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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Robert Christopher Tytler

Other: Major Robert C. Tytler 
Other: Major Robert Christopher Tytler 
Other: Major Tytler 
Other: Robert C. Tytler 
Other: Robert Tytler 
Joint: Robert & Harriet Tytler 
Dates:  1818 - 1872
Active:  India

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Robert Christopher Tytler
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Tytler was born in Cawnpore, his father being an Irish-born surgeon stationed in India. Tytler received a classical education from Leith High School in Edinburgh and became a cadet in the East Indian Army in 1834. Later, as Major Tytler, he was present at the Great Mutiny in Delhi in 1857 and was assigned duties in the siege to retake the city. At some time, Tytler had received instruction in photography from Felice Beato and from John Murray and had mastered the waxed-paper process. Tytler was credited with producing at least five hundred negatives of the siege and its aftermath, supposedly as records for his wife, Harriet Tytler, to use in painting her cyclorama. However, recent discoveries indicate that at least a number of these calotypes were in fact taken by her. When some of the negatives were exhibited at a meeting of the Photographic Society of Bengal in Calcutta in 1859, they were judged by the Englishman to be “perhaps the finest series that has ever been exhibited to the Society” and “clearly shewed the eye of the artist.” Tytler “wished it to be understood that the full merit of his photographs did not lie with himself; that Mrs. Tytler, who is a most successful photographer, not only selected many of the subjects, but even developed the pictures herself.” 
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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Unidentified photographer
Harriet and Robert Tytler 
1872 (before)
Family history 
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John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

Amateur, India
Family background: Son of Robert Tytler (b. 1787; d. Chouada, nr. Gwalior, 1838), Bengal Medical Service, 1808-38, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Count Schneeberg. His sister Ann Christiana, Robert Tytler’s only daughter, married John Macdonald (b. 1807; d. Canada, 1872) of the 50th Bengal Native Infantry. She died at Barrackpore in 1834, aet. 18.
Baptised, Cawnpore, 1Feb 1819; married 1st, Isabella, eldest daughter of Dr Francis Neilson of Glasgow, at Meerut, 21 Jan 1843; she died at Landour, 6 Jan 1847, aet. 21; married 2nd, Harriet Christina, 2nd daughter of John Lucas Earle (1791-1845), of the 3rd Bengal native Infantry, at Lucknow, 2 Mar 1848. Harriet Tytler was born at Sikora, in Oudh, 3 Oct 1827, and died at Simla, 24 Nov 1907.
Military career: Entered the Bengal Army in 1834 and arrived in India in February 1835, in the company of his father, who was returning from Europe; the following month he was ordered to Midnapur, to take up duties with the 34th Bengal Native Infantry, of which corps his father was surgeon. On 24 September he was posted to the 38th N.I. and joined the regiment at Sikrol, Benares; in the following cold season marched with the regiment to Delhi, arriving in February 1836. From June 1837 to October 1838, he was absent on sick leave, the greater part of which was spent at Mussoorie; after rejoining his regiment, in January 1840 he moved with the corps to Ferozepur; left Ferozepur in September 1840 for service in Southern Afghanistan, arriving in Dadur on 2 November in time to take part in the putting to flight of Nasir Khan, the young Khan of Kalat, after the repulse of his attack on Dadur. Moved to Quetta with the regiment in January 1841 and towards the end of the month was made corps adjutant; in February 1841 accompanied the regiment from Quetta to Kandahar. In May 1841 accompanied a wing of the regiment on service towards the Kalat-i-Ghilzai, and was present with it in the defeat of the ghilzais at Ilmi. He then served at Kandahar for nearly 15 months, in the course of which he saw action in various operations, including the relief of Kalat-i-Ghilzai. In July 1842 in anticipation of the move on Kabul, he was appointed Baggage-Master to Major-General Nott’s force; on 3 August 1842 he was appointed interpreter and Quartermaster to the 2nd N.I. and in these capacities accompanied the army north, taking part in actions at Goaine, the re-capture of Ghazni, actions at Beni-Badam and Maidan and the re-occupation of Kabul, and various other operations between Kabul and Peshawar during the withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan. Towards the end of 1843 he accompanied the 2nd N.I. on service in the Gwalior Campaign, and was present at the battle of Maharajpur. On the breaking up of the Army of Gwalior in spring 1844, he returned to Agra with the 2nd Native Infantry, acting as Staff Officer to the detachment in which the regiment was included during the movement. Remained as interpreter and Quartermaster to the 2nd N.I. until the end of December 1844, when he rejoined his own regiment at Meerut. On the outbreak of the First Sikh War he marched with the regiment to Ambala, whence in January 1846 he accompanied a detachment of three companies to Bassian on escort duties with commissariat stores; until the end of the war he was employed in charge of Commissariat depots at Bassian and Wadni. On the termination of the campaign he went to the hills on sick leave until November 1847; rejoined his rejoined his regiment at Lahore and in the following cold season marched with to Lucknow. Proceeded on leave, November 1849 to May 1850, and then rejoined his regiment at Barrackpore. In the spring of 1852 proceeded with the regiment to Dacca. Proceeded on leave to Calcutta in October 1852, and in the following December to England on furlough. Returned to India, December 1854, and rejoined his regiment at Cawnpore, whence, in February 1856, he accompanied the regiment as part of the Oudh Field to Lucknow on the occasion of the annexation of Oudh. The following month he moved with the regiment to Gonda, from where in May 1856 he accompanied the it on service to Tulsipur, returning to Gonda in June. In September 1856, proceeded to Mussoorie on leave, rejoining his regiment for the march to Delhi, where they arrived on 28 November 1856. He was present with the corps when it mutinied in Delhi in May 1857, but managed to escape to Karnal and from there to Ambala. He was placed in charge of the Military Chest in the force which was sent to re-take Delhi, and played a conspicuous part in the siege of Delhi. Harriet Tytler was one of the few women present during the siege, during which time she gave birth to a son at the height of the hot weather of 1857. Continued in charge of the Military Chest until May 1858, when he proceeded to Mussoorie on six month’s leave. In May 1859 he proceeded to Calcutta for the purpose of finally adjusting and closing the treasure chest accounts [this must be incorrect: Tytler was certainly already in Calcutta by March 1859: see below], on which duty he was employed until May 1860, when he went home on furlough, returning to India in November 1861. In the following month he received permission to proceed to Ambala and do general duty. April 1862 to February 1864, Officiating Superintendent of the Port Blair, Andaman Islands. March 1864 to Autumn 1870, general duties, Ambala. Services placed at disposal of Home Department for the purpose of exhibiting the contents of a museum he had formed in Simla, in which employment he remained until his death on 10 September 1872. For details of the ‘Asiatic Christian Orphanage’ (later known as the Mayo Industrial School) founded by Harriet Tytler at Simla in 1869, see Edward J. Buck, Simla past and present (Bombay, 1925), pp. 174-75. The school, built privately by Mrs Tytler and opened in 1870, was purchased by a committee after the death of Robert Tytler and supported by funds from various sources.
Was given some initial tuition in photography by Felice Beato and Dr John Murray, Tytler and his wife Harriet took some 500 large-format calotype negatives of scenes associated with the Mutiny (see account below). The statement that these views were all taken in the space of some six months by an amateur only newly-acquainted with photography, in the interstices of a busy military career, seems almost incredible, particularly given the quality of the finished photographs. However, the period during which the photographs were claimed to have been taken does in fact partly coincide with a period of six month’s leave from May 1858 (see Rhé-Philipe above), and it is not therefore inconceivable that he devoted himself to photography during this time of leisure. It is also possible that he actually accompanied Murray and Beato on photographic expeditions, since his view of the Crow’s Nest Battery at Delhi is almost identical to a Beato composition, and he also photographed the Taj Mahal from exactly the same viewpoint as Murray (although this was admittedly a popular vantage place). Harriet Tytler’s memoirs say little about the couple’s photographic activities, although they do describe in some detail her plan to paint a panoramic view of the Fort at Delhi (pp. 167-69). Her brief mention of the photographs appears to be chronologically incorrect (the memoirs were written in old age and not contemporaneously with the events they describe), since she states that they were taken two years after the panorama was made (p. 169), i.e. in 1860. She does also say that when at home on leave the photographs and the panorama were taken to Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria to see (although her mother’s illness prevented the appointment from being kept).
Extract from the report of the meeting of the Photographic Society of Bengal, held in the CE College Library and published in The Englishman of 31 March 1859:
Major Tytler exhibited a most interesting and valuable collection of Calotype negatives, forming perhaps the finest series that has ever been exhibited to the Society. Major Tytler took occasion to observe that he is quite a novice in Photography, having only been working at it about six months altogether. He commenced in 1858 at Delhi, after the siege, in hopes of assisting Mrs Tytler in a splendid panorama, which she was then painting in oils, of the palace. Major Tytler’s photographs were much admired, not only as being very fine specimens of the Calotype process, but also for the happy selection of his subjects, which clearly shewed the eye of the artist. He wished it to be understood that the full merit of his photographs did not lie with himself; that Mrs Tytler, who is a most successful photographer, not only selected most of the subjects, but even developed the pictures herself. The splendid picture of the Kootub Minar was an example of this. The Lucknow photographs were particularly interesting; the view of the Residency was much superior to any that has yet been seen in Calcutta. The collection included views of most places rendered notable during the mutiny, and were taken at Delhi, Mussoorie, Landour, Meerut, Roorkie, Cawnpore, Lucknow, Benares and Agra, in all nearly five hundred negatives. Major Tytler took occasion to express how much he was indebted for assistance to the kindness of Dr. Murray and M. Beato: he has used the subjoined formula, which he received from Dr. Murray. Mbr> 
Float the paper (Hollingsworth’s) on a 12 grain solution of Nitrate of Silver for two minutes; hang up and dry
. Immerse for 10 minutes in a solution of
3 oz. iodide of Potassium.
1 oz. Bromide of ditto.
6 gr. of Iodine.
3 qts. of distilled water.
Whilst wet, immerse for two minutes in a bath of 2 grains of Ferro-cyanide of Potassium to one quart of common water. Wash in 8 changes of water, and soak for 24 hours.
Sensitise with Aceto-nitrate of silver, and develope wit the same, using also a saturated solution of Gallic Acid. The time of exposure varies from 15 to 30 minutes in sunshine. The fixing solution is 1 part of Hypo to 8 of water. After all the yellow is removed, wash for 24 hours.
...The chairman proposed a vote of thanks to the exhibitors for the very pleasing collection of photographs laid before the meeting, and more particularly to Major Tytler, for his choice collection of negatives.
Extract from the report of the meeting of 19 May 1859 of the Photographic Society of Bengal, published in the Bengal Hurkaru and India Gazette and The Englishman, both of 28 May 1859:
Major Tytler then proceeded to exhibit a small portion of the remarkably fine collection of photographs taken by himself and Mrs Tytler in the North-West. The collection is unquestionably the finest ever exhibited in Calcutta; it embraces every scene of the mutiny of 1857, from the cavalry lines at Meerut to the Residency at Lucknow. The negatives, it may be remembered, were exhibited at the last meeting, two months since, at which time, Major Tytler knew nothing of positive printing. Since then, assisted by Mrs Tytler, he has produced a collection of positive prints which do ample justice to his admirable negatives. The following are a few of the more remarkable.
A panoramic view of the Kootub Minar at Delhi, measuring 39 inches by 17; also a smaller view of the same building, shewing the carving, etc. These were both remarkably fine pictures.
The Church at Delhi, built by the late Colonel Skinner. It was outside this building that the officers of the 54th N.I. [Native Infantry] were murdered by their men on the 11th of May, 1857. The Lahore gate of the palace [i.e. Red Fort], Delhi, shewing the quarters of Captain Douglas, in which Mr Jennings, the chaplain, and his daughter were murdered; also the steps on which Captain Douglas and the Commissioner were murdered.
A Panoramic view of the Motee Musjid, at Agra, taken in three pieces. Major Tytler is the first who has taken this building in a single panorama.’
The Taj at Agra, in several views, shewing all the most interesting portions of this beautiful building.
The Residency at Lucknow, shewing the room in which Sir Henry Lawrence was wounded. This is the best view of the Residency that has been seen in Calcutta; it embraces the whole extent of the building.
The tombs of Lawrence and Neil, with the ruins of the Residency Church.
A series of views including the most interesting places at Lucknow; the Kaiserbaugh, taken from several points; the Bailie Guard gate; the marble bridge in the interior of the Kaiserbaugh; the tomb of Sahadutt, now the English Church; the little Emambarra; the mosque of the same, with Jumma Musjid in the distance.
A number of painfully interesting views of Cawnpore; the Ghaut at which the boats were attacked; the well; and the side of the house in which the ladies and children were murdered.
Homaion’s [Humayun’s] tomb at Delhi, where the king was murdered.
... The President, in proposing a vote of thanks to the exhibitors, drew particular attention to Major Tytler’s very beautiful collection, - the finest that had ever been laid before the Society. He said that Mrs Tytler should be included in the vote of thanks, as many of the photographs she had taken herself, and at all of them she had more or less assisted. He hoped that Major Tytler would be persuaded to sell his photographs, as he knew that many persons in Calcutta would gladly purchase copies of some of the more interesting, and the expense of printing such large pictures was so great that Major Tytler could not be expected to give them without payment; and added that the Society would be glad to act as agents for the sale of any he felt inclined to dispose of in Calcutta..
Major Tytler expressed for Mrs Tytler as well as himself, their thanks for the handsome manner in which the Society had marked its appreciation of their photographic efforts, and added that he would gladly make some such arrangement as Dr. Mouat had been kind enough to suggest, for the sale of his pictures in Calcutta; and that he would be happy to avail himself of the Society’s generous offer to undertake the agency for the sale.
A portfolio of Major Tytler’s views may be seen at his own house, 13, Loudon Street; or at 15, Writer’s Buildings, Tank Square, at the Office of the Secretary to the Society, who will receive orders for them.
In the 20 June 1859 issue of The Englishman (and in subsequent numbers) the following advertisement appeared:
Major Tytler’s photographs of the scenes of the Mutiny, etc., etc., etc.
These beautiful photographs are to be seen daily, at No. 15 Tank Square, at the office of the Honorary Secretary of the Photographic Society, who will receive orders for single copies or the whole collection.
[G.W. De Rhé-Philipe, Inscriptions on Christian tombs in the Punjab, the NWFP, Kashmir and Afghanistan (part II, Lahore, 1912), pp. 355-56; V.C.P. Hodson, List of officers of the Bengal Army 1758-1834 (London, 1947); (ed.) Anthony Sattin, An Englishwoman in India. The memoirs of Harriet Tytler 1828-1858 (Oxford, 1986); Edward J. Buck, Simla past and present (Bombay, 1925); service records: IOR/L/MIL/9/180 ff. 709-12; IOR/N/1/141 f. 166; other references as quoted.] 

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