THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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297 posts categorized "Journeys"

12 December 2017

Journals of Albert Hastings Markham

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Where in the library collections might you find watercolour arctic landscapes, playbills, squashed mosquitoes and first-hand accounts of whaling?

We are pleased to announce that the journals of Sir Albert Hastings Markham (1841-1918) have been processed and are now available to request in the Manuscripts Reading Room, under reference Add MS 89230. The journals were acquired at auction in 2015, drawing on the T S Blakeney Fund and with the generous support of the Friends of the British Library and the Eccles Centres for American Studies.

They cover the period from 1871-1902, during which Markham undertook polar reconnaissance in the Arctic and the Kara Sea, surveyed the conditions in the Hudson Bay for the Canadian Government, participated in the British Arctic Expedition (1875-1876), and served in the Navy in the Torpedo School, Pacific Station, and Mediterranean.

Sleddingscene

A sledging scene under sail, Add MS 89230/2/1 f 136

Importance and writing

Markham’s entries are richly detailed, and he does not shy away from recording his opinions on the behaviour of his crew and the places he visited. His account on the whaling vessel Arctic is probably best not read by those of a sensitive disposition, conjuring up as it does the sights and smells of decks covered with blood, fat and coal dust.

His journal as second in command of the Mediterranean fleet contains his first-hand account of the incident for which he is probably best known – the sinking of the flagship Victoria, following a collision with Markham’s ship Camperdown whilst undertaking manoeuvres off Tripoli.

These journals complement our existing holdings on Arctic research and exploration, from material relating to James Cook’s third voyage and attempts to find the Northwest Passage, and Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition. The British Arctic Expedition of 1875-1876 was in several aspects a precursor of later Antarctic explorations, and Markham’s role leading the sledging team to achieve farthest north makes this a vital first-hand account.

Accompanying materials

The British Arctic Expedition journals (Add MS 89230/2) contain beautiful watercolours and ink sketches of arctic landscapes, wildlife, and fellow crew members.

YeloomYe Loom, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 36

CaninetroopYe canine troop performing a melodious concert, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 82

During the cataloguing process I was pleased to find letters enclosed in the journals, many written by figures in the history of arctic exploration and 19th century naval history, including William Grant (arctic photographer), Captain Antonius de Bruijne (of the Dutch schooner Willem Barents), and Benjamin Leigh Smith. Markham was also careful to collect keepsakes such as dinner menus and playbills for the performances put on by the ship’s company.

ThurspopsProgramme for the Thursday Pops, Add MS 89230/2/1, f 191

The Hudson’s Bay journal (Add MS 89230/4) was partly composed by Markham whilst he journeyed from York Factory to Winnipeg by canoe. Markham and his party were plagued by mosquitoes - “the buzz and the hum of my relentless persecutors – the mosquitoes – will they never tire? Will they ever leave me unmolested?” -  and these flying irritants have literally left their mark on the journal, with folios 115-151 spotted with pressed remains.

MosquitoesJournals with the ick factor, Add MS 89230/4

The catalogue can be found at Search Archives and Manuscripts under collection reference Add MS 89230. We will continue to post images on @BL_ModernMss, so be sure to follow us if you aren’t already.

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

30 November 2017

The journal and drawings of Mary Emma Walter

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Mary Emma Walter’s journal and album of drawings in the India Office Private Papers are two of my favourite collection items.   The illustrated journal describes the voyage to India and her life as an army officer’s wife.  Letters sent to her mother in England have been copied in. The album contains pictures of views, flowers, people, and objects.

Mary Emma was born on 23 July 1816, the daughter of James Battin Coulthard and his wife Mary née Lee. The family lived in Alton, Hampshire, where James served as a magistrate for many years.  On 3 January 1838 Mary Emma married Edward Walter, an officer in the East India Company’s Bombay Light Cavalry, who was on furlough in England.  The journal starts with the couple’s journey back to India in October 1838, travelling via France and Egypt.

   Lyons 1838Lyons 1838 - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Cairo 1838A street in Cairo 1838  - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

The journal gives a fascinating insight into the Walters’ life as the regiment moved around India.  Mary Emma arrived at their new station at Deesa on 15 September 1839 and must have been heavily pregnant throughout the strenuous journey - she tells us that she was ‘unexpectedly confined with a little girl’ three days later.  She left her room on 23 September and resumed her usual amusements, including playing the piano. 

Walter bungalow DeesaThe Walter bungalow at Deesa - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

Unusual events such as an earthquake in April 1840 are described amongst the details of the Walter family’s daily routine. Mary Emma records how her baby was vaccinated against smallpox and how the child lost weight when suffering from the heat.

Mary Emma drew pictures of everyday life in India, both people and objects...

AyahAyah - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Bullock cartBullock cart - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  CarpenterCarpenter - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Pungi muscial instrumentPungi - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

….and buildings and their decorations -

Syed's tomb SukkurSyed’s Tomb at Sukkur - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1
 

Tiles - SukkurTiles at Sukkur - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

…and many beautiful botanical specimens.

Botanical 4India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Botancial 1India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Botanical 3 India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1
         

By the time Mary Emma and Edward took leave to England in 1843, they had two daughters - Emma Frances and Louisa. Two more girls, Mary and Alice, were born during their stay and both were baptised at Bishopstoke in Hampshire.

  Bishopstoke HantsBishopstoke in Hampshire - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

Edward returned to India in December 1846, but Mary Emma stayed on until October 1847 and then travelled back to Bombay with Alice.  Her three other daughters stayed on in England and were educated on the Isle of Wight. A fifth daughter Gertrude was born at Sholapore in 1849.

Mary Emma Walter died at Neemuch on 30 October 1850 aged only 34. She was buried there the following day by the splendidly named Assistant Chaplain, Hyacinth Kirwan.  Edward retired from the Bombay Army in 1851 and returned to England. He married Caroline Janetta Bignell in 1853. The 1861 census shows Edward and Caroline living on the Isle of Wight with their two young sons Herbert and Edward, four of Mary Emma’s daughters, a governess, and five servants. Edward senior died on 10 December 1862. 

Eldest daughter Emma Frances Walter had married Julius Barge Yonge in 1858.  In 1871 her sisters Alice and Gertrude were living with her. Gertrude suffered from chronic rheumatism.  In 1873 Gertrude moved into the home of Julius’s sister, the well-known novelist Charlotte Mary Yonge.  She acted as Charlotte’s secretary/companion until her death in 1897.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Journal and album of Mary Emma Walter (1816-1850) India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1-2
Article on Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) by Elisabeth Jay in the Dictionary of National Biography

 

28 November 2017

Sir Hans Sloane: Physician, Collector and Armchair Traveller

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The Anglo-Irish physician Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) rose in his profession to serve the royal family and became both President of the Royal Society and President of the Royal College of Physicians. Yet, most notably, Sloane was a collector of books, manuscripts and specimens ranging from medicine and natural history to religious tracts and beyond. This immense collection formed the foundation of the British Museum, from which the British Library and the Natural History Museum were later born. An illustrious man of science notwithstanding, these three institutions of knowledge and learning are his greatest legacy.

Sloane’s collection is vast. It contains at least 45,000 printed items, which the British Library’s Sloane Printed Books Catalogue has been meticulously cataloguing in a dedicated online open access database. The physician did not limit his remit to his field, but stretched well beyond it, reflecting the breadth of his interests. Sloane was a keen traveller – albeit largely of the armchair variety.

Having spent a formative educational period in France which also served to polish his command of the language, in 1687 Sloane secured the lucrative opportunity to serve as the personal physician to the newly appointed governor of Jamaica, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle. The two years spent in Jamaica, along with the period spent in France, were the extent of the Sloane’s travels abroad. Yet these limited experiences would nonetheless spark an insatiable interest in travel and the wider world that was expressed in his vast collection.

Figure 1
Some Observations made upon the Molucco Nutts, imported from the Indies, 546.g.18.(1.)

In both diversity of language and topic, Sloane’s Printed Books Collection is a treasure trove of literature on the far reaches of the world. They include medical literature on herbs from distant lands, including a work on ‘Molucco Nuts’ [546.g.18.(1.)] from the East Indies ‘shewing their admirable virtues in curing the Collick‘ and a work on ‘Brazilian Root’ [778.e.41.(12.)] from South America that possesses ‘wonderful virtue against vomiting and loosness’.

