Photographs of Colonial Ceylon: A Treasure Trove straddling the Globe

Benita Stambler, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, USA,

As long-time readers of this blog may remember, I came to Sri Lanka in 2013 as part of my research on the photography of Ceylon. Finally, the results of my work are available on the website of the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies (AISLS). In the document that I produced as a result of my work, A Guide to Locating Photographs of Colonial Ceylon, I have tried to locate all the individuals and institutions around the world that have collections and are willing to share them with the public, based on individual considerations. For access to the guide, see:

Roberts bridge of boats The Bridge of Boats across the Kelani Ganga  

Everyone during my stay in Sri Lanka was so helpful in steering me to collections, and helping me to understand the rich photographic legacy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time long gone but documented beautifully by old photographs. The willingness to share was delightful, and I was fascinated by what I was able to find, from unique family photos to others of general historical significance. I have tried to do justice to the information everyone provided, while keeping the guide to a manageable format.

Again, many thanks for everyone’s assistance. It’s been a long time coming, but I hope the guide will be of interest and use.

Roberts kaymans gate Kayman’s Gate Colombo

Roberts kandy lake  Kandy Lake

A Note from John Rogers, US Director, AISLS,

Dear Colleagues, I am pleased to let you know that AISLS has published on its Indexes, Digital Libraries and Bibliographies web page A Guide to Locating Photographs of Colonial Ceylon. This guide was compiled by Benita Stambler, Coordinator of Asian Art at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.  AISLS is very grateful for her hard work on this project, and her patience over the delay in its publication.

The guide covers over 50 collections of late nineteenth and early twentieth century photographs.  Many of these collections make low resolution images freely available online.  The guide also includes information on ordering high resolution images.  Most of the collections are in Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the United States, but the guide’s coverage is global.

While many collections are dominated by prints produced by the major Colombo photographic firms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Skeen, Scowen, Plâté, etc.), others include less well known images.

In addition to the guide to holdings of Ceylon photographs, there is a select list of books that include photographs, and a select bibliography of secondary works relevant to photography in colonial Ceylon.  There is also an appendix that gives a detailed account of the extensive holdings at Plâté in Colombo.

AISLS hopes to publish a revised edition, in part to keep up with the increasing number of images being made available online.  We welcome corrections, comments and suggestions — please send these to me.

roberts merchant women CAC merchant women


* Benita Stambler:Maintaining the Photographic Legacy of Ceylon,”–maintaining-the-photographic-legacy-of-ceylon?rgn=main;view=fulltext

* Jane Russell & Ruth Allaun:Leonard Woolf: His Political Vision – From Innocent Imperialist to Pragmatic Internationalist,” 28 May 2014,

* [Roberts]Leonard Woolf speaks and recollects …. in 1965,” 15 October 2013,

fAN zHANG BENITA S Benita Stambler with Fan Zhang in front of the construction site for the new Asian art center at The Ringling — Pic by Rachel s O’Hara for Herald Tribune


Filed under British colonialism, cultural transmission, economic processes, ethnicity, governance, heritage, historical interpretation, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, modernity & modernization, photography, politIcal discourse, power politics, sri lankan society, transport and communications, travelogue, unusual people, working class conditions, world events & processes

6 responses to “Photographs of Colonial Ceylon: A Treasure Trove straddling the Globe

  1. Reblogged this on Wings of Time.

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