Exhibition: Strangers in the Land - Impressions of India

Exhibition tracing the history of British relations with India from the early 17th century to the turn of the 20th.

'One of the Most Picturesque Groups in the Retainers'
SCM 09842, Mortimer Menpes, The Durbar, (London, 1903), ‘One of the Most Picturesque Groups in the Retainers’ Procession’, pl. opp. p. 108.
The latest Special Collections exhibition traces the history of the British in India from the early 17th century to the turn of the 20th. Some always remained, in the words of the Governor of Madras in 1807, ‘strangers in the land’; others, like the free-thinker and Theosophist Annie Besant, who first visited India in 1893, embraced the religion and customs of the country, ‘living in Indian fashion, feeling with Indian feelings’; and there were all shades in between.

The exhibition uses rare books from Library collections to look at the impact of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, ‘a war of Indian Independence’, as Nehru termed it, and its legacy of bitterness, mistrust and self-doubt. Above all, the magnificence and mystery of India left an indelible mark on the British who went there. Sir Thomas Herbert, seduced by the richness of the country in 1627, wrote that it ‘equals, if not exceeds, any other Kingdom’, and Edward Lear, landing in Bombay in 1873, felt ‘nearly mad from sheer beauty and wonder … These hours are worth what you will.’

Many of the items on display are from the Union Club Library, the contents of which were purchased by the University in 1964, mainly through the good offices of Professor Christopher Hughes, a specialist in political theory.  The membership of the Union Club included many high-ranking military men and Hughes’ family had strong links with the military – he served in an Indian infantry regiment during World War II.

Other items come from the collection of Victor Neuberg (1924-1996), whose father was an early member of the Theosophical Society and a close friend of Aleister Crowley, and from the Transport History Collection – the beautiful folder of maps, which were used by the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, are an example.

The exhibition runs from 8 June until 30 September 2016 in the basement of the David Wilson Library, and may be viewed during the Library's staffed opening hours. Entry to the Library is free but security controlled. Ask for admission to the Special Collections exhibition at reception.

Share this page: