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8 posts from July 2022

27 July 2022

Luncheons at the India Office

In May 1867 newspaper advertisements invited tenders for the supply of luncheons at the new India Office in Whitehall.

Advertisement inviting tenders for the supply of luncheons at the new India Office in Whitehall May 1867Advertisement inviting tenders for the supply of luncheons at the new India Office in Whitehall - Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 18 May 1867 British Newspaper Archive 

The tender of Frederick Eneas Nicholes was accepted in July.  Nicholes signed an agreement on these terms: 
• The purveyor would be provided with a kitchen, coals, gas, and furniture, but not with plate, linen, glass, cutlery, earthenware, or cooking utensils.
• A room would be set apart for ‘the exclusive use of gentlemen on the establishment of the India Office’ where they could be supplied with refreshments instead of in their own rooms.
• The purveyor would have use of the kitchen and luncheon room between the hours of 9am and 5pm, checking that the fires and gas were put out before handing the keys to the housekeeper.
• A tariff of prices was to be hung in the luncheon room.
• Items supplied were to be of the best quality, well cooked, and served with 'civility, cleanliness and punctuality'.
• No smoking was permitted in the luncheon room and kitchen.
• Everything was to be paid for at the time of delivery.  No charge was to be made for waiters, but an additional penny could be charged for the use of the tray, cloth etc where luncheons were supplied in officials’ own rooms.
• The purveyor was to supply a luncheon for every meeting of the Council of India at a charge of 4s a head, exclusive of wine, beer etc.
This contract could be terminated by either side at two months’ notice.

Scale of charges for each item in the India Office luncheon room 1867Scale of charges in the luncheon room agreed in 1867  - IOR/L/F/2/324 No. 1841  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Nicholes also signed up to a scale of charges for the following menu items:
• Soups, gravy, vermicelli
• Mutton broth
• Beef tea
• Mutton chop
• Rump steak
• Joints of beef, mutton, lamb, pork, veal, braised beef, ham
• Hashed mutton
• Rump steak pudding
• Kidney pudding
• Sausages
• Pork chop
• Veal cutlet
• Sandwiches
• Fish as in season
• Oysters
• Potatoes, asparagus and other vegetables
• Salads, plain and dressed
• Tart or pudding
• Tea, coffee
• Rolls, biscuits, buns, slices of bread
• Cheese
• Butter
• Eggs
• Porter, draught stout, ale, stout
• Lemonade, soda water, ginger beer, seltzer water
• Port, sherry, brandy.

Nicholes started work as purveyor on 1 September 1867, but  unfortunately the refreshment rooms had not been finished in time.  In October Nicholes submitted an account of his losses totalling £104 – provisions spoiled and having to be destroyed by the lack of a larder; lack of income because the coffee room was not completed; wages for extra staff; breakages and loss from the non-completion of the pantry; extra washing.  The India Office decided that his claim was fair and granted him £100 in compensation.

In April 1868 Nicholes informed the India Office that his net profit from September 1867 to February 1868 was only £82 10s 3d.  This was inadequate since he had invested £1,000 in the concern, including wine.  He was awarded £100 per annum as compensation.

However Nicholes said he was unable to continue as purveyor on that allowance.  The India Office would not sanction an increase and in September 1868 gave notice that Nicholes’s engagement as purveyor would end on 25 March 1869.  Nicholes appealed for the decision to be reversed, but to no avail.  He was given a testimonial that his services had been very satisfactory.

Testimonial by Stafford Henry Northcote  Secretary of State for IndiaTestimonial for Nicholes by Stafford Henry Northcote, Secretary of State for India, 4 December 1868 - IOR/L/F/2/345  No. 3191  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Nicholes went on to be purveyor in the refreshment rooms at the Houses of Parliament.

  Recommendation of Parker's Everyone's Sauce by F E Nicholes, purveyor at the Houses of Parliament
F E Nicholes’s recommendation of Parkers’ Everyone’s Sauce – ‘an excellent relish’. Eastern Daily Press 7 October 1874 British Newspaper Archive

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Finance Committee papers about the supply of luncheons by Nicholes - IOR/L/F/2/321 No.1343; IOR/L/F/2/322No. 1563; IOR/L/F/2/324 No. 1841; IOR/L/F/2/325 No.2066; IOR/L/F/2/335 No. 1110; IOR/L/F/2/345 Nos. 3098 & 3191.


25 July 2022

Hadge Biram: A Restoration Renegade

In the early modern period, the Ottoman Empire was a Mediterranean powerhouse, and a source of both fear and envy throughout Europe.  Daring Maghrebi corsairs filled printed books, plays, and romanticised ballads.  Many Britons, attracted by promises of opportunity and freedom, made the Maghreb their permanent home, converted to Islam and adopted local customs.  Several achieved great notoriety in Britain, blackened by insinuations of backsliding treason as ‘renegades’, but valued for information, assistance, and entertainment.  There was Yusuf Rais/John Ward (c.1553-1622), English privateer turned Tunisian corsair, who starred in Robert Daborne’s A Christian turn’d Turk (1612) and a slew of swashbuckling ballads and pamphlets.  A poor British woman captive, renamed Lella Balqees, married Moroccan Sultan Mawlay Isma’il (r. 1672-1727), and held influence over their Anglo-Moroccan diplomacy for decades.  In 1704, double convert Joseph Pitts (c.1663-c.1735-39) wrote the first description in English of Mecca and Medina from the inside.

A Restoration English map of North Africa  showing Tunis  Tripoli  and CairoA Restoration English map of North Africa, showing Tunis, Tripoli, and Cairo. Richard Blome, A generall mapp of the coast of Barbarie (London: for Richard Blome, 1669). British Library C.39.d.2. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

But these famous examples obscure many British converts who lived more marginal and stable lives, like merchant Hadge Biram (Hajj Bayramı).  We know about him from only a few letters exchanged with English merchants in Tunis and Tripoli, but these letters powerfully illustrate the everyday tensions converts experienced.  Named for the festival surrounding the hajj pilgrimage, Hajj Bayramı lived in Cairo as a Muslim from at least 1679.  Thomas Baker, British consul in Tripoli, called him ‘our Countryman at Cairo’, and trusted him to pass on letters to British merchants in Istanbul, mediate trade in velvet, wire, and scarlet cloth, and procure ‘two fine Damaskeen Barrells’ for Baker’s musket.

In 1692, Bayramı wrote to Thomas Goodwyn, British consul in Tunis, to recommend 21-year-old Edward Allen, ‘a god sevel Lad & bred a marchant &…Capable for al marchandes’ in Cairo on his uncle’s recommendation.  Disappointed to find ‘no English Christians to pas his time with hm’, Allen was ‘mad to meet wth English men’ and hoped to come to Tunis instead. Biram apologised for not replying to several letters Goodwyn sent him three years earlier, swearing it was ‘not ungratefulnes nor unnaturall forgetfulnes of my Cuntrymen’ but lack of reliable ships to carry them, and invited Goodwyn to do business with him.

A second letter centred on the ordinary merchant courtesy of passing on news.  Bayramı transmitted a French take on an Anglo-French naval battle, mentioning his friendly correspondence with Goodwyn’s close associates Horsey and Nelthorpe in Livorno, and asked whether the deposed James II had invaded England as planned, and whether the long-running Algerian-Moroccan war continued.  Finally, six years later, Goodwyn’s colleague James Chetwood recommended sending a cargo of lead to ‘old Honest Hagi Biram’, who would sell it for them ‘wthout any more adoe’.

For the English in Ottoman Tunis and Tripoli, Bayramı was a contradiction.  A countryman, apparently trustworthy, courteous, and interested in English news; yet Allen found his religion excluding, and Goodwyn apparently never accepted Bayramı’s commercial cooperation.  He was both an insider and an outsider: neither fully English, nor fully Ottoman, a renegade, yet not fully lost or disconnected.

Nat Cutter
University of Melbourne

Further Reading:
For letters about Hadge Biram, see The National Archives, Kew, FO 335/1/32, FO 335/2/3, FO 335/3/2, FO 335/9/8, FO 335/9/10, FO 335/13/1.

