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Untold lives blog

322 posts categorized "Journeys"

20 June 2018

Seeking Wartime Employment: Bertram Thomas and Frank Smythe

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

  IOR L PS 12 300 f.72Telegram from Bertram Thomas to John Charles Walton at the India Office, 27 August 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/300, f 72) Noc

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

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

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

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

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

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

IOR L PS 12 300 f.66Letter from Frank Smythe to John Charles Walton of the India Office Political Department, 23 September 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/300, f 66) Noc

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

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

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

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

 

18 June 2018

Captain Cook and the ‘Friendly Islands’?

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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.

 

 

12 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

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

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

08 June 2018

Destitute Indian Women in 1930s Damascus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louis Allday
Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist

 

24 May 2018

‘The reason why the sword must not be packed without the scabbard’

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Swords and scabbards were the subject of a letter received by Robert James, Secretary to the East India Company, from Thomas Hatcher at the Tower of London on 24 November 1764.

IOR E 1 45 f 565IOR/E/1/45, f 565, Letter 279 from Thomas Hatcher to Robert James 24 Nov 1764  Noc

Thomas Hatcher was a Master Furbisher of His Majesty’s Ordnance at the Tower of London.  He worked for the Board of Ordnance, the government department responsible for supplying munitions and equipment to the Army and Navy.  The Board also provided the East India Company with such supplies.

Hatcher’s warning to the company in his letter was that the scabbards were at risk of shrinking if the swords were not in them during shipping and that they therefore might not fit when reunited on arrival.  The Company’s intention to number each corresponding sword and scabbard and pack them separately simply would not do.  The swords and scabbards were being packed for shipping on board the East India Company’s ships to be used by Company regiments in the East Indies.

Foster979-2Ami Chand ('Ummeechund'), a trooper in Skinner's Horse who saved the life of William Fraser in 1819. British Library Foster 979 Images Online 

Scabbards in the 18th century were primarily made of leather, as it was considered more durable and elastic than wood.  Although Hatcher does not specify why the scabbards would be at risk of shrinking, it was most likely the risk of them getting wet on board ship and drying over a period of time, or being exposed to hot temperatures as the journey to India could take several months.  Either of these scenarios could cause the leather to shrink, and if the swords were not kept in their scabbards they could shrink so far that they would no longer fit on arrival in India. The swords being kept in their scabbards would ensure that they could only shrink around the sword and would therefore still be useable by the soldiers for whom they were intended.

Hatcher additionally warned in his letter of the risks of cuts and injuries from handling unsheathed swords 'they being Sharp on Edge & thick on the back'.  Those removing the unsheathed swords from their packing crates in India could risk serious injury if they handled the wrong edge of the blade.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
British Library, IOR/E/1/45, f 565, Letter 279 from Thomas Hatcher to Robert James 24 Nov 1764
The National Archives, PROB/11/977/167: Will of Thomas Hatcher, Master Furbisher of His Majesty’s Ordnance at the Tower of London, proved 11 May 1772

 

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

 

11 May 2018

Captain Cook's house – a space in memory

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Long before the East End became London's working-class quarter, it had a different character.  Walk along the Mile End Road today, you can spot surviving signs of elegance.  By the 1760s the area was becoming built up, with the City spreading its tentacles towards it, but it was still a semi-rural district for comfortably-off people.

It was convenient for those whose interests lay in ships, with the wharfs along the Thames not far off.  A property developer acquired a strip of land in between Mile End Green, and what would later become Jubilee Street, and called his new terrace Assembly Row.  In 1764 a sixty-one year lease on the eight-roomed end house was bought by James Cook.

Cook  James Add_ms_23920_f002rPortrait of  Captain James Cook British Library Add MS 23920 Images Online

He had been living in then-rural Shadwell, with his young wife Elizabeth and their first child, a son who had been born while he was away on his exploratory voyage round Newfoundland.  Now, four years and three more children later, and well established with the Royal Society, he was preparing for the first of his great journeys to the Pacific.  He insured the house for £250, his household goods for another £200, and the family's clothing and silver for additional amounts.  Since £50 a year was then a sufficient income for a modestly respectable family lifestyle, with a servant, these sums suggest considerable comfort.

The voyage Cook set out on in 1768 did not bring him back to the house in the Mile End Road for three years.  He was off again in 1772 and again in 1776, which was the journey that finally carried him to an inglorious death off Hawaii.  His wife did not get the news of this till 1781, by which time their eldest son, a teenage midshipman, had tragically drowned.  She inherited the house and contents and received a pension for life from the king of £200 a year.

Cook Elizabeth - Mitchell LibraryPortrait said to be Elizabeth Cook aged 81 by W Henderson  - image courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (recent research has challenged whether this is Mrs Cook).

When Elizabeth herself died, over fifty years later, she had long since moved away from the Mile End Road, which had become entirely urban.  In the 19th century the Cook house, like the neighbouring ones, had a shop built out on the ground floor - women's clothing, with `corsets a speciality', later a kosher butcher. 

Cook House 2 sendCaptain Cook's house c.1940- image courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives 

An LCC plaque commemorating Cook was put up in 1907, but the house was pulled down in 1958 under the Greater London Plan, when two-thirds of Stepney was demolished in the name of Progress. 

Cook House 1 sendThe site of Captain Cook's house today  - image courtesy of Spitalfields Life

Yet the rest of the terrace survived, and is there, protected, to this day.  Sixty years on, with the old London boroughs long superseded, one can only speculate on this bizarre circumstance.  It is thought there was an intention to widen the alley alongside the house, but this never happened.  Nothing significant has ever come to occupy the empty plot.

Gillian Tindall
Writer and historian

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

 

26 April 2018

Charlotte Canning’s burning tent

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On the night of 11-12 December 1859, the Governor General of India Charles Canning, his wife, and extensive entourage were encamped outside Deeg, en route to Delhi.  Just after midnight, Charlotte Canning awoke to find the tent she was sleeping in ablaze.  The stove being used to heat the tent had set it on fire.  Lady Canning quickly sounded the alarm, and raced to remove her most precious belongings from the path of the fire.

 Charlotte-Canning-ne-Stuart-Countess-Canning 2Charlotte Canning (née Stuart), Countess Canning by William Henry Egleton, after John Hayter (1839) © National Portrait Gallery, London

It was no ordinary tent, and no camping holiday.  The Governor General was taking part in a grand progress through Oudh (Awadh) and the Punjab.  It was the first time Charles Canning had travelled beyond Calcutta and Allahabad.  The uprising known as the 'Indian Mutiny' had begun in early 1857, and peace was not deemed to have been restored to India until mid-1858.  The tour enabled the Cannings to see more of India and to take part in a series of Durbars or ceremonial gatherings.  The Governor General conferred official thanks and gifts upon local rulers and dignitaries who had remained faithful to the British.

Howdah X108(42)The Governor-General's state howdah from William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern (1867) X108(42) Online Gallery Noc

Charlotte Canning was not averse to travel.  Her papers include a number of diaries from European tours in the 1840s, including those she had taken with the Royal family in her position as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria.  In 1858, while the Governor General was in Allahabad, she travelled to Madras to visit the hill stations at Coonoor and Ootacamund.  One particular viewpoint is still known as ‘Lady Canning's seat’, a point where she sketched and painted the Nilgiris.  However, Lady Canning did not particularly enjoy being in camp.  She wrote to her mother: 'A tent is not pleasant with the walls shaking, the dust coming in, and draughts kept out with the greatest difficulty. I like seeing new places and can bear anything, but cannot the least see the delights of camp-life' (Agra, 4 Dec 1859, Mss Eur F699/2/1/17).

So, what did Charlotte Canning rescue from her burning tent?  We know she left her clothes as they were all destroyed and she had to borrow some from Lady Campbell.  She didn't think to rescue her jewellery at first, only later remembering to send an officer to rescue the boxes.  Many items needed professional cleaning on the Canning’s return to Calcutta, and receipts survive from jewellers Allan and Hayes.  A number of rings were actually stolen in the mayhem, turning up later in Calcutta when the culprit attempted to sell them. 

Image of Charlotte Canning's jewelleryCharlotte Canning’s jewellery from file Mss Eur F699/2/5/31 ‘Papers relating to Purchases and Commissions’ Noc

Charlotte Canning pulled out from her tent the things most precious to her – her personal papers, letters, diaries and paintings. She managed to extract the boxes, and must have been relieved to do so - only to witness a burning tent awning fall on the precious items that had not been moved far enough away. 

 Mss Eur F699-2-2-2-3Charlotte Canning’s Diary, Jun-Dec 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/3 Noc

Traces of the fire remain in the collection. Her diaries were badly burned, and letters to Queen Victoria charred.  The British Library Conservation Centre has been working on this damaged material to make it available to researchers.  Loose correspondence and papers have been treated, and Lady Canning's Indian diaries will be fully conserved in the coming year. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Mss Eur F699/2 Papers of Charlotte, Lady Canning
Mss Eur D661 Charlotte Canning Memorial Album
Charles Allen, A glimpse of the burning plain: leaves from the journals of Charlotte Canning (London: Joseph, 1986)
Virginia Surtees, Charlotte Canning (London: J. Murray, 1975)
Augustus Hare, The Story of Two Noble Lives: being memorials of Charlotte, Countess Canning and Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford (London: George Allen, 1893)

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Papers of Charles and Charlotte Canning