THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

10 posts from June 2018

29 June 2018

Sarah Sophia Banks’s Ballooning Scrapbook and the Science of Popular Spectacle

Sarah Sophia Banks was the sister of Joseph Banks, botanist on James Cook’s first voyage and later president of the Royal Society.  Her scrapbook on ballooning displays the importance of spectacle to scientific endeavour at the end of the 18th century.

The Cook voyages were linked in the popular imagination to the science of exploration, as well as to the sensational and the spectacular. This convergence of science and spectacle was similarly present in the mania for hot air ballooning which captured the public’s imagination. Balloons became reflective of fashionable excess, flightiness of manner, and sexual exploits in a way that echoes the reflective spectacle surrounding exploration narratives and fiction following the Cook voyages.

Sarah Sophia Banks’s ballooning scrapbook contains satire, informative illustrations, and discussions of ballooning from a number of angles, including political, militaristic, artistic, and fashionable. There are newspaper clippings and depictions of the major figures in aeronautics at the time. The famous aeronaut Lunardi was known for his spectacular feats of aeronautics that engaged in both the science of experimentation and in the spectacle of performance.

  Mr LunardiMr Lunardi making an experiment on the Thames. The British Library. Sarah Sophia Banks Collection. L.R.301. h.3.

This image depicts Lunardi ‘making an Experiment on the Thames of his invention to save persons from drowning’.  It displays the drama and the spectacle of ‘experiments’ which attempted to use the science of aeronautics for the benefit of the public.  However, it also highlights the sensational, nationalistic, and Romantic aspects of this seemingly benevolent effort.

The angles of the image, from that of Lunardi’s oar to the Thames’s waves, convey a sweeping sense of motion.  Amidst this, however, Lunardi remains graceful and undisturbed by the wind that blows the flag behind his head.  His face serene, his chin held high, Lunardi is the image of the Romantic, both amidst and above the elements surrounding him, contemplating, yet unfazed by, the dangers of aeronautic experimentation.  The United Kingdom’s flag attached to his small vessel, and the boats flying the Cross of St. George in the background, display the nationalistic undertones of the mania for ballooning, in spite of the foreign spectacle that Lunardi and other Italian aeronauts had come to represent.

Overall, the print, though illustrating Lunardi’s ‘experiment’ more effectively illustrates its sensational value as a popular spectacle. Lunardi’s handsome appearance as he paddles his small craft nobly and bravely over the turbulent waters of the Thames is illustrative of the inextricable nature of science and spectacle in the mania for ballooning and its representation in mass media culture.

  A Real Apple‘A Real Apple’. The British Library. Sarah Sophia Banks Collection. L.R.301. h.3.

Sarah Banks’s scrapbook becomes increasingly interesting as she brings in other forms of spectacle in the latter portion.  The account of the ‘wonderful and astonishing apple’ blurs this line between spectacle and science.  The advertisement for this apple that bears resemblance to the head of an infant garners a sort of authority and scientific status by claiming to have been shown to Joseph Banks.  Sarah Banks’s scrapbook as a whole demonstrates that the spectacular is of particular importance to the science of ballooning and other forms of exploration and discovery.

Kacie Wills
University of California, Riverside

Further reading:
Clare Brant, “The Progress of Knowledge in the Regions of the Air?: Divisions and Disciplines in early ballooning,” ECS 45.1 (2011): 71-86.   
Richard Gillespie, “Ballooning in France and Britain, 1783-1786: Aerostation and Adventurism” Isis 75. 2 (1984): 248-268.   
Arlene Leis, “Cutting, Arranging, and Pasting: Sarah Sophia Banks as Collector,” Early Modern Women 9.1 (2014), 127-140.
Arlene Leis, Sarah Sophia Banks: Femininity, Sociability and the Practice of Collecting in Late Georgian England, PhD Thesis, (University of York, 2013),  http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/5794/.
Gillian Russell, “Sarah Sophia Banks’s Private Theatricals: Ephemera, Sociability, and the Archiving of Fashionable Life” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 27.3-4 (2015): 535-55.

