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11 posts from March 2020

30 March 2020

The National Indian Association and its handbook for students

The National Indian Association was founded in Bristol in 1871 by Mary Carpenter.  Local branches were established in both England and India. Its aims were to extend knowledge of India and its people in England; to co-operate with efforts for advancing education and social reform in India; and to promote friendly relations between English and Indian people. 

The Association published a monthly magazine; organised lectures; made educational grants; encouraged the employment of medical women in India; and gave information and advice to Indians in England.  The Committee of the Association also assisted Indian parents wanting to give their sons ‘the benefit of an English Education’ by offering superintendence of students, with expenses arranged individually for each case.  In all matters, ‘the principle of non-interference in religion is strictly maintained’.

Cover of Handbook for Indian StudentsNational Indian Association, A handbook of information for Indian students (10th edition: London, 1904) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Association published A handbook of information for Indian students relating to University and Professional Studies &c in the United Kingdom which ran to several editions.   It provided details of legal study; examinations connected with government service; universities and colleges; medical study; and technical training and manufactures. 

The 10th edition was published in 1904.  It offered general advice to those young men coming to England to study.  By practising ‘great economy’, a student could live in London in £120 to £150 a year.  Living expenses were cheaper in other cities.  Different kinds of accommodation were explained: rented rooms; boarding houses where meals were provided; or living with a family which had the benefit of gaining ‘acquaintance with English life and habits’.

As well as living expenses, the students had to pay educational or professional tuition fees and spend considerable amounts on books.  Candidates for the Indian Civil Service were likely to need £30 or £40 for books.

Indian students were warned that they would not be able to maintain themselves to any degree by teaching languages or other subjects.  After paying for the voyage, they were advised to bring at least another £20 or £30 from India for buying clothing and other essential items on arrival in England.  The Association said that it was inadvisable to buy articles of dress in India for use in England.

It wasn’t thought necessary for students to be met on landing. The shipping agents would look after baggage, and students coming all the way by sea could take a train from the Albert Docks to Fenchurch Street Station and then a cab to their destination.  It was equally easy to arrive at Charing Cross Station from Brindisi.  However it was important to inform a friend in London by letter or telegram of the expected date of arrival.

A resolution of the Government of India was quoted which stated that Indian students travelling to England should apply for a Certificate of Identity signed by the head of school or college, and counter-signed by a District Officer, Commissioner of Police, or Political Officer.  The certificate proved that the holder was a British subject and could be used to obtain a passport for travel to foreign countries.  It also allowed for speedier processing of appeals for assistance from students unable to complete their course ‘owing to embarrassed circumstances’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
National Indian Association, A handbook of information for Indian students relating to University and Professional Studies &c in the United Kingdom (10th edition: London, 1904) British Library 8366.bb.60.

27 March 2020

Witch Trials in British India

Papers at the British Library shed light on the belief in witchcraft in 19th-century India.  The India Office Records contain a wealth of correspondence and reports about the processes for discovering witches and the brutal techniques used to determine guilt or innocence.  The proceedings of criminal trials offer a unique insight into attempts by the British administrators to stamp out these practices.

File cover from a witchcraft murderIOR/F/4/830/21967 A Kol Sirdar in Sambalpur murders an entire family because of their alleged witchcraft, Feb 1822-Sep 1823 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Commonly, villagers sought advice from a local witch hunter, or Bhopa, who would identify the witch. The favoured punishment was witch swinging. One report offered the following description:
‘Without trial or being heard in defence, the supposed witch is seized, her eyes stuffed with red chillies and bandaged and ropes are tied firmly round her legs and waist.  She is then taken to a tree and swung violently, with her head downwards …till she confesses to a falsehood or dies under the barbarous infliction’.

