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101 posts categorized "Health"

21 March 2017

Mary Dorothea Shore – a life brought out of the shadows

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Mary Dorothea Shore was the first wife of East India Company supercargo Thomas Shore whom we met in a recent post. She has been overlooked in narratives of the Shore family and so I should like to bring her out of the shadows.

Mary Dorothea was the daughter of Robert Hawthorn and his wife Dorothy, baptised in London at St Sepulchre Holborn in August 1709. Robert was an apothecary who had served as a surgeon’s mate on HMS Ranelagh.  He died when Mary Dorothea was a baby – his widow was granted probate of his estate in October 1710.

  St Sepulchre
St Sepulchre 1737 - from George Walter Thornbury, Old and New London, London  (1887)   Noc

Dorothy Hawthorn then married an officer in the East India Company’s maritime service named John Shepheard (d.1734). I have found baptisms for two children born to John and Dorothy Shepheard.  Son John was baptised in 1716 at St Alphage London Wall and appears to have died in childhood. Daughter Dorothy was baptised on 13 June 1725 and the register of  St Mary Whitechapel  records that her mother was dead – the burial took place on 17 June.  I wonder who cared for half-sisters Mary Dorothea and Dorothy whilst John Shepheard sailed on long voyages to Asia?

The next event for the family which I have traced is the marriage in 1732 of Mary Dorothea to John Edgell, an officer at Custom House.  John Shepheard gave his step-daughter a marriage portion of £1,000. The Edgells had six children baptised at St Mary Whitechapel: Mary, Priscilla, William, Amelia, and two sons called John who died in infancy. But in 1740 Mary Dorothea and John agreed to separate because of ‘some unhappy differences’. 

On 11 July 1741 John Edgell was admitted to Bethlem Hospital which cared for mental ill health.  He died there on 7 August 1741. His will provided for his children William, Mary, Priscilla and Amelia, but left only one shilling to his wife together with the income from her marriage jointure.  John died owing considerable debts and Mary Dorothea entered into Chancery proceedings to settle her husband’s estate.

The_Hospital_of_Bethlem_(Bedlam)_at_Moorfields _London;_seen_Wellcome_V0013185

The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London Wellcome Images

However provision was made for Mary Dorothea by John Shore, East India Company warehouse-keeper and father to supercargo Thomas Shore. It seems that the Shore and Shepheard families had become friends through their Company connection.  John Shore died in October 1741 and his will gave Mary Dorothea £40 a year and possession of his house in Alie Street, Goodman’s Fields, with all the contents, until his ‘beloved’ son Thomas returned to England.

Thomas Shore returned from China in the late summer of 1743.  He was granted probate of his father’s will on 15 August and married Mary Dorothea on 29 August.

In 1745 Mary Dorothea and her half-sister Dorothy Shepheard were living together in Wanstead, Essex, whilst Thomas set off on another voyage to China.  They gave evidence at the Chelmsford trial of Jonathan Byerly who was convicted of breaking into the Shore house at night and stealing a quantity of silver items.  Byerly was sentenced to be hanged.

Mary Dorothea must have died within the next five years, because on 6 September 1750 Thomas Shore married Dorothy Shepheard. Was Mary Dorothea excluded from the Shore family story to avoid drawing attention to the blood relationship between Thomas’s first and second wives?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/L/MAR/B Ship journals for the voyages of John Shepheard and Thomas Shore, and IOR/B East India Company Court of Directors Minutes for the careers of John Shepheard and John and Thomas Shore.
Will of John Shore 1741 - The National Archives  PROB  11/713
Legal papers for the Edgell family - The National Archives C 11/2085/7
Case of Jonathan Byerley - The National Archives  ASSI 94/726

16 March 2017

Aristotle’s Masterpiece: What to expect when you’re expecting, seventeenth-century style

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How would a seventeenth-century woman know if she’s pregnant? Why, by the following signs of course: “pains in the head, vertigo, and dimness of the eyes…the eyes themselves swell, and become of a dull or dark colour”.

Aristotle’s Masterpiece was the most popular manual about sex, pregnancy and childbirth from its first appearance in 1684 through hundreds of editions up to the late nineteenth century. The manual offers advice on everything from “the use and actions of the genitals” to “monstrous births, and the reasons thereof”. This is a book for the common people that would’ve been cheaply printed, sold ‘under the table’ and hidden under the mattress at home. With its advice for both men and women, it would’ve been furtively rifled through as often as we use Google (rightly or wrongly) to decipher our medical problems nowadays.

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Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available].  Noc

In case you hadn’t already guessed, Aristotle’s Masterpiece is neither by Aristotle or, indeed, a masterpiece. Nicolas Culpeper had already written his Directory for Midwives in 1651 and other writers and booksellers sought to emulate its resounding success. Aristotle was a long-established pseudonym used when printing works about reproduction. The text itself is a peculiar mash-up of early seventeenth-century medical works and popular old wives’ tales about sex and reproduction passed down through generations.

For instance, is it a boy or a girl? Well, “male children lie always on the [right] side of the womb” and girls on the left. But if you wanted to be certain, cast a drop of milk into a basin of water. If the milk drop sinks to the bottom intact, it’s a girl. If it spreads and disperses on the surface of the water, it’s a boy. With sage advice like this, it’s hardly surprising that copies of The Masterpiece were used until they literally wore out. This means that comparatively few survive today, with the British Library being lucky to hold about thirty different early editions.

To us, Aristotle’s Masterpiece is a delightfully eccentric insight into seventeenth-century sexual and reproductive lore, sometimes recognisable as the precursor to modern science and sometimes decidedly not.

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Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available]. Noc

This manual devotes a lot of time to describing monsters, for example. These “monstrous births” are variously attributed to “maternal imagination, witchcraft, human-animal copulation or a disorder of the womb”. The crude curious woodcuts, instrumental to the manual’s appeal, feature a child with its eyes where its mouth should’ve been, a naked woman covered in hair and conjoined twins amongst others.

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Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available]. Noc

Elsewhere there are largely sensible instructions for midwives. The basic anatomical descriptions and the large, fold out diagram of the position of a baby in the womb also occupy more familiar territory for modern readers.

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Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available]. Noc

But home remedies that feature dog’s grease or even dragon’s blood soon confuse matters again.  As does the insistence that bleeding a woman, a somewhat primitive practice, is advised if she’s having difficulty during childbirth and that, during pregnancy, a woman must ensure that her home is not, for some inexplicable reason, “infected with frogs”.  Ribbet.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

24 January 2017

‘We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War

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Extracts from letters archived at the British Library, exchanged between the Indian home front and international battlefronts during the Second World War, become textual connectors linking the farthest corners of the Empire and imperial strongholds requiring defence against the Axis alliance.  Such letters map the breadth of a global war and plunge deep into the Indian soldier’s psyche, revealing ruptures in the colonial identity foisted on him.

Food dominates much of these epistolary conversations, with Indian soldiers reflecting on their army rations and diet abroad.  Rumours of a great and devastating famine sweeping India, and particularly Bengal, in 1943 reach them, despite censorship of news and letters.  A Havildar or junior officer, part of the Sappers and Miners unit, writes from the Middle East: “From my personal experience I can tell you that the food we get here is much better than that we soldiers get in India.  But whenever I sit for my meals, a dreadful picture of the appalling Indian food problem passes through my mind leaving a cloudy sediment on the walls of my heart which makes me nauseous and often I leave my meals untouched.”

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Representation of a family struck by the Bengal Famine of 1942 by Bangladeshi artist Zoinul Abedin. ©British Museum 2012,3027.1

The soldier highlights his solidarity with this imagined community of sufferers through images of his own body, and his reactions are expressed in physiological terms – he visualises the walls of his heart being covered with ‘cloudy sediment’ at the thought of food shortage in India.  In visceral terms, this is how he understands empathy.  The spectre of famine in India hovers, Banquo-like, before him every time he sits down to eat his rations carefully provided by the colonial British government; the projection of food deprivation in his homeland thousands of miles away reaches out and, almost literally, touches his heart, preventing him from eating.

© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2220) A 'Hindoo' kitchen in Syria by Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden, A Hindoo Kitchen: RIASC 8th, 10th and 12th Indian Mule Coys, Zghorta, Syria © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2220)

Another letter from a Havildar Clerk to relatives in South India relates the helplessness caused by famine to the extraordinary conditions of the wartime marketplace: “I am terribly sorry to learn about the food situation in India and it seems as if there is no salvation for me.  From my earliest days to the present time I have always been in this abyss of misery.  It was with grim determination to see you all free from poverty that I allotted my whole pay of Rs 85/- to you, but cruel Fate is determined to defeat me in all my purposes.  What is the use of money when we are unable to obtain the necessities of life in exchange for it?  The situation would drive even the most level-headed of us to madness and when we think of conditions in India we become crazy as lunatics.”

How can the soldier’s earnings help his family when ordinary people have been priced out of food because of soaring rates of wartime inflation?  The letter reveals both the economic bonds linking the Indian soldier’s participation in an imperial war, and the psychological despair of being unable to rescue loved ones from hardship – as traumatic for the soldier as the heavy fighting he witnesses on the battlefield.


Diya Gupta
PhD researcher at King’s College London

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops, April-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655

Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

The ‘Kashmir of Europe’ and other exoticisms: Indian soldiers’ tales of travel in the Second World War

Find out more in this short film

 

01 December 2016

Victorian Vaudeville – Tripping the Light Fantastic

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Come with me into the world of Victorian Vaudeville.  Let me tell you the story of a poor London girl who achieved her dream of becoming a successful dancer, and then died.

   Makepeace Eugenie 2

Eugenie Makepeace – publicity shot taken in New York July 1899 and sent to her brother George in London (Family collection)

Our dancer Eugenie Makepeace was born in Pimlico in June 1882, the daughter of waiter Joseph and his French wife Marie.  Joseph died suddenly on 1 January 1887, leaving Marie to support their six children aged between seven years and six weeks.  She secured places for four of them in institutions for destitute children.  George and Harry went as boarders at Fortescue House in Twickenham, one of the National Refuges for Homeless and Destitute Children, later known as the Shaftesbury Homes.  In May 1888 Eugenie and her elder sister Berthe entered the Westminster workhouse school situated in Ashford Middlesex.  Juliette, the eldest child, appears to have stayed with Marie, but baby William went to live with a family in Islington.  However Marie found work as a dressmaker and gradually succeeded in gathering her family back together in Marylebone. 

Eugenie seems to have gained a place at a John Tiller dancing school.  Tiller trained working class girls in Manchester and London to appear in musical stage productions.  Eugenie became a member of Tiller’s La Blanche Troupe and at the start of 1899 was touring the UK with Milton Bodes’ pantomime Robinson CrusoeThe Era newspaper published reviews of performances before enthusiastic audiences in different venues  - Oxford, Oldham, Wigan, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: ‘Mr John Tiller’s La Blanche Troupe of lady dancers trip on the light fantastic to the delight of everybody’.

   Robinson Crusoe 1899The Era 21 January 1899 British Newspaper Archive


In March 1899 Eugenie sailed to the United States to perform as a member of the ensemble in Man in the Moon which ran at the New York Theatre from April until November.  She made a second trip to the USA in 1901 with the Pony Ballet, a group of eight young girls who performed synchronized dance routines full of high kicks.  Eugenie’s fellow dancers were Lizzie Hawman, Carrie Poltz, Maggie Taylor, Ada Robertson, Seppie McNeil, Eva Marlow, and Beatrice Liddell.  Their punishing training routine made them strong and flexible, as much gymnasts as dancers: ‘they are all marvels of strength, endurance, grace and agility’ (San Francisco Call, 20 April 1902).

 

Makepeace Eugenie 1
 Photograph of Eugenie Makepeace taken in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in February 1899 when she was performing with La Blanche Troupe in Robinson Crusoe (Family collection)


The girls decided to part company with impresario George Lederer and began to arrange their own engagements.  While they were performing at Forest Park Highlands in St Louis, Eugenie and Carrie contracted typhoid fever.  The troupe had to move on to Milwaukee and Eugenie died there on 28 July 1902 aged only 20.  Happily, Carrie survived and continued her dancing career.


  EUGENIE POEM 1 001 (2)

Eugenie’s funeral card (Family collection)

 The Pony Ballet's next engagement was in Chicago. The local Actors’ Relief Association there helped the girls to raise enough money to ship Eugenie’s body home for burial in St Marylebone Cemetery. The funeral card describing her as ‘A much beloved Daughter and our darling Sister’ carried a poem in her memory by ‘M.M’, presumably her mother Marie. 

‘The seas are crossed, the journey is done.’

EUGENIE POEM 1 001

Poem on Eugenie’s funeral card  (Family collection)


Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. The Era 14 January 1899, 21 January 1899 and 18 February 1899
San Francisco Call 20 April 1902
Milwaukee Journal 5 August 1902
New York Clipper 16 August 1902

Visit our free exhibition on Victorian entertainments There Will Be Fun  - at the British Library until 12 March 2017

07 November 2016

Pay and living conditions of Indian seamen

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In November 1942, the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery received a report from Sir Azizul Huque, High Commissioner for India in the United Kingdom, on the low pay and poor living conditions of Indian seamen serving in the British Merchant Navy. The very interesting report and subsequent correspondence on the issues are contained within a file in the India Office Records.

LE8-4755 Huque Report

Extract from a report by Azizul Huque, IOR/L/E/8/4755

Sir Azizul Huque’s report exposed the poor living conditions in Liverpool and Glasgow in which Indian seamen were obliged to live. He visited Glasgow in July 1942, and found a hostel recently constructed by the Missions to Seamen which he described as excellent, and a private boarding house named Alley’s Boarding House was regarded as acceptable. However, one common lodging house named Norfolk House was described as extremely unsatisfactory. This was due to Muslim seamen having to cook their food close to where ham and bacon were cooked by other lodgers. This was a cause of considerable grievance, as was the poor standard of cleanliness and sanitary arrangements.  Sir Azizul brought this to the attention of the Ministry of War Transport who arranged for the Indian seamen to be removed to approved boarding houses.

Sir Azizul also enclosed a report on a visit to Liverpool by Mr Tomlinson, Chairman of the Ministry of Labour Seamen’s Welfare Board, to inspect the seamen’s lodgings there. The conditions at the house at Trinity Place, Springfield were described as abominable,” a veritable rabbit warren for human beings”. Another house in the city was stated to be deplorable, and in such a state that it would be impossible to make it satisfactory, badly overcrowded and dirty, with a vile atmosphere. It was recommended that the system of farming out boarders by the steamship companies should stop, and a seaman’s hostel for Indian seamen should be established in keeping with the Ministry’s standards.

There were over 30,000 Indian seamen in the British Merchant Navy at that time, forming almost one-fifth of its total strength, and yet they received lower wages than either Chinese or British seamen. In 1942, an Indian seaman received wages of £4 1s per month compared to £16 15s for Chinese seamen and £22 12s 6d for European seamen. The official explanation given for this in an internal India Office note was that they were inefficient compared to Chinese and British seamen, and that the standard of living in the villages where Indian seamen came from was very low, and so despite being poorly paid they were still better off than their fellow villagers.

LE8-4755 Bevin Letter

Letter from Ernest Bevin to Leo Amery, IOR/L/E/8/4755

The rest of the file contains some fascinating correspondence detailing attempts by Sir Azizul Huque, Ernest Bevin, the then Minister for Labour and National Service, and others to improve the wages received by India seamen in order to bring them more into line with other seamen in the Merchant Navy. As Bevin pointed out to Amery in a letter of 1st September 1945, “these men are enduring all the risks and hardships of the sea for us and … we are withholding from them the financial recognition which is being accorded to all other sailors, both white and coloured”.

John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:
File C&O 79/46 Part B - Conditions of Employment of Indian Seamen, Sep 1944-Apr 1947 [Reference IOR/L/E/8/4755]

 

29 September 2016

Persian carpets for European consumers

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Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle spent twenty-four years working as a British colonial administrator in the Persian Gulf before retiring in the summer of 1939. During that time he amassed a collection of thirteen Persian carpets.

  Mss Eur F126-28, f 16

Extract of an advert from the journal The Nineteenth Century, dated 1892. Mss Eur F126/28, f 16  Noc

Prior to returning to England, Fowle put the carpets up for sale at the Political Agency in Bahrain. A list in an Agency file offers details of Fowle’s carpets. Five of the cheapest were described as Baluchi (i.e. made in Baluchistan), their price likely reflecting their small size. Four further carpets originated from Turkmenistan, while the two most expensive items were manufactured in the city of Kashan, renowned for its superior carpets of intricate design.

IOR-R-15-2-1531, f 26.

 List of carpets for sale at the Bahrain Political Agency. IOR/R/15/2/1531, f 26. Noc

Europe’s affluent middle-classes became avid collectors of Persian carpets in the nineteenth century. Letters from the East India Company Resident in the Persian port of Bushire indicate that carpets were being sourced for European markets as early as 1813. In the meantime, a succession of European travellers to Persia, including the novelist James Morier and colonial administrators Henry Pottinger and John Johnson, penned narratives in which richly decorated carpets were closely associated with the opulence of the Persian court.

  IOR-R-15-1-12, ff 156-157

Extract of a letter from William Bruce, Acting Resident at Bushire to Francis Warden, Chief Secretary to the Government, Bombay, 17 January 1813.

IOR/R/15/1/12, ff 156-157 Noc

The European (and American) market for carpets had grown to such an extent that by the 1880s, demand outstripped supply. ‘Very old carpets are now extremely rare,’ reported Robert Murdoch Smith in 1883, while sourcing Persian carpets for the South Kensington (now V&A) Museum. In response to a diminishing supply of carpets, commercial companies, including manufacturers from England, set up carpet-making factories in Persia, with the intention of catering specifically to their domestic markets.

In 1883 the Manchester firm Zielger & Company established premises at Sultanabad (now Arak) consisting of houses for their employees, offices, stores and dyeing rooms. This was no factory though; carpets continued to be hand-woven by women and children in the home, although now according to orders and designs stipulated by the Company. Between 1894 and 1914 the number of looms in Sultanabad increased thirty-fold, from 40 to 1,200 (equating to one loom for every 5.8 persons in the town).

Mostasham_Kashan_19th_century (1)

 Nineteenth century Kashan carpet. Source: ArtDaily.com (Public Domain) Noc

 

Although one British colonial administrator reported that the firm was ‘much liked by the villagers’, evidence of the exploitation of weavers elsewhere was reported. The impressions of other visitors to Persia suggest that some carpet production had shifted to grim karkhanas (or manufactories), described as ‘low, dark, miserable rooms’, often with a ‘sour and sickening atmosphere’, in which ‘weakly children of ten or twelve years’ laboured on carpets, under pressure to complete ‘a certain allotted portion per diem’. In 1913 the British Resident at Bushire noted there was ‘no doubt that the industry as carried on is responsible for a great deal of human misery, in deforming and arresting the development of children, especially the girls’.

