Untold lives blog

13 posts from March 2013

28 March 2013

Hand Grenade Throwing as a College Sport

Goblinproofing One's Chicken Coop has just won a prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. Curator Andy Simons tells us of other strange book titles lurking in the British Library collections.

There has long been a quasi-sport, in the manner of train spotting, to note down an absurd printed title.  As one who’s charged with filling in the Library’s gaps in its modern UK holdings, I have the privilege of being introduced to many.
While Cats in the Belfry sold through several editions since 1957, most oddly-titled works about four-legged friends end up on almost no one’s shelf.  Sacha Carnegie: Pigs I Have Known (1958) and Badgers without Bias : An Objective Look at the Controversy about Tuberculosis in Badgers and Cattle (1981) hopefully each found their keen crowds. 
While we appreciate a witty front cover, such as Alexander Payne & James Zemaitis’ The Coffee Table Coffee Table Book (2003), the best ones trip out the front door with laces untied.  Hence, the Association of Maternity & Child Welfare Centres’ Dangerous Dirty Deadly Dummy (c.1929) and VE Louis’ A Motorist’s Guide to the Soviet Union (1967). 
Book titles can also be the focus of literary hoaxes. After inviting radio listeners to suggest the theme, plot, title and author of a book that didn’t already exist, Manhattan’s WOR-AM radio presenter Jean Shepherd became amused when his listeners took delight in badgering bookshops to stock it.  Thus, Mr Shepherd co-wrote the non-existent Frederick R. Ewing’s I, Libertine (1957).  This is the gentle sort of hoax that enriches publishing history.
But I must shamefully admit that, due to an incautious moment, I incurred a wound on the battlefield of librarianship, a minor scratch really, having fallen hard on a fictitious war casualty.

Lt William Thomas Forshaw hurling hand grenades at the enemy
Lt William Thomas Forshaw VC hurled hand grenades at the enemy for forty one hours August 1915 during an action at Gallipoli. © UIG/The British Library Board  Images Online

While Hoovering-up deserving digitisation candidates for a scanning project about the Great War, Lewis Omer’s Hand Grenade Throwing as a College Sport stumbled into my path and I felt duty-bound to rescue it for posterity.  According to the British Library's catalogue, this would-be Title of the Decade Winner was published in both New York and Chicago by Spalding & Bros, an actual manufacturer of Stateside sporting equipment.  Further, it was just nine printed pages, published in 1918, and destroyed during aerial bombing in the Second World War.
Although the smoke was but a wisp, my inner voice should have yelled “Fire!” The Library of Congress haven’t got the booklet and, trust me, it shows up in no other repository.  A certain Mr Lewis Omer wrote a mathematical thesis for his University of Illinois degree in 1902.  And in 1940, one Lewis S. Omer (b. 1873) wrote what appears to be his life story as General Freight Traffic Manager on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. But it’s likely that neither of these are the same Lewis Omer.
Frances Wood, curator of Chinese materials at the British Library, wrote Hand-Grenade Practice in Peking : My Part in the Cultural Revolution (2000, 2011), but although her amusing account does reference the proper tossing of explosives, the book’s title is as real as it is amusing.  Despite having a catalogue entry, the arm-wielding of ordnance won’t be part of a degree qualification or be an Olympics event any time soon.
Andy Simons, Printed Historical Sources     Cc-by

26 March 2013

Policing the crowds in Aberystwyth

The royal visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Aberystwyth on Friday 26 June 1896 was received with levels of public enthusiasm rarely seen today. Crowds poured into the town from across mid-Wales – a local public holiday had been declared - to see Prince Albert Edward (later King Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra arrive by rail and progress through the streets in the royal carriage. The primary purpose of the visit was the installation of the prince as chancellor of the University of Wales, but Princess Alexandra also formally opened the glass pavilion on the new pier. Security was tight: a Royal Navy ship of war was expected to be stationed out in Cardigan Bay.

Police regulations for Royal visit to Aberystwyth 1896Noc

When the Library acquired a copy of Cardiganshire Constabulary’s Rules, orders, and guide to constables, it came with a 14-page pamphlet bound at the end. This was the Police Regulations for the 1896 royal visit, written by Howell Evans, Chief Constable of Cardiganshire. The dense text comprises detailed instructions for police officers who were required to move from one location to another as the day’s events unfolded. The instructions for the local Cardiganshire men are typical:
Of Cardiganshire Constabulary, 20 men to ... line Terrace Road for 100 yards at 5 yard intervals ...
As soon as the procession has passed ... The 20 Cardiganshire men from Terrace Road to ... line North Parade for 120 yards at 6 yard intervals ...
During the luncheon ... The Cardiganshire men from North Parade to join the Swansea men and line the Terrace for 120 yards at 6 yard interval ...
After the procession has passed down the Terrace ... The Cardiganshire men will likewise change position and join the Swansea men in Terrace Road.

All the streets mentioned in the pamphlet are still the same today, and the route of the royal procession can easily be mapped on a modern-day street plan, emphasising how much running about the foot police, fire brigade and others had to do in order to realise Mr Evans’s instructions. Many of the landmarks are also still there, although a few have been lost in the intervening years , such as the 1870 Town Hall – which the Town Council spent £400 decorating for the royal visit – but which burnt down in 1957.

In addition to local Cardiganshire men (mostly foot police and volunteer fire fighters), police officers were drafted in from outside the county: 82 were brought in from Glamorganshire, 42 from Carmarthenshire, and 21 from the Borough of Swansea, together with English detectives from London (2), Liverpool (2), Birmingham (1), and Manchester (1).


Last two pages of the pamphlet showing handwritten notes signed by Howell Evans

The final blank leaf of the pamphlet has in this copy been filled with handwritten notes signed by Howell Evans. They record the day’s instructions for the volunteer Royal Cardigan[-shire] Artillery, under the command of Regimental Sergeant-Major J. Heslam. One wonders whether their involvement had been agreed after the pamphlet had been sent to the printers?

Subsequent press reports of the royal visit record that the day went exceedingly well, but fail to mention the policing: no doubt an indication of the success of Howell Evans’s meticulous planning.


Adrian Edwards
Printed Historical Sources  Cc-by

Further reading
Hansard v.40, c.1549; 18 May 1896
Rules, orders, and guide to constables (Aberystwyth, 1897; British Library reference: RB.23.a.34665.)


22 March 2013

Indian Doctors and the first Asiatic Cholera Pandemic

The role western physicians played in treating and conducting research into nineteenth century Indian cholera epidemics is well publicised. However in celebrating the bicentenary of John Snow’s birth, it is also important to remember the crucial role of Indian doctors employed by the government of British India to combat such outbreaks. In 1817, the first cases of what developed into the first Asiatic cholera pandemic broke out in Bengal. Within months the government had treated over 21,876 individuals cases in the areas around Calcutta. The medical authorities did not yet understand the causes of cholera nor how to treat it effectively, often prescribing brutal treatments or dangerous substances such as opium. Such a lack of understanding in addition to the consequent pressures on medical personnel, resources, and reluctance within the general population of receiving medical treatment from European doctors resulted in a policy of employing Indian doctors and physicians almost immediately. Once appointed, such individuals were provided with medicine and other supplies including brandy and eau de Luce before being stationed within particular areas of Bengal to treat and care for the infected.

