of legitimacy to British rule. A stereotype was propagated of the treacherous Muslim and loyal Hindu, the ‘pre-disposition to defeat’ of the latter used to explain the successive conquests of India.[42] In 1859 the Governor of Bombay, Lord Elphinstone, advised London that ‘Divide et Impera was the old Roman maxim, and it should be ours’, paving the way for a future of sectarian agitation.[43] Hindu ‘caste’ became the recognised system of social precedence, one which integrated well into British notions of social hierarchy, and an Indian order of knighthood was established as a means of consolidating the personal bonds between Indian rulers and Queen Victoria. The Order of the Star of India, also referred to as the ‘Eastern Star’, was introduced in 1861, and Maharajah Duleep Singh was the first to be invested with it.[44] Prince Albert designed the insignia which comprised a chain of lotus flowers and roses with a pendant of the Queen, a diamond Star of India badge and silk-lined pale blue robe (fig. 27). Instead of the reciprocal exchange of robes of honour, the Queen’s subjects in the subcontinent now received insignia and a robe from her, to be returned when the wearer died. The ritual of incorporation was now unequivocally one of subordination. Other orders were introduced, recipients of which had the right to add the honorific bahadur, ‘brave’, to their names in imitation of Mughal tradition.[45]

Fig. 28: Bourne & Shepherd (active 1864–1900s), Ranbir Singh, Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir,1875–6, albumen print, 13.7 × 10.2 cm, RCIN 2114153©

When in 1859 Gulab Singh’s successor, Ranbir Singh, Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir (r. 1856–86) (fig. 28), sent presents to Queen Victoria including ‘sets of magnificent dresses &c., stuffs, a splendid tent & bed, — & 100 beautiful shawls besides’,[46] she ordered a statement of policy regarding gifts from India. Writing to Lord Canning, she explained:

Her majesty, while graciously accepting them in the friendly spirit in which they were offered, desires it to be understood by your Political Officers that it will be their duty to discourage such manifestations of loyalty in the part of the princes and chiefs of India. But in their communications on this subject & the Native Durbars, they will take care to apprize them of the assurances of Her Majesty that whilst dispensing with anything beyond verbal expressions of loyalty, she will not feel less sensible of the sincerity of the sentiment of devotion to the Throne conveyed in their welcome letters.[47]

Although the Queen did send several presents to the Maharajah in return (including a bound portfolio of pictures of the royal family, a silver fountain, a travelling clock, and 26 pieces of brocaded cloth and silk),[48] this was the last such exchange. In her letter to the Maharajah, she reiterated that ‘kind words from a distant friend are the most precious of all gifts’.[49]

Victoria’s desire for manifestations of loyalty to be restricted to its verbal expressions was certainly adhered to by many of her South Asian subjects. Thousands sent loyal addresses to their Queen. Others took a more inventive approach. While not able to address her in person (only those of the highest ranks were granted the privilege of direct communication with the Queen), they wrote or dedicated books to her instead. Social changes and the expansion of print culture in India in the 1860s and 1870s prompted an increased literary output from the middle and upper classes. Queen Victoria received many autobiographies from India in which the authors posit themselves in relation to the history of British rule in South Asia (see cat. no. 82). Others sent books about the Queen herself, such as Mrs Bauboo’s text in Tamil, ‘The Queen’, written in Madras in 1872: RCIN 1051380. This account of Victoria’s life as collected from local newspapers and periodicals was purportedly written by the author as a book suitable for Hindu women, the contents of which ‘furnishes a complete reply to all the objections which are generally raised against Female Education in this land’. 



The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 shortened the travel time between Britain and South Asia from months to a few weeks. This facilitated an increase in the number of visitors to the subcontinent, including, for the first time, members of British royalty. To the benefit of the Royal Library, they brought back Indian paintings and manuscripts unlike any of those already in the collection. The first member of the royal family to visit India was Queen Victoria’s second son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who arrived in December 1869, followed six years later by Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, who toured India for four months in 1875–6. This second trip acted as a precursor to the formal declaration of Queen Victoria as ‘Empress of India’ in 1876.[50] Before he left, a circular was sent to the Indian courts stating that there should be no exchange of gifts. ‘Curiosities, ancient arms, and specimens of local manufacture’ could however be presented to the Prince, who would reciprocate, albeit with gifts of comparatively low monetary value.[51] Many of the gifts received by the Prince were subsequently displayed at ten venues across Europe as important examples of South Asian design. 

