This film is held by the BFI (ID: 12626).


INTEREST. "Darjeeling - summer seat of the Bengal government". A shot of the hill road to Darjeeling. Natives herd sheep. Other natives are dragging a roller along (14). More sheep by the side of the railway track (21). A car, with a woman and a dog next to it, is stopped by the side of the track. A train approaches (26). The car and the train again moving along together (31). A shot of waterfall with 3 people walking nearby (36). "Darjeeling - Himalayan Railway 2'6" gauge with a rise approximately 6,500 feet in 30 miles". A train is steaming up the hill round a bend. It is then seen on the horizon. A final shot of the train on its journey (58). "General view with Kenchanjunga in the background" (74). "Government House and arrival of Sir Stanley Jackson and Lady Jackson from England 1930". Government House. Guard of honour waits as cars arrive and go up the driveway. Guard of honour is then dismissed (87). "Public Park and Band Stand" (102). "Church and Town Hall". Some busy street scenes (111). "Distant view of Lebong where the British Regiments are stationed and the races are held every summer" (121). "Governor's Cup Race Day". "Prize-giving by Sir Stanley and Lady Jackson". Horses racing around a track. Crowds milling about. Lady Jackson hands out cups to various people. Then Sir Stanley does the same (148). "Kenchanjunga taken from the house of the Divisional Forest Officer" (169). "View over the Sanatorium and Town showing the Moonsoon [monsoon] clouds" (191). "Looking down on the weekly market". Shots of the open air market; wares displayed on the ground (206). "Views and types to be seen daily in the market and town". Close-ups of various natives (232). "Coronation Parade - Darjeeling 1937". People in uniform are ranged outside a building which has a poster with "God Save the King" on it. The streets are decorated with pennants and banners. The car goes along the street. A close-up of 3 soldiers in dress uniform. One high official gets out of the car and inspects the parade. The band plays while they march past (280 ft).



Darjeeling is situated in the Indian state of West Bengal. The town lies close to the Himalayas, an area opened up to the British following their defeat of the kingdom of Nepal in 1815 (Kennedy, 1996, 12). Located in the cool air of the hillside, Darjeeling’s climate was suited to the British. The town was built up around a sanatorium, constructed originally for British soldiers in 1839. It was one of the ‘hill stations’, towns to which British officials retreated during the hot Indian summers. Dave Kennedy has described the European-based design of hill towns, with their meandering roads, parks with English trees and flowers, cottages, Tudor mansions and Anglican churches (Kennedy, 1996, 3-4). He summarises their appeal for expatriates as that they ‘seemed a part of England and apart from India’ (Kennedy, 1996, 8).

Darjeeling expanded in size throughout nineteenth century. It was made more accessible due to the opening of a narrow gauge railway in 1879, and the introduction of the tea plantations in the mid-nineteenth century brought new workers to the area. Like other hill stations, the population of Darjeeling became more mixed. Aboriginal tribesmen, such as the Bhutias and the Lepcha, were attracted to the city for work, as were Nepalese, Bhutias and Tibetans. In addition, wealthy Indians were drawn to hill stations, seeking to replicate the lifestyles of the British Raj (Kennedy, 1996, 8-9).

As well as serving as retreats, the hill stations were also places from which British officials undertook government business. Kennedy has stated that ‘nearly every branch of officialdom that had access to a hill station endeavored to spend more of its time and transfer more of its operations there’ (Kennedy, 1996, 4). He claims that conducting operations from such remote seats was widely criticised, and that ‘Indian nationalists pointed to the practice as evidence of the aloofness and arrogance of British rule’ (Kennedy, 1996, 5).

