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10 posts from December 2020

31 December 2020

New Year’s Gift

The New Year’s Gift we are offering you is not wrapped in paper and ribbon.  It is an East India Company ship which sailed from England in March 1613/14 for Surat and Bantam in company with the Hector, Hope and Solomon.  However the fleet was carrying many gifts chosen for rulers in Asia to encourage the granting of trading privileges.

n engraving by Renold Elstrack of the Emperor Jahangir, holding a hawk An engraving by Renold Elstrack of the Emperor Jahangir, holding a hawk c.1616-21. Image courtesy of the Royal Collections Trust 

The presents selected for the Mughal Emperor included a scarlet cloak embroidered with silver, a velvet-covered chest of bottles with ‘hot waters’ (spirits), and several pictures.  The paintings were of King James; his wife Queen Anne; Tamerlane; the Emperor himself; East India Company Governor Sir Thomas Smythe; and three English ladies.

The East India Company was worried about the effect the long voyage would have on the paintings.  Would the colours fade or other damage occur?  They provided detailed instructions for the preservation and repair of the artworks.  Painter-Stainer Edward Gall, trumpeter on New Year’s Gift, was entrusted with carrying out remedial work and directing the making of frames.

Extract from 1613 document giving instructions for remedial work on paintings aboard New Year's Gift Instructions for remedial work on paintings IOR/G/40/25  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The ships were also taking looking glasses to Asia.  The Company feared that these might decay and had sent Robert Young to be trained in foiling.  Young was to teach this skill to four or five of his fellow factors so that they could make repairs if he died.

Robert Young died in November 1614 in India.  Edward Gall also perished and his will leaving everything to his wife Eleanor was proved in the City of London.  The National Archives has a number of wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury for other men who died during the voyage.

Many who died in the New Year’s Gift bequeathed items they had acquired in Asia: ‘China girdles’, Chinese porcelain, silk textiles, spices – pepper, mace, nutmeg.  Quarter gunner William Crandall was bringing home 159 lb of pepper when he died.  Sailor Anthony Owen had a barrel contaning 100 lb of mace.

Personal belongings such as clothing and bedding were often left to named crew members.  Otherwise they were sold before the mast and the proceeds added to the estate.  Caulker Christopher Turpin left his tools to his mate Richard Dickson, together with a gown and a remnant of striped taffeta.  This cloth was perhaps left over from the suit of striped taffeta which Turpin left to Richard Brabson – sounds very natty!  Turpin also owned three dimity waistcoats and a laced suit.

Sometimes bequests were made to sailors as thanks for care during sickness.  Close friendships between shipmates are revealed, some pre-dating this voyage.  William Crandall asked his ‘good friend’ Captain Martin Pring to invest a sum of £20 to provide a nest egg for Crandall’s daughter Elizabeth when she came of age.  Master’s mate Lawrence Spooner asked for 30 pieces of satin to be sold and the proceeds invested for the benefit of Pring’s five children.  Spooner left Pring his sword, Euclid’s Elements, clothing and linen.  Pring’s wife Joan received porcelain and a waistcoat, and her mother 20 shillings for a ring.

Poignantly, Lawrence Spooner allocated money to restore the graves of his wife and daughter in Tamworth.  He wanted a likeness of his wife over her monument, with a bowl or spoon in her hand, and the Latin inscription ‘Quisquis eris qui transieris, perlege, plora’ – ‘Whoever you are who pass by, read, weep’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/G/40/25 East India Company instructions to the fleet from Thomas Elkington’s notebook.
Will of Edward Gall MS 9172/29 London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section.
The National Archives PROB 11 - wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

 

29 December 2020

Suffrage scrapbooks: forgotten histories of political activism

When you picture a scrapbook, you likely conjure up an image of a homemade album dedicated to the family or a hobby.  It’s less likely you’ll think of scrapbooks as records of political campaigns, such as women’s suffrage.  Yet here at the British Library, 37 bulging hardback scrapbooks tell us a personal history of suffrage activism through the eyes of Alice Maud Mary Arncliffe Sennett (1862-1936).

Women's Social and Political Union membership card from the scrapbook of Maud Arncliffe SennettWomen's Social and Political Union membership card from the opening volume of Sennett’s first scrapbook. , British Library C.121.g.1.


Actress turned businesswoman; Sennett was a dynamic, strident suffrage campaigner.  She served time in prison on Black Friday in 1910 and again in 1911 after smashing the Daily Mail’s office windows.  She also set up the Northern Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage.

Article 'Why I want the vote' published in The Vote 26 February 1910An article 'Why I want the vote' written by Maud Arncliffe Sennett in 1910 for The Vote, journal of the Women’s Freedom League.

Through all this campaigning, she scrapbooked prolifically.  She kept the key from her husband’s stay at Bloomsbury Street hotel before he picked her up from prison.  More conventionally, she carefully lifted articles from a plethora of publications, encircling them with annotations.

In one instance, next to an article on Herbert Asquith published in 1910, she criticised his ‘cruel looking mouth and sinister eyes’ and wrote how she would like to ‘shoot Asquith right at the place where his heart ought to be’.  Sennett’s scrapbook facilitated her critical engagement with press coverage on women’s rights.

Sennett also used her scrapbooks to record the support networks underpinning her activism.  One way she did this was through preserving congratulatory letters praising her public speaking.  In her first scrapbook, she included a letter from suffrage activist Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who described Sennett as the ‘one of the greatest platform successes she had ever known’.

Before this letter however, Sennett pasted in another one.  It was from her servant Bessie.  Working for her mistress since at least 1906, census records identify Bessie as Eliza Punchard, who lived with her husband and three sons in Beckenham.

After hearing Sennett’s speech, Bessie wrote, 'Do you know you made a simply splendid speech, I was so proud of you’.  She continued, writing how she would happily go to prison of her accord if it would help the cause; she would ‘make the sacrifice in my own right not to feel that you will be worrying over me if I should go’.

Lifting the cover of Sennett’s fourth scrapbook powerfully articulates Sennett’s appreciation of her servant’s support.  In a beautiful, flowing font, Sennett dedicates her scrapbook to Bessie, ‘the only one true and trusted friend I have found…the star to which I have hitched by wagon of loneliness’.  Bessie’s support meant a great deal to Sennett, so much so that she immortalised it in the front of her scrapbook.

Sennett’s scrapbooks offer an intensely personal history of the suffrage activism, blurring the lines between the personal and the political. She chronicles the exceptional and mundane, turning to an assortment of materials to offer her history of the suffrage campaign.

Over a century later we are given a tantalising glimpse into the material, emotional histories of suffrage activism, as well as forgotten women such as Bessie, who played a vital part in women’s political campaigning.


Cherish Watton
PhD student studying a history of scrapbooking in Britain from 1914-1980 at Churchill College, Cambridge.  She founded and runs the website Women’s Land Army 
@CherishWatton


Further Reading:
Read more about Arncliffe-Sennett’s scrapbooks.
Read more about suffrage scrapbooks in the American context in Ellen Gruber’s Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. Oxford University Press, 2012, chapter 5.

 

24 December 2020

A Christmas pantomime

Most Christmas pantomimes have been cancelled this year because of the pandemic.  However you don’t have to miss out completely.  On the British Library website there is a digital version of the script of Babes in the Wood first performed at Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 26 December 1897.  You can read through alone to amuse yourself, or share out parts amongst your loved ones.  There are roles to suit everyone – the Babes Reggie and Chrissie, Prince Paragon, Baron Banbury Cross, the Spirit of Indigestion, a Bucolic Chorus, giants, gnomes, and jockeys to name but a few!
 

Front cover of Babes in the Wood performed at Theatre Royal Drury Lane 1897-1898 showing Dan Leno as Reggie and Herbert Campbell as Chrissie.Front cover of Babes in the Wood performed at Theatre Royal Drury Lane 1897-1898 showing Dan Leno as Reggie and Herbert Campbell as Chrissie.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The leading roles were filled by performers well known to music hall and theatre audiences in the 1890s.  Reggie and Chrissie were played by Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell, and Ada Blanche appeared as Prince Paragon.

The pantomime was ‘written and invented’ by Arthur Sturgess and Arthur Collins, with music provided by James M. Glover.  Arthur Sturgess had been working as a stenographer in London when he sent James Glover a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan that he had written.  Sturgess was introduced by Glover to Sir Augustus Harris, the manager of Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and his career as a writer was launched.
 

Arthur Pelham Collins started work as a seedsman but joined the staff at Drury Lane at the age of eighteen as an apprentice to Henry Emden, the scenic artist.  Harris was impressed with Collins and made him stage manager.  Collins was associated with Drury Lane for over 40 years, becoming its successful managing director.

Sir Augustus Harris died in 1896 and Babes in the Wood was the first pantomime produced at Drury Lane by Collins.  It ran for 135 performances, ending in April 1898.  Sporting Life said the show was an ‘all-round triumph’.  Other reports were more critical.  Sussex Agricultural Express published a review describing Babes in the Wood as a hotch-potch music hall kind of pantomime, with the story subordinated to comic songs and ballets.  St James’s Gazette said that cuts were needed since the evening performance had run beyond midnight, and commented that it was more of a musical comedy than a pantomime, with some content going over the heads of children in the audience.
 

Advert for evening dresses for young ladies from H C Russell of London, with two girls showing off their fineryAdvert for evening dresses for young ladies from H. C. Russell of London  included in Babes in the Wood.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

So now it’s over to you to decide what you think of Babes in the Wood.  There is an added bonus in the form of many interesting advertisements appearing throughout the text.  You will be offered evening dresses for young ladies with ‘Slips and Knickers in Nun’s Veiling to Match’; self-adjusting trusses; artistic wigs; Albene for baking; whisky; a comic annual; jewellery; pianos; musical boxes; the celebrated C.B. Corsets; and Dr J. Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne for treating coughs, colds, asthma, bronchitis, diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera, and many other ailments.

Seasonal Greetings from Untold Lives!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Penny Illustrated Paper 25 December 1897; Sporting Life 28 December 1897; St James’s Gazette 28 December 1897; Sussex Agricultural Express 31 December 1897; The Stage 31 August and 7 September 1922; The Scotsman 15 January 1932.

 

22 December 2020

Soldier’s life saved by Princess Mary's Christmas gift

In February 1915 Private Michael Brabston of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards was fighting at Givenchy.  In his breast pocket was the metal cigarette box he had received from Princess Mary's Gift Fund at Christmas.  A German bullet was on target to hit Brabston’s heart but it struck the box and he survived.

Princess Mary's Christmas Gift Box 1914 now in Imperial War MuseumPrincess Mary's Gift Fund box containing a packet of tobacco and carton of cigarettes, 1914. Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum
© IWM EPH 9380 

A few days later, Brabston was wounded above his left eye and he was sent to Edenbridge Hospital in Kent for treatment.  The matron forwarded the box and the bullet to Princess Mary.  A reply was received from Windsor Castle that the Princess was delighted that one of her boxes had saved a soldier’s life.  The box had been shown to the King and Queen who hoped that Private Brabston would soon recover from his wounds.

Brabston was awarded the Military Medal for his service in France.  On 17 August 1916, he was discharged from the British Army  as being no longer physically fit for war service.  He received a pension of 24 shillings per week.

Returning to his home in Clonmel Ireland, Brabston worked as a labourer before enlisting in the Irish National Army on 26 June 1922.  In May 1923, the Army was rounding-up Irish nationalists.  Sergeant Brabston was with a party of soldiers outside a dance hall at Goatenbridge when a young man approached him, hands in his pockets and whistling.  The two men exchanged greetings.  When the young man casually walked back the way he had come, Brabston became suspicious and followed him.  The man suddenly whipped out a revolver, shot Brabston in the chest at short range, and escaped into the woods.  Brabston died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

Michael Brabston’s mother Mary was awarded a gratuity of £100, paid in 20 monthly instalments of £5.  In 1927 an application for further payment was made on her behalf.  She had relied on her son to help support the family as he used to give her all his British Army pension plus money from his wages.  The claim stated that Mary was getting old, her nerves had been shattered by the sudden death of her son, she lacked nourishing food, she suffered from rheumatism, and she was incapable of earning a living.  The authorities ruled that nothing more could be paid as she had not been totally dependent upon Michael.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Leicester Daily Post 28 June 1915; Dublin Evening Telegraph 8 & 9 May 1923
World War I medal card for Michael Brabston available from The National Archives UK
Documents relating to Michael Brabston’s service in the Irish Army are available from Defence Forces Ireland Military Archives 

 

17 December 2020

Her Majesty’s Steamer Berenice destroyed by fire

On 31 October 1866 Major Lewis Pelly, East India Company Resident in the Persian Gulf, was on the steamer Berenice, making its way south from Bushire [Bushehr] to Muscat, when the vessel was destroyed by a fire which started on board.

The ship’s company and passengers escaped in life boats.  Unable to make it to the mainland before nightfall, they stopped on the shore of Shaik Shaib Island [Sheikh Shoeyb or Lavan Island].  Having obtained some dates and water from a nearby hamlet, they bedded down for the night on the beach.

Over the next six days Pelly and the ship’s captain Lieutenant Edwin Dawes organised the rescue of 170 men, 5 women and 3 children.  The party made its way by ‘native craft’ to Nakhilu [Nokhaylo] on the mainland Persian coast opposite Shaik Shaab island, and from there to the British naval and coaling station at Bassidore [Basaidu] on the island of Qeshm.  Stopping at Khen [Kish Island], Charrack [Bandar-e-Charak] and Lingeh [Bandar-e-Lengeh], clothes, food, water and provisions were acquired along the way.

Map of Oman and the Persian Gulf 1871 by Reverend George Percy Badger

'A revised map of Omân and the Persian Gulf, in which an attempt has been made to give a correct transliteration of the Arabic names. By the Rev. George Percy Badger, F.R.G.S.’ 1871  IOR/X/3210, f 1

Unfortunately Pelly did not describe the distress and shock of the jettisoned crew and passengers, nor provide any account of the night spent on the beach.  He did, however, leave a fairly evocative account of the events of 31 October in a letter to Sir Henry Bartle Frere, then Governor of Bombay, written at Bassidore on 16 November 1866:
'I had just come on deck on the morning of the 31st Oct when the alarm was given.  The ship must have been on fire some time the smoke from the hatches was stifling immediately they were opened'.

When the crew had to resort to buckets to put out the fire, the case became hopeless.
'By nine the flames were coming up the hatches & to the awning ridges & through the scuttles.  We took to the boats & shortly afterwards she was in flames from the stem to the stern. The shell went off in about 40 minutes. We were able to take no provisions save a couple of bags of bread & about a pint of water per man... I thank God all hands are saved. But I am cleared out of all my clothes, linen, plate, crockery.'

Telegram from Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Pelly  Bassidore  to Sir Bartle Frere 9 November 1866Telegram from Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Pelly, Bassidore, to Sir Bartle Frere, 9 November 1866 - Mss Eur F126/43, f 53

So what caused Berenice to catch fire?  Built in Glasgow for the East India Company and launched in 1837, Berenice was a naval sloop, wood paddle-steamer, which could function under sail, steam or both.  It was the Company’s first steam warship.

