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A remarkable photo album and sketches dating back 170 years by a British army officer on his travels to India and Egypt is expected to fetch £12,000 at auction

  • A unique album of photos and sketches from Egypt and India dating back as far as the early 1850s taken by a retired British officer is to be auctioned tomorrow in Exeter.
  • Mark Tanner, who died in 1897, took rare early photos of landmarks including the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx during travels undertaken after he retired from service.
  • His 1851 photograph of the Great Sphinx, which is seen buried up to its neck in sand, is only two years younger than the earliest recorded image of the monumental sculpture taken by Maxine de Camp in 1849.
  • It was not until the 1880s that the Great Sphinx was dug out of the sands that had largely covered it for centuries.
  • A photo of the newly built Suez Canal from 1885, and a set showing Alexandria following the Royal Navy’s bombardment of the city during the British occupation of Egypt in 1882 are also included.
  • Other images from India show mosques and temples, monuments and royalty, as well as British military units.
  • Tanner, a skilled artist, captured views of Cairo and desert monuments, along with watercolours of British India.
  • He wrote notes about his experiences to accompany some of the hundreds of sketches and photographs.
  • Tanner’s younger brother repaired the album following his death, and it has since been passed down generations of the family. It is being sold by a descendant at auctioneers Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter.
  • It is expected to fetch £12,000 during the sale on Tuesday.
  • Nic Saintey, director at Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood, said: ‘The whole album is a snapshot of a time gone by when British colonialism was at its peak.
  • ‘But rather than just a dry record of one man’s time in the army the album is littered with quirky anecdotes about messy life, his promotions, theatrical skits, the author nearly being consumed by a tiger, there are studies of Indian deities, wildlife and much more which almost makes it documentary material of an individual’s life during the period.
  • ‘Finally, there is the homage of one brother to another, in that the album was in a dilapidated state, but was painstakingly restored, remounted, and amalgamated with an excerpt of his diary by his elder brother in his hand, in the years after his death.’
  • An auction house spokesperson said: ‘It’s a special item that is causing some excitement here due to its age, beautiful presentation, and subject matter.
  • ‘But most importantly it contains some fantastic examples of very old and rare early photographs, dating back to when photography itself was in its infancy.
  • ‘This includes a striking photograph of the iconic Great Sphinx monument in Egypt partially buried up to its neck in sand.
  • ‘Other photographs within the album include Indian temples, monuments, and Indian Royalty, along with many beautiful original watercolours.’


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