THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

12 posts from May 2018

31 May 2018

Cheap and safe burial ground in London

In the early 19th century there were many privately-owned burial grounds in London. One at St George-in-the-East in Stepney was leased in the 1830s by William Eastes who worked for the East India Company in London.

Burial ground EastesIOR/L/F/2/7 no.24 of June 1836 Noc

Before joining the Company, William Eastes had been a schoolmaster in Kent. He rented the Dissenters’ Burial Ground which adjoined the small Anglican Trinity Chapel in Cannon Street Road, a source of income to supplement his wages as a warehouse commodore (foreman).

The ground was advertised as cheap and safe, with rates for an adult grave varying between 7s and 16s, and those for children under ten between 4s 6d and 8s.  All graves deeper than five feet were charge 6d per foot extra.  Deeper graves were perhaps a deterrent to body-snatchers.  In August 1830, two well-known resurrectionists were charged with attempting to steal the body of Mrs Brown from the Cannon Street Road burial ground.  George Robins and William Jones were arrested around midnight near the partly opened grave. The police found a sack, a shovel, and a long screw iron for opening coffins. The prisoners were committed to three months in the house of correction.

 
Burial ground bill of saleIOR/L/F/2/7 no.24 of June 1836 Noc

William Eastes also acted as clerk to the Reverend Thomas Boddington of Trinity Chapel.  In 1836 Boddington sold the Chapel to the Reverend James Harris, who found Eastes totally unfit for the situation. Harris wrote to the East India Company in May 1836, complaining of how the graveyard was run and accusing Eastes of vile and fearful abuse, gross language, and a violent demeanour. 

Company warehouse-keeper William Johnson put Harris’s complaint to Eastes, a man ‘somewhat hasty in temper & likely to be violent in any matter of dispute’.  Eastes denied molesting Harris, claiming that he had merely been insisting on his right of way to the burial ground as specified in the lease.  Johnson concluded there was probably blame on both sides. The Company directors admonished Eastes and cautioned him as to his future conduct.

Burial ground plan Plan provided by William Eastes to explain his point to the Company IOR/L/F/2/7 no.24 of June 1836  IOR/L/F/2/7 no.24 of June 1836 Noc

In October 1836, Harris renewed his complaint against Eastes: ‘There is no species of horrid language that this man does not apply to me and my family’.  There had been an altercation when a sheriff’s officer came looking for Harris about a debt he owed.  The Company’s Committee of Warehouses decided not to interfere any further in the dispute.

Harris and Eastes continued to be at odds.  In October 1838 a lascar seaman from an East India Company ship was buried in Eastes’ ground.  Newspapers described the funeral procession and burial, claiming that several thousand people assembled to witness the unfamiliar ceremonies performed by the dead man’s fellow lascars.  Harris was quick to dissociate himself from these events.  He made it known that the burial ground was not connected to Trinity Chapel but ‘leased to a Dissenter in the East India Company’s service, who puts on the surplice, reads the funeral service, and receives the fees consequent thereupon, his wife performing the part of sextoness.  The Rev Mr Harris … has nothing whatever to do with the ground in question, and of course took no part in this “Lascar burial”.’

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Records of the East India Company Finance and Home Committee: IOR/L/F/1/4 pp.119, 520; IOR/L/F/2/7 no.24 of June 1836; IOR/L/F/2/11 no.64 of October 1836
British Newspaper Archive e.g. London Courier and Evening Gazette 24 August 1830; London Evening Standard 8 October 1838; Belfast Commercial Chronicle 10 October 1838

 

29 May 2018

Soup of the Day

Had we been invited to dine at the Gorakhpur Club in India in May 1916, we would have been treated to a slap-up dinner, complete with detailed menu in French. 

Mss Eur F700-1-3 menu from the Gorakhpur Club 1916Mss Eur F700/1/3: Menu from the Gorakhpur Club, 13 May 1916

Using our linguistic skills, we have worked out that we would have eaten a fine repast of fish in aspic, kidney and mushroom pudding with potatoes and peas, peach ice-cream, and preserved asparagus spears.  Sounds very tasty, but perhaps not for the faint-hearted (or those on a diet).  But we are stumped by our starter of ‘Potage d’Eunice’.  We can only speculate that perhaps this intriguingly titled soup was named for the person who created it. Or perhaps dinner was in Eunice’s honour?  If so, just who was Eunice, and what was her connection to the Gorakhpur Club? Or perhaps it is simply that ‘Potage d’Eunice’ is a forgotten French classic.  If there are any food historians out there who may have heard of ‘Potage d’Eunice’, and indeed know what it might be made of, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Mss Eur F700-2-10 Gorakhpur Club c1928Mss Eur F700/2/10: Gorakhpur Club, from photograph album of images of Gorakhpur, c1928

The menu comes from a small collection of private papers recently acquired by the India Office Records at The British Library.  They relate to the family of Guilford Lindsay Edwards (1853-1946), a railway engineer in India who was based in Gorakhpur.  The collection consists of a small number of personal papers, including Guilford’s journal from 1872-1894, as well as material relating to his son Lindsay Edwards, who also worked as an engineer in India, and the family of his daughter Amy Bellairs.  There are also 9 files of family photographs and two photograph albums.  The photographs are primarily snapshots of day to day family life, which give us an interesting insight into the private and domestic world of a white European family in India c.1900-c.1920. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Mss Eur F700: Papers, journal and photographs of Guilford Lindsay Edwards and family, 1872-1940s
Add MS 43809-43813: Diary of a visit to India by Mrs Louisa Edwards, 1883-1884 

Our Food Season continues  - unleash your inner gourmet and intellectual hunger!

Food Season

 

24 May 2018

‘The reason why the sword must not be packed without the scabbard’

Swords and scabbards were the subject of a letter received by Robert James, Secretary to the East India Company, from Thomas Hatcher at the Tower of London on 24 November 1764.

IOR E 1 45 f 565IOR/E/1/45, f 565, Letter 279 from Thomas Hatcher to Robert James 24 Nov 1764  Noc

Thomas Hatcher was a Master Furbisher of His Majesty’s Ordnance at the Tower of London.  He worked for the Board of Ordnance, the government department responsible for supplying munitions and equipment to the Army and Navy.  The Board also provided the East India Company with such supplies.

Hatcher’s warning to the company in his letter was that the scabbards were at risk of shrinking if the swords were not in them during shipping and that they therefore might not fit when reunited on arrival.  The Company’s intention to number each corresponding sword and scabbard and pack them separately simply would not do.  The swords and scabbards were being packed for shipping on board the East India Company’s ships to be used by Company regiments in the East Indies.

Foster979-2Ami Chand ('Ummeechund'), a trooper in Skinner's Horse who saved the life of William Fraser in 1819. British Library Foster 979 Images Online 

Scabbards in the 18th century were primarily made of leather, as it was considered more durable and elastic than wood.  Although Hatcher does not specify why the scabbards would be at risk of shrinking, it was most likely the risk of them getting wet on board ship and drying over a period of time, or being exposed to hot temperatures as the journey to India could take several months.  Either of these scenarios could cause the leather to shrink, and if the swords were not kept in their scabbards they could shrink so far that they would no longer fit on arrival in India. The swords being kept in their scabbards would ensure that they could only shrink around the sword and would therefore still be useable by the soldiers for whom they were intended.

Hatcher additionally warned in his letter of the risks of cuts and injuries from handling unsheathed swords 'they being Sharp on Edge & thick on the back'.  Those removing the unsheathed swords from their packing crates in India could risk serious injury if they handled the wrong edge of the blade.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
British Library, IOR/E/1/45, f 565, Letter 279 from Thomas Hatcher to Robert James 24 Nov 1764
The National Archives, PROB/11/977/167: Will of Thomas Hatcher, Master Furbisher of His Majesty’s Ordnance at the Tower of London, proved 11 May 1772

 

21 May 2018

‘A Trustworthy Indian in Stockholm’: A. Yusuf Ali’s Mission to Scandinavia, 1918

A hundred years ago, Stockholm was the centre of Indian anti-colonialism and, at the same time, British counter-intelligence operations. In late April and early May 1918, the Indian lawyer and administrator A. Yusuf Ali gave a series of lectures on Indian culture in Scandinavia, including Copenhagen, Stockholm, Uppsala and Oslo.

A Yusuf Ali 1A. Yusuf Ali from Træk af Indiens Kultur

Delivered in English, the lectures dealt with modern Indian poetry, Indian religion and the role of women in Indian, and they were translated into Danish and published as Træk af Indiens Kultur (Features of Indian Culture) in 1918. In the Foreword, Ali conceded that the lectures were not intended to be published in book form, but ‘valuable friends’ persuaded him to do so. What Ali did not admit was that these ‘valuable friends’ were the British Foreign Office (FO).

A Yusuf Ali 2Træk af Indiens Kultur 

In fact, as reports from the FO show, the British were so worried about the anti-colonial activities of the Indian National Committee (INC) among the socialist delegates assembled in Stockholm for the proposed peace conference that they considered ‘the possibility of sending a trustworthy Indian to Stockholm who could put the case from a loyalist point of view’.

As it happened, the two Indian revolutionaries Virendranath ‘Chatto’ Chattopadhyaya and M.P.T. Acharya from the Berlin-based Indian Independence Committee had arrived in Stockholm in May 1917 and set up the INC. They met the organising Dutch-Scandinavian Committee in July 1917, putting their demands for independence to the socialists, but they were met with little sympathy. The Dutch socialist Pieter Jelles Troelstra noted that ‘the Indian question is important, but it is a distraction’ from the peace negotiations.

However, Chatto and Acharya remained in Stockholm and carried out extensive propaganda in the Swedish newspapers in the next couple of years. For instance, when Finland achieved independence in January 1918, the INC sent congratulatory wishes through the Swedish newspapers Svenska Dagbladet and Aftonbladet, hoping for Finland’s support for Indian independence.

It was such articles that prompted the FO to send Ali on his mission to Scandinavia. In response to the propaganda of the INC, Ali wrote in Stockholms-Tidningen in April 1918 that the Indian revolutionaries were wrong, there was no desire for independence in India, and that the ties between India and Britain had been strengthened during the war. Furthermore, he claimed that the Indian revolutionaries had no support in India, and he referred to them as ‘anarchists’. Chatto denied these accusations, in an article in Stockholms-Tidningen in May 1918, and asserted that they enjoyed widespread support in India, particularly from Bengal.

In his reminiscences of the time in Stockholm, Acharya later wrote that they used to attend Ali’s lectures and hand out their own material to the audience. This meant that many thought that Ali belonged to the INC and subsequently approached him for more information. Ali’s mission had failed, claimed Acharya, and the British called Ali back in the summer of 1918.

The British felt differently, however, as is clear from a review of Ali’s book from The Times Literary Supplement: ‘If it was the object of our Foreign Office to give the Scandinavian public an opportunity of knowing better and valuing more highly the genius of India it would appear that this aim has been excellently fulfilled’ (5 September 1918).

Ole Birk Laursen
Lecturer at NYU London and a Research Associate at The Open University

Further reading:
M. Yusuf Ali, Træk Af Indiens Kultur (Copenhagen: V. Pios Boghandel/H Branner, 1918)
M. A. Sherif, Searching for Solace: A Biography of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Interpreter of the Qur’an (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 1994)
British Library, India Office Records/L/PS/11/126, P 3449/1917 The War: Stockholm Peace Congress; attitude of Oriental delegates

 

18 May 2018

Royal weddings at Windsor Castle

Royal weddings at Windsor Castle have a long history.  Five of Queen Victoria’s children married in St George’s Chapel between 1863 and 1882: Edward, Helena, Louise, Arthur and Leopold.  Contemporary newspaper reports of these weddings focus on many of the same aspects found in the coverage of the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – the courtship, the bride’s looks and character, the guest list, the gifts, the ceremony, the outfits.

Royal Wedding 1863 Edward & Alexandra Royal CollectionMarriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark at Windsor, 10 March 1863 by William Powell Frith. Image courtesy of the Royal Collections Trust

Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, was born in 1853, the eighth child and youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  He was a delicate child having inherited the haemophilia gene from his mother, and he also suffered from epilepsy.  Leopold studied at Christ Church College Oxford and was president of the Oxford University Chess Club.  After his student days he continued as a patron of chess, and of the arts and literature.

Prince-Leopold-Duke-of-AlbanyPrince Leopold, Duke of Albany by Lombardi & Co circa late 1870s  NPG x15727 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1882 the British press reported that Prince Leopold was to marry Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont.  The bride-to-be was described as ‘a simple and ladylike country girl … very spontaneous and open, recites with taste, … very musical’.

Princess-Helen-Duchess-of-AlbanyPrincess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont by Judd & Co 1881 NPG D33804 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The couple visited a London photographer and had two sittings, formal and informal.  The photographs showing the Prince with his arm around Helena’s waist and her head resting upon his shoulder were intended for family circulation only.  Apparently they were issued in error with the formal portraits and had to be recalled hastily.

The wedding was planned for April but there was speculation that the ceremony would have to be postponed because the Prince was laid up with a painful swollen knee.  The knee joint had troubled Leopold in the past and he had twisted the ligaments earlier in the year.  He then aggravated that injury by falling in the street after slipping on a piece of orange peel whilst holidaying near his mother in Menton, France.  The Prince’s haemophilia was not a secret – the Aberdeen Evening Express of 5 April 1882 explained: ‘there is some deficiency of a certain element in the blood, which make a fall or bruise a more serious matter to him than it would be to an ordinary person’.

However Leopold returned to England, pale and using a stick to walk, determined that the marriage should go ahead as planned.  On 27 April 1882, thousands of people flocked to Windsor for the wedding.  Some had tickets for admission to the Castle grounds, most wanted to see the procession through the town.  The people of Windsor presented a diamond bracelet to Princess Helena.  Queen Victoria gave the couple Claremont, a residence in Surrey.  As the newly-weds left the Castle in the late afternoon, several Princesses were said to have breached etiquette by appearing outside without bonnets to wave goodbye.

Prince-Leopold-Duke-of-Albany-Princess-Alice-Countess-of-Athlone-Princess-Helen-Duchess-of-AlbanyDuke and Duchess of Albany with their baby daughter Alice by Hills & Saunders 1883 NPG x197970 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In February 1883, Helena gave birth to a daughter Alice. Early the following year Leopold went to Cannes to escape the winter weather.  Sadly he had a fall resulting in an epileptic fit and a brain haemorrhage, and he died on 28 March 1884.  He was buried at Windsor on 6 April, less than two years after his marriage.  His son Charles was born in July.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Dundee Evening Telegraph 28 March 1882, Aberdeen Evening Express 5 April 1882, Derby Daily Telegraph 24 April 1882, Hampshire Advertiser 29 April 1882, Windsor and Eton Express 29 April 1882.

 

16 May 2018

The Anti-German Union and the India Office

A file among the records of the India Office Public & Judicial Department shows how the anti-German hysteria that developed in Britain after the outbreak of the First World War came to spread as far as central India.

Anti German Union Museum of Fine Arts Boston CON651696Poster for Anti-German Union 1915 courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

George Makrill was Honorary Secretary of the Anti-German Union  - motto: ‘No German Labour, No German Goods, No German Influence, Britain for the British'.  On 9 August 1915 he wrote to the India Office from the Union's headquarters on The Strand concerning ‘... certain information, which I have received from a source which I know to be trustworthy, and which appears to me to require immediate action’.

This potentially grave matter was then left hanging, as Makrill had forgotten to include in this initial communication a short list of persons with German connections who had worked or were working in the Central Provinces administration.  This was dispatched, with apologies, on 26 August.
 
The India Office thus found itself tasked with investigating four of its own civil servants:
• the late Sir Arthur Blumerhassett, former Chief Secretary - what damage might he have done the Allied cause before his death?
• Mr Marten, his successor - had he been ‘turned’ by Sir Arthur?
• Mr Grille, Assistant Commissioner - was he part of the conspiracy?
• Mr Hullah, Third Secretary  - what was his nefarious role?

Mr Makrill might himself have done some elementary checking prior to alerting the India Office, given that he must have meant Sir Arthur Blennerhassett who had died in late January.  It was soon established that the four individuals were all Oxbridge graduates, which before the Cambridge spy ring scandal erupted decades later must presumably have worked in their favour.  Departmental Secretary Malcolm Seton (Repton and Oriel College, Oxford) took it upon himself to deal with the matter, putting the laconic note in the file on 2 September : ‘Mr. J. T. Marten has a German mother, but the Martens are an old Gloucestershire family.  I have known him intimately for over 20 years.  He has always been rather anti-German in feeling’.  He was plainly not impressed by the error over the Blennerhassett surname: ‘Burke or Debrett could have been consulted’.

In retrospect it is clear that the whole episode stemmed from the Anti-German Union having somehow discovered that a handful of overseas civil servants had some German ancestry and/or had married German wives, and were keen for the India Office to investigate their backgrounds.  Seton’s sense of exasperation is plain in another written comment: ‘If the Anti-German Union hopes to proscribe every official who has German blood, its labours will be protracted’.  No further action seems to have taken place, and Messrs Marten (Clifton and New College, Oxford), Grille (Harrow and Jesus, Cambridge) and Hullah (Oundle and Caius College, Cambridge) were sensibly allowed to continue their careers unmolested.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
IOR/L/PJ/6/1395, file 3304
Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E267

 

14 May 2018

#Happy Birthday, Robert Proctor :)

Anyone with an interest in early printed books should certainly celebrate the 150th anniversary of Robert Proctor’s birth. A debt of gratitude is owed to the librarian and bibliographer, who had a special talent for identifying early printing types and on that basis consolidated a method for arranging incunabula, books printed in the 15th century.

Proctor disappeared in September 1903 whilst hiking in the Tyrol, but his work during his short energetic life did much to make a science of bibliography. The impact of the publication of his Index to the Early Printed Books in the British Museum was figuratively likened to "the launching of HMS Dreadnought". The 'Proctor Order' is still used, giving numbers to printed items arranged geographically and chronologically: first by country, in printing order; then within each country by town, chronologically; then within each town by printer.

 When we are struck by the accomplishments of remarkable people, it’s natural to look for the things that made them click. Proctor’s Diaries written from 1899-1903, provide insights into his day-to-day work, his interests, joys, frustrations, thoughts and opinions. Today Twitter serves this function for many librarians, and so to celebrate Proctor’s birthday we thought we might gift him a Twitter account! What might he have tweeted?

ProctorTwitter1If Proctor had a Twitter account it might have looked like this...

Proctor’s energy and industry is immediately apparent when reading his diaries. We might wonder if he had some kind of thaasophobia – he was never idle. He could have been a prolific Tweeter.

As a librarian he documented his work at the British Museum: cataloguing, acquisitions, visitor interviews, and work on the printed subject index. He also recorded the weather, often with a touch of poetry, aware of its natural magic and dynamism. He could be expected to have tweeted images from the books he worked with, but it’s often illuminating to look at the other interests of people normally associated with a particular area.

For instance, Proctor lived in a house with his mother, and loved gardening. We picture him setting wire fences, chopping logs, picking flowers and making jam.

ProctorTwitter2

He recorded the books he read on train journeys and those he read to his mother; he could have tweeted, “#amreading Zola (to mother)”. Proctor kept up his diary during his holidays, and these contain succinct (tweetable) reviews: “not to be commended, but certainly cheap”, “landlord excellent” etc.

Some diaries and much of social media can be mundane and turgid. The interesting stuff comes with those things that reflect the deeper and more meaningful sides of a character. Proctor’s diaries offer an interesting record of his views and opinions. It is well known that Proctor was greatly influenced by the aesthetics and politics of his idol William Morris and we see plenty of examples of Proctor’s ‘radicalism’.

ProctorDiary1"The bottom of the sea seems the best place for France - but I doubt whether her injustice towards Dreyfus is a greater crime than the behaviour of our Government & Press to the Boers", diary entry for 9 Sep 1899. Add MS 50190-50196.

Many people with social media accounts which identify an employer state in their profiles, ‘opinions my own’ or ‘not tweeting in an official capacity’. Had Proctor taken to Twitter, the British Museum’s Department of Printed Books may just have insisted on this for @IncunabulaBob: on March 7th 1900 Proctor wrote “London much excited because the loathsome Fatguts is defiling it. She is going to Ireland – may she leave her damned bones there.”

ProctorDiary2Fatguts, and 'the Old Washerwoman of Windsor', were Proctor's insulting names for Queen Victoria.

 

Other pages in Proctor's diaries display quite touching gestures of his sincere beliefs.

ProctorDiary3Liberty, Equality, Fraternity written in red pen at the top of the first page of the second volume of Proctor's diaries.

 Further reading

J H Bowman, ed., A critical edition of the private diaries of Robert Proctor (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, c2010). Open Access Rare Books and Music Reading Room, RAR 027.541

The Private Diary of Robert Proctor. Reprinted from the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 1951.010856.k.6

Christian Algar,

Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

11 May 2018

Captain Cook's house – a space in memory

Long before the East End became London's working-class quarter, it had a different character.  Walk along the Mile End Road today, you can spot surviving signs of elegance.  By the 1760s the area was becoming built up, with the City spreading its tentacles towards it, but it was still a semi-rural district for comfortably-off people.

It was convenient for those whose interests lay in ships, with the wharfs along the Thames not far off.  A property developer acquired a strip of land in between Mile End Green, and what would later become Jubilee Street, and called his new terrace Assembly Row.  In 1764 a sixty-one year lease on the eight-roomed end house was bought by James Cook.

Cook  James Add_ms_23920_f002rPortrait of  Captain James Cook British Library Add MS 23920 Images Online

He had been living in then-rural Shadwell, with his young wife Elizabeth and their first child, a son who had been born while he was away on his exploratory voyage round Newfoundland.  Now, four years and three more children later, and well established with the Royal Society, he was preparing for the first of his great journeys to the Pacific.  He insured the house for £250, his household goods for another £200, and the family's clothing and silver for additional amounts.  Since £50 a year was then a sufficient income for a modestly respectable family lifestyle, with a servant, these sums suggest considerable comfort.

The voyage Cook set out on in 1768 did not bring him back to the house in the Mile End Road for three years.  He was off again in 1772 and again in 1776, which was the journey that finally carried him to an inglorious death off Hawaii.  His wife did not get the news of this till 1781, by which time their eldest son, a teenage midshipman, had tragically drowned.  She inherited the house and contents and received a pension for life from the king of £200 a year.

Cook Elizabeth - Mitchell LibraryPortrait said to be Elizabeth Cook aged 81 by W Henderson  - image courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (recent research has challenged whether this is Mrs Cook).

When Elizabeth herself died, over fifty years later, she had long since moved away from the Mile End Road, which had become entirely urban.  In the 19th century the Cook house, like the neighbouring ones, had a shop built out on the ground floor - women's clothing, with `corsets a speciality', later a kosher butcher. 

Cook House 2 sendCaptain Cook's house c.1940- image courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives 

An LCC plaque commemorating Cook was put up in 1907, but the house was pulled down in 1958 under the Greater London Plan, when two-thirds of Stepney was demolished in the name of Progress. 

Cook House 1 sendThe site of Captain Cook's house today  - image courtesy of Spitalfields Life

Yet the rest of the terrace survived, and is there, protected, to this day.  Sixty years on, with the old London boroughs long superseded, one can only speculate on this bizarre circumstance.  It is thought there was an intention to widen the alley alongside the house, but this never happened.  Nothing significant has ever come to occupy the empty plot.

Gillian Tindall
Writer and historian

Visit our exhibition James Cook: The Voyages
Open until 28 August 2018