In 1842, a woman in Palachpoor was murdered in the jungle close to her village by her stepson. When cross examined, he claimed she had been practising witchcraft and had ‘eaten two buffaloes of mine and 10 persons of the village, including my brother’s wife and sister’s daughter’.  The victim’s daughter admitted her mother had been a witch, announcing ‘she used to bite people and they died in consequence’.  It emerged the unfortunate woman had reported her stepson’s involvement in a robbery.  In his fury, he forced her into the jungle and beat her to death.  Despite this knowledge, the witchcraft accusation meant a short prison sentence and hard labour was agreed upon as punishment.

In the village of Chapra in 1849, a woman called Eullal was accused of witchcraft.  It was claimed her eye had fallen upon a villager who contracted an illness and died eleven days later.  A gathering of village officials concluded Eullal was guilty.  Once they had agreed to distribute her possessions and properties amongst themselves, Eullal was seized and charged.   She had chili paste rubbed into her eyes and bandages applied to prevent her evil glare afflicting further victims.  Eullal survived this ordeal and was tied to a tree at 6pm.  By 9pm she was dead.   It was argued a slave killed Eullal under the instruction of the Thakore.  A punishment of 25 Rupees was suggested by the Raja.

Report of the murder of KunkooIOR/L/PS/6/567, Coll 240 Papers regarding a case of 'witch-swinging' and murder which took place at the village of Rohimala, Udaipur State Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1868, a Bhopa accused an elderly lady, Kunkoo, of making a soldier’s wife sick.  Villagers seized Kunkoo, forced her hands into boiling oil and swung her for days.  The soldier’s wife died and the old lady was released, only to be murdered shortly afterwards.  During questioning the soldier denied killing Kunkoo, exclaiming ‘Nugga told me that she had eaten his uncle and his mother and a cow, so he killed her’.

These and other cases were reported by British authorities.  Captain John Brooke wrote in 1856: ‘I would remark that there is little hope of the custom ceasing till it becomes dangerous to follow the profession of Bhopa’.  The reports indicate the government was keen to stamp out the practice, but were wary of interfering with indigenous beliefs and traditions.  Local leaders admitted that in some areas 40-50 women a year could be punished as witches. The response was to target Bhopas.  By convicting ‘professed sorcerers’ and fining community leaders, the authorities hoped to quell the torture and murders.

Craig Campbell
Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/6/567, Coll 240 Papers regarding a case of 'witch-swinging' and murder which took place at the village of Rohimala, in Panurwa District, Udaipur State, on or about 9 August 1868
IOR/R/2/700/39 File Q/6 6 Witch craft cases from 1850
IOR/F/4/2016/90185 Mahee Caunta [Mahi Kantha]: Political Agent's Court of Criminal Justice, case No 1 of 1842, trial of Narajee Ruggajee charged with putting his stepmother to death on account of her being accused of witchcraft, Sep 1841-Jun 1843
IOR/F/4/830/21967 A Kol Sirdar in Sambalpur murders an entire family because of their alleged witchcraft, Feb 1822-Sep 1823

25 March 2020

Lady Day

25 March is Lady Day, Feast of the Annunciation and the first quarter day of the year.  Traditionally on quarter days tenants paid their rents to landlords and servants were hired.  Lady Day was also the first day of the calendar year in England and Wales until 1752.

 

Tulips T00048-12Early-flowering tulips from Edward George Henderson, The Illustrated Bouquet, consisting of figures, with descriptions of new flowers, illustrated by Miss Sowerby (London, 1857-64) © The British Library Board Images Online

William Hone tells the story of a country gentleman in the early 19th century who wrote a letter to a woman of rank in London. He sent it through the general post addressed to
The 25th of March
Foley Place, London

The postman delivered the letter to Lady Day for whom it was intended.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
William Hone, The Every-day Book (1826) vol.1, p.195

 

24 March 2020

General John Jacob ‒ A Man of Strong Opinions

Somerset-born John Jacob sailed to India in 1828 aged just 16 as a second lieutenant in the Bombay Artillery of the East India Company.  He never again set foot in England and died 30 years later of ‘exhaustion’ brought on from over-work.

Portrait of John Jacob

Portrait of John Jacob, from an engraving by T L Atkinson, (photographed by Walter L Colls, Photographic Society). Reproduced in Alexander Innes Shand, General John Jacob, Commandant of the Sind Irregular Horse and founder of Jacobabad (London: Seeley and Co. Limited, 1900) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Jacob is primarily known for his ‘pacifying’ achievements as political and military governor in Upper Sindh, which in the 1840s and ‘50s formed the ‘unruly’ north-west frontier of British India.

Map of SindhMap of Sindh from Sir Richard Francis Burton, Sindh, and the Races that inhabit the Valley of the Indus; with notices of the topography and history of the Province. (London,1851) BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

An expert administrator and inventor, Jacob built roads, irrigation systems and canals, turned arid desert into fertile land and improved the local economy.  His attitude towards the local Baloch inhabitants was unusually progressive, his benevolence causing them to name his headquarters ‘Jekumbad’ which the British converted to ‘Jacobabad’.

John Jacob’s house at JacobabadJohn Jacob’s house at Jacobabad.  Reproduced in Alexander Innes Shand, General John Jacob, Commandant of the Sind Irregular Horse and founder of Jacobabad (London: Seeley and Co. Limited, 1900)Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Jacob’s accomplishments and ‘eccentric’ nature are well documented. His correspondence in the India Office Records, however, provides some less well-known insights into a dogmatic man who would brook no challenge, perceived or otherwise, to his authority.

In March 1857 Jacob arrived in Bushire to assist his old friend Lieutenant-General James Outram, commanding the British forces fighting Persia.  A few days later he was placed in charge of the forces at Bushire after the previous incumbent committed suicide.  When news of an armistice came in April Jacob had to organise the British evacuation.

He soon came into conflict with of Charles Murray, HM British Ambassador to the King of Persia.  Murray was a well-travelled diplomat with a privileged, aristocratic background. He and Jacob clashed repeatedly over who was the superior representative of the British Government in Bushire, and over the timing of troop shipments back to India.  Their quarrels spilled over into other operational matters.

Portrait of Charles Augustus MurrayPortrait of Charles Augustus Murray by Willes Maddox from an engraving by George Zobel (photographed by William H Ward & Co Ltd Sc).  Reproduced in Sir Herbert Maxwell, The Honourable Sir Charles Murray KCB, A Memoir (Blackwood, 1898) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Jacob dismissed Mirza Agha, a Persian official who acted as secretary to Murray at the British embassy.

Jacob objects to Mirza Agha’s letter of complaintJacob objects to Mirza Agha’s letter of complaint, 26 April 1857 (IOR/H/549, f 604v) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Murray went to great lengths to defend his secretary, arguing he was neither intentionally insolent nor deserving of the public censure and humiliation to which Jacob subjected him.

In May 1857 Jacob arrested and imprisoned two messengers sent to the British camp by the Persian Commander-in-Chief on charges of spying.

Image 7 - Jacob to Persian Cmdr in Chief  IOR_H_550_f295r

Extract from Jacob’s letter to the Persian Commander-in-ChiefExtracts from Jacob’s letter to the Persian Commander-in-Chief, 13 May 1857 (IOR/H/550, ff295-296) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Persian Commander-in-Chief attempted to placate Jacob:

Extract from a letter from the Persian Commander-in-ChiefExtract from a letter from the Persian Commander-in-Chief, 16 May 1857 (IOR/H/550, f 312) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

He reminded Jacob that ‘Friendship requires genial intercommunication and not severity that is freezing of relationships’.

Murray, condemning Jacob’s ‘extremely offensive expressions’ refused to forward copies of Jacob’s letters to the Persian Government, fearing they would inflame Anglo-Persian relations.

Extract from a letter from Murray to Lieutenant-General Sir James OutramExtract from a letter from Murray to Lieutenant-General Sir James Outram, 9 June 1857 (IOR/H/550, f 340) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In August Jacob poured scorn on Murray’s warnings of a Persian plot to attack departing British troops at Bushire. Believing the smooth-talking diplomat was trying to protract negotiations with the Persian Government, he wrote to Captain Felix Jones, Political Agent in the Persian Gulf: ‘the contemptible soul of the man was laid bare to me in the Meerza Agha affair. Everything I have seen of him since is in accordance with his base nature..’

Whilst Jacob could be irascible, high-handed and given to hyperbole, there is evidence that Charles Murray was regarded with considerable contempt, even in high circles, as this extract shows:

Extract from a letter from Henry Bartle Frére, Governor in Sindh, to Jacob

Extract from a letter from Henry Bartle Frére, Governor in Sindh, to Jacob, 6 June 1857. Quoted in Alexander Innes Shand, General John Jacob, Commandant of the Sind Irregular Horse and founder of Jacobabad (London: Seeley and Co. Limited, 1900), p.274. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Back at his post in Sindh in December 1857, an official letter arrived for Jacob from Lord Clarendon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, entreating the two public servants to ‘allow any differences which may have arisen to be buried in oblivion’.  It is probably just as well they never worked together again!

Amanda Engineer
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

19 March 2020

The East India Company’s stud farm in Essex

Today’s Untold Lives centres on horses rather than people.  By 1800 the East India Company was increasingly reliant on its army, and suitable horses were needed.  On 2 January 1801 the Court of Directors paid Company official James Coggan £400 to purchase a stallion for the use of the Company’s stud in India.  They agreed to pay for a ‘Proper Person’ to act as a groom and accompany the horse to Bengal.  Further sums were authorised for the purchase of two mares a few weeks later and it was agreed to send three or four thoroughbred stallions and seven strong hunting mares to improve the breeding stock in India.

On 16 March 1801 the Court set up a Stud Committee to look into the quality of horses available for the Company in India.  Whilst Asiatic horses were suitable for the native soldiers, they were not ideal for the heavier European men.  Stronger native horses bred for the harness were too thick in the shoulder to act as a charger.  Arabian stallions were too small for Company purposes.  It was decided to set up a stud farm in England to breed the ideal blood lines to send to the stud farms in India.

Elizabeth and colt, thoroughbreds belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, EssexElizabeth and colt, thoroughbreds belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, Essex, attributed to J Hardman  - British Library Foster 240 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


David Scott, Chairman of the Committee, offered to present the new venture with a fine grey Arabian stallion from his estate in Scotland.  The Court initially considered acquiring part of the Cannons estate at Little Stanmore Middlesex but this proved unsuitable.  In July 1802 agreement was reached with John Towgood to lease a farm of 130 acres at Padnals near Romford in Essex.  John H Manley was put in charge of the farm but his services were dispensed with in January 1803.  Samuel Yull was then appointed to manage the establishment as resident groom.  The Company’s equine shipping agent, William Moorcroft, a respected veterinary expert, was appointed Superintendent of the Stud a few months later.

Worthy a thoroughbred stallion belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, EssexWorthy a thoroughbred stallion belonging to the East India Company at its stud farm at Padnals near Romford, Essex, attributed to J Hardman - British Library Foster 239. Worthy’s brother Waxy won the Derby in 1793. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The stud farm was a success. Some income was obtained from hiring out the services of the Company’s two stallions. The accounts at 25 March 1806 show nearly £440 was made from the stallions performing their duty with mares brought in to them in that season. 

Advert for Padnals Stud in Racing Calendar 1806Racing Calendar 1806   Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

From 1801 to March 1809, the horses sent to India were: 7 stallions, 6 mares, 26 colts, and 7 fillies.  In August 1804 a special stable was constructed on the upper deck of the ship Lord Keith for a prize stallion.  The Company directors were dismayed when ‘young Comus, one of the most valuable horses that could be procured in this country for the purpose of improving the breed in India’ was lost by carelessness when being transferred to a country ship soon after his arrival at Bombay.

There were concerns about inadequate management of the stud farm at Pusa in Bengal, so William Moorcroft sailed to India late in 1807 to superintend affairs.  It appears that Padnals was maintained by the Company until 1817 when Samuel Yull was given a pension of £80 per annum, and William Holmes, who had care of the colts, £40 per annum. Assistant groom James Craggs returned to his job as labourer in the Company tea warehouses with a pension of 5s per week.  After Yull’s death in 1824, his widow Olivia continued to receive half his pension.

Georgina Green
Independent researcher

Further reading:
East India Company Stud Papers 1794-1851- IOR/L/MIL/5/459-467
Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors  - IOR/B
Padnals property transactions IOR/L/L/2/1 pp.844-849
Garry Alder, Beyond Bokhara. The Life of William Moorcroft, Asian Explorer and Pioneer Veterinary Surgeon 1767-1825 (London, 1985)
 

17 March 2020

Mr. Coryate’s shoes

I have come across an intriguing 17th-century book titled Coryats Crudities, written by Thomas Coryate (1577?-1617), and illustrated with satirical prints.  Coryate (also spelt as Coryat) was an entertainer to Henry, Prince of Wales, eldest son of King James I of England (James VI of Scotland).  In 1608 he undertook a five-month journey in continental Europe, and this book, published in 1611 and dedicated to the Prince, gives a detailed account of his travels.

Frontispiece engraving from Coryats CruditiesThomas Coryate, Coryats Crudities, printed by William Stansby for the author, London, 1611, shelfmark 152.f.19; frontispiece, engraving Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The text on the frontispiece illustration informs the reader that Coryate visited France, the Duchy of Savoy, Italy, Switzerland, Rhaetia (the canton of Graubünden, now in Switzerland), Germany and the Netherlands.  It features the author’s portrait at the age of 35, engraved by William Hole, flanked by eleven amusing images of his adventures.  These included being sick on board of a ship (top left), being carried in a chair on poles upon the shoulders of two men in the French mountains (centre left), and a Venetian courtesan hurling eggs at him from a window as he passes by in a gondola (centre right).

Woodcut of shoes from Coryats CruditiesThomas Coryate, Coryats Crudities, printed by William Stansby for the author, London, 1611, shelfmark 152.f.19; Coryate’s shoes, woodcut, leaf k 4 recto Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Even more unexpected is the second illustration: a pair of shoes, encircled by a laurel wreath.  Printed above and below are prose and a verse in Latin by Henry Peacham, commemorating Coryate and the iconic shoes he wore while walking for 900 miles of his 1,975-mile journey across Europe.  This type of ‘lachet’ shoe had two leather tongues with holes in them for shoelaces.  Coryat’s shoes were strengthened with pieces of horn, and he tells us in the book that he had them mended only once - in Zurich.  Humorous verses, printed at the start of the volume and written by numerous authors in response to Coryate’s request, mention his shoes 32 times!

After returning to his beloved home village, Odcombe in Somerset, Coryate asked for permission to display his shoes inside the local Church of St Peter and St Paul, as a sort of thanksgiving for his safe trip.  They hung there until 1702, went lost in the 1860s, but have been replaced by a replica pair, carved in stone.

The book was popular with contemporary readers, and the British Library holds four copies, with shelfmarks C.152.e.5., C.32.e.9., 152.f.19 and G.6750.  This last copy was presented by Coryate himself to Henry, Prince of Wales.

The ‘Odcombian Legge-stretcher’ (as he referred to himself) embarked on further travels in 1612, spending time in Turkey and the Holy Land.  In 1615 he travelled from Aleppo in Syria to India, walking over 3000 miles.  He kept recording his experiences during these journeys, periodically sending back manuscript notes to England.  He died of dysentery in Surat, Gujarat, India, in December 1617.  His surviving notes were published, providing a unique insight into the lives of people in these countries through the eyes of an early English traveller.

Marianne Yule
Curator of Prints & Drawings
British Library Western Heritage Collections

Further reading
Frederic George Stephens, Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Division I. Political and Personal Satires. Vol. I. The Trustees, 1870, Satires No.75 and 77, pp. 39-42; shelfmark 1572/628
Biographical entry for Coryate, Thomas (1577?-1617), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Farah Karim-Cooper, Strangers in the city: the cosmopolitan nature of 16th-century Venice, 2016
Description of the Jewish Ghetto and the courtesans of Venice in Coryate's Crudities, 1611

 

13 March 2020

John Maynard Smith: evolutionary biology and the Logic of Animal Conflict

This post is part of a series highlighting some of the British Library’s science collections as part of British Science Week 2020.

Have you ever wondered why animals often fight in ritualised ways, not killing each other outright even though they have the weapons to do so?  Just think of how easy it would be, with all the teeth, claws, horns and antlers.


If you currently visit the British Library’s Treasures Gallery, you’ll find a small exhibit of material from the evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith’s archive.  In the 1970s, Maynard Smith gave one answer to the question above that proved highly influential and successful.  It even won him the Crafoord Prize, biology’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize.  And it made to number 61 of 87 in the Great British Innovation Vote, in which you were asked about ‘the most important innovation of the last 100 years’: evolutionary game theory.

John Maynard Smith standing amongst wild flowers 1989John Maynard Smith. Sussex, 1989. Copyright © Anita Corbin and John O’Grady. Courtesy of the estate of John Maynard Smith.

In the exhibition, next to some of his very early work on animal flight, you’ll spot some line printer output with purple annotations.  This particular printout dates from 1972 and is part of a series showing the crucial computer simulations based on which Maynard Smith and his then collaborator George Price wrote “The logic of animal conflict”.  This paper, published in 1973, is the basis for evolutionary game theory.
 

Maynard Smith’s personal copy of ‘The Logic of Animal Conflict’Maynard Smith’s personal copy of ‘The Logic of Animal Conflict’, 1973. Courtesy of the estate of John Maynard Smith.

Maynard Smith, born in 1920 (died in 2004), would have turned 100 this year.  He was one of Britain’s leading evolutionary biologists, a “puzzle-solver” with mathematical intuition whose research career spans almost half a century.  The exhibited printout and others of the same series were sent back and forth between Maynard Smith at the University of Sussex and Price in London.  The two of them had met in 1970 and later started collaborating on what became evolutionary game theory: the application of game theory – which originated in economics – to evolutionary biology and animal behaviour in particular.

By pitting animals against each other as in a game, supplied with strategies like “probing” and “retaliating”, Maynard Smith and Price showed why animals fight in almost ritualised ways, without full use of their weapons: because it is evolutionarily beneficial.  To underline their idea, they ran a series of computer simulations, having two “animals” A and B “fight” round after round.  A and B had the options to escalate the fight or not to.  The simulations showed that the risk of retaliation is too great: if A escalates the fight, B may follow suit and injure, even kill, A.

Hawks and Doves - Computer printout (‘Hawks and Doves’) - Computer printout for 'B31 L – run 2'; 11 April 1972. (Add MS 86749). Copyright of the estate of John Maynard Smith.

As the purple annotations on the exhibited printout show, the computer simulations were useful but not necessarily straightforward.  Some results were ‘v[ery] puzzling’.  Once everything was resolved, the results were published, stimulating much research on animal behaviour.  In 1976, evolutionary game theory joined several other ideas forming the basis of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.  In fact, Dawkins credits Maynard Smith’s work as a ‘major stimulus that led me to […] write the whole book.’  If you would, please turn to Chapter 5, ‘Aggression: stability and the selfish machine’…

Anyway, that’s where you can read Dawkins’ description of evolutionary game theory – without any of the maths that was in the original paper of Maynard Smith and Price.

Helen Piel
Postdoctoral fellow at the Research Institute for the History of Science and Technology at the Deutsches Museum, working on the relationship between artificial intelligence and cognitive science.

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The John Maynard Smith exhibition is on display at the British Library Treasures Gallery until April 5.

 

11 March 2020

Within a hair’s breadth of failure: John Houghton and the climate change report

This post is part of a series highlighting some of the British Library’s science collections as part of British Science Week 2020.

Among the papers of the climate scientist Sir John Houghton, (Add MS 89409) is a record of one of the most significant moments in either Houghton’s career or the history of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body set up by the United Nations in order to observe and respond to changes in the world’s climate.  It is a transcript of a meeting in Madrid, in late 1995, of Working Group I, the IPCC’s division for assessing the ‘physical science of climate change’.

At the time, the IPCC was preparing its second major report.  The contribution of Working Group I already existed in draft form, but its summary still needed finalising.  Did its phrasing – especially in its central assertion, that human activity is affecting the climate – reflect the scientific evidence?  As co-Chairman, Houghton was to oversee this fine-tuning, and, if possible, to guide the meeting towards a consensus.  This could never come at the cost of scientific integrity, but it seemed within reach, and worth striving for.

Transcript of the IPCC discussion, Madrid 1995Transcript of the IPCC discussion, Madrid 1995. (Add MS 89409/4/23), Copyright 2020 The British Library.

Houghton was prepared for robust debate, but admits that he had not anticipated the direction actually taken by the discussion, which the transcript records in a 238-page slab of twelve-point text (Add MS 89409/4/23).  On the first day, Houghton noticed a representative of the Global Climate Coalition, one of the invited non-governmental organisations, engaging certain delegates in conversation.  That this organisation was generally critical of the IPCC’s conclusions was not in itself a problem, but its being backed by ‘powerful parts of the US and international energy industry’ suggested certain non-scientific interests.  The next day, Houghton found that some of these delegates ‘wanted to weaken the statements about the extent of climate change’ and emphasise the ‘uncertainties about [its] causes’.

Houghton was frustrated because it was clear to him that their motives were political, not scientific.  Indeed, one main representative was not a scientist but a lawyer.  Time was ticking on, objections were now being raised over individual words, and he was being cast in the role of a political negotiator.  Could some concessions be made in exchange for others? ‘I’m keeping no score sheet,’ he insisted.  The science could not be bartered.

John Houghton speaking at a conference 2005John Houghton speaking at a conference in High Wycombe, UK, 2005. Photo credit: Kaihsu Tai. Reproduced under the terms of Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 3.0, (cropped and lightened).

The third afternoon wore on.  Time was running out.  The planned evening meal was abandoned; at 9 pm the translators left.  The meeting agreed to continue without them, and Houghton pressed on.  Only at twenty past midnight, minutes before the building closed, did they finish.  But a consensus, albeit sobering, had been reached: ‘The balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate’.

Houghton has written that if it had not been for the last-minute success of this meeting, the major Kyoto Protocol climate treaty would not have been adopted two years afterwards.  He has also observed that all the opposition actually resulted in a better, stronger document.  ‘It was a stimulating and exciting time’, he reflected later, ‘but we had come within a hair’s breadth of failure’.

Dominic Newman
Manuscripts Cataloguer

The Papers of John Houghton were gifted to the British Library in 2015.  At present a single series ‘Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’ consisting of correspondence, notes, offprints and published material, is available to researchers through the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue at Add MS 89409/4.

The British Library would like to thank the American Institute of Physics (AIP) for their generous support in enabling the cataloguing of this material.

Further reading:
John Houghton, ‘Madrid 1995: Diagnosing climate change’, Nature, 455 (2008), 737-738
John Houghton et al. (eds.), 'Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)
John Houghton, with Gill Tavner, In the Eye of the Storm: the autobiography of Sir John Houghton. (Oxford, Lion, 2013)

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