Untold lives blog

7 posts from October 2011

31 October 2011

Missionaries and madams

L-PJ-6-1387 German 2

The First World War had a profound effect on Austrians and Germans living in India. Faced with increasing tension arising from the presence of enemy aliens in India and the resources and costs entailed in keeping them under civil control at Ahmednegar, the government decided that repatriation was the best option. A touching petition from Revd C R Handmann, Prisoner of War, on behalf of married men at B Camp, Ahmednegar, asks the British Government to take proper care of the wives and children being repatriated via the SS Golconda.

While cataloguing some India Office Records, a colleague discovered three volumes recording the names, appearance and profession of the people being repatriated. The majority are missionaries and churchmen, teachers, governesses, nurses and wives of businessmen. Men of fighting age were generally not repatriated so most were women, children, or elderly men. There is a photograph of each person, giving the record a striking immediacy and poignancy, especially in the case of the children.

These records show a different aspect of the human cost of war. How did these people settle into their native countries? Did they socialise with the British in India before the War? What was it like to be so far from home and find that you were classed as an enemy alien? In fact the repatriation process was not entirely devoid of compassion – passengers who were destitute were granted a small allowance.

Most passL-PJ-6-1387 German 1engers were doubtless pillars of Austrian and German society. However, some women’s profession was coyly described as ‘unfortunate’. I’ll write about them in a later blog.

The Public and Judicial files (IOR/L/PJ/6/1386-1389) telling the story of these hidden lives may be found in Search our Catalogues of Archives and Manuscripts.

Further reading can be discovered in Explore the British Library


24 October 2011

Slavery, Shipwreck, and Suicide

Here is another story for Black History Month.

Around the year 1716 Captain White sailed into Delagoa Bay (Maputo Bay in modern day Mozambique) to trade under licence of the East India Company. During his stay White entertained the King and his two brothers on board his ship. The two princes obtained permission from the King to visit England. Captain White promised to take good care of them and the King defrayed the expenses of the princes’ voyage by presenting White with valuable trading commodities. The ship stopped at Madagascar to purchase slaves before sailing to Jamaica where White sold the princes into slavery. However a Mr Bowles heard their story, bought them from their master and set sail with them for England.  Unfortunately a hurricane struck, causing the ship to sink off Cape Carriento on Cuba. Bowles drowned but the princes survived together with a few others including Colonel John Toogood who took them to England.

Slaves cutting sugar cane 
© The British Library Board 1786.c.9, plate IV William Clark Slaves cutting the sugar cane (1823)  See more images from the BL’s collections.

In September 1720, Toogood petitioned the Court of Directors of the East India Company to provide some financial support and assistance for returning the two princes to Delagoa Bay.  Patronage of the two princes in London provided a potential opportunity to further trade on the south east coast of Africa, and the East India Company entered into discussions with the Royal African Company over the right to trade at Delagoa which dragged on for over a year. 

Petition on behalf of the Delagoa princes
IOR/E/1/11 ff. 326-328v

Meanwhile the princes were maintained and educated at the expense of the Royal African Company. Thomas Bray instructed the princes in the Christian religion and they were baptised with the names James and John at Twickenham in June 1721.  Contemporary records give their full names as James Macquilan Mussoom and John Chaung Mussoom. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge wanted the princes to return to Delagoa accompanied by a missionary.  Marmaduke Penwell was appointed to sail with them, having received £500 from the East India Company according to a report in the London Journal

The princes sailed with Penwell from Gravesend, but the ship struck a rock and put into Exmouth for repairs in the spring of 1722.  James, the elder of the princes, hanged himself from a tree in the garden of a local house. Commentators said this sad turn of events was possibly the result of James being ‘in a phrenzy’ or perhaps because of a quarrel with his brother.  John and Penwell eventually reached Delagoa.  According to Penwell’s journal, John then went to his mother’s house and shut the door in the missionary’s face.  The prince emerged after six hours but gave Penwell ‘such frowns and looked so surly upon him’ that the missionary returned immediately to the ship and sailed for England.

