State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 62 Spring 1998


Images of Empire: Sir Henry Barkly's Photograph Album, 1858–1877

In 1928 the State Library purchased from Francis Edwards in London an album of 107 albumen silver photographs compiled by Sir Henry Barkly who was Governor of Victoria from 1856 until 1863. It was acquired for its Victorian content and association value, and provides an idea of the spread of photography outside Europe by a number of nineteenth- century British practitioners. These included professional photographers, a scientist who used photography as an adjunct to his profession as a geologist, a clergyman, and at least two British Army officers who put into practice the skills which they had been taught during officer training in Britain. All the images are titled and annotated in Barkly's hand.
Sir Henry Barkly's career included a number of colonial governorships. On his arrival in Victoria in 1858, he assumed the role of patron in art and science, following the interests of his predecessor, Charles Joseph La Trobe.1 The earliest photographs in the album are from the series of views, Sun Pictures of Victoria, in which Richard Daintree collaborated with Antoine Fauchery in 1856.2 Sun Pictures contained 56 images of Victoria, 16 of which are pasted into Barkly's album, reflecting his interest in the scientific applications of photography and his importance as a founder and later President of the Royal Society of Victoria. There are other images by Daintree, including several of Dryden's Rock [i.e. Hanging Rock] and several geological subjects printed from the collodion wet-plate glass negatives now in the Library's collection.3 There are also copies of five of the series of six geological subjects which Daintree exhibited, in copies hand-coloured by George Alexander Gilbert, at the International Exhibition in London in 1862.4 Other views of Victoria include the Jackson's Creek Viaduct, 5 gold mining scenes6 and two views of Toorak House, then the Governor's residence in Melbourne.7
In 1863, Barkly was appointed Governor of Mauritius. Disappointed at not being appointed to the Presidency of Madras province in India, he was ordered by the Colonial Office to proceed direct to Mauritius by way of Aden, with the promise of leave at a later date. The album contains 12 views of Aden, identified by Barkly as the work of a ‘Colonel Playfair’, and probably given to him by the photographer. These views include a ‘View of the Tanks in an unfinished state’, and the ‘Main Pass. Entrance to Aden Camp or “The Crater”’.8 These photographs of Aden are earlier than any held by the India Office Library in London.9 Colonel Playfair is now identified as Sir [Robert] Lambert Playfair (1828-1899), a famous Arabist and author. He was the son of an Inspector General of hospitals in Bengal, and had entered the Madras Artillery in 1846. The art and practice of photography spread rapidly in India, and was encouraged by the Court of Directors of the East India Company.10 It is likely that Playfair, like
many other officers stationed in India, was familiar with Dr John McCosh's manual of photography in India, 11 and his photographs are technically competent and unfaded. Playfair was stationed at Aden from 1852 to 1862, first as Assistant Executive Engineer under Sir Michael Kennedy, and then as Assistant Political Resident. In addition to the views of Aden, Barkly also acquired a series of portraits of Sheiks and elders of tribes from ‘Arabia Felix near Aden’12 identified from information most likely provided by Playfair. A number of photographs of ‘Somalee women’ in studio settings, although unattributed, may also be the work of Playfair, who was well-known for his concern for the welfare of these women, left behind to fend for themselves while their husbands sought work in Aden.13
One of the most interesting photographs has been the most difficult to research. This anonymous portrait bears the following annotation in Barkly's hand:
The “Nawab of Ferrukhabad” banished from India for life because of his crimes during the Mutiny, now residing at Mecca. Ought to have been hanged.

‘Somalee woman’, thought to be work of Sir [Robert] Lambert Playfair. Barkly Collection [LTAEF 40 f. 14A], La Trobe Picture Collection.

It shows a very handsome young man in leg-irons, staring straight at the camera, standing in front of a double wooden framed door with iron bars. Accounts of the Nawab's character and crimes differ. One, published in 1876, refers to his debts, and alleges that he was rescued from these by the British through their careful management.14 As the Nawab had no male heir, he stood to lose his lands to the East India Company under Lord Dalhousie's Doctrine of Lapse, 15 which was an exercise in colonial land-grabbing by the British. According to Kaye, the Nawab had been responsible for the death of about 40 Europeans in his district during the Sepoy uprising, but the exact number is not clear, and it is now thought that he may not have played an active part in the worst excesses of slaughter of Europeans.16 Whatever the truth of this, he eventually surrendered to the British on 7 January 1858. Three European women, a mother and her two daughters, were found to be living in his palace, under his protection.

