THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

26 posts categorized "Trade"

25 January 2017

East India Company headquarters on Leadenhall Street

Add comment

BBC One’s new period drama Taboo with actor Tom Hardy follows the story of James Keziah Delaney and his encounters with the East India Company. As the headquarters of the East India Company on Leadenhall Street was demolished in 1861 which is the present day site of Lloyds of London, the programme used Goldsmiths Hall in the city of London for their 'headquarters'.

IMG_1151
Detail showing East India House from 'Plan of Queen Hith and Vintry Wards divided into Parishes from a New Survey'. Map of the City of London by Royce showing Leadenhall Street and East India House. Late 18th century. 1780-1800. British Library, P2337  noc

Since the 17th century, the East India Company offices were based in east London. The history of the headquarters and new buildings constructed for the purposes of company affairs can be documented through the prints and drawings held in our collections. The earliest drawing of ‘Old East India House’ in our collection is attributed to William Vertu and dates to c.1711. Our catalogue records states: ‘The drawing shows the original home of the East India Company. It was formerly the house of Sir William Craven and was leased to him by Robert Lee and Anne, his wife, for twenty-one years by an agreement dated 22 May 1607, to which was added a schedule of the fittings (see P.E. Jones, 'East India House', ‘Notes and Queries,’ 25 March 1944, vol.186, no.6, 153, and lease and schedule, Corporation of London Records Office, no.131.1, now in Guildhall Library MSS.).  The schedule is mostly concerned with the interior of the house, but mentions 'An fine paire of Gates with a Portcullis of wood' followed by a description of 'The Yard next Leadenhall Street'.  The house was later leased by William, then Lord Craven and the owner, to the East India Company, 11 March 1661, and it was later purchased by the Company in 1710’. 

East India House 1711

The old East India House, Leadenhall Street, London. Attributed by William Foster to George Vertue, c.1711. British Library, WD1341  noc

In 1726, architect Theodore Jacobsen was commissioned to redesign and expand the headquarters. The project was completed by in 1729 under the direction of John James. The new East India Company headquarters was designed in the fashionable Palladian style. An undated print documents the facade of the building as it stood from 1729-1786 and is featured below.

FullSizeRender
The East India House, no imprint, 1726-1786, British Library, P2189  noc

Reflecting the great wealth of the East India Company, no expense was spared on the interior decorations. Palladian architectural features, including Corinthian pilasters and heavy moulding, continued throughout the interior. Lavish Georgian furnishing including ornately carved boardroom tables and velvet upholstered chairs for the Chairman and Vice-President, were commissioned. Works of art, including a series of paintings by George Lambert and Samuel Scott of East India Company settlements and full-length sculptures of eminent officials including Lord Robert Clive were made by Peter Scheemakers. 

F905_3
Director's chair with the East India Company arms embroidered on the crimson velvet, c. 1730. British Library, Foster 905  noc

In 1796, the Company purchased an additional plot of land and work began to extend its premises. The designs and project was started by Richard Jupp and completed by Henry Holland in 1799. The front of the building faced Leadenhall Street; the premises included a new 'Sale Room, Pay Office, as well as rooms for the Committees of Correspondence, Shipping and Warehouses' (Hardy 1982, p.7). Art works and historic furniture commissioned in the 1730s continued to be displayed and used in the new building. In the illustration of the Directors' Court Room, you can see the Chairman's crimson velvet chair and the oil paintings by Lambert and Scott on display. The furniture featured in the illustration are held by the British Library.

WD4585
The East India House, Leadenhall Street attributed to James Malton, c.1800,  as rebuilt by Richard Jupp and Henry Holland in 1796 to 1799. British Library, WD4585  noc

WD 2465_576
The Directors' Court Room, East India House, Leadenhall Street, London, c.1820 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. British Library, WD2465  noc

Following the India Act of 1833, Uprisings of 1857 and the India Bill of 1858, the East India Company and the Board of Control offices merged to form the India Office. The building on Leadenhall Street was sold in 1861 and within months destroyed (Hardy 1982, p.9). The India Office retained the furniture and works of art mentioned above; these were incorporated into their new offices in Whitehall, now part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A selection of oil paintings and sculpture remain on display at the FCO; the rest are held at the British Library.

For readers interested in the India Office Records and the historical archives: East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there will be access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.  Modules II and III will be published in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

 

Further reading:

William Foster, India Office Library: Prints and Drawings, India Office, 1924

William Foster, East India House: its history and associations, John Lane the Bodley Head Limited, 1924

John Hardy, India Office Furniture, British Library, 1982

Karen Stapley, A break-in at East India HouseUntold Live Blog

Hedley Sutton, Treasures of the Asia and Africa Reading RoomAsian and African studies Blog

 

 

Malini Roy

Visual Arts Curator

27 August 2015

Early Malay trading permits from Borneo

Add comment Comments (0)

In November 1714, three British merchants from the East India Company ship Borneo were granted permits to trade by the sultan of Banjar on the south coast of the island of Borneo, now known as Banjarmasin in present-day Indonesian Kalimantan. The issuing of trading permits was a common occurrence, but what was exceptional in this case was the form of the permit itself: a thin piece of gold stamped with the sultan’s seal, with a personalised inscription naming each of the three officers.

At this time the ruler of Banjar was Sultan Tahmidullah (r.1712-1747), and the presentation of the permits took place at his palace at Caytongee or Kayu Tangi, about a hundred miles upriver from the port of Banjarmasin. The occasion was described by Captain Daniel Beeckman in his travelogue, A voyage to the island of Borneo in the East-Indies, published in London in 1718:

He caus’d three Gold Plates to be made of the Form and Size here mark’d, of which he gave one to me, another to Mr. Swartz, and the third to Mr. Becher; and told us, that was a Token of the Friendship, and a Chop, or Grant of Trade, having the Stamp of his Great Seal on it; that on the producing it at our return, he would not only protect us, but grant us the liberty of Trade in any part of his Dominions; Then he wish’d us, in a hearty manner, a good Voyage, and a speedy Return. I have here inserted the Words that are on the Gold Chop, as also the English of them, as near as I can, viz. De ca Tawon Zeib, daen ca Boolon Dulcaidat, Eang Sultan Derre Negree Caytongee, dea Casse enee Chop pada anacooda Beeckman. That is, In the Year Zeib, and the Moon Dulcaidat, The Sultan of Caytongee gave this Chop to Captain Beeckman’ (Beeckman 1718: 110-111).

A80069-09
Daniel Beeckman, A voyage to and from the island of Borneo in the East-Indies (London, 1718). British Library, T 11938 4.  noc

Hardly surprisingly, none of the original gold tokens is known to have survived. But tucked inside a manuscript volume of miscellanea in the British Library’s department of western manuscripts is a document with a tracing of the token granted to Bartholomew Swartz, supercargo of the Borneo. As part of the Harleian collection, this manuscript dates from before 1753, and was therefore probably drawn up not long after the return of the ship Borneo from the East Indies. The piece of paper is inscribed: 'The Contract with the Emperor of Borneo (in the East Indies). Mr. ... Swartz's Agent from the East India Comp. London. This was an agreement to settle & Trade or Commerce with full liberty to the Subjects of England or great Britain'. In the middle of the sheet of paper is a drawing of the token, which is labelled, 'This is on a gold plate, impressd. by the Emperor, almost as thinn as this paper, whereby it is plainly seen on the other side'.

A80069-44
Traced copy of the gold trading permit bearing the seal of Sultan Tahmidullah of Banjar, with a presentation inscription in Malay to Bartholomew Swartz dated 1714. British Library, Harley MS 6824, f. 194r.  noc

The outline of the original gold plate has been traced with a sharp implement, and the inscription on the seal and the token copied out in black ink. The scored outline shows that the gold plate was rectangular on the three lower sides but rounded at the top, and measured 87 mm high by 48 mm wide. Impressed at the top of the token was the round seal of the sultan, measuring 45 mm in diameter with a triple-ruled outline, with an inscription in the middle and in a border around the edge.

This drawing is doubly significant, not only as a record of a rare seal impressed in gold, but also because it depicts the oldest Islamic seal known from Borneo. In Malay seals, the main inscription giving the name of the seal owner is invariably located in the centre, while the border houses a secondary inscription, often religious in character. However, in this seal, the only logical way of reading the inscription is to proceed from the border inwards to the centre: Sultan Tahmidullah ibn Sultan Tahirullah ibn // al-Malik[?] Allah, ‘Sultan Tahmidullah, son of Sultan Tahidullah, son of // al-Malikullah’. [It is probably significant that the only other Malay seal known where the inscription should be read from the border inwards is also from Banjar.]

A80069-44
Detail of the drawing of the gold sealed trading permit. British Library, Harley MS 6824, f. 194r.  noc

Underneath the seal impression, the gold plate was inscribed in Malay in Jawi script with the date and the name of the recipient: Pada tahun zai pada bulan Zulkaidah hijrat [a]l-nabi seribu seratus enam tahun, Sultan Banjar mengasih cap kepada Batalomu Suwas, ‘In the year Zai, the month Zulkaidah, the year of the migration of the Prophet one thousand one hundred and six, the Sultan of Banjar gave this seal to Bartholomew Swartz’. Although the date on this copy is given as Zulkaidah 1106 (June/July 1695) it should, without doubt, read Zulkaidah 11[2]6 (November/December 1714), which accords exactly with the dates of the Borneo’s visit to Banjar.

No other reference is known to trading permits from the Malay archipelago in the form of gold tokens, and another East India Company ship, Dragon, which visited Banjarmasin in 1746 during the reign of Sultan Tahmidullah's son, Tamjidullah (r.1746-1756), received more conventional trading permits, written on paper in Malay in very stylish Jawi calligraphy, and bearing the sultan's seal stamped in red wax.

IOR-L-Mar-C-324, f.65r-ed
Trading agreement for pepper issued by the Sultan of Banjar to the East India Company, received on 24 October 1746: 'This is our royal decree to Mr Butler, Mr Stewart and Captain Kent; as your trading vessels sail in and out we agree that they will not be searched; you must not allow any nobles or notables to board your ship, or anyone at night, and during daytime only two or three merchants may board (at any one time); and we promise the Company to supply six thousand pikul of pepper, this is not negotiable, and each year whether two or three ships come, it will be [only] six thousand' (Bahwa ini titah kami kepada Mister Butel dan Mister Asdut serta Kapitan Kin jikalau ada perahu masuk atau perahu keluar tiada kami berikan diperiksa yang jenis perahu dagang dan lagi pula kalau raja2 atau orang besar2 hendak bermain ke kapal jangan dinaikkan atau orang henda naik pada malam melainkan orang berdagang dua tiga orang beroleh naik pada hari siang dan akan perjanjian kita dengan Kompeni memuat lada enam ribu pikul tiada kita mengubahkan tiap2 tahun jikalau kapal datang dua atau tiga enam ribu jua). British Library, IOR L/Mar/C/324, f. 65r.  noc

IOR-L-Mar-C-324, f.64r text-ed
Financial surety issued by the Sultan of Banjar, 1746: 'This is our surety issued to Mister Butler for the rials, valid only as far as Batavia; if Mister Butler does not return to Banjar our friendship with the East India Company will be revoked' (Bahwa ini surat kami akan Mister Butel mengganti rial itu sehingga ke Betawi saja, jikalau tiada kembali ke Banjar adalah Mister Butel menceraikan sahabat kami dengan Kompeni). British Library, IOR L/Mar/C/324, f. 64r.  noc

IOR-L-Mar-C-324, f.64r, seal a   IOR-L-Mar-C-324, f.65r, seal
Two red wax seals bearing the name Sultan Tamjidullah, both inscribed from the bottom up so that the word Allah is elevated to the position of honour at the top of the seal. British Library, IOR L/Mar/324, f. 64r (left) and f. 65r (right).  noc


Further reading

A.T. Gallop & V. Porter, Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World. Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2012.

A.T. Gallop, Elevatio in Malay diplomatics, Annales Islamologiques.  Dossier: Les conventions diplomatiques dans le monde musulman.  L’umma en partage (1258-1517), ed. Marie Favereau.  41 (2007), pp. 41-57.

Malay manuscripts from Borneo

With thanks to Richard Morel who discovered the two permits of 1746.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

24 March 2015

From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia

Add comment Comments (0)

The British Academy-funded research project Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean, which ran from 2009 to 2012 adminstered by ASEASUK (Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the UK) and the BIAA (British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara), set out to investigate all aspects of links between the greatest Middle Eastern power – the Ottoman empire – and the Muslim lands of the Malay archipelago in Southeast Asia over the past five centuries. The project culminated in a conference held in Banda Aceh in 2012, as well as a travelling photographic exhibition produced by the British Library which toured the UK, with a Turkish version which travelled to Istanbul and Ankara, while Indonesian versions were displayed in various venues in Aceh and in Jakarta at the Bayt al-Qur'an & Museum Istiqlal. Now one of two books arising from the project has just been published – From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop – as the auspiciously-numbered 200th volume in the series 'Proceedings of the British Academy', published by Oxford University Press.

TJ-15076_From Anatolia to Aceh copy

The first direct political contact between Anatolia and the Malay world took place in the 16th century, when Ottoman records confirm that gunners and gunsmiths were sent to Aceh in Sumatra to help fight against Portuguese domination of the pepper trade across the Indian Ocean. In later years the main conduit for contact was the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and many Malay pilgrims from Southeast Asia spent long periods of study in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which were under Ottoman control from 1517 until the early 20th century. During the era of European colonial expansion in the 19th century, once again Malay states turned to Istanbul for help. It now appears that these demands for intervention from Southeast Asia may even have played an important role in the development of the Ottoman policy of Pan-Islamism, positioning the Ottoman emperor as Caliph and leader of Muslims worldwide and promoting Muslim solidarity.

The 14 papers in this volume represent the first attempt to bring together research on all aspects of the relationship between the Ottoman world and Southeast Asia, much of it based on documents newly discovered in archives in Istanbul. The book is presented in three sections, covering the political and economic relationship, interactions in the colonial era, and cultural and intellectual influences, with an introduction by the editors and a historiographical survey by Anthony Reid, whose seminal 1969 article, ‘Sixteenth century Turkish influence in western Indonesia’ (Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10 (3): 395-414), could be seen as the starting point for modern research on this topic. A full list of the contents of the volume can be found here: Download 00_Anatolia to Aceh_i-xvi.

2014-5-14 (17)
Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th c. Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2014.5.14.

The beautiful manuscript which adorns the front cover of the volume exemplifies well the myriad interactions documented in the volume: it was copied in Mecca by a Malay calligrapher from the 'Jawi' community of Southeast Asians resident in the Hijaz, and adorned with late Ottoman-style illumination. It is a copy of the Mawlid sharaf al-anam, ‘The birth of the noblest of mankind’, an anonymous compilation of devotional prayers on the Prophet, and the Arabic text is accompanied by a small interlinear translation in Malay. The scribe is named as Ibrahim al-Khulusi ibn Wudd al-Jawi al-Sambawi, his nisba indicating his origins on the island of Sumbawa in eastern Indonesia.

2014-5-14 (19)
Final pages of Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th c. Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2014.5.14.

Although the colophon gives the date (in thinly-inked numerals) of 1042 AH (1632/3 AD), this is most likely erroneous and numerous factors indicate that the manuscript was probably copied in the mid-19th century. By coincidence, among the documents in the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives ((Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, BOA) in Istanbul relating to Southeast Asia discovered in the course of the research project was an Arabic letter of 1849/50 to Hasib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Hijaz, thanking him for facilitating the Hajj pilgrimage, signed by ten Malay and Yemeni scholars (‘ulama) resident in Mecca. Among the signatories to this letter is one ‘Ibrahim bin Wudd al-Jawi’, whose seal impression reads Ibrahim al-Khulusi ibn Wuddin. Comparing the name ‘Ibrahim’ in the manuscript and the letter leaves little doubt that they were written by the same person.

İ_DH_211_12286 (7a)-ed
Letter in Arabic from Southeast Asian religious scholars in Mecca to Hasib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Hijaz, 1849/50, with Ibrahim's signature and seal fourth from the left. BOA İ.DH 211/12286.

Ibrahim  P1030709-det
Detail of the signature of Ibrahim (left) in the letter of 1849/50, and (right) in the colophon of Mawlid sharaf al-anam, with the same concave-convex shape of ba-ra, and the letter alif bisecting the ha-ya ligature in both examples.

Further evidence locating this ‘Ibrahim’ as a master Malay calligrapher in the Hijaz in the mid 19th century is found in a letter in Malay and Arabic written in Mecca in 1866 by Abdul Rahman bin Muhammad Saman of Kelantan to Sultan Abdul Hamid of Pontianak on the west coast of Borneo (Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 1998.1.3680). In the letter, Abdul Rahman states that he had come to Mecca to study the ‘Istanbul style’ of writing (menyurat Istanbul), and that he is currently being considered the successor to his ‘late teacher Shaykh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi’ in teaching ‘Istanbul writing’ (patik ini … sudah dilatih? orang besar2 di Mekah akan bahwa patik inilah jadi ganti … al-marhum guru patik tuan Syaikh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi yang masyhur itu … pada pihak tolong mengajarkan segala muslimin menyurat Istanbulnya). Together, these sources suggest that Ibrahim al-Khulusi died in Mecca probably sometime in the early 1860s.

1998-1-3680 (1)-det-name

Detail from a letter written by Abdul Rahman of Kelantan in Mecca in 1866 giving the name of 'my late teacher the great Shaykh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi' (al-marhum guru patik Tuan Syaikh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi yang masyhur). Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 1998.1.3680.

Ironically, the Ottoman-Malay mawlid manuscript of Ibrahim al-Khulusi only came to light in 2014, well after the completion of the research project, and so is not discussed in the book itself.  (The manuscript is currently held in the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, and we are most grateful to the IAMM and its Director, Mr Syed Mohamad Albukhary, for permission to reproduce the manuscript on the front cover of the book).  But it is just such a discovery as this which raises hopes that, from time to time, yet more new evidence will emerge of the connections between the Ottoman empire and Southeast Asia, across the Indian Ocean from Anatolia to Aceh.

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia, British Library & Co-Director, 'Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean'

With thanks to Tim Stanley for comments on the illumination.

From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks, and Southeast Asia
Edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop
OUP/British Academy | Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 200
300 pages | 22 illustrations | 234x156mm
978-0-19-726581-9 | Hardback | 05 February 2015
Price:  £70.00
Available from Oxford University Press

05 December 2014

George Percy Churchill’s Biographical Notices of Persian Statesmen and Notables

Add comment Comments (0)

In 1906, the Government of India Foreign Department published (and republished in 1910) an index of prominent Qajar statesmen, compiled by George Percy Churchill, Oriental Secretary at the British Legation in Tehran. According to Cyrus Ghani, this collection of notes and genealogical tables, entitled Biographical Notices of Persian Statesmen and Notables, is the only document of its kind and serves an ‘indispensible source to ascertain who the British held in high regard and who they considered to be pro-Russian or independent’ (Ghani, pp. 78-79). Indeed, the importance of the work is attested to by numerous references in monographs and in entries in, for example, the invaluable reference tool Encyclopædia Iranica.

01_100002_1000
Left: 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746)
Right: 'Biographical Notices of Persian Statesmen and Notables', 1910 (British Library, IOR/L/PS/20/227)
 noc

Copies of the Biographical Notices are available in the records of the India Office and Foreign Office held at the British Library and National Archives respectively. Only three further copies appear to be held in libraries at Bamberg, Cambridge and Canberra, though a 1990 translation into Persian is more widely available (Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ, 1990).

Churchill’s Draft Text
However, a little-known manuscript draft of the Biographical Notices exists in the archive of the Bushire Residency, a part of the India Office Records (‘Biographical Notes’, IOR/R/15/1/746), and is now digitised and available online.

05_1000
Manuscript note in 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, f. 3v)
 noc

In a signed note (f. 3v), Churchill remarks that he compiled his work from a variety of sources, in particular from Lieutenant-Colonel H. Picot’s, Biographical Notices of Members of the Royal Family, Notables, Merchants and Clergy (1897), which he endeavoured to update and amplify. The draft has the appearance and feel of a scrap-book, with cut-outs of entries from Picot’s work and other printed reports, juxtaposed with up-to-date information written in Churchill’s own hand, as well as seal impressions, signatures, photographs and other elements pasted in.

04_1000
'Tree of the Royal Kajar House' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, ff. 28v-29r)
 noc

In addition to the biographical entries, the draft includes an impressive hand-written genealogical ‘Tree of the Royal Kajar House’ (ff. 28v-29r); a list of words used in the composition of Persian titles (ff. 4r-5v); a list of Persian ministers, provincial governors and others receiving Nowruz greetings in 1904 (ff. 33v-34r); and a list of the principal of Persian diplomatic and consular representatives (ff. 30v-31r). Appearing on folios 32v-33r, quite incidentally with notes written on the back, is a seating plan for a dinner of the Omar Kháyyám Club on 23 November 1905.

03_1000
Seating plan for the Omar Khayyam Club Dinner, 23 November 1905 (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, ff 32v-33r)
 noc

An Abundance of Seals
What stands out most in Churchill’s draft is the abundance of seal impressions – over 300 of them –  that appear to have been cut out from Persian correspondence and envelopes. These appear next to the biographical entry of the seal owner, and, in some cases, a single entry is accompanied by multiple seal impressions reflecting the use of different seal matrices at different dates and containing personal names or official and honorific titles. In addition, there are three clusters of seal impressions that are not associated with specific biographical entries, and these include seals of Qajar rulers, such as Fath ‘Ali Shah (r. 1797-1834) and Muhammad Shah (r. 1834-1848), as well as other Qajar statesmen.

006_1000
Draft entry and print entry for Arfa' ud-Daulah (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, f. 66v; IOR/L/PS/20/227, p. 10)
 noc

008_1000
Entry for  Mirza ʻAli Asghar Khan Amin us-Sultan in 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, f. 55r)
 noc

Seals Set within Illuminated Frames
Two clusters of seal impressions on folios 2v and 29v contain three examples of seals set in ornately decorated illuminated frames that have been cut out from firmans of Farmanfarma Husayn ‘Ali Mirza, Governor-General of Fars, dated 1229 AH (1813/14 CE). This art form developed in Iran during the later Safavid and Qajar eras, spreading throughout the Islamic world. Annabel Gallop and Venetia Porter note such illuminated framed seals with ‘their own architectural constructs’ or else ‘nestling within a bed of petals, sitting at the heart of a golden flame or sending forth rainbow-hued rays’ (pp. 170-172).

007_1000 009_1000
Seal impressions on folios 2v (left) and 29v (right) from 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746)
 noc

Embossed Seals and Printed Stationery
The other cluster of cut-outs found on folio 3r are in fact not ink seal impressions, but impressions of embossed (blind-stamped) seals and decorative printed letterheads of specially-printed stationery. These are variously dated and include those of Amin al-Dawlah and Mas‘ud Mirza Zill al-Sultan, and contain decorative symbols such as laurel reefs, crowns, and the lion and sun national emblem (shir u khurshid).

010_1000
A collection of embossed and printed seals in 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, f. 3r)
 noc

Embossed seals made with metal presses came into use in Europe in the latter part of the eighteenth century mainly among companies and institutions, but also by individuals. In the nineteenth century, this practice had become widespread in Ottoman bureaucracy. This collection, taken together with seal presses in museum collections in Iran (Jiddī, p. 75), demonstrates that the practice had become well-established in Qajar administration. Moreover, the embossed seals juxtaposed with traditional ink seal impressions in this volume point towards the ‘changing relations of production and advancing commercialization’ as a result of colonialism and globalisation that affected Islamic diplomatics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Messick, pp. 234-235). Indeed, it has been noted that such embossed seals appeared at around the same time as other developments, such as the widening use of printed letterheads and rubber stamps (Gallop and Porter, p. 122).

Photographic Images
A number of the biographical entries are also accompanied by photographs of the subject in official dress. These are found on folio 48 for Mirza ‘Ali Asghar Khan Amin al-Sultan; two cut out photographs of Hakim al-Mulk Mirza Mahmud Khan and one of Hakim al-Mulk Ibrahim Khan on folio 114v; and one of Muzaffar al-Din Shah Qajar (r. 1896-1907) on folio 163v.

011_1000
Photographs found in 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746)
 noc

The Importance of Churchill’s Work
In one sense, Churchill’s work represents an important work in the context of British colonial knowledge of the political landscape of Qajar Iran at the beginning of the twentieth century. Yet, as has been noted by Gallop and Porter (p. 154), the presence of an abundance of seal impressions reflects the keen eye of an enthusiastic collector. However, we should not necessarily view collecting and colonial intelligence gathering as mutually exclusive fields. As Carol A. Breckenridge has noted: ‘The world of collecting was considerably expanded in the post-enlightenment era. With the emergence of the nineteenth-century nation-state and its imperializing and disciplinary bureaucracies, new levels of precision and organization were reached. The new order called for such agencies as archives, libraries, surveys, revenue bureaucracies, folklore and ethnographic agencies, censuses and museums. Thus, the collection of objects needs to be understood within the larger context of surveillance, recording, classifying and evaluating’ (p. 195-96).

Indeed, seal impressions were collectable not only as objects of Orientalist curiosity and research, but also as the preeminent symbol of personal and political authority, power and hierarchy, as well as ownership. Although Churchill’s collection of seal impressions was absent from the final printed version of the Biographical Notices, the draft text provides researchers with a valuable source for the study of Qajar seals and sealing practices at the turn of the twentieth century, at a time in which the Islamic seal was being replaced by other instruments of textual and visual authority, such as embossed seal and photographs.

