THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

108 posts categorized "South Asia"

11 October 2018

An Irish soldier in India

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In July 1859 Gunner Richard Scott wrote a letter to his father from Poona.  Scott was about to return to Britain after fighting with the Bombay Horse Artillery in the Indian Mutiny or Rebellion.  He wrote of his military experiences and asked for help in finding employment.

  Poona 1871Street scene in Poona by John Frederick Lester (1825-1915) c.1871 WD3549 No. 18

Richard Scott enlisted at his home town of Dublin on 24 August 1857 for twelve years’ service with the East India Company.  Scott was 5 feet 7⅛ inches tall, with brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. His age is given as twenty but records point to him being just seventeen, suggesting that he was joining the army without parental consent.  This is borne out by his letter home.

  Scott letter L MIL 5 365IOR/L/MIL/5/365 no.473 Noc

 ‘Dear Father
Altho I never wrote to let you know of it I suppose you are aware that I am a soldier in the East India Company’s forces.  I would have written long since to let you know how I was getting on, but from the time I landed in the Country up to the present I could not be shure if I wrote would I ever live to receive an answer.  All the fiting is now over and we are just returned to quarters after being out on field service for nearly 18 months.  The Troop to which I belong has been engaged several times with the rebels but I came off unhurt through it all and strang to say, altho we often were obliged to take the field against overwhelming numbers, our small forse always came off victorios.

Dear Father I suppose you are aware that by a late Act of parliment the East India Company’s Troops are disbanded that is all that wish to take their discharge can have it and all those who wish to stop in the country can Remain as they are, their former service will count for them.   I have taken my discharg & come what will of it for I do not like the country, And perhaps I would never get the chace of leaving it again. Dear Father I cannot expect that you will do any thing for me when I go home again, but I will be in a very poor condition when I land, I will be left in London without one penny in my pocket and who have I to look to except you, if you can spare it Dear Father send me a few pounds that will keep me some time an buy me a suit of clothes And shurly you have interst enough to get me a situation with some Gentleman.  I would go as a groom, I have been Riding horses since I joined the service both in the Military style and the other way.’
 

Lucknow after Mutiny IWMAftermath of the Siege of Lucknow by Felix Beato  © IWM (Q 69821)

 Scott was given a certificate of discharge from the Bombay Regiment of Artillery on 1 October 1859 ‘being unwilling to serve in HM Indian forces’ after the disbandment of the East India Company armies.  Sadly he died of dysentery on 26 October 1859 at sea on board the Hope on his way home.  His father John sent his letter to the India Office in 1863 with an application for payment of Lucknow Prize Money.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/9/23 Recruitment register Dublin 1855-1858
IOR/L/MIL/12/282 f.1369 Discharge certificate for Richard Scott 1859
IOR/L/MIL/5/365 nos.473, 1793, 2491 – enquiries about soldiers

09 October 2018

Hungary Water for Missionaries?

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In November 1764 the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge wrote to the Court of Directors of the East India Company for permission to send a number of ‘sundry items’ out to their missionaries in India on the ships sailing that season.  The Society sent out various supplies to their missionaries each year and their lists often included unexpected items such as the Four Cheeses in Lead and a Harpsichord sent out in 1762 and featured previously on Untold Lives.

The 1764 list of sundry items included the surprising entry of two bottles of Hungary Water.  Hungary Water, also often known as “The Queen of Hungary’s Water” was one of the first alcohol based perfumes to be produced in Europe and was primarily made with rosemary.   It was the most popular fragrance and remedy in Europe until the development of Eau de Cologne in the late 18th Century.  The water has many myths associated with it, the most common one being that it was named after the Queen of Hungary who used it and at age 70 was believed to have looked so youthful a 25 year old Duke asked for her hand in marriage believing her to be of a similar age.

Hungary waterAdvertisement for Hungary Water in Homeward Mail from India, China and the East 9 June 1857

Hungary Water was most commonly used as a cure-all beauty tonic and was believed to help maintain a youthful appearance and beauty.  It was also considered to have health benefits when digested including to improve strength and eyesight and to dispel gloominess.  The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge presumably sent it to their missionaries for the health benefits, rather than to maintain their youthfulness and beauty.

The Toilet of Flora Title PageThe Toilet of Flora (1775)   Noc


The 1775 publication The Toilet of Flora features a recipe to make what is refers to as ‘Genuine Hungary Water’:

'Put into an alembic a pound and a half of fresh pickt Rosemary Flowers; Penny royal and Marjoram Flowers, of each half a pound; three quarts of good Coniac Brandy; having close stopped the mouth of the alembic to prevent the spirit from evaporating, bury it twenty-eight hours in horse-dung to digest, and distill off the Spirit in a water-bath.

A drachm of Hungary Water diluted with Spring Water, may be taken once or twice a week in the morning fasting.  It is also used by way of embrocation to bathe the face and limbs, or any part affected with pains, or debility.  This remedy recruits the strengths, dispels gloominess, and strengthens the sight.  It must always be used cold, whether taken inwardly as a medicine, or applied externally.'

More recipes from the publication The Toilet of Flora featured in the 2013 Untold Lives blog post Lip Salve and Worms in the Face.

Karen Stapley
Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
J Broughton, Secretary to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge to Robert James, Secretary to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, Nov 1764. IOR/E/1/46, ff 737-739

 

03 October 2018

‘Lads of true spirit’ – recruiting for the East India Company in Ireland

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Before Robert Brooke of the Bengal Army became Governor of St Helena in 1787, he spent time in his native country of Ireland.  He volunteered to recruit soldiers for the East India Company armies, and then devoted his time to establishing a cotton mill at Prosperous in County Kildare. 

  Recruits BM J 6 47Recruits (1780) - image courtesy of British Museum

The legality of Brooke recruiting men in Ireland on behalf of the East India Company was questioned in the House of Commons by Sir Lucius O’Brien in February 1778.  By way of reply Brooke wrote a paper justifying his activities. Brooke stated that the Company’s charter allowed it to raise men for the defence of their settlements abroad.  The war against America had forced the government to increase the bounty offered to recruits for the King’s Army, causing a sharp fall in the numbers of men volunteering to serve the Company in India.  Therefore the Company had turned to Ireland for manpower to defend its interests in India ‘which may hereafter prove to be the richest Jewell in the British Crown’.

Brooke countered arguments that Company recruitment would thin the population of Ireland with reasons for allowing the ‘temporary Emigration of the Natives’.  He claimed that ‘Idle and dissolute Mechanics will find that Employment of which they were deprived at Home… the Kingdom will no longer wear a face of poverty.. and Ireland will be purged of a riotous Peasantry, that often pass their Lives in beggary, and generally conclude them in Jail’.  The Irish would fight for the British Crown rather than join French or Spanish forces.

He also defended his methods – he did not send out recruiting parties; he did not beat a drum or give arms to any man; he did not lure men with false representations or ply them with liquor; and he did not rob masters of their apprentices.  Instead he placed a series of advertisements in the Irish press aimed at attracting young men ‘desirous of pushing their fortunes abroad’. 

  EIC recruitment Ireland 1779Dublin Evening Press 16 December 1779 British Newspaper Archive

Brooke said that many ‘spirited Lads’ had gone to India as soldiers and returned home with ‘ample Fortunes’.  He claimed that war with France and Spain now gave the prospect of speedy success through prize money.  Boys under eighteen had to have their parents’ permission to enlist. The East India Company ships taking the recruits from Dublin were searched for deserters.

The  registers of East India Company recruits embarking for India give a description of those who enlisted in Dublin during Brooke’s campaign.  The vast majority were recorded as being labourers under twenty years of age.  Very young boys joined as drummers: in 1779 John Hewitson aged 11 and Christopher Hewitson aged 12 sailed together for Bengal on the ship Neptune.

Given the very high risk of death from disease or in military action, many of Brooke’s lads would never have made the return journey from India to Ireland.  But perhaps some did find ‘not only a Road to Station and Honour, but to Wealth also’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
IOR/H/139 Papers on the recruitment of soldiers for the East India Company in Ireland 1778
IOR/L/MIL/9/90 East India Company embarkation list 1775-1784

 

18 September 2018

‘Pierce your heart’: Letters from Europe and North Africa by Indian prisoners in the Second World War

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Indian prisoner-of-war (PoW) experiences during the Second World War varied sharply, depending on where soldiers were taken captive and who their captor was.  Letters archived at the British Library, documented in military censorship reports, reveal how such experiences are inflected by differences in war fronts, military rank, individual agency – and sheer luck.

Pic 1Men of the 4th Indian Division with a captured German flag at Sidi Omar, North Africa. © IWM (E 6940)

The top priorities for one incarcerated Jemadar are toothpaste and shoes.  Writing to his friend in August 1942, he describes being imprisoned in Libya and then Germany, where has ‘a comfortable time'.  However, ‘we need some other things of daily use such as toothpaste and stockings.  If it is no trouble to you please send me a pair of shoes of No. 9 size’.  The Jemadar also reflects on the emotional charge of receiving letters from home: ‘The whole of that day the memory of India was fresh in our minds'.

Imprisoned in Germany, Sepoy Ajmer Singh, one of the few named soldiers in the censorship reports, writes rather accusingly in July 1943 to Sepoy Jahar Singh in Cairo: ‘I don’t know whether you are getting my mail, but I’ve sent you a lot of letters and had no reply. As prisoners of war we have nothing to take up our minds and we look forward to getting letters, so you must write to me once a month, or better still, once a week'.  Ajmer Singh’s prescriptiveness about epistolary regularity highlights an acute sense of boredom and loneliness.  How is one to pass the time in prison?

Pic 2Soldiers of the 4th Indian Division decorate the side of their lorry 'Khyber Pass to Hellfire Pass'.  'Hellfire Pass' was the nickname for the strategically important Halfaya Pass in Egypt, fortified by the Germans and which the British attacked, unsuccessfully, during Operation Battleaxe. © IWM (E 3660)

This significance of emotional connections established by textual exchanges is emphasised by an Indian sepoy in December 1942: ‘We were prisoners of Germany when our British forces reached Benghazi.  Germans left all prisoners and ran away. Now we are quite well and safe.  We suffered a lot for five months and did not receive any letter from home’.  He also reveals the physical and psychological cost of incarceration: ‘Our work was very hard starting at 5 am and finished at 7 pm…We were loading and unloading ammunition and petrol from the ships, for their advance line.  Once we refused to do that kind of work saying that it was against our King and country.  They said that if we disobey their orders, we will be shot down’.

Such terrible conditions of imprisonment continue to be detailed in a letter by a ‘Hindu bearer’ to his mother: ‘Dear mother, I was taken prisoner … in the month of June… I cannot describe how atrociously we prisoners were treated by the Germans.  We were given half a pint of water and one 8oz biscuit.  This was all our daily meal.  We were employed on odd jobs, fatigues from early morning till it was dark.  We were beaten and kicked by the Germans…We have suffered such a lot which, if I write down will pierce your heart’.

It is from such PoWs that Indian revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose started recruitment in Germany in 1941 and Southeast Asia in 1943 for the Azad Hind Fauj, which offered armed resistance to British colonial rule in undivided India.

Diya Gupta
PhD researcher, Department of English, King’s College London
Find out more in this short film

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops -
August 1942-April 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/654
April 1943-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655
November 1943-January 1944, IOR/L/PJ/12/578

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

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

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

 

13 September 2018

A day in the life of an East India Company Director

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Every April the stockholders of the East India Company elected 24 men to serve as directors for the following year.  Two were then chosen by the directors to be Chairman and Deputy.  These ‘merchant- statesmen’ had responsibility for governing a vast overseas empire as well as dealing with administrative minutiae such as petitions from home staff.  What was a typical working day for an East India Company director in the early 19th century? 

East India HouseJoseph C Stadler, East India House 1817 - P1389 Images Online

The Court of Directors met at East India House in Leadenhall Street in the City of London to take ‘cognizance of all matters of record relating to the Company’.  Thirteen directors had to be present to form a quorum.  One Court had to be held every week, but the directors often met two, three, or more times.  Proceedings generally started at 11am or midday, sometimes at 10am.  They usually broke up between 6pm and 7pm, although sittings might go on until 10pm. There were fines for non-attendance. During a sitting, some directors might go off to other parts of East India House whilst unimportant matters were being dealt with, but if something was brought forward for discussion, all directors were recalled to the Court before business continued.

  EIC Court RoomThomas Hosmer Shepherd, The Court Room, East India House c.1820  - WD 2465 Images Online

Court meetings started with the reading of all papers received since the last session. Dispatches from India were read in Court before being sent to the different departments at East India House, but the vast body of consultations copied back to London were merely referred to and read as necessary. Lengthy debates often took place. Matters were either dealt with immediately or referred to one of the specialised committees of directors. There were sixteen committees in 1813: Buying, College, Correspondence, Government Troops and Stores, House, Law Suits, Library, Military Fund, Military Seminary, Preventing the Growth of Private Trade, Private Trade, Secrecy, Secret, Shipping, Treasury, and Warehouses.

The Court then adjourned and the committees of directors convened.  About 5pm the Court came back together to consider reports from the committees and make final decisions. The Court also swore in captains and officers of Company ships, and saw civil and military servants returning to India.

EIC chairChair used by the Chairman of the Court of Directors manufactured c.1730 - Foster 905 Images Online

Directors took turns at presiding over sales at East India House, and committees often sat on days when the Court was not meeting.  With very few exceptions, the Chairman and Deputy attended East India House every morning, and frequently were there until late in the day: ‘their constant attention is indispensable, from the frequent communication with Ministers and the Government Offices’. They often had to go to the west end of town on government business.  

General Court Room 013355Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, General Court Room, East India House, c.1820 - WD 2466 Images Online

In return for their services, directors enjoyed patronage rights over certain civil and military appointments as well as a salary, fixed in 1793 at £300 per annum for directors and £500 each for the Chairman and Deputy.  In 1814, the General Court of Proprietors voted an increase: £1200 for the Chairman, £1000 for his Deputy, and £500 for directors (£700 for those on the Secret Committee or Committee of Correspondence).  Not all stockholders approved of the pay rise: the vote was 51 in favour, 21 against.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Proceedings of the Select Committee appointed by the General Court of Proprietors, on the 6th October 1813, to consider and report upon the expediency of augmenting the allowances to the Directors for their attendance upon the business of the Company … (London, 1814)

 

 

06 September 2018

Murray the Escapologist

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It is not unusual when looking through archives to find something unexpected.  This entertaining leaflet for Murray the Australian Escapologist was among the private papers of Sir John Gilbert Laithwaite, Private Secretary to the Viceroy of India from 1936 to 1943.  It was in a file of brochures and pamphlets he had collected on his various tours of India.

F138-57 Murray the EscapologistIndia Office Private Papers Mss Eur F138/57


Born in 1901 in Melbourne with the exhausting full name of Leo Norman Maurien Murray Stuart Carrington Walters, he not surprisingly shortened it for his stage act to Murray the Escapologist.  His interest in magic and escapes had been kindled as a boy by seeing other magicians, including the famous Houdini.  Having saved for a pair of handcuffs, he practised escapes by handcuffing himself to his bed every night so that he could not go to sleep until he had freed himself. 

Murray the Escapologist 3Leeds Mercury, 24 December 1926 British Newspaper Archive

Murray worked hard and travelled the world building up his act.  He often worked as a crew member on ships during the day, and performed his act in the evening wherever the ship docked.  In this way he travelled to America, Singapore, India, and South America, before reaching Europe, arriving in England in the mid-1920s.

Murray the Escapologist 2Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 13 January 1937 British Newspaper Archive

Some of his stunts sound particularly hair-raising, such as hanging upside down in a straight-jacket from Blackpool Tower, being thrown out of an airplane over the Bristol Channel while locked inside a mailbag, being locked in a safe and thrown into the sea, or being manacled and thrown into the lions’ den at Olympia.  In 1926, he told a correspondent of the Dundee Courier that the feat he was most proud of was being secured to the track of the Peking-Shanghai Railway ten minutes before the Shanghai Express was due to leave the station.  He escaped when the train was only 100 yards away.  Such acts did not always win approval from the authorities. In Japan the police refused to allow him to give a public performance because he would set a bad example. 

In 1939, Murray was touring Germany, and performed at the Wintergarten Theatre in Berlin where he entertained Adolf Hitler.  On the outbreak of war, he had to quickly flee the country leaving his props and costumes behind in order to avoid being interned.  As the leaflet shows, this experience became a part of his subsequent act.  To build up his show again, he travelled to India where he performed successfully in Bombay.  In India, he performed with Madam Gillian, the Woman with the X-Ray Eyes, who had the “uncanny ability of rendering startling and truthful character analysis through her magnetic eyes”.

Murray the EscapologistBirmingham Mail, 13 January 1939 British Newspaper Archive

Murray continued to amaze audiences until his retirement in 1954, when opened a magic shop in Blackpool called Murray’s Magic Mart, which he ran until a couple of years before his death in 1989.

 John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Miscellaneous booklets and pamphlets on monuments in India, collected by Sir J G Laithwaite, during his tours of India, 1937-1943 [Reference Mss Eur F138/57]

David O’Connor, “The Magic of Murray” on the ‘Magic for Kids’ website, 24 November 2015

Barry McCann blog post Magic Murray, Blackpool Museum Project 

Article in the Dundee Courier, Wednesday 29 December 1926; Robert E Vivian, article in the Evening Despatch, Wednesday 18 January 1939  

30 August 2018

Hints for the general management of children in India

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Hints for the general management of children in India in the absence of professional advice by Dr Henry Goodeve was first published in Calcutta in 1844.  The book proved to be very popular and ran to several editions.

Henry Goodeve was an East India Company surgeon in Bengal.  He became Professor of Anatomy at the Calcutta Medical College in 1835 and then specialised in obstetrics.

  GoodeveDr Henry Goodeve from C Grant, Lithographic Sketches of the Public Characters of Calcutta 1833-1850 Noc

The Hints were originally printed for private circulation only. But a friend wrote about it in a public paper and this sparked a general demand for the book.  It was meant to help British families in India who were living at a distance from doctors.

Newly born babies should be washed, dressed, and given a dose of castor oil to purge them.  Goodeve told his readers that teething and irritation of the bowels were the two most common complaints amongst babies. Gums should be lanced when there was the ‘remotest cause to apprehend that teeth are coming through’.  Bowels must be cleaned out before medicines were administered.

Goodeve stressed that that the chief cause of all diseases in young children was error in their diet, with more infants dying from improper feeding than any other cause.  Babies should depend upon breast milk until about six months old.  At nine or ten months, provided four teeth had been cut, the child might be fed on chicken broth with bread or on 'pishpash', a soup or stew containing rice and small pieces of meat.

Children should be vaccinated within three or four months of birth if possible. Goodeve believed that vaccination was rarely effective in months of hot weather and rain.

Childhood diseases such as lung complaints, diarrhoea and dysentery could be alleviated by a change of air:  ‘The sea especially, possesses a peculiar charm, and if possible, should always be resorted to where diseases prove uncontrolable by medicine’.  Fresh air, light, and exercise in the open air were very important, although exposure to the sun should be avoided.  Children should be allowed to run about instead of being carried in the arms of servants or in carriages. Horse riding was very good exercise.

On the question of sending children to Europe, Goodeve believed that it might be best for a delicate child to leave India once weaned.  Although some children ‘apparently’ thrived in India until ten or twelve years of age, as a general rule children in ordinary health should not stay after the age of six.

India Muir family c13866-71Group portrait in India  including Sir William and Lady Muir Photo 793/(59)

The Hints list common childhood complaints, giving symptoms, treatment, and dietary advice for fever, coughs, croup, whooping cough, diarrhoea, dysentery, protrusion of the bowel, colic, cholera, worms, thrush, sores, boils, abscesses, ringworm, scarlet fever, measles, chicken pox, jaundice, inflamed eyes, stoppage of urine, convulsions, bites, burns and scalds, fractures, ruptures, and birth deformities.  Treatments included emetics, purgatives, leeches, quinine, mustard plasters, castor oil, hot baths, lotions of turpentine and brandy, tonics, and opiates.  However Goodeve gave warnings about some of these remedies – ‘young infants have not infrequently died from the bleeding of a single leech being permitted to continue unchecked for some hours’, and babies could be poisoned by a single drop of laudanum.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
H H Goodeve, Hints for the general management of children in India in the absence of professional advice,  2nd edition, (Calcutta, 1844)

 

14 August 2018

Recommendations for Life Pensions in Colaba, India

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A file in the collections of the Board of Control, part of the India Office Records, gives some brief but fascinating details of those living in the former Indian Princely State of Colaba which had come under British control in the 1840s. On annexing the territory from the ruling Angria family, British officials faced the responsibility for the financial maintenance of members of the Angria family, their dependants, and those who had loyally served the Colaba State.

ColabaView of Colaba by Jose M. Gonsalves from Lithographic Views of Bombay published in Bombay 1826 Online Gallery  Noc

The file contains lists of persons who had received a pension under the previous rulers and those newly recommended for a life pension due to their past service. The recommendations were submitted to the Bombay Government by I M Davies, Political Superintendent of Colaba.

P7270117 croppedIOR/F/4/2075/95768 Noc

Here are some examples of the entries (spellings as given in the file):

• Luxumon bin Baboo Meetbhowkur, aged 13: This boy’s father was accidentally blown from a gun at the marriage of one of the Chief’s daughters in March 1840. His son was pensioned, and was in the receipt of 2½ rupees monthly when the State was attached.

• Tsanag Dubboo, alias Dzomaee, aged 70: Widow of an old servant in the ‘Armarr’, or department of vessels. Has received an allowance for many years, in consequence of the death of her son caused by falling off the Flag Staff in the Fort of Colaba.

• Annundrow bin Crishnarow Dhoolup, aged 36: A great grandson of the famous Mahratta Admiral, Dhoolup. Received a pension from the Chief, Raghojee Angria in 1836/37. He resides at Viziadroog and is a very respectable person.

• Wasdeo Babjee Pitkur, Pooranick, aged 70: A servant of the late State, of upwards of 40 years standing. He accompanied Baboorow Angria in Hindustan from 1805 to 1812 and has since resided at Alibagh, where he was entrusted with the duties of Officer of the Adawlut. Under the Political Superintendent he has been employed in the same capacity and is one of the Assessors of the Superintendent’s Court. He enjoyed a liberal maintenance under the late State.

• Appajee Bajee, aged 75: Served as a Puntojee, or teacher, in the Chief’s family for upwards of 40 years. He has for some years past been dependent upon the charity of the Ranees. It is recommended that a pension of 5 rupees per mensem be assigned to him.

• Manajee bin Luxman Lar, aged 45: An old Shingara, or horn blower. He lost his eye sight from smallpox and was 8 years employed in the Artificer’s shop as bellowsman. He received in that employment 8 annas per mensem and 1½ maund of bhat. Being very destitute I beg to recommend that he be allowed a pension of 1½ rupees per mensem during his life.

• Sheik Ismael Gohundaz, aged 100: An old sepoy who has served the State upwards of 70 years. He is still borne upon the books as a sepoy of Saughurgur Fort where he has been for upwards of 40 years. I beg to recommend that a pension of 3½ rupees per mensem be allowed to him during the remainder of his life.

P7270116IOR/F/4/2075/95768  Noc

In submitting his recommendations, Davies assured the Bombay Government that he had been as frugal as he had been able to suggest. 

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
A list of persons recommended by the Political Superintendent of Colaba for life pensions, 1844 [Reference IOR/F/4/2075/95768]