British Photography in Tibet

by Toby Smith

Rachel Rowe,  is Librarian of the Centre of South Asian Studies and the Royal Commonwealth Society collections in the University of Cambridge Library.  Rachel recently discovered an amazing resource for the study of Tibet and reviews here some of the links and content available.

The Tibet Album : British photography in Central Tibet, 1920-1950 provides online access to over 6000 digital images of Tibet, together with biographical information on the photographers, maps and access to the collection by date and place. The original photographs are held in the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) and the British Museum (London) and digitisation project was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Tibetan musician     (Cambridge University Library, Y3039A/55)


The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University holds the Frederick Williamson Collection.  Frederick Williamson was a British Political Officer stationed in Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet in the 1930s. He was also an ardent photographer. Between December 1930-August 1935, he and his wife, Margaret Williamson, shot approximately 1700 photographs throughout the Himalayan region. As well as documenting the Williamsons’ personal travels, the photos provide an unusually well-preserved and well-catalogued insight into social life in Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet during the 1930s.   Williamson also shot 23 reels of 16mm cine film while in Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. These have now been digitised and can be viewed online.

Also in Cambridge, the Centre of South Asian Studies holds three 16 mm films by Arthur John Hopkinson, Political Officer in Sikkim, 1945-48.  One of these was taken on an extended tour of Tibet in 1947-48.  The Centre also holds transparencies and negatives taken in Tibet in 1934 by H.B. Hudson.  Colonel H. B. Hudson served in the Indian Army from the 1930s until Independence.  He travelled widely and spent one year in Tibet and made three survey journeys for the Himalaya Route Books. The Centre of South Asian Studies holds his memoir, A backward glance.  


Group at Giagong on the Tibetan Frontier (Cambridge University Library, Y302592A/17)

The Royal Commonwealth Society collections in Cambridge University Library hold a report by Colman Patrick Louis Macaulay (1848-1890), Secretary to the Government of Bengal, Report on a Mission to Sikkim and the Tibetan Frontier, with a Memorandum on our relations with Tibet, 1885, including 22 images. (ref. Y302592A) Macaulay undertook his mission in October-November 1885, and reported enthusiastically on the value of extending British relations with Tibet, but though he was chosen to lead a subsequent mission to promote this, an Anglo-Chinese treaty led to its abandonment.For more information on the opening photograph of a Tibetan musician by Benjamin Simpson, see: