Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Travancore and the Great Exhibition of London AD 1851

The Great Exhibition , London AD 1851

Curious about the documents pertaining to Travancore history, I chanced upon an original print of the Illustrated London News of 31st January 1852, which featured the engraving of the reception by HH Maharajah of Travancore to the Letter from HM Queen Victoria.

The above photo shows the sketch of the Durbar in which the then Maharajah of Travancore, HH Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma receives the letter of HM the Queen Victoria from the British Resident , Major General W. Cullen. The reception took place on 27th November 1851. A report on the function, as it appeared in the Illustrated London News also is shown .
The details on the same could be summarized as under:

Around AD 1850, Prince Albert, the Royal Consort of Queen Victoria, conceived the idea of a great Exhibition in London, primarily to showcase England as the leader of the industrial revolution. Also the exposition was intended to project the military, economic and technological prowess of England under Queen Victoria.

The Crystal Palace, constructed in Hyde Park for the exhibition was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton and it was a huge structure of iron with over a million square feet of glass. The grandiose show had more than 13,000 exhibits from various parts of the empire including India, and the recent white settlements of Australia and New Zealand and the world. The exhibits included the Jacquard loom, tools, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays and a reaping machine from the United States. More than 6 million visitors saw the exhibition.

The profits from this were used to establish many landmark institutions of later years like the Albert Hall, the Science Museum, the National History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In AD 1849, the Madras government informed the Maharajah, HH Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma, of the conducting of a great exhibition in London and requested His Highness’s government to make suitable contributions. The Maharajah, ordered a committee to be formed for this for which,Maj.Gen Cullen, the Resident, Dr.Paterson, the Durbar Physician, Mr.Kohlhoff, a judge of appeal court, and Ramen Menon, the Dewan Peishcar, were the members. P.Shangoonny Menon was the secretary to the committee.

An ivory state chair in the shape of a throne, reflecting the craftsmanship of the Travancore artisans, was already under construction for the Maharajah’ use and at this juncture it was thought a fit present to be sent for the Great Exhibition. The Maharajah also desired that once the exhibition was over, the throne be accepted by the Queen Victoria as a token of HH’s regards and esteem. This was fully appreciated by the Resident, Major General Cullen and the Madras Government. Accordingly, the beautiful throne along with many carvings reflecting the Travancore workmanship was sent to England along with the following letter to Her Majesty.

Engraving of the ivory state chair


Her Most Excellent Majesty Alexandrina Victoria


HH Sree Padmanabha Dasa Vanchipala Marthanda Vurmah


“Major General Cullen, the British Resident at my court, and my valued friend and adviser, having conveyed to me a communication, from the Court of Directors of the East India Company, through the Government of Madras, intimating that Your Majesty had been pleased to appoint certain learned and eminent gentlemen as Commissioners for carrying out a project formed at the instance and under the distinguished patronage of Your Majesty’s Royal Consort His Royal Highness Prince Albert, for the collection and exposition in Your Majesty’s city of London, in the ensuing year 1851 of the specimens of produce , manufactures and arts of all countries and nations , and awarding prizes to the most approved productions, and requesting the cooperation and aid of my government in the promotion of this most laudable and important object by collecting and forwarding to the said exhibition, specimens of articles from my country, I have given the most particular instructions to my Dewan for the furnishing of the choicest and most useful and interesting of the productions , which instructions are now being executed with all care and expedition, under the immediate direction of my friend Major General W.Cullen

The transmission of articles from this country for the exhibition, has afforded me an opportunity of which I am anxious to avail myself of forwarding also to London a chair of State , made of ivory, carved and ornamented, the production wholly of the native artists of my country and which I request permission to offer for Your Majesty’s acceptance , as a curiosity, and at the same time as a slight token of my profound respect for Your Majesty’s exalted person and for the numerous and great virtues for which Your Majesty is eminently distinguished.

I beg Your Majesty will graciously condescend to receive this friendly, but humble, tribute, from the Native Prince of a country situated at the very southern extremity of Your Majesty’s vast Indian Empire, who is, as everyone of his predecessors has always been a faithful ally and dependent of the British Government, which on its part, has ever extended to us, its protection and favour, a relation which I humbly trust, will continue to the end of time. And wishing Your Majesty a long happy reign and Your Majesty’s Royal Consort, and all the members of Your Majesty’s illustrious family long life and happiness.

I beg to subscribe myself Your Majesty’s most devoted faithful friend and servant.”

Trevandrum Palace, 11th October 1850.

The state chair in ivory was prominently exhibited in the Crystal Palace, London and it won great acclaim for its beauty, elegance and workmanship. No doubt, Her Majesty was most pleased to accept the gift from the Maharajah after the exhibition.

Towards the end of AD 1851, a reply letter under the Sign Manual came from Her Majesty the Queen to General Cullen through the Madras Government. Since it was a unique experience to Travancore or for the court of any native State, HH considered it no ordinary honour and hence wanted to celebrate the occasion with all grandeur and pomp.

A temporary portico was added to the Durbar Hall and it was richly furnished and decorated. The time of the year was that of Murajapam, a religious ceremony conducted every six years for which Nampoothiri Brahmins from all Travancore and Malabar used to assemble and hence the city was very crowded.

After fixing the date for reception of HM’s letter, by a royal order, beats of tom-tom were done to advise all households in and around the town to decorate the gates and the houses with flowers.

On the day fixed for the function, all officers, save the Diwan, went to the Residency to accompany the procession of the Resident with the Queen’s letter.

The largest elephant of Travancore, richly caparisoned with a silver howdah on top was bringing the letter covered in golden cloth. It was carried by Major Drury, Assistant Resident in full uniform sitting in the howdah. The procession moved and entire distance of a mile between the Residency and the fort was full of carriages, the Nair Brigade, musicians and cheering people.

The Resident, Cullen was waiting at the gate and when Drury, his assistant dismounted from the howdah, with the royal letter, collected the same and entered the Durbar hall. The Maharajah, his nephew and all relatives and top ranking officials were already assembled along with many Nampoothiri Brahmins too.

The previous day, a few companies of the Madras Native Infantry, stationed at Quilon had arrived Trivandrum under the command of Col. Hutton. Along with the Nair Brigade and the mounted bodyguards of the Maharajah, the infantry provided a colourful spectacle to the grand and pompous function.

General Cullen handed over HM’s letter to the Maharajah, at the pre-fixed and auspicious time of 1 pm and HH received it with utmost reverence as the celebrations and gun salutes reverberated in the air. Later, he handed it over to Dewan Krishna Row to read it out to the assembly.
Queen victoria in AD 1876 sitting on the throne presented to her by the Maharajah of Travancore

Sign Manual (Victoria)

We have received safely, the splendid chair of state which your Highness has transmitted to England for our acceptance. It was source of much gratification to us that your highness’ attention enabled us to exhibit in the great exposition of the industry of all nations, so beautiful a specimen of the ability acquired by the natives of your Highness’s country in the carving of ivory.

Your Highness’s chair has occupied a prominent position amongst the wonderful works of art which have been collected in our metropolis and your highness’s liberality and the workmanship of the natives of Travancore have there received due admiration from the vast multitude of spectators.

We shall find a suitable opportunity of conveying to your Highness some token of our esteem, and we hope that it may please the Almighty to vouchsafe to your Highness the enjoyment of many years of health and prosperity.

Given at our court at Osborn this 21st day of August in the year of our Lord 1851and the 15th year of our reign.

Mr. Frederick Christian Lewis (1813-1875), the celebrated European artist was in India at that time and the Maharajah had invited him especially for this function, to sketch the Durbar and the assembly. By the time, the durbar was over he had completed the sketch which was later taken to England for engraving.

This sketch seems to be used in the print of the Illustrated London Times. A painting under the title ‘The Durbar on the Reception by His Highness the Maharaja of Travancore of the letter of Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the 27 November 1851' was done in Trivandrum in 1852. This is in Trivandrum museum.The original engraving, which is elegant and beautiful, is done by F.C. Lewis Snr (1779-1856) after F.C. Lewis Jnr and was published by Graves & Co, London, 1854.
Dubai, 19th March 2008.


Vinod said...

The chair of ivory is still in one of the Queen's palaces in England.I just caught a glimpse of it on BBC 1 ( Victoria : A royal love story ). It's literally magnificent.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you Vinod. I appreciate your gesture.

kind regards,

Ramabhadran said...

Hi Murali RamaVarma

Happy to see one of the new blood of Royal family member.

Travancore Royal family is going to give a sports project to the whole country. Are u aware of this?

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Mr.Ramabhadran. I have not heard of the proposed new sports project. I look forward to hearing about it.

Kind regards,

UDAY said...


Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks, Uday. The matter is sub judice. Let the court take a wise decision.


moonlitlake said...

Its a pleasure knowing the history of Travancore,even if it has nothing to do with the laymen.

moonlitlake said...

Its a pleasure knowing the history of Travancore,even if it has nothing to do with the common man.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, moonlitlake for your dispassionate comment. kind regards,

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