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

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26 June 2018

British-US rivalry in the race to discover oil in Iraq

How the race to discover ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’ led to the British Government’s belief that an American oil company had helped secretly fund the Iraqi revolt against British occupation in 1920.

  Hobbs Oil 1Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916. IOR/L/PS/18/D228, f 141

In the aftermath of the First World War, much of the defeated Ottoman Empire’s dominions were carved up between the War’s victors. In the case of Mesopotamia [Iraq], this meant military occupation and administration by the British.

The British Government saw great strategic and commercial value in Mesopotamia, thanks in part to the significant oil reserves they believed it to possess. Britain already had an effective monopoly on oil exploration and production in neighbouring Persia [Iran], through the operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. But at the end of the First World War, foreign oil companies were also eager to discover oil reserves in Mesopotamia.

The two major players in Mesopotamia in 1919 were the British Anglo-Saxon Oil Company (ASOC, now part of Royal Dutch Shell) and the American Standard Oil Company of New York (SONY). The stakes were high. In a letter intercepted by British censors, one of the two geologists sent by SONY to explore Mesopotamia reported to a relative that he was on his way to find ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’.

Naturally the British Government favoured British interests over American, but could not be seen to be giving preference to one over the other. The solution was to request that both companies halt their exploration work, explaining that while Mesopotamia remained under military occupation, oil exploration could be conducted for military purposes only. In the meantime, ASOC’s geologists were retained by the military, and their work paid for by British military funds.

Hobbs Oil 2Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 147

The frustrations of the two SONY geologists, stuck in Baghdad and unable to carry out their work, is made clear in another intercepted letter, written in June 1920 by one of the geologists to his fiancé. ‘If you know the inside history of this you will find that the British have held up […] American firms from doing business in places conquered by the British while we were doing their fighting in France’ he wrote.

  Hobbs Oil 3Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 29

By this time angry Iraqis were on the streets, protesting against Britain’s continued occupation of their country, two years after the end of the War. The intercepted geologist’s letter affirmed the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia’s belief that SONY were financing the anti-British movement in Mesopotamia. In a secret telegram sent to Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in August 1920, the Commissioner further wrote it was ‘clear that [the] United States Consul has frequent conversation of an intimate nature with extremists to such an extent that in recent meetings in mosques, cries have been raised by extremists “long live America and her Consul”’.

Hobbs Oil 4Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 4

The British officials involved conceded that they had no concrete proof to back up any of their suspicions and accusations. Nevertheless, Curzon felt it ‘desirable that any avenue that might lead to proof, should be kept open’.

Mark Hobbs
Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading:
British Library, London, ‘File 2249/1915 Pt 2 ‘Oil: Mesopotamia and Persia: oil; Sir J Cowan's deputation & Standard Oil Co.’ (IOR/L/PS/10/556)

 

22 June 2018

The letters of Jonathan Swift and Henrietta Howard

To celebrate the launch of Discovering Literature: Restoration and 18th Century, Untold Lives takes a closer look at the letters of Jonathan Swift to Henrietta Howard.

Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, poet and Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, chiefly remembered today as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, published in 1726. Henrietta Howard, afterwards Countess of Suffolk, was a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Caroline and mistress to George II. She was noted for her wit and intelligence and she corresponded with many intellectuals of the day, including not only Swift, but Horace Walpole, Alexander Pope and John Gay. At the British Library we hold a series of autograph letters between Swift and Howard, written between 1726 and 1730 (Add MS 22625), which give fascinating insight into the relationship between these two figures.

Swift1
Add MS 22625, f. 6r

Henrietta was a supporter of Swift and his works, and their letters have a playful tone. Writing as Gulliver, Swift begs leave ‘to lay the crown of Lilliput at your feet as a small acknowledgement of your favours to my book and person’, and in one letter he tells her how he is being ‘perpetually teased with the remembrance of you by the light of your Ring on my Finger’.

Swift2
Add MS 22625, f. 12r

But Swift was not writing out of pure friendship and admiration. As the letters progress his ulterior motives become clear.

Queen Anne had disliked Swift and she would not consent to a church appointment for him anywhere in England. However, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, was outside of the Queen’s gift, so she had no way of preventing his appointment as Dean in 1713. Swift was unhappy in Dublin and he wished to have a more high profile post in England. So when George II and Caroline came to the throne, he hoped to persuade Henrietta to use her influence at court to raise his position in the eyes of the royal couple, so he would get the job he wanted.

Swift3
Add MS 22625, f. 13r

Henrietta’s position was a difficult one. Queen Caroline and Henrietta were friends, but Henrietta was also the King’s mistress. The Queen could not allow Henrietta to undermine her and she made sure Henrietta’s influence remained limited.

When Henrietta failed to secure Swift the lucrative position he so desired, the letters soon take on a sour tone. He tells her that whilst others considers her sincere, he believes she only has ‘as much of that Virtue as could be expected in a Lady, a Courtier and a Favourite’, and given that ‘Friendship, Truth, Sincerity’ are ‘lower morals, which are altogether useless at Courts’, then he does not think her to be a very sincere and honest friend at all.

Swift4
Add MS 22625, f. 21r

Swift never did procure himself another position, and remained as Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral until his death in 1745.

If you would like to learn more about this collection and the works of Jonathan Swift, you can visit the British Library's Discovering Literature: Restoration and 18th-Century Literature website. Here you can view these letters along with early printed editions of Swift’s work, as well as the works of many other Restoration and 18th-century writers including Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe and John Milton.

Stephen Noble
Cataloguer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

 

20 June 2018

Seeking Wartime Employment: Bertram Thomas and Frank Smythe

On 27 August 1939, the explorer Bertram Thomas sent a telegram to John Charles Walton of the India Office, offering his services to the Government of India in the event of war, in the Persian Gulf ‘or wherever my Arab experience may be of use’.

  IOR L PS 12 300 f.72Telegram from Bertram Thomas to John Charles Walton at the India Office, 27 August 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/300, f 72). The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item. 

In 1931, Thomas had become the first European to cross the ‘empty quarter’ (the Rub' al Khali desert) of Arabia.  He had also served in Mesopotamia (Iraq) during the First World War, and had held offices in the Middle East including that of Financial Adviser to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman.

 
IOR L PS 12 2137 f.308'ARABIA. Route Traverse across the RUB' AL KHALI from DHUFAR TO DOHA by BERTRAM THOMAS 1930-31' map (IOR/L/PS/12/2137, f 308) Noc

After the declaration of war on Germany on 3 September 1939, Thomas wrote to the Foreign Office enquiring whether he could be of use to them in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, in case the Government of India could not find a suitable role for him.  He stated ‘I want to serve the country’ and ‘I should feel wretched to be idling when I ought to be helping somewhere’.  He suggested that ‘I might be the sort of man the new Department of Propaganda has a use for, collecting information on the spot, or disseminating it there’.  Herbert Lacy Baggallay of the Foreign Office passed on Thomas’s letter to the Ministry of Information, remarking that Thomas’s ‘knowledge of Arabic and of Arab countries is, of course, very considerable’.

On 30 July 1941 the Ministry of Information offered Thomas the role of Publicity Officer in the Persian Gulf, responsible for the preparation and co-ordination of pro-British and Allied propaganda in the Gulf.  Thomas served in this role until he became first Director of the new Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies, a centre for training British personnel in the Middle East.  He held this post from 1944 to 1948.

Other individuals offered their services to the India Office and the Foreign Office during the Second World War including the mountaineer and author Frank Symthe (Francis Sydney Smythe).  Smythe had led the 1931 expedition which conquered the Himalayan mountain Kamet, the first summit over 25,000 feet (7,620 metres) to be climbed.  He had also taken part in Everest expeditions, including the 1933 expedition which equalled the height record (c 28,000 feet or 8,534 metres) established by Edward Felix Norton in 1924.

Symthe wrote to Walton at the India Office on 23 September 1939 that he was ‘anxious to undertake some work in which any special qualifications I may possess would be of the most use’.  In a further letter of 11 August 1941, he stated that ‘since the German attack on Russia the Indian frontier again becomes important’, and he suggested that he could train a corps of mountain scouts drawn from Gurkhas and Sherpas.
 

IOR L PS 12 300 f.66Letter from Frank Smythe to John Charles Walton of the India Office Political Department, 23 September 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/300, f 66) © Frank S. Smyth (Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence)

It appears that Smythe never served on the Indian frontier, but he did spend part of the Second World War training troops in mountain warfare and spent time in the Rockies with the Lovat Scouts.

Susannah Gillard
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
India Office Records files which can be viewed on the Qatar Digital Library:
British Library, PZ 5277/1939 'War - Offers of service in the event of -' IOR/L/PS/12/300
British Library, ‘File 28/7 I War: Propaganda: local opinion’ IOR/R/15/2/687
British Library, ‘File 28/7 II War: Propaganda – Local Opinion’ IOR/R/15/2/688
British Library, 'File 1/44 Publicity Officer, Bahrain' IOR/R/15/2/1040
British Library, 'File 4/12 (1.a/52) Publicity Officer, Persian Gulf' IOR/R/15/2/933
British Library, Ext 5050/43 ‘Formation of an Arab Centre in the Middle East for providing selected British officers with knowledge of Arabic, Arab countries and Middle East problems’ IOR/L/PS/12/857

Francis Owtram (2015) Preparation Pays Off: Bertram Thomas and the Crossing of the Empty Quarter
Francis Owtram (2016) Dhofar, Doha and a ‘Road Trip’ to Riyadh: Bertram Thomas’ sojourns in Arabia
John Ure (2008) ‘Thomas, Bertram Sidney (1892–1950)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Harry Calvert, Symthe’s Mountains: The Climbs of F. S. Smythe (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1985).
Arnold Lunn, revised by A. M. Snodgrass (2011) ‘Smythe, Francis Sydney (1900–1949)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

 

18 June 2018

Captain Cook and the ‘Friendly Islands’?

Captain Cook first landed in the Tongan islands on 2 October 1773, during his second Pacific voyage. In 1774 he returned for four days and received such a warm welcome that he named Tonga the “Friendly Islands”.  However, it is now widely thought that the Tongan chiefs had planned to attack Cook and his crew and seize the Resolution and Adventure.

Cook Add MS 15513 (f.8)'Entertainments at Lifuka on the reception of Captain Cook' by John Webber 1777 British Library Add MS 15513 (f.8) Noc

The first account of the supposed plot against the Resolution was given by William Mariner, a young man serving on the British privateer Port au Prince when it was attacked in Lifuka in 1806.  Twenty-six of the crew survived.  Mariner was adopted by the chief Finau ‘Ulukalala-‘i-Ma‘ofanga and lived in Tonga for four years.  Finau told Mariner that the “Feenow” Cook had known was his father, who had been instrumental in planning an attack on Cook.  The plan was called off when the chiefs disagreed about whether to attack under cover of darkness or during the day.

When Mariner returned to London, he was contacted by John Martin, an ethnographically-minded doctor.  Together they authored An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands (1817), one of the most accurate accounts of Tongan life in the early 19th century.  In the opinion of most scholars, Mariner’s account is accurate.  So was the plot to kill Cook in Tonga real, and was Cook so naïve as to be oblivious to the danger?  There are some factors to take into account.

