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This drawing, made just a year after John Smart settled in Madras, shows Thomas Pelling, who had been born at Fort St George in 1723. His parents had been closely involved with the building of Bombay Cathedral. Interestingly, Pelling became a gem merchant, and it is possible that he met Smart through supplying gems for miniature frames – if not directly, then indirectly via the same circles of suppliers to the British working for the East India Company.

Pelling would have grown up watching the expansion of the East India Company, which by the 1760s was in effective control of the three presidency towns of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. In 1765, it secured the right to collect revenue from Bengal and Bihar. As a gem merchant, Pelling would have had some of the world’s most beautiful jewels within reach. Until 1725, all the world’s diamonds came from India – not mined but alluvial (sifted from water or sand). Some of...

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This drawing, made just a year after John Smart settled in Madras, shows Thomas Pelling, who had been born at Fort St George in 1723. His parents had been closely involved with the building of Bombay Cathedral. Interestingly, Pelling became a gem merchant, and it is possible that he met Smart through supplying gems for miniature frames – if not directly, then indirectly via the same circles of suppliers to the British working for the East India Company.

Pelling would have grown up watching the expansion of the East India Company, which by the 1760s was in effective control of the three presidency towns of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. In 1765, it secured the right to collect revenue from Bengal and Bihar. As a gem merchant, Pelling would have had some of the world’s most beautiful jewels within reach. Until 1725, all the world’s diamonds came from India – not mined but alluvial (sifted from water or sand). Some of the most famous diamonds-including the infamous Hope and Koh-i-Noor-originated from India’s famed Golconda area. The world’s oldest texts on gemmology come from India, and they include sophisticated classification systems for different kinds of stones. The Mughals preferred coloured stones to diamonds – one of the most treasured being the Timur ruby. Described as ‘free merchant’, Thomas Pelling was part of a company called Pelling and De Fries, alongside John De Fries. Their main business appears to have been in coral beads and diamonds.[1]

Thomas married Elizabeth Sutherland (c.1730-76) in 1749. Their children, all born in Madras, married into other ex-patriot families – including Sophia, who in 1783 married a Dr Bulmer, surgeon to the Nawab Walajah. The Pelling family were involved with many aspects of Madras life – including being part of court proceedings and other important duties – and may have been a beneficial contact for Smart upon his arrival in India.

The finished miniature of Thomas Pelling, taken from this drawing and dated 1786, was sold (unidentified) at Sotheby’s, London, 30 June 2005, lot 204 (now Private Collection).

[1] H. D. Love, Indian Records Series; Vestiges of Old Madras, 1913, p.

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500 Years of British Art