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77 posts categorized "Conflict"

02 May 2017

India Office Records on the Russian Revolution

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The India Office Records and Private Papers contain many items relating to the Russian Revolution and its effects on global politics. Russia and Britain had pursued an aggressively competitive relationship throughout the 19th century over the issue of influence in Asia, commonly known as ‘The Great Game’.  The India Office therefore routinely received Foreign Office and War Office reports concerning Russia.

Eastern Report No78  murder of Tsar Nicholas II

Eastern Report No.78, 25 July 1918 - IOR/L/PS/10/587

One report which the India Office Political Department regularly received from the Foreign Office was the weekly Eastern Report prepared for the War Cabinet.  The reports gave news, information and analysis of events concerning Russia, the Middle East and Asia.  The report shown here, No.78, dated 25 July 1918 gave news of the death of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.  Under the heading “The Ex-Emperor murdered”, the report stated that the following wireless message had been sent out by the Russian Government: “Recently Ekaterinburg, the capital of the Red Ural, was seriously threatened by the approach of the Czecho-Slovak bands.  At the same time a counter-revolutionary conspiracy was discovered, having for its object the wrestle of the tyrant from the hands of the council’s authority by armed force.  In view of the fact the presidium of the Ural region council decided to shoot the Ex-Tsar, Nicholas Romanoff.  This decision was carried out on the 16th July”. The message erroneously stated that the “wife and son of Romanoff” had been sent to a place of security.  In fact Nicholas, his wife and children were all killed on the night of the 16/17 July 1918.

Appreciation by Sir Mark Sykes

IOR/L/PS/10/587

The reports generally were forwarded with an attached ‘Appreciation’ or comment on the report by Sir Mark Sykes.  In his appreciation with report of 25 July 1918, he noted that “once a man has been unjustly killed, the errors attributed to him diminish in popular estimation, while the acts of his murderers are more and more open to popular condemnation”.  Copies of the reports were sent to the Government of India, but without the appreciations.

Short History of Events in Russia Nov 1917-Feb 1919

Short History of Events in Russia from November 1917 to February 1919 - Mss Eur F281/89

Another report received by the India Office looked at the military aspects of the events in Russia between November 1917 and February 1919, and was prepared by the General Staff of the War Office.  This summarised Allied military intervention in North Russia with the purpose of preventing the transference of enemy troops from East to West, and to deny the resources of Russia and Siberia to Germany.  The revolution in Russia was seen primarily through the lens of the First World War.  The introduction to the report stated that: “The political destiny of Russia was no immediate concern of the Allies except in so far as might, in the event of an inconclusive peace, assist in the continuity and enhancement of German military power”.

Map of European Russia

Map of Russia - Mss Eur F112/562

 John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
File 705/1916 Pt 3-4 The War: Eastern Reports, 1917-1919 [Reference IOR/L/PS/10/587]
Short History of Events in Russia from November 1917 to February 1919 (General Staff: War Office, Mar 1919) [Reference Mss Eur F281/89]
Maps of Russia and the Russian front, 1917-1918 [Reference Mss Eur F112/562]

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths  - Our major new exhibition is open until Tuesday 29 August 2017. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website.

Russian_revolution

 

11 April 2017

The Hodeidah Incident: Britain’s ‘indiscriminate’ military action in Yemen

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In the early hours of 12 November 1914 George Richardson, the British Vice-Consul to the Red Sea port of Hodeidah (Al Hudaydah) in Yemen, was awoken by the sound of the town’s Turkish gendarmes forcing their way into his residence.  Fearing assassination, Richardson leapt from his terrace to that of the neighbouring Italian Vice-Consulate, whereupon he awoke his Italian counterpart Gino Cecchi, and pleaded for asylum.  Minutes later, having realised that Richardson had escaped next door, the Turkish gendarmes stormed the Italian Consulate, injuring an Italian guard in the process, and arrested Richardson.

Aden Ma'alla
Postcard showing the wharf at Ma’alla, Aden, Yemen, during the First World War. Source: Museums Victoria Collections . Public Domain.

It took a month for news of the raid and of Richardson’s arrest to reach the newspapers in Britain.  With Italy not yet having entered the war, and the British and French Governments lobbying for Italy to enter on the side the Allies, the British press focused on the ‘outrage’ that the Turkish authorities had inflicted against Italy in raiding one of its consulates, in what became known as the Hodeidah Incident.  On 14 December The Daily Telegraph reported a ‘new and very grave Italo-Turkish incident’, describing the incident as a ‘Turkish outrage at the Italian Consulate’.
 

