Untold lives blog

7 posts from September 2021

23 September 2021

Landscape in law

Archives on the environment appear in unexpected places.

Under the Permanent Settlement of 1792, India’s British rulers fixed the taxes which land-holders in certain regions paid on their land.  But land itself was not permanent.  Across the Sub-continent, rivers and their tributaries were constantly changing the landscape.   They flooded, dried up, and changed course.  They submerged some areas and exposed others; they created bogs, swamps and marshes which were neither land nor water.  Little wonder that colonial officials, intent on extracting revenue from the land, described India’s rivers variously as ‘mischievous’, ‘unruly’ or ‘evil’.

If a change in the river created more land on your land, should you pay more tax?  This was the question facing the Maharajah Jagadindra Nath Roy Bahadoor in 1892, after the great Brahmaputra had changed course and new land had emerged on his estates in Bengal.  No, said the Maharajah: the land, although under water before, had always been there.  Yes, said the government: new land above water was just that - new.

The Maharajah took the government to court.  By 1902 the case had escalated through the High Court of Bengal to the final court of appeal, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.  Archives about the case survive in the records of the Legal Adviser to the India Office, who acted for the Secretary of State for India.  The Committee found in the government’s favour: you can read the judgment here.

On points of law, the case attracted a certain interest; it is summarised in Indian Appeals.  But what draws the attention now are the maps prepared for the earlier hearings.  Twenty maps show the disputed land at different times in the 19th century.  Some are prepared from old survey maps; others are composites, telling the story on a single sheet like this example below.  It shows the river’s course in 1892 [A] superimposed on its course as measured out in 1852 [B].  The new land is marked out in yellow, with patches of jungle and sand drawn in.

Map of Mouza Garamara, 1895. Map of Mouza Garamara, 1895. Map no 18 in IOR/L/L/8/78 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Bengal the Maharajah had also called witnesses, and their recollections fill out the scene.  'The lands were washed away by the river in eight or nine years.  The river remained current on the spots for a year or two, then receded towards the north.'  ' have seen jute, aus [rice], paddy and mustard being grown upon the land.'

We are currently cataloguing the Legal Adviser’s records and have found other lawsuits arising from changes in river courses.  This is a map from an Appeal of 1928 (for parties and judgment see here).

Comparative Map of Kalaran Chandipur, 1919Comparative Map of Kalaran Chandipur, 1919. Map no 5 in IOR/L/L 26G (210) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These maps and testimonies must have given a diverting glimpse of the natural world to the Privy Councillors while they sat in their Council chamber at no 9 Downing Street.  Today, the documents catch the eye again, especially for anyone interested in the historical river-scape of the Bengal delta.

Antonia Moon
Lead Curator, India Office Records


Further reading
IOR/L/L/8/78; IOR/L/L (Box 26G (210))
For the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and related British Library holdings, see here
Sunil Amrith, Unruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, Coasts and Seas Have Shaped Asia’s History (London: Penguin Books, 2018)
Rohan D'Souza, “Mischievous Rivers and Evil Shoals: the English East India Company and the Colonial Resource Regime”, in The East India Company and the natural world ed. by Vinita Damodaran, Anna Winterbottom and Alan Lester (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
The Law Reports. Indian Appeals: being cases in the Privy Council on appeal from the East Indies. Reported by W. Macpherson, vol. 30 (London: Council of Law Reporting, 1903)

 

21 September 2021

Indian soldiers protest about the loss of extra pay

In December 1841 Indian private soldiers of the Madras Army stationed at Asirgarh and Secunderabad refused to receive their monthly pay.  The sepoys were protesting at the removal of their allowance, or batta, which had been paid to troops stationed at a distance from their home Presidency to cover extra expenditure.  They claimed that the amount of pay without batta was insufficient to maintain their families.

European officers and Indian officers and NCOs tried in vain to persuade the men to accept their pay without batta.  They warned that refusal would be regarded as mutiny.  At Secunderabad nearly 300 privates of the 32nd Regiment of Native Infantry persisted with their protest but obeyed when told to ground their arms.  They were then taken prisoner by a party of Europeans.  A similar situation developed with the 48th Regiment of Native Infantry.

Military General Orders  Choltry Plain  27 January 1842Military General Orders ,Choltry Plain, 27 January 1842 - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84995 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The most prominent men in the protest were selected for trial by Court Martial.  Good conduct pay was forfeited by those who had taken part but an amnesty was granted to the main body of offenders.  However native officers and NCOs were punished for having failed in their duty, either through ‘ignorance of any plan of insubordination so settled and matured’, or from having allowed it to proceed because they also stood to lose out from the removal of batta.  There were demotions and blocks on future promotions.

Military General Orders Fort St George 12 April 1842Military Department General Orders by Governor in Council, Fort St George, 12 April 1842 - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84997 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

General James Stuart Fraser, the Resident in Hyderabad, was sympathetic to the soldiers’ complaint and promised to recommend an enquiry into what they alleged about the cost of living.  Fraser collected data which he hoped would enable the government to judge whether the soldiers were justified in protesting.  Was pay without batta sufficient to maintain them and their families?

An estimate of monthly expenses was drawn up for food and clothing for three categories of Indian soldiers at Secunderabad living with a wife and two children: a ’Man of the Talinga or Malabar Caste’; a ‘Musselman’; and a ‘Native of Bengal’.  Costs were given for rice; inferior grain; meat; ‘dholl’; salt; lamp oil; ghee; firewood; betel nut and tobacco; ‘masalah’; vegetables; ‘goodaccoo’; cholum flour; and clothing.

Living expenses for different categories of Indian soldiers at SecunderabadAn estimate of monthly expenses for food and clothing for Indian soldiers at Secunderabad  - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84995 p.430 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Other East India Company officials also recorded sympathy for the Indian soldiers.  John Bird of the Council of Fort St George expressed his regret that it had been found impracticable to issue pardons to the offenders, instead dismissing all the prisoners of the 4th Regiment.  He would have preferred the adoption of Fraser’s recommendation to transfer the men to other regiments. Bird also thought the treatment of the officers was too harsh and that innocent men would be punished.

Sir James Law Lushington, Chairman of the Court of Directors in London, also believed the punishments to be misguided.  The Court wrote to Madras in August 1842 stating that the directors would approve if men of previous good character could safely be shown leniency.

Lord Elphinstone, Governor of Madras, wrote of the bond of union between the sepoys and the European officers being cast aside in recent years.  At the same time as batta was being taken away from native troops at stations where it had long been in place, it was given to European officers based away from their home Presidency.  Elphinstone said the chasm between the officers and the native soldiers had widened.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Papers relating to the batta protests and the cost of living for native soldiers - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84995-84998, IOR/F/4/1973/86723.
Hastings Fraser, Memoir and Correspondence of General James Stuart Fraser of the Madras Army (London, 1885)

16 September 2021

Breakfast in British India

In 1810 Captain Thomas Williamson, a retired Bengal Army officer, published The East India Vade-Mecum; or complete guide to gentlemen intended for the civil, military or, naval service of the East India Company.  It is a fascinating book to dip into and this caught my eye:
’A breakfast in India bears a strong resemblance to the same meal in Scotland, with the exception of whiskey; the introduction of which, (if to be had,) or of any other spirits would be considered both nauseous and vulgar’.

After this surprising revelation about Scottish breakfasts, Williamson moves on to detail the bill of fare.  Breakfast for Europeans in Williamson’s India was generally a substantial meal: tea, coffee, toast, bread, butter, eggs, rice, salt-fish, kitcheree (kedgeree), sweetmeats, orange marmalade, and honey.  Sometimes, following hunting and shooting expeditions, cold meat and accompaniments were served.

