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9 posts from November 2020

30 November 2020

Celebrating St Andrew’s Day in the trenches

In December 1914 an Army chaplain serving in France wrote to a friend in Edinburgh who had sent him a haggis for St Andrew’s Day.

‘Will you please accept my best thanks for the excellent haggis you so kindly sent me?  It was duly cooked and enjoyed very much on the day of days.  We even had a taste of the “Auld Kirk” to wash it down, for by a stroke of luck I had ninety-six hours’ leave in the beginning of last week, and took back a flask in my pocket in anticipation.

Scotch whiskiesAdvertisement for Holroyd’s Scotch whiskies in Saul Smiff, A Modern Christmas Carol (London, 1898) BL flickr


You may be sure the Scotsmen hereabouts made the most of the day, and the fact that we are at present far from the sound of guns helped to make matters more lively in one sense if not in another.  I suppose we will be at it again very shortly, but I think we are ready.  My short holiday home gave me a curious sensation.  Folk in the old country seem in a blue funk over an expected invasion, and I believe that you folk in Edinburgh are making strenuous efforts to prevent this.  What beats me is – from whence do you expect the invasion to come?  If our friend the enemy cannot break through our thin line here, how is he to manage to get troops over the Channel?  As for Zeppelins, I have not seen one in my three months or more in this country, and I have been at the front all the time.   But at all events I think you may sleep soundly at night as I do when I know the “Hielanders” are in the trenches.’

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company records 

Further reading:
The Scotsman 8 December 1914 British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast

 

26 November 2020

George Poland & Son – furriers to the rich, friends to the poor

When furrier George Poland died at his home in Oxford Street, London, on 10 May 1860 at the age of 64, many local shops closed as a sign of respect.  Obituaries described him as a benevolent guardian to the poor, diligent, courteous and conscientious.

Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880
Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland was churchwarden for Marylebone at the time of his death.  He was first elected to serve on the St Marylebone Vestry in 1850.  He joked in 1852 that he had lived for 50 years in one house in Oxford Street, but was only two years old as a vestry man.

In September 1853 George Poland joined a committee appointed by the St Marylebone Board of Guardians to enquire into cholera and scarlet fever and the sanitary condition of the crowded and populous local districts.  Poland was also a director of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes which was incorporated by Royal Charter in April 1854.

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - list of directors

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - properties owned with rentsAdvert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 British Newspaper Archive

The aim of the Association was to acquire houses or ground in densely populated districts and provide clean and healthy dwellings for the poor by converting existing properties or building new ones.   Money was raised from shareholders and dividends paid.

By 1858 the Association owned a number of properties, many around Lisson Grove, a very poor area of Marylebone with appalling sanitary conditions.  Rents varied from 1s 3d to 5s 6d per week.  Some accommodation provided water and a sink in each room, whilst others had sculleries, dust shafts, and coppers and flat roofs for washing and drying clothes.  One of the properties acquired by the Association was Lisson Cottages.  The old houses were renovated in 1855 and let as apartments.  The Cottages are now listed artisans’ dwellings

Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes 3
Advert listing rooms to let from Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 16 October 1858 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland and his wife Jane (née Minton) had five sons, but two died as babies.  Charles became a quantity surveyor.  Edward worked as shopman and clerk to his father.  In 1847 Edward incurred debts for a diamond ring and the hire of horses and gigs.  He was admonished at the Insolvent Debtors’ Court for idleness, folly and vain extravagance.  Edward died in 1851 at the age of 27.

The eldest son George Arthur Poland, born in 1820, followed his father into the fur trade, apart from a brief period around 1850 when he worked as a straw hat maker.  He married Hetty Rosina Esquilant in 1842 and they had eleven children, two of whom died in infancy. By 1880, George Poland & Son were furriers to the Royal family.

George Arthur Poland also followed his father in his commitment to public duty.  He was a member of the St Marylebone Vestry for 23 years, serving as chairman and churchwarden.  He represented St Marylebone on the Metropolitan Board of Works and was involved in Liberal politics in the borough.  Poland was Master of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers in 1875.

Poland supported many local social improvement initiatives with both time and money.  When he died in 1883, his obituary in the Marylebone Mercury praised him as ‘an honest, warm-hearted, upright man; an excellent and willing worker; a friend to the poor. To know him was to love him; and the respect and esteem in which he was held by all classes are strong testimony to his excellence and worth’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Marylebone Mercury 10 July and 16 October 1858; 10 May 1879; 3 February 1883.
The Observer 12 January 1852; 14 May 1860
Records of Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes are held at Westminster City Archives ht
Anthony S. Wohl, The Eternal Slum: Housing and Social Policy in Victorian London (London, 1977)

 

24 November 2020

The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 3 Cato Perkins and Nathaniel Snowball

The previous blog post in this series explored the written legacy of Thomas Peters.  This post explores letters from two other figures who travelled to Sierra Leone in late 1791.  These letters are addressed to John Clarkson after he had returned to England in December 1792.

Cato Perkins

Letter to John Clarkson from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson  26 October 1793Letter to John Clarkson from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson, 26 October 1793, Add MS 41263, f.97  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Cato Perkins was born into slavery around 1739.  He was given the name Perkins after his enslaver, John Perkins of Charleston, South Carolina.  At the age of 39, he ran away from the plantation and joined the British forces at the Siege of Charleston.  In 1783, he left the USA on the ship Briton for Nova Scotia.  By 1792, he had joined others in the relocation to Sierra Leone where he became a vocal member of the settlers’ community.

In 1793 Perkins wrote that the management of the settlement was unacceptable.  Perkins was nominated to travel alongside Isaac Anderson to London to deliver a petition of grievances to the Sierra Leone Company and to ask that Clarkson be reinstalled as governor, but Clarkson had been dismissed from the Company.  Perkins stayed at 13 Finch Lane and from there would continue to lobby the Company.  He expresses his disappointment at not meeting Clarkson given how ‘all the people have been much put upon since you came away’.

The letter below introduces the petition and declares that the settlers ‘want nothing but what you promised us’.  Clarkson would reply that despite his insistence the Company meet with Perkins that they had refused to.  Perkins returned to Sierra Leone where he continued to protest against conditions in Freetown.

Letter from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to John Clarkson  30 October 1793A letter from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to John Clarkson, 30 October 1793, Add MS 41263, f.101 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Nathaniel Snowball
Nathaniel Snowball was 39 years old when he was evacuated from New York to Port Roseway, Nova Scotia.  He was a slave in Virginia before escaping to the British lines in the Revolutionary War.  His wife Violet, son Nathaniel and his 3-month-old daughter Mary, all travelled to Nova Scotia.  He travelled with his family to resettle in Sierra Leone.  There he became particularly dissatisfied with the lack of good farmland and the management by the Sierra Leone Company.  His objections eventually led him to lead a group of settlers out of Freetown into a new location at Pirate's Bay.  The letter below explains his intentions to take ‘departure as the Ezerlities did’ to escape the ‘boundage of this tyranious crew’.  He explains that he negotiated the new land from King Jimmy, a local tribal leader.

Letter to John Clarkson from Nathaniel Snowball describing his reasons for leading some settlers out of Freetown to a new settlement at Pirate’s Bay  24 May 1796A letter to John Clarkson from Nathaniel Snowball describing his reasons for leading some settlers out of Freetown to a new settlement at Pirate’s Bay, 24 May 1796. Add MS 41263, f.129  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Signatures of Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan  29 July 1796The signatures of Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan 29 July 1796, Add MS 41263, f.131.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Clarkson Papers contain many more letters from members of the Freetown settlement.  These were written by members of the community who enjoyed positions of importance, such as preachers and elected representatives.  Up to thirty people seem to have been responsible for authoring the surviving letters.  Among the authors are Boston King, Moses Murray, Isaac Anderson and James Liaster, but absent are the voices of the women of the settlement.  The next post in this series will explore what we know of the women who travelled to Sierra Leone in 1792.

Signatories of a letter to John Clarkson  all members of the Freetown settlement  including Luke Jordon  Moses Wilkinson (preacher)  American Tolbert  Rubin SimmonsSignatories of a letter to John Clarkson, all members of the Freetown settlement, including Luke Jordon, Moses Wilkinson (preacher), American Tolbert, Rubin Simmons and many more. Add MS 41263, f.115.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Jessica Gregory,
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

 

19 November 2020

Eliza Armstrong’s children

This is a further instalment in the story of Eliza Armstrong, the child bought for £5.

Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885 Image © The British Library Board British Newspaper Archive

Helena Goodwyn’s recent post told how the Salvation Army stepped in to help Eliza when she was in financial difficulties following the death of her husband. This post focuses on Eliza’s children.

Eliza Armstrong was married at the age of 21 to Henry George West on 24 October 1893 in Newcastle upon Tyne.  Henry was a widower aged 35 living in Jarrow and he was working as a plumber.  The couple’s first child Reginald Ladas West was born in 1894.  His unusual middle name may perhaps be explained by the fact that there was a racehorse called Ladas which was very successful in 1893-1894.

Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 from Illustrated London News 16 June 1894 Image © Illustrated London News Group British Newspaper Archive


Sadly Reginald died aged 3 of tubercular meningitis in June 1897.  Eliza and Henry had five other children: Alice Maud May, William Frederick, Sybil Primrose, Phyllis Irene, and Henry George (Harry). 

Eliza’s life took another sad turn in February 1906 when her husband died of heart disease aged just 42.  She took in lodgers to help ends meet and places were found in National Children’s Homes for the three middle children.  Sybil Primrose and Phyllis Irene (just Irene in some records) were sent 300 miles to Stokesmead at Alverstoke in Hampshire.  They are both there in the 1911 census, aged 10 and 8 respectively.  In 1914 the Hampshire Telegraph reported that Irene West from the children’s home had won a Band of Hope prize.

William Frederick was placed at Edgworth children’s home in Lancashire, a ‘farm colony’ where boys and girls were trained in practical skills.  Many were sent to Canada.  In March 1912 William sailed from Liverpool with 90 other boys in the Dominion to Halifax, Nova Scotia. William became a farm hand in Ontario.

Eliza gave birth to five more children between 1907 and 1915: Reginald West in May 1907 (no father is named on his birth certificate) and four with Samuel O’Donnell, a lead worker - Francis Maurice, Frederick, Minnie, and Norman.

In January 1915 William enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He arrived back in England with his army unit in August 1915 and went to fight in France in May 1916.  William was wounded in the right leg at Passchendaele on 31 October 1917.  He was sent back to Colchester for hospital treatment.

From August 1916 to his discharge in July 1919, William assigned 10 dollars of his pay to his mother.  He returned to Hebburn and married Eliza Carr in April 1919.  The couple moved to Canada and later to the USA.

Newspaper report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917Report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917 British Newspaper Archive

In February and March 1917, Harry West (12) and his brother Reginald (9) appeared at a juvenile court after stealing purses by pickpocketing.  They had run away from home, sleeping rough and eating in cocoa rooms.  Eliza had searched for them night and day.  She asked that her sons be taken away, although they had a good home, because she could do nothing with them.  As the boys had several previous convictions for petty theft, it was decided to send them to Wellesley Training Institution until they were sixteen.

Poor Eliza’s troubles did not end there.  Just weeks later, on 19 May 1917, Samuel O’Donnell died aged 49.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Jarrow Express 2 July 1897, 23 February 1906, & 30 March 1917; Shields Daily News 24 February & 27 March 1917; Hampshire Telegraph 17 April 1914
Stokesmead National Children’s Home 
Edgworth National Children’s Home 

Canadian immigration record for William Frederick West
Canadian Expeditionary Force papers for William Frederick West 

Previous blog posts -
Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong?
Eiiza Armstrong – still elusive!
Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle

 

17 November 2020

William Adams in Japan– a new digital resource

William Adams, 'the first Englishman in Japan', died on 16 May 1620 at Hirado.  Events planned in Japan and the UK to mark the 400th anniversary of his death have unfortunately had to be postponed because of the pandemic.  However the British Library has been able to contribute to the celebration of a remarkable life.  Letters written by Adams during his years in Japan are preserved in the East India Company archive, and we are delighted to announce that digital copies of these are now available to access freely in our Digitised Manuscripts resource.

Firando (Hirado) from the sea 1669 with a Dutch shipFirando (Hirado) viewed from the sea-  Arnoldus Montanus, Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

Adams joined a Dutch merchant fleet as chief pilot in 1598.  He arrived in Japan on board the Liefde in 1600 and built a new life for himself under the patronage of Tokugawa Ieyasu.  William Adams worked for both the Dutch and English East India Companies after they arrived in Japan in 1609 and 1613 respectively.

Firando (Hirado) Castle 1669The castle at Firando (Hirado)  - Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

The earliest letter written by William Adams in the English East India Company records is dated 23 October 1611 in Hirado.  He had heard that there were Englishmen at Bantam (Banten) in Java and so the letter is addressed to unknown friends and countrymen.  Adams gave an account of his life, explaining how he came to be in Japan, what had happened to him since his arrival, his relationship with Tokugawa Ieyasu and the honours he had received.  He had been refused permission to leave Japan and asked for word to be sent to his family that he was still alive.  Adams gave information about trading contacts with the Dutch.

This letter was received in Bantam by East India Company merchant Augustine Spalding.  He sent a reply via the Dutch, together with a bible and three other books.

On 12 January 1613 Adams answered.  He had received a letter from Thomas Smythe, Governor of the East India Company, promising that a ship would be sent to Japan to establish a factory (trading post).  Adams passed on to Spalding valuable commercial intelligence and advice about the best way of establishing trade with Japan.

Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613IOR/E/3/1 ff. 157-58  Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Adams wrote from Hirado on 1 December 1613 to the East India Company in London, announcing the arrival of John Saris in their ship Clove.  He detailed Saris’s reception at court and described how Saris was unhappy when he was not permitted by Japanese custom to hand a letter from King James directly to the emperor but only via his secretary.  Saris asked Adams if he would serve the English East India Company and, after considerable negotiation, a salary of £100 per annum was agreed.

On the same day, Adams wrote to Thomas Best at Bantam updating him with the latest news.  He said that he had intended to go home in the Clove but changed his mind because of discourtesies shown to him by Saris.

Other letters are addressed to English merchants in Japan and to the East India Company in London, with news of people, trade, and Japanese politics.  The final one in the archive was sent in November 1617 from Adams at Sakai to Company merchant Richard Wickham at Hirado.  400 years after his death, the voice of William Adams can still be heard through his written legacy.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator. East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/1 ff 116-29 William Adams at Hirado to his ‘unknown friends and countrymen’ at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 157-58 William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 203-04 Contract between William Adams and the East India Company, Hirado
IOR/E/3/1 ff 209-11 William Adams at Hirado to the East India Company in London
IOR/E/3/1 ff 212-13 William Adams at Hirado to Thomas Best at Bantam
IOR/E/3/2 f 43 William Adams at Hirado to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/3 f 78 William Adams at Shizuoka to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/4 f 143-44 William Adams at Hirado to Sir Thomas Smythe in London
IOR/E/3/5 f 189 William Adams at Sakai to Richard Wickham at Hirado

Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1613-1623 (London: British Library, 1991)

William Adams - from Gillingham to Japan

 

12 November 2020

Stand and deliver! Cross-dressing highwaywomen in broadside ballads

You’ve heard of highwaymen, but what about highwaywomen?  Female highway robbers definitely existed in the 17th and 18th centuries.  They worked alone, as part of a gang, or with husbands.  They appear in the records of county session court trials and in other sources like the Newgate Calendar.  They were notorious for cross-dressing.

Highwaywomen also appear in broadside ballads, a major part of popular news culture at that time.  Printed cheaply on a single sheet, they focussed on sensational tales of murder, doomed lovers, cheating husbands, wonders, famous military victories, highwaymen and, occasionally, highwaywomen.  The so-called unladylike behaviour and cross-dressing of highwaywomen caused quite the scandal.  Most of the time, the ballads are written from the perspective of the highwaywoman on the scaffold, about to confess and be hanged.

Ballad entitled A True Relation of One Susan Higges with illustrations of her robbing whilst dressed as a man, and being hanged.A True Relation of One Susan Higges, dwelling in Risborrow a Towne in Buckinghamshire and How She Lived 20. Yeeres, by Robbing on the High-Wayes. London, c.1640. British Library, C.20.f.7.(424-425), EBBA 30289  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In A True Relation of One Susan Higges and The Sorrowfull Complaint of Susan Higges (two ballads about the same person printed in 1640), Susan Higges commits highway robbery for twenty years while dressed as a man, before being caught and executed.  Her shocking exploits are described as acts of gallantry and female boldness:
    'In mens attire I oft have rode,
    upon a Gelding stout,
    and done great robberies valiantly,
   the countries round about'.

Retribution comes when she robs a woman who recognises her.  Higges stabs the other woman who, as she dies, spits three drops of blood at Higges’s face, which cannot be washed off.  Higges is caught and executed, but not before warning the readers: 'Be warned by this story, you ruffling roysters all: the higher that you climbe in sinne, the greater is your fall'.

Ballad entitled The Sorrowfull Complaint of Susan HiggesThe Sorrowfull Complaint of Susan Higges. London, c.1640. Pepys Library, EBBA 20002.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Highwaywomen rarely got away with it, as it were.  In another pair of ballads, The Female Frollick and The Female Highway Hector (1690), the female highway robber is raped by a highwayman: 'with her he did what he pleased', and this is presented as her comeuppance for committing robbery and, especially, cross-dressing.

Ballad entitled The Female Highway Hector  with illustrations of her dressed as a woman and as a man holding the reins of a horse.The Female Highway Hector: or, An Account of a Woman, Who Was Lately Arraign’d For Robbing on the Highway in Man’s Apparel. [London?], c.1690. National Library of Scotland, Crawford Collection, EBBA 33924.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There is an 18th-century ballad about a woman avenging herself on highwaymen, rather than committing robbery herself.  The Cook-Maid’s Garland was popular; it was printed at least five times in the 1760s and 1770s.   It tells of a 'handsome brisk cook-maid' at a Reigate inn.  Five naked gentleman arrive, having been robbed by highwaymen en route.  The cook-maid offers to take these highwaymen on for £100.  One man agrees, promising to marry her if she succeeds.  She dresses up as the devil on horseback, covering herself with soot and attaching the antlers of a stag to her head.  She terrorises the highwaymen and captures them.

Ballad entitled The Cook-Maid’s Garland  with an illustration of her dressed as the devil on horsebackThe Cook-Maid’s Garland: or, The Out-of-the-way Devil [London?, c.1775], British Library C.20.f.9(772-773), EBBA 31494  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Precious few highwaywomen cried 'stand and deliver!', both in real life and in broadside ballads.  They were outnumbered by highwaymen.  They also don’t get away with it for very long.  Did these women cross-dress as a disguise or were they making a bolder statement about their gender?  We will never know but this glimpse into their lives is intriguing indeed.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

10 November 2020

A fatal pub brawl and its consequences

The saying goes that fate can turn on a sixpence, but for my great-great-grandfather John Barlow (1843-1884) it turned on a pint.  On 29 December 1884, John was having a drink after work in the Farmer’s Arms, New Ferry, when he accidentally picked up the wrong pint of beer and drank from it.  The pint’s owner, John Whitehouse, alias Mantle, objected and an argument quickly escalated into a fight. 

Two men fighting in a pub watched by other customers- Illustrated Police News 17 April 1869Two men fighting in a pub - Illustrated Police News 17 April 1869 British Newspaper Archive

Unfortunately, John sustained fatal injuries and died next morning in the Borough Hospital, Birkenhead.

Report of the fatal pub brawl at New Ferry - Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885Report of the fatal pub brawl at New Ferry - Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885 British Newspaper Archive

John’s death was obviously catastrophic for the family.  His wife Elizabeth was left widowed with three children – George Robert (16), John Robert (13), and Mary Jane (10).  Her parents Robert and Mary Gore lived in the same street and were a source of support, but her father died in 1887.  In the same year Elizabeth married a shoemaker called William Tasker.  In family legend, Tasker was a villain whose behaviour towards his step-children caused the boys to leave home.  But is there any evidence to support this?

In June 1886, George Robert Barlow joined the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, but that was before his mother’s remarriage.  By 1894 he was in Kirkee, Poona, where he married a nurse Rhoda Mary Moss.  By 1901, he was in Liverpool and described himself as a retired soldier.  He died in 1905, leaving his wife and one surviving son.

My great-grandfather John Robert Barlow (1871-1959) certainly left home to join the Merchant Navy, though the exact date is unclear.  Merchant Navy records are not centralised and it is difficult to track down individuals if you don’t know the name of the ship.  He is certainly absent from the 1891 and 1901 censuses; unlike ships in British ports, ships at sea were not enumerated.  Various documents describe him as a ‘trimmer’ (stoker), and later a marine fireman, so he clearly worked in the engine room of steam ships.  His death certificate describes him as a retired boatswain.  He married in Kirkdale in 1905 when he was 33, his bride Emma Gibbons was 18.

In 1889 Elizabeth and William Tasker had a son together named William George; in 1891, they were staying in a common lodging house in Birkenhead.  By 1901 they were lodging in Ormskirk, Lancashire.  In 1911, Elizabeth and William George were living with her daughter Mary Jane Kirkby in Rock Ferry, and Elizabeth is described as a widow.

And what of William Tasker?  The son of Daniel Tasker, shoemaker of Hoole, Chester, and his wife Mary, he was baptised in Chester in 1842.  His year of birth fluctuates in the records; on his marriage certificate in 1887, Tasker describes himself as 37 rather than 44.  Lying about your age is one thing, but did great-great-grandma Elizabeth really marry a wrong un’?  Possibly.  There is a William Tasker, shoemaker of Hoole, Chester, who appears in the Calendar of Prisoners Sent for Trial in both 1870 and 1871.  He was found guilty of riot in August 1870 after attacking Hoole Police Station, and sentenced to 14 days' hard labour at Chester Castle.  He was then found guilty of larceny in September 1871, having stolen ‘a coat, a pair of trowsers and a medal…’ from his father, and was sentenced to 12 months' hard labour.  Included are details of Tasker’s record of previous convictions for drunkenness, ‘breaches of Militia discipline’, assaulting police, and in May 1868 he served 14 days for stealing a duck.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
British Newspaper Archive (can also be accessed through Findmypast) includes reports of John Barlow’s death, for example Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885 & 29 January 1885; Cheshire Observer 3 January 1885; Chester Courant 7 January 1885; Morning Post 2 January 1885.
British India Office Marriages via Findmypast (Bengal, Madras and Bombay: Registrar Marriages ‎ (1891-1895) IOR/N/11/8 f.677, no.3)

 

05 November 2020

Making gunpowder after the English method

A letter dated 2 February 1725 from the East India Company directors in London to their Council in Bengal contained sections on the manufacture and use of gunpowder.  The Company was concerned about the quality of saltpetre being sent from Bengal and sent instructions on how to improve it.  They were also keen to stop gunpowder being wasted.

Saltpetre was a key ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder.  The Company directors complained that the quality of saltpetre arriving in England had been declining for some years.  Very little had been bought at the London sale in March 1724, so they had decided to analyse samples from the 600 bags of saltpetre which had arrived from Bengal on the Lethieullier, Bridgewater, and Sarum.  The man who refracted the saltpetre reported that, although it looked white and good, there was a quantity of salt left in it.  The directors concluded that the Bengal Council must have employed unskilled people to refine the saltpetre, or their workers hadn’t been careful to separate the salt which was essential if good gunpowder was to be made.

Directions for refining saltpetre ‘Directions for Refining Saltpetre after the English manner, in order to make Gunpowder’ IOR E/3/102 f.240v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

They sent ‘Directions for Refining Saltpetre after the English manner, in order to make Gunpowder’ based on advice from experts.  The workers in Bengal were to use these in a trial on a small amount of saltpetre to see how they got on.
• Dissolve the saltpetre in fresh boiling water.
• As the scum rises, take it off and put it to one side.
• When no more scum rises, draw off the liquor into vessels and let it settle.  The remaining filth or earth which makes the petre look so dirty will sink.
• When the liquor is perfectly clear, draw it off and boil with a gentle fire until a thin film can be seen on the surface.
• Pour into large shallow coolers, no more than eight inches deep.  The saltpetre will shoot into crystals.
• Decant any surplus liquor.  Either start again with fresh saltpetre added to it or boil it down by itself for a second shooting.

 

View of a Fort St George Madras from the sea, with a church to the left, hill peaks behind and ships in the foreground, including one firing guns.View of Fort St George, Madras, 1782, with a ship firing guns © The Trustees of the British Museum


The letter also reported complaints from the owners of East India ships about the great expense of gunpowder lavished on salutes.  The directors ruled:
• No more than nine guns were to be fired when Company ships arrived at a port in India and had a fort to salute.  The forts were to return salutes with only that number.
• Nine guns when captains first came onshore from Europe or were leaving for Europe. Just seven guns for saluting captains at any other time.
• No more than five guns to answer country ships (except foreigners).
• No more than nine guns when the Governor, members of Council, or other Company personnel came on board or left the ship.
• Be as frugal as possible when using gunpowder at festivals, funerals and other occasions.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/102 ff.231-240 Letter from East India Company directors in London to Bengal, 2 February 1725

East India Company saltpetre warehouses at Ratcliff