Photo-negatives turn up in Scotland; kept in shoebox and covered in 1914 copy of Calcutta newspaper

A cache of 178 photo-negatives discovered in a shoebox at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) in Edinburgh, Scotland, have revealed spectacular vignettes of Kolkata's colonial past. Some of them reflect the high point of the British Raj.

The photographs show, among other scenes, buildings near Lal Dighi (Dalhousie Square, as it was once known) lit up to commemorate the 1912 visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Calcutta; ships anchored near the Chandpal Ghat with a sea of pilgrims bathing in the Hoogly; a religious festival on the Maidan; a street scene, probably during a “betting” game.

The origins of the collection, found wrapped in a 1914 edition of The Statesman, and the identity of the photographer, were not immediately known. The RCAHMS thinks these were possibly “transported back to Britain from India” in 1914.

The RCAHMS is seeking to identify the photographer and the origins of the collection. It is thought the negatives remained untouched for almost 100 years.

As quoted in a media release, the RCAHMS architectural historian Clare Sorensen said: “We don't know for sure how the negatives came to be in our collection.” He added: “It's fantastic that a small shoebox contained such a treasure-trove of photographic imagery, but in some ways it's not unusual. Our experience as an archive has shown us that some of the most interesting discoveries can be made in the most unlikely of places.”

The collection has been digitised and can be accessed at the RCAHMS website: http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/

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