Untold lives blog

14 posts from January 2014

31 January 2014

Untold Deaths

The copies of burial records for Europeans in India held at the British Library contain a number of deaths resulting from unfortunate or unusual events.  As well as the thousands dying from disease, debility, and childbirth, there are men, women and children whose lives were ended by sudden catastrophe: hunting accidents, attacks by wild animals, snake bites, poisoning, explosions, earthquakes, and lightning strikes.

Accidents with firearms claimed many lives.  In October 1827 Lieutenant Thomas Lee Kennedy of the Bengal Army died whilst hunting elephants in Assam with Lieutenant Hamilton Vetch. Kennedy’s gun went off by accident, killing him almost immediately. A very detailed inventory was taken of his possessions at death. The last item listed is ‘A Double Barrel Gun’.

Extract from an inventory of Thomas Lee Kennedy’s possessions 1828 listing a double-barrelled gun
From an inventory of Thomas Lee Kennedy’s possessions 1828 IOR/L/AG/34/27/91 p.177


The animals of India were directly responsible for many deaths.

John McCarty, a Private in HM 67th Regiment, died from a dog bite at Meerut in July 1816.

Peter Fredhoff , second mate of the Woodman,  died from a shark bite whilst bathing in the sea near the ship in August 1840.

Nine year old Christopher Kyte, whose father was the jailor at Kumbakonam, was killed by a snake bite in July 1861.

Tom Raw in danger - riding on an elephant and being attacked by a tiger
'Tom Raw in danger' from Tom Raw the Griffin; a burlesque poem (1828) Images Online

Bombay civil servant Herbert Alfred Hughes died on 31 March 1887 aged 24 and was buried the same day at Bhusaval. The cause of death in the burial register was given as ‘exhaustion from tiger mauling’.  Hughes died without making a will and a notice concerning the settlement of his estate appeared in the London Standard on 17 February 1888.

Hughes estate notice London Standard 1888
London Standard 17 February 1888 British Newspaper Archive


Poor George Richard Jermet Boyd died in August 1882 at the age of seventeen as a result of poisoning.  An explosion of gunpowder on board the country ship Eliza in March 1813 caused the deaths of George Silverlock, the 16 year old second officer and Richard Welsh, the first officer.  Silverlock and Welsh were buried side by side in the South Park Street Burial Ground in Calcutta.

  Sliverlock & Welsh burial entries
Burial register entries for Silverlock and Welsh IOR/N/1/9 f.326

Natural phenomena were another cause of death. For example, the Bengal burial returns contain hundreds of deaths caused by the Quetta earthquake of 1935. 

Where the cause of death is not given in the burial register, other sources may provide the information.  Details of the death of George Cracroft Aubert on the evening of 29 April 1843 are given in The Bengal Obituary.  Aubert was riding home from a friend’s house when he was ‘overtaken by a sudden storm’ and he and his horse were both struck dead by lightning.

Executions of criminals by the East India Company are recorded. Andrew Bisset, alias William Harris, was buried in Calcutta on 27 April 1772 after execution for piracy and murder. Soldiers John Callingham, Joseph Goodridge, Joseph McCrumb, Hugh Jones and Patrick McQuid were buried at Fort William on 10 December 1810 having been executed together in the Loll Bazaar for murder.

To see the burial records and inventory mentioned in this story and to search for other untold lives online visit the British in India Collection.


Margaret Makepeace
Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:

IOR/N/1/19 f.483 Burial of Thomas Lee Kennedy 23 October 1827

IOR/L/AG/34/27/91 p.177 Inventory of possessions at death for Thomas Lee Kennedy

IOR/N/1/10 f.183 Burial of John McCarty 9 July 1816

IOR/N/2/20 p.56 Burial of Peter Fredhoff August 1840

IOR/N/2/42 f.252 Burial of Christopher Kyte 21 July 1861

IOR/N/3/61 f.69 Burial of Herbert Alfred Hughes 31 March 1887

IOR/N/1/64 p.299 Burial of George Cracroft Aubert 30 April 1843

IOR/N/1/290 f.149 Burial of George Richard Jermet Boyd 3 August 1882

IOR/N/1/9 f.326 Burials of George Silverlock and Richard Welsh 27 March & 1 April 1813

IOR/N/1/2 f.111v Burial of Andrew Bisset 27 April 1772

IOR/N/1/8 f.364 Burial of soldiers executed for murder: John Callingham, Joseph Goodridge, Joseph McCrumb, Hugh Jones, and Patrick McQuid 10 December 1810

The newspaper articles can be accessed online via the British Newspaper Archive.

India Office Family History Search

The Bengal Obituary

IOR/L/PJ/6/203, File 822 : 22 April 1887 Death of Mr H A Hughes, of the Bombay Civil Service, from wounds inflicted by a tiger.


30 January 2014

Hatched, matched, and dispatched

What do Clive of India, Napoleon, George Orwell,  and Vivien Leigh have in common? You can find them all in the contemporary copies of registers of baptism, marriage and burial records held by the India Office Records.

        Robert Clive             Vivien Leigh Napoleon looking out to sea on St Helena     
Noc   Images Online

The contents of these registers and other records chronicling the lives of Europeans living in areas under British influence can now be explored online. The British Library and Findmypast have announced the publication of 2.5 million records stretching from 1698 to the 1960s. As well as baptisms, marriages and burials, there are civil, military and marine pensions, wills, East India Company cadet papers, applications for the civil service, and other employment documents. Individuals from all walks of life are included together with their families: soldiers, civil servants, medical practitioners, merchants, planters, missionaries, and mariners.


To mark the launch of this new online resource, John Chignoli tells us about the history of the baptism, marriage and burial registers and explains their contents.

Copies of registers were sent to London for the information of the East India Company and the India Office. The practice was begun by the chaplains of the Company's principal settlements and became a regular feature of the British administration in India. The returns relate almost entirely to European and Eurasian Christians, with a few local converts. They give fascinating insights into family life in India, including the devastating effects of high mortality rates.

A register of church returns in the India Office Record

A register of church returns in the India Office Records [IOR/NNoc

We estimate that the returns cover about 70-75% of the baptisms, marriages and burials which took place. For events not found in the India Office Records, it is sometimes possible to obtain copy entries by writing to the church where the ceremony took place or to the Registrar General of the area in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Burma.

Typically the following types of information are included in the registers:

Baptisms: date of birth, date and place of baptism, child's full name, parents' names, father's occupation and residence, name of officiating priest, and sometimes godparents' names.

Church Marriages: names of the bride and groom, their ages (sometimes the words "full age" appear meaning over 21, or ‘minor’ meaning under 21), places of residence, their fathers' names (from c1850 onwards), witnesses' names, name of the officiating priest.

Burials: name of the deceased, date of death, age, occupation, cause of death (from c1850 onwards), date and place of burial, the officiating minister, sometimes the rite under which burial was performed.

As well as church records, there are also some records of civil registration.

Births:  Registration of births was not compulsory in India and so the majority of returns for children born in India are baptisms giving the date of birth. Very few birth registrations are entered in the records and they do not generally appear until the 1920s.  Entries show date and place of birth, the child's name, the parents' names and their nationality and religion, the father's occupation, and the date of registration.

Registrar Marriages: these sometimes show the nationality of the bride and groom in addition to their names, ages, and the names of the fathers and witnesses.

  Machine which embosses the seal on certificates issued
Machine which embosses the seal on certificates issued Noc

We are authorised to issue certified copies of entries in the records, that is, official copies under the seal of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

John Chignoli
Reference Specialist, Asian and African Studies  Cc-by

Interested in looking for your family?  Learn more about sources at the British Library.

29 January 2014

An Englishman in Rome

A letter in the India Office Private Papers from Colonel Henry Brabazon Urmston written from Rome in 1875 to his sister Lizzy in England caught my attention.  What would be the Englishman’s impression of Italy in the 19th century after having lived 20 years in India?   How would 19th century tourists differ from us today?

  Letter from Colonel Henry Brabazon Urmston written from Rome in 1875 to his sister Lizzy in England
India Office Private Papers/Mss Eur F677/24    Noc

The first thing I noticed is that he booked his holidays through Mr Thomas Cook’s agency – the founding father of today’s tourist industry.  A packaged holiday from Rome, through Florence, Turin, Paris, Calais, Dover to London Victoria Station including hotel bills cost £10 with the accompaniment of a well-versed tourist guide.  ‘These tourist tickets are certainly a grand invention’, he comments.

A large part of his letter describes his impression of the Eternal City as he explores ‘its many wonders’ with his family in tow.  As a classically educated Englishman, it is not surprising that he finds ‘ancient’ interests him much more than the ‘modern.’  After he gave a fascinating report of their tour of the ancient Christian burials sites in the underground cemeteries, he moved on to a modern scene on the streets of Rome:

“… Just now the Carnival is going on and half Rome seems gone mad.  I never beheld such folly in my life – grown up men and women dressing up like children in every kind of absurd costume and parading through the streets in hideous masks.  The main street (the Corso) is impossible for quiet respectable people, as every balcony is filled with people whose sole amusement is to throw flower and white pellets at the passers by.  You cannot even cross it without a shower of these things on your face, and if you happen to look up your eyes might be plucked out, or choked with white powder.  It is difficult to guess what amusements these can be, but these silly people are so wholly given up to it that the whole town keeps holiday and shops are closed after 12 (noon).  … It gives great annoyance to many, who like ourselves, desire to see Rome quietly and soberly, and it ought to be put down by authority….”

  Throwing confetti during the carnival in Rome
Throwing confetti during the carnival in Rome, by Antoine-Jean-Baptiste Thomas (1791-1833) ©De Agostini/The British Library Board   Images Online

Despite the annoyance of the carnival, the Urmston family were still eager to meet some ‘celebrities’ of the day – they waited patiently at the kings palace gates ‘to get a good view of the lovely Princess Marguerite who is as great a favourite with the Italians as the Princess of Wales is with the English.’   Another ‘celebrity’ of 1870s is Giuseppe Garibaldi, the revolutionary hero of the unification of Italy.  Unfortunately, the Urmston family missed the chance of meeting this great man owing to his ill health. 

Xiao Wei Bond
Curator, India Office Private Papers  Cc-by


Further reading:

India Office Private Papers/Mss Eur F677/24


24 January 2014

East London stereotypes challenged

How often does a day spent in the British Library Manuscripts Reading Room lead to over ten years of research and three ground-breaking books?  Guest bloggers Derek Morris and Ken Cozens tell us about their in-depth studies of East London.

Some ten years ago Derek discovered the Martin-Leake papers in the British Library.  Analysis of the papers led him to make a major challenge to the established stereotypes which purport to describe London in the eighteenth century, and especially its eastern suburbs.  Traditionally the eastern suburbs have been associated with poverty, dirt, anarchy and crime, but Stephen Martin-Leake's papers and his account books suggested a different picture.

Derek was surprised to discover that Stephen Martin-Leake, the Garter King of Arms between 1754 and 1773, lived in Mile End Old Town, a hamlet in the great east London parish of Stepney.  Why was he living in an area of supposedly widespread social deprivation?  Further investigation revealed that Stephen Martin-Leake's neighbours included Captain James Cook, directors of the East India Company and Hudson's Bay Company, Fellows of the Royal Society, writers and artists, and wealthy merchants who traded all over the world.  The resulting book Mile End Old Town, 1740-1780 showed how an East London hamlet became a suburb with a strong middle-class element driving its development.

Entrance from Mile End or Whitechapel Turnpike
‘Views of London, No.5. Entrance from Mile End or Whitechaple Turnpike’.  Maps.K.Top.22.6.e Images Online Noc

To extend the research into Wapping, a river-side parish, Derek cooperated with Ken Cozens, an expert on London's merchant networks in the 18th century.  Their book Wapping 1600-1800 showed the diversity of interests and occupations in the area using previously unexploited primary sources.  The use of land tax records and deeds at Tower Hamlets Local History Library led to further research being undertaken into Camden, Calvert & King's merchant network.  This group’s strong association with the supply of East India ships and transports for the Admiralty meant that leads from the India Office Records led to further primary sources being located at The National Archives.  All this culminated in an in-depth article on Anthony Calvert of Camden, Calvert & King.

The next area tackled was Whitechapel, which in 1750 had a population of 25,000, double the size of Hull, and equal in size to Glasgow and Liverpool.  Whitechapel 1600-1800 is the first detailed study of its social history.  Whitechapel was the home for millionaire timber merchants from Scandinavia; James Fisher the Secretary of the Protestant Association who helped to organise the petition that led to the Gordon Riots in 1780; and Daniel Fenning, a grammarian and prolific text-book writer.

Later this year Derek and Ken will launch London's Sailortown, 1600-1800 which explores the history of Shadwell and Ratcliff, two Thames-side areas that have seldom been studied.

Derek Morris and Ken Cozens
Independent scholars

Further reading:
Derek Morris, Mile End Old Town, 1740 1780; a Social History of an Early Modern London Suburb (East London History Society, 2007)
Derek Morris and Ken Cozens, Wapping 1600-1800, A social history of an Early Modern London Maritime Suburb (East London History Society, 2009)
Derek Morris, Whitechapel 1600-1800: A social history of an early modern London Inner Suburb (East London History Society, 2011)
British Library, Add Ms 47989, vol. 4, Leake Papers
Dictionary of National Biography, Stephen Martin-Leake
Tower Hamlets Local History Library, Ms 474, Stephen Martin-Leake Account Books
D. Morris and K. Cozens, 'The Shadwell Waterfront in the Eighteenth Century', Mariner's Mirror, 99, 1, February 2013, pp. 89-94
Gary L. Sturgess and Ken Cozens,  'Managing a Global Enterprise in the Eighteenth Century: Anthony Calvert of The Crescent, London, 1777-1808', Mariner's Mirror,  Volume 99, number 2, May 2013
East London History Society

21 January 2014

George Orwell’s loft

Today is the anniversary of the death on 21 January 1950 of Eric Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell.  Andy Simons tells us about Orwell's collection of pamphlets which now have an online inventory to help researchers explore this fascinating resource.

George Orwell’s collection of mostly political ephemera was an important barometer of the social changes of the 1930s and 1940s, and a measure of his influences during those decades.  While Orwell’s personal papers went to University College London and the National Archives, his miscellaneous materials are held by the British Library.  Totalling over 2700 items, a full inventory of Orwell’s collection of pamphlets is now available via the British Library’s website.

Orwell was not a writer of ‘bestselling’ books until the end of his life, after the Second World War.  He became known as a journalist, a critic of other people’s writings and a word-portraitist of the landscape of politics.  It is likely he never passed up the opportunity to acquire pamphlets of any persuasion.  He wryly observed in The Tribune that the pamphleteer’s road was paved by a “complete disregard for fairness or accuracy” (8 December 1944).   Perhaps the most appealing aspect of his pamphlets collection is that he wasn’t Hoovering them up to form a George Orwell Archive; he considered them as a spectrum of thought that was deserving of preserving.    

While Orwell could not acquire and preserve the thoughts of every political entity, those caught in his net were numerous.  He documented the major political parties and the better known minor ones that didn’t figure much electorally, such as The Communist Party of Great Britain, and The Socialist Party.  Orwell was especially strong in acquiring the ephemera of the fringe Left, but any non-mainstream organisation was worthy of attention, for example The Central Board for Conscientious Objectors and The Society of Individualists.  He was keen on foreign publications too, including much from Moscow.  

The author’s interest in non-human animals is revealed including articles from issues of The Smallholder and The Farmer and Stock-Breeder.  His wife Eileen worked for the Ministry of Food and so they retained a range of ‘war cookery’ guides.  And, given his pulmonary problems from tuberculosis, one shouldn’t be surprised that he read Smokeless Air: The Smoke Abatement Journal.

  Pamphlet The War in Wax
1899.SS.35 (15)  Noc

Perhaps the oddest item is a four-page pamphlet from January 1945, The War in Wax, an attempt to get shoppers in London’s Oxford Street to buy tickets to a twisted version of Madame Tussauds.  This promised paying customers an experience of "The horrors of the German Concentration Camp," “Tree-Hangings,” “Stamping to death,” and, on the last page, a children’s section of mechanical moving figures including Cinderella, Laurel & Hardy, Disney characters, Bing Crosby, and even Mae West.   This so-called attraction was too absurd for Orwell not to share, so the concept had a walk-on role as Ingsoc propaganda in 1984.  

Orwell’s heaps of pamphlets informed his writing, both fiction and non fiction. He took pride in his squirrelling-away of pamphlets, “political, religious and what-not”.  In 1949, he estimated that this hoard numbered 1200-2000, but even the higher figure was an underestimation.  He wrote that “a few of them must be great rarities” and they were “bound to be of historical interest in 50 years time.”  In line with most of his considerations, he wasn’t wrong.

Andy Simons
Curator, Printed Historical Sources

Further reading
Inventory of George Orwell’s pamphlet collection

A longer version of George Orwell’s Loft

George Orwell  - help  for researchers

17 January 2014

Scandal and bigamy in Georgian London

Elizabeth Chudleigh (c1720-1788) was among the more notorious celebrities of the Georgian period.  Her background was apparently privileged.  Her father, Colonel Thomas Chudleigh, was lieutenant-governor of Chelsea Hospital and the family were friendly with Sir Robert Walpole’s children.  He, of course, is known as Britain’s first prime minister.  In 1743, Elizabeth was appointed as maid of honour to Princess Augusta, mother of the future King George III.

Her status, however, was more questionable than it appeared.  By the time Elizabeth Chudleigh married the Honourable Augustus John Hervey (1724-1779), the son of that assiduous courtier Lord Hervey, in 1744 she had already had several liaisons.  She was not faithful to her new husband and the couple parted in 1749.  This was the year in which she became the centre of a scandal which was still remembered forty years later. As The Life and Memoirs of Elizabeth Chudleigh, published in 1788, put it:

… it has been asserted this lady appeared [at a masquerade] in a shape of flesh-coloured silk so nicely and closely fitted to her body as to produce a perfect review of the unadorned mother of mankind, and that this fair representative of frailty, … had contrived a method of giving as evident tokens of modesty, by binding her loins with a partial covering, or zone, of fig-leaves.

The Life and Memoirs included an engraving of her in costume, which agreed with this description by showing Elizabeth Chudleigh nearly naked. Her character was not Eve but Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon sacrificed to ensure a fair wind to Troy.

Elizabeth Chudleigh in the character of Iphigenia

Miss Chudleigh in the Character of Iphigenia, at the Venetian Ambassadors Masquerade'  from Life and Memoirs   Images OnlineNoc

Soon afterwards, she became the mistress of Evelyn Pierrepont, second Duke of Kingston (1712-1773).  In 1769, ‘Miss Chudleigh’ married him, having gained a legal ruling that her marriage to Augustus Hervey had not taken place.  All was fine until the Duke died and she was accused of bigamy by his nephew and heir.  The case quickly reached the press.  The June 1775 issue of The Matrimonial Magazine included a five-page article ‘Memoirs of the Married Maid of Honour; or, The Widow’d Wife’ with ‘an elegant Engraving’  containing portraits of her with both her ‘husbands’. It recounted details of her scandalous career, lingering over her love of luxury and her valuable collection of jewellery.

Portraits of Elizabeth Chudleigh and both her husbands  Plate from The Matrimonial Magazine, June 1775 Images Online Noc

In 1776, the ‘Duchess of Kingston’ was tried in Westminster Hall for bigamy and found guilty.  She immediately left Britain and never returned.  When she died in 1788, in Paris, several accounts of her life were quickly published in London.  Elizabeth Chudleigh was most definitely a celebrity in the modern style.

Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800    Cc-by

Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800

Visit our  exhibition Georgians Revealed

Further reading:
Claire Gervat. Elizabeth, the scandalous life of the Duchess of Kingston. London, 2003.
Matthew J. Kinservik. Sex, scandal and celebrity in late eighteenth-century England. Basingstoke, 2007.

15 January 2014

The very definition of a ‘Hostile Takeover’

Early in 1626 two English East India Company ships, the Palsgrave and the Dolphin, captured a Portuguese galleon carrying horses between Muscat in Oman and Goa in India.  Smarting from a previous defeat by Portuguese ships in the Gulf near Dammam, the Englishmen proceeded to cut off the heads of Captain Antonio de Sera and his Portuguese sailors.  According to John Benthall, a factor stationed in Gombroon (Bandar Abbas), the heads of de Sera and his crew were then sent to Muscat ‘as a present to Ruy Ferera their cheife and cheife occasioner of their execution’.

