THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

6 posts from July 2019

18 July 2019

How old are you Miss Nightingale?

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was the famous nursing reformer, who improved conditions in the war hospitals of the Crimea during her time there (1854-56).  Patrolling the wards at night, she became known as the ‘Lady with the lamp’.  On returning to England, she continued her good work, using statistics as a useful tool.

Nightingale NPG x82368Florence Nightingale by Henry Hering, copied by Elliott & Fry 1950s (late 1856-1857) NPG x82368 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC By

Dr William Farr (1807-1883) was a statistician and epidemiologist, who shared her passion for public health and statistics. They wrote to each other extensively for 20 years, from 1857 to 1877.  The British Library holds this correspondence in three volumes (Add MS 43398-43400).
 
One of the topics they discussed was the 1861 UK Census, in which Dr Farr was heavily involved.  They discussed the practicalities of collecting data;  for example, would landlords complete the census forms on behalf of their tenants?  The implication was that landlords would have to find out, or invent, potentially sensitive personal details such as age.  Florence joked that she must fill her own form in, as nothing would induce her to declare the age of her cats to her landlord.

There were columns to declare ‘Condition’ (we would now call it ‘marital status’), ‘Rank, Profession, or Occupation’, ‘Where Born’, and one asking ‘Whether Blind, or Deaf-and-Dumb’.  Florence believed there should be a column for ‘the number of sick people in each house and their Diseases’ and that the census should include details of ‘cellar and basement dwellings’ and ‘back to back houses’.

Florence lived at 30 Old Burlington Street, nominally part of a vast hotel but containing private family suites of rooms for long-term tenants, rather than overnight guests.  On census morning, Sunday 7 April, a junior hotel employee (‘fac-totum’) asked her to write her age, and that of her maid, on a bit of paper.  Outraged, she choked back her initial answer and, with admirable restraint, tried to ascertain the truth from ‘this person’.  It appeared the hotel was withholding forms from the resident families, instructing a staff member to fill them in, presumably using his imagination in the absence of accurate information.  They must have thought it amusing to knock on the door of the famous Florence Nightingale to ask her age.  Thankfully, Dr Farr had supplied Florence with her own specimen form, which she duly completed ‘fully & accurately’.

The incident is much better described in her own words, in this three-page letter:

Nighingale Add MS 43399 f 10

Nighingale Add MS 43399 f 11

Nighingale Add MS 43399 f 12Add MS 43399, ff. 10-12. Letter from Florence Nightingale to Farr 9 April 1861

Farr’s two replies of 12 April acknowledged her ‘shabby treatment’ from the ‘somewhat brutal’ proprietor of the Burlington, saying hotels were the weak point when collecting returns and ‘something… must be done’ before the next census in 1871.  He passed her letter to his superior, Major Graham, who wrote Florence an unsatisfactory reply which entirely missed the point.

Here is the 1861 Census entry for Florence Nightingale and her housekeeper Mary Bratby (aged 40 and 48 respectively):

Nightingale 1861 census

The 100-year embargo on access to censuses means that no-one listed would have seen their entry, but Florence Nightingale must have been confident that hers was correct!

Zoe Stansell
Manuscripts Reference Specialist

Further reading:
British Library Add MS 43398-43400 Letters from Farr to Nightingale are originals in his handwriting. Nightingale letters to Farr are typewritten copies (originals are in the Wellcome Library, ref: MS. 5474).

These are part of the large BL Florence Nightingale Archive, containing over 300 volumes.
Add MS 43393-43403, 45750-45849, 47714-47767, 68882-68890

 

16 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening Part 3

We continue our story of Mermanjan and Thomas Maughan.

The couple moved to Bombay soon after Thomas was promoted to Major in 1849.  In 1854 he became Lieutenant Colonel.  When the Indian Rebellion or ‘Mutiny’ broke out, Thomas was Political Secretary in Kolhapur.  Thomas recounts how he disagreed with ‘the cruel destruction of (36) wretched creatures shot in cold blood, many of the aged men on the verge of the grave… Our troops had not been fired at, and there was no necessity, in truth no excuse for the butchery’.  As a result of Thomas’s disagreements with his superiors, which had taken a toll on his health,  he was ‘turned out’ of his appointment and granted 15 months furlough (leave) in England.

Mermanjan 14

Mermanjan 15 Excerpt from Bombay Gazette 22 January 1858 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/11

Mermanjan and Thomas had been living together bound by the Muslim ‘Nikkah’ ceremony and they were both convinced of the validity of their union.  However 'gossip was busy’ and Thomas realised that their unique union was viewed with suspicion by his British friends: it would ‘injure his reputation and hers if they were not made man and wife in the eyes of his world’.  Perhaps prompted by the imminent visit to England, they were married on 19 January 1858 by the registrar for Bombay at his home. 

For a while they lived in London, where Thomas had relations. Mermanjan was ‘shy and retiring by nature, but of great spirit’, and she was greatly celebrated and made a few good English friends, including Thomas’s niece Eliza with whom she corresponded. Thomas appears to have composed the ‘Nina waltz’ for his wife, using his pet name for his wife. 
 

Mermanjan 16Music in Mermanjan’s possession, Nina’s Waltz by Thomas Maughan? (name of composer has been torn away) - India Office Private Papers  Mss Eur E304 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan?)

By September 1858 they had moved to a country house, Wrotham Place in Kent. Mermanjan must have caused a stir amongst the locals who would have thought her an exotic visitor to the village. Thomas and Mermanjan were invited by Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort to stay at Windsor Castle.  Mermanjan was well received at court and ‘bore herself well’.

Mermanjan 17Mermanjan 18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sketches of Victorian women - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 1860 Mermanjan and Thomas were back in Poona. They found many changes. The East India Company had been wound up in the wake of the Rebellion and its armies had been absorbed into Her Majesty’s Army.  Thomas was ‘fretting at continued unemployment’ and his health ‘was not good’.

On 3 July 1861, aged only 55, Thomas ‘died very suddenly, after taking a dose of medicine wrongly made up by the native apothecary’.  The prescription was later described as being a ‘lethal dose’, which ‘no reputable chemist would make up … without reference to the doctor who made it’.

Mermanjan was left alone in India grieving for Thomas, a widow at the age of 28 estranged from her family. None of the papers mentions any children, but some baby clothes and shoes were found among her possessions which suggests that maybe Mermanjan lost a child too. 

Mermanjan’s tragedy and hardships did not end there – Part 4 will take us to the end of her fascinating life.

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Gertude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection
Finding Mermanjan Part 1 and Part 2
IOR/N/11/1 f.412 Marriage of Thomas Maughan and Mermanjan at Bombay 19 January 1858 [her name is generally spelled Meermanjan or Meerman Jan in official records]

 

11 July 2019

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library IV – Lost and Found, The Biccherna Panel

A British Library reader has asked: what happens when you find a collection item that was stolen or displaced during the Nazi period, and was never returned to or recovered by the original owner?

In 2013, the British Library received a restitution claim for Davis 768, the Biccherna Panel, a 15th century painted wooden panel that was used to encase tax records in the treasury of the Palazzo Pubblico (centre of civic life) in Siena.  The panel had been in the gallery stock of a Jewish owned firm, the A.S. Drey in Munich, since 1930 when it had been acquired at auction.  Forced to liquidate their assets by order of the Reich, the Drey firm’s holdings were sold at the Paul Graupe auction house in Berlin in 1936.

Davis 768Davis 768 Wooden panel for the accounts of the Biccherna of Siena, painted by Guidoccio Cozzarelli, 1488, oil on panel ,depicting the return to Siena of the Noveschi, a mercantile-banking oligarchy, and showing the armed exiles with their leader, Pandolfo Petrucci (1452-1512) on a white horse, before the Porta di Fontebranda Noc

Sale Catalogue  Paul GraupeTitle page of sale catalogue, Paul Graupe, Berlin, June 17-18, 1936 Image courtesy of University of Heidelberg CC Heidelberg


Sale Catalogue  Paul Graupe 2Detail of sale catalogue, Paul Graupe, Berlin, June 17-18, 1936, lot no.49, p.16 Image courtesy of University of Heidelberg CC Heidelberg

Sale Catalogue  Paul Graupe 3Plate IX, of sale catalogue, Paul Graupe, Berlin, June 17-18, 1936, lot no.49 Image courtesy of University of Heidelberg CC Heidelberg

While the buyer at the 1936 sale is unknown, the panel passed to the collection of British business-man and collector Arthur Bendir (b.1872), London.  Shortly afterwards in 1942, Bendir sold the panel at Sotheby’s London where, unaware of the object’s past, it was acquired by Henry Davis (1897-1977), O.B.E.  In 1968, the panel was gifted along with the rest of the Davis Collection to the British Museum, and in 1972 entered the collection of the British Library.

As research showed that the Biccherna panel had never been returned to the Drey firm, or its heirs, and the 1936 sale recognized as forced, with the contents of the auction being sold for a fraction of their value, the British Library was open to restitution.  National legislation typically prevents de-accessioning collection items (the process by which an object is permanently removed from a museum or collection-based institution’s holdings).  However, a 2009 act of the UK Parliament - The Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009 – has authorised certain national institutions to return an object in the event of specific circumstances.  Any claim must first be reviewed by the Spoliation Advisory Panel, a non-departmental public body created in 2000 under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.  If presented with a Holocaust era claim, the Panel has the authority to recommend an object’s return, with final approval being given by the Secretary of State for DCMS. Alternatively, the panel may also recommend financial compensation be paid to a claimant.

After reviewing documentation from both the Drey heirs and the British Library Board, the Advisory panel recommended the return of the panel to the claimants. Through amicable discussions, however, the heirs chose compensation in lieu of physical restitution, and the panel has been retained by the library collection since.  The panel continues to be researched and studied, and its unique history within the fields of book-binding, early Italian panel painting, the history of collecting, and Nazi era spoliation shared.  The panel is currently on view in the British Library Treasures Gallery.

Antonia Bartoli
Spoliation Curator, British Library Printed Heritage Projects

Further information
The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries public lecture given by Antonia Bartoli.
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research I - The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library II - the Collection of Jean Furstenberg
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library III – The Collection of Lucien Graux
Spoliation Report of the Spoliation Advisory Panel in Respect of a Painted Wooden Tablet, the Biccherna Panel, 2014

 

09 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – Star of the Evening Part 2

We left sixteen-year-old Mermanjan in 1849 about to run away from Afghanistan to find her beloved Captain Thomas Maughan in north-west India (today Pakistan).  Accompanied only by a servant, Mermanjan rode her horse close to 1,000 miles from the Khyber Pass through Multan and Kohtri to Karachi. 

Mermanjan 7Watercolour of Indian landscapes, by Mermanjan? - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

They encountered hardship and prejudice on the way, on account of being Muslim, but also found people who helped them on their way.   When the fugitives’ money ran out and they were facing hunger, Mermanjan decided to sell her ring at a local bazaar.  The shop owner paid them much less than it was worth, but an Indian soldier saw that they were being tricked and made the shop owner give them the rightful amount. 

Mermanjan 8Mermanjan 9

Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

On their final stretch in Kotri when they had to cross the Indus river, they found that they didn’t have enough for the boat fare.  They pleaded with the boatman and even though he could not understand them, he had heard of Captain Maughan and his regiment. Presumably Mermanjan had written ahead to tell him that they would be arriving, and by chance the day before Thomas had sent an orderly to find them.  The boatman rushed off and caught the orderly just as he was about to buy his return ticket. He took the man to the travellers, and soon all was arranged. 

When the travelling party finally made it to Maughan’s bungalow, Mermanjan refused to dismount until her beloved came out: ‘he will only know me when he sees me on my black horse, for I am in rags and soiled and disfigured with boils and blisters and very ill’.  She sat there patiently but ‘almost fainting from fatigue and fear now that the terrible strain of her great adventure was nearly at an end.’  Maughan was urgently sent for and found her a ‘poor huddled little form’ seated on her black horse sobbing bitterly.  ‘Tenderly he carried her into her house and sent for the doctor… soon she was cared for and comforted but it was a long time before she recovered from the effects of her hardships and was very ill for many weeks’. 

In the early days after Mermanjan was reunited with Thomas, she could not be persuaded to see anyone, so nervous and frightened had she become.   A fellow Colonel remarked: ‘[he] always made an awful fuss over her, even to bathing her daily even when she was over twenty’, also buying her dolls and picture books as though she were a child.  From these years Mermanjan kept many of Thomas’s little drawings calculated to amuse his young wife - little ladies in crinolines; caricatures of his fellow officers.  She used account books to practise writing rows of letters as she gradually learnt to write in English.   She preferred seclusion ‘considered by the higher orders as indispensable to a woman after a marriage’ and took to flower arranging in the house.  

Mermanjan 10Caricatures of English Victorians in India by Thomas Maughan?  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

These were perhaps the happiest years of Mermanjan’s life. However, there was not to be a fairy-tale ending for our heroine.  Find out what happened next in Part 3!

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening – Part 1
Gertrude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection

 

04 July 2019

The Theatre Censors Part 1: George Colman

Stage productions had been censored since the Tudor era but the Stage Licensing Act of 1737 established a procedure of theatre censorship overseen by the Office of the Lord Chamberlain.  Most of the work was carried out by an official reader, the Examiner of Plays.

The Examiner of Plays wielded a substantial amount of power. The theatre was a powerful means of communication and the censors decided the limits of creative licence, often influenced by their own moral, religious and political leanings.

The British Library’s collection of manuscripts for plays submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for licensing begins in 1824 when playwright and theatre manager George Colman was appointed Examiner of Plays.

George-Colman-the-YoungerGeorge Colman the Younger, unknown artist, early 19th century NPG D16212 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC By

Colman was particularly concerned by political themes in plays, dictated, in part, by the tumultuous times in which he was working.  The government wished to repress radical reformist politics and passed new laws meting out harsher punishments for publishing blasphemous and seditious works.  Colman was quick to deny authors the chance to show their plays if he deemed them politically dangerous.

We can see how tough Colman was by his reaction to Mary Russell Mitford’s play, Charles the First, when it was submitted to him in 1825.

Image 1Add MS 42873, f.415. First folio of Mary Russell Mitford’s play Charles the First 

If we look at the entry in the Lord Chamberlain’s Office Day Book we can see that the play was refused a licence.

Image 2Add MS 53702, Lord Chamberlain’s Office Day Books, 1824-1852 - Mary Russell Mitford’s play Charles the First is refused a licence

Although, Mitford believed her play to be a favourable portrait of King Charles I, it was refused a licence.  Colman wrote to the Lord Chamberlain:  ‘…Charles the First (of England) – brings, instantly to mind the violent commotions & catastrophes of that unhappy Monarch’s reign…the piece abounds (blasphemously, I think) with Scriptural allusions & quotations, & invoked over & over again, by hypocrites, & regicides’.

Image 3Add MS 42873, f.408

As the threat of revolution was in the air, Colman deemed Mitford’s representation of the execution of a King far too dangerous to allow on stage.  The Lord Chamberlain agreed.  Colman’s reply to the theatre owner was casually dismissive: ‘I have less regret in communicating this intelligence as I think you might have anticipated it’.

Mitford’s response to her censor showed that Colman had already threatened to censor her next project: ‘I shall not now meddle with Henry the Second – especially as I believe that I perceive the reason which induces you to think the subject is a bad one’.

Image 4Add MS 42873, f.413

Mitford realised that themes of conflict and betrayal against authority were never going to pass the censor and so decided not to pursue her project, exercising self-censorship.  Colman’s reputation as a harsh judge meant that authors often chose not to test him, as it was likely they would fail to receive a play licence. 

To the dismay of many playwrights, Colman continued to hold the office of Examiner of Plays until his death in 1836.  Until the end, he proved dedicated to his cause and many playwrights after Mitford were refused the right to produce their plays.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
J. R. Stephens, The Censorship of English Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)
Add MS 42865- 43038, Plays submitted to the Lord Chamberlain's Office for licensing under the provisions of the Acts regulating the performance of stage plays
Add MS 53702-53708, Chamberlain’s Office Day Books. Registers of plays received in the Lord Chamberlain’s office

 

02 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening Part 1

While sorting through family papers, I discovered that my grandmother Gertrude Dimmock had written a book about Mermanjan, an Afghan noblewoman who had run away to India after falling in love with an English army officer in 1849.  This was a true story told by Mermanjan to my great-grandmother Beatrice Dunsterville, wife of a Surgeon Major in the Indian Medical Service.

Mermanjan BWPhotograph of Mermanjan in the early days of her marriage - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5  Noc

Beatrice inherited all Mermanjan’s ‘treasured relics’ including her traditional dress, her personal diary and letters, first-hand accounts of her story, and paintings and sketches by her husband Thomas Maughan.  She wanted her story to be told to the world. Many years later, my grandmother pieced together the story of ‘love and hate, joy and sorrow, faith, courage, and endurance’ and published Mermanjan – Star of the Evening.  Gertrude donated the papers and drawings to the India Office Private Papers at the British Library and the traditional dress is held in the British in India Museum in Nelson, Lancashire.

I decided to delve deeper into this extraordinary intercultural love story.  An account by Thomas Maughan tells how he met his future wife in 1849 when serving in Afghanistan with the Bombay Army.  Whilst out riding one evening, he happened to pass Mermanjan, aged about sixteen, mounted on a spirited black horse in her national costume, accompanied by male escorts. Mermanjan was the only daughter of an Afghan noble, niece of the Amir of Afghanistan, Dost Mohammed and of the Durani tribe of the Afghans. Her father owned a lot of land around Peshwar and her mother was Circassian who had tragically passed away a few years before. 

Mermanjan 2Sketch by Thomas Maughan of Mermanjan when they first met - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/14 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

Maughan wrote how it was ‘love at first sight- a strong lasting never swerving devotion became our destiny from that moment'.

 

Mermanjan 4

 

 

 

 

Mermanjan 3

Sketches of Mermanjan by Thomas Maughan -  India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

The attraction was reciprocal: Mermanjan found Thomas to be ‘the most handsomest and most splendid figure of a man that she had ever seen, and childlike she turned to look after him as they passed and found that the officer also turned to look back at her’.

Mermanjan 5Mermanjan 6Sketches (maybe of Thomas Maughan?) and English soldiers carrying out drills - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

They met again, ‘exchanging ardent looks’.   Mermanjan arranged to ride out alone, and Thomas followed her at a distance.  She led the way to a deserted orange garden, where the ‘romance that soon deepened into devotion’ started. They did not speak the same language, but Mermanjan reminisced romantically that ‘the language of the eyes is eloquent enough in the East’.

Mermanjan was a devout Muslim, and Thomas a Christian.  Christian marriage ‘would have been but a prelude to the certain and cruel death [of Mermanjan] at the hands of her incensed relatives’.  Therefore they were united by the simple ‘Nikkah’ ceremony which is a celebration of the marriage contract without religious rites or social festivities.

Then Thomas had to leave Afghanistan: ‘...vainly the infatuated man implored her to fly with him, tears even coursing down his manly cheeks.  However though she could not make him understand in her language that to attempt to leave with him would mean pursuit by her fierce father and valiant brothers  and certain death for her and renewed hostilities with the soldiers, she remained obdurate and with breaking heart took leave of her lover and true husband’.   Thomas returned to India, and Mermanjan became intensely depressed through separation from her beloved husband.

After a few months, Mermanjan decided to run away to find Thomas, accompanied by a faithful slave and armed with a dagger ‘to protect her honour on her perilous journey’.

To be continued…!

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Gertrude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection