Untold lives blog

6 posts from February 2012

27 February 2012

Family budgets in 1920s India

The Royal Commission on the Superior Civil Services in India (the Lee Commission) was appointed in 1923 to enquire into the organisation and general conditions of service, the possibility of transferring any duties and functions to provincial services, and the recruitment of Europeans and Indians.

To assist in its enquiry into the conditions of service the Royal Commission collected examples of the budgets of individual members of the civil service, some very detailed. The general thrust of the evidence submitted was the rising cost of living in India and the inadequate pay of civil servants.

Bazaar price listOne example is a budget submitted with the written evidence of the Indian Educational Association, Burma (IOR/Q/11/24 No.1002). It compares the Bazaar prices of various goods in 1913/14 and 1923, such as foodstuffs, furniture, crockery and clothes, and lists the cost of the various types of servants (head boy, ayah, cook, paniwallah, sweeper, chauffeur, dhobi, mali, etc).

The anonymous monthly budget of a Professor in the University of Rangoon in his first year of service gives an interesting insight in to what civil servants felt they had to spend to keep up what they saw as their status in the community in which they lived and worked, both in the eyes of other Europeans and of native Indians. The Professor had four servants (personal boy, driver, sweeper and dhobi), employed a typist, owned a car, subscribed to a large number of scientific societies and was a member of three clubs (Golf Club, Gymkhana Club and Boat Club). His wife suffered a break down in her health after only a short time in Burma and had to return to England, and he lists the expenses associated with doctors' bills and her return passage. In fact expenses associated with medical problems were a common complaint of Europeans in India. He also lists in some detail the clothes he has to buy each year for himself and his wife (including her underclothes and toiletries!).

List of wife's clothingIOR/Q/11/24 No.1002 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

An interesting comparison can be made with the budgets of native Indian members of the ICS. The Indian Officers’ Association submitted a memorandum containing a number of hypothetical budgets for an Indian officer at different stages in his career (IOR/Q/11/20 No.801). The difficulties of status and family obligations are highlighted. An Indian is under obligation to perform several religious ceremonies in his family, something which is rarely mentioned as an expense in the evidence of European members of the ICS. Family obligations put a heavy burden on both European and Indian members, with the difficulties of raising and educating children, maintaining a household and meeting the inevitable medical expenses. However the Indian Officers’ Association make the point that the Indian has a joint family system, and obligations increase with the growth of the family. This substantially increases his travel expenses as he often has to travel to perform various obligatory religious ceremonies and pilgrimages, and to join several functions in the joint family system.

List of family obligations

List of family obligations IOR/Q/11/20 No.801 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The papers of the Lee Commission (IOR/Q/11) are searchable online.

John O’Brien
Curator Post 1858 India Office Records


23 February 2012

The search for Black Rock Part II

Here is the second part of our story from the Andaman Islands contributed by guest blogger N. Francis Xavier.

Giant trees rose on either side of the narrow trail as it snaked through the tropical forest forming a thick canopy overhead. Huge lianas hung down from their branches like pythons.  The trail seemed endless as it dipped and rose and again dipped into the evergreen forest. 

I have trekked up Mount Harriet many times.  Once it was to escort a British High Commissioner to India, who wanted to witness the sunset from the peak, just like Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India, who was killed by a convict on his way down.  A notice announced that a path led down to ‘Kala Pathar’ or Black Rock.When my friend Clare told me that she was looking for some ‘graffiti’ on Kala Pathar I was not interested. How could some graffiti, written more than a hundred years ago, be still there on a rock!

An excited Clare blazed the trial. What appeared an easy trek in the beginning became tedious when we started climbing a steep rise. I started doubting the wisdom of trekking all the way to a black rock and look for some graffiti mentioned in the obscure letter from a pastor to his daughter that Clare had dug out in the British Library.

Andaman rock with graffiti

 A sudden shout announced that Clare had found what she was looking for.  “ I found it! – the graffiti! – its there!”, she called. When I caught up a few moments later I couldn’t believe my eyes. In front of us, was a huge black rock, worn smooth by the weather, and with not just WARNEFORD 1876 but many more names cut into its surface.   A little above it, in a corner was inscribed ‘F. BARTON’. On the other side of the rock ‘N. BALAGOOROO’ and ‘C. RAMANOOJOOLOO’. A little below them, ‘HMS RIFLEMAN 1869’, some Urdu words and ‘F.R. de W.’ Both Clare and I blurted out at the same time the full name of the person, Lt. F. R. de Wolski, the officiating Executive Engineer of the settlement.

We couldn’t find Maud’s name, and assumed that it had broken off and fallen into the deep valley below. We pondered whether the WARNEFORD we did see had been written by her brother, Freddy, or perhaps by the Rev. Warneford himself. Whatever the case, they had inscribed a trace of the family’s life in this remote corner of the British Empire.


N. Francis Xavier

Associate Professor & Head, Department of English, JN Government College, Port Blair

20 February 2012

The search for Black Rock Part I

A story from guest blogger Professor Clare Anderson -

In January 2011, I came across a box of letters in the India Office archives of the British Library. They were dated 1874-77, and were written by the Reverend Thomas L.J. Warneford. At that time he was part of the colonial administration of the Andaman Islands, which had been established as a penal colony for Indian convicts following the Great Uprising of 1857-8. Forbidden to proselytize amongst the convicts, his role was to minister to the Islands’ British residents, from the elite official classes to Anglo-Indians and ordinary soldiers. Among his other roles was the setting up of free education for the locally born children of convicts – who were growing in number even as early as the 1870s.

Map of the Andaman Islands © The British Library Board  
Map of the Andaman Islands from Maurice Vidal Portman, A History of our Relations with the Andamanese (Calcutta, 1899) Images Online

The letters were addressed to Warneford’s daughter, Maud, who following a childhood in India and the Andamans, and the death of her mother, had returned to England aged 10. The letters are deeply personal, affectionate and affecting. The reverend calls Maud his ‘little woman,’ and sends news of friends, servants, and household pets – dogs, rabbits, cats, goats, parrots and even a tortoise. He describes the scriptural readings, music and hymns sung in Port Blair’s Christ Church; and writes in detail about the garden that they had created together. He frequently implores Maud to remember her experiences in the islands – the way she decorated the church altar for services, the chapatis she ate each morning for breakfast, and the friends that she had made. He passes on Maud’s greetings to their convict boatmen and servants, and reminds her that she used to teach them their ‘English letters.’ He often signs his letters off with row upon row of kisses, with sighs about how much he misses his daughter, and hopes that he will see her soon. He thanks her for her many letters, and complains that her older brother, Reggie, also by then in England, does not write to him as often as he would like.

There are many things of interest in these letters, but I was especially taken by one, dated 4 May 1876, in which Warneford describes a visit to a local beauty spot, Mount Harriet, the highest point on the island of South Andaman. He reminds Maud of the many happy times they had there, collecting shells and catching pigeons. ‘Went to the “rock” … and cut out your name MAUD about 4 inches long,’ he writes, ‘Reggie’s is also there.’

With a research trip to the Andamans imminent, I made a careful note to go and look for it …

Clare Anderson
Professor of History, University of Leicester

Reference: IOPP/MSS Eur F388/1: Letters of Rev. Warneford, 1874-7.

13 February 2012

Not the Daily Express, 1905

Lord Northcliffe (1865-1922), founder of the Daily Mail, is perhaps best known today as one of the models for Lord Copper, the megalomaniac press baron in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop.  (‘Definitely, Lord Copper.’  ‘Up to a point, Lord Copper.’)  Love him or loathe him, you couldn’t ignore him: Northcliffe created modern tabloid journalism and, in doing so, launched the fortunes of two mighty publishing empires, his own Associated Newspapers and its arch-rival News International.

