This article examines the first Andaman Islands photographs, which were taken by the photographer Oscar Jean-Baptiste Mallitte during a Government of India survey whose brief was to find a site for a penal colony for mutineers and rebels sentenced to transportation after the Great Revolt of 1857. The Mallitte prints were long assumed to be lost or destroyed, but recently they have been discovered in the Queen's Collection at Windsor Castle. The article looks at the photographs as representations of the Andamans landscape and peoples just before permanent colonization, and focuses on a deeply affecting set of images of an Islander kidnapped by the survey party and taken back to Calcutta. As the photographic process was described in some detail in various contemporary publications, and because the photographs were widely copied and published as engravings, the images can be used to interrogate some of the textual and visual interconnections and slippages that were implied during the Islands' written and visual production and transformation. The article suggests that the photographs and their connected texts – visual and discursive – are of huge importance as signifiers of the violence of colonization, as evidence of some of the ambivalences that characterized the use of convict forced labour in colonization, and as a ‘missing link’ that enables us to examine some of the ways in which the Islands and its peoples were constructed and represented through the trope of colonial ‘tropicality’
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