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10 posts from July 2020

30 July 2020

Sir Andrew Scott Waugh and the naming of Everest

In a letter from Charles Canning, Governor General and Viceroy of India to Lord Elgin, dated 2 October 1861, he writes that Lady Canning has set out on a trip to Darjeeling and that she talks of going into Sikkim to see the highest mountain in the world – ‘Deodunga or Mount Everest as the Surveyors have barbarously christened it’.

Guarinsankar  or Mount Everest  in the Himalaya of NepalGuarinsankar, or Mount Everest, in the Himalaya of Nepal from Results of a Scientific Mission to India and High Asia, undertaken between the years 1854 and 1858, by order of the Court of Directors of the Honourable East India Company, by H., A. and R. de Schlagintweit Shelfmark1899.a.8  BL - Images Online 

How did ’Mount Everest’ get its name?

The surveying of Everest was carried out under the auspices of Major General Sir Andrew Scott Waugh, Sir George Everest’s successor as both Surveyor General of India, and Superintendent of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.  Waugh was born into an Indian military family in 1810. He was appointed a cadet in the East India Company in 1827, and joined the Bengal Engineers.  He was assigned to the GTS in 1832.

Page from Andrew Scott Waugh's East India Company cadet application papers - a glowing report from his schoolmasterPage from Andrew Scott Waugh's East India Company cadet application papers - a glowing report from his schoolmaster IOR/L/MIL/9/166 f.239 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Trigonometrical Survey had been instituted in 1802 by the East India Company to survey scientifically the entire Indian subcontinent.  Initially it was thought that India could be surveyed in five years: in reality, it was to take seventy.  From 1823, the GTS was under the superintendence of George Everest, and he appointed Waugh to the service.  When Everest retired in 1843, he nominated his protégé to succeed him.

By the late 1830s, the Great Trigonometrical Survey reached the Himalayan region.  Foreigners were not allowed to enter Nepal, so observations were taken from Terai.  By 1847, Waugh and his team had noted that a mountain known as ‘Peak B’ appeared higher than Kangchenjunga, the then ‘highest mountain in the world’.  Calculations and observations continued, with the mountain rechristened ‘Peak XV’.  By 1852, the GTS’s talented mathematician or ‘Chief Computer’ Radhanath Sikdar established beyond doubt that the peak was indeed the highest mountain.  It was normal for the GTS to use local names as far as possible when naming peaks.  In this instance, Waugh stated “But here is a mountain, most probably the highest in the world, without any local name that we can discover, or whose native appellation, if it have any, will not very likely be ascertained before we are allowed to penetrate into Nepaul and to approach close to this stupendous snowy mass”.  He went on to suggest ‘Mount Everest’ as a suitable epithet, a name that was finally confirmed by the Royal Geographical Society in 1865.

Photograph of Sir George EverestPhotograph of Sir George Everest by Camille Silvy, 28 July 1862. NPG Ax60654 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence


So, was the mountain ‘nameless’?  It is true that it was difficult to establish a definitive local name.  However, its Tibetan name Qomolangma (or Chomolungma) had been recorded in 18th century maps.  In Darjeeling, it was called Deodungha, meaning Holy Mountain, a name championed by Brian Houghton Hodgson, the naturalist and previous Resident to Nepal.  Even Sir George Everest made objections.  He had never seen the mountain, was not involved in its discovery, and pointed out that his name was difficult to pronounce in Hindi.  Interestingly, he appears to have pronounced his name ‘E-vrest’ rather than ‘Ever-est’.

Andrew Scott WaughPortrait of Andrew Scott Waugh by William Glynn c. 1857 British Library Photo 139/1(3)

Andrew Scott Waugh received the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal in 1856, and was elected to the Royal Society in 1858.  He retired in 1861, having been promoted to Major General and knighted in the same year.  He died in South Kensington in 1877.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F699 Papers of Charles Canning and Charlotte Canning, Earl and Countess Canning:
Mss Eur F699/1/3/2/53, item 2623 - correspondence from Sir Andrew Scott Waugh, including his memorials, and letters in praise of Sir George Everest; Mss Eur F699/1/1/2/1, letter 31 - Charles Canning to Lord Elgin, 2 October 1861.
IOR/L/MIL/9/166/232-39: Cadet papers of Andrew Scott Waugh.
Paper read by Andrew Scott Waugh to the Royal Geographical Society on 12 May 1857, reported in Illustrated London News, 15 August 1857, p.170.
John Keay, The Great ARC: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named (2000).
General J. T. Walker, ‘A Last Note on Mont Everest’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, Vol. 8, No. 4 (April 1886), pp. 257-263.

 

28 July 2020

The Trial of Prince Najaf ʿAlī Khān Zand

The Zand dynasty ruled in Persia [Iran] from 1751 to 1794.  The young Prince Najaf ʿAlī Khān Zand, brother of the last ruler of the Zand dynasty, survived his family’s defeat at the hands of the new ruling family, the Qājārs.  At some point in the early 19th century, he left Persia and made his way to Bombay [Mumbai].  There, he was looked after by the East India Company’s Government of Bombay, receiving a pension of 400 rupees per month.

Painting showing the defeat of Prince Najaf’s brother, Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, the last Zand ruler, with the city of Shiraz in the backgroundI.O. Islamic 3442, f.218v showing the defeat of Prince Najaf’s brother, Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, the last Zand ruler: ‘Defeat of Lutf ‘Ali Khan Zand by (Agha) Muhammad Shah; the city of Shiraz in the background’ -  BL Images Online

This relationship was put to the test under dramatic circumstances in 1828-29.  A dispute between Prince Najaf’s entourage and a group of men from the Custom House escalated and the Prince fired his gun, killing two of the Custom House men.   The Prince was arrested and the case referred to the highest level of authority in the Government of Bombay – the Council.

Copies of letters sent from the Government of Bombay to the Court of Directors reveal an intense debate which broke out amongst the Council.  On one side, Council member John Romer argued that, due to the seriousness of the charges against him, the Prince must be tried as normal in the Circuit Court at Tannah [Thane].  On the other side, the Governor in Council, Sir John Malcolm, argued that the Prince must not be treated as a ‘common criminal’, as this would be a great insult to the Court of Persia.  As the debate intensified, Romer’s language became more and more dramatic. He argued that there were no political considerations which justified withdrawing the Prince from the hands of justice.

Extract of Minute by John Romer at Government of Bombay Judicial Consultation  25 April 1829IOR/F/4/1266/50907, ff. 334v-335r: Extract of Minute by John Romer at Government of Bombay Judicial Consultation, 25 April 1829, arguing that ‘I do not think that any political considerations [justify] withdrawing him [Prince Najaf] from the hands of justice.’  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Meanwhile, Malcolm attempted to pick holes in the accusations levied at the Prince, questioning the witnesses’ accounts and concluding that the Prince had only fired his pistol after being physically assaulted by the Custom House men.

Ultimately, Malcolm revealed that in addition to appeasing the Court of Persia, a trial must be avoided in order to preserve favour with the southern tribes in Persia, from which Prince Najaf’s family had originated.  According to Malcolm, these tribes continued to hold Prince Najaf’s brother and his great-uncle, Karīm Khān Zand (founder of the Zand dynasty), in such high regard that subjecting Prince Najaf to a ‘degrading’ common trial would have serious consequences.  Most pressingly, Malcolm argued that if Anglo-Russian relations were to deteriorate, the Russians might persuade the Court of Persia to allow them access to British India through Persia.  In this scenario, the best line of defence would be for the British to incite the southern tribes in Persia to rise up against the Qājārs.  However, their support could not be counted on if a trial of Prince Najaf were to go ahead. 

Portrait of Sir John MalcolmP616: Portrait of Sir John Malcolm, 1832 - BL Images Online

Despite Romer’s pleas to respect the pursuit of justice in order to preserve the rule of law, no trial ever went ahead.  Prince Najaf was held in comfort at the Company’s Fort at Thane before being sent to Bussorah [Basra] with his family, free to continue with his life.

Curstaidh Reid
Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/1266/50907 ‘Removal of Nujif Ali Khan (a Prince of Persia) to Bussorah, in preference to his being tried for murder of which he was accused – His pen[sion] of Rs 400 discontinued from 30th November the allowance of Rs 120 per mo[nth] to the Mother of […] Prince made payable at Bussorah’ 
John Perry, ‘ZAND DYNASTY’, Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016 

 

23 July 2020

The lesser-known early years of Sultan Qaboos

Fifty years ago today, on 23 July 1970, the late Sultan Qaboos overthrew his father, Sa’id bin Taimur, in a British-supported palace coup in the monsoon soaked southern province of Dhofar to become ruler of the Sultanate of Oman.  He was to go on to become the Middle East’s longest ruling monarch until his death in January 2020.

Qaboos’ role in facilitating dialogue such as that which led to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is now well known but perhaps lesser-known are the circumstances of his early years.  It is said that the first seven years are the formative years of a person’s life, thus the information on Qaboos gleaned from digitised India Office Records,  although sparse and seemingly incidental may be of quite some significance.

In October 1940 the British Political Agent, Muscat, recorded a conversation with Sultan Sa’id concerning succession in Muscat that should anything happen to him ‘at present he has no male heir and has no particular affection for any single member of his family’.  Further, he would prefer a British officer to fill the post of Regent rather than any other members of his family.

Qaboos was born a month later in November 1940 to Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur, Sultan of Muscat and Oman, and Mazoon Al-Mashani, ‘a Dhufari women of good family’.  Sultan Sa’id received the news from Dhofar in Muscat.

Letter from Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur to Political Agent  MuscatIOR/R/15/6/216, f 44 Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur to Political Agent, Muscat


As the child was legitimate congratulations were sent by the King of England and the Viceroy.

Text of telegram from Political Resident at Kuwait  to Secretary of State for India  LondonIOR/R/15/6/216, f 51, Political Resident at Kuwait, to Secretary of State for India, London

Sa’id bin Taimur treated Dhofar as his private estate avoiding ‘the tedium of Muscat weather and Muscat politics’.

British briefing note about Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur

IOR/L/PS/12/3720A, f 413 British briefing note on Sa’id bin Taimur  

Interestingly, Taimur bin Faisal, Qaboos’ grandfather, who had been allowed by the British to abdicate after many years of imploring British officials, kept his grandson in mind as he lived out his life in India and Japan under the name of Al Said, ending a telegram in 1943 with ‘MY BEST WISHES TO QABOOS’.

Telegram from Taimur bin FaisalIOR/R/15/6/217, f 21 Telegram from Taimur bin Faisal

In 1945 the Political Agent, Muscat informed Colonel Galloway, the Resident in Bushire, that he had inquired to Sultan Sa’id about the education of Qaboos.  It seemed Sa’id was considering an elementary education in Egypt from the age of eight and indeed had discussed this with King Farook.

Question of Qaboos's education in letter from Political Agent  Muscat  to the Political Resident in the Persian GulfIOR/R/15/6/216, f 190 Political Agent, Muscat, to the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf

The Annual Muscat Administration Report for 1950-51 notes the isolation of the Heir Apparent.  Qaboos, now aged ten, had still not started education in Egypt but was kept ‘strictly under constant supervision and guard’ rarely meeting anyone outside of the palace.

Note on Qaboos in Annual Muscat Administration Report  1950-51IOR/R/15/6/343, f 11 Annual Muscat Administration Report, 1950-51 

Qaboos’ education was eventually to take place in the UK in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.  From here he returned to Salalah where he was kept as a virtual prisoner by his father forbidden to meet anyone apart from the Sultan’s trusted advisors.  Sultan Sa’id’s ‘personal estate’ with its myriad petty restrictions had become intolerable for its inhabitants and in 1965 a rebellion had started.  It was in the Sultan’s palace, Salalah on 23 July 1970 at the height of the Dhofar War that with the help of his Sandhurst classmate, Tim Landon, that a British-supported coup took place, and Qaboos became the Sultan of Oman.

It was often noted by commentators that in contrast to other Gulf states, Qaboos was ‘alone on the throne’, ruling in isolation from other family members.  Perhaps these glimpses into his early years shed light on this behaviour in his later life.

