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Masula boat, Madras

Masula boat, Madras

Photographer: Fiebig, Frederick

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1851

Shelfmark: Photo 248/(32)

Item number: 24832

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of a masula boat at Madras, taken by Frederick Fiebig in c.1851. The masula is a famous Madras surf boat, a light, open vessel designed and modified to work well through sea and surf conditions off a particular beach. It was flat-bottomed, high-sided, built in pliable sections of mango wood sewn together with coconut fibre, and paddled or rowed using a steering oar. Madras was a major Indian port but did not have a natural harbour, and until the late 19th century when an iron pier and breakwaters were constructed, passengers and cargo were transferred between ships anchored half a mile out to sea and the beach through continuous swell using masula boats. This view shows the boat beached on the foreshore with colonial buildings behind. Little seems to be known about Frederick Fiebig. He was probably born in Germany and became a lithographer (and possibly was also a piano teacher) in Calcutta, publishing a number of prints in the 1840s. In the late 1840s Fiebig turned to photography using the calotype process, producing prints that were often hand-coloured. His photographs includes several hundred views of Calcutta in the early 1850s, one of the earliest detailed studies of a city, a large hand coloured collection of which were bought by the East India Company in 1856, their first major acquisition of photographs. Among the roughly 500 pictures were views of Calcutta, Madras, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Cape Town.

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