Almost two years ago adivaani received the proposal for Illustrated Pursuits: a collection of drawings, published articles and maps by Walter Stanhope Sherwill, who spent a total twenty-seven years in India since he first arrived as a young man in 1834 to work for the British East India Company. He served as an ensign, Assistant Revenue Surveyor, Revenue Surveyor of what was then known as the Bengal Presidency. He held positions of Lieutenant; Captain—a position he held until 1859 when he became Major Sherwill. On his retirement in 1861 he was given the title Honourable Lieutenant Colonel.
When Ngaire Gardner, the author, a retired school teacher who taught History of Art, Classical Studies, Visual Arts, Design and Photography and also great-great-granddaughter of Sherwill contacted us; we knew little of Sherwill except that the iconic drawing of Sidhu Murmu in jail, one of the brothers famous for leading the Santal Rebellion 1855-57, was in all probability drawn by him.
‘Hot Wells and Springs in the bed and on the banks of the Bum Buklesir Nullah – Zillah Beerbhoom’; W. S. Sherwill, 1851; Indian ink on paper; © Dunedin Public Art Gallery; 40.8 x 27 cm.
That image has been in circulation and used by Santals and Adivasis for years now to represent and assert our identity rights and self-determination.
What are the odds that an Adivasi publisher comes in contact with Sherwill’s descendant and has access to more material that serves as the only window to the life and times of our people over a century and half ago. Well, it happened and Illustrated Pursuits came to life.
‘The Great Tree embedded Gun, at Moorshedabad’; W. S. Sherwill, 1850; Indian ink on paper; © Dunedin Public Art Gallery; 41 x 27 cm.
Sherwill’s “Notes Upon a Tour of the Rajmahal Hills” (1851) and “Notes Upon a Tour of the Sikkim Himilayahs” (1852), both published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and included in this book, give us a glimpse of the tribal people and their customs in those regions. Actually, Sherwill’s work does reflect British colonial positions and this book will help us engage with those thought patterns and approaches.
We did not want to pass up the prospect of having this historical material, curated in one place and made available to the descendants of Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu and the others who have been represented in Sherwill’s drawing.
Ngaire Gardner sums up the intention of the book: ‘the consequences of British colonial attitudes to the land, resources and indigenous population of India continue to reverberate today and readers will inevitably bring their own perspectives to Sherwill’s images and words. My aim has been to share the material he has left behind and to allow readers to form their own opinions of his legacy’ .
The book, from our imprint ONE of US, is now available for you to read. Go ahead and grab your copy.