THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

96 posts categorized "War"

12 October 2017

The City of Polish Children

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How Isfahan in Iran became the City of Polish Children during the Second World War.

Group photo Isfahan

Group photo of older children at one of the children's homes in Isfahan. Reproduced with kind permission from the personal collection of Dioniza Choros, Kresy, Siberia Virtual Museum (http://kresy-siberia.org/hom/element/gradzik-collection/group-photo-at-isfahan-childrens-camp/)

Intelligence summaries prepared by Britain's Embassy in Tehran during the Second World War record details of the journeys made by Polish military and civilian refugees from the Soviet Union to Iran between 1942 and 1944. In these reports, one poignant statistic stands out: in January 1943 the camp in the city of Isfahan contained 2,457 civilian refugees, of which 2,043 were children.

IOR_LPS_12_3504_f71

Extract of an intelligence summary, prepared by the Military Attaché at the British Embassy in Tehran, 21-26 January 1943. IOR/L/PS/12/3504, f71.

Most of Isfahan's 2,000 children were either orphans or were accompanied by their one surviving parent. They were part of the second wave of the evacuation of 25,000 Polish refugees from the Soviet Union in August 1942, where they had been incarcerated since the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939. After Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 Stalin signed a Polish-Soviet treaty that freed Polish citizens in Russia. After years of incarceration, violence, malnutrition and disease, and with no homeland to return to, the futures of these Polish refugees remained bleak.

In August 1942 thousands of Polish refugees arrived from Russia at the Iranian port of Pahlavi (now Anzali) on the Caspian Sea. The Red Cross and the Polish Government in Exile assisted in the establishment of transit camps for the refugees. To prevent the spread of disease and lice the refugees’ hair was shaved off, and the rags they wore incinerated. New clothes, shelter and provisions were supplied. From Pahlavi the refugees travelled onwards to Tehran, Isfahan, Ahwaz and Mashhad. Children needing the most care were sent to Isfahan, where the climate was thought more amenable to their recovery.

EAP001_7_1

Portrait of Polish refugee children, taken by Abolghasem Jala between 1942-1944. Abolghasem Jala took thousands of portraits of Polish refugees during his time in Isfahan at the Sharq photographic studio. Abolghasem Jala Photographic Collection, Endangered Archives Programme, EAP001/7/1 (http://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP001-7-1)

Memoirs indicate the sympathetic reception given by Iranians to the Polish refugees. One man recalled that the Iranians he met at Pahlavi were ‘well-wishing, very cordial and presented the Polish youth with sundry delicious tidbits’. Another family remembered being ‘warmly greeted by the Persian people with gifts of food, dates and clothes’ upon their arrival in Tehran.

  Naqsh-eJahan Square

Photograph of Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan, in 1925, taken by Walter Mittelholzer. Source: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv/Stiftung Luftbild Schweiz (http://doi.org/10.3932/ethz-a-000274599_) Public Domain

With its tree-lined avenues and numerous gardens and parks, Isfahan was ideal for healing young lives damaged by war and exile. 

Twenty-one ‘establishments’ were opened across the city for Polish children, many of which were concentrated around Isfahan’s famous Chahar Bagh boulevard. Royal princes, affluent families and the city’s religious institutions donated their palaces, mansions, monasteries and convents for use as orphanages, hospitals and schools. Many establishments had their own gardens that the children made full use of. One former refugee later recalled walking through a ‘paradise of tall mulberry, fig, and quince trees and pistachio bushes’. Eight primary schools and one secondary school were established for Isfahan’s Polish children, as was a technical school training women in tailoring. Scout and Girl Guide groups also proved a popular activity.

Many of Isfahan’s Polish children remained in the city for the duration of the War. Later on they departed for new lives in East Africa, India, Mexico and New Zealand. Memoirs shared by the Polish diaspora indicate a fond regard for their time in Iran, and for Isfahan in particular which, for many, will always be remembered as ‘the city of Polish children.’

 

Mark Hobbs

Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Primary Sources:

British Library, London. Coll 28/97 'Persia. Diaries. Tehran Intelligence Summaries', IOR/L/PS/12/3504 *currently being digitised for the Qatar Digital Library*

Further reading:

Irena Beaupré-Stankiewicz; Danuta Waszczuk-Kamieniecka; Jadwiga Lewicka-Howells (eds.) Isfahan, City of Polish Children (Hove, Sussex: Association of Former Pupils of Polish Schools, Isfahan and Lebanon, 1989)

Anna D. Jaroszynska-Kirchmann, The Exile Mission: The Polish Political Diaspora and Polish Americans, 1936-1956 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004)

Andrzej Szujecki “Near and Middle East” in Tadeusz Piotrowski (ed.) The Polish Deportees of World War II: Recollections of Removal from the Soviet Union and Dispersal throughout the World (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007)

25 September 2017

‘Inflammable material’ in the British Library

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‘The amount of inflammable material in all the advanced countries of the world is increasing so speedily, and the conflagration is so clearly spreading to most Asian countries which only yesterday were in a state of deep slumber, that the intensification of international bourgeois reaction and the aggravation of every single national revolution are absolutely inevitable.’

V.I. Lenin, ‘Inflammable Material in World Politics’, 1908

Stored in the Asian and African collections of the British Library is a cache of material banned in colonial India. Consisting of more than 2800 items, it constitutes one of the largest archives of primary sources relating to any 20th-century independence movement.  The period during which these works were collected, 1907-1947, covers two world wars, revolts and autonomy movements across the world, and the texts in this archive often register these events. 

The 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure had defined ‘seditious material’ as that likely to incite ‘disaffection’ towards the Government of India or ‘class hatred’ between India’s different communities, thus setting the two main grounds for proscription during this period. The 1910 Press Act reinforced this by requiring publishers to pay a security deposit of up to Rs 5000,  which would be forfeited if any document was found to contain ‘words, signs or visible representations’ likely to incite sedition. But this did not prevent circulation of publications printed overseas, the ‘inflammable material’ described by Lenin, emanating from international publishing centres, and centres of political dissent, in Europe and America.

The British attempted to prevent the entry of this material into India through use of the Sea Customs Act, and by the application of diplomatic pressure. Both instruments were used against William Jennings Bryan’s British Rule in India, a pamphlet written by an American politician who had been won over to the nationalist cause during a trip to India in 1906. This work was republished during the First World War by a San Francisco based Indian revolutionary group, embarrassing the US government, in which Bryan had served as Secretary of State from 1913-1915.

IMG_3613
Title page of a republished English edition of Bryan's British Rule in India, n.d. (microfilm number: IOL NEG 1397)

The range of languages into which Bryan’s pamphlet was translated indicates how extensive underground distribution networks were. Their presence in the proscribed publications collection suggests how hard they were to control. The banned English language edition bears the inscription in red ink ‘The sending of this publication out of the United States prohibited by President Wilson!’, and its European language translations repeat this boast.

IMG_3615
W. J. Bryan, Die englische Herrschaft in Indien (Berlin: Karl Curtius, n.d.), a German translation of British Rule in India (microfilm number: IOL NEG 1397)

Apart from versions in Urdu and Bengali, there is also what is described as a ‘Tartar’ (sic) edition sent from Stockholm to Shanghai and intercepted on the seas in August 1916. This was produced with Central Powers assistance, and the collection is rich in such material: works in Arabic, Chinese, Persian and Turkish, intended to foment unrest in Allied territory. During a time of global war and national revolt, the best guarantee of ‘the freedom to read’, it seems, was the inability to censor.

IMG_3610
Sheet attached to cover of a Tatar translation of British Rule in India, 18 August 1916 (shelfmark: PP Turk)

Pragya Dhital
Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London

Further reading:

Shaw, Graham and Mary Lloyd (eds.), Publications proscribed by the government of India: a catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books (London: British Library, 1985)

Full text of Bryan’s British Rule in India available from the South Asian American Digital Archive: https://www.saada.org/item/20101015-123


This blog was written by Pragya Dhital for Banned Books Week 2017 (24-30 September). Banned-Books-Week-Logo

Banned Books Week was first initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. The 2017 UK contribution to Banned Books Week features events staged by a variety of cultural organisations including the British Library, Free Word, Royal Society of Literature and Islington Library and Heritage Services. British Library events can be found here.

21 September 2017

Bevin Indian Trainees during the Second World War

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The exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage includes a number of items relating to the Bevin Trainees during the Second World War.  The Bevin Training Scheme was established in 1941 with the support of the British Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin.  There was a greatly 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 had the means to travel to Britain.

Engineering Bulletin  September 1941 IOR-L-I-1-978

Engineering Bulletin, September 1941. IOR/L/I/1/978.

In total, around 900 trainees travelled to Britain in 14 batches between 1941 and 1947 to receive practical training in engineering.  The first eight batches consisted of about 50 trainees each, which was later raised to 90 to include aircraft mechanics and ship repair.  The period of training was initially six months, later increased to eight months.  Trainees spent part of their time in a Government Training Centre at Letchworth, before being sent for practical work experience in industries around Britain.

Indian Trainees IOR_L_E_8_8112_f001r

List of trainees, IOR/L/E/8/8112 f001r

A file in the India Office Records at the British Library contains lists of the trainees from the first seven batches.  The lists give the names of the trainees, the British firms with whom they were placed, and the address of their lodging.  They show that the trainees were placed in a variety of firms engaged in a wide range of industrial activities, including shipbuilding, railways, car manufacture, steel production, tool manufacture, and aircraft production.  The exhibition highlights the many famous Birmingham companies the trainees were sent to, such as Austin Motors, BSA, W&T Avery, and the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company.

Indian Trainees IOR_L_E_8_8112_f002r

In 1944, the Government of India produced a booklet, entitled Ambassadors of Goodwill, to stimulate public interest in the scheme.  The booklet contains eight essays written by trainees who had returned to India, which were submitted as part of an essay competition held by the Indian Labour Department.  The trainees described their experiences and their impressions of war time Britain.  One trainee, N Sankeramurthi, described asking a London policeman for directions with the request “Hullo Cop, nice day! If you don’t mind please direct me to Trafalgar Square”.   Another trainee, M G Kulkarni, wrote of the many friends he made in England.  Trainee M Muzaffar Beg was particularly impressed with the work women did in British industries during the war, commenting “Motor factories, aeroplane factories, ammunition factories, etc., were all run by women”.  

Ambassadors of Goodwill IOR-L-I-1-978

Ambassadors of Goodwill, IOR/L/I/1/978

The writer of the essay which won first prize, G Mustafa Mahmud, keenly felt the importance of the scheme, commenting that “I went to England thinking that on me and other Bevin Boys depended the great industrial development for which India hoped when normal times returned”.

Connecting Stories is at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It was created in partnership with the British Library and generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours, events and family days are on the Library of Birmingham website.

John O’Brien

India Office Records

Further information:

Bevin Training Scheme: papers not transferred to the High Commissioner for India, including lists of Indian trainees showing firms with whom placed and lodging addresses, May 1941-Sep 1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/E/8/8112]

Indian workmen training in UK (Bevin Boys), 1940-1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/I/1/978]

 

#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

24 August 2017

Daydreaming in the service of the East India Company

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The British Library holds an interesting maritime journal showing the daydreams of one young man.  The journal records the voyage of the East India Company ship Ceres from Madras to China and then to England in 1797 to 1798.  Interspersed with entries recording latitude, longitude, weather conditions, deaths and punishments on board copied from the official journal of the ship is a collection of doodles and jotted thoughts.

