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17 July 2024

Theft of a safe and money at Agra

The India Office, like all government departments, received a large number of enquiries every year from members of the public. Occasionally these enquiries could be a little out of the ordinary. This was the case on 2 January 1862, when the India Office received a letter asking for information relating to a safe allegedly stolen from the Cantonment in Agra.

Alice Buckley letter 16th December 1861

The letter was from a woman named Alice Buckley of Harisson's Alley Way, off Hudson Avenue, Brooklyn, USA, dated 16 December 1861. She asked about a safe containing a large sum of money, stolen from Agra in India. She believed it was situated 9 or 10 hundred miles from Calcutta and thought that there was a large reward offered for its recovery. She said it had been stolen before the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny (more commonly referred to now as the 1857 Uprising). She claimed that she could give the India Office all the information required for the recovery of the safe.

Alice's letter was forwarded to India, and on 30 April 1862 Sir George Couper, Secretary to the Government of the North Western Provinces, replied. Sir George wrote that enquiries had been instituted through the Commissioner of Agra. He had advised that in consequence of the destruction during the Mutiny of the records of the records of the Magisterial Officers and police stations, and in the absence of former police officers who were no longer in the service, it was impossible to discover any traces of the theft. The current Magistrate of Agra District reported that no information on the subject had reached him or the city police. Sir George recommended asking Alice for more information and offering her a reward if it led to the recovery of the safe.

Extract from a letter from NWP Government 30th April 1862

The India Office wrote to Alice on 3 July 1862, and she replied in a letter dated 17 July giving more information on this tantalising affair. She stated that the safe was taken from the Cantonment office in Agra by a clerk named Spelman and two other men. They hid the safe, but a short time later were ordered to Lucknow as they belonged to the First Fusiliers. Spelman died on the march, and another of the men was wounded and sent home but died on the passage back to England. The remaining man ended up in America where he later died. Whilst dying he Alice the story and even gave her a map showing the spot where they hid the safe. She described it as green with a black stripe round each end, about 2 feet square. She said that Spelman told the two men that he saw £30,000 in golds 'mores' (mohur) being put in the safe plus a bag, although he didn't know what was in the bag. The hid the safe in Agra not far from the Artillery Lines. Alice said she was the widow of John Buckley, a pensioner who was discharged from the 73rd Regiment of Foot on 11 October 1827 in consequence of a wounded right hand.

Disappointingly, Herman Merivale of the India Office wrote back to Alice on 15 December 1863 that a strict investigation had been made into all the circumstances stated by her, but no information whatever could be obtained which tended to the recovery of the safe or throw any light on the transaction to which she had referred.

Final reply from the India Office  page 1  15th December 1863

Final reply from the India Office  page 2  15th December 1863

So, was it just a tall tale told to Alice by a dying man, or is there a hidden safe still waiting to be discovered?

John O'Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Iron safe containing money alleged to have been stolen from the Cantonment Office at Agra before the Mutiny broke out, 1861-1863, shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/2/40, File 7/24.

The National Archives hold the discharge papers for a John Buckley, born 1805 in Carragh, Kildare, who was discharged from the 73rd Regiment of Foot on 26 September 1827 due to a gunshot wound to the right hand, reference WO 97/847/130. This may have been Alice's husband.

10 July 2024

The Fund For Building a Protestant Church in Alexandria

On 12 April 1842, Captain John Lyons, Agent to the East India Company in Egypt, based at Alexandria, forwarded his quarterly accounts to the Secretary at East India House, London. He confirmed payment from Company funds of 10,000 Egyptian piastres - equating to £100 Sterling - in aid of a fund to build an Anglican Protestant church at Alexandria.

Quarterly accounts of Captain John Lyons confirming payment from Company funds of £100 in aid of a fund to build an Anglican Protestant church at AlexandriaQuarterly accounts of Captain John Lyons confirming payment from Company funds of £100 in aid of a fund to build an Anglican Protestant church at Alexandria -IOR/G/17/13, f 2 Factory Records: Egypt and the Red Sea, 1842-1844.

Receipt confirming payment from Company funds in aid of a fund to build an Anglican Protestant church at Alexandria.Receipt confirming payment from Company funds in aid of a fund to build an Anglican Protestant church at Alexandria - IOR/G/17/13, f11: Factory Records: Egypt and the Red Sea, 1842-1844.

Lyons’ primary role at Alexandria was to oversee the mail service between England and India, and to manage the Company’s agents who were located at key points along the mail and passenger transit route through Egypt from Alexandria to Suez.  He liaised regularly with the Egyptian Government over operational and some diplomatic matters, and often became involved in local matters involving the merchants and the British community at Alexandria, such as the church building scheme.

In September 1846, Lyons received a letter from Mr Saunders of the Alexandria Church Building Committee, asking for another contribution from the East India Company.  Saunders appealed to the ‘liberality’ and ‘good feeling and Generosity of the Honorable Company’, and described the current state of construction: ‘The front wall is now raised to the height of 33 feet, the Chancel 32 and the sides 28 feet. The quantity of materials are already sufficient to complete the Body of the Church, but the Timber for the roof is not yet provided’. Without further funds, the works would soon have to be halted.

Statement of contributions in aid of funds for building a Protestant Church in Alexandria.Statement of contributions in aid of funds for building a Protestant Church in Alexandria. - IOR/G/17/14, f 227. Factory Records: Egypt and the Red Sea, 1845-1848.

£2,595 had already been raised, but another £3,000 was needed to complete the body of the church, the west front, tower and enclosure walls.  Saunders appealed to Lyons’ ‘well known very kindly feelings towards all the English Residents and [his] active interest … in every thing relating to their welfare’.  Lyons was supportive in his message to the Company: ‘whilst the expense has greatly exceeded the expectation of the Committee the solidity and beauty of the Church is likely to be commensurate with the sum expended’.  Lyons had received from Saunders an engraving of the church, possibly similar to the one below, by its designer the British architect James William Wild.

Engraving of St Mark's Church AlexandriaEngraving of St Mark’s Church, Alexandria, detail, 1840s. Victoria and Albert Museum.

Wild spent many years in Egypt, travelling there in 1842 to work as an architectural draughtsman for Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius. He was commissioned in 1845 to build the Anglican church in Alexandria and his design was notably influenced by Islamic architecture.

South facade of St Mark's Church AlexandriaSt Mark’s Church, Alexandria. The South Façade, 1840s. Drawn by J W Wild and etched by John Henry Le Keux. Victoria and Albert Museum.

Drawing of James William Wild at the start of the Lepsium Expedition in EgyptDrawing by J J Frey of James William Wild at the start of the Lepsius expedition in Egypt, 1842 Wikipedia

Saunders’ request to the Company was on this occasion ‘negatived’.  The church, now known as St Mark’s Pro-Cathedral, was completed in 1854 without the campanile, indicating that perhaps Saunders’ wider fund-raising efforts met with limited success.

Correspondence reporting that Saunders’ request to the Company had been ‘negatived’Ecclesiastical Despatch to Bengal 8 September 1847 approving that Saunders’ request to the Company had been ‘negatived’ - IOR/E/4/793, f 543.

Photograph of St Mark’s Pro-Cathedral  AlexandriaModern photograph of  St Mark's by kind permission of St Mark’s Pro-Cathedral, Alexandria.

Wild may have been disappointed that his design did not come to full fruition.  However he could console himself knowing that he had already completed seven church projects by 1842, including, Christ Church in Streatham, south-west London.  A Grade I listed building, Christ Church is famous for its modern use of polychromatic brickwork and patterning and semi-detached campanile.

Scale drawing of the west front of Christ Church  StreathamScale drawing of the west front of Christ Church, Streatham, signed by Wild, 1841. Victoria and Albert Museum.

Close-up image of Christ Church Streatham showing the patterned brickwork

Image of Christ Church Streatham showing the front and side of the building, and the semi-detached campanile.Images of Christ Church, Streatham, copyright Amanda Engineer, May 2024.

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

Further reading:
Egypt and Red Sea Factory Records British Library IOR/G/17/13 & IOR/G/17/14
East India Company correspondence IOR/E/4/793
St Mark’s Anglican Church in Alexandria, Egypt 
James William Wild - Wikipedia
Christ Church, Streatham, by James William Wild (1814-1892): Part I
Streatham, Christ Church - The Diocese of Southwark 
Owen Jones (architect) - Wikipedia
Christ Church, Streatham: a history and guide, Payne, Joan, 1917-; Hargreaves, Brenda, 1927--; Ivory, Christopher. 3rd ed. /revised by Christopher Ivory, c.2000


04 July 2024

Jabez Tepper: The cousin who thwarted JMW Turner’s bequest (Part 2)

We continue the story of Jabez Tepper, cousin of JMW Turner...

Jabez Tepper is buried in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey, in a grave that contains several other Turner relatives.

Photograph of the gravestone for Jabez Tepper at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.Gravestone for Jabez Tepper at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. Photograph by author.

In January 1872, letters of administration for Tepper’s estate were granted to his cousin, William Coham Turner, as it was thought that he had died intestate.  This grant was revoked in July 1872, following the discovery of a will dated January 1835 which named his mother and her heirs as beneficiaries.  Tepper’s brother, Samuel, a house painter and carpenter, now the sole heir, was located in Alabama USA.  He returned to England in May 1872 and stayed with William Coham Turner in St John’s Wood, London.  The will was granted probate in August 1872.  In the documents Tepper is described as a bachelor.

Newspaper report of the arrival of Samuel Tepper in England from Alabama - Leeds Times  11 May 1872Arrival of Samuel Tepper in England from Alabama - Leeds Times 11 May 1872 British Newspaper Archive

Samuel Tepper met with Victoria Boyer, Jabez Tepper’s elder married daughter.  Because they were illegitimate, neither Victoria nor Catherina had any claim on the estate, but Samuel Tepper wanted to do the right thing and gave a substantial sum to each of the sisters.

Shortly after Jabez Tepper’s death, Mary Pennell went to his offices in Bedford Row, with a friend, and arranged for the removal of furniture, a large chest of silver plate and other valuables, including a diamond snuff box, which had been a gift to JMW Turner from King Louis-Phillipe of France.  She also visited and removed items from the farm in Sussex where she had lived with Tepper.  She was later apprehended and taken to court, charged with theft.  Mary claimed that she had a right to the property as she had lived as Tepper’s wife for sixteen years but could produce no proof of marriage.  She denied the existence of any will, although there were rumours that copies had been destroyed.  At the preliminary hearing it was judged that there was insufficient evidence for a successful prosecution and the case was dismissed.

Samuel Tepper returned to his home in Camden, Alabama, in October 1873, with a substantial sum of money and several Turner paintings and engraving plates.  He disposed of many others before he left, not wishing to pay the duty for importing them.  He suffered from ill health and probably depression and, in 1887, took his own life.

Gold snuff-box with floral and foliate ornament round the sides  on lid and on base. On the lid is the monogram LP with crown above for Louis Philippe  all in diamonds set in silverGold snuff-box with floral and foliate ornament.  On the lid is the monogram LP with crown above for Louis Philippe, all in diamonds set in silver. © The Trustees of the British Museum 

After Samuel Tepper’s return from America, it appears that Mary Pennell had to return items that she had taken, including the Louis-Phillipe snuff box. The box was donated to the British Museum in 1944 by Maria Helena Turner, the great-grand-daughter of J.M.W. Turner's uncle, John Turner.

In 1877, the surviving beneficiaries of JMW Turner’s will brought a case against the estate of Jabez Tepper.  Tepper had bought their shares in Turner’s engravings for what he claimed was a fair price of £500 for each beneficiary.  This had netted him £2,500. When the engravings were auctioned after Tepper’s death, they fetched £35,000.  The family’s lawyers produced evidence that the engravings had been valued at £5,000 for legacy duty, so Tepper had been well aware of their real value.  The court found in the plaintiffs’ favour and ordered that the sale to Tepper be set aside.  An appeal by the Tepper estate failed.

Report of court ruling about the Turner engravingsReport of court ruling - Brief 15 December 1877 British Newspaper Archive

There is a certain irony in the coincidence that Jabez Tepper, having thwarted Turner’s plans for his inheritance, was similarly thwarted in his own. In both cases, large portions of the estate went to people they were never intended for.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive for reports on the court cases involving the Turner estate, the prosecution of Mary Pennell, and Samuel Tepper’s visit to England.


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