Capt. Robert Melville Grindlay

Scenery, Costumes and Architecture, chiefly on the Western Side of India

 London 1826 and 1830

 

Robert Melville Grindlay was born in 1786 shortly after the India Act of 1784 sought to reorganise the management of the mighty East India Company, and the years of his youth were influenced by the focus of British interests on Indian events. At the age of 17 Grindlay joined the East India Company as a military cade, his father a London merchant having secured him a place. A year later he was promoted to Lieutenant and by 1817 had made Captain. After 16 years with the 7th Bombay Native Infantry, Grindlay retired at the age of 34, and returned to England.

During his relatively short military career, Grindlay’s various appointments within the regiment enabled him to travel widely in the western regions and pursue his interests as an amateur artist. Rudolph Ackermann, an eminent publisher, was quick to identify the market for fine prints of the region and in 1826 undertook publication of Grindlay’s work. Grindlay made more than half of the original sketches with a large proportion of the remainder made by William Westall, a professional watercolourist who had explored parts of the Western Ghats in 1804. Issued in six parts the work consisted of 36 aquatints, printed from plates inked in a range of colours and finished by hand. Over 25 artists, engravers and colourists were employed on the project; Ackermann published the first 12 prints whilst Smith, Elder and Co. then completed the series.

Grindlay went on to start an agency in 1828, Leslie & Grindlay, securing travel arrangements to and from India. In 1839, it became Grindlay, Christian and Mathews until its last incarnation Grindlay and Co. in 1843, which it would remain for another 100 years, incorporating banking operations and eventually becoming the most distinguished bankers and agents to the civil and military officials of the British community in India. In 1847 Grindlay also established a periodical Home News (A Summary of European Intelligence for India and the Colonies) in London, which soon became essential reading for the civil and military community of British India until its last edition in 1898 some twenty years after his death.

Although an accomplished businessman and publisher, it is for his views of western India that Grindlay is best remembered. Scenery, Costumes and Architecture poignantly captures the exotic and romantic appeal of the India that was just becoming known to a wider audience in Britain, and is considered one of the most attractive colour plates books on India ever published.