Dr Francis Owtram
Gulf History Specialist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
The archival extracts in this article are from IOR/L/PS/12/3720A, IOR/R/15/6/216, IOR/R/15/6/217 and IOR/R/15/6/343 and are all available on the Qatar Digital Library.
A finding aid to the records of the Muscat Agency, IOR/R/15/6 has been written by Ula Zeir.
Francis Owtram, A Modern History of Oman: Formation of the State since 1920 (London: IB Tauris, 2004)
Abdel Razzaq Takriti, Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans and Empires in Oman, 1965–1976 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)
Marc Valeri, Oman: Politics and Society in the Qaboos State, (London: Hurst, 2017)

 

21 July 2020

This boy just tried to kill the Queen!

On the afternoon of Sunday 3 June 1842, 18-year-old John William Bean made an attempt on the life of Queen Victoria as she travelled from Buckingham Palace to the Chapel Royal at St James to attend divine service.

Queen Victoria in 1837 F60125-20Queen Victoria in 1837 from Illustrated London News Diamond Jubilee (special edition) 1897 BL- Images Online

Bean was initially charged with attempted regicide but this dropped shortly after his arrest and he was instead charged with the lesser crime of misdemeanour.  It was recorded that Bean was eligible for bail following the decision to charge him with the lesser crime, but that he had refused to produce individuals to provide sureties for him.  Even his father visiting him in prison could not get him to talk other than sending his mother his love.

The trial described how Bean had positioned himself on the Mall between Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace about fifteen minutes before the Queen was due to depart and that he had a pistol in his right hand.  As the Queen’s carriage came by, he moved to the front of the crowd, raised his gun and fired.  Fortunately it was a misfire.  A bystander, Charles Edward Dassett, took hold of him preventing him from firing the gun again, and led him to the police announcing to the crowd ‘This boy just tried to kill the Queen’.  The crowd however believed the event to be a hoax, and demanded Bean be given back his gun.  Dassett approached two separate policemen, neither of whom would take custody of Bean claiming there was not enough proof a crime had been committed.  Bean escaped but there were people in the crowd able to identify him.  Dassett took the gun to the police station at the Mall where he was initially accused of the crime, before having his statement taken as a witness.  John William Bean was arrested later that evening.

Reports into the crime noted that although outwardly John Bean appeared sullen and reserved, claiming to have made the attempt because he was ‘tired of life’, the investigators believed he was inwardly revelling in the attention his crime was receiving.  This it was claimed was part of the reason the charge was lessened and it was hoped that the newspapers paying him little attention would put paid to any hopes of notoriety he may have had from the public’s fascination with the crime of high treason.

John William Bean was found guilty of misdemeanour at the Old Bailey on 22 August 1842 and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison.

Prisoner ILNSketch of a prisoner in his cell from Illustrated London News 8 May 1888 British Newspaper Archive accessed via Findmypast

Bean was born in 1824 in Holborn, the son of John William, a jeweller, and his wife Sally Ann.  The family resided in Clerkenwell and the description given of John William junior in 1842 was of a young man who looked more like thirteen than eighteen, with a hunchback.

After he left prison, he found employment as a jeweller and news vendor.  He married twice, firstly to Esther Martin with whom he had one son Samuel born in 1849, and secondly to Catherine Watson.  Bean died in 1882 in Camberwell.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey - John William Bean, Royal Offences, 22 August 1842
An attempt on the life of the QueenThe Court Magazine and Monthly Critic, and Lady’s Magazine and Museum of the Belle Lettres … volume 21, 1842. BL General Reference Collection P.P.5141

 

18 July 2020

300th anniversary of Gilbert White

This is a guest post from Clodagh Murphy, written in 2019 while undertaking a placement with the British Library Modern Archives team as part of the KCL Early Modern English Literature MA: Text and Transmission. 

18 July 2020 marks the 300th birthday of Gilbert White (1720-1793), a parson and pioneering naturalist, whose work has been credited with establishing ecology and natural science as we know it today.

White was born at the Vicarage at Selborne, and in 1728 moved with his parents and siblings to The Wakes in Selborne. White enjoyed ‘a childhood immersed in the wisdom of hanger, beech, and stream’, and developed an interest in the natural world that he was to sustain all his life. The Wakes was to become the place where White would establish the ecological practices and methods that would eventually form his most revered work: The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne (1789). 

