Antique Indian Silver Presentation Claret Jug,
Large Size, Military Interest,
Calcutta (Kolkata), India – circa 1900

This impressive and unusual Calcutta silver jug has been previously published by Wilkinson in his book on Indian silver; he describes it as “Claret jug with troops exercising on the Maidan in Calcutta ..... “ “an example of “made to order” decoration in the Calcutta tradition”.  

The Maidan has been described as the ‘lungs of Calcutta’, a vast grassy area with buildings, monuments and pleasant tree lined avenues.  It was used for a variety of leisure and sporting activities, for the training of troops and as a parade ground.

The jug may have been intended to contain wine or water and could be used for both. It has been finely ornamented with repousse and chased techniques featuring scenes of military training activity taking place on the Maidan.  The chasing has been expertly done with the fine details of the grasses, shrubbery, rocks trees and foliage all well defined. The panoramic scenes provide charming vistas of The Maidan and the whole surface backdrop has been textured.   The scenes cover an extensive area of the main body and neck of the jug.

The jug stands on a circular spreading foot which has been ornamented as a grassy knoll with depictions of shrubbery, rocks, plants and grasses.  The plain stem leading up to the body of the jug has a pendant skirt with leaf frill. The thick scroll handle is of plain silver, as is the hinged lid with its large finial depicting a crouching soldier with his rifle. The bulbous body of the jug has a band of plain silver to top and bottom, whilst the central area of the body and the neck are ornamented with scenes of military life.  Soldiers with uniforms and helmets are shown standing guard, manoeuvring cannons into position and being drilled with their rifles. Weary soldiers sit under the shade of the trees on park benches with their rifles between their legs, having a brief rest after drilling or waiting for the hottest time of the day to pass. A mounted soldier is supervising the training whilst a soldier with a flaming torch stands by a cannon, awaiting the order to fire. Another mounted soldier rides along holding his drawn sword.  The distinctive Ochterlony Monument, (now known as The Shaheed Mina or The Martyrs’ Monument) constructed on the Maidan in 1848, is also portrayed. 

Calcutta had been an important centre for colonial silversmiths, workshops, later augmented by shops, had been set up by British silversmiths to cater to the demands of the ex-patriot community.  As these workshops had expanded, they employed Indian labour, training them in the British and European silver traditions.  In the second half of the nineteenth century several of these trained Indian silversmiths left the colonial silversmiths and set up workshops of their own in competition, particularly around the area of Bhowanipore, where lower overheads allowed them to undercut the prices of the town centre shops.

At first, the Indian workshops around Bhowanipore continued to make silver in the European tradition. Perhaps in anticipation of the Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883, a new less European and more Indian style of silver emerged in the early 1880s. This became known as ‘Calcutta Style’ and objects were ornamented with scenes of Indian rural and village life or illustrated local folk or religious stories. This local style may have been created specifically for display at the exhibition and/or as an attempt to develop a distinctive and immediately recognisable regional Indian style to rival those of Kutch, Kashmir etcetera. The new Calcutta style was strongly represented at the International Exhibition of 1883, where it was praised by the judges, becoming instantly popular and a great commercial success for the native workshops.  By 1892, Calcutta was one of the great commercial centres of Asia and the second city of the British Empire, with a population of around 3.5 million, including 200,000 Europeans.

The new Calcutta style was strongly represented at the International Exhibition of 1883, where it was praised by the judges, becoming instantly popular and a great commercial success for the native workshops.  By 1892, Calcutta was one of the great commercial centres of Asia and the second city of the British Empire, with a population of around 3.5 million, including 200,000 Europeans.

At first glance, the cartouche with the inscription appears to be a scroll unfurling but that is an illusion.  Closer inspection reveals it to be framed on either side by a standard bearer holding a tall flag and with both bearers standing on the cannon placed beneath.  The inscription is difficult to comprehend;  the ring around the central cartouche  states to the upper part, ‘PRESENTED BY’, the inner part of the cartouche says ‘Lt Colonel’ whilst the lower part of the outer ring states ‘The Honble L. Jenkins’.  This suggests that the jug was presented by the Honourable L Jenkins and that the recipient was Lieutenant Colonel.  Very unusually there are no details of the Lieutenant Colonel’s Christian and surnames, nor is it dated. 