The caption to this photograph reads: ‘The “Nawab of Ferrukhabad” banished from India for life because of his crimes during the Mutiny, now residing at Mecca. Ought to have been hanged.’ Barkly Collection [Ltaef 40, f. 10], La Trobe Picture Collection.

One of the daughters, Mrs. Bonnie Byrne, was apparently pregnant by him. The Nawab was sentenced to death in March 1859, but the Viceroy of India, Charles Canning, commuted the sentence to exile.17 Barkly's strong feelings on the fate of the Nawab were based on his views expressed publicly in Melbourne in a series of meetings held to raise money for the victims of the Mutiny.18 An unidentified army officer took this very rare photograph, perhaps on the occasion of the Nawab's surrender, or perhaps in an army prison before his deportation to Mecca. It provides a window into the history of British India and its rulers, and the fate of those who opposed them.19
Barkly arrived in Mauritius as Governor on 27 November 1863. His album has a number of views of the island by Major Francis Downes (1834-1923) of the Royal Artillery, who was stationed in Mauritius between 1863

King Radama II of Madagascar in his coronation uniform, taken by the Reverend William Ellis of the London Missionary Society. Barkly Collection [Ltaef 40, f. 43], La Trobe Picture Collection.

and 1865. Downes' memoirs, written at the request of his son in 1906, survive in manuscript form with his family.20 Port Louis, which he photographed as a 6-plate 180-degree panorama, 21 impressed him with its beauty and serenity. The 28 views of the island in the album, 24 of which are definitely his work, depict the construction of the Grand River Viaduct, the scenery and the social life which revolved around the Governor and his summer residence.22 Downes described the difficulties of photographing in the field:
For out-of-door work a small tent had to be carried with the necessary chemicals and camera…. [I] had one rather unpleasant experience at Port Louis. … I took the photo and got head and shoulders into the tent, the canvas of which was tied around my waist, to develop it. While so employed, a heavy thunder storm with buckets of rain burst right over me. The plate was developed and made an excellent photo which I have now, but it was a bit trying to develop under the circumstances.23
After a career of service in the Crimea, commanding the Royal Artillery in Mauritius and at St. Helena, Major Francis Downes was commandant of the South Australian Military Forces from 1877 to 1885, and secretary of Defence for Victoria from 1885 to 1888. He again commanded the South Australian Military Forces from 1888 to 1893,
then retired. His photographs of Mauritius in the Barkly album appear to be the only examples of his work to have survived.24
During his period as Governor of Mauritius, Barkly acquired a large albumen silver photograph of King Radama II of Madagascar in his coronation uniform, taken by the Reverend William Ellis of the London Missionary Society.25 Ellis' account of this and other photographs is published in his Madagascar Revisited, 26 and is notable for its political overtones as well as missionary zeal. The struggle for the souls of the Malagasy was played out against the background of the struggle for dominance between the English and the French. Radama II's coronation took place on 23 September 1862 in the presence of the Lord Bishop of Mauritius. He wore a field-Marshall's uniform given by Queen Victoria, and had a handsome crown presented by the French. As neither the French nor the English were able to agree on which of their representatives should crown him, he followed the Napoleonic precedent and did it himself. His reign was short and disastrous, and his end violent. He was strangled with a silken cord in his palace on 12 May 1863.27 The account of Ellis's life in the Dictionary of National Biography28 glosses over his role in this sorry affair and casts him as a noble man bringing enlightenment to those not fortunate enough to be born British, a disadvantage in part compensated for by being ruled by them.

Captain Downes' Villa at St Louis on Mauritius. Barkly Collection [Ltaef 40 f. 25A], La Trobe Picture Collection.

