Untold lives blog

7 posts from October 2012

31 October 2012

A Phantom Burglar and the Hulk

For Hallowe'en, a Phantom tale, but perhaps not what you might expect…

On 15 April 1826 the Northampton Mercury reported that Henry Phantom, aged 15, John Andrews, 15, and William Andrews, 14, had been sentenced to death at the Warwick Lent Assizes. The three boys were convicted of ‘burglariously entering’ the workshops and warehouse of William Rostill in Birmingham and stealing ten boxes.  Rostill was a dealer in tortoise and turtle shell and ivory boxes. 

Happily the boys were spared the noose and their sentence was commuted to transportation for life.  Before leaving England they spent a year on board the prison hulks Justitia, Retribution, and Euryalus moored at Woolwich, Sheerness and Chatham.

  Convicts making their way near Blackfriars Bridge in order to be conveyed to Woolwich

Convicts making their way near Blackfriars Bridge in order to be conveyed to Woolwich. Image taken from The Malefactor's Register; or, the Newgate and Tyburn calendar, 1779. © The British Library Board Images Online


Henry Phantom lived for four months on Euryalus, a decommissioned Royal Navy ship at Chatham specially fitted for juvenile convicts in 1825.  Over 400 boys were packed into the ship ranging in age between 8 and 17. The chaplain Thomas Price lamented his charges’ lack of moral and social restraint. He reported that his efforts to combat their 'depravity' were hampered by the lack of a system of separating boys into different categories to assist with discipline. With such levels of overcrowding, disease spread quickly: scurvy and ophthalmia were two common complaints. The boys were employed in making clothing for the convict establishment and were not allowed to make any noise. Two hours’ exercise was allowed daily. On Saturdays the boys were washed all over with tepid water and soap. Relatives were allowed to visit under supervision, and escapes were rare.

Here is the daily routine for Euryalus:
05.00 Wake up call. Ports opened, hammocks lowered. Boys washed and examined.
05.30 Chapel – hymn and prayers.
06.00 Breakfast.
06.30 Elder boys report complaints to be investigated. Ship cleaned.
08.00 Work in silence.
09.00 Commander hears complaints and decides punishments – e.g. stopping dinner; caning ‘moderately’; solitary confinement on bread and water.
12.00 Dinner.
12.30 Air and exercise on deck in silence.
13.30 Work.
14.00 One third of boys sent to chapel for lessons in reading and writing.
17.00 Stop work. Boys clean ship and wash themselves.
17.30 Supper, air and exercise on deck.
18.30 File up and take hammocks down.
19.00 Chapel.
20.00 Muster. Hang up hammocks.
21.00 Absolute silence throughout ship.

In March 1827, Henry Phantom, John Andrews, and William Andrews set sail on the Guildford with 187 other convicts to start life in New South Wales. But that is another story!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading
British Newspaper Archive
Parliamentary Papers – regular reports on convict hulks printed by the House of Commons; 1835 First Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords appointed to inquire into the present state of the several gaols and houses of correction in England and Wales.


26 October 2012

Destruction of Wild Animals in Vizagapatam

In India in the nineteenth century, programmes of road and bridge building opened up less accessible areas of India for development, with jungle being cleared for agriculture and other commercial purposes. This led to increasing human encroachment on the natural habitat of animals which posed a threat to the safety of local people, such as tigers, leopards, wolves, bears, and venomous snakes. The India Office Records contains Government reports and correspondence concerning methods to tackle the problem of deaths due to wild animals and poisonous snakes. This often involved giving rewards to local people who killed dangerous animals, or appointing Government officers to organise the clearing of an area of such animals.

Male leopard

A male leopard from Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères

© The British Library Board Images Online

In 1873, the Governor of Madras appointed Captain St George Caulfeild, Superintendent of Police at Coimbatore, to hunt down and destroy tigers in the Coimbatore and Vizagapatam Districts of the Madras Presidency.  He kept a diary of his travels through Vizagapatam, extracts of which were sent to the India Office. Three principal methods were used to kill large dangerous animals: trapping, poisoning (usually by injecting bait with strychnine), or shooting (uncommon). Captain Caulfeild and his party travelled through the District constructing traps, purchasing live bait, and appointing watchers.

The hunt could be dangerous, requiring travel through difficult terrain and dense jungle. Captain Caulfeild’s party left Madras on the 24th December 1873, and arrived at Vizagapatam on the 27th, by which time half of them were already suffering from fever. By the 6th January he was on the trail of a man-eater reputed to have killed 35 people. Despite tracking this tiger for five days, they only found the leg and part of the head of one poor man who had been killed and partially eaten. Despite hearing it roar, dense jungle prevented them caching sight of the tiger. They eventually succeeded in getting it to take poisoned bait, and it was not heard of again.

As he toured the District, Caulfeild would collect any news of tiger attacks on local people. On one occasion he heard of a family who went to cut wood: “The tiger seized the man; his wife hearing him call, ran and threw herself on the top of the tiger; the tiger bolted leaving the man who now lives. After half an hour the tiger seized another man, carried him off and ate him.” Caulfeild himself had a close call when on the trail of a cheetah: ‘Last night the brute came to my tent and commenced scraping a hole to get in at, with a view no doubt of taking my dog which was tied up inside. My light had gone out or I would probably have had a shot at him”. Captain Caulfeild was forced to suspend his operations at the end of March 1874, due to all his servants being laid up with bad jungle fever.

John O’Brien
Curator, Post 1858 India Office Records

Source: Correspondence and reports from Local Governments and Administrations on the subject of the destruction of wild animals and venomous snakes, 1872-1874 [IOR/L/PJ/3/1115 No.5]

23 October 2012

An eighteenth-century rake’s progress

It’s tempting to think of John Wilkes (1725-97) as a sort of eighteenth-century Boris Johnson.  Boris himself would probably be flattered by the comparison, as he writes in Johnson’s Life of London (2012): ‘I have come to admire Wilkes for his courage and his dynamism and his boundless animal spirits'.

Wilkes was a man of disarming wit and charm, described by a contemporary as ‘an incomparable comedian in all he said and did’, but also a skilful opportunist who used his position as Lord Mayor of London to force his way into national politics.  His instantly recognisable features were a gift to cartoonists, while his personal popularity enabled him to get away with a complicated private life that would have ruined another politician’s career.

John Wilkes

From BL,11335.aa.28 ©The British Library Board Images Online

A volume in the Wilkes Papers, discreetly listed in our catalogue as ‘correspondence, chiefly with ladies’, documents this last aspect of Wilkes’s life.  It includes a series of letters from Jenny Wade, who carried on a brief affair with Wilkes while living as his next-door neighbour in Prince’s Court (modern-day Storey’s Gate), Westminster, in 1779.  The letters tell a tale of snatched meetings, elaborate precautions to ensure secrecy, and furtive messages left at coffee houses to avoid the prying eyes of landladies.  One letter reads, in its entirety: ‘I shall be at Westminster bridge at 8, Shall put my Handkerchief to my face and wear a Bonnet.’

Letter from Jenny Wade
Signs of strain soon begin to appear in the letters, with Miss Wade threatening that she will be forced to leave London to escape her creditors unless Wilkes will pay off her debts and set her up in private lodgings: ‘I really cannot think £50 or £60 can be a sum which you cannot at any time command.’  There are occasional references to another gentleman, a Mr Paul, who has offered to set Miss Wade up in a house in the country.  The one letter from Wilkes preserved among the correspondence gallantly compliments her on her ‘delicacy of sentiment’, and assures her of his ‘truest regard and tenderness’, but the relationship seems to have lasted less than a year before Miss Wade moved to Warwickshire and Wilkes moved on to other conquests.

Horace Bleackley’s life of Wilkes, published in 1907, describes Miss Wade as a ‘frail adventuress’, while Arthur Cash’s more recent biography, published in 2006, calls her a ‘professional courtesan’.  Both writers go to some pains to cast Wilkes’s numerous affairs in a sympathetic light: Cash, for example, suggests that he was genuinely fond of his mistresses, and that ‘he treated their letters as treasures, collecting, organising and labelling them, as though he wanted to preserve their memory’.  Perhaps so, though I have to confess that I find something mildly creepy in the sight of these letters neatly labelled in Wilkes’s own hand; to me they seem less like souvenirs d’amour and more like sexual trophies.  A cynic might suspect that Wilkes’s rakish charm has seduced his biographers just as successfully as it did Miss Wade.

Arnold Hunt
Curator, Modern Historical Manuscripts


19 October 2012

‘Old Nimmo’- the Del Boy of the 1780s

In many workplaces there is a fixer, someone who not only knows the ropes but the best way to tie them.  Hard-pressed bookbinders who worked in late eighteenth century London were lucky to have Watkin Nimmo on their side.  Accounts of his scams can be found in the Library’s Jaffray Collection

Watkin (also known as Watkins, Walter or familiarly, Wattie or Old Nimmo) worked as a bookbinder in Blackfriars and his son Watkin and grandson Richard followed him into the trade.  Opinions vary.  To the bindings historian, Ellic Howe, he was “a disreputable old gentleman.”  An account in the Ipswich Journal of Saturday 29 April 1797 demonstrated his fighting spirit and radical leanings, describing Nimmo’s two month imprisonment for punching fellow binder, John Dooy, in the eye for deserting the trade society. In the journal, The British Bookmaker, Nimmo appears in a more heroic, if humorous, light.

The 1780s saw considerable tension between the masters, i.e. the owners of the bookbinding businesses, and the journeymen, the qualified craftsmen who worked for them. The men requested a reduction in the work day from 14 to 13 hours.  They met together in local groups (prototype trade unions) for protection and support and, in 1786, decided upon strike action.  The masters protected their own interests by prosecuting their employees under the strict ‘anti-union’ Combination Laws. Nimmo was selected for prosecution but, despite this, he remained on good terms with the masters and acted as a spy for the trade society, passing on valuable information.

Westminster Hall Westminster Hall from Lambert, The history and survey of London (London, 1806) vol III opp. p.410 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

When the matter came to trial at Westminster Hall in February 1787, Wattie was there, and not solely to tend to his nut-selling business, “a very profitable speculation”.  He distracted a waiting group of masters by plying them with rum and then picked the pocket of John Lovejoy (to whom his son was apprenticed), stealing evidence which would have put the journeymen in a poor light!  Lovejoy, lacking the crucial evidence, retired ‘discomforted’ from the court, amidst much laughter.

It was perhaps a mixed blessing that Nimmo himself was not called to give evidence, since he had devised a routine involving the ‘accidental’ dropping of a heavy beating hammer on the toe of the judge.

Philippa Marks
Curator, Bookbindings. Printed Historical Sources

The Jaffray Collection comprises scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings, trade society reports and other material compiled by the Victorian bookbinder John Jaffray.

Further reading

Charles Ramsden, London bookbinders 1780-1840 (London, 1956).
Ellic Howe, ‘London Bookbinders: Masters and Men, 1780-1840’ The Library. Fifth ser., v. 1, no. 1, June 1946.
The British Bookmaker Vols v-vii (1891-4) include articles on the actions of the trade societies.
Ellic Howe and John Childe, The Society of London Bookbinders 1780-1951, London, 1952.

17 October 2012

Roxburgh discovers the Bread-Fruit tree in India

Logo for Botany in British IndiaThis subject-oriented blog post is part of the Botany in British India Project.
To see all blog posts related to the Project, search for: bibi.


Why this file of correspondence?

IOR/P/241/12  pp 1609-16 is one of the earlier botany files. Within it, we learn of the activity of a key botanist, Dr Roxburgh, building on existing (often Indian) knowledge as shown in the extract by John Ellis. It highlights the special and exotic nature of the bread-fruit tree at the time, in particular the great potential it presented.

 Bread Fruit

John Ellis, A description of the Mangostan [mangosteen] and the Bread-fruit (London, 1775) p.10 ‘The Bread Fruit’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

What is Bread Fruit and Why all the Excitement?

As can be seen here, botanists in the 18th century recognised the bread fruit as a highly valuable food source. This same interest and potential in breadfruit as a healthy and sustainable source of nutrition continues today, as recognized by Crops for the Future.

Plants for Prizes: Exchange of Plants and Plant Knowledge between India and England

Roxburgh refers to a letter (included) offering prizes called ‘premiums’ of a gold medal or fifty pounds for anyone able to bring to the Society in London the most bread-fruit trees in the form of at least three plants of one species between 1 June-15 August 1777. The file is one of many which provide evidence of the great intensity of plant collecting and exchanging of knowledge between the two countries.

Bread Fruit Wired Case
Botanical Detail
An extraordinary amount of detail about plants can be found in these records! Roxburgh gives particular detail about his efforts to procure the tree and his method for propagating it. I wonder if any other methods exist and whether anyone has tried it?





John Eliis, A description of the Mangostan [mangosteen] and the Bread-fruit: p.21 'A Wired Case for bringing over the Bread Fruit Tree, the Mangostan, or any other usefull Plants from East India or the South Seas’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Over to you!

Why not drop us a comment here and we will gain new perspectives on the records and their context!

Claire Norman
Project Officer: Botany in British India


Further Resources

Ellis, John, A description of the Mangodan and the Bread fruit, the first esteemed one of the most delicious, the other, the most useful of all the fruits in the East Indies - search for this in the BL catalogue.
Bligh, William, A Voyage to the South Sea, 1792, Project Gutenberg – expeditions to obtain the bread-fruit tree.
Breadfruit at Crops for the Future


12 October 2012

Black labourers in London

To celebrate Black History Month and the anniversary of Untold Lives, we return to two black East India Company London warehouse labourers who appeared in our very first story.

James Inglis is described in the Company records as a ‘Negro’.  He had worked as a servant for a ‘Mr D. Inglis’ before joining the cloth warehouse in April 1820 at the age of 33.  He was nominated for the job by director William Taylor Money. Money’s sister Martha was married to David Deas Inglis, so he seems a likely candidate for James’s previous employer.  David Deas Inglis was born in Charleston Carolina in 1777 and served the East India Company in Bombay. The Inglis family plantations in Charleston may explain how James came to be his servant.

In 1820 James was living at 3 Rose and Crown Court, Moorfields.  He served as a private soldier in the Royal East India Volunteers, a corps first formed in 1796 to protect East India House and the Company warehouses ‘against hazard from insurrections and tumults’ and to assist the City government in times of disorder.  James was discharged from the Volunteers in February 1828 but the reason is not given.  He then seems to disappear from the surviving Company records. 

Consecration of the Colours of the Third Regiment of Royal East India Volunteers at Lord's Cricket Ground
WD 2425 Consecration of the Colours of the Third Regiment of Royal East India Volunteers at Lord's Cricket Ground, London, 29 June 1799 © The British Library Board Images Online

Richard Lane, ‘a man of Colour’, entered the Company’s Bengal Warehouse in New Street in March 1820 aged 32. He had been a servant to Mr Wood before being nominated for a labourer post by director Robert Campbell.  His home address in 1820 was 101 Houndsditch. Richard also served in the Royal East India Volunteers, but for only a short period from August 1820 until February 1821 when he was discharged, again for unknown reasons.  We next hear of him in the 1830s when the warehouse labourers were being made redundant after the government forced the Company to wind up its commercial operations.  In March 1837 Richard submitted a petition to be allowed to retire and go to his native country of America where he wished to remain with his relations.  This was approved and he was allowed to commute his pension of £19 10s per annum to a one-off lump sum payment of £184.

I am keen to know more about these two men. Can any readers shed any further light on the lives of James Inglis and Richard Lane?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:

IOR/L/AG/30/5 Admission register for East India Company warehouse labourers – data available on the India Office Family History Search

IOR/L/MIL/5/485 Register of soldiers in the Royal East India Volunteers

05 October 2012

Paupa Braminy – an overlooked Indian historian

By the middle of the eighteenth century the Carnatic was experiencing more than its fair share of instability within the fragmenting Mogul Empire. Intense political and military upheaval among rival ruling families, coupled with Anglo-French intrigues laid the ground work for the beginnings of the imperial phase of the East India Company’s existence.


Nawab of Arcot's palace
The Palace of the Late Nabob of Arcot BL, X 768 © The British Library Board Images Online


Working as the head interpreter (chief dubash) for the English Governor at the Company’s settlement in Madras during the 1740s and 1750s, Paupa Braminy was a keen observer of the unfolding events in the Carnatic. He was also a colleague and correspondent of the famous historian Robert Orme who worked at Madras during the same period. With a similar interest in the recent history of the Indian subcontinent it was only natural that the two men would exchange historical information with one another around the time of Orme’s return to England. Some of these exchanges survive in the collections of Robert Orme at the British Library. Amongst Orme’s papers scattered works by Braminy include: The meaning of some titles in Indostan by Paupa Braminy, 1752Of  the justice administered in Carnatica, and more importantly The state of the province of Arcot, alias Pauyeen-Ghaut Carnatica, which covered the history of the region from 1700 to about 1750.

Unlike the important diaries of another contemporary dubash named Ananda Ranga Pillai, Braminy’s surviving papers are entirely in English which makes him one of the earliest Indian historians writing in the English language. His father and grandfather had worked as dubashes for the Company before him and this no doubt goes a long way towards explaining the high levels of accuracy and fluency Braminy’s works display. Robert Orme counted him as a very reliable source of information a point well attested by the fact that he submitted a shortened version of Braminy’s work on the Carnatic to the Secretary of State Lord Holdernesse around 1757 which can now be found in the Home Miscellaneous series of the India Office Records.

Histories recording events in the Carnatic during this period are always of interest, however this small corpus of writing is especially significant as it provides an excellent example of how one hitherto unknown Indian writer had a significant impact on the writings and thoughts of one of the most important early historians on British India and subsequent historiography.

Richard Scott Morel
Archivist, East India Company Records

Further reading -

Writings of Paupa Braminy are scattered through the Orme collection:IOPP/Mss Eur Orme.

Robert Orme’s version of Braminy’s work can be found in IOR/H/94 (20) pp. 295-336: Brief relation of the succession of Nabobs in the Province of Arcot from the year 1700.