  WhampoaNoc
Whampoa from Thomas Allom, China, historisch romantisch, malerisch (Carlsruhe, 1843) British Library 792.i.30.
BL flickr 

The author of the journal was seaman William Davenport Crawley who joined the Ceres in Madras aged about 20. His identity is revealed by many examples of his signature as he practised writing it in the journal.  Crawley belonged to an Irish family from Castleconnell in County Limerick.  There is a letter inserted in the volume addressed to Thomas Crawley at Castleconnell, and a note that Thomas was an officer in HM 32nd Regiment of Foot.

Crawley writes out the names and addresses of female relatives, for instance, Miss Mary Crawley, 38 Southampton Street, Strand, London.  He jots down a message to Mary: ‘Miss Mary Crawley, you are a very bad girl for not writing’.  Another doodle reads: ‘Sally Davis, WDC loves you’.  William also fantasises about becoming a captain. He tries signing ‘Captain Crawley’ several times.

The reality of life on board ship was that periods of boredom could be punctuated by distressing events. One entry remarks:
‘At 7 am Departed this Life Thos. Spinks, Seaman. At Noon Committed the Body to the Deep’.

Another entry records the meeting of the Ceres with an American ship in September 1797. The Ceres was told that that ‘the Americans were at war with France’ and that Admiral Nelson had engaged the French fleet. This may refer to the blockade of Cadiz against the Spanish fleet, rather than the French.

On 30 September 1797, Crawley records that a ship from Cork has appeared bringing news of ‘Adml. Nelson being killed and his Ship Sunk’. This was not true, although Nelson had been wounded in July 1797 and one arm was amputated. The crew of the Ceres would have been unable to verify that Nelson had survived until they reached port. Bad news, and worries about dangers at sea, could prey upon the mind. It is perhaps unsurprising that William Crawley occasionally mused upon mortality. He wrote out the following motto twice:
‘All human things are subject to decay and Death the broom that sweeps us all away’.

 

  Limerick - White AbbeyNoc
Thomas Walmsley, White Abbey near Limerick (1806) K. Top. LIV no. 23

We have been trying to discover more about William Davenport Crawley.  It appears that he returned to Ireland to live as a member of the local gentry at White Hill Castleconnell and had children.  He died aged 73 on 11 July 1850 at the home of his daughter Mrs Elizabeth Kelly in the town of Limerick ‘to the deep regret of his family and friends’.  Elizabeth’s son William Pierce Kelly followed his grandfather’s example and journeyed to India, joining the Madras Medical Service in 1857.  William Pierce Kelly’s son, born in Rangoon in 1877, was named William Davenport Crawley Kelly.

Can any of our readers help us fill in the gaps before William joined the Ceres in India and tell us more about his later life?

Helen Paul
Lecturer in Economics and Economic History, University of Southampton
Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Journal compiled by William Davenport Crawley, seaman, East India Company ship Ceres - British Library Mss Eur F490
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Limerick Chronicle 13 July 1850
Journal of voyage of Ceres by Captain George Stevens IOR/L/MAR/B/215J
Assistant Surgeon papers for William Pierce Kelly IOR/L/AG/9/397 ff.594-598, 639-640
A Passage to India –Shipboard Life: podcast of event held at British Library in June 2017

 

14 August 2017

Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold

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The first Indian man to play cricket for England, KS Ranjitsinhji, was described in these glowing terms in a song written in his honour. His cricketing career in England began while he was studying in Cambridge. He played for Sussex from 1895 to 1904 and for England against Australia from 1896 to 1902.

