This film is held by the BFI (ID: 11795).


Everyday life and places of interest around the areas of Midnapore and Chittagong.

A steamer in the background and in the foreground and Indian stand holding a flag which says `Forest'. CU steamer which shows a European woman walking along the deck (19). Some Indian boats on the river. Huts on the banks of the river. One boat is wowed along. Several more boats (34). Dense foliage across the river, through which comes another vessel (51). People walking along the shore. Some, including Indians, fishing. One catches a big fish and shows it to another (127). Some men push the boat to shore, then push it back in the water (147). "Village life - Mindapore District" Monkeys on the ground, Indians by the water. CU one particular Indian boy. Views of the village. Cows herded (198). "Crossing the Damodar Rver". Ox cats making their way across the river, followed by a car, which is pushed by Indians. It is then pushed up the hill on the other side (224). "Chittagong Forest Division. On the river to Cox's Bazar. A day's march Inoni to Ukhia". People followed by loaded elephants and bicycles make their way along the coast and then up through some trees (254). Shots of the elephants taking their evening meal. They drink from buckets and east some vegetation (275). "View from Ukhia Camp. Burma in the distance". (283). "In a sampan on the Naf river" (308). "A Chittagong Bridge". People walking across a bridge made from crossed wooden trunks (326ft).



Tours in Southern Bengal, filmed in the mid-1930s, features scenes taking place in the Sundarbans, Midnapore District, the Damodar River, and Cox’s Bazar.

The Sundarbans (or Sunderbans), covering an area that is now divided between Bangladesh and West Bengal, is the largest mangrove forest in the world. The forest is situated in the tidal delta of the Ganges. These fertile soils were subject to intense cultivation, leading to the need for systematic management of the forests. The Forest Act of 1865 declared the area a reserved forest, and in 1997 it was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Vajpeyi, 2001, 76-77). The area is also home to the endangered Bengal Tiger. Midnapore District is an area in Western Bengal, which was annexed to the British East India Company in 1760. The Damodar River originates in eastern India and flows westward through the states of Jharkland and West Bengal to the estuary of the River Hoogly. Cox’s Bazar is a fishing port that is known for its beach, which at 125km in length is claimed to be the longest natural sandy beach in the world (‘World’s Longest Beach Hidden in Bangladesh’).

Bengal played a prominent role in the Indian independence movement; many prominent nationalist leaders were Bengali and the area witnessed much revolutionary activity. The civil disturbances that took place in the state in the early 1930s prompted the Governor of Bengal, Sir Stanley Jackson, to put in place a number of restrictive ordinances. In the face of continued uprisings these were ratified by his successor, Sir John Anderson (Wheeler-Bennett, 1962, 135).

William Meiklejohn, who shot this amateur footage, was an employee of the Imperial Forestry Service, which he joined in 1910. This organisation was set up in 1867, leading to the 1872 creation of the Chittagong Forest Division, which is featured in this film (‘Bangladesh Forest Department’). Prior to 1926 entry to the Imperial Forestry Service was restricted to those who had received training at Oxbridge or the University of Edinburgh (‘Indian Forest Service’).



Describing William Meiklejohn’s amateur films, Robin Baker has stated that ‘he had a better eye for composition than most’ and that he was capable of delivering ‘strongly evocative portraits’ (Baker). This is certainly true of this collection of scenes filmed in southern Bengal; Meiklejohn has a talent for capturing human and animal life, as well as landscapes and buildings.

The scenes of village life in the Midnapore District provide an elegant study of the people and homesteads in the region. Meiklejohn films a variety of individual and group portraits of the villagers. In each case they are deliberately posed for the camera. Meiklejohn frames these portraits well and selects good backdrops from the landscape to complement each scene. What is notable is the comfort of the people in front of the camera and the dignity that Meiklejohn allows them. His filming of the villagers’ homes is also thoughtfully undertaken. The camera lingers on an image of the village street, enabling the viewer to realise that this is a deliberate architectural study. He also takes a reverse shot of this original image, giving a sense of the spatial dimensions of the scene.

Meiklejohn is also attracted to the wildlife of the region, in particular when it can provide him with whimsical images. He films monkeys at play in the gardens of an elegant white house, and he captures crabs scuttling across the sandy beach at Cox’s Bazar. In addition, he provides various studies of the Sunderbans, capturing its wide rivers and secluded inlets, as well as the variety of river craft that are used on its waters.

It is, however, his scenes of Indians and British together in the landscape of Bengal that deliver the most evocative portraits. There is a good deal of interaction in evidence. Meiklejohn films a small party of elegantly dressed British men and women who approach some local fishermen in the Sunderbans and ask them about their catch. Later the same group of British people can be seen in a rowing boat which Indians push up a muddy river bank for them, it is then let loose to slide into the waters. Similarly there is a scene in which a large group of Indians help the British party by pushing their motor car across the expanse of Damador River.

Meiklejohn presents a world removed from the nationalist agitation in the Bengal region. In different ways his studies of the Midnapore district villagers and the scenes of British and Indians interacting present the two nations as being at ease in one another’s presence. While it is true that in both instances Indians commonly take the subservient role, what comes across most strongly from Meiklejohn’s films is his wonderment at life in the subcontinent. These are the studies of a man who is enraptured with what he sees. Towards the end of this film he captures a stunning, never to be repeated image. He films from a position on Cox’s beach that enables him to let a surprising procession of characters enter his frame. First to be seen are the workers of the Chittagong Forest Division, dressed in their uniforms, and walking together near the water’s edge; in step behind them there is a group of five elephants, loaded with equipment and ridden by Indians; and then, once the elephants have walked out of view, there is the unexpected image of a group of British cyclists, dressed in their fine clothes and riding their bicycles down the beach.

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

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

‘Bangladesh Forest Department’,

‘Indian Forest Service’,

Vajpeyi, Dhirendra K., Deforestation, Environment, and Sustainable Development: A Comparative Analysis (Greenwood, 2001).

Wheeler-Bennett, John. W., John Anderson: Viscount Waverley (London: MacMillan & Co Ltd, 1962).

‘World’s Longest Beach Hidden in Bangladesh’,




Technical Data

Running Time:
9 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
326 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain