Untold Lives looks back at 2017
As 2017 draws to a close, we’re looking back on some of our posts which proved to be the most popular during the past twelve months.
In January we told you about a major new digital resource which had just become available for researching the East India Company and the India Office. We showed a few of the digitised documents, including the list of the first subscribers to the East India Company drawn up in September 1599...
.. and the Instrument of Abdication signed by Edward VIII at Fort Belvedere on 10 December 1936.
‘Value in unexpected places’ was the story of the sole surviving copy of a 17th-century schoolbook now held at the British Library. The grounds of learning was written by schoolmaster Richard Hodges primarily for children as early learners of literacy.
In March we asked: Did Jane Austen develop cataracts from arsenic poisoning? In the drawer of Jane Austen’s writing desk at the British Library are three pairs of spectacles. The Library had the spectacles tested and the post revealed the results.
We researched Gerald Wellesley’s secret family. Wellesley was an East India Company official who spent many years as Resident in the Princely State of Indore. He provided for his three children born to an Indian woman in the 1820s but stopped short of giving them his name or recognising them publicly as his offspring.
Indore from William Simpson's 'India: Ancient and Modern X108(15) Online Gallery
Thomas Bowrey’s cloth and colour samples were unexpected treasures found in tucked away in a volume packed with closely-written correspondence and accounts. The colours are still vibrant after 300 years. And how about number 18 on the chart – Gall Stone?
The East India Company’s Black Book of Misdemeanours 1624-1698 was brought out of the shadows this year. Most complaints relate to private trade carried on against express orders, but they also cover drunkenness, negligence, desertion, disobeying orders, embezzlement, and debauchery.
We told the story of how Isfahan in Iran became the City of Polish Children during the Second World War. Thousands of Polish military and civilian refugees journeyed from the Soviet Union to Iran.. One poignant statistic stands out: in January 1943 the camp in the city of Isfahan contained 2,457 civilian refugees, of which 2,043 were children.
Group photo of older children at one of the children's homes in Isfahan. Reproduced with kind permission from the personal collection of Dioniza Choros, Kresy, Siberia Virtual Museum
Portrait of Polish refugee children, taken by Abolghasem Jala between 1942-1944. Abolghasem Jala took thousands of portraits of Polish refugees during his time in Isfahan at the Sharq photographic studio. Abolghasem Jala Photographic Collection, Endangered Archives Programme, EAP001/7/1
In 1847 a book called Real Life in India offered advice to British ladies going to live in India. This covered clothing, equipment for the voyage, household management, and ways of passing the time. Women were told to take six mosquito sleeping drawers and to learn the art of piano tuning.
And finally we treated you to the untold life of a paper bag!
The bag reveals that Indian sweetmeats were being sold in London in the late 19th century, much earlier than most people would expect. This lovely piece of ephemera was displayed at Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham which ran from July to November 2017.
We hope that you have enjoyed revisiting these fascinating stories as much as we did. Who knows what our great contributors have in store for you in 2018?
A Happy New Year to all our readers!
Lead Curator, East India Company Records