Untold lives blog

10 posts from May 2013

31 May 2013

Gardening as therapy

In 1840, Lord Auckland, Governor General of India, asked for reports upon the condition and management of the four Insane Hospitals in the Bengal Presidency at Russapaglah in the 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, Dacca, and Patna. A circular letter was issued asking for information, for example, on the number of patients, the construction, organisation and management of the hospitals, the methods employed for the amusement and occupation of the patients, and the rates of cures and mortality.

The reports submitted give a wealth of detail on the condition of the hospitals and the treatment of the patients. In his report on the Russa Hospital, dated 16th January 1841, F P Strong, Civil Surgeon of the 24 Parganas, included details of the botanical activities being employed as a method for treating and helping patients suffering from mental illness by providing employment and amusements. The idea being that working in the garden provided for the patients “exercise and mental change, with a view to their forgetting or in some manner losing sight of their unfortunate condition”.


  Plan of Insane Hospital, Russa Zillah

Insane Hospital, Russa Zillah, 24 Parganas, IOR/F/4/2042/92957  Noc

All the hospitals were concerned with providing some amusement or employment for the patients on a voluntary basis, and most had a garden to which the patients had access. However, the Russa Hospital was particularly successful in cultivating a wide range of botanical products, specimens and seeds of which were sent back to England and distributed to other cultivators throughout India. Among the products the patients cultivated or experimented with in the hospital gardens were:

•    Coffee
•    Several varieties of cotton
•    Sugar cane
•    Mulberry
•    Aloe

The patients’ botanical endeavours were recognised by learned botanical organisations. For instance, the favourable results of experiments in cultivating the cactus plant, and rearing the cochineal insect, were published by the Agricultural Society in 1836. Dr Strong reported that the patients had successfully cultivated sapan wood, with its seeds being sent to the Agricultural Society, and distributed throughout India. He sent large quantities of the wood to Australasia, where he expected it would make excellent hedges. The Mysore thorn was also cultivated with the same objective.

Of all the occupations available to the patients, the cultivation of coffee was found to be the safest and best, with Dr Strong reporting that “Its cultivation is agreeable to the Insanes and occupies their attention a good deal and I believe has gone far to enable me to discharge many cured of their malady sooner than I could have done without such resources”.

Many of the stronger patients also engaged in building and landscaping work to improve the hospital's grounds, while the female patients were engaged in “spinning cotton, beating, shelling and picking rice, preparing fish spices and vegetables for the cookroom”. Most of the coffee was picked by the women, with some cooking their morning and evening meals.

The correspondence reporting on the condition and management of these hospitals can be found in the India Office Records. The report by Dr Strong on the gardens at Russa has been digitised as part of the Botany in British India Project.


John O’Brien
Post 1858 India Office Records   Cc-by

See also:
Exercise to ease a trouble mind Therapy for mental health at the East India Company's Pembroke House Asylum in London


28 May 2013

‘Domestic differences and little broils’

The Tarrant family had a number of connections to the East India Company.  James Tarrant was butler to Company Secretary James Cobb before being nominated for a labourer post in the Company London warehouses in 1811.  When his wife Elizabeth was appointed housekeeper to the Company in 1814, Tarrant and their baby son James moved with her into East India House.  Elizabeth’s brother John Daycock already worked there as a clerk in the Secretary’s Department.

One of the duties for Elizabeth Tarrant and her team of assistants was to provide breakfasts for the staff at East India House.  There is a book of weekly accounts signed by Elizabeth showing the number of meals served and the food stuffs purchased.

Housekeeper's Weekly Account Book

IOPP/MSS Eur E270   Noc

In the week ending 12 December 1829, 700 breakfasts were served and Elizabeth spent £271 1s 6 ½d on sugar, coffee, butter, black and green tea, bread loaves and rolls, milk, cream and 'Bristol loaf'.  She was also responsible for taking care of 145 pieces of domestic silver: pots for tea, coffee and milk; spoons; forks; sugar tongs.

However the Tarrants did not live together peaceably and their ‘domestic differences and little broils’ eventually forced the Company’s senior officials to intervene.  John Daycock was sent to fetch the Company warehouse surgeon who questioned James Tarrrant and pronounced him insane.  Elizabeth ‘readily’ signed a certificate and three Company officials forced James into a coach which took him to Dr Warburton’s asylum at Bethnal Green.  He was detained there for three months.

