THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

8 posts from September 2017

29 September 2017

Spies or Pandits? Colin Mackenzie’s Indian Assistants, 1788 to 1821

One of the British Library’s most iconic art works is a small oil painting of Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), the first Surveyor General of India, standing alongside three Indian men. The identity of the Indian men is lost to us today, but the level of attention and detail that Thomas Hickey used to paint their faces shows that this picture was intended to make them recognisable as distinct individuals.

F13 small
Portrait of Colin Mackenzie with three Indian assistants by Thomas Hickey, 1816. (F13)

Colin Mackenzie conducted extensive research, mainly in the south of India, during his four-decade career in Asia. The immense collection he assembled is the largest archive of information from South Asia to ever be gathered by an individual. However, to assemble such a vast collection, Mackenzie relied heavily on the assistance of educated, multilingual Indians who performed an astonishing variety of tasks for him. Known as 'pandits', they mainly worked as translators, but during field surveys they also collected manuscripts and transcribed oral histories.

F13 detail 1

F13 detail 2
Close-ups showing the faces of the three Indian men. (F13)

Another task performed by these Indian assistants was to walk ahead of Mackenzie and his survey team to announce their impending arrival. They would brief the inhabitants at these places of the arrival of foreigners, and the intentions behind Mackenzie’s investigations. The earliest documentary evidence of an Indian assistant working for Mackenzie appears to record one such advance foray in 1788. It is from a set of four maps by an anonymous Telugu artist. Mackenzie labelled one of these maps with the caption, 'Harcara Sketch of Guntoor obtained or observed by one of my Harcaras'. (WD2673) The word 'harkara' means a messenger, informant or spy.

WD2673 crop
Map of Gunthur prepared by a 'harkara' in 1788. (WD2673)

Mackenzie’s Indian assistants should not be viewed merely as passive employees. Their role was to explain Indian knowledge and culture to their European colonizers, and they understandably used this position to their advantage. In particular, it was possible for them to increase the social status of the communities they came from by conflating their importance in the documents they translated and interpreted.

Colin Mackenzie openly acknowledged the contribution of the Indian men who assisted with his research. It is impossible to say how many Indian assistants he employed during his long career in Asia, from the 1780s to 1821. In 1808 alone he was employing at least 12 Indian assistants. Mackenzie regarded many of these men as family, and in one version of his last will and testament he bequeathed a tenth of his estate to two of his Indian assistants. As for the painting by Thomas Hickey, Mackenzie chose to have his portrait painted alongside three Indian men, thus reflecting their central role in creating his collections.

Will
A passage from Colin Mackenzie’s will saying that Kavali Laksmiah and his younger brother Kavali Ramaswami should receive a tenth of his estate.  (IOR/L/AG/34/29/33, folio 249)

The portrait of Colin Mackenzie with his three Indian assistants is on exhibition in Stornoway’s Lews Castle Museum until 18 November 2017. Curated as part of An Lanntair’s Purvai Project, 'Collector Extraordinaire' celebrates the life and work of Mackenzie, one of Stornoway’s most famous natives. The Purvai Project aims to inspire artists and performers by looking at Colin Mackenzie’s work. But how should we view his Indian assistants? 

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:

David Blake, 'Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinary', The British Library Journal (1991), pp. 128-150
Jennifer Howes, 'Illustrated Jaina Collections in the British Library',  in J. Hegewald, Jaina Painting and Manuscript Culture, Berlin: EB Verlag, 2015. See page 263.
R. H. Phillimore, Historical Records of the Survey of India, 1800 to 1815. Surveyor General of India, 1950. See pages 355-356.
Phillip Wagoner, 'Precolonial Intellectuals and the Production of Colonial Knowledge', Society for Comparative Study of Society and History (2003), pp. 783-814

25 September 2017

‘Inflammable material’ in the British Library

‘The amount of inflammable material in all the advanced countries of the world is increasing so speedily, and the conflagration is so clearly spreading to most Asian countries which only yesterday were in a state of deep slumber, that the intensification of international bourgeois reaction and the aggravation of every single national revolution are absolutely inevitable.’

V.I. Lenin, ‘Inflammable Material in World Politics’, 1908

Stored in the Asian and African collections of the British Library is a cache of material banned in colonial India. Consisting of more than 2800 items, it constitutes one of the largest archives of primary sources relating to any 20th-century independence movement.  The period during which these works were collected, 1907-1947, covers two world wars, revolts and autonomy movements across the world, and the texts in this archive often register these events. 

The 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure had defined ‘seditious material’ as that likely to incite ‘disaffection’ towards the Government of India or ‘class hatred’ between India’s different communities, thus setting the two main grounds for proscription during this period. The 1910 Press Act reinforced this by requiring publishers to pay a security deposit of up to Rs 5000,  which would be forfeited if any document was found to contain ‘words, signs or visible representations’ likely to incite sedition. But this did not prevent circulation of publications printed overseas, the ‘inflammable material’ described by Lenin, emanating from international publishing centres, and centres of political dissent, in Europe and America.

The British attempted to prevent the entry of this material into India through use of the Sea Customs Act, and by the application of diplomatic pressure. Both instruments were used against William Jennings Bryan’s British Rule in India, a pamphlet written by an American politician who had been won over to the nationalist cause during a trip to India in 1906. This work was republished during the First World War by a San Francisco based Indian revolutionary group, embarrassing the US government, in which Bryan had served as Secretary of State from 1913-1915.

IMG_3613
Title page of a republished English edition of Bryan's British Rule in India, n.d. (microfilm number: IOL NEG 1397)

The range of languages into which Bryan’s pamphlet was translated indicates how extensive underground distribution networks were. Their presence in the proscribed publications collection suggests how hard they were to control. The banned English language edition bears the inscription in red ink ‘The sending of this publication out of the United States prohibited by President Wilson!’, and its European language translations repeat this boast.

IMG_3615
W. J. Bryan, Die englische Herrschaft in Indien (Berlin: Karl Curtius, n.d.), a German translation of British Rule in India (microfilm number: IOL NEG 1397)

Apart from versions in Urdu and Bengali, there is also what is described as a ‘Tartar’ (sic) edition sent from Stockholm to Shanghai and intercepted on the seas in August 1916. This was produced with Central Powers assistance, and the collection is rich in such material: works in Arabic, Chinese, Persian and Turkish, intended to foment unrest in Allied territory. During a time of global war and national revolt, the best guarantee of ‘the freedom to read’, it seems, was the inability to censor.

IMG_3610
Sheet attached to cover of a Tatar translation of British Rule in India, 18 August 1916 (shelfmark: PP Turk)

Pragya Dhital
Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London

Further reading:

Shaw, Graham and Mary Lloyd (eds.), Publications proscribed by the government of India: a catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books (London: British Library, 1985)

Full text of Bryan’s British Rule in India available from the South Asian American Digital Archive: https://www.saada.org/item/20101015-123


This blog was written by Pragya Dhital for Banned Books Week 2017 (24-30 September). Banned-Books-Week-Logo

Banned Books Week was first initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. The 2017 UK contribution to Banned Books Week features events staged by a variety of cultural organisations including the British Library, Free Word, Royal Society of Literature and Islington Library and Heritage Services. British Library events can be found here.

21 September 2017

Bevin Indian Trainees during the Second World War

The exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage includes a number of items relating to the Bevin Trainees during the Second World War.  The Bevin Training Scheme was established in 1941 with the support of the British Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin.  There was a greatly increased demand for skilled engineers in the Indian industries engaged in war-related work.  The scheme aimed to provide practical training for young Indians who otherwise would not have had the means to travel to Britain.

Engineering Bulletin  September 1941 IOR-L-I-1-978

Engineering Bulletin, September 1941. IOR/L/I/1/978.

In total, around 900 trainees travelled to Britain in 14 batches between 1941 and 1947 to receive practical training in engineering.  The first eight batches consisted of about 50 trainees each, which was later raised to 90 to include aircraft mechanics and ship repair.  The period of training was initially six months, later increased to eight months.  Trainees spent part of their time in a Government Training Centre at Letchworth, before being sent for practical work experience in industries around Britain.

Indian Trainees IOR_L_E_8_8112_f001r

List of trainees, IOR/L/E/8/8112 f001r

A file in the India Office Records at the British Library contains lists of the trainees from the first seven batches.  The lists give the names of the trainees, the British firms with whom they were placed, and the address of their lodging.  They show that the trainees were placed in a variety of firms engaged in a wide range of industrial activities, including shipbuilding, railways, car manufacture, steel production, tool manufacture, and aircraft production.  The exhibition highlights the many famous Birmingham companies the trainees were sent to, such as Austin Motors, BSA, W&T Avery, and the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company.

Indian Trainees IOR_L_E_8_8112_f002r

In 1944, the Government of India produced a booklet, entitled Ambassadors of Goodwill, to stimulate public interest in the scheme.  The booklet contains eight essays written by trainees who had returned to India, which were submitted as part of an essay competition held by the Indian Labour Department.  The trainees described their experiences and their impressions of war time Britain.  One trainee, N Sankeramurthi, described asking a London policeman for directions with the request “Hullo Cop, nice day! If you don’t mind please direct me to Trafalgar Square”.   Another trainee, M G Kulkarni, wrote of the many friends he made in England.  Trainee M Muzaffar Beg was particularly impressed with the work women did in British industries during the war, commenting “Motor factories, aeroplane factories, ammunition factories, etc., were all run by women”.  

Ambassadors of Goodwill IOR-L-I-1-978

Ambassadors of Goodwill, IOR/L/I/1/978

The writer of the essay which won first prize, G Mustafa Mahmud, keenly felt the importance of the scheme, commenting that “I went to England thinking that on me and other Bevin Boys depended the great industrial development for which India hoped when normal times returned”.

Connecting Stories is at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It was created in partnership with the British Library and generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours, events and family days are on the Library of Birmingham website.

John O’Brien

India Office Records

Further information:

Bevin Training Scheme: papers not transferred to the High Commissioner for India, including lists of Indian trainees showing firms with whom placed and lodging addresses, May 1941-Sep 1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/E/8/8112]

Indian workmen training in UK (Bevin Boys), 1940-1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/I/1/978]

 

#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

19 September 2017

'I have made resolutions to be good': letters of Princess Charlotte to her tutor

Can you imagine the 19th century without Queen Victoria? If the young Princess Charlotte, only legitimate daughter of the Prince of Wales, had not died in childbirth in 1817, aged 21, she could have succeeded her father George IV to the throne in 1830 – and perhaps been quite a different sort of Queen.

Charlotte was the only child of an unhappy marriage between George, Prince of Wales, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Her parents lived apart for most of their marriage and fought constantly over their daughter, at the same time neglecting her in a way that would seem cruel today. George was determined Charlotte should never be alone with her mother. George and Caroline’s quarrels were public knowledge – the Prince instigated more than one investigation into his wife’s morals, while living openly with his mistress, and Princess Caroline’s own behaviour was less than discreet. The country took sides, and Charlotte became for many the focus of future hopes for the monarchy.

Expectations of the young Princess were high. Judging her education and training to be of some importance, her grandfather George III appointed John Fisher, later Bishop of Salisbury, as her ‘preceptor’ and the Reverend George Frederick Nott as ‘sub-preceptor’.  Nott was responsible for  religious instruction, Latin, English and ancient history.

  Princess-Charlotte-Augusta-of-Wales
Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, by Marie Anne Bourlier, published by Edward Harding, after Sir Thomas Lawrence. Stipple engraving, published 19 May 1806. © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Library has recently acquired 31 letters from the young Princess Charlotte to Mr Nott, written between 1805 and 1808 when she was aged 9 to 12 (Papers of John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury, Add MS 89259). Nott was a regular visitor to Warwick House, where Charlotte lived alone with her appointed carers. As the letters show, he was an important figure in the Princess’s life. The letters are signed affectionately; she enquires anxiously after his health; she even ‘wishes he were here’.

  Christmas 1805 p.2-3
'I wish you had been of the party': Charlotte’s description of Christmas Day in a letter dated 29 December 1805. Add MS 89259/2 © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

But things didn’t always go smoothly. Charlotte’s school work and behaviour often fell short. Contemporary accounts describe her as lively and rebellious. There are tales of her throwing the Bishop’s wig into the fireplace, standing behind him imitating his mannerisms, and getting up to mischief with her young playmate George Keppel. What’s more, writing and spelling were not her strong suit. Nott had many occasions to rebuke Charlotte, prompting pained expressions of contrition on her part.

My dear Mr Nott I assure you Early undated (2)
'I have made resolutions to be good'. Undated letter, around 1805-1806. Add MS 89259/2 © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Were these authentic expressions of remorse, or was the young Princess simply playing the game? She was sincere, she protested, time and again.

My dear Mr Nott I cannot help (4)
“It is not cant, but sincere words from my heart, I feel it”. Undated letter, around 1805-1806. Add MS 89259/2 © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Charlotte’s letters show a childish mixture of spontaneity (‘do, do forgive me my dear Mr Nott’), and amusingly formal turns of phrase (‘Feeling conscious my dear Mr Nott how much I must appear to deserve your reproaches for my long silence’, 26 August 1807). The same variety is seen in her handwriting – sometimes careful, at other times hastily scrawled and crossed out. As Charlotte’s epistolary style matures over the four years, we also see her best handwriting gradually evolve from round, carefully formed letters to a rapid, rather spidery hand.

These letters, in Charlotte’s own hand, breathe life into her story. She may never have excelled at ‘Lattin’, but the strength of feeling evident in the letters foreshadows the determination she would display a few years later, when steadfastly refusing to marry against her own inclination.

Tabitha Driver
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Follow us on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS

Further reading:

Add MS 89259 Papers of John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury, canon of St George’s Chapel Windsor, and superintendent of the education of Princess Charlotte, 1758-1849
Add MS 82586 Correspondence of Princess Charlotte with her tutor George Frederick Nott, 1805-1809 (transcripts). Papers of Lord Chancellor Eldon, volume 6
Add MS 58865, ff. 167-178v Papers of Lord Grenville concerning the education of Princess Charlotte, 1804-1806. Dropmore Papers, volume 11
Add MS 86491 Letters to Fisher, chiefly from or relating to Princess Charlotte Augusta, 1816, and undated. Fisher Correspondence. Vol. 3 

14 September 2017

Political and criminal convictions in Birmingham

How would you feel if you discovered that a member of your family had attended the first annual meeting of the Birmingham Political Union in 1830 chaired by Radical MP Sir Francis Burdett?  Would you be pleased, perhaps even proud, that you were in some way connected to the movement for political reform and a wider franchise? 

My relation Samuel Evans Heaton was in the crowds at that meeting on 26 July 1830.  However it appears that he may not have had a keen interest in Burdett’s speech - Samuel was arrested for pickpocketing.

Burdett

Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Bt, published by Thomas McLean, after Richard Dighton, hand-coloured etching, published 1825 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Samuel was charged with stealing from William Hollins one half-sovereign, four half-crowns, and other coins. Hollins had been aware of the threat from pickpockets in the throng at Beardsworth's Repository in Cheapside and had kept his hand in his breeches pocket where his money was kept. However ‘his feelings being powerfully operated upon by the hon. baronet’s  eloquence, he was betrayed into a fit of enthusiasm, and taking his hand from his pocket he grasped his hat with it, and waving it over his head, shouted and huzzaed for Sir Francis’.  At that moment, Samuel seized his opportunity and picked Hollins’s pocket.

BPU

British Library 8138.h.44.(6.)

The jury at Warwick Assizes in August 1830 found Samuel guilty and he was sentenced to transportation for life. His father Richard petitioned the Home Secretary to reprieve his ‘unfortunate’ son.  Samuel was aged 30 and had been unable to earn a living through manual labour for the past eight years, relying on his ‘strictly sober, honest, and industrious’ parents to support him. The petition was signed by others, seemingly including the victim of the crime: ‘I Wm Hollins do recommend him to your Mercy’. However the jailer’s report gave Samuel’s character as ‘very bad’: he had been in trouble with the police before for theft and assault.  The sentence was upheld and in March 1831 Samuel sailed on the Argyle for Tasmania. During the voyage he suffered from dyspepsia, debility, and the effects of a ‘broken constitution’.

 

  Heaton crime

 Evening Mail 16 August 1830 British Newspaper Archive

There is a striking physical description of Samuel in the convict records:
Trade - Labourer
Height without shoes - 5 ft 5¼ ins
Age - 31
Complexion - Brown
Head  - Large and round
Hair  - Dark brown
Whiskers - None
Visage - Round
Forehead - Perpendicular
Eyebrows - Dark brown
Eyes - Blue
Nose - Short – broken
Mouth – Large - projecting lips thick
Chin – Short
Remarks – The whole visage representing as having had a severe bruise – nose flat split - and broken – lost most of his teeth – impediment in speech - mouth awry.

In Tasmania, Samuel worked as a post officer messenger. There are offences recorded against his name. He was drunk and disorderly, and abused a constable in the execution of his duty. He neglected to attend a muster.  Most seriously, he was found in a wheat field with convict Mary Lamont and punished by imprisonment with six months’ hard labour.

Samuel was granted a ticket of leave in August 1839 and a conditional pardon in September 1842. I have not yet been able to complete this sad story by finding out when, where or how Samuel died.  So if anyone comes across him whilst researching convicts, please get in touch!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Evening Mail 16 August 1830.
Petition of Richard Heaton – The National Archives HO 17/40/FP29
Surgeon’s journal ship Argyle 1831 - The National Archives ADM 101/4/5
Tasmania Convict records e.g. description of Samuel Evans Heaton CON18/3/1 p.44
Reports of meetings etc convened by the Birmingham Political Union (1830) - British Library 8138.h.44.(1-23.)

 

12 September 2017

A Dust-up in the Desert: Hostilities on the 1931 Citroën Expedition across Asia

GobiDesert_010057_i_7

Sand hills of the Gobi Desert. Source: Francis Edward Younghusband, The Heart of a continent: a narrative of travels in Manchuria, across the Gobi Desert, through the Himalayas, the Pamirs, and Chitral, 1884-1894. British Library: 010057.i.7. Flicker: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11235569366

On 1 June 1931, in the desolate heat of the Gobi Desert, French naval officer Lieutenant Victor Point beat up and threatened to shoot a Chinese government official. 

Both Point and the Chinese official, Mr Hoh Ching-sheng, were part of a Sino-French scientific expedition organised by the industrialist André Citroën. The project, known as the Croisiere Jaune (Yellow Crossing) was led by the French explorer and General Manager of Citröen, Georges-Marie Haardt.

The expedition comprised two caravans of Citroën vehicles equipped with caterpillar tracks capable of tackling rough terrain. The first team was led by Haardt and embarked from Beirut, heading eastwards. The second team, led by Point, embarked from Beijing and headed westwards. The two team planned to converge somewhere in central Asia.

NGS_LOChec2009001222

Haardt (second left) with representatives of the National Geographical Society in December 1930, making preparations for the 1931 expedition. Source: Library of Congress picture library (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/hec2009001222/) Public Domain.

The aims of Haardt's project were much the same as other excursions by Europeans into Asia over the previous century: to collect scientific data, map previously uncharted regions, and explore the continent’s archaeological sites. Haardt took with him the latest technologies in colour photography and film production, as well as a team of artists, historians, archaeologists and geologists.

While Haardt’s progress through Syria, Iraq and Iran was relatively straightforward, Point’s trek through the Gobi Desert, in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, was beset with political difficulties. Throughout the 1920s Chinese attitudes toward western imperialism had hardened. Conscious of the reputations that many European explorers had acquired for plundering Asia’s archaeological sites for the benefit of museums in London, Paris and Berlin, Chinese officials were determined to impose tight restrictions on such expeditions, including those planned by Point through Xinjiang. These included a ban on the removal of antiquities, as well as on the taking of photographs and film footage.

IOR_L_PS_12_4237

Extract of a letter from the British Minister in China, dated 23 July 1931, reporting on the incident involving Lieutenant Point and Mr Hoh Ching-sheng. IOR/L/PS/12/4237.

It was on this last point that Lieutenant Point came to blows with Hoh Ching-sheng. The newspaper The Peking Leader reported on 18 June that: 

‘Lt Point was taking a motion picture of the surrounding landscape, when Mr Hoh unintentionally passed in front of the Frenchman’s camera […] in the altercation that ensued [Point] hit Mr Hoh right and left […] and said that he could shoot him [Hoh] if he wanted.’

The newspaper reported that the French party had repeatedly violated the terms of the agreement with their Chinese partners, and had ‘more than once taken pictures on the way of the disgraceful things of China, such as bound feet of the Chinese women’. In his own report of the incident, the British Minister to China commented on the ‘careless selection of French personnel to command the Chinese section of the Expedition.’

Point was eventually able to complete his part of the 1931 expedition. However, on his return to France the following year, he killed himself in a fit of jealousy, with a gunshot to the mouth, in front of his fiancé, the famous French actress Alice Cocéa.

Primary sources: 

British Library, London, Coll 37/5 Iraq: Persia, Chinese Turkestan, China, etc: Citroen Co's expedition under M. George Haardt (IOR/L/PS/12/4237)

 

Mark Hobbs

Gulf History Content Specialist

Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

www.qdl.qa

07 September 2017

David Scott, India merchant, and British Supercargoes at Macao

Country ships, privately-owned British and Portuguese merchant vessels, were frequently employed by the networks of India merchants David Scott, William Fairlie and William Lennox.  Their myriad of business activities in India, China and elsewhere was also greatly helped by their use of agency houses, together with the establishment of Portuguese partners in Goa.  David Scott was a founder of many of these local and international alliances.

Portrait of David Scott
Portrait of David Scott (1746-1805), merchant and director of East India Company, by John Young (1798).  Image courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland  

Macao was important for both intra-regional and global trade.  Its residents included the Fitzhughs who were members of the East India Company Select Committee at Canton/Macao, and the British merchants John Henry Cox, a pioneer of the Nootka maritime fur trade, and Thomas Beale.  William Fitzhugh played a key role by going to Manila in 1787 to negotiate the Canton Committee's contract with the Royal Philippine Company with regard to bullion exchange.

Bird's ey view of Canton
Bird’s-eye view of Canton (Guangzhou) c.1770 

Merchants Michael Hogan, Alexander Tennant & Captain Donald Trail were all associates of David Scott. They traded slaves at Mozambique from the Cape and were at the vanguard of merchants making alliances with the Portuguese merchants in Goa and Macao to ship slaves to Brazil after British Abolition.

View of Goa Harbour
James Forbes, View of Goa Harbour (1813)

Another development was the illicit Malwa opium trade to China in the 18th century centred on Goa.  Scott, Adamson, Fairlie and the others were trading in opium from the 1780s, a precursor to the rise of the 19th century Bengal trade.

As merchants withdrew from their slave trading activities after British Abolition, they continued with 'investment' in the trade through Asian agency via Macao and India.
 
Ken Cozens and Derek Morris
Independent scholars

Further reading:
José Maria Braga, A Seller of 'sing-songs': A Chapter in the Foreign Trade of China and Macao (1967)
Cheong Weng Eang, 'Changing the Rules of the Game (The India-Manila Trade: 1785 - 1809)', Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2 September 1970, pp. 1-19.
Michael Greenberg, British Trade and the Opening of China 1800-1842 (1951).
Richard J. Grace, Opium & Empire: The Lives and Careers of William Jardine & James Matheson (2014)
Celsa Pinto, Trade & Finance in Portuguese India: A study of the Portuguese Country Trade 1770-1840 (1994)
Arvind Sinha, The Politics of Trade: Anglo-French Commerce on the Coromandel Coast 1763-1793 (2002)

05 September 2017

East India Company trade with the East Indies

The exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage traces the 400 year relationship between Britain and South Asia. That relationship began with trade, and the exhibition starts with some items relating to the East India Company’s trading activities with the East Indies.

  Map of East Indies c10001-47

Richard Blome, A Geographical Description of the Four Parts of the World (London, 1670) C.39.d.2 pp. 48-49 Images Online

One of the first items on show in the exhibition is an atlas compiled by Richard Blome, A Geographical Description of the Four Parts of the World, published in London in 1670. Born around 1635, Blome was one of the most active publishers of the 1670s. His atlas is full of information that merchants needed to conduct business overseas, with sections on each part of the world. The section on ‘India or the East Indies’ gives details of goods available at important trading centres such as Surat, the East India Company’s first base in India. Other information vital to traders is explained, for instance on coins, weights and measures.  The atlas was financed by subscription. A subscriber paid a proportion of the fee in advance, and the balance on delivery of the volume. In return, the subscriber’s coat of arms would be engraved on a map of their choice. In the Connecting Stories exhibition, the atlas is displayed open at a map of the East Indies, which has a dedication to the East India Company and its coat of arms.

  IOR B 1 f.6

IOR/B/1 f.6 List of the first subscribers to the Company, September 1599

Displayed next to Blome’s atlas is the earliest minute book of the East India Company showing a list of the first investors, who hoped to make their fortunes by trading in luxury goods from the East Indies.

  The Round Game of Trade and Barter  Library of Birmingham

The Round Game of Trade and Barter, 1840s – Parker Collection, Library of Birmingham 087.1/124

One striking exhibition item on the subject of trade is a board game from the Library of Birmingham Parker Collection. Mr and Mrs J F Parker were collectors of items of social history, including books, old tools and games. They collected over 100 children’s games, many of which were Victorian and educational in nature. The Round Game of Trade and Barter allows players to take the role of merchants trading in goods from around the world, including goods from South Asia such as Bengal silks, raw and manufactured cotton, rice and Indian pickles.

  Round Game of Trade and Barter  Playing Pieces

The Round Game of Trade and Barter, 1840s – Parker Collection, Library of Birmingham 087.1/124

Connecting Stories is at the Library of Birmingham until 4 November 2017. It was created in partnership with the British Library and generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours, events and family days are on the Library of Birmingham website.

John O’Brien

India Office Records

Further reading:

Richard Blome, A Geographical Description of the Four Parts of the World, (London, 1670) [British Library reference C.39.d.2]

East India Company, Court Minute Book, 1599-1603 [British Library reference IOR/B/1]

The Round Game of Trade and Barter (1840s), Parker Collection, Library of Birmingham, reference 087.1/124

#connectingstories
#brumpeeps