Helen Baguley

SOLVYNS,B. A collection of two hundred and fifty coloured etchings...(Calcutta, 1799)

Purrum, Hungse


On page 31 of Solvyns’ book there is an image entitled “Purrum, Hungse”. One description given by Goodrich is that “The fakir, or holy mendicant, is named Purrum Hungse. Residing under the rich shade of the palm or bannian, he is sensible to the calls of nature in any way; he scarcely either eats or drinks; the position which he has taken he would remain in for a thousand years, were his life so prolonged. He is represented as absorbed in pure and holy contemplation; his mind is fixed, and insensible to external things” (Goodrich 1984:4). Another description given by Caunter and Bacon is that “the Purrum-Hungse is supposed to have descended from heaven to live entirely without food, the chameleon of the human species, and to survive under the earth of under the water to the age of a thousand years” (Caunter, Bacon 1834:63). The image created by Solvyns is of a man dressed in white with a beard and long hair sat under a tree with his legs crossed looking down, not concentrating on the rest of the world. These individuals follow Hinduism. “Hinduism could be described as one of the world’s oldest religions, dating back some 3,000 years or more. The name ‘Hindu’ was given to describe the people who lived near the River Indus in India… Hinduism is not defined by beliefs: you are born Hindu and cannot really become one.”(Symmons 1998:4)

A Pinnace


On page 57 of Solvyns’ works is an image entitled “Section 8th. No. 1. A Pinnace”. Oxford American Large Print Dictionary describes a pinnace as: “A small boat, with sails or oars, forming part of the equipment of a warship or other large vessel” (Oxford Dictionary 2006:926). Solvyns’ image is of a boat decorated in green, yellow and orange with two masts and approximately eleven visible crew members. Another description of them is as being “expensive to hire, they were used less frequently for lengthy journeys. They did, however, provide superior accommodation” (Hardgrave 2004:470). This is more likely to be what the pinnace was used for in Solvyns’ work as it appears to be a more lavish mode of transport than for just equipping a warship. “When relatives, or particular friends, are on board any ship whose arrival is expected, it is customary to send a stout pinnace… In paying this kind attention, all the necessary provision, -a bed, table, chairs &c. are put on board, together with such servants as are generally needful on the water… This accommodation does not happen every day” (Gilchrist 1825:71), thus implying that this mode of transport is for special occasions alone. Solvyns, by taking note of this image not only documented a mode of transport for the upper classes in Calcutta at this time, he also took advantage of the location as it is documented that creating images by the sea was something he excelled in: “The residence of his youth doubtless gave the peculiar direction of his talent in which it first displayed itself, his earlier productions being almost exclusively sea-pieces, and views of sea-ports, subjects in which he excelled” (Burke 1825:234).

A Moor Punkee


This image of a white boat with paddles is situated on Page 63. This boat also has crew dressed in blue uniform as well as a bird decoration on the rear of the boat with gold decorations. On the deck is an open quarters decorated in white, blue and gold. An accurate description of this boat is: “a Moor Punkee: a long boat with a pea-cock's head and wings; Moor signifies a peacock, and Punkee a wing. (Universitatsbibliothek Heidelberg). The significance of a peacock is in relation to Lord Murugan: “Daily Lesson 9, Page 18: We Pray to Lord Murugan to help us be peaceful and good. He uses a spear of light to protect us from bad things. His peacock is beautiful and colourful just as our Saiva religion is beautiful and colourful… Murugan is a beautiful God riding on a beautiful peacock. Just looking at His image or picture makes us feel so happy that we are Hindus (Subramuniyaswami 1997:96). Furthermore by painting boats, Solvyns is going back to his imagery of the sea and boats which he excelled at when he was younger. This boat, like the Pinnace would have probably been a luxury mode of transport for those who could afford it. Furthermore, “the peacock is the national bird of India… the peacock is an enemy of snakes, thus representing the victory over evil or poisonous tendencies… the peacock is very sacred to Hindus” (Krishna 2010:193) adding to the peacock’s significance within Indian culture.


Goodrich, S. (ed.). 1849. Robert Merry’s Museum. D. Macdonald & co.

Caunter, H. Bacon, T. 1834. The Oriental Annual: Or, Scenes in India.

Symmons, D. 1998. This is Hinduism. Nelson Thornes

2006. Oxford American Large Print Dictionary. Oxford University Press

Hardgrave, R. 2004. Portrait of the Hindus: Balthazar Solvyns & the European image of India, 1760-1824. Oxford University Press

Gilchrist, J. 1825. The General East India Guide and Vade Mecum: For the Public Functionary, Government Officer, Private Agent, Trader Or Foreign Sojourner, in British India, and the Adjacent Parts of Asia Immediately Connected with the Honourable the East India Company. Kingsbury, Parbury & Allen

Burke, E. 1825. The Annual Register or the view of the History, Politics, and Literature, of the year 1824. J. Dodsley

Subramuniyaswami, S. 1997. Saivite Hindu Religion Book Two. Himalayan Academy Publications

Universitatsbibliothek Heidelberg. Nd. List of Plates.  Available at: http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/pennant1798bd2/0018 [Accessed 01/05/2013]

Krishna, N. 2010. Sacred Animals of India. Penguin Books


Helen Baguley