Casket Case Study: Conclusion: shifting meanings

2 - casket open

The attar casket

The Fraser family shared many characteristics with other East India company families – the large numbers of children, some of whom perished young, others who led transient lives between Britain and the subcontinent, relocating for education, marriage and career prospects.  Multiple generations maintained close connections – the Capper house in Cuddalore seems to have been a focal point for many of the Frasers and perhaps can be considered a ‘home from home’.  The casket was prized within this household as well as on its return to Britain.  Further research into this house might reveal interesting commonalities and differences in domestic display strategies with those constructed by East India company families on their return to Britain – the focus of the East India Company at Home project.

We have seen how even late into the nineteenth century, associations with the earlier successes of the East India Company retained their significance within individual families.  The reference in Isabella Heath’s letter to Mr Lowe suggests a kind of ‘imagined community’ of those families who shared an East India Company heritage with material culture providing evidence of these historic connections.

We do not know whether the casket continued to be used by the Frasers to store perfumed oils – it is quite possible that it shifted from being an object used for storage to an ornament.  Henry Fraser evidently knew or found out its original use although again we do not know whether this knowledge came with the object or how much he researched himself.  It is the layered meanings entailed within the casket which make it so beguiling.  Moienuddin states that all objects from Tipu’s palace “define very clearly the personality of Tipu and his tolerant religious perceptions and practices”.[1] This casket is no exception as the derivation of the stamp design indicates.  Recognising these many symbols demonstrates how a single object, and the shifting meaning and value associated with it in different continents and contexts, provides a view into cultural encounters and appropriation in India and Britain.

Return to case study menu

[1] Moienuddin, Sunset at Srirangapatam, p. xii.