THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

96 posts categorized "Conflict"

18 October 2018

Propaganda Portraits of Muslim Rulers during WW2

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The Ministry of Information was the British Government department responsible for publicity and propaganda during the Second World War. On 22 August 1940, Arthur John Arberry at the Ministry of Information wrote to Roland Tennyson Peel at the India Office, enclosing colour portraits of Emir Abdullah of Transjordan (ʿAbdullāh bin Ḥusayn al-Hāshimī), the Sultan of Muscat and Oman (Sa‘īd bin Taymūr Āl Bū Sa‘īd), and the Shaikh of Bahrain (Shaikh Ḥamad bin ‘Īsá Āl Khalīfah, erroneously referred to as the Shaikh of Kuwait in the letter).

Arberry wrote that the Ministry’s Far Eastern Section had ordered a large quantity of these portraits for distribution in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), and that a caption would be added ‘indicating that these Muslim rulers support Britain in the present war’, in an attempt to foster support for the Allies amongst the predominantly Muslim population. He went on to request Peel’s advice ‘as to whether these portraits could appropriately be used for distribution on a large scale in the Middle East, especially in Hadhramaut and the Persian Gulf’, as propaganda.

This letter and the portraits, below, are included in the file IOR/L/PS/12/3942, which has been digitised and will soon be available to view on the Qatar Digital Library

Iorlps123942f19

Letter from Arthur John Arberry of the Ministry of Information, to Roland Tennyson Peel of the India Office, 22 August 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 19. 

Ogl-symbol-41px-retina-black

EmirAbdullahPortrait of Emir Abdullah of Transjordan (ʿAbdullāh bin Ḥusayn al-Hāshimī), c 22 Aug 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 21.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

SultanMuscat&OmanPortrait of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman (Sa‘īd bin Taymūr Āl Bū Sa‘īd), c. 22 August 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 22.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

  HakimBahrain
Portrait of the Hakim of Bahrain (Shaikh Ḥamad bin ‘Īsá Āl Khalīfah), c. 22 August 1940 . Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 23.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

Arberry was sent a reply from John Percival Gibson of the India Office, advising him that ‘we think it undesirable to make any use for publicity purposes of the Sultan of Muscat’s portrait, chiefly for the reason given in Peel’s letter to Rushbrook Williams of the 23rd January [1940]’. The letter referred to is not included in this file, however a draft copy of it can be found in file IOR/L/PS/12/2995, f 9. In this letter, Peel informs Laurence Frederic Rushbrook Williams of the Ministry of Information that ‘the Sultan of Muscat has asked that steps might be taken to prevent publicity being given…to Muscat. Apparently the Sultan is apprehensive that such publicity might draw unwanted attention to his country in German & Italian quarters’, and ‘We have promised to respect his wishes’. 

In Gibson’s reply to Arberry, he also stated that provided the Sultan of Muscat’s portrait was omitted, he did not think there would be any objection to distribution of the other portraits in the Middle East generally, but that this was more a matter for the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office. However, he added that ‘I doubt it would be worth the expense to make any distribution in the Persian Gulf, where the attitude of the Sheikhs is well enough known’.

Arberry further consulted the India Office about whether it would be politically acceptable to include a portrait of the Shaikh of Kuwait (Shaikh Aḥmad al-Jābir Āl Ṣabāḥ), to which Peel responded that there was no objection.

Before the portraits were finally approved, Sir Hassan Suhrawardy, Adviser to the Secretary of State for India, was asked for his opinion on them. Suhrawardy approved the green border of the portraits, but thought that it should be an olive shade instead. He also advised the Ministry of Information that the star and crescent symbol should be omitted from the border, for the reasons stated in the letter below.

Iorlps123942_f11

Copy of a letter from Sir Hassan Suhrawardy to E J Embleton, Studio Manger at the Ministry of Information, 5 November 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 11.

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Susannah Gillard,

Content Specialist, Archivist

British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading

British Library, Coll 30/202 ‘Persian Gulf. Photographs of Notabilities (Sheikhs &c) (used for propaganda purposes)’ IOR/L/PS/12/3942

British Library, Coll 20/35 'Sultan of Muscat's desire to avoid wireless and press publicity during wartime' IOR/L/PS/12/2995

11 October 2018

An Irish soldier in India

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In July 1859 Gunner Richard Scott wrote a letter to his father from Poona.  Scott was about to return to Britain after fighting with the Bombay Horse Artillery in the Indian Mutiny or Rebellion.  He wrote of his military experiences and asked for help in finding employment.

