See all stories
19 Aug 2020

Collections Diaries – Part I: Photographs of a Hidden Empire

Written by Lily Barnes – Morton Photography Project Documentation and Digitisation Officer
A black and white cabinet card of a woman standing in an interior. She stands in profile facing to the left. She has long dark hair which she wears pinned back, and wears a dark velvet dress with light and dark embellishments. There is a large leather book on a chair to the left. The woman holds it open with her left hand, and holds a pale handkerchief up in her right.
The cabinet card of Alice Havelock-Allan, with her name written across the bottom.
For the first instalment in our Collections Diaries series, we hear from Morton Photography Project Documentation and Digitisation Officer Lily Barnes about her work on colonial histories in a collection of 19th-century photographs from Brodie Castle.

There are over 3,000 photos in the Brodie Castle collection. Some of these were created by Violet Brodie in the early 20th century, but the majority are Victorian carte de visites and cabinet cards collected by the family rather than created by them. Of these, many were collected by Elizabeth Brodie, Duchess of Gordon in the 1860s. Across the collection, almost all the photographs are organised into albums. The starting point for this article, however, was a rare loose print (shown above): a cabinet card of a woman, created in the studio of William Notman in Canada.

Although I would become familiar with the sitter due to her multiple appearances in the albums, I was first able to put a name to her face when I digitised this cabinet card. ‘Lady Alice Havelock’ is written along the bottom edge of the card, probably by a member of the Brodie family in the 20th century. Other photographs of her in the albums appear anonymously or under different names.

It’s sometimes difficult to determine whether a woman’s name included in an inscription is their married or maiden name. This can be further complicated by the practice of referring to women exclusively by their husband’s names (for example, Mrs Henry Smith), which means that we do not have a first name to confirm an identification. Happily, this was not the case with Alice.

One of the names under another photograph of Alice was Reynolds-Moreton. She was also sometimes listed as just plain Havelock, rather than Havelock-Allan. The more pieces of information I have about a sitter, the less likely I am to mistakenly identify them as another person with a similar name. There are, for example, over 2,000 people with the surname Gordon on the peerage database I use in my research, with around 100 Elizabeth Gordons. Having multiple search terms meant I could cross-reference Havelock, Allan and Reynolds-Moreton to find exactly the person I was looking for.

A black and white carte de visite of a man standing in an interior. The man is slightly balding and has dark hair, a moustache, and long sideburns that reach to his jaw. He wears a dark suit and holds a walking stick in his right hand. A dark top hat rests on a table to his left.
Alice’s husband Henry Havelock, whose photograph is included beside hers in one of the Brodie Castle albums.

Armed with Alice’s many names, I used an online database of aristocratic families to track her down. I found out that she had been born Reynolds-Moreton, and married Henry Havelock in 1865. Her husband added Allan to the family name in 1880, accounting for all her different appellations. Her parents were the 2nd Earl of Ducie and Elizabeth Dutton, and she was one of 14 children. Confirming all three names for Alice meant that I could be sure that they all ‘belonged’ to one person.

Next on my list of questions was to find out why the Brodie family might have collected so many images of Alice in the first place. Was she a friend, a relative, or a society figure they had an interest in? Names could help here, too, both to establish Alice’s connection to the Brodies and to other sitters in the album.

A return to the database revealed that Alice’s sister Eleanor married Hugh Fife Ashley Brodie, 23rd Brodie of Brodie, in 1868. As Eleanor was married after Alice, we can assume that Alice was the older of the sisters. Unlike Eleanor, however, Alice’s date of birth is not listed.

This is relatively common when it comes to historical records; often we can only estimate the birth dates of historical figures from the date of their baptism (this is the case with William Shakespeare). Although it became more common for both sexes to have their birth dates recorded towards the end of the 19th century, this information was still less likely to be included for girls. Most of the subjects in the Brodie Castle albums are aristocrats for whom the birth of sons would have been more important to record; being male was often a prerequisite for inheriting a title or peerage.

When Alice had her own children, all their dates of birth were recorded, which helps to date two photographs of Alice with a baby in the Brodie Castle albums. In both cases the child is unidentified, so without a date we can only guess at which of Alice’s four children they are. It’s difficult even to guess the gender of the child, as up until the First World War it was common for both boys and girls to wear skirts and dresses until they were ‘breeched’ between the ages of 2 and 8. However, we can still estimate the date of this photograph: Alice’s first child was born in 1866 and her last in 1875, allowing us to narrow the date down to a nine-year window. Although we can’t be sure, as the popularity for carte de visites had been largely overtaken by cabinet cards by the 1870s, it seems more likely that this photograph depicts Alice with one of her older children – Alice (born 1866) or Ethel (born 1867).

When I went on furlough in April, I had to temporarily leave Alice and her family behind. But, as so often happens when you try to forget about your work, she managed to pop up unexpectedly in my summer reading!

In Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Samad frequently recounts the tale of his ancestor Mangal Pande, whom he credits with beginning the Indian Rebellion of 1857 – an uprising against the British East India Company, which acted as a sovereign power in the country on behalf of the British crown. Although the rebellion was the result of many underlying resentments regarding British rule in India, the flash point was the decision to issue Indian troops in British regiments with gunpowder casings sealed with pig and beef fat. When loading their rifles, troops were instructed to bite open the capsules in order to release the powder. The ignorance and disregard of the colonial administrators meant that both Hindu and Muslim troops were ingesting foodstuffs prohibited by their religious beliefs.

In Britain, the rebellion was characterised by tales of violence inflicted by Indian troops against British women and children. In truth, both sides committed acts of extreme brutality against both soldiers and civilians, and the rebellion was followed by bloody and ruthless retribution from the victorious British. This result was celebrated in Britain throughout the Victorian era as the triumph of the civilised empire over their Indian subjects, who were characterised as savage, violent and depraved. It became a common subject in literature and art. The rebellion brought about the dissolution of the East India Company, whereafter the country was directly administered by the newly created British Raj.

Searching our Collections database for ‘Indian Mutiny’ – the term more commonly used in the past to refer to the conflict – reveals several related objects across our properties. Like the ones shown here, these usually have a military connection.

In White Teeth, Samad’s son comes face to face with one of the memorials to the conflict – a statue in Trafalgar Square of the man credited with defeating the rebellion. This man, described as the great ‘enemy’ of Mangal Pande, is named Henry Havelock.

White Teeth offers a fictionalised account of these historical events, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to consider it a historical source on the Indian Rebellion. However, although Samad and his son are fictional, Mangal Pande and Havelock were real. The book alerted me to a potential link to Alice’s family, and prompted me to try and verify this connection when I returned to work.

I was able to confirm that Henry Havelock was Alice’s father-in-law. Havelock died at Lucknow, in a crucial battle of the Indian Rebellion. He was made a baronet for his actions during the conflict, and this title was inherited by Alice’s husband, also Henry Havelock. Alice’s husband was in many ways an archetypal colonial figure. Born and buried in India, he fought alongside his father in 1857 and took part in numerous imperial military campaigns in Asia and the Middle East, before being killed at the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan.

For me, these connections highlight something very important about the histories of empire: they are often invisible.

A black and white cabinet card of a woman standing in an interior. She stands in profile facing to the left. She has long dark hair which she wears pinned back, and wears a dark velvet dress with light and dark embellishments. There is a large leather book on a chair to the left. The woman holds it open with her left hand, and holds a pale handkerchief up in her right.

Look again at the cabinet card of Alice. Imagine you have just seen it in an exhibition, and that the only information provided is the name of the sitter, the date and place of production, and that it came from Brodie Castle. What would this photograph teach us?

When I first began working on this photograph, I had lots of answers to this question. It could be used to learn more about early commercial photography, about aristocratic portraiture, about the lives of upper class women and how they wanted to be seen. We might use it to think about fashion, culture and travel – this is a Scottish woman in Canada, after all. Combining this image with the other portraits of Alice in the collection, we might also include questions about children, family, motherhood and marriage, and what they meant for aristocratic women in the late 19th century.

Empire, military history and India were not on my list. With the exception of Commonwealth links to Canada, these subjects are not visually present in these photographs or in their context of production. Although clearly embodied in weapons and other military objects from the time, the connection between these histories of violence and material culture from the 19th century has become obscured. Britain’s empire and overseas involvements are so ingrained in our history, in the Victorian era in particular, that they have paradoxically faded from view.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t use these photographs of Alice to interrogate those questions listed above; those ideas are important too, and these photographs are valuable documents with which to explore them. However, a historical object is rarely one thing, and its stories might not always be clear on the surface. This is something we need to think about when considering any object in our collections, from any of our properties across Scotland. Working on these images of Alice has reminded me of the importance of these lessons, and I’m sure hers will not be the last story like this that I uncover during my work on the Brodie Castle collections.

I hope to be able to share more of the hidden stories of these photographs, and to use them to enrich the ways in which we understand and share Scottish history.

Pledge your love for Scotland

Join now