Britons and their collectibles in late eighteenth-century India
Tillman W. Nechtman
When he returned from India in 1808, William Hickey discovered that Britain’s customs house officers wanted to tax as “foreign art” the collectibles he had acquired during his almost forty years in South Asia. Hickey saw their efforts as “an infamous transaction.” The art had been produced and purchased in a British settlement, it had been made by people living under British law, it was now the property of a Briton, and it had made its way from British India onboard a British East India Company ship. There was, Hickey noted, “nothing foreign from beginning to end in the whole transaction!” This chapter investigates the way late-eighteenth-century Britons in India framed their cultural life. Rather than delimiting Britishness to a domestic identity, this community braided their sense of self, nation, and empire into one singular narrative. Those, like Hickey, who left Britain with a sense of their own Britishness did not give up that sense merely because of India’s geographic distance from the metropole. Rather, they came to include India’s landscape and culture as part of their notion of what it meant to be British – even if domestic observers failed to appreciate this expanded sense of the national self.