Photographs by Samuel Bourne. 1863 - 1870

Samuel Bourne, one of the greatest photographers of 19th century India, was born in Mucklestone, Staffordshire, in 1834. After being educated by a clergyman near Fairburn, he secured a job with Moore and Robinson's Bank, Nottingham in 1855.

His photographic activities started at about this time:

'It was a hobby, of course, at first ... I possessed myself of a little camera, which cost me £5, soon after I came to Nottingham. I used to amuse myself by taking photographs of the market place from the Bank window ... I had not had the opportunity to do much while I was at the Bank'

(from an interview with Bourne,  published in ‘The Trader’, 27th April 1912, p.2).

In 1858, Bourne made a photographic tour of the Lake District and in 1859 displayed photographs at the Nottingham Photographic Society Exhibition. In the following year his photographs were also shown in London and his work was well received at the London International Exhibition of 1862. In this year he gave up his position at the bank and set sail for India to work as a professional photographer, arriving in Calcutta early in 1863.

Whilst in Calcutta, he attended a meeting of the Bengal Photographic Society, and commented on the number of members as well as the flourishing state of commercial photography in general in the city, and shortly afterward, he left Calcutta for the hill station of Simla, the summer capital of India, visiting Benares, Agra, Delhi and Ambala en route.

On arriving in Simla, he set up in business partnership, with the already established Calcutta professional photographer William Howard, to form the studio of 'Howard & Bourne'. They were later to be joined by Charles Shepherd in 1865; to form 'Howard, Bourne & Shepherd'; but by 1867, Howard had left the partnership, and the firm became 'Bourne & Shepherd'; under which name it is still in business to this day in Calcutta; probably the oldest established photographic studios in the world.

They initially opened a studio in Simla, followed by a branch  in Calcutta and then briefly, one in Bombay as well. 

The main Simla studio, well situated on the Mall, at ‘Talbot House’, (nowadays home to ‘Le Talbot Hotel’!), continued in business until 1910, when it was closed and the company finally transferred all its operations to Calcutta.

Bourne seems to have worked primarily as the studio’s travelling landscape photographer; leaving first Howard, and then Charles Shepherd, to manage the business, print and market Bourne’s landscapes, and produce the bulk of the studio portraiture.

In Simla, Bourne commenced his photographic work; initially producing a series of views of Simla and its environs, before deciding to explore further afield, On 29 July 1863, he left the hill station on his first photographic expedition into the Himalayas. With a retinue of some 30 porters he travelled north-east through the Simla Hills to Chini, 160 miles away, on the northern bank of the River Sutlej, where he  spent some time photographing in the Chini-Sutlej River area, before heading west towards the edge of Spiti, before returning to Simla on 12 October, with 147 fine negatives.

In the following year he set out on the longest of his expeditions; a nine month trip to Kashmir.  Leaving Lahore on 17 March he journeyed north-east to Kangra via Byjnath, Dharamsala, Dalhousie and Chamba. He left Chamba for Kashmir on 8 June and by the middle of the month had reached the Chenab Valley. The following weeks were spent photographing the scenery of Kashmir  before proceeding to Srinagar, where he stopped for some weeks, sightseeing and photographing, before continuing his journey on 15 September. The return journey took in the Sind Valley, Baramula, Murree, Delhi and Cawnpore, before arriving in Lucknow on Christmas Eve 1864.

Bourne's third and last major trip was his most ambitious, and comprised a six month journey through Kulu, Lahaul, Spiti and the Upper Ganges Valley, with the goal of reaching and photographing the source of the river Ganges.

    He left Simla on 3 July 1866 in the company of Dr. George R. Playfair, who travelled with him fo rthe first part of the journey, through Kulu, over the Hampta and Kunzom Pases, as far as the Spiti valley, where they parted company. Bourne then continued alone (with some 40 porters & servants!), over the 18,600 foot high Manirung Pass; on to the junction of the Spiti and Sutlej Rivers and then via Sungnam to Chini again.  He spent some time photographing the Rogi Cliffs (which he had first visited in 1863) and after crossing the Neela Pass and photographing the glacier at the source of the Buspa river, journeyed on to the foot of the

Gangotri Glacier where he photographed the source of the Ganges, issuing from the mouth of the ice cave at Gaumukh. His return journey took in Agora, Mussoorie, Roorkee,

Samuel Bourne, pictured outside his

Meerut and Naini Tal, arriving back in Simla just before Christmas 1866.

He went home briefly to England in 1867, to marry his fiancé Mary Tolley; and they both returned to India again later that year, where he continued to photograph the landscape and architecture of India, although now based primarily in Calcutta, where his first daughter was born in 1869. He also travelled extensively around the country over the next 3 years; to record Darjeeling in 1868; then around South India, including Ootacamund & the Nilgiri Hills, Tanjore & Ceylon, before finally travelling up to Bombay in 1870, where he took his final images in India. There he handed over his equipment to Colin Murray, already an established professional photographer in India, and formerly of the firm of Saché & Murray; who then took over the role of travelling landscape photographer for the studio; and who was eventually to take over full management of the studio. 

In November 1870, Bourne finally left India and returned home with his family to England, where he settled back in Nottingham, and founded a successful cotton-doubling business, in partnership with his brother-in-law J. B. Tolley. At some time; probably shortly after after his return to England, certainly by about 1874; he disposed of his financial interests in Bourne & Shepherd’s Indian business, and seems to have had no further connection with it. Although continuing to photograph as a hobby, much of his creative energies from this time onwards were devoted to water colour painting. He finally died in Nottingham on 24th April 1912.

Samuel Bourne is justly regarded as one of the finest commercial photographers of the 19th century, allying a fine compositional flair and high technical expertise to an adventurous outlook in seeking out suitably 'picturesque' views to record.

He was also evidently a shrewd businessman and an able publicist for his own work; no doubt stimulating demand by the series of long articles detailing his photographic expeditions in India, which appeared in ‘The British Journal of Photography’ between 1863 and 1870.


A Collection of these articles, entitled ‘Photographic Journeys in the Himalayas’, which also includes the first comprehensive catalogue of his Indian photographs, has now been published by Pagoda Tree Press

This page is still under construction - a catalogue of prints by Samuel Bourne for sale will be uploaded shortly.

In the mean time, if there are any specific Bourne images that you are looking for; please let me know, as I hold a large stock of his work.