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The 'Delhi Book' of Thomas Metcalfe

In 1844 the daughters of Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe received a gift from their father. While working in India as the Governor-General's Agent at the Imperial court of the Mughal Emperor, Metcalfe assembled an album containing 120 paintings by Indian artists. He wrote his own descriptive text alongside these paintings, and sent the precious 'Delhi Book' to his children in England. This cherished possession remained in the family for almost 150 years, and is now in the collections of the British Library.

Resident Sir Thomas Metcalfe and his assistants

Resident Sir Thomas Metcalfe and his assistants. Add.Or. 5475, f.59v(9).

Included in the Delhi Book is a spectacular painting, showing the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah (1838-58), proceeding in state to celebrate the Muslim 'Id festival. Metcalfe accompanied the Emperor on this procession, and can be seen riding atop an elephant. 

Most of the Delhi Book's paintings show monuments and houses in Delhi, some of which are no longer standing. Other entries include a portrait of the Mughal Emperor, and an Urdu poem composed by the Emperor and dedicated to Metcalfe.

The British Library has acquired the Delhi Book with the generous assistance of the National Art Collections Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is a fascinating document on one man's life in 19th century Delhi, and a wonderful addition to the British Library's collections of Company drawings.

Bibliography: Kaye, Mary M. The golden calm. Exeter: Webb & Bower, 1980.


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