Imam Quli Khan's soldiers in boats repulsed by the Portuguese at HurmuzAdd. 7801, f.43 'Imam Quli Khan's soldiers in boats repulsed by the Portuguese at Hurmuz' Images Online Noc

This act was apparently retaliation for the execution of English prisoners who had fallen into the hands of Ruy Freira de Andrade, a friend of the unfortunate Captain de Sera.  De Andrade had been in command of the fortress at Hormuz before its capture in 1622.  English factor John Purifie reported that after receipt of this grisly trophy de Andrade was ‘poisoned by his owne people’.  However the rumours of de Andrade’s death were somewhat exaggerated as he lived on into the 1630s!  What was reported later, and probably more accurately, is that the Portuguese in Muscat were gripped by panic, fearing a threatened invasion by the Persian Shah Abbas I with English and Dutch assistance.  This was not unreasonable considering the defeat of the Portuguese at Hormuz a few years previous, the constant harassment of their shipping by joint English and Dutch fleets in the Gulf and beyond, and repeated threats by the Shah.  At the same time, there were reports of the Persians keeping Carmelite friars under house arrest at Shiraz in an attempt to gain the release of Persian soldiers taken prisoner by the Portuguese.

The indication that prisoner exchanges were a viable option serves to accentuate the violence of the English in this episode.  The bloodthirsty treatment of its European competitors shows us a darker side to the ‘Honourable’ English East India Company.

Peter Good
PhD student University of Essex/British Library    Cc-by

Further reading:
IOR/G/29/1 ff. 119v -123v


13 January 2014

Life in a Criminal Gang in India

The India Office Records contains a considerable quantity of files on the subject of crime and punishment in British India.  One recently catalogued file of papers gives a fascinating insight into life in a criminal gang.  It concerns Act XXIV of 1843 - An Act for the better prevention of the Crime of Dacoity.  Dacoity is an Indian term for robbery by an armed gang.  The papers include a 58 page narrative or confession by a 45 year old man named Lukha who had spent most of his adult life as a Dacoit in what was then the North Western Provinces.

  Thugs distracting their victim
Thugs distract their victim Add. 41300 f.88  Images Online Noc

Lukha was Rajput of the Solanki clan, and became a member of the Budhuk dacoits.  At the start of his narrative he says that he had always followed the trade of his ancestors, that of dacoity and that he was involved in his first robbery at the age of 20.  Lukha’s three brothers were also dacoits.  Interestingly Lukha’s father, Saduleea, was a farmer who never took to dacoity, and as a teenager Lukha worked on the land with him.  However, Lukha fell out with his father, and moved to another village to live with his brother-in-law, Madeea Jemadar, a dacoit.  A leading dacoit named Man Singh lived in this village, and he persuaded Lukha to enter into a life of crime by asking why he would want to be a drudge at the plough when he could have a better life by joining them.

Lukha was impressed by Man Singh, who had twice been sentenced to transportation for armed robbery, and twice escaped, and soon embarked with his gang on a robbery in the city of Khairabad in Oudh.  The gang spent two months preparing and recruiting men until they were 30 strong.  They then attacked the house of a merchant of Khairabad, killing three men and stealing property to the value of 2,000 rupees.  Lukha’s narrative details some 49 robbing expeditions he participated in over the next 25 years.  The robberies were usually accompanied by great violence, with those who resisted the heavily armed gangs being commonly killed or wounded.

Lukha was arrested in 1840 near Moradabad on his way to visit some friends.  In a letter regarding Lukha’s arrest and confession, Major W H Sleeman, Superintendent for the suppression of Dacoity and Thagi, describes him as being disguised as “…a Byragee when brought in to me, covered with ashes and paint, and carrying a little house of peacock’s feathers on his back, and it was with difficulty that his nearest relation, who had long been with me recognised him”.  Major Sleeman’s enquiries confirmed that the robberies detailed in the confession had all taken place as described, although some had never been reported to the authorities.

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

Further Reading:
Papers regarding Act XXIV of 1843, An Act for the better prevention of the Crime of Dacoity, November 1842 to January 1844 [IOR/F/4/2054/93889]