THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

161 posts categorized "Politics"

06 July 2018

New black Britain and Asian Britain web pages launched

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The British Library holds rich resources for the study of black Britain and Asian Britain. A new suite of web pages highlights the wide variety of material available, including printed, archival, visual, music and oral history collections.  The development of these web pages is discussed in the Asian and African studies blog.

The collections of the former India Office Library and Records, which are held at the British Library, illuminate the long history of South Asian people in Britain.  They document the stories of people from all walks of life including Indian seamen, known as lascars, soldiers and others providing vital support during both world wars, workers, servants such as ayahs (nannies), entrepreneurs, campaigners, students, lawyers and doctors, politicians, sportsmen and Indian royalty.  The people featured below are just a small sample of those whose lives are recorded in the collections at the British Library. 

  Dean MahomedPortrait of Sake Dean Mahomed , 1826 (T 12646)

Sake Dean Mahomed started his varied career in the East India Company’s Bengal Army.  He left for Ireland in 1782 with a Captain Godfrey Baker. After marrying an Irish woman in 1786, he wrote a book about his travels.  His next venture was the Hindoostanee Coffee House which he set up in London.  When that failed, he moved to Brighton where he created a thriving business as a ‘shampooing surgeon’.  Dean Mahomed’s children lived in Britain and pursued successful careers.

 

Dadabhai Naoroji was the first Indian MP in Britain.  NaorojiDadabhai Naoroji -- Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892 (14119.f.37)

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was born in 1876 in Suffolk, the sixth child of Maharajah Duleep Singh, the deposed ruler of the Punjab. Proud of her Indian ancestry, Princess Sophia was a generous patron of causes which helped Indian people in Britain. Today, she is best remembered as a passionate suffragette campaigning for women’s right to vote.

Sophia Duleep SinghSophia Duleep Singh - The Suffragette, 18 April 1913 IOR/L/PS/11/52, P1608, f.273

The photograph shows Princess Sophia selling The Suffragette newspaper outside Hampton Court Palace, where she lived in an apartment. 

The Bevin Training Scheme was established in 1941 with the support of the British Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin. The Second World War increased demand for skilled engineers in the Indian industries engaged in war-related work. The scheme aimed to provide practical training for young Indians who otherwise would not have the means to travel to Britain. This booklet was produced by the Indian Government as part of an essay competition for Bevin trainees to stimulate public interest in the scheme.

Ambassadors of Goodwill IOR-L-I-1-978Ambassadors of Goodwill - Essays by Bevin Trainees, 1940s IOR/L/I/1/978 f.30

We hope that you will be inspired to look at the new web pages and discover more about our collections relating to the history of black and Asian Britain.

Penny Brook and John O'Brien
India Office Records

Further reading
Asians in Britain
Paper bag reveals forgotten history
Award of Victoria Cross to Khudadad Khan
A tribute to forgotten heroes of the seven seas 
Indian princess in suffragette march
Bevin Indian trainees during the Second World War

 

04 July 2018

James Cook and Benjamin Franklin

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James Cook departed on his last voyage eight days after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (4 July 1776).  The official account of that voyage was published on 4 June 1784, less than a month after the final ratification of the Treaty of Paris (12 May 1784), which concluded the American War of Independence.

The coincidence of these two historic events converged in the public sphere on 10 March 1779 with the publication of Benjamin Franklin’s open letter ordering American sea captains, if they happened to encounter him, to treat Cook and his crew ‘with all civility and kindness … as common friends to mankind’.

  Franklin 1 Franklin 1ACopy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779 State Library New South Wales, Dixson Library, MSQ140

The letter received considerable press coverage at the time.  Opinions about it were sharply divided. On 26 May 1779, after summarizing its contents, Lloyd’s Evening Post ends with a quotation from Swift: ‘See, Brothers, how we Apples swim’.  The line, spoken by a ball of ‘horse’s dung’, clearly implies that Franklin’s support for Cook’s voyage is nothing but a vain attempt to share in its glory.

The Whig-leaning Public Advertiser, in contrast, used the letter to voice anti-war sentiments.  On 7 June 1779 a whimsical article imagines Cook being captured by an American ship.  On discovering his identity, the Americans follow Franklin’s orders and present him with ‘Half a hundred Weight of right Virginia Tobacco, three Bags of Rice’, and other produce plundered from ‘a Portugueze Vessel’.  In referencing their highly profitable trading relations and their shared enemy, the ‘Portugueze’, the article stresses the economic and political importance of the relationship between Britain and America.

  Franklin 2
Public Advertiser [London, England], 7 June 1779; Issue 13935

A similar note is struck by the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser’s response to news of Cook’s death, communicated in a letter from Charles Clerke from Kamchatka, a place that in the 18th century was used as a metaphor for distance and coldness:

‘Had we been born in an island in the South-Seas, we should perhaps have called [Cook] an invader, a pirate. …The most striking circumstance surely is, that Captain Clerke should sit down in the Bay of St. Peter and Paul at Kamschatka, and write a letter to Mr. Stephens, at Charing-cross, which, in about half a year, reaches him as safely, as if it had been put into a penny-post-office… This is civilization; nor should we forget the friendly assistance of the Russians, any more than the French order, respecting Captain Cook’.

The greatest achievements of the voyage, the article suggests, were not so much Cook’s discoveries but the co-operation and free lines of communication between potentially warring powers that enabled these discoveries to happen and to be so promptly reported on.

As a counterpoint to the hostilities between Britain, France and America in the Atlantic, therefore, Cook’s voyages in the Pacific were seen, by some at least, as a way of promoting unity between so-called ‘Enlightened’ countries – les états bien policés (well-governed states) – whose destinies were presented as increasingly more entwined by commercial links and shared mœurs or ‘polite manners’.

Ben Pollitt
PhD Candidate, Department of History of Art, University College London

Further reading:
Copy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779, State Library New South Wales, Dixson Library, MSQ140
Lloyd's Evening Post (London, England), 26 May- 28 May 1779; Issue 3421
Jonathan Swift, ‘On the words Brother-Protestants, and Fellow-Christians, so familiarly used by the advocates for the Repeal of the Test Act in Ireland,’ [1733] in The Works of Dr. Jonathan Swift, Vol. VII, London: T. Osborne et al., 1766, p. 206
Public Advertiser (London, England), 7 June 1779; Issue 13935
Sophie Forgan, ‘A note on the ‘Afterlife of Kamchatka,’ in Smoking Coasts and Ice-Bound Seas: Cook’s Voyage to the Arctic, Whitby: Captain Cook Memorial Museum, 2008, pp. 33-40
Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), 17 January 1780; Issue 3327

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

BL_Cook_737x451-quote

26 June 2018

British-US rivalry in the race to discover oil in Iraq

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How the race to discover ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’ led to the British Government’s belief that an American oil company had helped secretly fund the Iraqi revolt against British occupation in 1920.

  Hobbs Oil 1Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916. IOR/L/PS/18/D228, f 141

In the aftermath of the First World War, much of the defeated Ottoman Empire’s dominions were carved up between the War’s victors. In the case of Mesopotamia [Iraq], this meant military occupation and administration by the British.

The British Government saw great strategic and commercial value in Mesopotamia, thanks in part to the significant oil reserves they believed it to possess. Britain already had an effective monopoly on oil exploration and production in neighbouring Persia [Iran], through the operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. But at the end of the First World War, foreign oil companies were also eager to discover oil reserves in Mesopotamia.

The two major players in Mesopotamia in 1919 were the British Anglo-Saxon Oil Company (ASOC, now part of Royal Dutch Shell) and the American Standard Oil Company of New York (SONY). The stakes were high. In a letter intercepted by British censors, one of the two geologists sent by SONY to explore Mesopotamia reported to a relative that he was on his way to find ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’.

Naturally the British Government favoured British interests over American, but could not be seen to be giving preference to one over the other. The solution was to request that both companies halt their exploration work, explaining that while Mesopotamia remained under military occupation, oil exploration could be conducted for military purposes only. In the meantime, ASOC’s geologists were retained by the military, and their work paid for by British military funds.

Hobbs Oil 2Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 147

The frustrations of the two SONY geologists, stuck in Baghdad and unable to carry out their work, is made clear in another intercepted letter, written in June 1920 by one of the geologists to his fiancé. ‘If you know the inside history of this you will find that the British have held up […] American firms from doing business in places conquered by the British while we were doing their fighting in France’ he wrote.

  Hobbs Oil 3Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 29

By this time angry Iraqis were on the streets, protesting against Britain’s continued occupation of their country, two years after the end of the War. The intercepted geologist’s letter affirmed the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia’s belief that SONY were financing the anti-British movement in Mesopotamia. In a secret telegram sent to Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in August 1920, the Commissioner further wrote it was ‘clear that [the] United States Consul has frequent conversation of an intimate nature with extremists to such an extent that in recent meetings in mosques, cries have been raised by extremists “long live America and her Consul”’.

Hobbs Oil 4Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 4

The British officials involved conceded that they had no concrete proof to back up any of their suspicions and accusations. Nevertheless, Curzon felt it ‘desirable that any avenue that might lead to proof, should be kept open’.

Mark Hobbs
Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading:
British Library, London, ‘File 2249/1915 Pt 2 ‘Oil: Mesopotamia and Persia: oil; Sir J Cowan's deputation & Standard Oil Co.’ (IOR/L/PS/10/556)

 

20 June 2018

Seeking Wartime Employment: Bertram Thomas and Frank Smythe

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

  IOR L PS 12 300 f.72Telegram from Bertram Thomas to John Charles Walton at the India Office, 27 August 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/300, f 72). The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

IOR L PS 12 300 f.66Letter from Frank Smythe to John Charles Walton of the India Office Political Department, 23 September 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/300, f 66) © Frank S. Smyth (Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence)

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

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

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

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

 

04 June 2018

Senator J. William Fulbright: International Scholar and Statesman

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The British Library has acquired the archive of the US-UK Fulbright Commission set up in 1948 under the Fulbright Program for grants for international educational exchange. Eleanor Casson introduces the instigator behind the program, Senator Fulbright, and the Famous Alumni of the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

James William Fulbright (Bill) was born in Sumner, Missouri in 1905 to James and Roberta Fulbright. In 1906 the family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Both his parents were successful local entrepreneurs. His father built up a small empire which included the local newspaper, lumberyards, a bottling company and a bank. In 1923 James Fulbright died suddenly and it was left to Roberta to continue the family business, which she did, becoming one of Arkansas’s most famous and successful business women.

The Fulbrights were known by some in the local area as ‘The First Family of Fayetteville’, they were a family of high achievers. Bill embodied this by winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University in 1924. The Rhodes scholarship and Fulbright’s time in Oxford had a profound effect on him. He immersed himself in his studies, but also embraced the cultural differences of England: from the frivolous such as tea drinking and joining the rugby team, to the more enduring like his admiration of British institutions, systems and politics.

Fulbright’s career, outside of the family business, began in 1939 when he was named President of the University of Arkansas. He was 34, the youngest college head in the United States at that time, he was also unqualified for the job, but passionate about education in Arkansas. This lasted until 1941 when he was ousted from his position by the new Governor Homer Adkins.  

In 1942 Fulbright began his thirty-two year career in Congress running for election in Northwest Arkansas. His experiences in Europe had inspired a deep interest in international affairs and his experience at the University of Arkansas had cemented his belief that education could be used as a tool in international affairs. He spent his political career campaigning for tolerance and appreciation of other cultures. His first act as a Congressman was to co-sponsor the Fulbright-Connally Resolution, the forbear of the United Nations. By 1944 he had won a US Senate seat and pushed through legislation creating the International Exchange Program in 1946.

The Fulbright Program was one of Senator Fulbright’s greatest accomplishments. To this date approximately 370,000 ‘Fulbrighters’ have participated in the Program since its inception in 1946 and the Program currently operates in over 160 countries worldwide. The US-UK Commission was established in 1948, since that time there have been over 27,000 Fulbright exchanges between the two countries. The awards span a number of disciplines benefitting everyone from artists to scientists, historians to mathematicians.

Fulbright Scholarship Signing with UK  Fulbright Papers  Series 86  Box 9

22 September 1948, Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin (left) and Chargé d'Affaires Don Bliss (right) sign for the United Kingdom and United States respectively, establishing the Fulbright Agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. Fulbright Papers (MS/F956/144-B), Series 86, Box 9, Folder 2. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. By permission of the University of Arkansas Libraries.

The aim of the program was to nurture the belief that experience and understanding of another culture will contribute to ‘joint ventures for mutually constructive and beneficial purposes’. This belief was reflected throughout his career which led him to become known as the ‘dissenter’. He participated in the censuring of Senator McCarthy, argued against the Vietnam War, and was an advocate for liberal internationalism. Fulbright assumed the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1959 which he held until he lost his seat 1974, the longest serving chairman in the committee’s history. He was presented with the Medal of Freedom by his protégé President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Senator Fulbright
Senator Fulbright at the 40th Anniversary Reception of the Fulbright Program, 1986.  ©The American. By permission of The American.

Eleanor Casson
Cataloguer, Fulbright Archive


Further reading:

Coffin, Tristram, Senator Fulbright, London: Rupert Hart-Davis, (1967)

‘The Fulbright Program, 1946-1996: An Online Exhibit- Expansion in Europe’, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. Accessed: 14/05/2018 https://libraries.uark.edu/specialcollections/exhibits/fulbrightexhibit/bi2pic.html

Woods, Randall Bennett, Fulbright: A Biography, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1995)

Woods, Randall Bennett, ‘Fulbright, J. William’, (American National Biography: 2000). Accessed: 14/05/2018 https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0700698

21 May 2018

‘A Trustworthy Indian in Stockholm’: A. Yusuf Ali’s Mission to Scandinavia, 1918

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A hundred years ago, Stockholm was the centre of Indian anti-colonialism and, at the same time, British counter-intelligence operations. In late April and early May 1918, the Indian lawyer and administrator A. Yusuf Ali gave a series of lectures on Indian culture in Scandinavia, including Copenhagen, Stockholm, Uppsala and Oslo.

A Yusuf Ali 1A. Yusuf Ali from Træk af Indiens Kultur

Delivered in English, the lectures dealt with modern Indian poetry, Indian religion and the role of women in Indian, and they were translated into Danish and published as Træk af Indiens Kultur (Features of Indian Culture) in 1918. In the Foreword, Ali conceded that the lectures were not intended to be published in book form, but ‘valuable friends’ persuaded him to do so. What Ali did not admit was that these ‘valuable friends’ were the British Foreign Office (FO).

A Yusuf Ali 2Træk af Indiens Kultur 

In fact, as reports from the FO show, the British were so worried about the anti-colonial activities of the Indian National Committee (INC) among the socialist delegates assembled in Stockholm for the proposed peace conference that they considered ‘the possibility of sending a trustworthy Indian to Stockholm who could put the case from a loyalist point of view’.

As it happened, the two Indian revolutionaries Virendranath ‘Chatto’ Chattopadhyaya and M.P.T. Acharya from the Berlin-based Indian Independence Committee had arrived in Stockholm in May 1917 and set up the INC. They met the organising Dutch-Scandinavian Committee in July 1917, putting their demands for independence to the socialists, but they were met with little sympathy. The Dutch socialist Pieter Jelles Troelstra noted that ‘the Indian question is important, but it is a distraction’ from the peace negotiations.

However, Chatto and Acharya remained in Stockholm and carried out extensive propaganda in the Swedish newspapers in the next couple of years. For instance, when Finland achieved independence in January 1918, the INC sent congratulatory wishes through the Swedish newspapers Svenska Dagbladet and Aftonbladet, hoping for Finland’s support for Indian independence.

It was such articles that prompted the FO to send Ali on his mission to Scandinavia. In response to the propaganda of the INC, Ali wrote in Stockholms-Tidningen in April 1918 that the Indian revolutionaries were wrong, there was no desire for independence in India, and that the ties between India and Britain had been strengthened during the war. Furthermore, he claimed that the Indian revolutionaries had no support in India, and he referred to them as ‘anarchists’. Chatto denied these accusations, in an article in Stockholms-Tidningen in May 1918, and asserted that they enjoyed widespread support in India, particularly from Bengal.

In his reminiscences of the time in Stockholm, Acharya later wrote that they used to attend Ali’s lectures and hand out their own material to the audience. This meant that many thought that Ali belonged to the INC and subsequently approached him for more information. Ali’s mission had failed, claimed Acharya, and the British called Ali back in the summer of 1918.

The British felt differently, however, as is clear from a review of Ali’s book from The Times Literary Supplement: ‘If it was the object of our Foreign Office to give the Scandinavian public an opportunity of knowing better and valuing more highly the genius of India it would appear that this aim has been excellently fulfilled’ (5 September 1918).

Ole Birk Laursen
Lecturer at NYU London and a Research Associate at The Open University

Further reading:
M. Yusuf Ali, Træk Af Indiens Kultur (Copenhagen: V. Pios Boghandel/H Branner, 1918)
M. A. Sherif, Searching for Solace: A Biography of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Interpreter of the Qur’an (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 1994)
British Library, India Office Records/L/PS/11/126, P 3449/1917 The War: Stockholm Peace Congress; attitude of Oriental delegates

 

16 May 2018

The Anti-German Union and the India Office

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A file among the records of the India Office Public & Judicial Department shows how the anti-German hysteria that developed in Britain after the outbreak of the First World War came to spread as far as central India.

Anti German Union Museum of Fine Arts Boston CON651696Poster for Anti-German Union 1915 courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

George Makrill was Honorary Secretary of the Anti-German Union  - motto: ‘No German Labour, No German Goods, No German Influence, Britain for the British'.  On 9 August 1915 he wrote to the India Office from the Union's headquarters on The Strand concerning ‘... certain information, which I have received from a source which I know to be trustworthy, and which appears to me to require immediate action’.

This potentially grave matter was then left hanging, as Makrill had forgotten to include in this initial communication a short list of persons with German connections who had worked or were working in the Central Provinces administration.  This was dispatched, with apologies, on 26 August.
 
The India Office thus found itself tasked with investigating four of its own civil servants:
• the late Sir Arthur Blumerhassett, former Chief Secretary - what damage might he have done the Allied cause before his death?
• Mr Marten, his successor - had he been ‘turned’ by Sir Arthur?
• Mr Grille, Assistant Commissioner - was he part of the conspiracy?
• Mr Hullah, Third Secretary  - what was his nefarious role?

Mr Makrill might himself have done some elementary checking prior to alerting the India Office, given that he must have meant Sir Arthur Blennerhassett who had died in late January.  It was soon established that the four individuals were all Oxbridge graduates, which before the Cambridge spy ring scandal erupted decades later must presumably have worked in their favour.  Departmental Secretary Malcolm Seton (Repton and Oriel College, Oxford) took it upon himself to deal with the matter, putting the laconic note in the file on 2 September : ‘Mr. J. T. Marten has a German mother, but the Martens are an old Gloucestershire family.  I have known him intimately for over 20 years.  He has always been rather anti-German in feeling’.  He was plainly not impressed by the error over the Blennerhassett surname: ‘Burke or Debrett could have been consulted’.

In retrospect it is clear that the whole episode stemmed from the Anti-German Union having somehow discovered that a handful of overseas civil servants had some German ancestry and/or had married German wives, and were keen for the India Office to investigate their backgrounds.  Seton’s sense of exasperation is plain in another written comment: ‘If the Anti-German Union hopes to proscribe every official who has German blood, its labours will be protracted’.  No further action seems to have taken place, and Messrs Marten (Clifton and New College, Oxford), Grille (Harrow and Jesus, Cambridge) and Hullah (Oundle and Caius College, Cambridge) were sensibly allowed to continue their careers unmolested.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
IOR/L/PJ/6/1395, file 3304
Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E267

 

03 May 2018

‘Who on Earth is Anthony Meyer?’

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Unless you are a political anorak, or one of his constituents, Sir Anthony Meyer’s long, but low key, parliamentary career probably passed under your radar.  However, in November 1989 he was briefly one of the best known men in the country.  His challenge to Margaret Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and by extension the prime ministership, captured the public’s imagination: the backbencher versus the ‘Iron Lady’, albeit a backbencher who was ex-Eton, ex-Oxford, ex-Guards, and a baronet to boot.  Meyer was portrayed as David to Thatcher’s Goliath.

MeyerNewcastle Evening Chronicle 22 November 1989 British Newspaper Archive

The British Library recently acquired the thousands of letters Meyer received at the time of the challenge. They are overwhelmingly supportive.  Constituents, non-constituents, Conservative supporters, supporters of other parties, and the apolitical alike lauded his courage and criticised both Thatcher’s leadership style which they saw as increasingly arrogant and autocratic, and her policies, especially the poll tax and water privatisation.  However, Meyer also received a large number of letters opposing his challenge, and it these letters that make most interesting, and let’s face it, most fun, reading.

The opposition to Meyer’s challenge broke down into distinct categories.  The more considered correspondents picked apart his views on Europe and the economy and insisted that Meyer would divide the party, handing encouragement, and possibly the next election, to Labour.  Others preferred to focus on Thatcher herself, both in a political sense - 'the best Prime Minister we have ever had' - and a personal one - 'the greatest woman who has ever lived on the Planet Earth'; 'neat, wears right clothes and is attractive'.  One cannot help feeling that the latter were hardly prerequisites for leading the country.

Some correspondents attacked Meyer the man rather than his message.  He was a nonentity, the unpopular boy at school trying to get noticed.  He was ordered to 'Stop showing off!' and put a stop to his 'childish antics'.  Much was made of Meyer’s low-key career: 'WHO ON EARTH IS anthony meyer?'; 'Dear Sir Anthony Who!!!'   His opponents dispensed with such niceties as getting his name right.  One card was addressed to Sir Thomas Meyers but he was also Myers, Myer, Myner, Mayer.  To be fair, even some of his supporters wrote to Sir Peter, Sir Ian, Sir Robert, Sir Charles, Sir William, and Sir Alfred.

Another category of opponent comprised those who saw Meyer’s challenge as treachery.  He was likened to Julius Caesar’s assassins, Judas, and memorably one letter writer reckoned Meyer 'and Quisling would have been ‘good pals'.  Finally, there were those who simply resorted to personal abuse, but even this had a genteel feel to it.  'Silly old twit', 'a DRIP of the first water', and 'your [sic] nuts' was about as bad as it got.  Even the correspondent who told him to 'get lost' prefaced it, very politely, with 'kindly'.

As a ‘stalking horse’ candidate (predictably changed to 'stalking donkey' and 'stalking sheep' by his opponents) Meyer was never expected to win, and he did not.  He was resoundingly defeated by 314 votes to 33 but, as was the plan, he laid the groundwork for a party ‘big gun’ to mount another challenge at a later date.  Less than 12 months later Margaret Thatcher resigned as Conservative party leader and Prime Minister.

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager

Further reading:
The Papers of Sir Anthony Meyer, Add MS 89310.
Anthony Meyer, Stand Up and Be Counted (London: Heinemann, 1990).