Fig. 29: Sydney Prior Hall (1842–1922), The Prince of Wales Receiving the Gaekwar of Baroda in a Durbar Ceremony, 9 November 1875, 1875, watercolour, 21.1 × 31.1 cm (sheet), RCIN 923298©
The Prince’s first port of call was Bombay. Lanterns that had been set up for the Hindu festival of Divali, celebrated just a few days prior to his visit, were left in place to mark the Prince’s birthday, the day after he arrived. He remained based in the city for three weeks and received several local rulers in durbar audiences (fig. 29). On his final day there, Mangaldas Nathubhai, head of the Bombay welcoming committee, hosted the Prince at the wedding festivities of his two sons and presented him with three albums of paintings (see cat. nos 47, 48, 6064). Mainly portraying Hindu deities, they depicted in a straightforward form the spiritual life of the millions of Hindus who would eventually become his imperial subjects.
During his second month away, the Queen wrote to her son:

Do not think me greedy for it is for the Crown & therefore for you & and yours that I say it – if I say that I hope some fine things which you receive will be presented by you to your mother as the Empress of India for the Crown – as a memorial of your interesting unprecedented visit to India.[52]

Albert Edward did bring several gifts back for his mother (see cat. nos 8384), among them a volume of her own published journals translated into Hindi by the Maharajah of Benares. 

On 1 January 1877, the Viceroy Lord Lytton (1876–80) officially proclaimed the Queen’s assumption of her new title at an left imperial assemblage (durbar) held on the outskirts of Delhi, or as he described it, ‘our great Tamasha’, a Hindustani word meaning a ‘spectacle’ or ‘performance’.[53] The choice of ‘Empress’ emphasised the notion that the British were the rightful successors to Mughal rule.[54] For a local translation of the title, padshah was however vetoed as overtly Muslim and qaiser-i hind was eventually chosen as an allusion to the Roman Caesar, German Kaiser and Russian Czar.[55] Delhi was specifically selected as the location in preference to the political and administrative capital of Calcutta on account of its imperial connotations. The durbar, in Lytton’s words, was intended to ‘place her [the Queen’s] authority upon the ancient throne of the Moguls, with which the imagination and tradition of her Indian subjects associate the splendour of supreme power’.[56] During the ceremony, British officials, Indian rulers, and even representatives of deposed royal families one by one paid homage to Lord Lytton who was seated in front of a large portrait of Queen Victoria. Many of them sent her illuminated addresses expressing loyalty to the British crown (see cat. no. 85) and contributed to the commissioning of a large oil painting as a gift to the Queen to commemorate the event (fig. 30).[57] In 1879, Gopal Chandra Mookhopadhyaya sent Queen Victoria a text in Bengali, Victoria RajsuyaRCIN 1022235. Rajsuya literally translates as ‘Imperial Sacrifice’ and refers to the consecration of a king in Hindu Vedic ritual, here appropriated by the author to describe the 1877 imperial assemblage.[58]

Fig. 30: Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838–1904), The Imperial Assemblage held at Delhi, 1 January 1877, 1887–80, oil on canvas, 304.8 × 723.0 cm, RCIN 407181©
Much British imperial literature of the late nineteenth century portrayed the Empire as a family, with the Queen a ‘benign mother figure presiding over her far-flung progeny’,[59] an image she herself actively promoted. Many writers in South Asia composed panegyrics expressing grateful allegiance to Victoria, including the famous musicologist S.M. Tagore, who composed several Sanskrit poems set to music in praise of the Queen.[60] Victoria would also feature in South Asian literature critical of the Raj, of the type which did not reach England during her reign. In 1878, for example, Balkrishna Bhatt, a writer from Allahabad, published a short play comprising a series of dialogues between Ingland-Eshvari (the Queen of England) and Bharat-Janani (Mother India) in which he described the oppressive reality of life under colonial rule.[61]
Fig. 31: Rajah Ravi Varma (1848–1906), Presentation of a Jubilee Address to Queen Victoria, 1887, oil on canvas, 98.5 × 69.6 cm, RCIN 404097©

Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887. The festivities in India started with a spectacular firework display in Calcutta described to her in a letter from the Earl of Dufferin (Viceroy 1884–8): ‘The principal feature was the outline of your Majesty’s head, traced in lines of fire, which unexpectedly burst on the vision of the astonished crowd. The likeness was admirable and caused an enormous shout of pleasure and applause.’[62] At Jubilee festivals in Britain, the Queen was attended by an Indian army escort wearing elaborate tunics embossed with the letters VRI (Victoria Regina Imperatrix). Some of the ‘most faithful Native Princes’ were invited to England and, in June, the Queen held a Golden Jubilee durbar at Windsor Castle. On a completely different scale from the Delhi celebrations of the previous decade, the Windsor durbar ceremony was held in the castle’s Green Drawing Room. Some of the guests received knighthoods and many presented gifts to the Queen. She, in turn, gave them small jewelled enamel portraits of herself.[63] 

A third royal visit to the subcontinent was planned during the Queen’s Jubilee Year and took place in 1889. This time, Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, travelled mainly to the southern states including Travancore (Kerala) where he was introduced to the paintings of the celebrated artist Ravi Varma. A painting by the artist in the Royal Collection dated 1887 (fig. 31), probably given to the Prince during his stay for presentation to his mother, depicts a woman in a red shawl (at the time, the prerogative of royal ladies of Travancore) holding a book-shaped casket on a silver tray. The casket contains a Golden Jubilee address to Queen Victoria from the ladies of Travancore.[64]



It was also during her Jubilee Year that Queen Victoria began her study of Hindustani (Hindu/Urdu). Her diaries record a number of occasions when she greeted and conversed with Indian guests and officers using Hindustani phrases learnt from one of her servants, Abdul Karim (1863–1909) (fig. 32).[65] Initially employed to wait at table, Abdul Karim’s role gradually expanded and he became the Queen’s munshi or ‘secretary’, causing much concern among the Royal Household.[66] Victoria’s Hindustani dictionary and grammar book are still on the shelves of the Royal Library at Windsor. Some of her Hindustani journals, the result of reading and writing lessons with Abdul Karim, together with a small Hindustani phrase book, survive in the Royal Archives (fig. 33).[67]

The Queen’s interest in South Asian arts and culture also motivated the construction of a ‘Durbar Room’ at Osborne House. The Queen’s seaside residence had previously lacked a banqueting hall, and receptions were instead held in marquees on the lawn. Inspired by the designs of John Lockward Kipling, Director of the Mayo School of Art in Lahore, for her son Arthur’s Billiard Room at Bagshot Park, Victoria commissioned Kipling to administer the project. He employed Bhai Ram Singh, the foremost architect of the Punjab and Assistant Master of the Mayo School, to design the structure.[68] The scheme for the Durbar Room included the Hindu god Ganesh above the door and a Quranic inscription running along the wall beneath the gallery which reads la ghalib illa allah, ‘there is no victor except God’. After the Queen’s death, the room was used to display many of the gifts from across the subcontinent presented to her during her reign.

left: Fig. 33: Queen Victoria’s Hindustani diaries, 26–27 November 1894, RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ/HIND/1 right:Fig. 32: Anonymous, Abdul Karim and Sheikh Muhammed Bakhsh, 1887–8, albumen print hand-coloured with watercolour, 22.2 × 14.8 cm, RCIN 2914332©



[1] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W): 28 August 1838  (Lord Esher’s typescripts). 

[2] Ibid.   

[3] Ibid. 

[4] RA VIC/ADD/A7/406. See RCIN 11356 for the tiara.   

[5] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W): 8 July 1886 (Princess Beatrice’s copies). 

[6] Lawrence 1970, pp. 30–1. 

[7] See Gandhi 2013, pp. 130–86. 

[8] Lord Ellenborough (Governor-General 1842–4) to Maharajah Ranjit Singh, 31 June 1830: IOR/L/PS/14/1, pp. 60–1. It has been suggested that dray horses were chosen as a gift to Lahore because their size provided an excuse for the British to transport them on the Punjab rivers and thus survey the waterways at the same time. See Prinsep 1897, pp. 120–1. 

