Dr Sudeshna Guha delivers a public lecture at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum , Mumbai | Department of History

Dr Sudeshna Guha delivers a public lecture at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum , Mumbai

Dr Sudeshna Guha delivered a public lecture on 'Nineveh' in Bombay: Local Histories and Transnational Antiquities on 30 November 2019 at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai.

‘Nineveh’ in Bombay: Local Histories and Transnational Antiquities
The lecture builds upon little known histories of the exhibitions of the
antiquities of Ancient Assyria within the city of Bombay during the late 1840s
and the 1850s. The antiquities came from the spectacular archaeological
excavations at Nimrud (north Iraq), which were undertaken by the British
diplomat and explorer Austen Henry Layard (1817-94) who had dug at the site
in the belief that this was the Biblical Nineveh. They were first displayed in
1846 in Bombay, then an ascendant cosmopolitan city and international port.
It is significant that the exhibition preceded their sensational reception in
London, and the subsequent vexation of the European world with their

Layard shipped a bulk of his finds, which comprised massive bas-reliefs,
obelisks and sculptures, to the British Museum and therefore, the Assyrian
antiquities had arrived in Bombay enroute London. Although Layard and the
British Museum had subsequently accused the Bombay government of
vandalising the shipments, the histories of ‘Nineveh’ in Bombay reveal acts of
careful curation, and of the politics of loss and profit in the European
archaeology of the Orient. The exhibitions inspired the making of plaster casts
of select antiquities which could be ‘preserved in Bombay’, and prompted
Henry Rawlinson (1810-95), then British Resident at Baghdad, to make a gift
of ‘fine specimens of Assyrian art’ to the city in which he had started his
spectacular career, as a cadet in the East India Company. The presence of
‘Nineveh’ in Bombay nurtured the demands within the city, by notable
residents and scholar administrators such as George Birdwood (1832-1917),
for civic amenities, including a museum for the ‘read and shrewd’ visitors that
subsequently materialised as the Victoria and Albert Museum and Gardens
(now the Bhau Daji Lad Museum).

Yet, despite shaping imaginations of a city and fuelling its antiquarian
searches, the Assyrian antiquities and their plaster casts were forgotten by
the end of the 19 th century quite literally within the premises in which they
were feted. The lecture unearths their fate.

In following the travails of ‘Nineveh’ in Bombay the lecture also draws
attention to the immense historical possibilities of the practices of curation,
collecting and museum-making, and the many meanings that antiquities
accrue within their material life. Additionally, the devastating erasure of the
archaeological site of Nimrud in March 2015 adds to the value of recalling this
history for noting the ways in which antiquities are made to work for showing
the materiality of ideational phenomenon, and towards the nationalist politics
of imperialism.