Of Fowle’s carpets, the expensive Kashanis remained unsold. They were returned to Fowle’s widow after the War (Fowle himself having died suddenly in 1940), but not before being lost by staff of the Southern Railway Company, and spending two months in the lost property office at Waterloo Station.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project Cc-by

British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading:
British Library, London, Volume 12: Letters outward. IOR/R/15/1/12  – East India Company correspondence dated 1811 to 1813.
British Library London, ‘Gazetteer of Persia. Volume II’ (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/3/1) – for a description of the Ziegler & Co.’s activities at Sultanabad.
British Library, London, ‘Administration Report of the Persian Gulf Political Residency for the Years 1911-1914' (IOR/R/15/1/711) – reporting attempts to reform conditions in carpet-weaving factories at Kerman, 1913.
British Library, London, ‘File 16/32-II Miscellaneous. Correspondence with the Residency, Bushire.’ (IOR/R/15/2/1531) – correspondence relating to Trenchard Fowle’s carpets.
George Nathaniel Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1892), 523-525.
Frederic John Goldsmid, Telegraph and Travel (London: MacMillan & Co., 1874), 586-587.
Edward Stack, Six Months in Persia Vol. 1 (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1882), 209.
Leonard Helfgott, “Carpet Collecting in Iran, 1873-1883: Robert Murdoch Smith and the Formation of the Modern Persian Carpet Industry” Muqarnas Vol.7 (1990), 171-181.

 

27 September 2016

Report on Boiler Explosions in Britain, 1880

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Last week we told you about an explosion at a Marylebone gunmaker's workshop in 1822 which killed two child workers . Today we look at industrial accidents in 1880 involving boiler explosions.

While cataloguing some India Office Revenue files recently, I came across a copy of the Journal of the Society of Arts, dated 14 May 1880. A short article in it was a reminder of how lethal a place the working environment was in late 19th century Britain.  The article was an abstract of a report containing particulars of visits of inspection and a record of boiler explosions for January to April 1880, presented at a meeting of the Manchester Steam Users’ Association by Lavington Evans Fletcher, the Association’s Chief Engineer.

Mr Fletcher reported that in the first four months of 1880 there had been 2,129 visits of inspection made and 3,830 boilers examined. The inspections had uncovered a total of 448 defects, with 4 described as dangerous, including:
• Furnaces out of shape
• Fractures
• Corrosion
• Blistered plates
• External and internal grooving
• Safety valves out of order
• Blow out apparatus out of order or missing altogether
• Pressure gauges out of order and boilers without such gauges
• Boilers without feed-back pressure valves
• Cases of over pressure and of deficiency of water

Mersey Ironworks

Exterior of the Mersey Steel and Iron Works in Liverpool 1863 Online Gallery

 

It was reported that the year had started badly with eight steam-boiler explosions killing 33 people and injuring another 32, while a tar boiler had burst killing 11 people and injuring 6. Despite there being a high loss of life, investigating the causes of such explosions wasn’t always easy. An explosion at an ironworks in Glasgow killed 25 people and injured another 23, but the inspector sent by the Association was refused permission to examine the boiler both by the owner and the Procurator-Fiscal, and was obliged to return to Manchester without any information on the incident. The disaster was reported on extensively in UK and international newspapers.

When a negligent owner was brought to court, it could be difficult to secure a guilty verdict. A boiler explosion at Ormskirk killing three men had been caused by the wasting away of the plates at the bottom of the boiler till they were as thin as a sheet of paper, yet the jury had returned a verdict of accidental death. However, as the report pointed out, competent inspection would have prevented the explosion, and the owners neglected this simple precaution which cost three men their lives. Another explosion at Cork was caused by an inoperative safety valve, yet the Coroner stated that there was no negligence on the part of any person. However as the report stated, safety valves are not inoperative without someone being negligent, and it is the duty of those in charge to see that such valves are free.

On the basis of decisions such these, Mr Fletcher concluded that “The verdict by a coroner’s jury is so constantly one of Accidental death, even though the boiler is worn out and unfit for use, that the coroner’s court becomes to the reckless boiler owner very much what the debtor’s sanctuary in the old days was to the spendthrift”.

John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
Journal of the Society of Arts, No.1,434, Vol.XXVIII, May 14, 1880, pages 588-589 [IOR/L/E/6/19, File 1161]

A description of the Glasgow disaster can be found on Trove

 

13 September 2016

Life at the fringes of empire: Edward Eastwick in Sind

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Edward Eastwick (1814-1883) entered the service of the East India Company at the comparatively late age of 22, arriving in Bombay in the summer of 1836.  This was not Eastwick’s first trip abroad.  Following the unlikely advice of a family doctor and the ‘earnest solicitations’ of his wife, Eastwick’s father Robert had taken his sickly ten-year-old son on a year-long opium-trading voyage to China in 1825. Eastwick caught the travel bug, and probably many others besides.

The privations of this early voyage may have gone some way to prepare Eastwick for his first posting in India as ‘Assistant Political Agent, Upper Sindh’.  After an exhausting two-month journey from Gujarat, by boat, camel and foot, Eastwick arrived at Sukkur on the bank of the Indus and set about securing lodgings.  With daily temperatures hovering around 40°C in the shade, and already suffering from regular bouts of fever, he rejected the canvas tents of the other officers and opted instead to have the long-abandoned tomb of a Mogul Princess cleared of rubbish for his own habitation.  This action seems to have gone down very badly indeed with his new boss, the firebrand Scot, Andrew Ross Bell (1809-1841). Bell, suffering terribly from fever himself, was frequently absent from his post as he attempted to recover his health in the hills at Simla. Before one such sojourn he summoned his new recruit for what Eastwick imagined would be a formal handover of duties.


“I have sent for you,” Bell said, with a thoughtful and anxious air, “to beg you will lay the camel dák with care, and use every exertion in order that the produce of the vegetable garden, particularly green peas, may reach me as often as possible!!” 

Eastwick – not, one senses, a natural gardener – had barely got started with the peas when he received orders to abandon his post and move on to the town of Shikarpore. His commodious tomb was to be replaced by a ‘miserable’ bungalow, ‘densely populated by hordes of ants’.

 

Untold-Lives--Eastwick---Shikarpore-Map

Enclosure to Selections from the records of the Bombay Government, No. XVII - New Series, Vol. II (1855)


Entrusted from arrival with running the Shikarpore post office, treasury and prison, Eastwick was hard pressed to meet Bell’s other sundry requests. ‘You must therefore sink such a number of wells’, began one, particularly demanding order, ‘as shall furnish an ample supply of water for 2000 men and 500 camels.’ Even the most competent administrator would have been challenged, and Eastwick appears to have been anything but.

A constant refrain of the absent Bell was that his assistant seemed unable to keep accurate paperwork. As Bell noted in a hastily scrawled note of September 1840, the Shikarpore diary was ‘very incorrect’. With cholera ravaging his station, an escaped prisoner at large, and a drunken European clerk in residence who was apparently fond of charging around the cantonments at night with a drawn sword, the diary was probably the last thing on Eastwick’s mind.

 

Untold Lives - Eastwick - Your last diary was very incorrect

 IOR/H/797, p. 360.

 

The parties thrown by local worthies may also have proved distracting for the young Lieutenant. Still in recovery for a concussion sustained when riding his camel under a low wooden arch, Eastwick received an invitation to the Minister of Hyderabad’s residence for a nâch. Of the Sindhi dancing girls present, one ‘whose name was “Moonbeam” (Mahtab) was rather pretty’, he ruminated afterwards, ‘but on the whole, there was no great risk of being fascinated’.

 

  Natch girl

WD485 A natch girl (Moonbeam?) of Shikarpore, Sindh - Thomas Postans - c.1838

 
Tom Sharrad
History PhD student, University College London


Further reading:
Eastwick, Robert, A Master Mariner. Being the life and adventures of Captain R. W. Eastwick. Edited by H. Compton, T10930
Eastwick, Edward, Dry Leaves from Young Egypt: Being a glance at Sindh before the arrival of Sir Charles Napier. By an Ex-Political, T37223
Letter Books of Andrew Ross Bell – Political Agent Upper Sind, IOR/H/797-798
Stanley Lane-Poole, ‘Eastwick, Edward Backhouse (1814–1883)’, rev. Parvin Loloi, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008