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Frith India Series Vol. I

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y3022A

Scope and Contents

A collection of albumen prints, probably by Johnson and Henderson, mounted in an album. The album was labelled on the front cover 'Frith Series India Vol I' and was bound by Thacker and Co. of Bombay. It contains views in Bombay and the Bombay Presidency and a series of ethnographical studies, with handwritten captions. The captions have been recorded as found and may include language which is offensive, inaccurate or inappropriate. They have been retained to reflect the context of the collection's creation. The collection has been completely remounted and rebound. The work is of a uniformly high standard. The condition of the prints would argue that although the original photographs were taken in the mid-1850s, the prints were probably not made until perhaps the 1870s. Y3022A/40-150 have been listed in less detail than the earlier photographs.

Francis Frith never personally visited India, but is known in many cases to have acquired collections of photographs from various sources for inclusion in the series of worldwide views marketed by his firm. It is not entirely clear whether all the photographs in this album are the work of Johnson and Henderson (whether individually or in collaboration), and it is quite possible that the work of other Bombay photographers is included. Certain of the ethnographical views are definitely by the pair, since some of these portraits, credited, appeared in 'The Indian amateurs photographic album', whose 24 issues appeared between December 1856 and October 1858, each number containing three pasted-in albumen prints. The ethnographical studies formed a series entitled 'Costumes and characters of Western India'. One of the most interesting aspects of this early work is the use made of these photographs by Johnson a few years later. Declaring that 'photographic delineations of the numerous peoples and tribes frequenting ... Bombay ... have long been desiderata both among students of geography and ethnography, and the lovers of art, notwithstanding partial attempts to supply them made by various local amateurs', he published 'The Oriental races and tribes, residents and visitors of Bombay' (1863). By a fairly crude use of montage and retouching he placed many of the figures seen in 'The Indian amateurs photographic album' and this album against Bombay backgrounds (some of these being drawn from landscape photographs of Bombay which also appear in the album) or against foliage somewhat hastily sketched in on the plate. A projected third volume of his work never appeared. Several of the ethnographic prints in this album appear with bleached out backgrounds evidently worked on in preparation for the making of montages. Some biographical details relating to Johnson and Henderson's period in Bombay are known.
William Johnson appears to have first arrived in Bombay as an uncovenanted civil servant working in the Judicial Department in about 1848, and occupied various clerical and assistant's posts until his departure around 1861. During this period he also operated as a professional photographer, first advertising his daguerreotype studio in Grant's Road, Bombay in 1852. From around 1855 he appears to have abandoned the daguerreotype in favour of a wet collodion photography, and was a founder member, secretary and editor of the journal of the Bombay Photographic Society in the mid-1850s. His skill was acknowledged by the Society's journal, which in the issue of Feb/June 1856 praised his 'full plate portraits and groups [which] were full of life and vigous [sic], - the positions artistic, the focussing and tone excellent'.
William Henderson was also a member of the uncovenanted service and is first recorded in the almanacs as a clerk in the Military Board Office in 1840. In the mid-1840s he appears to have entered a private commercial firm, becoming bookkeeper for Peel, Cassel and Co., a position he occupied until around 1856. He first advertised as a professional photographer in the Bombay almanac of 1855, and although the business continued to be advertised in Bombay until around 1868, Henderson himself appears to have left Bombay in about 1857. Although the two photographers collaborated on the ethnographical series of views, it is unclear how far their partnership extended into their general professional life.

References in the photograph descriptions to 'Edwardes' are from 'The Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island', v. III (1910), edited by S.M. Edwardes.


  • Creation: 1850 - 1879


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (


150 item(s) (150 images)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Some plates in the album were damaged by flood in 1980 and Y3022A/122-23 were irreparably stuck together. Apart from those prints suffering flood damage, the collection is generally in excellent condition.

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection is available on microfiche: South Asia, fiche number 1-4.


Johnson published: Johnson, William (1863), 'The Oriental races and tribes, residents and visitors of Bombay', London: W.J. Johnson.


This item level description was entered by NE and MJC using information from the original typescript catalogue.


Frith, Francis, 1822-1898, photographer

Includes index.
2004-03-01 09:02:45+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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