THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

62 posts categorized "South Asia"

14 August 2017

Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold

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The first Indian man to play cricket for England, KS Ranjitsinhji, was described in these glowing terms in a song written in his honour. His cricketing career in England began while he was studying in Cambridge. He played for Sussex from 1895 to 1904 and for England against Australia from 1896 to 1902.

Ranji - Driving MBM 1896

KS Ranjitsinhji, Mirror of British Merchandise, 1896

In 1899 he achieved an amazing first for cricketers – over 3,000 runs in one year. Incredibly, he managed to repeat this in 1900. The Ranji song is featured in the British Library’s Asians in Britain web pages where you can learn more about his life. The web pages were initially developed through projects led by Professor Susheila Nasta of the Open University, including Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad, 1870-1950  

The Asians in Britain web pages tell the story of the long history of people from South Asia in Britain and the contributions they have made to British culture and society. They include ayahs (nannies), lascar seamen, politicians, campaigners such as suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, scientists and authors. The web pages also highlight the vital contribution people from South Asia made during the world wars.

Naoroji portrait MBM 1892
Dadabhai Naoroji, elected MP for Finsbury, 1892
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892

The Ranji song is among many fascinating and beautiful items currently on display in an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham, Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage.

Connecting Stories with logos - small

For further details about the exhibition, events and opening hours please see the Library of Birmingham’s website. The exhibition and community engagement programme continue the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages 
Making Britain Database 
#ConnectingStories

Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, (London, 2002)
Susheila Nasta with Florian Stadtler, Asian Britain: a photographic history, (London, 2013)
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892, 1896 Reference: 14119.f.37

25 July 2017

A Soldier’s Life – the memoir of William Young 76th Regiment of Foot

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We recently acquired the captivating memoir of William Young, HM 76th Regiment of Foot.  Young wrote  ‘A Soldier’s Life &  Experience’ whilst stationed in Bangalore in 1871 ‘surrounded by lovely scenery, thousands of miles away,’ to give his relatives at home ‘some faint idea of my chequered life – its joys, its troubles and sorrows’. 

Mss Eur F 698 -1 compressed
One of H.M.’s 76th Regt’ by William Young MSS Eur F698

William starts with his childhood in Ireland and his unhappy relationship with his father who was ‘a very cross man’ with ‘ a rough harsh manner’.   Having decided to leave home, William ‘in mad brained folly enlisted for a Soldier’.  His ‘ever gentle and kind mother’ fretted for him. When she died soon afterwards, she was said to have called for William with her last breath.

Mss Eur F698 - 2 compressed
‘Good bye Sister!  I’m going for a Soldier!!’ by William Young MSS Eur F698


In February 1864, William’s regiment arrived in Madras  after ‘a charming voyage’.  He describes his reactions to his new surroundings – the people, their clothes and language, the blazing sun.  Barely a week after landing he was promoted to Lance Corporal at the age of only nineteen, being ‘a tall, smart, healthy looking young fellow’.

William started to court Mary, the daughter of John Nugent a retired Army Warrant Officer. As John objected to the relationship, William visited Mary at night muffled up in a large black cloak!  John eventually gave his consent to the marriage, but, as William expected, the Colonel of his regiment said that he was too young to marry and there was no vacancy for Mary to be taken on the strength as a wife. 

John Nugent died on 2 November 1865 and Mary’s mother Jane agreed that the couple should marry without permission.  William and Mary had two marriage ceremonies, Protestant at St Matthias Vepery on 17 November 1865, and Catholic at Bangalore on 22 December 1865.  The couple were forced to live apart and Mary worked as a lady’s servant. They did not meet for eighteen months. After William signed on for another term of eleven years, he was given accommodation in the married quarters, with the promise of Mary being taken onto the strength as soon as a vacancy occurred.

