Untold lives blog

12 posts from December 2013

31 December 2013

Alcohol’s Alphabet

New Year’s Eve seems an appropriate occasion to share something on the subject of temperance from the British Library’s collections. Alcohol’s Alphabet was published in London in the 1890s by the National Temperance League. Copies could be bought in bulk for distribution: 100 for one shilling, 1000 for six shillings.

Four drunks at a table with a spilled bottle of wine and two unopened bottles of champagne in a wine bucketFrom Historia de una mujer: album de cincuenta cromos RB.37.c.45 plate 18 Images Online Noc

A is for Alcohol, a deadly, poisonous thing,
    Which "biteth like a serpent", and doth "like an adder sting".
B is for Beer, a drink which English workmen love;
    And Brandy – stay of sickness: both not friends but foes oft prove.
C is for Cider, which a harmless drink is deemed,
    Yet which may work more mischief than the drinkers e’er have dreamed.
D is for Danger, which is always close at hand,
    When among alcoholic drinks weak human creatures stand.
E is for Enmity, which arises from the strife
    Engendered by the exciting draughts, and blights full many a life.
F is for the Fetters, which all drink-bound slaves must wear,
    Which heavier grow as time goes on, and drag them to despair.
G is for the golden Grain God sends to bless and feed,
    Which men pervert and change until it brings but great need.
H is for Hunger – the poor children’s dreaded foe:
    What pangs, through parent’s selfishness, e’en tender babes oft know.
I is for Idleness, which follows in drink’s train
    When men would rather tippling go than at their work remain.
J is for Jollity, which drinkers say they find –
    Though far from "jolly" are the aches and pains oft left behind.
K is for the sad death Knell, which solemnly doth sound,
    Telling when victims of the drink an early grave have found.
L is for the Licences, procured to buy and sell;
    Too often dealers in strong drink the drunkards’ list will swell.
M is for the Mourning which is heard all o’er our land
    O’er loved ones who on ruin’s brink with tottering footsteps stand.
N is for Nectar, to which men will liken wine,
    When on the glittering festal board its sparkling beauties shine.
O is for drink’s Odour, to the drunkard sweetest scent
    It tempts him past resistance when to drink he had not meant.
P is for the Prison, in which helpless captives lie
    Who’re found "incapable" in the street when the "man in blue" comes by.
Q is for Quarrels, which are rife where drink doth reign,
    And often end in fatal strife which brings the convict’s chain.
R is for the deadly Rum, which its thousands still will slay
    While it – with Gin – acknowledged is as the tippler’s cherished stay.
S is for the trusted Stout, which as medicine is given;
    It lends false strength, perchance, but oft to drunkenness has driven.
T is for the Tap, from which the toper is supplied:
    Frequently is it running fast, but ne’er for long is dried.
U is for Uselessness, to which drink will quickly bring,
    All who for strength in life and work to it for help will cling.
V is for the Vices which are nourished by strong drink
    Which will not vanish till the power of King Alcohol shall sink.
W is for Wretchedness, which the heart and home pervades
    In which this foe’s destructive hand has made its fearful raids.
X is the well-known X X – poor letter! much abused
    By being in the brewing trade as a distinction used.
Y is for life’s Youthtide, which should be bright and glad,
    But oft is rendered – by strong drink- gloomy and dark and sad.
Z is for the Zeal with which men seek their thirst to allay.
    If they would but as zealous be to keep from drink away,
    The evils which this alphabet has feebly tried to trace
    No longer would on our loved land affix such dire disgrace.

Margaret Makepeace
Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading
Alcohol’s Alphabet by B.E.S. - reference 1870.d.1.(168.)
Digitised collection items about temperance from the Evanion Collection on Online Gallery
For example -
Poster for Woodgrange Total Abstinence Society 1882
Evan.5001  Noc


27 December 2013

Pasteur benefits Indian livestock

Louis Pasteur was born on this day in 1822. How appropriate that a man who did so much to prevent disease was born at a time when gifts are traditionally exchanged, and unwittingly, germs! Pasteur’s outstanding research uncovering major causes of disease, and his development of vaccination methods, were hugely important in improving human and animal health.


His work attracted international interest so it comes as no surprise to find that veterinary surgeons from India visited his laboratory in Paris. The India Office Records include a report by J Hallen, veterinary surgeon to the Government of India, on his visit to Louis Pasteur's laboratory in Paris during 1884 and 1885. This report was commissioned as part of the Government of India’s drive to reduce the incidence of disease in cattle. Hallen describes Pasteur’s innovative method of vaccinating sheep, cattle and horses against anthrax.

SheepThis illustration from the report shows a sheep demonstrating remarkable fortitude when faced with some fearsome-looking medical equipment!

The investigation into the work of Pasteur's laboratory is a good example of the care taken by the administrators in India to keep abreast of professional practices, as they gathered information from centres of expertise across the world. Pasteur Institutes were established in India and their annual reports for the early twentieth century can be found in the India Office Records.

Penny Brook
Lead Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:

R Axelby and SP Nair Science and the changing environment in India 1780-1920: a guide to sources in the India Office Records (The British Library, 2010)

India Proceedings. Civil Veterinary Administration: Cattle Breeding and Cattle Disease, 1885 

25 December 2013

Christmas at Ladysmith 1899

Seasonal Greetings!  Today we’re bringing you Christmas Day 1899 from the besieged town of Ladysmith in Natal.

The Second Anglo Boer War began on 11 October 1899.  After the battles of Dundee and Elandslaagte, General George Stuart White ordered the British troops to retreat to Ladysmith.  Having bombarded the town with shells from 30 October, the Boers besieged Ladysmith from 2 November, cutting off railway and telegraph communication.  Over 21,000 civilian and military personnel were trapped.  The threat of starvation and disease loomed large as the siege dragged on for 118 days.  Polluted water was an acute problem.

In his diary of the siege, Henry Nevinson of the Daily Chronicle noted that there was no ceasefire on Christmas Day 1899: ‘The Boer guns gave us an early Christmas carol, and at intervals all day they joined in the religious and social festivities’.  There were about 250 European children left in the town so four enormous trees were set up and decorated.  Father Christmas decked out in swansdown braved the heat. In the evening each child was given a present. A dance for the adults was then held.

'Band' of Natal Mounted Rifles in red and gold paper tabards, with tin whistles and drums made from empty casks covered with raw hides Noc
'Band' of Natal Mounted Rifles in red and gold paper tabards, with tin whistles and drums made from empty casks covered with raw hides. From H St J Tugman, The siege of Ladysmith in 120 pictures.

Nevinson reported that the soldiers’ Christmas dinner was enough to mark the day.  Compared with ordinary short rations, a helping of pudding, a pinch of tobacco, and a drop of rum were rare treats. Food could still be purchased in Ladysmith but prices were sky-high: 28 potatoes sold in the market on Christmas Eve for 30s; a goose cost £3; a turkey £5.  

This Christmas Day menu comes from the papers of General Sir George Stuart White.  He seems to have dined somewhat better than his men.

Ladysmith menuNoc IOPP/MSS Eur F108/76

The menu is written in French and full of jokey references to the British predicament.  The meal opened with game soup ‘au pipsqueak’, a type of shell.  After this came mutton chops followed by goose with Guides sauce and roast mutton with boiled ‘Pom Pom’. ‘Pom Pom’ was the name given to the 1lb shell being dropped on the town; others were known as ‘Weary Willie’, ‘Nasty Knox’, and ’Long Tom’. The next course was cold asparagus with Hollandaise sauce - surely a nod to the Dutch origins of the Boers?  This was accompanied by ham ‘aux bombes’. The next two courses were hellfire plum pudding and Kruger cheese. And lastly ‘desert’ rather than ‘dessert’ to end a memorable Christmas meal.

Margaret Makepeace
Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
Papers of General Field Marshal Sir George Stuart White (1835-1912) IOPP/MSS Eur F108– Siege of Ladysmith IOPP/MSS Eur F108/76.
H W Nevinson, Ladysmith - The diary of a siege (1900)
H St J Tugman, The siege of Ladysmith in 120 pictures (1900)

23 December 2013

Dickens, Esther and Smallpox: A Bleak Prognosis

A Dickensian story for Christmas week - but perhaps not as you might expect!  We shift the focus from seasonal Pickwickian jollity to Bleak House and smallpox.

