Empress of India: The Durbar Room

English Heritage

Explore the exquisite banqueting hall at Osborne House

The Victorian Villa
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert used Osborne House on the Isle of Wight as their private home away from court life. They bought the estate in 1845 and built their new house in a grand, Italianate style. Victoria used Osborne House for over 50 years, entertaining foreign royalty and visiting ministers and finding solace there after Albert’s 1861 death. Today, many of the rooms are still filled with original furniture and artworks.

In 1843, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were looking for a seaside retreat for their growing family to escape the pressures of London and Windsor.

The Osborne estate was recommended to them by the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel.

The estate's setting on the Isle on Wight, with views over the Solent, reminded Prince Albert of the Bay of Naples.

The old house was demolished in 1848 and a new one was built in the Italianate style, taking inspiration from its island setting and temperate climate.

It has all the features of an Italian house: the palazzo style, the picturesque silhouette with its pair of towers and terraces connected by flights of steps.

Prince Albert supervised the design of the formal gardens around the house and remodelled the parkland and pleasure grounds. The new extensive network of walks and drives amounted to 21 miles of pathways by 1864.

The plants in the gardens are still laid out to Prince Albert's original design.

The main wing of the house was finished in 1851. The Durbar Wing, housing the impressive Durbar Room, was built much later in 1890 to 1892.

The Durbar Room
The Durbar Room was built to provide a much-needed banqueting hall at Osborne. It was designed by John Lockwood Kipling (father of the author Rudyard Kipling) in an elaborate and popular Indian style. The name Durbar references the Indian word meaning both a state reception and the hall where such gatherings were held. 

Unable to travel to India, Queen Victoria sought to embrace her elevated status as Empress of India by filling the Durbar Room with Indian chintz, learning Urdu and employing Indian servants like Abdul Karim.

Queen Victoria I’s fascination with India can be explored in the architectural details of the Durbar Room.

The plasterers, George Jackson & Sons of London, had 26 craftsmen working on the chimneypiece and overmantel. Over 500 hours were spent on producing the peacock alone - equivalent to one man working solidly for ten weeks.

Ganesha, the elephant god of good fortune, can be seen over the door near the minstrels’ gallery.

The deeply coffered (panelled) ceiling is composed of fibrous plaster by Jacksons of London.

The plasterwork was created from moulds produced under the supervision of Bhai Ram Singh, a master craftsman at the Mayo School of Art, Lahore, India.

The walls are decorated with plaster and carton pierre, a type of papier mâché common in the late 19th century. They are also enlivened by teak framing.

The Durbar Room was the first room at Osborne to be lit by electric lighting. The six brass standard lamps and this striking pendant light in the window bay were designed by John Lockwood Kipling and are in an Indian style.

During dinner, musicians - either from Queen Victoria’s own orchestra or from the Marine Band, Portsmouth - played selections of popular classical favourites.

The Osborne Collection
Most of the objects on display in the Durbar Room were presented to Queen Victoria to mark her jubilees of 1887 and 1897. Decorative boxes known as address caskets form the majority of the collection. They originally contained loyal greetings to the Queen from India. The caskets were sent from every part of the Indian Empire, and as a result provide a snapshot of Indian craftsmanship at the end of the 19th century.

This silver address casket in the form of a fish was presented to Queen Victoria by the inhabitants of Monghyr district, Bengal, as a Diamond Jubilee gift in 1897.

It has an articulated body of overlapping scales, alternately of parcel gilt, and its tail features punctuated decoration. The detachable chased head is secured by a hook and the eyes are glass over red foil.

This velvet cover is decorated with gold embroidery known as zardosi. The embroidered inscription reads:

'Presented to Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria by Her Loyal Subjects Of Hyderabad Sind 16 February 1887'.

This silver cylindrical address case was presented to Queen Victoria by the Rao of Kutch as a Diamond Jubilee gift in 1897. It is supported on the backs of two silver elephants.

These lavish details make the Durbar Room at Osborne House an especially fascinating insight into Queen Victoria, her empire and the house itself.

Explore the intricate interior of the Durbar in 360 degrees

Credits: Story

Michael Hunter, Rose Arkle

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