Nowadays India is one of the largest and most important centres of printing and publishing, the culmination of a tradition that started in the mid-sixteenth century with the Jesuits in Goa. In the pre-Independence era, however, large-scale printing didn’t really take off until the second half of the nineteenth century, and from the late eighteenth century it really seems to have been either controlled by, and for the benefit of the East India Company (EIC) and its employees, the British military, or missionaries. Many of the publications were short runs for a small audience, and their survival rate has generally been poor, left behind to suffer an inhospitable climate when the British returned home.
Those that do survive, however, provide an invaluable insight into how the British saw India, what they learnt from it, and how it set about its empire-building.
Chess is a fine example of something we learnt from India, and in Bombay, in 1814, one of the great Indian chess masters, T. Shastree, published Essays on Chess, adapted to the European mode of play. Shastree used to play simultaneous blindfold games and reportedly never lost to a European. His book is quite substantial and obviously cost a lot to produce but almost from the outset it was rare. Our copy is that of a subscriber and is a lovely example.
Callaway arrived on the island in 1815 and stayed for ten years before returning to England. He produced several works including a phrase book and the obligatory piece of proselytizing. All are scarce, and we are fortunate to have a fine volume containing A School Dictionary, vocabularies English and Cingalese, as well as a phrase book, and the miracles of Jesus. These date between 1817 and 1821.
A valuable example of EIC administration comes in the form of James Taylor’s A Sketch of the Topography and Statistics of Dacca, 1840. This was printed in Calcutta at the Military Orphan Press. Taylor was a surgeon who later established a college in Dacca. Dacca was administered by the EIC and served as a gateway to Assam. The book is distinguished by a large map.
A very scarce work printed at Allahabad in 1885 by the Railway Service Press is Sri Mohant Jai Ram Gir’s Rules on Shooting. A well preserved example in its original blue wrappers, this bilingual work in Hindi and English was written with the wealthy Indian upper class in mind. The subject matter of tiger hunting is now difficult as these beautiful animals have been hunted almost to extinction and as the growing competition between tiger and man for land causes huge tensions. The book does serve as a window into life for some in nineteenth century India and as such is an important document.