Barker, Andrew. A true and certaine report of the beginning, proceedings, ouerthrowes, and now present estate of Captaine Ward and Danseker, the two late famous pirates. London: William Hall, 1609. Available on Early English Books Online (EEBO) through the British Library.
Cutter, Nat. ‘Grateful fresh advices and random dark relations: Maghrebi news and experiences in English expatriate letters, 1660-1710’. Cultural and Social History (2022). Available online through the British Library.
Cutter, Nat. ‘“Grieved in my soul that I suffered you to depart from me”: Community and Isolation in the English Houses at Tunis and Tripoli, 1679-1686’. In Keeping Family in an Age of Long Distance Trade, Imperial Expansion and Exile 1550-1850, edited by Heather Dalton, 169-89. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020.
Daborne, Robert. A Christian turn’d Turke: or, The tragicall liues and deaths of the two famous pirates, Ward and Dansiker. London: Nicholas Okes for William Barrenger, 1612. Available on Early English Books Online (EEBO) through the British Library.
Dervla Laaraichi, Saoirse. ‘The Adventures of Helen Gloag in Morocco’, Untold Lives blog 30 May 2022.
Matar, Nabil. Britain and Barbary, 1589-1689. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005. British Library Document Supply m06/.10725.
Nixon, Anthony. Nevves from sea, of tvvo notorious pyrats War the Englishman, and Danseker the Dutchman. London: Edward Allde for N. Butter, 1609. British Library General Reference Collection G.7343
Pitts, Joseph. A true and faithful account of the religion and manners of the Mohammetans. Exeter: Phillip Bishop and Edward Score, 1704. British Library General Reference Collection 1048.b.19.
Pennell, C.R. ed. Piracy and diplomacy in seventeenth-century North Africa: the journal of Thomas Baker, English Consul in Tripoli, 1677-1685. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989. British Library General Reference Collection YC.1992.b.5589.
The seamans song of Captain Ward the famous pyrate of the world. 1609. Available on Early English Books Online (EEBO) through the British Library.

This blog post is the last of a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs).  On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog have featured a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections.  Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS. 


21 July 2022

The sale of East India Company maritime commands

The British Library and London Metropolitan Archives both hold collections of papers for James Monro who served in the East India Company’s maritime service in the second half of the 18th century. The documents give a fascinating insight into Monro's professional and personal life, and the use of private trade to accumulate a fortune which would allow him to quit the sea.

Portrait of Captain James Monro by John Downman - three-quarter length, in profile, the sea beyond Portrait of Captain James Monro by John Downman  (1789)  - image courtesy of The British Antique Dealers' Association via Wikimedia Commons

James Monro was the son of Dr John Monro, physician to Bethlehem Hospital.  He began his life at sea in 1766 at the age of just ten years, sailing to Madras and China as servant to Captain William Smith in the East Indiaman Houghton. Captain Smith was his mother’s brother.  Another uncle, Culling Smith, was one of the owners of the Houghton.  Monro made three more voyages with William Smith in the Houghton, as midshipman in 1769-1771; as 5th mate in 1773-1774; and as 2nd mate in 1777-1778.  Monro also sailed as a seaman to the West Indies and Calais, and as mate in two other East Indiamen, the Osterley to Benkulen, and the York to China.

In 1782 James Monro succeeded his uncle William Smith as captain of the Houghton, making four voyages to China and India before resigning and passing the command to Robert Hudson in 1792.  Captains were appointed by the ship owners and approved by the East India Company, and Monro’s correspondence sheds light on this system.

In April 1792, William Smith wrote to his nephew, addressing him as ‘Dear Jim’.  Smith understood that Monro had sold the command of the Houghton for 8,000 guineas, having paid him £4,000 for it.  Although Monro had not promised  him anything, Smith thought he should receive half the profit.  Smith claimed that he could have sold his command at a far higher price, perhaps as much as £7,000, but he had his nephew’s interest too much at heart to consider such offers.  He regretted the ‘disagreeable necessity’ of speaking his mind.

James Monro’s reply began ‘My dear Sir’.  He felt that he was being put in a very unpleasant position, and put forward his side as he would to someone not related.

Monro was away on board the York when it was decided that he should succeed as commander of the new Houghton which was being built to replace Smith’s ship.  On his return to England he was told to pay Smith £4,000. He had no idea that any future demand would be made on him until a chance conversation with his uncle some time later.

Both the East India Company and the owners had been trying to lessen the price given for ships, or to prevent totally the sale of commands.  If they had succeeded, would Smith have refunded part of his £4,000?  Smith had not paid for his own command but had received interest on Monro’s £4,000 for ten years.

