Untold lives blog

9 posts from June 2013

28 June 2013

Dorothy Little – slave owner

In 1833, following the abolition of slavery in the British colonies, £20 million was awarded to the slave-owners in order to compensate for their loss. However, the recipients of this compensation were not simply the owners of vast West Indian plantations. Men, and women, of much more modest means also claimed compensation for their enslaved servants.

Cartoon of a Whig politician slipping £20 million out of John Bull's pocket













 A Whig politician slipping £20 million out of John Bull's pocket from a cartoon called 'Slave Emancipation; Or, John Bull Gulled Out Of Twenty Millions' by radical print-maker C. J. Grant.  Reproduced here by kind permission of the UCL Art Collection: UCL, EPC8032.


One of these women was Dorothy Little, a 70 year old widow who lived in Clifton, near Bristol. In 1833 she claimed £297 1s 6d for 13 Jamaican slaves and wrote multiple letters to the Slavery Compensation Commission asking for information and advice.

Dorothy Little’s letters demonstrate an active involvement in the slave compensation process. It is clear that she was acutely aware of the position she found herself in. ‘There is a wide difference between the situations of those who... are Owners of Slaves only and those who are owners of Estates and also of the Slaves,’ she noted. As a slave-holder who owned no land she was in a particularly vulnerable position. Indeed, since women constituted a large proportion of non-land-holding slave-owners they were, on the whole, disproportionately affected by the privileging of land in the compensation process. Dorothy Little clearly recognised this: ‘Your Petitioner…believes that there are many in her situation, but they are principally Widows and Orphans and she is sorry to perceive that the large Proprietors have not had the generosity to put forward their peculiar situation’.

Despite politics supposedly being a masculine domain, Dorothy Little is unashamed to reveal that she has ‘with the greatest attention read every debate in the House of Commons on the West India question’.  Indeed, she felt so passionately about the fact that in her view the compensation punished those who did not own land that she sent a petition to Lord Stanley, the colonial secretary, voicing her concerns. She questions why she cannot be given ‘£100 a piece for [her slaves]…which is the sum the French received for theirs in America’, demonstrating that her considerable knowledge extended to global as well as domestic politics.

However, the language she employed in her letters was inherently gendered. She deliberately and persistently used her position as an elderly widow to present herself as vulnerable and in need of protection. In asserting that ‘it is quite inconsistent with the character of the noble Englishman to reduce aged widows to beggary by forcibly taking their property from them’, Dorothy Little is fundamentally grounding her argument in early 19th century conceptions of masculinity and femininity. The proper role of the ‘noble Englishman’ was to provide for any dependents- primarily women and children- who were wholly reliant on him for financial support.

Dorothy Little was thus an intelligent, informed and strong-willed woman who simultaneously both challenged, reinforced and manipulated early nineteenth century notions conceptions about masculinity, femininity and the role of women in order to achieve her ends. This end, it should not be forgotten, was receiving money in order to compensate for the loss of property in people.

Hannah Young
PhD student on UCL's Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project with a particular interest in women slave-owners and relationships of power, gender and property.

Further reading:

Legacies of British Slave-Ownership

Records of the Slavery Compensation Commission are held at The National Archives in series T 71. Papers concerning Dorothy Little’s claim are in TNA: T 71/1608.

Hilary Beckles,  Centering Woman: Gender Discourses in Caribbean Slave Society Kingston: Ian Randle, 1999.


25 June 2013

Sir Lewis Pelly, supporter of women’s suffrage

On Easter Sunday 1892 Sir Lewis Pelly and his wife Amy were reading an article from a journal The Nineteenth Century.  This was to be the last thing that Sir Lewis read before his death five days later on 22 April 1892.

The article, written by Clara Elizabeth Collet, was entitled ‘Prospects of marriage for women’. Clara Collet (1860-1948) was a feminist, social economist and statistician who championed women’s education and employment through her positions with the Board of Trade and her influence with government committees. She was the daughter of Collet Dobson Collet a radical journalist and campaigner for freedom of press who counted Karl Marx among his friends, and Clara was for many years a close friend of Marx’s daughter Eleanor.

