THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

8 posts from February 2017

28 February 2017

Indian Independence: a source

For students of the last days of the Raj, the India Office Records are the main source. Papers from the Viceroy’s Private Office, Political Department files, fortnightly reports of provincial governors, private papers of key officials: together these archives show events unfolding day by day in the lead-up to Independence and afterwards.  The film-maker Gurinder Chadha consulted these files when making her new film “Viceroy’s House”, (released 3 March), which highlights the secrecy of the discussions.

  VICEROY'S HOUSE FIRST IMAGE small
Scene from "Viceroy's House"

Among the Records is a series of War Staff files. Uniquely among India Office departments, the War Staff owed its existence to an external event. When war was declared in 1939, the Military Secretary of the India Office created a War Staff to deal with Intelligence, Supplies and Operations. By working closely with the Cabinet and the War Office, this sub-department drew the India Office into the heart of wartime government. Internal communications were also put on a wartime footing, as this diagram shows:

   IOR-L-WS-1-12029
IOR/L/WS/1/12029 f.341 Noc


Under the cryptic heading ‘PHP’ (post-hostilities planning), certain War Staff files (IOR/L/WS/1/983-988) address the subject of India’s future. The discussions dwelt upon the country’s strategic importance. Government feared that British withdrawal would leave the wider region exposed: “History has shown that nature abhors a vacuum and if the British step out, we can expect the Russians to step in”. (L/WS/1/985, f. 87). Britain’s oil supplies in the Gulf, its Indian naval, army, and air bases, its access to India’s military forces: all were at risk if a post-Independent India were to turn hostile. To predict the future at this stage, as officials admitted, was next to impossible. The files include standard orders for action and confidently signed-off approvals. But the overwhelming sense that they convey is one of apprehension.

  

IOR-L-WS-1-985 (image 2)

IOR/L/WS/1/985 Noc

IOR-L-WS-1-985

IOR/L/WS/1/985  Noc

Antonia  Moon
Lead Curator, post-1858 India Office Records

 

Gurinder Chadha’s film,  “Viceroy’s House”, a fictional telling of the Mountbatten’s arrival in India prior to Independence, is released in cinemas across the UK on Friday 3 March.

  _P8A0313
Scene from "Viceroy's House"

 

23 February 2017

The ‘Kashmir of Europe’ and other exoticisms: Indian soldiers’ tales of travel in the Second World War

“Sicily is a very fertile country. It is the Kashmir of Europe.”
- Letter in Malayalam by an Indian sepoy, August 1943, Central Mediterranean Forces.

Through letters exchanged between the home front and international battlefronts, Indian soldiers in the Second World War reveal themselves to be part of a mobile world. Military enlistment and its consequent legitimacy for travel open the door to foreign countries, and new ways of seeing. While the letters themselves become agents of communication between remote villages spread across India and theatres of war thousands of miles away, they also foreground soldiers as itinerant spectators, engaging in colonial encounters in new lands.  Travel becomes an affective experience, and Europe, viewed through eastern eyes, the site of intercultural exchange.

 © IWM NA 9418 Wounded soldiers from 8th Indian Division being transported in the back of a lorry, 28 November 1943Italy - Wounded soldiers from 8th Indian Division being transported in the back of a lorry, 28 November 1943 © IWM (NA 9418)

A sepoy in the Central Mediterranean Forces, part of the Allied forces in Italy, writes: “As a reward for all our previous sufferings, Almighty brought us here to Sicily. We are supplied with British Troop rations. Sicily is a very fertile country. It is the Kashmir of Europe. Wherever you go, you will find groves of date palms and innumerable vineyards. The civilians are very sympathetic and kind hearted… The climate is very good, because it is an island in the Mediterranean Sea.… An Indian soldier is respected both for his fighting qualities and morale. The people here display no colour prejudice. The coloured are better loved than the white. Sanitation in Sicily is excellent. In our camps we enjoy radio music and cinema almost everyday. On the whole this is one of the happiest and most beautiful countries I have ever seen”.

   IWM E6547 Local children play with Indian troops manning a Bren gun carrier, 13 November 1941
Cyprus - Local children play with Indian troops manning a Bren gun carrier, 13 November 1941 © IWM (E 6547)

The verdant Italian landscape serves as a harmonious backdrop for amiable cross-cultural understanding that, nonetheless, indicates the presence of systemic inequalities during the war experience – in Indian soldiers’ rations contrasted to British troops, for instance. The extract also highlights the complexity of wartime hierarchies – being a colonial soldier on the victorious side destabilises racial structures to the extent that “the coloured” liberators become “better loved than the white.” And the rather idiosyncratic mention of Sicilian sanitation perhaps indicates its novelty to this soldier.

An Indian captain in the Auxiliary Pioneer Corps is similarly rapturous: “I am sitting under an olive tree and so many trees of almonds are standing near by. No sooner there is a slight wind than all the ripe almonds fall down on the ground. Vineyards are hanging everywhere. Birds are chirping and orchards are found all over the area round about us. Vegetables are in abundance and fruits are more than I can put in black and white. This is the first time in my life that my breakfast consists of almonds and grapes only… Our relations with the local inhabitants are cordial and they are very social”.  Here, the use of the present tense lends immediacy to this description of an Italian paradise’s mellow fruitfulness. Most significantly, both letters emphasise the restorative, albeit exoticised, potential of the natural world in a foreign land, seen through war-weary Indian eyes.

Diya Gupta
Third-year PhD researcher at King’s College London
Find out more in this short film 

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops, April-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655

Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War

 

21 February 2017

Enclosed Herewith: Specimens of Ore from the Kuria Muria Islands

Recently the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership programme discovered an unusual enclosure in some India Office correspondence:  four small specimens of ore, contained in a little pouch.  Where were these specimens from and how did they become part of the India Office Records?

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0036

IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 17: pouch containing four specimens of ore Noc

The specimens were given to Lieutenant-Colonel William Rupert Hay, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, by some inhabitants of Al Hallaniyah during Hay’s visit to the island on 7 April 1947.  Al Hallaniyah is the largest of the Kuria Muria Islands, a group of five islands located in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Oman.  The islands were presented as a gift to Britain by the Sultan of Muscat in 1854, and they became the responsibility of the Government of Bombay in British India.  They were highly valued for their guano deposits, which were exhausted by 1860, following a brief but intensive period of extraction. The islands became part of the British Aden Colony, but for administrative purposes were placed under the control of the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf.

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IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 17a: four specimens of ore from Al Hallaniyah Noc

Although the islands were long regarded by the British as being of little strategic or commercial interest, their status and administration became a topic of discussion between the India Office and the Colonial Office during the 1930s.  This was mainly in relation to Aden’s separation from British India, but also because of the establishment of a strategic air route from Aden to Muscat.

The reasons behind Hay’s visit to the islands in 1947 are not entirely clear, but he appeared to take a personal as well as a professional interest in the islands.  Following his visit he submitted a short article to The Geographical Journal (the journal of the Royal Geographical Society), which was published later that year.  Hay was also curious about the properties of the specimens that he had received at Al Hallaniyah.  A few days after his trip, in a letter to Eion Pelly Donaldson at the India Office in London, Hay wrote: ‘I forward herewith the specimens of ore handed to me on Hallaniyah Island.  If there is no objection I should be grateful if you could kindly have them analysed and let me know the result'.

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0045

IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 21: letter from the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf to the India OfficeNoc

The specimens were duly sent to the Geological Survey and Museum (now part of the Natural History Museum) in South Kensington. After an initial inspection the specimens were identified as being crystals of iron pyrites, and were deemed not to be of commercial value.  Donaldson informed Hay of the results and added ‘[w]e will keep the specimens here for the time being, unless you want them returned’.  Presumably Hay did not express any interest in retaining the specimens, which have remained with the correspondence ever since.

