Royal Armouries

Mirza Itesa Modeen’s Visit to the Tower of London in about 1765

Images

coloured engraving of a man wearing a turban with a hookah

Mirza Itesa Modeen by R J Lane, engraved by C Hullmandel, about 1827. Reproduced by courtesy of the University Librarian and Director, The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester

  • coloured engraving of a man wearing a turban with a hookah

    Mirza Itesa Modeen by R J Lane, engraved by C Hullmandel, about 1827. Reproduced by courtesy of the University Librarian and Director, The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester

Mirza Itesa Modeen’s Visit to the Tower of London in about 1765

Description

Born in India, Mirza Itesa Modeen learned the Persian language and entered the service of the British. When Shah Alam wanted to send letters and gifts to King George III in England it was decided that these would be taken by a British army officer, ‘Captain S’, accompanied by Modeen as his translator and secretary. Modeen wrote a record of his journey recording the sights he saw and the excited reactions of Londoners to the unusual sight of a high class ‘Hindoostanee’ (as he called himself) visitor in 1765. It was not until about sixty years later that his manuscript account in Persian was translated into English and published in London. In 1835 it was commented on in The Penny Magazine:

‘London was certainly a much less wonderful place seventy years ago than it is now. … Yet London was wonderful even seventy years ago and indeed the great shows of the town were the same then as they are now. There was the Tower, St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, …’.

The Mirza spent about almost three years on his trip to Europe, staying mostly in London but also visiting Scotland and Oxford, before returning to India. His description of the Tower of London and its attractions forms the first item in his account of the city’s sights:

‘What can I say in praise of the City of London? For on the whole face of the earth there is no other so large or beautiful. ...
A river runs through the midst of it, upon which is seated the city fort, which is built of black stone and very strong: it is called the Tower. In it are numerous armouries, and I saw there an immense number of cannon of brass and gun-metal, both plain and ornamented. One gun is very large: in length it is sixteen cubits and its diameter is such that if a person sit down on one side of it, he will not be able to see a person sitting on the other side. A middling-sized tailor can sit in it and work. …
Again there is (here) a large house in which a lakh of guns and pistols are hung in order on the pillars, in another room caps and helmets of iron, coats of mail, swords, spears and other arms are suspended from the ceiling; on the floor are effigies of former monarchs, made of brass, copper and bronze, they are covered with coats of mail’.

Modeen, like many other visitors to London, goes on to describe St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Bridge and the royal palaces and gardens.

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