After graduating from Oxford in June 1743, White embarked on a series of curacies, travelling around the country until he turned his attention back to Selborne, after the death of his Grandmother in 1759 left The Wakes in his possession. White began to develop a ‘formal study of the garden’ at The Wakes, and started to log his observations in a journal titled the Garden Kalendar, which includes entries on such operations as the growth of melons and cucumbers. In 1767, White’s correspondent Daines Barrington devised a new notebook that he called the Naturalist’s Journal; a record-keeping design which appealed to White, who subsequently set aside his Garden Kalendar and begun this new journal. White’s Naturalist’s Journal was eventually published alongside his Natural History of Selbourne, and is held in the British Library.

Tabulated page from the Naturalist's JournalPage from the Naturalist's Journal, Add MS 31849

White’s interest in the natural world at Selborne continued to develop until ‘reaching maturity’ in Flora Selborniensis (1766). This volume, consisting of further recordings of the garden at Selborne, was published in 1911 under the title A Nature Calendar and ‘convincingly demonstrates one of White’s principal strengths as a naturalist—an openness to enquiry’.

This curiosity led to White’s ‘principal accomplishment’: The Natural History and Antiquities at Selbourne.

Title page of the Natural History of SelborneTitle page of the Natural History of Selborne

White’s Natural History was published by his brother, Benjamin, in 1789 and is comprised of a series of letters between White and two other naturalists: Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington. The Natural History was an immediate success and is considered one of the earliest contributions to natural science.

Gilbert White manuscripts at the Library

The original manuscript is kept at the Gilbert White museum in Selborne, but the Western Manuscripts collection at the British Library holds thirty letters from White to Pennant that contain the original form of most of the first part of White’s Natural History (Add MS 35139). The library also holds White’s Garden Kalendar (Add MS 35139), and a printed edition of Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad that given to White by Pope in 1743. The edition contains autograph inscriptions, such as “Given to me by Mr. Alexander Pope on my taking the Degree of B.A. June 30th 1743” and ‘the sole authentic likenesses’ of White in two sketches: one labelled ‘Portrait of G. W. penned by T. C.’ and another of White wearing an academic cap.

Clodagh Murphy,

Research Assistant at the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL), University College London

@clodaghmurph_y

@livesandletters 

 

Further reading

The Gilbert White & Oates Collections

KCL, Early Modern English Literature MA: Text and Transmission course details

Manuscript of Gilbert White's Garden Kalendar, Add MS 35139

 

16 July 2020

Researching Women in Science in the Modern Manuscript Collections Part 2: 1849-1950

The 19th century saw women in Britain campaigning for the right to the same access to education as men.  In 1849, Bedford College became the first higher education college for women and more colleges would be set up in its wake.  Women would soon study for degrees in the sciences.  Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake became some of the first women to qualify as doctors in the country.  An increase in formal education across scientific subjects meant an increase of women in the fields of chemistry, engineering and biology.  Among the correspondence within the Stopes Papers (Add MS 58447 – 37201) we find countless letters of professional women across many spheres in the early 20th century, including letters from surgeon Dr. Ethel Vaughan-Sawyer and engineer Hertha Ayrton.

Bedford College in York Place LondonThe second home of Bedford College in York Place, London - Illustrated London News 21 May 1949 British Newspaper Archive via Findmypast

Prospects for finding manuscripts relating to women working within the sciences improve as time goes on, but it is not a level playing field for all women.  Opportunities evidently improve for some women within the 20th century as more women gain qualifications, but there are very few collections relating to BAME women in science before the later 20th century.  On top of the combined pressures of both sexism and racism within society which denied the opportunities of many professional careers to BAME women, the scientific arena itself engaged in theories of racial superiority.  Just as opportunities were opening up for women in science, eugenic theories first postulated in the 19th century became mainstream. Physicians like Marie Stopes actively engaged in eugenic societies and with ideas of racial purity.

This systemic racism from both inside and outside of science meant opportunities to break through into professional scientific research were few and far between for many women of colour.  However, in the field of medicine, we can find some collections relating to BAME women.  Dr Rukhmabai travelled from India to gain a degree in medicine from the London School of Medicine for Women and went on to practise in India.  There is a file concerning her early life in the India Office Records (IOR/L/PJ/6/202, File 729) which concerns her seminal legal case contesting her arranged marriage.  The London School hosted many Indian students providing scholarships to exceptional students to train in London.

