Untold lives blog

33 posts categorized "Money"

18 July 2017

A Court Martial in India

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Here’s a second instalment in the life of John Thompson born in Antwerp on the tenth day of Floreal, Year Twelve.

Thompson was appointed as ensign in the East India Company’s Bombay Army on 27 March 1821 and arrived in India in August that year.  He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the European Regiment on 10 June 1822.  An uneventful spell of ten years’ service passed.

Bombay Noc
'Bombay on the Malabar Coast belonging to the East India Company of England.' Reduced version of the engraving by Jan Van Ryne of 1754. Online Gallery 

However on 22 April 1831 the commanding officer of the regiment suddenly ordered an immediate inspection of the money bags and account books of each company.  Thompson was paymaster of his company but was unable to attend the audit as he was unwell.  He ordered his Pay Sergeant to make out the men’s accounts and to insert a debt of 707 rupees owed by Thompson. 

Later that day, Thompson was arrested. He tendered money to pay the debt but this was refused.  On 9 June 1831 he appeared at a Court Martial held in camp near Deesa charged with embezzlement.

Thompson was charged for conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman in having embezzled monies entrusted to him for the payment of the men of the 6th Company under his charge. The Court found Thompson guilty of embezzlement but without intent to defraud.  It acquitted him of ungentlemanlike conduct.  He was sentenced to be dismissed from East India Company service and was ordered to make good the deficiency.  The verdict was accompanied by a unanimous appeal for mercy as the members of the Court felt that the punishment they were compelled to award was disproportionate to the degree of offence committed.

Major General J S Barns, Commander of the Forces, confirmed the punishment but put on record his marked disapprobation of the Court’s finding that the embezzlement of public money was not conduct unbecoming the character of a gentleman.  Thompson was struck off the strength and ordered to take passage to England.

In November 1832 Thompson wrote to the Company Directors in London asking to be restored to the service.  On 29 January 1833 his request was rejected.  But the Company decided to grant him an annual allowance of £50 because of the Court Martial recommendation for mercy, the strength of testimonials produced by Thompson, and his distressed situation.

  IOR D 87 p318
IOR/D/87 p.318 East India Company Committee of Correspondence consideration of John Thompson’s case Noc

When John Thompson’s father William made his will on 8 December 1832, he directed his trustees to apply funds from his estate to support and maintain his son John for life.  John’s share of another bequest in the will was to be held in trust for him, rather then paid directly as was the case with his three brothers.  William Thompson was clearly concerned to protect his son from further financial mishaps.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/12/69 no. 31 - Record of service for John Thompson
IOR/L/MIL/17/4/401 pp.68-69 Bombay General Orders – Court Martial of Lt John Thompson
IOR/D/87 pp.316-318 East India Company Committee of Correspondence consideration of John Thompson’s case
IOR/B/185 pp. 128, 392 Court of Directors minutes about Thompson's case

East India Company records series IOR/B and IOR/D are now available as a digital resource.


13 August 2015

You can’t keep a good man down!

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In July 1947 the India Independence Act decreed that the dominions of India and Pakistan would be created on 15 August 1947.  British officers of the Indian Army faced the termination of  their careers and had to consider their future as civilians.  The Journal of the United Service Institution of India published an article by ‘G.B.S.’ entitled ‘You can’t keep a good man down!’ offering practical advice to this group of men.

From listening to casual conversations, ‘G.B.S.’ believed many officers were taking a pessimistic view of their chance in civil life. Official advice was well-intentioned but unhelpful as it tended mainly to suggest jobs which retired soldiers would probably not get.

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Army officer being shaved during a train stop to the Himalayas, from Journal des Voyages (1908). ©De Agostini/The British Library Board


Determination was said to be the key to success.  Retiring officers should calculate their liabilities and assets.  On the minus side was their concentration on soldiering and the need to learn a completely new trade.  But there were several things on the plus side.  Officers would have some capital and a pension.  The majority would be aged between 30 and 45 and so would have a reasonable expectation of 20-35 years of active life ahead of them.  They would have a good knowledge of men and the world.

Individual officers might have additional assets: language qualifications, private capital, or a particular skill or interest.  One ex-Indian Army officer who was an expert on insects had secured a job with an organisation studying crop pests, whilst another interested in philately owned a stamp shop in Piccadilly.

‘G.B.S.’ advised his readers to tap into the ‘Old Boy Network’ and not be ashamed to use every contact they had.  It took time to find a job even in a big city like London.  He suggested that officers should go to live in London for at least three months, but preferably six, making and following up contacts six days a week.   They should press on with acquiring qualifications if necessary, funding this by using some of their compensation money.

Many officers dreamed of owning a farm.   ‘G.B.S.’ warned that this was a technical profession requiring qualifications and capital of at £10,000 in addition to the Army pension.  Those attracted to life in the colonies or dominions should realise that the problems of getting a job there was no different. 

The article ended by concluding that officers who had had reasonable careers ahead of them in the Indian Army could and would secure good jobs at home if they set about it in the right way and did not ‘take too great counsel’ of their fears. ‘Let us, therefore, go home with the thought in our minds (though we won’t broadcast this to our prospective employers) that the problem is not “Will I get a job?” but “Which job shall I do?”’.

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

Further reading
U.S.I. Journal vol. LXXVIII  No.328 ( July 1947)


24 March 2015

Thin dogs, neglected children and rising crime

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Thin dogs and domestic animals, expensive grain, and unemployed men wandering in search of employment ‘careless of their children and old dependants’ were signs of local scarcity in danger of developing into a famine situation, according to Moonshi Ishree Pershad, Rai Bahadoor, Deputy Collector of Muzaffarpur in North India. His testimony in response to set questions from the 1878 Bengal Famine Commission was unusual in giving an Indian’s perspective, and paints a more intimate picture of village life than that given by the majorityFamine_compressed of the British respondents. According to Moonshi Ishree Pershad, in times of scarcity loans became difficult to obtain, the number of beggars increased, private charity was over-burdened and crimes against property gradually increased. 

In rural India, the people likely to be worst affected by serious crop failure were the panch pamania who attended to secular ceremonies, including births and weddings, together with artisans such as potters and weavers, and of course labourers and cultivators.  

Famine, Hindu men in front of the British, 1897, illustration from Petit Journal  
© De Agostini/The British Library Board



Bengal Famine Commission Proceedings IOR/P/1160


Moonshi Ishree Pershad said that the district officer would know that famine was imminent if he found that ‘Grain imported to his district is not from neighbouring districts but other provinces; that exportation from his district is altogether blocked; that cattle, gold and silver ornaments and brass utensils do not fetch one-fourth of what was paid for them; that men of high caste go in disguised state to earthworks situate at a distance from their homes, and that infants of his district have very miserable looks.’ 

This information was provided as part of his response to the Bengal Famine Commission’s set questions about the condition of the country and people, relief during the earliest stages of distress, famine relief and prevention. 

Moonshi Ishree Pershad’s comments were informed by his experience of relief works in 1874 when the winter rice crop failed following a lack of rain and one seventh of the population was in receipt of support.

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records



Bengal Famine Commission Proceedings, December 1878, pp.367-372, IOR/P/1160, which are part of the India Office Records. Catalogues are available online Search our Catalogues Archives and Manuscripts

Richard Axelby and Savithri Preetha Nair Science and the Changing Environment in India: a guide to sources in the India Office Records (London, 2010) 

03 March 2015

Beards, Barley and Bear-baiting: Revenue Collection in Shiraz

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In late December 1829 the Shah of Persia arrived with an army outside the walls of the city of Shiraz, his intention being to collect around 280,000 Tomans (some £21 million in present-day terms) in tax and provisions from Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Mīrzā, the Prince Governor of Fars.

Shiraz. From: James Edward Alexander, Travels from India to England : comprehending a visit to the Burman Empire, and a journey through Persia, Asia Minor, European Turkey, &c., in the years 1825-26 (London, 1827). Available on the Qatar Digital Library Noc

Britain’s Agent at Shiraz, Mīrzā ʿAlī Akbar, reported directly to the Resident in the Gulf in Bushire. In a series of letters he reported the Shah’s arrival at Shiraz in vivid detail, describing how the Prince Governor had ordered the city’s gardens and citadel to be cleared for the Shah’s reception, and the illumination of the bazaar for three nights.  

Extract of a letter from the British Agent at Shiraz, December 1829. IOR/R/15/1/54, pp 5-8. Noc

On December 30 the Shah arrived, and over the course of the next five days collected 200,000 Tomans, mostly through ‘advances from the merchants and the gold ornaments, jewels and shawls of His Royal Highness [Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Mīrzā] and wives’. As the days went on, the demands for payment were unrelenting, and Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Mīrzā became increasingly desperate. ‘Under the form of a loan [he] takes money from everyone he can,’ wrote Mīrzā ʿAlī Akbar. The demands made by the collectors became increasingly preposterous. ‘Yesterday they took an additional 1,000 Tomans from His Royal Highness to purchase materials for dying His Majesty’s beard’ and ‘[Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Mīrzā] has to play at draughts every night with the Shah […] One evening he lost as much as 400 Tomans’.

IOR-R-15-1-54 no.2
Extract of a letter from the British Agent at Shiraz, 4 January 1830. IOR/R/15/1/54, pp 14-17.   Noc


Fath 'Ali Shah, King of Persia 1797-1834. Foster 116. Images Online Noc

Meanwhile, in the streets and surrounding countryside, the Shah’s army had to keep themselves fed, housed and occupied. The supply and price of provisions were severely affected: ‘barley and straw are only to be got by force’ and ‘meat is very scarce and dear’. Meanwhile, the visitors sat about and amused themselves with ‘bear baiting, bullfighting, tiger fighting, spear playing and wrestling’.

  IOR-R-15-1-54 no.3
Extract of a letter from the British Agent at Shiraz, 17 January 1830. IOR/R/15/1/54, pp 35-37. Noc

The reasons underlying the Shah’s demands are not specified in Mīrzā ʿAlī Akbar’s reports, though the British Agent did note that he had learnt from a ‘confidential person’ that the Shah and the Crown Prince Abbas Mīrzā wanted to ‘reduce the power of the Prince of Fars’. Another likely reason is the Shah’s need to raise funds to pay off the huge indemnity of twenty million silver roubles (there were roughly six roubles to the pound at the time, equating to approximately £130 million in present-day terms) demanded by the Russian Government under the terms of the 1828 Treaty of Turkmanchai.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project  Cc-by

Further Reading:
British Library, IOR/R/15/1/54, ‘Vol 69 Letters Outward’ pp 5-9, 14-17, 35-39, 45-48

Present-day monetary values calculator.


16 February 2015

Edward Lloyd and the ‘Penny Bloods’

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Edward Lloyd was born on 16 February 1815. He was a publisher and newspaper proprietor, and the founder of two large paper mills.  Here we give you a glimpse into his remarkable career.

Lloyd was a pioneer of cheap popular literature.  His ‘Penny Bloods’ were a great success with working class readers.  From 1835 he published titles such as Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads etc, and History of the Pirates of All Nations.  He and writer Thomas Peckett Prest then produced imitations of the works of Charles Dickens, for example The Life and Adventures of Oliver Twiss the Workhouse Boy, and Memoirs of Nickelas Nicklebery.  These stories sold many thousands of copies each week.

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From The Gambler’s Wife; or, Murder will Out Noc

Lloyd issued works of history, horror, and romance.  Stories were published in instalments, and all featured plenty of drama and bloodthirsty action.  It was Lloyd who introduced vampires to a mass readership with Varney the Vampyre; or, the Feast of blood.

Varney the Vampyre
From Varney the Vampyre  Noc

Lloyd’s Weekly Newpaper was founded in 1843. Lloyd put a good deal of effort into promotion and it was claimed in the 1890s: ‘The pictorial advertisements of Messrs. Lloyd’s journals  - themselves works of art – are prominent at all stations and throughout the country, and there is no village in England so obscure as to be unaware of the existence of Lloyd’s News’.  Circulation grew to a huge 930,000 copies weekly. Stories deemed to be of particular importance were illustrated by artists kept on the staff.  There was a successful ‘Lost Relative’ column: people wrote in from every part of the world and a shortened version of the letters was published for free.

By 1861 Lloyd was using so much paper that he started his own paper mill on the River Lea at Bow in East London. As it was becoming difficult to obtain sufficient supplies of rags, esparto grass was brought in as a raw material from Algeria and Spain.  Soon Lloyd’s mill was expanding to make paper for rival newspapers.

In 1877 Lloyd’s firm purchased the Daily Chronicle. Much of this newspaper was devoted to events in London, but it also gathered news from the rest of the UK, and from abroad via daily cables. Circulation was increased from 8,000 to 140,000 in the space of eight years, and to meet demand a second mill was opened at Sittingbourne in Kent which produced a wide variety of paper types.  By 1895, Lloyd’s were employing over 700 people at the mills and 500 at the newspaper offices and home and export departments.

From Miranda, or the Heiress of the Grange  Noc

It has been claimed that having established himself in ‘higher’ publishing circles Lloyd then tried to supress the ‘Penny Bloods’, sending out agents to buy up and destroy the stocks at coffee shops and circulating libraries.  Whether or not this is true, many 'Bloods' have survived and a good number can be found at the British Library, some in digitised format.

Edward Lloyd died on 8 April 1890 having amassed a fortune from his various business ventures. The value of his estate at death was £563,000.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
Edward Lloyd Ltd, A glimpse into paper making and journalism (1895)
John Medcraft, A bibliography of the penny bloods of Edward Lloyd (1945)

Further reading:
Edward Lloyd Ltd, A glimpse into paper making and journalism (1895)
John Medcraft, A bibliography of the penny bloods of Edward Lloyd (1945)
Varney – an early vampire story
Edward Lloyd


26 January 2015

Personal gifts from Mr Churchill

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This week the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill is being commemorated.  There has been a flood of articles analysing his role in British history.  Untold Lives would like to highlight three little-known files in the India Office Records which show Mr Churchill’s generosity to men who had been his servants when he was a young officer in the British Army.

Churchill sailed for India with his regiment, the Queen’s Own Hussars, in October 1896.  He was stationed initially at Bangalore. In July 1943 the India Office set its administrative wheels in motion on behalf of Prime Minster Churchill who wished to send a personal gift of 100 rupees to his former servant Mr S Joshua. Mr Joshua was an inmate of the Friend-in-Need Society’s home in Bangalore.  Officials in London and India liaised to transfer the money through the Resident in Mysore to Mr Joshua after he had shown proof of his identity.  Churchill conveyed his thanks from Quebec where he was attending an Allied conference. He sent a cheque for £9 6s 9d made out to ‘Accountant-General India Office’ to cover to cost of the gift and a telegram to India.


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World War II propaganda poster featuring Winston Churchill ©De Agostini/The British Library Board Images Online

Mr P Muniswamy wrote a letter to Churchill from Bangalore in December 1946 and again in May 1947 after he heard about the 100 rupees sent to Mr Joshua.  He claimed to be an ‘old old Servant’ who had worked for Churchill when he was stationed in India.  Churchill thought that he did remember a servant of that name some 50 years earlier and asked the Private Secretary to the Maharaja of Mysore to help investigate Mr Muniswamy’s character and circumstances so that he could judge whether or not to send him a gift of money.  Information was gathered locally and sent to England. Mr Muniswamy was about 68 years of age and bore a good character. He was earning 40 rupees a month as a bearer in the officers’ mess of Queen Victoria's Own Madras Sappers and Miners but likely to be discharged in August 1947 when the British officers left Bangalore. His five children were grown-up and his wife was his only dependant.  The three sons were prepared to help their parents financially but Mr Muniswamy ‘wanted a gift from his old master for personal requirements’. Churchill sent a cheque for £5.


  Churchill gifts
IOR/L/PJ/7/14249  Noc

In December 1948 Churchill received a letter from M A Ranookapathy whose father K M Anthimoolum had been Churchill’s dressing boy and butler. Churchill asked the Commonwealth Relations Office to ensure that a letter in reply reached Mr Ranookapathy safely and forwarded a cheque for £5.  Arrangements were made for the money to be paid into Mr Ranookapathy’s savings account in Bombay.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this story is the personal attention given by Winston Churchill to his former servants in India.   He took time to ensure the gifts reached the intended recipients even when he was carrying the burden of being Prime Minister of a nation at war.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
IOR/R/2/Box26/214 Mysore Residency files