  Poona 1871Street scene in Poona by John Frederick Lester (1825-1915) c.1871 WD3549 No. 18

Richard Scott enlisted at his home town of Dublin on 24 August 1857 for twelve years’ service with the East India Company.  Scott was 5 feet 7⅛ inches tall, with brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. His age is given as twenty but records point to him being just seventeen, suggesting that he was joining the army without parental consent.  This is borne out by his letter home.

  Scott letter L MIL 5 365IOR/L/MIL/5/365 no.473 Noc

 ‘Dear Father
Altho I never wrote to let you know of it I suppose you are aware that I am a soldier in the East India Company’s forces.  I would have written long since to let you know how I was getting on, but from the time I landed in the Country up to the present I could not be shure if I wrote would I ever live to receive an answer.  All the fiting is now over and we are just returned to quarters after being out on field service for nearly 18 months.  The Troop to which I belong has been engaged several times with the rebels but I came off unhurt through it all and strang to say, altho we often were obliged to take the field against overwhelming numbers, our small forse always came off victorios.

Dear Father I suppose you are aware that by a late Act of parliment the East India Company’s Troops are disbanded that is all that wish to take their discharge can have it and all those who wish to stop in the country can Remain as they are, their former service will count for them.   I have taken my discharg & come what will of it for I do not like the country, And perhaps I would never get the chace of leaving it again. Dear Father I cannot expect that you will do any thing for me when I go home again, but I will be in a very poor condition when I land, I will be left in London without one penny in my pocket and who have I to look to except you, if you can spare it Dear Father send me a few pounds that will keep me some time an buy me a suit of clothes And shurly you have interst enough to get me a situation with some Gentleman.  I would go as a groom, I have been Riding horses since I joined the service both in the Military style and the other way.’
 

Lucknow after Mutiny IWMAftermath of the Siege of Lucknow by Felix Beato  © IWM (Q 69821)

 Scott was given a certificate of discharge from the Bombay Regiment of Artillery on 1 October 1859 ‘being unwilling to serve in HM Indian forces’ after the disbandment of the East India Company armies.  Sadly he died of dysentery on 26 October 1859 at sea on board the Hope on his way home.  His father John sent his letter to the India Office in 1863 with an application for payment of Lucknow Prize Money.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/9/23 Recruitment register Dublin 1855-1858
IOR/L/MIL/12/282 f.1369 Discharge certificate for Richard Scott 1859
IOR/L/MIL/5/365 nos.473, 1793, 2491 – enquiries about soldiers

17 July 2018

The mysterious death of Captain Archibald Anderson

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Captain Archibald Anderson was in command of the East India Company ship Nottingham when he disappeared in May 1790.  Accident?  Suicide?  Or something more sinister?

Archibald Anderson (c. 1751-1790) started his career as an apprentice in the Scottish coastal trade in the mid-1760s.  He joined the East India Company’s service as a midshipman in 1770.  By 1786 he had risen through the ranks to be appointed Captain of the Nottingham and in 1790 was returning to England from his second season in command of the vessel.

East Indiaman from Betwixt the Forelands'East Indiaman' from William Clark Russel, Betwixt the Foreland (London,1889) BL flickr  Noc

On 23 May 1790 the Nottingham arrived back in England at the Downs having sailed from Portsmouth in February 1789 for Madras and China.  The following morning the Captain's servants discovered that Anderson was not in his quarters, his clothes for the day were still laid out on his sofa, and he was nowhere to be found on board ship.

The Chief Mate George Max states in his journal:
“The servants missing Captain Anderson, a search was made throughout the ship not finding him, supposed he had fell overboard out of the Stern Gallery, as his clothes laid all on the sopha”.

A second ship’s journal tells a very similar story:
“Am. the Servants missing Capt. Anderson a first search was made thro the ship not finding himself found he had fell overboard in the Night out of the stern gallery as his cloathes was left on the Sopha”.

The general consensus from the ship’s officers and crew was that he must have fallen out of the stern gallery during the night and that they therefore considered his death to be accidental.  Newspaper reports of the incident published on 4 June 1790 however shed two very different lights on what they believed had occurred.

