THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

49 posts categorized "South Asia"

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)

 

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)

 

28 March 2017

Toshakhana - an untold word?

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Sometimes when cataloguing India Office Records we encounter unfamiliar words. Rather than an untold life, today we present an ‘untold word’, which might be known to those of you who have read Indian history.

  Toshakhana

What does Toshakhana mean?

Of Persian or Sanskrit origins, Toshakhana means ‘Treasure-House’, the store where items received as gifts from tribal chiefs, local rulers and princes were deposited. In fact, East India Company and India Office officials were not allowed to accept presents. Such items, often weapons or jewels, were to be valued, deposited in the Company’s toshakhana, and later used for exchange gifts with other rulers.

Several countries still have Toshakhanas. There were Toshakhanas in British India, and there was one in Bahrain.

Toshakhana IOR_R_15_2_1611_0179 IOR/R/15/2/1611, f 89.

An example of file regarding the Bahrain Toshakhana is IOR/R/15/2/1611 ‘Government Property: Bahrain Toshakhana Articles and Returns’, which contains lists of valuables kept in the Bahrain Toshakhana, as well as annual returns detailing the sale proceeds of Toshakhana and Durbar pre-sents for the years 1926-1945.

Items like rifles, watches, cigarette cases, hunting knives, binoculars and telescopes were normally kept for presentation purposes in the Bushire Toshakhana and reused as gifts for local rulers.

Another common practice was the sale of firearms and ammunition from the Toshakhana for training or salute purposes, and the use of the Toshakhana for the temporary storage of firearms be-longing to the Bahrain Agency staff.


Valentina Mirabella
Archive Specialist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

@miravale
@BLQatar

 

24 March 2017

The East India Company’s Black Book of Misdemeanours

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The East India Company knew that it was dangerous to employ overseas servants who were xenophobic, lazy, or dishonest.  Indeed the Company was so concerned that it created a ‘Black Book’ to record errors and misdemeanours. 

  Black Book IOR/H/29 Noc

The book which survives in the India Office Records covers the years 1624-1698.  It copies in complaints made in letters received from Company servants in Asia.  Most reports of wrongdoing relate to private trade carried on against express orders, but they also cover drunkenness, negligence, desertion, disobeying orders, embezzlement, and debauchery.

Company servants had to be careful that in obeying rules set by the directors in London they did not risk alienating the local society hosting them.  Merchants were generally keen to avoid giving offence and tried to discover local protocol before trying to gain access to powerful men. The reports tell us where things went wrong.

Here are a few examples of reported misconduct which affected the Company’s relations with local people in Asia:
• In January 1626/27 Robert Hackwell, master of the Charles,  put two black men to death at Jambi and was discharged from East India Company service for ever.
• Nathaniel Mountney and Thomas Joyce were involved in a fight in 1632: ‘theire heads full fraught with wyne fell out with the Moors & in the fray a moore was slaine’.  Joyce was put in irons for ten days for the offence and only released after a large sum was paid.
• Thomas Nelson, gunner of the Swan, was charged 500 rupees in 1635 for killing a man at Macassar by a bullet carelessly shot into the town.
• In 1642 Humphrey Weston left all the Company’s property at Japara and ran away in fear of his life because he had been consorting with a Javan married woman.
• Richard Hudson’s ‘ill behaviour’ at Masulipatam aroused the local people’s hatred, especially the ‘great ones’.  Hudson had dealt in their grains and taken government duties upon himself.

  IOR H 29IOR/H/29 Noc

Here is the entry in the ‘Black Book’ taken from a letter from Surat in 1686 concerning the conduct of Roger Davis, Captain of the ship East India Merchant. Davis had arrived in Bombay at the time of Richard Keigwin’s rebellion against the Company and had established friendly relations with the rebels. He then fell ill and died, thus removing the problem: ‘Had that naughty man Davis lived, we had for certain protested against him, and should have used the East India Merchant worse than we did’.  Death often did solve disciplinary difficulties for the Company.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/H/29 East India Company book of servants’ errors and misdemeanours.

07 March 2017

Flying over the Himalayas: RAF Flight to Gilgit in November 1934

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During the 1930s, the RAF conducted a number of flights to Gilgit. These flights served political purposes through projecting British power into this remote region of her Empire, propaganda purposes from the resulting prestige of conducting daring flights of exploration, and allowed the exploration of prospects for civil aviation.

    IOR L PS 12 1993 f. 183
Hawker Harts over Chamngarh Nala: IOR/L/PS/12/1993 f. 183

A flight during November 1934 is particularly richly illustrated by a file from the India Office Political and Secret Department records. In addition to a detailed written report, the file also contains forty-five aerial photographic prints.

The outward bound flight, comprising five Hawker Harts, departed from Risalpur at 8:05am on 5 November 1934. The flight flew via Daggar, Kandar, and Patan following the Indus Valley. It arrived at Gilgit at 10:10am. The flight proceeded smoothly, but unfortunately poor visibility limited the use of the camera; only eight exposures were taken.

IOR L PS 12 1993 f. 177
Gilgit landing ground: IOR/L/PS/12/1993 f. 177

The aircrew remained at Gilgit for three day camping at the edge of the landing ground. A programme by the local resident which included a chikor shoot, polo, and a display of dancing by men of the Gilgit Scouts kept them entertained. During their stay they undertook demonstration and reconnaissance flights; sadly due to a fuel leak in the photographic aircraft no photographs were taken.

The flight departed Gilgit on 8 November at 10:30am. The fuel leak in the photographic aircraft could not be rectified in time due to the amount of dust at the aerodrome, so only four aircraft made the return flight. Luckily the camera was transferred to another aircraft and a large number of exposures were taken during the return trip.

During the return flight a number of aerial photographs were taken of Gilgit town and the surrounding country.
 IOR L PS 12 1993 f.176

Gilgit Fort: IOR/L/PS/12/1993 f. 176

The flight proceeded down the Indus Valley and obtained pictures of a number of very high peaks including Rakaposhi, Haramosh, and Nanga Parbat. The flight then descended, circled over Chilas, then proceeded along the Darel Valley as far as Reshmal [?]. It then returned back along the Indus Valley as far as Shiwai at which point a return course was set for Risalpur.

The flight returned to Risalpur at 1:20pm. The photographic aircraft returned with a relief plane the following day.

The photographs, along with the rest of this file's content, are available to view free of charge on the Qatar National Library’s online portal.

Robert Astin
Content Specialist, Archivist British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Coll 5/39 ‘Flights of RAF aeroplanes to Gilgit; flights of foreign aircraft over Gilgit and Chitral’ IOR/L/PS/12/1993

 

02 March 2017

The personal possessions of Thomas and Dorothy Shore

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India Office Private Papers recently acquired two fascinating documents concerning the personal possessions of Thomas and Dorothy Shore. Both Thomas and Dorothy came from families closely connected to the East India Company.  Their son John Shore (1751-1834) became Governor-General of Bengal.

The first document is an inventory of the household goods, plate, jewels, china, linen, furniture, clothing, and books belonging to Thomas Shore which were in his London house at the time of his death in 1759.

Thomas Shore inventory

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

The second is an auction catalogue for furniture, fine china, and ‘other East Indian Curiosities’ which were sold in June 1775 when Dorothy Shore, ‘A Widow Lady,’ moved from Golden Square in London to the country.

  Doorothy Shore auction

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

 Thomas Shore (1712-1759) was the son of John Shore, the East India Company’s warehouse-keeper at Botolph Wharf on the River Thames.  Thomas followed his father into Company service, becoming  a supercargo in charge of the commercial business of several voyages to China.

In 1743 Thomas Shore married widow Mary Dorothea Edgell (née Hawthorn).  Her stepfather was East India Company sea captain John Shepheard (d.1734).   Mary Dorothea died, and in 1750 Thomas married  her younger half-sister Dorothy Shepheard (c.1725-1783).  Thomas and Mary had two sons, John and Thomas William.  John continued the family tradition of East India Company service, whilst Thomas William became a Church of England priest.

The inventory lists the contents of Thomas Shore’s house room by room: servants’ garrets;  bedrooms; closets;  dining room; parlours; china room; kitchen; yard; wash house; pantry; and cellar. Every item is recorded from valuables to a cheese toaster and mops. Thomas owned many objects from Asia including Chinese snuff boxes, musical instruments, and ornaments; Indian textiles and tea kettles; dressing boxes and a bathing bowl from Japan.  Thomas’s book collection ranged from works of religion and history to geometric problems and Gulliver’s Travels.  Dorothy’s personal belongings in the house were itemised to distinguish them from her husband’s property, mostly jewellery but also her clothes, childbed linen, and textile pieces.

P7280016

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

The auction of Dorothy Shore’s household goods offered a ‘Variety of Furniture, useful and ornamental  China, curious carvings in Ivory, &c brought from India by her Husband’.  Amongst the items sold were an ‘India japan case with Mariner’s charts’ - 2s 6d; 27 small Indian pictures of birds and flowers - 6s; a parcel of India paper hangings on cloth - £1 6s 0d; ten blue dragon plates, two basins, a Nankeen sugar dish with handles, cover and plate – 7s; two Chinese summer houses with figures – 7s.  Some lots can be matched to objects listed in her late husband’s inventory, for example the ‘Luxemburg gallery’ of prints. The sale raised a total of £103 5s 0d.

P7280002 cropped

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

We should like to thank the Friends of the British Library for their generous donation enabling the purchase of such interesting documents which allow us to peek into the homes of an East India Company family in the 18th century.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702
The East India Company at Home 1757-1857

28 February 2017

Indian Independence: a source

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For students of the last days of the Raj, the India Office Records are the main source. Papers from the Viceroy’s Private Office, Political Department files, fortnightly reports of provincial governors, private papers of key officials: together these archives show events unfolding day by day in the lead-up to Independence and afterwards.  The film-maker Gurinder Chadha consulted these files when making her new film “Viceroy’s House”, (released 3 March), which highlights the secrecy of the discussions.

  VICEROY'S HOUSE FIRST IMAGE small
Scene from "Viceroy's House"

Among the Records is a series of War Staff files. Uniquely among India Office departments, the War Staff owed its existence to an external event. When war was declared in 1939, the Military Secretary of the India Office created a War Staff to deal with Intelligence, Supplies and Operations. By working closely with the Cabinet and the War Office, this sub-department drew the India Office into the heart of wartime government. Internal communications were also put on a wartime footing, as this diagram shows:

   IOR-L-WS-1-12029
IOR/L/WS/1/12029 f.341 Noc


Under the cryptic heading ‘PHP’ (post-hostilities planning), certain War Staff files (IOR/L/WS/1/983-988) address the subject of India’s future. The discussions dwelt upon the country’s strategic importance. Government feared that British withdrawal would leave the wider region exposed: “History has shown that nature abhors a vacuum and if the British step out, we can expect the Russians to step in”. (L/WS/1/985, f. 87). Britain’s oil supplies in the Gulf, its Indian naval, army, and air bases, its access to India’s military forces: all were at risk if a post-Independent India were to turn hostile. To predict the future at this stage, as officials admitted, was next to impossible. The files include standard orders for action and confidently signed-off approvals. But the overwhelming sense that they convey is one of apprehension.

  

IOR-L-WS-1-985 (image 2)

IOR/L/WS/1/985 Noc

IOR-L-WS-1-985

IOR/L/WS/1/985  Noc

Antonia  Moon
Lead Curator, post-1858 India Office Records

 

Gurinder Chadha’s film,  “Viceroy’s House”, a fictional telling of the Mountbatten’s arrival in India prior to Independence, is released in cinemas across the UK on Friday 3 March.

  _P8A0313
Scene from "Viceroy's House"

 

23 February 2017

The ‘Kashmir of Europe’ and other exoticisms: Indian soldiers’ tales of travel in the Second World War

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“Sicily is a very fertile country. It is the Kashmir of Europe.”
- Letter in Malayalam by an Indian sepoy, August 1943, Central Mediterranean Forces.

Through letters exchanged between the home front and international battlefronts, Indian soldiers in the Second World War reveal themselves to be part of a mobile world. Military enlistment and its consequent legitimacy for travel open the door to foreign countries, and new ways of seeing. While the letters themselves become agents of communication between remote villages spread across India and theatres of war thousands of miles away, they also foreground soldiers as itinerant spectators, engaging in colonial encounters in new lands.  Travel becomes an affective experience, and Europe, viewed through eastern eyes, the site of intercultural exchange.

 © IWM NA 9418 Wounded soldiers from 8th Indian Division being transported in the back of a lorry, 28 November 1943Italy - Wounded soldiers from 8th Indian Division being transported in the back of a lorry, 28 November 1943 © IWM (NA 9418)

A sepoy in the Central Mediterranean Forces, part of the Allied forces in Italy, writes: “As a reward for all our previous sufferings, Almighty brought us here to Sicily. We are supplied with British Troop rations. Sicily is a very fertile country. It is the Kashmir of Europe. Wherever you go, you will find groves of date palms and innumerable vineyards. The civilians are very sympathetic and kind hearted… The climate is very good, because it is an island in the Mediterranean Sea.… An Indian soldier is respected both for his fighting qualities and morale. The people here display no colour prejudice. The coloured are better loved than the white. Sanitation in Sicily is excellent. In our camps we enjoy radio music and cinema almost everyday. On the whole this is one of the happiest and most beautiful countries I have ever seen”.

   IWM E6547 Local children play with Indian troops manning a Bren gun carrier, 13 November 1941
Cyprus - Local children play with Indian troops manning a Bren gun carrier, 13 November 1941 © IWM (E 6547)

The verdant Italian landscape serves as a harmonious backdrop for amiable cross-cultural understanding that, nonetheless, indicates the presence of systemic inequalities during the war experience – in Indian soldiers’ rations contrasted to British troops, for instance. The extract also highlights the complexity of wartime hierarchies – being a colonial soldier on the victorious side destabilises racial structures to the extent that “the coloured” liberators become “better loved than the white.” And the rather idiosyncratic mention of Sicilian sanitation perhaps indicates its novelty to this soldier.

An Indian captain in the Auxiliary Pioneer Corps is similarly rapturous: “I am sitting under an olive tree and so many trees of almonds are standing near by. No sooner there is a slight wind than all the ripe almonds fall down on the ground. Vineyards are hanging everywhere. Birds are chirping and orchards are found all over the area round about us. Vegetables are in abundance and fruits are more than I can put in black and white. This is the first time in my life that my breakfast consists of almonds and grapes only… Our relations with the local inhabitants are cordial and they are very social”.  Here, the use of the present tense lends immediacy to this description of an Italian paradise’s mellow fruitfulness. Most significantly, both letters emphasise the restorative, albeit exoticised, potential of the natural world in a foreign land, seen through war-weary Indian eyes.

Diya Gupta
Third-year PhD researcher at King’s College London
Find out more in this short film 

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops, April-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655

Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War