Bombay & Calcutta in Sydney


It seems absurd that as long as 400 years ago, a company that relied on trade with Asia and Africa was run out of London. But this is precisely how the East India Company’s affairs were decided. In a room in London, the East India Company’s Directors would meet, and make major decisions that would drastically affect the lives of others in places that they had never been to.

In 1732 the East India Company commissioned six seascapes of their main trading posts, which were displayed in the Director’s Courtroom of East India House in London. The resulting six paintings showed the East India Company’s trading posts at Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Tellicherry, the Cape of Good Hope and St Helena. They symbolised the international spread of imperial power inside a single room in the City of London. All six of the paintings were by George Lambert and Samuel Scott. Neither of these two men ever set foot in the places portrayed in the pictures. Lambert painted the architectural views in the background, and most likely based them on published images. Scott was a maritime painter, so his contribution was the ships in the foreground. The paintings are now part of the British Library’s India Office Collections.

WD 2465 F45 copy

Above Left: The Directors' Court Room, East India House,        Leadenhall Street, London, c.1820 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (BL Reference: WD2465)

Above Right: Fort William, Calcutta, c.1731 by George Lambert and Samuel Scott. (BL Reference: F25)

Below: Bombay, c.1731 by George Lambert and Samuel Scott. (BL Reference: F48)

F48 copy

281 years after they were commissioned, Lambert and Scott’s seascapes of Bombay and Calcutta have been sent to Australia’s National Maritime Museum in Sydney, where they are being exhibited in ‘East of India: Forgotten Trade with Australia’. Their inclusion in this international exhibition is incredibly significant. They were painted to symbolise the world beyond London, and centuries later, they have been sent from London to another part of the world.


If you are in Sydney, or have an opportunity to visit before 18 August 2013, please go to ‘East of India: Forgotten Trade with Australia’ at the Australian Maritime Museum

This blog was first posted on the British Library's Asian and African Studies blog on 22 May 2013. 


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