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04 March 2021

The Garden of Aden: The Experimental Vegetable Garden at Aden

Ill-health plagued the East India Company Army in the 19th century.  Army rations consisted of bread and meat, supplemented by other items which the soldiers bought for themselves.  Despite the work of Dr James Lind on scurvy a century before, malnutrition was common in the army.  At Aden, this diet was even more unsuitable owing  to a lack of fresh water, which was needed to render the salt meat provided palatable.

Army review on Woolwich Common 1841 showing soldiers, horses and cannons
Army review on Woolwich Common by the Queen, 1841 in The Records of the Woolwich District Volume II by William Vincent, (Woolwich: J. R. Jackson, [1888-90])

It was in these conditions that the Executive Engineer at Aden, Lieutenant John Adee Curtis, created an experimental vegetable garden in 1841.  Curtis’s aim for his garden was to supply the hospital and the troops stationed at Aden.  He calculated that, when it was fully productive, it would even be able to supply a small surplus which could be distributed to the prisoners who would tend the garden, helping to prevent scurvy in jails.  This would also cut down on labour costs, although Curtis claimed that ‘the garden has been almost entirely watered by the wastage which occurs in drawing water for the public works from the well situated at one angle of the enclosure’, reducing the work involved.

Water tanks at AdenWater tanks at Aden, mid 1870s. Photographer unknown, British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, T.11308/3 

The troops did not derive any benefit from its produce in the first year, as most of the vegetables were cut down and buried in the soil to rot, improving it for the following year.  However, between October 1841 and January 1842 the roads were closed and the hospitals lacked supplies.  During that time, the garden supplied them with 1943½ lbs of vegetables. 
In his letter asking for an extension of the scheme and the garden, which was 100 square feet, Curtis is enthusiastic about the future.  He does not mention what types of vegetables were grown, but he is confident that ‘with good seeds all Indian vegetables may be produced in Aden throughout the year’, and that in a few years, the soil may be improved enough to grow European vegetables.  Not all of his seeds germinated, but he attributes this to faulty seed, as he claims that all the plants which germinated produced vegetables.

The British also moved away from a reliance on salt and tinned meat at Aden, and negotiated for fresh meat.  This not just provided a healthier diet for those stationed at Aden, but also improved relations between the East India Company and the local citizens.

No more is heard of the experimental vegetable garden after 1842, but the military board’s continued funding of the garden in 1842 and the creation of another similar garden at Karachi a year or so later suggests that the project was continued for at least a short time.

Toy British soldiers dressed in red uniforms standing in a line
Toy British soldiers from Funny Books for Boys and Girls. Struwelpeter. Good-for-nothing Boys and Girls. Troublesome Children. King Nutcracker and Poor Reinhold (London: David Bogue, [1856]). Images Online

Anne Courtney
Gulf History Cataloguer

Further Reading:
The experimental vegetable garden at Aden appears in IOR/F/4/1930/82915 and IOR/F/4/1998/88694.

 

02 March 2021

Astley’s Amphitheatre presents ‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’

Tucked into an Indian diary of Charlotte, Lady Canning was an unexpected find - a playbill advertising the entertainments offered at Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre during Christmas week 1857.  If you had sixpence to spare, you could find yourself in the Upper Gallery, while for a guinea you could be in the comfort of one of the boxes.  On offer was a ‘National Military Spectacle’ called ‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’.  A series of scenes in three acts, it was described as being ‘…founded upon the present events in India’.  The play covered the outbreak of the Indian Uprising or ‘Indian Mutiny’, the relief of the siege of Cawnpore (Kanpur) and its violent aftermath, and finally the assault on Delhi and its capture by British troops.  These events played out from May to September 1857, Delhi being retaken by the British on 20 September.  The play opened in London on 25 November 1857, scarcely two months later.  Portraying current events, it served as both popular entertainment and dramatized news production.

Playbill for Storming and Capture of Delhi
Playbill for Astley’s Amphitheatre, December 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Situated on Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, Astley’s opened in the 1770s.  It burned down and was rebuilt three times – in 1794, 1803 and again in 1841.  The space was enormous with a pit, gallery and viewing boxes, and a large circular arena in addition to a stage.  It was rather like a cross between a circus and a theatre. The  Illustrated London News in 1843 described the newly rebuilt Astley’s as an octagonal structure, richly decorated with columns, hangings, chandeliers, and a stage measuring 75 x 101 feet.  No expense had been spared on its rebuilding.  Circus proprietor William Cooke leased Astley’s from 1853 to 1860 and revived its popularity; the venue became famous for equestrian displays, including adaptations of Macbeth and Richard III performed on horseback.

Astley's Amphitheatre

Astley’s Amphitheatre from R. Ackermann, The Microcosm of London (London, 1808-1811) Images Online

‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’ was written by the dramatist Charles A. Somerset, about whom very little is known.  In the 1861 census he is 66, unmarried, and an ‘Author Dramatic’, originally from Bath.  He is one of several lodgers at 2 Pitt Street, Southwark.  This is almost certainly the same Charles Somerset living in Devonshire Street, Lambeth in 1841, who is described as a ‘Writer’.  He had been writing for the stage since the 1820s; a check of the British Library catalogue reveals a wide repertoire from historical drama (Bonaparte in Egypt), comic operetta (Good Night Monsieur Pantalon), farce (The electric telegraph, or, the fast man in a fix) to pantomime (King Blusterbubble, and the demon ogre).

The spectacle on show during the winter of 1857-58 had all the hallmarks of an Astley’s production.  There were live animals, including troupes of trained horses as well as real Indian buffalo, zebra and elephants.  According to the reviews, ‘The compiler of the drama…has not encumbered the action with a complex plot or sentimental story but given a rapid succession of stirring scenes…’.   These included daring chases on horseback, stage combat including firing musket rounds, and comic interludes such as British troopers donning women’s bonnets to confuse the enemy.  There was even a romantic sub-plot involving Miss Mathilda, a General’s daughter, and Frank Phos Fix, an artist and volunteer Hussar. 

In addition to individual items like the ‘Storming of Delhi’ playbill, the British Library holds a significant collection of approximately 234,000 playbills dating from the 1730s to the 1950s. Some have been digitised, and many are being made available via the Into the Spotlight project.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F699/2/2/2: Indian Journals of Charlotte Canning.  The Astley’s playbill has been housed in a fascicule at Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6.
Add MS 52969 K 'The storming and capture of Dehli', grand military spectacle in three acts. Licence sent 24 November 1857 for performance at Astley's Royal Amphitheatre 23 November 1857.  Cover signed William Cook, lessee and manager, and W. West, stage manager.  Songs included in MS. LCO Day Book Add. 53073 records the stipulation that all oaths be omitted as well as the names of General Wheeler and his daughter ff. 29. (Part of THE LORD CHAMBERLAIN'S PLAYS AND DAY-BOOKS; 1851-1899, 1824-1903. Add MS 52929-53708: [1851-1899]).
The play was reviewed in The Morning Advertiser on 26 November 1857.  It was also advertised as still being on at Astley’s in The Globe, 26 January 1858.
Charles A. Somerset’s plays can be found amongst the Pettingell manuscripts at the University of Kent, while Somerset’s letters to TP Cooke are held by the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance.

 

25 February 2021

Sources for Dr B R Ambedkar

The India Office Records and Private Papers contains much fascinating material relating to one of the most inspiring figures in India’s struggle for independence from British rule, Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.  Despite the obstacles put in his way, Dr Ambedkar rose to become one of the leaders in the Indian Independence movement and championed the poorest and most disadvantaged in Indian society.

Popular colour print depicting Dr Ambedkar, shown wearing glasses and in a European suit and tie.Popular colour print depicting Dr Ambedkar © The Trustees of the British Museum 

Dr Ambedkar was born on the 14th April 1891 at Mhow, India, into a Dalit Mahar family.  During his childhood he regularly experienced discrimination from higher caste members of his school and community.  A scholarship awarded by the Gaekwad of Baroda enabled him to continue his education, and he studied economics and law in New York and London, following which he set up a legal practice in Bombay.

He quickly became a leading campaigner for the rights of Dalits, starting protest groups, founding newspapers and journals to raise awareness of their plight, and entering the political arena to push for reforms.  He served in the first government following independence as Minister for Law, and helped shape India’s future through his contributions to the writing of India’s Constitution.

Dr Ambedkar has inspired people around the world fighting discrimination and injustice, and the British Library’s collections illustrate the many stages of his life.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1946, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1272.

Journey to England from the USA of British subject Bhimrao, alias Brimvran Ambedkar, 1916, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1443, File 2349.

Correspondence regarding a proposed scheme by Dr B R Ambedkar to start a Social Centre for Depressed Classes in Bombay, 1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/4410.

Publication in English entitled Mr Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables by Dr B R Ambedkar (Bombay, 1943), shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/7068.

Cabinet Mission; Depressed Classes, Apr-Dec 1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/10/50. This file contains a note marked ‘Secret’ of a meeting between the Cabinet Delegation, the Viceroy and Dr Ambedkar on the 5th April 1946. It also has a letter from Dr Ambedkar to the Viceroy, Lord Wavell regarding the Cabinet Mission, and the Viceroy’s reply.

Duplicate passport for Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1932, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/11/1/585.

File on political developments, including Ambedkar on scheduled castes, 1943-1947, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/102C.

File on the Poona Pact including correspondence with Dr Ambedkar regarding Depressed Classes, 1931-1933, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/77.

File on the Poona Pact, including Ambedkar on modification of Depressed Classes seats, 1933-1935, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/89A.

Correspondence between the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy, 1944-1946, shelfmarks IOR/L/PO/10/21, IOR/L/PO/10/22 and IOR/L/PO/10/23.

Submissions to the Indian Statutory Commission, 1928-1929, shelfmarks IOR/Q/13/1/6, item 3; IOR/Q/13/1/23, item 10; and IOR/Q/13/4/23.

Submissions to the Round Table Conference, 1930-1931, shelfmarks IOR/Q/RTC/2, IOR/Q/RTC/24 and IOR/Q/RTC/25.

Submissions to the Indian Franchise Committee, 1932, shelfmarks IOR/Q/IFC/41, IOR/Q/IFC/51, IOR/Q/IFC/74 and IOR/Q/IFC/80.

Correspondence with Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar and Ramsay MacDonald, 1932, shelfmark Mss Eur E240/16 (from the papers of Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for India 1931-35).

Ambedkar is discussed in the correspondence between Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy Lord Willingdon, 1932-1933, shelfmarks Mss Eur E240/2, Mss Eur E240/3 and Mss Eur E240/6.

Papers relating to the resignation of Dr Ambedkar as Minister for Law, 1951, shelfmark Mss Eur F158/1015 (from the papers of the India, Pakistan and Burma Association). It also contains two bulletins from the Reuters news agency reporting the death of Dr Ambedkar on the 6th December 1956.

Correspondence, papers and pamphlets concerning Indian constitutional reforms, particularly the Communal Award and the Poona Pact, 1933-1934, shelfmark Mss Eur D609/22 (from the papers of 2nd Marquess of Zetland as Governor of Bengal 1917-22, and Secretary of State for India 1935-40).

Photographs of Dr Ambedkar, 1930-1946, shelfmarks Mss Eur F138/16(1), Photo 81(13), Photo 1117/1(44) and Photo 134/1(37).

Castes in India, by Bhimrao R Ambedkar, (Bombay, 1917), shelfmark 10005.g.19. (Re-printed from the “Indian Antiquary”, Vol. XLVI, Part DLXXXII, May 1917).

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