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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Thomas Biggs

Names:
Other: Captain Biggs 
Other: Col. Thomas Biggs 
Other: Colonel Thomas Hesketh Biggs 
Other: Colonel Thomas Hesketh Biggs, R.A. 
Other: Thomas Hesketh Biggs 
Dates:  1822 - 1905
Active:  India
 
  
Served in the Bombay Artillery in 1842. He was appointed Government Photographer in 1854 with a commission to photograph architectural and archaeological sites. Over the course of 1855 he produced more than 100 paper negatives of Aihole, Badami, Bijapur and other sites in Western India. His photographs were well received by the Photographic Society of Bombay. Although his work was praised in dispatches in 1857, his photographic career was cut short as the army insisted that he return to his military duties due to a staff shortage at a time of war. Succeeded by W.H. Pigou as official Government Photographer. Early in 1865, in his official capacity, Sir Bartle Frere, a member of the Viceroy‘s council and his confidential adviser, supervised a photographic survey of the monuments of Bijapur and Ahmadabad by Dr. Pigou and Thomas Biggs. His architectural photographs appear with those of A.C.B. Neill and William Harry Pigou in ‘Architecture in Dharwar and Mysore‘ (1866) and ‘Architecture at Beejapoor‘ (1866) by James Fergusson and Philip Meadows and Architecture of Ahmedabad (1866) by T.C. Hope and James Fergusson.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Thomas Biggs
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

 
  
The son of a minister, Biggs was educated in classics and mathematics at Guildford Grammar School in Surrey. In 1840, just at the dawn of photography, he entered Addiscombe Military Seminary, the training establishment of the East India Company. Two years later he was in the Bombay Artillery, but the following year he proved proficient in Hindustani and was made an interpreter. Biggs was assigned to the Revenue Survey and may have met william coussmaker anderson during that service. He passed his examination on the Canarese language of South India “in a very credible manner” in 1845. Like many military men in India, Biggs became fascinated with archaeology, but he soon discovered the difficulty and uncertainty of sending manual copies of stone inscriptions back to London. Biggs was furloughed on sick leave in England starting in 1850. As he recalled in the British Journal of Photography more than three decades later, he watched his brothers practicing photography and it struck him “that it would be a perfect method of copying the sculptures and inscriptions.” He considered wet-collodion, but after studying chemistry and visiting the laboratories of Andrew Ross and Noël-Marie Paymal Lerebours, he realized that paper negatives were far more practical for the Indian climate. Biggs took lessons from Samuel Buckle and then presented his plan to the directors of the East India Company, who were so impressed that they traded him a complete new photographic outfit in exchange for his first album. He was appointed “Government Photographer, Bombay,” and was the first person to officially assume that position. But the outbreak of the Persian War forced his return to the Bombay Artillery, and in 1855 Biggs was replaced by another calotypist, William Harry Pigou. Biggs remained loyal to the original calotype process, observing that he had never achieved a good negative by the waxed-paper process, and, as far as he had seen, neither had anyone else. In the 1856 exhibition of the Photographic Society of Bombay, his 15 x 18 inch views of the ruins and inscriptions of Beejapoor, done with Buckle’s version of the calotype, “carried off the palm.” In 1866 Biggs was a major contributor to the exhibition of the Amateur Photographic Association in England. In 1866 he supervised the publication in England of three volumes of photographs of Ahmedabad, of which only forty copies were issued. 
  
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
  
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John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

 
Amateur, India
Son of Rev. Thomas Hesketh Biggs, Rector of Whitbourne and his wife Jane; educated Midhurst Grammar School, 1839, Addiscombe, 1840; Entered Bombay Artillery 1842; he was supplied with a photographic apparatus by the East India Company in 1854 and appointed Government Photographer, Bombay to record architectural sites, February 1855; recalled to military December 1855 and was succeeded by W. H. Pigou. Photographs by Biggs appear in M. Taylor and J. Fergusson's Architecture in Dharwar and Mysore (1866) and Architecture at Beejapor (1866), also in T. C. Hope and J. Fergusson, Architecture of Ahmedabad (1866).
 
