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11 posts from January 2019

07 January 2019

Blanchard! Where are your trousers? The first crossing of the English Channel in a balloon

On 7 January 1785 Jean-Pierre Blanchard and Dr John Jeffries took their lives in their hands and set off across the Channel in a balloon.  It’s no exaggeration to say this was a life and death moment.  French inventor Jean Francois Pilâtre de Rozier and his co-pilot proved this clearly when they crashed and were killed trying to cross the Channel in the opposite direction in June the same year.

Column erected to mark landing place of Blanchard and Jeffries' balloonColumn erected to mark landing place of Blanchard and Jeffries' balloon from A Narrative of the Two Aerial Voyages of Dr. J. with Mons. BlanchardPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

After a week of detailed preparations, and with the experience of a flight from London into Kent in the previous November, Blanchard and Jeffries prepared to set off from Dover.  With a keen eye on the winds, they first flew a kite, ‘a paper Montgolfier, and a small gaz balloon’, and then they felt sufficiently confident to launch.

During the crossing, they threw their ballast over the side to keep the balloon airborne.  By the time they were half way across, all of this was gone.  At about half past two, about three quarters of the way across, and as the French coast became clearer before them, the balloon started descending again.  This time they were obliged to throw food, fittings, and some of their equipment into the sea.  This included silk oars, constructed in the expectation that they might be able to ‘row’ through the air.  Still they did not rise.  They stripped off their jackets, and Blanchard even threw away his trousers.  Finally the balloon rose again, and onward they flew until they were over land.

The danger continued as they flew fast over dense woodland, dropping closer and closer to the trees.  Fearful that they would yet crash, they looked around for anything else they could do to lighten the load.  They threw off their life jackets made of cork, since they were no longer over the sea, but still they descended.  Finally, continuing to look for weight, Blanchard reflected: 'it almost instantly occurred to me that we could supply it from within ourselves … from the recollection that we had drunk much at breakfast, and not having had any evacuation, and from the severe cold, little or no perspiration had taken place, that probably an extra quantity had been secreted by the kidneys, that we might now avail ourselves of by discharging … we were able to obtain, I verily believe, between five and six pounds of urine; which circumstance, however trivial or ludicrous it may seem, I have reason to believe, was of real utility to us'.

Thus saved from crashing into the trees, as they slowed they were able to grab branches alongside and gradually lower themselves to the ground, at around 4.30 in the afternoon, when they were well met.  'In a short time, many persons made their way to us in the Forest, from whom we received every form of civility and assistance, particularly, in sparing from themselves clothing for us'.

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
John Jeffries and Jean-Pierre Blanchard,, A Narrative of the Two Aerial Voyages of Dr. J. with Mons. Blanchard: With Meteorological Observations and Remarks. The First Voyage on the Thirtieth of November, 1784, from London into Kent: The Second, on the Seventh of January, 1785, from England into France (London, 1786) Online version

03 January 2019

The Great War Fund Fete

On 13 January 1941 a War Fund Fete was held at Government House, Madras.  As well as raising money for the Madras War Fund, the fete was also intended as a propaganda event.

Front cover of the War Fund Fete programme India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2 f 1 Front cover of the War Fund Fete programme Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It was a grand affair with the programme featuring 91 entries for stalls, games, entertainments and food and drink establishments, along with more practical facilities including cloakrooms and parcel stores, lost property and medical stations.  Currency for the fete was in coupons and the public had to purchase books of coupons in order to make purchases or enjoy the entertainments on offer.

One local newspaper on the day of the fete described Government House as having been 'transformed into a pleasureland' for that night's merrymaking.  According to the Madras Mail of 14 January 1941, the fete was opened when 'Tough cowboys burst open the gates at Government House yesterday and their tempestuous entrance made it possible for the public to enter at last'.

Many of the stalls were similar to those featured at fetes nowadays with lucky dips, raffles, coconut shy’s, and bagatelle.  Others however had more unusual titles, including ‘Bunty pulls the strings’ and ‘Breaking up the happy home’ (similar to today’s crockery smash stalls).  There were also elephant rides, several magic gardens and even a Chinese Laundry!  One of the most popular stalls at the Fete was that of Woolworth’s.  One local newspaper the following day observed:
'Equally crowded was the excellent “Woolworth” stall, where the most effective household oddments, artfully and thriftily contrived, were sold for a song'.

Entertainment at the fete included two bandstands and a theatre which featured dance groups and musicians as well as plays.  The performances on show included the Tamil comedy The Sub-Assistant Magistrate of Sultanpet and the Tamil play The Pongal Feast.

Food and drink were also in abundance with American style diners and saloons, coffee and refreshment stalls and a Toc H Bar.  For those looking for a full evening’s entertainment there was a Tocaitchaski bar with its own orchestra, a banqueting hall with dancing from 9pm to 2am (evening dress was optional) and a cabaret dinner, promenade and bar with the cabaret performance at 9pm.

Front page of The Mail 14 January 1941 showing the crowds surging into the feteIndia Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2, f 23 Front page of The Mail 14 January 1941 showing the crowds surging into the fete Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

According to the newspaper reports people attended the fete in their thousands: 'In they surged, school boys and girls, scores of excited men and women, mothers with babies and with chattering kiddies clinging to available fingers, happy young things on the arms of their beaux, while burnished cars and buses squeezed through as well'.

In a letter written on 16 January 1941 Sir Arthur Hope, the Governor of Madras, congratulated Captain Thomas William Barnard, Honorary Secretary to the Fete’s organising committee, on the wonderful success of the fete and also commented that 'Apart from the financial result, it was a great piece of propoganda [sic] which will have its effect'.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2 - The Great Fete at Government House Grounds Madras 13 January 1941
- Includes press cuttings from The Mail (formerly known as The Madras Mail) 14 January 1941

 

01 January 2019

Indian Honours List, New Year 1919

On 1 January 1919 the India Office published its honours list approved by the King.  There is a memorandum in the archives giving the reasons why the awards were made. 

The first name on the list is Sir Dorabji Jamshedji Tata who was elevated to Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (K.C.S.I.) in recognition of being a pioneer of industrial enterprise in India.  He is followed by European, Indian and Burmese men holding civil, military, medical, scientific and diplomatic posts, as well as by Indian princes.  The Maharaja of Baroda and the Maharaja of Alwar, Rajputana, were made Knights Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (G.C.I.E.), the first for raising cash for the First World War as well as for his life-long efforts to improve the condition of his state; the second for providing soldiers.  Many honours were awarded for services connected with the War.

People attending Star of India investiture 1861First investiture of the Star of India November 1861 - Plate 17 of William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern.  The Nawab Begum of Bhopal appears in the centre of the picture. Online Gallery Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Forty-seven women in India were honoured in January 1919, mostly Europeans. Three women were made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.). Lady Eva Cardew had undertaken religious and philanthropic work in Madras and Ootacamund, as well as charitable efforts in connection with the War.  Mrs Gertrude Carmichael had worked with the East Indies Naval Fund; Bombay University; and Lady Willingdon’s scheme for maternity homes. Mrs Miriam Isabel Lyons had served for the past three years as President of the Poona Branch of the War and Relief Fund.

Fourteen women were made Officer of the British Empire (O.B.E.).  A number had been active in the Red Cross during the War.  Mrs Maud Lilian Davys had worked as an assistant to her husband Major Gerard Irvine Davys of the Indian Medical Service in a new laboratory for examining foodstuffs at Kasuali in the Punjab.  According to the 1939 Register, Mrs Davys was still working as a food scientist at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Mrs Alice Todhunter’s O.B.E. recognised her work with the Madras War Fund Ladies’ Depot, especially her success in securing the support of Indian women.  Mrs Todhunter had also been busy with the St John Ambulance Association and with the National Indian Association, striving for the education of Indian women and the encouragement of social intercourse between Indians and Europeans.

The list of Members of the British Empire had 27 women, seven Indian.  Bai Champabahen Manibhai of Bombay was praised for carrying on her mother’s philanthropic activities, including providing equipment for the Kapadwanj Dispensary and bearing the expenses of recruits at the Anand Depot.

Three women were awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal.  Miss Sarah Isabel Hatch of the Canadian Baptist Telegu Mission in Madras had established an asylum for lepers at Ramachandrapuram in the Godavari District in 1899 and now had over 100 inmates from across the Presidency.  Mrs Pandita Ramabai of Bombay had furthered the education of Indian women, with a team of ‘English and American ladies working under her’.  There were now 1,000 women and girls at a mission provided entirely by her.  Miss Gertrude Davis was Principal Matron in the Australian Army Nursing Service based at the Victoria War Hospital in Bombay.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/15/41 File H224/1918 New Year’s Honours 1919
H Taprell-Dorling, Ribbons and Medals (London, 1916)

 

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