Indian princes

Franco-British Exhibition, 1908

26 May 1908
End date: 
31 Oct 1908
Event location: 

White City, Shepherds Bush, London.


From the Official Catalogue: ‘The suggestion for a Franco-British Exhibition to celebrate the entente cordiale between the two nations was the idea of Mr. Imre Kiralfy, and was first suggested in April, 1904.’ Following the success of the India Exhibition of 1895, Kiralfy expanded his scope immensely, resulting in a public fair at a 140-acre site in West London, which was visited by about nine million people. The Central Line was specially extended for the exhibition, and a new station created on the Hammersmith line. £300,000 was pledged by guarantors, and negotiations opened with the committee arranging the Olympic Games of 1908, which were to take place on the same site. Twenty palaces and seven exhibition halls were constructed of ‘fire-proof materials.’ The Indian Pavilion was built ‘in the severe style of Mohammedan architecture by the Government of India’ (Official Guide, 46). The ‘Indian Arena’ offered ‘the spectacle of “Our Indian Empire.”’ A replica Ceylonese village was built. Refreshments were provided by, amongst others, the Indian and Ceylon Tea-houses of Lipton and Co.

The Chairman of the Indian Group Committee was Sir William Lee-Warner, who had been political and judicial secretary to the Bombay government in the 1880s, and then, in the 1890s, had represented Bombay in the central legislative council. The Honorary President of the Indian Group was the Earl of Minto, Viceroy and Governor-General of India. Despite the hundreds of people apparently involved in the exhibition as a whole, only two Asian names are listed as members of the Indian Committee (Catalogue, p. xl). They are Saiyid Husain Bilgrami, an Indian politician and member of the All India Muslim League, and Krishna Gobinda Gupta, the seventh Indian member of the Indian Civil Service. A report on the Indian Section gives more details, particularly of ‘Indian Princes, officials, and others who assisted in the organisation of the Indian section’: H. H. the Maharaja of Bikanir; H. H. the Maharaja of Jaipur; H. H. the Maharaja Sindhia of Gwalior; H. H. the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir; and H. H. the Mir of Khairpur.

Some of the South Asians listed as exhibiting are listed as living in London. For a summary list of companies and organizations involved, one can consult the index to the Official Catalogue (pp. 317-8). Entries include: Assam Frontier Tea Company, Calcutta; Central Jail, Vellore; Government of India; H. H. the Maharaja of Mysore; H. H. the Mire of Khairpur; Madras School of Art; and the P. B. Press, Bombay.

A map of the exhibition area shows the Australian Pavilion to have been the largest, in the south-west corner of the site, flanked by the Canadian Pavilion and French Supplied Arts section. Moving north-east to the centre of the site, were the Elite Gardens, surrounded by the Royal Pavilion, the restaurant, and the Imperial Pavilion with the India Palace north of that. To the south-east of the site was the Court of Honour and the Palace Français. To the very north-east of the site, alongside Wood Lane, was the Olympic Stadium. The Official Catalogue notes: ‘Generations will pass away before these games can again be held in Great Britain, and every effort has been made to make this the greatest athletic concourse that has every been assembled’ (p. l). The site is now home to the BBC Television Centre and the large shopping centre, Westfield, for the development of which the last standing Exhibition buildings were demolished.

People involved: 

H. H. the Maharaja of Bikanir (assisted with organization of Indian section), Saiyid Husain Bilgrami (member, Indian Committee), George Nathaniel Curzon (member, British General Committee), Krishna Gobinda Gupta (member, Indian Committee), H. H. the Maharaja Sindhia of Gwalior (assisted with organization of Indian section), H. H. the Maharaja of Jaipur (assisted with organization of Indian section), H. H. the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir (assisted with organization of Indian section), H. H. the Mir of Khairpur (assisted with organization of Indian section), Imre Kiralfy (designer of Court of Honour, assisted by his sons - Charles, Albert and Gerald), John Morley (Honorary President, Indian Committee), Gilbert John Elliot Murray Kynynmound, fourth Earl of Minto (Honorary President, Indian Section).

Published works: 

Daily Mail, special edition printed at the Exhibition.

Franco-British Exhibition, London, Shepherds Bush, 1908, Official Catalogue (Derby and London: Bemrose and Sons Limited)

Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908. Official Guide and Description Sommaire de l’Exposition (Derby and London: Bemrose and Sons Limited)

Report on the Indian Section of the Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908, by the Executive Committee of the Indian Section (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1909)

[Birdseye view of] The Imre Kiralfy new International Exhibition Grounds, Hammersmith, London, W. Drawn by A. Poudoire, Architect, 1904. Held at the British Library, Maps 3560.(34.)


See contemporary newspapers, including Sir Walter Armstrong, ‘Art at the Exhibition’, Guardian, 3 June 1908

Secondary works: 

Brown, F. H. ‘Warner, Sir William Lee (1846–1914)’, rev. Katherine Prior, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004) []

Greenhalgh, Paul, Ephemeral Vistas: The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World’s Fair, 1851-1939 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988)

Greenhalgh, Paul, ‘Art, Politics and Society at the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908,’ Art History 8.4 (December 1985), pp. 434-52.

Mackenzie, John M., Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880–1960 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984)

Mackenzie, John M. (ed.), Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1986).

Pes, Javier, ‘Kiralfy , Imre (1845–1919)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004) []


Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908. Official Guide and Description Sommaire de l’Exposition (Derby and London: Bemrose and Sons Limited), pp. 47-8.


On the replica Ceylon village


It is composed of a cluster of gaily coloured houses and huts in the style familiar to tourists who visit Colombo, the Gate of the Far East. The Bazaars are full of life, with their many brown artisans chatting, laughing and quarrelling, but intent all the while upon their handiwork. In the background a huge Pagoda towers over the village, and dark passages lead to the temple in the rocks, accessible only to the priests. Cingalee dancers, musicians, jugglers, and beautiful nautch-girls will entertain the visitors, and many of the mysterious tricks which have hitherto baffled explanation will be performed before the eyes of the astounded onlooker. After dusk a clever scheme of illumination will transform the Ceylon village into a perfect fairyland.

Archive source: 

All original sources are available at the British Library, St Pancras

Coronation of King Edward VII

09 Aug 1902
Event location: 

Westminster Abbey, London; celebrations in India, most particularly in Delhi during the Delhi Durbar, 1902-3.


Edward VII was crowned in August 1902, some months after the death of his mother Queen Victoria, and about two weeks after he had suffered from appendicitis, which was, unusually for the era, operated upon successfully. He assumed the title, among others, of Emperor of India. The death of Victoria had been ‘profoundly mourned’ in India and was marked by the building of the Victoria Memorial Hall in Calcutta (Gilmour, p. 234). Edward had visited India as Prince of Wales from November 1875 to March 1876, including a brief trip to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He had been welcomed warmly, and ‘succeeded in winning the affection of the common people of India, as well as the respect and admiration of India’s princes and nobles’ (Magnus, p. 183).

Indian princes who attended the coronation in London included the Maharaja of Jaipur and the Maharaja of Bikanir, both of whom visited the Viceroy Curzon’s ancestral home Kedleston during their time in England. Receptions for Indian princes were overseen by Sir William Curzon Wyllie (no relation to the Viceroy), the political aide-de-camp to the Secretary of State for India.

The celebrations in India, known as the Delhi Durbar or the Imperial Durbar, took place from 29 December 1902 to 10 January 1903, and were attended by the Duke of Connaught, King Edward’s brother. The programme of events lasted a fortnight and were on a scale never before attempted. The Viceroy’s own camp included nearly 3,000 people, and accommodation for the whole event was provided for about 150,000 attendees. On 29 December the Curzons and Connaughts arrived in Delhi by train. They then took part in a state procession through the centre of Delhi and out to the Durbar site by elephant. On New Year’s Day the main ceremony took place, attended by over 300 veterans of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, most of them Indians who had fought on the British side. The Central Camp of the Durbar was about one mile from monument to the Rebellion. For more details see Official Directory (listed below).

