Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

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.


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