Margaret Makepeace and Richard Morel
Curators, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Memorial of Colonel John Toogood to the Court of Directors of the East India Company concerning the two “princes of Delagoa”, September 1720: IOR/E/1/11 ff. 326-328v.
William Douglas Beattie Grant, The Fortunate slave. An illustration of African slavery in the early eighteenth century (London, 1968): BL/X.809/5367.
William Kemp Lowther Clarke, A History of the S.P.C.K. (London, 1959): BL/4708.dd.18.
Leonard W. Cowie, Henry Newman: an American in London, 1708-43 (London, 1956): BL/4987.ff.4.

Find out more about the India Office Records and search our catalogues for more documents.



21 October 2011

Napoleon - du pain, du vin …

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 so here is a story about Britain's arch enemy during the French Wars, Napoleon Bonaparte.

After the French were defeated at Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon was exiled to St Helena, a small island in the South Atlantic administered by the East India Company.  The British Government instructed the Governor of St Helena, Sir Hudson Lowe, to allow the French General every indulgence which was compatible with the prevention of his escape.  The annual budget for provisions for Napoleon and his entourage was set at £8,000, with permission for Lowe to spend as much as £12,000 if necessary.

Napoleon standing on the cliffs at St Helena looking out to sea

© The British Library Board  K.T.C.42.b.8 William Milligan Sloane, Life of Napoleon volume 4 (1896)  See more images from the BL’s collections.

The goods purchased by the East India Company in 1819 included a selection of ‘Wines of the very finest quality for the use of General Buonaparte and Suite at St Helena’ [IOR/L/MAR/1/7 p. 733].  An order was placed with the firms Maxwell & Keys, Paxtons & Co, and Gledstanes & Co for

• Claret @ 72 shillings per dozen
• Vin de Grave @ 60 shillings per dozen
• Champagne @ 120 shillings per dozen
• Madeira @ 80 shillings per dozen
• Teneriffe @ 40 shillings per dozen
• Port @ 42 shillings per dozen.

Such contracts must have been lucrative. According to Lowe's papers, between 1 October and 31 December 1816 Napoleon’s establishment was supplied with 3,724 bottles of wine and 504 bottles of ‘malt liquors’!

Napoleon died on 5 May 1821 and was buried on St Helena [IOR/N/6/2 f.211]. His remains were moved to France in 1840. The British Library recently acquired a copy of his will which was kindly donated by Lawrence Graham LLP [IOPP/Mss Eur F624]. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

See our catalogues for more documents and books about Napoleon’s time on St Helena, for example William Forsyth, History of the captivity of Napoleon at St Helena (1853) [T 40404].

Discover more about the India Office Records and Private Papers.



20 October 2011

A radical intellectual for Black History Month

I was reminded recently of the story of James Africanus Beale Horton, one of a stellar group of black intellectuals from 19th century West Africa.

Horton, born in Sierra Leone in 1835, qualified as a doctor in Edinburgh in 1859. Joining the British army’s medical corps, he returned to West Africa and worked mainly in what is now Ghana.

Title page of West African Countries and Peoples







By the time he died, at only forty-eight, Horton was the author of two medical books and several political works. His most celebrated book is West African Countries and Peoples (1867), in which – well ahead of his time – he argued for the independence of the British West African colonies and Liberia. His ideas prefigured the African nationalism of the 20th century. It took until 1957 for Ghana to gain independence – the first British colony in Africa to do so.


BL: 10095.bbb.30. 


He was ahead of the curve, too, in arguing for the creation of a West African university, and for medical training for Africans in the region. And, drawing on his medical experience, he published a clear, forthright and scientifically based rebuttal to new ideas of ‘scientific racism’ which, at the time, were becoming increasingly influential.


In some respects Horton’s ideas may seem rather conservative and elitist today, but in his time he was radical – not least in his resounding declaration of equality between black and white. ‘I claim the existence’, he wrote in West African Countries and Peoples, ‘…of a common humanity in the African or negro race; that there exist no radical distinctions between him and his more civilised confrère [brother]’. It’s appropriate to remember him in this year’s Black History Month.

Marion Wallace
African curator

19 October 2011

From Death Row to Sir Hans Sloane

 Sir Hans Sloane knew everybody who was anybody in early eighteenth-century London.  His position as Secretary and later President of the Royal Society put him right at the heart of the scientific establishment and brought him into contact with all the most distinguished men of his day, from Isaac Newton to Samuel Pepys.  But his correspondence contains letters from a host of humbler people as well: sailors offering to sell him an interesting shell or other curiosity that they had picked up on their foreign travels, amateur mathematicians trying to interest him in their latest attempt to solve the longitude problem, Grub Street hacks promising to dedicate their latest poem to him, and a whole host of other crooks, chancers, eccentrics and madmen.

This desperate plea from a prisoner in the ‘Condemned hole’ at Newgate is a reminder, if we needed it, that Sloane’s London was not just the London of Newton and the Royal Society, but also the London of Hogarth and the Tyburn Tree:

Honrd. Sr
I am yt poor unfortunate, who serv’d yr Brother, and to my great griefe being Seduced by ill company lead me into this trouble, tis ye first time I ever was in trouble, and I humbly beg for Gods sake to spake one word to my Lrd Sunderland about me; Doctr Amyand has spoke to my Lrd likewise and if yr Goodnes would be pleased to back it, it would save my life, ye person concerned in ye same fact with me is reprievd he having friends to spake for him, Sr after tomorrow is day of execution, and for Godsake assist him, who is in great affliction
Alexander Murray

Letter from Alexander Murray in condemned hole Newgate 
BL, Sloane MS 4060, f. 50

The excellent Old Bailey Online website provides some background on Murray’s case.  On 30 July 1715 he went into a shop in Blackfriars and asked for a length of blue camlet (a clothing fabric made of a mixture of wool and silk), which he asked the shop assistant to bring with him to a nearby alehouse.  When they reached the alehouse, the assistant was sent back to the shop on a pretext, and Murray and his accomplice Robert Mullins ran off with the goods.  They took a boat up the Thames to Horseferry (modern-day Lambeth Bridge) and were eventually arrested in the White Hart inn, where Murray was found hiding in a closet, with the fabric stowed under the bed.  Murray’s feeble defence was that ‘he thought the Goods were paid for’, but he and Mullins were both found guilty and sentenced to death.

Sloane was a kind-hearted man, and it would be nice to think that he took pity on Murray and wrote to Lord Sunderland asking for a reprieve.  But if he did, it failed to save Murray’s life.  The Newgate prison chaplain Paul Lorrain (another of Sloane’s correspondents, as it happens, and a former secretary and translator to Samuel Pepys) recorded the details of Murray’s final confession: he was 24 years old, had worked as an accounting clerk for his uncle in Ireland, then served several years with the army in Flanders, but ‘having afterwards kept bad Company, and being brought to Poverty, he was induc'd to this Fact, which he said was his first’.  On 21 September 1715 he was hanged at Tyburn in the company of four other prisoners, including the female thief Mary Nichols (aka ‘Trolly Lolly’), their bodies probably destined for the anatomy theatre at Barber-Surgeons Hall.  In the age of the Bloody Code, when more than fifty executions took place in London every year, it was just an ordinary day.

Arnold Hunt

Curator, Modern Historical Manuscripts

18 October 2011

Credit Crunch leads to Murder

Debts are nothing new, but the ‘most revolting and horrible’ murder perpetrated by Victorian bookbinder James Cook to avoid settling his accounts was an extreme response even by the standards of contemporary ‘Penny Dreadfuls.’  Various British Library sources track the story but the large number of provincial and London newspaper reports of the crime (many digitised on the Nineteenth Century British Library Newspapers website) demonstrate the public’s fascination for this gruesome episode.

Mr John Paas of London, who made decorative bookbinding tools, visited Leicester in late May of 1832 to make deliveries and collect on outstanding invoices, as was customary. According to James Cook’s later testimony, a row arose over payment and Cook struck Mr Paas dead with a binder’s press pin (although Cook initially maintained that he was not guilty of “wilfull murder” since Pass had attacked him first with a hammer). The sensational method used to dispose of the body by dismemberment and burning, the fact that not all the body parts were accounted for, Cook’s abortive flight from justice, suicide attempts and prison conversion inspired leaflets, books and illustrations like the one shown here [The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, August 11, 1832; Issue 1142].


