Untold lives blog

11 posts from December 2021

31 December 2021

New Year greetings from a Victorian scrapbook

To welcome the New Year, we’re sharing some Victorian greetings cards taken from a scrapbook in the British Library collections.  An inscription at the front of the volume reads ‘E.M.L. from J.M. 76’.  The identity of these people is a mystery.  There are several items in the book linked to Church of England clergy and members of the gentry in Buckinghamshire - Princes Risborough, Stokenchurch, Horsenden, Aylesbury, Wendover, Hughenden.  Does this clue help any of our readers to identify E.M.L. or J.M. in the 1870s?

New Year card with red holly berries and foliage - 'May the Old Year's last smile brighten thy Christmas hours'.

New Year card with pink and red flowers -  'May your New Year be full of gladness and joy'.


New Year card with pink rose buds - 'Opening rosebuds fair as ye, May the coming New Year be'.

New Year card with anchor and white and pink flowers - 'Happiness attend thee through the coming year'.            Card with 'A Happy New Year'  surrounded by white and pink, and red carnations.Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

New Year greetings from Untold Lives!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
A scrapbook of printed ephemera British Library RB.23.b.7952

29 December 2021

18th-century bills of fare for December and January

If you think that you have been overindulging during the festive season, it may cheer you to read these menu plans for three-course meals.  They are taken from the 1791 edition of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy.

Here is ‘The Order of a Modern Bill of Fare’ for December.

The Order of a Modern Bill of Fare for December Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

First course –
Cod’s head; chickens; stewed beef; fricandau of veal (slice cut from the leg); almond puddings; Soup Santea (ham, beef, onions, carrots, turnips, celery, sweet herbs, cloves, mace, leeks, ‘cabbage-lettuce’, sorrel, chervil, and ‘a crust of French roll’); calves’ feet pie; fillet of pork with sharp sauce (based on wine vinegar and sugar); chine of lamb; tongue; fried and boiled sole.

Recipe for Soup Santea or Gravy Soup - ham, beef, onions, carrots, turnips, celery, sweet herbs, cloves, mace, leeks, ‘cabbage-lettuce’, sorrel, chervil, and ‘a crust of French roll'Recipe for Soup Santea or Gravy Soup from The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1791) p.148  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Second course –
Wild fowl; lambs’ fry (liver); orange puffs; sturgeon; galantine (boned, stuffed meat); jellies; savoury cake; prawns; tartlets; mushrooms; partridges.

Third course –
‘Ragooed palates’ (ragout of tongue?); Savoy cakes; Dutch beef scraped; China oranges; lambs’ tails; half moon; calves’ burs; Jargonel pears (a variety that ripens early); potted larks; lemon biscuits; fricassee of crawfish.

We’re stumped by ‘half moon’ and ‘calves’ burs’ – any ideas out there?

The suggested menu for January is just as lavish.

The Order of a Modern Bill of Fare for JanuaryPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

First course –
Chestnut soup; leg of lamb; petit patties; boiled chickens; chicken and veal pie; cod’s head; roast beef; tongue; raisolds (rissoles); Scotch collops (slices of meat cooked with onions, salt, pepper and suet); vermicelli soup.

There should also be a side table with dishes of ‘Garden Stuff suitable to your Meat’ placed on a water dish filled with hot water.  Sauces in boats or basins are to be placed at the corners.

Second course:
Roast turkey; marinated smelts (fish); tartlets; mince pies; roast sweetbreads; stands of jellies; larks; almond ‘tort’; maids of honour; lobsters; woodcocks.

Third course –
Morels (mushrooms); artichoke bottoms; Dutch beef scraped; macaroni; custards; cut pastry; black caps (baked apples); scalloped oysters; potted chars (fish); stewed celery; rabbit fricassee.

Anyone for baked beans on toast?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading;
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1791)


23 December 2021

Gift ideas from 'Beeton’s Christmas Annual' 1873

Are you looking for ideas for presents to give your loved ones?  Perhaps you will find inspiration in our selection of advertisements taken from Beeton’s Christmas Annual  1873. 

Advertisement for The Literary MachineAdvertisement for The Literary Machine Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We start with The Literary Machine patented by J. Carter of London and used by Princess Louisa.  The device held a book, writing-desk, lamp, or meals in any position whilst also screening the user’s face from the fire.  It could be applied easily to a bed, sofa, chair, or ship’s berth, and was invaluable for students and invalids – ‘A most useful and elegant gift’.

Choice perfumery and Christmas novelties from Eugene RimmelChoice perfumery and Christmas novelties from Eugene Rimmel Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Next we have choice perfumery and Christmas novelties from Eugene Rimmel, perfumer to the Princess of Wales.  Rimmel’s perfumes included Ihlang- Ihlang, Vanda, Henna, Snow-White, Violet, Tea, Coffee, and the intriguingly named Jockey-Club.  As well as skin powders, creams and soaps, Rimmel offered crackers, boxes, baskets, fans, Christmas tree ornaments, and perfumed cards and almanacs.

Rowland's gifts for Christmas and New YearRowland's gifts for Christmas and New Year Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Rowlands’ products were said to be perfect for those planning to celebrate Christmas and New Year in company.  Their macassar oil imparted ‘a Transcendent Lustre to the Hair’, whilst Kalydor gave a radiant bloom to the cheek and a delicate softness to the hands and arms, removing ‘cutaneous defects’.  Rowlands’ Odonto made teeth pearly white and gave a pleasing fragrance to the breath.

Advert for the Nose Machine

Advert for the Nose Machine Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

How about a Nose Machine?  Alexander Ross of High Holborn was selling for 10s 6d ‘a contrivance which , if applied to the nose for an hour daily, so directs the soft cartilage of which the member consists, that an ill-formed nose is quickly shaped to perfection’.  Anyone could use it without pain.

Gifts from H. G. Clarke of Covent GardenGifts from H. G. Clarke of Covent Garden Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

H. G. Clarke of Covent Garden offered gifts to amuse. The Magic Sailor would astonish and provoke roars of laughter as he danced in time to any tune.  Owners of The Wizard’s Box of Magic would be equipped to perform ‘ten capital conjuring tricks sufficient for one hour’s amusement’.  The Enchanted Tea Chest allowed 100 perfumed things to be produced from an empty box.

Beeton’s Englishwoman’s Almanac and Ladies’ AnnualBeeton’s Englishwoman’s Almanac and Ladies’ Annual Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Also on offer was Beeton’s Englishwoman’s Almanac and Ladies’ Annual for 1873, ‘the most useful and attractive Almanac brought before the Public’ priced at one shilling.  The editor had contributed letters to the ladies on some delicate subjects and there were three coloured pictures: ‘I’ll have your tootsies’, ‘Brave boys, defiant geese, and a wise dog’, and ‘The lover’s vow accepted’.  Mrs Treadwin of Exeter had designed four point lace d’oyleys and the publication contained ‘a mass of practical matter connected with domestic and family requirements’, with ruled sheets for keeping accounts.

Advert for Christmas number of The Ladies Advert for Christmas number of The Ladies Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Christmas number of The Ladies was packed with seasonal stories, plays, songs, games and amusements, as well as 24 pages of high-class pictorial engravings by popular English artists presented in a decorative wrapper.

Iron wine bins and racks for mineral watersAdvert for Farrow and Jackson Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Farrow and Jackson, ‘Original Inventors’ of London and Paris, were selling a variety of iron wine bins and racks for mineral waters.

Advert for Page Woodcock’s Wind Pills Advert for Page Woodcock’s Wind Pills Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

And for anyone over-indulging in drink and food over the festive season, Page Woodcock’s Wind Pills were available, having wrought ‘wonderful and miraculous cures in Birmingham’.

Seasonal greetings from Untold Lives!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Beeton’s Christmas Annual 1873


22 December 2021

Clever Christmas Jokes: festive illustrations from 1910

The December 1910 edition of The London Magazine decided to move away from the tradition of sharing typical Christmas jokes for the festive season, and instead to draw its readers’ attention to a selection of Yuletide drawings.  The magazine considered that the drawings chosen were 'Characteristic examples of the best humorous black-and-white work of the day'.

The artists featured included:

  • W. Heath Robinson, famed for his 'mechanical humour' with many of his works featuring wheels, ropes and other mechanical aids.

Testing Christmas Puddings: An Imaginary Mechanical Process involving a small boy being fed puddings whilst seated in a weighing device 'Testing Christmas Puddings: An Imaginary Mechanical Process by Mr. W. Heath Robinson', The London Magazine, December 1910, p. 499 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  • George and Norman Morrow, who came from a family of illustrators, renowned for their illustrative work both in colour and black and white featuring 'a brimful of Irish Wit'.

Three illustrations of how toys are made – testing small-arms in the toy armoury, a speed test for toy motors, and casting funny masks from life.'How Christmas Toys are Made' by George Morrow – The London Magazine, December 1910, p. 500 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  • John Hassall,  'a master of line', whose works are considered to be the best in their field, and F. H. Townsend, who was best known as an illustrator for Punch magazine.

Three illustrations of 'Clever Christmas Jokes' - ‘Hope’ where an artist is told his Christmas picture might be accepted for publication if he changes almost everything in it; ‘Oil on Troubled Waters’ where a pudding is lit with paraffin after brandy fails to ignite; and ‘Cigars’ where a young woman wants to buy a box of cigars suitable for a fair, slim gentleman.'Clever Christmas Jokes' - ‘Hope’ by Norman Morrow; ‘Oil on Troubled Waters’ by John Hassall; and ‘Cigars’ by F. H. Townsend – The London Magazine, December 1910, p. 501 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We hope, as the editors of The London Magazine did in 1910, that these festive illustrations have provided something a little different from the usual Yuletide jokes and brought a little cheer for this festive season.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
P.P.6018.ta - The London Magazine, December 1910, No.2 [new series], pp. 496-502.


20 December 2021

The stork in fable and record

In September 1942, a flock of around 200 white storks (ciconia ciconia) arrived in Bahrain, as reported in the intelligence summaries from the country.  A ring on one of them showed that it had come from Lithuania.  They were shot at by the Bahrainis, who did not recognise the species, whereas elsewhere in the Middle East they were never harmed, suggesting that they were very infrequent visitors in Bahrain.  The report continues: ‘it was, no doubt, a coincidence that the same night a son was born to Mrs. Wakelin, wife of the Bahrain Government Director of Education’.

Painting of storks in a landscape surrounded by trees and flowersStorks (ciconia nigra) Or 3714, f 391r  - public domain

Stories about storks have circulated for millennia.  Their size makes them extremely visible and their habit of nesting on roofs of buildings, which also allowed their care of their chicks to be seen.  This, combined with their apparent care of the old and monogamous habits, led the Romans to believe that when they reached old age, they were transformed into human shape as a reward for their piety.

Storks have also been considered extremely lucky birds.  As travellers visited the Persian Empire and the Middle East, they frequently remarked on the presence of storks as the birds were common in mainland Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Eastern Europe, but almost unknown in Britain.  They were considered as generally bringing good luck to the house on which they nested, and therefore were never harmed.  In 1758 Edward Ives described the scene in Baghdad: ‘You generally see on the Minarets the Stork, a large bird called by the Arabs Leg-leg, a destroyer of serpents; the Turks never offer to molest it…those who own a house where Storks have nested, are supposed to receive great blessings from heaven'.

Painting of storks nesting on a building Storks nesting on a building Or 2265, f 15 - public domain

Some hints about the origin of this belief can be found in the name sometimes given to them, haji laqlaq, suggesting that they had made a pilgrimage to Mecca.  ‘Laklak’ has existed as a name for storks since the Akkadian period, and as the main noise that storks make is clapping their bills, it is may be imitative in origin.

In the late 17th century, John Fryer visited Persepolis and remarked on the storks present there ‘which may serve to contradict the received Opinion, of Storks abiding only where Commonwealths are; this always having been an Empire’.  One of strangest stories about storks current at the time was that they would not nest under a monarchy, which served to explain why they did not nest in England, while they did in Holland and other places in Europe.

In ‘The Frogs who asked for a King’, one of Aesop’s Fables, a group of frogs ask Jupiter for a king.  He sends a log, which they play with and make fun of, and ask Jupiter for a real king. He then sends a stork, which starts to eat them.  This tale was still used as a metaphor in 1905 for two different ideas of power: King Log and King Stork.

Extract from official document speaking of King Log and King Stork  in reference to the ruler of BahrainKing Log and King Stork, in reference to the ruler of Bahrain IOR/L/PS/10/81, f 105r   open government licence 

And as for the Director of Education’s son arriving with the storks?  Despite stories from Eastern Europe and Egypt of storks having human souls, it is perhaps more likely that the story that storks brought babies was an extension of the idea that storks were ‘lucky’: a baby being the ultimate blessing a house could have.

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

Further reading:
John Fryer’s visit to Persepolis is told in his account of his travels, W 3856 
The arrival of storks in Bahrain appears in IOR/R/15/2/314 ‘File 8/16 Bahrain Intelligence Reports’ 
Edward Ives describes seeing storks nesting, W 4137


17 December 2021

One theft too many?

In the late 1760s Charles Eyloe ran a boarding house at his home Orchard House in Blackwall, London.  One of his contracts was with the East India Company to provide lodgings for the Asiatic sailors, known as lascars, who came to England as part of the Company's ship crews. The sailors needed somewhere to stay until they could return home.

In August and September 1767 Eyloe suffered a string of break-ins and robberies at his house.  The first was on 2 August when his house was broken into and 50 shillings in silver was taken.  The second occurred on 6 August when his cellar window was broken and a 12lb shoulder of veal and a bushel of flour were stolen.

Masked burglar entering a house through a window‘The Burglary’, p. 47 of The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of Night. A story of the present day, London 1866. British Library 12620.h.27.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Following these break-ins, Eyloe had a new cellar door put in and a metal bar put across his wine cellar.  These precautions appear to have deterred the thief from the cellar for a time, however instead eight hens and a cock were taken on 11 September.  On 14 September the thief managed to rip the cellar door off its hinges and took four pieces of beef worth 5 shillings and Eyloe suspected wine, beer and brandy was taken although he couldn’t say for sure.

The thief turned out to be Thomas James, a lascar from Bengal, who had previously boarded at Eyloe’s house.   James had indeed taken bottles of brandy from Eyloe’s cellar on 14 September, and was caught after promising ten of the bottles to a fellow sailor who then reported the incident to Eyloe.

Newspaper summary of Old Bailey sentencings October 1767, including Thomas James.Derby Mercury, 30 Oct 1767: summary of Old Bailey sentencing October 1767, including Thomas James. British Newspaper Archive

James was tried at the Old Bailey on 21 October 1767 and was found guilty and sentenced to death.  However on 24 February 1768  he was granted a conditional pardon and on 12 July 1768 his sentence was changed to transportation for life.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Old Bailey Online – Trial of Thomas James 21 October 1767.
British Newspaper Archive - Derby Mercury 30 October 1767.


15 December 2021

The story the India Office Records preserve about kasids

Within the India Office Records (IOR) catalogued for the British Library-Qatar Project, there are a number of references to local messengers called kasids (sing. kasid).  The term kasid (qasid: قاصد) originates from the Arabic verb qa sa da (قصد), ‘to aim at’, and qasid itself means someone who knows his direction and moves with a purpose.  In Persian, the term has been adapted to also refer to a messenger (Pr. پيغامبر، قاصد، رسول ). The East India Company (EIC) adopted the Persian term in reference to a certain type of messenger employed within its establishments in Persia [Iran].  This blog explores the available records on kasids and examines their role within the postal system of the EIC and the India Office afterwards.

