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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Mack Nepean


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John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

Amateur, India
See: baptism record N/2/12/f.147 [not yet checked]
See: L/MIL/9/223 ff.823-6 [not yet checked]
See: L/MIL/11/54,56-61, 63, 65 f.416 and check later service record.
m. Julia Hannah (b. 23 Apr 1842), 3 Apr 1861; issue: Julie Lydia (b. 22 Feb 1862), Harry Hughes (b. 27 May 1863), Charles Herbert (b. 11 May 1868; d. 30 Sep 1869), unnamed son (b. 24 Jul 1874) Madras Staff Corps, retired 23 Apr 1880.
As a result of the government circular of 1867 requesting photographs of important buildings throughout India, Nepean, whose ‘skill in the art is exceptionally great’, was in 1868 seconded from military duties to photograph architectural structures in the Nizam of Hyderabad’s Dominions.
The commission was not a happy choice, and the Resident at Hyderabad was later to recount that ‘Captain Henry Mack Nepean, of the Madras Staff Corps, was the officer selected to this duty. He was present at the time with one of the Regiments in the adjacent Cantonment of Secunderabad, and his services were, in due course, placed temporarily at the disposal of my officiating predecessor. His emoluments, while thus employed, were to consist of his pay as a Captain in the Madras Staff Corps...with a special allowance of Government Rupees 350 a month, and Government Rupees 5 per diem as travelling expenses to be defrayed by His Highness the Nizam...Captain Nepean proceeded on his tour under the above engagement in August 1868. In a letter to Sir Salar Jang, Mr Cordery, I find, had intimated that the terms which Captain Nepean ‘willingly accepted’ as his part of the contract were that he should furnish to His Highness’ Government ‘eight copies of not less than fifteen negatives of a large size per mensem.’ However, problems became apparent almost immediately, and ‘even before Captain Nepean left Hyderabad on his tour, the demands of his creditors against him began to pour into the Residency...Within a short period after his leaving Hyderabad however, complaint after complaint reached me against him, chiefly affecting his pecuniary dealings with his brother officers, domestic servants and others...What has chiefly caused the present representation is that Captain Nepean, in January last [1869], suddenly sailed for England on medical certificate, without having furnished a single photograph as the result of the seven months during which he has been in receipt of pay from His Highness’ Government...[which has] advanced to Captain Nepean a sum of in all Government Rupees 2,812-9-10, for which His Highness’ Government have received no manner of consideration.’ Moreover, ‘he appears to have made use of his position for the purpose of incurring fresh pecuniary liabilities at Jaulnah and Aurungabad, [which] forms a picture such as, I am sorry to think, should have been exhibited by any British Officer in the heart of a Native State.’[1] The numerous enclosures with this letter supplied compelling evidence of Nepean’s evasion of his debts, including Rs. 200 advanced to Mrs Nepean by Grindlay, Groom and Co. of Bombay. After considerable pressure from his superiors Nepean paid this debt, but was then confronted by an even more serious charge from a brother officer Lieut-Col. Freese, from whom he appears to have obtained money under false pretences.
