The Singers' Images From Their Asian Travels

Throughout their global tour, members of the Fisk Jubilee Singers collected and purchased multifarious souvenirs, curiosities, and luxuries for adorning their own homes or for gifting to persons back in the United States. Following the Singers’ return to the states in 1890, the Loudins’ “Meri-meri stone from New Zealand,” “Japanese swords and armour, beautiful specimens of Japanese art,” and other exotica from the Antipodes and Asia made their house in Ohio appear as though “a maze of beautiful, rare, and costly things.”[1] Extant correspondence reveals how several of the members of the group acquired mementos from their travels. After departing Britain for Australia in April, 1886, the FJS traveled through the Mediterranean and briefly stopped in Italy. As Harriet Loudin reported to relatives in Ravenna, Ohio, the Singers “returned from Pompeii after bringing away some souvenirs of our visit, and returned to Naples.”[2] The group members continued to assemble mementos throughout their travels.

Soon after the FJS departed Burma for their homeward tour in February, 1890, Henrietta Matson wrote to Elizabeth Spence that the Singers had collected and purchased wonderful items in Australia, New Zealand, and India. However, “there is great difficulty to get such things through the Customs House without it costing a good deal. I am sure it will cost a fortune to get all the treasures of the Jubilee Singers through.” Nevertheless, “they have money to buy whatever they fancy.”[3] Members of the FJS also collected pleasing examples of naturalia while in Asia and the Antipodes. For instance, while in New Zealand in February, 1889, Leota Henson wrote to her mother that “I have been gathering a lot of pretty ferns and I am mounting them in a book…. When I get home, you can tell me what you think of my efforts.  Uncle Fred [Loudin] seems to be going into the bird business; he is getting some lovely ones.”[4]

Although the whereabouts or survival of many of the Singers’ collected items are unknown to scholars, the Spence Family Collection in Fisk Special Collections contains fifteen commercially-produced photographs of Asia gifted to the Spence Family. Of these fifteen images produced ca. 1889, seven represent street scenes, remarkable buildings, and staged group photos of persons in India. In addition to a streetscape featuring Husainabad Gate in Lucknow, most of these pictures feature people and locations in Bombay. Five images in this collection depict locations or persons in or near Rangoon, Burma. While one features the Shwedagon Pagoda, four of these pictures are portraits of Burmese persons. Three images in this collection depict street scenes in Shanghai, China. Given that these pictures are fragile and that several may no longer be extant, this page endeavors to digitally preserve these images that the Fisk Jubilee Singers likely found to be representative of their observations of South Asia and East Asia.

While the Singers and the Spence family probably understood these pictures as providing exemplary representations of people, places, and ecologies of Asia, these images were products of “the imperial gaze.” British photographers chose particular subject matters to depict, and staged certain photographic compositions, in order to construct and reinforce assumptions had by the colonizer. Indeed, British photographers endeavored to control representation of colonized persons, ecologies, and material envioronments.

 

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[1] Anonymous, Cleveland Gazette, 3 December, 1892. Quoted in Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff. Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002), 77.
[2] Harriet Loudin to “Sister Nettie and Ellen.” 4 April, 1886. Portage County Historical Society Research Library (PCHSRL). Loudin Letters. Thanks to Christina McVay of the PCHSRL for providing a transcription of this letter.
[3] Henrietta Matson to Elizabeth Spence. 9 March, 1890. The Auburn Avenue Research Library (AARL). Adam Knight Spence and John Wesley Work Collection (AKSJWWC). Series IV, Box 3 Folder 10.
[4] Leota Henson to Adeline Henson. 21 February, 1889. PCHSRL. Loudin Letters. Thanks to Christina McVay of the PCHSRL for providing a transcription of this letter.
"Untitled- (Husainabad Gate, Lucknow)"

"Untitled- (Husainabad Gate, Lucknow)"

"Bholeshwar Road, Bombay."

"Bholeshwar Road, Bombay"

“A Scene in Bombay – Toboot Procession of the Moharam Festival – Mohammedan”

“A Scene in Bombay – Toboot Procession of the Moharam Festival – Mohammedan”

"Untitled - Temple in South Asia"

Untitled - (A Temple in South Asia)

"A Brahmin Family"

"A Brahmin Family"

Untitled - South-Asian Women Around a Millstone

Untitled - (South Asian Women Around a Millstone)

"A  Parsee School. Bombay."

"A Parsee School. Bombay."

"Burmese Mother and Child"

"Burmese Mother and Child"

"A Village Girl, Burma"

"A Village Girl, Burma"

“Karen Girl, Rangoon”

“Karen Girl, Rangoon”

"Poonghyo or Priests, Rangoon"

"Poonghyo or Priests, Rangoon"

"Sway Dragon Pagoda Rangoon - the Great Bell"

"Sway Dragon Pagoda Rangoon - the Great Bell"

"A View in Shanghai of Rickshaw Men"

"A View in Shanghai of Rickshaw Men"

"View of Market, Shanghai"

"View of Market, Shanghai"

"View of Shanghai"

"View of Shanghai"