Asian and African studies blog

29 posts categorized "Trade"

10 October 2014

Three volumes of the Yongle Dadian now on display at the British Museum

Add comment Comments (0)

The BP exhibition Ming: 50 years that changed China is open at the British Museum until 5 January 2015. During the years 1400-1450 the Chinese empire reached a peak in its own cultural and artistic productions and in its trade and exchange with other cultures. The stunning exhibition at the British Museum vividly represents the first-class  products of those years, with 280 extraordinary works from the Museum collections and from many other institutions.

Among the most interesting pieces from the British Library collections which are now on display, we find 3 volumes of the Yongle Encyclopaedia (永樂大典 Yongle Dadian), which takes its name from the Ming Emperor who commissioned it.
Emperor Yongle (Yongle 永樂 means perpetual happiness) as portrayed in an 18th century painted album (British Library Or. 2231)

Emperor Yongle (born with the name of Zhu Di 朱棣) was the third Emperor of the Ming dynasty and he reigned from 1402 to 1424. He was a key figure of the development of the Chinese empire: he transferred the capital of the empire from Nanjing to Beijing and ordered the building of the Forbidden City. Under his reign Admiral Zheng He travelled to the Middle East and East Africa strengthening the trade and diplomatic links with foreign countries. Indeed the importance of China as a production centre for the export of high quality goods during the first half of the 15th century is testified by some exquisite British Library Persian manuscripts, written on Chinese decorated paper, now on display in the exhibition.

Emperor Yongle commissioned the Yongle Dadian in July 1403 and the project involved 2169 scholars and compilers from the Hanlin Academy and the National University. Completed in 1408, it was the world’s largest literary compilation, comprising 22,877 chapters bound in 11,095 volumes. The Yongle Dadian was taken as an example and frequently quoted in the Qing dynasty encyclopaedia Siku quanshu (四庫禁書 “Complete Library of the Four Treasuries”), a colossal compilation in 36,275 volumes commissioned in 1773 by Emperor Qianlong.

The size, the type of paper, and the binding of the volumes are different from the other Chinese encyclopaedias. The paper is heavy with dark red vertical rulings. The subject headings are written in red on the outer edges of the pages. The binding is in the “wrapped-back” style (包背裝 bao bei zhuang), but with a distinctive yellow silk hard-cover to protect the paper.
Distinctive yellow hard cover from the volume containing chapters 7389 and 7390 of the Yongle Dadian (Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7) (British Library Or.11758)

The Yongle Dadian is unique not only for its physical appearance but also for its content arrangement: unlike other Chinese compilations, the parts are not ordered by subject, but by the rhythm system of the dictionary 洪武正韻 (Hongwu zhengyun). This system is closer to the idea of an alphabetical arrangement, and in this way it was easier to find a specific entry.

A page from the woodblock printed dictionary 洪武正韻 (Hongwu zhengyun) which is named after Hongwu (r. 1368-1398), the first emperor of the Ming dynasty who commissioned this work in 1375. 16th century copy (British Library 15342.b.14)

The content of the encyclopaedia covers all aspects of traditional “Confucian” knowledge and contains the most representative literature available at that time, ranging from history and drama to farming techniques. It comprises large sections of historical documents and other sources, transcribed character for character, with the name of the author or the source in red.
In fact, the term encyclopaedia, which is commonly used when referring to the Yongle Dadian, is slightly misleading since 大典 (da dian) means grand “canon” or “code” and the Yongle Dadian should be regarded rather as the Chinese literary genre of 類書 (lei shu), which literally means “classified writings”. These literary compilations span a wide variety of texts, such as dictionaries, reference books, manuals and anthologies. Unlike Western encyclopaedias which are based on edited entries, the Yongle Dadian is a collection of readings and excerpts from existing literature. Despite the non-originality (as we understand the term now) of these types of work, the value of the Yongle Dadian is enormous as it preserves many texts which otherwise would have been lost.
Left: Chapter 7389 (Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7) of the Yongle Dadian, concerned mainly with funeral rites (喪禮  sang li) (British Library Or.11758, f.1r)
Right: Illustration from the same item (British Library Or.11758, f.3v)

Even though printing techniques were already well developed in the Ming dynasty (the earliest dated woodblock-printed item, the Diamond Sutra, dates back to the 9th century), the Yongle Dadian was handwritten because of its length and extent. The only 1408 manuscript was almost destroyed by fire during the sixteenth century, and as a result two other copies were produced during the reigns of Jiajing 嘉靖 (1522-1566) and Longqing 隆慶 (1567-1572). This was not enough to keep the precious manuscripts safe: during the fall of the Ming dynasty and the rise of the Qing in 1644, the 1408 copy was destroyed and some of the later ones were lost or dispersed. The 1562-7 copies were at that time the earliest edition to survive and the number of volumes went down to 800. During the Boxer Uprising in Beijing during the spring of 1900, half of the remaining volumes which were stored in the Hanlin Academy were destroyed and now less than 400 juan (chapters) remain. They represent only the 3% of the total initial corpus.
Soy bean recipes on folio 3 (verso) of  chapter 13340 from the Yongle Dadian (British Library Or. 12020, Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7)

David Helliwell, Curator of Chinese Collections at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, has worked extensively on the Yongle Dadian volumes held in the European libraries (see Helliwell below), tracing their arrival from Beijing and identifying in 1997 a new volume in the University of Aberdeen Library [1]. Today there are about 56 volumes in Europe (51 in the United Kingdom and the remaining 5 in Berlin). The British Library currently holds 24 volumes of the Yongle Dadian, corresponding to 49 chapters. During the 1930s the National Library of China made copies of some chapters and donated them to the British Museum Library. Furthermore, in 1960, the Chinese publisher 中華書局 Zhonghua Shuju produced facsimiles of all the existing volumes.

Geomantic diagrams in chapter 14219 from the Yongle Dadian dedicated to geomancy (British Library Or. 14446, f. 5r, Jiajing to Longqing period, 1562-7)

Ming: 50 years that changed China is open at the British Museum until 5 January 2015.
The British Library’s Yongle Dadian volumes 7389-90, 14219-20 and 13340-41 pictured in this article are on display.

Grinstead, Eric Douglas, “The Yung-lo Ta-tien: an Unrecorded Volume”, in The British Museum Quarterly no. 26, 1962.
Harrison-Hall, Jessica, “‘Ming: 50 years that changed China’ at the British Museum”, in Orientations, vol. 45, no. 6, 2014.
Helliwell, David, “Holdings of Yongle Dadian in United Kingdom libraries” in Yongle Dadian bianzuan 600 zhounian guoji yantaohui lunwenji, Beijing, 2003.
Shih-shan, Henry Tsai, Perpetual Happiness: the Ming Emperor Yongle, University of Washington Press, 2001.


Sara Chiesura, Asian and African Studies


[1] Helliwell, David, “The Aberdeen volume of Yongle Dadian”, lecture given to the University of Aberdeen Chinese Studies Group, 16 March 2009.

21 August 2014

Persian letters from the Nawabs of the Carnatic 1777-1816

Add comment Comments (0)

Following the Seven Years War or, in India, the Third Carnatic War (1757-63), the Nawabs of Arcot (styled Walajah)—former dependents of the Nizam al-Mulk of Hyderabad—were confirmed as independent rulers of the Carnatic region of India (covering Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana states) by the Mughal Emperor, Shah ‘Alam, in 1765. Fostering relations with European settlers establishing military outposts along the Coromandel Coast, at Pondicherry (Puducherry) and Madras (Chennai), for example, the nawabs became closely involved with the transactions and officials of the Honourable East India Company, the British parliament, and even members of the Hanoverian royal family. The character and extent of these relations is reflected in the record of correspondence, treaties, and legal documents of the time. The British Library has inherited from the India Office Library a small collection of such correspondence, consisting of 12 letters in Persian (the official and literary language of the Mughal state), from which a small selection is described here. These were described by M.Z.A. Shakeb in 1982 in a short catalogue which has long been unavailable. A PDF version can be downloaded here.

Aquatint based on a picture by Francis Swain Ward (1736-1794) of the mosque adjoining the palace of the Nawab of Arcot at Tiruchchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. Plate 1 from 24 Views in Indostan by William Orme, 1803 (British Library X768/2/1)

The letters written by or issued in the name of the nawabs are on thin oriental paper and are unified as a group by a number of common features: 1) the narrow, vertically elongated scroll format; 2) the placement of ruled panels of text in the lower left corner leaving broad margins along the upper and right edges; 3) floral motifs in gold; 4) 2 separate cartouches for a short invocation followed by the fuller quotation of the koranic basmalah (Qur’an, XXVII:30); and 5) fine flecks of gold (zar afshani) within cartouches and panels of text.

IO Isl 4359
Letter written in 1801 from ʿAzim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to King George III (British Library IO Islamic 4359)

The first of these letters, IO Islamic 4359, is distinguished by broad margins covered in opaque gold wash surrounding the ruled panel of text. In keeping with conventions borrowed from imperial ordinances (farmans), this opulent effect is commensurate with the importance of the letter’s addressee, George III, described as

King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Christian faith, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover), Chancellor and Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, Emperor of the Oceans, etc…

Written in an uneven Indian ta‘liq hand by the third nawab, ‘Azim al-Dawlah, the letter announces the death of the second nawab, ‘Umdat al-Umara, on 15 July 1801, and confirms his own accession with the aid of the East India Company.

IO Islamic 4361_1200
Letter written in 1801 from ‘Azim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to the Prince of Wales (British Library IO Islamic 4361)

The designs of letters communicating with other members of the British royal family are less opulent, but no less attractive, with repeated floral motifs in diaper arrangement, loosely painted in gold. The contents of letter IO Islamic 4361 are similar in tenor. Written again by the same nawab, this time in a more legible hand, it additionally requests the intercession of the Prince of Wales (George Augustus Frederick, later Prince-Regent, later King George IV) with his father, the king.

IO Islamic 4252_1200
Letter written in 1816 from ‘Azim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to the Directors of the East India Company congratulating them on the marriage of Princess Charlotte to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (British Library IO Islamic 4252)

Following a similar design scheme, the letter IO Islamic 4252 addresses this time officials of the East India Company. Commencing with a reference to the Battle of Waterloo (1815), the letter congratulates British forces on their ‘great victory’ in Europe (referred to here as vilayat) before going on to express pleasure at news of the marriage of the Prince-Regent’s daughter, Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales, to Prince Leopold Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duke of Saxony (later Léopold I, King of the Belgians), in 1816. The primary object of this letter is set out in the final few lines: to remind the Prince-Regent of his neglect in replying to earlier petitions, whereas the king did favour the nawab with a reply.

While other letters were written in the nawab’s own hand, this letter is written in a neat nasta‘liq hand by a practiced scribe. That its transcription was supervised by the nawab himself is indicated by the addition at the end of the text (bottom left corner) of the bold and stylised word, bayaz (fair copy), thus validating the letter’s authenticity.

IO Islamic 4251_1200
Letter dated 14 Rabiʻ II 1216 (24 August 1801) from Nawab Walajah III’s uncle to the Chairman, Court of Directors, East India Company (British Library IO Islamic 4251)

IO Islamic 4251_envelope_1200
Envelope with the seal of Anvar al-Dawlah Husam Jang Sayf al-Mulk Muhammad Anvar Khan Bahadur (British Library IO Islamic 4251)

Perhaps one of the least typical of this assemblage is the design and character of the letter IO Islamic 4251. Although lacking any ornamentation, defined panels and cartouches of text within rulings, and the narrow, elongated format seen in the previous 3 examples, it consists of 2 thin sheets of silver and gold-flecked paper (sim va zar afshan) covered on both sides in a densely-written nasta‘liq hand.

Written and composed by Muhammad Anvar Khan, brother of the second nawab, the first part of the letter sets out arguments disputing the East India Company’s decision to invest ‘Azim al-Dawlah as the third Nawab of Arcot. Although polite and coached in diplomatic prose, the letter is surprisingly direct in its expression of the extended nawabi family’s strong displeasure, specifying objections on grounds of illegitimacy, inheritance and succession rights under the shari‘ah, the author’s superior claims to the seat (masnad), and possible benefits to the Company if he were to succeed.

The second part of the letter discusses in greater detail the dynasty’s status as the confirmed rulers of the Carnatic region, the genealogy of the main claimants, the author’s claim, and the way in which the East India Company managed the succession. Taken as a whole, the letter vividly illustrates inherent tensions between the nawabs and the East India Company, which eventually took over the administration of the nawab’s domains following the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1798-99).

Saqib Baburi, Asian and African Studies

24 June 2014

‘The Kuwait Cat’s Meat Crisis’ & British Imperial Control

Add comment Comments (0)

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.

Image 1 IOR_R_15_1_506_0423_1200
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[1] 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.

Image 2 mylrea_1200
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”.

Diplomatic Humour

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”. 

Image 3 IOR_R_15_1_506_0437_1200
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)


Louis Allday, Gulf History & Arabic Specialist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership


[1] The Arabian Mission of the Reformed Church in America.

05 June 2014

Alexander Dalrymple’s Treaties with Sulu in Malay and Tausug

Add comment Comments (0)

When the East India Company began to look for a base in the Philippine islands in order to gain access to the China trade, attention focussed on the Sulu archipelago, lying east of the northern tip of Borneo. In January 1761, the Scottish hydrographer Alexander Dalrymple (1737-1808) arrived on the island of Jolo, the seat of the Sultan of Sulu, charged with the task of negotiating for a trading post for the Company. The then ruler of Sulu was Sultan Muhammad Muizzuddin, also known as Bantilan. He was the younger brother of Sultan Azimuddin I, who at the time of Dalrymple’s visit had been in exile in Manila since 1748 because of local opposition towards his policy of friendship towards Spanish Jesuit missionaries. Following the death of Muizzuddin in 1763 and the brief accession of his son, Sultan Muhammad Azimuddin II, Dalrymple was instrumental in helping Sultan Azimuddin I (usually referred to in European-language sources as ‘Alimuddin’) to return from Manila to Sulu and re-accede to the throne in 1764, where he ruled until his death in 1778.  