Figure2
Some Observations made upon the Brasillian Root, called Ipepocoanha: imported from the Indies, 778.e.41.(12.)

Figure 3
A Full and True Relation of the great and wonderful Revolution that hapned lately in the Kingdom of Siam, in the East-Indies, 582.e.39.

But such medically related works in his travel collection are in fact sparse in comparison to material on trade and beyond. Sloane’s collection contains numerous works on the East India Company and its forays, including a swashbuckling narrative detailing ‘A Full and True Relation of the great and wonderful Revolution that hapned lately in the Kingdom of Siam, in the East-Indies ... And of the expulsion of the Jesuits ... and Soldiers of the French Nation out of that Kingdom’ [582.e.39.]. A curiosity about religions abroad also emerges from Sloane’s catalogue, with a work on religious sects of India described as ‘A Display of two forraigne sects in the East Indies, vizt: the sect of the Banians, the ancient natives of India and the sect of the Persees the ancient inhabitants of Persia’ [696.c.11.(1.)] as well as a work on ‘the Present State of Christianity in China’ [489.g.14.(1.)].

Figure 4
A Display of two forraigne sects in the East Indies, vizt: the sect of the Banians, the ancient natives of India and the sect of the Persees the ancient inhabitants of Persia, 696.c.11.(1.)

Figure 5
A True Account of the Present State of Christianity in China, 489.g.14.(1.)

The colourful collage of Sloane’s interests was so diverse that many a reader’s taste is catered for. Perhaps you too might like to explore and see what you find to interest you in the Sloane Printed Books Catalogue – the database for the original collection, today held largely at the British Library.

Lubaaba Al-Azami
Sloane Printed Books Catalogue

24 November 2017

Dr Elsie Inglis and her father John's teenage misdemeanours

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Delving into the India Office collections sheds new light on the life of a First World War heroine and, more intriguingly, on her father.
 
The woman in question is Elsie Inglis who died 100 years ago, on 26 November 1917. She was, unquestionably, a remarkable individual. Not only was she prominent in the suffragist struggle, but having qualified as a doctor in 1892 during the First World War she went out to Serbia with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service. Undaunted by the patronising attitude of the War Office and a typhus epidemic, after Serbia was invaded in the autumn of 1915 she found herself interned and repatriated. Nevertheless she returned to the fray the following year leading a medical unit in southern Russia and Romania. In April 1916 she became the first woman to be awarded the Serbian Order of the White Eagle.    

  Inglis  Elsie (Wellcome)Image from Dr Elsie Inglis by Lady Frances Balfour (1918) Wellcome Collection    Cc-by

What is less well known is the fact that she was born in Naini Tal, India, on 16 August 1864. Her father John Forbes David Inglis had been posted to India as an East India Company writer in 1841, marrying Elsie’s mother Harriet in Agra on 7 February 1846.  ‘Elsie’ was not, in fact, her real Christian name, as the church register entry shows that she was baptised ‘Eliza Maude’ on 12 October.

  Inglis  Eliza Maude baptismIOR/N/1/110 f. 76 Baptism of Eliza Maude Inglis 1864 Noc

 

A small cache of letters in the private papers collection however, shows that Mr Inglis very nearly didn't make it to India. On 29 May 1839 the Principal of the East India College at Haileybury, Charles Le Bas, wrote to his father:

'It is with unfeigned grief that I have to announce to you, that we have been under the afflicting necessity of rusticating your son for the remainder of the present term. You will doubtless recollect that, on a former occasion (Nov. 1838), I had the painful duty of inflicting on him … a solemn Reprimand & Admonition, for joining a late, and very turbulent party, by which much mischief was done, and several students greatly annoyed and molested. His recent offence is, that … he dined at an Inn at Hoddesdon, and returned to College in a state of very questionable sobriety … '.

  Haileybury K top Vol 15 no. 74‘The South Front of the College at Hailey-Bury, Herts’: K top Vol 15 no. 74 Noc

The reply penned by Inglis Senior has not survived, but the Principal’s letter of 1 June shows that he was very reluctant to expel the young man:

'That the intelligence, which it was my misfortune to communicate, has "cut you to the heart" I can most readily understand. For, there is no hypocrisy in saying, that it has had almost the same effect upon my Colleagues and myself! … I do most ardently hope that your son will return to us, impressed with the necessity, - and, let me add, with the facility, of avoiding , in future, all such trifling with his own good, and with your peace of mind … '. 
 
Clearly his elders and betters made young Inglis see the error of his ways, otherwise Elsie might never have been born!

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
Leah Leneman, In the service of life: the story of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (Edinburgh, 1994) – shelfmark YK.1995.b.6352
Margot Lawrence, Shadow of swords: a biography of Elsie Inglis (London, 1971) shelfmark – X.329/4826)
IOR/N/1/110 f.76 – baptism of Eliza Maude Inglis available online via findmypast
IOR/J/1/57 ff.213-230 - East India College papers of John Forbes David Inglis available online via findmypast
IOR/N/1/69f.44 - marriage of John Forbes David Inglis to Harriet Lowis Thompson available online via findmypast
India Office Private Papers - Mss.Eur.B164 Davis Deas Inglis Papers

 

16 November 2017

Scandalous and formidable Lady Holland

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Elizabeth Vassall Fox, Lady Holland, is known as the celebrated hostess at Holland House, Kensington. Wife of Whig politician Henry Richard Fox, 3rd Baron Holland, she gathered together the greats of political and literary society for her famous ‘salon’. Their circle were known as the ‘Holland House set’, with the guests being meticulously recorded in her Dinner Books.

Lady Holland kept a journal from 1791 to 1815, documenting her lengthy continental journeys as well as her time in England. She hero worshipped Napoleon Bonaparte, despite her country being at war with him! She preferred male company but had female friends, including other notorious ladies, such as Lady Bessborough, Lady Caroline Lamb and Lady Oxford. Her own scandalous early life, involving adultery during her disastrous first marriage, divorce and an illegitimate child, could have resulted in disgrace but Lady Holland surmounted these obstacles to become a dazzling success in society.

Portrait of Elizabeth at NaplesEngraving of the portrait of Elizabeth at Naples in 1793 (Vesuvius in the background) by Robert Fagan © National Portrait Gallery, London

Born in 1771, daughter of Richard Vassall and Mary Clarke, Elizabeth was beautiful, intelligent and vivacious, and heiress to a considerable fortune. Aged fifteen, she was married off to the much older Sir Godfrey Webster, a mismatch made in hell. They had five children. Desperate for foreign travel, she persuaded Webster to take her on a tour of Europe that lasted several years. She ignored her husband, throwing herself into a busy social life and the admiration of many men. One was Thomas Pelham, who remained besotted even after their affair was over, writing to her frequently.

In 1794, in Naples, Elizabeth met the love of her life, Henry Richard Fox. Not quite love at first sight- she disliked his suntan and initially seemed to prefer his friend Lord Granville. But soon they were smitten with each other and inseparable until his death in 1840.

BL Add MS 51927Elizabeth’s first impressions of Lord Holland, from her journal of 3rd February 1794 (Add MS 51927, ff.124v-125). She describes him as “not in the least handsome” and having “many personal defects, but his pleasingness of manner and liveliness of conversation get over them speedily. He has just returned from Spain, and his complexion partakes of the Moresco hue”. She is concerned about his “very complex disorder, called an ossification of the muscles in his left leg”.

She gave birth to Lord Holland’s son, Charles Richard Fox, in November 1796. Webster divorced her on 4 July 1797. He was awarded Elizabeth’s entire fortune of £7000 per annum, £6000 ‘damages’ from Holland and custody of the children. In 1796 Elizabeth had devised a plan to keep hold of at least her daughter Harriet by successfully faking the child’s illness, death and funeral in Italy. The secret came out in 1799 and Harriet was restored to Webster.

Add MS 36370 North East View Holland HouseNorth East View of Holland House, June 10th 1812. Drawing by John Buckler (Add MS 36370, ff.105-106).

On 6 July 1797 Lady Webster became Lady Holland and settled into her happy second marriage, with further children born. The couple began entertaining on a grand scale, attracting illustrious and numerous guests, and the Holland House set was born. Guests included the Prince of Wales, Whig politicians, literary figures such as Sheridan, Byron, Dickens and Wordsworth, and continental luminaries.

Add MS 51957 dinner bookDinner-book entry for the day Lady Holland died, and those who dined on the following days, written by her devoted servant, Harold Doggett (Add MS 51957, ff.186v-187). He had been writing the records, hence the ‘post mortem’ entries. Lady Lilford is her daughter Mary Elizabeth and Colonel Fox is her son Charles Richard Fox.

Lady Holland had a reputation for being an imperious battle-axe, who alienated people and dominated her husband. The latter showed no objection to her ruling the roost, as long as she didn’t interfere with his politics. She fell out with Lady Caroline Lamb when she objected to the affair her eldest son Godfrey was having with the married, deranged and promiscuous Caroline. Lady Caroline got her revenge by lampooning Elizabeth as the ‘princess of Madagascar’ in her novel Glenarvon. The nickname ‘Old Madagascar’ stuck!

Zoë Stansell
Manuscripts Reference Specialist

Further reading:

The Holland House Papers are held in the British Library Manuscripts Collections: Add MS 51318-52254

The papers of the 3rd Lord & Lady Holland (437 volumes) are referenced: Add MS 51520-51957

Items relating to Lady Holland, I have touched upon above, are: General Correspondence of (letters to) Lady Holland: Add MS 51845-51856

Lady Holland’s Journals: Add MS 51926-51940

Holland House Dinner Books: Add MS 51950-51957

Sonia Keppel, The Sovereign Lady (1974)

Earl of Ilchester, The Journal of Elizabeth Lady Holland (1908)

C.J. Wright, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography articles on ‘Lady Holland’ and the ‘Holland House set’. The online ODNB is a subscription database, available on British Library reading room computers.

 

02 November 2017

The last will and testament of an Indian wife

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It was not unusual for British men working in India in the 18th and early 19th centuries to have Indian wives or companions.  But it was very unusual for these women to leave any written record, for example a last will and testament at their death.  So we were excited to discover a copy will in the India Office Records for Catharine Foy, a ‘Christian native woman’, who died in Calcutta on 4 April 1827 aged 50. 

  Foy Catharine will

 Will of Catharine Foy IOR/L/AG/34/29/51 p.245  Noc

Catharine was the partner of Andrew Foy, an Irish labourer from Dublin who enlisted as a soldier in the East India Company’s Bengal Army in 1792. The couple had two children: Bridget, born in about 1802, and William baptised at Sultanpur on 29 September 1805.

Andrew Foy married Juliana More at Meerut in November 1806. He stated that he was a widower although Catharine was still alive. At the time of her death in 1827 Catherine was living in the barracks at Coolie Bazar, the area of Kolkata just outside Fort William now known as Hastings. 

  Calcutta from Fort William Ktop CXV 46-a

 Detail from aquatint of a view of Calcutta from Fort William 1807 engraved by Duburgh, British Library K Top CXV no.46a  Noc

Catharine died of cholera at the home of Ann Greene.  She put her mark to the will on the day of her death. Catharine bequeathed a sum of 1,200 sicca rupees held by Alexander & Co and all her personal property in equal shares to her ‘dearly beloved grandchildren’.  Her daughter Bridget was married to Ralph Salt, conductor in the Ordnance Department, and by 1827 they had two sons Samuel Ralph and George.  Catharine’s son William was a sub-assistant veterinary surgeon with the Bengal Army stationed at Neemuch.  He and his wife Mary Connor had two children at this time, Daniel Rodolphus and Elizabeth Matilda (referred to as Julia Matilda in the copy of the will).

William Foy applied for probate of his mother’s will in November 1832 about six months after he returned from duty in the Upper Provinces.  He was now an apothecary at the General Hospital in the Calcutta suburbs. Catherine’s personal belongings consisted of a few clothes and some jewellery valued at about 150 rupees. The estate was shared between the four grandchildren named in the will and those born since it was made.
 
No mention is made of Andrew Foy in the papers dealing with Catharine’s estate.  Andrew had seven children with Juliana and another five from his subsequent marriage in 1831 to Johanna Hanly (née Bonnar).  He died on 14 December 1839 at Delhi, a conductor in the Bengal Ordnance Commissariat Department.  Andrew’s will made bequests to Johanna and to his children by her, Catharine, and Juliana.

  Foy William

William Foy (1805-1866) - photograph courtesy of the Foy family.

Catharine Foy has a large number of descendants.  Four of Bridget’s six children survived to adulthood; William had eleven children by two wives.  William retired from the Subordinate Medical Service in 1857 and set up as a ‘Practising Physician’ in Calcutta.  Many of the Salts and Foys had careers with the East India Company or India Office, some very distinguished; others went into business and were successful.

This rare document gives a voice to Catharine and allows her to be brought out of the shadows.  By telling us exactly who her children and grandchildren were, Catharine has placed herself firmly in the Foy family tree!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Will of Catharine Foy IOR/L/AG/34/29/51 pp.245-252
Will of Andrew Foy IOR/L/AG/34/29/62 pp.151-156
India Office Records wills, baptisms, marriages and burials have been digitised and are available through the British in India collection on findmypast

The Davisons of Northumberland and Bengal

Gerald Wellesley's secret family

 

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 

 

 

24 October 2017

English Nabob amasses a fortune from salt in Bengal

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Anselm Beaumont, an apothecary, arrived in Calcutta as a Free Merchant in 1753 with a chest of Mediterranean coral beads valued at £500. He was aged 38. He lost everything in the Siege of 1756 and was appointed a Factor in the East India Company 'because of his honourable conduct and his great losses in the late general calamity'. He was lent £1000 by each of his friends.

By 1759 he had risen to Senior Merchant and was the Provincial Military Store Keeper which included responsibility for the Mint. In 1763 he was appointed Resident in Midnapore with the task of building the new Fort. The British Library holds a transcript of his Letterbooks containing 217 business letters written between April 1763 and his death in 1776. These reveal that his major mercantile concern was the distribution of salt throughout West Bengal, some on his own behalf and some in partnership with other East India Company officials. A reasonable estimate is that he was distributing at least 10,000 tons a year making a profit of £10,000. He also dealt in opium for China, precious stones and coral imported from leading London jewellers and Indian textiles for export to England, as well as many other commodities.

Fort William in the Kingdom of Bengal
An 18th-century view of Fort William Bengal by Jan van Ryne, 1754 (P464)

He returned to England in 1765 with a fortune probably exceeding £70,000 since he bought Cheadle Park in Staffordshire for £30,000 as a buy-to-let investment. He had considerable problems in recovering his assets when the EIC stopped issuing company bills, resorting to French bills, diamonds and even a respondentia bond on a camel caravan between Basra and Aleppo. He was a close friend of Robert Clive, was portrayed in Benjamin West’s portrait of 'Lord Clive receiving the Grant of the Diwani', and accompanied him in 1773-74 on his travels to France and Italy, where Beaumont purchased 24 antique Roman sculptures, some of which were later purchased by Charles Townley and Lyde Browne for their collections.

The Grant of the Diwani
The Grant of the Diwani by Benjamin West, 1818 (Foster 29)
Beaumont is probably shown on the left side of the painting, head and shoulders in a black suit between an Indian in a turban and a young Englishman in red. He was not present at the ceremony but Clive asked for him to be included in the portrait.

The letters do contain some social news. When asked to make arrangements for a Miss Hyett he writes 'We have at present on hand 8 or 9 spinsters of a former importation not yet disposed & many of this year that I fear will be disappointed in their expectations I hope it will not be Miss Hyett’s Case'. Fortunately four months later he was able to write: 'Miss Hyett has not much depended on the Golden Tales she may have heard of Bengal as she thought proper to engage herself to Capt Pigou before her Arrival & was married soon after'.

 Thomaswaters
Letter from Beaumont to East India Company director Thomas Waters, 16th February 1764 (author's own collection)

After his death, Beaumont’s 'Household furniture, some pictures, china, fine linen, rich wardrobe and other valuable effects' were auctioned by James Christie in a two-day sale followed by a one day sale of his 'Well chosen library in fine condition'. The catalogues show that the six principal rooms in his Argyle Street house were lavishly furnished and his wardrobe included fifteen silk suits, four waistcoats and 140 shirts, of which 66 had not been worn!

Peter Covey-Crump
Independent researcher

Further reading:
P A K Covey-Crump. Typescript transcript of Anselm Beaumont’s letterbooks, 1763-1764, British Library Mss Eur F574