Untold lives blog

9 posts from September 2021

30 September 2021

An examination guide for Bombay Army officers

In 1868, Captain Newman Burfoot Thoyts of the Bombay Staff Corps published A guide to candidates for admission into the Staff Corps (Native Infantry Branch), being a series of questions and answers in nearly every subject on which they are usually examined.  Under General Orders issued in Bombay on 16 July 1864, officers seeking admission to the Staff Corps in the Native Infantry branch had to undergo ‘an examination of a somewhat searching character, consisting of not less than fifty questions and answers’.  Officers had to demonstrate knowledge of the systems operating in the Native Infantry - the way of investigating and dealing with offences, complaints, and petitions from the men; the manner of keeping rosters for furlough and guard; the pay and accounting system; every piece of equipment used, with the cost and method of carrying them.

Front cover of A guide to candidates for admission into the Staff Corps (Native Infantry Branch)Front cover of A guide to candidates for admission into the Staff Corps (Native Infantry Branch) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The guide was divided into thirteen sections:
• Articles of war for the Native Army
• Pay and allowances
• Pension and unfits of short service
• Clothing and necessaries, and equipment
• Compensation
• Furlough
• Transports and foreign service, camp equipage, carriage and conveyance by rail
• Hutting rules
• Medals
• Schools
• Ammunition
• Arms and accoutrements
• Miscellaneous

The section for clothing and equipment makes interesting reading.  Native officers and other ranks were supplied with a tunic and a pair of serge trousers every two years.  Once worn for a year, these garments became the property of the soldier.  Every four years havildars and fife majors received a worsted sash, and drum majors a silk sash.  Extra equipment was issued when troops were embarking on foreign service – two flannel banians [jackets or shirts]; two pairs of flannel trousers; one pair of boots; one country blanket; one canteen; one haversack.  These became the property of the soldier once his foreign service was completed.  Knee caps were provided.  Greatcoats reaching six inches below the knee were supplied at the men’s own expense and had to last six years before they were renewed.

List of regimental equipment and the cost of each itemList of regimental equipment and the cost of each item

Soldiers were issued with a ‘set of necessaries’ or equipment: clothing, footwear, brushes, cooking utensils, and bedding. Deductions were made from pay for replacements.

Indents for clothing were submitted on 1 April each year.  Size rolls were drawn up using measurements taken with great care.  Allowance was made for young growing men.  Clothing was seldom issued until twelve months after the rolls were prepared so failure to allow for growth entailed wasted expense.

Very precise instructions were given to ensure the quality of clothes issued. When packages of clothing were received, they had to be checked immediately to ensure they had not been tampered with.  If clothing was condemned by the Regimental Committee, it was checked again by a Station Committee of officers unconnected with that regiment.  Each article was examined separately and the Committees had to give a precise reason for rejection.

The clothing of native soldiers who died, deserted or were taken as prisoners of war was returned to the stores for re-issue.  Reasonable attention was to be paid to ‘the distinctions of family, tribe etc’, for example ’the tunic of a Purwarree or Moochee should not be issued to a Mahomedan or Purdasee’.  Invalids struck off the strength were allowed to take their clothing with them.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Captain Thoyts, A guide to candidates for admission into the Staff Corps (Native Infantry Branch), being a series of questions and answers in nearly every subject on which they are usually examined (Bombay, 1868) – British Library Tr. 448(b)

28 September 2021

Bury me at sea inside my piano

During a voyage to India in 1804-05, John Linley Cantelo amended his will to give instructions for burial at sea in his piano if he should die before he reached port.

John Linley Cantelo came from a musical family of Bath.  He served as Purser on the East India Company ship Lascelles before becoming a free mariner in India and then a Lieutenant in the Company’s Bengal Marine.  In June 1804 he married Eleanor Allen in Bath.  Three months later he embarked on East Indiaman Travers to return to Calcutta leaving Eleanor behind, pregnant with their daughter Julia Wilhelmina.  With him was an expensive piano he had commissioned from John Broadwood and Sons – square with a frame and shelf made particularly strong, able to be played at sea.

On 26 July 1804 Cantelo wrote a will leaving his property to his wife Eleanor who had moved to be near to her family in Haverfordwest.  He added a codicil whilst at sea in the Travers on 12 February 1805.

Extract from the will of John Linley Cantelo Extract from will of John Linley Cantelo giving instructions for burial at sea in his piano IOR/L/AG/34/29/17 no.67 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

‘Should it please the Almighty disposer of Events to Extinguish my flame of existence during our Passage to Bengal – I hereby will and desire that my mortal frame be enclosed in the Piano forte corse [case] well dunnaged with any bodys old bed and Cloaths who will take my Cot in exchange the outside to be well rattened and secured for which expense the owners are to be reimbursed and the Carpenter apply to my Executor for a Hogshead of the rest [sic] Bengal Spirits for the use of his messhorne.  The whole Crew to have a Puccoh house dinner when on liberty at Calcutta for their trouble – the Package may then be pricipitated Overboard with no other cerimony than three cheers after once repeating Popes Universal prayer by Mr Tyrer for which Service he is bequeathed my Sword Cambridge Tables Two Largest Trunks (Empty) and Thermomiter.’

Cantelo added another codicil in July 1805 after he had arrived in India: ‘By Devine Providence I am now at Calcutta and seeing my acquaintance dying Cheerly I revoke the last Codicil its Purpose being done away’.  He then gave specific instructions about his burial in the cemetery at Calcutta: ‘I have looked out a snug Pucha birth at the end of the burying Ground walk turning to the left as you enter the Porch past Mr Edmonstone & Impeys I want nothing but a square tomb over English fashion with J. L. Cantelo only the least Expense possible so as not to be mean’.

Cantelo wrote a final codicil on 28 July 1805. This included a bequest to Lascelles, his son by an Indian woman named Catharina, and the gift of his piano and two books for it to Miss Bella McArthur, daughter of his executor James Alexander McArthur.

The following day, Cantelo died at Fort William.  His grave in South Park Cemetery is marked with a stone inscribed simply ‘John Linley Cantelo Obit July 29 1805’.

List of the effects of John Linley Cantelo sold at auction in CalcuttaList of the effects of John Linley Cantelo sold at auction in Calcutta - Bengal Hurkaru 13 August 1805 - image courtesy of World Digital Library, Library of Congress.

Cantelo’s effects in India were sold at public auction on 14 August 1805 – clothing, rare books, charts, mathematical and nautical instruments including a sextant, telescopes, globes, watches, plate, china, mirrors, lamps, furniture, cooking utensils, palanquins, ‘choice liquors', and a bay saddle horse.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

With thanks to Barry Cantelo for alerting us to this story and providing information.

We are stumped by the word ‘messhorne’!   Can anyone help us?  Is it a transcription error by the clerk copying Cantelo’s will?  Suggestions please to ior@bl.uk or Twitter @UntoldLives.

Further reading:
Estate papers of John Linley Cantelo IOR/L/AG/34/29/17 no.67, IOR/L/AG/34/27/34 no. 59, IOR/L/AG/34/27/50 pp. 923-926.

 

23 September 2021

Landscape in law

Archives on the environment appear in unexpected places.

Under the Permanent Settlement of 1793, 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 memoir, 1978.Extract 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