09 October 2014

Looking a gift horse in the mouth

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On 28 May 1742, the British Agent dispatched a gift of cloth and other rich goods to the Sardar (a military commander) of the region around Bandar Abbas. To his great surprise, his gift was politely declined, though with thanks and replaced by a shopping list of goods for the Sardar’s family in Khorasan, with promise of payment. This was very surprising as the Persians were rarely backward in their expectation of gifts and presents. The Persian custom known as Pishkash is a catch-all term for gifts given for political purposes, rather than out of any personal friendship. Often, when these gifts were not forthcoming as expected, they were politely, but firmly requested. This habit was viewed by the Europeans and most especially the British, as a form of taxation and deeply resented by them. The rejection of their gift, far from causing offence, elicited the following response from the Agent, Nathaniel Whitwell:

“This Extraordinary procedure, against the mode of the times, in which an honest, generous Persian is hardly to be found, we being so used to see so much of the reverse…” [IOR/G/29/6 f.216].

Persian prince 11082013
Safavid Persian prince at court, miniature from a Persian manuscript, 1650. ©De Agostini/The British Library Board  Images Online

 The British were often undermined in their attempts to withhold from this practice of giving ‘presents’ by their European cousins, the Dutch. The Dutch regularly jumped the gun, providing generous presents to Persian officials without prompt [IOR/G/29/6 f.204] or giving unnecessary gifts when they saw favour being given to the British. This happened just after the incident with the Sardar when the Dutch Chief at Bandar Abbas gave 200 toman (nearly £500 of the time) in order to receive a horse from the Governor of Shiraz, who had given the one to the British Agent as a sign of his favour.

The giving of Pishkash was a cause of concern to the Presidency in Bombay, especially as visits by more important officials could incur significant costs to the Company. It was not just the major officials: their retainers, viziers and other staff were also given gifts by the British when their masters received theirs. This was firstly an expectation and secondly a useful tool to gain influential voices within the Royal and regional courts, mostly importantly in Shiraz, the seat of the Governor responsible for the areas in which the majority of British interests lay.

Peter Good
PhD candidate University of Essex/British Library Cc-by

 Further reading:

India Office Records - Factory Records for Persia and the Persian Gulf c.1620-1822 [IOR/G/29]


22 September 2014

Bringing Archive Catalogues to Life – the SNAC Project

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Some readers of this blog will know that we at the British Library have spent the last few years developing an integrated catalogue for our archives and manuscripts collections which is made available online as Search our Catalogue Archives and Manuscripts.  A bonus of having all the catalogue records in one system is that we can now share them with projects en masse beyond the British Library, and this includes the 300,000 or so records of the people who were involved in the creation of, or who are the subject of, the archives and manuscripts.

These records then have been included in the US based Social Networks and Archival Context project – more memorably known as SNAC.  Part of this is looking at how to help researchers find all the relevant material relating to a particular person, both archives and publications and so has developed a ‘Prototype Research Tool’  with this in mind: 

  SNAC Noc

The British Library’s records are included alongside those from many US institutions and data is being loaded from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and university repositories in the UK. Anyone can click one of the ‘featured’ images on the front page or search for an individual they are interested in. The result will be a page for an individual such as this entry for Robert Clive:

SNAC CliveNoc

 Here information about related archive collections is presented with links back to the originating repository’s catalogue, where details of how to get access to the material can be found. There are also links to publications and other resources relating to the person with links to WorldCat  which again can help with accessing the material.

The project is also interested finding out if the links between people found in catalogues when they are brought together in this way might help researchers navigate around all this data, so as well as providing links to related people the project provides a visualisation for the social and professional ‘network’ of individuals in a ‘radial graph view’ such as this one again for Robert Clive:

  SNAC Clive 2Noc

Given the richness of the catalogues and the millions of records included links can be found to the humble individual as well as the ‘great and the good’, so here can be seen a link between Lord Clive and one Mrs Bayly Brett, whose commonplace book includes a copy of a letter written by him to his mother in 1757.

Please have a look at SNAC and tell us what you think. Happy hunting!

Bill Stockting
Cataloguing Systems & Processing Co-ordinator Cc-by