THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

5 posts categorized "Humanities"

27 October 2017

Paper bag reveals forgotten history

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This 130 year old paper bag reveals that Indian sweetmeats were being sold in London in the late 19th century, much earlier than most people would expect. This lovely piece of ephemera is one of my favourite items in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It is one of many items in the exhibition that illuminate the forgotten story of early South Asian influences on British life and culture.
  Item 29 Evan.9195 paper bag
Evan.9195

The paper bag is at the British Library thanks to the enthusiasms of Henry Evans, a conjuror and ventriloquist, who performed under the stage name ‘Evanion’. He collected this bag as well as posters, advertisements, trade cards and catalogues which give lively insights into popular entertainment and everyday life in the late 19th century. Connecting Stories also features this beautiful poster which gives more details of the Indian themed entertainments on offer at Langham Place – snake charmers, wrestlers and dancers known as nautch girls.

Item 28 Evan.2591 India in London
Evan.2591

A review in The Era newspaper for 16 January 1886 tells us that this ‘exhibition of Indian arts, industries and amusements’ was held under the auspices of Lord Harris, Under Secretary of State for India. The entertainments included a pageant representing the durbar or levée of an Indian potentate. The reviewer was most derogatory about this, complaining bitterly that he could not understand it because it was conducted in Indian languages. He was also unimpressed by the music, declaring that a performer on a tom-tom ‘rapped away like an undertaker on a coffin’! He was much more enthusiastic about a silent comedy sketch and the arts and crafts on display. The reviewer instructs his readers that ‘visitors to India in London should not leave without tasting the quaint Indian sweetmeats made at a stall in the gallery’ which may have been the treats destined for the paper bag at the British Library.

Despite being held under the auspices of the Under Secretary of State for India, all was not well with the organisation of the entertainments at Langham Place. The St. James’s Gazette for 19 February 1886 discloses that Mr W S Rogers of the India in London exhibition was charged with ‘having kept open that building as a place of public resort without first having complied with the requirements of the Metropolitan Board of Works’. Furthermore, it was ‘unfitted for the reception of the public with due regard to their safety from fire, and that the real and only remedy was to pull down the building and erect a new one.’ He was fined £50. Concerns for health and safety evidently came to London earlier than one might have imagined, as well as Indian sweetmeats.

Connecting Stories with logos

Exhibition details are on the Library of Birmingham website 

Penny Brook
India Office Records

Further reading
Evanion catalogue  
British Newspaper Archive 
Asians in Britain web pages

Untold Lives blogs about Connecting Stories:
Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage 
Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England 

 

 

17 October 2017

The life and loves of a ‘tremendous literary rebel’, Michael Madhusudan Dutt

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Dutt’s colourful life included romantic adventures, a change of religion and travel to Britain and France, in keeping with a man describing himself as ‘a tremendous literary rebel’. His exceptional creative talent led his biographer Ghulam Murshid to praise him as ‘the father of modern Bengali poetry’.

Item 14 add_or_5606 compressed
Michael Madhusudan Dutt, (1824-73)
Watercolour on ivory. Undated
Add.Or.5606

Around 1833, Dutt and his Hindu parents moved to Calcutta where his father’s success enabled him to provide his son with a good education. The young Dutt entered a world of culture and debate. He began his own writing career and developed a love of English literature and a longing to visit Britain. Towards the end of 1842 he was horrified when his parents began to plan an arranged marriage for him, declaring ‘I wish (Oh! I really wish) that somebody would hang me!’ Shortly afterwards, Dutt converted to Christianity, possibly motivated at least in part by a wish to evade the marriage.

Dutt baptism 1843 cropped
Dutt’s baptism at the Old Church, Fort William, 09 Feb 1843
IOR/N/1/64 f.101

Obliged to leave Hindu College after his conversion, he continued his studies at Bishop’s College, still supported by his parents, but unfortunately a rift later developed between him and his father. In December 1847 he left Calcutta for Madras where he struggled to find employment until the father of Charles Eggbert Kennet, an old friend from Bishop’s College, helped him to obtain a post teaching at the Madras Orphan Asylum. Aged twenty-four, in 1848 Dutt married seventeen year old Rebecca Thompson from the Madras Female Orphan Asylum. Today, a relationship between a teacher and a pupil would be considered scandalous, but early marriage was then considered entirely respectable for young women such as Rebecca. The Kennet family seem to have remained on good terms with the young Dutts as they appear as witnesses to the baptism of their daughter Bertha Blanche Kennet Dutt. Their contemporaries were much more concerned by the fact that Dutt, an Indian man, was marrying a girl of British descent, as this was possibly the first time that this was known to have happened.

BL-BIND-005137759-00313 cropped
Bertha Blanche Kennet Dutt’s baptism at St Mark’s Church, Madras (Black Town), 15 Nov 1849
IOR/N/2/C/2 f.130

Dutt and Rebecca had four children together, but when he returned to Calcutta after his father’s death in 1855, he left her and started a new life with another European lady, Henrietta Sophia White. Finally achieving his dream of studying law in England, he was called to the bar in London though he and Henrietta spent much time in France. They eventually died within a few days of each other in Calcutta in 1873. I do not know what became of the unfortunate Rebecca and her children.

The watercolour of Michael Madhusudan Dutt is on display in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. The exhibition and community engagement are a partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours and events are on the Library of Birmingham website

Connecting Stories with logos

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and curator of Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage


Further reading
Ghulam Murshid, Lured by hope: a biography of Michael Madhusudan Dutt / by Ghulam Murshid; translated from Bengali by Gopa Majumdar, ( New Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2003)
Michael Madhusudan Dutt, The heart of a rebel poet : letters of Michael Madhusudan Dutt / edited by Ghulam Murshid, (New Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004)
Clinton B Seely, The slaying of Meghanada : a Ramayana from colonial Bengal / Michael Madhusudan Datta ; translated with an introduction by Clinton B. Seely, (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004)

Find My Past for British India Office collections 
Asians in Britain 

Untold Lives blogs:
Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage 
Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England
Bevin Indian Trainees during the Second World War 
East India Company trade with the East Indies 
Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold 
First World War Indian soldiers' letters in 'Connecting Stories' exhibition 

14 August 2017

Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold

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The first Indian man to play cricket for England, KS Ranjitsinhji, was described in these glowing terms in a song written in his honour. His cricketing career in England began while he was studying in Cambridge. He played for Sussex from 1895 to 1904 and for England against Australia from 1896 to 1902.

Ranji - Driving MBM 1896

KS Ranjitsinhji, Mirror of British Merchandise, 1896

In 1899 he achieved an amazing first for cricketers – over 3,000 runs in one year. Incredibly, he managed to repeat this in 1900. The Ranji song is featured in the British Library’s Asians in Britain web pages where you can learn more about his life. The web pages were initially developed through projects led by Professor Susheila Nasta of the Open University, including Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad, 1870-1950  

The Asians in Britain web pages tell the story of the long history of people from South Asia in Britain and the contributions they have made to British culture and society. They include ayahs (nannies), lascar seamen, politicians, campaigners such as suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, scientists and authors. The web pages also highlight the vital contribution people from South Asia made during the world wars.

Naoroji portrait MBM 1892
Dadabhai Naoroji, elected MP for Finsbury, 1892
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892

The Ranji song is among many fascinating and beautiful items currently on display in an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham, Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage.

Connecting Stories with logos - small

For further details about the exhibition, events and opening hours please see the Library of Birmingham’s website. The exhibition and community engagement programme continue the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages 
Making Britain Database 
#ConnectingStories

Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, (London, 2002)
Susheila Nasta with Florian Stadtler, Asian Britain: a photographic history, (London, 2013)
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892, 1896 Reference: 14119.f.37

20 July 2017

Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England

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Miss Jenny and another cheetah came to England in 1764. They were part of a collection of animals despatched from India by George Pigot, the Governor of Madras, who had made a vast collection of foreign curiosities, ‘particularly wild beasts’. The cheetahs were fortunate to survive the long voyage which sadly proved fatal to many of the animals.

00158-cheetah
Cheetah from Seringapatam, India, 1794
NHD 32/3


The cheetahs and their Indian handlers were temporarily taken in by the Duke of Cumberland who had been an enthusiastic collector of exotic animals which he kept at Windsor until a tiger escaped and mauled and killed a young boy. The tragic incident led him to send his exotic animals to the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London. Sometimes he still took temporary care of animals on their way to new homes, including the cheetahs brought to England by George Pigot.
On 30 June 1764 the Duke of Cumberland organised an event at Great Windsor Park to put one of these visiting ‘tyger-cats’ on show. The cheetah was set loose to hunt a stag that had been placed in the Park but the demonstration of the cheetah’s hunting skills did not initially go well. After being tossed by the stag’s antlers the cheetah broke free, evaded the netting meant to confine it, and escaped into the forest where it proceeded to kill a roe deer. The Indian handlers caught the cheetah and let it feed on its prey. Manchester Art Gallery has a painting by George Stubbs of the cheetah at Windsor.


One cheetah was sold and one was presented to the King as a gift for the Royal Menagerie. A report on the Royal Menagerie from the early 1770s records not only that the cheetah was still there, but that it had been affectionately named by the Keeper of the Royal Menagerie as ‘Miss Jenny’. The two cheetahs’ Indian handler, known as John Morgan, had less respectful treatment. He was the victim of a theft while he was in England.


Miss Jenny now has a different incarnation as the cheetah guiding children around the History Detectives family trail in a new exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage.

Cheetah for Twitter

This family-friendly exhibition tells the story of the close connections between Britain and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1600 to the present day. It shows how those connections have influenced our food, culture, fashion, politics and heritage and made us who we are today.

LANDSCAPE SCREENS 1920 x 1080 PXLS


The exhibition is at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It was created in partnership with the British Library and generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours, events and family days are on the Library of Birmingham website.


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and curator of the exhibition


Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records


Further information
Caroline Grigson Menagerie: The history of Exotic Animals in England, (Oxford University Press, 2016)
Old Bailey Online 
Asians in Britain web pages 
Library of Birmingham
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

 

13 July 2017

Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage

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LANDSCAPE SCREENS 1920 x 1080 PXLS


This family-friendly exhibition, launching on 15 July, will tell the story of the close connections between Britain and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1600 to the present day. It will show how those connections have influenced our food, culture, fashion, politics and heritage and made us who we are today.

Item 67 - Sophia Duleep Singh selling Suffragette 1913The exhibition continues the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham, bringing together their rich and complementary collections to illustrate this important but little-known aspect of British and local history. There will be over 100 exhibits which highlight many different voices from the past.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh is one of many people who will feature in the exhibition. (Image from IOR/L/PS/11/52, P1608)

Exhibits include letters, posters, photographs, advertisements, surveillance files, campaigning materials, oral history,music, and even a children’s game and a 19th century paper bag for Indian sweets. I and my co-curator of the exhibition, John O’Brien, hope that the variety of exhibits will prompt visitors to consider the many ways that history is

recorded and how gaps and silences can be filled.

The exhibition aims to capture Birmingham's importance in global trade and as a centre of industry.

Item 85 - 14119_f_37__MBM_D B Harris_advert

Mirror of British Merchandise, 1888

The Library of Birmingham's collections include stunning images by local photographers past and present which will be showcased in the exhibition. The image below is a photograph by Paul Hill of the Dudley & Dowell foundry at Cradley Heath, 1972, Library of Birmingham MS2294/1/1/9/1. (Image courtesy of Paul Hill.)

Item 92 Foundry worker by Paul Hill

 Capturing images of Birmingham’s richly diverse community is an important part of the exhibition and engagement programme. A selection of photographs will be included in the exhibition to give a vivid picture of Birmingham and all the people who live there today. Anyone in Birmingham can get involved now by sending their photograph via Twitter #brumpeeps. Exhibition visitors are also invited to ‘make their mark’ and share their own stories. 


Please see the Library of Birmingham's website for activities throughout the duration of the exhibition, such as family days, oral history training and talks at local libraries. 

The exhibition and community engagement programme have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator 


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages
Library of Birmingham website for details of opening hours and events
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps