King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
'A daughter of the Empire': Beryl White In India 1901-03

The review

Durbar marching troopsDurbar marching troopsThe Review of the native leaders' retainers excited much public interest and is visually well documented in the album.

In his exclusive account of the event, the journalist Stephen Wheeler describes it as follows:

‘On Wednesday, January 7th, the Amphitheatre was the scene of a spectacle which, for its historical interest, as well as for unexpected scenic effects of a purely Asiatic type, might be accounted the most curious and even remarkable of all the celebrations at Delhi.

This was the review of native chiefs' retainers which was held on the morning of that day.

Krishnaraja WadiyarKrishnaraja WadiyarHere the picturesque splendour of Indian courts, and whatever they retain of medieval pomp and profusion, were presented with no contrast of Western order and organisation.

The Viceroy, in inviting the Chiefs to Delhi, had suggested that they should bring with them as many of their old-world retinues and trappings as were still in use, and had promised to reserve a special occasion, which should be dedicated not to the India of the present or of Great Britain, but to the India of the Chiefs and of the past.

Amphitheatre at Delhi Durbar, January 1903Amphitheatre at Delhi Durbar, January 1903Beryl White's invitation to the Durbar AmphitheatreBeryl White's invitation to the Durbar AmphitheatreSome forty States responded to the invitation by sending their contingent, and two thousand horsemen and one thousand five hundred footmen marched past, with 160 elephants and about the same number of camels.

There were warriors in chain mail; war elephants plated with armour or bristling with spears and knives; men with sword and buckler, with spear and lance, with bows and arrows, or with clubs and staves; half naked Nagas or militant devotees from the Sikh States; drummers, trumpeters and pipers on foot or mounted on horses, elephants, or camels; wild-looking Arabs, who went by executing a war dance; musqueteers with blunderbuss and matchlock; acrobatic troopers, who stood on their saddles; cavaliers à la haute école, whose steeds pranced on their hind legs; retainers carrying palanquins and litters, resplendent with gold and silver, or with velvet, embroidery and silk; musicians, evoking weird sounds from horns and trumpets; dancers executing dances, and bards reciting songs; fan-bearers and bannermen; … – so they went by, one contingent after another sweeping round the arena, in such a marvellous garb and bizarre equipment that it seemed as though a page of Froissart’s Chronicles , specially dedicated to India, were being unrolled before one’s eyes.

Now and again the moving panorama of Oriental pageantry was interrupted by the steady tramp of Imperial Service troops; but for the most part it was a chapter lifted straight from the past.’

(Wheeler, S. (1903). History of the Delhi Coronation Durbar held on the first of January 1903 to celebrate the coronation of his Majesty King Edward VII Emperor of India, London, John Murray.)

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