At the meeting of the Photographic Society of Bombay of 12 December 1854, ‘Captain Biggs, of the Bengal [sic] Army (the gentleman who was lately been presented by the Hon’ble Court of Directors with a valuable photographic apparatus) exhibited some splendid specimens of views both negatives and positives, his own work, some at least 15 by 12, and some stereoscopic views about 8 by 6. The excellency of these pictures naturally led to numerous enquiries, which Captain Biggs very kindly and fully replied to. His mode of manipulation is precisely that followed by Mr J. D. Llewellyn, an account of which will be found at page 194 of the London Photographic Journal. In taking stereoscopic views he obtained the correct angle by allowing between the position of the camera for each view a space of 2 yards for every 150 yards of distance from the object, and for portraits in the ratio of 2 inches for every six feet of distance from the sitter’.[1]
 
At the society’s January 1855 exhibition, ‘an assortment of views, - European and Indian - taken by Captain Biggs...many of them on a large scale, excited general admiration. Captain Biggs also exhibited a very handsome Photographic apparatus for pictures 15x12, finished in Ross’s best style, and fitted with a set of Ross’s double and single lenses, a present to him from the Court of Directors [para]. Apropos to Captain Biggs; we observe with much satisfaction that the Court of Directors have availed themselves of this gentleman’s photographic experience in endeavouring to obtain photographic Fac similes of the Caves and Temples of Western India. This is decidedly a move in the right direction. The Government have already expended, and are still expending, enormous sums to perpetuate these relics of Indian antiquity. A number of oil paintings of Caves has been transmitted home, and several more, we believe, are in course of completion; but however perfect and beautiful these paintings may be in themselves, it will still remain a question, with those especially who may not have had an opportunity of visiting the places represented, how far they are to be relied upon as accurate, and how much of their details are to be set down to that peculiar species of ‘licence’ which ‘poets and painters’ are proverbially partial to.[para] Even with the works of eminent masters four out of ten may be regarded as more than a fair average of the degree of accuracy attained, and by a parity of reasoning, we may safely anticipate the same degree of uncertainty with respect to the labors of those who are now engaged upon the caves. [para] Should Captain Biggs prove successful, - and we are sanguine in our expectations of success, - Photography will have achieved a stupendous undertaking, and the Court of Directors will be placed in possession of a series of Photographic views, from which oil paintings of any size might be made, which shall combine the truth and faithfulness of the ‘PENCIL OF THE SUN’ with the grace and beauty of the ‘PAINTER’S BRUSH’. sitter’.[2]
 
At the Society’s meeting of 17 January 1855, ‘Captain Biggs exhibited stereoscopic pictures about 8x6 of the lying-in-state of the remains of the late Commander-in-Chief, H.E. the late Lord Frederick Fitzclarence. The execution of these seemed excellent, and when it is remembered that the room in which they were taken is in length 70 feet by 30 feet broad, and light admitted by two ordinary sized doors at the extreme end away from where the objects lay, the difficulty of the undertaking may in some degree be estimated, - there they were however perfect in every detail, and only confirmed the opinion before entertained by all who have seen his productions, that he is a first-rate photographer, and having him on our list of members we have a great acquisition. The exposure for these pictures Captain Biggs intimated was one hour and twenty minutes.’ sitter’.[3]
 
In a letter to the society from Bijapur, dated 13 April 1855, Biggs shared some of his experiences regarding the iodizing of papers in England and India: ‘Before leaving England I iodised some quantity of paper after the plan given by Mr Llewellyn in the Photographic Journal. I found the exposure requisite in England to be eight minutes with small aperture, and in Bombay, the exposure six minutes, and at this place (Beejapore) the same. I iodized while in Bombay some more of the very same paper with the same chemicals and exactly in the same way, and a still larger quantity in Belgaum. On coming here I found by experiment that though the same paper iodized in England worked in six minutes, that that prepared in Belgaum required fifteen minutes exposure. It therefore appears to me that this effect is not produced by the actinic light as I believe is generally supposed, but by a peculiar action of the atmosphereon the chemicals at the time of the preparation of the paper. The paper, though working so slowly, is quite equal to if not superior to that prepared in England, and I always observe that the objects in shade are better brought out with a slow paper than with a quick, though such lengthened exposure as 15 minutes is very tedious. [para] I have also learned that the iodized paper will not bear sunning under such a fierce sun as we encounter here at this season...’[4]
 
On 6 June 1855 W. Hart, Secretary to the Bombay Government, sent 17 of Biggs’s Bijapur photographs to the society for exhibition.[5]
 
Letter from Biggs to Secretary of State for India, dated 20 Leinster Square, Bayswater, London, 3 December 1877, in Geographical Home Correspondence:[6] ‘As the originator and the first officer employed to carry out the design of copying the sculptures and inscriptions in India by means of photography with a view to recovery of the Pali language, and the lost history of India, and the ancient manners, customs, employments and ceremonies, which are so faithfully and beautifully represented, in stone, though the exigencies of the service prevented my being able to [?]mature the same - I have all along taken a deep interest in the very scanty information I have with difficulty procured on the subject. I hope therefore I am within bounds in presenting this request, that I may be supplied with copies of the official published reports from the departments in India employed on this interesting work, since 1866. I need scarcely refer to the fact of copies of my photographs having been presented to her gracious Majesty the Queen and to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales - and having obtained a medal at the Paris Exhibition - and the existence in the Library of the India Office of a large manuscript volume of copies of sculpture - presented by me to the Hon’ble Court of Directors in 1853, which mainly led to the desire on the part of the government to have the sculptures and inscriptions copied systematically.’
 
In 1862 the Revenue Commissioner, Southern Division, ‘submits a proposal for obtaining photographic likenesses of remarkable tribes in India required by the Home Government.’ In the reply of 31 January, ‘The Revenue Commissioner is requested to communicate to Colonel Biggs the want of Government, and they agree to purchase from him such of the photographs he takes as Government require.[7]
 
Letter from Biggs, dated 31 May 1864, requesting permission to send 12 selected prints of his Ahmadabad photographs to the coming Amateur Photographic Association in London. Government agrees and passes on ‘the satifaction which Government have derived from an inspection of his beautiful pictures.’[8]
 
Letter from Biggs, ‘on special duty’, dated 1 September 1864, sending in a copy of his journal up to 31 August 1864, and explaining the circumstances which have prevented him sending in as many photographs as he should have. Government replies that this explanation is accepted, but that in future he should endeavour to ‘adhere more closely to his written instructions.’[9]
 
Despatch from H. M.’s Principal Secretary of State for India, No. 27, dated 23 August 1866 - ‘Intimating, in reply to the Despatch from this Government No. 21, dated 12th May 1866, that Colonel Biggs was called on to make over to Mr. T. C. Hope all the negatives, drawings, lists, etc., being the property of Government, connected with the Architectural Antiquities of Western India; forwarding, for consideration, copy of a letter from Colonel Biggs, together with that of a memoradum thereon by Mr T. C. Hope, and requesting to be furnished with the opinion of this Government as to certain claim[s] put forward by Colonel Biggs.
‘RESOLUTION. - The Secretary of State may be informed that this Government do not consider it would be worth while to contest the claim Colonel Biggs has advanced to these negatives; that out of the fourteen so claimed eight may, as pointed out by Mr. Hope, be at once returned, and that arrangements be made for the retention of the remaining six by purchasing them outright from Colonel Biggs, or by offering him other negatives which will not be required for publication, in exchange.’[10]
 
Transfer from the Educational Department of the Secretariat, No. 447, dated 23rd July 1866. - ‘Forwarding, for disposal, a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Biggs, (late) of the Royal Artillery, dated 8th June 1866, complaining of the arbitrary manner in which the Architectural Antiquities Committee have appointed Mr. Hope his successor, and of the uncourteous and overbearing conduct of Mr. Hope towards him
. Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Biggs, (late) of the Royal Artillery, dated 23rd June 1866 - Forwarding extracts from letters corroborative of the statements contained in his above letter, and requesting that the same may be submitted to His Excellency the Governor in Council.
Letter from the Secretary to the Committee of Architectural Antiquities of Western India, dated 28th January 1867 - Communicating the Committee’s observations on the above.’ [11]
 
View of date palms at Belgaum by Col. Biggs R.A., among a collection of views with Amateur Photographic Association stamps, sold at Christies 27 Sep 2001, lot 27. 
  
 
  

Footnotes 
  
  1. Λ Journal of the Photographic Society of Bombay, No. 1, January 1855, p. 12. 
      
  2. Λ Journal of the Photographic Society of Bombay, No. 2, February 1855, pp. 17-18. 
      
  3. Λ Journal of the Photographic Society of Bombay, No. 2, February 1855, p. 20. 
      
  4. Λ Journal of the Photographic Society of Bombay, No. 5, May-June 1855, p. 83. 
      
  5. Λ Meeting of 13 June 1855, Journal of the Photographic Society of Bombay, No. VI, July 1855, p. 96. 
      
  6. Λ IOR/L/E/2/103 item 50. 
      
  7. Λ Bombay Public Proceedings, January 1862, IOR/P/352/35 No. 83 
      
  8. Λ Bombay Public Works Department Proceedings, 1122 of 15 June 1864, IOR/P/353/52. 
      
  9. Λ Bombay Public Works Department Proceedings, 1736 of 17 September 1864, IOR/P/353/53. 
      
  10. Λ Bombay Public Proceedings, October 1866, IOR/P/441/49 No. 933 
      
  11. Λ Bombay Public Proceedings, February 1867, IOR/P/441/50 No. 152 
      
 
  

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