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Untold lives blog

141 posts categorized "Politics"

08 December 2017

Hostess with the mostest… and so much more: introducing the Ishbel MacDonald Archive

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Imagine the Prime Minister having to pay to run Downing Street out of her own pocket – seems unreasonable from today’s perspective, but until fairly recently this was an expectation for the British Prime Minister. The recently acquired archive of Ishbel Peterkin née MacDonald (1903-1982) sheds light on the burdens of this. Ishbel was the eldest daughter of Ramsay MacDonald, the first Prime Minister for the Labour Party in the UK, first in 1924 and again from 1929 to 1935. When Ishbel’s mother Margaret passed away in 1911 Ishbel acted as her father’s host during his political career living alongside him at 10 Downing Street and running the house.

MacDonalds in Garden Hampstead
The MacDonald family in their garden in Hampstead, North London. Ishbel stands behind her father Ramsay. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

Ishbel visited Downing Street prior to the family’s move and was perturbed by the big, empty house. Previous Prime Ministers had brought their own furniture – and then taken it away with them. The MacDonalds, however, were not moving from a grand residence but from their modest family home in Hampstead. To prepare, Ishbel and her sister purchased linen, crockery and cutlery with their own money, while Ramsay MacDonald arranged a loan of paintings from the National Portrait Gallery. These intimate domestic details reflect an interesting shift in 20th-century politics. MacDonald was of more humble origins than his predecessors in government who had set a precedent for running Downing Street as an extension of their wealthy homes.

Guestlist Thurs 11th Dec 1930

Guestlist Thurs 18th 1930
Guest lists for 11 and 18 December 1930 © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.   

Ishbel’s effort to run Downing Street modestly did not stop with the furnishings but in hosting and feeding guests. Carefully preserved notebooks of guest lists and menu cards paint a vivid picture. We can see who was eating with the Prime Minister and when, including place settings inked on the left in red. The menus themselves suggest that the MacDonalds had to budget carefully and were unconcerned with the culinary fashions of the day. Typical menus of the period from society events showcased a classical, often ostentatious French repertoire, usually written in French. By contrast Ishbel’s menus contain simple dishes like ‘Nut Roast’ and ‘Roast Chicken.’

Menus 18th and 11th Dec 1930
Menus for 11 and 18 December 1930. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

Ishbel MacDonald’s papers will offer researchers a fantastic insight into her efforts running 10 Downing Street as well as a record of her fascinating life more generally. Ishbel was an active politician in her own right, elected to the London County Council in 1928 and again in 1931. She was the subject of public fascination and when she decided to leave politics to run a pub in 1935 the move was covered by extensive media coverage. The archive contains correspondence, detailed diaries, and scrapbooks and notebooks relating to the family's time in politics.

Luncheon 2nd December 1930
Guest list and menu for luncheon on 2 December 1930. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

The archive is currently being catalogued with the aim of making it available to researchers in the Manuscripts Reading Room by the middle of next year. In the meantime please contact eleanor.dickens@bl.uk with any enquiries.

Eleanor Dickens
Curator, Politics and Public Life

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.

 

25 September 2017

‘Inflammable material’ in the British Library

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‘The amount of inflammable material in all the advanced countries of the world is increasing so speedily, and the conflagration is so clearly spreading to most Asian countries which only yesterday were in a state of deep slumber, that the intensification of international bourgeois reaction and the aggravation of every single national revolution are absolutely inevitable.’

V.I. Lenin, ‘Inflammable Material in World Politics’, 1908

Stored in the Asian and African collections of the British Library is a cache of material banned in colonial India. Consisting of more than 2800 items, it constitutes one of the largest archives of primary sources relating to any 20th-century independence movement.  The period during which these works were collected, 1907-1947, covers two world wars, revolts and autonomy movements across the world, and the texts in this archive often register these events. 

The 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure had defined ‘seditious material’ as that likely to incite ‘disaffection’ towards the Government of India or ‘class hatred’ between India’s different communities, thus setting the two main grounds for proscription during this period. The 1910 Press Act reinforced this by requiring publishers to pay a security deposit of up to Rs 5000,  which would be forfeited if any document was found to contain ‘words, signs or visible representations’ likely to incite sedition. But this did not prevent circulation of publications printed overseas, the ‘inflammable material’ described by Lenin, emanating from international publishing centres, and centres of political dissent, in Europe and America.

The British attempted to prevent the entry of this material into India through use of the Sea Customs Act, and by the application of diplomatic pressure. Both instruments were used against William Jennings Bryan’s British Rule in India, a pamphlet written by an American politician who had been won over to the nationalist cause during a trip to India in 1906. This work was republished during the First World War by a San Francisco based Indian revolutionary group, embarrassing the US government, in which Bryan had served as Secretary of State from 1913-1915.

IMG_3613
Title page of a republished English edition of Bryan's British Rule in India, n.d. (microfilm number: IOL NEG 1397)

The range of languages into which Bryan’s pamphlet was translated indicates how extensive underground distribution networks were. Their presence in the proscribed publications collection suggests how hard they were to control. The banned English language edition bears the inscription in red ink ‘The sending of this publication out of the United States prohibited by President Wilson!’, and its European language translations repeat this boast.

IMG_3615
W. J. Bryan, Die englische Herrschaft in Indien (Berlin: Karl Curtius, n.d.), a German translation of British Rule in India (microfilm number: IOL NEG 1397)

Apart from versions in Urdu and Bengali, there is also what is described as a ‘Tartar’ (sic) edition sent from Stockholm to Shanghai and intercepted on the seas in August 1916. This was produced with Central Powers assistance, and the collection is rich in such material: works in Arabic, Chinese, Persian and Turkish, intended to foment unrest in Allied territory. During a time of global war and national revolt, the best guarantee of ‘the freedom to read’, it seems, was the inability to censor.

IMG_3610
Sheet attached to cover of a Tatar translation of British Rule in India, 18 August 1916 (shelfmark: PP Turk)

Pragya Dhital
Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London

Further reading:

Shaw, Graham and Mary Lloyd (eds.), Publications proscribed by the government of India: a catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books (London: British Library, 1985)

Full text of Bryan’s British Rule in India available from the South Asian American Digital Archive: https://www.saada.org/item/20101015-123


This blog was written by Pragya Dhital for Banned Books Week 2017 (24-30 September). Banned-Books-Week-Logo

Banned Books Week was first initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. The 2017 UK contribution to Banned Books Week features events staged by a variety of cultural organisations including the British Library, Free Word, Royal Society of Literature and Islington Library and Heritage Services. British Library events can be found here.

14 September 2017

Political and criminal convictions in Birmingham

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How would you feel if you discovered that a member of your family had attended the first annual meeting of the Birmingham Political Union in 1830 chaired by Radical MP Sir Francis Burdett?  Would you be pleased, perhaps even proud, that you were in some way connected to the movement for political reform and a wider franchise? 

My relation Samuel Evans Heaton was in the crowds at that meeting on 26 July 1830.  However it appears that he may not have had a keen interest in Burdett’s speech - Samuel was arrested for pickpocketing.

Burdett

Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Bt, published by Thomas McLean, after Richard Dighton, hand-coloured etching, published 1825 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Samuel was charged with stealing from William Hollins one half-sovereign, four half-crowns, and other coins. Hollins had been aware of the threat from pickpockets in the throng at Beardsworth's Repository in Cheapside and had kept his hand in his breeches pocket where his money was kept. However ‘his feelings being powerfully operated upon by the hon. baronet’s  eloquence, he was betrayed into a fit of enthusiasm, and taking his hand from his pocket he grasped his hat with it, and waving it over his head, shouted and huzzaed for Sir Francis’.  At that moment, Samuel seized his opportunity and picked Hollins’s pocket.

BPU

British Library 8138.h.44.(6.)

The jury at Warwick Assizes in August 1830 found Samuel guilty and he was sentenced to transportation for life. His father Richard petitioned the Home Secretary to reprieve his ‘unfortunate’ son.  Samuel was aged 30 and had been unable to earn a living through manual labour for the past eight years, relying on his ‘strictly sober, honest, and industrious’ parents to support him. The petition was signed by others, seemingly including the victim of the crime: ‘I Wm Hollins do recommend him to your Mercy’. However the jailer’s report gave Samuel’s character as ‘very bad’: he had been in trouble with the police before for theft and assault.  The sentence was upheld and in March 1831 Samuel sailed on the Argyle for Tasmania. During the voyage he suffered from dyspepsia, debility, and the effects of a ‘broken constitution’.

 

  Heaton crime

 Evening Mail 16 August 1830 British Newspaper Archive

There is a striking physical description of Samuel in the convict records:
Trade - Labourer
Height without shoes - 5 ft 5¼ ins
Age - 31
Complexion - Brown
Head  - Large and round
Hair  - Dark brown
Whiskers - None
Visage - Round
Forehead - Perpendicular
Eyebrows - Dark brown
Eyes - Blue
Nose - Short – broken
Mouth – Large - projecting lips thick
Chin – Short
Remarks – The whole visage representing as having had a severe bruise – nose flat split - and broken – lost most of his teeth – impediment in speech - mouth awry.

In Tasmania, Samuel worked as a post officer messenger. There are offences recorded against his name. He was drunk and disorderly, and abused a constable in the execution of his duty. He neglected to attend a muster.  Most seriously, he was found in a wheat field with convict Mary Lamont and punished by imprisonment with six months’ hard labour.

Samuel was granted a ticket of leave in August 1839 and a conditional pardon in September 1842. I have not yet been able to complete this sad story by finding out when, where or how Samuel died.  So if anyone comes across him whilst researching convicts, please get in touch!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Evening Mail 16 August 1830.
Petition of Richard Heaton – The National Archives HO 17/40/FP29
Surgeon’s journal ship Argyle 1831 - The National Archives ADM 101/4/5
Tasmania Convict records e.g. description of Samuel Evans Heaton CON18/3/1 p.44
Reports of meetings etc convened by the Birmingham Political Union (1830) - British Library 8138.h.44.(1-23.)

 

31 August 2017

Lord Derby's letters and the two general elections of 1910

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If you’ve been suffering from political fatigue recently, imagine how you would have felt in 1910 when there were two general elections in one year. Not only were there two elections, in January and December, but each election lasted for weeks. The Prime Minister H. H. Asquith called the first election in order to gain a mandate for the People’s Budget, which had been rejected by the House of Lords. The result was a hung parliament and the Liberal Party continued to govern with support from the Irish Parliamentary Party until a second election was held in December.

One woman who avidly followed political developments in 1910 was Lady Wolverton, née Edith Amelia Ward (1872–1956). Lady Wolverton was addicted to politics and political gossip. Letters recently acquired by the British Library show that she received political news in abundance from her friend the Conservative politician Edward Stanley, the 17th Earl of Derby (1865–1948). Derby sought her advice and opinions about political matters and wrote to her on 25 November 1910 saying that, "I shall never forget that it was you who made me keen again about politics" (Add MS 89228/9).

Hon-George-Edward-Dudley-Carr-Glyn-Edith-Amelia-ne-Ward-Lady-Wolverton
Edith Amelia Glyn (née Ward), Lady Wolverton and George Edward Dudley Carr Glyn, photographed by H. Walter Barnett, circa 1905. By permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London

I am currently cataloguing around 600 letters from the Earl of Derby to Lady Wolverton, dating from 1907 to 1942. Randolph S. Churchill did not have access to these letters when he wrote his 1959 biography of Lord Derby, and the nature of this epistolary friendship has not been fully appreciated before.

P1010605
Some of the letters from Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby to Lady Edith Wolverton, Add MS 89228

The letters of 1910 shed some light on the Conservative Party campaign and the Earl of Derby’s own role in both elections. Derby had lost his seat in the House of Commons in the general election of 1906 when the Liberal Party won a landslide victory, but he took his seat in the Lords in 1908 after he inherited the earldom. Although Lord Derby did not stand for election in 1910, he was heavily involved in the campaign, by suggesting, meeting and supporting Conservative Party candidates in Manchester and the north-west of England.

On 16 January 1910 he wrote to express his frustration about Labour Party gains in the north of England:

Well what do you think of the first day. Personally I am disappointed and depressed. Although as far as I can make out we have won 14 seats on the balance. There are one or two disquieting symptoms.

[…] when you come to the great industrial belt right across Lancashire, Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham, there can be no doubt we are in a hopeless minority, & the reason is that the whole of that district is getting more & more socialistic every day. Manchester I was prepared to see go badly, but not so Salford. (Add MS 89228/6)

Letter 16 January
Letter from Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby to Lady Edith Wolverton, 16 January 1910, Add MS 89228/6 (enlarge). By permission of The Rt Hon. The Earl of Derby 2017

On 4 August he begs Lady Wolverton:

Please keep this quite secret. Bonar Law has practically offered to give up his seat at Dulwich & fight a Manchester seat. It is very good of him as it means giving up a very safe seat for a doubtful one, though personally I think he is sure to win, and not only his own seat, but his influence, and his extraordinary good speeches will do much to win seats round. (Add MS 89228/8)

Andrew Bonar Law lost in Manchester North West in December 1910, but he returned to Parliament in March 1911 after being elected to the safe Conservative seat of Bootle in a by-election. The general election of December 1910 was the last to take place over several days and the last to be held before the Representation of the People Act 1918 gave suffrage to women over 30.

Forthcoming posts will look at what the letters reveal about the 17th Earl of Derby’s position as Secretary of State for War during the First World War and Lady Edith Wolverton’s continuing role as his political confidante.

Catherine Angerson
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Follow us on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS

17 July 2017

You were born when? The French Revolutionary Calendar

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An accident of birth may have left one 19th-century Army cadet wishing his parents had been elsewhere when he came into the world.
 
In March 1821 sixteen-year-old John Thompson tendered an application to enter East India Company service as a junior Army officer. The Company did not insist that its troops had all been born and bred in the British Isles, and therefore the fact that his place of birth was Antwerp and he had been educated at Brussels were no bars to his setting out on a military career, his father William being a merchant.

  Antwerp maps_k_top_103_058_n

 Thomas Rowlandson, Place de Mier at Antwerp Noc

To tease out what made his application very probably unique requires a passing knowledge of Belgian history. Independent since 1830, before this date Belgium had been ruled at various times by the Dutch, the Austrians and the Spanish. Between 1795 and 1814, however, the country came under the sway of revolutionary France. This meant that French rather than Dutch became the language of the administration.  Also all official papers issued in this period were dated according to the Republican calendar devised and implemented in 1792 and imposed on those territories which came to be occupied by French armies. The calendar re-named the twelve months to reflect prevailing meteorological conditions and instituted a (later abandoned) system of three ten-day weeks, factoring in an extra day every four years.

French Revolutionary calendar birth

IOR/L/MIL/9/143 f.401 Noc

The Thompson family knew that John had been born on 30 April 1804, but unfortunately the document proving this showed his date of birth as the tenth day of Floreal, Year Twelve. The Company’s recruitment procedure required the provision of proof of age, and accordingly the document above was duly sent in to East India House. Young Thompson’s sponsors had the foresight to include an English translation of the original French document, authenticated by Robert Annesley, the British Consul; it can be seen that the Antwerp authorities had compromised by adding the familiar date in brackets, as if assuming that the new calendar would not last forever.

French Revolutionary calendar birth 2

IOR/L/MIL/9/143 f.400 Noc

This curious faint echo of the French Revolution is found in IOR/L/MIL/9/143 ff.400-401, and the digitised image can be seen on the Findmypast website in the British India Office births & baptisms dataset. The story ends happily, in that the powers-that-be in London processed the application and passed Thompson fit to serve in the Bombay Army.

However, there was trouble ahead for John Thompson as we shall reveal in our next post!
 
Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services
 
Further reading:
Matthew Shaw, Time and the French Revolution: the Revolutionary calendar, 1789 - year XIV (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2011), shelfmark YC.2012.a.3742

 

02 May 2017

India Office Records on the Russian Revolution

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The India Office Records and Private Papers contain many items relating to the Russian Revolution and its effects on global politics. Russia and Britain had pursued an aggressively competitive relationship throughout the 19th century over the issue of influence in Asia, commonly known as ‘The Great Game’.  The India Office therefore routinely received Foreign Office and War Office reports concerning Russia.

Eastern Report No78  murder of Tsar Nicholas II

Eastern Report No.78, 25 July 1918 - IOR/L/PS/10/587

One report which the India Office Political Department regularly received from the Foreign Office was the weekly Eastern Report prepared for the War Cabinet.  The reports gave news, information and analysis of events concerning Russia, the Middle East and Asia.  The report shown here, No.78, dated 25 July 1918 gave news of the death of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.  Under the heading “The Ex-Emperor murdered”, the report stated that the following wireless message had been sent out by the Russian Government: “Recently Ekaterinburg, the capital of the Red Ural, was seriously threatened by the approach of the Czecho-Slovak bands.  At the same time a counter-revolutionary conspiracy was discovered, having for its object the wrestle of the tyrant from the hands of the council’s authority by armed force.  In view of the fact the presidium of the Ural region council decided to shoot the Ex-Tsar, Nicholas Romanoff.  This decision was carried out on the 16th July”. The message erroneously stated that the “wife and son of Romanoff” had been sent to a place of security.  In fact Nicholas, his wife and children were all killed on the night of the 16/17 July 1918.

Appreciation by Sir Mark Sykes

IOR/L/PS/10/587

The reports generally were forwarded with an attached ‘Appreciation’ or comment on the report by Sir Mark Sykes.  In his appreciation with report of 25 July 1918, he noted that “once a man has been unjustly killed, the errors attributed to him diminish in popular estimation, while the acts of his murderers are more and more open to popular condemnation”.  Copies of the reports were sent to the Government of India, but without the appreciations.

Short History of Events in Russia Nov 1917-Feb 1919

Short History of Events in Russia from November 1917 to February 1919 - Mss Eur F281/89

Another report received by the India Office looked at the military aspects of the events in Russia between November 1917 and February 1919, and was prepared by the General Staff of the War Office.  This summarised Allied military intervention in North Russia with the purpose of preventing the transference of enemy troops from East to West, and to deny the resources of Russia and Siberia to Germany.  The revolution in Russia was seen primarily through the lens of the First World War.  The introduction to the report stated that: “The political destiny of Russia was no immediate concern of the Allies except in so far as might, in the event of an inconclusive peace, assist in the continuity and enhancement of German military power”.

Map of European Russia

Map of Russia - Mss Eur F112/562

 John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
File 705/1916 Pt 3-4 The War: Eastern Reports, 1917-1919 [Reference IOR/L/PS/10/587]
Short History of Events in Russia from November 1917 to February 1919 (General Staff: War Office, Mar 1919) [Reference Mss Eur F281/89]
Maps of Russia and the Russian front, 1917-1918 [Reference Mss Eur F112/562]

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths  - Our major new exhibition is open until Tuesday 29 August 2017. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website.

Russian_revolution

 

04 April 2017

Caught out at Customs

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On 29 November 1932 a consignment of goods was delivered to Karachi via the SS Wachtfels, described on the manifest as “used effects, the property of the Afghan Government”.  On closer inspection the package was found to contain five pistols, 590 rounds of ammunition, and a “seditious publication”.  The items belonged to Abdul Hadi Khan, the former Afghan Minister to Berlin.

Osburn book

BL T29423

The publication was Must England Lose India? The nemesis of empire, by Colonel Arthur Clark Osburn, who had served with the Indian Medical Service.  Published in 1930, the book was banned for distribution in India.  Several people had brought the book to the attention of the India Office, including Osburn himself, who had instructed publisher Alfred Knopf to send a copy to the Secretary of State for India.  Osburn initially suggested that it would be inadvisable for the book to be sold in India during a period of unrest, and claimed “I am unwilling, being a member of the Socialist Party to embarrass the present Government in England in anyway”.

IOR L PJ 6 2001 A
 IOR/L/PJ/6/2001, File 1602 (1930) - Finance Department (Central Revenues) Notification No. 18, 5 May 1930.  Noc

The book was confiscated. What about the pistols and ammunition?  The possession of these personal items was not the primary issue for the British authorities; rather it was the circumvention of protocol for importing arms and ammunition.  Under the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1921 the British were “for all practical purposes under an obligation to let the Afghan Government import without hindrance or restriction whatever arms it desires”.  However, prior formal notification of HM Minister at Kabul was required before permission would be granted, a system in part designed to stop the flow of arms across the border to the North-Western Provinces.

A search for a precedent to guide the decision revealed that in 1926 S Ghulam Siddiq Khan, when returning from the same post in Berlin, had transported arms not covered by a laissez passer which he had obtained from HM Embassy in Berlin.  It was noted:

“Whether the present case is a more serious one than that seems to depend on decision of the question whether it is worse to import arms under a false declaration by an Afghan Consul, or to misuse a British diplomatic laissez passer for the same purpose.”

The pistols and ammunition were returned, as an “exceptional concession”.

  Osburn’s service record
Information on Osburn’s service record, requested by the India Office IOR/L/PJ/6/2001, File 1602 (1930) Noc

Osburn requested that the ban on his book be lifted, claiming to have written the book to counteract the views put forward by Katherine Mayo in her book Mother India.  He claimed his object in publishing the text was “to delay or prevent the demand in India for Independence or Home Rule from being irresistible”.  His plea was rejected by the India Office, with Under Secretary of State Arthur Hirtzel branding Osburn as “one of those disgusting birds who like to foul their own nests”.

  IOR L PJ 6 2001 B
Note by Arthur Hirtzel, in IOR/L/PJ/6/2001, File 1602 Noc

Osburn’s book was added to the list of prohibited publications, alongside a wide variety of anti-imperialist works of non-fiction, fiction and poetry.  These titles can be explored further in the British Library catalogue Publications proscribed by the Government of India, and the Library holds many of the volumes in its collections.

Alex Hailey
Content Specialist Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Project

Further reading:
Records from Political (External) Collection 7: Arms, Ammunition and Arms Traffic (IOR/L/PS/12/2171-2221) are currently being added to the Qatar Digital Library Portal, and contain papers relating to licensing, the arms trade, and smuggling.
IOR/L/PS/12/2173 Coll 7/4 ‘Afghanistan: purchase of arms from Great Britain’
IOR/L/PJ/6/2001, File 1602 ‘British Rule in India: controversy regarding the book by Lt Col A Osburn’

M Lloyd and G Shaw (eds), Publications proscribed by the Government of India (British Library, 1985)
N Gerald Barrier, Banned: Controversial Literature and Political Control in British India 1907-1947 (University of Missouri Press, 1974)
A Osburn, Must England Lose India? The nemesis of empire (London: Knopf, 1930)