Hodeidah 1
Copy of a communication sent by the British Ambassador to Italy, Sir Rennell Rodd, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey, 12 December 1914. IOR/L/PS/10/465, f 124.

In press reports, no mention was made of why orders were given by the Turkish to raid the Italian Consulate and arrest and detain the British Consul.  Political and Secret Papers in the India Office Records, now available on the Qatar Digital Library reveal more details.

Reporting on the incident after his eventual release, Richardson wrote that on 4 November a ‘ship of war’ appeared in Hodeidah harbour, flying the Turkish flag.  The warship then swapped its Turkish flag for the White Ensign (the British Naval flag), and dispatched a steam cutter and crew, which proceeded to set fire to a Turkish cargo vessel.  Richardson only later learnt that the vessel in question was HMS Minto, a small ship whose appearance and actions caused great consternation amongst the inhabitants of Hodeidah:

  Hodeidah 2
Extract of a report of the incident at Hodeidah, written by the British Consul, George Richardson, dated 9 February 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/454, ff 62-86.

The Minto’s action led to Richardson’s freedoms being increasingly curtailed by Turkish officials and, fearing ‘an intended massacre of British subjects in the city’, he barricaded himself and his family in the consulate.  The British attack on the Turkish fort at Cheikh Said, 150 miles south of Hodeidah, on 10 November 1914, led to an exodus of the population from Hodeidah, who expected British vessels to visit the port the following morning.  It was amidst this climate of fear and retribution that Turkish officers stormed the British and Italian consulates on the night of 11/12 November.

Richardson had no intimation of the events that unfurled in Hodeidah in early November 1914, writing only that he had received a cypher cable from Constantinople on 3 November, informing him that Britain would declare war on Turkey and that he should make arrangements for his immediate departure.

Hodeidah 3

 Extract of a note written by Arthur Hirtzel of the India Office, 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/454, f 60.

Unbeknownst to him, the Admiralty had ordered HMS Minto to ‘proceed up the Red Sea and destroy Turkish steamers and dhows’ on 2 November, three days before Britain’s formal declaration of war against Turkey.  As one India Office official noted at the time, in the early days of the war, the Admiralty was ‘disposed to be indiscriminate in their action’ in the Red Sea.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project

Further reading:
British Library, London, File 3136/1914 Pt 5 ‘German War. Turkey. Hodeida consuls incident’ (IOR/L/PS/10/465).
Charles Edward Vereker Craufurd, Treasure of Ophir (London: Skeffington & Co, 1929).
“Telegram from Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief, East Indies [Admiral Sir Richard Peirse] and the Senior Naval Officer, Aden [later South Yemen], with orders for HMS Minto to proceed up the Red Sea,...” The Churchill Papers (CHAR 13/39/50), Churchill Archives Centre (Cambridge), Churchill Archive.

 

24 March 2017

The East India Company’s Black Book of Misdemeanours

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The East India Company knew that it was dangerous to employ overseas servants who were xenophobic, lazy, or dishonest.  Indeed the Company was so concerned that it created a ‘Black Book’ to record errors and misdemeanours. 

  Black Book IOR/H/29 Noc

The book which survives in the India Office Records covers the years 1624-1698.  It copies in complaints made in letters received from Company servants in Asia.  Most reports of wrongdoing relate to private trade carried on against express orders, but they also cover drunkenness, negligence, desertion, disobeying orders, embezzlement, and debauchery.

Company servants had to be careful that in obeying rules set by the directors in London they did not risk alienating the local society hosting them.  Merchants were generally keen to avoid giving offence and tried to discover local protocol before trying to gain access to powerful men. The reports tell us where things went wrong.

Here are a few examples of reported misconduct which affected the Company’s relations with local people in Asia:
• In January 1626/27 Robert Hackwell, master of the Charles,  put two black men to death at Jambi and was discharged from East India Company service for ever.
• Nathaniel Mountney and Thomas Joyce were involved in a fight in 1632: ‘theire heads full fraught with wyne fell out with the Moors & in the fray a moore was slaine’.  Joyce was put in irons for ten days for the offence and only released after a large sum was paid.
• Thomas Nelson, gunner of the Swan, was charged 500 rupees in 1635 for killing a man at Macassar by a bullet carelessly shot into the town.
• In 1642 Humphrey Weston left all the Company’s property at Japara and ran away in fear of his life because he had been consorting with a Javan married woman.
• Richard Hudson’s ‘ill behaviour’ at Masulipatam aroused the local people’s hatred, especially the ‘great ones’.  Hudson had dealt in their grains and taken government duties upon himself.