Map by showing the places chiefly visited by the epidemic

Map by James Jameson showing the places chiefly visited by the epidemic, from Report on the Epidemick Cholera Morbus, as it visited the territories subject to the Presidency of Bengal, in the years 1817, 1818 and 1819.  (Calcutta, 1820).      Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Despite the important role they were to play, the employment was only temporary.  Many Indian physicians were appointed during the height of an outbreak and then dismissed once the government felt the situation was back under control. One such individual was Ramtonoo Kuberary who was employed for four months and twenty one days to treat the infected at Khal Boalia and paid a monthly allowance of eight sicca rupees. In the official statistics forwarded to London it was stated that in one area of Bengal out of a total of 10,621 cases treated by Indian doctors, 10,035 were restored to health and 57 returned to their friends in a convalescent state.  At a more local level, magistrates in Dacca reported that four Indian physicians named Dhunnoo, Niamut, Abdool and Abdoola treated 1,124 cases out of which 1,025 were cured and 101 died. These four medical men therefore had a success rate of 91%. Bearing in mind such success was often achieved under difficult working conditions, it is small wonder that Indian physicians earned the respect and gratitude not only of their European counterparts within the medical profession, but also from the Bengal Government.

Richard Scott Morel and Lynn Osborne
India Office Records  

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/617/15372: Correspondence relating to the Cholera epidemic in Bengal; expenses for medicine and employment of Native Doctors.


21 March 2013

Pilgrimage and public health

The devastation wrought by cholera seized my imagination as a child when I read how the disease wiped out the family and Indian servants of Mary Lennox, the heroine of The Secret Garden. Not surprisingly, the causes of cholera, its prevention and cure were of acute interest to British officials in India responsible for military and public health. Their voluminous reports such as the History of Cholera in India from 1862 to 1881 record the incidence of the disease, mortality statistics and factors such as the weather and the availability of food, in an attempt to understand the epidemiology. My eye was caught by the discussion of the kumbh mela (twelve-yearly festival) in Hardwar, a site of Hindu pilgrimage in the Punjab, in 1867. Cholera in India.

The sanitary conditions of the pilgrim camps were ‘said to have presented a marked contrast to any previous gatherings which had ever been held at Hardwar. The encampment was singularly clean, and the arrangements for the disposal of all filth were actively and successfully carried out.’ Until 13 April, the 3 million pilgrims were in good health, but between 13 and 15 April, there were 19 cases of cholera. It was thought that there was ‘good reason to believe that, had the pilgrims continued at Hardwar for even a few days longer, the mortality among them would have been even greater than it unhappily was.’

Conditions were quite harsh as Hardwar is hot by day but cold by night in early spring. In 1867, there was a fierce thunderstorm on 11 April, and it continued to rain on 12 April, the great bathing day. ‘A vast number [of pilgrims] must have waited in a state of fatigue for twenty-four hours till the sun came ere they could get any dry clothes on their bodies.’ From 12 April, the pilgrims began to disperse. Many contracted cholera en route or when they reached home. ‘In a large number of places, these way-worn and weather-beaten people were the first to succumb before the prevailing epidemic, and this circumstance gave rise to a general belief that they were the direct cause of the widespread diffusion and violent prevalence of the disease.’ The author of the History reserved judgement on the matter, but did concede that ‘returning pilgrims very largely made up the total cholera mortality of the year in the Province’.Cholera history 004

Graph showing a steep rise in cholera cases from April

The History refers to the Sanitary Administration Report for the Punjab, 1867, whose author was bemused by the cholera outbreak, wondering if it had spread too widely and suddenly for it to be caused by ‘contagion’ which ‘extends itself gradually’. He quoted Dr Murray, Inspector-General of Hospitals, Upper Provinces, who suggested  that ‘the simultaneous appearance of cholera in every section of the pilgrims was due to atmospheric cause, rather than dissemination from any individual source’.  Apparently Dr Murray had attributed several instances of cholera to ‘unseasonable showers’ such as those experienced at Hardwar. Perhaps the findings of John Snow during the 1854 cholera outbreak in London had not yet gained total acceptance among British public health officials in India.

Penny Brook
Lead Curator, India Office Records

Images Noc

Further reading
IOR/V/27/853/13, History of Cholera in India from 1862 to 1881 with General Statistical Summary and Deductions Drawn Therefrom. Prepared for the Special Committee on Cholera of 1881, by Deputy Surgeon General H.W. Bellew, Sanitary Commissioner, Punjab 
Richard Axelby and Savithri Preetha Nair, Science and the Changing Environment in India 1780-1920: a Guide to Sources in the India Office Records (The British Library, 2010) Available from the Online Shop
Search our Catalogue Archives and Manuscripts

19 March 2013

Cholera on the emigrant ship 'Sheila'

The system of indentured labour existed between 1830 and 1920 to meet the demand for labour in plantation colonies following the abolition of slavery. An Indian worker could sign on for a fixed period, usually five years, to work at a particular colony. With large numbers of Indians being shipped to various British and French colonies during this period, the conditions at the embarkation depots in India and on board the ships were of vital importance if outbreaks of disease were to be avoided. One example of a voyage where there was an outbreak of cholera was the ship Sheila, which travelled from Calcutta to Suriname in 1882.

Emigration map

Emigration Map of the World- Henry Smith Evans (1849) Maps.60.a.12  Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Sheila, an English ship, arrived at Calcutta on 23 July 1882 with a cargo of kerosene oil from New York. At the beginning of September, she was contracted to take 500 Indian emigrants to Suriname, in replacement of another ship which had not arrived. Initially scheduled to leave Calcutta on 23 September, there was a delay due to most of the labourers deserting the depot and the difficulty in recruiting replacements. In the end, only 451 Indians were recruited for the voyage, allowing the Sheila to depart the port of Calcutta on 9 October 1882. According to the report by Dr Schelkly, Medical Officer in charge of the quarantine station, Asiatic cholera in its most violent form broke out on 16 October, and raged for 12 days. By the time the Sheila reached Suriname on 12 January 1883, there had been 49 deaths, 37 of which were put down to Asiatic cholera. The Suriname Administration quarantined the ship for three weeks, and arranged for the treatment of those passengers who were still sick.

In his report, Dr Schelkly gives three possibly reasons for the cause of the outbreak:
•    Contaminated drinking water. The source of the drinking water on board the ship was not positively established, and the tanks it was stored in were not kept clean enough.
•    Carried on the emigrants clothing.
•    Incipient cholera in one of the emigrants prior to embarkation at Calcutta. The rush to recruit new labourers following the desertions at Calcutta prevented a sufficient period for the health of all the emigrants to be observed prior to boarding the ship.
Better ventilation of the ship might also have helped the situation.

Unfortunately, the India Office files do not give details of the individual passengers and crew of the Sheila. However, the reports by Dr Schelkly, and by the Ship Surgeon, along with the related correspondence from the British Consul at Paramaribo in Suriname, give a wealth of details about the ship and the conditions on board, such as sanitation, ventilation, the dimensions and layout of the ship, diet of the emigrants, and provision of drinking water.

A page from the report of the Superintending Surgeon on the Sheila

A page from the report of the Superintending Surgeon on the Sheila, IOR/L/PJ/6/94, file 561 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


John O’Brien
Post 1858 India Office Records 

Further reading:
Emigration to Suriname: Report on serious mortality amongst Indian immigrants on board the British ship Sheila arriving at Fort New Amsterdam (cause of mortality said to be cholera), 20th January to 13th February 1883 [IOR/L/PJ/6/91, File 245]

Emigration to Suriname: Arrival of the Sheila with coolies from Calcutta; excessive mortality during the voyage stated to be from Asiatic cholera, 13th February to 1st May 1883 [IOR/L/PJ/6/94, File 561]

Emigration to Suriname: minute of the Quarantine Board of British Guiana on the case of the British ship Sheila, put in quarantine off British Guiana after cholera during voyage with coolies from Calcutta, 27th July 1883 [IOR/L/PJ/6/102, File 1242]

17 March 2013

‘Cholera mostly attacks at midnight’

You may be surprised to learn that the East India Company provided free medical advice and treatment to its London warehouse labourers in the early 19th century. Having carefully screened men for physical defects on admission, the Company then sought to maintain their health by giving them access to a doctor as soon as they felt unwell. If the illness was not serious the labourer continued at work, perhaps given light duties.  Men with more serious ailments stayed at home and were paid sickness benefit of 1s 6d per day including Sundays.   Payment was withheld if the problem was caused by drunkenness, venereal disease, ‘fighting any pitched Battle, or by Reason of any Hurt or Injury occasioned by Idleness or voluntary Contests’.  One of the Company surgeons visited the sick labourers at home and men could not return to work without his permission. Men might be granted leave of absence to go to the country for a change of air or to seek treatment at places such as the Sea Bathing Hospital in Margate.

Consumption, pulmonary complaints and fever were common amongst the labourers. Whenever flu or cholera was prevalent in London, 40 or 50 men every day attended the Company clinic with coughs and bowel complaints. Before the water-borne transmission of cholera was identified, the Central Board of Health issued advice like this from 1832:

Instructions publicly posted to prevent the spread of cholera 15 February 1832
Instructions publicly posted to prevent the spread of cholera 15 February 1832 from Forms for returns of Cholera cases and Sanitary Instructions, etc. respecting Cholera Images Online

Two of the self-help remedies here expressly recommend drinking water, either with mustard powder or salt. With hindsight, we can see that this had the unhappy consequence of encouraging further exposure to a primary source of infection.

During the cholera epidemic in the summer of 1849 The London Daily News published an advert for Fenning's Cholera Mixture. A family size bottle cost £1 1s, more than a labourer earned in a week. The advert claimed:
‘All have been saved who have taken it.  A dose taken twice a week will prevent any attack.  Every family should keep it in the house, in the bedrooms, ready for immediate use, as the Cholera mostly attacks at midnight’.

The cholera epidemic in the summer of 1849 claimed the lives of several people connected with the East India Company in London. Warehouse pensioners and their families died in areas as far apart as Wapping and King’s Cross. Labourer Dennis Crane was struck down by cholera whilst at work in the Military Store warehouse in Leadenhall Street in August 1849. Medical help was summoned, and Crane was taken to hospital in a cab but unfortunately he soon died. The speed with which death followed the onset of cholera symptoms was frightening.

The East India Company selected well-qualified surgeons to deliver comprehensive medical treatment to the labourers.  But the Company was powerless to protect its London employees against the ravages of cholera in an era when transmission of the disease was not fully understood.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading
The London Daily News 12 July 1849  British Newspaper Archive.

If you are interested in knowing more about the East India Company warehouse labourers, please contact Margaret Makepeace at the BL.

15 March 2013

John Snow saves Soho bookbinders

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Snow, the pioneer anaesthetist and epidemiologist who demonstrated that cholera was spread by infected water rather than being airborne. To mark this, we are going to post a series of stories relating to cholera. We start with a cholera outbreak in Soho and the effect on the bookbinding community there.

A Court for King Cholera - drawing of poor urban area
Image taken from Punch 25 September 1852.  Images Online. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Bookbinders in Victorian London often worked in particular neighbourhoods.  One such was present day Soho.  Poland Street, Broad (now Broadwick) Street and Noel Street contained at least twenty three workshops. Binders and their families and apprentices lived above the business, and any spare rooms were rented out to lodgers. Other employees worked on the premises for six days a week. Crowding was the norm, conditions were insanitary, and water came from communal outdoor pumps.  Disease was rife.  September 1854 saw a virulent outbreak of cholera. 127 people living in or around Broad Street died in three days.  The Bookbinders’ Trade Circular noted that Wickwar & Co of Poland Street lost four people to the disease and Wright of Noel Street, six.

Local physician and early epidemiologist, John Snow, investigated the cause of the cholera by gathering reports of the circumstances of the fatalities:

[William Wickwar] was sent for from Brighton to see his brother [John Wickwar] at 6 Poland Street, who was attacked with cholera and died in twelve hours, on 1st September. The gentleman arrived after his brother's death, and did not see the body. He only stayed about twenty minutes in the house, where he took a hasty and scanty luncheon of rumpsteak, taking with it a small tumbler of brandy and water, the water being from Broad street pump. He went to Pentonville, and was attacked with cholera on the evening of the following day, 2nd September, and died the next evening.

Analysis of these incidents led Snow to an important discovery; cholera was not air borne but transmitted by water, and the epicentre of this outbreak was an infected supply in Broad Street. The pump there was eventually shut down and measures were taken, albeit slowly, to eliminate the conditions in which the disease could thrive.


Advertising material for Wickwar
Jaffray Collection 156        Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Despite the loss of these experienced craftsmen and women, items in the British Library’s John Jaffray Collection indicate that the Wickwar and Wright businesses survived, as did the wider bookbinding trade in Soho, ultimately thanks to the enquiring mind and perseverance of their neighbour, John Snow.

Philippa Marks
Curator, Bookbindings; Printed Historical Sources  

Further reading;
Maurice Packer, The bookbinders of Victorian London, London, 1991
The Bookbinders’ Trade Circular, London, issue for September 1854
John Snow, On the Mode of Communication of Cholera second edition, London, 1855


12 March 2013

The Great Escape – Part 3

After writing about Iwan Bazylewski, Bronislaw Boguszewicz and Tatiana Czynnowa in earlier posts on Untold Lives, I came by chance across documents relating to ‘Aliens’ containing lists of names from various internment camps including Dehra Dun, Satara, and Purandhar. Here is what I have discovered…

Iwan Bazylewski spent seven years interned at Dehra Dun He was treated as a serious threat as he had a history of anti-Soviet political activities and had spent few years in a concentration camp. In 1942 Bazylewski decided to join the communist Red Army to fight against Germany but was turned down by the Soviet military attaché.

Image of soldier from Soviet poster
Image of soldier from Soviet poster: "For the fatherland, For Stalin...".  ©Lessing Archive/British Library Board Images Online

The Government of India decided to release Bazylewski if he could find a job. In October 1944, he was found unsuitable for employment under the military authorities. He was still trying to secure work in 1946. The Russians applied to the India Office for his repatriation, but he could not be forced to go back as he was not subject to the Yalta Agreement. An attempt to push him over to the International Refugees Organisation failed and Bazylewski arrived in the UK on S.S. Strathmore on 3 November 1947.  Robert Niven Gilchrist from the India Office was not happy about the outcome, but he could at least pass the case onto the Home Office.  Neither the Russians nor Poles wanted to take poor Bazylewski and after pushing him between the Northland House in Southampton, the National Service Hostel in Hyde Park, and Brixton Prison, he was finally placed in employment in the summer of 1948.

Bronislaw Boguszewicz was initially released in 1941, but he also found himself in Dehra Dun’s internment camp ‘because he was unfriendly to the Polish authorities’. Boguszewicz did not wish to return to Poland.  He appears on a number of lists of internees and is mentioned in the documents relating to the ‘removal of aliens’ after the World War II. Boguszewicz was passed onto the International Refugee Organisation for resettlement, but was excluded from repatriation. The India Office files do not give any details of his whereabouts after the war, but I have come across a website of a Polish film consultant, who worked on The Way Back. The film was based on Slavomir Rawicz’s book The Long Walk which claimed to tell the true story of an escape from the Soviet Union to India. Apparently Boguszewicz recognised some characters in the book although it certainly was not his story as he escaped through Persia, not the Himalayas. Perhaps he met some of the people in the camps?

Tatiana Czynnowa is my favourite adventurer, full of life and imagination, a tough woman fearing nothing and risking everything. She too ended up in the internment camp and was then was placed in the parole centre in Purandhar. She claimed to be a nurse, born in ‘Kaftan Tatar’.  She was subsequently moved to Satara. She gave birth to a baby girl in 1942 and evidence suggests that they were both released in October 1943. Here the trail ends and at present her subsequent story remains untold.  Can you complete it for us?

Dorota Walker
Reference Specialist, Asian and African Studies

Further reading:
Read Part 1 & Part 2 of The Great Escape
IOR/L/PJ/8/31, 35, 37 , 38