During the administration of Lord Canning, from 1856 to 1863, the interest which had been created in Europe by the remarkable development of the photographic Art, communicated itself to India, and originated the desire to turn it to account in the illustration of topography, architecture, and ethnology of that country.
There were none, perhaps, in whom this interest was awakened more strongly than in Lord and lady canning. It was their wish to carry home with them, at the end of their sojourn in India, a collection, obtained by private means, of photographic illustrations, which might recall to their memory the peculiarities of Indian life.
The great convulsion of 1857-58, while it necessarily retarded for a time all scientific and artistic operations, imparted a new interest to the country which had been the scene of, and to the people who had been the actors in these remarkable events. When, therefore, the pacification of India had been accomplished, the officers of the Indian services, who had made themselves acquainted with the principles and practice of photography, encouraged and patronized by the Governor-General, went forth, and traversed the land in search of interesting subjects.
In this way the design soon exceeded the dimensions of a mere private collection; but Lord Canning felt that its importance was sufficient to warrant official sanction and development, and, therefore, placed the matter in the hands of Mr. Clive Bayley, his home secretary. Some or the more important results appear in the present work.
The photographs were produced without any definite plan, according to local and personal circumstances, by different officers; and copies of each plate were sent home to the secretary of state for India council.
After a time, it appeared that a sufficient number of illustrations had been received from various parts of India, fairly to represent the different varieties of the Indian races. The negatives remained in India; but from the plates sent home it was easy to produce fresh negatives, the prints of which might bee multiplied to any extent. The secretary of state in council sanctioned this operation, and the work was executed by Mr. W. Griggs, at the India museum, under the superintendence of Dr. Forbes Watson.
In many cases some descriptive account of the tribes represented accompanied the photographs sent from India. These varied greatly in amplitude and value. But on the whole it may be said that they were sufficient to constitute the basis of the sketches contributed by Mr. John R. Melville, Colonel Meadows Taylor, Mr Kaye, Dr Forbes Watson, and others. These sketches do not profess to be more than mere rough notes, suggestive rather than exhaustive, and they make no claim to aspire to scientific eminence, it is hoped that, in a ethnological point of view, it will not be without interest and value.
Extract taken from The people of India volumes at Birmingham Central Library.