Continuing the series of blog posts about Manchester Museum’s prehistoric lithics from the Indian subcontinent in preparation for the new South Asia Gallery due to open in 2020.
By far the largest proportion of Manchester Museum’s collection – about half – of the just over 300 prehistoric stone tools from the Indian subcontinent were collected in or around Bombay or Mumbai in 1893 and were presented by someone with the initials ‘F.S.’ (see label shown in photograph above). At first I had no idea who F.S. was until I noticed that on one of the labels the name was written in full ‘Frederick Swynnerton’. Who was Frederick Swynnerton? A quick search on the internet produced a candidate:
The following summary is extracted from Inigo Thomas’s blogpost At Tate Modern about his great grandfather: Frederick Swynnerton was born in Douglas, in the Isle of Man, in 1858. He was one of four sons. Frederick had written about Manx prehistory, and on Indian themes for the Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain, but painting was his vocation. He learnt his art in Rome, where he lived with his older brother Joe and his wife, Annie Swynnerton, the painter, suffragette and the first woman to to be elected to the Royal Academy. He studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and then went to India, intending to make a career for himself as a portrait painter. One of Frederick’s brothers, Charles, was a churchman and moved to India and became a chaplain in Delhi. Frederick married the daughter of an Anglo-Italian military family, and lived with them in Simla. Simla was the summer capital of British India and the Punjab Province before 1947.
India was an opportunity for talented painters like Frederick because portraiture had been introduced by Warren Hastings in order to reduce corruption within the East India Company. Instead of accepting ornate gifts from Indian potentates, officials were to be given pictures of those they wished to influence or rule over. However, there was a problem: in India the sitters didn’t always pay since they got nothing in return. The artists might receive nothing for their labours and Frederick’s life in India wasn’t easy. Frederick also painted what we would now call celebrities , for instance, Jemadar Jangia Thapa, of the 5th Gurkha Regiment in 1890 (National Army Museum 1955-04-20-1). Thapa was awarded the Second Class of the Order of British India in April 1897 and was selected as one of the representatives for India at the inauguration of the Australian Commonwealth in January 1901.
What strengthens the case for for Frederick Swynnerton being the donor of Manchester Museum’s Mumbai stone objects is the fact that we know Frederick exhibited prehistoric stone artefacts that he had collected. In The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain (vol.29 for 1899, p.141) under miscellaneous business of the meeting of June 27th 1899 is a notice of an exhibition of ‘rude stone implements from the state of Gwalior in central India. By Frederick Swynnerton, Esq. Simla’. The objects are described as roughly chipped fragments of jasper, chert, lydite and other siliceous stones, some collected by Frederick from the alluvial plain on which Gwalior stands. Some of the objects came from the gravels of the Sourrka River and the alluvium on the banks to a height of at least 20 feet and also from the surface far from the river. He also showed large quartzite implements of palaeolithic type found at Raipur, 12 miles from Gwalior by C.Maries, Esq. of Gwalior.
Frederick’s interest in archaeology stretched back to his youth on the Isle of Man and in his travels in search of commissions for the portraits he painted he clearly met people who collected stone tools and he himself collected them. Frederick died suddenly in Bombay in 1918 and was buried at the Sewri cemetery and how the objects from Mumbai came to Manchester isn’t known except that many of them have ‘P’ numbers on them in blue paint. The numbers refer to the ‘P Register’, kept by William Boyd Dawkins (1837-1929) and Wilfrid Jackson (1880-1978) and used to record geological, palaeontological and archaeological acquisitions at the Museum.
Unfortunately, whilst the objects, if that is the correct term for them, have been identified as cores, flakes, borers and knives, with a few exceptions, most of the objects appear to be natural.
Whilst this is disappointing the association with Frederick Swynnerton and the British government of India at Simla, Frederick’s marital home, is significant. This cursory study of the prehistoric lithics collection from the Indian subcontinent has revealed a number of connections with the British imperial and colonial presence in India: a member of the Archaeological Survey of India, a Colonel in the Royal Engineers and now a portrait painter of the well-to-do based in Simla.
I am very grateful to Iain Swinnerton for sending me the image of the self-portrait by Frederick.