Untold lives blog

9 posts from July 2013

30 July 2013

Smiling with dead men’s teeth

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the problem of rotten teeth was a concern that spanned the classes, although with the price of early dentures ranging from between half a guinea to forty pounds, only those from the upper ranks could afford to do very much about it. Early false teeth were heavy and largely for show, incapable of allowing intelligible speech and seldom secure enough to permit chewing. Indeed, various social historians have claimed that the inadequacy of early dentures was one of the main reasons behind the Victorian upper class vogue for eating in one’s bedroom before dinner to insure against embarrassment at the table. Frequently made from ivory or bone and with no enamel to protect them, early dentures were highly susceptible to decay, which often led to infection and vile-smelling breath, and those that weren’t, though they were less prone to rotting, had a rather more unpleasant provenance.

Advert for dentures Evanion Collection 6450    Noc

On 18 June 1815, the French Army was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. This culmination of some twelve years of war between France and the opposing European coalition may have effectively ended the political and military career of Napoleon and led to the deaths of in excess of 51,000 men, but it was not without its curious benefits. For during the first half of the nineteenth century, the most popular and profitable breed of dentures available were those made from genuine second-hand teeth, a sudden surfeit of which had just been rendered effectively up-for-grabs by the cull of 1815. These so-called “Waterloo Teeth” – a moniker which quickly became applicable to any set of teeth pilfered from the mouth of a dead soldier and continued in use throughout the Crimean and American Civil Wars – were vastly preferable to those more commonly used in the eighteenth century. These pre-war teeth were frequently acquired from executed criminals, exhumed bodies, dentists’ patients and even animals and were consequently often rotten, worn down or loaded with syphilis. The prospect of an overabundance of young, healthy teeth to be readily pillaged from the battlefield must have been a dentist’s dream.


Advert for artificial teethEvanion Collection 5389 Noc

This fashion for “genuine” dentures, popular though it was, was nonetheless dogged by unappealing “graverobber” connotations and it was consequently during the mid-nineteenth century that more sustainable and palatable styles of false teeth came to the fore. Porcelain teeth, which had actually been in use as far back as the 1770s but had struggled with a tendency to chip, underwent a great transformation thanks to Claudius Ash, a silver and goldsmith who brought his expertise to dentures in the 1820s and 30s when he started manufacturing porcelain teeth mounted on gold plates, with gold springs and wire to hold them in place and make them easier to talk and eat with. Ash & Sons, which became a successful company, went on to devise dental plates made of vulcanite and silver, as well as sickle-shaped metal insets to stabilise single false teeth, aluminium and gold mesh dental strengtheners and silicate cement for fillings, among much else. It was from here that the manufacturing of false teeth really took off, with dentists’ advertisements from the British Library Evanion Collection showcasing the sudden diversity of materials and plates available – from platinum to 18 carat gold. That said, the use of the genuine article in the manufacturing of Victorian dentures did not let up throughout much of the late nineteenth century and it was not until the early twentieth century that one could be certain not to find anyone smiling at you with a set of dead men’s teeth.

Julia Armfield
Intern, Printed Historical Resources     Cc-by

Further reading:
John Woodforde, The Strange Story of False Teeth, (London, 1968)

Stephanie Pain, “The Great Tooth Robbery” in The New Scientist  (London, 16 June 2001)

BBC H2G2, Waterloo Teeth, A History of Dentures  (August 24, 2005)

26 July 2013

Punishing children in Victorian England

George Stace appeared at the Oxford Petty Sessions in February 1893 charged with assaulting Oswald Claude Baker. Mr Stace was the schoolmaster of Headington and Oswald was his 11 year old pupil. Whilst there was no dispute that Stace had struck the boy, the prosecutor said the case rested upon agreement of what was ‘proper’ punishment and what was ‘excessive’.

Oswald was the son of gardener John Baker and his wife Sarah Ann. On the afternoon of 31 January he had gone to see the burial of Police Constable Knapp in the village.  His mother had told him that he could have a half-day holiday but, as the funeral procession started, Mr Stace had beckoned him to go to school. Oswald had bolted as soon as the master’s back was turned. 

Schoolroom with master hitting boy'February - Cutting Weather - Squally' by George Cruikshank  Images Online  Noc

Next morning Oswald and two other boys were ‘thrashed’ with a stick by Mr Stace for disobedience.  Oswald claimed that he had been hit on the hands and across the legs: ‘it hurt him so much that he was lame at first and had to walk on his toes’.  John Baker told the court that he had later found his son crying with three bruises on the front of his thigh and hands so swollen that he could not clench them. John took Oswald to see Robert Hitchings the surgeon at Headington and to Mr Overton the curate.

Both Oswald and John were questioned about punishment within their family. Oswald said: ‘His father did beat him sometimes, but not more than once a fortnight, for disobeying him. He beat him with a strap, but not with a buckle’.  John said that he did ‘chastise the boy himself about twice a year with a strap, generally on the back’.  His son ‘was not a good boy’ but he was not a liar although cheeky and mischievous.

Mother Sarah Ann Baker also gave evidence.  She had taken her son to the vicar Mr J. H. Scott-Tucker and to Mr Stace.  The schoolmaster said the boy was making a fuss and that his fingers were ‘naturally swollen’.  He denied making the bruises saying ‘it was the colour of the boy’s skin’ and said that he had not hit him on the front of his legs.

When Robert Hitchings had examined Oswald he had seen a large bruise measuring 3 inches by 2½ inches on his left leg and there were marks on the other leg possibly caused by several blows on one spot with a stick.

Three other pupils were questioned by the court: Harry Shepherd aged 9, Bertie Edney and William Price, both aged 13.  They all reported that Stace did not hit Oswald on the front of the legs. The vicar then appeared as a character witness for the schoolmaster: ‘He could not speak too highly of Mr Stace, and his discipline was extremely moderate’.

The case was dismissed, ‘the Bench considering that the boy deserved to be punished, and that he was not punished excessively’.

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

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive Oxford Journal 25 February 1893

22 July 2013

History of Office Life reveals Charles Lamb's interest

Lucy Kellaway talks about the importance of the East India Company as an early example of a modern office in her History of Office Life broadcast on 22 July at 13-45 on Radio 4. She highlights the life of the essayist Charles Lamb who joined the East India Company as a clerk in 1792 and remained there for 33 years. As he worked in the accountant's department, Lamb would have relied upon reference works such as David Booth's Tables of Simple Interest (London, 1818).


The book is filled with tables of interest practically from cover to cover.


One day, this clearly got too much for Charles Lamb, and he diverted himself by writing spoof book reviews on the leaf facing the title page. The one pictured below, supposedly from the British Critic, August 1820, comments that 'The interest of this book, unlike the generality which we are doomed to peruse, rises to the end.'

The book evidently continued to be a vital reference work and received heavy use. In 1900 the Accountant General wrote a note exhorting his colleagues to 'handle it tenderly' because it included notes by Charles Lamb. Perhaps he hoped that he too would achieve a little immortality by having his own note in the book written in by Charles Lamb.


Penny Brook
Lead Curator, India Office Records

Text and images Cc-by

Further reading
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Mss Eur C128 David Booth's Tables of Simple Interest (London, 1818)
Search on East India Company in this blog for more interesting stories from its archives

19 July 2013

Joseph Faithful – an Anglo-Indian internee

To whet our readers’ appetite for stories related to the commemoration of World War I over the next year or so, here are snippets of an 'untold life' pieced together from two sources in the India Office Records.
Joseph Alexander Faithful was a young Anglo-Indian who set out from Calcutta in the spring of 1914 to travel to Europe with the goal of training as a mechanical engineer. Working his passage as a deck hand on the S.S. Nordmark, he had no way of knowing that power politics were conspiring against him, and when he reached Hamburg in late July he was interned. This seems more than a little harsh, as he was then aged only sixteen and war between Britain and Germany was not formally declared until 4 August. Three long years later he was moved to Havelburg POW camp, but he had to endure two punishing stints working in the Steinforde salt mine near Hanover before the British Red Cross was able to arrange his transfer to England in May 1919, a full six months after the Armistice. 
However Joseph’s problems were not about to end. Drifting from one youth hostel to another, and with little or no contact with his family back in Calcutta, he eventually found accommodation in Stockwell Park Road, S.W.9, from where he sent plaintive appeals to the India Office asking for money to buy clothes to see him through the European winter, and to secure a place on a course in telegraphy (his experiences in the salt mine perhaps having put him off a career in engineering). Hanging over him all the while was the fear that some of the Indian nationals who had been imprisoned alongside him in Germany would smear him as someone who had worked a little too enthusiastically for his captors.  The file includes correspondence with the British Military Mission in Berlin and the Committee of Enquiry into Breaches of the Law of War as the mandarins in Whitehall attempted to confirm that he had been more sinned against than sinning. Joseph’s plight attracted a degree of sympathy and more than once a civil servant refers to him as "the lad" when arguing the merits of his case with his bureaucratic seniors.

