Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A New Book

I received a copy of Illustrating India in the post today. It is published by Oxford University Press (Delhi) in 2010.

The book, by Jennifer Howes, is about Colin MacKenzie, first Surveyor General of India who collected a large number of manuscripts and drawings whilst in India, Java and Sri Lanka. There are over 1700 drawings by MacKenzie in the British Library alone. Drawing was a popular pastime for soldiers in India duing the 18th and 19th centuries.

Mackenzie c 1816 by Thomas Hickey

Little is known about MacKenzie before he went to India. He was born on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He departed for India in 1783, aged 29, after enlisting in the Seaforth Highlanders. He soon transferred to the Madras army as an engineer. His two largest pieces of work were the survey of the lands of the Nizam of Hyderabad (between 1792 & 1798) and the Mysore survey (1799 - 1810). He served at the siege of Pondicherry (1793), throughout the Fourth Mysore War and supervised the siege works at Srirangapattnam in 1799.He also commanded the British forces in the Java campaign against the French in 1811/12 (now there is another obscure war worth looking at!!)

There are a large number of black and white pictures in the book and 42 colour plates over 24 pages. I was expecting a few more coloured pictures, but that isn't really an issue.

The book isn't cheap at US$100 plus postage. Some online vendors are selling it at close to $300! It pays to shop around. The quality is great- much better than any other book I have seen come out of India. There are spots in the preface where the print seems to vary in darkness, but this isn't distracting and it doesn't seem to carry on to the main body.

There are some nice pictures, some military but overwhelmingly not. There is a very nice coloured picture of the standards of the Nizam which I had not seen before, together with peons, sepoys and some native horse.

MacKenzie died aged 69, worn out from his service in India and whilst sailing down the Hughli river to the Bay of Bengal for its therapeutic air. His melancholy is clearly reflected in a number of letters written by him.He was torn between his work in India and returning to Scotland, made all the harder by his lack of finances and a young bride who had never lived outside of Asia.

The author is Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Asia Pacific and Africa Collections at the British Library.

A big thumbs up from me (but more colour would be nice!)



  1. Fascinating - a good source of Indian style buildings I bet.


  2. Hi Furt! Exactly!

    I really like the picture of Cornwallis' army on the march as well.