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The Main Wing, Pavilion and Terrace, Osborne House.

Osborne was an important setting for early royal photography

International reception

Osborne House played an important role in the creation and dissemination of early photographic portraiture of the royal family. Early photography also reflects Osborne’s role as a site of diplomatic and cultural exchange since the 1850s.

Dr Ernst Becker’s intimate role in the royal household meant that Queen Victoria trusted him to record this element of court life. Following the annexation of the Punjab by the British East India Company, Maharajah Duleep Singh was brought to England in April 1854. He met Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in July that year and also stayed with the royal family at Osborne House in August. Dr Ernst Becker carried out a series of portraits of Duleep Singh on the terrace at Osborne. A portrait of Prince Arthur and Prince Alfred in the costumes of Sikh princes was made at Osborne shortly after this visit, and it is likely that the costumes were a gift from Duleep Singh himself.

An ink illustrator's drawing of the interior of the Durbar [Court] Room at Osborne House. Signed with two sets of initials,

The Indian Room at Osborne House ©

Today Osborne House is well known for its Durbar Corridor and the Durbar Room, which reflects Queen Victoria’s interest in her Indian Empire, its people and its artisanship. The role of her Indian servants, especially Abdul Karim, are integral to the histories of Osborne. However, the diversity of communities in the Victorian period, including in the Isle of Wight, include many other significant life stories.

Also of great significance was the African Choir, a group of fourteen young men and women and two children from South Africa, then under British rule, which toured Britain extensively between 1891-1893. They performed for members of the British aristocracy and political figures, including most notably, Queen Victoria at Osborne. Their visit is recorded in numerous local papers and recorded for posterity in photographs by the London Stereoscopic Company, the original half-plate negatives of which are now part of the Hulton Archive.

Below are just a few of the global histories associated with Osborne House and early photography.