Lt. Colonel Robert Frith was a distinguished cavalry officer in the service of the Bengal Presidency of the Honourable East India Company. In this miniature he is seen in the uniform of the 1st Bengal Native Cavalry, similar to that shown in Arthur William Devis’s circa 1793 portrait of Colonel Frith, painted in Madras (private collection).[1]

Robert Frith fought at the battle of St George (during the first Rohilla War in 1774) and in the Second Mysore War. In February 1784, he was ADC to Warren Hastings and commanded the Body Guard and a troop of cavalry escorting the Governor General upcountry to Lucknow. This was an important mission to adjust the difficulties which had arisen in the matter of the debt due from the Nawab Vizier of Oudh to the East India Company. By 1787, as the Nawab proved unable to maintain the expense of the Independent Troop of Cavalry raised for the Nawab’s service, they provided...

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Lt. Colonel Robert Frith was a distinguished cavalry officer in the service of the Bengal Presidency of the Honourable East India Company. In this miniature he is seen in the uniform of the 1st Bengal Native Cavalry, similar to that shown in Arthur William Devis’s circa 1793 portrait of Colonel Frith, painted in Madras (private collection).[1]

Robert Frith fought at the battle of St George (during the first Rohilla War in 1774) and in the Second Mysore War. In February 1784, he was ADC to Warren Hastings and commanded the Body Guard and a troop of cavalry escorting the Governor General upcountry to Lucknow. This was an important mission to adjust the difficulties which had arisen in the matter of the debt due from the Nawab Vizier of Oudh to the East India Company. By 1787, as the Nawab proved unable to maintain the expense of the Independent Troop of Cavalry raised for the Nawab’s service, they provided the nucleus of the 1st Bengal Native Cavalry, with Captain Robert Frith as their first commanding officer. Frith advanced considerable funds of his own for the maintenance of the Nawab’s troops, compensation for which remained disputed and ultimately denied to his descendants by the East India Company as late as the 1850’s.

The Frith's were a distinguished military family; Robert’s younger brother Colonel Richard Firth raised a Regiment of Irregular Cavalry and his eldest son, named after Warren Hastings, rose to the rank of Colonel in the Bengal Artillery. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Frith, described as "A gallant, active and zealous officer", died on 4 October 1800 and is buried at Bombay.[2]

An Irishman by birth, the artist Samuel Andrews arrived in Madras in 1791, moving in 1795 to the same house previously occupied by John Smart (1741-1811). It is likely that this commission from Colonel Frith was undertaken early in Andrews’ sojourn in India. Frith looks slightly younger than in the full length by Devis painted in 1793. John Smart was of great influence on Samuel Andrews and the two men must have shared client commissions as many of their works relate to each other. This portrait of Robert Frith shares many technical characteristics with Smart’s work, as well as with the work of his son, John Smart junior (1776-1809).[3] Although there is no record of Smart painting Frith, the similarities in technique are clear. Both Samuel Andrews and John Smart junior died within a few years of each other, bringing to a close the Smart’s artistic legacy in India.

Philip Mould & Co. would like to thank Ashok Nath for his assistance with the biography of Colonel Frith.

[1] See illustration M. Archer, India and British Portraiture 1770-1825, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1979, pl. 186 (where the text states that Frith died in 1801).

[2] Frith’s obituary notice can be read in; The Asiatic Annual Register, Or, A View of the History of Hindustan, and of the Politics, Commerce and Literature of Asia for the year 1801

(ed. L. Dundas Campbell, E. Samuel).

[3] Samuel Andrews is also known for his miniature profiles painted en grisaille in the neoclassical style. His colour miniatures are rare in comparison to this type.

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500 Years of British Art