Monro had always thought to offer his uncle £1,000 when he sold the command.  He would cheerfully give him 1,000 guineas and nothing more need be said.

Smith replied to ‘My dear James’.  He wished his nephew had told him sooner about the intention to offer £1,000.  This sum satisfied him and he asked Monro to pay it to his banker when convenient.  He hoped this business would make no difference or coolness between them, and closed by sending his best love to Mrs James and the young ones.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library – India Office Private Papers Photo Eur 488-B.
London Metropolitan Archives - ACC/1063 Records of the Monro family of Hadley, 1673-1905. Letters 45-48 Correspondence between James Monro and William Smith 1792.
Anthony Farrington, A biographical index of East India Company maritime service officers 1600-1834 (London, 1999).
James Monro features in Kate Smith, ‘Anglo-Indian ivory furniture in the British country house’ in Margot Finn and Kate Smith (eds.), The East India Company at Home.


19 July 2022

Life in Khartoum between Hicks and Gordon

A small collection of letters reveals the military career of a little-known British officer in Sudan in the late 19th century and his swift rise following a disastrous expedition.

The British Government was drawn into a war in Sudan by the bankruptcy of the Egyptian government in 1878.  The remaining shares of the new Suez Canal were bought up by the British to stabilise Egyptian debt. The British majority control of the canal gave them power over Egypt, effectively transforming it into a client state.

This intervention coincided with the rise of the self-proclaimed Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmed ‘ibn Abdullah, in Sudan, who declared war with Egypt in 1881.  With British support, the Egyptian ruler, Khedive Tewfik, launched an offensive to take back Sudan in 1883, appointing Colonel William Hicks as commander.

Head and shoulders portrait of William HicksColonel William Hicks from Charles George Gordon, Gordon and the Mahdi, an illustrated narrative of the war in the Soudan, etc (1885) Digital Store 9061.f.9 BL flickr

Henry de Coëtlogon, a retired Major from the Indian Army, received an appointment in Hicks’ staff and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  His time in Sudan is recorded in a series of intimate letters to his wife which are now available to view at the British Library (Add MS 89463).

Head and shoulders portrait of Henry de CoëtlogonColonel Henry de Coëtlogon from Charles George Gordon, Gordon and the Mahdi, an illustrated narrative of the war in the Soudan, etc (1885) Digital Store 9061.f.9 BL flickr

The letters detail how the Army travelled by boat and camel down through Egypt into Sudan to establish their base in the city of Khartoum.  From there de Coëtlogon joined an expedition to confront the rebels in spring 1883, including a skirmish near Aba Island on 29 April 1883, before the force returned to Khartoum to wait out the monsoon season. 

For his involvement in the preparations for the return to hostilities, de Coëtlogon was promoted by Hicks to the full rank of Colonel.  However, the General chose to leave de Coëtlogon in Khartoum to maintain their base and patrol the Nile, while the main force marched on the Mahdi in September 1883.

After over a month in the desert, Hicks’ force was led into a waterless wasteland and ambushed on 5 November 1883.  Nearly the whole force was killed, leaving de Coëtlogon as the only British Officer remaining of the original Army.

Hearing the news, de Coëtlogon stopped patrolling the river and instead began reinforcing Khartoum’s walls and recalling garrisons from the surrounding forts.  He continued strengthening his position and drilling his troops for several months, all the while fearing an imminent attack, until the British government voted to send General Charles Gordon to relieve him.

Head and shoulders portrait of General Charles GordonGeneral Charles Gordon from James Smith, A Pilgrimage to Egypt: an account of a visit to Lower Egypt (1897) Digital Store 010095.ee.2 BL flickr

Following Gordon’s arrival in Khartoum in February 1884, de Coëtlogon was swiftly dismissed.  The collection even includes a letter from Gordon to de Coëtlogon, dated 20 February 1884, which praises his work and promises, with characteristic confidence and some hubris, 'you may rest assured that you leave a place which is as safe as Kensington Park'.

By mid-March the city was surrounded by the Mahdi’s forces, and a siege began which would last 317 days.  Eventually, on 26 January 1885, the walls were breached and Gordon killed.  Meanwhile, Henry de Coëtlogon had returned to Egypt and received an appointment in the police force.

