THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

10 posts categorized "South East Asia"

09 June 2017

Thomas Bowrey’s cloth samples

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

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

MSS Eur D1076 (9)

MSS Eur D 1076

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

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

MSS Eur D1076 (10)

MSS Eur D 1076

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

MSS Eur D1076 (3)

MSS Eur D 1076

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

MSS Eur D1076 (6)

MSS Eur D 1076

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

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

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

 

16 May 2017

Henry Nicholetts’ voyage to Calcutta

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

Nicholetts WD4560 compressed

Miniature portrait of Henry Nicholetts - British Library WD4560

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

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


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

Nicholetts diary 1

 British Library MSS Eur F706 Noc

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

Nicholetts diary 2

British Library MSS Eur F706 Noc

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

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

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

Mw00805

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

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

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

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

19June_ApassagetoindiaLanding at Madras - British Library P1551 Noc

 

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

 

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.

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

17 January 2017

Major new digital resource for the India Office Records

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A major new digital resource has just become available for researching the East India Company and the India Office.  You can now take an online journey through 350 years of history, from the foundation of the East India Company to Indian Independence.

Adam Matthew Digital has digitised four series of India Office Records -
IOR/A: East India Company: Charters, Deeds, Statutes and Treaties 1600-1947
IOR/B: Minutes of the East India Company’s Directors and Proprietors, 1599-1858
IOR/C: Council of India Minutes and Memoranda, 1858-1947
IOR/D: Minutes and Memoranda of General Committees and Offices of the East India Company, 1700-1858

I have selected some documents to give you just a taste of the kinds of records you can view in the digital collection..

IOR B 1 f.6
IOR/B/1 f.6

Let’s start with the list of the first subscribers to the Company drawn up in September 1599. Differing amounts of money were pledged as investments in the proposed venture to trade with the East Indies.  The Lord Mayor of London heads the list followed by Aldermen and members of the City Livery Companies. Queen Elizabeth I granted a royal charter to the Company on 31 December 1600.

 

IOR B 2 f.20 Instructions to Henry Middleton cropped
IOR/B/2 f.20

Next is an extract from the instructions given by the East India Company to Henry Middleton before he sailed as General of the Second Voyage in 1604.  The Company hoped that Middleton would be able ‘to bringe this longe and tedious voyadge to a profitable end’.  Sailors were to be disciplined for blasphemy and ‘all Idle and fillthie Communicacion’ and banned from unlawful gaming, especially playing dice.


 

IOR B 26 p.278

IOR/B/26 p.278

Here are the Court Minutes for 1 August 1660 which discussed the business affairs of Robert Tichborne, an East India Company Director who had signed the death warrant of King Charles I.  The newly restored King Charles II was taking action to seize Tichborne’s property, including his investments in the Company. Tichborne was tried as a regicide in October 1660 and sentenced to death. He was spared but spent the rest of his life in prison. 

 

IOR D 7 p.876 cropped
IOR/D/7 p.876

In February 1821 Dr George Rees sent a note about patients placed at his mental health asylum by the East India Company.  Lieutenant Felham was very dangerously ill and the use of wine was absolutely necessary for him. Frederick Haydn was to have a violin provided for him. 

 

IOR C 121 3 Mar 1931 
IOR C 121 3 Mar 1931 - 2 cropped
 IOR/C/121

On 3 March 1931 the Council of India recommended that Lord Willingdon, on his appointment as Viceroy, should be allowed to take out to India five motor cars at a total cost of £3450 instead of one good Rolls Royce and 3 other cars.

 

IOR A 1 102
IOR/A/102 Instrument of Abdication

We finish with the Instrument of Abdication, one of six that Edward VIII signed at Fort Belvedere, Windsor Great Park, on 10 December 1936. The document is signed by Edward VIII and his three brothers. An Act of Parliament effected the King’s abdication on the following day, ending a reign of less than a year. India received this copy by virtue of the King’s position as Emperor of India. The document was delivered to the Secretary of State for India.

East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there will be access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.  Modules II and III will be published in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Happy hunting!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:

East India Company: Rise to Demise
Human Stories from the East India Company

 

09 November 2016

Archives seeking refuge

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After the Japanese invasion of Thailand in 1941, just before the Thai Government declared war on Britain and the United States on 25 January 1942, 22 cases containing the archives of the British Legation in Bangkok were removed. A similar thing happened to the 84 boxes containing the archives of the British Embassy in China for the years 1931-1939, which went from Beijing to Nanjing and, in 1941, were also removed for safe custody during the war.

 

Singapore_1942

Japanese troops at Singapore 1942 Wikimedia Commons

 

Confidential documents were said to have been destroyed, and then the boxes containing the two archives were carefully sent to Singapore in 1941. 

IOR L PS 12 716, f 34

IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 34 Noc

But this wasn’t a safe choice. Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, and the two archives were shipped to India shortly afterwards. The archives remained in Calcutta until the end of the war and, after Indian Independence in 1947, they were sent to the Foreign Office Library in London, in 1948, as part of the process of transferring records to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British government.

  IOR L PS 12 716, f 29
IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 29 Noc

The file IOR/L/PS/12/716, part of the India Office Records and digitised for the Qatar Foundation Partnership, contains the correspondence telling the story of these two archives. Arrangements for the shipping and costs of the transport and storage are described in the file.

The exact content of the cases wasn’t known at the time.
There is a letter from the Foreign Office Librarian in 1948, saying that the content of the boxes was unknown to him and, at the purpose of shipping back to Bangkok the files which were less than 20 years old and were therefore considered current, he should have opened the boxes, or shipped the entire archives back to Thailand instead.

  IOR L PS 12 716, f 33
IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 33 Noc

We can guess that these archives ended up staying in London. The archives of the HM Legation in Bangkok and of the HM Embassy in China should now be available for public consultation at The National Archives in Kew.

Valentina Mirabella
Archival Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership Cc-by

Tweet @miravale


Qatar Digital Library

 

04 August 2016

A forgotten story from the Second World War

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Regular readers of this blog know that the India Office Records contain all kinds of documents on individuals both famous and unknown.  One fascinating file about ordinary people is the ‘Nominal roll of Japanese internees in the Internment Camp, Deoli (Ajmer), who are willing to have their names communicated to their government’.   Ajmer-Merwara was a province in British India, within the princely state of Rajputana in the north of the country.  

 

  Japanese interns 1
IOR/L/PJ/8/405   Noc


The document is far more than a mere list of names.  It provides biographical details of more than 2000 individuals arranged in alphabetical order who were unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when war was declared between the Japanese and British Empires.  While there are no photographs, the file records the name and nationality of the internee (almost all Japanese, but including some ‘Malayan’), the date and place of birth, occupation, date and place of arrest, and relationship and address of next of kin. The great majority were interned during December 1941 in Singapore and Malaya, although a few were picked up in Burma and in India itself. Gender is indicated by (M) or (F). 

Japanese interns 2

IOR/L/PJ/8/405  Noc

 

Dozens of the internees were fishermen, but there are housewives, students, barbers and tailors, as well as -

• a ‘dentist & haberdasher’ (Shoichi Noda, b. 1886)
• a ‘walking stick maker’ (Masaichi Tomita, b. 1897)
• two ‘golf-course keepers’ (Hirozo and Kazuo Ueda, b. 1896 and 1912 respectively),
• a ‘taxidermist’ (Shinnosuke Morikawa, b. 1885)
• a ‘pearl diver’ (Gerozo Kusumi, b. 1890)
• a ‘circus actor’ (Hisakichi Yamane, b. 1887)

Some individuals deemed harmless to the Raj and the Allied war effort are recommended or nominated for repatriation. The oldest person is probably broker Katsujiro Murashima, who was born on 26 August 1874 in Osakafu. Poignantly, several children are listed as having been born in the camp late in 1943.  A few entries are scored through in red to show that the individuals died while in captivity. 

There are details of five ‘Siamese’ nationals in the camp, one a monk. The file ends by listing three  husbands of British women who were arrested between July 1940 and June 1942 in London, plus a further five persons who were picked up in Britain’s East African colony of Kenya in December 1941.

The file reference is IOR/L/PJ/8/405, and it can be ordered for consultation in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services  Cc-by

 

 

10 June 2016

Burma’s beautiful game

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To mark the start of the Euro 2016 football tournament in France, we bring you this picture from the 1820s which appears to be a game of keepy-uppy.

 

  Chinlone

The image was drawn by Dr James Paterson of HM 13th Light Infantry and published in the Behar Amateur Lithographic Scrap Book  by Charles D'Oyly, founder of the Behar Amateur Lithographic Press.  Cc-by

 

The caption reads ‘National Burmese Game - played with a light open wicker ball by four Men & the art is in keeping it in the air as long as possible by striking it with any part of the foot or leg without using the hand’.

The game is chinlone, a traditional sport dating back many centuries and still played in Myanmar today.  Players stand in a circle and keep the ball from touching the ground by flipping it into the air or passing it to one another. 

 

  Chinlone 2

From Charles Alexander Gordon, Our trip to Burmah, with notes on that country  p.77 Cc-by

 

Surgeon General Charles Alexander Gordon witnessed chinlone being played when visiting Burma in 1875. He described it as football.
‘The ball is made of strips of rattan; it is in the form of a hollow sphere, and very elastic.  The players have literally girded up their loins, the better to leave their limbs completely free; both arms and legs quite bare, showing on the latter that extraordinary amount of tattooing for which the Burmese are specially famous.  The ball is tossed in air; the players keep it up and pass it on from one to the other; nor are they permitted to touch it with the hand.  Apparently, however, this is unnecessary; for knee, ankle, sole of foot, shoulder – in fact, any part of the body – is equally ready; and thus the game goes merrily on, amid much laughter and high good spirits.’

Wouldn’t it be splendid if commentators for Euro 2016 matches quoted that last phrase from Gordon after every crunching tackle?  ‘Thus the game goes merrily on, amid much laughter and high good spirits.’

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
Charles D'Oyly,  Behar Amateur Lithographic Scrap Book  (Patna, c. 1828)
Charles Alexander Gordon, Our trip to Burmah, with notes on that country (London, c. 1877)
Pekin pyan Win Ko, Facts about Myanmar traditional chinlone game and correct methods of chinlone playing (Yangon, 2013)