Suttee Ghat, Cawnpore
This photograph memorializes the site of the most shocking event of the Indian Mutiny. Choosing the safety of civilians over honor in battle, a besieged English detachment at Cawnpore (Kanpur) surrendered to rebels on June 26, 1857, on the promise that they and the European families who had taken refuge in their barracks would be granted safe passage. Instead, soldiers and civilians alike were fired upon as they boarded boats at this very spot, and the two hundred women and children who survived were led back to Cawnpore, slaughtered, dismembered, and thrown down a well. These horrific events, in turn, led to gratuitously brutal acts of retribution by the British. In Murray's bleak, harshly backlit photograph, there is something ineffably sad about the two native figures whose solitude no longer conveys human scale but rather the physical and emotional distance that had come to separate the Indians and the British.
John Murray (British, Blackhouse, Aberdeenshire, Scotland 1809–1898 Sheringham, Norfolk county, England)
With the invention of photography, the eighteenth-century British passion for recording exotic lands and studies of the peoples in India was given new impetus. The earliest photography on the continent dates from 1840 in Calcutta, the political center of British India. The technology for photography arrived in India quickly became popular among the local rulers-many of whom employed photographers at their courts-as well as the British who had come to make their fortunes in the colony. For both populations, the new medium replaced painting as the method for recording the local landscape, architecture, people, and important events.