 

Primary Sources
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, ‘Biographical Notes’, IOR/R/15/1/746
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, ‘Biographical notices of Persian statesmen and notables’, IOR/L/PS/20/227
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, ‘Persia: biographical notices of members of the royal family, notables, merchants and clergy’, Mss Eur F112/400
The National Archives (TNA), ‘PERSIA: Biographical Notices. Persian Statesmen and Notables’, FO 881/8777X and FO 881/9748X

Further Reading
Carol A. Breckenridge, ‘The Aesthetics and Politics of Colonial Collecting: India at the World Fairs’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 31, No. 2 (April, 1989), pp. 195-216
Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, New York, 1996-
Cyrus Ghani, Iran and the West: A Critical Bibliography (London: Kegan Paul International, 1987)
Annabel Teh Gallop and Venetia Porter, Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World (Kuala Lumpur, 2012)
Muḥammad Javād Jiddī (trans. M. T Faramarzi), Muhrhā-yi salṭanatī dar majmūʻah-i Mūzih-i Kākh-i Gulistān [Royal seals in Golestan Palace Museum collection] (Tihrān, 1390 [2011])
Brinkley Messick, Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkley, 1993)
George Percy Churchill (trans. Ghulām Ḥusayn Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ), Farhang-i rijāl-i Qājār (Tihrān, 1369 [1990])

 

Daniel A. Lowe, Arabic Language and Gulf History Specialist (@dan_a_lowe)
 ccownwork

14 November 2014

An early Malay letter from Brunei

Add comment Comments (0)

In the sixteenth century the kingdom of Brunei was one of the most powerful Malay states in Southeast Asia, its influence extending along the whole of the north coast of the island of Borneo and as far northwards as Manila bay. In time its grip over neighbouring polities was greatly curtailed by its rival Sulu to the east, and by European colonial powers such as the Spanish in the Philippines and, in the nineteenth century, various British enterprises in Borneo: the Brooke dynasty of ‘White Rajahs’ in Sarawak, and the Chartered Company in Sabah.

C13145-19
The city of Brunei in c.1844, built on stilts over the river. Frank S. Marryat, Borneo and the Indian Archipelago (London: Longman, 1848). British Library, W7007.  noc

An early Malay letter from Brunei held in the British Library (Harley Ch 43 A 6) which has just been digitised attests to a period when Brunei’s fleets still sailed far beyond the shores of Borneo.  The letter was sent from the Raja Bendahara Paduka Seri Maharaja Permaisuara of Brunei to ‘Senyor Kapitan Inggeris’, the head of the English trading settlement at Jambi, on the east coast of Sumatra. The letter accompanied an embassy from the sultan of Brunei led by three senior officials – Seri Laila Diraja, Seri Setia Pahlawan and Seri Raja Khatib – to the court of Jambi, with a request to purchase sendawa, saltpetre (an essential component of gunpowder) and kain gabar, blankets.

Although damaged and torn, currently laminated with gauze and possibly missing part of the sheet of paper which may have contained a seal, the letter may be partially dated from its historical context. Lured by pepper, the English East India Company had arrived in Jambi and established a ‘factory’ or trading post in October 1615. This lasted until 1679, when the factory was burned and its captain killed in the attack on Jambi by Johor. The ruler of Jambi named in the letter as ‘Pangiran Adipati’ was probably Pangiran Dipati Anum, who reigned under that title from 1630 until 1661, when he took the title ‘Pangiran Ratu’ on the accession of his son as ‘junior ruler’. The letter was therefore most likely written some time in the mid-seventeenth century, between 1630 and 1661.  

Rot_harl_43_a_6_f001r
Letter from the Bendahara of Brunei to the English captain at Jambi, mid-17th century. British Library, Harley Ch 43 A 6.  noc

The relative antiquity of this Malay letter has long been recognized, and in 1898 it was discussed, edited and translated by W.G. Shellabear in his important article ‘An account of some of the oldest Malay MSS. now extant’. Shellabear was hesitant to read the toponym in the letter spelt b-r-n-y as Brunei, so distant from Jambi, and suggested it might refer to ‘the neighbouring kingdom of Birni’. In fact, as first proposed by Amin Sweeney (1971), there is no reason to doubt that this letter is from Brunei (not least for the reason that no references at all can be found to any state in east Sumatra named ‘Birni’). Although the title Bendahara for the most senior court official after the sultan is found in many Malay states, it is usually qualified with honorifics that help to locate it precisely, and the form 'Bendahara Paduka Seri Maharaja Permaisuara' is unique to Brunei. Indeed, the typically Brunei use of medial alif in Permaisuara instead of the more commonly encountered Permaisura is another indication of Brunei origin, and even Shellabear himself acknowledged that the spelling membali (m.m.b.a.l.y) for the more usual membeli (‘to buy’) reflected Brunei pronounciation. Moreover, the three embassy officials named in the letter all bear recognizable Brunei titles.

Harley_ch_43_a_6_f001r-crop
negeri Brunei dan negeri Jambi’, detail from the letter showing the spelling b-r-n-y of 'Brunei'. British Library, Harley Ch 43 A 6 (detail).  noc

Shellabear also thought it strange that Brunei would venture so far to buy goods from the English more easily procurable from the Spanish. And yet for much of the 17th century Brunei's relations with the Spanish were hostile – in 1647 there was a joint Brunei-Dutch expedition against the Spaniards (Nicholl 1989: 189) – thus making trade with the Spaniards highly unlikely. Shellabear’s other main reservation, in view of the physical distance between Brunei and Jambi, was the description in the letter of the two states being ‘as if they were one country’ (upama sebuah negeri jua adanya). But such complimentary similes are not unusual in Malay letters, and more pertinently, a similar phrase is also used in a Brunei letter of 1821 from Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam to William Farquhar, British Resident of Singapore: kerana kepada pikiran beta akan kedua buldan itu esa tiada ada antaranya maka jadilah keduanya umpama satu hamparan, ‘For to my mind our two states are as one, with nothing to separate them, like a single mat’ (Gallop 1995: 224).

Like two other early Malay manuscripts in the British Library from the Sloane collection, this letter – from the Harley library of the first Earls of Oxford – was present at the foundation of the British Museum in 1753.  

Further reading

D.E. Brown, Brunei: the structure and history of a Bornean Malay sultanate. Brunei: Brunei Museum, 1970. (Monograph of the Brinei Museum Journal; II.2).
A.T. Gallop, Malay sources for the history of the sultanate of Brunei in the early nineteenth century: some letters from the reign of Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam.  From Buckfast to Borneo: essays presented to Father Robert Nicholl on the 85th anniversary of his birth, 27 March 1995, eds. Victor T. King & A.V.M.Horton.  Hull: University of Hull, 1995; pp.207-35.
Robert Nicholl, European sources for the history of the Sultanate of Brunei in the sixteenth century. Brunei: Muzium Brunei, 1975.
W.G. Shellabear, An account of some of the oldest Malay MSS. now extant. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1898, (31):107-151.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

 ccownwork

10 October 2014

Three volumes of the Yongle Dadian now on display at the British Museum

Add comment Comments (0)

The BP exhibition Ming: 50 years that changed China is open at the British Museum until 5 January 2015. During the years 1400-1450 the Chinese empire reached a peak in its own cultural and artistic productions and in its trade and exchange with other cultures. The stunning exhibition at the British Museum vividly represents the first-class  products of those years, with 280 extraordinary works from the Museum collections and from many other institutions.

Among the most interesting pieces from the British Library collections which are now on display, we find 3 volumes of the Yongle Encyclopaedia (永樂大典 Yongle Dadian), which takes its name from the Ming Emperor who commissioned it.
 
1
Emperor Yongle (Yongle 永樂 means perpetual happiness) as portrayed in an 18th century painted album (British Library Or. 2231)
 noc

Emperor Yongle (born with the name of Zhu Di 朱棣) was the third Emperor of the Ming dynasty and he reigned from 1402 to 1424. He was a key figure of the development of the Chinese empire: he transferred the capital of the empire from Nanjing to Beijing and ordered the building of the Forbidden City. Under his reign Admiral Zheng He travelled to the Middle East and East Africa strengthening the trade and diplomatic links with foreign countries. Indeed the importance of China as a production centre for the export of high quality goods during the first half of the 15th century is testified by some exquisite British Library Persian manuscripts, written on Chinese decorated paper, now on display in the exhibition.

Emperor Yongle commissioned the Yongle Dadian in July 1403 and the project involved 2169 scholars and compilers from the Hanlin Academy and the National University. Completed in 1408, it was the world’s largest literary compilation, comprising 22,877 chapters bound in 11,095 volumes. The Yongle Dadian was taken as an example and frequently quoted in the Qing dynasty encyclopaedia Siku quanshu (四庫禁書 “Complete Library of the Four Treasuries”), a colossal compilation in 36,275 volumes commissioned in 1773 by Emperor Qianlong.

The size, the type of paper, and the binding of the volumes are different from the other Chinese encyclopaedias. The paper is heavy with dark red vertical rulings. The subject headings are written in red on the outer edges of the pages. The binding is in the “wrapped-back” style (包背裝 bao bei zhuang), but with a distinctive yellow silk hard-cover to protect the paper.
 
2
Distinctive yellow hard cover from the volume containing chapters 7389 and 7390 of the Yongle Dadian (Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7) (British Library Or.11758)
 noc

The Yongle Dadian is unique not only for its physical appearance but also for its content arrangement: unlike other Chinese compilations, the parts are not ordered by subject, but by the rhythm system of the dictionary 洪武正韻 (Hongwu zhengyun). This system is closer to the idea of an alphabetical arrangement, and in this way it was easier to find a specific entry.

3
A page from the woodblock printed dictionary 洪武正韻 (Hongwu zhengyun) which is named after Hongwu (r. 1368-1398), the first emperor of the Ming dynasty who commissioned this work in 1375. 16th century copy (British Library 15342.b.14)
 noc

The content of the encyclopaedia covers all aspects of traditional “Confucian” knowledge and contains the most representative literature available at that time, ranging from history and drama to farming techniques. It comprises large sections of historical documents and other sources, transcribed character for character, with the name of the author or the source in red.
In fact, the term encyclopaedia, which is commonly used when referring to the Yongle Dadian, is slightly misleading since 大典 (da dian) means grand “canon” or “code” and the Yongle Dadian should be regarded rather as the Chinese literary genre of 類書 (lei shu), which literally means “classified writings”. These literary compilations span a wide variety of texts, such as dictionaries, reference books, manuals and anthologies. Unlike Western encyclopaedias which are based on edited entries, the Yongle Dadian is a collection of readings and excerpts from existing literature. Despite the non-originality (as we understand the term now) of these types of work, the value of the Yongle Dadian is enormous as it preserves many texts which otherwise would have been lost.
4and5
Left: Chapter 7389 (Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7) of the Yongle Dadian, concerned mainly with funeral rites (喪禮  sang li) (British Library Or.11758, f.1r)
Right: Illustration from the same item (British Library Or.11758, f.3v)
 noc

Even though printing techniques were already well developed in the Ming dynasty (the earliest dated woodblock-printed item, the Diamond Sutra, dates back to the 9th century), the Yongle Dadian was handwritten because of its length and extent. The only 1408 manuscript was almost destroyed by fire during the sixteenth century, and as a result two other copies were produced during the reigns of Jiajing 嘉靖 (1522-1566) and Longqing 隆慶 (1567-1572). This was not enough to keep the precious manuscripts safe: during the fall of the Ming dynasty and the rise of the Qing in 1644, the 1408 copy was destroyed and some of the later ones were lost or dispersed. The 1562-7 copies were at that time the earliest edition to survive and the number of volumes went down to 800. During the Boxer Uprising in Beijing during the spring of 1900, half of the remaining volumes which were stored in the Hanlin Academy were destroyed and now less than 400 juan (chapters) remain. They represent only the 3% of the total initial corpus.
6
Soy bean recipes on folio 3 (verso) of  chapter 13340 from the Yongle Dadian (British Library Or. 12020, Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7)
 noc

David Helliwell, Curator of Chinese Collections at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, has worked extensively on the Yongle Dadian volumes held in the European libraries (see Helliwell below), tracing their arrival from Beijing and identifying in 1997 a new volume in the University of Aberdeen Library [1]. Today there are about 56 volumes in Europe (51 in the United Kingdom and the remaining 5 in Berlin). The British Library currently holds 24 volumes of the Yongle Dadian, corresponding to 49 chapters. During the 1930s the National Library of China made copies of some chapters and donated them to the British Museum Library. Furthermore, in 1960, the Chinese publisher 中華書局 Zhonghua Shuju produced facsimiles of all the existing volumes.

7
Geomantic diagrams in chapter 14219 from the Yongle Dadian dedicated to geomancy (British Library Or. 14446, f. 5r, Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7)
 noc

Ming: 50 years that changed China is open at the British Museum until 5 January 2015.
The British Library’s Yongle Dadian volumes 7389-90, 14219-20 and 13340-41 pictured in this article are on display.

References
Grinstead, Eric Douglas, “The Yung-lo Ta-tien: an Unrecorded Volume”, in The British Museum Quarterly no. 26, 1962.
Harrison-Hall, Jessica, “‘Ming: 50 years that changed China’ at the British Museum”, in Orientations, vol. 45, no. 6, 2014.
Helliwell, David, “Holdings of Yongle Dadian in United Kingdom libraries” in Yongle Dadian bianzuan 600 zhounian guoji yantaohui lunwenji, Beijing, 2003.
Shih-shan, Henry Tsai, Perpetual Happiness: the Ming Emperor Yongle, University of Washington Press, 2001.

 


Sara Chiesura, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork

 


[1] Helliwell, David, “The Aberdeen volume of Yongle Dadian”, lecture given to the University of Aberdeen Chinese Studies Group, 16 March 2009.



21 August 2014

Persian letters from the Nawabs of the Carnatic 1777-1816

Add comment Comments (0)

Following the Seven Years War or, in India, the Third Carnatic War (1757-63), the Nawabs of Arcot (styled Walajah)—former dependents of the Nizam al-Mulk of Hyderabad—were confirmed as independent rulers of the Carnatic region of India (covering Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana states) by the Mughal Emperor, Shah ‘Alam, in 1765. Fostering relations with European settlers establishing military outposts along the Coromandel Coast, at Pondicherry (Puducherry) and Madras (Chennai), for example, the nawabs became closely involved with the transactions and officials of the Honourable East India Company, the British parliament, and even members of the Hanoverian royal family. The character and extent of these relations is reflected in the record of correspondence, treaties, and legal documents of the time. The British Library has inherited from the India Office Library a small collection of such correspondence, consisting of 12 letters in Persian (the official and literary language of the Mughal state), from which a small selection is described here. These were described by M.Z.A. Shakeb in 1982 in a short catalogue which has long been unavailable. A PDF version can be downloaded here.

X768_2_1
Aquatint based on a picture by Francis Swain Ward (1736-1794) of the mosque adjoining the palace of the Nawab of Arcot at Tiruchchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. Plate 1 from 24 Views in Indostan by William Orme, 1803 (British Library X768/2/1)
 noc

The letters written by or issued in the name of the nawabs are on thin oriental paper and are unified as a group by a number of common features: 1) the narrow, vertically elongated scroll format; 2) the placement of ruled panels of text in the lower left corner leaving broad margins along the upper and right edges; 3) floral motifs in gold; 4) 2 separate cartouches for a short invocation followed by the fuller quotation of the koranic basmalah (Qur’an, XXVII:30); and 5) fine flecks of gold (zar afshani) within cartouches and panels of text.

IO Isl 4359
Letter written in 1801 from ʿAzim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to King George III (British Library IO Islamic 4359)
 noc

The first of these letters, IO Islamic 4359, is distinguished by broad margins covered in opaque gold wash surrounding the ruled panel of text. In keeping with conventions borrowed from imperial ordinances (farmans), this opulent effect is commensurate with the importance of the letter’s addressee, George III, described as

King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Christian faith, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover), Chancellor and Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, Emperor of the Oceans, etc…

Written in an uneven Indian ta‘liq hand by the third nawab, ‘Azim al-Dawlah, the letter announces the death of the second nawab, ‘Umdat al-Umara, on 15 July 1801, and confirms his own accession with the aid of the East India Company.

IO Islamic 4361_1200
Letter written in 1801 from ‘Azim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to the Prince of Wales (British Library IO Islamic 4361)
 noc

The designs of letters communicating with other members of the British royal family are less opulent, but no less attractive, with repeated floral motifs in diaper arrangement, loosely painted in gold. The contents of letter IO Islamic 4361 are similar in tenor. Written again by the same nawab, this time in a more legible hand, it additionally requests the intercession of the Prince of Wales (George Augustus Frederick, later Prince-Regent, later King George IV) with his father, the king.

IO Islamic 4252_1200
Letter written in 1816 from ‘Azim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to the Directors of the East India Company congratulating them on the marriage of Princess Charlotte to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (British Library IO Islamic 4252)
 noc

Following a similar design scheme, the letter IO Islamic 4252 addresses this time officials of the East India Company. Commencing with a reference to the Battle of Waterloo (1815), the letter congratulates British forces on their ‘great victory’ in Europe (referred to here as vilayat) before going on to express pleasure at news of the marriage of the Prince-Regent’s daughter, Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales, to Prince Leopold Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duke of Saxony (later Léopold I, King of the Belgians), in 1816. The primary object of this letter is set out in the final few lines: to remind the Prince-Regent of his neglect in replying to earlier petitions, whereas the king did favour the nawab with a reply.

While other letters were written in the nawab’s own hand, this letter is written in a neat nasta‘liq hand by a practiced scribe. That its transcription was supervised by the nawab himself is indicated by the addition at the end of the text (bottom left corner) of the bold and stylised word, bayaz (fair copy), thus validating the letter’s authenticity.

IO Islamic 4251_1200
Letter dated 14 Rabiʻ II 1216 (24 August 1801) from Nawab Walajah III’s uncle to the Chairman, Court of Directors, East India Company (British Library IO Islamic 4251)
 noc

IO Islamic 4251_envelope_1200
Envelope with the seal of Anvar al-Dawlah Husam Jang Sayf al-Mulk Muhammad Anvar Khan Bahadur (British Library IO Islamic 4251)
 noc

Perhaps one of the least typical of this assemblage is the design and character of the letter IO Islamic 4251. Although lacking any ornamentation, defined panels and cartouches of text within rulings, and the narrow, elongated format seen in the previous 3 examples, it consists of 2 thin sheets of silver and gold-flecked paper (sim va zar afshan) covered on both sides in a densely-written nasta‘liq hand.

Written and composed by Muhammad Anvar Khan, brother of the second nawab, the first part of the letter sets out arguments disputing the East India Company’s decision to invest ‘Azim al-Dawlah as the third Nawab of Arcot. Although polite and coached in diplomatic prose, the letter is surprisingly direct in its expression of the extended nawabi family’s strong displeasure, specifying objections on grounds of illegitimacy, inheritance and succession rights under the shari‘ah, the author’s superior claims to the seat (masnad), and possible benefits to the Company if he were to succeed.

The second part of the letter discusses in greater detail the dynasty’s status as the confirmed rulers of the Carnatic region, the genealogy of the main claimants, the author’s claim, and the way in which the East India Company managed the succession. Taken as a whole, the letter vividly illustrates inherent tensions between the nawabs and the East India Company, which eventually took over the administration of the nawab’s domains following the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1798-99).


Saqib Baburi, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork

24 June 2014

‘The Kuwait Cat’s Meat Crisis’ & British Imperial Control

Add comment Comments (0)

On 11 January 1937, the British Political Agent in Kuwait, Gerald Simpson De Gaury (1897-1984) returned to Kuwait City from a tour of the interior. Upon his arrival at the Agency, De Gaury was informed by his Head Clerk that a British subject had been arrested and detained by the local authorities. The subject in question, a Pathan [Pashtun] restaurant owner named Abdul Muttalib bin Mahin, had been charged with “selling cat in his restaurant instead of mutton”.

As Muttalib was a British subject, his arrest was contrary to the provisions of the Kuwait Order-in-Council, the agreement between the British Government and Kuwait’s rulers that governed the relationship between the two states. De Gaury’s response to this breach of the agreement was decisive and illustrates well the extent of the British Empire’s control over Kuwait during this period.

According to a letter De Gaury sent to his superior, Trenchard Craven Fowle (1884-1940), the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, within half an hour of his return to the city, he had successfully secured Muttalib’s release from prison and temporarily detained him in the Agency instead.

Image 1 IOR_R_15_1_506_0423_1200
The first page of De Gaury’s letter to Fowle reporting the details of Muttalib’s case, 18th March 1937 (IOR/R/15/1/506 f. 207)
 noc

‘A Herd of Eight Fat Cats’

The next day, the ruler of Kuwait, Shaikh Ahmad Al Jabir Al Sabah apologised to De Gaury in person for the “error in procedure” and then sent a letter to the Agency that presented the ‘evidence’ against Muttalib. According to the letter, the Kuwait Town Watch had visited Muttalib’s house and “found a herd of eight fat cats there”. The letter ended with a request for De Gaury to approve Muttalib’s deportation from Kuwait. In the words of De Gaury, “His Excellency or his officers had thus in effect tried, and convicted the man and I was to be merely his executive official for the deportation”.

Subsequently, De Gaury called for Shaikh Ahmad’s Lieutenant (who was head of the Town Watch) to come to the Agency. Once the Lieutenant arrived, De Gaury informed him that he intended to try Muttalib the following day at 3pm and asked for the witnesses to be ready at that time. In his letter to Fowle, De Gaury states that as he had previously seen an unusual number of cats in the Lieutenant’s own home, he “sharply” asked him how many he himself kept, to which the Lieutenant fearfully responded that his household had “about fourteen, including those in the harem” (the area of a house reserved solely for women).


Evidence: A Dead Cat’s Hair

The next day, De Gaury was told that Shaikh Ahmad had gone away on a hunting trip and that it was not possible to call the witnesses to trial without the Shaikh’s permission. Undeterred, De Gaury held the trial regardless and swiftly dismissed the case against Muttalib due to a lack of evidence. In his letter to Fowle, De Gaury mentions that the American Mission[1] had become involved in the case “with their habitual elan” when Dr. Charles Stanley Mylrea from the Mission’s hospital had analysed a hair found by the Mayor on a table in Muttalib’s restaurant and certified it to be the same as that on a dead cat from a dustbin in the neighbourhood. However, much to the chagrin of the Mission, De Gaury decided that, in the absence of all other witnesses, Mylrea’s assessment carried no weight as evidence.

Image 2 mylrea_1200
Dr. Mylrea’s Gravestone at the Old Jewish & Christian Cemetery in Kuwait City. Courtesy of Julia & Keld

Playing on the Shaikh’s Weakness

According to De Gaury, by this point, the town had split into pro- and anti-Muttalib factions as a result of the controversy and in order to show his support, De Gaury visited Muttalib’s restaurant and publicly rebuked the Mayor of Kuwait who had initially brought the case against the restaurateur. De Gaury’s actions, combined with pressure from Kuwait’s religious establishment (who also supported Muttalib, “owing to his past charity”), soon led the local authorities to lose interest in the case. 

De Gaury believed that the Mayor had initiated the case against Muttaliib in order to try and gain control of his restaurant and had been assisted in this effort by the Town Lieutenant, said by De Gaury to be an “ambitious, jealous man who plays on the Shaikh’s weakness”. At this time, a large number of Indian merchants had recently been expelled from Iran and Iraq and in the words of a British official “were keen to try their luck in Kuwait”. This eventuality worried Shaikh Ahmad as he was concerned that an influx of these merchants into Kuwait would bankrupt their local competitors and cause instability. It is possible that he supported the Mayor’s call for Muttalib’s deportation due to this broader concern.

De Gaury explained to Fowle that the Mayor made the error of attacking a British subject thinking that foreigners would be “easier game” than Kuwaitis and since the Shaikh had “concealed the provisions of the Kuwait Order-in-Council from most of his subjects”, had not realised “that he would in the end encounter me”.


Diplomatic Humour

After receiving De Gaury’s letter, Fowle reported the details of the case onwards to the British Government in India in a letter of his own on 5 May 1937.  In this letter, Fowle joked that by using the ‘capital’ of 14 cats, the Lieutenant and the Mayor “could doubtless have started a flourishing business in the restaurant line”. 

Image 3 IOR_R_15_1_506_0437_1200
Fowle’s light-hearted commentary on the final page of his letter to the Government of India regarding Muttalib’s case, 5 May 1937 (IOR/R/15/1/506 f. 214).
 noc

Although the charges against Muttalib were dropped, under the belief that his business would suffer as a result of the accusations nevertheless, he wound up his affairs and left Kuwait. Fowle sardonically remarked that it was not known whether he left “with or without his eight cats”. Thus ended what was known while it lasted as the ‘Kuwait Cat’s Meat Crisis’, and in De Gaury’s words “at one time threatened to be rather serious”.

Although De Gaury may have sympathised with Muttalib’s plight on a personal level, the underlying motivation for the decisive action he took in his support clearly had a wider context. As De Gaury observed, many Kuwaiti subjects were unaware of the depth of Britain’s imperial control over the country and the extent to which the Kuwait Order-in-Council infringed upon on the country’s sovereignty. The crisis therefore served to visibly underline the British Empire’s commanding presence in Kuwait. Muttalib’s almost immediate release from prison and the dismissal of the case against him the next day sent a strong message that all British subjects in Kuwait, even those accused of a crime, were under their government’s protection and could not be arrested or prosecuted by the local authorities.


Primary Sources
London, British Library, ‘File 53/32 V (D 128) Kuwait Miscellaneous', IOR/R/15/1/506

Further reading
al-Ḥātim, ‘Abd Allāh ibn Khālid, Min hunā bada’at al-Kūwayt, 2nd edn (al-Kūwayt: Maṭba‘ah Dār al-Qabas, 1980)

 

Louis Allday, Gulf History & Arabic Specialist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
 ccownwork

 


[1] The Arabian Mission of the Reformed Church in America.