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

John Claude White - politics

Surveying the frontiersSurveying the frontiersBeryl White's father, John Claude White, was appointed Political Officer of Sikkim in 1889, a position he held until his retirement in 1908.

In his reflections on his professional career in his book Sikhim and Bhutan White welcomes his long secondment and states that the ‘constant intercourse with the people’ gave him an ‘insight into their character’ which he otherwise could never have acquired.

He comments how ‘as the years passed’ he ‘grew to love the work, the country and the people’ and that as part of his duties he ‘visited every corner of Sikhim, even the most remote’ and became ‘acquainted with every head man and...almost...every villager.’

As the Maharaja and Maharani of Sikhim had temporarily been removed to Darjeeling by Government decree, White's role entailed the taking charge of the administrative affairs of the State in conjunction with a ‘Council composed of the chief Dewans, Lamas and Kazis’ over which he presided.

Local groupLocal groupWhite refers to some these Sikhimese councillors as ‘his best friends,’ expressing his sincere regard for them. He stresses the good and supportive working relations with the Council and how over the years the country which initially had ‘no courts of justice, no police, no public works, no education for the younger generations’ improved, and how roads were built as the revenue increased.

As part of these duties he carried out extensive surveying work of the terrain, often under the most arduous conditions. Using his glass plate camera, he recorded the stunning views he encountered. John Falconer, curator of photographs in the British Library’s Oriental and India Office Collections describes his photographic work as ‘probably one of the last, and certainly among the most impressive products of a tradition of quasi-amateur photography which had flourished among administrators and military personnel in India since the 1850’s.’

White also took part in the controversial Tibet Mission to Lhasa in 1904, and was initially appointed joint commissioner with Francis Younghusband.

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