Like other successful dictators, Northcliffe kept his staff on their toes by interfering incessantly and unpredictably in their work.  Happily for modern researchers, this means that his papers contain a mass of material vividly conveying the texture of daily life in the offices of a great newspaper – the sort of material that only an obsessive micromanager like Northcliffe would ever have bothered to keep in the files.  In October 1905, for example, Northcliffe heard a rumour that the Mail’s tabloid competitor, the Daily Express, published a special East End edition in Yiddish, and asked his manager Ralph Lane to investigate this unlikely tale.  Lane found that there was indeed a Yiddish Daily Express, or Teglicher Ekspress, published in Commercial Street, Whitechapel, which rather cheekily used the Daily Express masthead even though it had no connection with the better-known newspaper of the same name.  To prove it, he sent Northcliffe a billboard poster, which is preserved today in the Northcliffe Papers here at the British Library:

Yiddish Daily Express BL Add 62216, ff 8-9

The Daily Express was just one of many Yiddish newspapers that flourished in the East End of London at the turn of the twentieth century, including Morris Winchevsky’s Dos Poilishe Yidl (The Little Polish Jew) and Der Arbayter Fraynd (The Workers’ Friend).  The last Yiddish daily paper in London, Di Tsayt, ceased publication in 1950, but long before then, as the late John Gross records in his affectionate memoir of his Mile End childhood, A Double Thread (2001), it was an established joke that whenever the editor, Morris Myer, saw a funeral cortège making its way down Whitechapel Road, he would remark: ‘There goes another subscriber.’  Today, the sole survivor of this distinguished tradition is the Jewish Tribune, published weekly in Stamford Hill, which includes a supplement in Yiddish.

My colleague Ilana Tahan, curator of Hebrew Collections, has kindly translated some of the headlines in the Daily Express poster: they include ‘Tsar Nicholas Ill’, ‘Crisis in Morocco’, ‘Disaster in Mexico – Many Victims’, and ‘£50,000 Theft’.  The fine collection of Hebrew and Yiddish periodicals in the Newspaper Library at Colindale includes a short run of the Daily Express, from July to September 1897, but no complete file appears to survive, so the poster in the Northcliffe archive gives us a precious scrap of information about the paper’s history, and a rare, ephemeral glimpse of the advertisements that would have greeted passers-by in Commercial Street one October evening in 1905.

Arnold Hunt

Curator, Modern Historical Manuscripts

09 February 2012

Dickens grows a beard

Dickens’ trademark ‘door knocker’ beard didn’t appear until he was in his 40s, but clues from his correspondence suggest he took to the cultivation of facial hair in earnest and in doing so was truly a man of his time.

Charles Dickens Charles Dickens from John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens  © The British Library Board  Images Online

The 1850’s saw the advent of the ‘beard movement’. The Victorians believed that manliness was directly linked to facial hair. Beards promoted impassivity, health and epitomised the successful and distinguished Victorian male. Household Words, a periodical edited by Dickens even ran an article entitled ‘Why shave’ – a veritable declaration of the rights of all men to shun the razor.

Dickens first began to experiment with facial hair around 1844 – with the addition of a moustache. He can be heard praising it in a letter to his friend Daniel Maclise: "The moustaches are glorious, glorious. I have cut them shorter, and trimmed them a little at the ends to improve their shape. They are charming, charming. Without them, life would be a blank".

In 1844 he can be found expressing his dismay in a letter to his wife Catherine that his brother Fred had grown a moustache: “He has a moustache … I feel (as the Stage Villains say) that either he or I must fall. Earth will not hold us both.”

A few years later in 1853 Dickens (sporting moustache and ‘Newgate Fringe’ (hair under the chin) was travelling in Italy with Wilkie Collins and Augustus Egg who, in the spirit of competition were both attempting to cultivate facial hair: “Collins’s moustache is gradually developing … He smooths it down over his mouth, in imitation of the present great Original …” Dickens compares Egg’s to those of the Witches in Macbeth and expresses chagrin that his valet has also begun to grow one.