Sir Lewis Pelly (1825-1892) was an army and political officer in India. His private papers are held by the British Library and are currently being digitised as part of the Gulf History Project. Pelly joined the East India Company’s Bombay Army in 1840 and rose through the ranks serving in India, East Africa, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, his longest serving appointment being as Political Resident in the Persian Gulf 1862-1872. He retired from the Indian Civil Service in 1877.

Pelly’s interest in the women’s suffrage movement was most likely influenced by his wife. In 1878 he married Amy Henrietta Lowder, the daughter of Rev John Lowder, British chaplain in Shanghai and step-daughter of the diplomatist Sir Rutherford Alcock, the first British consul-general in Japan. In 1885 Pelly was elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for North Hackney and began to use his position within the House of Commons to assist the movement in campaigning for a Women’s Suffrage Bill. His intention was to ensure that enough MPs would support the bill’s passage through the House of Commons.

Cover of pamphlet for National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies
Noc   National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies from BL,8413.k.5 Pamphlets and Leaflets (London, 1909).  Images Online    


In 1886 Pelly attended the AGM of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. He not only occupied a seat on the stage alongside Mrs Fawcett and other leading female campaigners but also spoke of his desire “to see the question of Women’s Suffrage brought before the Houses of Parliament as soon as possible” (London Standard, 16 Jul 1886).

The choice of reading material on that Easter Sunday suggests that his interest extended beyond simply supporting the Women’s Suffrage Bill to wider matters of women’s education, work and marriage prospects. Clara Collet’s article looked at census figures and other statistical information regarding unmarried women in England and Wales, their actual prospects of marriage based on their age, and their long-term work based prospects should they remain unmarried. Her investigations into these questions raised some interesting issues in relation to women’s welfare ranging from the role of trade unions in protecting young girls from overwork in factories to the need for young women of middle class families to accept they might not always be able to marry and to start insisting on more suitable levels of pay in order to sustain themselves in life.

Clara Collet also had links to India and the Indian Civil Service. Her 3x great uncle was Joseph Collet (1673-1725), President of Madras. After discovering his notebooks about his time in Madras she lectured in India on his life and saw the notebooks published in 1933.

Karen Stapley
Archival Specialist, Gulf History ProjectCc-by

Qatar Digital Library

Further reading:
Lewis Pelly Private Papers IOPP/Mss Eur F126/28
British Newspaper Archive
Biographical information on Clara Collet taken from The Women’s Library Special Collections Catalogue

21 June 2013

Eleanor Rathbone and women's rights in India

As well as being a successful campaigner for women’s rights in Britain and an Independent Member of Parliament, Eleanor Rathbone was involved in the discussions surrounding Indian constitutional reform in the early 1930s and was also passionately interested in the issue of child marriage in India.

Eleanor Rathbone submitted papers to the India Franchise Committee (1932) which was considering voting rights for women. Rathbone’s involvement here was controversial. By 1929, women held the provincial franchise in India on the same terms as men. However, as the franchise was based on property, it was heavily weighted in favour of men as few women in India owned property in their own right. The problem was colourfully illustrated in a ‘Memorandum on certain questions affecting the status and welfare of Indian women in the future constitution of India’, which was addressed to the Round Table Conference in London (1930), and to which Rathbone was a signatory:
“We are reminded here of Aesop’s fable of the Fox and the Stork: “Mr Reynard invited Mrs Stork to dinner. But she found that the feast consisted of broth served in a flat dish. Mr Reynard lapped up the broth easily with his flexible tongue. But Mrs Stork with her long beak could only peck at the dish and went hungry away.” So it has been in the past with the women of all countries; so it will be in the structure of India’s future constitution, if the needs of both sexes are not kept continually in mind by those who frame it”.

Round Table Conference, St. James's Palace, London 1930Images Online Foster Collection Photo 784/1(83) Round Table Conference, St. James's Palace, London. Noc

Rathbone believed that women should be regarded as joint owners of property with their husband, and that Indian women should have seats in the provincial assemblies reserved for them. Thus Rathbone found herself opposing the leading Indian feminists who wanted to remove the property qualification and who did not favour reserved seats for women.

This conflict can be clearly seen in the files of the India Franchise Committee. Rathbone tended to portray the Indian feminists as a minority group. Following a trip to India in early 1932 to gauge the views of Indian women, she stated in a letter to Lord Lothian, Chairman of the Committee: “I expect you found, as we did, that the demand of the All-India Women’s Conference for complete adult franchise and no reservation of seats for women, really represents a very small body of opinion.” In the notes of her trip she wrote: “We found practically no support for immediate direct adult franchise, except among the ladies of the A.I.W.C”, and “Among the women seen, I think at least four-fifths desired reservation and were usually quite clear and emphatic about it”.

By contrast, a memorandum submitted to the IFC by the All-India Women’s Conference stated their position clearly: “The A.I.W.C. as representing the thinking womanhood of India, is strongly of the opinion that no method other than that of adult franchise – by which is meant the right of every man or woman of the age of 21 to vote – without any special expedients will avail for the proper placing of this country on a truly democratic basis for the realisation of responsible government as denoted by the accredited phraseology of ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’”.

However Rathbone would ultimately play a large part in shaping the way women were incorporated into the new Government of India Act of 1935, especially with the introduction of reserved seats for women.

John O’Brien
Post 1858 India Office Records 

Further Reading:
Papers of the Indian Franchise Committee, Memoranda on Special Subjects - Women, 1930-1932 [IOR/Q/IFC/39]

Papers of the Indian Franchise Committee, File on the Position of Women, 1931-1932 [IOR/Q/IFC/49]

Government of India Act, 1935

Susan Pedersen, Eleanor Rathbone and the Politics of Conscience (Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2004) [YC.2005.a.11379]


18 June 2013

Waterloo mare for sale

Today’s blog post commemorates the Battle of Waterloo which was fought on 18 June 1815. But it is not about those famous leaders the Duke of Wellington or Napoleon Bonaparte, or military tactics. It is the story of a horse stolen at Waterloo and the man who took her.

As the battle dust started to settle, Captain John Tucker of the 1st Battalion 27th Regiment of Foot decided to take advantage of the chaos and ‘forcibly took and converted to his own use a certain bay mare, belonging to some British regiment of dragoons, or regiment, or officer, or soldier in the British pay’.

Battle of WaterlooThe Battle of Waterloo from The wars of Wellington, a narrative poem (London, 1819)  Images Online  Noc

Contrary to the orders of the High Command forbidding all profiteering, Tucker took the horse and removed the regimental mark from its side.  Man and horse then journeyed to Brussels. The whole affair would probably have gone unnoticed, but Tucker wanted to sell the mare and put an advert in Galignani’s Messenger, an English-language newspaper published in Paris at that time. That was unwise and the authorities took the horse back on 17 September 1815.

After rejoining his regiment in Paris, Tucker faced a court-martial on five charges of ‘scandalous and infamous conduct, unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman’. As well as the horse, he was accused of stealing the property of his fellow officer Captain Holmes who had been killed in the battle. Tucker was said to have opened Holmes’ ‘portmanteau, trunk, and canteen, and other baggage’, and to have taken the contents. He was found guilty of stealing the mare and guilty of ‘great impropriety’ concerning Holmes’ belongings. He was sentenced to be dismissed from the service. However Tucker was recommended to mercy and he was placed on half-pay.  His commanding officer Colonel Warren was criticised by the court for ‘living in habits of social intercourse with the prisoner’ and neglecting to press charges sooner. The court also suspected that the charges against Tucker had been brought because he had disagreed with his fellow officers over ‘irregular proceedings’ involving Lieutenant Alexander Fraser who was allowed to resign rather than face a court-martial. Fraser was later re-admitted to the regiment. The entire officer corps of the 27th Regiment of Foot received a reprimand from the court. 

Tucker’s half-pay punishment does not appear to have been implemented and he transferred to the 8th Regiment of Foot.  He left the Army in 1822 after a second court-martial found him guilty of threatening behaviour and being absent without leave.  In 1846 he published a life of the Duke of Wellington and he died in 1852.

