Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

05 July 2013

Bear’s grease, bonnets, bellows, biscuits and Bibles

Our last story told of the Davison brothers who moved from Northumberland to Bengal.  We now look in more detail at their business activities in India.

William Edward Septimus Davison died at Simla on 12 June 1854 leaving a will dated 6 May 1851 in which he bequeathed all his property to his wife Mary Emily Pym Davison.  Probate was granted in August 1854 to Mary as his executrix.  A detailed inventory was made of all William’s property and this provides a fascinating insight into the lives of Europeans in Simla in the mid-nineteenth century.  Simla was one of the hill-stations where the British escaped the summer heat of the plains and William was a merchant providing them with essential supplies, luxury goods, and leisure equipment.

Simla - Post Office and Ridge 1880s 
Simla - Post Office and Ridge 1880s     Online Gallery  Noc

The inventory lists over 300 groups of items arranged according to category. William owned a number of buildings: a house in Upper Bazaar Simla; Pym Cottage and Fir Tree Cottage in Kussowlie; a show room with soda water machines and a godown (warehouse).

Here are just some of the goods which made up his stock in trade:

Hardware and cutlery –
•    Coffee and tea pots, kettles
•    Lanterns
•    Pewter mugs
•    Hatchets
•    Saucepans
•    Dishes and covers
•    Knives, forks, penknives
•    Scissors, thimbles
•    Corkscrews
•    Candle sticks
•    Curtain rollers
•    Scales
•    Bellows
•    Shoemakers’ and blacksmiths’ rasps, saws
•    Bolts, hinges
•    Garden rakes, hoes and spades
•    Gun wad cutters and bullet moulds
•    Fire irons
•    Mouse and rat traps
•    Dog collars

Sporting equipment -
•    ‘Cricket utensils’
•    Racket and tennis balls
•    Riding equipment
•    ‘Fowling pieces’

Stationery –
•    Notepaper and envelopes
•    Books:  account, music, scrap, spelling,  reading, grammar, geography, ledgers
•    Bibles
•    Music paper
•    Quill pens. gold pens
•    Playing cards
•    Book slates
•    Sealing wax, wafers, and ink

Glassware -
•    Soda water tumblers
•    Sugar and butter basins
•    Cream jugs
•    Feeding bottles
•    Decanters
•    Eight-day and one-day clocks
•    Telescopes
•    Thermometers

•    Eau de Cologne, lavender, violet powder
•    Scented and shaving soap
•    Snuff
•    Smelling salts
•    Bear’s grease (for hair care)
•    Cold cream
•    Macassar oil
•    Tooth brushes and powder

Bohemian glass

Bronze and china ware

Papier-mâché and ivory

Razors, brushes, and combs

‘Millinery’ –
•    Ribbons
•    Mitts and gloves
•    Hats and bonnets
•    Shirts
•    Black crepe
•    Neck ties
•    Skeins of silk
•    Dresses
•    Mantillas
•    Braces
•    Parasols and umbrellas
•    Stays
•    Veils
•    Boots and shoes
•    Handkerchiefs
•    Pins, knitting and crochet needles
•    Blankets


German silver

‘Sauces and pickles’ –
•    Pickles, capers, olives
•    Salad oil, vinegar, Worcester sauce
•    Ginger essence
•    Sedlitz powders
•    Lozenges
•    Oatmeal
•    Vermicelli
•    Sardines
•    Biscuits
•    Plums
•    Peas
•    Prunes
•    Fresh meat
•    English hams
•    Jam

Wine and spirits
•    Sherry
•    Champagne

A true cornucopia of delights for a British family in India!

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

Further reading:
India Office Records at the British Library:
Will of William Edward Septimus Davison IOR/L/AG/34/29/90
Inventory of William Edward Septimus Davison’s property IOR/L/AG/34/27/155

The Davisons of Northumberland and Bengal



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