This collection illustrates different aspects of colonial life in India and Africa over the past four centuries. It includes photographs, reminiscences, advertisements, phrasebooks and records of trading transactions. By focusing on a British perspective rather than the voices of the colonised, we have attempted to reflect the way that England saw itself in this period of history, and to show how language reveals the attitudes and opinions of Empire.

The East India Company

The impact of the East India Company upon British culture cannot be underestimated. From the early 1600s the Company progressively expanded its trading networks, sending vast amounts of goods to Europe. When it was eventually dissolved and the administration of India was taken over by the British Crown, Britain controlled India, Burma, Singapore and Hong Kong. This project contains a number of Trading Documents from the British Library India Office, each of which shows how Asian goods, such as tea, cotton and porcelain became an integral part of British culture, as well as showing how the East India Company so frequently exploited Asian producers.

The Attitudes of the colonisers

We also provide fascinating illustrations of the interactions of colonial and colonised in India. Extracts from Good Old John Company (the familiar name for the East India Company) (1882) show an array of advertisements, newspaper articles and official documents. An 1824 article entitled Sketches of India contrasts exotic images of the subcontinent with the grim reality of British rule. Photographs of the Delhi Durbar (1903) give a glimpse of the flamboyant customs of the Raj. And a Sportsman's Diary (1903) reveals the chaotic exploits of a British huntsman in the Indian jungle.

The need to equip yourself for another country before leaving home shores and, when there, to do your best to recreate England abroad, are illustrated by the list of Necessaries for a Writer to India (1800), and by the extracts from Gamages mail order catalogues (1913). Professor Pitman-Blaver's Kitchen-Kaffir phrase book (1931) reveals assumptions about the activities and attitudes of 'tourists, travellers, missionaries and settlers' in Rhodesia and South Africa, to whom his book was addressed. The unquestioned perspective of the colonisers powerfully underpins Captain Tremearne's (1910) chatty hints for the (temporary) migrant to West Africa, as he describes the need to treat 'natives' as 'overgrown children' and records with condescending amusement the pidgin English of 'educated coloured gentlemen'. To communicate the appeal of the 'mysterious continent' he quotes at length from a source which describes how, in Africa, 'a clerk from a London counting house' becomes 'one of the conquering race...just like the army officer or the great trader.'