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13 posts from April 2020

10 April 2020

Easter Furnishing Bargains from the India Office?

A search through the British Newspaper Archive recently for interesting articles relating to India for Easter did not turn up any exciting stories, but did instead provide some entertaining distractions owing to misconstrued search results.

Here are two of my favourite ‘stories’ found in the results.

‘India Office Lists Easter Furnishing Bargains’
This was a result returned from the Hertford Mercury and Reformer 22 April 1916, suggesting that the India Office was having a furniture clear out and sale. Unsurprisingly this did not turn out to be the case, as these were actually two unrelated advertisements with their titles merged together.  The first for the India Office Lists was an advert for the publication of the latest edition, now available for sale.  The second was an advertisement for Bedroom Furniture Suites being sold by Ward’s Stores, Seven Sisters Corner, Tottenham.

Advert for Wards Stores Hertford Mercury April 1916

Advertisement for Ward's Stores from Hertford Mercury and Reformer 22 April 1916 British Newspaper Archive

‘British Officers Stories of India Gardening for Easter 2d’
This was a result returned from the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 13 April 1922 suggesting that a British officer had published his stories of adventures whilst Easter gardening in India.
It transpires however that this is an advert for the latest edition of the Yorkshire Weekly Post in April 1922. These are sadly two separate articles ‘British Officers' stories of India’ and ‘Gardening for Easter’ which appeared alongside each other in the same edition of the journal.

List of contents for Yorkshire Weekly Post in April 1922

List of contents for Yorkshire Weekly Post in April 1922 British Newspaper Archive


There were also a number of search results where the text recognition software used to make newspapers searchable had misread words as Easter.  One of my favourites in this category was:
‘Baths proprieters of well India Easter’
This was another advertisement, this time in the Star (London) 16 April 1803. The publication being advertised was a Treatise, written by the Earl of Dundonald, and showing ‘the intimate connection that subsists between Agriculture and Chemistry’.  The advertisement went on to suggest a number of organisations which may be interested in such a treatise, including ‘to the Proprietors of West India Estates’.

So, while there were no interesting stories about Easter in India to be turned into a blog this time, I do hope that Untold Lives readers had a chuckle at these search results.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive - also available via findmypast


09 April 2020

Mrs Sobieski Sullivan, a Welsh Jacobite

In the 1700s prominent Jacobite families chose to show their allegiance by christening their children with Jacobite names.  The marriage of Maria Clementina Sobieska, granddaughter of King John III Sobieski of Poland, to James Francis Edward Stuart, Jacobite claimant to the throne, influenced many, and both Clementina and Sobieski/Sobiesky were popular choices for girls at that time.

Maria-Clementina-SobieskaImage of Maria Clementina Sobieska, reproduced by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery. Image reference: NPG D32662 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence


Wrexham in Denbighshire had a number of Jacobite families and Sobieski Edwards was born there in 10 July 1746 to Thomas Edwards, a shoemaker.  The family also had a son Edward.

The Edwards children moved to London and on 3 June 1770 Sobieski Edwards was married in Soho to Daniel Hobbs.  The marriage was short-lived as Daniel died November 1772.  They had one daughter, Sobiesky, born on 7 December 1770.

Sobieski Hobbs remarried on 21 September 1774 in St Giles London to Timothy Sullivan, a warehouse-keeper for the East India Company.   Sullivan was a colourful character who found himself facing numerous charges of corruption and malpractice during his time with the Company and was eventually dismissed in 1782. Allegations against him included giving his brother-in-law Edward Edwards a job as a labourer at a Company warehouse, manipulating official records to make it appear he had been properly nominated to the post, and using Company money to have improvement works done on his own house.

By 1784 Timothy Sullivan had also died.  In October 1784 Sobieski submitted a plea to the Company for relief, which must have been out of desperation given her husband’s past employment history.  Her memorial was referred for consideration to the Committee of Warehouses, and then in November to a joint meeting of the Committee of Warehouses and Correspondence. Unfortunately we have been unable to trace the decision taken as it was probably recorded in minutes which were destroyed by the India Office in the 1860s.