Newspaper article on the hostel for Indian medical students from Vote 16 July 1920
Newspaper article on the hostel for Indian medical students from Vote 16 July 1920. British Newspaper Archive

There are also papers within the Sylvia Pankhurst Papers (Add MS 88925) concerning the legacy of Princess Tsahai Haile Selassie who trained as nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Princess Tsahai in nursing uniform at Great Ormond Street with two other nursesPhotograph of Princess Tsahai in nursing uniform at Great Orm0nd Street Hospital - Illustrated London News 5 September 1936 British Newspaper Archive via Findmypast

The collections explored over these two blog posts demonstrate how factors of gender, wealth and race have affected how different women have been able to contribute to science in Britain up until 1950.  Despite the evident, and varied, obstacles women faced over the centuries – which have influenced the type of material we hold in our collections – there is still a lot to explore.  Buried within the archives, the collections relating to women in science contain many examples of ingenuity against the odds, many accounts of controversy, innovation and discovery, and many more stories yet to be told.

Jessica Gregory.
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts.

Further Reading:
Subhadra Das, Bricks and Mortals: A History of Eugenics Told Through Buildings
Voices of Science 

Women in Science: archives and manuscripts, 1600 - present

 

14 July 2020

Researching Women in Science in the Modern Manuscript Collections Part 1: 1601-1848

The British Library modern manuscript collections contain a substantial volume of papers that concern the history of science in Britain.  There is, however, a notable absence of women authors among these scientific manuscripts that date from the 17th to the 20th centuries.  Women had been excluded from formal scientific training until the birth of women’s colleges in the 19th century, but it is not the case that women did not make contributions to science before this.  Examining women’s contribution to science offers us an alternative history of science, one that encompasses more informal approaches, cross-disciplinary perspectives, and involves a concerted effort on behalf of women to carve out a space for themselves in an establishment that often suppressed or even appropriated their work.

Before the scientific revolution many women were practising medicine and herbalism in their homes and communities.  This tradition didn’t drop away immediately with the rise of modern medicine.  The Sloane manuscripts contain many medicinal recipes from the 17th and 18th centuries and many of these were authored by women.

Sloane MS 3849An example of a medicinal recipe in the Sloane Collection, 17th Century. Anonymous. Sloane MS 3849 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In aristocratic homes of the 17th and 18th centuries, women were more likely to be taught to read and write; their position in society meant that they could attain modern scientific publications and then engage in their own personal studies, translations and writings.  The British Library holds some manuscripts authored by the polymath, Margaret Cavendish.  Cavendish was tutored at home and pursued her own intellectual interests across subjects, writing a treatise on natural philosophy which was a field of early modern science.  Her achievements meant that she became the first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society in May 1667.

Engraving of Margaret Cavendish (née Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle upon TyneMargaret Cavendish (née Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne, by William Greatbach, published 1846 - NPG D5346 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Another aristocrat with a formidable legacy is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who educated herself through the household library.  Lady Montagu witnessed smallpox inoculation among groups of women during her travels in the Ottoman Empire.  Learning from these women, she brought the process to Britain, successfully inoculating her family and others.  She wrote in favour of inoculation in an article defending the process, and ultimately, the processes she learnt from women in Turkey and developed in Britain would be built upon by Edward Jenner in the development of the vaccine in 1796.  The British Library holds items of her prose and correspondence across collections, including in the Portland, Egerton and P.A. Taylor papers.

Add MS 61479
A poem manuscript by Lady Montagu addressing a woman advising her on retirement. Add MS 61479  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Several women working in science in the early 19th century similarly benefitted from educational opportunities available to them owing to their class and connections.  Mary Somerville was educated at home, had the benefit of access to books and a sympathetic uncle who worked with her to improve her studies.  Her formidable intellect meant she wrote and published on the subjects of maths, physics, and geology.  Somerville in turn tutored Ada Lovelace who worked with Charles Babbage on the first mechanical computer.  There are items of correspondence from both women in the Babbage Papers (Add MS 37182 - 37201).

