Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

30 November 2021

Report of a crash-landing of a Japanese bomber

The papers of Frank Owen Bell, Indian Civil Service officer, contain some fascinating reports of a fire-fight between local police and a group of Japanese airmen during the Second World War.  The file in the India Office Private Papers consists of reports and telegrams between 25 and 30 December 1942 circulating between local government officials in the area of Kalapara in the District of Patuakhali in Bengal (now Bangladesh).  As the reports circulated, a picture began to build up of a dramatic skirmish as the Japanese air-crew attempted to evade capture.

Telegram concerning the report of a crashed aircraft 28 December 1942Telegram concerning the report of a crashed aircraft 28 December 1942 Mss Eur D733/40 f.3  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On 24 December at 10.40 in the evening, a Japanese bomber crashed at Dhulasar, a few miles from the sea shore.  The plane had been struck by anti-aircraft fire causing it to crash heavily.  The seven crew members all survived, with only 2 being slightly wounded.  No doubt frightened and confused, they approached a nearby house, but the residents fled thinking them to be robbers.  The following morning, having taken shelter in the house for the night, the Japanese airmen looked for someone who could help them escape by sea but were hindered by being unable to speak the local language or any English.

Around this time local police officers, consisting of a head-constable and four constables, arrived and began searching for the airmen.  At about 11.00am, they spotted the Japanese airmen crossing a river, and immediately opened fire.  The Japanese retaliated with machine gun fire before retreating into the jungle.  No-one was hit and the policemen kept guard on the river bank.

Report about the crashed bomber 30 December 1942Report about the crashed bomber 30 December 1942 Mss Eur D733/40 f.1. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

At around 3.30pm, the Japanese airmen emerged from a different part of the jungle, and rushed a large boat firing revolvers and a machine gun.  The fishermen on the boat dived overboard and swam to safety.  The boat was loaded with rice and vegetables, and was equipped with a sail.  The airmen set sail out to sea, and were not seen again.  In a printed report of the incident sent to the Inspector General of Police in Bengal, it was estimated that it would take four days to sail to Burma.  Search aircraft attempted to locate the Japanese airmen without success.  A handwritten note on the back of the report commented that the villagers were naturally frightened but showed no pro-Japanese or anti-British sentiments.

Born on June 1907, Bell was educated at Christ’s Hospital at Horsham, and Christ’s College, Cambridge.  He joined the Indian Civil Service on 16 October 1930, and arrived in India November 1930.  He served in Bengal as Assistant Collector and Magistrate; and in December 1931 was promoted to Joint Magistrate and Deputy Collector.  From October 1936 he was a Settlement Officer.  He was awarded the OBE in January 1946. On returning to England in 1947, Bell qualified as a solicitor and worked for the Greater London Council.  He died in 1991.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Correspondence connected with the crash-landing of a Japanese bomber at Dhulasar, Bengal, 24 December 1942, BL shelfmark: Mss Eur D733/40.
India Office and Burma Office List (1947) page 142, for brief details of Frank Owen Bell’s ICS career.
Papers relating to Frank Owen Bell's service as a councillor in Chesham UDC and Buckinghamshire County Council, held at Buckinghamshire Archives, reference D_190

 

25 November 2021

‘So Long’ from King Naimbanna II - Manuscripts from an 18th Century African King

Within the Clarkson Papers there are a number of volumes relating to the settlement of Freetown, Sierra Leone, from 1791 onwards.  These were explored in a series of Untold Lives blogs called The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists.   We return to these papers to explore a number of fascinating folios of correspondence between John Clarkson and King Naimbanna II.

King, or Obai, Naimbanna II (1720-1793) was a leader of the Koya Temne Kingdom on coast of Sierra Leone.  Agents of the Sierra Leone Company negotiated with Naimbanna in 1788 and persuaded him to sign over some of his land for the Company’s settlement.  Naimbanna later stipulated that the deal had been negotiated too hastily and should not have been given consent.  A digitised version of this treaty is available to view via the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme.

When John Clarkson arrived in Freetown at the end of 1791 he made a conscious effort to engage with Naimbanna as the local leader.  Documents from his papers show that collaboration was deemed essential in order for the new settlement to succeed.


Instructions from abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to his brother John  the Governor of Freetown  to ‘ingratiate yourself with Naimbanna and his secretary Elliot’Instructions from abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to his brother John, the Governor of Freetown, to ‘ingratiate yourself with Naimbanna and his secretary Elliot’. Add MS 41262A, f.65. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A note from John Clarkson to King Naimbanna inviting him to dine with him and explaining he has a letter for him from his son  12 May 1792A note from John Clarkson to King Naimbanna inviting him to dine with him and explaining he has a letter for him from his son, 12 May 1792. Add MS 41262A, f.105. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A working relationship was established, as the documents below illustrate.  Naimbanna gave these folios to John Clarkson when the governor was due to depart Sierra Leone for England at the end of 1792.

First of two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson  described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’ 23 December 1792
Second of two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson  described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’  23 December 1792Two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson, described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’. 23 December 1792. Add MS 41262A, ff 211-214. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These fascinating folios stand out among Clarkson’s papers.  They are described as prayers or good luck charms.  Written in Arabic, they consist of scraps of sentences from the Koran that the author hopes will protect the bearer on his journey.  Other notes present with these papers describe the folios as badly written, but despite this criticism from Clarkson’s contemporaries, these letters are important historical documents in their own right.  They illustrate Naimbanna’s cautious engagement with the new settlement and his relationship with its governor Clarkson.