The inscription tells us that the jug was presented after 1898 when L Jenkins was appointed a Justice and would then have been addressed as the Honourable.  I think the most likely explanation for the omission of the Lieutenant Colonel’s name is that the jug was presented to Lt Colonel Lumsden, probably in early 1900, and that the scenes portray his troops assembling on the Maidan, before departing for South Africa.  Lumsden was a huge celebrity in Calcutta at this time and he and his regiment would have been so famous that it may have seemed totally unnecessary to record his name, particularly as the accompanying scenes of his troops training on the Maidan would have made the Lieutenant Colonel’s identity blindingly obvious to all.

At this time, England was engaged in the Boer Wars in South Africa and a political decision had been taken not to send any regular service units from India to assist in the conflict. In 1896, Lt Colonel Dugald Mactavish Lunsden requested permission from the British Government to raise a volunteer regiment in India to support the Boer War, the Indian Mounted Infantry Corps.  Permission was duly granted and the Corps immediately became known after the commander and prime instigator, Lumsden, as “Lumsden’s Horse”.   Lumsden's Horse was immensely popular, particularly in India, where it was widely celebrated and seen as representing a contribution from the whole of India to the Empire in her hour of need. Lord Curzon became the Corps Honorary Colonel.  Volunteer troops poured in and a plethora of donations and support came from industry, commerce, the Chamber of Princes and the British Indian community, whilst a series of prominent and lavish fundraising events ensured that sufficient funds were raised to ensure that all the men were extremely well provisioned and equipped for combat.

“As the volunteers flooded in, Lumsden's Horse camp on the Maidan in Calcutta grew and it soon became the place for fashionable elements of Calcutta society to visit on Sunday afternoons.  For the troopers encamped on the Maidan, time must have passed quickly. They were kept busy, training in full campaign kit much of which was probably unfamiliar. On a normal day the rouse would sound at 6 o'clock, followed by a bugle call at 7 o'clock calling them to saddle up. At half past seven the men fell in on the Maidan ready for their first parade of the day, formed up in two companies of 120, each consisting of four sections, subdivided further into subsections of four each. This was followed by grooming of their mounts, no doubt a challenging experience for the Anglo-Indian who had always had a syce to do this. This was followed by training, particularly on the Lee-Metford rifle and short bayonet, most of them having only ever used the Martini-Henry carbine before. Many of the volunteers were not impressed with their new rifle as it had no "kick to it." Tiffin commenced at 1 o'clock, and was followed by an afternoon parade at half past four. Bed was supposed be at half past nine but the planters from the mofusil made the most of their time in Calcutta, enjoying bathing at the Swimming Club, tiffin at Pelite's, dinners at the Bristol, Continental and Grand, and a host of other amusements; it seems unlikely that many retired by this time.”

The presenter, Sir Lawrence Hugh Jenkins (1857/8 – 1928) was born in Wales.  After his education at Cheltenham College and Oxford, he became a barrister and was called to the Bar at London’s Lincoln’s Inn in 1882/3.  He went to Calcutta in 1895/6 and after two years working as a barrister in Calcutta, was appointed Justice of Calcutta High Court, becoming Chief Justice of Bombay High Court in 1910.  He was knighted in 1899 and became a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (KCIE) in 1908, the same year he became a Member of the Council of India.  His main interest was the Freemasons and he served as District Grand Master of Freemasons for Bengal.  He was admired for his legal reforms and his strong grasp and understanding of both British and Indian law.  Rao said of him ‘..... as a speaker, especially on social questions, he is perhaps unmatched’.

As the Chief Justice of Bengal, Sir Lawrence delivered several astute verdicts in a number of high profile conspiracy and bombing cases in 1915. These cases were politically highly charged and required considerable adroitness. 

Provenance:        UK art market

Size:                           Height: 41 cms, width: 18 cms

Weight:                   1317 grammes


C Hayavadana Rao,The Indian Biographical Dictionary, 1915

Wynyard R T Wilkinson, Indian Silver 1858-1947: Decorative Silver from the Indian Sub-Continent and Burma Made by Local Craftsmen in Western Forms, page 61, figure 87, W Wilkinson & Indar Pashrical Fine Arts, 1997

Vidya Dehejia, Delight in Design – Indian Silver for the Raj, Mapin Publishing, India 2008

Henry H S Pearse, The History of Lumsden's Horse, Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1903      Raising the Indian Mounted Infantry Corps for Service in South Africa 1900

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