Merchant's Office, Colombo.
Photographer: Fiebig, Frederick
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph by Frederick Fiebig from an album of 70 handcoloured salt prints, of a merchant's office in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Fiebig, of German origins, was active in Calcutta as an artist and lithographer in the 1840s. Little is known about his life, but turning to photography in the late 1840s he produced hundreds of photographs by the calotype process, frequently handcolouring them. His photographs of Ceylon, probably taken in 1852, are considered the earliest surviving photographic record of the island. Colombo, on the west coast, is the capital and commercial heart of Sri Lanka. Its artificial harbour, enclosed by breakwaters, is bounded on the south by a slight promontory. The town of Colombo was a significant port for Arab traders and a well-established settlement by the 8th century AD, but grew rapidly in the 16th century with the arrival of Portuguese and Dutch traders who initially came to exploit the island’s native cinnamon crop. The Portuguese established a military garrison here and the town developed within its walls and bastions. Towards the end of the 18th century British colonists arrived and set up the tea and coffee plantations, which were to become the mainstay of the island’s economy. Colombo still exhibits the influence of the indigenous Sinhalese culture and European Colonial architecture.