Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

28 September 2021

Bury me at sea inside my piano

During a voyage to India in 1804-05, John Linley Cantelo amended his will to give instructions for burial at sea in his piano if he should die before he reached port.

John Linley Cantelo came from a musical family of Bath.  He served as Purser on the East India Company ship Lascelles before becoming a free mariner in India and then a Lieutenant in the Company’s Bengal Marine.  In June 1804 he married Eleanor Allen in Bath.  Three months later he embarked on East Indiaman Travers to return to Calcutta leaving Eleanor behind, pregnant with their daughter Julia Wilhelmina.  With him was an expensive piano he had commissioned from John Broadwood and Sons – square with a frame and shelf made particularly strong, able to be played at sea.

On 26 July 1804 Cantelo wrote a will leaving his property to his wife Eleanor who had moved to be near to her family in Haverfordwest.  He added a codicil whilst at sea in the Travers on 12 February 1805.

Extract from the will of John Linley Cantelo Extract from will of John Linley Cantelo giving instructions for burial at sea in his piano IOR/L/AG/34/29/17 no.67 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

‘Should it please the Almighty disposer of Events to Extinguish my flame of existence during our Passage to Bengal – I hereby will and desire that my mortal frame be enclosed in the Piano forte corse [case] well dunnaged with any bodys old bed and Cloaths who will take my Cot in exchange the outside to be well rattened and secured for which expense the owners are to be reimbursed and the Carpenter apply to my Executor for a Hogshead of the rest [sic] Bengal Spirits for the use of his messhorne.  The whole Crew to have a Puccoh house dinner when on liberty at Calcutta for their trouble – the Package may then be pricipitated Overboard with no other cerimony than three cheers after once repeating Popes Universal prayer by Mr Tyrer for which Service he is bequeathed my Sword Cambridge Tables Two Largest Trunks (Empty) and Thermomiter.’

Cantelo added another codicil in July 1805 after he had arrived in India: ‘By Devine Providence I am now at Calcutta and seeing my acquaintance dying Cheerly I revoke the last Codicil its Purpose being done away’.  He then gave specific instructions about his burial in the cemetery at Calcutta: ‘I have looked out a snug Pucha birth at the end of the burying Ground walk turning to the left as you enter the Porch past Mr Edmonstone & Impeys I want nothing but a square tomb over English fashion with J. L. Cantelo only the least Expense possible so as not to be mean’.

Cantelo wrote a final codicil on 28 July 1805. This included a bequest to Lascelles, his son by an Indian woman named Catharina, and the gift of his piano and two books for it to Miss Bella McArthur, daughter of his executor James Alexander McArthur.

The following day, Cantelo died at Fort William.  His grave in South Park Cemetery is marked with a stone inscribed simply ‘John Linley Cantelo Obit July 29 1805’.

List of the effects of John Linley Cantelo sold at auction in CalcuttaList of the effects of John Linley Cantelo sold at auction in Calcutta - Bengal Hurkaru 13 August 1805 - image courtesy of World Digital Library, Library of Congress.

Cantelo’s effects in India were sold at public auction on 14 August 1805 – clothing, rare books, charts, mathematical and nautical instruments including a sextant, telescopes, globes, watches, plate, china, mirrors, lamps, furniture, cooking utensils, palanquins, ‘choice liquors', and a bay saddle horse.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

With thanks to Barry Cantelo for alerting us to this story and providing information.

We are stumped by the word ‘messhorne’!   Can anyone help us?  Is it a transcription error by the clerk copying Cantelo’s will?  Suggestions please to ior@bl.uk or Twitter @UntoldLives.

Further reading:
Estate papers of John Linley Cantelo IOR/L/AG/34/29/17 no.67, IOR/L/AG/34/27/34 no. 59, IOR/L/AG/34/27/50 pp. 923-926.


23 September 2021

Landscape in law

Archives on the environment appear in unexpected places.

Under the Permanent Settlement of 1793, India’s British rulers fixed the taxes which land-holders in certain regions paid on their land.  But land itself was not permanent.  Across the Sub-continent, rivers and their tributaries were constantly changing the landscape.   They flooded, dried up, and changed course.  They submerged some areas and exposed others; they created bogs, swamps and marshes which were neither land nor water.  Little wonder that colonial officials, intent on extracting revenue from the land, described India’s rivers variously as ‘mischievous’, ‘unruly’ or ‘evil’.

If a change in the river created more land on your land, should you pay more tax?  This was the question facing the Maharajah Jagadindra Nath Roy Bahadoor in 1892, after the great Brahmaputra had changed course and new land had emerged on his estates in Bengal.  No, said the Maharajah: the land, although under water before, had always been there.  Yes, said the government: new land above water was just that - new.

The Maharajah took the government to court.  By 1902 the case had escalated through the High Court of Bengal to the final court of appeal, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.  Archives about the case survive in the records of the Legal Adviser to the India Office, who acted for the Secretary of State for India.  The Committee found in the government’s favour: you can read the judgment here.

On points of law, the case attracted a certain interest; it is summarised in Indian Appeals.  But what draws the attention now are the maps prepared for the earlier hearings.  Twenty maps show the disputed land at different times in the 19th century.  Some are prepared from old survey maps; others are composites, telling the story on a single sheet like this example below.  It shows the river’s course in 1892 [A] superimposed on its course as measured out in 1852 [B].  The new land is marked out in yellow, with patches of jungle and sand drawn in.

Map of Mouza Garamara, 1895. Map of Mouza Garamara, 1895. Map no 18 in IOR/L/L/8/78 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Bengal the Maharajah had also called witnesses, and their recollections fill out the scene.  'The lands were washed away by the river in eight or nine years.  The river remained current on the spots for a year or two, then receded towards the north.'  ' have seen jute, aus [rice], paddy and mustard being grown upon the land.'

We are currently cataloguing the Legal Adviser’s records and have found other lawsuits arising from changes in river courses.  This is a map from an Appeal of 1928 (for parties and judgment see here).

Comparative Map of Kalaran Chandipur, 1919Comparative Map of Kalaran Chandipur, 1919. Map no 5 in IOR/L/L 26G (210) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These maps and testimonies must have given a diverting glimpse of the natural world to the Privy Councillors while they sat in their Council chamber at no 9 Downing Street.  Today, the documents catch the eye again, especially for anyone interested in the historical river-scape of the Bengal delta.

Antonia Moon
Lead Curator, India Office Records

Further reading
IOR/L/L/8/78; IOR/L/L (Box 26G (210))
For the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and related British Library holdings, see here
Sunil Amrith, Unruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, Coasts and Seas Have Shaped Asia’s History (London: Penguin Books, 2018)
Rohan D'Souza, “Mischievous Rivers and Evil Shoals: the English East India Company and the Colonial Resource Regime”, in The East India Company and the natural world ed. by Vinita Damodaran, Anna Winterbottom and Alan Lester (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
The Law Reports. Indian Appeals: being cases in the Privy Council on appeal from the East Indies. Reported by W. Macpherson, vol. 30 (London: Council of Law Reporting, 1903)


21 September 2021

Indian soldiers protest about the loss of extra pay

In December 1841 Indian private soldiers of the Madras Army stationed at Asirgarh and Secunderabad refused to receive their monthly pay.  The sepoys were protesting at the removal of their allowance, or batta, which had been paid to troops stationed at a distance from their home Presidency to cover extra expenditure.  They claimed that the amount of pay without batta was insufficient to maintain their families.

European officers and Indian officers and NCOs tried in vain to persuade the men to accept their pay without batta.  They warned that refusal would be regarded as mutiny.  At Secunderabad nearly 300 privates of the 32nd Regiment of Native Infantry persisted with their protest but obeyed when told to ground their arms.  They were then taken prisoner by a party of Europeans.  A similar situation developed with the 48th Regiment of Native Infantry.

Military General Orders  Choltry Plain  27 January 1842Military General Orders ,Choltry Plain, 27 January 1842 - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84995 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The most prominent men in the protest were selected for trial by Court Martial.  Good conduct pay was forfeited by those who had taken part but an amnesty was granted to the main body of offenders.  However native officers and NCOs were punished for having failed in their duty, either through ‘ignorance of any plan of insubordination so settled and matured’, or from having allowed it to proceed because they also stood to lose out from the removal of batta.  There were demotions and blocks on future promotions.

Military General Orders Fort St George 12 April 1842Military Department General Orders by Governor in Council, Fort St George, 12 April 1842 - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84997 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

General James Stuart Fraser, the Resident in Hyderabad, was sympathetic to the soldiers’ complaint and promised to recommend an enquiry into what they alleged about the cost of living.  Fraser collected data which he hoped would enable the government to judge whether the soldiers were justified in protesting.  Was pay without batta sufficient to maintain them and their families?

An estimate of monthly expenses was drawn up for food and clothing for three categories of Indian soldiers at Secunderabad living with a wife and two children: a ’Man of the Talinga or Malabar Caste’; a ‘Musselman’; and a ‘Native of Bengal’.  Costs were given for rice; inferior grain; meat; ‘dholl’; salt; lamp oil; ghee; firewood; betel nut and tobacco; ‘masalah’; vegetables; ‘goodaccoo’; cholum flour; and clothing.

Living expenses for different categories of Indian soldiers at SecunderabadAn estimate of monthly expenses for food and clothing for Indian soldiers at Secunderabad  - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84995 p.430 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Other East India Company officials also recorded sympathy for the Indian soldiers.  John Bird of the Council of Fort St George expressed his regret that it had been found impracticable to issue pardons to the offenders, instead dismissing all the prisoners of the 4th Regiment.  He would have preferred the adoption of Fraser’s recommendation to transfer the men to other regiments. Bird also thought the treatment of the officers was too harsh and that innocent men would be punished.

Sir James Law Lushington, Chairman of the Court of Directors in London, also believed the punishments to be misguided.  The Court wrote to Madras in August 1842 stating that the directors would approve if men of previous good character could safely be shown leniency.

Lord Elphinstone, Governor of Madras, wrote of the bond of union between the sepoys and the European officers being cast aside in recent years.  At the same time as batta was being taken away from native troops at stations where it had long been in place, it was given to European officers based away from their home Presidency.  Elphinstone said the chasm between the officers and the native soldiers had widened.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Papers relating to the batta protests and the cost of living for native soldiers - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84995-84998, IOR/F/4/1973/86723.
Hastings Fraser, Memoir and Correspondence of General James Stuart Fraser of the Madras Army (London, 1885)