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The Indian Mutiny, which ended after more than two years of bloodshed in 1859, had excited the interest of the british public. the printer William Day – encouraged by the sales of Simpson’s Crimea book 'The Seat of War in the East (1855-56) which he had printed for Colnaghi’s, and the success of John Frederick Lewis’s book 'The Holy Land (1842-45) with its 250 lithographic illustrations – thought he could revive the flagging fortunes of his business by producing a book on india. Simpson was commissioned to make the illustrations and spent three years travelling in India drawing monuments, landscapes and scenes of everyday indian life which seemed so exotic to the public at home.
Simpson recounts in his autobiography:
at Peshawur I made the acquaintance of Captain Speedy. he had the gift of picking up languages and could speak pucktoo, the language of the afghans nearest Peshawur. he went with me to the bazaar, and by his speaking powers got all sorts of fellows to stand and be sketched, Peshawur
being a place with a wonderful variety of races and types from India, the Himalayas, Tibet, Afghanistan, and all parts of Central Asia. (George Eyre-Todd (editor), 'The Autobiography of William Simpson, RI (Crimean Simpson), London: T Fisher Unwin, 1903, page 109)
On his return to London, Simpson spent four years finishing 250 watercolours. many had even been transferred to stone for lithographic reproduction when Day went bankrupt – a complete shock to Simpson who was unaware of Day’s financial troubles. He had already paid his own expenses throughout the trip to India and was listed as being owed £2800 by the company even losing all his watercolours after they were disposed of as bankrupt stock. he wrote, ‘this was the big disaster of my life. when the crash came, I was really left a beggar. I had not a penny. here was the reward of my seven years’ work’ (op cit, page 177).
Notes by Phil Tite.