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The Palmer Family


Painted by Francesco Renaldi in 1786, The Palmer Family depicts Major William Palmer (seated in the center) surrounded by his two bibis, children, and female servants. Bibis are common-law wives of British men in India. Seated to Palmer's left is Bibi Faiz Bakhsh. She is holding one of Palmer's children, a sleeping baby boy named Hastings. Standing to either side of her is Palmer's son, William, and daughter, Mary. Palmer's second, younger bibi leans against his legs and is depicted without any children. Two maidservants flank the family of either side. Palmer was a prominent figure in the British East India Company, entering the Company's army in 1766 and eventually attaining the rank of general in 1801. He held several important positions in India, including the military secretary in Lucknow and the permanent resident to the Maratha Peswa's court at Poona. The Palmer Family represents a challenge to British national identity and colonial culture as it depicts a British man at ease in an "exotic" culture, marrying two non-European women and having culturally mixed children with them.

Francesco Renaldi, The Palmer Family, 1786


Francesco Renaldi, The Palmer Family, 1786. Oriental and India Office Collection, shelfmark F597, The British Library.

Tobin, Beth. Picturing Imperial Power: Colonial Subjects in Eighteenth-Century British Painting. Durham, NC & London: Duke University Press, 1999.

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The Palmer Family in World History Commons,