Matthew Waters
Manuscripts Cataloguer

Further reading:

Papers of Henry de Coëtlogon
Gordon,Charles George (1833–1885), army officer | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


14 July 2022

Sanitation at the Fort William Garrison

The Garrison at Fort William was not a particularly healthy place in 1860.  The proportion of its inhabitants sick in hospital was the highest for any station in Bengal, save for Dum Dum.  ‘Offensive smells’ were rife, and living quarters below rampart level were particularly noxious in the hot and rainy seasons due to poor air circulation.  A Sanitation Committee, which included the Deputy Inspector General of the Hospital, the Garrison Surgeon, and the Garrison Surveyor, had been looking at the issues for a number of years.  Fort William suffered from a number of structural problems due in part to an insufficient fall in elevation for drainage.  The privies leaked, the drains mainly opened into the ‘cunette’ or wet ditch, which had a propensity to silt up (but not with silt), and the Fort’s water supply was insufficient. 

View of the interior of Fort William Calcutta looking east across the courtyard towards Chowringhee Gate and Chowringhee Road View of the interior of Fort William Calcutta looking east across the courtyard towards Chowringhee Gate and Chowringhee Road by William Wood, William (1828) Shelfmark: WD3755 British Library Online Gallery Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Committee also viewed the behaviour of the men themselves as a problem – there were too many ways in which alcohol could be brought into the Fort, and too many ways in which the men could sneak out to the local grog shops at Hastings and Kidderpore Bridges.  The Medical Officers were of the opinion ‘… that almost every fatal case of cholera has been immediately traced to intemperance…’.

Dalhousie Barracks & Fort William in CalcuttaPhotograph of Dalhousie Barracks & Fort William, c 1859. Photo 147/1(49) part 1 Images Online

Number one on the suggested list of improvements were the privies.  A new standard plan for privies was to be introduced in the various barracks, the hospital, and places in the Garrison such as the arsenal.  In addition,  a new type of urinal was to be installed; unfortunately, a fully enamelled version could not be sourced in India, and would have to requisitioned from England.  In the meantime, a patented portable urinal could be purchased from Mr Lazarus of Cossitollah.  ‘The upper circular receiving basin is enamelled ware and empties into a strong iron Cylinder below.  Rings at the sides enable the whole to be carried away by means of a pole passing through them.  The main objection to this urinal is that the lower Cylinder – not being enamelled, rapidly corrodes.  It is however well adapted to meet the present requirements, and accordingly 100 are now being supplied for the use of the Barrack floors. Privies etc. in the Fort’.

Plan of patented urinalsPlan of patented urinals - Mss Eur F699/1/3/2/30, item 473 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Additionally, gutter-shaped glazed tiles from Doulton and Co. of London were to be installed in the privies and urinals ‘generally wherever the offensive matter is likely to come into contact with the ground’ as they were ‘guaranteed to stand the action of the most powerful acids’.  The Committee were also keen to increase the supply of disinfectants, suggesting liberal use of both charcoal and chloride of lime.

As for excessive drinking of liquor within and without the Garrison, a carrot and stick approach was taken.  There was to be greater enforcement of the Regulations of 1850, which limited each man to two drams of spirits per day, and the number of regimental canteens supplying alcohol was to be reduced.  Gate searches were to be increased.  To prevent soldiers sneaking out, more sentries were to be posted and repairs made to the ramparts to prevent climbing; in addition glass was to be set in mortar ‘at the top of the escarp’.  There was to be investment in ‘works connected with the amusement and instruction of the soldiers in the Garrison’.  These included the provision of skittle alleys, a gymnasium, a theatre, and a Garrison library.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F699/1/3/2/30, item 460: Proceedings of a Committee Held at Fort William by order of His Excellency Hugh Rose, G.C.B. Commander in Chief, to report on the Sanitary Condition of the Hospital and of the Fort. 13 Jun 1860.
Mss Eur F699/1/3/2/30, item 461: Statement of the work accomplished or under orders of the Fort William Special Committee, 2 Jun 1860. Prepared by Major R H Sankey, Officiating Garrison Engineer
Mss Eur F699/1/3/2/30, item 473: Letter by Major R H Sankey, Garrison Engineer, to Brigadier M Smith, Commanding Fort William, 16 Jul 1860
IOR/E/4/852, p.957: Despatches to India and Bengal, Jun-Jul 1858. Opinion of authorities as to the necessity of privies.
Army Medical Department. Statistical, Sanitary and Medical Reports for the year 1862 (London: Harrison & Sons, 1864) 


12 July 2022

Mary Ann Ayah accused of theft

In May 1826 Mary Ann Ayah arrived in London, having accompanied Eliza Scott and Marian Grace Warner on the voyage from India in the  East Indiaman Royal George.  Mrs Scott and Mrs Warner were sisters, the daughters of Sir Henry White.  Both were the widows of officers in the Bengal Army.  The following month, the magistrates at Marylebone were asked to settle a dispute between Mary Ann and her former employers.

Full-length standing carte-de-visite photographic portrait of an ayah, early 1870s.Full-length standing carte-de-visite photographic portrait of an ayah: Bourne and Shepherd, early 1870s. Shelfmark: Photo 127/(74) BL Online Gallery Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mrs Warner had found that some of her property was missing from the luggage she had left on the ship with Mary Ann, including a valuable writing desk, and she had asked the magistrates to investigate.  Mary Ann attended the Marylebone Police Office accompanied by her sailor son, whom she had met accidentally in London.  She told the magistrates that she had been promised a gratuity of £10 and a certificate of ‘character’ on arrival in England if her service was satisfactory.  She had called on Mrs Scott and Mrs Warner in Marylebone to be given these before she took a passage to India in the same ship as her son.

Mary Ann defended herself in English ‘with a great deal of ingenuity’, denying that she had stolen anything.  This had been her fifth voyage to England and she produced several certificates of good character from the families she had previously attended.

Mrs Warner asked that an officer should make a search of the trunks belonging to Mary Ann and her son.  This would be also be to the satisfaction of Captain William Reynolds, the commander of the Royal George, who was indignant that his crew were under suspicion.  Nothing was found but the sisters still refused to give the gratuity.  There followed a ’long and animated dialogue in the Hindostan language’ between Mrs Warner, Mrs Scott, Mary Ann and her son whilst the magistrates looked on.  The sisters said Mary Ann had no claim upon them for the £10 and referred her to Captain Reynolds.  Magistrate John Rawlinson announced that he could not decide between the parties since the contract was made in India and he recommended that Mary Ann should call on Reynolds at the Jerusalem Coffee House in the City of London.  Mrs Scott wrote the address on a piece of paper but Mary Ann refused to take it.  She asked Mr Rawlinson to write it down for her.

Captain Reynolds wrote to Rawlinson stating that Mary Ann’s character was above suspicion and that she had conducted herself properly during the voyage to England.  In his opinion, Mrs Warner and Mrs Scott should pay the gratuity and he asked the magistrate to help in the matter.  Rawlinson showed the letter to Mrs Scott, and the following day her manservant came to the Police Office with Mary Ann and handed over five sovereigns and eight rupees as a ‘gift’.  Mary Ann accepted and, according to the newspaper reports, apparently seemed satisfied.  She left the office ‘making her obeisance after the Oriental fashion’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper ArchiveMorning Herald 13 and 24 June 1826.


07 July 2022

World War Two Reception Camps for Indian POWs

In late 1944, as Allied forces gradually re-took territory from German control in Europe, increasing numbers of prisoners of war were liberated.  These POWs needed to be organised and assessed before either being sent back to service or returned home.  The India Office Records holds several files on this process for Indian POWs, which gives an insight into the challenges of such a complex task.

Leaflet to all British Commonwealth Ex-Prisoners of War Leaflet to all British Commonwealth Ex-Prisoners of War -  IOR/L/WS/1/709  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

By the late summer of 1944, it was estimated that around 12,000 Indian POWs, together with Indian seamen and civilian internees would come into Allied hands.  Lieutenant General Molesworth, at the India Office in London, was anxious that sufficient funds be provided for rehabilitation and recreation for the POWs at the camps before their onward transit to India.  In a memo to his colleagues he stated: 'I think you will agree that these men may be kept for some time in this country and after their experiences we should do all we can to make their stay a happy one and restore their morale before they embark for India'.

Map showing location of Reception Camps in UKMap showing location of Reception Camps in UK -  IOR/L/WS/1/709  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

By November, the Prisoner of War Organisation was in full operation, with camps at the following locations:
• Near Thetford, Norfolk: Headquarters at Shadwell Court; Reception Centre at Southwood; and camps at Snareshill and Riddlesmere.
• Near Brandon, Norfolk: Rest camp at Lower Didlington, and Indian hospitals at Weeting Hall and Upper Didlington.
• Near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk: a rest camp at Fornham.
• Near Much Hadham, Herts: a rest camp at Wynches
• London: a leave camp at Dean Lodge, Roehampton.

Layout of Indian Reception Camps Layout of Indian Reception Camps -  IOR/L/WS/1/709 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The files do not contain lists of names of the Indian POWs who passed through the camps, but they contain copies of a ‘War Diary or Intelligence Summary’ which gives fascinating details on how they spent their time. 

War Diary for August 1945 War Diary for August 1945 - IOR/L/WS/1/705 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Entertainments were arranged, such as regular screenings of films (both Indian and English) in the Public Cinema Hall in Thetford, and lectures at the India Forces Club.  Volunteers helped at local farms picking potatoes and peas, and there were visits to local fairs and industries, such as a visit to the Vauxhall motor works at Luton and to the Suffolk Cattle Show at Ipswich.  Some camps held classes in arts and crafts, with lessons on carpentry, leatherwork and knitting.  One camp was treated to a variety show of Russian dancers, a conjurer and jugglers.  Sport was always popular, with a Regimental tournament held in August 1945, with football, volleyball, basketball, tug of war, Kabaddi, wrestling, long and high jumps and races.  On 16 June 1945 the rest camp at Didlington received a visit from the King and Queen who enjoyed a parade of 4,000 POWs.

Newspaper article about Queen Mary's gift of ping-pong, cards, darts and other games to Indian POWs at ThetfordQueen Mary's gift of ping-pong, cards, darts and other games to Indian POWs at Thetford - British Newspaper Archive Lynn Advertiser 3 July 1945 

Leave parties were organised to London for sight-seeing.  One group visited Tottenham Hotspur Football Ground to watch a match, and there was a visit to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. A group of Sikh officers and men attended a celebration in honour of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji at a Sikh temple in London, and a small party of Indian officers and VCOs attended the opening of the Islamic Cultural Centre by the Egyptian Ambassador at Regent’s Park on 21 November 1944.

Newspaper report of the visit of General Sir A G O Mayne to Fornham  Park in April 1945

General Sir A G O Mayne chatting to Indian soldiers at Fornham ParkVisit of General Sir A G O Mayne to Fornham  Park April 1945 - British Newspaper Archive Bury Free Press 27 April 1945

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
War diaries: Indian POW reception headquarters, Part 1, 1944-1945, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/704.

War diaries: Indian POW reception headquarters, Part 2, 1944-1945, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/705.

Indian POWs' reception headquarters: personnel and administration, Part 1, 1944-1947, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/709.

Indian POWs' reception headquarters: personnel and administration, Part 2, 1944-1947, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/710.

Prisoners of War: India POW Reception HQ - liaison letters, 1944, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/1396.

Weekly returns of patients accommodated in Reception Stations, 1945, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/2/27.

Indian prisoners of war - reception camps, 1944, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/2/43


05 July 2022

Ibrāhīm al-Najjār al-Dayrānī: Doctor of Lebanon

In late 1837, an eager fifteen-year-old named Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl ibn Yūsuf al-Najjār al-Dayrānī travelled from his home in a mountainside town outside Beirut in order to study medicine in Cairo.Principal square in Grand Cairo  with Murad Bey's palace'Principal square in Grand Cairo, with Murad Bey's palace' by Luigi Mayer, from Thomas Milton, Views in Egypt, Palestine, and other parts of the Ottoman Empire (London,1840) British Library shelfmark 762.h.2.(1), Images OnlinePublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

His journey took place against the backdrop of rapid modernisation in the Middle East, with local rulers increasingly bringing in technical, military, administrative and scientific practices and expertise from Europe.  In medicine, Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769-1849), the Ottoman governor of Egypt, imported from 1825 European doctors, particularly French, to administer to the health of Muhammad Ali’s growing army, develop medical institutions along Western lines, and train locals in Western medicine.

Dr Antoine Bertélémy Clot (1793-1868) or ‘Clot Bey’, as he was nicknamed, accompanied Muhammad Ali’s occupation of Greater Syria (1832-40).  Clot Bey was instrumental in the selection of Ibrāhīm as one of the five first Lebanese students to embark on a Western medical education at the school in Cairo that he had founded in 1827.

Ibrāhīm was a product of European expansionism in the Middle East: his grandfather was reportedly a Corsican carpenter who had arrived in the Levant with Napoleon’s invading forces in 1799.  Unusually, we know about his personal experiences thanks to his memoir Miṣbāḥ al-Sārī wa-Nuzhat al-Qārīʾ (Lamp for the Traveller and Diversion for the Reader), which he self-published 20 years later.

Title page  Miṣbāḥ al-Sārī wa-Nuzhat al-Qārīʾ  printed Beirut  1272 hijrī (1855-56)Title page, Miṣbāḥ al-Sārī wa-Nuzhat al-Qārīʾ, printed Beirut, 1272 hijrī (1855-56) 

Without detailing his education, Ibrāhīm mentions his yearning for medical knowledge from a young age, which could not be satisfied locally.  Clearly, the extraordinary wealth of medical, pharmaceutical, and surgical learning previously compiled by Arabic-speaking physicians was not what he had in mind.

The memoir discusses Ibrāhīm’s arrival in Cairo, the medical school at Qasr al-ʿAynī, and the content of the four-year medical course.  Beginning with chemistry, general anatomy, and pharmacology, the 500 students – mostly from rural Egypt and destined for careers with the army – progressed to minor surgery, botany, pathology, pharmacology, major surgery and specialist anatomy.  Students accompanied their teachers on hospital ward rounds and observed autopsies, which Ibrāhīm confesses that he loathed.  This emphasis on human dissection was one major difference between a traditional Arabic medical training and the education Ibrahim was receiving; to alleviate Muslim concerns, the school claimed that the cadavers used were those of Jews and Christians.

A view of Constantinople'Panorama of Constantinople' from A Series of Eight Views, forming a Panorama of the City of Constantinople and its Environs, taken from the Town of Galata (1813) British Library shelfmark Maps K.Top.113.75.f  Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

After graduating in 1842, Ibrāhīm travelled to Constantinople (Istanbul).  Having cured – he claims – a patient whom his host’s personal physician could not, he was introduced to the chief doctor of Istanbul and enrolled at the Royal Medical School.  For four years, he attended lectures, saw patients, and learnt Turkish and French in order to access modern textbooks.  This culminated in a gruelling public examination presided over by the young Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecit I (r. 1839-61).

Portrait of Sultan Abdülmecit I by David WilkiePortrait of Sultan Abdülmecit I by David Wilkie (1785-1841), 1840. Image courtesy of Royal Collection Trust

After qualifying fully aged 22, Ibrāhīm spent three years travelling in Europe, before returning to Lebanon as chief medical officer at the Ottoman army barracks in Beirut.  Straddling the manuscript and print eras in the Levant, Ibrāhīm authored books, including one manuscript recently made available on the Qatar Digital Library (British Library Or. 12152).  This pharmaceutical inventory, apparently in his hand, expresses an intellectual position encompassing both traditional Arabic pharmacological and botanical knowledge, and use of Latin- and Greek-derived terminology and chemical compounds discovered by Western physicians.

Page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs  by  Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār  ca 1845-64Page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs, by Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār, ca 1845-64 (f. 8v)

Title page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs  by Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār  ca 1845-64Title page from Kitāb anīs al-jalīs fī kull ḥadīth nafīs, by Ibrāhīm ibn Khalīl al-Najjār, ca 1845-64 (f. 1r). The author is described as ‘One of the doctors of the Royal [Medical] School in Asitane [Istanbul], and the foremost doctor to the Sultanic [Ottoman] armies in Beirut’.

Embodying the modernising efforts of 19th-century Ottoman rule, Ibrāhīm al-Dayrani was one of the first doctors to be trained in the Western medical methods and concepts that have become universal.  He died in 1864, aged just 42.

Jenny Norton-Wright
Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership