Photograpy, India, Portraits, Anglo Indians, Family and me

Category: My family history

The Lawrence Military Academy at partition (Simla)

I have been spending quite some time recently, reengaging with my Grandpa Bert Scott’s work. I’ve been editing, sequencing, trying my best alongside  curator Rosie Addenbrooke from The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum Coventry chose the photographs that tell the story of my family’s life in India on the run up to partition and beyond.

There is one image I am very familiar with, it’s a group shot taken in late August in Simla just after partition 1947 which features Earl and Lady Mountbatten at the closing of The Lawrence Royal Military School Sanawar high in the Simla hills prior to the handing over to the Indian school services.

Group with Mountbattens1947partition


As a matter of cause I googled some of the details Grandpa had written on the back of the print which led me to a rather interesting blog about the schools history collated in photographs by Derek Boddington.

What amazed me is that within the many pages of images was a copy of one of my Grandpas photographs, now it was in-correctly accredited to Mr Sharma courtesy of a Mr Ron Bailey. I have no idea who Mr Sharma is at this stage or Mr Ron Bailey but what really excites me is that there are obviously other copies of my Grandpa’s photographs still out there and yet to be found.

Exciting times.

Grandpa back at school Bangalore

From the very start of this project in November 1999 in terms of distance I’ve travelled a very long way. In terms of an education and the many emotional traumas I have experienced along the way I think I’ve travelled even further. First Grandpa died whilst I was in Kerala South India, then Nan died last year and just four months ago we lost my father. My longing to be back in India has never been stronger.

Of cause at the moment I have a little boy who I adore being with and he is the only thing that stops me from packing my bags a leaving. He is the only reason for me being here.

Grandpa would have loved Max. This is a portrait taken of Grandpa sitting on the wall at Bishop cottons school Bangalore As I look back it was such a happy time.





Jaskirt Dhaliwal in conversation with Jason Tilley at Coventry University. They discuss the life of his family in colonial India and how the beautiful people project began.

Jason Tilley – Photographer in residence from CU Photography on Vimeo.  Recorded at Coventry University.

Campbell Road Bangalore

What do you see when you look at this photograph? I guess you see the same scene as I do. You will see the four-legged table with a small vase of flowers placed on top and you will then notice the long white lace curtains that hang down and the bright sunlight that shines through the lattice wooden door frame and the rear bicycle wheel that is half hidden just to the left of the veranda  door.

Of course we all see the same scene, but I have been looking at this photograph for more than thirty years now and what I enjoy the most about this image is that it allows me to directly engage with my great grandparents daily view, one hundred years ago.  My ancestors must have walked past this scene every single day, as they either left or entered their bungalow, at No 3 Campbell Road, Bangalore. They would never have given this view a second glance, or ever realised that one day this view would interest people years later. Just a simple view and a precious record of an old  family home.

 Jason Scott Tilley

Finding Marguerite

Sitting with my grandpa’s photograph albums on my lap and talking to my grandmother after Sunday lunch many years ago she looked at me and stated, in a tone which sounded somewhat incongrously jealous for a woman in her late seventies, “those books are just full of photographs of his ex-girlfriends”.

My grandpa who was sitting opposite, either didn’t hear this remark or chose to ignore it – the snooker on the television providing a timely distraction. It is true that the books do have quite a few photographs of beautiful young women of the Raj but as far as I can work out only one of them was actually a girlfriend of my grandpa.

 As I have mentioned in the previous post, Marguerite Mumford from the Nilgiri Hills, there are an extraordinary number of photographs of one elegantly beautiful young woman whose name was Marguerite. The photographs of her are always infused with a certain playfulness during day trips to the beach or picnics by the river. There is something personal and intimate about the photographs of her. Marguerite obviously loved to play to the camera or to be more precise she loved playing up for the photographer, flirting with both the camera and the man whose eye followed her through the lens – my grandfather.

 As a family we had often asked my grandpa to add the names of the people to the photographs in his albums and at some unknown point in time, he must have succumbed, and done just that.

As time wore on, I became more intrigued as to whom Marguerite really was. I wondered why their romance had ended. Would I be able to find out anything else about her? I spent hours scouring the internet in the faint hope that I might be able to find someone from her family who I could share her beautiful photographs with, but sadly to no avail.

After months spent searching my hope began to wane and eventually almost petered out entirely, but I never stopped wondering about her however, or what had become of her.

Recently I was pouring over the pages of the albums once more and I noticed the faded words Marguerite ‘Lovedale’ that my grandpa must have written more than twenty years ago.

Intrigued as to what the word ‘Lovedale’ meant I returned once more to the computer and within seconds I realised that this was the break I had been looking for. Lovedale is the nickname of the Lawrence Memorial Military School in the town of ‘Ooty’ in the Niligiri Hills. My great-grandfather, Algernon Edwin Scott, had a summer-house in Ooty and my grandpa would spend weekends with him whilst he was studying at St Josephs College in Canoor. Ooty would have been the place where he must have met Margurite and their relationship subsequently blossomed.

 I immediately contacted the school in Ooty. They in turn put me in touch with ex-pupils who although now in their late eighties and nineties were still in touch with one another. My search led me to a woman in America called Moira who very kindly informed me that she was still in touch with one of Marguerite’s sisters, Gladys, who also lived in America.


 After months of searching it all happened so very fast, and I was soon sharing the photographs I had of Marguerite and one of Gladys that my grandpa took in New Delhi sometime after the Second World War. Gladys remembered my grandpa very well and the family then told me that Margarete was still alive and living in New Zealand, but she was now ninety-six years of age and living in an old people’s home. They told me her memory had dimmed, but she was physically quite well.

 I was then put in touch with Alecia, Margurerite’s daughter who also lives in New Zealand. and I began sending them pictures of the young Marguerite – images I presume they had never even imagined existed, let alone ever see.

 In my eagerness and excitement at re-uniting people with a now-life-time-ago-history, I also sent a photograph of my grandpa. Marguerite’s poignantly hopeful reaction was simply, “is Bertie here?” It hadn’t occurred to me that these long-forgotten photos would upset anyone.  I was told that my grandpa was the love of her life and after she had left India she had married an Irishman and they had moved to New Zealand.

 It had been obvious to me all along, by the very nature of the photographs, that they were in love. From the moment I first found negatives of Marguerite I could see thay were kept very carefully and separately from the rest of grandpa’s photographs. It was very apparent that they both meant an awful lot to each other. Proof if it were needed of the indelible nature of first love.

 Jason Scott Tilley



Looking at me

When I look at this particular portrait I immediately spot a recognition of ‘me’. It is a distant recognition that I do not spot in the mirror every single day, or in the small number of photographs that I still have of him. It is a likeness of me that is found only in three or four of the precious photographs that I still hold of him.

The man in the photograph is Algernon Edwin Scott and he was born in Bangalore, in 1893. Algernon Scott was the fifth child and son of Edwin  and Emily. Algernon, or ‘Algee’ as he was affectionately known, was my great-grandfather.

A dormant recognition of ‘me’ from my subconscious mind stimulates a deep connection that is sparked from his close-set eyes and the heavy forehead that we both share. When I look directly at his face in this photograph I feel that I am looking into my eyes in the mirror. There is a genetic family likeness shared between his face and mine that is evident to me when I look at this photograph today. Each time I look at this portrait I  think that we have shared the same thoughts and that although we never met, I think that he some how knows who I am, and in turn that I know him.

Jason Scott Tilley

When dead people converse with us

After I returned from India with my grandpa in 1999 I began to look even more closely at the photographs and at the captions that were written inside the photographic albums that my grandpa had always kept so safe.  It became clear to me why he was so desperate to re-visit Juhu beach in Mumbai the moment we landed at Mumbai’s international airport.

His memories were kept alive inside these books, they were trapped inside a few tinted colour photographs and inside the many hand printed black and white photographs that document his well spent youth in Bangalore and Bombay.

Nine years later in the spring of 2008 I was cooling down in the sea at Palolem beach in south Goa and I began a conversation with an Australian man called James who was trying as best he could to catch a few small waves on his board.