Dickens’ friend John Forster took especial issue with the new moustache and called for a portrait of the author which he’d had commissioned to be delayed because of the ‘hideous disfigurement’. He mistakenly assumed it was a mere passing fancy on Dickens’ part but, as portraits from the time suggest, it was a stepping stone to greater things; the moustache foreshadowed the beard.

When friends expressed concern that it aged him, and disguised his precious expressions, Dickens responded that "the beard saved him the trouble of shaving, and much as he admired his own appearance before he allowed his beard to grow, he admired it much more now, and never neglected, when an opportunity offered, to gaze his fill at himself”.  He also joked that some people liked it because it meant they saw less of him.

By 1858 Forster had accepted that the beard was there to stay and quickly re-commissioned the portrait before the author’s face became covered entirely by hair.

Andrea Lloyd
Curator, Printed Literary Sources 1801-1914

Further reading:

Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens (London: Chapman & Hall, 1872-74) [010854.e.22.]

Letters of Charles Dickens to his wife Catherine, née Hogarth [BL Add MS 43689]

House, Madeline & Storey, Graham (eds.). The letters of Charles Dickens (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965-2002) [X.0900/46]

‘Why Shave?’ in Household Words (15th August 1853, v.7, pp.560-563) [P.P.6004.g. and now also free to access online]

07 February 2012

A very unhappy birthday for Charles Dickens

On 7 February 1864 Charles Dickens should have been celebrating his 52nd birthday.  However on that day he received the tragic news that his son Walter had died in Calcutta on New Year’s Eve at the age of only 22.

Letter about Walter Dickens's cadetshipWalter Landor Dickens had been serving as a military officer in India after being granted a cadetship in the East India Company’s Bengal Army in 1857.  Cadets had to secure nomination by a Company director.  Each director had a limited number of civil and military nominations in his gift each year and patronage networks often determined who should receive favour. In Walter’s case, Angela Burdett Coutts used her influence with director John Loch. 


IOR/L/MIL/9/241 f.495

Nomination was just the first step in being appointed an officer in the Company armies.  Direct entry cadets such as Walter who had not attended the Company’s Military Seminary at Addiscombe had to pass a number of tests which had been introduced in June 1851:

• Write English correctly from dictation.
• Have a ‘competent knowledge’ of the rules of arithmetic.
• Be able to translate passages from Latin into English.
• Be able to parse and show a knowledge of grammar and syntax.
• Pass a translation test from French to English, or from Hindustani to English.
• Pass an exam on the history of Greece, Rome, England, and British India.
• Know the modern divisions of the world, the principal nations of Europe and Asia, the names of European capitals and of the chief cities of India, and of the main rivers and mountains of the world.
• Have an elementary knowledge of fortification and some instruction in drawing.
• Submit a declaration of being a confirmed member of the Church of England, otherwise a certificate from a minister to prove they had been well instructed in the principles of religion in which they were raised.
• Produce testimonials of good moral conduct from their place of education.

The education Walter had received from Rev John Brackenbury at Wimbledon equipped him to succeed in these tests which were administered by professors from Addiscombe.  He was also given a medical and was certified as being free from ‘any mental or bodily defect whatever’. Unfortunately Walter’s health failed in India and he was on his way back to England on sick leave when he died.  His burial certificate in the India Office Records gives the cause of death as hematemesis (vomiting of blood).  He was interred on 1 January 1864 in the military burial ground at Fort William Calcutta. The childhood nickname of ‘Young Skull’ given to him by his father sadly proved to be all too appropriate.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator East India Company Records

Further reading:
Dick Kooiman ‘The short career of Walter Dickens in India’ in Jos Gommans and Om Prakash (eds) Circumambulations in South Asian History (Brill, 2003).

Army papers for Walter Landor Dickens IOR/L/MIL/9/241 ff.493-498; IOR/L/MIL/9/273; IOR/L/MIL/9/285; IOR/L/MIL/10/65/696; IOR/L/MIL/10/105.

Rules for Army cadet examinations IOR/B/221 Court Minutes 22 Jan and 5 Feb 1851.

Burial entry 1864 IOR/N/1/106 f.159.

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