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Views of India: new exhibition in the Wren Library

Isaac Newton is one of many Trinity Fellows and alumni over the centuries whose curiosity about India has led to the rich collection of books, maps, manuscripts and artefacts relating to the Indian subcontinent in the Wren Library.

Newton’s copy of Italian traveller Niccolao Manucci’s account of Mughal courtly life is one of the exhibits in the Wren’s Library’s first exhibition as part of UK-India Year of Culture 2017.  The exhibition also features an 1842 account, Travels in Kashmir, by Godfrey Thomas Vigne (1801-1863), who also travelled to Afghanistan and may have been the first Englishman to visit Kabul.

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence, there will be an array of public events, exhibitions and activities in India and the UK this year. The University of Cambridge has launched India Unboxed to celebrate the 150-year-old links between Cambridge and India; and Trinity’s Wren Library will roll out a series of themed exhibitions.

The first exhibition showcases the experience of India through western eyes from the days of early exploration to the nineteenth century. Trinity Sub-Librarian Sandy Paul said:

From early accounts of exploration, topography and descriptions of people’s dress, diet and other customs, to insider views of the Mughal court and exchanges with Maharajas and Nawabs, the Wren Library’s collections offer fascinating insights into India of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

As well as the detailed account by Manucci (1638-1717), who spent his life in India, the exhibition includes observations of the Mughal court by Edward Terry (1590-1660), who was Chaplain to Thomas Roe, Ambassador to the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir (1569-1627). It is thought that the poet John Milton, who studied at Christ’s College, read Terry’s account, as Paradise Lost contains many references to India.

Accounts of later Mughal emperors in the Wren exhibition include The history of the reign of Shah-Aulum, the present Emperor of Hindostaun. Containing the transactions of the court of Delhi, … interspersed with geographical and topographical observations, written by William Francklin (1763-1839).

Francklin studied at Trinity, and afterwards joined the East India Company as a cadet, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in both his regiment and the Bengal army. He travelled extensively in India and his publications include historical, political, geographic, economic, and religious essays. He retired from the post of regulating officer at Bhagalpur in 1825, and died in India in 1839.

Narrative of a Visit to the Court of the Ameers of Sinde, at Hyderabad in the Year 1827-28…was compiled by James Burnes (1801–1862), a distant cousin of the poet Robert Burns, who trained at Edinburgh University and at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals. He arrived at Bombay in 1821 and after various minor posts in the Indian Medical Service, he become surgeon to the residency of Cutch in western India.

Mr Paul said:

The Amirs of Sind then invited Burns to visit them as ‘the most skilful of physicians and their best friend, and the cementer of the bonds of amity between the two governments’. His account of his visit to Sind, written as an official report to the Resident at Cutch, is an excellent account of the country, and was a valuable contribution to the geography of India.

As well as detailed maps, the exhibition includes striking portraits of the Indian rulers encountered by western travellers, including Sher Synge, the Maharaja of the Punjab, and Emperor Sha Aulum, as well as an evocative view of Geriah Fort from 1750.

Magnificent illustrations by Ram Raz (1790-1830) in his Essay on the Architecture of the Hindus also feature in the 1834 copy of the book specially published for Trinity College.

Mr Paul said that the exhibition series in the Wren Library will feature the full range of Trinity’s links with India.

Some fascinating books and maps of the early twentieth century from the Crewe Collection will be displayed. These were bequeathed by the Duchess of Roxburghe, whose father, Lord Crewe, was appointed Secretary of State for India in 1910. He was responsible for the Delhi Durbar of 1911, when George V became the first reigning monarch to visit India and Crewe the first India Secretary to travel through the country.

As well as items showing Trinity’s connections with the administration of the Indian Empire, exhibitions will feature manuscripts and letters relating to the movement for Indian independence. The 70th anniversary of this momentous occasion is a wonderful opportunity to showcase Trinity’s extensive India links.

 Exhibitions in the Wren Library are free and open to all during public visiting hours.

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