When the Port au Prince was attacked in 1806, Tonga had been in the grip of civil war for seven years.  The prosperous and scattered people Cook had observed were corralled inside guarded fortresses and slowly starving as harvest after harvest was destroyed by neglect and attacking armies.  The different island groups were controlled by warring chiefs, each aware of the advantage which possession of European firearms and iron goods would afford them in their political and economic struggles.

The outbreak of the civil war had very little to do with European arrivals.  Tensions between the three chiefly lineages holding spiritual, administrative and political authority had been mounting for nearly two decades, and came to a head with the assassination of chief Tuku‘aho in 1799.  By the time Mariner was living with Finau ‘Ulukalala-‘i-Ma‘ofanga, it was deemed expedient to have a European or two to assist in battles, and as a kind of status symbol.

  Fīnau ʻUlukālalaFīnau ʻUlukālala I (or his brother) on Vavaʻu in 1793, in Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardiere, Voyage in Search of La Perouse Wikimedia Commons

Whether or not there was a plot to attack the Resolution and kill Cook, the “Friendly Islands” epithet stuck, defying those like George Hamilton who insisted that “with the greatest deference and submission to Captain Cook … the name [is]… a perfect misnomer” (in Suren, 2004: 218).

Emma Scanlan
AHRC researcher, University of Sussex

Further reading:
Beaglehole, J. C. The Journals of Captain Cook on his Voyages of Discovery: The  Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780. Hakluyt Society Extra Series no. 36. Cambridge, 1967.
Bott, Elizabeth, Tavi and Queen Salote Tupou. Tongan Society at the time of Captain Cook's Visits: Discussions with Her Majesty Queen Salote Tupou.  Wellington: The Polynesian Society, 1982.
Mariner, William. John, M.D Martin ed. An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, with an Original Grammar of their Language. Vol I and II. London: J. Murray, 1817.
Rutherford, Noel ed. The Friendly Islands: A History of Tonga. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Suren, Peter. Essays on the History of Tonga. Vol. 2. Nuku'alofa, Tonga: The Friendly islands Bookshop, 2004.
Thomas, Nicholas. Discoveries: The Voyages of Captain Cook. London: Penguin Books, 2004.

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

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15 June 2018

A football match in 18th century Ireland

In 1720 Irish writer and lawyer Matthew Concanen published the mock-heroic 'A Match at Football: A Poem in three Cantos'. It describes a match between Lusk and Soards in the County of Dublin.  Football in the 18th century was a violent game without set rules, with ball-handling and creative methods of tackling being perfectly acceptable.

  A Match at Football'A Match at Football' reprinted in Matthew Concanen, Poems upon Several Occasions (Dublin, 1722)  Noc

You can read the full poem online. But here are some extracts to give you a flavour.

Ye Champions of fair Lusk, and Ye of Soards,
View well this Ball, the Present of your Lords.
To outward View, Three Folds of Bullocks-hide,
With Leathern Thongs fast bound on ev’ry Side:
A Mass of finest Hay conceal’d from Sight,
Conspire at once, to make it firm and light.
At this you’ll all contend, this bravely strive,
Alternate thro’ the adverse Goal to drive:
Two Gates of Sally bound the spacious Green,
Here one, and one on yonder Side is seen:
Guard That Ye Men of Soards, ye others this;
Fame waits the Careful, Scandal the Remiss,’
He said, and high in Air he flung the Ball;
The Champions crowd, and anxious wait its Fall.

First Felim caught, he pois’d and felt it soft,
Then whirld it with a sudden Stroke aloft.
With Motion smooth and swift, he saw it glide,
'Till Dick, who stop’d it on the other Side,
A dextrous Kick, with artful Fury drew;
The light Machine, with Force unerring, flew
To th’adverse Goal where, in the Sight of all,
The watchful Daniel caught the flying Ball. 
He proudly joyful in his Arms embrac’d
The welcome Prize, then ran with eager Haste.
With lusty Strides he measur’d half the Plain,
When all his Foes surround and stop the Swain;
They tug, they pull; to his Assistance run,
The strong-limb’d Darby and the nimble John.
Paddy with more than common ardour fir’d,
Out-singl’d Daniel, while the rest retir’d:
At Grappling now their mutual Skill they try;
Now Arm in Arm they lock, and Thigh in Thigh.
Now turn, now twine, now with a furious Bound,
Each lifts his fierce Opposer from the Ground…