[9] Hügel 1845, pp. 325–6. For Ranjit Singh’s letters in acknowledgement of the horses and carriage see IOR/L/PS/14/1, pp. 111–17, 149–51.

[10] The gifts from Queen Victoria were delivered via General Ventura, commander-in-chief of Ranjit Singh’s army who was on an emergency mission to England to purchase arms following the invasion of Herat by the Qajar Shah of Iran. He was asked to produce a memo listing objects that might be agreeable to the Maharajah since the previous were ‘not well selected’. See BL IOPP MSS Eur F. 213/1,  fols 410–411.

[11] On 12 October 1838 Emily Eden recorded, ‘I am so busy today. I have hardly time to write. G. wants to give Runjeet a picture of our Queen in her coronation robes.’ Eden [1984], p. 175.

[12] Ibid., p. 193: ‘It is solid gold, very well worked, with a sort of shell at each corner, encrusted with precious stones, and one very fine diamond in each shell. The materials came to about £500. Forty jewellers of Delhi worked at it night and day, and the head jeweller expects a khelwut, or robe of honour, with a pair of shawls, for his activity.'

[13] Ibid., pp. 199–200. See also Fanny Eden’s diaries, Eden [1988], p. 171. Emily Eden wrote a letter to Queen Victoria describing the occasion: ‘an amusing letter from Emily Eden, giving a most amusing account of Runjeet Singh, and the honour he paid a Picture, which she painted of me, and which was set in jewels and given to him, &c.’ RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (BP): 14 February 1839 (Lord Esher’s typescripts).

[14] Fane 1842, p. 322. The presentation is also recorded in Umdat ul-Tawarikh, vol. 3,  p. 567.

[15] William Barr, ‘Journal of a March from Delhi to Peshawar’, p. 90, quoted in Aijazuddin 1981,  p. 94.

[16] Letter from Sher Singh to Queen Victoria, 24 January 1843: IOR/L/PS/14/1, pp. 248–56.

[17] See Aijazuddin 1981, p. 94.

[18] It was not until 1849 (the second Anglo-Sikh War) that the Company eventually annexed the whole of the Punjab. For this see Gandhi 2013.

[19] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (OH): 22 August 1854 (Princess Beatrice’s copies).

[20] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W): 14 November 1854 (Princess Beatrice’s copies).

[21] For the works of art, see RCINS 403843, 403840, 913342 and 41542.

[22] For Duleep Singh see Alexander and Anand 1980, Bance 2009, Campbell 2010 and Atwal 2017.

[23] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (K): 25 June 1835 (Queen Victoria’s handwriting).

[24] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W): 28 April 1854 (Princess Beatrice’s copies)

[25] See also RCIN 1051617.

[26] Queen Victoria to Lord Dalhousie, 2 September 1854: RA VIC/MAIN/N/14.

[27] Llewellyn-Jones 2014a, pp. 88–93.

[28] Lord Dalhousie to Queen Victoria, 19 February 1856: RA VIC/MAIN/N/15/2.

[29] Lord Canning to Queen Victoria, 3 July 1856: RA VIC/MAIN/N/15/16.

[30] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (BP): 4 July 1857 (Princess Beatrice’s copies).

[31] Illuminated letter from Wajid Ali Shah appealing to Queen Victoria after the annexation dated 7 January 1857: BL IOPP MSS Eur C849 and Wajid Ali Shah 1857.

[32] See letter from Wajid Ali Shah to Queen Victoria on the death of Prince Albert dated  5 March 1862 (‘The grasp of boundless grief and sorrow has rent […] the garment of tranquillity and repose as has never before happened […] what remedy is there but patience and resignation.’): IOR/L/PS/6/520, col. 62/3. For another sent in 1882, see Llewellyn-Jones 2014b, p. 57.

[33] Lady Canning to Queen Victoria, 19 May 1857: RA VIC/MAIN/Z/502/10.

[34] Lord Canning to Queen Victoria, 25 September 1857: RA VIC/MAIN/N/15/89.

[35] Quoted in Maclagan 1962, pp. 141–2.

[36] The objects taken from the Red Fort now in the Royal Collection include the crown and thrones of Bahadur Shah Zafar (RCINS 67236, 33705 and 42681) purchased by Queen Victoria from Sir Charles Tyler, and a necklace with small enamelled and jewelled case containing a miniature Quran, reputedly taken from Zinat Mahal Begum, the wife of Bahadur Shah Zafar (RCIN 11512).

[37] See BL Collection Guides: the Delhi Collection,

[38] See Dalrymple 2006, esp. pp. 458–60.

[39] The relics taken from the Qaiserbagh in the Royal Collection included a marble pavilion, now in the gardens of Frogmore House, and two marble elephants (RCINS 71408.1 and 71408.2).

[40] This scene is described in detail in the painter’s diaries. See Nilsson and Gupta 1992, pp. 126–8.

[41] A new British government department, the India Office, was created, with the Secretary of State for India at its head.

[42] See Chakravarty 2005.

[43] See Tharoor 2017, pp. 101–48.

[44] See RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W): 1 November 1861 (Princess Beatrice’s copies).

[45] A hierarchical system of ‘bahadurs’ existed. See Nayar 2017, p. 23.

[46] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W): 4 November 1859 (Princess Beatrice’s copies). The India Office Records list jewellery, fans, a richly embroidered parasol, a palanquin, animals, walking sticks and a portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Robert Home (RCIN 407435) among the gifts. See IOR/L/PS/6/514, Coll 119.

[47] IOR/L/PS/6/514, Coll 119: copy of letter to the Governor-General, September 1861.

[48] The draft letter to the Maharajah of Kashmir gives a fascinating description of the gifts to be presented in Srinagar by Sir Alexander Lawrence. See IOR/L/PS/532, Coll 49/1.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Royal Titles Act 1876.

[51] See Meghani 2017, pp. 12–13.

[52] Letter from Queen Victoria to Prince Albert Edward, January 1876: RA VIC/ADD/A/2/14.

[53] Lord Lytton to John Moreley, 9 January 1877, published in Balfour 1906, vol. 2, p. 55. For the 1877 Durbar see Kalim 2016.

[54] Cohn 1992, pp. 185–200.

[55] Proposed by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, a scholar of oriental languages and principal of the Government College in Lahore. He suggested that Kaiser was a well-known term in South Asia, being used in relation to the Roman ‘Caesar’, the ruler of the Byzantine Empire being known as the kaiser-i rum.

[56] Lord Lytton to Queen Victoria, 21 April 1876: BL IOPP MSS Eur E218/518/1, cited in Cohn 1992, pp. 165–209.

[57] The London painter Val Prinsep was commissioned to paint a grand tableau depicting the 1877 Durbar and spent 14 months in India sketching those present. After expressing disappointment in the actual ceremony, he was granted permission to make substantial alterations to the scene and took over three years to complete the work.

[58] In 1883 the author sent the Queen another book, Raj-Jibani, a history of the life of the Prince Consort in Bengali: RCIN 1053985.

[59] See Tharoor 2017, p. 64.

[60] See Victoria Gitika (1875) RCIN 1196823; Victoria Samrajyan (1876) RCIN 1196822; Srimad Victoria Mahatyam (1897) RCIN 1040082.

[61] See Chandra 1992, pp. 44–46.

[62] RA VIC/MAIN/N/44/14.

[63] See RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ Ww): 30 June 1887 (Princess Beatrice’s copies).

[64] See Pillai 1927. Many thanks to Manu Pillai for drawing this publication to our attention. A photograph of the painting appears in an album presented to Albert Victor in Kerala (Travancore) in 1889: RCIN 2363598. Unfortunately the painting could not be included in the exhibition for conservation reasons. 

[65] See RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W): 2 December 1887 (Princess Beatrice’s copies); RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (BP): 4 September 1891 (Princess Beatrice’s copies); and RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W): 2 July 1897 (Princess Beatrice’s copies).

[66] See Basu 2010.

[67] RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ/HIND. See Clark and Crocker 2014, p. 117. The last 13 of 18 journals survive, dating from 1893 to 1899.

[68] For Ram Singh, see Bryant 2017, pp. 435–68  and RCIN 403750


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