In 1872, Barkly took up the governorship of the Cape Province, later to become South Africa, but there are no photographs from this part of his career in the album. There are, however, a number of images of the newly completed Suez Canal, which opened to shipping in 1869. The opening of the canal meant that ships between Europe, Asia and Australia could pass directly from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, which shortened the passage time. Financed through Rothschilds, and engineered by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the canal was a marvel of the modern world and its progress was recorded by photographers, local and itinerant.
The importance of this album of photographs has changed as the Picture Collection has developed. In 1928, its acquisition was primarily for its Victorian content. While interesting, the Victorian images are not considered so rare now as they were then. Instead, the importance of the non-Australian images is gradually becoming clearer with research. It is true that ‘… historians still regard visual images as side-shows to the main task of interpreting written documents from the past. … Images are rarely treated as evidence in themselves’.29 The photographs in the Barkly album lead the viewer into the histories of British colonialism and its effects. Major Downes' photographs of the archery party at the Governor's country retreat in Mauritius draws us into a world which replicated the mores of Victorian society in a foreign land.30
The fate of the young Nawab is not known. It is enough to look at him today and agree with the description as a man of ‘quiet habits and dilettante tastes, fond of painting and illuminating, and like others, both in the East and the West, of the same artistic tendencies, somewhat addicted to epicurean practices. He liked dancing girls better than soldiers, and had more pleasure in the society of parasites than of public functionaries’.31 The fate of King Radama II from today's anti-colonial viewpoint is an example of the pernicious influence of ‘meddling priests’ and political Christianity.
The Barkly album provides a window on the world of the nineteenth-century British and their empire. Together with the series of albums of non-Australian material, know collectively as the World Albums, its importance increases with research. When a collection's focus narrows because of a published development policy, non-Australian material tends to be forgotten. But the rarity of some images and collections is now being recognised and published by international scholars, justifying the early collecting endeavours of the Library's founders and supporters and the decision of the Picture Collection staff to promote them.
Christine Downer


Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 3, pp. 95–96.


Dianne Reilly and Jennifer Carew, Sun Pictures of Victoria, Melbourne: Currey O'Neill Ross [1983].


Ltgn 185.


This series is included in the album of 19 hand-coloured albumen silver photographs, Ltaef 56, in the Picture Collection.


LTAEF 40, f.102-103.


Ibid., f.106-107.


The very large portrait of Sir Henry by Thomas Clark, commissioned by the Government, completed after his departure in 1863 and presented to the Library in 1864, shows Sir Henry in dress regalia with Toorak House in the background.


LTAEF 40, f.6, f.13.


Confirmed by me in a visit to consult the IOL archives in 1992.


India Office Library: F/4/2725 Board's Collection 198064 no. 297, quoted in Desmond Ray, Photography in India, India Office Library Annual Report, 1978, pp. 31.


LTAEF 40, f. 11–12. Arabia Felix is now the Yemen.


Times, 20 February 1899, p. 10, col. c The women are photographed as types, but their innate dignity is respected. LTAEF 40, f.13-15.


John William Kaye, A History of the Sepoy War in India, 1857–1858, London: Allen, 1876, vol. 3, p. 297.


This was introduced in stages between 1848 and 1856 and stipulated that if a ruler had no direct heir, his lands were forfeit to the East India Company.


Richard Collier, The Sound of Fury: An Account of the Indian Mutiny, London: Collins, 1963.


Michael Maclagan, ‘Clemency’ Canning: Charles John, 1st earl of Canning, Governor-General and Viceroy of India, 1856–1862, London: Macmillan, 1962, pp. 142–43. The local magistrate


Argus, 29 January 1858, p. 6. The family of Sir Henry's second wife had strong links with India, her father, Sir Thomas Simson Pratt having served as deputy adjutant-general of the Madras Presidency forces from 1843 to 1855. Barkly also hoped to be offered the Madras Presidency when his term of office in Victoria expired, but was passed over.


A paper based on this image is in preparation.


I am indebted to Mrs. Howse, his grand-daughter, for providing me with a copy of these, and for giving permission for the Library to use the manuscript for research and publication purposes.


LTAEF 40, f.16.


Major Francis Downes, ‘Diary with Sketch of a Career’ [1906]. Ms in private hands. Typescript held in the Picture Collection. Research into the life of Major Downes was complicated by the fact that during his time in Mauritius, both his rank and his first name was Major. He was, in fact, Major Major Francis Downes. I am indebted to Major Warren Perry for information on Downes’ career in Australia.




Members of his family have been unable to locate other examples to date.


LTAEF 40, f.43.


Ellis, William. Madagascar Revisited, London: John Murray, 1867, pp. 189–90.


Ibid., p. 291.


Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 6, pp. 714–15.


Raymond Gillespie and Brian P. Kennedy, Ireland: Art into History, Dublin: Town House [1994] p. 7. Although this refers to the practice in Ireland, it is also a valid comment on use of pictorial material in some circles in Australia where images are used as decoration rather than as primary source material.


LTAEF 40, f.25 (H 92.101/44-45).


Kaye, op. cit., pp. 303–04.