Definition of kasid  based on its Arabic origin Definition of kasid, based on its Arabic origin, IOR/R/15/5/397, f 618r, Crown Copyright


Reference to kasid as a messenger in its Persian contextA reference to kasid as a messenger in its Persian context, V 3148, p 113, Crown Copyright

The earliest records showing the EIC employing kasids within its establishments in Persia are from the 18th century.  These records indicate that kasids were foot messengers whose main task was to deliver letters to and from the EIC’s representatives and local governors.  They are not to be confused with another type of messengers in Persia known as shaters.  It is most likely that the EIC employed kasids from the local population, taking advantage of their familiarity with the region, its people and landscapes.  These kasids were paid 30 rupees a month for their service.

Note of kasid’s paymentKasid’s payment, IOR/G/29/25, f 411v, Crown Copyright

Besides their main job as messengers, kasids also collected intelligence relating to certain people, incidents or events.  They wrote down their collected observations within reports that are referred to as akhbar.  In a number of fascinating folios dated 5 June 1799, the EIC’s Resident at Bushire, Mirza Mahdi Ali Khan, wrote to the Governor of Bombay, Jonathan Duncan, informing him of the akhbar he had received from his kasids.  This akhbar contained details of the French siege of Acre, and how the Governor of Sidon, Jezzar Pasha, and the British navy had responded to the siege.

Akhbar on the French siege of AcreAkhbar on the French siege of Acre, IOR/G/29/25, f 413r, Crown Copyright

The same akhbar included information about the encounters between the Governor of Baghdad Büyük Süleyman Pasha, the Wahhabis, and the Arab tribes of Iraq.  However, the records also indicate that the akhbar received from kasids were not always accurate.  And in cases where fake news had been conveyed, the kasids were simply dismissed from their positions.

Akhbar on the Governor of Baghdad  Wahhabis  and Arab tribesAkhbar on the Governor of Baghdad, Wahhabis, and Arab tribes, IOR/G/29/25, f 414r, Crown Copyright

In some other cases, kasids themselves quit their jobs, primarily due to the hardship they faced during their journeys.  In a couple of references to kasids in the early 20th century, we learn that the Indo-European telegraph system relied on kasids to deliver the post during bad weather conditions or military disturbances.  This was not an easy task, and many kasids were reportedly refusing to return to their jobs, something which often caused disruption to the postal service.

Extract from Shiraz News noting that kasids were part of the Indo-European telegraph systemKasids being part of the Indo-European telegraph system, IOR/L/PS/10/163, f 18r, Crown Copyright

Report of kasids quitting their jobsKasids quitting their jobs, IOR/L/PS/10/163, f 17v, Crown Copyright

The records also show that, during World War I, the kasids who were delivering post between Persian towns were accused of serving the British interest.  They were attacked and beaten, when caught on duty, by anti-British Persian Gendarmerie.  The concerns which the Government of India raised about this issue indicate how essential the kasids’ service was to the postal system.

News of Persian Gendarmerie attacking kasidsNews of Persian Gendarmerie attacking kasids, IOR/L/PS/10/484, f 96r, Crown Copyright

In summary, the story preserved about kasids, although brief, offers glimpses of the way they performed their job in Persia between the 18th and early 20th centuries.  Future cataloguing of India Office Records may bring to light more information about the kasids and the history of their attachment to the EIC and the India Office.

Ula Zeir, Content Specialist-Arabic Language
British Library/Qatar Foundation Project

Further reading:
Al-Zabidi, Taj al-‘Arus min Jawahir al-Qamus, vol. 9. (Ed. Abdul Sattar Ahmad Farraj), (Kuwait: Kuwait Government Press, 1971).
Dehkhoda Lexicon Institute & International Center for Persian Studies
IOR/G/29/25 ‘Various Papers Relating to the Work and Activities of the East India Company in the Gulf of Persia.’
IOR/L/PS/10/163 ‘File 948/1909 Persia: Situation in the South; Condition of the Roads. Attack on Mr Bill. Road Guard Scheme.’
IOR/L/PS/10/484 ‘File 3516/1914 Pt 7 German War: Persia’
IOR/R/15/5/397 ‘John Richardson, A Dictionary, Persian, Arabic, and English; with a Dissertation on the Languages, Literature, and Manners of Eastern Nations
V 3148Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde; accompanied by a geographical and historical account of those countries, with a map.’


