Untold lives blog

10 posts from May 2016

31 May 2016

Robert Clive arrives in India

On 31 May 1744 the East India Company ship Winchester anchored off Fort St George Madras.  The voyage from England had been exceptionally long.  Having sailed from Portsmouth on 19 March 1743, the Winchester ran aground on the coast of Brazil in May 1743.  Nine months elapsed before the ship was ready to resume her voyage in February 1744. On board was eighteen-year-old Robert Clive.

Clive had been appointed as an East India Company writer (or clerk) on the Madras establishment.  The protracted voyage meant that his reserves of money and supplies of clothing were seriously depleted before he arrived in India.  Matters were made worse when he fell overboard and lost his silver-buckle shoes, hat and wig.


Robert Clive in later life

Robert Clive in later life from G. L. Craik and C. MacFarlane, The Pictorial History of England (London, 1855)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Amongst Clive’s collection of private papers at the British Library is an account of miscellaneous items which the teenager thought it necessary to buy when he arrived in India to take up his Company post. The first part of the account dated 1 June 1744 shows ‘sundries’ purchased from Gabriel Steward or Stewart, Captain of the Winchester: two pairs of black stockings, one hat, one wig, one pair of silver buckles,  and one piece of duroy and trimming – duroy was a coarse woollen cloth manufactured in England and used chiefly for men's wear.

The second part dated 11 June 1744 lists what Clive bought on shore at Fort St George: glasses for wine and water , decanters, half a hogshead of Cape wine, ten yards of camblet, a looking glass, six pewter spoons, one firkin of butter, and one dozen ‘cocoa knives and forks’ (does anyone know what these looked like ?  They were still being advertised for sale in the early 20th century).

Lastly Clive recorded other sundries he paid for at Fort St George.  Many fabrics are detailed: long cloth, cambric, handkerchiefs, black dimity for breeches, silk for lining clothes, gingham for bedding, curtains, cotton and lace for bedding.  He purchased ‘wastecoats to write in the Office’, eight China plates, and some furniture: six chairs, a cot, a couch, and a table.

Clive had to pay for boat hire and for a chest when first coming on shore from the ship. He also noted down the servants’ wages which he would have to meet from his monthly allowance from the Company: dubash, cook boy, washer man; water women, and  ‘Shaving Barber & Powdring’.

Perhaps this story will cheer anyone worrying about sending their teenaged offspring out into the world.  At least they are very unlikely to have to undergo a fourteen-month sea voyage in a sailing ship and nearly drown by falling overboard. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers MSS Eur G37/19/3 ff.1-1v
Richard Garrett, Robert Clive (London, 1976)


26 May 2016

Wanted: 100 Hogshead of Sugar

Today is the 50th anniversary of Guyana’s independence, a country on the northern coast of South America. Formally known as British Guiana, it had a rich and diverse history. Journalist Lainy Malkani takes a look back at some archive newspapers with a remarkable link to one of the most expensive stamps in the world.


Advert ‘Wanted: 100 Hogshead of Sugar' Royal Gazette 4 March 1856

‘Wanted: 100 Hogshead of Sugar.’  Royal Gazette 4 March 1856 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Judging by the variety of notices and adverts posted in the Royal Gazette in 1856, Georgetown, must have been a bustling and at times chaotic city. The proprietors of the printing shop, Messrs. William Dallas, Esq, who was one of a growing number of successful mixed-race businessmen, and Joseph Baum from Pennsylvania, were in the thick of it.

 The search for ‘100 Hogshead of Sugar’, is just one of thousands of ‘Wanted’ ads placed in the newspaper, and leafing through just one day in the life of the city feels like time travel at its best. On Tuesday 4 March 1856, Rose and Duff wanted to purchase ‘100 Puncheons of Rum’ while a shipment from London of 600 tonnes of ‘shingle ballast, gravel and sand’ was available for any discerning developer to buy if they had cash at the ready. On other days, an advert announcing the arrival of ships from Calcutta, laden with bags of rice and mustard oil for Indian indentured labourers indicates the country’s increasingly diverse population after emancipation in 1834.


Advert -‘IRVING BROTHERS OFFER FOR SALE’  Royal Gazette  3 January 1856

‘IRVING BROTHERS OFFER FOR SALE’  Royal Gazette  3 January 1856 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The Royal Gazette, later known as the Official Gazette was regarded as the voice of the colonial administration and Government announcements were frequently posted. Disturbances in the city led to William Walker, the Government Secretary to decree that a reward of $50 dollars for information that led to a conviction of the troublemakers, would be withdrawn and replaced with a $250 reward - perhaps it was a sign of the fragility of peace in the city.

The printing office was located at No23 High Street and Church-Street in the upmarket district of Cumingsburg and it printed more than just newspapers. In 1843, it published a ‘Local Guide of British Guiana,’ a compilation of all the current laws as well as an historical sketch of the city. 

  Plan of Georgetown

Plan of Georgetown from Local Guide to British Guiana (Georgetown: Baum & Dallas, 1843) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

But perhaps their greatest claim to fame was not as printers of newspapers or books, but of stamps, and one in particular, which is now the most expensive and rarest in the world.

The story begins with a delay in the shipment of postage stamps dispatched from London to British Guiana. By 1856, supplies were running low and so the local postmaster ordered Baum and Dallas to print a batch of one-cent stamps as postage for newspapers and a four-cent stamp for letters. The last remaining One-Cent Magenta recently sold at Sotheby’s for $9.5 million and the Four-Cent Magenta and Four-Cent Blue form part of an unrivalled collection of rare stamps donated by the wealthy Victorian businessman Thomas Tapling, held here at the British Library.


  British Guiana 4-Cent Magenta stamp
British Guiana 4-Cent Magenta Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

All in all, 1856 was a pretty good year for Baum and Dallas. The newspaper was now being printed three days a week instead of two, a sure sign that business was doing well. They had also, unwittingly secured a place in history as printers of the most valuable stamp in the world.

Lainy Malkani
Writer, broadcaster and founder of the Social History Hub


24 May 2016

Shakespeare in India

The British Library holds a vast collection of Sir Francis Younghusband’s papers.  Younghusband is perhaps chiefly remembered for his role in the British invasion of Tibet in 1903-1904, but his military career was only one aspect of a fascinating character, He was a writer, explorer, mystic, and, from the evidence of one file amongst his papers, perhaps an amateur drama critic as well.


Portrait of Francis Younghusband

Portrait of Francis Younghusband - India Office Private Papers Mss.Eur. F197/646 (13) Images Online  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The file is titled ‘Shakespeare in India’.  It contains two undated versions of an essay (one typescript, one handwritten) which was composed in Westerham, Kent, where Younghusband and his wife lived between 1921 and 1937 after his retirement.

  File - Shakespeare in India

India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F197/505 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The essay begins with an anecdote about a teenage Indian Maharaja known to Younghusband who regularly slipped out of his palace to go and see productions of Shakespeare in the local bazaar. Younghusband then sets down his thoughts about the interpretation and reception of Shakespeare in the sub-continent, even ranking the plays in terms of popularity:
“The most popular is Othello. There is a larger number of translations of this play than of any other. Othello is an Oriental figure; he is heroic, and he is a lover. Hence the popularity of the play among Indians. The next in favour is The Merchant of Venice. Shylock reminds Indians of their own money-lenders and they enjoy seeing him outwitted … Third in order of popularity is Romeo and Juliet. Indians love it because of its intensity of passion. Hamlet is not so generally popular as these three or even As You Like It and The Tempest. The historical plays the Indians do not care for …” .


Othello with Desdemona's body

From W. Harvey, The Works of Shakspeare (1825) BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Younghusband identifies seven plays which are worthy of being recognized as great, as distinct from merely popular, works: Othello, King Lear, Hamlet, The Tempest, Cymbeline, Measure for Measure, and finally Romeo and Juliet . He believes that Indians like Shakespeare especially for
   "... his magic use of words, his gorgeous imagery, his love of nature and of humanity ... He creates heroes, and Indians love the heroic ... He shows delicacy of touch in handling the relations  between men and women, and Indians love to keep that relation sacred. He praises home and home affections, and Indians love their homes and believe in the virtue of domestic  affections ...".
There is, however, one aspect of the western writer's work which Indians compare unfavourably to their own national epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata:
"Indians love to feel lifted out of themselves to a higher, lovelier spiritual plane ... And in that light, they note a deficiency or inadequacy in Shakespeare ... There is in [the plays] none of that intensity of joy which mystics know ... They think his realism is not real enough. He has probed deep but not deep enough. If he had pierced deeper into the nature of things he would have nearer to the true reality - to that most real which is also the most ideal".

   Ramayana - Battle between the armies of Rama and the King of LankaPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence
Ramayana, by Sahib Din. Battle between the armies of Rama and the King of Lanka. Udaipur, 1649-53 British Library Add. MS 15297 (1), f.91 BL Online Gallery 

If this story has made you keen to know more about Younghusband , the enquiry desk staff in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room on the third floor will be delighted to assist!
Hedley Sutton & Karen Waddell
Asian & African Studies Reference Services  

Further reading:
Papers of Sir Francis Younghusband – India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F197.
Baptismal certificate for Francis Younghusband born 1863 in Murree, India  -  IOR/N/1/107 f.52.
Ranjee Gurdarsing Sahani,  Shakespeare through Eastern eyes (London, 1932) - T 13070.
Patrick French, Younghusband: the last great imperial adventurer (London, 1994) - ORW.1995.a.1939.
Francis Younghusband, The British invasion of Tibet (abridged edition London, 1999) – Asian & African Studies Reading Room OII951.5.
Poonam Trivedi & Dennis Bartholomeusz (eds), India’s Shakespeare  (Newark, N.J., 2005)  – YC.2006.a.16549.
Douglas A. Brooks (ed), Shakespeare and Asia  (Lewiston, 2010) – YC.2011.a.12555. 


Visit the British Library’s stunning exhibition Shakespeare in ten acts     Vivien Leigh as Titania








20 May 2016

Bringing Colin Mackenzie Home

Colonel Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), the first Surveyor General of India, was a determined man. He was employed by the East India Company as a Military Surveyor, but did far more than simply make maps. During his four decade career in India, Sri Lanka and Java, he carried out vast, complicated historical and cultural research.

Portrait of Colin Mackenzie with three of his assistants by Thomas Hickey

Portrait of Colin Mackenzie with three of his assistants by Thomas Hickey (BL - F13)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mackenzie’s attitude towards collecting drawings, historical manuscripts and artefacts verged on the obsessive. Today, thousands of paper manuscripts, at least 1700 drawings, and 521 palm leaf manuscripts that he collected, mainly in India, form the British Library’s Mackenzie Collection. Other manuscripts and drawings that he collected are held in the Asiatic Society’s Library in Kolkata and the University of Madras Library. The objects he collected, ranging from coins to monumental sculpture, are now in the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Chennai Government Museum, the Indian Museum Kolkata and the National Museum of India.

The British Library’s Mackenzie Collection is a treasure trove of information about the people and places in Asia that Colin Mackenzie encountered two centuries ago. The one thing that Mackenzie conspicuously failed to collect was any personal information about himself. To find out about his origins, one must travel 5000 miles north-west from Mackenzie’s final resting place at Calcutta, to his birthplace at Stornoway, on the Island of Lewis.

Here is a picture of the seaside church of Ui on Lewis, where the Mackenzie family’s mausoleum stands.

  The Ui Church at Aignish, near Stornoway.
The Ui Church at Aignish, near Stornoway. The rectangular granite structure on the left is the Mackenzie Family Mausoleum. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Inside, there are inscriptions composed by Colin’s older sister, Mary Mackenzie (1747-1827), dedicated to Colin, their brother Alexander (1740-1810), and their parents, Murdoch (1717-1802) and Barbara (1720-1792). Through these inscriptions, Mary Mackenzie ensured that her family’s history was not forgotten.

Inscription inside the Mackenzie Family Mausoleum at Aignish

The inscriptions inside the Mackenzie Family Mausoleum at Aignish.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Inscription inside the Mackenzie Family Mausoleum at Aignish


Today, Stornoway has become the vibrant capital of the Outer Hebrides. The Purvai Project, based at the An Lanntair cultural centre in Stornoway, seeks to explore Colin Mackenzie’s vast legacy. One aspect of the project will be an exhibition at the newly opened Lews Castle Museum about the life and work of Colin Mackenzie, scheduled for 2017.

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:

Blake, David. M.  “Colin Mackenzie: collector extraordinary”. British Library Journal (1991), pp.128-150.

Howes, Jennifer. Illustrating India: The Early Colonial Investigations of Colin Mackenzie. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Jansari, Sushma.“Roman Coins from the Mackenzie Collection at the British Museum.” The Numismatic Chronicle, Volume 172 (2012), pp.93-104.



16 May 2016

William Adams – from Gillingham to Japan

William Adams, often described as 'the first Englishman in Japan', died on 16 May 1620 at Hirado.  He has become a powerful symbol of Anglo-Japanese friendship, and each year a memorial service is held in Hirado in his honour. The British Library holds letters written by Adams to the English East India Company and so curators from the Library send an annual message to be read aloud at the service.

Here is part of a letter dated 23 October 1611 which was sent by William Adams at Hirado to his fellow countrymen at Bantam.

Part of a letter dated 23 October 1611 which was sent by William Adams at Hirado to his fellow countrymen at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff.122-129v Images Online  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The letter provided a potted biography to explain how Adams came to be in Japan, starting with his birth in Gillingham Kent and his apprenticeship in Limehouse to ship owner Nicholas Diggins. Following service with Queen Elizabeth’s ships and the Barbary Merchants, Adams joined a Dutch merchant fleet as chief pilot in 1598. After a disastrous voyage, Adams arrived in Japan on board the Liefde in 1600.  Adams became immersed in local customs and built a new life for himself in Japan, prospering under the patronage of Tokugawa Ieyasu. 

When the Dutch and English East India Companies arrived in Japan in 1609 and 1613 respectively, Adams helped them to establish factories (trading posts) at Hirado. Adams served the English as interpreter and adviser and also undertook local trading voyages for them.

Adams had married Mary Hyn at St Dunstan Stepney on 20 August 1589 and they had at least two children.  One was a daughter named Deliverance. Letters passed between William and Mary while he was in Japan, and he arranged for money to be paid to her in London by the East India Company.  He also had a Japanese wife by whom he had a son Joseph and a daughter Susanna.  Another child was said to have been born in Hirado to a Japanese woman.

Sea route from Hirado to Osaka, Japan

Sea route from Hirado to Osaka, Japan Or.70.bbb.9. (roll 2) Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Adams remained in Japan until his death. His will was dated 16 May 1620, the day he died, and probate was granted to Mary Adams in London on 8 October 1621.  He wished his estate to be divided into two parts, half going to his ‘lovinge wyfe & children in England’ and the other half to Joseph and Susanna.

His daughter Deliverance married Ratcliff mariner Raph Goodchild at St Dunstan Stepney on 30 September 1618. Records show that they had two daughters: Abigail baptised and buried in October 1619, and Jane baptised on 8 April 1621.

In August 1624, Deliverance Goodchild petitioned the Court of Directors for payment of her father's investment sent home on the Company ships Moon and Elizabeth.  Her mother Mary had died, leaving her share to Deliverance.

Very little else is known about William’s children.  I have discovered that Deliverance  was married for a second time to John Wright at St Alfege Greenwich on 13 October 1624. Joseph Adams made five voyages to Cochin China and Siam between 1624 and 1635.  Susanna was given a present by East India Company merchant Richard Cocks  in 1622 but then she disappears from the records.

Can any of our readers shed more light on the family of William Adams?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan 1613-1623 (London, 1991)
IOR/E/3 Correspondence of overseas East India Company servants
IOR/B Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors
Parish records at London Metropolitan Archives


12 May 2016

Edward Lear: politicians, poems and runcible hats.

Today is Edward Lear’s 204th Birthday.  To celebrate, I’ve chosen to look at a letter from Lear to the MP and later prime minister, Sir William Ewart Gladstone and another to William Bevan, British Vice-Consul in San Remo.

The letter to Gladstone was written in October 1863 on a printed subscription list and advertisement for Lear’s publication Views in the Seven Ionian Islands.


Letter from Edward Lear to William Ewart Gladstone Add MS 44401.  Untitled

Views in the Seven Ionian Islands was a series of lithographs drawn and published by Lear in December 1863. Lear produced a list of the noteworthy subscribers and used their names to further advertise the project. Among the many names were Lear's good friends Chichester Parkinson-Fortescue and Frances, Countess Waldegrave.


 Verso of a letter from Edward Lear to William Ewart Gladstone Add MS 44401. Untitled

In the letter, Lear asked Gladstone if he would consider subscribing to the Ionian Views:

"I hope that the enclosed circular of a work I am about to publish on the Ionian Islands may interest you sufficiently to induce you to subscribe for a copy of it. I had lived there so long, that I may say without impropriety that few artists can have drawn the beautiful scenery there as much and as carefully as I."


Lithograph 'View from the Village of Galaro - Zante' in Views in the Seven Ionian Islands, drawn and published by Edward Lear, 1863. British Library 1782.d.16. Untitled


Lithograph 'Town and Harbour of Caïo - Paxo' in Views in the Seven Ionian Islands, drawn and published by Edward Lear, 1863. British Library 1782.d.16. Untitled

The letter to Gladstone could not be more different from another letter in the British Library Manuscript Collections which is addressed to William Bevan, the British Vice-Consul who had moved to San Remo and lived near Lear. The letter contains Lear's  poem How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear which was apparently composed with the help of Bevan's eldest daughter. Lear has also included a caricature of himself and his cat Foss.


Letter from Edward Lear to Archdeacon Bevan 145 January 1879, Add MS 61891 ff.104-9. Untitled

This drawing must surely illustrate the following verse in the poem:

He has many friends, lay men and clerical,
Old Foss is the name of his cat;
His body is perfectly spherical,
He weareth a runcible hat. 

 The letter beneath the poem reads:

I disclose you a Pome, which you may or may Knott send to the Lady who says "How pleasant to know Mr Lear,  It may be sung to the air "how cheerful along the Gay Mead". 

Lear stated that his poem could be set to the music of the hymn How Cheerful along the Gay Mead. Here is a link to the score in the Levy Sheet Music Collection if anyone fancies a sing-along with Lear on his birthday! 

Alexandra Ault, Curator, Manuscripts and Archives 1601-1850.


10 May 2016

The Khaksar movement in the Persian Gulf

In 1939, in the early months of the Second World War, British officials began making enquiries into the presence in Bahrain of members of a paramilitary Islamic social movement that sought the overthrow of British rule in India, and drew inspiration from Adolf Hitler.

The Khaksar movement was founded in Lahore in 1931 by Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi, a Cambridge-educated mathematician and Islamic scholar.

The movement was overtly Islamic, but claimed to wish to give equal rights to all faiths. It was highly organised, and rapidly acquired millions of members. It was also militaristic, with khaki uniforms, organised marches, and mock warfare. The movement’s emblem was the spade, egalitarian symbol of the dignity of labour, which its members literally carried around with them.


Khaksars in uniform, 1930s

Khaksars in uniform, 1930s. The figure in the centre of the back row carries the Khaksar belcha (spade). Source: Wikipedia.

The Khaksar movement’s philosophy was enshrined in a creed and set of principles, which emphasised discipline and self-sacrifice, and encouraged the spread of Islam. However, the movement denied any involvement in politics, and its anti-colonialism went unstated.

The movement’s dictatorial beliefs and uniform prompted comparisons with contemporary Fascist organisations in Europe. Indeed, Mashriqi is said to have met Hitler in 1926 and to have been influenced by Mein Kampf, which he translated into Urdu.

Bahrain was the centre of the embryonic oil industry on the Arab side of the Gulf in 1939, and with the advent of war against those same European Fascist powers, the region constituted a key source of oil for Britain’s war effort.

The British compiled lists of those involved with the movement in Bahrain (about forty people, all of them members of the Indian community), including oil industry workers and a tailor.

Part of a letter dated 20 December 1939 from the Assistant Political Agent, Bahrain to the Director, Intelligence Bureau, Government of India, New Delhi, giving information on the Khaksar Movement in BahrainPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Part of a letter dated 20 December 1939 from the Assistant Political Agent, Bahrain to the Director, Intelligence Bureau, Government of India, New Delhi, giving information on the Khaksar Movement in Bahrain, which he describes as ‘the object of much derision by the Arab population’: IOR/R/15/2/168, f 24.


The conclusion reached by British officials was that there was ‘nothing objectionable’ in the activities of the movement’s members in Bahrain, which were confined to a weekly uniformed march, and regular meetings. The British Political Agent in Bahrain was also sceptical about the movement’s wider appeal to Muslims, stating that it was ‘not likely ever to be of much significance on the Arab Coast, where a movement whose symbol is a spade can excite only derision’.

However, all that changed in March 1940 when more than thirty Khaksars were killed by police in a protest at Lahore. The movement was now viewed by the authorities as a danger and banned, and the ban prompted further enquiries into the strength of the movement in Bahrain. Fifteen further members, including workers at a shipping company and the RAF base, were identified by tracing the distribution of the Khaksar newspaper, Al Islah.


The Gazette of India, 20 March 1940

The Gazette of India, 20 March 1940, published the day after the deaths of Khaksar members at Lahore, announcing the Chief Commissioner of Delhi’s decision to declare the Khaksar Movement an unlawful association: IOR/R/15/2/168, f 31. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


If the British feared a wartime outbreak of pan-Islamic unrest they need not have worried, because the Gulf states gave loyal support to the Allied cause throughout the war. Inayatullah Khan too, on his way to jail in New Delhi, pointed out that he had previously offered to raise a force of 50,000 men to fight alongside the British.

However, the implications for British rule in India were different, and the activities of Mashriqi and the Khaksars were a contributory factor in achieving the independence of Pakistan in 1947.

Martin Woodward
Archival Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library: 'File 1/A/47 Khaksar Movement'. IOR/R/15/2/168
Amalendu De, History of the Khaksar Movement in India (1931-1947) 2 vols (Kolkata: Parul Prakashani, 2009) I
Roy Jackson, Mawlana Mawdudi and Political Islam: Authority and the Islamic state (Taylor and Francis, 2010)


07 May 2016

Hedgehog Awareness

In honour of Hedgehog Awareness Week, we’re sharing a charming image from the British Library collections discovered by our colleague Jeremy Nagle on Flickr Commons.


Hedgehog tripping happily along

The little hedgehog tripping happily along appears in Aileen Aroon, a memoir . With other tales of faithful friends and favourites, sketched from the life by Gordon Stables (1840-1910). Stables was born in Scotland and he became an author after a career as a Royal Navy Surgeon.   He published over 130 books, mostly boys' adventure fiction.

over of Aileen Arood

Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This is the story attached to the picture of the hedgehog.
‘One day Tip was a long time absent, and when he came into the garden he came up to me and placed a large round ball all covered with thorns at my feet. " Whatever is it, Tip? " I asked. "That’s a hoggie," said Tip," and ain't my mouth sore just.” I put down my hands to lift it up, and drew them back with pricked and bleeding fingers. Then I shrieked, and nursie came running out, and shook me, and whacked me on the back as if I had swallowed a bone. That's how she generally served me. "What is it now? " she cried; "you're never out of mischief; did Tip bite you? " " No, no," I whimpered," the beastie bited me." Then I had three pets for many a day, Tip and the cat and the hedgehog, who grew very tame indeed.’

You can enjoy more of these tales as Aileen Arood has been digitised in its entirety. 

Happy reading!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records