Domestic quarrel with a woman tugging the tablecloth and throwing a plate at a man seated at a dining table

  Brouille dans le menage (1893)   Images Online  © De Agostini

In 1818 James was re-admitted as a warehouse labourer but suspended for insolence in 1820.  The Company dismissed him in 1826 when he spent time in prison ‘for breaking the peace in his own family’.   James asked to have his job back in 1828 but he behaved violently at East India House and was banned from future employment with the Company.  In 1832 he petitioned in vain to be granted a pension.

After Elizabeth had retired in 1834 on an annual pension of £75, James started to submit more petitions to the Company.  He complained that he had ‘a very bad Wife, who has sent me a Bill of Pay for her Appartments, and not complying with her extravagance my Goods was Seized and taken away Novr 1835 and her habits is so contrary to mine being given to dram drinking &c &c’.  He said he was unemployed and in extreme poverty: he had been given small sums of money by Company officials and their wives.  James submitted a solicitor’s letter claiming that the whole of Elizabeth’s pension should by law be paid to her husband.  The Company directors refused to pay Elizabeth's pension to James, a decision which appears very enlightened given that the Married Women’s Property Act was not passed until 1870.  When John Daycock made his will in 1849, he specified that the bequests to his sister Elizabeth and other female beneficiaries were to be for ‘their respective sole and separate use and benefit’ and not to be subject to the control of their husbands.

After leaving East India House, Elizabeth lived with her unmarried son James who had continued the family tradition by working for the East India Company as a messenger.

 Margaret Makepeace

Lead Curator, East India Company Records  

 Further reading in the India Office Records:
IOR/L/F/2/14 no.58 of January 1837
IOR/L/F/2/16 no.13 of March 1837
IOR/L/F/2/17 no.167 of April 1837


24 May 2013

Children in the corridors of power

It is 1825.  Imagine you are walking down Leadenhall Street in the City of London.  Before you stands the magnificent East India House.

East India House
East India House - Joseph C. Stadler (1817)  Noc    Images Online

You go through the main entrance. This is the bustling headquarters of the East India Company, a hub of commercial and imperial power. Civil, military and naval personnel mingle as they go about their business.  There is a noisy auction taking place in the sale room, with bidders keen to buy tea, textiles, spices or drugs shipped by the Company from Asia. But if you listen very carefully you might hear the sound of a baby crying somewhere in the building and the voices of children playing. 

The Company’s housekeeper Elizabeth Hall Tarrant and one of her assistants Lucy Imeson lived in East India House with their families.  Elizabeth Tarrant (née Daycock) was appointed in 1814 with a yearly salary of £100, and Lucy Imeson (née Clayton)  joined her in 1817 on wages of £50 a year.  Both women were provided with accommodation, coals, candles, tea, bread and butter which were valued at another £50 a year.

The Imeson family lived in two rooms.  George Imeson joined the Company warehouses as a labourer in March 1818.  He was later promoted to commodore (foreman).  Four children were born while the couple were living at East India House: William Edwin in September 1818; Lucy in November 1820 (she died in March 1822); George in May 1822; and Lucy Elizabeth in July 1825. 

George Imeson died in August 1830 aged only 38. Lucy received £10 10s as death benefit from the Company labourers’ welfare fund.  She stayed on as assistant housekeeper until June 1834 when the Court of Directors decided to stop providing breakfasts in the tea rooms and to reduce the housekeeper’s establishment from four women to two.  Lucy retired at Midsummer on an annual pension of £50.

In October 1840 Lucy Imeson petitioned the Company for assistance, stating that she was a widow with her family partly dependent on her, the eldest being at present without a situation. She asked the Company to give her an advance of £20 from her pension to be repaid in quarterly instalments of £5 to enable her to set her son up in business and allow him to try to support himself.  Her request was refused.

Our next story will be about the Tarrant family.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records  Cc-by

Further reading:
IOR/B/167 pp. 401-402
IOR/L/F/1/53 no.146
IOR/L/F/2/53 no. 16 of October 1840

21 May 2013

Nutrition in India

Today's story continues the themes of the new exhibition at the British Library: Propaganda and Persuasion.

The Government of India, in common with most governments, was concerned with the health and welfare of its citizens, and explored many avenues for addressing the health problems associated with poverty and food shortages. One method adopted was campaigns to disseminate information about the importance of a healthy diet.

The India Office Records contains many files on food production and the problems of food shortages. One such file on food is in the records of the Information Department of the India Office, which contains two attractively designed booklets produced by the Government of India’s Department of Food. Entitled “Nutrition”, the booklets contain articles giving information on such subjects as food deficiency diseases, cabbage & cauliflowers, foods as sources of vitamin A, the value of shark liver oil, nutrition training and propaganda, and food facts on vegetables and milk.

