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16 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening Part 3

We continue our story of Mermanjan and Thomas Maughan.

The couple moved to Bombay soon after Thomas was promoted to Major in 1849.  In 1854 he became Lieutenant Colonel.  When the Indian Rebellion or ‘Mutiny’ broke out, Thomas was Political Secretary in Kolhapur.  Thomas recounts how he disagreed with ‘the cruel destruction of (36) wretched creatures shot in cold blood, many of the aged men on the verge of the grave… Our troops had not been fired at, and there was no necessity, in truth no excuse for the butchery’.  As a result of Thomas’s disagreements with his superiors, which had taken a toll on his health,  he was ‘turned out’ of his appointment and granted 15 months furlough (leave) in England.

Mermanjan 14

Mermanjan 15 Excerpt from Bombay Gazette 22 January 1858 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/11

Mermanjan and Thomas had been living together bound by the Muslim ‘Nikkah’ ceremony and they were both convinced of the validity of their union.  However 'gossip was busy’ and Thomas realised that their unique union was viewed with suspicion by his British friends: it would ‘injure his reputation and hers if they were not made man and wife in the eyes of his world’.  Perhaps prompted by the imminent visit to England, they were married on 19 January 1858 by the registrar for Bombay at his home. 

For a while they lived in London, where Thomas had relations. Mermanjan was ‘shy and retiring by nature, but of great spirit’, and she was greatly celebrated and made a few good English friends, including Thomas’s niece Eliza with whom she corresponded. Thomas appears to have composed the ‘Nina waltz’ for his wife, using his pet name for his wife. 
 

Mermanjan 16Music in Mermanjan’s possession, Nina’s Waltz by Thomas Maughan? (name of composer has been torn away) - India Office Private Papers  Mss Eur E304 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan?)

By September 1858 they had moved to a country house, Wrotham Place in Kent. Mermanjan must have caused a stir amongst the locals who would have thought her an exotic visitor to the village. Thomas and Mermanjan were invited by Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort to stay at Windsor Castle.  Mermanjan was well received at court and ‘bore herself well’.

Mermanjan 17Mermanjan 18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sketches of Victorian women - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 1860 Mermanjan and Thomas were back in Poona. They found many changes. The East India Company had been wound up in the wake of the Rebellion and its armies had been absorbed into Her Majesty’s Army.  Thomas was ‘fretting at continued unemployment’ and his health ‘was not good’.

On 3 July 1861, aged only 55, Thomas ‘died very suddenly, after taking a dose of medicine wrongly made up by the native apothecary’.  The prescription was later described as being a ‘lethal dose’, which ‘no reputable chemist would make up … without reference to the doctor who made it’.

Mermanjan was left alone in India grieving for Thomas, a widow at the age of 28 estranged from her family. None of the papers mentions any children, but some baby clothes and shoes were found among her possessions which suggests that maybe Mermanjan lost a child too. 

Mermanjan’s tragedy and hardships did not end there – Part 4 will take us to the end of her fascinating life.

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Gertude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection
Finding Mermanjan Part 1 and Part 2
IOR/N/11/1 f.412 Marriage of Thomas Maughan and Mermanjan at Bombay 19 January 1858 [her name is generally spelled Meermanjan or Meerman Jan in official records]

 

11 July 2019

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library IV – Lost and Found, The Biccherna Panel

A British Library reader has asked: what happens when you find a collection item that was stolen or displaced during the Nazi period, and was never returned to or recovered by the original owner?

In 2013, the British Library received a restitution claim for Davis 768, the Biccherna Panel, a 15th century painted wooden panel that was used to encase tax records in the treasury of the Palazzo Pubblico (centre of civic life) in Siena.  The panel had been in the gallery stock of a Jewish owned firm, the A.S. Drey in Munich, since 1930 when it had been acquired at auction.  Forced to liquidate their assets by order of the Reich, the Drey firm’s holdings were sold at the Paul Graupe auction house in Berlin in 1936.

Davis 768Davis 768 Wooden panel for the accounts of the Biccherna of Siena, painted by Guidoccio Cozzarelli, 1488, oil on panel ,depicting the return to Siena of the Noveschi, a mercantile-banking oligarchy, and showing the armed exiles with their leader, Pandolfo Petrucci (1452-1512) on a white horse, before the Porta di Fontebranda Noc

Sale Catalogue  Paul GraupeTitle page of sale catalogue, Paul Graupe, Berlin, June 17-18, 1936 Image courtesy of University of Heidelberg CC Heidelberg


Sale Catalogue  Paul Graupe 2Detail of sale catalogue, Paul Graupe, Berlin, June 17-18, 1936, lot no.49, p.16 Image courtesy of University of Heidelberg CC Heidelberg

Sale Catalogue  Paul Graupe 3Plate IX, of sale catalogue, Paul Graupe, Berlin, June 17-18, 1936, lot no.49 Image courtesy of University of Heidelberg CC Heidelberg

While the buyer at the 1936 sale is unknown, the panel passed to the collection of British business-man and collector Arthur Bendir (b.1872), London.  Shortly afterwards in 1942, Bendir sold the panel at Sotheby’s London where, unaware of the object’s past, it was acquired by Henry Davis (1897-1977), O.B.E.  In 1968, the panel was gifted along with the rest of the Davis Collection to the British Museum, and in 1972 entered the collection of the British Library.

As research showed that the Biccherna panel had never been returned to the Drey firm, or its heirs, and the 1936 sale recognized as forced, with the contents of the auction being sold for a fraction of their value, the British Library was open to restitution.  National legislation typically prevents de-accessioning collection items (the process by which an object is permanently removed from a museum or collection-based institution’s holdings).  However, a 2009 act of the UK Parliament - The Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009 – has authorised certain national institutions to return an object in the event of specific circumstances.  Any claim must first be reviewed by the Spoliation Advisory Panel, a non-departmental public body created in 2000 under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.  If presented with a Holocaust era claim, the Panel has the authority to recommend an object’s return, with final approval being given by the Secretary of State for DCMS. Alternatively, the panel may also recommend financial compensation be paid to a claimant.

After reviewing documentation from both the Drey heirs and the British Library Board, the Advisory panel recommended the return of the panel to the claimants. Through amicable discussions, however, the heirs chose compensation in lieu of physical restitution, and the panel has been retained by the library collection since.  The panel continues to be researched and studied, and its unique history within the fields of book-binding, early Italian panel painting, the history of collecting, and Nazi era spoliation shared.  The panel is currently on view in the British Library Treasures Gallery.

Antonia Bartoli
Spoliation Curator, British Library Printed Heritage Projects

Further information
The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries public lecture given by Antonia Bartoli.
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research I - The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library II - the Collection of Jean Furstenberg
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library III – The Collection of Lucien Graux
Spoliation Report of the Spoliation Advisory Panel in Respect of a Painted Wooden Tablet, the Biccherna Panel, 2014

 

09 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – Star of the Evening Part 2

We left sixteen-year-old Mermanjan in 1849 about to run away from Afghanistan to find her beloved Captain Thomas Maughan in north-west India (today Pakistan).  Accompanied only by a servant, Mermanjan rode her horse close to 1,000 miles from the Khyber Pass through Multan and Kohtri to Karachi. 

Mermanjan 7Watercolour of Indian landscapes, by Mermanjan? - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

They encountered hardship and prejudice on the way, on account of being Muslim, but also found people who helped them on their way.   When the fugitives’ money ran out and they were facing hunger, Mermanjan decided to sell her ring at a local bazaar.  The shop owner paid them much less than it was worth, but an Indian soldier saw that they were being tricked and made the shop owner give them the rightful amount. 

Mermanjan 8Mermanjan 9

Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

On their final stretch in Kotri when they had to cross the Indus river, they found that they didn’t have enough for the boat fare.  They pleaded with the boatman and even though he could not understand them, he had heard of Captain Maughan and his regiment. Presumably Mermanjan had written ahead to tell him that they would be arriving, and by chance the day before Thomas had sent an orderly to find them.  The boatman rushed off and caught the orderly just as he was about to buy his return ticket. He took the man to the travellers, and soon all was arranged. 

When the travelling party finally made it to Maughan’s bungalow, Mermanjan refused to dismount until her beloved came out: ‘he will only know me when he sees me on my black horse, for I am in rags and soiled and disfigured with boils and blisters and very ill’.  She sat there patiently but ‘almost fainting from fatigue and fear now that the terrible strain of her great adventure was nearly at an end.’  Maughan was urgently sent for and found her a ‘poor huddled little form’ seated on her black horse sobbing bitterly.  ‘Tenderly he carried her into her house and sent for the doctor… soon she was cared for and comforted but it was a long time before she recovered from the effects of her hardships and was very ill for many weeks’. 

In the early days after Mermanjan was reunited with Thomas, she could not be persuaded to see anyone, so nervous and frightened had she become.   A fellow Colonel remarked: ‘[he] always made an awful fuss over her, even to bathing her daily even when she was over twenty’, also buying her dolls and picture books as though she were a child.  From these years Mermanjan kept many of Thomas’s little drawings calculated to amuse his young wife - little ladies in crinolines; caricatures of his fellow officers.  She used account books to practise writing rows of letters as she gradually learnt to write in English.   She preferred seclusion ‘considered by the higher orders as indispensable to a woman after a marriage’ and took to flower arranging in the house.  

Mermanjan 10Caricatures of English Victorians in India by Thomas Maughan?  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

These were perhaps the happiest years of Mermanjan’s life. However, there was not to be a fairy-tale ending for our heroine.  Find out what happened next in Part 3!

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening – Part 1
Gertrude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection