THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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99 posts categorized "South Asia"

08 June 2018

Destitute Indian Women in 1930s Damascus

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In February 1935, the British Consul in Damascus, Gilbert Mackereth, wrote to his superiors at the Foreign Office in London with a dilemma.  Since 1926, the Consulate had been responsible for making cash payments to a number of destitute British Indian subjects living in Syria, but nine years later, the funds allocated for this purpose by the British Government of India were beginning to run out, and Mackereth was unsure how he ought to proceed.

Image 1The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "Damas." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860-1929.

The Indian community in Syria at this time was concentrated in Beit Sawa, a village in Ghouta, an important agricultural region east of Damascus.  This area had suffered extensive damage during France’s suppression of the Syrian national uprising (1925-27) which included the use of aerial bombardment and the burning of villages.  As a result, many of the ancient irrigation canals in Ghouta – upon which it depended for its prosperity – had been diverted or destroyed beyond repair.  No compensation was paid to the area’s inhabitants and this led some of the Indian community resident there to leave for Palestine and Iraq.  According to Mackereth, those who had been unable to leave and remained living in the area, did so 'on the borderline of misery' and therefore were in no position to 'help their even more unfortunate sisters who receive alms from the Indian Government'.

Image 2List of British Indian Subjects receiving relief as compiled by the British Consulate, Damascus, 27 April 1935, IOR/L/PS/12/2141, India Office Records, British Library.

At this time, the payments were being made to only five surviving women, all of whom were reported to be absolutely destitute and 'either aged or crippled'.  This led Mackereth to argue that it would 'be a hardship amounting to almost cruelty' if the 'meagre alms they enjoy from the India treasury' were stopped.  He proposed that either the payments should continue to be made or that the women and their minor children be repatriated to India where they could be 'cared for under the poor laws of that country'.

Image 3Correspondence from the British Consulate, Damascus to the Government of India, 16 July 1935, IOR/L/PS/12/2141, India Office Records, British Library.

By July 1935, one of the five women, Hamdieh Ghulam, had died and Mackereth had established that the families of the four remaining women had 'left India so long ago that they have no knowledge of their next of kin or of their home addresses'.  This prompted the Government of India to eventually decide that it would be better to leave the women 'in Damascus, where they must have made contacts, than to repatriate them to India where they appear to have no relatives or friends and in the absence of any Poor Law administration would starve'.  However, it was not prepared to extend any financial assistance to the women’s children, whom it argued 'should be regarded as Syrians and not Indians'.  It was eventually agreed that the remaining four women would be paid the amount of 200 piastres a month for the remainder of their lives, an amount that constituted 'barely the subsistence level'.  Once this administrative quandary had been solved, the correspondence regarding these women dries up and hence the fate of them and their children after this point is unknown.

All of the letters referenced in this post are contained in the India Office Records file IOR/L/PS/12/2141 that is held at the British Library.  The file has now been digitized and is available on the Qatar Digital Library.

Louis Allday
Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist

 

06 June 2018

Letters from the Begum of Bhopal

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A collection in the India Office Private Papers records the touching story of the friendship between the ruler of an Indian State and the wife of an Indian Army officer.  George Patrick Ranken was a Colonel with the 46th Punjab Regiment, stationed in the Indian State of Bhopal in the early 20th century.  His post required him to attend many official functions, and at one of these he and his wife Ada were introduced to Her Highness The Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum (1858-1930), who ruled Bhopal from 1901 until 1926.  So began a friendship which was to last for over twenty years.

Begum of BhopalBegum of Bhopal in the early 1870s  - by Bourne & Shepherd from the Album of cartes de visite portraits of Indian rulers and notables. Photo 127/(16)  Online Gallery

Ada Ranken first saw Sultan Jahan Begum at the 1903 Delhi Durbar, although the two women did not actually meet.  Ada later wrote an article about her friendship with the Begum while living in India.  She recalled that they first met at a garden party given by Her Highness one afternoon in the winter of 1904-05.  As the Begum was in Purdah, a large tent was erected for her.  Her male guests, including Ada’s husband George, were given chairs outside the tent from which they could converse with the Begum through a screen of split bamboo.  However, as a woman, Ada was allowed to enter the tent.  She described their first meeting: 'When my turn came and I was ushered into the tent I found Her Highness very simply dressed in a drab-coloured coat and trousers, cut, I noticed, in the accepted fashion of the Pathan race, with her head covered and her feet bare'.  Ada would meet Sultan Jahan Begum several times over the next two years, and on one occasion the Begum visited her at her home in Sehore, where George was stationed.

Mss Eur F182-8 ver 2Letters from Sultan Jahan Begum  to Ada Ranken Mss Eur F182/8

The two women stayed in touch after Ada returned to England, and they wrote regularly until the Begum’s death in 1930.  There are 22 surviving letters from Sultan Jahan Begum in the collection, of which 19 are addressed to Ada, with two to her husband George, and one to their daughter Patricia.  The letters are filled with news of Bhopal and the Begum’s family, and of mutual friends, and she enquires after Ada’s family, often recalling the time they spent together in India.  The letters also touch on the heavy workload of the ruler of a large Indian State.  In one letter from December 1909, she writes that all her attention had been taken up by preparations for the Viceregal visit to Bhopal, which passed off smoothly.  Despite her numerous duties, the Begum still found time to write to Ada.  In the last letter, dated 25 December 1929, she offers her sympathy on the death of Ada’s sister, and wrote 'May God give you fortitude enough to bear the loss and may He keep you in good health to guide and protect your affectionate child, Patricia, whom we all so much love'.

Sketch of Begums attendants  Mss Eur F182-11Sketch of the Begum's attendants made by Ada at the 1903 Delhi Durbar Mss Eur F182/11

Also included in the Ranken Papers, along with the letters, are draft copies of Ada’s article on Sultan Jahan Begum, photographs, Christmas cards, and a drawing of the Begum done by Ada at the 1903 Delhi Durbar.

Sketch of Begum  Mss Eur F182-11Drawing of the Begum done by Ada at the 1903 Delhi Durbar Mss Eur F182/11

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Letters from Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum of Bhopal, 1906-1930 [Reference Mss Eur F182/8]
Draft copies of an article by Ada Ranken titled "A Veiled Ruler" on Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum of Bhopal, 1911 [Reference Mss Eur F182/9]

 

29 May 2018

Soup of the Day

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Had we been invited to dine at the Gorakhpur Club in India in May 1916, we would have been treated to a slap-up dinner, complete with detailed menu in French. 

Mss Eur F700-1-3 menu from the Gorakhpur Club 1916Mss Eur F700/1/3: Menu from the Gorakhpur Club, 13 May 1916

Using our linguistic skills, we have worked out that we would have eaten a fine repast of fish in aspic, kidney and mushroom pudding with potatoes and peas, peach ice-cream, and preserved asparagus spears.  Sounds very tasty, but perhaps not for the faint-hearted (or those on a diet).  But we are stumped by our starter of ‘Potage d’Eunice’.  We can only speculate that perhaps this intriguingly titled soup was named for the person who created it. Or perhaps dinner was in Eunice’s honour?  If so, just who was Eunice, and what was her connection to the Gorakhpur Club? Or perhaps it is simply that ‘Potage d’Eunice’ is a forgotten French classic.  If there are any food historians out there who may have heard of ‘Potage d’Eunice’, and indeed know what it might be made of, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Mss Eur F700-2-10 Gorakhpur Club c1928Mss Eur F700/2/10: Gorakhpur Club, from photograph album of images of Gorakhpur, c1928

The menu comes from a small collection of private papers recently acquired by the India Office Records at The British Library.  They relate to the family of Guilford Lindsay Edwards (1853-1946), a railway engineer in India who was based in Gorakhpur.  The collection consists of a small number of personal papers, including Guilford’s journal from 1872-1894, as well as material relating to his son Lindsay Edwards, who also worked as an engineer in India, and the family of his daughter Amy Bellairs.  There are also 9 files of family photographs and two photograph albums.  The photographs are primarily snapshots of day to day family life, which give us an interesting insight into the private and domestic world of a white European family in India c.1900-c.1920. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Mss Eur F700: Papers, journal and photographs of Guilford Lindsay Edwards and family, 1872-1940s
Add MS 43809-43813: Diary of a visit to India by Mrs Louisa Edwards, 1883-1884 

Our Food Season continues  - unleash your inner gourmet and intellectual hunger!

Food Season

 

24 May 2018

‘The reason why the sword must not be packed without the scabbard’

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Swords and scabbards were the subject of a letter received by Robert James, Secretary to the East India Company, from Thomas Hatcher at the Tower of London on 24 November 1764.

IOR E 1 45 f 565IOR/E/1/45, f 565, Letter 279 from Thomas Hatcher to Robert James 24 Nov 1764  Noc

Thomas Hatcher was a Master Furbisher of His Majesty’s Ordnance at the Tower of London.  He worked for the Board of Ordnance, the government department responsible for supplying munitions and equipment to the Army and Navy.  The Board also provided the East India Company with such supplies.

Hatcher’s warning to the company in his letter was that the scabbards were at risk of shrinking if the swords were not in them during shipping and that they therefore might not fit when reunited on arrival.  The Company’s intention to number each corresponding sword and scabbard and pack them separately simply would not do.  The swords and scabbards were being packed for shipping on board the East India Company’s ships to be used by Company regiments in the East Indies.

Foster979-2Ami Chand ('Ummeechund'), a trooper in Skinner's Horse who saved the life of William Fraser in 1819. British Library Foster 979 Images Online 

Scabbards in the 18th century were primarily made of leather, as it was considered more durable and elastic than wood.  Although Hatcher does not specify why the scabbards would be at risk of shrinking, it was most likely the risk of them getting wet on board ship and drying over a period of time, or being exposed to hot temperatures as the journey to India could take several months.  Either of these scenarios could cause the leather to shrink, and if the swords were not kept in their scabbards they could shrink so far that they would no longer fit on arrival in India. The swords being kept in their scabbards would ensure that they could only shrink around the sword and would therefore still be useable by the soldiers for whom they were intended.

Hatcher additionally warned in his letter of the risks of cuts and injuries from handling unsheathed swords 'they being Sharp on Edge & thick on the back'.  Those removing the unsheathed swords from their packing crates in India could risk serious injury if they handled the wrong edge of the blade.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
British Library, IOR/E/1/45, f 565, Letter 279 from Thomas Hatcher to Robert James 24 Nov 1764
The National Archives, PROB/11/977/167: Will of Thomas Hatcher, Master Furbisher of His Majesty’s Ordnance at the Tower of London, proved 11 May 1772

 

21 May 2018

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

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

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

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

A Yusuf Ali 2Træk af Indiens Kultur 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

16 May 2018

The Anti-German Union and the India Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

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

 

26 April 2018

Charlotte Canning’s burning tent

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On the night of 11-12 December 1859, the Governor General of India Charles Canning, his wife, and extensive entourage were encamped outside Deeg, en route to Delhi.  Just after midnight, Charlotte Canning awoke to find the tent she was sleeping in ablaze.  The stove being used to heat the tent had set it on fire.  Lady Canning quickly sounded the alarm, and raced to remove her most precious belongings from the path of the fire.

 Charlotte-Canning-ne-Stuart-Countess-Canning 2Charlotte Canning (née Stuart), Countess Canning by William Henry Egleton, after John Hayter (1839) © National Portrait Gallery, London

It was no ordinary tent, and no camping holiday.  The Governor General was taking part in a grand progress through Oudh (Awadh) and the Punjab.  It was the first time Charles Canning had travelled beyond Calcutta and Allahabad.  The uprising known as the 'Indian Mutiny' had begun in early 1857, and peace was not deemed to have been restored to India until mid-1858.  The tour enabled the Cannings to see more of India and to take part in a series of Durbars or ceremonial gatherings.  The Governor General conferred official thanks and gifts upon local rulers and dignitaries who had remained faithful to the British.

Howdah X108(42)The Governor-General's state howdah from William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern (1867) X108(42) Online Gallery Noc

Charlotte Canning was not averse to travel.  Her papers include a number of diaries from European tours in the 1840s, including those she had taken with the Royal family in her position as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria.  In 1858, while the Governor General was in Allahabad, she travelled to Madras to visit the hill stations at Coonoor and Ootacamund.  One particular viewpoint is still known as ‘Lady Canning's seat’, a point where she sketched and painted the Nilgiris.  However, Lady Canning did not particularly enjoy being in camp.  She wrote to her mother: 'A tent is not pleasant with the walls shaking, the dust coming in, and draughts kept out with the greatest difficulty. I like seeing new places and can bear anything, but cannot the least see the delights of camp-life' (Agra, 4 Dec 1859, Mss Eur F699/2/1/17).

So, what did Charlotte Canning rescue from her burning tent?  We know she left her clothes as they were all destroyed and she had to borrow some from Lady Campbell.  She didn't think to rescue her jewellery at first, only later remembering to send an officer to rescue the boxes.  Many items needed professional cleaning on the Canning’s return to Calcutta, and receipts survive from jewellers Allan and Hayes.  A number of rings were actually stolen in the mayhem, turning up later in Calcutta when the culprit attempted to sell them. 

Image of Charlotte Canning's jewelleryCharlotte Canning’s jewellery from file Mss Eur F699/2/5/31 ‘Papers relating to Purchases and Commissions’ Noc

Charlotte Canning pulled out from her tent the things most precious to her – her personal papers, letters, diaries and paintings. She managed to extract the boxes, and must have been relieved to do so - only to witness a burning tent awning fall on the precious items that had not been moved far enough away. 

 Mss Eur F699-2-2-2-3Charlotte Canning’s Diary, Jun-Dec 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/3 Noc

Traces of the fire remain in the collection. Her diaries were badly burned, and letters to Queen Victoria charred.  The British Library Conservation Centre has been working on this damaged material to make it available to researchers.  Loose correspondence and papers have been treated, and Lady Canning's Indian diaries will be fully conserved in the coming year. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Mss Eur F699/2 Papers of Charlotte, Lady Canning
Mss Eur D661 Charlotte Canning Memorial Album
Charles Allen, A glimpse of the burning plain: leaves from the journals of Charlotte Canning (London: Joseph, 1986)
Virginia Surtees, Charlotte Canning (London: J. Murray, 1975)
Augustus Hare, The Story of Two Noble Lives: being memorials of Charlotte, Countess Canning and Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford (London: George Allen, 1893)

Related articles

Papers of Charles and Charlotte Canning

17 April 2018

Papers of Major Geoffrey Herbert Blake, Royal Indian Army Service Corps

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The India Office Private Papers recently acquired the diaries of an officer who served in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps during the Second World War. 

RIASC IWM SE 588Royal Indian Army Service Corps troops unload an American C-47 cargo plane at an airstrip in the Pinwe area, 21 November 1944 © IWM (SE 588)

Geoffrey Herbert Blake was born in Peterborough on 30 September 1923.  On leaving school, he began training to become an accountant, but his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war.  In June 1943, he joined the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, which was responsible for vital supply and transport services for the Indian Army.  He spent the next four years in India, and recorded his experiences in his diaries.

Blake diaries  Mss Eur F717British Library, Mss Eur F717 Noc

The diaries begin with an introduction on 5 March 1943 in which Blake stated his reasons for keeping the diary: 'I hope that it may record in some detail the most interesting journey of my life, and that it will give me something to talk about in my old age (if I even qualify for this status in life)'.  He then described the process of embarking on the long journey to India.  He left Liverpool on 14 March aboard the MV Britannic, a White Star liner which had been converted to carry troops for the duration of the War.  The Britannic joined a large convoy for the voyage south, with Blake commenting that 'As far as we could see, troop transports were in line', with destroyers protecting them.  The convoy stopped at Freetown, in Sierra Leone, for two days, before resuming the journey to Cape Town in South Africa.  Blake would spend about six weeks camped near Cape Town, before continuing on to Bombay, arriving on 11 June 1943.

First sight of India  Mss Eur F717-1British Library, Mss Eur F717 Noc

On arriving in India, Blake travelled to Bangalore, where he would spend six months at the Officer’s Training School, before taking up his duties in Air Despatch.  His diaries give a daily account of his life in India as an officer in the Indian Army during the tumultuous years of the Second World War.  He left Bombay aboard the SS Empress of Scotland on 22 January 1947 for the voyage to Liverpool.  Expressing sadness at leaving a country he had grown fond of, he wrote philosophically: 'It looks as if my Indian journey is drawing to an end, but what will the next journey be?'

The start of a journey  Mss Eur F717-1British Library, Mss Eur F717 Noc

The catalogue of the papers can be found online.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Papers of Major Geoffrey Herbert Blake (1923-2017), Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC) 1943-1947 [Reference Mss Eur F717]