Alexander Dalrymple, in a painting of c.1765 attributed to John Thomas Seton (c.1735-1806). Copyright National Museums of Scotland.

Sulu mosque
A mosque in Sulu, from Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, 1844.  British Library, 10001.d vol.5, opp. p. 354.  noc

Between 1761 and 1764 Dalrymple negotiated and signed four major treaties with successive sultans of Sulu, leading to the establishment of an East India Company trading post on the island of Balambangan in 1773. Most of the original bilingual treaty papers have survived in the India Office Records in the British Library: the first treaty of 1761 was in Malay and English; the second treaty of 1763 was also originally in Malay and English, but only the Spanish translation of the Malay has survived; and the third and fourth treaties of 1764 were in Tausug (the main language of Sulu) and English.

IOR-H-629, pp.456-457
First Sulu Treaty of 28 January 1761, signed between Sultan Muhammad Muizzuddin of Sulu and Alexander Dalrymple for the East India Company. British Library, IOR: H/629, pp.456-457.  noc

The English texts of the Treaties are well known, but the Malay and Tausug texts, written in Arabic script, have never been studied, and a close examination inevitably reveals a number of differences with the English text. A typical example is the English text of the first Treaty of 1761, which in clause 1 states that the British shall be granted ‘perpetual’ possession of the ground for their settlement, a word which is absent in the Malay version. But perhaps the most poignant aspect of this Treaty is the addendum found on the reverse of the Malay page: a strong rejection of the sale of opium, and a tight control on arms.  This clause – which is unnumbered and does not appear in any published English version of the treaty – appears to have been included at the request of the Sulus, judging from the detailed exposition in four lines of Malay, ‘The aforementioned trade goods prohibited by His Highness Sultan Muhammad Muizzuddin are opium, while no kinds of arms, big or small, may be sold to to anyone, even to the children and grandchildren of His Highness the Sultan, without the express permission of His Highness the Sultan; only His Highness the Sultan may buy these goods,’ compared with the laconic one-line English translation ‘Opium is contraband & arms & ammunition to any but the Sultan’.  Yet Dalrymple himself apparently strongly supported this prohibition; the culprit responsible for later developing the Sulu trade in opium and arms was the unscrupulous John Herbert, chief of the East India Company post at Balambangan, who was also responsible for a massive fraud against the Company itself which led to the financial collapse of the Balambangan settlement.

IOR-H-629, pp.455
Addendum to the first Sulu Treaty of 28 January 1761, banning the sale of opium and restricting the sale of arms, in Malay with brief English translation: Maka adapun dagangan yang dilarangkan Paduka Seri Sultan Muhammad Muizzuddin yang telah tersebut itu iaitu apiun, dan demikian lagi segala alat senjata besar kecil tiada boleh dijual kepada orang lain, jikalau pada pihak anak cucu Paduka Seri Sultan sekalipun jika bukan izin daripada Paduka Seri Sultan, hanya Paduka Seri Sultan yang membeli jua adanya. Opium is contraband & arms & ammunition to any but the Sultan.  British Library, IOR: H/629, p.455.  noc

The first Treaty is also notable for high standard of the formal Malay language used, and its proficient calligraphy. An unusual aspect of the diplomatics of the treaties is that when the various royal Sulu seals were stamped across two pages, the two sheets of paper were first folded along an inner vertical margin, with the seal applied across the folds, resulting in an impression of two halves when the paper was flattened out.  The East India Company seals on the same documents, however, are simply stamped on the flattened sheet of paper. This peculiar method of sealing is not found in any other Muslim kingdom in Southeast Asia. Interestingly, the only other Islamic seal impression known displaying the same characteristic of having been stamped across the folds of a document, yielding a two-part impression, is the iconic seal impression of the Mughal emperor Babur, found on what is possibly the oldest surviving original Mughal document, a land grant dated 1527.

IOR-H-629, pp.460-461
A second copy of the Malay text of the first Sulu Treaty of 28 January 1761, ratified in September 1761by 24 nobles of Sulu listed on the right-hand page. British Library, IOR: H/629, pp.460-461.   noc

IOR-H-629, pp.459-det

Further ratification of the first Sulu Treaty of January 1761, signed in Manila on 20 November 1761 by Sultan Muhammad Azimuddin I. This document was probably obtained by Dalrymple, who appears to have been in Manila from 9 November-1 December 1761 (pers.comm., Andrew Cook).  British Library, IOR: H/629, p.459.  noc

IOR-H-629, pp.488-489
Dalrymple’s third Sulu Treaty, in Tausug and English, signed between Sultan Muhammad Azimuddin I of Sulu and Alexander Dalrymple for the English East India Company, Jolo, Sulu, 2 July 1764.  British Library, IOR: H/629, p.488-489.  noc

IOR-H-629, pp.498-499
Dalrymple’s fourth Sulu Treaty, in Tausug and English, signed between Sultan Muhammad Azimuddin I of Sulu and Alexander Dalrymple for the English East India Company, Jolo, Sulu, 28 September 1764. British Library, IOR: H/629, p.pp. 495–502.  noc

Further reading:
Allen, J. de V., Stockwell, A. J., and Wright, L. R., A collection of treaties and other documents affecting the states of Malaysia 1761-1963.  London: Oceana, 1980. 2 v. [The Sulu treaties are published in v.2, pp.371-388.]
Cook, Andrew S., Alexander Dalrymple (1737-1808), hydrographer to the East India Company and the Admiralty, as publisher : a catalogue of books and charts.  Ph.D. thesis, University of St Andrews, 1993.
Costa, H. de la, ‘Muhammad Alimuddin I, Sultan of Sulu, 1735-1773’, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1965, 38 (1):43-76.
Majul,Cesar Adib, Muslims in the Philippines.  Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1999.
Warren, James Francis, The Sulu Zone 1768-1898.  Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1981.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


19 March 2014

BL Event: Korean Literature: Past and Present

Add comment Comments (0)

In connection with the London Book Fair 2014 the British Library is holding an event entitled Korean Literature: Past and Present from 6.30-8 pm on Tuesday, 8th April.  One of Korea’s foremost novelists, Yi Mun-yol, will be in conversation with Dr Grace Koh, Lecturer in Korean Literature at SOAS, and Brother Anthony of Taizé, a noted translator of Korean literature.

15260.c.7 Cho Ung chǒn
Cho Ung chǒn
“The Tale of Cho Ung“, Korean novel in hangŭl script. c.1850 (British Library 15260.c.7 )

Korea has been chosen as The London Book Fair’s Market Focus for 2014 to reflect the country’s status as one of the top ten publishing markets in the world, and its expanding reputation within the international literary community.

The event will also include a brief intoduction to the British Library’s Korean collection which contains many historical and contemporary literary works, notably a collection of rare 19th century novels in hangŭl script.

For more details of the Event see the BL website:  What's on

For information on the BL’s Korean collections: Help for researchers: Korean collections


Hamish Todd, Asian and African Studies


28 February 2014

The Adviser (المستشار): Charles Belgrave and Modern Bahrain

Add comment Comments (0)

At the time of his death on 28 February 1969, Charles Dalrymple Belgrave had not set foot in Bahrain for more than a decade. Yet for over 30 years – between 1926 and 1957 – when he served as Adviser to the rulers of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (reigned 1923-1942[1]) and Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa (1942-1961), Belgrave was an immensely powerful figure in the country and played an instrumental role in its development during this period.

Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and Charles Belgrave, Bahrain, 1945. (Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Born in England on 9 December 1894, Belgrave was educated at Bedford School and Oxford University. After leaving Oxford he joined the British Army and during WWI he served in Egypt, Sudan and Palestine with the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade. After the war, he served as an administrator in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt before becoming an administrative officer in the British mandate of Tanganyika Territory (formerly German East Africa).

In the summer of 1925, while on leave in London from his posting in Tanganyika, Belgrave saw an advertisement for a vacancy in the personal column of The Times newspaper that was to transform his life.

Young Gentleman, aged 22/28, Public School and/or University education, required for service in an Eastern State. Good salary and prospects to suitable man, who must be physicially fit: highest references; proficiency in languages an advantage. Write with full details to Box S.501, The Times, London E.C.4.
(The Times, 10 August 1925)

Belgrave applied for the post and after a series of interviews with British Government officials (including the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Francis Prideaux) he was offered the position of Adviser to Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain. A letter Belgrave wrote to Prideaux in September 1925 reveals that he had conveniently forgotten his own age when he applied (he was 31 at the time and the upper age limit was 28).

First page of a letter sent from Belgrave to Prideaux, 11 September 1925 (IOR/R/15/1/362 f. 1E)

Before setting out for Bahrain, Belgrave completed a three-month Arabic course at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in order to refresh his Arabic and married his fiancée, Marjorie Lepel Barrett-Lennard. The newly-married couple arrived in Manama in March 1926 having combined their journey to Bahrain with their honeymoon.

