Frontier Miyoo Mishmies in Assam, East India, 1860s
This image was taken by Benjamin Simpson, a British doctor who served in the Indian Medical Service in Bengal from 1853 to 1890. A number of his photographs were used to illustrate Edward Dalton’s Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, published in Calcutta in 1872, in which the author notes: ‘The Mishmis [sic] are a short sturdy race of fair complexion for Asiatics, well-knit features and as active as monkeys.’ Dalton describes Mishmi men and women as ‘inveterate’ smokers. ‘They commence at the earliest possible age, and when they are not sleeping or eating they are certain to be smoking.’ Photography was a useful tool in the burgeoning discipline of ethnology, and enabled the physical comparison of race to replace comparative linguistics as the principal method of enquiry. Simpson was one of several British photographers commissioned in the 1860s to document racial types in India – thought by some scholars to be the cradle of humanity – for this purpose. However, a set of 80 of his images was also displayed at the London International Exhibition in 1862, where they won a gold medal and helped to sate the growing thirst among the upper and middle classes for ‘exotic’ souvenirs from the East.
The Royal Geographical Society Picture Library is an unrivalled resource, containing more than half a million images of peoples and landscapes from all over the world. The collection holds photographs and works of art from the 1830s onwards and includes images of exploration, indigenous peoples and remote locations. For further information on image licensing and limited-edition prints, or to search our online collection of more than 7,000 images, visit www.rgs.org/images. Rolex kindly supports public access to the Society’s collection of photographs, books, documents and maps.
08 | July 2013