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5 posts from November 2019

19 November 2019

Annals of the Middle Eastern Press in the India Office Records (Part II)

The India Office Records (IOR) that are related to the Gulf and the Middle East contain some articles, clippings and extracts from the region’s early press materials.  Here at the BL-Qatar Foundation partnership programme, we created a list of Middle Eastern press materials for copyright purposes.  To put these materials together we needed to trace their history answering the who, when and why.  Even though the extracts available in the IOR come from early 20th century editions, our research established that a number of press materials were in fact 19th century items.  Following on from part I of this blog, this part examines examples of these items.

The press in the first half of the 19th century was a medium that served governments’ interests.  One of the earliest examples available in the IOR is the Ottoman language official gazette Takvım-i Vekayi (Calendar of Affairs, Istanbul, est. 1831).  The paper was initiated by Sultan Mahmud II as part of his reform policy, and was undoubtedly influenced by the Egyptian official gazette al-Waqa’i‘ al-Misriyya (Egyptian Affairs, Cairo, est. 1828) initiated by Muhammad Ali Pasha.  Takvım-i Vekayi became the official medium of publicising new laws and decrees issued by the government.  It also played a crucial role promoting the Ottoman Tanzimat (reforms that were carried out between 1839 and 1876).

Translated extract from Takvım-i Vekayi about railway construction in AnatoliaTranslated extract from Takvım-i Vekayi about railways in Anatolia IOR/L/PS/10/166, f 139r

The second half of the century witnessed the publication of many private sector and independent newspapers.   Nationalism, independence and relations with Europe were the most compelling questions of the time.  Some publications adopted a liberal voice against the traditional Ottoman authority, such as the private daily Ottoman language gazette İkdam (Istanbul, est. 1894), founded by Ahmet Cevdet Oran.  Among its lead columnists was Ali Kemal effendi, great grandfather of politician Boris Johnson.  İkdam was known for being critical of the İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress). 

Extract from the Oriental Advertiser about the Damascus-Mecca RailwayExtract from the Oriental Advertiser about the Damascus-Mecca Railway IOR/L/PS/10/12, f 222r

Another example is the weekly English language Levant Herald (Istanbul, est. 1859).  This was published by British subjects and circulated in the UK and Europe.  Both publications were severely critical of the Ottoman Government, particularly the policies of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.

Letter concerning an article in the Levant Herald about the Hedjaz Railway FundLetter concerning an article in the Levant Herald about the Hedjaz Railway Fund IOR/L/PS/10/12, f 176r

Other materials available in the IOR come from 19th century Egypt.  Among the prominent Arabic language publications is the weekly, later daily, al-Ahram (Alexandria and Cairo, est. 1875), founded by the Lebanese brothers Bshara and Salim Taqla.  Among its early writers were the renowned Muslim scholars Muhammad ‘Abdu and al-Afghani.

Report of an article in al-Ahram  concerning Bedouin tribes buying cereals from IraqReport of an article in al-Ahram concerning Bedouin tribes buying cereals from Iraq IOR/R/15/2/178, f 351r

Another Egyptian example is al-Muqattam (Cairo, est. 1889), founded by Ya‘qub Sarruf, Fares Nimr and Shahin Makariyus.  Al-Muqattam was openly pro-British.  Its rival, al-Mu’ayyad (Cairo, est. 1889), founded by Mustafa Kamel, was a popular pan-Islamic, anti-British newspaper, with lead columnists such as Qasim Amin and Sa‘d Zaghlul.  

A correction of information published in al-Muqattam relating to an alleged dispute between Saudi Arabia and KuwaitA correction of information published in al-Muqattam relating to an alleged dispute between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, dated 1937, IOR/R/15/5/121, f 11Ar

Extract from al-Mu’ayyad about the situation in Iraq 1910An extract from al-Mu’ayyad about the situation in Iraq, dated 1910, IOR/R/15/5/26, f 71r

Among the English language press in Egypt was the weekly, later daily, Egyptian Gazette (Alexandria, later Cairo, est. 1880–).  This Gazette was used to spread British propaganda in Egypt.

For extracts of these and other materials, I encourage readers to visit the Qatar Digital Library.  Part III of this blog post will explore the 20th century Middle Eastern press materials found in the IOR.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/10/166 ‘File 3047/1909 'Railways: Asiatic Turkey; railway construction in Asia Minor'
IOR/L/PS/10/12 ‘File 3142/1903 'Hedjaz Railway'
IOR/R/15/2/178 'Articles in Press on Gulf Affairs'
IOR/R/15/5/121 ‘I Riyadh (VII) Colonel Dickson’s v[isit] to Riyadh (Includes visits of other Europeans to Riyadh’
IOR/R/15/5/26 'File X/3 Disorders & Raids near Basra & in Koweit [Kuwait] Hinterland'

Anthony Gorman and Didier Monciaud. The Press in the Middle East and North Africa, 1850-1950: Politics, Social History and Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

 

14 November 2019

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 2

Continuing our story of Arthur Thomas Williams and the Peace Pledge Union….

The fake telegrams were carefully run off on a duplicator and then planted. 

One of the spurious telegrams planted at the India Office One of the spurious telegrams planted at the India Office - from The National Archives file KV 2/1093 Crown copyright

On 18 December 1942 Williams left the India Office carrying an attaché case and made his way to Endsleigh Street.  Before he could reach the PPU offices, he was arrested and taken to New Scotland Yard.

Williams told the police that he was taking home documents to read for his own interest before returning them to the India Office. Fourteen official deciphered telegrams were found in the case; none were the planted ones.

A thorough search was then made of the offices of the PPU.  Stuart Morris made no attempt to obstruct this and it was ‘carried out in the friendliest and politest manner possible’.  Morris said he looked at the documents brought by Williams and then burned them.  Five India Office deciphered telegrams were found in one drawer, and a second batch in a sealed envelope in another drawer including one of the spurious telegrams.  Stuart Morris was then also arrested.  

Williams’s statement made on 18 December stated that he had heard someone in Hyde Park talking about India. He thought that the speaker was being unfair to the British government and told him that he saw documents at the India Office showing that the government was interested in Indian reform and independence.  Williams then took documents from the secret waste and delivered them to the PPU about once a week.  Morris returned the telegrams from the previous visit and William put them back in the sack for pulping. However the authorities did not believe that Morris had returned the documents and they judged Williams to be disloyal to the British government and to the India Office in particular.

The next day Williams and Morris were charged at Bow Street with ‘retaining’ and ‘receiving’ under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Acts. They were remanded in custody and taken to Brixton Prison. The proceedings were held in camera and no reference to the case was to be made in newspapers.

However the Daily Worker reported on 21 December that Stuart Morris was being held on unknown charges.  Evening newspapers mentioned the Official Secrets Act.  The Censorship Department moved to stop further press speculation.

Visits to Williams in Brixton Prison from Annie, Rose, his son Sid, his brother and a friend are recorded in the Security Service file with details of their conversations.  Williams was heard to say that his conscience was clear and he had only been guilty of a ‘grave indiscretion’.

The trial was held in camera at the Old Bailey on 19 January 1943.  Williams’s defence said he had been interested in India since serving eight years there with the Army.  He was described as a foolish and simple man, without political motivation. The judge accepted that it was not a case of treachery.

Williams was sentenced to twelve months in prison, Morris to nine.  Further interviews were conducted with both men in Wormwood Scrubs.  A notice about the case was drafted for the press – the India Office insisted that it was not identified as the government department involved.

Report of Official Secrets Act trial -  Western Daily Press 17 February 1943Report of trial of Williams and Morris Western Daily Press 17 February 1943 British Newspaper Archive

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives KV 2/1093 The Security Service: Personal (PF Series) Files - Arthur Thomas Williams - available as a download
British Newspaper Archive

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 1

 

12 November 2019

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 1

Our last post told the story of how India Office Records were stored in a Cheshire salt mine during the Second World War.  I felt sorry for paperkeeper Arthur Thomas Williams who worked in very uncomfortable conditions in Winsford.  What had happened to him after he returned to London?  I was very surprised at what I discovered!

A staff list revealed that Arthur Thomas Williams left the India Office suddenly in December 1942.  And the reason why is found in a Security Service file at The National Archives.  Williams was tried in January 1943 under the Official Secrets Act.  The file reads like the plot of a spy novel. 

MI5 Christmas card croppedDetail from MI5 Christmas card 1924 in papers of Sir Malcolm Seton, India Office official 1898-1933 Mss Eur E267/224

On 15 September 1942 a letter was sent by MI5 to the Indian Political Intelligence section at the India Office.  A man, referred to as ‘Q’, had attended a public meeting in Hyde Park and introduced himself to Stuart Morris of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU).  ‘Q’ told Morris that he was sympathetic to Morris’s views on India.  He worked for the India Office and could pass on information from secret telegrams.  Every effort was being made to identify ‘Q’ as quickly as possible.

MI5 was still trying to put a name to ‘Q’ on 10 October 1942.  He was described as ‘a nondescript, middle-aged Civil Servant paid at a comparatively low-grade rate, and who had been previously employed in the Records Office either at Chester or in Cheshire’.  The words salt mines had been overheard.  ‘Q’ dealt with cables in his work.

By 22 October, the India Office had reported that the only person who fitted the description was 57-year-old Arthur Thomas Williams who had worked there since 1927.  One of Williams’s tasks was to collect waste paper from the Telegrams Branch.  His wife Rose had a temporary wartime job in the India Office External Department Registry, where she might possibly have had access to most of the telegrams cited in the case.

A description of Williams was provided to MI5: ‘Height about 5’ 5”, fairly slim build, clean shaven, somewhat pointed chin, black hair rather thin but well plastered down, going bald on crown: does not wear glasses; young looking for his age’.  Williams had not supplied his home address to the India Office since his return from Cheshire and it was established that he was not living with his wife Rose in Clapham.  Rose was observed meeting her husband in Parliament Square shortly before 9am and then continuing to King Charles Street with him, thus giving the impression that they had travelled in together.

MI5 reported in November that Arthur Williams lived in Hounslow.  Unfortunately their agent had mistakenly followed a messenger called Earney home from the India Office.  On 23 November Williams was successfully tracked back to Red Lion Square where he was found to be living with a woman called Annie Homard.

Surveillance of Williams continued throughout December.  He bought beer and cigarettes, had tea at Lyons, changed his library books, visited relatives and went to the offices of the PPU in Endsleigh Street.  The authorities wanted sufficient legal evidence against him for a prosecution.  A plan was devised to place fake telegrams in the waste which Williams collected from the Telegraph Branch.  If these appeared at the PPU offices, then MI5 would have their man!

To be continued…

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives KV 2/1093 The Security Service: Personal (PF Series) Files - Arthur Thomas Williams – available as a download
IOR/L/AG/30/18/58 India Office Establishment List

 

07 November 2019

India Office Records sent to the salt mine

In November 1940, a large quantity of original records was sent by the India Office in Whitehall to Meadowbank Salt Mine in Winsford, Cheshire for storage during the war.  Paperkeeper A T Williams went to Winsford to oversee the move.  A decision had to be taken whether to store the volumes at the top or bottom of the mine.  The chief engineer said that ‘there was a slight damp at bottom & a remote or possible chance of flooding apart from which there was a possibility of interference & handling of the volumes by malicious men below who might damage them, unless they were secure, some wire caging round them, or stored…above in a room in racks on the top level of the mine.  Also if by any chance the mine was bombed heavily in, or on the top section they again might not be safe’.

Salt mine 1Arthur Williams' letter to the India Office 8 December 1940 IOR/L/SG/8/499 Noc

Williams started his task of sorting the records.  He wrote on 8 December: ‘The sooty London dust has gone from them and now they are more or less covered with a fine film of salt which is however quite dry’.  It was a tedious and tiring job, often by candlelight.  He requested overtime pay: ‘The amount of our stuff here has caused some astonishment.  It really is a colossal pile and there are 15 wagons in the siding’.  The salt had rotted his leather shoes, so he bought himself a pair of Wellington boots.

Williams’ update of 23 February 1941 contained further worrying information.  All the volumes were covered with a thin layer of salt, and hundreds were encrusted with small particles up the diameter of a sixpence because they had been unloaded in wet or damp weather and then placed on the floor of the mine.  Some covers were warping.  Williams had worn out his leather gloves and his hands were sore and lacerated.  He had about 20,000 more volumes ‘to wade through’.  By the end of March it had been decided the leave the volumes at the bottom of the mine and joiners were at work fixing strong book racks.

Salt Mine 2List of India Office Reocords stored in the salt mine IOR/L/SG/8/499 Noc

The government’s Paper Shortage Committee became aware of the volumes at Winsford,  some dating from the 18th century. In November 1941 a note was sent to the India Office: ‘The Committee realises of course that this material may be of real historical value but it has thought it worth while to ask for your comments in view of the great demand for safe underground storage, and in view of the urgent need for waste paper salvage’.  The Committee was assured that all the records were either of historical value or of importance to discharging peacetime functions. The 44,000 volumes, weighing 250 tons, comprised copies of Proceedings of governments in India; Public and Judicial records; military recruitment and embarkation lists; Army muster rolls, lists and statements.

After the war the records had to be removed from the mine.  However the basement of the India Office had been altered and there was no room for them.   Arrangements were made in 1947 to take the records to the deep shelter at Stockwell Station in London, but only after the film of salt had been dusted off.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/SG/8/499 Storage of records at Winsford

 

05 November 2019

A family archive

Sometimes, by chance, an archive brings together seemingly disparate or unrelated material in a quite fascinating way.  A fantastic example of this from our Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts department is the truly familial archive of the civil servant and statistician, Sir John Boreham.  This includes, alongside his own papers, the diaries of his wife, Lady Heather Boreham, and the literary papers of their son-in-law, Kevin Stratford.

John and Heather Boreham with a koala bear in 1986John and Heather Boreham in 1986, by kind permission of Deborah Hudson

Sir John Boreham (1925-1994) was a statistician for the British government and director of the then Central Statistical Office between 1978 and 1985.  But, as Claus Moser wrote, ‘…he was neither a typical civil servant nor a typical statistician. He disliked bureaucracy and in all he did was unconventional, original and independent in action and spirit’.

After studying at Oxford, Boreham joined the Government Statistical Service (GSS), working first at the Agriculture Economic Research Institute in Oxford and then in the statistics division of the Ministry of Food.  Throughout the 1950s, Boreham worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, the General Register Office (GRO) and the Central Statistical Office.  In 1963 he took up the positon of Chief Statistician at the GRO.  For the next decade, he was Director of Economics and Statistics at the Ministry of Technology and then Assistant Director of the Central Statistical Office becoming director of the CSO and Head of the Government Statistical Service in 1978.

As director of the CSO Boreham faced challenges almost immediately when the new Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher formed in 1979 and sought to cut the Civil Service.  The cuts had a large impact on the CSO but Boreham remained resolute and ‘…interested above all in using statistics to improve the lot of humanity’ (Moser.)  The archive contains a letter from Thatcher congratulating Boreham on his appointment as director.

After 35 years at the GSO Boreham retired in 1985, apparently hoping to spend more time playing golf and reading French literature.  However his work was too highly valued and he became regional co-ordinator of statistical training in the Caribbean and later worked as a consultant in the Bahamas in the 1990s.

In 1948, Boreham married Heather Horth (1927-2004) and together they had three sons and a daughter.  The archive contains a series of diaries written by Lady Boreham between the 1970s-1900s, which add an interesting and detailed perspective to the history of the Borehams’ lives.  These diaries will be available to consult from the end of 2020.

Kevin Stratford in spring 1981, holding a catKevin Stratford in spring 1981 during a break from writing The Plagarist, by kind permission of Deborah Hudson

The final section of the archive covers the literary papers of the writer Kevin Stratford (1949-1984).  He died young, cutting short a career that ‘robbed this country of one of its most promising young writers’ according to Peter Ackroyd.  Stratford’s papers include his literary drafts, notes, correspondence with publishers and a series of notebooks.

Eleanor Dickens
Curator, Politics and Public Life

Further reading:
Claus Moser, Sir John Boreham’s Obituary in The Independent Wednesday 15 June 1994.
The archive (Add MS 89283) is available for consultation in the Manuscripts Reading Room.
Please contact eleanor.dickens@bl.uk for any further information.

 

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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