13 December 2021

Miniature books for children

Among the books on loan from the British Library to an exhibition of Miniature Books at Newcastle City Library (until 13 March 2022) are Curiosities in the Tower of London (1741) and two small volumes from The Infant's Library (ca. 1800). These little books can be seen alongside The Jan Pienkowski Fairy Library (1977) and a tiny giveaway edition of The Borrowers (ca. 1980) from the Seven Stories Collection housed in Newcastle City Library. They were all designed to be easily held in little hands for the delight and amusement of young children. These historical books made for children are on display together with miniature books made by primary school children in Newcastle and across the UK in 2020 and 2021.

Photograph of the Miniature Books exhibition at Newcastle City LibraryThe Miniature Books exhibition at Newcastle City Library.

Curiosities in the Tower of London was one of 10 miniature titles produced by Thomas Boreman between 1740 and 1743, at a price of 4 pennies each. Boreman wanted his books to ‘join instruction with delight’ and so he focussed on entertaining children.

Curiosities in the Tower of London was published in two volumes, the first volume contains a description of the Royal menagerie at the Tower. Lively accounts of the wild animals – the lionesses Jenny and Phillis, the lion Marco with his ‘frightful teeth’, and the porcupine, ‘one of the strangest animals in the world’ – and the charming woodcut illustrations all made these little books very attractive to their child readers.

Image of a porcupine in Curiosities in the Tower of London published by Thomas Boreman in 1741Curiosities in the Tower of London.  2nd ed. London: Thomas Boreman, 1741. 2 vols. BL shelfmark Ch.740/7. The volume measures 60 x 65 mm.

A list of young subscribers is included. However as the cost of the book (4d.) would have represented around one third of a labourer’s daily wage, these children were probably from much more affluent families.

List of subscribers in Curiosities in the Tower of LondonList of subscribers in Curiosities in the Tower of London.

Boreman’s books were unlike other 18th century publications for young children that sought to improve their moral conduct through stories that carried a stern and overtly moral and religious message. Instead Boreman wished to improve his young readers’ minds by inspiring them with a sense of wonder and amusement. This unusual approach marked a turning point in the history of children’s literature.

John Marshall, printer and bookseller, issued 17 small volumes in The Infant’s Library at the end of the 18th century. These little books were intended to be educational, and the collection includes a picture alphabet, a short history of England and a description of scenes of everyday life. However Marshall advertised them as both ‘for the instruction and amusement of young people’. Like his other libraries for children that include The Doll’s Library and The Book-Case of Instruction and Delight, The Infant’s Library offered a practical system of learning through play.

Books 9 and 13 give us a particularly charming glimpse into some popular games for boys and girls. Each double page opening shows a few lines of clearly printed, simple text accompanied by a hand-coloured woodcut illustration of children at play.

Boys' Games in The Infant's Library with image of boys playing Battledore and ShuttlecockThe Infant’s Library. London: John Marshall, ca. 1800. Book 9: Boys’ games. BL shelfmark C.194.a.945. Each volume measures 57 x 47 mm. 

It is interesting to see that while Marshall wanted children to use his books as amusing playthings, his text is not without a corrective moral tone. Girls’ games carries a firm warning about playing on the swing as 'this is a very dangerous play and very improper for young ladies'.

Girls' Games in The Infant's Library with image of a girl on a swingThe Infant’s Library. Book 13: Girls’ games. BL shelfmark C.194.a.945

Helen Peden
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further images from these volumes can be found on the Discovering Children’s Books website:



Miniature Books – an exhibition of items from the collections of the British Library and Seven Stories is open at Newcastle City Library until Sunday 13th March, 2022.