India Office photograph collections

Edmund David Lyon, Interior of the Tuncum at Madurai
Edmund David Lyon, Interior of the Tuncum at Madurai, 1868 Albumen print. Photo 212/2 (35)

Photographs began to be commissioned and acquired by the East India Company in the mid-1850s and were subsequently collected by the India Office up to Indian Independence in 1947.

About the collection

The British Library’s India Office photograph collections contain some 250,000 images from c 1850 onwards from India and Pakistan and other parts of Asia. Other countries covered by the collection include Afghanistan, Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Burma (Myanmar) and China. The British Library continues to add to these holdings.

The sources of this material range from official commissions to the personal collections of viceroys, administrators, travellers and other private individuals. The collections are particularly strong in the fields of architecture and archaeology, landscape, ethnography, engineering projects, historical events, portraiture and the history of the British in India.

In addition to their documentary value, this collection also represents a unique resource for the study of the history of photography in India and in Asia generally. Representative material by the most significant amateur and commercial photographers is included, among them Frederick Fiebig, Linnaeus Tripe, John Murray, Felice Beato, Robert and Harriet Tytler, Samuel Bourne, Edmund David Lyon and Lala Din Dayal.


What is available online?

India Office photographs can be found using keywords, subjects, names of individuals and building names in the Library's Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.

A selection of photographs, principally of architectural, archaeological and topographical  subjects, can be viewed in the Online Gallery.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Photographs  from the India Office collections can be viewed in the Print Room, located in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Viewing is by appointment only, Monday-Friday. For an appointment, please email

Further information

Further reference works include:

Captain Linnaeus Tripe. Photographer in India and Burma, 1852-1860, by Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot (Washington DC, 2014)

India: pioneering photographers 1850-1900, by John Falconer (London, 2001)

India through the lens. Photography 1840-1911, edited by Vidya Dehejia, ( Washington DC, 2000)

The coming of photography in India, by Christopher Pinney (London 2008)

Traces of India: photography, architecture, and the politics of representation, 1850-1900, edited by Maria Antonella Pelizzari (Montreal, 2003)

Victorian India in focus. A selection of early photographs from the collection in the India Office Library and Records, by Ray Desmond ( London, 1982)