Ranji - Driving MBM 1896

KS Ranjitsinhji, Mirror of British Merchandise, 1896

In 1899 he achieved an amazing first for cricketers – over 3,000 runs in one year. Incredibly, he managed to repeat this in 1900. The Ranji song is featured in the British Library’s Asians in Britain web pages where you can learn more about his life. The web pages were initially developed through projects led by Professor Susheila Nasta of the Open University, including Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad, 1870-1950  

The Asians in Britain web pages tell the story of the long history of people from South Asia in Britain and the contributions they have made to British culture and society. They include ayahs (nannies), lascar seamen, politicians, campaigners such as suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, scientists and authors. The web pages also highlight the vital contribution people from South Asia made during the world wars.

Naoroji portrait MBM 1892
Dadabhai Naoroji, elected MP for Finsbury, 1892
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892

The Ranji song is among many fascinating and beautiful items currently on display in an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham, Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage.

Connecting Stories with logos - small

For further details about the exhibition, events and opening hours please see the Library of Birmingham’s website. The exhibition and community engagement programme continue the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages 
Making Britain Database 
#ConnectingStories

Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, (London, 2002)
Susheila Nasta with Florian Stadtler, Asian Britain: a photographic history, (London, 2013)
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892, 1896 Reference: 14119.f.37

10 August 2017

First World War Indian soldiers' letters in 'Connecting Stories' exhibition

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The exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage features extracts from letters written by two soldiers of the 33rd Punjab Regiment fighting on the Western Front during the First World War. The Censor of Indian Mails gathered information about the morale of the soldiers, and would prepare regular reports for the information of Government and the Army, appending translated extracts of soldier’s letters to illustrate his reports. The Censor’s reports and soldier’s letters are part of the India Office Records held at the British Library.

Punjab Regiment Photo 24-(352)
A Punjab regiment on the march in Flanders, 6 September 1915; Photographer: H. D. Girdwood. British Library: Photo 24(352)

The Punjab Regiment suffered heavy casualties in the fierce fighting in Flanders in 1915, and the letters reflect the extreme stress the two soldiers were experiencing. Of these letters and others from soldiers of the 33rd Punjabis, the Head Censor commented that the writers appeared to be dejected, and that the regiment had lost nearly all its British officers. Subadar Pir Dad Khan wrote in Urdu from the front on 2 October 1915 that “This country, which is in the likeness of Paradise, now seems to me worse than Hell! (because of the bad news which comes from the Regiment)”.

Ior!l!mil!5!825!6_f065v
Reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France: Vol 1, IOR/L/MIL/5/825/6, folio 999

Jemadar Ghulam Hassan Khan was writing to a friend or family member in Rawalpindi in the Punjab in early October 1915. He wrote that he arrived in France on 19 September 1915, and by 23 September he had reached the trenches. The regiment immediately went into action, suffering great losses, but achieving a good name for itself. Writing close to the trenches, he noted that “It rains day and night - both sorts of rain. I cannot describe it. If God is merciful to me, I will escape with my life, otherwise not. To describe what is happening is one thing, to see it for yourself is an entirely different matter. Even if I were to write a whole book about it, it would fall short of the reality.” He went on to say that the men were fully supplied with everything they wanted in the way of food, matches, tobacco, etc., but that “The cold is what we suffer from most, besides the constant rain and hail of shells. I cannot complain to anyone except God.” A note by the Censor at the end of the letter says that the letter was passed by the Regimental Censor, but subsequently withheld. This was more than likely due to Ghulam Hassan Khan’s closing instruction to his correspondent to arrange a code so they could communicate with each other more secretly.

Connecting Stories is at the Library of Birmingham until 4 November 2017. It was created in partnership with the British Library and generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours, events and family days are on the Library of Birmingham website.

The reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France, including extracts from soldiers’ letters can be found online.
 
John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further information:
Reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France, Aug-Oct 1916 [IOR/L/MIL/5/825/6, folios 980-981, 999]
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

06 July 2017

The roaring Dutch lion breaks the English chains

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This year marks the 350th anniversary of the raid on the Medway during the Second Anglo Dutch War (1666-1667).  A Dutch squadron commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter made a daring raid on the English fleet, capturing a fort at Sheerness, breaking the chain boom at Gillingham, capturing the Unity and Royal Charles, and burning thirteen English ships.