Breakfast In India - A young married couple (an East India Company civil servant and his wife) breakfasting on fried fish, rice and Sylhet oranges, with servants in attendance..'The Breakfast' from William Tayler, Sketches illustrating the manner and customs of the Indians and the Anglo-Indians (London, 1842) British Library shelfmark X42 Images Online

European gentlemen rose at daybreak and, before breakfast, either went on parade or to their ‘field diversions’, or rode on horses or elephants, enjoying the cool morning air.  Williamson recommended wearing the clothes worn on the previous evening for exercise and then changing into a clean suit on return, sitting down to breakfast in comfort.

Williamson cautioned against eating eggs at breakfast, believing that they aggravated bilious conditions.  Eggs were ‘innocent’ in the climate of England for people with a robust constitution, but in Asia, ‘where relaxation weakens the powers of digestion, they are a pernicious article of diet’.  He also believed that salt-fish should be banned from the breakfast table, as eating it caused ’thirst, heat, and uneasiness’.

Newspaper announcement of a public breakfast, Calcutta 1785Calcutta Gazette 3 February 1785 British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast

In the late 18th century it had been customary for the Governor General and members of Council to have weekly public breakfasts: ‘persons of all characters mixed promiscuously, and good and bad were to be seen around the same tea-pot’.  The breakfast was considered as ‘merely the preface to a levee’.  When Lord Cornwallis arrived, these public breakfasts were replaced by open levees.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Thomas Williamson, The East India Vade-Mecum; or complete guide to gentlemen intended for the civil, military or, naval service of the East India Company (London, 1810) 
Owain Edwards,’ Captain Thomas Williamson of India’, Modern Asian Studies Vol. 14, No. 4 (1980), pp. 673-682

 

In the mid-19th century, there was a selection of marmalades available in India. As well as orange marmalade, there was mango, citron, lemon, and ginger.

Marmalade types from Bombay Gazette 1863Bombay Gazette 3 February 1863 British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast

What would Paddington Bear think of that?

Paddington – The Story of a Bear


Paddington Bear - advert for exhibition at British Library


14 September 2021

Memorabilia of Captain James Cecil Thornton

One of the most pleasing aspects of private paper collections is the small items of ephemera they often contain.  One example of this in the India Office Private Papers is a folder of memorabilia of Captain James Cecil Thornton (1888-1932), Royal Field Artillery, and Supply and Transport Corps, India and Mesopotamia.

Examples of memorabilia belonging to Captain James Cecil Thornton - tickets from Makinah Gymkhana Club and Baghdad Officers' ClubExamples of memorabilia belonging to Captain James Cecil Thornton - British Library Mss Eur D791 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The India Office Records also holds his Indian Army service file which gives some information on Captain Thornton.  Born in London on 22 August 1888, his nationality is listed as Scottish.  His father was George Thornton, residing in Eltham, Kent.  James Thornton joined the Royal Field Artillery in 1912 as a Second Lieutenant.  He clearly excelled in the role as he rose to be appointed a Captain in 1916.  In June 1917 he travelled to India, and in April 1918 was attached to the Supply & Transport Corps in Mesopotamia.  In January 1919, Thornton married Muriel Augusta Florence Hardwick, and they had a daughter, Rosemary Muriel Augusta, born at St George’s Ditchling, East Sussex on 2 November 1919.  The service record also notes Thornton’s language skills.  In February 1918, he passed the examination taken in Baghdad in colloquial Arabic.  He also had conversational Urdu and good colloquial French.

Front page of Indian Army Army service record for James Cecil Thornton Indian Army Army service record for James Cecil Thornton - British Library IOR/L/MIL/14/30321 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The folder of memorabilia shows the social life of an army officer.  It contains books of tickets for various clubs: Baghdad Officers’ Club, Makinah Gymkhana Club, and the Busreh Club.  There is also a programme of sports held by the 4th Brigade of the R.F.A. on 30 September 1917, and a programme for the R.F.A. Brigade Horse Show on 16 February 1918 at Samarrah.

Programme of sports held by the 4th Brigade of the R.F.A. on 30 September 1917Programme of sports held by the 4th Brigade of the R.F.A. on 30 September 1917 - British Library Mss Eur D791 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The folder also gives a glimpse into the tasks he performed as part of his duties.  There are two permits ‘to send goods up country’, dated Baghdad 26 October 1917.  The goods listed on the permits were a packet of Baghdad-made clothing articles, a bag of indigo, and 1 bale containing 61 packets of silk and other Baghdad-made articles.  There is also a statement showing the average rates paid for various articles including rice, wheat, barley, ghee, dates, millet, maize, lentils, firewood, sesame and onions.

Permit to send goods up countryPermit to send goods up country  - British Library Mss Eur D791 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

James Thornton left military service in 1922.  He returned to England to pursue a career as a solicitor in Brighton, where he was also responsible for organising the Horse Show for the ‘Greater Brighton’ celebrations in 1928.  In 1929, he suffered severe injuries in a tragic accident when he fell from his bedroom window.  The local newspaper reported that he was known to walk in his sleep.  He died in 1932.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Memorabilia of Captain James Cecil Thornton (1888-1932), Royal Field Artillery, and Supply and Transport Corps, India and Mesopotamia 1917-1922, British Library shelfmark Mss Eur D791.
Army service record for James Cecil Thornton, 1912-1922, British Library shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/14/30321.
Mid Sussex Times, 22 October 1929 and 29 November 1932, online in the British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast).

 

09 September 2021

‘An unseemly squabble’ in Aden

An argument at a dinner party.  A guest drinking too much.  A brush with the law.   An evening which would end a 30-year friendship.

After Captain Robert Cogan retired from active service with the Indian Navy, he settled in Aden, working for a trading company.  Perhaps his choice of town was influenced by the presence of his friend Captain Stafford Bettesworth Haines, who was the British Political Agent there.

Head and shoulders portrait of Captain Stafford Bettesworth Haines with a full, dark beard and bow tieA portrait of Captain Stafford Bettesworth Haines from a lithograph at the British Embassy, Aden. 

On 27 October 1846, Cogan and Haines, together with Haines’ wife Mary, dined at the house of Captain George James Duncan Milne.  By the next day, that 30-year friendship would be in tatters.

After dinner, the gentlemen joined the ladies in the drawing room, and Cogan took up the subject of society in Aden, focusing on Mrs Haines’ role and mentioning one occasion where he believed she had been negligent.  The rest of the party disagreed, and this led to a heated argument between Milne and Cogan.  At this point, Haines stepped in to de-escalate the dispute.  The argument continued between Haines and Cogan at Haines’ house, where Cogan called Haines ‘a cold blooded being’, and Haines tried to calm him down and persuade him to go home.

Captain Haines’ version of events from the East India Company archivesCaptain Haines’ version of events, IOR/F/4/2203/108123, f 329. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Meanwhile, Haines, acting as the local magistrate, directed a policeman to watch Cogan unobtrusively that night, giving orders that if he seemed about to leave his house to continue the quarrel, he was to be forced to remain at home.  Haines also required Milne to agree not to pursue an apology that night.

The next morning a message came to Cogan from Captain Milne, requiring him to retract his offensive expression.  Cogan readily agreed, and Milne also withdrew his language.  Cogan wrote to Mrs Milne to apologise, and to Captain Haines, regretting his bad taste and the ‘unhappy events…[which] have given me much pain’.  However, he also objected to Haines’ ‘irritating’ manner.  Haines was not satisfied, and replied that Cogan’s ‘conduct and singular expressions of last night preclude the continuance of our acquaintance’.  Cogan, upset, intended to consult friends about the dispute and was in the act of mounting his horse at his door, when ‘for the first time in my life, [I was] publicly arrested by a Police Constable’.

Cartoon entitled 'The Modest Couple' - a man turning away from a seated woman, with another older, cross-looking man between them gesturing towards her.'The Modest Couple' from The Bab Ballads, with which are included Songs of a Savoyard ... With 350 illustrations by the author by William Gilbert, (London, 1898).  BL flickr

This was a misunderstanding, as Haines had only ordered Cogan to be prevented from going out the previous night.  He was freed once Haines had been informed of what had happened.  However, Cogan was outraged to discover that he had been under police surveillance as being ‘likely to cause a breach of the Peace’.  To add to his outrage, Haines refused to forward his complaint about the arrest to his superiors in India, and he had to send it to the Governor of India himself.

The Government took this complaint of arrest on insufficient grounds seriously, although ignored the ‘unseemly squabble’, and asked Haines for his full explanation.  However, they decided that Haines had acted properly as he was motivated by his public duty, especially as Cogan had previously requested that a guest of his was placed under similar guardianship a few evenings before.  It is unclear whether their friendship ever recovered before Cogan died the following year.

Anne Courtney
Gulf History Cataloguer -British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
The story of Cogan’s wrongful arrest appears in IOR/F/4/2203/108123.

 

07 September 2021

Personal Reflections on the Indian Political Service – Part Three: Travels between Britain and India

This is the third and final part in a series of blog posts about Mss Eur F226, a collection of 35 memoirs by former members of the Indian Political Service (IPS).  Here we step back again to look more generally at the collection and consider the subject of travel.  This is a dominant theme throughout all the memoirs.

Head and shoulders photographic portrait of Sir Tom Hickinbotham Sir Tom Hickinbotham. Photograph by Elliott & Fry, 7 December 1960. © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG x82837 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Many IPS officers changed posts frequently during their careers, and these memoirs document a considerable amount of travelling by land, air and sea, not only from Britain to India (and back again) but also within the wider region.  Tom Hickinbotham shares his memories of a journey undertaken from Quetta to Europe via north Persia [Iran] in 1927, travelling in a Fiat Tourer, on what he claims to be the first trip taken by car from India to the Mediterranean.  Thomas Rogers recalls being appointed to the IPS in 1937 and deciding to travel from London to Bombay [Mumbai] by car, passing through Turkey, Syria, and Iran along the way, with three other recruits whom he had persuaded to join him.

There are many insights into the thrills and dangers of early commercial flights.  John Cotton recalls how passengers travelling on small planes were weighed at intermediate stops, along with their luggage.  Patrick Tandy remarks on how leisurely air travel seemed at the time, before recounting the trauma of descending in an unpressurised aircraft from a cruising height of several thousand feet to 1,600 feet below sea level, while flying over the Dead Sea.

Least fondly remembered are journeys by sea.  Cotton remembers the rather cramped conditions on board Royal Navy sloops, where he passed the time playing ‘interminable games of Monopoly’.  Michael Hadow describes the ‘appalling’ conditions on a voyage back to Britain in summer 1946, aboard a ship built for the cooler climes of the North Atlantic Ocean.  Hugh Rance shares a similar experience, albeit in the opposite direction, on a cockroach-infested ship that ‘may have been fine for the Atlantic run but was hellish in the Red Sea’.  Tandy writes of one of his voyages home: ‘we were four to a cabin, and the man in the bunk below me had about thirty years army service and appeared not to have changed his socks since the day he was recruited’.

Extract from Herbert Todd’s memoirExtract from Herbert Todd’s memoir, 1978. Mss Eur F226/30, f. 80. The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item

Herbert Todd gives a detailed account of a perilous journey undertaken with his wife and family in September 1940, after a period of extended home leave.  Their initial attempt at a passage to India ended when their ship, SS Simla, was torpedoed in the Irish Sea.  Todd and his family were taken aboard the Guinean, a ‘lightly laden cargo boat’, which he later learned had disobeyed orders in leaving the convoy and coming to their rescue.

Simla steamshipSS Simla - image © Bibliothek für Zeitgeschichte / Württembergische Landesbibliothek

There are numerous other travel anecdotes to be found in the memoirs, and many other stories besides.

