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February 2012

Scenes from North India in the late 19th– and early 20th–centuries

Archive of the MonthFebruary 2012
For February, our featured Archive of the Month is a rare collection of images from Bihar in north India dating from the late 19th– and early 20th–centuries. This forms part of a larger collection of lantern slides that appear to have originated in the Deanery in Killaloe. The entire collection was transferred to the RCB Library in 2011, by the Very Revd Stephen White, the current Dean of Killaloe, and may – as we speculate below – have belonged to one of his predecessors.

Slide 1

The complete “Killaloe collection” of lantern slides consists of over 200 images randomly arranged in six boxes, complete with the lantern slide projector used to view them.

Slide 2

Lantern slides, being images from glass plates, where the photographic positive was fixed between two pieces of glass and then projected using a lamp, were originally powered by oil or later by electric cable. They remained in common use from the mid–19th century, reaching the peak of their popularity about 1900, and continuing in use until the 1950s, when they were gradually replaced by 35mm slides.

Slide 3 Slide 3a

The “Killaloe collection” covers a range of subjects including an early 20th–century pilgrimage in the Holy Land, with stunning views of holy sites in Jerusalem and other parts of historic Palestine (which we will feature as a later Archive of the Month); views of the Irish International Exhibition held in Dublin in 1907; a series of commercial copies of various scenes from Victorian life and landmarks in London; as yet unidentified family pictures and scenes from rural and urban locations in Ireland but dating from the late 19th–century; and finally some 48 images documenting the story of the Dublin University Mission at Chota Nagpur [DUMCN] in North India, which appear to cover the period from 1891 when the Mission began to the 1920s.

Slide 4
For the DUMCN archive catalogue list click here

It is fortunate that the RCB Library already had custody of the bulk of the DUMCN archive, consisting of minutes, working papers of Executive Committee,  correspondence, and miscellaneous materials, which had earlier been deposited in the library on four separate occasions between 1980 and 2007, by personnel of its operating body in Ireland, and catalogued thereafter. Familiarity with the Chota Nagpur story, and availability of the extensive catalogue list of these papers made it easy to identify the significance of the Indian images in the “Killaloe collection”. 

In 1892 a group of graduates from Dublin University [DU] answered a call from the Society for the Propogation of the Gospel to send a team of missionaries to the Hazaribag district in Bihar. The Anglican Church had begun work in the Chota Nagpur district in 1869, and by 1890 a diocese of the same name was established – carved from the existing huge diocese of Calcutta. The new diocese of Chota Nagpur was about the size of Ireland, so the first bishop of the new diocese, the Rt. Revd J.C. Whitley, requested that the DU group be put to work in the Hazaribag area – some 74 miles from the nearest railway station.

Into this hilly, densely–wooded countryside, with no roads or easy means of communication, these first Irish missionaries made their pioneering journey, establishing a focal point from which they took the message of Christ to the local population which was scattered throughout 8000 villages in the surrounding district –  many of them just clearings in the jungle. The DUMCN consisted of a Brotherhood and Ladies Associate, based in Hazaribagh, who formed a community, and whilst no individual undertook vows or personal pledges, collectively their daily life was based on regular worship, study and hard work. The work grew apace – a dispensary and hospital were opened in 1892, and a girls’ and boys’ high school as well as a primary school followed by 1897. Over the next 70 years, the DU Mission community was well staffed by missionary clergy, doctors, nurses, teachers and lay people from Ireland and elsewhere. DUMCN continues to work in close collaboration with USPG:Anglicans in World Mission in supporting the work of the Anglican Church in Chota Nagpur and more information can be found on the Mission’s website http://dumcn.org/

With the support of the current DUMCN trustees – in particular the valuable personal experience of Canon Billy Marshall, a trust committee member, who had served as a missionary teacher at the Mission between from 1962 until 1972, many of the scenes, people and locations, depicted in the lantern slides, have been accurately identified. 

We hope that online access to these pictures may create some public interest and enable us to complete an as yet unexplained aspect of the lantern slide jigsaw – to identify the photographer. One small clue as to whom the “Killaloe collection” of lantern slides might have originally belonged is offered by a label on the largest and only wooden of the six boxes complete with Free State postage stamps (which happens to contain the Chota Nagpur images) addressed as follows:

‘Dean Boyd,
County Clare’.

Slide 5

Slide 5a 

When this label was carefully removed, a further label was revealed underneath, indicating that the box had originally been sent via rail, to another recipient, as it reads as follows:

‘Mrs Jobson,
Holly Park,
Newtown Park Ave,
Blackrock [County Dublin]
Kingsbridge St [station] to be called for.’

Slide 6

The Very Revd Robert McNeill Boyd was dean of Killaloe and Kilfenora between 1936 and 1943, after which he became bishop of that diocese until 1945, when he was translated to Derry and Raphoe and he served until his death in 1958. Boyd was born in 1890, making it impossible that he could have photographed the Chota Nagpur collection, and so we wonder how it came into his possession.

In his early clerical career Boyd most likely travelled as he served as chaplain to the forces between 1915 and 1919 before returning to Ireland to serve in the diocese of Killaloe. Perhaps he developed an interest in photography abroad and acquired the projector and/or images on his travels. No connection between Dean Boyd and Mrs Jobson has as yet been established, so any insight from members of the public who may have further information would be welcomed.

For press coverage of this Archive of the Month see these links:

For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
RCB Library
Braemor Park
Dublin 14
Tel: 01–4923979
Fax: 01–4924770
E–mail: susan.hood@rcbdub.org

For the Chota Nagpur slide presentation click here
For the DUMCN archive catalogue list click here
For the papers of Canon Billy Marshall click here