Photographs of Samye Monastery in 1935–36

Photo 1285/8, Samye Monastery in 1936

Photo 1285/8, Samye Monastery in 1936

From the International Dunhuang Project blog

We have just digitized a series of photographs of Samye monastery taken in 1935–36. These prints are from the papers of F.W. Thomas, Tibetologist and librarian at the India Office Library. They were sent to him by Hugh Richardson, another Tibetologist who was stationed in Tibet as the British Trade Agent for several years. There are two different sets of photos. Richardson posted the first set of thirteen to Thomas in August 1938, explaining that they were taken at a consecration ceremony held at Samye after recent restoration works. Here is the text of Richardson’s letter:

via India
22nd August 1938

Dear Dr. Thomas,
I am sending some pictures of Samye which I got from a friend — a Lhasa Depön — who accompanied the Regent when he went there in 1936 to perform the re-dedication ceremony after extensive repairs. Some of the photographs contain pictures of part of the ceremony. I had them enlarged from very small negatives and I hope they will be of some use to you. There is a general view which should help to identify photos of individual buildings. If there is any particular detail of which you want a photo please let me know in case I can get an opportunity of visiting Samye. I am trying to get pictures of the monastery before repair but have not succeeded so far. I believe there is one photograph in Sir Charles Bell’s “The People of Tibet” or it may be in his “Religions of Tibet”.

The negatives of the pictures I have sent you are not my property but if you should desire to reproduce any of the pictures I could ask the owner if he has any objection.

I hope you had a pleasant journey home. I have no definite news yet whether I shall be going to Lhasa this autumn or not, but it is still quite possible.

I believe there is a Tibetan m.s [sic] containing the text of the Doring but can’t trace its exact title. I shall enquire about it if I get to Lhasa.

Yours sincerely,
Hugh Richardson

The prints send with this letter are now digitized and on the IDP website. They can be found under the the pressmarks  Photo 1285/6 toPhoto 1285/18. One of the photographs (Photo 1285/15) is very similar to the one that appears on p.37 of Charles Bell’s The Religions of Tibet but it is not the same photograph, despite showing the same long-distance view of the temple complex.

As well as discussing the photographs, which were not taken by him, but by a Depön, an official in the Lhasa government, Richardson also mentions the text of the Doring, the inscribed pillars that were made during the Tibetan empire. The particular Doring he refers to here may be the one at Samye, and the Tibetan manuscript containing its text is probably the one by Kathok Tsewang Norbu, which Richardson did acquire later, and is now among his papers at the Bodleian.

The second letter was written by Richardson just a couple of weeks later, after he had found three photographs of Samye before the recent reconstruction:

via India
3rd September 1938

Dear Dr Thomas,
I have secured, and send herewith these photos of Samye taken in 1935 before the repairs. The negatives are the property of Capt. Battye of the Political Dept.

There does not appear to be any obvious change in the buildings so perhaps the batch of later photographs which I have already sent may prove useful.

Yours sincerely,
H. Richardson

These three prints are now available on the IDP website under the pressmarks  Photo 1285/3 to Photo 1285/5. As Richardson says, they don’t appear to show any significant differences prior to the restoration work, which was probably limited to repairs, regilding, and the like.

Portrait of Frederick William Thomas and Giuseppe Tucci, Rome in 1955. Photo 1285/1

Portrait of Frederick William Thomas and Giuseppe Tucci, Rome in 1955. Photo 1285/1

Finally, this collection of photographs also includes two pictures of F.W. Thomas with Guiseppe Tucci, which were sent to Thomas from Italy by Tucci’s photographer Francesca Bonardi. On these, see this blogpost on To see all of this collection, go to and type ‘Photo 1285’ in the database search box.

Charles Manson and Nathan W. Hill, forthcoming, “A Gter ma of Negatives: H.E. Richardson’s Photographic Negatives of Manuscript Copies of Tibetan Imperial Inscriptions Possibly Collected by Rig ’dzin Tshe dbang nor bu in the 18th Century CE, Recently Found in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.” In Kurt Tropper (ed), Epigraphic Evidence in the Pre-modern Buddhist World edited by Kurt Tropper. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde.


One response to “Photographs of Samye Monastery in 1935–36

  1. love it

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