Our conversation continued later on that day when we met at Cairans bar in the evening, I told him of my Anglo-Indian background and of the many portraits I had taken during the last few years of travelling  through Indian and he suggested that I visit him in Bangalore where he was working and he said we should spend an evening with an Anglo-Indian friend of his called Michael Ludgrove who might be interested in my story.

A few months after this initial meeting with James in the sea off Palolem beach  I rang him to say that I would be in Bangalore in the next few days and would it be ok if we met up? He said that was fine and we met at the apartments where he lived and I got to stay in a plush ambassador’s residence in a secluded district in Bangalore. Nice!

That night, in Bangalore, I was shown the ‘other’ side of modern-day India that is thriving today. We began by meeting Michael Ludgrove at a fashion show at Bangalore Palace. After that event had finished we took an air-conditioned chauffeur driven car to the Bangalore United Services Club; this was the very same club that I had visited with my grandpa in 1999. After we drank a sensible amount of beer and ate good food with Michael, who is the curator of antiquities at Mysore palace, both myself and James headed off to a few night clubs. I am aware that nightclubs are part of the new progressive IT ‘hub’ of Bangalore but it is a world that had until that night, remained closed to me.

This was an unusual night for me, I usually stay in the least expensive and dreariest of lodges, and I usually drink in the seediest and darkest of hotel bars.  Bangalore is a High tech city; it is exploding with middle class money and it is choking on the exhaust fumes that this wealth brings. I usually do not like to stay in citys too long or move in such upper class circles.

When I returned to the United Kingdom in 2009 I once again began to trawl though the photographic albums that were left to me by my grandpa and that are now kept at Birmingham central library. One caption drew my attention immediately. Written underneath the words ‘Scenes from Juhu beach’ was a list of the names of the people in the photograph and one of the names that my grandpa had written down was ‘D. Ludgrove’.

Out of chance I sent an e-mail to Michael Ludgroves offices in Bangalore and  I sent him a scanned copy of the photograph and the photograph turned out to be of his late father, Donald. The photograph was taken at Juhu beach in Bombay in 1940. it felt like the dead were covertly talking to me, leading me down a path if I wished to take it.

 Jason Scott Tilley


Mumbai to Bangalore Cantonment 1999

Grandpa had made it through the night quite happily, comfortably rocking back and forth in his white vest and pyjamas on the bottom bunk of the 2AC carriage that had carried us over night from Mumbai to Bangalore. For a man in his eighty-fifth year, he was still in remarkable shape. I wish now that the dirty windows had been cleaner and we could have enjoyed more of a view during the day time. The 2AC carriages in India with their enclosed air-conditioned bogies and soft seats, covered with pressed white sheets and soft pillows, are much more comfortable that the three-tier sleeper class trains with open windows that I now travel by but they disconnect you from the world as India passes by. 

As the train slowly pulled itself through the outskirts of Bangalore and passed the slums that have grown over the years since he left, grandpa noticed the station name of  ‘Bangalore East’ and he said “come on, let’s get ready to get off at the next station it will be quicker”.

We never questioned if he was right or wrong, he insisted that we got off at Bangalore Cantonment, which he said was one stop before the train would eventually terminate at Bangalore city station. We collected our belongings and as the train finally came to a halt Vicki jumped off first, followed by me and then my grandpa. Grandpa almost fell through the gap between the train and the platform, his small frame was left dangling, his hands gripping the metal hand rail on the outside of the bogie,  his feet kicking the air as his toes desperately tried to make contact with the floor.

We composed ourselves after almost losing him under the stationary train and I asked him “What was it like to be home?” He just calmly and quietly replied to me. “Yes, I supposed it is isn’t it”.  We never gave it a second thought to check the address of our Hotel in Bangalore as we arrived, so none of us had anyway of  knowing if stepping down at Bangalore Cantonment had in fact helped us or hindered us but as if  by divine provenance, our Hotel, the Victoria Hotel was with in one mile of where we had just got off. During the taxi journey to the hotel grandpa still insisted in trying to direct the driver to our destination. Shouting at him in Hindi that he was driving the wrong way and that we should be heading in the other direction, the poor driver was left trying to explain that the street we were now driving along was one way and he had no choice but to go the direction he was facing.

This was a journey that he told me he had done so many times, that he couldn’t remember the exact number, he just commented when I enquired. “Every other bloody weekend”. The last time he made that trip was fifty years before and he was in his early thirties with his wife and young family.

Jason Scott Tilley

Indian Independence day August 1947

When my grandpa died in December 2002 I was in Kerala in the coastal town of Varkala. I swear I intuitively knew that some thing was wrong at home, I just had a bad feeling and I did not ring home for this reason, cowardly putting off the bad news. When I eventually did ring home it was my father who told me the sad news that he had died.

It was over a year later when my parents and my sister brought grandpas ashes out to India, we decided to spread his ashes in several places, we put some in Hosur Road cemetery on the family graves, some on his old school playing fields at Bishop Cottons in Bangalore and the rest we spread just off the coast  with dolphins at Palolem beach in South Goa.

The Mountbattens leave Vicrregal house New Delhi

The Mountbattens leave Vice regal house New Delhi

On my return from one of my trips to India in 2008 I asked my grandmothers permission to look through her cupboards at some of his old photographic albums and it was whilst I was searching under the stairs that I came across the pocket sized blue book of negatives along with four strips of 35mm film. Both of these finds were unexpected as we had always believed that he had thrown a lot of his negatives away.

The strip of negatives are incredible, they were taken the moment that Lord and Lady Mountbatten walked down the steps of the Vicregal lodge in New Delhi and ceremonially departed India, the film was shot on August the 14th 1947 and it was at midnight on the 15th that India gained its independence and it became the worlds largest democracy, this also signalled the end of the British Empire.

My grandpa was not working that day as an official photographer; he was working as a security guard high on the roof of what is now parliament which was a perfect place to get this grand over all view. It seems such an iconic image to have never seen the light of day, until now.

 Jason Scott Tilley



Scotts bungalow, Seringhapatam with grandpa 1999

My grandpa told me of a trip he once took to the isle of Seringhapatam when he was in the scouts; he said  he was fifteen years of age at the time so he must have made that journey in 1929. He was most excited as a teenager that whilst visiting the place where the warrior Tippoo Sultan finally fell in battle in 1799, that he had also found Scott’s bungalow on the banks of the Cauvery River.

He convinced himself that this lonely bungalow must have belonged to a branch of the Scott family. I made this return journey with him on a long road trip with  Vicki Couchman from our base in Bangalore in an old and beautiful black ambassador car.

Grandpa at Colonel Scott's bungalow November 1999

When we left Bangalore on that November morning in 1999 we never even knew if the old bungalow would still be standing. To this day I really have no idea how the three of us managed to find that bungalow but after several hours spent on busy dangerous main  roads and as much time again driving down  uneven dirt roads with grandpa’s light frame bouncing up and down on the springy front seat, we managed to find the bungalow at the end of a muddy path. At one stage  our car sunk in to the deep brown mud the wheels spinning round and round until we freed eventually ourselves, we were just metres away from our destination.


We were greeted by an old lady called Yvette who welcomed us on to the land but not into the bungalow, which was now her home, I believe she purchaced the bungalow in 1985.  She didn’t seem too surprised to see people, the old bungalow has drawn visitors for two century’s now. She was kind and helpful, though now I wish I had pressed her more, I would have loved to be allowed to look inside the imposing property it appeared to hold memories from the distant past.

My grandpa walked to the front of the house then walked down to the banks of the river and sat on the steps that led down to it; I walked down to the rivers edge and was immediately syringed by a mosquito of  Jurassic proportions. I killed its blood filled body with a single swipe to my arm, its proboscis was an inch in length and a lump the size of a small egg grew on my arm in the following seconds. It is not surprising that any length of time spent  near this bungalow two hundred years ago could prove to be fatal.

Grandpa on the steps to the Cauvery river at Colonel Scott's bungalow


I am convinced now that the bungalow had nothing to do with our family history although after looking in the colonial grave yard that is very close to the bungalow, there were a number of graves that had the surname of Scott chiseled into them. A common name in those days, as it  still is today.

 Jason Scott Tilley