The armies of the three East India Company ‘Presidencies’ were composed largely of sepoy battalions, that is, units of Indian troops commanded by European officers. The subject of this portrait is believed to be Captain Mathias Calvert (1733–1779), 14th Battalion of Coast Sepoys. The hill in the background closely resembles the distinctive domed rock of Ambur on the Palar river, Madras. It was here that Calvert's battalion held out against the vast armies of Mysore and Hyderabad in 1767, earning the honorary title ‘The Amboor Battalion’.
The young man in sepoy’s uniform standing in the background wears a chain across his right shoulder, which is sometimes a sign of slavery. Calvert is known to have owned a slave boy named John.
The painting was previously thought to depict Captain George Jolland (1743–1773) in the uniform of the 7th Battalion of Coast Sepoys, and had been attributed to the artist Tilly Kettle.
Where to see this painting?
National Army Museum
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