Public Perceptions Between England and India in the Late Eighteenth Century

Public Perceptions Between England and India in the Late Eighteenth Century

The characters in The Mogul Tale, specifically Johnny, Fanny, and the doctor as the British, and the Mogul and his eunuchs as Indians, were fictionalized and used as literary tools by Inchbald. The British characters are bumbling and nescient, while the Mogul and his cohorts are knowledgeable and attuned to the world around them (Inchbald). Though this makes for an entertaining story, and though this exhibit is inspired by The Mogul Tale and its characters, this exhibit uses multiple sources to understand how these two societies interacted in reality, rather than in fictional tales, during the late eighteenth century. Individual people, events, or works of art cannot accurately depict a shared societal opinion, and, so, this exhibit does not seek to make claims about the larger relationship between Britain and India. Rather, this exhibit explores different aspects of the realistic relationship between these two countries, and the people within, out of curiosity. 

This exhibit will only examine public perceptions of and from India, though the Mughal (or Mogul) Empire’s boundaries (which still existed when Inchbald’s The Mogul Tale was published in 1788) would have also included modern-day Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, among others. Additionally, although this exhibit mentions the impact of the East India Company, it will not analyze the politics surrounding the company or the eventual British Raj.

About This Exhibit


Jackson Lucas


This exhibit aims to explore a topic briefly examined by Elizabeth Inchbald in “The Mogul Tale”. That is, how the English public viewed India, and vice versa, in the late eighteenth century, and particularly how this manifested itself in the written works, art, and popular culture of the time.

Map of Hindoostan by Rennell, James

 “I think it is a blessed and glorious country, got the purpose we all visit it, and superior to any other upon earth” (Ozias Humphrey qtd. in McAleer 11)

India in British Culture and Art and the East Indian Company

Britain and India’s relationship was rooted in the London-based East India Company that controlled British trade with Asia for nearly three centuries. It altered the way that the British public viewed India and was not just a commercial relationship, but, as McAleer, in Picturing India says, “an intensely visual one” (McAleer 9). The interaction between these two countries and peoples was both economically and culturally important. The British public was increasingly curious about this region, particularly at the end of the eighteenth century, and visual mediums were very important in this process of discovery (McAleer 9). Many British artists travelled to India to document and share their visual experiences, helping to highlight the landscapes and culture and making it more accessible for citizens back home.

Some artists made the trip to India for its sheer beauty. The artist Ozias Humphrey (qtd. in McAleer) said, “I think it is a blessed and glorious country, got the purpose we all visit it, and superior to any other upon earth”(McAleer 11). Others, such as Johan Zoffany (qtd. in McAleer), were expecting “to roll in gold dust” (McAleer 13). Though certainly not every artist found the journey to be fruitful, hundreds and thousands of magnificent pieces were produced. Thomas Daniell’s Old Fort, Playhouse and Holwell’s Monument, Calcutta, Francis Swain’s View of Gwalior Fort from the North-West, and Thomas and William Daniell’s Fakir’s Rock on the River Ganges, near Sultanganj, Bihar are detailed and beautiful scenes of daily life in the city and on the water. Though produced by different artists, all three pieces seem to be of a similar style, are visually appealing, and incite curiosity in the viewer. These works were well received in both India and Britain, and, notably, many of the Daniells’ works were featured in the Royal Academy and the British Institution in London every year from 1795 until 1838 (McAleer 16).

The number of artists in country increased as the East India Company’s operation grew larger and Britain and India developed closer ties. McAleer, in discussing pictures of India by artists in the country and back in Britain, states, “…representation of India by artists who had been there became an equally powerful force in shaping British perceptions of the region” (McAleer 24-25). And James Rennell (qtd. in McAleer), in discussing the level of curiosity in Britain, says, “almost every particular relating to Hindoostan is become an object of popular curiosity” (McAleer 25). These images played an extremely important role in shaping the public’s perception of India, a destination that much of the public would never experience for themselves. While a painting or sketch of an Indian landscape or city cannot convey a sense of the people within, a beautiful image is likely to stir up some emotion in the viewer and either provoke curiosity, or, at the very least, allow their mind to be opened up to an area of the world that is much different from their own.


Old Fort, Playhouse and Holwell's Monument, Calcutta by Daniell, Thomas


View of Gwalior Fort from the North-West by Ward, Francis Swain

Fakir's Rock on the River Ganges, near Sultanganj, Bihar by Daniell, Thomas and William Daniell

"There is much bigotry among many Christian nations. If a Moslem were to go there and give the azan and openly practice the rites of Islam he would be instantly burnt at the stake. But the English are free of such bigotry" (I’tesamuddin qtd. in Narain 158)


Joseph Emin by Unknown

Engraving of Mira Abu Taleb Khan... by Northcote, James

Indians in Britain

Mona Narain, in Eighteenth-Century Indian’s Travel Narratives and Cross-Cultural Encounters with the West, notes the difficulty associated with attempted analysis of Indian encounters with Europeans. Although there is an abundance of literature available on early European encounters with India, it proves much more challenging to find Indian accounts of meetings with or opinions on Europeans, particularly in English (Narain 151). Narain analyzes travel narratives of three Indian writers, Joseph Emin, Mirza Sheikh I’tesamuddin, and Mirza Abu Taleb Khan, written during their time spent in Britain. Their opinions on British character, gender relations, and religious attitudes are highlighted and each of the writers has varied opinions on the British, notably influenced by the individual person’s religion and social status (Narain 153). Narain explains that much of our current understanding of British perceptions of India and its people during the eighteenth century has been based on records from the East India Company, or on views expressed by important and influential individuals at the time (Narain 153). While these expressions are important, they do not provide an insight into the behavior and opinions of regular British citizens, as these three travel narratives do.

Joseph Emin, in Life and Adventures of Emin Joseph Emin, 1726-1809, Written by Himself, writes of his trip to England in 1751, without the permission of his father. He served as a deckhand on the ship and worked multiple unskilled jobs to support himself once he arrived (Narain 154). Emin praised the character of the English, particularly the lower classes, and was often met with kindness, though as a foreigner he was sometimes the victim of suspicion (Narain 154). Emin seems to be, for the most part, very open minded, positive, and curious about the British people. As the son of an Armenian family that moved to Calcutta when he was very young, Emin maintained his Christian faith and uses this in an attempt to find common ground and bond with the English (Narain 154-56). That being said, his opinions are not all positive, and Narain states, “He describes Jews, Roman Catholics, and Muslims as stereotypically conniving and treacherous in his narrative” (Narain 156).

Mirza Sheikh I’tesamuddin had a unique perspective resulting from his upbringing in an upper-class family and employment with both the East Indian Company and the last emperor of the Mughal Empire (Narain 156). His views (qtd. in Narain) of the British are mostly positive, as evidenced by his descriptions, “He comment that the Scots, particularly the Highlanders were a proud and hard working people and the English generous and innovative” (Narain 157). However, I’tesamuddin also understood the relationship between skin color and social class at the time, and was aware that many of the English were so enthralled with him and his dress precisely because of his skin color and the fact that he belonged to the upper class (Narain 157). While discussing the religious traditions of the English and noting their uncommon tolerance of Jews, I’tesamuddin (qtd. in Narain) says, “There is much bigotry among many Christian nations. If a Moslem were to go there and give the azan and openly practice the rites of Islam he would be instantly burnt at the stake. But the English are free of such bigotry” (Narain 158). Similarly, I’tesamuddin has seemingly friendly debates with his travel partner, Captain Swinton, on Islamic practices and traditions, particularly concerning halal food (Narain 159). 

Mirza Abu Taleb Kahn, in Westward Bound: Travels of Mirza Abu Taleb, describes his travels through Europe, including England, in 1799. Notably, Abu Taleb (qtd. in Narain) distinguishes between those British citizens who lived at home, and those who worked in India, saying, “‘I have been induced to relate these anecdotes, that the difference between the dispositions of the English in India, and the genuine unsophisticated English may be known” (Narain 159). His observation of these varying attitudes, as influenced by geography, is important, and Narain describes his insistence that Indians need to gain a deeper understanding of the British if they want to be successful in dealing with Britain, the West, and the East Indian Company (Narain 160). In contrast to Joseph Emin, Abu Taleb enjoys the perspective afforded by his upper class, and that may have contributed to his warm reception by many English citizens.

Emin, I’tesamuddin, and Abu Taleb are all perceptibly, for the most part, curious and open-minded in their description of their travels and of the British people. While the individual accounts of just three Indian travelers to England certainly cannot be said to represent the opinion of a whole group of people, much less an entire country, these accounts serve to enlighten readers on a point of a view that is not widely available in English. Surprisingly, they do not contrast with the Indian characters in The Mogul Tale, particularly the Mogul himself, in a significant way. The Mogul is knowledgeable and not hostile towards the visiting English, just as these Indian gentlemen are largely friendly, conscious of British society, and accepting of their differences.

"…the first British atlas and geographies of India, the first codification in English of what was seen as Hindu law, the first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita…and the first translations of several Persian histories of India” (Flood 47-48)

Warren Hastings and the East Indian Company

In Correct Delineations and Promiscuous Outlines: Envisioning India at the Trial of Warren Hastings, Flood introduces Hastings as the, “first Governor General of the East India’s Company’s possessions in India.” (Flood 47). Hastings encouraged artists and scholars to document scenes and information from India, and by the end of the eighteenth century, a massive amount of knowledge had been shared with the British public. A political commentator (qtd. in Flood), said of India, “late years become so much the subject of public attention, that almost everyone had gained a competent knowledge of the history, manners, and politics of that country” (Flood 47). During the 1780s in particular, a massive amount of information that had not previously been available in English was now accessible by the British public. Flood describes, “the founding of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta in 1784…the first British atlas and geographies of India, the first codification in English of what was seen as Hindu law, the first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita…and the first translations of several Persian histories of India” (Flood 47-48). Just as paintings and sketches of landscapes may have incited curiosity in the British public, these scholarly and cultural texts would have allowed the British public to gain a more intimate understanding of the Indian society and people. Despite his role in this cultural phenomenon, Hastings returned to England in 1784 and was put on trial for embezzlement, extortion, and coercion. This trial was divisive and called important topics into question, including how India and its history should be represented to the British public, and what the appropriate role of Britain was in the governance of India (Flood 49).

Warren Hastings, through his position in the East Indian Company, was instrumental in the exposure of the British public to a distant culture and group of people, including written texts and the visual representation of India through paintings and sketches. Though the subsequent popularity of all things concerning India in Britain does not necessarily signify a positive opinion in the mind of every individual, it does demonstrate some level of common curiosity and eagerness to know of a different culture and people.


Warren Hastings by Lawrence, Thomas

This exhibit aims to explore how the relationship between India and Britain during the late eighteenth century manifested itself in the art, written works, and popular culture of the time. While the characters in Inchbald's The Mogul Tale served as the initial inspiration for this examination, they are fictionalized literary tools used by Inchbald, and, so, cannot convey the reality of the situation.

Joseph Emin, Mirza Sheikh I’tesamuddin, and Mirza Abu Taleb Kahn were all extremely curious and largely positive in their reactions to Britain and the British people. The massive influx of art and information from India to Britain, largely catalyzed by the East India Company and Warren Hastings, demonstrates a significant measure of societal curiosity about India by the British public. Though this exhibit covers only a sliver of the relationship between Britain and India at the time, the analyzed sources show a measure of interest, on an individual level, and on both sides, in each other's worlds. 


Daniell, Thomas. “Old Fort, Playhouse and Holwell’s Monument, Calcutta.” Wikipedia Commons, 1786,

     This painting depicts a scene of daily life in Calcutta and was helpful in supporting the portion of this exhibit that focuses on Indian art in Britain.

Daniell, Thomas and William Daniell. “Fakir’s Rock on the River Ganges, near Sultanganj, Bihar.” Wikipedia Commons, 1800,,_near_Sultanganj,_Bihar;_so_Wellcome_V0050490.jpg.

     This painting was completed by Thomas and William Daniell, popular British artists during the late eighteenth century. It was also helpful in supporting the portion of this exhibit that focuses on Indian art in Britain.

Flood, Finbarr Barry. "Correct Delineations and Promiscuous Outlines: Envisioning India at the Trial of Warren Hastings." Art History, vol. 29, no. 1, Feb. 2006, pp. 47-78. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8365.2006.00492.x.

     This article analyzes a group of political cartoons published around the time of the trial of Warren Hastings in England. While the analysis of the political cartoons was not necessary for this exhibit, the article includes a lengthy introduction which summarizes the relationship between India and Britain at the time. It also explains the role that Warren Hastings played in this relatively recent explosion of information from India and how the British public was affected by this influx of knowledge and art concerning India.

Inchbald, Elizabeth. The Mogul Tale; or, The Descent of the Balloon. Dublin, 1788, Chadwyck-Healey Literature Collections, Accessed 24 November 2018. 

      Inchbald’s tale serves as the inspiration for this exhibit. While no quotes from the story were used, it was helpful to refer back to for clarification while working on each section.

Jeffreys, Thomas. "Map of India and Ceylon." Wikipedia Commons, 1786, 

     This map is used as the background at the top of this exhibit and is helpful in supporting the introduction of this region.

"Joseph Emin." Wikipedia Commons, before 1809,

     This is a portrait of Joseph Emin completed by an unknown artist. It supports the travel account written by Emin during his time in Britain.

Lawrence, Thomas. "Warren Hastings." Wikipedia Commons, before 1830,

     This portrait simply shows Warren Hasting and compliments the paragraph about his time with the East India Company and trail in England.

McAleer, John. Picturing India: People, Places and the World of the East India Company. London: The British Library, 2017. Print. 

     McAleer uses dozens of British paintings from the late eighteenth century to support his belief that visual mediums played a massively important role in the relationship between India and Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This book was very helpful in showing how popular culture in Britain was affected by India. It also related to the article by Flood in that it explained the role of Warren Hastings in the influx of information from India to Britain at the time, and how the East India Company influenced this.

Narain, Mona. “Eighteenth-Century Indians’ Travel Narratives and Cross-Cultural Encounters with the West.” Literature Compass, vol. 9, no. 2, Feb. 2012, pp. 151–165. EBSCOhost,,sso&db=mzh&AN=2012025992&site=eds-live&authtype=sso&custid=s8475574.

     Narain’s article was helpful in showing multiple opinions on Britain from the perspective of Indian travelers. She analyzes three firsthand accounts to share their opinion on the British people and customs. As she herself notes, it is difficult to find firsthand accounts from Indian travelers to Britain during this time, particularly in English, and so this article provided unique information.

Northcote, James, engraved by W. Bond. "Engraving of Mira Abu Taleb Khan after a portrait by J. Northcote RA from the frontispiece of Khan, Mirza Abu Taleb; Stewart Charles." Wikipedia Commons, 1814,

     This is a picture of an engraving of a portrait done of Mirza Abu Taleb Khan. It was helpful in supporting the travel account written by Abu Taleb.

Rennell, James. "Map of Hindoostan." Wikipedia Commons, 1788,,_1788,_by_Rennell.jpg. 

     This map of Hindoostan (the Persian word for the Indian subcontinent) serves as a helpful reference by the introductory paragraphs, and, was released in the same year that The Mogul Tale was published.

Ward, Francis Swain. “View of Gwalior Fort from the North-West.” Wikipedia Commons, 1790,

     Ward’s painting was completed during a time of popularity of Indian art in Britain and shows a normal scene of everyday life.