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0028

IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 13: letter from the India Office to the Political Resident in the Persian GulfNoc

Images of the specimens will be made available on the Qatar Digital Library website later this year.


David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
Coll 6/39 'Kuria Muria Islands: Administration and Status of', IOR/L/PS/12/2106
John Gordon Lorimer, Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, ’Omān and Central Arabia, 2 vols (Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, India, 1908), II, pp. 1043-1045.
William Rupert Hay, ‘The Kuria Muria Islands’, The Geographical Journal, 109 (1947) No. 4/6 (April-June 1947), 279-281.

  

16 February 2017

Thim Days Is Gone – a colonial memoir

Patrick Tandy was a soldier and colonial administrator who wrote a memoir about his time in India and the Persian Gulf. The memoir has an arresting title: ‘Thim Days Is Gone’.

Tandy, an Irishman, was no lover of colonial ‘snobbery and pomposity’, as he explains in a preface: ‘The late Christabel, Lady Ampthill of blessed memory, answered the door-bell of her Castle of Dungorra in Connemara to find the coal-man on her door step. He said “Where do you want the coal, missus?” She drew herself up and replied “Kindly address me as your ladyship!” His answer was “Thim days is gone missus, where do you want the coal?”’

Mss Eur F226_28_0005

‘Thim Days Is Gone’ by Patrick Tandy. Mss Eur F 222/28, f 3.

Tandy had a career spanning the Royal Artillery, the North-West Frontier Province of India, and colonial administration in the Persian Gulf, where he was Political Officer, Trucial Coast, and later Political Agent, Kuwait. The memoir spans the years 1932-48, and was written in the 1980s.

We learn from Tandy’s colourful account, among other things, that the Urdu spoken by upwards of 90% of the British officers in India was in fact a language ‘almost unintelligible to the untutored Indian’, and Urdu-speaking recruits had to be taught by their fellow soldiers the ‘Sahib’s Urdu’ in order to understand their own officers (folio 6).

Amorous exploits include the ‘attractive blonde daughter’ of his boss, the Chief Commissioner of Ajmer-Merwara, ‘whose marriage was going through a difficult period, and who had flown to the shelter of her mother’s wing. One could hardly have asked for more’ (folio 34).

Then there was the Maharajah who always wore gloves to shake hands with Europeans ‘in order to avoid defilement’ (folio 33).

Service during the Second World War with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) on the borders of Iran and Russia brought him into contact with a local official who had removed a cache of arms and ammunition from behind the walls of his house. He had then disguised the repair to the wall by hanging up a sanitary instrument, ‘more, one imagines, for convenience than ornamentation’. The same official also made home-brew vodka, which exploded when lit by a match (folio 86).

Attempts to organise Russian deserters for guerrilla operations foundered on the fact that if captured the deserters faced execution by their own side, by the Germans, or by anyone else.

Tandy’s transfer to Sharjah in the Trucial Coast involved a stopover at Bahrain, where he tells the story of an unnamed VIP, an apartment for off-duty air hostesses, and a two-way mirror (folio 96).

Much follows about social customs, local rulers, and the advent of the oil industry.

On folio 103 the Sheikh of Sharjah (a diabetic) is saved by an insulin injection from a Jewish doctor, and on folio 115 the Sheikh of Kuwait fortunately takes the right glass at a Royal Navy reception (all the others had gin in).

Tandy finally left Kuwait (and the Gulf) in 1948, when he handed over to ‘a young man from The Foreign Office who had no Arabic’, leaving him with the feeling that ‘an era had come to an end’.

Martin Woodward
Content Specialist, Archives
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Mss Eur F 226/28 'THIM DAYS IS GONE'
Biographical notes on Maurice Patrick O'Connor Tandy (1912-1986) can be found in Paul John Rich, Creating the Arabian Gulf: The British Raj and the Invasions of the Gulf (Lexington Books, 2009)
Diana Quick, A Tug on the Thread: From the British Raj to the British Stage. A Family Memoir (Virago Press, 2009).

 

 

14 February 2017

Broken Valentine Promise

On Valentine’s Day 1904, Ernest Down made a proposal of marriage to Bessie French at Plymouth Friary railway station. In June 1905 Bessie took Ernest to court to recover damages for breach of promise.

Romantic couple

From Frederick Langbridge,  Love-Knots and Bridal-Bands: poems and rhymes of wooing and wedding, and valentine verses (London, 1883) BL flickr Noc


Ernest Down worked as an assistant at his father’s dental practice in Plymouth.  The attachment between Ernest and Bessie began in January 1904.  The following month, on 14 February, Bessie and her mother were leaving Plymouth for London when Ernest appeared at the railway station.  He asked Bessie to become engaged to him.  Bessie refused as they had known each other for such a short time.  However she said that if he still wanted to marry her in six months’ time, he should ask again. She would then give him a definite answer one way or the other.

The couple corresponded regularly whilst Bessie was in London.  Ernest was not present at the Devon Assizes and so was spared the embarrassment of hearing his declarations of undying love ''From your Darling Boy' read out loud in court by Bessie’s counsel. This poem was greeted with laughter:

Forget Me Not
I love you now, and shall for ever,
Your love may change, but mine will never!
Though separation be our lot
Dearest one, forget me not:
Forget me not, though far away,
And other faces see;
There’s not an hour that passes by
But what I think of thee.

 Breach of promise

Western Times 1 July 1905 Noc

Bessie was questioned by the judge. Ernest had told her that his father wished him to break off the engagement and that he would give her the reasons the following evening.  He did not turn up.

The judge summed up the evidence: Ernest had indeed broken his promise to marry Bessie after his father objected.  Justice Bingham advised the jury to award only a moderate sum in damages to ensure that Bessie would receive some payment from the young man. After a few minutes’ deliberation, the jury awarded Bessie £50 in damages.

Justice Bingham’s concern that Bessie might not get any money was well-founded.  In May 1906 Ernest appeared before the Official Receiver in Plymouth.  He filed his petition in bankruptcy saying he was unable to meet the judgment given against him at the Devon Assizes for breach of promise.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Western Times 1 July 1905; Western Morning News 11 May 1906

 

09 February 2017

Not So Strange – the East India Company Chairman in 1814

Sir Stuart Strange is the Chairman of the East India Company in the TV drama Taboo which is set in the year 1814.  He is an unsympathetic character, calculating and ruthless, prone to ranting, swearing, and grabbing fellow Company men by their coat lapels to get his point across.

But who was the real East India Company Chairman in 1814? Was he at all like Strange? 

The Company's Chairman in 1814 was The Honourable William Fullerton Elphinstone (1740-1834). His memorial tablet in Marylebone Parish Church gave this description of his personality:

He was equally remarkable for sound judgment and decision, united the highest firmness to the utmost kindness of heart, and retained to the latest period of human life the warmth of his benevolence, and the serenity of his temper.

Kind, warm, benevolent and serene – not the model for Sir Stuart then!

Elphistone, William Fullerton

William Fullerton Elphinstone from Sir William Fraser, Elphinstone family book of the Lords Elphinstone, Balmerino and Coupar Noc

William Elphinstone was born in Stirlingshire, Scotland, on 13 September 1740, the third son of Charles, 10th Lord Elphinstone, and his wife Clementina. At the age of fifteen he went to sea and after a couple of voyages decided on a career in the East India Company’s maritime service. He studied navigation before securing an appointment as midshipman on the Company ship Winchelsea, sailing to India and China 1758-1760. Elphinstone went on to serve as third mate in the Hector and as captain of the Triton, completing his final voyage for the Company in 1777.

In 1774 Elphinstone married Elizabeth Fullerton, eldest daughter of William Fullerton of Carstairs, Lanarkshire, and henceforward became known as William Fullerton Elphinstone. Elizabeth was heir to her uncle John Fullerton of Carberry, Midlothian.

Elphinstone prospered in Company service, aided by the wise investment of a gift of £2,000 from a great uncle. After retiring from the sea, he set his sights on a new career as a Director of the East India Company. He first entered the Court of Directors in 1786 and was elected Chairman in 1804, 1806 and 1814. Considerable patronage was at his disposal - his sons and nephews had distinguished careers in Company service. He received hundreds of petitions on behalf of young men seeking advancement.  In 1806 his ‘very sincere friend’ the Prince Regent wrote to Elphinstone recommending a Mr Farquhar, and in 1817 the Duke of Kent sought clerkships at East India House for two brothers named Dodd.

  Elphinstone IOR D 11 p.135 22 Feb 1826
IOR/D/11 p.135 Minutes of Committee of Correspondence 22 February 1826 Noc

Elphinstone suffered a stroke in 1824 which temporarily deprived him of his powers of speech. In February 1826, aged 85, he informed the Company that he would not stand in the forthcoming elections for Directors because of his state of health.  The Court expressed regret and wished ‘that every possible comfort may attend him at the close of a life the greater portion of which (embracing the unexampled period of 70 years) has been devoted with talents of no ordinary description to promote the interests of the East India Company and to advance the welfare of the inhabitants of the extensive Empire committed to their charge’.

William Fullerton Elphinstone died at Enfield on 3 May 1834 and was buried a week later in Marylebone Parish Church, close to his Harley Street home.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Sir William Fraser, Elphinstone family book of the Lords Elphinstone, Balmerino and Coupar, vol.2 (1897)
W Bruce Bannerman (ed.), Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica vol V Third Series (1904)

Follow the career of William Fullerton Elphinstone in the records of the East India Company's Court of Directors (IOR/B) and the Committee of Correspondence (IOR/D) - East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there is access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.

 

07 February 2017

Value in unexpected places: The sole surviving copy of 'The Grounds of Learning', a seventeenth-century schoolbook

As 2016 drew to a close, we were delighted to acquire the only known copy of an early schoolbook entitled The grounds of learning; or, The readiest way of al others, to the true spelling, true reading, and true-writing of English, written by Richard Hodges (-1657) and printed in 1650 by William Dugard (1606-1662).  Hodges was a schoolmaster and author who lived and worked in Southwark, London. His later works, including The Grounds of Learning (1650), were printed by William Dugard, who also doubled up as a schoolmaster, overt royalist and, interestingly, a friend of John Milton. At the Merchant Taylor’s School, he acquired a number of presses and set up a print shop within the school itself.

HodgesPhoto1

Hodges wrote The Grounds of Learning primarily for children as early learners of literacy. By today’s standards it would be considered somewhat uninspiring for a juvenile audience. It covers the alphabet, punctuation, spelling and pronunciation. This is followed by a section on Biblical teachings, reminding us that, in the context of seventeenth century Protestantism, the ultimate aim of literacy was to enable access to the Bible and other sacred materials. The market for children’s books, educational or otherwise, was still in its infancy in the 1650s and consisted mainly of dry primers (early textbooks), catechisms and grammars. It was only in the second half of the century that awareness of child development grew and educational works became more creative, incorporating pictures and stories into their lessons. Eventually popular tales like Tom Thumb and Jack the Giant Killer were printed specifically for children, often illustrated with woodcuts and bound in bright, colourful paper. The market grew from there.

HodgesPhoto2


The book itself is small and it’s easy to picture pupils rifling through it to find the right section. It was originally bound in cheap leather, probably calf or sheep, and has since been re-covered with utilitarian reverse leather to prolong its lifespan. This unfortunately didn’t prevent a couple of leaves going missing at some point in its history. Inside, the endpapers are splattered with the ink blots, doodles and signatures of the book’s earliest young owners. These include one Hannah Barrow who appears to have been given the book as a Christmas present. She scrawled her name on as many blank pages as she could find, even writing directly to “all you that look within this book” on the front endpaper. Whether she was motivated by pride in her Christmas gift or boredom in her lessons, we’ll never know.

HodgesPhoto3

Cheap, ephemeral items like schoolbooks can be just as rare and valuable as expensive, lavishly produced works. Maybe other copies of The Grounds of Learning have survived, buried in lofts, covered in dust and forgotten about but, until they are discovered, ours remains the only known surviving copy, a testament to all the children who used it and the growing literacy rates in seventeenth century England.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
W. R. Meyer, ‘Dugard, William (1606–1662)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009
Richard E. Hodges, ‘Hodges, Richard (d. 1657)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

To find out more about the history of children’s books from the 18th century onwards:

Childhood and children's literature

The origins of children's literature


 

02 February 2017

East India Company saltpetre warehouses at Ratcliff

In Saturday night’s episode of the BBC drama Taboo, James Delaney was keen to acquire saltpetre, the main constituent of gunpowder.  This resulted in a violent raid on the East India Company’s warehouse to steal a supply.

Saltpetre, or potassium nitrate, forms naturally in certain soils, or it can be manufactured by mixing decaying organic matter with alkalis. It was imported from India in large quantities by the East India Company .  In June 1814, the homeward bound East India fleet arrived in the Channel carrying 23,199 barrels of saltpetre.

  Liverpool Mercury 17 June 1814 saltpetre etc
Liverpool Mercury 17 June 1814 Noc

Because of its inflammable nature, the East India Company kept its saltpetre at a distance from the City of London.  Most was stored at the Ratcliff saltpetre warehouses which stood to the south of Cock Hill in Shadwell. The original Company warehouses built in 1775 by George Wyatt at a cost of £16,000 were destroyed by fire in July 1794.

The Times reported that the fire began at the premises of Mr Cloves, a barge builder, when a pitch kettle that stood under his warehouse boiled over.  As it was low water, the flames spread to an adjacent barge laden with saltpetre and other stores. ‘The blowing-up of the salt-petre from the barge, occasioned large flakes of fire to fall on the warehouses belonging to the East-India Company, from whence the salt-petre was removing to the Tower (20 tons of which had been fortunately taken the preceding day). The flames soon caught the warehouses, and here the scene became dreadful; the whole of these buildings were consumed, with all their contents, to a great amount.  The wind blowing strong from the south, and the High-street of Ratcliffe being narrow, both sides caught fire, which prevented the engines from being of any essential service.’

‘The Saltpetre destroyed at the late fire at Ratcliffe, ran towards the Thames and had the appearance of cream-coloured lava; and when it had reached the water, flew up with a prodigious force in the form of an immense column.  Several particles of the petre were carried by the explosion as far as Low Layton, a distance of near six miles.’  

A fund was launched to provide relief for the hundreds of people who had lost their homes and their personal belongings, including working tools, in the fire. The Company subscribed 200 guineas to this fund and quickly set about rebuilding and enlarging the saltpetre warehouses with the addition of an embankment on the Thames.

Free Trade Wharf 3

The former East India Company saltpetre warehouses from the Thames embankment. Author's photo Noc

   Saltpetre warehouse ground plan

Ground plan of Ratcliff saltpetre warehouse 1835 IOR/L/L/2/987 Noc

The Ratcliff saltpetre warehouses have survived to the present day, escaping the threat of further fires and explosions to outlive the East India Company warehouses storing less dangerous cargoes. Two of the original three buildings have been restored.as part of the Free Trade Wharf development.

  Free Trade Wharf 1

Two blocks face each other across a courtyard running between the Thames embankment and The Highway. Author's photo Noc

 

The Company arms appear over the 1796 gateway on The Highway side which was rebuilt in 1934. 

Free Trade Wharf 2

1796 gateway on The Highway surmounted by the East India Company arms. Author's photo Noc

I strongly recommend the walk from Limehouse Basin following the Thames path round to Free Trade Wharf.  The views down the river are very impressive, especially on a sunny day.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The Times Friday 25 July 1794 p.2d; Saturday 26 July 1794 p.3d.
The India Office Records holds property documents for the Ratcliff saltpetre warehouses – IOR/L/L/2/969-1170.