Belgrave began his new role at a tense time in the country, Shaikh Hamad had been installed as ruler by the British only three years earlier when his father Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa had been forced to step down. This had led to lingering tensions between Shaikh Hamad and factions within Bahrain – including members of his own family – that supported his elderly father, Isa.

Fig 3
Belgrave was Adviser to Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain (pictured above) from 1926 until Hamad’s death in 1942. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Though Bahrain was nominally independent, Britain had dictated its foreign policy since the 19th century, before consolidating its power over the islands in 1900, with the creation of the post of British Political Agent in Bahrain. Although Belgrave was an employee of the Shaikh and not the British Government, as his hiring process clearly demonstrates, his position was closely tied to the colonial aims of the British in the region. Belgrave swiftly became a powerful figure in Bahrain and came to be known simply as ‘The Adviser’ (المستشار). He essentially ran Bahrain’s government, was the head of its police force and – in the absence of an organised legal code – personally operated its courts. Belgrave oversaw a programme of modernisation that saw the creation of an education system, a police force, a health service and an extensive series of public works (including roads, power stations, piers and airports). This transitional period also saw a centralisation of power and the consolidation of both the British and Al Khalifa family’s position in Bahrain. Belgrave was also instrumental in supporting oil exploration in the country, which was the first in the region to discover oil, in 1932.

A 1935 Indian postage stamp picturing King George V that is marked for use in Bahrain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Belgrave is an extremely visible presence in the records of the Political Agency, Bahrain, and elsewhere in the India Office Records held at the British Library, with a very large amount of correspondence and other papers bearing his name, paying testimony to the range of matters he covered and to his great attention to administrative detail. In fact, Belgrave’s fastidious attention to detail was something for which he was criticised. In May 1941, Charles Geoffrey Prior, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf wrote to his superiors in India that Belgrave had a “tendency to waste time on trivialities”. In the same letter, Prior also claimed that Belgrave’s increasing aloofness had caused a drop in his popularity and that he “and the other Bahrain officials have had their way for so long without any supervision, inspection or control that they have become a society of self-satisfied Czars”.

Extract of letter from Charles Geoffrey Prior to O.K Caroe at the India Office in London, 25 May 1941. (IOR/R/15/1/344 f. 129)

Prior’s concern was prescient as by the 1950s Belgrave had become an unpopular figure in Bahrain; many Bahrainis had grown angry at the amount of power that was centralised in his hands. Belgrave had come to embody British Imperialism in the Middle East at a time of fervent Arab nationalist activity and when, after the Suez Crisis, Britain’s standing in the region had reached a nadir. Belgrave was viewed by many in Bahrain as an impediment to the country making the transition to a democracy and as shown in this BBC archival clip from 1956, calls for him to leave the country were at the forefront of the demands of protestors at the time. As one protestor stated to the BBC reporter, “Belgrave is not just an adviser – he is the judge, and when he goes to the court he is also the police commandant. He is everything in Bahrain, he is not an adviser.” Eventually, in April 1957, Belgrave was forced to leave and was never to set foot in Bahrain again.

Once back in the UK, Belgrave wrote an autobiography named Personal Column which offers a fascinating insight into his life and the development of Bahrain during this period. In the book’s conclusion, Belgrave states his belief that if a more liberal system of government is to be introduced in Bahrain, it should be done so gradually and that any attempt to “rush the process” would be “disastrous” - a clear expression of the attitude that eventually made his position in the country untenable and forced him to leave. Ultimately, Belgrave’s legacy in Bahrain remains a contentious issue, but it is one that anyone wishing to understand the modern history of Bahrain must seriously engage with.

More stories related to the modern history of the Gulf can be found on the British Library's Untold Lives blog.

Further reading:

BL IOR/R/15/1/362: 'File 19/204 I (C 55) Bahrain, Appointment of Financial Adviser, Belgrave and Assistant, Luard'.
BL IOR/R/15/1/344: 'File 19/169 III (C 80) Bahrain Reforms'.
Charles Belgrave, Personal Column (London, 1960).
Charles Belgrave, The Pirate Coast (London, 1966).
Mayy Muḥammad al-Khalīfah , Tshārlz Biljrīf : al-sīrah wa-al-mudhakkirāt (Beirut, 2000).
Photographs of Bahrain: Life Magazine, Life in the Middle East: Power and Petroleum in the Gulf in 1945.

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
Twitter - @Louis_Allday

[1] Note: some do not recognise Hamad’s reign as formally beginning until the death of his father, Isa in 1932.

27 November 2013

Mirza Abu’l Hasan Khan, the ‘Envoy Extraordinary’ from Persia

Add comment Comments (2)

One of London’s most prominent celebrities in 1810 was Mirza Abu’l Hasan Khan, the ‘Envoy Extraordinary’ who was dispatched by Fath Ali Shah of Persia to the Court of King George III. He arrived in London in 1809, and the portrait shown here was commissioned by the East India Company soon after his arrival.

Portrait of Mirza Abu’l Hasan Khan, Envoy Extraordinary from the King of Persia to the Court of King George III, by William Beechey, 1809. British Library, F26.  noc
For a catalogue record of this painting, click here.

The purpose of Mirza Abul Hasan Khan’s trip to London was to generate British interest in the Persian silk trade. In the portrait, he is dressed in a full length gold brocade gown and a cape woven with flowers. On the table next to him, there are two bundles of fabric. These garments and effects were symbolic of Mirza Abul Hasan Khan’s mission in London. He was one of a long line of Persian ambassadors who travelled to London to secure the silk trade with the East India Company. But Mirza Abul Hasan Khan was more widely regarded by the British public as an exotic foreigner.

On 2 January 1810, Charles Lamb wrote the following about Mirza Abu’l Hasan Khan, to his friend, Thomas Manning. ‘The Persian Ambassador is the principal thing talked of now.  I sent some people to see him worship the sun on Primrose Hill at half past six in the morning, 28th November; but he did not come, which makes me think the old fire-worshippers are a sect almost extinct in Persia.  The Persian Ambassador’s name is Shaw Ali Mirza.  The common people call him Shaw Nonsense’.

Perhaps the Persian envoy didn’t show up that morning because he was tired of being stared at all the time! He must have been a man of strong character, because he came to London a second time, in 1819. On that occasion, he presented a solid gold dish to the East India Company’s Court of Directors. Today, it is part the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collections.

Of course, there was a lot more to Mirza Abu'l Hasan Khan than his celebrity status. He had many high ranking friends and acquaintances in England, became a freemason, and in Persia, he worked closely with the British Ambassador to the court of Fath ʻAli Shah. The British Library holds a manuscript copy of his Persian diary (Add.23,546: Khayratnamah-yi sufara) in which he recorded his day-to-day activities in London. The portrait of Mirza Abu’l Hasan Khan (pictured above) is on permanent display in the Asia & African Studies Reading Room, so all our readers are welcome to come in and have a really good look at him.

Further reading

Diba, Layla (ed.), 'Royal Persian Paintings, The Qajar Epoch 1785- 1925', Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1998, fig XVII, p. 197.
Howes, Jennifer. “British Library”. Pages 52-87 in Ellis, L. (editor) Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in Camden, Volume 2. London: The Public Catalogue Foundation, 2013. (Full page reproduction of the painting on page 169.)
H. Javadi, 'Abulʼl-Ḥasan Khan Īlčī: Persian diplomat, b. 1190/1776 in Šīrāz', in Encyclopædia Iranica (
Langer, Axel. The Fascination of Persia. Zurich: Scheidegger & Spiess, 2013.

Jennifer Howes, Curator of Visual Arts


18 November 2013

The Malay Story of the Pig King

Add comment Comments (0)

One Malay manuscript in the British Library never fails to attract the attention of visiting scholars from Malaysia and Indonesia.  The manuscript is not beautifully illuminated or especially old, nor does it contain a text of great historical or literary value.  But everyone is intrigued by its title, Hikayat Raja Babi, ‘The Story of the Pig King’ (Add. 12393), highly unusual in a Malay Muslim milieu, where pigs are regarded as unclean animals staunchly avoided and best ignored.  What’s more, this Pig King is described as a paragon of courage and nobility.

Hikayat Raja Babi tells of the adventures of a prince who came to the world in the form of a pig.  Most Malay works of fantastical literature are anonymous, and are only known today from manuscripts that are probably multi-generational copies of the original composition, and which have usually been embellished by each succeeding scribe.  The manuscript of Hikayat Raja Babi is quite exceptional in opening with a lengthy note by the author, explaining why, how and when he came to write the tale.  The story was written by Usup ibn Abdul Kadir, a merchant from Semarang of Indian descent from Cooch in west Bengal (peranakan Kuj), during a trading voyage to Palembang. Having no success, he anchored in Sungai Lawang and consoled himself by writing this story, and completed it in twenty days, on 10 Zulkaidah 1188 (12 January 1775).  He begs his readers not to mock or scorn his unruly letters or his handwiting which had run wild, mengamuk – familiar as the Malay word which has entered the English language as ‘amok’.

Palembang harbour, a pen-and-ink and wash drawing probably by one of Colin Mackenzie’s draftsmen, ca.1811-1814.  British Library, Add.Or.5003.
Palembang harbour, a pen-and-ink and wash drawing probably by one of Colin Mackenzie’s draftsmen, ca.1811-1814.  British Library, Add.Or.5003.  noc

The author’s note on completing the story (Hijrah al-nabi salla Allah ‘alayhi wa-salam seribu seratus delapan puluh delapan tahun sepuluh bulan kepada bulan Zulkaidah dan kepada tahun ha dan kepada hari Jumaat dan waktu pukul sebelas bahwa tamat hikayat caritera Raja Babi adapun yang punya Ayahan [or ayahnya?] Usup ibn Abdul Kadir peranakan Kuj anak di negeri Semarang di Kampung Melayu asalnya duduk kemudian maka pindah di Pakujan luar kota tatkala pergi berdagang ke negeri Palembang maka tiada punya dagang dan duduk berlabuh di Sungai Lawang maka hendak mengiburkan hati supaya jangan menjadi gundah maka duduk menyurat dua puluh hari lamanya maka tamat dan barang siapa suka membaca tetapi jangan ditertawakan dan disunguti daripada hal hurufnya karena kalamnya mengamuk urat kenakan tauladannya d.m.y.t.q tamat bi-al-khayr). British Library, Add. 12393, f.3r.
The author’s note on completing the story (Hijrah al-nabi salla Allah ‘alayhi wa-salam seribu seratus delapan puluh delapan tahun sepuluh bulan kepada bulan Zulkaidah dan kepada tahun ha dan kepada hari Jumaat dan waktu pukul sebelas bahwa tamat hikayat caritera Raja Babi adapun yang punya Ayahan [or ayahnya?] Usup ibn Abdul Kadir peranakan Kuj anak di negeri Semarang di Kampung Melayu asalnya duduk kemudian maka pindah di Pakujan luar kota tatkala pergi berdagang ke negeri Palembang maka tiada punya dagang dan duduk berlabuh di Sungai Lawang maka hendak mengiburkan hati supaya jangan menjadi gundah maka duduk menyurat dua puluh hari lamanya maka tamat dan barang siapa suka membaca tetapi jangan ditertawakan dan disunguti daripada hal hurufnya karena kalamnya mengamuk urat kenakan tauladannya d.m.y.t.q tamat bi-al-khayr). British Library, Add. 12393, f.3r.  noc

The story was evidently well appreciated in Semarang, for it passed from the author’s possession to three generations of owners, who recorded their names on its pages: Muhammad Salih (f.105r); Ismail ibn Muhammad Salih (f.105r); and Encik Amaladin ibn Ismail Muhammad Salih (f.2r), who asks anyone who borrows the book to be sure to return it as soon as they have finished reading it.  The manuscript was subsequently acquired by John Crawfurd, who served in the British administration in Java from 1811 to 1816, and whose collection of Indonesian manuscripts was sold to the British Museum in 1842.  No other manusript of this story is known to be held in any other library. 

So what is Hikayat Raja Babi about?  The story starts by describing how this Pig King was so brave and strong that no other king could match him.  But what happened next?  The answer, alas, is unknown, for despite the flurry of interest always aroused by its title, Hikayat Raja Babi has never been studied or published.  If anyone would like to be the first to do so, just click here and start reading!

The story begins: ‘This is the tale of the Pig King, the greatest hero of his age, no other prince could match the Pig King’ (Al-kisah peri mengatakan cetera Raja Babi yang pahlawan lagi perkasa kepada zaman masa itu seorang pun tiada boleh segala raja2 sebagai Raja Babi).  British Library, Add. 12393, f.3v.

The story begins: ‘This is the tale of the Pig King, the greatest hero of his age, no other prince could match the Pig King’ (Al-kisah peri mengatakan cetera Raja Babi yang pahlawan lagi perkasa kepada zaman masa itu seorang pun tiada boleh segala raja2 sebagai Raja Babi).  British Library, Add. 12393, f.3v.   noc

Two owners of the manuscript have inscribed their names: Encik Muhammad Salih and - doubtless his son - Encik Ismail ibn Muhammad Salih of Semarang, Kampung Pakujan, Gang Tengah.  British Library, Add. 12393, f.105r (detail).
Two owners of the manuscript have inscribed their names: Encik Muhammad Salih and - doubtless his son - Encik Ismail ibn Muhammad Salih of Semarang, Kampung Pakujan, Gang Tengah.  British Library, Add. 12393, f.105r (detail).  noc

Another owner, Encik Amaladin ibn Ismail Muhammad Salih is evidently the son and grandson of the first two owners mentioned above.  British Library, Add. 12393, f.2r (detail).
Another owner, Encik Amaladin ibn Ismail Muhammad Salih is evidently the son and grandson of the first two owners mentioned above.  British Library, Add. 12393, f.2r (detail).  noc

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia