Untold lives blog

10 posts from June 2014

28 June 2014

Franz Ferdinand - shooting and shopping in England

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie Duchess of Hohenberg were assassinated in Sarajevo.  King George V commanded that the British court should wear mourning for a week.  Many members of the court would have been particularly shocked by the news as the dead couple had visited England in November 1913.

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria
Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Cover illustration from La Domenica del Corriere 5 July 1914. Illustrator Achille Beltrame. ©De Agostini/The British Library Board. Images Online

Franz Ferdinand had visited Britain before but this was the first time he had been accompanied by his wife. To judge from the reports in the British press, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie spent their time in England shooting, shopping, and meeting dignitaries such as Prime Minster Herbert Asquith. A royal shooting party was organised at Windsor Park led by the King and the Prince of Wales. It is not clear if the Duchess took part, but she was said to be a splendid shot and a regular participant in hunts in Austria.  The weather was varied – ‘delightful’ on 19 November, raining all day on 21 November.

On 22 November the Archduke and Duchess left King’s Cross by special train to pay a visit to the Duke and Duchess of Portland at Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire.  On arrival at Worksop, the platform  was covered with crimson carpet and the station decorated with shrubs and flowering plants. Crowds had gathered to greet the royal couple. 

The Duke organised another shoot for his guests.When they left for London on 28 November, they were driven in an open carriage drawn by four horses with postilions.  As they passed through Worksop, they were cheered along streets decorated with flags. 

Franz Ferdinand and his wife indulged in a little retail therapy in London’s West End.  The Archduke visited one shop just as it was closing and ‘not knowing who he was the assistant showed the usual unceremonious activity that is displayed when they wish to get rid of a customer who has come in at an awkward time’.  However the Archduke was not going to be bustled and took his time over his purchases.  When the assistants began sweeping the floors, raising clouds of dust, and banging chairs about, Franz Ferdinand told his aide that it was time to go ‘before they do worse things to us’  (Yorkshire Evening Post 2 December 1913).

On 29 November Franz Ferdinand and Sophie visited the theatre in London. The next day they attended Mass at the Jesuit Church in Farm Street and then took a train to Dover en route to Calais and Vienna.

Many Austrian honours were conferred in connection with the visit, for example the Duke of Portland was awarded the Grand Cross of the Stephan Order, and John Fortescue the librarian at  Windsor Castle was made Knight Commander of the Order of Franz Joseph. Gifts were sent to the King and Queen – mounted hunting trophies, and Tuscan lace and embroidery. The staff at the Ritz had fond memories of the visit, holding the Archduke in high esteem because of his generosity when tipping.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records  Cc-by

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive

26 June 2014

The talented Mr Fox Talbot Part 4 – Assyriology

Continuing our examination of the many and diverse interests of William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), we look at his 20 year involvement in the field of Assyriology, the study of the history, archaeology and culture of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq).

In the mid-1840s the archaeological excavation of the ancient cities of Nimrud and Ninevah had unearthed tablets and inscriptions from the Kingdom of Assyria (750-612 BC).  Among other scholars, Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (1810-1895) and Edward Hincks (1792-1866) were instrumental in the decipherment of Assyrian cuneiform script. As Talbot had already published books on etymology and philology and could read almost a dozen languages, including Hebrew, his interest in this new field might have been expected. He published his own translations of inscriptions and exchanged ideas and information with other Assyriologists such as Hincks, Julius Oppert (1825-1905), Edwin Norris (1795-1872) and George Smith (1840-1876).

    Detail of notes made of an inscription in the British Museum, 12 January 1869 
Detail of notes made of an inscription in the British Museum, 12 January 1869. MS 88942/1/375  Noc

Talbot’s published translation ‘on an Ancient Eclipse’ (1872).
Talbot’s published translation ‘on an Ancient Eclipse’ (1872). As was his usual practice there are detailed notes accompanying the text.  MS 88942/3/1/13 Noc

Because of the difficulty in deciphering Assyrian cuneiform there was a lot of scholarly scepticism regarding the accuracy of translations. To counter this Talbot came up with a plan. He translated a recently discovered text relating to the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser I (c. 1115-1077 BC) and then sent it, sealed, to the Royal Asiatic Society. At his suggestion they invited three other translators, Rawlinson, Hincks and Oppert, to submit their own versions. The four separate translations were then examined by a panel of independent experts who found the texts so similar they concluded that Rawlinson and Hincks’s decipherment was valid and allowed for accurate translations.

  Title page of  'Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser I'Noc

The Royal Asiatic Society publication containing the four translations. MS 88942/3/1/7 

Up until his death in 1877, Talbot worked assiduously revising his translations, eventually publishing over 70 separate papers of his own. He also gave assistance to others. In 1870 when the publication of George Smith’s book on the Assyrian king Assurbanipal (668-627 BC) ran into financial difficulties, Talbot supported the project with £150 of his own money as well as checking and correcting the proofs for the author.

Detail of a note in Talbot’s hand for ‘G Smith’s Assurbanipal’
Detail of a note in Talbot’s hand for ‘G Smith’s Assurbanipal’. MS 88942/1/375  Noc

To further promote interest in Assyriology, Talbot co-founded the Society of Biblical Archaeology in 1871 and published a three volume work 'Contributions towards a Glossary of the Assyrian Language’ between 1868 and 1873. So although Talbot saw his work as primarily collaborative he was still acknowledged as one of the four key individuals in early Assyriological studies nearly 20 years after his death.

Detail of the first page of the manuscript for ‘The inscription of Darius at Nakshi Rustam’.Detail of the first page of the manuscript for ‘The inscription of Darius at Nakshi Rustam’. Of interest is Talbot’s recording of the history of the inscription, crediting three individuals, among them, Niels Ludvig Westergaard (1815-1878) and Rawlinson, with the transcription, publishing, decipherment and translation of the inscription prior to Talbot’s own version. MS 88942/3/1/24  Noc


Jonathan Pledge
Cataloguer, Historical Papers  Cc-by


23 June 2014

Obscenity and men’s erotica – 1970s comics

The 1970s was a momentous decade for the British Library: it’s when we were founded by Act of Parliament and both collections and staff transferred in from institutions such as the British Museum. It was also a momentous decade in terms of changing attitudes towards sex in this country, and this can in part be tracked through the comics that found their way into the library’s collections.

1971 saw the longest obscenity trial in English history. Issue no. 28 of the satirical magazine Oz contained a comic that combined an existing erotic story by the American comics creator Robert Crumb with the British children’s character Rupert Bear. The result horrified many people, and prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 was perhaps inevitable. Courtroom discussions show that the case highlighted a generational gap: young people found the story funny and harmless (the story had in fact been suggested by a teenager), whereas most older people were truly appalled. The magazine’s three editors were found guilty and jailed, but were released on appeal. But prosecutors didn’t let it lie: the next year the underground comic Nasty Tales was in the dock for obscenity, but found not guilty. The documentary comic The Trials of Nasty Tales recounts the court case.

Cover of The Trials of Nasty Tales (1973).
The Trials of Nasty Tales (1973). BL shelfmark: Cup.51/127.

Fast forward a few years and a quick survey of British ‘top shelf’ magazines published in 1977 shows that erotic comics had become widespread. Most of the mainstream erotic titles for straight men contained British or American comics. Penthouse was publishing ‘Oh Wicked Wanda!’ by Frederick Mullally and Ron Embleton; Mayfair had ‘Carrie’ by Mario Capaldi; and Club International  was printing one-off stories such as Pete Davidson’s ‘At Home with Richard Nixoff’ or Jamie Mandelkau’s ‘The Lust League of America’. Fiesta had been publishing comics in the mid-1970s (e.g. ‘Miss Muffin’), but by 1977 these had been largely dropped in favour of erotic cartoons. All these comics are essentially more about humour than eroticism, often based around puns or contrived storylines that place the characters into sexually compromised situations.

Gay men’s magazines in 1977 also contained comics. They were generally much more explicit: unlike their straight equivalents, gay comics often showed fantasy sex acts in full graphic detail. Prime examples are Oliver Frey’s beautifully drawn adventures of ‘Rogue’, which appeared in Him International  under his pseudonym Zack.

The widespread availability of these titles went largely without comment from the police, and publishers felt free to deposit them with the British Library. The obscenity trials of Oz and Nasty Tales in 1971-72 had started a debate. The tacit acceptance of erotic comics that we see by 1977 is perhaps evidence of how much attitudes towards sex in British society were changing.

Adrian Edwards
Co-curator, Comics Unmasked

Many of the titles mentioned above are on display in Comics Unmasked.  Join Oliver Frey alongside Melinda Gebbie (Lost Girls) at the British Library on Thursday 3 July from 18.30 – 20.30. Book now


19 June 2014

Grit and humour? How did people cope in the First World War?

In our exhibition Enduring war: grief, grit and humour which opens in the Folio Society Gallery at the British Library in London today, we consider how people coped during the First World War both at home and at the Front.  Looking at themes such as family, friends, faith and humour we commemorate the contribution so many made to the war effort and the ways they were subsequently honoured,  giving a voice to some of the men, women and children who lived through the war.

  Poster - "Fall in” answer now in your country’s hour of need.
"Fall in” answer now in your country’s hour of need. London: Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, 1914. (Poster no. 12.).  Tab.17748.a.(156). Images Online  Noc

The exhibition brings together material that has come to have national significance, such as the manuscripts of now famous war poets, with more ephemeral items, like Christmas cards and knitting patterns, that you might not expect to find in the Library’s collection. We’re displaying posters, trench journals, letters from Indian soldiers at the Western Front and a schoolboy’s essay about a Zeppelin raid over London together with manuscripts of works by Wilfred Owen, Vaughan Williams and Laurence Binyon. To give you a flavour - if you’re interested in Rupert Brooke, we have both a manuscript of his poem ‘The Soldier’ and a card sent to him about socks.

Enduring war is part of the Library’s wider involvement in the First World War Centenary. The Library has been leading the UK’s contribution to Europeana1914-1918.eu, a major, online digitised resource, and the exhibition includes a specially-commissioned and deeply- moving audio-visual installation and soundscape, which focuses on postcards sent home from soldiers drawn from the extensive collections contributed by members of the public to Europeana 1914-1918.

As you can see, the exhibition is a mix of the public and the personal – and one of the most poignant items is a letter dated 20 July 1916 from Roland Gerard Garvin, known as Ged, writing to his family, expressing his love and bidding farewell, knowing that his letter would only be sent if he did not return from battle.  He was killed on the Somme a few days later aged only 20. There is more about him in our World War One website which includes over 500 items from across Europe selected from Europeana1914-1918 as well as articles by leading experts and teachers’ notes. His is just one of the individual and shared stories you can find in Enduring war which has been curated by Alison Bailey and Matthew Shaw, project coordinator for Europeana 1914-1918. 

Alison Bailey
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1914-  Cc-by

Read more about Enduring war: grief, grit and humour

See what our colleagues in Collection Care have to say about some of the items they worked on for the exhibition.


17 June 2014

Indigo plantation murder trials

In the summer of 1810 a group of European indigo planters was brought to trial in Calcutta.  John Lathbury Turner, James Tichborne, Thomas Gardiner, Thomas Clarke, and Robert Scott Douglas were accused of murder and serious assaults by their native contractors, employees, and servants.  East India Company officials recorded the gruesome accounts of witnesses detailing atrocities committed in the interior of the country.

John Lathbury Turner was indicted for the murder of Mootty Roy who was expected to supply indigo to Turner’s factory at Suvoonny.  Turner sent for him and other ryots to ask why they had not sown indigo. To teach Mootty Roy a lesson, Turner punched him in the face and kicked him repeatedly. Mootty Roy and his companions were then put in the stocks for the night.  Mootty started complaining of horrible pains in his belly and was eventually released from the stocks and laid on the ground.  A mysterious ‘Mussulman’ appeared, claiming that Mootty Roy had been bitten by a snake, praying and casting spells to cure him.  Poor Mootty Roy died in agony. Witnesses swore they had not seen any snakes, that Mootty Roy did not complain of any bites, and there were no signs of any on his body. However the jury believed the evidence about the bite and Turner was acquitted of murder.

Indigo factoryNoc
WD 1017 Watercolour of an indigo factory in Bengal by William Simpson, 1863  Images Online Online Gallery 

James Tichborne was accused of murdering a gomasta (native agent) employed in the timber trade. He summoned the gomasta to adjust his accounts although the man was very ill, confining him for fourteen days in an out-house used as a bath house and privy.  In all that time the man only ate a little sherbet, saying he could not eat food in a privy and asking to be moved to a Hindu house.  When he died, Tichborne was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to twelve months in prison and a fine of 400 rupees.

 At the next sessions, Tichborne was charged with assault and false imprisonment by gomasta Ram Gholam. There was a dispute over a sum of 5,000 rupees for wage advances to woodcutters, and Tichborne confined Ram Gholam to a boat for three months and subjected him to violent beatings.  Tichborne was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months in prison and a fine of 100 rupees.

Thomas Gardiner beat an employee with a ratten and then had salt applied to the wounds. The man fell ill with a vomiting and bowel complaint the next day and died shortly afterwards. Gardiner was charged with murder but the grand jury threw out the case.

Thomas Clarke was charged with murdering a ryot by punching and kicking him after a dispute over some bullocks. Clarke was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to twelve months in prison and a fine of 400 rupees.

Robert Scott Douglas was tried as an accessory to arson when a rival indigo works was burned down.  He was found guilty of harbouring the men responsible and sentenced to twelve months in prison and a fine of 1000 rupees..

The Bengal Government reacted by alerting magistrates to the ‘ illicit and improper means’ being used by European planters to compel ryots to cultivate indigo.  Offenders might lose their licence to reside in the interior.

Dorota Walker
Reference Specialist, Asian and African Studies

Further reading:

W2438(c) Papers relating to East India Affairs, pp.11-40

Extracts from Bengal Judicial Consultations 20 July 1810 published by British Parliament in Papers &c (East India Company) (Second Part) Session 22 November 1812-22 July 1813 Vol. VIII


15 June 2014

Father’s Day in 1953

Father’s Day was first celebrated in the United States in 1910.  The idea was introduced into Britain in 1949 sponsored by the National Association of Outfitters.  A Father’s Day Association was set up in London, but stories in the British press suggest that the idea did not catch on quickly.

From The Footwear Organiser August 1919, p.163 Images Online  Noc

The Yorkshire Post of Friday 19 June 1953 carried a report about Father’s Day which fell on the next day.  The article was entitled ‘The one day when Father can sit at ease – but very few appear to know about it’.  The Father’s Day Association had issued a document stating that Britain had now joined the rest of the world in its celebration: ‘It is the day when the family make amends for the 364 days when father gets pushed around and neglected.  He has presents heaped upon him and there is a concerted rush by the family to get him cups of tea, mow the lawn and do any other of the small services which he always appreciates but rarely receives’.

However the Yorkshire Post reporter said that if Father’s Day had indeed caught on in Britain, fathers seemed to be curiously unaware of it. Of half a dozen men he had questioned in Leeds, only one had heard of it and he regarded it with ‘deep suspicion’.  The man told the reporter that Father’s Day was nothing but ‘a shopkeepers’ stunt’ aimed at making people spend money.  On reflection the man did admit that the principle of raising the importance of fathers was a good one, even if only for one day.

The interviewee then waxed lyrical on how the status of fathers had declined in his lifetime: ‘It is one of the outstanding social changes of modern times.  Books should be written about it: Government White Papers prepared’.  His grandfather had never held a dishcloth in his life and would have walked out on his grandmother if she had even dared to suggest that he do the household duties that modern fathers were expected to perform.

The man went on to say: ‘You know the whole trouble is that fathers have been cowardly and weak. They have surrendered their authority without even a struggle.  They have allowed their wives to make them drudges and their children to treat them with contempt.  And now they are suffering the consequences.  Their wives are television addicts and their children juvenile delinquents’.

Happy Father’s Day!

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records  Cc-by

Further reading: British Newspaper Archive


12 June 2014

World Cup 1950 – ‘England’s worst-ever display’

The England football team took part in the 1950 World Cup finals hosted by Brazil. The coverage of the tournament in the British local press is fascinating. Some articles highlight how much football has changed in the past 64 years.  Others seem very familiar both in tone and content, especially those which focus on England’s less than dazzling performance.  

Newspaper headline - World Cup: England's Worst-Ever Display
Gloucester Citizen - Friday 30 June 1950 British Newspaper Archive  Noc

In the months leading up to the 1950 World Cup, the British press discussed which players should be selected and the team’s prospects of success.  The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer wrote about England’s new right wing partnership of Peter Harris and Johnny Morris who played in the friendly international against Ireland on 21 September 1949. Harris had been born near to Portsmouth’s ground and had signed up for his home club for the princely sum of £10.  Neither Harris nor Morris was chosen for Brazil, Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney being preferred.

England beat the World Cup holders Italy 2-0 in a friendly on 30 November 1949. However the Derby Daily Telegraph reported that pessimistic ‘dismal jimmies’ were already writing off the team’s chances of success in Rio de Janeiro, saying that the team just wasn’t good enough. The newspaper believed that much would depend on the refereeing in Brazil.

Seventeen players flew out to Rio in one plane on 19 June 1950, having been insured for £250,000.  Each man received a daily allowance of £1 10s whilst in Brazil.  The team was warned not to comment on matches in press reports after the games.  Manager Walter Winterbottom said that his men were in great spirits and had never felt fitter in their lives. Some newspapers now rated England amongst the favourites to win the tournament.

On 26 June England won their first match against Chile 2-0.  The squad then trained for their second match against the United States on 29 June at a British mining camp 1,000 feet in the hills above Belo Horizonte.  United States won 1-0, an ‘unbelievable’ and ‘sensational’ result described by the Gloucester Citizen as ‘England’s worst-ever display’.  The Sunday Post reported that the US team had autographed the match ball and sent it home to be placed in a museum.

With a vital match against Spain looming on 2 July, Winterbottom asked for a set of canvas boots to be flown out to Brazil for his men. The boots had special rubber studded soles and toe caps. Alas! England suffered another 1-0 defeat and were eliminated from the World Cup. According to the Western Morning News, ‘English officials all thought England should have been awarded at least three penalties’.

The squad arrived back in England on 9 July, ‘hot, tired and dispirited’.  The Aberdeen Journal reported: ‘There was no official welcoming party, no red carpet or “hard luck” banners… perhaps it was just as well. The majority of the party were simply glad to be back in a country far removed from the mass hysteria of a Brazilian beanfeast’.  Winterbottom claimed England would beat United States 12-0 in a re-match, but added ‘second chances don’t come begging in the World Cup’. 

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records  Cc-by

Further reading:

British Newspaper Archive  For example - Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 13 September 1949; Derby Daily Telegraph 21 December 1949; Gloucestershire Echo 17 June 1950; Hull Daily Mail 19 June 1950; Gloucester Citizen 30 June 1950; Sunday Post  2 July 1950; Western Morning News 3 July 1950; Aberdeen Journal 10 July 1950

09 June 2014

Skulduggery in Bengal – a case of fraud

During the period of the British Raj in India, members of the Indian Civil Service often oversaw the governance of huge areas of territory. Most discharged this responsibility with great diligence and hard work, but from time to time examples of that responsibility being abused would come to the attention of Government. Such is the case of Walter A Macleane, a member of the Bengal Civil Service and Assistant Superintendent of Dehra Dun. A file in the India Office Records contains correspondence and an official report on the case, and an extract published in The Pioneer newspaper.

  European civil servant surrounded by Indian men
Illustration by Mrs S C Belnos from Twenty four plates illustrative of Hindoo and European manners in Bengal (c.1832) Images Online Noc

Walter Macleane arrived in Dehra Dun in March 1876 to take up the position of Assistant Superintendent. By most accounts he was somewhat eccentric in character, maintaining a lavish lifestyle, and regularly entertaining guests. He told people that he had a private income, and was married to a Parisian actress who shared her considerable fortune with him. He pursued his official duties in a similarly unique fashion. F M Lind, Commissioner of the Meerut Division, in his report on the affair, describes one occasion when an Indian gentleman asked Macleane for a licence to carry a gun. “Mr Macleane asked him if he had a gun, and the man replied in the negative, and stated that he would get a gun after he got his licence. Mr Macleane at once presented him with a double-barrel gun by Henry.”

In July 1876, Macleane left Dehra Dun on leave giving the reason of urgent personal business in Calcutta. He travelled to Allahabad, and then to Bombay where he disappeared. Not long after his departure from Dehra Dun, serious financial misdeeds came to light. Earlier in the year, Macleane had deposited two envelopes with the Mussoorie Bank, one containing his deed of covenant with the Secretary of State for India. The other envelope, which was sealed, he claimed contained deeds to his property in England valued at £6,000. The Manager of the Bank, Mr Hobson accepted these envelopes and allowed Macleane to negotiate bills amounting to £1,000 (or about £48,000 today) against the property in England. Bills were also negotiated with the Mussoorie Branch of the Delhi and London Bank. These bills he subsequently cashed at Coutts & Co and other firms.

Soon after Macleane’s disappearance telegrams arrived from England indicating that his bills had been dishonoured, which caused Mr Hobson to have the sealed envelope, which Macleane had deposited at the Mussoorie Bank, opened. Instead of deeds to property in England, it merely contained a price list of wines and some old circulars of the Board of Revenue! The Correspondent at The Pioneer observed that Macleane’s “great art lay in making himself appear to be perfectly careless about money matters, and without any idea as to the value of that medium of exchange…But he was a very sharp fellow indeed, and this pretended carelessness was the very best bait he could have thrown out, as pretty sharp people bit at it readily, thinking they were making a good thing out of him…One cannot pity people of this kind much”.

John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:

Absence without leave of W A Macleane, Assistant Superintendent of Dehra Dun in the North Western Provinces, and his dishonest conduct - recommendation of his dismissal from the Bengal Civil Service, 1876 [IOR/L/PJ/3/1118 No.131]