Berenice standing out of Bombay Harbour 1837Painting of East India Company steamer Berenice standing out of  Bombay harbour, 1837 - Image courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich PAH8849

Low’s History of the Indian Navy, 1613-1863 records that the vessel saw service in numerous military conflicts, including the First Anglo-Burmese War, 1852-1853, Anglo-Persian War 1856-1857, and Second Opium War 1856-1860.  Countless troop transports, sea battles and substandard repairs must have taken their toll on her sea-worthiness.  However on 19 November Pelly wrote to Frere on the actual cause of the fire:
'...from some facts which came out in statements made by my own servants I infer that the burning of Berenice was attributable to the stewards using naked lights in the orlop deck, if not in the hold'.

One can only imagine how Pelly must have felt watching Berenice go up (and down) in flames.

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

 

15 December 2020

The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 4 Women’s Lives

When members of the black Nova Scotian community expressed interest in going to Sierra Leone, it was not just men that applied - applicants also included single women.  Unmarried women who applied for land in Sierra Leone were given ten acres of their own.  The following certificates were issued just before the journey to Sierra Leone and show the allocation of land given to women on receipt of their satisfactory character references.

Promise of land to Margaret Halstead

Promise of land to Grace Pool

Promise of land to Mary

Promise of land to Hannah TighePromises of land in Sierra Leone to single women including Grace Pool, Add MS 41262 A, f.47, f.48, f.53, f.58. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Freetown a high proportion of householders were women.  Their independent status was recognised to the point that they could vote for their local representatives.  They were also instrumental in establishing trades in the new settlement: three of the six first shops to open in Freetown were run by women.

The following manuscript shows the allocations of eggs to women on Christmas Day 1792. It gives us many of the names of the women within the settlement.

Allocations of eggs to women  25 December 1792Allocations of eggs to women, 25 December 1792, Add MS 41263, f.218. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Dinah Weeks, named on this list, is recorded as having being enslaved to a man called Robert Bruce in New York before the American Revolution.  He apparently granted her freedom and in 1783 she left New York for Nova Scotia on the ship L’Abondance.  On the same ship was Harry Washington, who had been one of George Washington’s slaves, but who had escaped to fight with the British.

The final name on this list is that of Elizabeth Black.  She was a mixed-race women who had been born in Madagascar and described as living in indentured servitude in America to a Mrs Courtland.  When she was finally released she travelled to Nova Scotia and came to live with the black community in Birchtown, before moving to Sierra Leone with many others.

The diary and notes of Dr Taylor offer more insights into some of the women who travelled to Freetown.  The Sierra Leone Company doctor kept notes on the patients he treated. These appear to run from shortly before departing to Sierra Leone in December 1791 and the early months of the settlement in the spring of 1792.

Entry for Sarah Wilkinson in Dr Taylor’s medical notesEntry for Sarah Wilkinson in Dr Taylor’s medical notes, Add MS 41264, f.37.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Listed in this manuscript volume is the case of Sarah Wilkinson, who is described as having a fever after catching a cold after suffering a miscarriage.  She received treatment from Taylor, but died shortly afterwards.  Dr Taylor notes that, by 11 April 1792, 41 women had died, mainly from fevers.  He also notes that fourteen babies had been born since embarking.

Entry for Mima Henry in Dr Taylor’s medical notes

Entry for Mima Henry in Dr Taylor’s medical notes, Add MS 41264, f.2. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mima Henry was also listed as having a fever.  We find that she lived in Birchtown, Nova Scotia before moving to Sierra Leone.  We know that Mima survived her fever because she is listed above in the allocations of eggs document that is dated later in 1792.

These documents may appear insignificant, but they give us the names, ages, backgrounds and land allocations of a number of black women who not only survived slavery, but strived to contribute to a free black society of their own, where they would play a foundational part in the beginnings of Freetown.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Clarkson Papers, Add MS 41262-41267. British Library.
Black Loyalist: Our Freedom, Our People: Documents
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)

 

10 December 2020

Gallant, Clean and Drunk: Charles Old of the Royal Artillery

Charles Old served with the British Army in India in the mid-19th century as a gunner with the Royal Artillery.  His military discharge documents give a fascinating glimpse into the career of an ordinary soldier.  Born in Falmouth, Cornwall in 1835, Charles Old spent his early years living in Allen’s Yard, a down at heel area (later populated by self-proclaimed prostitutes).  His father Richard was a labourer and sometime ostler, and Charles followed his brother Richard into the British Army.

