The Lucknow Album
A book of photographs authored by Darogah Abbas Ali and published in 1874, The Lucknow Album was intended as an illustrated guide to the monuments and ruins of Lucknow, the erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Oudh. The album was published in Calcutta (now Kolkata) by G. H. Rouse Baptist Mission Press, with the descriptive title The Lucknow Album Containing a Series of Fifty Photographic Views of Lucknow and Its Environs Together with a Large Sized Plan of the City. The albumen prints of the architectural views, each 9.5 x 6 cm, feature in the second half of the book along with the detailed fold-out map drafted by Abbas Ali himself, through skills acquired as a municipal engineer.The first contains the introductory text, explaining the rationale behind the album, followed by detailed descriptions of each of the monuments featured. The album, though primarily meant as a historical city guide for European tourists and visitors, also sought to memorialise the struggles of the ultimately triumphant Garrison of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny.
The order in which the photographs are presented follows the path taken by the British troops as they entered Lucknow from the southwest, circled to its easternmost end and proceeded westward through the city. Palaces, mosques and other religious and secular structures of historic importance that were damaged in the ensuing battle were photographed in their east–west orientation, following the logic of their sequencing. This attempt to visually retrace the passage of troops is believed to have been inspired by two earlier photographic series of the immediate aftermath of the Mutiny by Ahmad Ali Khan and Felice Beato, which allegedly followed the same direction of ordering of images. The sites and monuments featured are predominantly of local heritage and include Aulum Bagh (now part of the settlement of Alumbagh), Moti Mahal, Qaisar Bagh and the Najaf Ashraf. A smaller number of colonial structures and sites, such as St. Joseph and Christ’s Churches, La Martinière Boys’ College (now La Martinière College), Wingfield Park, Bruce’s Bridge and the Memorial of the Massacre of European Captives, also form a part of the photographic sequence.
Strongly propagandist in its tone, the album presents Lucknow to a European audience as a site of pilgrimage — a memorial to the tragic (for the British) events of 1857. Made in response to the rising popularity of Lucknow as a tourist destination, especially after its devastation by the yearlong uprising, the album appealed to the Western and colonial tastes by providing a document of its rich architectural landscape on the brink of erasure; sentimentalising the city as a site of martyrdom (of slain soldiers and British residents); and providing eagerly sought-after glimpses of a famously decadent kingdom. To follow its mandate as a guidebook, the text also touches upon aspects of the local culture, such as the lifestyles and livelihoods of its ordinary people, popular events and festivals and what to expect on those dates.
In a departure from the overall theme, The last three photographs in the album bear no connection to the Mutiny or the cultural splendours of the capital. They instead show the Shia shrines Dargah Hazrat Abbas, Kazmain Karbala and Talkatora Karbala — all of which were important religious hubs of the city. In the accompanying text, Abbas Ali urges travellers to join the Muharram procession, explaining the significance of the festival and its rituals. Some scholars have taken this thematic deviation to mean that he intended to introduce visitors to parts of Indian culture that they might otherwise miss, while some others believe that this might have been an attempt to draw a parallel between the martyrdom of British troops in Lucknow and those of Karbala, mourned during Muharram. Both these views demonstrate that the deviation was deliberate and most likely the result of an attempt, by the author, to leave an imprint of his identity in an otherwise expressly colonialist work.
The original prints of work are held, at the time of writing, by the British Library, the Alkazi Collection and the Getty Research Institute.
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