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10 posts from October 2019

31 October 2019

Hallowe’en Feeing Markets

Feeing markets were employment fairs held twice a year in Scottish towns, generally in May and November.  The November market was sometimes called the Hallowe’en feeing market.  People seeking work attended, hoping to catch the eye of farmers and others looking for servants to hire for the next six months.

Markets could be held at several towns in one district.  The Banffshire Journal listed feeing markets held in November 1895 in Grantown, Longside, Interaven, Dufftown, Ellon, Huntley, Aberlour, New Deer, Banff, Insch, Aberdeen, Elgin, Turnff and Keith.  Newspapers report the wages being offered at the feeing markets for foremen, horsemen, cattlemen, halflins (male adolescents), boys, and females.  By the 1890s, many women and girls were seeking employment through the alternative of register offices. 

 
Report of Grantown-on-Spey Feeing Market - Dundee Courier 21 November 1901Report of Grantown-on-Spey Feeing Market - Dundee Courier 21 November 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

Sometimes winter wages were reduced from summer rates.  In general those staying with the same employer were offered the same rate.  Servants who changed employer mostly had to settle for a wage reduction.  The servants had to wait for the farmer to approach them and bargain.   An agreement was often sealed with a dram purchased by the farmer and payment of a token sum to meet moving expenses. Farmers might hold back from hiring in the hope of getting workers at a lower fee later and it was not uncommon for servants to leave the market without an engagement.  Servants might accept a significant cut in fee rather than risk missing a hiring altogether.  An Aberdeen man who had worked as a foreman for a fee of £18 10s during the summer of 1905 took a subordinate position for the winter at a fee of less than £14.  Married men could receive perquisites to supplement their pay in the form of allowances of coal, potatoes, milk and meal, as well as a house and garden.

The market was enjoyed as a holiday. Vendors of fruit, sweets and toys attended.  Street musicians, stalls and merry-go-rounds provided entertainment.  Worries were expressed about the potential for misbehaviour and horseplay when large numbers of young men and women were gathered in town.  Extra policemen were sometimes drafted in to keep order, and  temperance refreshment rooms were often set up. 

The system of feeing markets had its critics.  William Watson of Aberdeenshire believed the markets were ’hostile to steady application and permanent settlement’.  He said that farmers hired on a calculation of physical strength for so much money and meat, with no thought of moral character.  Masters could easily combine at a feeing to lower wage rates.  Watson proposed the introduction of hiring through parish or village registers. However he believed that there would be a greatly reduced need for this as ‘engagements during pleasure’ would be long-lasting if there was ‘fair accommodation and humane usage’.

There were counter arguments to the claim that only brawn mattered and that good character and a reputation as a competent worker counted for nothing.  Workers tended to stay in the same district, so both farmers and servants probably knew a considerable amount about each other before the feeing.  Attempts to replace the markers with registers from the 1830s onwards largely failed.   At the outbreak of the First World War, the vast majority of Scottish farm workers were still recruited at feeing markets.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive for example Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser 26 November 1895, 30 November 1897, 28 November 1905; Dundee Courier 21 November 1901
William Watson, Remarks on the bothie system and feeing markets (Aberdeen, 1849)
Ian Carter, Farmlife in Northeast Scotland 1840-1914 - the Poor Man's Country (Edinburgh, 1979)

 

29 October 2019

Sir Thomas Roe’s letters: People, products and politics of the first English embassy to India

One of the benefits of studying original manuscripts is in feeling a direct connection with the author to a degree that is not experienced in print. Much of Sir Thomas Roe’s writings during his embassy in India, from his journal to his letters, have been transcribed and printed.  We owe a debt of gratitude for this to Sir William Foster (1863-1951), the industrious and prolific Registrar and Superintendent of the India Office, as well as to the Hakluyt Society of which Foster served as President.  These transcribed and printed materials are easily and freely accessible in digital format online.  It is to these resources that I often turn during my own research.

Yet in encountering the handwritten original manuscripts, we draw closer to the people behind the writings.  We become conscious of their intentions as they write and the intended audience they write for. In the case of Roe, we become conscious that this was an official state ambassador recording his embassy perhaps for the benefit of his superiors back in England.  Thus his recollections in his journal may be coloured by an awareness of his audience.  And his accounts in his letters may seek to portray an embassy in a manner that reflects well on himself as ambassador.

Sir Thomas Roe's handwritten memoirsSir Thomas Roe's handwritten memoirs, Add Ms 6115  Noc

Roe’s memoirs and original letters are available for perusal at the British Library, and they prove an engaging read.  While his memoirs are part of the Western Manuscripts collection, which I have blogged about previously, his letters are in the East India Company archive in the India Office Records.  This in itself reflects the two cultural spaces Roe traversed and the engagement between them he sought to establish and nurture.

One of the topics often raised by Roe in his letters is the subject of saleable items at court.  Roe was after all a merchant ambassador seeking to secure a trade agreement with the Mughals.  In his letters we see lists of items deemed popular and saleable to the Indian court.
    
   Roe letter in IOR1

Roe letter in IOR2

Roe letter in IOR3

Roe letter in IOR4Advice by Sir Thomas Roe on goods and presents for Surat February 1617/18-  IOR/E/3/5 ff. 376-377  Noc

Roe also includes copious lists of presents. Mughal court protocol required visiting diplomats to present a gift to the Emperor. Roe’s letters accordingly include details of suitable gifts to be sent by the East India Company that he might impress the Emperor Jahangir.  Although in his memoirs and letters Roe would lament the “bribery” of having to give so many presents, as envoy he recognised the importance of the protocol to the Mughal court and sought to fulfill it.

Roe letter in IOR5

Roe letter in IOR6 Advice by Sir Thomas Roe on goods and presents for the Mughal court November 1616 IOR/E/3/5 f. 375 Noc

Roe would not manage to secure the trade agreement he sought, ultimately returning to England empty-handed in 1619.  The Mughals were among the most powerful and wealthy empires in the early modern world, and our less influential English isle had little to tempt them with.  Yet the ambassador’s letters reveal both the diplomatic efforts he invested in his embassy as well as his meticulous mind as a merchant in identifying commodities to sell, gift and, albeit unsuccessfully, entice the Mughals with.

Four centuries on we can look back upon a dramatic, impactful and often fraught history of Anglo-Indian relations that Roe is unlikely to have envisaged, but certainly was among the crucial first actors to play in.  As we recall that momentous embassy today, the manuscripts at the British Library are a perfect place to start to explore the historic journey.

Lubaaba Al-Azami
Doctoral researcher at the University of Liverpool
Her AHRC funded research explores early modern English encounters with Mughal Indian imperial femininity. She tweets @Lubaabanama.

Further reading:
Sir Thomas Roe’s journal 1615-1617 Add Ms 6115
Sir Thomas Roe’s letters in East India Company correspondence IOR/E/3/3-6
Sir Thomas Roe’s journal of his voyage to the East Indies Add Ms 19277 

 

24 October 2019

The General Strike 1926

Whilst cataloguing a new acquisition to the India Office Private Papers, I came across some interesting items relating to the General Strike of 1926.  The Garrod Papers consist of the family archives of William Francis Garrod, a Chaplain in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment from 1930 until 1947, his wife Isobel and their four children.  The collection also contains letters between Garrod and Isobel before they got married and moved to India, and it is in these letters that Garrod described his experience as a volunteer policeman during the Strike.

Oxford Daily Strike BulletinOxford Daily Strike Bulletin 10 May 1926 (Garrod Papers) - Copyright of heirs to proprietors of Oxford Monthly (discontinued 1972)

Emergency Bulletin 10 May 1926Emergency Bulletin (shelfmark Mss Eur F142/82) - Copyright of heirs to Chandler & Co

The General Strike was one of the biggest industrial disputes in British history.  It started with a dispute over the pay and working hours of miners, and spread to workers from other industries who came out in support of the striking miners.  Between 4 May and 12 May 1926, thousands of bus and train drivers, dock workers, print workers, and workers in the gas, electricity, building, iron, steel and chemical industries went on strike.  Protests by strikers took place in towns and cities around Britain, often coming into conflict with the police.  The Army was mobilised to protect food lorries and volunteers began doing some of the work of strikers, such as driving buses. 

Recruitment poster for volunteers during the General StrikeVolunteer recruitment poster (shelfmark 1851.d.30.) - Copyright City of Westminster

The Government’s efforts to find volunteers to fill jobs temporarily is clear from a file in the India Office Records.  The India Office’s Military Department put together lists of Indian Army officers who happened to be on leave in Britain at the time, and who could be called on to temporarily fill civilian jobs.  A letter was sent to everyone on the lists stating that they were at liberty to offer their services to the local authorities during the ‘present emergency’.  However, they were not to wear their uniform, and any volunteer employment was not to be allowed to interfere with their return to duty in India at the end of their leave.

List of Indian Army Officers on leaveList of Indian Army Officers on leave (shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/7/12530)  Noc

 

Circular letter to Officers on leave Circular letter to Officers on leave (shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/7/12530) Noc

In four letters to Isobel, Garrod describes travelling from Oxford down to Southampton docks.  At 10am on Tuesday 11 May, he was sworn in as a Special Constable along with a number of other Oxford men.  Equipped with an armband and a truncheon, the men patrolled the docks in two 12 hour shifts, and were garrisoned on the cross-Channel steamer Alberta.  Garrod was on the night shift patrols and described it as ‘frightfully boring’.  He wrote that the docks were busy, with very little likelihood of any trouble, and that he got a cheer from some strikers when he walked through the dock gates. 

Garrod letters (Garrod Papers)Letters from the Garrod Papers Noc

Garrod’s time as a Special Constable was brief; the strike was called off on 12 May and he returned to Oxford a few days later. 

City of Westminster poster about coal and light restrictions and the resumption of household refuse collectionsCity of Westminster poster 17 May 1926 about coal and light restrictions and the resumption of household refuse collections (shelfmark 1851.d.30.) - Copyright City of Westminster

The Garrod Papers will be available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room from next year.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Garrod Family Papers [Collection reference: Mss Eur F730] 
Papers published during the General Strike May 1926 [Reference: Mss Eur F197/536] 
General Strike news-sheets 1926 [Reference: Mss Eur F142/82] 
General Strike, May 1926: arrangements for emergency duties by personnel of India Office [Reference: IOR/L/MIL/7/12530]
A collection of posters and pamphlets issued during the general strike, 1926, in the City of Westminster (London, 1926) [General Reference Collection 1851.d.30.]  
The National Archives online guide: The General Strike

22 October 2019

Indian military widows

The terrible plight of the widows of Indian soldiers in the period before, during and after the First World War is revealed in a file from the India Office's vast military archive.

The earliest document in the file dates from March 1913, but the outbreak of war in the following year brought the issue to the fore.  A letter of 26 February 1915 from Viceroy Lord Hardinge to the Secretary of State for India Lord Crewe attempted to lay down rules for the granting of military pensions:

(i) The widow must be proved beyond doubt to be in straitened circumstances  ... Absolute destitution not to be a necessary condition for the widow of any person above the rank of a private soldier.

(ii) The deceased husband must have performed really good service ... Other considerations to be taken into account  ...will be (a) the rank subsequently attained, (b) the character and conduct of the deceased, and (c) the length of his service.

(iii) The date of marriage will be an important consideration. We propose that the rules should not ordinarily include widows who married after their husbands had retired ...

Indian soldiers forming the escort for the Gilgit Mission 1885-1886 from the album of George Michael James Giles Photo 104032 - detailIndian soldiers forming the escort for the Gilgit Mission 1885-1886, from the album of George Michael James Giles - detail from Photo 1040/32 Images Online

It is understandable that Imperial bureaucrats in London and New Delhi felt the need to formulate guidelines to deal with such matters, but the contrast with the appalling suffering touched upon in many of the cases cited throughout the file is stark.  Umrao Bi, thought to be aged about eighty, was the widow of Mutiny veteran Sowar Shaik Imamuddin, and in June 1914 she petitioned the British Resident at Hyderabad for assistance, stating that her husband's Mutiny medal had been lost during a flood in 1908.  The previous month Amir Bi, aged 95, widow of Mutiny veteran Sowar Azmuth Khan, applied for an allowance ' ... so that she may endure the remainder of her life without experiencing the pangs of hunger’.

The dismal theme is continued in a list of 9 June 1916 which provides brief details of 55 applications for compassionate allowances, with 26 containing the simple words 'Woman was destitute'.  The majority were widows of soldiers who had served on the British side in 1857-58.  Qamru Bi '... was 80 years of age, and was begging for a living’.  Hasharat Bi '...earned about Rs. 4 per mensem by sewing, but she was getting old and was partially blind’.  Firdaus Begum '...had a small income of about Rs. 2 per mensem out of which she had to support 2 female relatives.  She had incurred a debt of about 500’.  The children of several petitioners were themselves too poor to support their mothers.      

The sum allocated by the British authorities to cover all successful applications for relief between 1915 and 1927 was capped at a miserly Rs. 1500 per year.  Although more money was made available through the establishment of the Indian Army Benevolent Fund in September 1927, eighteen months later its administering Board had made a mere 197 grants out of 1160 applications received.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Team Leader

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/7/12143

 

17 October 2019

The Portuguese Militia in Bombay

An almost certainly little-used publication on the shelves of the Asian & African Studies Reading Room sheds intriguing light on the existence and composition of a non-British military force in Bombay in the first decade of the 19th century.
 
In the Bombay Kalendar and Register for the year 1806 can be found a ‘List of officers of Portuguese militia’, their Commandante being identified as Sir Miguel de Lima e Souza.  There follows the names of three Sub-Commandantes, eleven Capitaens, and forty Tenentes (Lieutenants), all bearing recognizably Portuguese names such as Antonio Nunes, Matheus da Silva, Aleixo Gonsalves and Manoel Pereira.  That they were wholly loyal to the East India Company can be deduced from the fact that the Colonel of the force was none other than the Honourable Jonathan Duncan, the Governor of Bombay, alongside Regulating Officer Captain William Green, Adjutant Lieutenant D. Stewart and Assistant Surgeon R.B. Perrin.
 
A volume of Bombay Military Statements contains a ‘Separate statement for the Regiment of Native Portuguese Militia’.   It reads: ‘This Corps is composed of the native Portuguese inhabitants on the Island of Bombay and consisted of 10 companies [on 30 April 1800]. They were there learning to Exercise and received no pay'.

Portuguese tailors D40013-62Portuguese tailors in Bombay - from WD 315 no.62  Bombay Views and Costume (1810-1811) Images Online


This is not to say that no expenses were involved.  A force of just over 1,000 men could not possibly have been called into existence without funding – 1 Commandant, 3 Sub-Commandants, 10 Captains, 20 Lieutenants, 40 Serjeants, 40 Corporals, 20 Drummers and Fifers, no fewer than 960 Privates and 2 Puckallies (water carriers).  The training of the troops was overseen by fifteen professional soldiers drawn presumably from the ranks of the Company’s Bombay Army, assisted by two carpenters, two smiths, a ‘hammerman’, a bellows boy, a polisher and a shoemaker.  The pay of these staff, together with other incidentals such as ‘tobacco money’, meant that the Company had to stump up almost 1,100 rupees.

Portugal had gifted Bombay to the British Crown as part of the dowry of Queen Catherine of Braganza in 1661.  The Bombay Portuguese Militia was first raised in 1672 and existed until 1827.  There was a similar, presumably smaller, Portuguese militia at Tellicherry further down the coast in the Madras Presidency.  However the archives yield tantalisingly little additional information about the Bombay force and it is not mentioned in the Military Statements after 1811.  Sir Miguel was awarded an annuity of 7,000 rupees by the Company, and this continued to be paid to his family after his death in 1808.
 
Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services Team Leader

Further reading:
Bombay Kalendar and Register, shelfmark OIR954.792
Bombay Military Statement for 1799/1800, shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/8/158
Annuity to Sir Miguel de Lima e Souza, shelfmarks IOR/F/4/289/6513 & IOR/F/4/415/10281
Surender Singh, Territorial army: history of India's part-time soldiers (2013), shelfmark YP.2013.a.6875

 

14 October 2019

400 Years of India and Britain: The Memoirs of Sir Thomas Roe

2019 marks 400 years since the return of Sir Thomas Roe, merchant diplomat with the East India Company and England’s first official ambassador to India. Roe arrived at the port of Surat in September 1615 with a letter from King James I to the then reigning Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, seeking a trade agreement. The ambassador would go on to spend four years of negotiations at the Mughal court, eventually returning to England in 1619 without the trade agreement he sought. Nonetheless, it would be a first formal introduction that would mark the beginning of a relationship spanning centuries, the significance of which cannot be overstated.

So important was the embassy that a mural depicting Roe’s audience with Emperor Jahangir is featured in St Stephen’s Hall at the Palace of Westminster. The political and economic fallout following the break with Catholic Rome would see Queen Elizabeth I seek trade with the Islamic empires of the early modern world, establishing the Levant Company to trade with the Ottoman Empire and the East India Company to trade with Mughal India.

One of the many joys of delving into the archives at the British Library is in being able to tangibly experience such crucial and influential moments in history. Throughout his travels, Ambassador Roe maintained a fascinating record of his exploits in his memoirs. A manuscript of his memoirs and letters is held at the British Library, Add MS 6115. Presented to the library in 1817 by Rev. J Coltman, the work is beautifully preserved along with Rev Coltman’s original letter.

Letter from Rev Coltman accompanying the manuscript

Back of Coltman's letter, showing the seal and postage stamps

Coltman's letter of deposit, Add MS 6115, ff 1-2

The neat writing of Roe’s engrossing hand shapes a tale of struggles and successes. The early entries focus on details of navigation during the lengthy and treacherous voyage to India.

Table of observations made during the voyage

Paragraph commenting on the table of observations

Table of observations, plus Roe's comments on the voyage. 

Upon arrival we see Roe’s struggles with port officials, who repeatedly attempt to search the English while Roe insists on diplomatic immunity. More interestingly, we find this entry:

Manuscript passage describing the refusal of food and drink during Ramadan fasting hours

Row relates his discussions with officials at Surat. Add MS 6115, f 23r

Here Roe relates his discussions with Surat officials who came to call on him a few days after his arrival. At one point Roe states, “I offered them drincke which they refused beeing Ramdam, but sayd after it was finished they would come daylie and sitt and eate with me”.

This reveals that Roe arrived during the Islamic month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from food and drink from sunrise until sunset. What is notable is that Roe does not elaborate further on the point. The implication appears to be that Ramadan is understood, both by Roe as well as his expected readers. English diplomatic and mercantile circles were then seemingly versed in the religious traditions of the nations they travelled to; at the very least they understood the Islamic traditions of Ramadan practiced by the Muslim Mughal empire. 

While Roe would not achieve what he set out to do in India, he nonetheless formally began an engagement that would go on to herald a lengthy, and indeed controversial, history. As we mark 400 years since the conclusion of his embassy, a look back at his experiences is timely and eye-opening. And what better place to start than his original memoirs at the British Library.

Lubaaba Al-Azami is a doctoral researcher at the University of Liverpool. Her AHRC funded research explores early modern English encounters with Mughal Indian imperial femininity. She tweets @Lubaabanama.

10 October 2019

Dr Johann Helfer and the curious case of an unexplained footnote

There is a reference to Dr Johann Wilhelm Helfer in C R Low's three-volume A History of the Indian Navy 1613-1863. The reference itself relates to Helfer's role as naturalist to Francis Rawdon Chesney's Euphrates Expedition in 1836; however it is a footnote next to his name which is most intriguing:

“Dr. Helfer, while on a scientific expedition for the Indian Government, was murdered at the Andaman Islands on the 31st January 1840, when his heroic wife shot the assassin dead with her pistol, an act worthy the niece of Field-Marshall Von Bulow.”

Page from C R Low, History of the Indian NavyC R Low, History of the Indian Navy, 1613-1863, Volume 2, p. 36, via the Qatar Digital Library

Being intrigued by the notion of his wife Pauline des Granges, later Countess von Nostitz, (who was apparently a niece of Field-Marshall Baron von Bülow) having avenged her husband’s death I decided to look in more detail at this story.

In 1878 The Countess published an account of her life and travels with her husband Dr. Helfer, which included a chapter on his death in the Andaman Islands in January 1840.

This account however revealed that not only had the Countess not shot and killed her husband’s assassin, she had not even accompanied him on his expedition, having chosen to remain at their estates in Mergui, Burma.

Pauline, Countess von NostitzCountess von Nostitz

Where this strange reference to such a tall tale came from is unfortunately a mystery.

Dr. Johann Wilhelm Helfer (1810-1840) was a naturalist employed by the East India Company who was also an avid collector of ornithological and botanical specimens which he donated to various institutions across the world.

The Helfers were avid travellers and were passing through Syria when they were asked to assist Colonel Chesney and accompany the Euphrates Expedition to Bussora. Helfer was subsequently appointed in 1837 as a Naturalist in Mergui and Tenasserim and was instructed to undertake surveys and reports on the natural resources there. His reports being approved of his employ was extended in March 1838, and by January 1840 he had written four lengthy reports on the resources he had discovered. Official letters following his death, describe his work as follows:

“These documents are equal in interest and value to the former reports of this intelligent and enterprising naturalist whose melancholy fate in prosecution of his researches we greatly lament.” [IOR/F/4/1852/78316]

Extract from Mathilde Pauline Nostitz's bookMathilde Pauline Nostitz, Travels of a Doctor and Madame Helfer in Syria, Mesopotamia, Burmah and other lands, (London: 1878)

According to Mrs Helfer, her husband’s expedition to the Andaman Islands had been to try and learn more of the resources and items for trade with some of the occupants of the smaller islands and it was in the pursuit of this that he was killed. Her account states that he had encountered a small number of locals and was keen to see their wares so had followed them across the beach towards the treeline where his party were ambushed. They fled back to their boat, attempting to dodge arrows laced with poison, but Dr. Helfer was struck in the back of the head whilst in the water and was reported to have sunk beneath the waves, with his colleagues and servants unable to recover his body. His was the only casualty. According to one obituary he was the first scientist to have reached these smaller parts of the Andaman Islands.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:

Travels of Doctor and Madame Helfer in Syria, Mesopotamia, Burmah and other lands, narrated by Pauline, Countess Nostitz (formerly Madame Helfer), and rendered into English by Mrs George Sturge, in two volumes. London (1878)

IOR/F/4/1735/70256 - Employment on a survey of the natural resources of Tenasserim, including his printed account of Amherst District

IOR/F/4/1608/64733 - Appointment as Naturalist at Tenasserim for 6 months, includes account of his journey from India -

IOR/F/4/1593/64583 - Appointed as Naturalist in Mergui, 1837.

IOR/F/4/1852/78316 - Letters regarding Dr Helfer’s 4th reports on resources of Tenasserim and his murder on 30 Jan 1840 

IOR/F/4/1896/80506 - Employment of Dr. Helfer, and news of his death

IOR/F/4/1926/86249 - Transmission of a Report by the late Dr. Helfer on the Islands of the Mergui Archipelago (includes diary kept Jan 1838-Jan 1839).

 

08 October 2019

Crystal chandeliers for the Shah of Persia

In 1819 the Persian Ambassador Mirza Abul Hassan Khan arrived in London on a diplomatic mission from the Shah of Persia.  He bore gifts of jewellery, ornamental swords, beautiful rugs, carpets and paintings, and Arabian horses for the King and Prince Regent - an image captured by the artist Henry Chalon. 

A Representation of the Persians in the Costume of their Country Attending at Carlton Palace with Portraits of the Horses Presented to His Majesty by the Ambassador from the Emperor of PersiaHenry Bernard Chalon, A Representation of the Persians in the Costume of their Country Attending at Carlton Palace with Portraits of the Horses Presented to His Majesty by the Ambassador from the Emperor of Persia  (1819?), Tate (T02357) digital image © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Relations between Britain and Persia were cordial, the countries having signed a treaty of alliance in 1812, but the situation was sensitive due to the possibility of Russian expansion into Persian territory.  As part of the diplomatic dance, reciprocal gifts were commissioned for Fath Ali Shah.  ‘As a pledge of the continuance of our respect, we shall send by way of Bombay some of the productions of this Country, which … we trust will be accepted as a further indication of the sentiments with which we are impressed’ wrote the East India Company Court of Directors in March 1820.

Seal decorated in gold, from letter in Persian from the Shah of Persia to the East India CompanySeal decorated in gold, from letter in Persian from the Shah of Persia to the East India Company, 1819 [IOR/L/PS/19/189, f 4] Noc

Blades & Co., Royal glassmakers of Ludgate Hill, crafted 'lustres' or suites of candelabra to be delivered to the Shah, intended to decorate the newly refurbished Golestan Palace in Tehran.   At the behest of John Blades and with the permission of the East India Company, Edward James Matthews set sail from England to Bombay in October 1820, tasked with accompanying the cases of fine glassware.

Transporting fragile and highly breakable items to Persia was a tricky business.  Having arrived safely in Bombay, Matthews was instructed to take the eighteen cases to Bushire on the Persian coast.  He travelled on the Frances Warden, arriving in early August 1821.  Henry Willock, the Chargé d'Affaires at Tehran wrote to Matthews requesting that he oversee the onward transport of the glassware and installation of the chandeliers.  ‘I have to request that you will remain at Bushire until the arrival of the Persian Officer who will be charged with their Transport, and I have further to beg that you will accompany their progress to the interior and strive by every Act of Necessary precaution to secure their preservation’.

It is over 750 miles overland from Bushire to Tehran.  It proved impossible to transport the cases by cart, so Matthews arranged for them to be carried on men’s shoulders the whole way.  The journey took five months – ‘an undertaking of infinite difficulty… I may say danger’. Thankfully the glassware arrived intact, and was ‘most graciously received by the King.  His Majesty expressed his approbation and praise of the great care and diligence evinced by Mr Matthews’.   Letters of thanks from both the Shah and Mirza Abul Hassan Khan arrived back in London with Matthews, together with a gift to the Company of the Shah’s portrait. 

Letter in Persian from Mirza Abul Hassan Khan to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the East India Company, giving thanks for gifts of lustres sent to the ShahLetter in Persian from Mirza Abul Hassan Khan to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the East India Company, giving thanks for gifts of lustres sent to the Shah, [1823]. [IOR/L/PS/189, ff 23-24] Noc

The return leg of Matthews’ journey proved eventful. He travelled to St Petersburg via Tabriz, but was shipwrecked in the icy waters of the Baltic in December 1822.  Illness confined him to Oesel Island (Saaremaa) for 4 months, until he finally reached England in June 1823, a journey of ‘2 years, 7 months and 23 days’. 

Letter from Edward J. Matthews to the East India Company describing his experiences, dated 29 Jul 1823 Letter from Edward J. Matthews to the East India Company describing his experiences, dated 29 Jul 1823 [IOR/E/1/151, 603-604]  Noc

As a result of his efforts, Matthews was awarded the badge of the Lion and the Sun by the Shah, and Blades and Co. were awarded a Royal Warrant from the Persian Court.  Much of the correspondence from Matthews in the India Office Records pertains to his attempts to get the Company to reimburse him for his out of pocket expenses.  A warrant to pay him £368 and 7 shillings was finally made on 26 Sep 1823.

 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/151: Miscellaneous Letters Received 1823
IOR/E/1/259: Miscellanies 1823 [Miscellaneous Letters Outwards], entries 1290, 1291 & 1838
IOR/R/15/1/25: Political Residency Bushire Vol 25: Letters Outward, 1822
IOR/L/PS/19/189: Correspondence with the Court of the Shah of Persia, 1819-1823

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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