The Hereford Chronicle reported that there had been confrontations throughout the voyage between the Captain and his officers and that he had intended reporting their conduct on his return.  Although not explicitly stated, the tone of the article implies that he may have been pushed to prevent the poor conduct charges from being pressed.

Hereford Journal 4 June 1790Hereford Chronicle 4 June 1790 British Newspaper Archive

The Chelmsford Chronicle however claims his death as a suicide.  It also references the poor conduct and relations between Captain and Officers, but claims that the Captain had in the days leading up to his death apologised for his conduct and stated his intention not to pursue any conduct charges and to leave it be.  He allegedly even dined with the officers two successive evenings, including the evening prior to his death.  The newspaper also alleges he had written a report to the Board of Directors of the East India Company, dismissed his purser and then written and sealed a letter to a friend before throwing himself out of the window.

Chelmsford Chronicle 4 June 1790Chelmsford Chronicle 4 June 1790 British Newspaper Archive

If Captain Anderson did write a report to the Board of Directors and sent it to them prior to his death, it sadly appears that it no longer survives, and his death therefore will forever be shrouded in mystery. 

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/287H, Journal of George Max, Chief Mate, 27 Nov 1788-12 Jul 1790
IOR/L/MAR/B/287-H, Ship’s Journal 27 Nov 1788-12 Jul 1790 (unknown author)
Hereford Chronicle 4 June 1790,  and Chelmsford Chronicle 4 June 1790 accessed via the British Newspaper Archive

 

13 July 2018

Tyau mate oee – My friends, I am dying

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On 9 November 1770, a Tahitian boy about twelve years of age died, probably of tuberculosis, in Batavia, now Jakarta.  In the 18th century Batavia was a Dutch East India Company base, and so plagued by disease that it acquired a reputation as a ‘cemetery’. 

Taiato ‘The Lad Taiyota, native of Otaheite, in the dress of his country.’ from A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's Ship the Endeavour (London, 1784). 10497.ff.6, plate IX Images Online

Taiato is among those in the shadows on our historical stage; sadly not unusual for indigenous people.  He made nine appearances in the records, between 13  July, when he joined Captain Cook’s Endeavour with the Tahitian navigator and priest Tupaia, and 26 December 1770, when Cook noted his death alongside others.  He burst into the limelight in one of these appearances which took place off the coast of New Zealand on 15 October 1769.  The Endeavour had only sighted land a few days before, but already a great deal had happened. Banks described  9 October as ‘the most disagreable day My life has yet seen’.  An estimated nine Māori had already been shot dead, and the Endeavour had acquired virtually no fresh supplies of food and water in the nearly two months since they left the Society Islands.

As the crew started to trade for fish with Māori in canoes alongside the ship, a many-layered event unfolded.  Cook tried to trade some red cloth for a Māori cloak, but no sooner was the cloth in the trader’s hand, than he sat down in the canoe, which calmly withdrew.  After a brief discussion amongst themselves, the Māori approached again.  This time however they had other ambitions.  As the ship’s surgeon Monkhouse recorded: ‘we were attending to the coming up of the great war Canoe when all on a sudden an Alarm was given that one of the fishermen had pulled Tupaia’s boy into the boat – they instantly put off, and the great Canoe, as if the scheme had been preconcerted, immediately put themselves in a fighting posture ready to defend the other boat and stood ready to receive the boy from them.  Our astonishment at so unexpected a trick is not to be described’.  The Endeavour’s crew, and particularly Tupaia, were outraged and shots were immediately fired at the Māori, fatally wounding several, and securing Taiato’s escape.

This brief moment in the limelight hints at significant relationships, clearly between Tupaia and Taiato, but also between Taiato and others on the Endeavour.  This invites speculation as to what happened off-stage in the shadows.  According to Druett among others, Taiato was popular with many of the crew. His last, painful, dying words were addressed to his friends, and we have some reason to believe that they were genuine friendships.

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager, Modern Maps

Further reading:
Beaglehole, J. C., 1955-1969. The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery. Cambridge: Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press. (For Monkhouse's account.)
Druett, J., 2011. Tupaia: Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator. Oxford: ABC-CLIO, LLC.
South Seas Voyaging Accounts   

 

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

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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)

 

18 June 2018

Captain Cook and the ‘Friendly Islands’?

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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

BL_Cook_737x451-quote

 

31 May 2018

Cheap and safe burial ground in London

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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

 

21 May 2018

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

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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