Add MS 37192Letter from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage, 1843, Add MS 37192 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The next blog in this series will examine women in science after the birth of women’s colleges and related archives in the collections.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Devoney Looser, British Women Writers and the Writing of History, 1620-1829 (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000)

Women in Science: archives and manuscripts, 1600 - present

09 July 2020

The forgotten Prince of Burma

The roller coaster ride for royalty in 19th century Burma is well documented in British Library collections.  As well as printed biographies in the English and Burmese languages, the India Office Records contain a mass of correspondence, reports and private papers pertaining to British operations in Burma, particularly regarding the reign and dethronement of King Thibaw, Burma’s last King.

Some of these tumultuous tales are lesser known than others.  An album of photographic illustrations recounts a remarkable journey by a British expeditionary force through the recently annexed country.  Within this document is an intriguing tale of daring escapes, hidden identities, attempted revolution and a long forgotten prince.

King Thibaw ascended the Burmese throne in 1878 aged just 19.  The princes and princesses of Burma had been summoned to the palace in Mandalay to attend the death bed of his father King Mindon.  As each arrived, they were cruelly executed and buried in the palace grounds.  Over 70 family members and potential rivals were eradicated.  This massacre was most likely orchestrated by the Queen Mother and Thibaw’s wife and half sister, Suphayalat, to secure his place on the throne.

The photographic illustrations of the Mandalay & Upper Burma Expeditionary Force, taken and compiled by cavalry officer Robert Blackall Graham between 1886-7, told of two princes who survived the massacre.  Prince Moung Peng and his older brother, grandsons of King Mindon, were rescued by phongyis.

Portrait of Moung Peng seated in a royal carriagePortrait of Moung Peng, a grandson of King Mindon, here seen seated in a royal carriage.  At the time of the taking of this photograph he was aged thirteen. Photographer Robert Blackall Graham, 1887. Photo 996 (56)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Phongyis were Buddhist monks. They dressed in orange robes wrapped around the body, usually thrown over the left shoulder.  Their heads were shaven and always uncovered and they carried a palm leaf fan for protection from the sun.  A phongyi lived on charity, taught the young and lived a life of devotion, in order to be absorbed into the divine essence.

The princes were spirited away from danger and hidden in temples amongst the phongyis, disguised as priests for many years until the British suppression of Mandalay meant the immediate danger to their lives had subsided.  They resided in Ava for a while, but after mistreatment by his older brother, Moung Peng sought refuge with his former protectors in Mandalay.

An astrologer prophesised that Moung Peng would one day be returned to the Burmese throne.  In December 1886 the prophecy was used as justification to rebel against the invading British forces and Moung Peng became the focus of a botched coup.  A plot was arranged to set four fires in Mandalay and draw the British forces into a trap.  One of the fires was mistakenly lit before the arranged date, revealing the entire plan to the occupying armies.  The instigators of the plot, amongst them two senior Burmese monks and several priests, were transported for life to the penal settlement in the Andaman Islands.

Englishman's Overseas Mail 1 February 1887Article about Moung Peng in Englishman’s Overland Mail 1 February 1887 - British Newspaper Archive

Prince Moung Peng, aged just 13, was sent to Dr Marks’ school, a Christian mission in Rangoon. The British aimed to educate the prince in a secure environment and remove any threat he might pose to their control in Burma.  His eventual fate is unclear, but he never fulfilled the prophecy to become King of Burma.

Craig Campbell
Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records


Further Reading:
Photo 996 - Photographic illustrations, with descriptions of Mandalay & Upper Burmah Expeditionary Force, 1886-87. By a cavalry officer [Robert Blackall Graham].
Englishman’s Overland Mail 1 February 1887; pp 9-10 British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast.
India Office Records and Private Papers: Mss Eur F595/8/16 - Confidential India Office Note on the relations between the Government of India and Upper Burma during the present King's Reign [Thibaw Min, King of Burma 1878-1885].
Oriental Manuscripts: Or 14963 Scenes of British deposition of King Thibaw. 
India Office Records and Private Papers: Mss Eur E290 - Papers of Col Sir Edward Sladen, Madras Army 1849, British Burma Commission 1856-86.
V 16959; X.800/6024: W.S. Desai, Deposed King Thibaw of Burma, in India, 1885-1916 (Bombay, 1967). 
DRT ELD.DS.450930 - Sudha Shah, The king in exile : the fall of the royal family of Burma (New Delhi, 2012).
09059.aa.45; T 2865; X7/1536 : E.C.V. Foucar, They reigned in Mandalay (London, 1946).

 

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