THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT AND PAPERS CONCERNING: Ceylon an account of the island physical, historical and topographical.
TENNENT James Emerson (1838-1855.)
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2 vols. Small folio (12 1/2 x 8 inches). Containing over 325 items, including 156 drawings (including many which were used as illustrations in his book, and including 57 by Andrew Nicholl), 116 manuscripts, 49 salt paper print photographs (including two hand coloured), and other ephemera. Manuscript list of contents by Tennent bound at front of each volume. Mounted on stub guards throughout. Nineteenth-century half vellum over green papered boards, bound by Marcus Ward & Co. of Belfast and Dublin, flat spines gilt with black morocco labels. Ceylon, generally
An extraordinary collection of manuscript notes, correspondence, watercolours, drawings and photographs on Ceylon: the major source for Tennent's influential work on the region.
Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Tennent's political career began in 1832 when he was elected a Member of Parliament from Belfast. A supporter of Sir Robert Peel, he served as Secretary of the India Board before being knighted in 1845. From August 1845 to December 1849, Tennent served as the civil secretary to the colonial government in Ceylon, returning to Great Britain in 1850. A life-long interest in literature and history led to the publication of his experiences in Ceylon.
When published in 1859, Tennent's Ceylon: An Account of the Island, Physical, Historical and Topographical instantly became the best account of the region in the 19th century and the standard work on the subject into the 20th century. In the Introduction to his work, Tennent begins by praising the early works on Ceylon by the mediaeval voyagers and merchant adventurers: "But amidst this wealth of materials as to the island and its vicissitudes in early times, there is an absolute death of information regarding its present state and progress during more recent periods, and is actual condition at the present day ... Thus for almost every particular and fact, whether physical or historical, I have been to great extend thrown on my own researches..."
The present albums, assembled by Tennent, constitute a tremendous amount of that original research, in both words and pictures. Among the subjects covered by the numerous manuscripts and letters are information on Ceylon's language, architecture, ethnography, natural history, economy, religion, superstitions, the Matale rebellion, Tennent's dispute with Wodehouse and more. Some of the manuscripts are quoted within Tennent's work, while others have remained unpublished. The manuscripts include both retained copies of letters by Tennent, as well as correspondence to him.
The over 150 drawings and watercolours within the albums include 57 by the noted Northern Irish artist Andrew Nicholl, R.H.A. Nicholl first came to the attention of Tennent in the early 1830s. After his appointment to Ceylon, Tennent secured for him an appointment as teacher of landscape drawing, painting and design at the Colombo Academy. Of the 91 illustrations within Tennent's Ceylon, nearly a third are after Nicholl, including many of the present drawings. Of particular interest are two designs by Nicholl in the second album, which Tennent has identified for use as possible title pages. Other artists include W. Fairholme, W. Ferguson, Miss Brunker, John Basley, H. de Sylva, A. Worms, W. Mercer, as well as native artists. As much of the interior of Ceylon was closed to foreigners until the 19th century, many of the temples and religious sites depicted in these drawings were among the earliest western depictions; and considering the looting and destruction of architectural sites over the last century, the images within the album include depictions of sites and objects no longer extant.
The nearly fifty salt paper print photographs in these volumes are highly significant, being among the earliest photographs taken in Ceylon. Depicting topographical views, tribal objects, and portraits of native peoples, the photographer of many of the images has been attributed to Frederick Fiebig. "Fiebig, of German origins, was active in Calcutta as an artist and lithographer in the 1840s. Little is known about his life, but turning to photography in the late 1840s he produced hundreds of photographs [in Calcutta] by the calotype process, frequently handcolouring them. His photographs of Ceylon, probably taken in 1852, are considered the earliest surviving photographic record of the island" (British Library, online gallery). Fiebig travelled to Ceylon in 1852 en route back to London from Calcutta. In 1856 he sold an album of seventy hand coloured salt prints of Ceylon to the East India Company library, which constitutes the principal holding of his Ceylon images.
The present albums were sold by Bonham's on behalf of Tennent descendants on 7 June 2002 for £188,000 pounds. It is extraordinarily rare to find such a wealth of original source material used as the basis for a 19th century work of travel literature, let alone one of such importance and acclaim.
A complete inventory of the contents of the albums is available upon request.
Stock Code: 212387