Sobiesky Sullivan's memorial to the East India Company October 1784IOR/E/1/75, ff 257-259 Memorial of Mrs Sobiesky Sullivan

Sobieski Sullivan died in Holborn in December 1825.  Her will, proved in 1826, named her brother Edward Edwards as executor and left all her wealth (sadly valued at less than £20) in trust to her daughter.  She stipulated that her daughter’s husband William Fowler be prevented from ever receiving or benefitting from it.

Sobiesky Hobbs had married William Fowler in 1793 in Spitalfields.  They had one daughter, also called Sobieski, born in Bethnal Green in 1794.  All we have found about William Fowler is that on the couple’s marriage certificate his profession is ‘Gentleman’ and his father is listed as unknown.

Their daughter Sobieski Fowler met Robert Ward sometime prior to 1816 and the couple had six children, five sons and one daughter, Sobieski Elizabeth.   The family lived in Newington where Robert was at various times a butcher, a tea dealer and a tipstaff to judges.

The Wards hadn’t married before they had children.  Their marriage eventually took place on 9 February 1846 in Newington, most likely because Robert Ward was ill as he was buried in Newington on 2 June 1846.  Sobieski Ward died a few years later in 1849.

Sobieski Elizabeth Ward lived with her brother Joseph, taking over the family home of 35 New Street, Newington in the early 1860s before moving to 77 New Street by 1871.  Joseph was a commercial clerk and Sobieski a governess who went on to run her own school.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/E/1/75, ff 257-259 Memorial of Mrs Sobiesky Sullivan, widow of Timothy Sullivan, late principal Keeper of Teas and Drugs, for relief, 13 October 1784.
IOR/B/100 pp. 493,640 Memorial of Mrs S Sullivan in Court of Directors October-November 1784.
[The spelling of the name switches between Sobieski and Sobiesky throughout sources.]


07 April 2020

India Office Family History Search

The information included in the India Office Family History Search website is taken from a card index which used to be available only at the British Library.  The card index was compiled by members of staff at the India Office Records from the mid-1970s onwards to meet the growing interest in genealogy.  Only a small proportion of the biographical sources available in the India Office Records has been incorporated into the index but it is a very good starting point for researchers and is free to access.

Sepoy Bengal Light InfantrySepoy of the Bengal Light Infantry from John Williams, An historical account of the rise and progress of the Bengal Native Infantry, from its first formation in 1757, to 1796 (London, 1817) British Library shelfmark T 35392 BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We have been adding data from the Bengal General Orders (IOR/L/MIL/17) on gallantry awards and pensions for Indian soldiers.  Pensions were granted to invalid soldiers, and the relatives and next of kin of soldiers killed or dying from wounds received in action might be admitted to a family pension.  For example, in 1825 the mother of the late Kamahjut Singh, a Sepoy in the 68th Regiment Native Infantry, was admitted to a pension. The following details are recorded about her:
Claimant: Bheekoo, aged 60 years 0 months.  Claimant's height: 4 feet 11 ¾inches.  Caste: Rajpoot. Claimant's appearance:  Has no particular marks, but very aged in appearance.  Location: Kurkah, Okurru, Behar.  Relationship to the deceased soldier: Mother.  Admitted: 24 Dec, 1825.  Amount of pension: 2 12.  Payable: For life.  Desires to draw pension at Dinapore.  Paid by Pension Paymaster.

We have also recently started adding data taken from newly catalogued papers in the Accountant General records relating to family pension funds for European personnel.  There is an entry from the Madras Military Fund for the splendidly named Gabrielle Antoinette Marie Fidèle Dubois de Moulignon de Chastelles, daughter of Louis Antoine Dubois du Moulignon de Chastelles and Maria Gabrielle Fidèle de Grivel.

One very useful feature of the India Office Family History Search is the opportunity to search by keyword as well as by name.  It is therefore possible to investigate causes of death from diseases such as cholera and from natural disasters such as earthquakes.  Searches on place names can reveal interesting lines of enquiry and links.  A check on Cheltenham shows that the town was very popular for retirement amongst East India Company and India Office overseas officials, especially military officers and their wives.

Entrance of Parramatta River c.1802Entrance of the Parramatta River, New South Wales from George Barrington, The History of New South Wales (London, 1802) British Library shelfmark 9781.c.12. BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Exploring with the keyword Australia brings back 50 hits for people from a variety of sources including application papers for military and civil posts, pension fund records, memorial inscriptions, registers of baptisms and marriages, and ship journals.  Some examples are:

Convicts Daniel Sutherland and Mary Springate died at Port Jackson in October 1792 having arrived on the ship Royal Admiral.

William Grant Broughton worked in the Accountant General’s Department at East India House 1807-1814 and was subsequently ordained. He became Bishop of Australia in 1836.

Mary Stirling*, whose father James was the Governor of Western Australia, was born at sea on 11 October 1832 and baptised at St Helena nine days later.

Sister Emily Clare of the Australian Army Nursing Service died of pneumonia on 17 October 1918 aged 28 and was buried in Deolali Government Cemetery.

Time to start hunting!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Family History Search 

*The name is spelled Sterling in the St Helena baptism register and transcribed as such in the India Office Family History Search.


03 April 2020

Expired through eating some unwholesome food

‘Expired ...through eating some unwholesome food’ - this is how the death of Colonel Alexander Bagot, Commandant of the 38th Native Infantry was reported in the British and Indian newspapers following his death on 20 October 1874. The Colonel was on a tiger hunting expedition and had set up camp near Buxar when the accident occurred.  His cook had apparently mistaken taken arsenic used to cure the animal skins instead of baking powder and had included it in the breakfast chapatis.  The Colonel’s death is officially recorded as accidental poisoning.

Death of Col Bagot Homeward Mail 24 Nov 1874

Obituary of Colonel Alexander Bagot: Homeward Mail from India, China and the East, Monday 9 November 1874 - British Newspaper Archive which can also be accessed via findmypast

Colonel Bagot was known for his love of big game hunting and was considered to be one of the best shots and finest hunters of his day.  He had however previously had some near misses whilst hunting.  The Shrewsbury Chronicle of 17 April 1868 gives an account of one of such accident which occurred while tiger hunting on 28 March:
‘Colonel Alexander Bagot and Lord Downe were hunting a tigress in jungle near Nagode.  Colonel Bagot had been taking aim when the tigress sprang at them knocking them both and a Shikarrie over.  The tigress seized the colonel by the leg below the knee, tearing his trousers with her claws and he received a severe blow to the head from contact with a stone. A Ghurka sepoy with a spare gun, shot the tigress who released the Colonel and was preparing to spring again when she died.  No-one was seriously hurt in the incident’.

Big game hunting wasn’t the only sport Bagot was fond of.  The Weekly Chronicle (London) contains a report of his arrest on 6 June 1848, along with several other military officers, at the Cocoa Tree Club in St James’s, a known gambling house.  The case was dismissed owing to lack of evidence as it could not be proved the officers were at the Club to gamble.

Alexander BagotPortrait of Major Alexander Bagot by Camille Silvy, 27 February 1862 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence
  NPG Ax57008 

Alexander Bagot was born on 10 June 1822, son of Sir Charles Bagot, G.C.B. and Lady Mary Charlotte Anne Wellesley, eldest daughter of William, 4th Earl of Mornington.  He was educated at Westminster School and Charterhouse School and entered the East India Company’s service as a Bengal Cadet in 1840.  He was posted to the 15th Bengal Native Infantry on 9 January 1841, rising to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel and serving with them until 1865.   His time serving in the 15th Native Infantry was alongside Harry Larkins, who features in another Untold Lives blog post.

In 1850 the Nusseree Rifle Battalion was raised and Bagot was served as its Commandant until May 1861 when it was disbanded.  In June 1865 he was appointed Commandant of the 38th Bengal Native Infantry and remained so until his death in 1874, rising to the rank of Colonel.  He was a member of the Masonic Lodge Himalayan Brotherhood, No. 459.

In 1852 he married Gertrude Letitia Hallifax (1835-1901), daughter of Brigadier-General Robert Dampier Hallifax, and the couple had three sons: Charles Fitzroy Alexander Hallifax (1853-1901), Arthur Henry Louis (1856-1906), and Francis Robert William (1858-1861).

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

The Weekly Chronicle (London) 18 June 1848 and Shrewsbury Chronicle, 17 April 1868 -  British Newspaper Archive which can also be accessed via findmypast.

More on arsenic poisoning - Arsenic, Cyanide and Strychnine - the Golden Age of Victorian Poisoners


01 April 2020

The 1901 census

The 1901 UK census was taken on 1 April for people living at midnight on Sunday 31 March.  The fact that it fell on April Fools' Day did not escape the newspapers who published reminders that there were penalties for people who played tricks.  Any person wilfully giving false information was liable to a fine not exceeding £5.

1901 census - cartoon of  an enumerator with a census schedule chasing a man with a gunEvening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

The government appointed 50,000 enumerators, male and female.  Each received a fee of one guinea, with an extra payment of 3s 6d for every 100 people enumerated above the first 400.  The average responsibility of an enumerator was 300 families or 1500 people.

The enumerators left a schedule at every house or tenement in their district during the week ending 30 March 1901.  They took a note of the name of every person who received a schedule and of all uninhabited buildings.  Householders were assured that ‘strict care will be taken that the returns are not used for the gratification of curiosity’.

Each head of household had to fill in ten columns of information.
(1) The names of all occupants, listed in a set order where applicable – head, wife, children, other relatives, visitors, boarders, servants.
(2) Relationship to the head of household.
(3) Whether married, single or widowed.
(4) Sex.
(5) Age last birthday – inaccuaracies for domestic servants were sometimes caused by their reluctance to admit their real age for fear of dismissal.
(6) Occupation – there were elaborate instructions aimed at securing precise definitions. For example, nurses had to be categorized into hospital, sick, monthly, or domestic.
(7) Employed, employee, or working on own account.
(8) Working at home or not.
(9) Place of birth.
(10) ‘Deaf, dumb, imbecile or feeble-minded, blind or lunatic’.

On 1 April, the enumerators began the long task of collecting all the schedules and giving advice on completion where necessary.  Some reported being sworn at or threatened with violence.  One enumerator in Batley Yorkshire wrote to the local newspaper about the poor district of Daw Green.  He reported his concerns after visiting a dwelling consisting of two rooms, a kitchen with a bedroom above.  There were 14 people living there from two or three families, aged between two months and 40 years.

Poem The Census Man

Poem 'The Census Man' from Evening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

The enumerators had to copy all the details from the schedules into an enumeration book by 8 April and deliver the schedules to the local registrar.  Between 8 and 22 April the registrar checked the enumerators’ work and passed the books to the superintendent registrar who forwarded them to the Census Office in Miilbank London by 27 April.  There, 200 clerks classified the entries and made preliminary returns after a couple of months before the issue of the final volume of statistics about two years later.

1901 census advert for Heggie the tailor in Dundee

Advert for Heggie the tailor in Evening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

Dundee tailor Heggie took the opportunity of the census to take out a advert in the local Evening Post.  He advised all men in the town who were wearing the same suit purchased from him around the time of the last census to visit his premises to be measured for a new one: ‘That the wearers of those Garments have got their money’s worth can’t be disputed’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Leominster News and North West Herefordshire & Radnorshire Advertiser 18 January 1901; Oxfordshire Weekly News 27 March 1901; Evening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901; Batley Reporter and Guardian 4 April 1901. The British Newspaper Archive is also available through findmypast.


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