Celebrations took place in other Indian towns; for an example see Poems regarding Coronation of His Majesty Edward VII Emperor of India, at Narsipatam Durbar Meeting on 1st January 1903 (listed below).

People involved: 

Sir Shahu Chhatrapati (Maharaja of Kolhapur), Sir Narayan Bhup Bahadur (Maharaja of Cooch Behar) and Sunity Devee (Maharani of Cooch Behar), Sir Madho Rao Sindhia (Maharaja of Gawlior), Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah (the Aga Khan), Frederick Duleep Singh, Sophia Duleep Singh, Sir Ganga Singh (Maharaja of Bikaner), Sir Madho Singh (Maharaja of Jaipur), Sir Pertab Singh (Maharaja of Idar), Sir William Curzon Wyllie.

Published works: 

The Coronation Durbar Delhi 1903 - Official Directory (with Maps) (Camp Delhi: Foreign Office Press, 1902)

Barjorji, Rustam, The Nazarânâ, or, Indian’s offering to her King-Emperor on his coronation (Bombay: D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co., 1902)

A Collection of Proclamations, Programmes, Tickets and Other Material connected with the Delhi Durbar, 1903, formed by Perceval Landon (Folio, 1902-3)

Bodley, John Edward Courtenay, The Coronation of Edward the Seventh: A Chapter of European and Imperial History (London: Methuen & Co., 1903)

Wheeler, Stephen, History of the Delhi Coronation Durbar, held on the first of January 1903 to celebrate the coronation of His Majesty King Edward VII, Emperor of India, compiled from official papers by order of the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, with portraits and illustrations (London: John Murray, 1904)

Saheb, Mohommed Yacob, Poems regarding Coronation of His Majesty Edward VII Emperor of India, at Narsipatam Durbar Meeting on 1st January 1903 (Vizagapatam: S. S. M. Press, 1907)


See contemporary newspapers

Secondary works: 

Gilmour, David, Curzon (London: John Murray, 1994)

Gilmour, David, ‘Curzon, George Nathaniel, Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (1859-1925)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2009) []

Hibbert, Christoper, Edward VII: The Last Victorian King (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

Magnus, Philip, King Edward the Seventh (London: Penguin Books, 1964)


Bodley, John Edward Courtenay, The Coronation of Edward the Seventh: A Chapter of European and Imperial History (London: Methuen & Co., 1903), p. 227


On the Indian Army’s involvement in the coronation in London and the public’s response.


The Orientals who attracted most attention wearing the King’s uniform were not those from the Levant or the China Sea. The parks, in and around London, had been turned into camps for the soldiers of the British Empire chosen to take part in the military pageants of the Coronation, and one of them was peopled with an imposing contingent of the native troops of the Indian army. That force, two hundred thousand strong, is recruited in every region of the great peninsula, from Kashmir to Cape Comorin, and from the Afghan hills to the delta of Godavery. To hail the Emperor of India it had sent to England representatives of a vast array of races and of castes. There were Tamils from Southern India, Telugus from the East Coast, Mahrattas from the Deccan, Bhramins, Jats and Rajputs from Oudh and Rajputana, Gurkhas from Nepal, Sikhs from the Pubjab, Afridies and other Pathans from the wild borderland across the Indus, Hazaras from Afghanistan and Mussulmans of diverse origin and locality. The crowds admired the dark turbaned warriers in the brilliant attire of Lancers or Guides, and felt a pride in knowing that they formed part of the King’s Army.

Archive source: 

Letters, journals, and other papers, Royal Archives, Windsor Castle, Windsor

Newspapers from Britain and South Asia, British Library Newspapers, Colindale, London

National Archives of India, New Delhi

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