The Chinese collection in the Department of Asian and African Studies of the British Library includes a unique series of more than 400 oracle bones (jia gu甲骨). They date from between 1600 and 1050 BCE (Shang Dynasty) and this makes them the oldest items in the entire British Library.
BL Or.7694.1535 (verso). Shang dynasty oracle bone. Pit marks are visible.
Oracle bones are turtle plastrons or animal bones (mostly ox scapulae) used for divination practices during the Bronze age in China. Questions about crops, the weather or the royal family were engraved with a sharp object and the bone was then heated with metal sticks. Because of the heat, the bones would crack and the answers would be given by the diviners who interpreted the different shapes and the patterns of the fractures. The response was inscribed on the bone too. Most of the cracks produced by the heat on the reverse side of the bones appeared on the front side with a distinctive shape (├ ) from which comes the Chinese character for the verb “to divine” (卜).
BL Or.7694.1535 (recto). Shang Dynasty oracle bone. The typical ├ shaped cracks are evident on the surface.
Oracle bones are a recent discovery in Chinese archaeology. The first sets were collected and decrypted only during the early years of the 20th century.
During the 19th century, oracle bones were known by locals as “dragon bones” (long gu 龍骨) and, following the principles of the traditional Chinese medicine, they were grounded to obtain a powder which was believed to be able to cure many types of diseases. In 1899, Wang Yirong, antiquarian, collector of bronzes and chancellor of the Chinese Imperial Academy, recognized the importance of the inscribed bones and purchased several pieces from an antiquities dealer who had previously acquired the bones from some farmers. After Wang committed suicide following his brief participation as a local commander in the Boxer Rebellion, his friend Liu E, who had acquired the bones from Wang, published in 1903 the first book of oracle bones rubbings and inscriptions and from that moment the news of their discovery spread rapidly. Oracle bones became items of great value for foreign collectors and dealers and they soon began to be collected by British private and public institutions.
Oracle bones represented an extraordinary discovery for sinologists and historians and they are significant in two ways. On the historical side, they prove the existence of the Shang Dynasty, which some researchers questioned until the beginning of the 19th century. They also contain complete accounts of the royal genealogy of the dynasty. On the linguistic side, they are the earliest writing in China and they represent an essential tool for understanding Chinese characters and etymology. In fact, Shang Dynasty script, also called “oracle script” (jia gu wen 甲骨文), is the oldest known Chinese script and is the direct progenitor of the Chinese characters used nowadays. The jia gu wen script is schematic and the shape of the characters is simplified to the maximum level to make it simple to engrave on hard surfaces. Round forms are often adapted to more rectilinear ones.
BL Or.7694.1601. Shang Dynasty oracle bone. Inscriptions in jia gu wen are visible on the surface.
The oracle bones in the British Library come from the Couling-Chalfant collection which was made in China between 1903 and 1908 by two missionaries, Samuel Couling and Frank Chalfant, the former British and the latter American, who were working in the Shandong Province. The Chinese oracle bones officially entered the British Library collection, which was part of the British Museum at that time, in 1911. Other oracle bones coming from the Couling-Chalfant collection can be also found in the National Museum of Scotland. Another notable collector of oracle bones was Lionel Charles Hopkins, a British sinologist and diplomat who worked in Tianjin as Chief Ambassador. He purchased several oracle bones with the help of Chalfant and later donated his collection to Cambridge University Library, where more than 600 pieces are now deposited.
Peter Hessler, Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China, HarperCollins, 2007
David N. Keightley, Sources of Shang History: the Oracle-bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China, University of California Press, 1978
Chin Wenxin, The Oracle Bones Collections in Great Britain, in Julia Ching and R. W. L. Guisso, Sages and Filial Sons: Mythology and Archaeology in Ancient China, The Chinese University Press, 1991
For a visual representation of the evolution of the Chinese characters from the jia gu wen script to the contemporary simplified characters (jian ti zi), see Michelle Brown, The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts: History and Techniques, British Library & Toronto University Press: London & Toronto, 1998, p. 19
My last few posts, on documents from the Muslim sultanates of the southern Philippines, have highlighted the diverse linguistic landscape. The treaties signed by Alexander Dalrymple with the sultanate of Sulu in the early 1760s were written in English and Malay or Tausug. In Mindanao, during the visit by the British sea captain Thomas Forrest in 1775, the Raja Muda of the sultanate of Maguindanao and his father Fakih Maulana wrote to King George III and the East India Company in Malay, the letters being penned by Fakih Maulana himself. In fact, as noted by Forrest during his eight-month stay in Maguindanao, the main medium for both oral and written communication was the Maguindanao language, and Fakih Maulana consulted royal genealogies written in Maguindanao. Presented below are two letters in Maguindanao, one of which is from Fakih Maulana, written three decades before Forrest's visit.
Map of the Philippines, from Carta Hydrographica, y Chorographica delas Yslas Filipinas, Manila, 1734. British Library, Maps.K.Top.CXVI.37.
On the basis of inscriptions in the top-left corners of the first pages, both letters are addressed to Don Pedro Zacarias Villareal, an admiral and later sergeant major, and from 1755, Governor of Zamboanga (information from R. Orlina). He was dispatched to Zamboanga in 1731, where Maulana Jafar Sadik, sultan of Tamontaka, requested Spanish assistance in quelling a rebellion by his nephew Malinog. After Jafar Sadik was killed in an attack by Malinog's forces in 1733, Zacarias came to the aid of his son Muhammad Amiruddin Hamza (Fakih Maulana). Following Malinog’s death in 1748, Fakih Maulana emerged as paramount chief of Maguindanao, as he himself recounted to Forrest.
The letter from Fakih Maulana, Or.15510 A, consists of four densely-written pages, and concludes with a statement of the date, 20 Rabiulawal 1159, equivalent to 12 April 1746. Although the writer is not identified in the letter itself, in the bottom left corner of the last page is impressed an eight-petalled round lampblack seal, inscribed in Arabic, al-mutawakkil `alâ Allâh huwa al-Sultan Muhammad Syah Amiruddin fî balad `âlam Mindanâwî, ‘He who entrusts himself to God, he is the Sultan Muhammad Syah Amiruddin, of the state in the land of Mindanao’, and the signature in Latin characters, Jamdsa, represents 'Hamza' in Spanish orthography. In the letter Fakih Maulana refers disparagingly to Malinog, and recounts a complex operation to recover booty that had been seized.
The last page of a four-page letter in Maguindanao in Arabic script, from Sultan Muhammad Syah Amiruddin of Maguindanao (Fakih Maulana), 1746. British Library, Or. 15510 A, f.2v.
The second letter, Or. 15510 B, is just one page long, with a final line, written in Malay, giving the year as 1159 (1746/7 AD). The octagonal seal on this letter is inscribed, al-mu'ayyad billâh Sultan Muhyiuddin ibn al-Sultan Diauddin, ‘He who is supported by God, Sultan Muhyiuddin, son of the Sultan Diauddin’. It is often difficult to link up formal regnal names given on Islamic seals from the Philippines with royal titles referred to in other historical sources, and this sultan has not yet been positively identified, as the name of the sender is not given in the text of the letter itself. The letter does however refer to the ruler of Buayan, a realm inland from Maguindanao which was the stronghold of Malinog.
Letter in Maguindanao and Malay from Sultan Muhyiuddin, 1159 (1746/7). British Library, Or. 15510 B.
The two letters in Maguindanao reproduced here have just been fully digitised. In written form, Malay, Tausug and Maguindanao all use the modified form of the Arabic script called Jawi, with five additional letters representing sounds not found in Arabic. The main difference is that while vowels are rarely indicated in Malay with diacritical marks, Tausug and Maguindanao are always fully vocalised.
One distinctive aspect of the diplomatics of both letters deserves mention. Throughout the Islamic world, in letters and documents written in Arabic script, irrespective of language, the lines of writing are generally arrayed against the left-hand edge of the paper, leaving a margin along the right-hand side – as indeed was the case in the Tausug and Malay documents discussed above. In these two letters, however, the text block is sited on the right-hand side of the paper, leaving a wide margin on the left; an exceptionally unusual arrangement for documents in Arabic script, and it is possible that Spanish influence may have led to this particular format.
For information on the contents of the two letters I would like to acknowledge the invaluable help of Roderick Orlina, Darwin Absari and Nasrudin Datucali.
Further reading: Thomas Forrest, A voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas 1774-1776. 2nd ed., with plates. London, 1780. Cesar Adib Majul, Muslims in the Philippines. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1999.
On 11 January 1937, the British Political Agent in Kuwait, Gerald Simpson De Gaury (1897-1984) returned to Kuwait City from a tour of the interior. Upon his arrival at the Agency, De Gaury was informed by his Head Clerk that a British subject had been arrested and detained by the local authorities. The subject in question, a Pathan [Pashtun] restaurant owner named Abdul Muttalib bin Mahin, had been charged with “selling cat in his restaurant instead of mutton”.
As Muttalib was a British subject, his arrest was contrary to the provisions of the Kuwait Order-in-Council, the agreement between the British Government and Kuwait’s rulers that governed the relationship between the two states. De Gaury’s response to this breach of the agreement was decisive and illustrates well the extent of the British Empire’s control over Kuwait during this period.
According to a letter De Gaury sent to his superior, Trenchard Craven Fowle (1884-1940), the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, within half an hour of his return to the city, he had successfully secured Muttalib’s release from prison and temporarily detained him in the Agency instead.
The first page of De Gaury’s letter to Fowle reporting the details of Muttalib’s case, 18th March 1937 (IOR/R/15/1/506 f. 207)
‘A Herd of Eight Fat Cats’
The next day, the ruler of Kuwait, Shaikh Ahmad Al Jabir Al Sabah apologised to De Gaury in person for the “error in procedure” and then sent a letter to the Agency that presented the ‘evidence’ against Muttalib. According to the letter, the Kuwait Town Watch had visited Muttalib’s house and “found a herd of eight fat cats there”. The letter ended with a request for De Gaury to approve Muttalib’s deportation from Kuwait. In the words of De Gaury, “His Excellency or his officers had thus in effect tried, and convicted the man and I was to be merely his executive official for the deportation”.
Subsequently, De Gaury called for Shaikh Ahmad’s Lieutenant (who was head of the Town Watch) to come to the Agency. Once the Lieutenant arrived, De Gaury informed him that he intended to try Muttalib the following day at 3pm and asked for the witnesses to be ready at that time. In his letter to Fowle, De Gaury states that as he had previously seen an unusual number of cats in the Lieutenant’s own home, he “sharply” asked him how many he himself kept, to which the Lieutenant fearfully responded that his household had “about fourteen, including those in the harem” (the area of a house reserved solely for women).
Evidence: A Dead Cat’s Hair
The next day, De Gaury was told that Shaikh Ahmad had gone away on a hunting trip and that it was not possible to call the witnesses to trial without the Shaikh’s permission. Undeterred, De Gaury held the trial regardless and swiftly dismissed the case against Muttalib due to a lack of evidence. In his letter to Fowle, De Gaury mentions that the American Mission had become involved in the case “with their habitual elan” when Dr. Charles Stanley Mylrea from the Mission’s hospital had analysed a hair found by the Mayor on a table in Muttalib’s restaurant and certified it to be the same as that on a dead cat from a dustbin in the neighbourhood. However, much to the chagrin of the Mission, De Gaury decided that, in the absence of all other witnesses, Mylrea’s assessment carried no weight as evidence.
Dr. Mylrea’s Gravestone at the Old Jewish & Christian Cemetery in Kuwait City. Courtesy of Julia & Keld
Playing on the Shaikh’s Weakness
According to De Gaury, by this point, the town had split into pro- and anti-Muttalib factions as a result of the controversy and in order to show his support, De Gaury visited Muttalib’s restaurant and publicly rebuked the Mayor of Kuwait who had initially brought the case against the restaurateur. De Gaury’s actions, combined with pressure from Kuwait’s religious establishment (who also supported Muttalib, “owing to his past charity”), soon led the local authorities to lose interest in the case.
De Gaury believed that the Mayor had initiated the case against Muttaliib in order to try and gain control of his restaurant and had been assisted in this effort by the Town Lieutenant, said by De Gaury to be an “ambitious, jealous man who plays on the Shaikh’s weakness”. At this time, a large number of Indian merchants had recently been expelled from Iran and Iraq and in the words of a British official “were keen to try their luck in Kuwait”. This eventuality worried Shaikh Ahmad as he was concerned that an influx of these merchants into Kuwait would bankrupt their local competitors and cause instability. It is possible that he supported the Mayor’s call for Muttalib’s deportation due to this broader concern.
De Gaury explained to Fowle that the Mayor made the error of attacking a British subject thinking that foreigners would be “easier game” than Kuwaitis and since the Shaikh had “concealed the provisions of the Kuwait Order-in-Council from most of his subjects”, had not realised “that he would in the end encounter me”.
After receiving De Gaury’s letter, Fowle reported the details of the case onwards to the British Government in India in a letter of his own on 5 May 1937. In this letter, Fowle joked that by using the ‘capital’ of 14 cats, the Lieutenant and the Mayor “could doubtless have started a flourishing business in the restaurant line”.
Fowle’s light-hearted commentary on the final page of his letter to the Government of India regarding Muttalib’s case, 5 May 1937 (IOR/R/15/1/506 f. 214).
Although the charges against Muttalib were dropped, under the belief that his business would suffer as a result of the accusations nevertheless, he wound up his affairs and left Kuwait. Fowle sardonically remarked that it was not known whether he left “with or without his eight cats”. Thus ended what was known while it lasted as the ‘Kuwait Cat’s Meat Crisis’, and in De Gaury’s words “at one time threatened to be rather serious”.
Although De Gaury may have sympathised with Muttalib’s plight on a personal level, the underlying motivation for the decisive action he took in his support clearly had a wider context. As De Gaury observed, many Kuwaiti subjects were unaware of the depth of Britain’s imperial control over the country and the extent to which the Kuwait Order-in-Council infringed upon on the country’s sovereignty. The crisis therefore served to visibly underline the British Empire’s commanding presence in Kuwait. Muttalib’s almost immediate release from prison and the dismissal of the case against him the next day sent a strong message that all British subjects in Kuwait, even those accused of a crime, were under their government’s protection and could not be arrested or prosecuted by the local authorities.
Primary Sources London, British Library, ‘File 53/32 V (D 128) Kuwait Miscellaneous', IOR/R/15/1/506
Further reading al-Ḥātim, ‘Abd Allāh ibn Khālid, Min hunā bada’at al-Kūwayt, 2nd edn (al-Kūwayt: Maṭba‘ah Dār al-Qabas, 1980)
In my last post I wrote about the East India Company sea captain Thomas Forrest’s eight-month stay in the sultanate of Maguindanao, on the west coast of the island of Mindanao, from 5 May 1775 to 8 January 1776. During this visit, Forrest forged close relations with the Raja Muda (Viceroy) and his father Fakymolano (Fakih Maulana), the former sultan of Maguindanao. On arrival in Maguindanao, Forrest had to tread delicately due to the evident rift between the reigning Sultan Fakharuddin (r. 1755-c.1780), who was the younger brother of Fakih Maulana, and the Raja Muda. Acting on the sage advice of his Bugis guide Tuan Haji, while ensuring that he paid respects to the Sultan, Forrest allied himself with the court of the Raja Muda, and lodged in his fort.
On his departure in January 1776, Forrest carried with him two letters: 'I then took respectful leave of Raja Moodo. He delivered to me the two letters already mentioned; one to his Majesty, the other to the Company, with the presents. Nobody knew what they were, but himself and his father Fakymolano, who wrote the letters' (Forrest 1780: 290). The two letters, written in Malay, are now held in the India Office Records in the British Library. Although unpublished, their presence was not unknown: the letter to King George was exhibited (probably in the form of a colour slide) in a talk on ‘The archives of the Honourable East India Company’ by William Foster at the Royal Society of Arts in London in 1923, described as ‘a letter in Malay, from the Sultan of Mindanao (the most southerly of the Philippine Islands), to George III, offering an alliance, offensive and defensive, and promising facilities for British trade in his country’.
Letter in Malay from the Raja Muda of Maguindanao and his father Fakih Maulana to King George III of Great Britain, 5 Rabiulakhir 1189 (5 June 1775). British Library, IOR: H/128, pp.496-497.
William Foster’s summary accurates reflects the content of both letters, which are indeed essentially the same. However, Fakih Maulana’s statesmanship is evident in the difference of nuance between the two letters. That to the king is more conventional in tone and pays compliments to the renown of the British name, pre-empting Napoleon’s famous characterisation of the English as ‘a nation of shopkeepers’ by stating, ‘the Spanish are constantly interfering in our [religion] – the Dutch are all for taking over our government – but the English just want to trade.’ The epistle to the Company, on the other hand, is rather more brisk and business-like. While the letter to the king states ‘I agree to help the Company against its enemies and in return I ask the Company to assist me in Maguindanao’, that to the Company states ‘I agree to help the Company against its enemies in the land of Maguindanao, but I do not agree to help beyond Maguindanao’.
Turning from the content to the form, the letter is not a typical royal Malay letter, not least in that it was written by Fakih Maulana himself rather than by a professional palace scribe. His erudition is alluded to in the title by which he was commonly known, the Arabic Faqīh Mawlāna, ‘Our Lord the Legal Expert’, but his handwriting is workaday rather than stylish. The opening words are fully in accordance with standard Malay protocol: Surat ini dengan tanda puti hati datang dari …, ‘This letter comes in all sincerity from …’. Thereafter, however, the language used is colloquial rather than courtly, evoking the vocabulary of commerce and daily communication throughout the archipelago rather than of its courts, for example in the emphatic use of the possessive punya in the Raja Muda’s claim to be effective sovereign of the state: Saudarah kita Fakharuddin sultan sekarang tuah suda lapas perinta di semuanya dia punya pesisir dalam tangan Raja Muda punya tangan, ‘Our brother Fakhruddin, the sultan, is old and has relinquished his rule over all his coastal possessions into the hands of the Raja Muda’. In layout the letter is also untraditional: there is no religious letter heading or kepala surat as is commonly found at the top of most formal Malay letters. Many of the lines are presented in new paragraphs, and dashes are employed at the end of sentences, although traditional Malay in Jawi script did not employ punctuation or paragraphing. Occasionally words in Maguindanao, the local language of the state, are interspersed in the Malay text, such as labi, meaning 'especially' or 'in particular', which appears to be used here as a cognate for the Malay word lagi, 'moreover', to introduce a new clause in the letter. At the end, both letters are dated 5 Rabiulakhir 1189, equivalent to 5 June 1775, indicating that the letters were written not long after Forrest's arrival in Maguindanano, but were only delivered to him on his departure.
Lampblack seal impression of the Raja Muda of Maguindanao, inscribed in Arabic: wa-tawakkal `alâ Allâh huwa âmîr al-umarâ` Muhammad Azimuddin, ‘And trusting to God, he is the prince of princes, Muhammad Azimuddin’. British Library, IOR: H/134, p.77.
The full names of Fakih Maulana Muhammad Amiruddin and the Raja Muda Amir al-Umara Muhammad Azimuddin Kibad Shahrial, inscribed in Arabic and Latin script at the end of their letter to the Directors of the East India Company. British Library, IOR: H/134, p.77.
In the event, despite the warm relationship that had developed between Forrest and the Raja Muda and Fakih Maulana, the East India Company made no further overtures to Maguindanao. The Raja Muda eventually acceeded fully to the throne of Maguindanao in around 1780, and ruled until 1805 (Majul 1999: 28).
Further reading: Thomas Forrest, A voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas 1774-1776. 2nd ed. London, 1780. William Foster, The archives of the Honourable East India Company. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, January 1924, 4: 106-113. Majul, Cesar Adib, Muslims in the Philippines. 2nd ed. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1999.
How did a fourteenth century illustrated ‘Treatise on the Art of Riding and using the Instruments of War’ [نهاية السؤل والامنية في تعلم أعمال الفروسية] end up in the British Library’s Arabic manuscript collection? A ‘Nincumpoop’ of the Napoleonic era, who moonlighted as an antiquarian, holds the answer.
This strikingly illustrated manuscript, Add.18866 (currently undergoing digitisation by the BL/Qatar Foundation Partnership), probably originates from Egypt or Syria. It was authored by Muḥammad ibn ‘Īsá ibn Ismā‘īl al-Aqṣarā’ī (d. 1348), and this copy was completed on 10 Muḥarram 773 AH (25 July AD 1371). The manuscript’s title claimed that, in its comprehensiveness, it could nullify all desire for further instruction in the subject.
‘Illustration of four horsemen, each one with a sword and a hide shield, and each one carrying his shield on his horse's croupʼ [صورة أربع فوارس مع كل واحد منهم سيف ودرقة وكل منهم درقته على كفل فرسه] (BL Add.18866, f. 140)
The British Library’s ‘Register of Additional Manuscripts’ states that this item was purchased from the estate of Sir Thomas Reade via a sale at Sotheby’s auction house. It is listed in the 1852 Sale Catalogue as Lot 94, a ‘Treatise on the Art of Riding and using the Instruments of War, with illustrations, beautifully written’.
The sale of Reade’s manuscript Add.18866 to the British Museum. Sotheby and Wilkinson’s Sale Catalogue, 28 January 1852, Lot 94 (BL S.C.Sotheby(1))
The manuscript was the third most expensive item of the two-hundred and sixty lots from his estate, and by far the most expensive of Reade’s Arabic manuscripts. It was purchased on behalf of the British Museum for four pounds, four shillings (equating to four guineas, or £4.20 – about £500 today) by the brothers Thomas and William Boone, specialist antiquarian booksellers with whom the British Museum dealt in the nineteenth century. Prior to this, provenance can be surmised through tracing the life of its former owner.
Thomas Reade in the Army
Sir Thomas Reade (1782–1849) was born in Congleton, England and in 1799 he ran away from home to enlist in the army. Following campaigns in Holland, Egypt and America, as well as postings across the Continent, Reade received many subsequent honours and promotions, culminating in his Knighthood in 1815, aged just thirty-three. This event coincided with the end of his military career and marked a turning point in his life, for, on 29 January 1816, Reade set sail with Sir Hudson Lowe for the remote island of St Helena in the South Atlantic.
Colonel Sir Thomas Reade, C.B. (1782-1849). Unknown artist
According to a biography written by his descendant Aleyn Reade, Sir Thomas was deployed as Deputy Adjutant-General of the troops. Not only was he jailer to the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte – exiled there after the Battle of Waterloo – but he acted as the main intermediary between Napoleon and Lowe, whose relationship was famously strained.
Whilst Count Montholon (who accompanied Napoleon to St Helena and was later suspected by some to have poisoned him) spoke favourably of Reade, as did Lieutenant Clifford (a Naval officer who visited the island in 1817), he was not popular with everyone. Gorrequer, Lowe’s Aide-de-camp and acting military secretary, referred to him in his diary by various derogatory pseudonyms including ‘Nincumpoop’ and ‘Ninny’. However, in spite of the rumours and controversy regarding Lowe’s alleged ill treatment of Napoleon, Aleyn Reade argues that the exiled Emperor appeared to have liked or at least favoured Sir Thomas.
Life in Tunisia
Following Napoleon’s death in 1821, Reade returned to England. He was appointed Consul-General of Tunis on 5 June 1824 (London Gazette of that date), and married Agnes Clogg on 9 September that year. In Tunisia in addition to his main charge of defending against the French, his most notable achievement came in 1842 when he successfully influenced the Bey (monarch) of Tunis to abolish slavery throughout his dominions.
He remained in Tunis until his death from cancer in 1849 and was honoured with an impressive public funeral, which, as his obituary states, was ‘celebrated with solemnity and pomp’. It was Reade’s professional standing and foreign postings that enabled him to collect manuscripts, but the life he led outside of his official duties sheds more light on why he acquired them.
Reade the Collector
Like many high-ranking British officers of his day Reade was also a scholar and antiquarian. He studied and collected Carthaginian and Romano-African antiquities and zoological specimens, published papers and excavated among the ruins at Carthage at his own considerable expense. Many of the artefacts he unearthed were given to the British Museum, a practice that was common at the time, but would be a complicated diplomatic issue today. This was part of the less official, but equally destructive looting by colonial officials of the treasures of the greater empire. It is very probable that Reade acquired possession of al-Aqṣarā’ī’s manuscript at this stage of his career.
‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his right hand, its blade on his left shoulder and a sword in his left hand whose blade is under his right armpitʼ [صورة فارس ومعه سيف في يده اليمنى وذبابة على كتفه الأيسر وفي يده اليسرى سيف وذبابة تحت إبطه اليمنى] (BL Add.18866, f. 132v )
Unfortunately, this is where the trail runs cold. Exactly where, when and from whom Reade obtained this striking volume is unlikely to come to light. However, the personal interest of a high profile official in ancient antiquities allows us a small insight into the manuscript’s path to the British Library, where it now forms one of the highlights of the Asian and African Studies collection. A detailed catalogue description is available here.
London, British Library, Department of Western Manuscripts departmental archive: Register of Additional Manuscripts, February 1851 – July 1861.
‘Catalogue of a Valuable Collection of Oriental Books and Manuscripts; including many, the Property of the Late Sir Thomas Reade’, Sotheby and Wilkinson Sale Catalogue, 28 January 1852, pp. 1–16, and accompanying annotations. In BL S. C. Sotheby(1): Auctioneersʼ archival set of Sotheby’s sale catalogues, 20 Jan 1852 to 16 Feb 1852.
Anon, ‘Sir Thomas Reade, C. B.’, The Gentleman’s Magazine, (September 1849), pp. 316–7.
Herbert John Clifford, ‘A Visit to Longwood: copied by his great-grand-daughter, M. C. Bernard, from the diary of Lieut. Herbert John Clifford, R. N., 1817 [written on board H. M. sloop Lyra on the homeward voyage from China, whither the Lyra had gone with Lord Amherst’s embassy.]’, The Cornhill Magazine, (November 1899), pp. 665–75.
James Kemble, St Helena During Napoleon’s Exile: Gorrequer’s Diary. (London: Heinemann, 1969).
Thomas Forrest (1729-1802) was a British sea captain who spent half a century plying the waters of the Malay archipelago, mostly in the service of the East India Company. In 1775 Forrest undertook a voyage from his base at Bengkulu in west Sumatra to survey the north coast of New Guinea, sailing via the East India Company settlement on the island of Balambangan off the north coast of Borneo, which had been granted by the Sultan of Sulu following negotations with Alexander Dalrymple in the early 1760s.
On the return journey Forrest spent eight months, from 5 May 1775 to 8 January 1776, in the sultanate of Maguindanao on the west coast of the island of Mindanao in the present-day southern Philippines, where he was courteously hosted by the Rajah Moodo (Raja Muda or Viceroy) and his father Fakymolano (Fakih Maulana). By his own account Forrest spent nearly every evening with the Raja Muda and Fakih Maulana, discoursing in Malay on a wide range of subjects, and his resulting book, A voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas 1774-1776 (first published in London in 1779), includes a valuable description of the social, cultural, political and economic life of Maguindanao in the late 18th century.
Thomas Forrest, fronstispiece in Voyage from Calcutta to the Mergui archipelago (London, 1792).
While in Maguindanao, Forrest received news that the Company base at Balambangan had been sacked by the Sulus, and he therefore made good use of his time in Maguindanao to survey the coast and the land, looking out for another suitable site for a trading post. The second, improved, edition of his book, issued in London in 1780, includes numerous maps and charts of Mindanao and other places surveyed on his voyage.
Plate 18 in Forrest’s book is a map entitled ‘Part of Magindano, from Tetyan Harbour to the Island Serangani', which includes not only coastal features surveyed by Forrest himself, but also a detailed trajectory of the great Pulangi river up to its source, with a note of settlements along its banks, extending far beyond the limit of Forrest’s own explorations. Forrest's source of information is elucidated in the opening of Chaper II of Book II of his work, ‘Geographical Sketch of Places on the Banks of the Rivers Pelangy and Tamontakka, by Tuan Fakymolano’, in which Forrest notes that ‘the chart of these countries and rivers, drawn by Fakymolano, is deposited in the British Museum’ (Forrest 1780: 186). This map of the main rivers and riverine settlements of Maguindanao is now held in the British Library as Add. 4924, and is an exceptionally rare example of a map produced within the Malay world. The rivers, with tributaries and channels, were drawn in black ink and captioned in Arabic script with the names of settlements by Fakih Maulana himself, with transliterations and some comments in English in a lighter brown ink by Forrest. The map, which must have been produced in 1775, has just been fully digitised and can be studied in high resolution here.
Map of Maguindanao, drawn by Fakih Maulana for Thomas Forrest, 1775. British Library, Add. 4924.
Detail from Thomas Forrest's map of 'Part of Magindano' ( Forrest 1780: Plate 18), showing the river Pulangi, based on Fakih Maulana's map.
Fakih Maulana's account of riverine settlements in Maguindanao (Forrest 1780: 185, detail).
When Forrest left Maguindanao in January 1776 to sail on to Sulu and Balambangan, he carried with him two royal letters in Malay from the Raja Muda and Fakih Maulana, to the king (then George III) and the East India Company. These letters will be discussed in my next post.
There are several portraits of the rulers of the Qajar dynasty in the British Library collections, occurring either as manuscript illustrations or separate paintings, but there are comparatively few examples of their predecessors the Zands who ruled Iran from 1751 until 1794.
One of these is a manuscript copy of a history of the Zand dynasty (Add.24904), the Tārīkh-i gītīgushāʼī (here called Tārīkh-i Zandīyah), by Mīrzā Muḥammad Ṣādiq, which was continued after the author’s death in 1204 (1789/90) by his pupil ʻAbd al-Karīm ibn ʻAlī Riżā al-Sharīf. It was written originally at the request of a later Zand, Jaʻfar Khān (r. 1785-89), intended as a contemporary record of the events of his reign. This volume contains only the section up to the death in 1779 of Karīm Khān Zand, the founder of the dynasty.
Opening of the Tārīkh-i Zandīyah by Mīrzā Muḥammad Ṣādiq (Add.24904, ff.2-3)
A companion volume is Add.24903, a history of the Zands from the end of Karīm Khān’s reign until the defeat and capture of the last ruler Luṭf ʻAlī Khān (r. 1789-94). The author is Ibn ʻAbd al-Karīm ʻAlī Riżā Shīrāzī. Despite the close resemblance of his name to Muḥammad Ṣādiq’s pupil, this work appears to be different from the continuation mentioned above. According to a note at the end, this copy was made for the soldier and diplomat Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833). It is dated Safar 1218 (1803).
Both works were in fact used extensively by Malcolm in his History of Persia and according to the catalogue of the Sotheby’s sale at which they were purchased by the British Museum (Catalogue, p. 17), they were presented to him by the Qajar ruler Fatḥ ʻAlī Shāh himself (r. 1797-1834) while he was Ambassador at his Court . This would have been during Malcolm's 3rd mission to Iran in 1810. Malcolm was on very good terms with the Shah who described him as his ‘first favourite among Europeans’ and made him a Sipahdār ('general) of the Persian army, granting him the order of the Lion and the Sun (Lambton, p. 100). Both manuscripts include richly illuminated openings in addition to exceptional contemporary lacquer bindings decorated with named portraits of the Zand rulers and their courtiers, all sporting typical Zand turbans. We are told in the sale catalogue that ‘These specimens of Oriental binding are in the finest state of Bibliopegistic art, and of rarest occurrence, being only to be found on books given by the Shahs in presents’.
Karīm Khān surrounded by his family and courtiers. Early 19th century (Add.24904, outside front cover)
The front cover contains the following portraits (right to left):
Āzād Khān Afghān (d. 1781) one of the main rivals for control after the assassination of Nādir Shāh in 1747 who surrendered to Karīm Khān in 1762 and subsequently became one of his trusted nobles (Malcolm 2, p. 66); Ismaʻīl Khān - presumably blind. There was an Ismaʻīl Khān, Karīm Khān's nephew, who later became governor of Hamadan (Malcolm 2, p. 104); Karīm Khān (r. 1751-79), the founder of the Zand dynasty who never himself assumed the title of Shāh, choosing instead to be Vakīl (‘deputy’). With a reputation for clemency and forbearance, he apparently had comparatively modest tastes preferring to sit on a rug instead of a throne; Ibrāhīm Khān, Karīm Khān’s 5th son ‘deprived of his virility’ by his cousin Akbar Khān (Malcolm 2, p. 89); Mīrzā Jaʻfar Vazīr, minister of Karīm Khān; Mīrzā Mahdī; Mīrzā ʻAqīl
Ṣādiq Khān surrounded by his family and courtiers. Early 19th century (Add.24904, back cover)
The back cover contains the following portraits (right to left):
Mīrzā(?)…Khān… (illegible); Akbar Khān (d. 1782), son of Karīm Khān’s half-brother, who in 1782 defeated and killed Ṣādiq Khān and all his sons (except Jaʻfar Khān - see below). He was himself subsequently blinded and killed by Jaʻfar Khān in retribution (Malcolm 2, pp. 99-100); Ṣādiq Khān (r. 1779-81), the 5th Zand ruler and Karīm Khān’s brother who was defeated, blinded and killed by Akbar Khān (above); Unnamed prince(?); Mīrzā Ḥusayn Vazīr, ‘a wise and popular minister’ (Malcolm 2, p.104) of Jaʻfar Khān and afterwards his son Luṭf ʻAlī Khān, with pen-box tucked under his arm (see also below); Jaʻfar Khān (r. 1785-89), the 7th Zand ruler and sole surviving son of Sādiq Khān (above); Mīrzā Bāqir
Luṭf ʻAlī Khān (left), son of Jaʻfar Khān, the last of the Zands, defeated in 1794, blinded and put to death on orders of his successor Aghā Muḥammad Khān Qājār (r. 1794-97) whose portrait with Hājī Ibrāhīm (Governor of Shiraz who turned against Luṭf ʻAlī Khān ultimately bringing about his downfall) is included on the front cover of this volume. Luṭf ʻAlī Khān is accompanied (right) by his minister Mīrzā Ḥusayn (Add.24903, inside back cover)
Left: outside board of Add.24903. Right: inside board of Add.24904 which is said to be ‘a representation of the Ceiling in the Divan’ (Catalogue, p. 17)
The lacquered book covers, dating from around 1803, no doubt reflect idealised rather than historical scenes, but the Library does also have a portrait of Karīm Khān which was painted by a contemporary artist. It is one of 23 paintings purchased 15 May 1894 from Sidney Churchill (1862-1921), Persian Secretary to Her Majesty's Legation at Teheran 1886-94, who altogether acquired more than 200 Persian manuscripts for the British Museum. The portrait of Karīm Khān is inscribed on the back, presumably by Churchill, ‘Contemporary portrait said to be of Kerim Khan Zand’. Churchill had a personal as well as professional connection with the Court since his sister-in-law was the daughter of Dr Joseph Tholozan (1858-97), personal physician to Shah Nāṣir al-Dīn Qājār (r. 1848 -1896). It is probable that this portrait was a personal gift.
Contemporary portrait of Karīm Khān, founder of the Zand dynasty (Or.4938, f.1)
Further Reading Charles Rieu, Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum. 3 vols. London, 1876-83: Add.24904; Add.24903; Supplement. London, 1895: Or.4398 Malcolm, John. The History of Persia, from the Most Early Period to the Present Time. New ed. London, 1829. Vol 2. A. K. S. Lambton, ʻMajor-General Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833) and “The History of Persia”’Iran 33 (1995), pp. 97-109 J. R. Perry, ʻZand dynastyʼ in Encyclopaedia Iranica online Layla S.Diba and Maryam Ekhtiar, eds. Royal Persian Paintings: The Qajar Epoch, 1785-1925. London, 1998. BL S.C.Sotheby(1): ʻAuctioneersʼ archival set of Sotheby’s sale catalogues 1739 to 22 October 1970ʼ. Add.24903 and Add.24904 formed lot 234 of a sale held 26 June 1862, ‘chiefly from the Library of a Collector’. They were purchased by the Museum for £4 8s.
Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
 Add.24904 also has the initials J.M. on folio 2r.
In a previous post (April 2014), I looked at the first three paintings in this album and explored the connections between the Maratha court in Poona and Jaipur artists. The remaining five paintings in the album are all from a large Hyderabad-type series of the Rasikapriya, the classic text by Keshavdas on Hindi poetics that the author wrote at Orccha in 1594 for Kunwar Indrajit Singh, the brother of the ruler Raja Ram Shah of Orccha (1592-1605). Although a literary work, it was written in the context of the Vaishnava revival in northern and western India in the 16th century. Keshavdas took the love of Krishna and Radha out of the pastoral settings of the Gita Govinda and placed it in a courtly ambience. He used their relationship to explore all the different kinds of literary heroes and heroines and the erotic sentiment (sringara rasa) in all its variety.
A complete set of illustrations to this text involves several hundred paintings. Our album contains only five such paintings. If there were more, their whereabouts is not now known. Originally the Hindi verses were inscribed in nagari in a separate box above the paintings and text and paintings were contained within gilded and coloured ruled lines, but for some reason the original text panels were cut out and replaced with other panel pasted down from the reverse. The remains of the tops of the original aksaras are visible only on folio 7. The pictures are not particularly specific and their subjects could apply to many of the verses and situations in the text. On the reverse of each folio are inscribed brief Hindi labels for the subject of the painting taken from Keshavdas together with a number different from that associated with the relevant verse in its chapter in the printed editions, and a written out Persian numbering. As noted in the earlier post, all the paintings were at some time removed from their original album pages and let into European paper frames.
Two of the paintings (ff. 4 and 8) have an oversize Krishna as the hero or nayaka, wearing a tall golden crown, which serves to locate the provenance of the paintings as southern, as do the large white palatial buildings in the background which resemble those in the Johnson Hyderabad Ragamala in the British Library of c. 1760 (J. 37, Falk and Archer 1981, no. 426). The style of the paintings will be discussed later after dealing with the subject matter. The inscription on the reverse is here taken as the title of the painting. For the complete text and translation of the verses of the Rasikapriya, along with numerous examples of their illustrations, see Dehejia 2013.
Nayaka ko prakasa biyoga sringara, Krishna’s ‘open’ love in separation (Rasikapriya 1, 27-28). 301 x 217 mm. Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.4
The verses on folio 4 come from the conclusion of the opening chapter, in which Keshavdas makes some general remarks about the emotion of romantic love and its two major varieties, love in union and love in separation. Keshavdas divides his descriptive verses into ‘open’ (prakasa) or clear and ‘hidden’ (prachanna) or more suggestive. Here the sakhi (confidante) has been to see Krishna and describes him to Radha: ‘He is totally unresponsive and has stopped eating and drinking. All of Braj is concerned about him and you are sitting here unconcerned. Get up and do something about it. This is the result of his longing for you.’ The artist shows Krishna sitting mournful and unresponsive in one pavilion while the sakhi tries to talk to him and then she goes off to find Radha, who is meant to be some way away in another pavilion.
Ajnata yauvana, a youthful maiden unaware of her own flowering. 336 x 257 mm. Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.5
The term on the reverse of folio 5, ajnata yauvana, a youthful maiden unaware of her own flowering, comes not from the Rasikapriya but from Bhanudatta’s Rasamanjari, an earlier work in Sanskrit on the same topic. Similarly the verse above our painting is not found in Keshavdas’s work, where the relevant verses (3, 20-21) speak about a navayauvana mugdha nayika, a maiden newly grown to adolescence. Their purport is the same: her waist is slimmer, her hips have expanded, her gait is more steady but she does not know why this should be so. Chapter 3 of the Rasikapriya deals with the different types of heroine or nayika, which are classified in various ways. The artist shows the maiden sitting by a pool populated by ducks in an extensive meadow while her confidante tries to reassure her about what is happening to her body. A girl standing with flower wands perhaps signifies her impending marriage. In the distance is a white palace set beside a garden.
Nayaka ko prachanna sravana darsana, Radha’s hidden meeting [with her lover] through hearing [his name] (Rasikapriya 4, 15). 331 x 246 mm. Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.6
The verse for this painting comes from the fourth chapter, on how lovers meet: in person, through a portrait, in a dream or through hearing the other’s name. Radha chides her sakhi for speaking of Krishna for she does not know what to do now that Krishna is so enshrined in her heart. The artist shows Radha sitting under a canopy with her friends in a meadow with what appear to be flamingos in a pond in the foreground.
Radha ko prachanna citra darsana, Radha’s hidden meeting [with her lover] through a painting (Rasikapriya 4, 8). 335 x 250 mm. Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.7
From the same chapter 4, the nayika can ‘meet’ her lover through seeing his portrait. Radha’s mind was filled with love on seeing her beloved’s portrait, but her shyness caused her to tremble. She is shown holding a portrait and sitting on a carpeted terrace with her friends in front of a palace with flamingos again in the foreground.
Madhya adhira nayika, the plain speaking experienced heroine (Rasikapriya 3, 48). 340 x 250 mm. Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.8
In chapter 3, heroines can be mugdha, madhya or praudha (adolescent, experienced or mature). The madhya heroine is subdivided various ways, of which one is according to the way she speaks to her lover, which can be dhira, adhira or adiradhira (firmly, harshly or scoldingly). Here the heroine is unable to restrain her indignation at her lover’s fickleness and speaks harshly to him with words capable of two meanings: “Your body is like that of your father [for just as he shakes on account of old age so do you tremble for fear that your secrets will be out]. In strength you resemble your brother Balaram [for just as he is intoxicated with wine you are intoxicated with love]. Your face is like your mother’s [she has a tilak on her forehead and you have a love mark] and just as her mind is full of motherly love you are infatuated with thoughts of love. Your temperament is stable like that of the earth [for you are able to sustain the frailties of others]. Your mind is restless like the wind and pure like water. Your mouth [on account of chewing betel] is red like fire. As is the sky full of space and sound, you who are dark as the cloud and your words that speak of your misdeeds prevail in every home. Like Rati [the consort of Kamdev] is your love [for separation torments you as it affected her]. Your form is pleasing like that of Rati’s lord. Tell me, Lord, how did you learn to speak such lies?” (adapted from Dehejia 2013, p. 60).
The artist sets the scene in the countryside with a pavilion in which Radha is upbraiding Krishna for his fickleness. Beside the stream with its birds and flowers in the foreground a cowherd is milking a cow, with a gopi standingready to churn the milk into butter, while on the hill in the background a prince, presumably meant to be Balarama as he is white, is sitting with a woman. The latter reference is easy to pick up, although there is no sign of wine, but the pastoral activity in the foreground is possibly a reference to Krishna’s being like the earth.
The style of the five paintings in our album relates to eighteenth century Hindu Hyderabadi painting, in which Krishna wears the tall crown typical of that style.
Krishna, a peacock, cows and a devotee. Hyderabad, c. 1770. British Library, J.45,39.
See Falk and Archer 1981, no. 472iv for another example of this style. Some of the most important paintings from 18th century Hyderabad are found in a group of Ragamala sets, of which Richard Johnson’s album in the British Library J.37 is typical.
Vasant raga from the Hyderabad Ragamala, Hyderabad, c. 1760. British Library, J.37, 6.
Exquisite figures male and female disport themselves on palatial terraces or in idyllic visions of the country. This fine set of 36 paintings was collected by Johnson during his appointment as Resident at the court of Nizam ‘Ali Khan in Hyderabad from 1784-85. Nizam ‘Ali (1762-1802) was a patron of music, poetry and painting and Johnson apparently came to know him well, since he was constantly espousing the Nizam’s interests as against those of his superiors in Calcutta which resulted in his early recall. These sets are famous among other things for their perspective views of architecture with semi-naturalistic vanishing points, in contrast to our album paintings where all the buildings are viewed frontally. Nonetheless it is possible to see the resemblances in the architecture: the white chunam-covered buildings tend to have a tall ground storey with smaller pavilions on top. The beautiful canopied pavilion on folio 6 is also found several times in the Ragamala set. Yet the treatment of landscape, flowers and birds do differ, for here in the album the artist is very free. By the 1760s the Hyderabad landscape style was turning harder with conceptualised hills and meadows criss-crossing each other to suggest depth, while our artist takes a more naturalistic approach to recession, as in the exquisite meadow of folio 6 and in the various naturalistic clumps of flowers as opposed to the regimented rows in the Ragamala. More open landscapes were a feature of Deccani painting in the first quarter of the 18th century (see Zebrowski 1983, ch. 11) and it is at the end of that period that our five album paintings seem best placed. Bold distortion of forms in our album as in the overlarge Krishna figure, the tiny steps and minuscule foreground trees are all features found in the earlier style. Only one other painting has so far been identified as related to the style of our five paintings, showing a prince seated on a carpet amidst flowers and miniscule trees in a meadow leading back as in f.5 of our set to white palatial buildings on the horizon. This was formerly in the William K. Ehrenfeld collection in San Francisco (Ehnbom 1985, no. 36, where it is called Golconda, 1660-70) and its whereabouts is not now known.
As to the set’s patron, the fall of Bijapur and Golconda to Aurangzeb in 1686-87 released many of their artists for patronage elsewhere, as is well known for various Rajput courts, but many others stayed locally to work for the local nobility of the former Golconda kingdom as well as for Mughal or Rajput patrons depending on their appointments to positions within the new Mughal subahs of the Deccan. Aurangabad (now in western Maharashtra) remained the principal Mughal capital in the Deccan and even Asaf Jah, the first Nizam of the newly independent Hyderabad state from 1724, was based there before his successors moved the capital to Hyderabad. This distinctness from Hyderabad proper is perhaps reflected in the Hindu costume of skirt, bodice and orhni worn by nearly all the women as distinct from the more Muslim costume (paijama and peshwaj) of the Hyderabad Ragamala sets done later under Nizam ‘Ali’s patronage. A provenance from Maharashtra would thus put the five paintings within the orbit of the Peshwas based at Poona and link them to the other three paintings in the album.
Dehejia, Harsha V., Rasikapriya: Ritikavya of Keshavdas in Ateliers of Love, DK Printworld, New Delhi, 2013
Ehnbom, D., Indian Miniatures: the Ehrenfeld Collection, American Federation of Arts, New York, 1985
Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1981