  IOR H 29IOR/H/29 Noc

Here is the entry in the ‘Black Book’ taken from a letter from Surat in 1686 concerning the conduct of Roger Davis, Captain of the ship East India Merchant. Davis had arrived in Bombay at the time of Richard Keigwin’s rebellion against the Company and had established friendly relations with the rebels. He then fell ill and died, thus removing the problem: ‘Had that naughty man Davis lived, we had for certain protested against him, and should have used the East India Merchant worse than we did’.  Death often did solve disciplinary difficulties for the Company.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/H/29 East India Company book of servants’ errors and misdemeanours.

04 November 2016

The case of Margaret Duchell, who “died a confessed witch”

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The early modern period in Scotland is well known for the severe persecution of alleged witches, who were detained, tortured and brought before the court to be tried and sentenced. One volume in British Library collections, Egerton MS 2879, provides an insight into the sort of accusations that could lead to a person’s detainment for the crime of witchcraft. It also documents the process of gathering evidence and presenting a case. Between 1658 and 1659 five women were accused of witchcraft at Alloa, a small town in Clackmannanshire. They were interrogated and cases were prepared against the women. Inside this volume are documents on the case of Margaret Duchell, the first to confess and accuse other women as accomplices.

Duchell 1
 Margaret Duchell's confession, written down by J. Craigingelt, Egerton MS 2879, f.15 Noc


This, alongside a document at the National Records of Scotland, records the accusations against Margaret, demonstrating some of the widespread witchcraft beliefs at the time. She was detained for over a month before she “died a confessed witch” (f.15) in her confinement. During this time she was interrogated and likely tortured into denouncing other women and confessing to her own crimes.

Duchell 2
 Details of the witchcraft case against the five women, Egerton MS 2879, f.1 Noc


In order to receive the power to perform malevolent acts upon other people, Margaret claimed to have entered a pact with the Devil. Sources tell us that the Devil tempted Margaret with money, and the two sealed the deal with both a meal, and through sexual intercourse. Once they entered the pact, Margaret was free to commit “many murders and other mischiefs” (f.1), along with other women who had supposedly also entered the Devil’s service.

Disputes with members of the Alloa community seem to have given Margaret rise for causing them harm. She admitted to striking Janet Houston on the back, which resulted in her death, over a quarrel about money. We also hear about a disagreement with a twelve year old girl, who called Margaret a witch in public, whereby Margaret apparently tugged upon her arm, resulting in her bleeding to death. These accusations were later denied by Margaret at a kirk session in May and even the presiding minister doubted whether they were physically possible.

Margaret was also accused of possessing shape-shifting abilities, to metamorphose into the form of a dog. The Devil himself was sometimes depicted in the form of a dog. During an attack on one William Morrison with a group of other witches, Margaret transformed into a dog to follow him. The later confession of Barbara Erskine reveals that Margaret and a group of women also destroyed a boat, during which they “wer in the lyknes of corbies” (f.4).

 

Witch N10019-09

The Devil as a dog from the title page from ‘The Witch of Edmonton’, a play based on a witchcraft case 644.c.17 Images Online Noc


So why did Margaret originally confess to these crimes? Just being accused of witchcraft at the time was dangerous. To deny involvement could lead to torture, while to confess would result in a death sentence. Interrogators were keen on obtaining confessions to secure a conviction. Torture, particular sleep deprivation, and leading questions were often used to confuse suspects and extract ‘evidence’. It seems unlikely that Margaret’s confession was freely given, as she later denied all charges, but she died before her trial. Both Egerton MS 2879 and the Presbytery minutes bring us closer to what it might have been like to be accused of witchcraft in early modern Scotland.


Claire Wotherspoon
Manuscripts Reference Specialist Cc-by


Further reading:
An abundance of witches: the great Scottish witch-hunt / P.G. Maxwell-Stuart (YC.2007.a.7576)
Marks of an absolute witch: evidentiary dilemmas in early modern England / Orna Alyagon Darr (ELD digital store)
Witches of the North: Scotland and Finnmark / Liv Helene Willumsen (YD.2013.a.1825)

 

30 June 2016

"We go into action in a day or two and I'm leaving this in case I don't come back". On the eve of the Somme.

