Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

29 June 2022

The new India Office

In the autumn of 1860 the staff of the India Office moved from East India House in Leadenhall Street in the City of London to temporary accommodation in Victoria Street whilst new premises in Whitehall were being purpose-built.  The India Office was the department of state which had taken over from the East India Company in 1858.  East India House was sold in June 1861 and demolished soon afterwards.

The new Foreign and India Offices – the St James’s Park front 1866The new Foreign and India Offices – the St James’s Park front – Illustrated London News 6 October 1866 Image © Illustrated London News Group via British Newspaper Archive

In the second half of 1867, the move from Victoria Street to Whitehall gradually took place.  Decisions were made about the arrangements for maintaining and staffing the new India Office building, which was described by the Homeward Mail as ‘a grand new palace of administration’.

The contract for cleaning the windows, skylights and bookcases was awarded in February 1868 to Alfred Henry of Vauxhall Bridge Road who submitted a tender for £250 per annum.  This was considered a very low rate given the vast quantity of glass to be cleaned.  Henry had previously been employed for plumber’s work at Victoria Street and he had given satisfaction.

Architect and surveyor Matthew Digby Wyatt, wrote a memorandum stating that the numbers sanctioned in 1861 for male indoor and outdoor messengers, and for female servants were not sufficient in Whitehall.  Nineteen additional men were needed to service the messengers’ boxes situated at fixed points throughout the building, using bells and speaking tubes to communicate.  The ‘great extent’ of the new premises meant that nine extra housemaids would be required to keep clean the rooms, passages, staircases, and furniture.  Wyatt also recommended the appointment of an assistant to the housekeeper.  Eight women and the housekeeper should live in the India Office.

The duties of the female servants were:
• Cleaning and dusting thoroughly each room every day.
• Keeping all the linen in order.
• Scrubbing every set of stairs once a week.
• Lighting all fires.
• Keeping the stoves, fenders, coal scuttles and fire irons clean.
• Scrubbing all the uncarpeted wood flooring once a week, and wiping over the Kamptulicon floor covering with a wet cloth and drying it immediately.
This list was expected to occupy the women fully, but Wyatt said that there was plenty of ‘easy’ dusting and cleaning if they had spare time.

First floor plan India OfficePlan of first floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicated IOR/L/AG/9/8/3.

A list of all the rooms in the new India Office was drawn up in December 1867 with accompanying plans – offices, book rooms, strong rooms, kitchens, luncheon room, refreshment room, stores, closets, washing closets, bedrooms, lumber rooms, coal cellars.   These showed who occupied each room and the messenger post with which the room communicated.  Staff spoke through metal speaking tubes fitted with bone whistles and mouthpieces.

Plan of third floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicatedPlan of third floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicated IOR/L/AG/9/8/3.

The female servants’ bedrooms were on the third floor.  Mrs Sally Moore, the housekeeper who supervised them, had rooms in the basement near the women’s kitchen and workroom.

At the time of the 1871 census, Sally Moore and eighteen others were living at the India Office.  As well as female domestic servants, there were four resident male employees with their wives and families: Head Office Keeper William Badrick, Office Keeper Joseph John Hope, Office Porter Henry Vincent, and Private Secretary Horace George Walpole.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/AG/9/8/3 Papers on the administration of the India Office.
IOR/L/L/2/1461-1463 Papers for the India Office temporary accommodation in Victoria Street 1860-1866 – the premises became the Westminster Palace Hotel.
IOR/L/SUR Surveyor’s Department papers
Victorian office moves
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Homeward Mail from India, China, and the East 5 September 1867.

 

27 June 2022

Dining with style: the East India Company’s communal table at Mocha

In August 1720, the East India Company’s Council in Bombay received a letter from their factors and merchants based in the city of Mocha.  They had expected this letter for some time.  It was the practice for the factory’s staff to report on their activities regularly as Mocha was the entrepôt for the coffee markets of Yemen, in which the Company had invested heavily.  The letter contained the expected business news of the factory and the shifting political situation in Yemen, which had been growing more and more fraught in the preceding few years.  Despite all this, the Company’s investment in coffee was yielding good results and the Council could feel comfortable in the knowledge that their men in Mocha were managing their affairs well. 

View from the factory at MochaView from the factory at Mocha by Henry Salt from Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt (London, 1809) British Library Digital Store 10058.l.13 BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With this letter came a list of the factory’s expenses, the salaries of guards and domestic servants, the pay given to the Company’s four merchants, and the costs of running the factory itself.  One of the largest of these was the expenses incurred in maintaining the factory’s ‘Table’ which amounted per month to nearly 300 Spanish dollars (the famous piece of eight).  This was a considerable sum to feed the factory’s 22 residents, including the Eurasian ‘topas’ and ‘peon’ guards.  Access to the table was also open to visiting English merchants and ships’ officers when they were present in the port, making it a space for social interactions in addition to eating and drinking.

The records kept by the Mocha factors tell us a great deal about what the table would have been laden with.  For the most part it seems like fairly standard fare for an early modern English kitchen: greens, salt, beef, onions, limes, beef, mutton and fresh fish appear regularly, as do fowls, chickens, pigeons and eggs.  To this menu was added some local flavours, with limes, ‘spice’ and ‘temper’.  This latter is particularly interesting, as a temper, Tadka or Tarka, is a distinctive feature of South Asian cuisine, where spices are mixed with oil or ghee then strained, leaving a flavoured medium.  So, while some of the factory’s inhabitants may have been happy to stick to familiar flavours, others were regularly sampling local ones.  Additionally, the factory regularly received shipments of Persian wine, along with beer produced on the Cape.  Wine was so important to the factory that the letter received from Mocha protests that it had been two years since they had received any from the Company.  Instead, they had been forced to buy their own, rather than face doing without it.

The contents and habits around the Company’s table can tell historians a lot about the merchants’ attitudes to sociability.  The table was a forum for maintaining relationships with the factory’s staff, while also inviting travellers and visitors to make new connections.  Company pay may have been poor, but service in Mocha, as in other factories, came with significant benefits.  Studying the details of conditions in the factories beyond India can provide a great deal of texture and depth to our understanding of the lived experience of Company service, while giving an impression of the daily routines of the merchants themselves.  The factory was a place of commerce, but also a domestic space.

Peter Good
Lecturer in Early Modern Europe and the Islamic World, University of Kent

Further reading:
British Library IOR/G/17/1-2 Egypt and Red Sea Factory Records

This blog post is  part of a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs).  On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections.  Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.

 

23 June 2022

Dr Sarah Hosmon and the Missionary Hospital in Sharjah

Kentucky born Sarah Hosmon devoted nearly her entire adult life to missionary and medical work in Arabia.  In 1909 Dr Hosmon arrived in Bahrain, and in 1913, under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Church of America’s Arabian Mission, she opened a clinic for women and children in Muscat.  For the next 28 years she treated, medicated and evangelized under often arduous conditions, unperturbed by having a wooden leg as the result of a childhood accident.

Photograph of Dr Sarah HosmonSarah Longworth Hosmon (1883-1964) who graduated from the University of Illinois College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1909. Source of image: How superpower rivalry and fears of a pandemic brought the first doctor to the UAE in 1939 | The National (thenationalnews.com)

Dr Hosmon was accepted by the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions in 1939, and by 1941 she had set up a clinic at the Omani seaport of Saham. The clinic was extremely isolated, with medical supplies often having to be dropped by air plane.

In January 1944 Hosmon approached the British authorities , who virtually controlled the region, for permission to set up a medical practice in Kalba, then an independent emirate on the Gulf of Oman coast.

Extract from letter of Sarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944  to Captain Patrick  Tandy stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in KalbaSarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944 from Kalba to Captain Patrick Tandy, Political Officer for the Trucial Coast, stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in Kalba and to move there after April, subject to Tandy’s permission: IOR/R/15/2/853, f 88r.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎88r] (175/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)


The British inquired into Hosman’s credentials and received a glowing testimonial from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital, Bahrain.

Testimonial for Sarah Hosmon from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital  Bahrain.Letter from Dr Paul W. Harrison (1883-1962) to Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent in Bahrain, January 1944, describing Hosmon’s medical abilities, character, religious opinions and relationship with Arab rulers she had worked under.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎90r] (179/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

Following confirmation that the Regent of Kalba [Shaikh Khālid Bin Aḥmad al-Qāsimi] was happy for Hosmon to move her practice there, the British authorities decided they had no objection once the War had ended and if Hosmon guaranteed that her co-workers would ‘not become destitute and a charge upon the Government of India’s revenues’.

Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham to Major Patrick Tandy 26 March 1944Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent Bahrain, to Major Patrick Tandy, Political Officer, Trucial Coast, 26 March 1944.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎96r] (191/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

In fact Hosmon remained in Saham for another six years.  The British authorities did not like the ‘nebulous’ nature of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions and were reluctant to have too many American missionaries in the Gulf, whose backgrounds they could not check and whose movements they could not control.  Privately, they disliked Hosmon’s strong-headedness and considered she had used ‘underhand’ methods to obtain travel permits for herself and an American nurse.

Memorandum  dated 16 December 1945  by Geoffrey Prior  Political Resident in the Persian Gulf  setting forth British hostility towards HosmonMemorandum, dated 16 December 1945, by Geoffrey Prior, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, setting forth British hostility towards Hosmon - 'File 6/1 Foreign Interests: American Mission at Muscat' [‎5r] (9/52) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

British obstructionism was not the sole cause of delay.  The terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba appear to have been unacceptable to Hosmon, and she wanted to be able to share freely the Gospel with her patients.

Intelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain  February 1945  indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to HosmonIntelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain, February 1945, indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to Hosmon - Ext 1488/44 'Dr Hosmon: American Medical Missionary' [‎5r] (9/28) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

Hosmon finally made the move in 1951, by which time Kalba had been reincorporated as an enclave of the Sheikhdom of Sharjah.  The clinic opened in 1952 and became known as the Dr Sarah Hosmon Hospital (closing in 1994).  The hospital was the only one in Sharjah, primarily for women and children but later also expanded to men, and its services were in heavy demand and frequently over-stretched.  Evangelism was an integral feature of treatment, with Bible readings for patients.

Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast  1935.Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast, 1935

Journalist John Sack described an encounter with Hosmon in the late 1950s, perhaps revealing the physical toll her work had taken: ‘I was met by Dr Sarah L Hosmon, the director, a slight woman of seventy or eighty whose face is taut, severe, and American Gothic, and who, after inviting me in for tea in her living room, said that she’s been on the Arabian peninsula since 1911, in Sharja since 1952….’.

Hosmon worked tirelessly in Sharjah until a few years before her death in 1964, bringing medical relief, saving lives, and contributing to the introduction of new medicines and empirical techniques to Arabia.  Towards the end, her time was spent advising nursing staff and midwives and preaching the Word of God to patients.

Amanda Engineer
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further Reading:
Saving Sinners, even Moslems: the Arabian mission 1889-1973 and its intellectual roots by Jerzy Zdanowski (2018)
Global View of Christian Missions from Pentecost to the present by J Herbert Kane (1971)
The Sultanate of Oman: A Twentieth Century History by Miriam Joyce (1995)
The Arabian Peninsula by Richard H Sanger (1954)
One Way The Only Way, A Christian Library website, blogpost on Sarah Longworth Hosmon by Tyson Paul
‘Missionary-Statesmen of the Bible Presbyterian Church’ by Keith Coleman, Western Reformed Seminary Journal 11/1 (Feb 2004) 15-19
Report from PRACTICALLY NOWHERE by John Sack (1959)