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The album was written by the city’s British Resident at the Mughal Court, Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe (1795-1853), and gives a vivid description in text and pictures of life in the city at the time.

With 120 lovingly detailed watercolours, one pictured right, the album cost a total of £83,650; with additional funding for the purchase from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Both the text and the illustrations include descriptions of the city’s citizens, its history and its monuments, both those with which the British were familiar, such as the great Mughal monuments built by the Shah Jahan (reg. 1628-58), as well as those from pre-Mughal dynasties. Many of the buildings and monuments depicted were destroyed following the mutiny of 1857; the album therefore forms a highly significant record of the architecture of the era.

Many of the illustrations are either signed by, or done in the studio of, Mazhar Ali Khan, the principal topographical artist in Delhi in the 1830s and 1840s. Mughal artists of this period still worked in the traditional style, and although they made some concessions to British taste, the work is still recognisably descended from the great Mughal artists of the 17th century.

Metcalfe was probably the most powerful man in Delhi at the time. His album would have been compiled during a period of peace throughout the territories which he administered as Resident. His position, together with a detailed knowledge of the people of the city and its surroundings, made him ideally placed to undertake such a work. The album was compiled in 1844 for the benefit of Metcalfe’s daughters, then resident in England. At the time, it was the custom that the eldest daughter of a widower would keep house for him, and the depth and range of information and the wide variety of subjects covered by the illustrations, suggest that he saw the album as a way of preparing his daughter Emily for her return to India; she was to arrive in Delhi six years later, aged 17.