Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince's Tour of India, 1875–6
- Susan Mansfield
- 22 January 2018
A treasure trove of gifts from Edward VII's 19th Century tour of India
In 1875, Prince Albert Edward (the future Edward VII) embarked on a four-month tour of India, part personal pageant, part diplomatic mission on behalf of his mother, Queen Victoria. His journey, by boat, train, carriage and elephant, took him around most of the Subcontinent, from modern-day Sri Lanka in the south to Kashmir and Nepal in the North.
On his way, he was entertained by over 90 local rulers, most of whom (resolutely ignoring a memo from the Viceroy about gift-giving) showered him with gifts. A dazzling selection of these was exhibited on his return to Britain, and was seen by some 2.5 million people on a nationwide tour.
Now on show again for the first time in 130 years, they continue to dazzle with their ornateness and exquisite craftsmanship. There's an enamelled inkwell from Benares in the shape of a barge, inlaid with gold, diamonds and sapphires; peacock feather fans from Jaipur, in which the feathers are set with gemstones; a resplendent gold service from the Maharajah of Mysore.
In Lucknow, where the rulers styled themselves as kings, he was presented with a crown, adorned with symbols of royalty from both countries and festooned with pearls. An enamelled perfume holder from Jaipur, which opens like a lotus flower, is believed to have taken five years to make.
Ceremonial weapons were a common gift, some made for the Prince, others already antiques. Often, the objects showcased craftsmanship and techniques which were Indian specialities, from the setting of gems to the strengthening of steel.
These objects are museum pieces now, speaking of a past which is distant in both countries. But there are other stories here which the exhibition touches on without fully exploring: Indian entrepreneurs who sensed the potential of Western markets, British designers hungry for new ideas. From potteries in Staffordshire to rug-makers in Paisley, Britain would experience a lasting impact from the Prince's Indian treasure trove.
Queen's Gallery, Edinburgh, until April 22, £7 (£6.40).