Women grinding flour
Women grinding flour WD 315 no.72  Images Online     Noc 

There is also a section on recipes headed ‘On the Kitchen Front’ and showing an illustration of an Indian woman happily cooking. There follows recipes for such Indian dishes as ragi satu, dahi rice, madras curry, jawar dosai, besan-ki-puri, and mixed wheat chappatis. The August 1945 issue gives the following recipe for bhajiyas:

Ingredients: jawar flour ¼ lb. (2 chatak), Bengal gram flour ¾ lb. (6 chataks), onions ½ lb. (4 chataks), tumeric (Haldi) 2 mashas, salt 1½ ozs. (4 tolas), chilli powder 1 oz. (2½ tolas), sweet oil ½ lb. (4 chataks), water 1 lb. (8 chataks).

Method: mix the flour well in water. Add the salt and spices. Knead well into a paste. Shape into flattened cakes of equal size and fry in pure oil or butter. If desired, vegetable, like potatoes, spinach may be placed in the flattened cakes and then fried.

On the back cover of the June 1945 booklet is a food chart showing which foods help in three areas of activity:

  • building and repairing muscles (milk, cheese, eggs, fish, meat, pulses, nuts and beans)
  • protection against ill health (for vitamin A milk, cheese, oily fish, etc; for vitamin B peas, beans, lentils; and for vitamin C green leafy vegetables, sprouted pulses, and root vegetables)
  • foods for energy (fats such as milk fats and vegetable oil; for sugar jam, honey, dried fruits, and for starches cereals)

These booklets are an interesting example of the type of publications the Government produced in an attempt to address food shortages. I'm not sure who the intended audience was for them, certainly they were for internal government use, but as they were published with illustrations they may have been more widely available. The August 1945 issues states that the brochure was only published in English, but that anyone could publish any of the articles in any Indian language, which suggests the information they contain was intended for wide distribution to the public. Perhaps one of our Indian readers of this blog has come across them in the past?

John O’Brien
Post 1858 India Office Records    Cc-by

Further reading:

India Office Information Department, File 462/102 Food (general), 1944-1945 [IOR/L/I/1/1103]


17 May 2013

Political Propaganda and the Quit India Movement

The British Library's new exhibition opens today: Propaganda: Power and Persuasion.  To mark this we have a story about political propaganda used by the Government of India to attack Gandhi's policy.

In June 1942, with the Second World War raging, and the Japanese occupying Burma, the Government of India was aware that Gandhi was planning a new civil disobedience movement. The India Office Records has a file from this period which contains a telegram that gives a fascinating insight into the planning of a propaganda campaign by Government. The telegram is from the Government of India, Home Department, to the Secretary of State for India, dated 7 June 1942, regarding Gandhi’s motivations and what action should be taken by Government in preparation for any possible mass protest movement.

British poster, c.1942, entitled ‘Britain’s Second Front’.

Anti-British poster, c.1942, entitled ‘Britain’s Second Front’. IOPP/Mss Eur C659 Noc

The writer of the telegram admits that the Government of India has no definite information on what form the movement would take or what support Gandhi will get. It was also admitted that any early Government intervention would risk stiffening Gandhi’s resolve and rally waverers to his cause. Yet it was advised that Government should be prepared: “… we must have our plans ready and one matter that we consider of prime importance is that public opinion in England and even more in America should be prepared well in advance for any strong action we may eventually decide to take. We suggest that Press in England and important American correspondents should be taken into our confidence with object of exposing Gandhi and the Indian National Congress”.

The telegram outlines a possible campaign to counter any protest movement:

  • An official paper on Congress policy based on published and secret documents should be supplied to the American Government
  • A popular pamphlet based on published material should be prepared
  • Development of the theme of Congress using the War opportunistically to attempt to obtain political concessions, and their opposition to the War and willingness to obtain their long term object through Japan if it could not be obtained from England.

Gandhi standing beside Lord Pethick-Lawrence, Secretary of State for India
Gandhi standing beside Lord Pethick-Lawrence, Secretary of State for India, 1946. Photo 134/2(19)Noc

The point is made in the telegram that Gandhi should not be personally attacked, only his policy. Emphasis was to be made on the danger to American war efforts and to the safety of American troops in India which could result from Gandhi’s plans. Efforts were also to be made to dispel any American suggestion that an Indian protest movement would compel the British Government to make fresh political concessions.

On 8 August 1942, the mass protest campaign known as the Quit India Movement was launched. The Government did indeed take strong action, moving swiftly to make mass arrests, including Gandhi and the Congress leadership who would be imprisoned for the rest of the War, and employing British troops to suppress the resulting outbreaks of violence.

John O’Brien
Post 1858 India Office Records    Cc-by

Further reading:
India Office Political Department, File 4983/1942 Congress and the War, July-September 1942 [IOR/L/PJ/7/5405]


14 May 2013

Shameful tales from the Raj

While researching an answer to an enquiry recently, my eye fell on a catalogue entry 'Acts of violence committed by British officers & soldiers against natives'.  I ordered the item to investigate further.

I almost wish I hadn't. A depressingly large file duly appeared, full of various outrages perpetrated by British troops against Indian civilians. A sixteen-page tabular summary provided brief details of no fewer than 190 clashes which took place between 1880 and 1899 involving personnel serving in British Army units and the local population. These acts of violence were not condoned by those in authority, although some of the punishments given to the soldiers appear very lenient.

One theme which emerges is the risk of granting soldiers permission to use the weaponry at their disposal to go off and exterminate some of the local wildlife. They may have been aiming at deer, or snipe, or sparrows, or peacocks, but tragically poor shots could and did have fatal consequences:
•    '10 November 1888, Sialkot. A soldier of the 2nd Queen's Dragoon Guards shot a Native, mistaking him for a pig, it being evening. The District Commissioner found that it was a pure accident. Rs. 29 was paid to the deceased's widow.'
•    'October 1896, Simla. Lieutenant Scott while out shooting birds ... accidentally lodged a few pellets of shot in a Native. The man lost his footing, and falling down the khud [steep hillside] was killed.'   (Echoes of the fate of the hapless Lewis Van Sandau from a previous story.)

There are some shocking examples of colonial arrogance and brutality, perpetrated by officers as well as by privates.
•    Early in 1898 an unnamed soldier assaulted a Bombay sweetmeat seller so badly 'the native is said to have nearly lost his life'. The guilty man received four months 'rigorous imprisonment'.

Sweetmeat vendorFish seller, sweetmeat maker and sweetmeat seller with their wares (Add.Or.4000)  Images Online Noc

•    On New Year's Eve 1898 in the Punjab: 'Four military officers assaulted Shaikh Ashgar Ali of the Indian Civil Service in a railway carriage. Their leave was stopped for the season. Those on leave were recalled to duty'.
•    In Sialkot in the spring of 1897: 'Two military officers were reported  ... to have assaulted a Native merchant. One called him a son of a pig and horse-whipped him, and the other twisted his arms till he admitted he was the son of a pig. One officer was fined Rs. 2 and the other Rs. 25'.
•    In Dum Dum on 7 November 1889: 'Four soldiers (one belonging to the Buffs, three to the Leinsters) broke out of barracks taking their rifles, and went to a 'toody-tope' after liquor. They created a disturbance because their demands were not complied with, and shot a Native in a wanton and brutal manner'.
•    On 8 March 1894 in Bareilly two gunners of the 48th Field Battery were rash enough to injure a performing bear, and when the animal's owners demanded compensation an affray broke out in which one person was shot.

A bear-keeper with his dancing bearA bear-keeper with his dancing bear (Add. 27255, f.125v)  Images Online  Noc

British behaviour in Burma was no better:
•    A fracas broke out on 11 December 1886 at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon when Privates Potts and Lauchlin of the Royal Scots Fusiliers tried to steal two images of Buddha: though a watchman later died of wounds, the men were acquitted when the case came to court.

The file, reference IOR/L/MIL/7/13233, may be consulted in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room.

Hedley Sutton
Asian and African Studies Reference Team Leader  Cc-by

10 May 2013

James Cunningham - the unluckiest botanist in Asia

James Cunningham was a Scottish surgeon active in China and South East Asia, c.1698-1705. He is best remembered for dispatching over 600 Chinese botanical specimens to Britain while employed as a surgeon by the English East India Company for their settlement at Zhou Shan. 

In 1703, the settlement moved to the Cochin-Chinese island of Pulo Condore after being expelled from Zhou Shan. On 15 March 1705 the Makassar soldiers hired to protect the trading settlement set fire to it and shot dead 16 men who were trying to put out the flames. The survivors turned to the local Cochin-Chinese authorities for help, but shortly after capturing and executing the Makassars they also turned against the English, initiating a second bout of bloodshed.  Only Cunningham and a few others survived.

Punishment of the Cangue

  Punishment of the Cangue from The Costume of China (1805)   Images Online Noc

In a little known letter to Baldwin and Wingate at Cambodia dated 4 May 1705, Cunningham provides a personal account of his treatment and trial at Barrea in Cochin-China following these traumatic events. Although injured, Cunningham was one of the lucky few being led away to Barrea by the Cochin-Chinese in a cangue like a criminal.

Appearing before the Cochin-Chinese officials on 29 April 1705, he was made to answer three charges levelled against the English. First that the settlement at Pulo Condore was established against the wishes of the King of Cochin-China; second that they failed to present the King with adequate tribute; and finally that they had been in secret communications with the Cambodians against whom the Cochin-Chinese were at war. Cunningham replied that an embassy was sent to the King of Cochin-China seeking permission for the settlement and that a mission to deliver tribute to the Royal Court was aborted because of  widespread illness within the settlement. To the third charge he pleaded that the settlement was unaware of the need to report their communications with Cambodia to the Cochin-Chinese authorities. Cunningham’s defence failed to impress his captors and he remained in close confinement at Barrea for two years with just two quan a month for subsistence.

Following his release Cunningham’s misfortunes continued. He narrowly escaped yet another massacre at Banjarmassin in Borneo and eventually died on a voyage from Bengal to England c.1709.

Richard Scott Morel
Curator, East India Company Records  Cc-by

Further reading:

IOR/E/3/68 OC 8358: Letter from James Cunningham at Barrea to Messrs Baldwin and Wingate, 4 May 1704

07 May 2013

Agricultural Exhibitions in India

In January 1864, a large Agricultural Exhibition was held at Calcutta sponsored by the Government of Bengal. A relatively novel event, the aims of the Central Organising Committee were to bring together for comparison and competition from every part of India specimens of local productions.

When the Exhibition opened the contributions on show were arranged into three classes: ive stock, machinery and implements,and produce. Some of the contributors did suffer from confusion as to what was required for exhibition, with some believing that anything strange or unusual was what was wanted. The Central Committee noted in its report of the sheep submitted to them that “Hairy creatures with enormous horns were of frequent occurrence. One ram was said to have maintained a combat with a tiger”, and in another instance a woman brought a small black kid of the ordinary Bengali breed, born with three legs instead of four! Despite such minor problems the exhibition was considered to have been a great success, with an estimated 70,000 people visiting it.

The success of the Exhibition led quickly to local agricultural exhibitions being held throughout Bengal and Bihar Orissa in 1864/65. Copies of the reports on the various exhibitions submitted to Central Government by local officials can be found in the India Office Records. The reports give a wealth of detail about the organisation of the exhibitions, and the people who took part, with the mix of European and Native Indian participants being reflected in the prize lists of the various competitions.

Prize bullImage of prize bull c.1865 from IOR/L/E/3/748  Noc

Livestock was often the star of the agricultural shows. The judges at Dacca reported that the standard of bulls and cows was very good, with Khajeh Abdool Gunny taking a first prize for his half-English, half-country cow, and a Mr Thomas taking first prize of 50 rupees for best bull in the Division. The Dacca Exhibition gave prizes for a wide range of manufactures, including to Gobind Chunder Dutt for “a kind of violin”, and to S A Stewart for his revolving photographic camera. Ameeroollah of Sylhet was awarded a prize of 20 rupees for a case of insects he had collected, it being judged that every encouragement should be given to the study of natural history. Special prizes were also awarded at the Dacca Exhibition. The inventive Gobind Chunder Dutt was awarded a prize of 16 rupees for a specimen of new fibre, while Syud Abdool Mujeed was awarded a prize of 4 rupees for scented tobacco. Institutions as well as individual could exhibit goods. The Dacca Girls School won 2nd prize for woollen articles, with the Dacca Jail taking prizes for fibrous manufacture and paper. Other Shows awarded prizes for flowers and vegetables. At the Burdwan Show, the Maharajah of Burdwan won first prize for geraniums and second prize for roses. For vegetables, Hurro Mohun Mookerjee of Hooghly won 30 rupees as first prize for white sugarcane, while Mrs Atkinson of Burdwan won a first prize of 15 rupees for chillies, and Sharoda Prosad Roy won 5 rupees for cabbages.

John O’Brien
Post 1858 India Office Records Cc-by

Report of the Central Committee on the results of the Bengal Agricultural Exhibition of 1864 [IOR/L/PJ/3/1092 No.81]

Reports and correspondence regarding the Agricultural Exhibitions held in Bengal, December 1864 - February 1865 [IOR/L/PJ/3/1095 No.11]