'A hot night in the Batteries'. Soldiers loading and firing cannons  during the Crimean War'A hot night in the Batteries'. Soldiers loading and firing cannons, during the Crimean War by William Simpson Shelfmark: 1780.c.6  Images Online

Charles enlisted in the 11th Battalion Royal Artillery on 18 March 1854, age 19, having previously been an outdoor servant.  He was sent to the Crimea, where he served with 5th Company H Field Battery.  He was awarded the Crimea Medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastapol, as well as the Turkish Crimea Medal.  After the Crimean war he was sent to India.  On 14 March 1858 Charles was mentioned for gallant conduct in the field before Lucknow during the Indian Uprising or ‘Indian Mutiny’.  For his actions, he received the Indian Mutiny medal, with Lucknow clasp.  This was awarded to troops under the command of Sir Colin Campbell who took part in the operations which led to the eventual surrender of Lucknow and its environs.

On 1 May 1859, Charles was transferred to 14th Brigade Royal Artillery.  On 20 September 1865 he was re-engaged for another nine years at Poona [Pune].  A physical description of him survives – he had grey eyes, light brown hair, and a fresh complexion, and stood 5 feet 9 inches tall.  He was undoubtedly a courageous soldier, but unfortunately the record of Charles’s conduct in the Army leaves something to be desired.  He appeared fourteen times in the Regimental Defaulter’s Book.  Between 1859 and 1874, he was tried by Court Martial four times, leading to four periods of imprisonment of one to two months each time.  The Regimental Board stated 'his conduct has been indifferent [he] has been guilty of many acts of Drunkenness & absence but has proved himself a gallant and clean soldier'.   The Board was at pains to point out that Charles possessed neither school certificate nor any good conduct badges.  Charles was a career soldier – he served over 21 years with the Royal Artillery in total, including two years in the Crimea and twelve years in India.  His service record reflects his many minor and not so minor run-ins with authority during that time, often through drunkenness.  He was not discharged from the Army as a result of his courts martial, which don’t in fact seem to have been that rare an occurrence in the 19th century.

Discharge Documents for Charles Old, 1875, commenting on his character and conduct.WO 97/1822/107 Discharge Documents for Charles Old, 1875, commenting on his character and conduct. © Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives via Findmypast

By the time he left the British Army at Colchester on 9 November 1875, Charles was in the 25th Brigade Royal Artillery, regimental number 515.  He was intending to return to Truro, Cornwall, where his widowed mother Elizabeth, his brother Edward, and sister Elizabeth Marks were all living.  He moved quickly on his return home, marrying the twice-widowed Mary Jane Tuck at Tuckingmill on 13 November 1875.  He appears in the 1881 census working as a tin miner in Cambourne, and living with Mary Jane and his step-children.  Charles Old died at Truro Infirmary on 4 November 1882 of a ‘bronchial attack’, aged 47.  Perhaps those years of hard living in the Royal Artillery finally caught up with him.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
It can be difficult to pinpoint records relating to ancestors who served in India.  East India Company soldiers served in Presidency armies of Bengal, Bombay, and Madras.  The Indian Army was formed after the British Crown took over from the Company in 1858.  The India Office Records Military Department archive (IOR/L/MIL) holds recruitment registers, embarkation lists and muster rolls for European private soldiers and non-commissioned officers from 1753.  Documents for British officers of the East India Company armies include entry papers from 1775 and service records.

India Office Records also holds records of service for British Officers in the Indian Army, Royal Indian Navy and Indian Naval Volunteer Reserve.  Sequences are not complete, and often concern pay, leave etc.   There are few records relating to Asian personnel of the Indian Army up until 1947; these records are held in India.

Records for British Army units serving in India are found at the National Archives – this is where Charles Old’s discharge records are held.  After 1921, records are with the Ministry of Defence.

A J Farrington, Guide to the Records of the India Office Military Department (London: India Office Library & Records 1982)
Ian A Baxter, Baxter’s Guide: biographical sources in the India Office Records (London: FIBIS & British Library, 2004)
Peter Bailey, Researching ancestors in the East India Company armies (England: FIBIS, 2006)
Peter Bailey, Researching ancestors in the Indian army, 1858-1947 (England: FIBIS, 2014)
India Office Records family history web pages 
For details of prostitutes living in Allen’s Yard, Falmouth, see ‘Stand Up and (Don’t) Be Counted’ by Francis Ambler, from The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick-Maker: The story of Britain through its census, since 1801 by Roger Hutchinson (London: Little Brown, 2017)
Charles Old’s death notice can be found in The Cornishman 16 November 1882, British Newspaper Archive, also available via  Findmypast

 

08 December 2020

Mermanjan’s diary

After writing on this blog about Mermanjan, an Afghan noblewoman who had run away from Afghanistan to India in 1849, I studied her diary which was donated to the India Office Private Papers by my grandmother.

The diary is dated from 1868 to 1875, from the time when Mermanjan was in her mid-30s, married for five years to her second husband, an Irish doctor called Francis O’Kearney and living in Mahabaleshwar near Bombay.  Her first husband and great love of her life, Captain Thomas Maughan, had died suddenly seven years earlier.

Unfortunately Mermanjan didn’t write much about her inner thoughts or feelings in the diary, only writing short and factual entries about her daily life immersed in British colonial society.  Her diary entries revolved around her pets - dogs, cats, turkeys, fowls and chickens, plus their eggs and hatchlings; visits for tea from couples with European names (Captain and Mrs Boyd seem to be a favourite); walks down the hill; the weather; town gossip about births, marriages and deaths; social events such as croquet parties, shooting, trips to the theatre; complaints about her ‘bad’ butler or cook who ran away; and lists of expenses.  The diary also contains newspaper cuttings, excerpts from letters and essays, and pencil drawings.

There are some glimpses into the difficulties of her private life.  She mentions twice that her husband Frank was unkind to her when she was sick, not checking up on her all night to even offer her a cup of tea, and offering her some pills that made her very sick, saying he was ‘very unkind to me, never spoken one kind word to me’.

One pencil sketch shows the back of a woman in Victorian dress making tea, which might be a self-portrait from a mirror.

Sketch of woman making teaSketch of a woman making tea Mss Eur E304/4 (Copyright - heirs of Mermanjan O’Kearney)

Nearer the end of the diary she includes a sketch of a girl on a horse, which might be of herself when she ran away from Afghanistan to India to join her first husband. 

Sketch of a girl on a horseSketch of a girl on a horse Mss Eur E304/4 (Copyright - heirs of Mermanjan O’Kearney)

She also writes a word-for-word copy of the account of her late husband Thomas Maughan, telling how he met her in Afghanistan while serving under the flying column of Sir Walter Gilbert, maybe to reaffirm his version of the story.

Although the diary does not reveal great insights into her personal life, it reaffirms Mermanjan’s story of meeting her great love Thomas Maughan in 1849, and shows she was obviously not happy in her second marriage and distracted herself with various pets and social engagements in the present and happy memories from the past.  It is highly unusual to have written accounts from Muslim women from the time, especially in English, although admittedly she was fully integrated into British colonial life.  She is guarded about her innermost thoughts, but there are some glimpses into her difficulties behind the façade of social events.  Her diary and drawings probably provided temporary relief and a source of comfort for her in this unhappy and difficult period of her life.

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Mss Eur E304/4 Diary kept by Mermanjan, 1 Feb 1868 - 10 Jan 1875 

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