Francis Benjamin Stewart

Image kindly supplied by Sue TillyBritish photographer

Hailing from Newcastle, based in the British garrison town of Poona in western India from the 1890s, Stewart took a number of photographs depicting British colonial and military life, including Poona race stand and the School of Signalling in the town. Somehow Charles Urban's Warwick Trading Company made contact with him, and by 1900 he had made a series of scenic films for them, mainly in Poona and nearby Bombay, including The Indian Dhobie and Fire Brigade Turnout in Bombay. He also made a couple of films showing Boer prisoners being brought to Fort Ahmadnagar, north-east of Poona, during the Boer War. His next cinematographic activity seems to have been during the 1902/03 Coronation Durbar in Delhi, a vast ceremonial planned by Lord Curzon, at which Stewart's role was (later) described as 'Official cinematographer'. Such official recognition from the Durbar authorities seems quite plausible given Stewart's experience in photographing for the military in Poona. We do not know which film company he represented at the Durbar, nor who he worked for afterwards, though it seems he continued with camerawork, as R. Nataraja Mudaliar, a pioneer of the south Indian cinema later claimed that he had received his first training in operating a film camera from Stewart at his Poona residence sometime after 1912. He died in Poona in 1919.

Stephen Bottomore (updated June 2009)