A new exhibition Breaking the Chain at the Historic Dockyards Chatham provides a unique opportunity to learn about the Battle of the Medway and its aftermath through items and objects from institutions in Britain and the Netherlands, including a number of items from the British Library.

  Evelyn  John
Provided by Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, via the Europeana Collections Portal CC By

Two of these items come from the John Evelyn papers, including a translation of the account of the Battle from Nicolaas Witsen’s Aeloude en hedendaegsche Scheeps-Bouw en Bestier, and Evelyn’s diary entry describing the battle. More information on the John Evelyn archive can be found here.

The following item is also taken from the Evelyn papers, but does not appear in the exhibition. Add MS 78393 ff 16-17 is a sketch showing the ships and fortifications at Chatham. Although not drawn by Evelyn, it has been annotated in his hand ‘Descent of the Dutch when they burnt our ships at Chatham 1666 [sic]’.

  Evelyn Add MS 78393  f 15
Add MS 78393, f 15. Evelyn’s pencil annotation can be seen in the left hand corner. CC By

Evelyn Add MS 78393  f 15 close-up
Add MS 78393, f 15. Close-up showing the fortifications along the river.  CC By

We also supplied a number of items providing a Dutch perspective, including a copy of De Complete Werken van Joost van Vondel, which features his celebratory poem De Zeeleeu op den Teems.

In addition to loaning physical items for exhibitions, institutions are often able to provide access to digital copies online. The Europeana Collections portal provides access to over 53 million digital objects from European heritage and cultural institutions, and includes several items relating to the Medway raid from the Rijksmuseum.

Alex Hailey
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

 

29 May 2017

Illuminations at East India House

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The end of the Crimean War in 1856 was celebrated in Britain with a national holiday on 29 May.  Public buildings in the City of London were fitted with splendid gas illuminations for the evening: the Post Office, Mansion House, Royal Exchange, Custom House, and East India House.

   East India House illuminations 1856

 Illuminations at East India House - Illustrated London News 31 May 1856

Matthew Digby Wyatt, Surveyor to the East India Company, was entrusted with the task of organising the illuminations at East India House in Leadenhall Street.  Four tenders were submitted to provide the equipment for hire or for purchase, ranging from £220 to £550. Wyatt chose the lowest purchase tender of £260 which came from James Meacock, a gas fitter based in Snow Hill.  Meacock was praised by Wyatt: ‘very great energy was displayed by the contractor in immediately getting the work in hand’.  The City of London Gas Company supplied the fuel, charging one penny per jet which included the cost of tapping the mains and supplying connectors.

  East India House illuminations 1856 - 2
London Evening Standard 30 May 1856 British Newspaper Archive

The illuminations consisted of ‘a stream of jets along the length of the building, with scroll-work inside of the pediment, and in Roman capitals the word “Peace”; underneath the pediment festoons and drapery going the whole length of the building’.  

Overall, Wyatt was  satisfied with the display.  He reported to the Company: ‘The whole of the fittings contracted for were completed by dusk on the evening of the 29th.  Unfortunately the wind exercised an influence adverse to the successful lighting especially during the early part of the evening but upon the whole the display was stated by the public press to have been of an effective description… So far as I have been enabled to ascertain the outlay for the Honourable Company’s illumination will be very far below the amounts incurred for the principal government Offices’.

The lighting equipment was carefully stowed away for future use.  However the magnificent East India House would not exist for much longer.  The entire building was demolished in 1862 after the India Office took over from the East India Company and decided to move to new headquarters in Whitehall.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Surveyor’s papers May-June 1856 IOR/L/SUR/1/3 ff.41, 53-54; IOR/L/SUR/2/1 ff. 478. 490-493.