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

02 September 2021

East India Company appointments by the Prince Regent – (2) Peniston Lamb

On 30 May 1815 the East India Company Court of Directors considered a request from the Prince Regent that Peniston George Lamb be appointed to a writership in Bengal.  It was resolved that His Royal Highness should be given the nomination of a student for East India College, Haileybury,  with a view to appointment as a writer on the Bengal establishment.

Peniston Lamb writer's petition 1817 - letter from Viscount MelbourneLetter from Viscount Melbourne in the writer’s petition papers for Peniston Lamb IOR/J/1/32 f. 272 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Peniston Lamb submitted his application papers to the Company in July 1815.  These include documents of support from Viscount Melbourne at Whitehall who states that Peniston Lamb is his grandson and ward.  A certificate from St George Hanover Square records that Peniston was born on 30 April 1801 and baptised on 8 August, the son of Peniston and Margaretta Lamb.  His father had died.  Peniston junior was educated at a school based in Hertford Castle, not far from the family seat at Brocket Hall.  

However the story of Peniston Lamb is more complicated than might at first seem.

The identity of his mother Margaretta is a mystery.  His father Peniston is not known to have married, although he had a long-term affair with Mrs Sophia Musters whose name was also linked in society gossip to Prince George.  Sick with consumption and anticipating his end, Peniston Lamb wrote requests to his father Viscount Melbourne and brother William which were discovered in his desk after his death in January 1805.  The first dated June 1803 included this wish: ‘I now recommend to my dear Father’s care and protection the little Boy which is at Mrs Cottys but only wish him to be brought up as a Millner’s Son ought to be’.  In October 1804, Peniston instructed William that any residue from his estate should go to this child.  It appears from the writer’s petition that Viscount Melbourne acknowledged the boy as his grandson and gave him an education suitable for a career in the East India Company.

Portrait of Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne, seated, holding her baby son Peniston Lamb, whose feet are resting on  a cradle next to them Elizabeth Lamb (née Milbanke), Viscountess Melbourne, with Peniston Lamb as a child by Samuel William Reynolds or Samuel William Reynolds Jr, (1770-1771) NPG D38358 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Lambs had close ties to the Prince Regent and there are many instances of his patronage being granted to the family.  Viscount Melbourne and his wife Elizabeth both had extra-marital relationships.  Elizabeth had six children who survived infancy but the only one believed to have been fathered without doubt by her husband was her eldest son Peniston born in 1770.  She began a well-known affair with the Prince in 1783 and he was said to be the father of her fourth son George.

Peniston Lamb spent four terms at East India College and was a very proficient student.  He won prizes for classics, French, and law. When he left in 1819, he was placed in the first class category and ranked third amongst the students destined for a career in Bengal.  The sureties guaranteeing his good behaviour in India were Hon George Lamb of Whitehall Yard, barrister (his uncle and the possible son of the Prince Regent,) and Charles Cookney of Holborn, solicitor.  George Lamb also gave security that the appointment had not been purchased.

Having arrived in India in July 1820, Peniston Lamb worked for the Board of Revenue and then the Secret and Political Department.  Sadly his career was very short as he died in Singapore on 20 July 1824.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/J/1/32 ff. 269-276 Writer’s petition for Peniston Lamb. (I have found no mention of George being his middle name except in the Prince Regent’s request to the East India Company.)
IOR/J/1/97 East India College examination results.
IOR/B/161 p.172 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 30 May 1815.
IOR/B/170 p. 1158 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 18 February 1820.
The National Archives PROB 11/1421/107 Probate of will of The Honorable Peniston Lamb of Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire 13 February 1805.
Biographical notes on Peniston Lamb (1770 -1805) History of Parliament Online 
L. G. Mitchell, Lord Melbourne 1779-1848 (Oxford, 1997)
Philip Ziegler, Melbourne - A biography of William Lamb 2nd Viscount Melbourne (London, 1976)