Dorota Walker
Reference Specialist, Asian and African Studies      Cc-by

Further reading:
Captain Hough, The practice of courts-martial (London, 1825)

14 June 2013

Christmas crackers and women’s suffrage

The funeral of Emily Wilding Davison took place in London on 14 June 1913, six days after she died from injuries sustained at the Epsom Derby. There was a procession with 5000 suffragettes and a service at St George’s Church in Bloomsbury.  Emily's body was then taken by train for burial at Morpeth in Northumberland, her mother Margaret’s birthplace and home.  Today’s story is about Maud Arncliffe Sennett and how her scrapbooks reveal the part she played in Emily’s funeral.

Christmas crackers and women’s suffrage might seem an unusual combination of preoccupations – but they combine in the person of Alice Maud Mary Arncliffe Sennett (1862-1936). The daughter of an Italian confectioner, she carried on the family ornamental confectionery and cracker manufacturing business, with her husband Henry, and advertisements for their crackers often appear in programmes for suffrage fairs and similar events.   

Fourteen reasons for supporting women's SuffrageNoc  Images Online Fourteen reasons for supporting women's Suffrage'. Arncliffe Sennett Collection C.121.g.1 volume 1 

Her interest in women’s suffrage began in 1906 when she read a letter by Millicent Fawcett in the newspaper, and she was subsequently active in various organisations within the suffrage movement until about 1918. A former actress (under the name Mary Kingsley), she was much in demand as a speaker at meetings across the country. She provided several thousand red and white rosettes for the Mud March in February 1907 – so called because of the inclement weather on the day - and was briefly imprisoned in Holloway in November 1911 for breaking the windows at the Daily Mail offices*. In later life, she founded the Midhurst and Haslemere Anti-Vivisection Society.

Cartoon of a polling station showing a man telling a woman to leave voting to the men.Noc
'The dignity of the franchise'. A cartoon reproduced from 'Punch', showing a man telling a woman to leave voting to the men. Arncliffe Sennett Collection C.121.g.1 volume 1  Images Online

At the British Library we have over 30 volumes, primarily scrapbooks arranged chronologically, crammed with news-cuttings, correspondence, leaflets, pamphlets, programmes and other ephemeral material which she collected, some of which you can see here. In volume 23, amid the newspaper-cuttings, is Maud Arncliffe Sennett’s ticket to the memorial service for Emily Wilding Davison at St. George’s, Bloomsbury on Saturday 14 June 1913, annotated on the back to indicate that she was representing the Actresses’ Franchise League. Related material includes a leaflet ‘In Memoriam’ of Emily and the hymn sheet from the memorial service.

In an apparently unplanned gesture, Maud Arncliffe Sennett joined the train taking Emily Wilding Davison’s body north at King’s Cross, and volume 23 also includes a “piece of the yew tree that lined her [Emily’s] grave” in Morpeth. During her stay there she met Alexander Orr, a businessman from Edinburgh, and this meeting led to the creation of the Northern Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage, a group initially gathered to form a deputation to the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, but which continued until 1919 with Maud Arncliffe Sennett as President.

Alison Bailey
Curator, Printed Historical Sources

*The “Bills for the impedimenta with which I broke Lord Northcliffe’s windows” (in vol. 15 of the collection) can currently be seen in the Historical Documents cases in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery.


Further reading:

More information about the Arncliffe Sennett Collection.

Maud Arncliffe Sennett, The Child. London: C.W. Daniel Co., [1938]. 010821.i.23. [Autobiography].

Previous post by Penelope Tuson referring to Maud Arncliffe Sennett and the anti-suffrage movement.

Campaign for Women’s Suffrage


11 June 2013

The Women’s Co-operative Guild

Although the struggle to enable women to vote was put on hold during the First World War, this doesn’t mean that activists were idle. The legal right to vote in 1918 was class-based, covering only those who owned property or had graduated from a British university. So there was still much to do, to achieve parity with men, regardless of one’s educational or economic status, which finally happened in 1928. 

Alongside the Suffragettes’ movement as we think of it, women were cutting more pieces of the social cake for themselves. Women’s organisations in Britain began advocating for better social conditions in the nineteenth century, and have launched many reform movements since then. As you’d expect, many of the groups were concerned with traditional women’s issues such as family planning, child welfare, state-funded and religious education, public safety, health care, recreation, and of course the right to vote.

Votes & wages - picture of woman with a shawl wrapped round her head and shouldersNoc    From Votes and Wages: How women's suffrage will improve the economic position of women (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, 1912).   Images Online   

The Women’s Co-operative Guild (WCG) sprang from the British co-op system of commerce in the 1880s and gradually became self-governing. By the 1920s its working class base allied itself with the Labour Party, despite the latter defeating their advocacy of birth control.  Allies are never perfect. 

The Guild persevered, maintaining in its core agenda of women’s rights and resolute pacifism. This last unrelenting political platform began to crumble as the Second World War was waged against European fascism. In 1940-1941, the group lost almost half its membership to the Women’s Voluntary Service. 

But back in the Suffragists’ day, the WCG enabled many working class women to represent themselves in workers’ movements. And a major documenter of this scene was Margaret Llewellyn Davies. She published pamphlets such as The Three Wheels of a Store’s Machinery (1901), and books including Maternity:  Letters from Working-Women Collected by the Women's Co-operative Guild (G. Bell, 1915).  A collection of Co-op women’s testimonies were collected as Life as We have Known it, and published by Leonard & Virginia Woolf in 1931. The feminist publisher Virago re-published it as a classic in 1977 and in 2012.

The Co-op has not shirked from documenting its own history. A year before universal suffrage was extended to women, the association published Catherine Webb’s The Woman with the Basket: The History of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, 1883-1927, and a half-century later they distributed Jean Gaffin & David Thomas’ Caring and Sharing: The Centenary History of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, which went to several editions. The Guild published numerous tracts, reports and monographs to do with employment economics and public health, issues that worked their way into bills submitted in the Houses of Parliament.

Andy Simons
Curator, Printed Historical Sources  Cc-by

09 June 2013

Archives and gunpowder

Today is International Archives Day.

Artwork for International Archives Day 2013
Image from International Council on Archives

To mark this, we have a story about the Duke of Wellington and some archives in London.

In 1832 the Commissioners on the Public Records of the Kingdom made a visit to the Tower of London.  After inspecting the records stored in the Wakefield and White Towers they noted that there was a store of gunpowder in the magazine beneath the White Tower. Charles Purton Cooper, Secretary to the Commissioners, wrote about this to the Duke of Wellington, who was Governor of the Tower. The Duke replied ‘that the care of the Gunpowder in the Tower of London is under the exclusive direction of the Master-General of the Ordnance’ and suggested that ‘if the Commissioners upon the Public Records should think that the Gunpowder is exposed to any danger, they should apply to that office’.

Tower of LondonNoc
Tower of London - From  London Town by Felix Leigh (1883)  Images Online 

The Duke’s facetious remark did not have the effect of spurring the Commissioners to move the records to a safer place as soon as possible. Cooper entered into correspondence with the Ordnance Board asking for the gunpowder to be removed from the White Tower. In reply he received ‘a very elaborate letter’ suggesting that the records should be removed rather than the ammunition. 

The story was later recounted in the press.  Newspaper articles noted the Duke’s ‘tender care’ for the gunpowder and remarked that he ‘displayed more of a soldier than an archivist’. But the moral of this story on International Archives Day must surely be:

Gunpowder + Archives = Bad Idea.

Margaret Makepeace  Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading  -

More on International Archives Day 2013 .

Proceedings of His Majesty’s Commissioners on the Public Records of the Kingdom, June 1832-August 1833 (London, 1833).

British Newspaper Archive Morning Post 30 September 1840; The Examiner 6 November 1841.



07 June 2013

Emily Wilding Davison: Perpetuating The Memory

We continue our series of stories on campaigns for women's rights with a post by guest blogger Elizabeth Crawford about Emily Wilding Davison and her friends.

Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral procession approaching St George’s, Bloomsbury










Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral procession approaching St George’s, Bloomsbury, where a memorial service was held on 14 June 1913. The Emily Davison Club was later housed very close by, at 144 High Holborn.  Picture supplied by Elizabeth Crawford.

Emily Wilding Davison died on 8 June 1913, four days after attempting to bring the ‘Votes for Women’ message before the public - and the King - on the Derby racecourse. On 14 June 1913 the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), of which she was an active, unpaid supporter, organized a magnificently solemn procession that accompanied her coffin through London.

We now recognise that, although Emily Wilding Davison’s action resulted in her death, nothing else in the long history of the suffrage movement has brought such spectacular publicity to the campaign. This was not, however, a foregone conclusion, for, with the outbreak of war in August 1914, everything changed. Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, the leaders of the WSPU, announced that they would be supporting the government’s war effort and that the ‘votes for women’ campaign was suspended. However, a year later, in October 1915, some former members of the WSPU resisted this dictat. Holding a protest meeting, they formed themselves into a new group, the Suffragettes of the WSPU.

The instigator was Mrs Rose Lamartine Yates, the dynamic leader of the Wimbledon branch of the WSPU, who declared that ‘only by the attainment of the aims for which the women of the WSPU have striven and suffered can the uplifting of the human race be achieved’.  She had long been a friend of Emily Davison and had rushed to Emily’s bedside as she lay dying. The Suffragettes of the WSPU were not prepared to allow the sacrifice, as they saw it, that Emily Davison and others had made to be cast aside at the whim of the Pankhursts.

Brooch owned by Mary Leigh, enclosing photographic portrait of Emily Wilding DavisonBrooch owned by Mary Leigh, encloses photographic portrait of Emily Wilding Davison. Picture supplied by Elizabeth Crawford.

 Also in 1915, motivated by similar sentiments, Mary Leigh, who had been one of the most militant members of the WSPU and a woman whom Emily Davison had called ‘comrade’, founded the Emily Davison Lodge (later renamed the Emily Davison Club). Both the Suffragettes of the WSPU and the Emily Davison Club were based at 144 High Holborn, the headquarters of the Women’s Freedom League. The Club, whose first secretary was Mrs Alice Green, with whom it is thought Emily Davison had been staying on the night before the Derby, was the scene of some memorable gatherings. The Emily Davison Club, with associated café, was still in existence in 1940.

Rose Lamartine Yates, unwilling to leave the shaping of the history of the suffragette movement to the vagaries of time, was in 1939 the driving force behind the setting up of the Suffragette Record Room in which to showcase suffragette memorabilia. This method of perpetuating the suffragette story has been highly successful in that the collection now forms the heart of the Suffragette Fellowship Collection held by the Museum of London.

Reverse of brooch with writing: 'Liberty. No Surrender E. W. D.'Reverse of the brooch, with Mary Leigh’s defiant annotation. Picture supplied by Elizabeth Crawford.

For her part, until the late 1970s Mary Leigh continued into impoverished old age to travel north to lay flowers on Emily Davison’s Morpeth grave on the anniversary of the Derby. Her papers, which include her yearly correspondence with a sympathetic Morpeth florist, make touching reading. Held at the Women’s Library @ LSE, they complement iconic items associated with Emily Wilding Davison, including the purse that was in her pocket when she was struck by the King’s horse and many of her manuscripts. Kept by Rose Lamartine Yates, these were donated in the 1980s by her daughter-in-law. As, in this centenary year of her death, Emily Wilding Davison is now being honoured, we should also remember the friends who did so much to preserve a record of her ideals and of her life.

Elizabeth Crawford

Further reading :

Biographies of Emily Wilding Davison, Mary Leigh and Rose Lamartine Yates may be found in Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement 1866-1928: a reference guide, London, 1999.
Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: a regional survey, London, 2005
Elizabeth Crawford, Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle, London, 2002
Elizabeth Crawford, Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary, London, 2013

LSE Emily Wilding Davison Centenary online exhibition

Woman and her sphere