THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

56 posts categorized "South Asia"

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. 

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 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)

 

13 June 2017

Cow Protection in India

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

The Graphic  9 December 1911

The Graphic 9 December 1911

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

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

Jassawalla Petition (top)

Jassawalla Petition (bottom)

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

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

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

Bhalchandra Krishna Petition

Bhalchandra Krishna Petition signatures

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

John O’Brien
India Office Records

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

09 June 2017

Thomas Bowrey’s cloth samples

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

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

MSS Eur D1076 (9)

MSS Eur D 1076

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

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

MSS Eur D1076 (10)

MSS Eur D 1076

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

MSS Eur D1076 (3)

MSS Eur D 1076

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

MSS Eur D1076 (6)

MSS Eur D 1076

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

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

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

 

02 June 2017

A Passage to India: Shipboard Life

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

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

Still 8 

They were thrilled to see the diary of Henry Nicholetts…

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Still 1
British Library MSS Eur F706   Noc

…and the letters of Judith Weston …

Still 4
British Library MSS Eur B162 Noc

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

Still 7

 
British Library MSS Eur E292 Noc

  Still 6
British Library MSS Eur E292 Noc

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

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

 

16 May 2017

Henry Nicholetts’ voyage to Calcutta

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India Office Private Papers recently acquired the journal of Henry Nicholetts written during a voyage to Calcutta in 1855. Henry was aged 15 and on his way to start a career in Borneo.  We are delighted that the journal is going to feature in an event at the British Library in June - A Passage to India: Shipboard Life

Nicholetts WD4560 compressed

Miniature portrait of Henry Nicholetts - British Library WD4560

Henry Nicholetts was born in South Petherton Somerset on 31 July 1840, the tenth child of solicitor John and his wife Mary.  Henry’s mother died shortly before his eighth birthday.  He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School in London and for a short time at Rugby.  In 1855 his father asked Henry if he would like to go to Borneo as a ‘governor’ of a district.  There was a family connection: Henry’s elder brother Gilbert was married to Mary Anna Johnson, a niece of Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak.  Henry tells us that he ’accepted the appointment without any hesitation’ and set off on his journey in July 1855 on board the Monarch bound for Calcutta.

  Monarch launch Blackwall 1844
Launch of the Monarch at Green’s Yard Blackwall -  Illustrated London News 15 June 1844


Henry kept a journal of the entire voyage, overcoming sea sickness in the early days to take pleasure in life on board ship:  ‘I think it is worth coming to sea if only to see the beautiful mornings’. 

Nicholetts diary 1

 British Library MSS Eur F706 Noc

The teenager complains at times of the monotony of the voyage, having nothing to record some days except the position of the ship. But he and his fellow passengers passed the time with whist, quoits, play-acting, singing, dancing, and shooting birds. There were fights and accidents to report – a chain fell from the rigging, rattling to the deck close to a young passenger, and a dog fell overboard. Henry enjoyed two traditional maritime celebrations: the ceremony of the dead horse when the sailors’ advance of one month’s pay ran out, and ‘crossing the line’ with Neptune. 

Nicholetts diary 2

British Library MSS Eur F706 Noc

Henry had tea with the midshipmen who were ‘very free and easy’, and he ‘began to know the ladies a little better’, chatting with ‘a young lady of very prepossessing appearance & of a very romantic turn of mind’. Small incidents are turned into amusing stories: the bad haircut given to one young man; the mixing of gin instead of water into port wine; the effect of the waves - ‘The ship rolling a good deal we had scenes in the cuddy - tea cups tumbling over; legs of mutton bounding down the table; ladies falling into gentlemen’s arms’.

Unfortunately our story of this engaging teenager does not have a happy ending.

On arrival in Sarawak, Henry was posted by Sir James Brooke to Lundu. In February 1857 he went on a short visit to stay with Brooke at Kuching.  

Mw00805

Sir James Brooke by Sir Francis Grant 1847 NPG 1559 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC

On the night of 18/19 February Brooke’s house was attacked by armed Chinese. Henry went out from the bungalow where he was sleeping.  Brooke wrote:  ‘Poor Harry Nicholetts! I mourn for his fate.  I was fond of him, for he was a gentle and amiable lad, promising well for the future. Suddenly awakened, he tried to make his way to the large house, and was killed in the attempt.  His sword lay beside him next morning when he was found. Poor, poor fellow!’

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Join us on 19 June to hear more about Henry’s shipboard experiences and those of other voyagers to India as revealed in their private papers.

19June_ApassagetoindiaLanding at Madras - British Library P1551 Noc

 

Further reading:
Henry Nicholetts’ journal MSS Eur F706
Gertrude L Jacob, The Raja of Sarawak (London, 1876)
Basil Lubbock, The Blackwall Frigates (Glasgow, 1962)

 

04 May 2017

The Turings of India

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Mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing had many family connections to India.  His father Julius Mathison Turing belonged to the Indian Civil Service and his mother Ethel was daughter of Edward Waller Stoney, chief engineer of the Madras Railway Company.  Back in the 1790s, the physical appearance of one of the Turings born in Madras prompted the East India Company to introduce a regulation blocking the employment of men with Indian mothers.

  Civil servant c13441-10

'A civilian going out' from Twenty four plates illustrative of Hindoo and European manners in Bengal (1781.b.18 plate 23) Images Online  Noc

The Turings were a Scottish family whose members had served the East India Company since 1729 when Robert Turing was appointed as a surgeon in Madras.  Robert’s sister Helen married a cousin Henry Turing who was a peruke-maker in St Martin-in the Fields London.  Helen and Henry’s sons John and William joined the Company as Madras civil servants in the 1760s. Both rose steadily through the ranks from writer to senior merchant.

William Turing had a son John William, born on 20 May 1774 and baptised at Chingleput on 24 January 1776, ‘mother unknown’.  However the mother’s identity is revealed in William’s will, made when he was dying at Nellore in November 1782.  William wrote that he had so many bad debts that it was impossible to say how his estate would turn out, but he left 2,000 pagodas each to his ‘natural son’ John William, his ‘girl Nancy’, and the child she was carrying.  The will was proved on 17 January 1783 and the accounts show that the bequests were paid to John William and his Indian mother Nancy. 

  Turing William will
IOR/L/AG/34/29/186 p. 47 Will of William Turing 1782 Noc

Nancy gave birth to William's daughter on 13 May 1783.  The baby was baptised Margaretha at Chingleput on 12 June (again 'mother unknown'), and buried at Pulicat on 17 June 1783.

It appears that John William Turing was in London by 1791.  The East India Company's Committee of Shipping reported on 19 April 1791 that a John Turing who had been appointed as a military officer cadet for Madras appeared to be ‘a Native of India’.  The Court of Directors called in the young man so they could inspect him. After he withdrew, the directors resolved unanimously that the sons of native Indians would henceforward not be appointed by the Court to employment in the Company's civil, military, or marine services.  John Turing’s cadetship was rescinded.

Turing exclusion IOR B 113 p.17

IOR/B/113 p.17 Court Minutes 19 April 1791 Noc

During the following years, the Company gradually extended the categories for exclusion.  In 1795 Anglo-Indians were disqualified from service in the Company’s Armies except as bandsmen and farriers. On 19 February 1800 the Committee of Shipping reported on the case of Hercules Ross who was presented to be 3rd mate of the Hugh Inglis.  Ross came from Jamaica and the Court decided that the previous regulations should be applied to persons born in the West Indies 'whose Complexion evidently shows that their Parents are not severally Natives of Great Britain or Ireland'. 

It is unclear what happened to John Turing after he was deprived of his chance to be a Company military officer.  On 20 April 1791 the Court of Directors granted Alexander Clark permission to take a native named John Turing to Bengal on the ship Dublin, at no cost to the Company.  Does anyone know his subsequent story?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/N/2/11 pp.25-26 Baptism of John William Turing at Chingleput 24 January 1776.
IOR/L/AG/34/29/186 pp. 2-23, 47 Will and estate papers for William Turing.
IOR/N/2/11 pp.39-40 Baptism of Margaretha Turing at Chingleput 12 June 1783.
IOR/N/2/11 pp.817-818 Burial of Margaretha Turing at Pulicat 17 June 1783.
(The above documents are available online through findmypast).
IOR/B/113 p.17 Court Minutes 19 April 1791 for John Turing’s exclusion.
IOR/B/130 pp.997-998 Court Minutes 19 February 1800 for Hercules Ross’s exclusion.

 

20 April 2017

Gerald Wellesley’s secret family

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In the 18th century it was not unusual for East India Company servants to have Indian wives or mistresses. Children of these unions were often openly acknowledged.  Attitudes began to change after 1800 and there was a growing tendency to try to keep such families secret. Company official Gerald Wellesley provided for his children born to an Indian woman in the 1820s but stopped short of giving them his name or recognising them publicly as his offspring.

Gerald Wellesley (1790-1833) was the son of Richard, Marquess Wellesley, Governor-General of India 1798-1805. Educated at Eton and at East India College in Hertfordshire, Gerald was appointed to the Bengal Civil Service in 1807. He spent many years as Resident in the Princely State of Indore.

Indore X108(15)

Indore from William Simpson's 'India: Ancient and Modern X108(15) Online Gallery

Gerald had three children with a woman whose name has been recorded as ‘Culoo’: Agnes Maria (born 6 May 1825), Charles Alfred (born 19 January 1827), and Frances Jane (born 23 December 1827).  After a successful career in India, Gerald decided to return to England. In 1830 his children travelled to England under the surname Fitzgerald on the ship Charles Kerr in the care of Maria Elizabeth Lermit and her sister Jane Baker.  Maria was the widow of Captain Alfred Lermit of the Bengal Native Infantry.

The ship arrived at Deal on 29 June 1830.  On 10 July 1830 at St George Hanover Square London Maria Lermit married James Vaughan, newly retired from the Madras Civil Service and a fellow passenger on board the Charles Kerr.  The three Fitzgerald children were baptised at Trinity Church Marylebone on 9 August 1830 with their parents named as Charles and Culoo Fitzgerald of 29 Carburton Street.

Gerald travelled back from India overland via the Middle East and Europe. His journey was fraught with difficulty after he collapsed in Belgrade. He eventually arrived in London in December 1832.

  Wellesley arrives in London 1832
  Morning Post 11 December 1832 British Newspaper Archive

Just seven months later, on 22 July 1833, Gerald Wellesley died at the home of his brother Henry in Flitton Bedfordshire. In his will Gerald bequeathed life annuities of £150 for his three ‘protegés or adopted Children’, Agnes, Charles and Frances Fitzgerald.  He named as their guardian Maria Vaughan or, in the case of her death, Jane Baker, ‘being confident they will discharge the trust in the way I could wish’.  An annuity of £100 was provided for the guardian.  The reminder of his estate was shared between the children of his late brother Richard; his brother Henry; and his sisters Anne and Hyacinthe.

Frances Fitzgerald died in Marylebone in May 1834 aged 6 years. I have been unable to discover what happened to her brother Charles, but her sister Agnes grew to adulthood living with her guardian’s family.  James Vaughan died in 1833 and Maria was remarried in 1838 to Colonel Andrew Creagh.  In the 1841 census, Agnes was with the Creaghs in Hastings, and in 1851 she and the now thrice-widowed Maria were lodging together in Cheltenham.  In 1856 Agnes married Edward Bullock Finlay, a Church of England priest.  Agnes died on 27 October 1908 aged 83.  I wonder how much she knew of her Wellesley and Indian heritage?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
IOR/J/21 ff.221-223 Gerald Wellesley’s writer’s petition (digital image available via findmypast together with many other family history sources from the India Office Records)
Gerald Wellesley’s will - The National Archives PROB 11/1820/462
Marylebone baptismal records are held at London Metropolitan Archives
Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History (2016)