Portrait of the murderer in his cell - man sitting, chained

On 10 August, Cook was hanged before a crowd of around 40,000 people having finally confessed that the crime had been premeditated, the temptation being the money he believed Mr Paas to be carrying.  According to witnesses, Cook showed repentance and repeated “Thank God I was detected.” None of Cook’s bindings have been traced but the Library holds an engraved sheet advertising the brass ornaments available for purchase from Paas’s firm.

P.J.M. Marks 
Curator, Bookbindings; Printed Historical Sources

More sources from our collections
HORRID MURDER, The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, June 02, 1832; Issue 1132
Williams, C. J.  Cook, the Murderer, or the Leicester Tragedy: being a full ... account of the ... assassination of Mr. J. Paas ... by J. Cook,  1832  10803.bb.19.(8.) 
Docker, Frances.  John Paas & James Cook :  [1978]  X.702/5981
Lachlan, Elizabeth.  Narrative of the conversion (by the instrumentality of two ladies) of James Cook, the murderer of Mr. Paas (London, 1832) 1124.a.36
The Annual register (London, 1832) HLR 909.08
The Legal observer, or, Journal of jurisprudence  (London ,1841.)   W.2.
EXECUTION OF COOKE, THE MURDERER, The Morning Chronicle (London, England), Monday, August 13, 1832; Issue 19645
Paas & Co. Paas & Co. manufacturers of bookbinders & printers' brass ornaments, and graining plates of every description, engravers & printers in general, ... ([London, 1827?]) C.194.c.5(4)


17 October 2011

East India Company London workers

Welcome to our new blog! We will be sharing stories every day this week. Forthcoming 'Untold Lives' will include missionaries, madams, thieves, African princes, Indian soldiers, and a homicidal bookbinder.

Did you know that the India Office Records are an important source for London working-class history? In the early 19th century, the East India Company employed more than 3,000 labourers in its London warehouses.

Fenchurch Street Warehouse  BL, IOR: H/763 Fenchurch Street warehouse

Documents survive which tell us who these men were, their age and height, where they lived, and what jobs they had before joining the warehouses. There are pay and pension records. The Company made notes on the labourers’ health, and dates of death are sometimes recorded. Snippets of information which are unlikely to have been recorded anywhere else can be discovered. Where else would you discover that Charles Twort of St George in the East had bad feet and corns?

The warehouse labourers were drawn from widely different backgrounds, with over 350 different former occupations listed in the admissions register. As well as servants and labourers, there are bakers, butchers, booksellers, carpenters, chemists, clerks, coopers, farmers, gardeners, grocers, hairdressers, mathematical instrument makers, sailors, schoolmasters, shoemakers, silversmiths, tailors, and weavers. There is also Sir Richard Corbett, a baronet fallen on hard times. Two black labourers are identified: James Inglis, described as a ‘Negro’, and Richard Lane, ‘a man of Colour’. Most of the men had homes on the north-east and eastern fringes of the City: Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, St George in the East, Stepney, and Mile End.

Gustave Doré 'Warehousing in the City' 
© The British Library Board WF1/1856 Gustave Doré 'Warehousing in the City' from London a Pilgrimage (1872)  See more images from the British Library collections

The labourers’ working week was from Monday to Saturday, with a fixed day of six hours at a time when a 10 or 12 hour day was common. Overtime was paid. Many of the men had a second job in the afternoon, sometimes continuing their previous occupation.

Records about the East India Company warehouse labourers are not just of value to genealogists. They could also be exploited by social, political, commercial, and military historians.

The data from the Company warehouse admissions register has been added to the India Office Family History Search.  There are entries for 4,672 permanent labourers and writers (or copyists) entering the Company London warehouses between June 1801 and November 1832. So check to see if you have an ancestor who worked in the warehouses. There may be intriguing stories about your family which have lain hidden in the records for 200 years waiting to be uncovered by you and shared with the readers of this blog!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records