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India Office Western Drawings Collection

Collection Details

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

Description of Collection

Content description

The drawings are normally by European, principally British, artists. They largely depict the countries of South Asia, but also include images of England, St. Helena, South Africa, Abyssinia, Afghanistan, Tibet, Burma, Ceylon, China, South-east Asia and Central Asia. The collection as a whole provides a vital supplement to printed and manuscript sources. The printed catalogues also contain drawings from manuscripts in the European Manuscripts section. In such instances, the prefix Mss.Eur appears on the shelf mark.

History and development

Much of the collection was acquired as the result of official missions or surveys, such as the William Alexander drawings on the Macartney mission to China, or the Mackenzie and Buchanan-Hamilton collections of survey drawings. Such large survey collections often contain drawings by Indian artists working as draftsmen.


The Western Drawings are by a combination of professional and amateur artists. Some of the professional artists whose drawings feature here are Thomas and William Daniell, Henry Salt, George Chinnery, William Simpson and Edward Lear. Other works were by professional draftsmen and surveyors, such as Colin Mackenzie, to document military campaigns and map surveys conducted in India. The majority of the pictures, however, are by amateur artists who took up drawing for pleasure. Although referred to in catalogues as "amateurs", such artists were highly skilled in their craft, and include such well know artists as Sir Charles D'Oyly, Robert Smith and various members of the talented Prinsep and Bellasis familes.

General arrangement and access regulations

Separate drawings are mounted and numbered individually as Western Drawings (WD). Bound volumes or albums are given separate numbers that in turn are subdivided by folio numbers, e.g. WD 152, ff. 1-46. All are stored in the Print adjacent to the OIOC Reading Room and are accessible to readers by appointment.

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.


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

Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Manuscripts, Maps (includes all types of cartographic material), Visual materials (includes photographs, prints, drawings, videos & films).

Total size of collection

Over 16,000 drawings

Collection Management Information

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

Annual intake

A small number of drawings per annum

Content date range

1700 to 2000 AD

Collection Catalogue Information


Printed catalogues available up to 1970s. Subsequent acquisitions are catalogued in a dedicated computerised database available in the OIOC Reading Room. This is now available on-line at

Collection printed catalogues

British Drawings in the India Office Library.
Archer, Mildred.
London, 1969.
2 vols.

British Drawings in the India Office Library, Volume III.
Kattenhorn, Patricia.
London, 1994.

The Raffles Drawings in the India Office Library.
Archer, Mildred and Bastin, John.
Oxford, 1979.

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