THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

101 posts categorized "South Asia"

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]

 

06 July 2018

New black Britain and Asian Britain web pages launched

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The British Library holds rich resources for the study of black Britain and Asian Britain. A new suite of web pages highlights the wide variety of material available, including printed, archival, visual, music and oral history collections.  The development of these web pages is discussed in the Asian and African studies blog.

The collections of the former India Office Library and Records, which are held at the British Library, illuminate the long history of South Asian people in Britain.  They document the stories of people from all walks of life including Indian seamen, known as lascars, soldiers and others providing vital support during both world wars, workers, servants such as ayahs (nannies), entrepreneurs, campaigners, students, lawyers and doctors, politicians, sportsmen and Indian royalty.  The people featured below are just a small sample of those whose lives are recorded in the collections at the British Library. 

  Dean MahomedPortrait of Sake Dean Mahomed , 1826 (T 12646)

Sake Dean Mahomed started his varied career in the East India Company’s Bengal Army.  He left for Ireland in 1782 with a Captain Godfrey Baker. After marrying an Irish woman in 1786, he wrote a book about his travels.  His next venture was the Hindoostanee Coffee House which he set up in London.  When that failed, he moved to Brighton where he created a thriving business as a ‘shampooing surgeon’.  Dean Mahomed’s children lived in Britain and pursued successful careers.

 

Dadabhai Naoroji was the first Indian MP in Britain.  NaorojiDadabhai Naoroji -- Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892 (14119.f.37)

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was born in 1876 in Suffolk, the sixth child of Maharajah Duleep Singh, the deposed ruler of the Punjab. Proud of her Indian ancestry, Princess Sophia was a generous patron of causes which helped Indian people in Britain. Today, she is best remembered as a passionate suffragette campaigning for women’s right to vote.

Sophia Duleep SinghSophia Duleep Singh - The Suffragette, 18 April 1913 IOR/L/PS/11/52, P1608, f.273

The photograph shows Princess Sophia selling The Suffragette newspaper outside Hampton Court Palace, where she lived in an apartment. 

The Bevin Training Scheme was established in 1941 with the support of the British Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin. The Second World War increased demand for skilled engineers in the Indian industries engaged in war-related work. The scheme aimed to provide practical training for young Indians who otherwise would not have the means to travel to Britain. This booklet was produced by the Indian Government as part of an essay competition for Bevin trainees to stimulate public interest in the scheme.

Ambassadors of Goodwill IOR-L-I-1-978Ambassadors of Goodwill - Essays by Bevin Trainees, 1940s IOR/L/I/1/978 f.30

We hope that you will be inspired to look at the new web pages and discover more about our collections relating to the history of black and Asian Britain.

Penny Brook and John O'Brien
India Office Records

Further reading
Asians in Britain
Paper bag reveals forgotten history
Award of Victoria Cross to Khudadad Khan
A tribute to forgotten heroes of the seven seas 
Indian princess in suffragette march
Bevin Indian trainees during the Second World War

 

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