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On the eve of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme, Laura Walker, our Lead Curator of Manuscripts 1851-1950, looks at diary accounts of the Battle. Tomorrow, on the day itself, Michael Day, our Digitisation Preservation Manager, considers the death of a British Museum clerk and soldier at the Somme.

The Somme is one of the most well-known battles of the First World War fought on the Western Front. It is chiefly remembered due to the scale of the casualties with over one million dead, wounded or missing by the end of the offensive. The British Library holds eye witness accounts of the fighting at the Somme from Major General Hunter Weston and Captain Roland Gerard Garvin.

 Somme1

Private War Diary of Major General Hunter Weston, Add MS 48365 f.53v Cc-by

Major General Hunter Weston was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1884 and saw active service on the North West Frontier, present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, in Egypt and in the Boer War before he was given a command on the Western Front in 1914. Hunter Weston kept two diaries of his experiences of the First World War one official and one private. These diaries provide us with a fascinating insight into the fighting in 1914 on the Western Front, in Gallipoli in 1915 and at the battle of the Somme in 1916.

Somme2

 Private War Diary of Major General Hunter Weston, Add MS 48365 f.54 Cc-by

In his private diary for 1916 Hunter Weston has included photographs showing the advance of the troops under his command, the 8th Corps to their assault on the fortified hamlets of Beaumont-Hamel, Beaumont-sur-Ancre, and Serre on the first day of the battle on 1st July 1916. Despite their efforts the 8th Corp’s objective was not achieved and they suffered 14,581 casualties on that day alone.

Somme3

 Private War Diary of Major General Hunter Weston, Add MS 48365 f.55v Cc-by

Captain Roland Gerard Garvin was the son of journalist and newspaper editor James Luis Garvin. The First World War broke out the week after his last day at Westminster School. Despite winning a history scholarship for Christ Church, Oxford, Garvin enlisted in the 7th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment.

Somme4

Photograph of Captain Roland Gerard Garvin, Add MS 88882/10/2 Cc-by

Garvin attended a staff training course in Chelsea in December 1914 and this continued in Camberley in April 1915 before he was sent over to France on 17th July 1915. The Library holds his notes from both of these courses and diary extracts from when he was serving on the Western Front. The diary extracts below record his account of the first day of the Somme.

  Somme5

Field Message Book of Captain Roland Gerard Garvin, Add MS 88882/9/31 Cc-by

Somme6

Field Message Book of Captain Roland Gerard Garvin, Add MS 88882/9/31 Cc-by

On 20th July Garvin wrote a letter to his family saying good bye as he knew he was going into action in a day or two. Three days later between 12pm and 1pm Garvin was killed by machine gun fire. His body was never found.

Somme7

Letter from Captain Roland Gerard Garvin to his family, July 20th 1916, Add MS 88882/3/9 Cc-by

Somme8

Letter from Captain Roland Gerard Garvin to his family, July 20th 1916, Add MS 88882/3/9 Cc-by

The complete diaries of Hunter Weston and the papers of Garvin can be found online at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/.

Laura Walker, Lead Curator, Manuscripts and Archives 1851-1950.

21 June 2016

‘A Violent Pauper’

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Today we continue our sad story of poverty and destitution in Victorian London by focusing on the Chivers family of Marylebone.

Robert Chivers was working as a painter when he married Elizabeth Moulder at Christ Church Marylebone on 20 August 1865. They lived in Duke Street, a small turning off Lisson Grove in a poor area.  Their son Robert was born in October 1865 and they went on to have three more children: Ann/Annie, William/Willie, and Thomas.

On 21 July 1868 Robert and Elizabeth were admitted to Marylebone Workhouse with Robert aged 3 and Ann aged 9 months. Little Robert was moved to the workhouse school at Southall in Middlesex on 14 August 1868.

 

  Dore London poor 075459
Inhabitants of London. Image taken from London :a pilgrimage, illustrations by G. Dore Images Online

 

In January 1869 newspaper articles about Robert Chivers appeared under the headlines ‘A Violent Pauper’ and, with more than a hint of sarcasm, ‘A Model Pauper’.  Robert been taken to court for assaulting workhouse officer James Lockwood who had reprimanded him for not picking oakum properly. Robert complained that he had been insulted when he asked for an additional quantity of oakum to pick.  He had wanted to increase his earnings from 6d for a day’s work in order to support his wife and three small children. Having been unemployed since July 1868, he had asked the parish officers to grant him a few clothes to make him decent to apply for work outside.  His request was turned down because the Chivers family had been in and out of the workhouse for a long time and the overseer thought Robert lazy and sullen.  The jury found Robert guilty but recommended him to mercy because of his family.  He was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction.

Elizabeth Chivers also came into conflict with the workhouse authorities on more than one occasion  In April 1871 she was imprisoned for 21 days for disorderly conduct and using threatening language in the workhouse. The 1871 census shows Robert, Annie and William living at the workhouse school in Southall, and Elizabeth in the workhouse with four-month-old Thomas.  Robert senior seems to have disappeared and I have been unable to discover his whereabouts.

In July 1874 Elizabeth and her children were discharged from the workhouse so they could emigrate to Australia. Their ‘most distressing case of poverty’ was heard before the Melbourne City Bench in December 1874. Elizabeth said her husband had deserted her about four years earlier.  Her sister’s husband had been helping, but he could no longer afford to do so. Elizabeth applied to have her children admitted to the industrial schools but the bench was sympathetic and keen to keep the family together. Thomas was suffering from spinal disease and so he was remanded to the industrial schools for a month for medical treatment.  Elizabeth received £1 for her immediate wants, a charitable subscription was started with a £5 donation by the magistrate, and she was promised that ‘benevolent ladies’ would help her obtain a livelihood.

Unfortunately this story does not have a happy ending. Robert, William and Thomas were all living in the industrial schools by April 1875 when Elizabeth was summoned to pay towards their upkeep. The case was dismissed as it was shown that she was unable to contribute anything.  Thomas died in 1878 aged seven.


Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading;
British Newspaper ArchiveMorning Post 19 January 1869; Marylebone Mercury 19 January 1869; Bell’s Weekly Messenger 23 January 1869; Marylebone Mercury 8 April 1871.
TroveThe Age (Melbourne) 18 December 1874.

Poverty and destitution in Victorian London

 

10 May 2016

The Khaksar movement in the Persian Gulf

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In 1939, in the early months of the Second World War, British officials began making enquiries into the presence in Bahrain of members of a paramilitary Islamic social movement that sought the overthrow of British rule in India, and drew inspiration from Adolf Hitler.

The Khaksar movement was founded in Lahore in 1931 by Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi, a Cambridge-educated mathematician and Islamic scholar.

The movement was overtly Islamic, but claimed to wish to give equal rights to all faiths. It was highly organised, and rapidly acquired millions of members. It was also militaristic, with khaki uniforms, organised marches, and mock warfare. The movement’s emblem was the spade, egalitarian symbol of the dignity of labour, which its members literally carried around with them.

 

Khaksars

Khaksars in uniform, 1930s. The figure in the centre of the back row carries the Khaksar belcha (spade). Source: Wikipedia.

 

The Khaksar movement’s philosophy was enshrined in a creed and set of principles, which emphasised discipline and self-sacrifice, and encouraged the spread of Islam. However, the movement denied any involvement in politics, and its anti-colonialism went unstated.

The movement’s dictatorial beliefs and uniform prompted comparisons with contemporary Fascist organisations in Europe. Indeed, Mashriqi is said to have met Hitler in 1926 and to have been influenced by Mein Kampf, which he translated into Urdu.

Bahrain was the centre of the embryonic oil industry on the Arab side of the Gulf in 1939, and with the advent of war against those same European Fascist powers, the region constituted a key source of oil for Britain’s war effort.

The British compiled lists of those involved with the movement in Bahrain (about forty people, all of them members of the Indian community), including oil industry workers and a tailor.

IOR R 15 2 168, f 24Noc

Part of a letter dated 20 December 1939 from the Assistant Political Agent, Bahrain to the Director, Intelligence Bureau, Government of India, New Delhi, giving information on the Khaksar Movement in Bahrain, which he describes as ‘the object of much derision by the Arab population’: IOR/R/15/2/168, f 24.

 

The conclusion reached by British officials was that there was ‘nothing objectionable’ in the activities of the movement’s members in Bahrain, which were confined to a weekly uniformed march, and regular meetings. The British Political Agent in Bahrain was also sceptical about the movement’s wider appeal to Muslims, stating that it was ‘not likely ever to be of much significance on the Arab Coast, where a movement whose symbol is a spade can excite only derision’.

However, all that changed in March 1940 when more than thirty Khaksars were killed by police in a protest at Lahore. The movement was now viewed by the authorities as a danger and banned, and the ban prompted further enquiries into the strength of the movement in Bahrain. Fifteen further members, including workers at a shipping company and the RAF base, were identified by tracing the distribution of the Khaksar newspaper, Al Islah.

 

IOR R 15 2 168, f 31

The Gazette of India, 20 March 1940, published the day after the deaths of Khaksar members at Lahore, announcing the Chief Commissioner of Delhi’s decision to declare the Khaksar Movement an unlawful association: IOR/R/15/2/168, f 31. Noc

 

If the British feared a wartime outbreak of pan-Islamic unrest they need not have worried, because the Gulf states gave loyal support to the Allied cause throughout the war. Inayatullah Khan too, on his way to jail in New Delhi, pointed out that he had previously offered to raise a force of 50,000 men to fight alongside the British.

However, the implications for British rule in India were different, and the activities of Mashriqi and the Khaksars were a contributory factor in achieving the independence of Pakistan in 1947.

Martin Woodward
Archival Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership Cc-by

Further reading:
British Library: 'File 1/A/47 Khaksar Movement'. IOR/R/15/2/168
Amalendu De, History of the Khaksar Movement in India (1931-1947) 2 vols (Kolkata: Parul Prakashani, 2009) I
Roy Jackson, Mawlana Mawdudi and Political Islam: Authority and the Islamic state (Taylor and Francis, 2010)

 

01 April 2016

The curious tale of the pigeons in the workhouse

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It’s April Fools’ Day but here on Untold Lives we find it difficult to plant a spoof.  Many of our stories from real life are so strange that readers couldn’t be expected to notice any difference.  So this is the true but curious tale of the pigeons at Marylebone Workhouse.

At a meeting of the Board of Poor Law Guardians for St Marylebone in October 1850, Mr Michie enquired if pigeons were being kept at the workhouse.  Secretary Mr Thorne replied that a number of pigeons had made their home in the workhouse, causing a great nuisance, but they were no longer there.  After the death of James Jones the workhouse master, a member of the parish vestry had asked who owned the pigeons and was told that they belonged to no-one.  The vestryman then sent someone to catch the birds and take them away.  Michie said that the pigeons were valuable and demanded that the vestryman be named.  Thorne revealed him to be Samuel Steele, who was present sitting amongst the ratepayers. 

 

PigeonT00045-80

 L Wright, The Illustrated Book of Pigeons (London, 1874-76) 7295.h.1 p.288 detail Images Online  Noc

 

Mr Walters observed that the birds removed were carrier pigeons.  Betting and racing books were kept at the workhouse, and gambling took place.  The late master Jones had kept the pigeons to send to the races to bring back speedy news of which horses had won so that safe bets could be made accordingly.  It was claimed that Jones actually died with a racing and betting book in his hand –‘Sensation’ amongst those present!

It was also suggested that, if the pigeons were valuable, that they should have been sold for the benefit of the parish.  The subject was then dropped and the Board dispersed ‘thunderstruck at the extraordinary revelations that had taken place’.

However this was not the end of the story.  At a vestry meeting it was alleged that Samuel Steele had netted 40-50 pigeons at the workhouse and made pies of them for himself and his family.  The inmates of the workhouse, who had fed the pigeons each day and treated them as pets, were very upset when they were removed.  John Wilson was one of the vestrymen who denounced the whole affair as shameful.  He needled Steele by drawing pictures of birds at vestry meetings, with one caricature entitled ‘Sam Steele’s pigeons’. 

Steele vehemently denied the allegations.  He retaliated by going up behind Wilson in the street and inflicting a severe blow to the back of his tormentor’s head.  Wilson struck back hard in defence before the two men were separated. Wilson offered to forget the attack if Steele apologised and put a guinea into the poor box. When Steele declined, Wilson brought a charge of assault against him. 

At Marylebone Police Court Steele offered to make an apology to the public and bench (but not to Wilson) for having committed the first breach of the peace.  Magistrate Robert Broughton decided that Steele must be punished since he had taken the law into his own hands.  He imposed a fine of 40s and costs which Steele paid forthwith. And thus the Marylebone Workhouse ‘pigeon affair’ was brought to a conclusion.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

British Newspaper Archive e.g. London Daily News 8 October 1850; Cheltenham Chronicle 10 October 1850; Bell’s New Weekly Messenger 3 November 1850