Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

01 April 2020

The 1901 census

The 1901 UK census was taken on 1 April for people living at midnight on Sunday 31 March.  The fact that it fell on April Fools' Day did not escape the newspapers who published reminders that there were penalties for people who played tricks.  Any person wilfully giving false information was liable to a fine not exceeding £5.

1901 census - cartoon of  an enumerator with a census schedule chasing a man with a gunEvening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

The government appointed 50,000 enumerators, male and female.  Each received a fee of one guinea, with an extra payment of 3s 6d for every 100 people enumerated above the first 400.  The average responsibility of an enumerator was 300 families or 1500 people.

The enumerators left a schedule at every house or tenement in their district during the week ending 30 March 1901.  They took a note of the name of every person who received a schedule and of all uninhabited buildings.  Householders were assured that ‘strict care will be taken that the returns are not used for the gratification of curiosity’.

Each head of household had to fill in ten columns of information.
(1) The names of all occupants, listed in a set order where applicable – head, wife, children, other relatives, visitors, boarders, servants.
(2) Relationship to the head of household.
(3) Whether married, single or widowed.
(4) Sex.
(5) Age last birthday – inaccuaracies for domestic servants were sometimes caused by their reluctance to admit their real age for fear of dismissal.
(6) Occupation – there were elaborate instructions aimed at securing precise definitions. For example, nurses had to be categorized into hospital, sick, monthly, or domestic.
(7) Employed, employee, or working on own account.
(8) Working at home or not.
(9) Place of birth.
(10) ‘Deaf, dumb, imbecile or feeble-minded, blind or lunatic’.

On 1 April, the enumerators began the long task of collecting all the schedules and giving advice on completion where necessary.  Some reported being sworn at or threatened with violence.  One enumerator in Batley Yorkshire wrote to the local newspaper about the poor district of Daw Green.  He reported his concerns after visiting a dwelling consisting of two rooms, a kitchen with a bedroom above.  There were 14 people living there from two or three families, aged between two months and 40 years.

Poem The Census Man

Poem 'The Census Man' from Evening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

The enumerators had to copy all the details from the schedules into an enumeration book by 8 April and deliver the schedules to the local registrar.  Between 8 and 22 April the registrar checked the enumerators’ work and passed the books to the superintendent registrar who forwarded them to the Census Office in Miilbank London by 27 April.  There, 200 clerks classified the entries and made preliminary returns after a couple of months before the issue of the final volume of statistics about two years later.

1901 census advert for Heggie the tailor in Dundee

Advert for Heggie the tailor in Evening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

Dundee tailor Heggie took the opportunity of the census to take out a advert in the local Evening Post.  He advised all men in the town who were wearing the same suit purchased from him around the time of the last census to visit his premises to be measured for a new one: ‘That the wearers of those Garments have got their money’s worth can’t be disputed’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Leominster News and North West Herefordshire & Radnorshire Advertiser 18 January 1901; Oxfordshire Weekly News 27 March 1901; Evening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901; Batley Reporter and Guardian 4 April 1901. The British Newspaper Archive is also available through findmypast.


30 March 2020

The National Indian Association and its handbook for students

The National Indian Association was founded in Bristol in 1871 by Mary Carpenter.  Local branches were established in both England and India. Its aims were to extend knowledge of India and its people in England; to co-operate with efforts for advancing education and social reform in India; and to promote friendly relations between English and Indian people. 

The Association published a monthly magazine; organised lectures; made educational grants; encouraged the employment of medical women in India; and gave information and advice to Indians in England.  The Committee of the Association also assisted Indian parents wanting to give their sons ‘the benefit of an English Education’ by offering superintendence of students, with expenses arranged individually for each case.  In all matters, ‘the principle of non-interference in religion is strictly maintained’.

Cover of Handbook for Indian StudentsNational Indian Association, A handbook of information for Indian students (10th edition: London, 1904)

The Association published A handbook of information for Indian students relating to University and Professional Studies &c in the United Kingdom which ran to several editions.   It provided details of legal study; examinations connected with government service; universities and colleges; medical study; and technical training and manufactures. 

The 10th edition was published in 1904.  It offered general advice to those young men coming to England to study.  By practising ‘great economy’, a student could live in London in £120 to £150 a year.  Living expenses were cheaper in other cities.  Different kinds of accommodation were explained: rented rooms; boarding houses where meals were provided; or living with a family which had the benefit of gaining ‘acquaintance with English life and habits’.

As well as living expenses, the students had to pay educational or professional tuition fees and spend considerable amounts on books.  Candidates for the Indian Civil Service were likely to need £30 or £40 for books.

Indian students were warned that they would not be able to maintain themselves to any degree by teaching languages or other subjects.  After paying for the voyage, they were advised to bring at least another £20 or £30 from India for buying clothing and other essential items on arrival in England.  The Association said that it was inadvisable to buy articles of dress in India for use in England.

