12 1/2 inches wide by 9 3/8 inches high (31.9cm x 23.7cm)
Attributed to Captain David Briggs, 17th Native (Bengal) Infantry
I acquired this small watercolor recently and even if at first sight many might not consider it an outstanding work of art in its
own very special context it is a rather remarkable historical document.
The painting depicts a idyllic if dramatic mountain landscape replete with two travelers in the foreground and a hill top village
in the middle distance. Unsigned, the painting bears a period pencil inscription on the reverse which reads: “China, drawn fom
memory by Captain Briggs on board the Oriental for me.” Also inscribed in another hand are the words “Tibet” and “Arun
Valley”. Someone seems to have been trying to determine the precise location that Captain Briggs had chosen to paint.
This inscription is what led me to purchase the painting since it seemed to indicate that it way have been drawn by a British
officer of Indian Army during his passage home. Exactly when was an initial mystery although the style of a work seemed to
indicate the 1850s to 60s time period.
At this time my research seems to identify the artist as then Captain David Briggs of the 17th Native (Bengal) Infantry which
was part of the British East India Company’s army. Briggs served while a Lieutenant and later Captain as the Superintendent
of Hill and Mountain Roads in Bengal during the 1850s. Although nothing of Briggs educational background has come to light
he must have studied more than a modest amount of engineering since positions such as the one he was appointed to would at
a later date been held my members of the Royal Engineers.
David Briggs was born around 1825 to Colonel Briggs possibly at Fifeshire, Scotland. He was appointed Ensign on 11 June,
1841 and was promoted at follows: Lieutenant, 8 September, 1843; Captain, 27 July, 1855; Major, 11 June, 1861; Lieutenant-
Colonel, 11 June, 1867. He was promoted Brevet Colonel at an as yet undetermined date and promoted Major-General on 23
January, 1875. Briggs saw active service in the field during the Indian Mutiny during 1857 as Superintendent of the Army
Transport Train as was present at the siege and capture of Delhi. He also served during the Bhutan Campaign of 1865. He
was married to Miss Elizabeth Sleeman at Jabbalpore, India on 29 September, 1849. Briggs died in 1908 at Fifeshire,
After examining the painting at some length I think it possible that Briggs was depicting from memory the mountain that in
1857 would become known as Mount Everest. Briggs held the rank of Captain from 1855 to 1861 so the painting must date
from that time period. Given that Briggs did the watercolor from memory it could very well be a view of the mountain from the
Arun Valley in Nepal. If this is the case then this painting is one of the earliest European artistic representations of the worlds
highest peak I have personally seen.
I posted this image on my solidersofthequeen blog some time ago and received the following information from Peter G:
"I walked up the Arun Valley in 1986 following the original Everest expedition route used by Tilman in 1950. On this trek I
learnt that Everest was not visible from the Arun Valley due to it being blocked from view by the extensive Chamling Ridge.
If the painting depicts a view from the Arun Valley in Nepal as you suggest, then the mountain in the painting is very likely
to be Makalu – 5th highest mountain in the world. Makalu dominates the Arun and appears like a beacon to the north as you
progress up the valley, very much as is represented in the painting. I recall such a view from the village of Tumlingtar.
However, if the painting is from the Tibetan reaches of the Arun, then it is possible it is Everest, although I feel the
foreground depicts a very Nepali scene rather than a more barren Tibetan landscape."