Articles of Agreement between Joseph Alexander Faithful and the Secretary of State for India
IOR/L/F/8/20/1612  NocArticles of Agreement between Joseph Alexander Faithful and the Secretary of State for India

There is a happy ending to the story.  In 1921, Joseph Faithful signed articles of agreement for a post as a general service clerk in the Indo-European Telegraph Department at a salary of 300 rupees per month; furthermore, that staple of biographical information the ecclesiastical returns series shows that he later married in Karachi in June 1934. As Britain, India and Germany all began to come to terms from their different national perspectives with the aftermath of the War, and as the world reeled from the influenza epidemic that was to kill more people than the fighting itself, it is salutary to be reminded that history and archival sources encompass the fate of the ordinary as well as the great.
Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services Cc-by

Further reading:
Joseph’s story is taken from these files in the India Office Records -



IOR/N/3/151/183 Marriage to Hildred Joyce Dique

16 July 2013

What happens when you let a Rajah escape?

On the night of 12-13 May 1818, the 22nd Regiment of Native Infantry was tasked with guarding a prisoner. Appa Sahib, ex-Rajah of Nagpore was not an ordinary prisoner and clear orders were given to check on him every hour and look at his face to make sure he was not a fake.

Soldier Sirdar Singh probably remembered that night for the rest of his life. He faced a court-martial on 29 November 1819 for having ‘suffered the said Appa Sahib to escape’ between the hours of 10pm and 11pm whilst posted as sentry. Sirdar Singh made no defence and was sentenced to death.

Sikh soldier
BL, Add.Or.3171 Sikh sardar, probably Raja Suchet Singh (1801-44) by a Lahore or Amritsar artist, c.1837. Images Online  Noc

His commanding officer Subadar D,heep Chund was also tried for the same incident. D,heep Chund was in charge of the guard and he bore the responsibility for Appa Sahib’s escape. The charges paint a picture of a conspiracy between the Rajah and the Subadar, who changed the guards only every three hours, instead of every hour.  D,heep Chund also prohibited the non-commissioned officer who mounted guard at 1am from going into the tent to check the prisoner’s identity. He was found guilty of conniving at the escape and of delaying its discovery. The court passed sentenced him:
To be dismissed the service, to have his sash burnt, and his sword broke over his head, in front of the troops of the station; after which to have a halter tied round his neck, and to be drummed out of cantonments.

It was clear that Sirdar Singh had acted under the influence of his officer and the Commander-in-Chief could not ‘bring himself to order the infliction of the death upon the prisoner, when a lighter judgment has been passed upon D,heep Chund’. The death sentence was commuted to three years labour in irons on the roads.

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

Further reading:
Captain Hough, The practice of courts-martial (London, 1825) pp.486-487.

12 July 2013

Scandal and ruin in 18th century Madras

A salacious scandal often attracts avid interest, especially if it involves a ménage à trois and fraud.  Our story of the rise and demise of Sir Paul Jodrell in Madras during the late 18th century illustrates the importance of an individual’s reputation, and the impact which gossip and scandal could have on social and professional life at British settlements in India.

In 1780 George III recommended Sir Paul Jodrell as a physician to the Nawab of Arcot, a post which promised prestige, wealth and glamour. However shortly after Joddrell’s arrival in Madras, rumours were published in a number of Indian newspapers that Sir Paul was involved in a ménage à trois with his wife and a woman named Mrs Cummings. The scandal itself caused much gossip, being referred to in the diaries of William Hickey, and the Government of Madras responded to the rumours by forbidding Sir Paul and his wife from attending any of the public rooms in the settlement. Ostracised and with his moral reputation in tatters, Sir Paul sought legal redress, taking the editors of the Asiatic Mirror to court for libel and defamation of character. Although Sir Paul won 500 rupees in compensation, the damage had unfortunately already been done.

Man & 2 women in a rural settingRural attention ©Lessing Archive/British Library Board   Images Online

It seems that his employer the Nawab of Arcot used the scandal as an excuse to withhold payment of Sir Paul’s salary, citing “principles of morality” as his excuse. Lack of a regular income forced Sir Paul to take out loans which he was unable to repay, and by 1794 he was at serious risk of being imprisoned for debt. To avoid his creditors, Sir Paul approached the Nawab to be paid his salary and even asked for permission to return to England.  However his request to go home was refused and payment of the salary remained outstanding.

Turning instead to the British authorities, Sir Paul made numerous requests to the Governor of Madras for the East India Company’s Court of Directors in London to come to his aid as he was there at the recommendation of King George III. However the directors’ attempts to intervene and gain payment from the Nawab of Arcot all ended in failure and Sir Paul died at Madras in 1803, penniless without ever receiving his salary.

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

Further Reading:

Correspondence between Madras and London 1794-1801: IOR/E/4/295; IOR/E/4/324; IOR/E/4/882.
Alfred Spencer (ed.), The Memoirs of William Hickey (London, 1948)
Henry Davidson Lowe, Vestiges of Old Madras (Government of India, 1913).
India Gazette (Calcutta) 8 March 1790

09 July 2013

German Propaganda in Sharjah

One night in June 1940, ‘Abd al-Razzaq Razuqi, the British Residency Agent in Sharjah put on a disguise and walked to the palace of Shaikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah. After hearing reports that the Shaikh was playing German government radio broadcasts in Arabic so loudly that they could be heard 200 yards away, Razuqi - who is usually referred to as Abdur Razzaq in the India Office Records - wanted to establish for himself if the rumours were true.

After his visit Razuqi wrote to the British Political Agent in Bahrain, Hugh Weightman, explaining that “a large crowd gathers there [the palace] to hear the German news” and that “some people had been talking freely in the town about the mighty power of Germany and the collapse of France which would soon be followed by the complete crush of Britain”. He also reported that the slogans ‘Long live Hitler’ and ‘Right is with Germany’ had been chalked on walls in the town. Razuqi established that the primary source of this anti-British sentiment was the Shaikh’s secretary, Abdullah bin Faris. Razuqi wrote that although the Secretary was full of praise for the British government to his face, “behind the curtain” he had induced ordinary people under his influence to spread rumours about the victories of the Germans.

Although reports of German radio broadcasts in Arabic and the existence of pro-German sentiment in a desert town on the Persian Gulf coast may seem incongruous, given the large-scale propaganda efforts that the German government directed towards the Middle East during World War II, they are not in fact surprising. Between 1939 and 1945, the German government broadcast Arabic language programmes to the Middle East and North Africa seven days a week.

The Arabic broadcasts on German radio presented the Nazi regime as staunch supporters of anti-imperialism, especially against Britain. Unsurprisingly they found a receptive ear amongst individuals under the indirect control of British colonial authorities; and at a time when – after the fall of France in May 1940 – the prospect of Britain losing the war against Germany was real. Razuqi and his superiors were fully aware of the importance of quelling any anti-British/pro-German sentiment and took the matter seriously. Razuqi confronted the Shaikh about his activities, and demanded an explanation.

Shaikh Sultan's letter to British agent proclaiming his loyalty to Britain July 1940
IOR/R/15/1/281 Shaikh Sultan sends letter to British agent proclaiming his loyalty to Britain July 1940  Noc

Responding in July 1940, Shaikh Sultan sent a letter to Weightman proclaiming his absolute loyalty to Britain and wholly denying the accusations made against his secretary bin Faris. The Shaikh stated that “under all circumstances in this war we are the enemies of Germany and Italy and their followers”.

In October 1940, Razuqi reported to Weightman that after his warnings the Shaikh was now “avoiding all talks and topics about the Germans and Italians and is doing his best to show that he is the most loyal and sincere friend of the British government”.

Razuqi reports that the Shaikh and his secretary now refrain from Pro-Nazi talk
IOR/R/15/1/281  Razuqi reports that the Shaikh and his secretary now refrain from Pro-Nazi talk  Noc

This incident illustrates not only the surprising geographical and linguistic extent of German propaganda efforts during World War II, but also how dangerous British authorities considered such efforts, even in far-flung parts of its global empire, thousands of miles away from continental Europe, the main field of conflict at that time.

Louis Allday, Gulf History Specialist       Tweet @Louis_Allday
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Qatar Digital LibraryCc-by

Gulf History Project

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