Munshi. Balmoral tableaux vivants of hunting scenes on an old album leaf. circa 1890s


Abdul Karim, Queen Victoria’s Munshi or Hindustani teacher appears as the central character in the upper tableau vivant on this old album page [8¼ x 5½ ins visible, 210 x 140mm]. Lavishly dressed in clothes more suited to court than the hunting field he strikes a triumphal pose with his foot on the head of the kill. The lower picture shows the stuffed lion in action. The verso has a photograph of Highland cattle, credited in the negative GWW for George Washington Wilson, Victoria’s photographer at Balmoral. The Munshi photograph is not credited but a very similar hunting tableau is attributed on the Royal Collection Trust website to Robert Milne and dated to 1894.

Balmoral tableaux vivants were an entertaining feature of royal life at Balmoral. Although not credited these are probably photographed by one of Queen Victoria’s Balmoral photographers, Robert Milne of Aboyne or his successor George Washington Wilson. A good short account of the Munshi can be found in the recent book Miles Taylor: Empress, Queen Victoria and IndiaYale University Press 2018. The Munshi Abdul Karim was the most influential and privileged of Queen Victoria’s Indian servants and members of the royal family and courtiers were very suspicious of this influence. Excluded by Her Majesty’s tendency to want to talk to him in Hindustani this eventually led to his dismissal by the Prince of Wales and the destruction of his papers and photographs. jul4/3


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