Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

21 November 2019

Hostility to the Census of India in 1880

In 1872, the British began the decennial Census of India, as part of the continuing work to survey India and its people. The next census was carried out in 1881, and every ten years after that.  The collecting of data for the census was sometimes looked on with fear and suspicion by local people.  One such instance is described in a report from the Santal Parganas, an area in the Bengal Presidency, where local people objected to the recording of names and the numbering of houses.

Santal Parganas - detail from a Forest Map 1908 Santal Parganas - detail from a Forest Map  1908  IOR/V/27/450/37

The hostile reaction to the collection of census data was reported on by W B Oldham, Deputy Commissioner of the Santal Parganas, on 14 December 1880.  He described being informed of a meeting held at Narayanpore where anti-British sentiment was strongly expressed.  Oldham immediately set out to find and arrest the ringleaders.  Arriving at Jamtara, he was confronted by a man named Gulia who informed Oldham that he would not permit any names to be taken as part of the census.  Gulia was arrested on the spot, and later that day Oldham tried and sentenced him to six months rigorous imprisonment.

Government of India orders about the 1880 censusGovernment of India orders  IOR/L/E/6/54

As wild rumours circulated, a panic spread among the non-Santal and British residents who feared escalating violence.  The Deputy Magistrate at Jamtara, W Rattray, was so nervous he sent his wife away by the afternoon train to ensure her safety.  His fears were not without foundation as that evening he awoke to find his bungalow on fire.  The building was quickly consumed by the flames, although Mr Rattray escaped, and the Government records and most of his furniture was saved.  Oldham wrote that there was no possibility of the fire being accidental.

Account by Mr Rattray of the fireAccount by Mr Rattray of the fire  IOR/L/E/6/54

In his account of his escape Rattray wrote: ‘At about 12.30am, I was startled by hearing the crackling of timber.  On awaking, to my utter astonishment, and at the moment in utter bewilderment, I found the north-west corner in flames.  My first thought was that I had been surrounded by the Sonthals, so I wished for my gun, which I kept loaded resting against the wall, some six feet from my bed, but could not reach it as the roof had already fallen in.  I then made a rush for the bath’.  Rattray went on to claim that he believed the Sonthals had made up their mind to kill him, and being unable to get into his bungalow had set it on fire in the hope of burning him.

Report by Mr OldhamReport by Mr Oldham  IOR/L/E/6/54

On this point Oldham commented in his report: ‘Mr Rattray was naturally much frightened.  There are no other grounds for this belief.  Mr Rattray is too nervous and fidgety an officer to deal with an occurrence like the present; but will no doubt be able to carry on the census satisfactorily, when he is in a position to deal with opponents to it’.  Oldham was sceptical that the Santals were responsible, but felt that stringent measures against those opposing the law, with a corresponding strengthening of the police would put a stop to any further agitation.  The Government of India ordered that the numbering of houses could be dispensed with, and the registering of males by name relaxed, if it would help allay the apprehensions of the people.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Correspondence regarding the state of public feeling in a part of the Sonthal Pergunnahs [Santal Parganas] in Bengal in respect to the Census, December 1880 to February 1881 [Reference: IOR/L/E/6/54, File 98]  
 

19 November 2019

Annals of the Middle Eastern Press in the India Office Records (Part II)

The India Office Records (IOR) that are related to the Gulf and the Middle East contain some articles, clippings and extracts from the region’s early press materials.  Here at the BL-Qatar Foundation partnership programme, we created a list of Middle Eastern press materials for copyright purposes.  To put these materials together we needed to trace their history answering the who, when and why.  Even though the extracts available in the IOR come from early 20th century editions, our research established that a number of press materials were in fact 19th century items.  Following on from part I of this blog, this part examines examples of these items.

The press in the first half of the 19th century was a medium that served governments’ interests.  One of the earliest examples available in the IOR is the Ottoman language official gazette Takvım-i Vekayi (Calendar of Affairs, Istanbul, est. 1831).  The paper was initiated by Sultan Mahmud II as part of his reform policy, and was undoubtedly influenced by the Egyptian official gazette al-Waqa’i‘ al-Misriyya (Egyptian Affairs, Cairo, est. 1828) initiated by Muhammad Ali Pasha.  Takvım-i Vekayi became the official medium of publicising new laws and decrees issued by the government.  It also played a crucial role promoting the Ottoman Tanzimat (reforms that were carried out between 1839 and 1876).

Translated extract from Takvım-i Vekayi about railway construction in AnatoliaTranslated extract from Takvım-i Vekayi about railways in Anatolia IOR/L/PS/10/166, f 139r

The second half of the century witnessed the publication of many private sector and independent newspapers.   Nationalism, independence and relations with Europe were the most compelling questions of the time.  Some publications adopted a liberal voice against the traditional Ottoman authority, such as the private daily Ottoman language gazette İkdam (Istanbul, est. 1894), founded by Ahmet Cevdet Oran.  Among its lead columnists was Ali Kemal effendi, great grandfather of politician Boris Johnson.  İkdam was known for being critical of the İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress). 

Extract from the Oriental Advertiser about the Damascus-Mecca RailwayExtract from the Oriental Advertiser about the Damascus-Mecca Railway IOR/L/PS/10/12, f 222r

Another example is the weekly English language Levant Herald (Istanbul, est. 1859).  This was published by British subjects and circulated in the UK and Europe.  Both publications were severely critical of the Ottoman Government, particularly the policies of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.

Letter concerning an article in the Levant Herald about the Hedjaz Railway FundLetter concerning an article in the Levant Herald about the Hedjaz Railway Fund IOR/L/PS/10/12, f 176r

Other materials available in the IOR come from 19th century Egypt.  Among the prominent Arabic language publications is the weekly, later daily, al-Ahram (Alexandria and Cairo, est. 1875), founded by the Lebanese brothers Bshara and Salim Taqla.  Among its early writers were the renowned Muslim scholars Muhammad ‘Abdu and al-Afghani.

Report of an article in al-Ahram  concerning Bedouin tribes buying cereals from IraqReport of an article in al-Ahram concerning Bedouin tribes buying cereals from Iraq IOR/R/15/2/178, f 351r

Another Egyptian example is al-Muqattam (Cairo, est. 1889), founded by Ya‘qub Sarruf, Fares Nimr and Shahin Makariyus.  Al-Muqattam was openly pro-British.  Its rival, al-Mu’ayyad (Cairo, est. 1889), founded by Mustafa Kamel, was a popular pan-Islamic, anti-British newspaper, with lead columnists such as Qasim Amin and Sa‘d Zaghlul.  

A correction of information published in al-Muqattam relating to an alleged dispute between Saudi Arabia and KuwaitA correction of information published in al-Muqattam relating to an alleged dispute between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, dated 1937, IOR/R/15/5/121, f 11Ar

Extract from al-Mu’ayyad about the situation in Iraq 1910An extract from al-Mu’ayyad about the situation in Iraq, dated 1910, IOR/R/15/5/26, f 71r

Among the English language press in Egypt was the weekly, later daily, Egyptian Gazette (Alexandria, later Cairo, est. 1880–).  This Gazette was used to spread British propaganda in Egypt.

For extracts of these and other materials, I encourage readers to visit the Qatar Digital Library.  Part III of this blog post will explore the 20th century Middle Eastern press materials found in the IOR.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/10/166 ‘File 3047/1909 'Railways: Asiatic Turkey; railway construction in Asia Minor'
IOR/L/PS/10/12 ‘File 3142/1903 'Hedjaz Railway'
IOR/R/15/2/178 'Articles in Press on Gulf Affairs'
IOR/R/15/5/121 ‘I Riyadh (VII) Colonel Dickson’s v[isit] to Riyadh (Includes visits of other Europeans to Riyadh’
IOR/R/15/5/26 'File X/3 Disorders & Raids near Basra & in Koweit [Kuwait] Hinterland'

Anthony Gorman and Didier Monciaud. The Press in the Middle East and North Africa, 1850-1950: Politics, Social History and Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

 

14 November 2019

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 2

Continuing our story of Arthur Thomas Williams and the Peace Pledge Union….

The fake telegrams were carefully run off on a duplicator and then planted. 

One of the spurious telegrams planted at the India Office One of the spurious telegrams planted at the India Office - from The National Archives file KV 2/1093 Crown copyright

On 18 December 1942 Williams left the India Office carrying an attaché case and made his way to Endsleigh Street.  Before he could reach the PPU offices, he was arrested and taken to New Scotland Yard.

Williams told the police that he was taking home documents to read for his own interest before returning them to the India Office. Fourteen official deciphered telegrams were found in the case; none were the planted ones.

A thorough search was then made of the offices of the PPU.  Stuart Morris made no attempt to obstruct this and it was ‘carried out in the friendliest and politest manner possible’.  Morris said he looked at the documents brought by Williams and then burned them.  Five India Office deciphered telegrams were found in one drawer, and a second batch in a sealed envelope in another drawer including one of the spurious telegrams.  Stuart Morris was then also arrested.  

Williams’s statement made on 18 December stated that he had heard someone in Hyde Park talking about India. He thought that the speaker was being unfair to the British government and told him that he saw documents at the India Office showing that the government was interested in Indian reform and independence.  Williams then took documents from the secret waste and delivered them to the PPU about once a week.  Morris returned the telegrams from the previous visit and William put them back in the sack for pulping. However the authorities did not believe that Morris had returned the documents and they judged Williams to be disloyal to the British government and to the India Office in particular.

The next day Williams and Morris were charged at Bow Street with ‘retaining’ and ‘receiving’ under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Acts. They were remanded in custody and taken to Brixton Prison. The proceedings were held in camera and no reference to the case was to be made in newspapers.

However the Daily Worker reported on 21 December that Stuart Morris was being held on unknown charges.  Evening newspapers mentioned the Official Secrets Act.  The Censorship Department moved to stop further press speculation.

Visits to Williams in Brixton Prison from Annie, Rose, his son Sid, his brother and a friend are recorded in the Security Service file with details of their conversations.  Williams was heard to say that his conscience was clear and he had only been guilty of a ‘grave indiscretion’.

The trial was held in camera at the Old Bailey on 19 January 1943.  Williams’s defence said he had been interested in India since serving eight years there with the Army.  He was described as a foolish and simple man, without political motivation. The judge accepted that it was not a case of treachery.

Williams was sentenced to twelve months in prison, Morris to nine.  Further interviews were conducted with both men in Wormwood Scrubs.  A notice about the case was drafted for the press – the India Office insisted that it was not identified as the government department involved.

Report of Official Secrets Act trial -  Western Daily Press 17 February 1943Report of trial of Williams and Morris Western Daily Press 17 February 1943 British Newspaper Archive

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives KV 2/1093 The Security Service: Personal (PF Series) Files - Arthur Thomas Williams - available as a download
British Newspaper Archive

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 1