And now both Bands in close Embraces met,
Now Foot to Foot, and Breast to Breast was set;
Now all impatient grapple round the Ball,
And heaps on heaps in wild Confusion fall…

Thy Trip, O Terence, fell'd the lusty Neal,
Kit dropt by Felim, Hugh by Paddy fell;
Toss’d down by Darby, Dick forbore to Play,
John tugg’d at Cabe; while thus confus’d they lay,
Sly Le’nard struck th’unheeded Ball, and stole,
With easy Paces, tow’rds th’unguarded Goal.
This Daniel saw, who rising from the Ground,
(Where, like Antaeus, he new Strength had found),
Flew to his Post, and halloo’d to his Crew.
They start, and swift the flying Foe pursue:
Le’nard observing, stood upon his Guard,
And now to kick the rolling Ball prepar’d,
When careful Terence, fleeter than the Winds,
Ran to the Swain, and caught his Arm behind;
A Dextrous Crook about his Leg he wound,
And laid the Champion grov’ling on the Ground…

How many features of the beautiful game from 300 years ago will you spot during the World Cup?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Matthew Concanen, Poems upon Several Occasions (Dublin, 1722)
Andrew Carpenter (ed.), Verse in English from Eighteenth-century Ireland (Cork, 1998)

 

12 June 2018

Sauerkraut, sugar, and salt pork – the diet on board Cook’s 'Resolution'

In May 1775 Captain James Cook called at St Helena in the Resolution on his voyage back to England.  Cook sailed away with eight East India Company soldiers who had been granted a discharge after serving their contracted time. The Royal Navy sent the Company a bill for the soldiers’ food and drink, detailing exactly what they had consumed over the course of three months.

Cook Resolution add_ms_17277_(2)Drawing of the Resolution made during Cook's Third Voyage British Library Add.17277, No. 2 Images Online

St Helena was administered in the late 18th century by the East India Company and there was a garrison of soldiers based there.  The eight men who took their passage home in the Resolution were Thomas Green, John White, Samuel Clare, David Grant, John Jones, Thomas Rhodes/Roades, Richard Spite/Spight, and Michael Kerry/Carey.  The Royal Navy Victualling Office submitted a bill for supplying the men from 16 May to varying dates in August when they left the ship.  This was computed to be the equivalent of the cost of 701 men for one day, a total of £36 9s 11¼d.  So the cost of victualling each man was about 12½d per day.

  Cook Resolution diet IOR E 1 59 - 3IOR/E/1/59 f.483

The Company was charged for –
Bread 701 pounds
Wine 43⅞ gallons
Brandy 21⅞ gallons
Salt beef 37¾ pieces
Salt pork 25 pieces
Fresh beef 200 pounds
Flour 112½ pounds
Raisins 37½ pounds
Pease 3¼ bushels
Wheat (for oatmeal) 4 bushels 5½ gallons
Sugar 75 pounds
Vinegar 6¼ gallons
‘Sour Krout’ estimated at £1
'Necessary money' 13s 5d

Lack of vitamin C in the diet of sailors on long voyages resulted in the disease scurvy which could prove fatal.  The symptoms of scurvy are swollen gums that are prone to bleeding, loose teeth, bulging eyes, easy bruising, scaly skin, and very dry hair.  To counter this, James Cook replenished supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables for his crew whenever the ship made a land call.  He also took with him ‘Sour Krout’, that is sauerkraut, cabbage fermented with lactic acid bacteria.  On Cook’s first Pacific voyage in 1768, the Navy wanted to trial the efficacy of sauerkraut in combatting scurvy.  The Endeavour was provided with 7,860 pounds of sauerkraut, a ration of 2 pounds per man per week.  Cook reported back to the Victualling Board in July 1771 that no ‘dangerous’ cases of scurvy had occurred and that he, the surgeons and the officers believed that the sauerkraut had played a large part in achieving this.