It wasn’t thought necessary for students to be met on landing. The shipping agents would look after baggage, and students coming all the way by sea could take a train from the Albert Docks to Fenchurch Street Station and then a cab to their destination.  It was equally easy to arrive at Charing Cross Station from Brindisi.  However it was important to inform a friend in London by letter or telegram of the expected date of arrival.

A resolution of the Government of India was quoted which stated that Indian students travelling to England should apply for a Certificate of Identity signed by the head of school or college, and counter-signed by a District Officer, Commissioner of Police, or Political Officer.  The certificate proved that the holder was a British subject and could be used to obtain a passport for travel to foreign countries.  It also allowed for speedier processing of appeals for assistance from students unable to complete their course ‘owing to embarrassed circumstances’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
National Indian Association, A handbook of information for Indian students relating to University and Professional Studies &c in the United Kingdom (10th edition: London, 1904) British Library 8366.bb.60.

27 March 2020

Witch Trials in British India

Papers at the British Library shed light on the belief in witchcraft in 19th-century India.  The India Office Records contain a wealth of correspondence and reports about the processes for discovering witches and the brutal techniques used to determine guilt or innocence.  The proceedings of criminal trials offer a unique insight into attempts by the British administrators to stamp out these practices.

File cover from a witchcraft murderIOR/F/4/830/21967 A Kol Sirdar in Sambalpur murders an entire family because of their alleged witchcraft, Feb 1822-Sep 1823

Commonly, villagers sought advice from a local witch hunter, or Bhopa, who would identify the witch. The favoured punishment was witch swinging. One report offered the following description:
‘Without trial or being heard in defence, the supposed witch is seized, her eyes stuffed with red chillies and bandaged and ropes are tied firmly round her legs and waist.  She is then taken to a tree and swung violently, with her head downwards …till she confesses to a falsehood or dies under the barbarous infliction’.

In 1842, a woman in Palachpoor was murdered in the jungle close to her village by her stepson. When cross examined, he claimed she had been practising witchcraft and had ‘eaten two buffaloes of mine and 10 persons of the village, including my brother’s wife and sister’s daughter’.  The victim’s daughter admitted her mother had been a witch, announcing ‘she used to bite people and they died in consequence’.  It emerged the unfortunate woman had reported her stepson’s involvement in a robbery.  In his fury, he forced her into the jungle and beat her to death.  Despite this knowledge, the witchcraft accusation meant a short prison sentence and hard labour was agreed upon as punishment.

In the village of Chapra in 1849, a woman called Eullal was accused of witchcraft.  It was claimed her eye had fallen upon a villager who contracted an illness and died eleven days later.  A gathering of village officials concluded Eullal was guilty.  Once they had agreed to distribute her possessions and properties amongst themselves, Eullal was seized and charged.   She had chili paste rubbed into her eyes and bandages applied to prevent her evil glare afflicting further victims.  Eullal survived this ordeal and was tied to a tree at 6pm.  By 9pm she was dead.   It was argued a slave killed Eullal under the instruction of the Thakore.  A punishment of 25 Rupees was suggested by the Raja.

Report of the murder of KunkooIOR/L/PS/6/567, Coll 240 Papers regarding a case of 'witch-swinging' and murder which took place at the village of Rohimala, Udaipur State

In 1868, a Bhopa accused an elderly lady, Kunkoo, of making a soldier’s wife sick.  Villagers seized Kunkoo, forced her hands into boiling oil and swung her for days.  The soldier’s wife died and the old lady was released, only to be murdered shortly afterwards.  During questioning the soldier denied killing Kunkoo, exclaiming ‘Nugga told me that she had eaten his uncle and his mother and a cow, so he killed her’.

These and other cases were reported by British authorities.  Captain John Brooke wrote in 1856: ‘I would remark that there is little hope of the custom ceasing till it becomes dangerous to follow the profession of Bhopa’.  The reports indicate the government was keen to stamp out the practice, but were wary of interfering with indigenous beliefs and traditions.  Local leaders admitted that in some areas 40-50 women a year could be punished as witches. The response was to target Bhopas.  By convicting ‘professed sorcerers’ and fining community leaders, the authorities hoped to quell the torture and murders.

Craig Campbell
Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/6/567, Coll 240 Papers regarding a case of 'witch-swinging' and murder which took place at the village of Rohimala, in Panurwa District, Udaipur State, on or about 9 August 1868
IOR/R/2/700/39 File Q/6 6 Witch craft cases from 1850
IOR/F/4/2016/90185 Mahee Caunta [Mahi Kantha]: Political Agent's Court of Criminal Justice, case No 1 of 1842, trial of Narajee Ruggajee charged with putting his stepmother to death on account of her being accused of witchcraft, Sep 1841-Jun 1843
IOR/F/4/830/21967 A Kol Sirdar in Sambalpur murders an entire family because of their alleged witchcraft, Feb 1822-Sep 1823