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India Office Photographs Collection

Collection Details

India Office Photographs Collection held at Asian and African Studies [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

The majority of the photographs record archaeological subjects, architecture, engineering and public works projects, landscapes, historical events, military campaigns, social scenes and portraits. They date from c. 1850 onwards, and include the work of early photographers such as Frederick Fiebig, Dr. John Murray, Felice Beato, Robert and Harriet Tytler, Linnaeus Tripe, Samuel Bourne, E.D. Lyon and Deen Dayal. Original photographs made by the Archaeological Survey of India between 1855 and 1922 are also included in the collection. Printed books from the India Office library collections containing original photographs have now been trasnferred to this collection. Currently some 1100 collections, comprising some 220,000 photographs.

History and development

The ending of the Company's rule and the transfer of the government of India to the India Office in 1858 coincided with burgeoning official interest in photography as a documentary tool, particularly in the fields of archaeological and anthropology. Some major parts of the collections, such as the Archaeological Survey of India collection, are official commissions from the India Office or the Government of India. The majority of the photographs, however, are private or semi-public collections of photographs taken during the owner's tour of duty, and subsequently presented to or purchased by the India Office Library. These can range from Viceroy's collections down to those of private soldiers. Most of the major figures in 19th-century photography in India are well-represented in the collection.


The collection is particularly strong in the documentation of Indian architecture, both in work officially produced for the Archaeological Survey of India and views produced by commercial photographers from the 1860s onwards.

General arrangement and access regulations

The photographic collections are housed in an environmentally controlled store adjacent to the Print Room. Serial numbers have been given to each album or collection of photographs (Photo ) and sub-numbers to each item. They are kept either as albums or individually encased in polysester sleeves in boxes, and are available to be consulted in the Print Room by appointment.

Copy prints from a large number of the original photographs are kept grouped by subject for ready reference in the Print Room. For conservation and storage reasons, original photographs must be ordered up for viewing at least 24 hours in advance.

Subjects of the Collection

Regions of Asia

Central Asia and the Caucasus, East Asia, Near & Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, South East Asia.


Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam, Yemen.


Agriculture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Arts, Communication and media, Development, Economics, Education, Geography, History, International relations, Medicine, Music, Politics and government, Recreation, Religion, Science and technology, Sociology, Travel, Women.

Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Visual materials (includes photographs, prints, drawings, videos & films).

Total size of collection

220,000 photographs

Collection Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has risen.

Annual intake

Several thousand photographs per annum, mostly by donation.

Content date range

1850 to 1947 AD

Collection Catalogue Information


Dedicated computerised databases exist for all the collections. The database catalogue also includes records for photographs forming part of the Private Papers Collections. These are all now available on-line at

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