Cook’s second voyage with the Resolution and Adventure lasted three years and, although there were outbreaks of scurvy, only one man died from the disease.  The Victualling Office bill shows that there was still some sauerkraut left towards the end of the voyage.  Let’s hope that the Company soldiers enjoyed their ration, perhaps washing it down with some of their 43⅞ gallons of wine and 21⅞ gallons of brandy!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/59 ff.482-483v Account from the Royal Navy for victualing eight soldiers in the Resolution 1775
IOR/G/32/36 St Helena Consultations May 1775
Egon H. Kodicek and Frank G. Young, ‘Captain Cook and scurvy’ in The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, vol. 24 no. 1 (1969)

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

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08 June 2018

Destitute Indian Women in 1930s Damascus

In February 1935, the British Consul in Damascus, Gilbert Mackereth, wrote to his superiors at the Foreign Office in London with a dilemma.  Since 1926, the Consulate had been responsible for making cash payments to a number of destitute British Indian subjects living in Syria, but nine years later, the funds allocated for this purpose by the British Government of India were beginning to run out, and Mackereth was unsure how he ought to proceed.

Image 1The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "Damas." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860-1929.

The Indian community in Syria at this time was concentrated in Beit Sawa, a village in Ghouta, an important agricultural region east of Damascus.  This area had suffered extensive damage during France’s suppression of the Syrian national uprising (1925-27) which included the use of aerial bombardment and the burning of villages.  As a result, many of the ancient irrigation canals in Ghouta – upon which it depended for its prosperity – had been diverted or destroyed beyond repair.  No compensation was paid to the area’s inhabitants and this led some of the Indian community resident there to leave for Palestine and Iraq.  According to Mackereth, those who had been unable to leave and remained living in the area, did so 'on the borderline of misery' and therefore were in no position to 'help their even more unfortunate sisters who receive alms from the Indian Government'.

Image 2List of British Indian Subjects receiving relief as compiled by the British Consulate, Damascus, 27 April 1935, IOR/L/PS/12/2141, India Office Records, British Library.

At this time, the payments were being made to only five surviving women, all of whom were reported to be absolutely destitute and 'either aged or crippled'.  This led Mackereth to argue that it would 'be a hardship amounting to almost cruelty' if the 'meagre alms they enjoy from the India treasury' were stopped.  He proposed that either the payments should continue to be made or that the women and their minor children be repatriated to India where they could be 'cared for under the poor laws of that country'.

Image 3Correspondence from the British Consulate, Damascus to the Government of India, 16 July 1935, IOR/L/PS/12/2141, India Office Records, British Library.

By July 1935, one of the five women, Hamdieh Ghulam, had died and Mackereth had established that the families of the four remaining women had 'left India so long ago that they have no knowledge of their next of kin or of their home addresses'.  This prompted the Government of India to eventually decide that it would be better to leave the women 'in Damascus, where they must have made contacts, than to repatriate them to India where they appear to have no relatives or friends and in the absence of any Poor Law administration would starve'.  However, it was not prepared to extend any financial assistance to the women’s children, whom it argued 'should be regarded as Syrians and not Indians'.  It was eventually agreed that the remaining four women would be paid the amount of 200 piastres a month for the remainder of their lives, an amount that constituted 'barely the subsistence level'.  Once this administrative quandary had been solved, the correspondence regarding these women dries up and hence the fate of them and their children after this point is unknown.

All of the letters referenced in this post are contained in the India Office Records file IOR/L/PS/12/2141 that is held at the British Library.  The file has now been digitized and is available on the Qatar Digital Library.

Louis Allday
Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist