Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

17 April 2024

Case of Gholam Hosain

In November 1879, the India Office received a communication from the Foreign Office relating to a gentleman named Gholam Hosain, a native of the Indian city of Lahore, who was stranded in Italy and needed help to return home.  The India Office often received requests for help from individuals who found themselves in distressed circumstances.  Usually the India Office declined to help, but this was not the case with Gholam Hosain.

First page of India Office file on Gholam HosainCase of Gholam Hosain, a native of Lahore, stranded at Venice, Italy, 1879, IOR/L/PJ/2/59, File 7/582.

Gholam Hosain’s case was laid out in a letter of 24 October 1879 to the Foreign Office in London from the Consul at Florence, D E Colnaghi.  Gholam Hosain was about 25 years old and had arrived at Venice from Alexandria on board the P&O steam ship Pera on 20 October 1879.  He had a passport issued to him by the British Consul, Charles Alfred Cookson at Alexandria, a copy being enclosed in Colnaghi’s letter.  He stated that he had been robbed of his clothes and £40 on arrival at Venice.  However he had made no complaint at the time as he did not speak Italian and was afraid that his story would not be believed.  He had intended to visit England to see Mr Brandreth, one of the Commissioners in the Punjab. Brandreth was on leave and staying in London.  Gholam Hosain had been in his service for several years.

Copy of passport issued to Gholam HosainCopy of passport issued to Gholam Hosain by the British Consul, Charles Alfred Cookson at Alexandria, , IOR/L/PJ/2/59, File 7/582


Enquiries were made to the P&O Office, and Captain Hyde of the Pera stated that there had been a deck passenger answering to Gholam Hosain’s description on the ship, but he had not been able to discover if there were grounds for complaint as there had been no report to the captain or any other person on board regarding a robbery.  Gholam Hosain did not appear to have any baggage, just the clothes he wore and a blanket.  Hyde was inclined to think from his appearance that he was a loafer.  A request was made to the P&O Agent to grant Gholam Hosain a free return deck passage to India, but the reply was that they only carried 1st and 2nd class passengers to India.  The Vice-Consul at Venice, Mr de Zuccats, granted Gholam Hosain a sailor’s allowance of 2 lira 50 centimes per diem to enable him to procure the actual necessaries of life pending further enquiries being made.

On 31 October 1879, Colnaghi informed the Foreign Office that he had heard from Mr Brandreth.  He stated that Gholam Hosain was a 'respectable Munshi or Professor of Persian and Arabic, late Tutor to the Raja of Lambragram', and although he was mistaken in his endeavour to reach England, his case was deserving of consideration.  A minute paper in the India Office file gives the additional information that Gholam Hosain had been travelling to see Mr Brandreth in the hope that he might be restored to an office from which he had been dismissed by one of Mr Brandreth’s subordinate officers.

Happily, the India Office agreed to fund a passage for Gholam Hosain to Bombay, and the P&O Company agreed to take him at the cost of £17.  The passage was duly arranged, and the Foreign Office reported that he had shipped for Bombay on the P&O steam ship Zanzibar which had sailed from Venice on 28 November 1879.  In addition, the cost of his stay in Italy came to 101 lira, which the Foreign Office reclaimed from India Office funds.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Case of Gholam Hosain, a native of Lahore, stranded at Venice, Italy, 1879, shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/2/59, File 7/582.
The service history of Arthur Brandreth, Commissioner at Lahore, can be traced in the India Office List.

 

11 April 2024

A settlement in the Pacific Ocean for growing flax

On 21 June 1785 Sir George Young and John Call submitted a memorial to the Court of Directors of the East India Company on behalf of themselves and several others.

The memorial related to their plans to establish a settlement on one of the smaller islands in the Pacific Ocean for the cultivation of the flax plant and its manufacture into cordage, as well as the supply of masts for shipping. Their preferred island for this settlement was Norfolk Island situated in the southern Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand.