Naimbanna engaged diplomatically with the new settlement believing it could offer certain benefits.  He backed the original abolitionist mission of its founders, aimed to benefit from a proliferation of trade and sought out specialist education for himself and his sons.  Naimbanna sent his children abroad to experience different educations in different parts of the world.  His son Prince John Frederic would travel to England in 1791 to receive an education under the sponsorship of abolitionist and activist, Granville Sharp.

Announcement of the death of Prince Naimbanna  Bury and Norwich Post  1 January 1794Announcement of the death of Prince Naimbanna, Bury and Norwich Post, 1 January 1794. British Newspaper Archive.

With this openness and pragmatism of approach, Naimbanna hoped to both take advantage of the opportunities the new colony could open for the Kingdom, whilst retaining power as the rightful leader of the region.  However, cordial relations would not last.  Naimbanna died in 1793 as did his son, Prince John Frederic, whilst in transit back from England.  Successive Temne dynasties fought with neighbouring communities in an effort to consolidate their lands, but ultimately these lands were taken by the British in the latter half of the 19th century.  The British made Sierra Leone a British protectorate in 1896 and despite the Temne revolts in 1898 they would govern until Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists, Parts 1-4.
Ijagbemi, E. A. 'THE FREETOWN COLONY AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF ‘LEGITIMATE’ COMMERCE IN THE ADJOINING TERRITORIES', Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, vol. 5, no. 2, Historical Society of Nigeria, 1970, pp. 243–56.
Kup, A. P. 'John Clarkson and the Sierra Leone Company', The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, Boston University African Studies Center, 1972, pp. 203–20.
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23 November 2021

Miguel of Mazagon, Mumbai- Part Two

We continue our story of Miguel de Lima e Souza.

Miguel was now part of the British establishment in Bombay, both politically and socially.  He was a member of the Insurance Society, a key association of those who mattered financially.   The Bombay Almanac of 1798 announced the birth of his son and listed him among the ten most prominent European merchants in Bombay.  Father Ernest Hull wrote that Miguel was one of the richest people in Bombay. 

Description of the estate formerly owned by Miguel de Lima e Souza when it was sold ini 1823

Bombay Gazette  29 October 1823 British Newspaper Archive 

Miguel's connections destined him to play the leading role in the Padroado-Propaganda struggle, which at one point threatened the future of the Catholic Church not only in Bombay but also the whole of Asia.  This was a very complex matter with its roots going back to the early 16th century.   In Miguel’s time, Rome was attempting to take on greater responsibility for the Church in the East, a role which was strongly resisted by the Portuguese state and church which had traditionally had the right of ‘Patronage’, or the authority to manage and have the last word in all ecclesiastical issues in the region.

View from Belmont looking towards the back of the harbour including part of the village of Mazagon, the islands of Carranjar, Elephanta and Butcher bounded by the hills of Mahratta countryView from Belmont looking towards the back of the harbour including part of the village of Mazagon, the islands of Carranjar, Elephanta and Butcher bounded by the hills of Mahratta country - from James Wales, Bombay Views: Twelve Views Of The Island Of Bombay And Its Vicinity Taken In The Years 1791 And 1792 Shelfmark: X 436 

At that time, Bombay was under Propaganda or the direct authority of Rome.  Sir Miguel now fell foul of the local authorities.  According to Father Hull, Miguel asked to have a prominent Protestant stand as godfather to his son, and this request was refused as being contrary to Church law.  This apparently was so offensive to Sir Miguel that he set in motion a process with the support of the British both locally and in London, as well as the backing of the Primate of Goa and Lisbon, that led to the transfer of Bombay to the jurisdiction of the Padroado Archbishop of Goa.  This proved unpopular locally with both the foreign elite as well as the lower classes of indigenous Catholics and the decision was reversed.  Miguel however leveraged all his political and social status to reverse this decision in turn and this led to a lot of ecclesiastical turmoil eventually leading to what is called the Double Jurisdiction, with some Churches under Rome and others under Goa.  The resulting bitterness led to a serious rift amongst the Catholic population, both people and priests, with one group of priests coming under the threat of excommunication in what is known as the Salsette schism.

Miguel was the spearhead of the Propaganda party initially, aiming to make the local church self-sustainable by founding a seminary known as the Bombay College on his own property.   But his efforts for local autonomy were not successful and the Propaganda parishes came under the tight control of the authorities of Goa.  There were stories that Miguel later regretted his role in the split and reportedly was reconciled to Rome and Propaganda on his deathbed.  While there is no direct evidence for this, his grandson Miguel de Lima e Souza (Junior) owed allegiance to Propaganda.  But that is another story!

Megan deSouza, independent researcher and blogger
Denis Rodrigues, amateur historian interested in the history of Bombay

Further reading:
The Home People 
Ernest R Hull, Bombay mission-history with a special study of the Padroado question (Bombay, 1927, 1930) British Library shelfmark Asia Pacific & Africa V 2145
The Portuguese Militia in Bombay
British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast

Miguel of Mazagon, Mumbai- Part One