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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Oscar Jean-Baptiste Mallitte

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Names:
Other: Oscar Mallitte 
Dates:  1829 - 1905
Active:  India
 
  
French surgeon who sailed from Bordeaux and arrived in Calcutta on 23rd July 1857. Took the first photographs of the Andaman Islands (1857-8). The photographs, long thought to have been lost, have been discovered in the Queen's Collection at Windsor Castle.

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Oscar Jean-Baptiste Mallitte [Attributed to]
Portrait of Oscar Jean-Baptiste Mallitte 
n.d.
 
  
Family history 
  
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John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

 
Commercial, India
Apparently a surgeon turned photographer, Mallitte arrived in Calcutta on 23 July 1857, having set out from Bordeaux on the French ship Victor on 21 April.[1] On 2 October 1860 he married Grace Thomas at Landour,[2] by whom he had eight children in the following twenty-two years. Died of ‘senile atrophy’ on 13 June 1905 and was buried the following day in the Lower Circular Road Cemetery, Calcutta.[3]
 
He was evidently a practised photographer on his arrival in India, since within a few months of landing his work was being shown at a meeting of the Photographic Society of Bengal on 21 October 1857:
A collection of photographs was then circulated, which had been executed by a gentleman lately arrived from Europe, M. Maliette [sic]. These pictures gave great promise, as M. Maliette has been only a few weeks in India, - and every Photographer knows the difficulties to be encountered in such a case. Among the photographs were some negatives. One was especially satisfactory, in which every rope and spar of some ships in the river came out in the most perfect proportions.[4]
The same meeting was also reported in The Bengal Hurkaru, which recorded that Dr Mouat [qv] exhibited
A very beautiful series of negatives by M. Malliette, a French Artist who has just come amongst us, and is working at the albumen process, which affords great advantages in this country, inasmuch as it enables the photographer to prepare his plates at home, expose them outside, and develop them at any time after the exposure.[5]
Mouat showed more of Mallitte’s photographs at the next meeting of the society:
The President, in exhibiting a number of photographs by Mr Mallieth, mentioned the way in which he gave his proofs such a fine gloss, was by passing the finished proof between two steel rollers.[6]
Mouat and Mallitte evidently became friendly since in 1858, ‘M. Malliette, photographist’ is recorded as living at Mouat’s house at 4 Church Lane, Calcutta.[7] In December 1857 Mallitte accompanied Mouat on a visit to the Andaman Islands, which was the latter was surveying as President of the Committee set up to look into the islands’ suitability as a penal settlement. Mallitte accompanied the expedition as photographer, and
through his unwearied application we were enabled to carry back an invaluable collection of photographic pictures of the country and people – the rich and varied scenes of nature, and striking groups illustrative of the life and customs of the natives of the Andaman Islands.[8]
Mouat’s account of the expedition, from which the above quotation comes, describes in detail Mallitte’s courage and loyalty, and the circumstances under which he was severely wounded during an encounter with the Andamanese.
 
Mallitte’s photographs were again exhibited at the meeting of the Photographic Society of Bengal of 17 February 1858,[9] and at the society’s second annual exhibition in August of that year.[10] In the course of the year Mallitte secured more stable employment with a teaching post at the Calcutta School of Industrial Arts, which had added photography to its curriculum in 1857,[11] an innovation which had proved so successful that in June 1858 it was decided to appoint ‘a practical photographer’ to supervise the classes. This had become possible because of the Government order to make prints of Dr John Murray’s photographs of Mutiny scenes, the profits from which would underwrite the continuation of photography lessons for one year. In his correspondence with government, H. Scott Smith gave details of Mallitte’s appointment, explaining that the Committee of the Industrial Art Society had
Engaged the services of a first-rate photographer, M. Maliette, under whom a photographic class has been opened. Seven pupils now regularly attend, and are learning photography in all its branches, and the Committee expect that in a few months many of them will be qualified to photograph as well as most Europeans.[12]
In a further letter, Scott Smith explained that originally the photographic department of the school had depended entirely on the kindness of amateurs to do the teaching, as lack of funds had limited the supply of chemicals and prevented the hiring of professional instructors. Once the Government order was in place the Society had to extend the department, and
It was found necessary to engage the services of a practical photographer to superintend the class, and to lay in a large stock of chemicals, apparatus, boards, etc. They engaged Monsieur Malliette for this purpose, he undertaking to teach photography in all its branches to the pupils of the school, and to execute the Government order; in consideration of which the Society engaged to give him a monthly salary of 100 Rupees, and 50 per cent. Of clear profit resulting from all work done.[13]
Mallitte was discharged from his post at the school in February 1859, but in settlement of his claim for compensation for breach of contract he was paid 700 Rs. by government.[14]
 
By June 1859 Mallitte was operating as a commercial photographer at Agra[15] and by September his arrival in Lahore for a limited stay was announced, together with advertisements for his portraits and stereoscopic views.[16]
 
Also in 1859 Mallitte accompanied the Viceroy and Governor-General Lord Canning on a tour of the northern provinces, an appointment announced in The New Times:
The Governor-General is to be accompanied on his N.W. tour by Monsieur Malette, professional Photographer: but builders and blasters have long since removed the most interesting evidence of our late struggles. His Lordship determines to be consistent, however, and even this measure is characteristic of the man![17]
Mallitte’s work with the Cannings was also described by another correspondent of The Englishman, who describes the scene at the Viceroy’s departure from Agra on 9 December:
When the Viceroy, with his lady and the Photographist, Monsieur Malliette, wnet off for Muttra. It would be uncharitable to suppose, that this move was not on the political programme of His Lordship originally…I hope, however, that the pensive public will some day or other be gratified with the sight of the sketches that M. Malliette must have taken of the beautiful temples and other monuments for which Muttra and the surrounding parts are so celebrated.[18]
In 1862 he won the extra prize for ‘very beautiful collection of ninety-seven photographs’ at Bengal Photographic Society Exhibition:
We think the judges have done very well. We see that they draw attention to Mr Malletti's [sic] Photographs which are in an album, and arrived too late to be included in the Exhibition Catalogue. We regret not to have discovered these drawings which appear to be landscapes of so great merit that the judges have recommended that an additional prize should be given for the second best series of 10 landscapes and awarded to Mr Malletti.[19]
Some of Mallitte’s later movements in the following years can be traced through entries in the Thacker’s commercial directories:
 
1869 29 Mott’s Lane, Calcutta: profession not supplied.
1870 Not listed.
1871-72 Photographer, Jabalpur.
1873-75 Photographer, 10 Chowringhee Road, Calcutta.
1876 Photographer, 23 Shibtollah Lane, Calcutta.
1877 Photoographer, Calcutta, no address listed.
1878-1903 Not listed.
1904-05 Photographer, Dehra Dun. 
  
 
  

Footnotes 
  
  1. Λ The arrival of ‘O. Maliite, Esq., Surgeon’ is recorded in the arrival section for July 1857 of The New Calcutta Directory for 1858. 
      
  2. Λ Bengal Marriages, IOR/N/1/98 f. 361. 
      
  3. Λ IOR/N/1/325/f.56. 
      
  4. Λ The Englishman, 23 October 1857. 
      
  5. Λ The Bengal Hurkaru, 23 October 1857. 
      
  6. Λ The Englishman, 4 December 1857. 
      
  7. Λ New Calcutta Directory for 1858. By the following year he had, however, moved to 7 Chowringhee Road. 
      
  8. Λ Frederic J. Mouat, Adventures and researches among the Andaman Islanders (London, 1863), p. 69. 
      
  9. Λ The Bengal Hurkaru, 23 February 1858. 
      
  10. Λ The Englishman, 27 August 1858. 
      
  11. Λ The Bengal Hurkaru, 8 September 1858. 
      
  12. Λ H. Scott Smith, 4 December 1858, India Public Consultations, Government of India, Home Department Proceedings, 10 December 1858, no. 76. IOR/P/188/57. 
      
  13. Λ H. Scott Smith, 20 January 1859, India Public Consultations, Government of India, Home Department Proceedings, 18 February 1859, no. 21. IOR/P/188/57. 
      
  14. Λ H. Scott Smith, 17 February 1859, India Public Consultations, Government of India, Home Department Proceedings, 25 February 1859, no. 83. IOR/P/188/57. 
      
  15. Λ The Delhi Gazette, 21 June 1859. 
      
  16. Λ The Lahore Chronicle, 3 September 1859, advertises his impending arrival, with announcements regarding the short duration of his visit in issues for 7, 14 and 17 September 
      
  17. Λ Quoted in Quoted in The Englishman, 6 October 1859. 
      
  18. Λ The Englishman, 22 December 1859. 
      
  19. Λ Journal of the Bengal Photographic Society, vol. 1no. 2, 1 September 1862, p. 48. 
      
 
  

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