There is a gripping description of a military march.  William marched with a pebble in his mouth to help keep away the ‘parching thirst’.  The women of the regiment rode in a cart; many were drunk.  Mary was horrified at their uncouth behaviour and was ostracised for refusing to associate with them.   When the regiment received orders to go to Rangoon, Mary fled to her sister in Trichinopoly rather than travel on with the other women. Her belongings were on board the ship and so William was obliged to sell them in Burma. The couple were later reunited in 1868 at Madras when Mary came to visit William in hospital.  Sadly, Mary died in November 1868 at the age of only 25 – ‘thank God we were permitted to meet and make up all our little misunderstandings’. 

Mss Eur F698- 3 compressed
‘The tired Soldier and his family’ by William Young MSS Eur F698

William’s memoir continues with his return to Britain on leave, his voyage back to India, and a fascinating account of the daily life of a soldier in India, including the relationship between the Army and the local peoples.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
MSS Eur F698 Memoir of William Young
Church register entries for William’s marriages- IOR/N/2/46 ff. 359, 379. Digitised images available via the Findmypast website.
(Mary’s name is given as Catherine in the church records from India.)

 

20 July 2017

Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England

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Miss Jenny and another cheetah came to England in 1764. They were part of a collection of animals despatched from India by George Pigot, the Governor of Madras, who had made a vast collection of foreign curiosities, ‘particularly wild beasts’. The cheetahs were fortunate to survive the long voyage which sadly proved fatal to many of the animals.

00158-cheetah
Cheetah from Seringapatam, India, 1794
NHD 32/3


The cheetahs and their Indian handlers were temporarily taken in by the Duke of Cumberland who had been an enthusiastic collector of exotic animals which he kept at Windsor until a tiger escaped and mauled and killed a young boy. The tragic incident led him to send his exotic animals to the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London. Sometimes he still took temporary care of animals on their way to new homes, including the cheetahs brought to England by George Pigot.
On 30 June 1764 the Duke of Cumberland organised an event at Great Windsor Park to put one of these visiting ‘tyger-cats’ on show. The cheetah was set loose to hunt a stag that had been placed in the Park but the demonstration of the cheetah’s hunting skills did not initially go well. After being tossed by the stag’s antlers the cheetah broke free, evaded the netting meant to confine it, and escaped into the forest where it proceeded to kill a roe deer. The Indian handlers caught the cheetah and let it feed on its prey. Manchester Art Gallery has a painting by George Stubbs of the cheetah at Windsor.


One cheetah was sold and one was presented to the King as a gift for the Royal Menagerie. A report on the Royal Menagerie from the early 1770s records not only that the cheetah was still there, but that it had been affectionately named by the Keeper of the Royal Menagerie as ‘Miss Jenny’. The two cheetahs’ Indian handler, known as John Morgan, had less respectful treatment. He was the victim of a theft while he was in England.


Miss Jenny now has a different incarnation as the cheetah guiding children around the History Detectives family trail in a new exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage.

Cheetah for Twitter

This family-friendly exhibition tells the story of the close connections between Britain and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1600 to the present day. It shows how those connections have influenced our food, culture, fashion, politics and heritage and made us who we are today.

LANDSCAPE SCREENS 1920 x 1080 PXLS


The exhibition is at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It was created in partnership with the British Library and generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours, events and family days are on the Library of Birmingham website.


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and curator of the exhibition


Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records


Further information
Caroline Grigson Menagerie: The history of Exotic Animals in England, (Oxford University Press, 2016)
Old Bailey Online 
Asians in Britain web pages 
Library of Birmingham
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

 

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.

 

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

 

13 July 2017

Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage

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LANDSCAPE SCREENS 1920 x 1080 PXLS


This family-friendly exhibition, launching on 15 July, will tell the story of the close connections between Britain and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1600 to the present day. It will show how those connections have influenced our food, culture, fashion, politics and heritage and made us who we are today.

Item 67 - Sophia Duleep Singh selling Suffragette 1913The exhibition continues the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham, bringing together their rich and complementary collections to illustrate this important but little-known aspect of British and local history. There will be over 100 exhibits which highlight many different voices from the past.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh is one of many people who will feature in the exhibition. (Image from IOR/L/PS/11/52, P1608)

Exhibits include letters, posters, photographs, advertisements, surveillance files, campaigning materials, oral history,music, and even a children’s game and a 19th century paper bag for Indian sweets. I and my co-curator of the exhibition, John O’Brien, hope that the variety of exhibits will prompt visitors to consider the many ways that history is

recorded and how gaps and silences can be filled.

The exhibition aims to capture Birmingham's importance in global trade and as a centre of industry.

Item 85 - 14119_f_37__MBM_D B Harris_advert

Mirror of British Merchandise, 1888

The Library of Birmingham's collections include stunning images by local photographers past and present which will be showcased in the exhibition. The image below is a photograph by Paul Hill of the Dudley & Dowell foundry at Cradley Heath, 1972, Library of Birmingham MS2294/1/1/9/1. (Image courtesy of Paul Hill.)

Item 92 Foundry worker by Paul Hill

 Capturing images of Birmingham’s richly diverse community is an important part of the exhibition and engagement programme. A selection of photographs will be included in the exhibition to give a vivid picture of Birmingham and all the people who live there today. Anyone in Birmingham can get involved now by sending their photograph via Twitter #brumpeeps. Exhibition visitors are also invited to ‘make their mark’ and share their own stories. 


Please see the Library of Birmingham's website for activities throughout the duration of the exhibition, such as family days, oral history training and talks at local libraries. 

The exhibition and community engagement programme have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator 


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages
Library of Birmingham website for details of opening hours and events
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

19 June 2017

Judith Weston and her search for a husband

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Judith Weston left England in December 1727 to visit her brother William in India.  William had recently been appointed to the East India Company’s civil service in Bengal. Aged 26 and belonging to a large family living at West Horsley in Surrey, Judith was hoping to find a husband. 

Still 4
 India Office Private Papers Mss Eur B162 Noc

Her voyage to India on the ship Streatham (or Stretham) is described in Judith’s account which is preserved in the India Office Private Papers. There were four other female passengers on board the ship. Judith explained that the Bay of Biscay was so rough that they could not cook meals, change their clothes or even lie down. The other ladies were horribly seasick, but not Judith! She even kept a good appetite. She tells us that one of the other ladies was so sick, she burst a vessel in her stomach.

The ship docked in the Cape Verde islands and Judith was fascinated by the active volcano, Fogo. Hot lava was visible at night and the female passengers found this frightening. The ship continued to the Cape of Good Hope and then onwards to India.

 Still 5

India Office Private Papers Mss Eur B162 Noc

The ship stopped off at Fort St George in Madras (modern day Chennai) on its way to Calcutta (Kolkata). The ladies had to endure a difficult journey to shore by rowing boat in very rough seas. Judith was embarrassed by the fact that the oarsmen were wearing only loincloths.

Arrival at MadrasNoc

Landing at Madras P1551 (1856) Images Online  

When Judith made dry land, she was taken to the governor but the other ladies had to stay in a punch tavern. They were all invited to a dinner and dance in the evening. The governor made it very clear that he thought that none of the ladies would get a husband. Judith did not like being treated as merely a package of goods for market. The governor had been asked by an East India Company official who lived at an outpost station to find a wife for him. The governor thought Judith would do. He was very surprised when Judith refused the offer. She was determined to continue on her voyage to see her brother.

Judith found a husband very quickly - within a month of the Streatham’s arrival at Calcutta in July 1728.  She married Scottish-born merchant John Fullerton on 16 August 1728. The previous year, John had been the sole survivor of an attack on a group of Englishmen at Jeddah.

It seems to have been a very happy relationship. In 1732 the couple left India on separate ships to return to England and settle there. John wrote to Judith from St Helena declaring his love for her. He was relieved to find that she had given birth safely on board ship. She was three weeks away from port at the time. She had produced a fine baby boy but John wanted a daughter. In his letter, he wrote that he hoped to have a ‘little Judy’ in the future. His wish was granted. As well as four sons, they had a daughter Judith.
 
Helen Paul
Lecturer in Economics and Economic History, University of Southampton

At our event on 19 June you can hear more about the shipboard experiences of voyagers to India as revealed in their private papers.

Further reading:
Judith Fullerton papers, British Library, India Office Private Papers Mss Eur B162
John Fullerton papers, British Library, India Office Private Papers Mss Eur D602

 

15 June 2017

The loss of the East Indiaman ‘Ganges’

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The British Library holds an account of the sinking of an East India Company ship, the Ganges, in 1807.  It is a terrifying story, not least because the crisis took place over several days. The Titanic sank in less than three hours. The Ganges was in trouble for a week. 

 Ganges

'The Ganges East-India-man Foundering in a Gale' - from T Harington, Remarkable Account of the loss of the ship Ganges East Indiaman… (London, 1808) Noc

The author of the account was Samuel Rolleston, a passenger on the Ganges.  Born in Hampshire in 1775, the son of a merchant, Rolleston had been appointed to the East India Company’s civil service in Bombay in 1794. 

A convoy of East Indiamen had left India and was approaching the Cape of Good Hope.  The weather was unsettled and the Ganges had been letting in water. The crew were monitoring the leak.  On 24 May, there was 24 inches of water in the hold. To make the ship lighter, four guns were thrown overboard and then some of the masts were lowered down.  One of the other ships in the convoy was the St Vincent.  On 25 May Captain Thomas Talbot Harington, commander of the Ganges, went on board the St Vincent. He asked the commander, Captain Charles Jones, whether some passengers could change ships. Jones refused as the St Vincent was also leaking. However he agreed to stay close by. 
 
On 26 May, the weather was fine. There were hopes that they would reach the Cape safely.  The next day, Harington gave orders to throw more cargo overboard.  The passengers helped the crew to do this and also to pump out water from the hold.  The guns on the main deck were thrown overboard.  Now the Ganges was less able to defend herself against attack.  The Ganges made constant signals of distress.  The St Vincent did not reply. 

The passengers believed that they would die that night. Darkness fell and the ship was rolling heavily.  At midnight, an officer thought he saw a light.  He went to tell the captain.  Three hours passed before they saw the light again.  At dawn, it was clear that the St Vincent was astern.  The Ganges sent a signal: ‘The Ship is Sinking. Sent Boat’.  The sea was rolling so violently that it was difficult to get people into the launch.  The first passengers left just before 1pm.  The last boat, with Harington and Rolleston on board, reached the St Vincent at 9pm. 

The next day, 29 May, the Ganges was still visible.  Harington and Rolleston went to her in a launch to see if they could salvage anything.  They could not and returned to the St Vincent. They had just reached her when the Ganges sank in one minute.  She went down with her masts standing, except one.  All hands and passengers had been saved, but presumably any animals on board had been left to drown.  Rolleston finished his account with ‘gratitude to my Creator’.

After this traumatic experience, Samuel Rolleston settled in England. The family home was Pan Manor on the Isle of Wight.  He was twice married and had two children. Rolleston died in 1860 aged 84.

Helen Paul
Lecturer in Economics and Economic History, University of Southampton

A Passage to India - Shipboard Life - Join us on 19 June to hear more about the experiences of voyagers between England and India as revealed in their private papers.

Further reading:
The loss of an East Indiaman in 1807, BL Mss Eur F591
Simon Martin, ‘The Loss of an East Indiaman in 1807: account by Samuel Rolleston’ in The Journal of the Families in British India Society, no.22 Autumn 2009, pp.23-29
T Harington, Remarkable Account of the loss of the ship Ganges East Indiaman… (London, 1808)