Midway through Bleak House, a simple act of charity lands heroine Esther Summerson with a potentially life-threatening disease.  It looks like smallpox, reads like smallpox and, in one particularly memorable sequence, and even smells like smallpox.  But for all this, Dickens never categorically states that it is indeed smallpox which ruins Esther’s complexion and hastens Jo the Crossing Sweeper to his overly sentimental death. 

Woman sitting by bed of sick young woman'Nurse and Patient' by H K Browne from Charles Dickens, Bleak House (London Bradbury & Evans, 1853) Noc

There is something of a trend of medical ambiguity to be found throughout Dickens.  Various academics have argued that A Tale of Two City’s Sydney Carton is a syphilitic and that Miss Havisham is mentally ill.  But in Bleak House especially, descriptions of the ravages of Esther’s disease are enough to arouse the liveliest of suspicions.  At various stages throughout her illness, Esther finds it difficult to speak (a symptom which could be attributed to smallpox pustules lining her throat) and goes temporarily blind.  Furthermore, she is so badly scarred for the remainder of the novel that a previous suitor, Mr Guppy, withdraws an offer of marriage at the sight of her.  However ambiguous Dickens chooses to be, Esther’s mystery disease very much mirrors Victorian medical knowledge on smallpox, from its fluid-filled pustules, corneal ulceration and mouth blistering to its deforming after-effects and severe contagiousness.

Even so, this retrospective diagnosis is not without its problems.  Why, after all, would a middle-class woman such as Esther not have been vaccinated against the disease, since cowpox vaccinations had already been proving successful over half a century earlier?  Certainly, Dickens himself was a vociferous supporter of the practice, having frequently used his publication All The Year Round as a platform from which to advocate mandatory vaccination and demonstrate his extensive knowledge of the subject.  In an memorable 1860 volume, Dickens waxes lyrical for several paragraphs on Edward Jenner’s technique of using cowpox as a non-infectious smallpox vaccine and is particularly enthusiastic on the way smallpox matter is changed by 'passage through the lower organisation of the cow'.

  Free smallpox vaccinations being administeredFree smallpox vaccination from Petit Journal (1905) ©De Agostini/The British Library Board  Images Online Noc

However, as Mary Wilson Carpenter points out in her book Health, Medicine and Society in Victorian England, vaccination was in no way universal towards the tail end of the nineteenth century and neither did it provide infallible protection against smallpox.  She notes that 'middle- and upper-class people were not necessarily more likely to have been vaccinated than poor people', claiming that Esther’s illness is consequently a 'very realistic representation of smallpox as experienced in Victorian England'. 

In 1853, the same year that Bleak House was published, Britain passed the Compulsory Vaccination Act, which made free vaccination obligatory for all infants under four months. The punishment for not complying was ostensibly a fine but, as Dickens himself wrote in All the Year Round, a lack of enforcement quickly led to the law being flouted: 'At first the act was readily obeyed, and deaths from small-pox fell to one hundred and fifty-two in the million. Then, it was found that nobody was charged with the enforcement of the law, or with the recovery of penalties.  Its coercive power was therefore at an end. This oversight has yet to be remedied'.  With this in mind, it becomes very easy to argue that Dickens’ representation of an unvaccinated Esther succumbing particularly gruesomely to a disease resembling smallpox could well have been an emotive dig at the failure of Compulsory Vaccinations to be properly enforced.

Julia Armfield
Former Intern, Printed Historical Sources

Further Reading:
Mary Wilson Carpenter, Health, Medicine and Society in Victorian England (California, 2009)

David Bevan, Literature and Sickness, (Amsterdam: 1993)

Karie Youngdahl, The Stranger in the Mirror in Bleak House

19 December 2013

The Highland Clans: letters from unknown gentlemen

Today we have a story about the Highland Clans of Scotland by guest blogger Jamie Rhodes who has been delving into the British Library’s 18th century Historical Papers.

The handling of Scottish rebellion was an important topic discussed amongst the British gentry in the mid-18th century.  The British Library archives contain two lengthy letters written between 1725 and 1748 from unknown gentlemen residing in Scotland.  Both propose that ‘civilising’ the Highland Clans is the solution to preventing further uprisings.

Surveying Party at the eastern end of Loch Rannoch
 Surveying Party at the eastern end of Loch Rannoch as part of the Military Survey of northern Britain, 1749 (Maps.K.Top.50.83.2) Noc  Images Online

The earlier of these two letters was written circa 1725.  The author believes that because the Clans reside up to 50 miles from any magistrate to whose jurisdiction they are subject, the people are at the mercy of ‘oppressive Taskmasters’ who ‘cause them to commit the most excessive casualties and swear to the most abominable falsehoods without hesitation’.

The author describes how the Clans are being harnessed by the rebelling Jacobite Lords, before concluding in extravagant rhetoric that were the nation to embrace the Clans, to alleviate their poverty and ‘civilise’ them:
‘It would not only be freed from a Bloodsucking Bosom Enemy; But also have a great number of able hands joined to it…Jacobitism would receive the Deepest Wound that it has ever met with’.

The second letter written in 1748 from a gentleman in Edinburgh to his friend in London expresses the opinion that most of the Highlanders are peaceful people led astray.   He comments: ‘The common people live by hard labour, are poorly fed, and quite disused from arms so that it is no easy affair to oblige them to rise in rebellion’.  However, lack of knowledge of law and order makes them easily manipulated by rebelling lords. Two lords trying to raise a rebellion in Northeast Scotland went so far as to trick the common people into joining the rebellion:
‘When the Lords Pitsligo Ogilvy & Lewis Gordon were not able to force many of them to take up arms they beg’d of them to accompany them for a few days & they would ask no more of them, which to avoid great evils many of them did, but when they would have returned to their own houses they were given to understand that what they had already done render’d them as Obnoxious & Guilty in the eye of the Law as if they had been seven years in Rebellion, & that therefore they had no Mercy to expect or safety at home ’till they had destroyed the present government’.

When the Lords found that this trick had ceased to be effective, they obliged every tenant in their lands to provide at least one recruit or pay £6 (a huge sum for the common person at that time!).  Eventually, they even refused to accept the money and would insist on a man being supplied.

Jamie Rhodes
Writer & Creative Writing Practitioner at The Homeless Film Festival. Follow Jamie on twitter @JamieERhodes

Further reading:
Some remarks on the Highland Clans, and methods proposed for civilizing them; written by one who, for some years, had had an opportunity of discovering the nature of the people, c 1725. (Add MS 22547)

The Highlands of Scotland described, with some observations concerning the late rebellion and Scotland in general. Also a scheme for civilizing the disaffected clans, and improving their country, in a letter from a gentleman at Edinburgh to his friend in London, c 1748-1750 (Kings MS 104)

17 December 2013

Henry Bunbury - Hogarthian Satirist

In 1787 the novelist Fanny Burney, then at court as Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte, encountered another royal servant the caricaturist Henry Bunbury (1750-1811).  He had been appointed Groom of the Bedchamber to the Duke of York, second son of George III, in that year.  They met only from time to time, usually at the tea table, but although he was endlessly amusing she did not take to him.  She confided to her journal that ‘His serious manner is supercilious & haughty, & his easy conversation wants rectitude in its principles’.  Bunbury did not meet with the serious little novelist’s approval, although she could not help but enjoy his caricatures.

Henry William BunburyFrom Harry Thornber, Henry William Bunbury (1889) RB.23.b.6363

By the time he came to court, Henry Bunbury was well established as an amateur artist and, particularly, a caricaturist.  Following his grand tour in the late 1760s, Bunbury began to produce a continual flow of drawings and etchings.  He had studied drawing in Rome in 1770 and, after his return to London, he began to exhibit at the newly established Royal Academy of Arts.  In 1780 Bunbury was described by the art-lover Horace Walpole as ‘the second Hogarth’.  Walpole (son of Britain’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole) had become an admirer of the artist from the very first exhibition of Bunbury’s works.

Man and woman dancing a minuet From Harry Thornber, Henry William Bunbury (1889) RB.23.b.6363

Bunbury’s drawings and engravings capture many aspects of Georgian life, from experiences on the grand tour to scenes from popular novels and from Shakespeare, caricatures of city businessmen and illustrations showing the comical accidents of horse-riders.  His most famous caricature is A Long Minuet as Danced at Bath, published in 1787 (Walpole quickly acquired a copy).  Bunbury obviously regarded it as important, for in 1789 he was portrayed by Sir Thomas Lawrence working on it.  He was one of a number of gentleman amateur artists who were creating works of social satire during the later 18th century.  Their status precluded them from images that were too pointed or too cruel.  Nevertheless, Bunbury’s work would later influence far more famous professional artists, including Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) and James Gillray (1756-1815), who had no such constraints.

Moira Goff
Curator, Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800

Further reading:
The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney, ed. Peter Sabor. Oxford, 2011. Vol. 2 , 1787.
J.C. Riely, ‘Horace Walpole and “the second Hogarth”’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 9 (1975-6), 28-44.

Visit our new exhibition Georgians Revealed


13 December 2013

Women of the Empire: a Privy Council case

The British Library’s collection of Privy Council cases 1861- 2007 is a fascinating and largely untapped mine of research material. The Privy Council was the final court of appeal for the peoples of the British Empire with their vastly diverse customs, traditions and experiences.  Full details of the cases are provided: records of proceedings, judgments of lower local courts, witness testimonies and attached exhibits.


Volume of Privy Council papers Noc
The case of Cheang Thye Phin v Tan Ah Loy  from the Straits Settlement in 1919  is a fascinating human study of gender politics and law.  It is also still regarded as “good law”, and is cited in current textbooks and courts of law.  The personalities in this fractious family and the full extent of the women’s suffering come alive, often through their own words.

Cheang Ah Kwi, a Chinese resident of Penang, died in 1901.  The case which started in 1912 revolved around the question whether Tan Ah Loy was one of his secondary wives (t’sips), or whether she is merely a concubine and so not entitled to anything from his estate.  Ah Loy claimed she was married to Cheang Ah Kwi in 1875 and there was much debate in the family about what a traditional or customary marriage ceremony entailed.  Cheang Ah Kwi had married his first wife (t’sai) in China and the sons of this marriage stood to gain most if Tan Ah Loy was discredited.  They described her as “a slave girl”, and their half-sister Ah Soo as “the daughter of a maidservant”.  The ‘recorder’ of the family duties and customs denied a marriage ever took place.

Tan Ah Loy stated simply:
 “I was married to Cheang Ah Kwi when I was twenty two.  I was a virgin.  My hair was dressed.  I worshipped the joss, served tea to Teng Nyong and Kim Koo, Ah Kwi’s brother’s wife.  There were over ten guests.  There was a feast”.
Ah Soo described how her mother lived with the other wives and was deferred to properly.  However the Penang Registrar found against Tan Ah Loy describing her as “a kept woman” and a liar.

The case went to the Court of Appeal in Penang who found for Tan Ah Loy in August 1916, too late for Ah Soo who had died in February that year.  The appeal papers contain very detailed discussion about women’s roles at the time and criticise the earlier judgement.

Justice Ebden wrote:
“The evidence has the appearance of having been confused  by the free use of such words as ‘wife’, ’concubine’, ’marriage’, without explanation of the precise sense in which they are applied in each instance…… I write from some personal knowledge of the simple ways of the wealthiest Chinese households in the Malay State…..the story of the ‘slave’ or ‘servant girl’ is typical of the manner in which the family of the t’sai contests the family of the t’sip”.
Cheang Ah Kwi’s sons submitted an appeal to the Privy Council in 1918, but this was dismissed in 1919 and the Penang decision upheld.  Sadly Tan Ah Loy died in 1918, and so never knew that the law lords of the highest court in the Empire would “entirely agree that it has been proved in point of fact Tan Ah Loi was a secondary wife”.                                 

Alex Giles
City University London

Further reading:

Privy Council cases 1861- 2007 (PP1316) [1919] UKPC114 Cheang Thye Phin v Tan Ah Loy dec’d (Appeal No 12 0f 1918) Penang [25 November 1919]

Volumes from this collection can be requested from shelf mark PP1316 for use in the Social Science Reading Room. For guidance on ordering and further information see Privy Council Appeal Cases.

The final judgments of all Privy Council cases are currently freely available online 1809-2013 on BAILLI (British and Irish Legal Information Institute) or COMMONLII (Commonwealth Legal Information Institute).

12 December 2013

The Tower of Silence, a Zoroastrian detective story

If readers are looking for unusual Christmas presents, they should perhaps look no further than The Tower of Silence by Phiroshaw Jamsetjee Chaiwala Chevalier, a detective story featuring the fictional detective Sexton Blake who appeared in many British comic strips and novels throughout the 20th century. Until earlier this year, Chevalier’s manuscript lay unrecognised, languishing in the basement of the British Library, when it was published for the first time by the Princeton historian Gyan Prakash.

Parsee Tower of Silence, Bombay‘Parsee Tower of Silence, Bombay’, taken by Bourne and Shepherd in the 1880s. The towers of silence (dakhmas) are enclosed towers in which Zoroastrians expose the dead to be eaten by vultures (seen here ghoulishly lined up waiting), thus avoiding pollution of the sacred elements fire, water or earth. While they are no longer in use today in Iran, they are still used by Zoroastrians in India and Pakistan.  
India Office Photographs, Photo 576/(2)   Noc

Gyan Prakash’s introduction ‘Looking for Mr Chaiwala’ is almost as exciting as the story itself. He describes how his eyes lit on the title as he was wading through historical documents in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in 2001. The manuscript had originally been classified as a printed book but was in fact a copy of a typescript, one of 100 copies apparently published in May 1928 in Bombay. Immediately hooked, he was dismayed to find the India Office Library copy ended abruptly on page 169. After a hunt lasting two years, he finally tracked down a copy with the remaining eight chapters and the novel was published by Harper Collins earlier this year.

The title page of The Tower of Silence
The title page of The Tower of Silence with the otherwise unheard of publisher’s stamp ‘P.J. Chavalier & Co. Commisariat Buildings’, and a blue crayon annotation indicating that details of the book are to be found in the quarterly list of publications from Bombay, 3rd quarter, 1928.
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C285   Noc

The novel is based on a historic event when on 25 August 1923 a London weekly, The Graphic, published an article on the Parsi tower of silence (dakhma) in Pune. Included in the article was a large aerial photograph showing corpses in the well of the tower. The photograph produced such a sense of outrage in Bombay that the Secretary of State for India was required to request the editor of The Graphic to destroy the photographic plate and negative.

The beginning of the Tower of Silence in typescript
The beginning of the story. In the typescript chapter one is preceded by a two-part introduction on the history of India and Zoroastrianism.
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C285  Noc

The story begins at 2pm on a cloudless afternoon in April with the click of a camera shutter. Beram, a sophisticated and devout Parsi, equally at home in London or Bombay, seeks revenge on the perpetrators of the sacrilegious act, hotly pursued by Sexton Blake and his assistant Tinker. The plot progresses via murders, cobras, mongooses, deadly spiders and hypnotism ending with a final dénouement which takes place (guess where) in a ‘tower of silence’.

If readers want to find out more about Zoroastrianism they should visit the exhibition: ‘The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination’, on view at the Brunei Gallery SOAS until 15 December (one day extension by special arrangement), and of course they should read our posts on Zoroastrianism in the Asian and African Studies Blog (search for ‘Zoroastrian’).

Ursula Sims-Williams
Asian and African Studies  Cc-by

Follow us on Twitter (@BLAsia_Africa)

Further reading:
Chaiwala, Phiroshaw Jamsetjee Chevalier, and Gyan Prakash. The Tower of Silence. Harper Collins Publishers India, 2013.

File 5203 - Action taken regarding offence caused to Parsis over the publication of a photograph of the interior of the Parsi Tower of Silence; newspaper apology [file includes photograph]   IOR/L/PJ/6/1862, File 5203 : Sep-Oct 1923