Watercolour of  the penal settlement at Norfolk Island circa 1839Settlement at Norfolk Island, c.1839, watercolour by Thomas Seller - image courtesy of  National Library of Australia 

Part of the reasoning behind this proposal was the growing difficulty in acquiring flax.  At that time most of the hemp and flax used by the Royal Navy for their cordage came from Russia, whose ruler Catherine II had begun restricting its sale.  It was already known that New Zealand flax grew on Norfolk Island, making the island a perfect candidate for such a proposal.

First page of the memorial of  Sir George Young and John Call on behalf of themselves and others to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, 21 January 1785

Letter 213: 'The Memorial of  Sir George Young Knight, and John Call Esq. in behalf of themselves and others' to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, 21 January 1785. IOR/E/1/76, ff. 518-519

There was however a wider political context to the proposal, which related to prison overcrowding and penal transportation in Britain.  The American Revolutionary War of 1775 had meant that penal transportation to the thirteen American colonies had to be stopped, which had in turn led to problems of overcrowding in British prisons.

John Call had put forward a plan for New South Wales in Australia to be used as a penal colony, including the use of Norfolk Island as an auxiliary settlement, and in December 1785 the Government adopted these plans.  The reasoning behind the inclusion of Norfolk Island as part of these plans was that the growing of flax, its manufacture into cordage, and the production of shipping masts all required manpower.  Having convicts sent to the island would provide a steady stream of labour for this work to be undertaken.

Norfolk Island was settled as a penal colony on 6 March 1788 and, except for an 11-year gap from 15 February 1814 to 6 June 1825, served as a penal colony until 5 May 1855.

The island’s usefulness as a place to supply cordage and masts to shipping was shorter-lived as its location was not on any main shipping routes and vessels had to go out of their way to reach it.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/76, ff. 518-519 Letter 213

 

09 April 2024

Re-Evaluating the Status of Prints at the British Library

Birkbeck, University of London, and the British Library are pleased to announce the availability of a fully funded Collaborative Doctoral Studentship from 1 October 2024 under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.

The focus of this project is on identifying and researching the provenance, changing status and visibility of about 500 books of prints.  These were listed in an 1812 finding list written by then British Museum Keeper of Prints, William Alexander.  The list was later marked up by his successor, J. T. Smith, when about 90% of the books were returned to the Library, where they remain.  The recent discovery and sharing of this document has led to a rethinking of the history of the collection, overturning the previous broad assumption that all the prints considered of 'artistic' merit were transferred permanently to the new British Museum Print Room in 1808.

Amphitheatre in the Boboli gardens seen from the Pitti PalaceCosmo III. [de Medici], Grand Duke of Tuscany. Il mondo festeggiante, balletto a cauallo, fatto ... per le reali nozze de' Serenissimi Principi Cosimo terzo di Toscana, e Margherita Luisa d'Orleans. [By Alessandro Carducci. The songs by Giovanni Andrea Moniglia. With Engravings by Stefano della Bella.] Firenze, 1661. British Museum 1877,0811.615

The student will investigate the implications of these works' categorisation, cataloguing and placing at the Museum, the Library and beyond.  While based around a quantitative methodology which will involve a deep dive into the collection, the project will explore larger questions around the role of visual materials in collecting history and scholarship, the emergence of expertise, disciplinary norms and museological frameworks in the nineteenth century, and the relative status of visual and textual knowledge.

This project will be jointly supervised by Kate Retford at Birkbeck (Professor of History of Art, School of Historical Studies) and Felicity Myrone at the British Library (Lead Curator, Western Prints and Drawings).  The student will spend time with both Birkbeck and the British Library and will become part of the wider cohort of AHRC CDP funded PhD students across the UK.

Birkbeck and the British Library are keen to encourage a wide range of potential students to apply for this studentship and are committed to welcoming students from different backgrounds.  We particularly welcome applications from Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, as currently underrepresented at this level in this area.  Applicants should normally have a master's degree, but evidence of equivalent relevant professional experience can also be taken into consideration.

Further information and how to apply (by 5pm on Monday 29 April 2024)