On 10 October 1868, Nepean was ordered to return to his regiment at Secunderabad to answer these various charges. He replied on 18th October 1868, repudiating the claims of fraud and stating that the sum had been repaid. He further demanded that Freese withdraw his allegations. He similarly went on the offensive with regard to claims from his servants for unpaid wages, accusing them in turn of robbing him and ransacking his house in his absence. On 20 October, the First Assistant Resident wrote to Nepean demanding ‘a statement of the work you have executed under your agreement with His Highness the Nizam’s Minister...Mr Saunders also desires that you will submit to this office, as soon as possible, what photographs you may have prepared, together with any unexpended balance of whatever advance you may have received on account of the same from the Native Government.’ After looking over the correspondence and Nepean’s responses, Nepean was informed that Brigadier General deSausmarez (letter of 17 November 1868) had decided not to recall Nepean immediately, in the hope that some photographs would at least be produced: an immediate report on the progress of the photography was therefore demanded. On 20 November Nepean wrote from Aurungabad promising the imminent despatch of ‘copies of several photographs taken by me of Rozah, Ellora, Dowlutabad, and Aurungabad.’ In a further letter of 23 November, he disingenuously suggested that ‘it would be more satisfactory to me to me to receive no further payments until it is considered that I have completed work equivalent in value to the sums that have already been advanced to me’. As to progress, ‘I am now engaged in printing from some seventy or eighty negatives of Ellora, Rozah, Dowlutabad and Aurungabad, and...these will shortly be forwarded. I purpose in future to print from my negatives as soon after taking them as possible, and not carry out the plan I have hitherto adopted, of making a complete collection of negatives first, as this appears, by your letter, to lead to the supposition that I am receiving pay without furnishing an equivalent in photographic work...I propose visiting Adjuntah, Beedur, Beejapore and Goolburgah, directly I have forwarded the promised prints of my present negatives, and I calculate that the whole work upon which I am engaged will be completed by the end of February at the latest.’ On 23 December, the Resident replied acidly that ‘he has great pleasure in acceding to your request,’ not to receive further payments until photographs were produced. However, the first promised batch did not materialise, and on 31 December 1868, Nepean wrote to Hyderabad from Bombay, saying that ‘I have made every endeavour to procure photographic dishes sufficiently large for printing my pictures (size 21 inches x 16 inches) but to no purpose, as they cannot be obtained in Bombay, and the few attempts at working without such dishes gave me pictures that were not presentable.’ As a sweetener, he mentions that ‘I have added half a dozen very interesting ones of Khadrabad and its vicinity,’ before stating that ‘should the state of my health necessitate my going to England, I purpose printing the whole of these there, and making them over to the India Office...In consequence of the difficult of commanding suitable apparatus in this country...I shall be able to work in England under great advantages.’ Nepean then almost immediately and without informing his superiors departed for England leaving unpaid bills, unreturned equipment, administrative chaos and no photographs.[2]
On 20 July 1870, the India Office wrote to Nepean, ‘in compliance with a requisition lately received from the Government of India’, demanding to know, ‘with the least possible delay, what progress you have made in completing the photographs of architectural remains in the Nizam’s Dominions, for which you have already been paid by His Highness’ Government.’ Nepean (by this time in England) replied on 22 July, forwarding 128 photographs (eight copies from 16 15x12 negatives), stating that he was ‘busily engaged’ in completing work in hand, and promising that ‘another batch of photographs will be forwarded in the course of a few days.’ As a reason for the delay, he writes that ‘It is necessary that I should take this opportunity of explaining that the production of these enlarged photographs can only be carried on satisfactorily during the summer months in this country, and that ill-health...rendered it impossible to complete the work last summer.’ In support of this, he encloses a copy of a medical certificate stating that he had been confined to bed in London with malaria and a liver complaint between June and September 1869. His medical report from India also notes that ‘In October of this year [1868] this officer was employed in photographing the caves of Ellora, for Government, and the unhealthy nature of the employment, working the greater part of the day in these caves when they were damp, seriously aggravated the disease.’Leave to proceed to to Europe on sick certificate was granted in Bombay General Orders for 13 January 1869. [3]
The above correspondence was sent by Nepean with his letter of 27 April 1871, to the Deputy Adjutant-General at Fort St George in reply to ‘your docket, No. 1571...21st instant’, giving his excuses for not completing the work, the sickness, ‘contracted whilst engaged in photography in the caves of Ellora’, which had required his return to England: ‘I must add that, in September last, I was in a such a debilitated state of health that I was advised that, if I even [ever?] hopes to recover my health, I must set aside photography for a time; and I acted upon this advice feeling that, in my state of health, I was quite unequal to the labour of working very large plates, taking into consideration the confinement it involved and the constant inhaling of œther and other injurious chemicals which necessarily attends the working of photography on so large a scale. I am now perfectly recovered in health, and purpose proceeding at once with the I have in hand, and shall forward a further batch of pictures in the course of a few weeks.’[4]
In a letter of 27 October 1870, the India Office wrote to Nepean, then in England, acknowledging receipt of ‘128 photographs (eight copies of sixteen negatives) of architectural remains in the Nizam’s domains which accompanied your letter of 22nd July last, with the twenty-four additional photographs (eight copies of three negatives) subsequently sent to this office.’ The letter goes on to request the speedy forwarding of the remaining photographs: ‘These 152 photographs, being the first instalment of the 840 photographs for which you were remunerated in advance by the Nizam’s Government in June 1868, were forwarded to Calcutta on 10th September last, for transmission to Sir Salar Jung.’ This reminder had evidently been precipitated by a letter of 22 September 1870 to the India Office from a J.G. Piton, seeking help in recovering debts from Nepean, who was evidently lying low in London. The India Office declined to intervene, but were concerned enough to try to get the photographs which had rashly been paid for in advance. On 24 May 1871 the India Office wrote to the Foreign Department of the Government of India, instructing them to find out from the Madras Government the position and to ‘institute inquiries as to the further progress made by Major Nepean in supplying the photographs and take such further steps in the matter as may seem to you expedient either to enforce the fulfilment of his engagements within a reasonable period, or to receive from him the balance of the money which you have refunded to the Government of His Highness the Nizam.’ These papers were communicated to the Military Department ‘with a view to Major Nepean being called upon to furnish the explanation required by the Government of India’.[5]
On 6 October 1871, Nepean wrote to the Brigade Major at Fort St George, noting that the India Office had acknowledged ‘the receipt of two instalments of prints furnished; the 1st on 22nd July 1870, 128 photographs, 2nd instalment on the 29th August 1870, thirty-two photographs...I beg to state that the whole of the work will be completed on or before the end of this month.’ But further excuses were in order: ‘I was in hopes of finishing the whole series last month, but an accident of breakage of some glass apparatus, owing to the great heat of the weather, completely put a stop to my work for a long time...My photographic arrangements and appliances are now so perfect, that I shall be able to complete the work I have in hand, without the slightest difficulty, by the time I have mentioned.’[6]
In letter of 28 November 1871, Nepean gave further technical reasons for the delay in printing his photographs: ‘The 120, that have been forwarded by me today, are prints from fifteen enlargements upon plates of the size of 15x12 inches, and before I could produce prints from these fifteen negatives, I had to take thirty enlarged photographs upon glass, independent of the original ones, and from the difficulties of this particular class of work, I am often obliged to take a second or even a third photograph upon glass, before I can produce a satisfactory enlarged negative, so that the thirty glass pictures alluded to are the presentable ones out of some seventy or eighty pictures of similar size, the bulk of which is set aside for some fault or other, such as under or over exposure, or blemishes produced in various ways, the result of long exposures, varying from half to three quarters of an hour in the camera, consequent, again, on the necessity of a very small diaphragm to the lens with the view of obtaining good marginal definition. The foregoing shows that the work upon which I am engaged is of necessity very slow and laborious, and its difficulties are such that I am obliged to work single-handed, from the cleaning of the glass plates to the completion of the negatives from which my prints are finally produced.’[7]
On 14 December 1871 it was noted that Nepean had sent a further 120 photographs to the 2nd Assistant to the Resident at Hyderabad, and ‘intimating that a similar number will be forwarded within a week’.[8] On 31 January 1872, Nepean sent the concluding batch of photographs to Hyderabad.[9]
On 7 May 1872 Nepean wrote from Madras to the Brigade Major at Fort St George, reporting his return from leave and recording the completion of ‘the remaining photographs required of me, viz. 144, having been forwarded to the 2nd Assistant Resident, Hyderabad.’[10] 

  1. Λ Letter from the Resident at Hyderabad, to the Secretary fo the Government of India, Foreign Department, dated Hyderabad, 19 February 1869, Madras Military Proceedings, 17 May 1869, IOR/P/439/70 pp.2043-45. 
  2. Λ All this correspondence recorded in Madras Military Proceedings, 17 May 1869, IOR/P/439/70 pp.2043-64. 
  3. Λ All above correspondence recorded in Proceedings of the Public Department of the Madras Government, 11 November 1871, IOR/P/272 pp.1526-27. 
  4. Λ IOR/P/272 p.1526. 
  5. Λ All the above correspondence reproduced in Proceedings of the Public Department of the Madras Government, 25 August 1871, IOR/P/272 pp.1059-60. 
  6. Λ Madras Military Proceedings, 24 October 1871, IOR/P/316 pp.2716-17. 
  7. Λ Madras Military Proceedings, 7 December 1871, p.3119. 
  8. Λ Proceedings of Public Department, Madras Government, 14 December 1871, IOR/P/272 p.1755. 
  9. Λ Proceedings of Public Department, Madras Government, 29 February 1872, IOR/P/272 p.199. 
  10. Λ Madras Military Proceedings, 18 May 1872, IOR/P/319, p.1113. 

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