This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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A Regimental Band of the Bengal Infantry

05 September 2010

Music is a commodity. It gets exported and imported around the world just like any raw material. And in past times Britain probably contributed more to exporting culture than any other country before or since. As an example we have a regimental band of the British Indian Army, specifically a regiment of the Bengal Infantry, c. 1880s.

The British Empire covered a vast part of the world in the late 19th century and India was the so called "crown jewel". To protect such a large and valuable colony required a large organization of military units. This large studio format photo has a lot of fading and damage, and unfortunately no identification. But there are always clues.

On the snare drum are some letters that at first caused confusion. NGALINFAN was not a recognized word. But after some scrabble playing with additional letters, it became two words - BENGAL INFANTRY.

The bass drum also has letters that I interpret as the unit's campaigns, and the lower one is possibly AFGHANISTAN 187_. The Second Anglo- Afghan War was 1878-1880 and included several units of the Bengal Infantry. More history here: 2nd Anglo-Afghan War

The Native Indian Army units were formed around the three major provinces at that time -  Bengal, Bombay, and Madras. In 1895 the army was reorganized and those designations were eliminated. So this photograph was taken between 1878 and 1895.

Each unit undoubtedly had a band  that was trained by a British bandsman. My guess is that the one European gentleman with the bowler hat is the leader. Possibly that is his cornet in front of the bass drum. And of course that must be his son next to him. Recently I learned that overseas work in India recruited many more men from Scotland and Ireland than England.

The band has typical military instruments of the time, no doubt made in Britain. It includes one bassoon which I find a curious instrument for a band, but probably one very suited to a player familiar with traditional Indian double reed instruments. There is also a mellophone in the front. The younger boys dressed in white are likely cadets - apprentice musicians. It seems probable that some of them are sons of the regular members of the band too.

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