In this film Sir Stanley Jackson, Governor of Bengal from 1927-1932, can be seen arriving at Darjeeling’s Government House. Jackson was governor during a period of nationalist uprising in the area, and had responded to terrorist threats by putting in place a number of severe ordinances (Time, 14 December 1931). It was over these measures that Gandhi clashed with the Viceroy Lord Willingdon, leading to Gandhi’s endorsement of a further period of civil disobedience and to his own subsequent incarceration (Time, 11 January 1932). On 6 February 1932, Jackson survived an assassination attempt from the nationalist revolutionary Bina Das. She justified her actions on the grounds that ‘the Governor of Bengal represents a system of repression which has kept enslaved three hundred millions of my countrymen and countrywomen’ (Kumar, 1993, 91). Jackson’s measures were enforced and ratified by his successor, Sir John Anderson. This film features scenes shot at Lebong racecourse, later to be the location of an assassination attempt on Anderson’s life.

William Meiklejohn shot this amateur footage of Darjeeling and the surrounding area during the early 1930s. Meiklejohn worked with the Imperial Forestry Service in various parts of the sub-continent (Baker). Darjeeling had been a large forest area, but much of the land had been stripped for tea plantations. A contemporary travel guide described the work of the forestry service as ‘preservation of the existing forest and the supply of fuel and timber’ (Newman’s Guide to Darjeeling and Neighbourhood, 193-, 78).



William Meiklejohn’s studies put on show various aspects of life in and around Darjeeling: he captures the atmosphere of British life at a hill station; he records some of the wealthy Indians who were drawn to this world; and he also shows us the native workers who arrived there to conduct their trades.

The opening title card introduces the town as being the ‘summer seat of the Bengal Government’. Despite the nationalist agitation and advancement that took place during this period, the film presents British rule as being firmly entrenched. Near the beginning of the film Sir Stanley Jackson and his wife can be seen arriving from England. This footage was filmed in 1930 and it shows them being greeted at the gates of Government House with a parade and a presentation of arms by Indian soldiers. The film concludes with scenes taken some seven years later. Here another parade can be seen, a more elaborate affair celebrating the coronation of King George VI. On show there is a large banner proclaiming ‘God Save the King’. A motorcade can be seen driving through streets decorated with pennants and bunting.

Elsewhere Meiklejohn captures the architectural surroundings that helped to reinforce the British sense of security. Various European-styled homes are on display, and he depicts smart European promenaders at leisure in the public park. This landscape is complete with flowerbeds and bandstand. There are also shots of the Anglican Church and its largely British congregation.

In contrast Meiklejohn presents his ‘views and types to be seen daily in the market and town’. This footage features ethnographical snapshots of the various races that had been drawn to Darjeeling. He pictures street musicians, traders and Asian women. What is notable about the scenes of the market is the absence of British people. Meiklejohn presents these scenes as being a world apart.

Providing another contrast are the scenes filmed at the Lebong racecourse. These take place on Governor’s Cup Race Day, where cups are awarded to the winners by Sir Stanley Jackson and his wife, both of whom are sharply dressed. What is also captured is the mixture of racegoers: the crowd consists of both British and aspirant Indian spectators. Many of the Indian men are dressed in formal European clothing. 

Meiklejohn also has an eye for Darjeeling’s tourist attractions. There is footage of the narrow-gauge railway; several views of the Himalayas; and atmospheric footage of monsoon clouds gathering, shot over the roofs of the sanatorium and the town. Robin Baker has argued that, as an amateur filmmaker, Meiklejohn had ‘a better eye for composition than most’ (Baker). This film is testament to his abilities to select, frame, shoot and edit those compositions. His camera is generally on the move, but he has a steady hand and effectively brings into play the elements of each scene.

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

Baker, Robin, William Meiklejohn’s Family Films, Mediatheque, BFI, London.

‘India: Viceroy v. Gandhi’, Time (11 January 1932), http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,742854,00.html.

‘India: Will be Hell?’, Time (14 December 1931), http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,930030-2,00.html.

Kennedy, Dave, The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj (London: University of California Press, 1996).

Kumar, Radha, History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women’s Rights (Zubaan, 1993).

Newman’s Guide to Darjeeling and Neighbourhood, 9th edn. (Calcutta: W. Newman & Co., Ltd, 193-).




Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
280 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain