Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862 – 1948

Past display archive
18 May - 11 December 2016

Room 23, 31 and 33


There’s nothing like a photograph for reminding you about difference. There it is. It stares you ineradicably in the face
Professor Stuart Hall, 2008

Black Chronicles showcased over forty photographs that presented a unique snapshot of black lives and experiences in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain. Developed in collaboration with Autograph ABP, this intervention in three gallery spaces included some of the earliest photographs in the Gallery’s Collection alongside recently rediscovered photographs from the Hulton Archive, a division of Getty Images.

These portraits of individuals of African and Asian heritage bear witness to Britain’s imperial history of empire and expansion. They highlight an important and complex black presence in Britain before 1948, a watershed moment when the Empire Windrush brought the first large group of Caribbean immigrants to Britain. Research is ongoing and new information emerges continuously.

This display was part of Autograph ABP’s The Missing Chapter, an ongoing archive research programme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Autograph ABP is a London-based arts charity that works internationally in photography and film, race, representation, cultural identity and human rights.


Sarah Davies (formerly Forbes Bonetta) by Camille Silvy, 1862 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Logos for Autograph ABP, Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Getty Images

Portraits in Focus

Sarah Davies (formerly Forbes Bonetta) and James Pinson Labulo Davies

Sarah Davies (formerly Forbes Bonetta) and James
Pinson Labulo Davies
 by Camille Silvy, 1862
© National Portrait Gallery, London Ax61382

Born in west Africa of Yoruba descent, Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880) was captured at the age of five during the Okeadon War. She was thought to be of royal lineage and was presented to Queen Victoria, as if a gift, from King Gezo of Dahomey. She was named after Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy, who brought her to England, on board his ship HMS Bonetta.

As Queen Victoria’s protégée, Sarah was raised among the British upper class, and educated in both England and Sierra Leone. She became an accomplished pianist and linguist. In 1862 at St Nicholas’s Church in Brighton she married the merchant and philanthropist James Pinson Labulo Davies (1829-1906). These photographs were taken to mark their marriage.

James was born in Sierra Leone to Nigerian parents, and enlisted with the British Navy. He is credited with pioneering cocoa farming in West Africa. The couple returned to Africa soon after their wedding. Queen Victoria was godmother to their first child, Victoria who later attended Cheltenham Ladies College.

The photographs are pasted into one of the daybooks that record the work of Camille Silvy, one of the most successful portrait photographers in London at the time. Find out more about Silvy’s daybooks held in the Gallery’s Collection.

Ndugu M'hali (Kalulu)

Ndugu M’Hali (c.1865-77) was the personal servant to explorer and journalist Sir Henry Morton Stanley. As a slave he was given to Stanley by an Arab merchant in present day Tanzania during the explorer’s quest to find the missing Dr David Livingstone. Named ‘Kalulu’ by Stanley, he was educated in London and accompanied Stanley on his travels to Europe, America and the Seychelles. He died during an expedition in 1877 in the Lualaba River, the headstream of the River Congo, Stanley named these rapids ‘Kalulu Falls’ in his memory.

Image: Kalulu (Ndugu M'hali) by Henry Morris, 1873
© National Portrait Gallery, London NPG x76514

Ndugu M'hali (Kalulu)

Martha Ricks

Martha Ricks

Martha Ann Erskine Ricks (1816-1901) had been enslaved on a Tennessee plantation. She settled in Liberia in 1830, as did many freed American slaves, after her father bought the family’s freedom.

In 1892, Ricks travelled to Britain to fulfil her dream of presenting Queen Victoria with a quilt depicting a Liberian coffee tree in bloom, which took twenty-five years to make. With the help of the Liberian ambassador, Edward Blyden, she gained an audience with the queen at Windsor Castle. During her time in London, Ricks met John Archer, the first black mayor of a London borough.

Image: Martha Ricks by Elliott & Fry, 18 July 1892
© National Portrait Gallery, London x38887

Dadabhai Naoroji

Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917) was the first Indian MP to be elected to the House of Commons. Born near Mumbai, the son of a Parsi priest, he was educated at Elphinstone College where he became the first Indian professor of mathematics and natural philosophy.

He travelled to London in 1855, becoming professor of Gujarati at University College London and founding the London Zoroastrian Association (1861). He campaigned to open the Indian Civil Service to Indians and formulated the ‘drain theory’, outlining how British rule drained the financial resources of India.

He was elected Liberal MP for Finsbury in 1892 and financially supported the Pan-African Conference in 1900.

Image: Dadabhai Naoroji by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 1892 © National Portrait Gallery, London x128698


Pandit Ram Gopal
by George Hurrell
© reserved; collection National Portrait Gallery,
London NPG x128613

Ram Gopal 1912-2003
Room 31 showcase, until 11 December 2016

‘I love to move, to leap, to float …well, just let the spirit seize me at the sound of drums or music.’

Ram Gopal, Rhythm in the Heavens, 1957

Ram Gopal was an international pioneer of Indian classical dance. Gopal’s skill in Bharata Natyam and Kathakali learnt from leading teachers was recognised early. Born in Bangalore, he defied the wishes of his father, a Rajput lawyer and his Burmese mother, to take up dance. He was supported by the Yuvaraja of Mysore and in the 1930s began touring extensively overseas, first with American dancer La Meri.

Gopal made his celebrated London debut in 1939, performing to a full house at the Aldwych Theatre. His performances received glowing reviews from dancers and critics alike. During the Second World War, Gopal returned to India to help the British war effort by dancing for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). He settled in London in the 1950s but continued to tour internationally. The dance historian Cyril Beaumont wrote, ‘I should doubt if any male dancer has travelled more than he, and always with success and a request to return.’ Widely recognised for his work as a dancer and choreographer, Gopal also enjoyed a successful career in America, directing dance sequences for Hollywood epics and appearing in films such as Elephant Walk (1954). His best-known creations are the Legend of the Taj Mahal, Dance of the Setting Sun and Dances of India of which he wrote, ‘I feel I have justified the past while keeping in touch with the present.’ In 1960 the English ballerina Dame Alicia Markova collaborated with Gopal to create the duet Radha-Krishna.

Gopal spoke frequently of the ways ballet and Indian dance could complement each other, bringing together diverse cultural experiences. He hoped that through dance ‘the highest cultures of the East and the West will be drawn together and will work towards a true culture which is above all distinctions of race, nation, and faith.’ In 1990 Gopal was given the honorific Indian title of Pandit and was appointed OBE in 1999. Five vintage photographs by Carl Van Vechten, Madame D’Ora and George Hurrell show Gopal in various costumes and dances.

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall (1932 – 2014) was a cultural theorist, campaigner for racial justice, scholar and founding editor of the New Left Review. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Hall won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University arriving in 1951. He became Director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1972 and Professor of Sociology at the Open University in 1979. He was Chair of Autograph ABP and Iniva (International Institute of Visual Arts). Quotations from Hall’s speech on archives and cultural memory appear throughout the Black Chronicles display.

In 1998, the Gallery in partnership with Autograph ABP commissioned American photographer Dawoud Bey to create a portrait of Hall for the Collection. The diptych consists of unique Polacolor photographs created with a 20”x 24” Polaroid camera, one of only five ever made.

Stuart Hall
by Dawoud Bey, 1998 © Dawoud Bey
NPG P730

Autograph ABP

Established in 1988 with the mission to advocate the inclusion of historically marginalised photographic practices, Autograph ABP is a non-profit-making charity that works internationally in photography and human rights. It produces its own programme of exhibitions, events, commissions, and publishing, and collaborates with arts organisations and educational institutions national and internationally.

The Autograph ABP Archive & Research Centre was established with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2011. Since then, the collection is housed in environmentally controlled facilities at Rivington Place, Shoreditch, built in 2007 by renowned architect David Adjaye. With an online digital imagebank and a range of accessible resources, the Archive addresses a gap in the visual representation of Britain’s cultural history and critically explores global politics of identity, race and representation.

Click here to find out more about Autograph ABP.

Albert Jonas and John Xiniwe of the South African Choir

Albert Jonas and John Xiniwe of the South African Choir by the London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 1891 © Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Courtesy of the Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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