THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

13 June 2017

Cow Protection in India

On 9 December 1911, The Graphic magazine had a short piece with the surprising title ‘How Cattle Threaten the Unity of the Empire’. This stated that at a time when the King’s cattle had been winning prizes in Britain, his Hindu subjects in India were petitioning to stop the slaughter of cattle for the British Army and permit the introduction of beef from Australia. It reported that a picture was being circulated with the petition showing how useful cattle were to other industries if they were not slaughtered.

The Graphic  9 December 1911

The Graphic 9 December 1911

Cow protection was a serious issue in India. The cow was an important Hindu symbol of maternity and fertility. For those fearful that colonial policies were endangering traditional Hindu practices, and others who were struggling with increased competition for education, jobs and scarce resources, the cow represented a comforting and benign figure, a guard against evil, and an illustration of good Hindu behaviour. As such cow protection was a unifying issue for Hindus of all walks of life.

The proposal referred to in The Graphic of importing Australian beef for British troops in place of beef killed in India seems to have been devised by Khursedji Sorabji Jassawalla, a member of a well-known Parsi family from Bombay. A colourful figure, Jassawalla had been associated with the anti-cow killing movement since 1885. In October 1911, he travelled to London with the intention of presenting to the King a petition and two million signatures he claimed to have collected. While residing in Hampstead, he wrote a note outlining his scheme to provide Australian mutton to the British Army even at a loss to himself if the slaughter of Indian cattle would be stopped. Unsuccessful in his attempts to gain a Royal audience, he sent his petition to the Government of India and the India Office.

Jassawalla Petition (top)

Jassawalla Petition (bottom)

IOR/L/PJ/6/1123, File 4428 Noc

The Government of India was rather unimpressed with Mr Jassawalla’s scheme, as this comment in his criminal intelligence history sheet notes: “The whole proposal is a commercial one, and from that point of view his past career does not inspire confidence”.

This was not the only petition on cow protection the India Office received that year. On 9 November 1911, a petition was received from Sir Bhalchandra Krishna, a resident of Bombay, protesting against the slaughter of cows in the city and district of Muttra and Varaj in the United Provinces. With his petition were submitted over 100 pages of signatures. The Government declined to make any alterations to the arrangements for the slaughter of Indian cattle.

Bhalchandra Krishna Petition

Bhalchandra Krishna Petition signatures

IOR/L/PJ/6/1125, File 4678 Noc

John O’Brien
India Office Records

 Further reading:
The Graphic, 9 December 1911, page 889 (in a file of newspaper cuttings on Persia in the Curzon Papers) [Reference Mss Eur F112/249]
Memorial to the King from Mr Jassawalla and others asking that British troops in India may be supplied with Australian meat in place of beef slaughtered in India, 1911-1913 [Reference IOR/L/PJ/6/1123, File 4428]
Memorial from Sir Balchandra Krishna and others protesting against the slaughter of cows in Muttra (UP), 1911 [Reference IOR/L/PJ/6/1125, File 4678]
 

09 June 2017

Thomas Bowrey’s cloth samples

To celebrate International Archives Day, we’re sharing some unexpected treasures we found in the India Office Private Papers.  One of the joys of being an archivist is the daily opportunity to be surprised and enchanted by the collections in our care.

Tucked away in a volume packed with closely-written correspondence and accounts are a number of cloth and colour samples from the early years of the 18th century.

MSS Eur D1076 (9)

MSS Eur D 1076

The papers belonged to Thomas Bowrey (d.1713), merchant and compiler of the first Malay-English dictionary.  As a young man, Bowrey worked as a ship’s pilot in the East Indies.  He then moved on to operating his own ships as an interloper breaching the monopoly of the East India Company in Asia. 

On his return to England in 1689, Bowrey married and settled in Wapping in East London.  He owned and freighted ships for the East India Company.

MSS Eur D1076 (10)

MSS Eur D 1076

The woollen cloth samples sewn onto papers show the colours selected as being suitable for export to the East Indies. 

MSS Eur D1076 (3)

MSS Eur D 1076

There is also a textile colour chart, like a modern paint chart.  The colours are still vibrant after 300 years.  The name which jumped out at me is number 18 - Gall Stone.  For lack of romance, this label certainly rivals the Persian silk colour described as Water Rat which featured in our story ‘Was 'water rat' the new black in 1697?’  

MSS Eur D1076 (6)

MSS Eur D 1076

So – Gall Stone, Water Rat.  I wonder what other surprising textile colour descriptions await discovery in the British Library collections?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
MSS Eur D 1076 Thomas Bowrey Papers
Margaret R. Hunt, ‘Bowrey, Thomas (d. 1713)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008

 

07 June 2017

Three men and a boy (and a coal mine…)

In 1735, three men and a boy from an unassuming village near Bristol made the headlines. As one cheaply printed broadside says, “amongst the many and various accounts which have been given us of accidents happening to mankind, nothing has occur’d more particular for many years than the following account from Bristol”.

ThreeMenAndABoy

A full and true account of the wonderfull deliverance of three men and a boy. Bristol, c.1780.

Joseph Smith, 69, Edward Peacock, Abraham Peacock (his son) and Thomas Hemings of Mangotsfield worked in an old coal mine near Two Mile Hill in Kings Wood. In the early 18th century, coalfields were divided into ‘liberties’. Aristocratic families owned these liberties and leased the mining rights to master colliers, the so-called ‘adventurers of the coal mines’. This particular mine was owned by the Chester family and run by one Joseph Jefferies. 

On this fateful day a “prodigious torrent of water burst out of the veins”, spelling “nigh immediate death” for the miners. Their candles were extinguished instantly and the mine began to flood. As the water rose, the men scrabbled for higher ground until they found a “hatchin”, a local term meaning a “high slant from whence coal has been dug”.

They huddled together on this ledge, in the darkness, for 10 days and 19 hours. They divvied up a bit of beef and a crust of bread between themselves and drunk their last drops of water. As the days passed, desperation forced them into “drinking their own urine”, chewing on coal chips and even “a piece of shoe”.

Why did it take so long for the miners to be rescued? Well, the colliers on the surface tried several times to go down into the mine and rescue their “unfortunate brethren” but they suspected a “black damp in the work”. Black damp is a noxious mixture of poisonous gas that eliminates oxygen from the atmosphere, causing suffocation. It’s common in mines and, nowadays, there are safety measures in place to combat this but in the early 18th century there were none.

Eventually, a last ditch rescue attempt was successful. The rescuers apparently carried down a “quantity of burning coals” and “draughted the damp” so they could reach the miners. The writer of this broadside declares that, “what with the heat of the place they were in, and the nauseous fumes of their bodies, their want of water and meat during so long a time,” the survival of the miners must be considered “nothing else but a surprising miracle”.

So what happened next? A long spell in hospital? Early retirement? Nope! These miners were made of tougher stuff than that. They received some “comfortable refreshment”, walked to their respective homes and faded into obscurity as local printers found another melodramatic story to report. And that was the end of that!

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

05 June 2017

Whit Monday fete

Today is Whit Monday, the Christian holiday traditionally celebrated the day after Pentecost.  In June 1892, Whit Monday and Whit Tuesday were celebrated in The Potteries with two splendid fetes at Queen’s Park in Longton.

Whit Monday 1

Programme of events for fetes at Longton 6 and 7 June 1892  Shelfmark 9930.g.74.(6.)

A copy of the official programme has found its way into the British Library collections. It reveals an exciting variety of events provided for an admission fee of one shilling.  Thousands flocked to the park in glorious weather.  Members of the organising committee wearing badges were on hand to help visitors.  A warning was issued that anyone guilty of disorderly behaviour was liable to be arrested.

Whit Monday 2 - Cropped

Timetable of events for fetes at Longton 6 and 7 June 1892  Shelfmark 9930.g.74.(6.)

The Town Military Band played music for dancing at regular intervals, and there were concerts by the Band of the Royal Horse Guards.  Acrobats, bicyclists, a contortionist, and a Punch and Judy show entertained the crowds.

But to me the star attraction appears to be the elaborate firework display staged by Pain and Sons of London on both evenings.

Whit Monday 3

Programme of fireworks Longton 6 and 7 June 1892  Shelfmark 9930.g.74.(6.)

The description of the fireworks covers two pages of the programme and surely cannot fail to spark the reader’s imagination.

Whit Monday 4

Programme of fireworks Longton 6 and 7 June 1892  Shelfmark 9930.g.74.(6.)

Try to picture these fireworks exploding in the night sky and the reaction of the spectators –
• Discharge of Shells, (18 inches in circumference), introducing Silver Rain & Sapphires, Magenta and Silver, Amber & Dark Blue, Mauve & Green, Purple & Mauve, Golden Yellow, Mauve & Pink, Garnets & Opals etc.
• Parisian Novelty Rockets emitting Silver Threads
• Transformation Fan - showing in the first place a closed Fan in lines of brilliant fires, gradually opening into an immense Fan of Gold centered by an artistic Floral Design, and finishing with a Fringe of Silver fires.
• The Sun Flower – depicted in lines of Golden Fire, centered and surrounded with Variegated Scroll Wheels, finishing with a huge Star of Silver Fires with marooned reports.
• The Skeleton Acrobat – representing a life-sized human performing Skeleton on an horizontal bar, and going through a variety of fantastic performances.
• Display of Signal Rockets with Aerial Wrigglers.
• Grand Concluding Device of The Carnival of Venice (St Mark’s Square en Fete) – Beautifully portrayed in lines of fire of choice colour, with Gondolas passing and repassing on Grand Canal. Aquatic Fireworks etc. Followed by a Grand Flight of Large Coloured Rockets.

After learning about the Skeleton Acrobat, I’m not sure that modern New Year firework displays will ever again seem so special to me.
 
Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

02 June 2017

A Passage to India: Shipboard Life

We are busy preparing for our exciting event on 19 June - A Passage to India: Shipboard Life.  The lives of passengers and crew on board East India Company ships will be explored through the prism of little-known personal papers held at the British Library.

Performers Rebecca Tremain and Penny Dimond came to look at the collection items which have been selected for the event by researchers at the University of Southampton in collaboration with British Library curators. 

Still 8 

They were thrilled to see the diary of Henry Nicholetts…

  Still 3

Still 1
British Library MSS Eur F706   Noc

…and the letters of Judith Weston …

Still 4
British Library MSS Eur B162 Noc

…and the beautiful illustrations in an anonymous journal from 1773.

Still 7

 
British Library MSS Eur E292 Noc

  Still 6
British Library MSS Eur E292 Noc

And as they read snippets out loud, I was treated to a sneak preview of just how vividly these documents from the past will be brought to life by Rebecca and Penny!

Join us on 19 June to hear more about the shipboard experiences of voyagers to India as revealed in their private papers.
 
Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

31 May 2017

Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett, bibliographer and company commander

Today we are telling the story of Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett, a British Museum librarian who was killed in action near the French city of Arras on 31 May 1917.

Arras IWM Q2375

 The ruins of the village of Monchy-le-Preux seen on 30 May 1917, following the Battle of Arras © IWM (Q 2375)

Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett was born at Aberdeen on 20 June 1885, the only son of William Kendall Burnett and his wife Margretta. William was the son of the 6th Laird of Kemnay and a prominent figure in Aberdeen civic life, serving as both magistrate and city treasurer before his death in 1912. Ian Burnett was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, where he evidently did very well. His university obituary stated that he had a brilliant career at school, ‘being first in every class, usually in every subject; he was editor of the school magazine and president of the debating society, and he became Dux of the school in 1903’. Burnett then entered the University of Aberdeen, graduating in 1908 as M.A. with First Class Honours in Foreign Languages. While at university, Burnett was involved in many extra-curricular activities, including significant roles in the university's literary and debating societies. In his final year, he was the editor of the university's student magazine Alma Mater.

In 1909, Burnett was appointed Assistant Librarian at the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. The following year, he joined the staff of the British Museum, becoming Second Class Assistant in the Department of Printed Books. While at the museum, Burnett succeeded Harold Mattingly in compiling the List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900, now in the British Museum. Published by the trustees of the museum in 1915, the List remains a standard reference text for book provenance research.

It is possible to trace the broad framework of Burnett's military career from his service records and from unit histories. While still working at the museum, Burnett joined the cavalry squadron of the Inns of Court Officers' Training Corps in 1913. He gained a commission after the outbreak of war in 1914, and from then on served with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment. He was then attached to three different battalions on active service. We know that Burnett saw action in many of the key battles on the western front: 2nd Ypres in 1915, the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and the Battle of Arras in 1917. In his time at the front, Burnett suffered from gas poisoning once and was injured twice, returning to the UK each time to recuperate. By early 1917, Burnett had become a company commander in the 8th (Service) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, with the temporary rank of Captain. Burnett died on the 31 May 1917, when his battalion was involved in a futile night attack on Infantry Hill, east of Monchy-le-Preux, near Arras. His body was never recovered.

  Burnett from BNA 1917
Aberdeen Evening Express 14 June 1917 British Newspaper Archive

Captain Burnett’s name is recorded on the Arras Memorial to the Missing. He is also commemorated on war memorials and rolls of honour in in Aberdeen, Kemnay, and London, including the British Librarians’ memorial in the British Library at St Pancras.

  BLMemorial
British Librarians' Memorial at British Library St Pancras Noc

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager

Further reading:
Valete fratres - Librarians and the First World War.
British Library, Guide to Sale Catalogues.
List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900, now in the British Museum (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1915).
Peter Kidd, Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900. In: Medieval manuscripts provenance, 23 August 2014.
Mabel Desborough Allardyce (ed.), University of Aberdeen Roll of Service in the Great War, 1914-1919 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1921), pp. 61-62; online version.
Obituaries in: Aberdeen University Review, Vol. 5, 1917-18, pp. 74, 189.
L. Nicholson, H. T. MacMullen, History of the East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Liverpool: Littlebury, 1936).
Stephen Barker, Christopher Boardman, Lancashire's Forgotten Heroes: 8th (Service) Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War (Stroud: History Press, 2008).
WO 339/27462, Captain Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett, the East Lancashire Regiment (long service papers), The National Archives, Kew.
WO 95/1498/1, 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew.
WO 95/2537/4, 8th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew.
WO WO 95/1506/1, 1st Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew.

 

29 May 2017

Illuminations at East India House

The end of the Crimean War in 1856 was celebrated in Britain with a national holiday on 29 May.  Public buildings in the City of London were fitted with splendid gas illuminations for the evening: the Post Office, Mansion House, Royal Exchange, Custom House, and East India House.

   East India House illuminations 1856

 Illuminations at East India House - Illustrated London News 31 May 1856

Matthew Digby Wyatt, Surveyor to the East India Company, was entrusted with the task of organising the illuminations at East India House in Leadenhall Street.  Four tenders were submitted to provide the equipment for hire or for purchase, ranging from £220 to £550. Wyatt chose the lowest purchase tender of £260 which came from James Meacock, a gas fitter based in Snow Hill.  Meacock was praised by Wyatt: ‘very great energy was displayed by the contractor in immediately getting the work in hand’.  The City of London Gas Company supplied the fuel, charging one penny per jet which included the cost of tapping the mains and supplying connectors.

  East India House illuminations 1856 - 2
London Evening Standard 30 May 1856 British Newspaper Archive

The illuminations consisted of ‘a stream of jets along the length of the building, with scroll-work inside of the pediment, and in Roman capitals the word “Peace”; underneath the pediment festoons and drapery going the whole length of the building’.  

Overall, Wyatt was  satisfied with the display.  He reported to the Company: ‘The whole of the fittings contracted for were completed by dusk on the evening of the 29th.  Unfortunately the wind exercised an influence adverse to the successful lighting especially during the early part of the evening but upon the whole the display was stated by the public press to have been of an effective description… So far as I have been enabled to ascertain the outlay for the Honourable Company’s illumination will be very far below the amounts incurred for the principal government Offices’.

The lighting equipment was carefully stowed away for future use.  However the magnificent East India House would not exist for much longer.  The entire building was demolished in 1862 after the India Office took over from the East India Company and decided to move to new headquarters in Whitehall.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Surveyor’s papers May-June 1856 IOR/L/SUR/1/3 ff.41, 53-54; IOR/L/SUR/2/1 ff. 478. 490-493.

 

25 May 2017

The Art of Children’s Games

One of the delights of working with archives is when you come across something unexpected while looking for something else completely. This occurred recently when I was looking through a file of newspaper cuttings relating to Persia in the collections of papers of Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India, held at the British Library. Amongst the papers was a page from The Sphere newspaper, from March 1906, showing a collection of photographs under the title “What To Do With Children: The Art Of Games, as taught by the Children’s Happy Evenings Association”.

Children playing MSS Eur 112-249 cropped

The Sphere, 24 March 1906

In the late 19th century, the health of working class children was a major concern for social reformers. Children often lived in cramped and unhealthy conditions, with the expansion of cities leaving a lack of safe space where children could play in the evenings. The construction of railways and factories tended to take priority over parks and recreation grounds.

Founded in 1889 by Ada Heather-Bigg, the goal of the Children’s Happy Evenings Association was to provide a wide range of games and activities which working class children could do after school hours. Heather-Bigg believed that play created happiness which was an important element in the development of a child’s health. Giving children something to do in the evenings would also prevent them from getting into trouble and falling into bad ways. Participation in the Happy Evenings was dependent on a child having a good school attendance. This had the advantage of stressing the importance of school and education, but inevitably meant many of the poorest children were excluded.

Children playing MSS Eur 112-249

The Sphere, 24 March 1906

By 1906, the Association had 134 branches across London, and affiliated organisations had been set up in Manchester, Plymouth, Oxford, Middlesbrough and Walthamstow.  It relied on the help of volunteers, with around 1300 volunteers helping to teach 22,000 children from the poorest areas of London how to play. Toys, such as dolls and board games were donated by wealthier families, and there were more energetic games such as running, skipping, and boxing. Music and dancing was also offered, which was a real attraction at a time when a piano was not standard school equipment. The Association came to an end with the start of the First World War.

John O’Brien
India Office Records


Further reading:
The Sphere, 24 March 1906, page 275 (in a file of newspaper cuttings on Persia in the Curzon Papers) [Reference Mss Eur F112/249]
Women and the Politics of Schooling in Victorian and Edwardian England, Jane Martin (Leicester University Press, 1999)
Playwork: Theory and Practice, edited by Fraser Brown (Open University Press, 2003)