Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

7 posts from November 2022

29 November 2022

East India Company discharged soldiers

In the India Office Records are two fascinating registers of discharged soldiers for the period 1820-1882.  They record soldiers other than commissioned officers who served in the East India Company armies in Bengal, Madras, Bombay and St Helena, and in the British Army in India after 1859.

Page from register of discharged soldiersRegister of discharged soldiers IOR/L/MIL/10/301 - William Evitt from a recent post appears on this page  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The information given is –
• Names
• Rank
• Service in years and months
• Which establishment i.e. Bengal, Madras, Bombay, St Helena
• Age
• Height
• Complexion e.g. fair, sallow, freckled, dark, swarthy, fresh, ruddy
• Visage e.g. round, long, very long, oval, square, sharp, thin
• Eye and hair colour
• Previous trade
• County and parish of birth
• Character
• Ship sailing to England
• Where enlisted
• Amount of marching money (grant to meet the costs of  the soldier's journey from the place where he was landed  to the place where he enlisted)
• Reason for discharge e.g. time expired, unfit, infamous character, own request, over age
• Notes e.g. admission to pension, scars, details of injuries and infirmities

Explanations are given for why the soldiers were deemed unfit for further service.  Some examples of infirmity are broken hips; fractured knees; wounds; liver, kidney, lung, and heart disease; rheumatism; injuries to hands; loss of limbs; constant headaches; poor eyesight; epilepsy; rupture; venereal disease; alcohol problems.  Several men died before embarkation or during the passage home.  Gunners in the Artillery seem to have been especially prone to injury – ‘contracted’ fingers, deafness, being hit by horses falling on them.  In 1858, discharges because of serious injuries sustained in actions during the Indian Uprising or ‘Mutiny’ dominate the register.

Some men with mental health problems were sent for admission to Pembroke House in Hackney, for example, in 1857, Patrick Glendon and Theophilus Boyd.  Their case histories can be read in the Pembroke House register in the India Office Records (IOR/K/2/36).

There are cases of men being discharged when they needed to return to Europe to settle personal affairs .  Others were removed from the army after being involved in criminal activity such as highway robbery.  James Deer, a private in the St Helena garrison, was discharged and sent to England as an infamous character.  He had been being found guilty of burglary and sacrilege after stealing articles from the London Missionary Society at Jamestown Church on 8 December 1821.  He was spared by giving evidence for the Crown against his fellow soldier Samuel Crump who was sentenced to death.  The East India Company Court of Directors and the London Missionary Society submitted petitions to the Home Secretary Robert Peel, asking for clemency for Crump on the grounds of Christian mercy and his contrition. A royal pardon was granted on condition that Crump serve seven years’ hard labour on St Helena.

Charles Gustasson, a native of Sweden, was discharged in 1823 and granted a pension.  He had originally enlisted in 1806 for service on St Helena but ‘being a foreigner’ was moved to the Cape of Good Hope after the arrival of Napoleon on the island in 1815.

In July 1859 William Ruxton, a gunner in the Bombay Artillery returned to Dublin with a pension and a very good character after 23 years’ service.  He was discharged because of old age, loss of vital energy, and bad teeth. He was aged 45.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading;
IOR/L/MIL/10/301-302 Registers of discharged soldiers 1820-1882, with indexes.
IOR/G/32/142, 153 St Helena records 1822-1823 about Samuel Crump.
The National Archives HO 17/92/50 Petition on behalf of Samuel Crump 1822.

23 November 2022

The Attempted Assassination of Lord Lytton: A Letter’s Story

Archivists respect ‘provenance’ and ‘original order’, which means that documents created by the same person, organisation, or institution stay together, and you don’t mix or rearrange them because you think it might make material more ‘useable’.  But documents often have their own story to tell.  I recently came across one such letter in the India Office records from Viceroy Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird.

Photographic portrait of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton - bearded, seated, dressed in long frock coat. Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 1876 NPG x197471 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl Lytton was Viceroy of India from 1876 to 1880.  It was a controversial term of office.  On the domestic front, the Vernacular Press Act (1878) provoked public protests against the Government’s attempts to control a critical Indian Press.  The Second Anglo-Afghan War was underway, absorbing considerable political and economic resources.  And famine raged across large swathes of India for the first three years of Lytton’s tenure, the disaster of drought exacerbated by a poor Government response to famine relief and the continued export of grain.  Estimates vary, but 10 million people may have died of starvation and its associated diseases.  James Caird was part of the Indian Famine Commission set up to look at ways to prevent and avoid future famines.

Page of letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879 Page of letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879IOR/L/PS/19/570: Letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879, f2v & f3r  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Our letter, dated 12 December 1879, was a private rather than official piece of correspondence, sent from Government House Calcutta to Caird’s London address.  It remained in the Caird family until gifted to the India Office in 1924 as part of a larger collection of correspondence to and from James Caird, which also included material relating to the Famine Commission.  The material was gratefully received, given the shelf-mark Home Miscellaneous 796 (IOR/H/796), and catalogued.  But this particular letter was deliberately removed and placed in the care of the Political and Secret Department.

Document recording transfer of letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird to Political and Secret Department in 1924Document recording transfer of letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird to Political and Secret Department, 1924  -IOR/L/PS/11/247, P 2688/1924  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Amongst other business, the letter describes an assassination attempt against Lytton.  Arriving in Calcutta, Lytton tells Caird: ‘I daresay you will see it stated in the newspapers that I was twice fired at on my way from the Station to Government House’.  He is dismissive, both of the assassination attempt, and of the person making it, saying ‘But the shots were fired by a lunatic Eurasian; and I can assure you that they had not the smallest political significance’.  Lytton’s language is distasteful, not only towards his would-be assassin, but also towards the wider Indian inhabitants of Bengal (‘Bengalee Baboos’) who he describes as ‘disloyal’, including those belonging to the British Indian Association.  Lytton does not name his attacker, but he is identified in the press as George Dessa or De Sa. The newspapers state that his shots had ‘…created indignation but no excitement…it seems doubtful as to whether the man was mad or only drunk’.  His motive is not deemed to be political, but rather that he acted because he had been dismissed from his job.

Report of the assassination attempt on Lytton in Homeward Mail 5 January 1880Report of the assassination attempt on Lytton in Homeward Mail 5 January 1880 British Newspaper Archive

India Office staff in 1924 do not explicitly state the reason for the letter’s removal, but we can surmise that as it refers to an assassination attempt against the Viceroy, it was deemed to be too politically sensitive to remain with the other items.  Lytton’s provocative language may also have been an issue, given the context of rising Indian nationalism within the sub-continent, and the political instabilities in Britain in the 1920s.  Whatever the reasons behind its original removal, improved cataloguing of our records enables us to intellectually link our letter back to its original collection, telling its history along the way.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/19/570: Letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 1879.
IOR/H/796: Correspondence of Sir James Caird, Member of the Indian Famine Commission. 1878-1881.
IOR/L/PS/11/247, P 2688/1924: Letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird, transferred to Political and Secret Department.
The Times of India 16 December 1879 & The Homeward Mail 5 January 1880, accessed via British Newspaper Archive.
IOR/L/PARL/2/173/2: Condition of India. Report by James Caird, C.B. (C.2732). 1880.
Various correspondence between James Caird and the India Office in relation to his Condition of India report can be found at IOR/L/E/6/13, File 705; IOR/L/E/6/11, File 538; IOR/L/E/6/26, File 424; IOR/L/E/6/2, File 59; and IOR/L/E/6/19, File 1164.
Papers of 1st Earl of Lytton, Viceroy of India, Mss Eur F595 and Mss Eur E218.


21 November 2022

Football in the Gulf – some snippets from the early years

With the start of FIFA World Cup 2022 in which Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran will be competing, here is a look at a few mentions of football in the Gulf from the 1930s to the early 1950s from the digitised archives of the Qatar Digital Library. The Administration Report for the Bahrain Agency for 1933 reported there were ‘seven football clubs in Bahrain.'.

Administration Report for the Bahrain Agency for 1933 reporting on sportAdministration Report for the Bahrain Agency for 1933 reporting on sport IOR/R/15/2/297

Apart from regular fixtures, special football matches were arranged on a number of different occasions.  In January 1935 on the anniversary celebrations of the accession of Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as ruler of Bahrain, the Bahrain Sports Club arranged a fancy dress football match.  The British Political Agent, Colonel Percy Loch, wrote to the Adviser to the Bahrain Government, Charles Belgrave, that he would not be able to attend due to an afternoon reception and then Shaikh Sir Hamad’s dinner.

Football matches were also often arranged on the arrival of a British ship in port.  For example, in October 1951 the British consulate in Muscat wrote to Sayyid Tarik bin Taimur (the father of the current ruler of the Sultanate of Oman, Sultan Haitham) to ask if he would care to play in a Muscat team against a visiting team from HMS Loch Quoich.

Letter from British consulate in Muscat  to Sayyid Tarik bin Taimur Letter to Sayyid Tarik bin Taimur to ask if he would care to play in a Muscat team against a visiting team from HMS Loch Quoich  IOR/R/15/6/301, f 28

As in contemporary times football and politics are often inextricably intertwined.  In the late 1930s the provision of sports facilities including ‘soccer fields’ featured in a report by a journalist entitled ‘IS JOHN BULL’s FACE RED’ which lampooned British officialdom for its perceived ineptitude in the handling of the oil opportunity in Bahrain.

Report on provision of sports facilities including ‘soccer fields’'Articles in Press on Gulf Affairs'  IOR/R/15/2/178

Then, as today, the provision of facilities to play football in the Gulf can attract comment in the media both positive and negative.

Francis Owtram, Gulf History Specialist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
File 8/8 1931-34 Bahrain Agency Administration Reports and Related Papers [‎102r] (208/310), IOR/R/15/2/297
'File 6/58 Accession Celebrations on H. E. Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's accession as the Ruler of Bahrain Islands', IOR/R/15/2/1276
'File 9/1 IV Visits of HM Ships' [‎28r] (55/96), IOR/R/15/6/301
'Articles in Press on Gulf Affairs' [‎50r] (101/728), IOR/R/15/2/178


18 November 2022

Chinese & British Now Open!

We're very pleased to announce the opening of Chinese and British: a free exhibition exploring British Chinese communities and cultures!

From the first recorded individuals arriving from China in the late 1600s to Europe's first Chinatown being established in Liverpool during the 1850s, Chinese people, who can trace their heritage to regions across east and southeast Asia, have played an active part in British society for over 300 years.

The exhibition reflects on this long history by exploring the stories of those who lived through it.

Exhibition poster showing footballer Frank SooChinese and British exhibition poster, featuring Frank Soo

Meet remarkable individuals from British Chinese communities across the UK through the personal accounts of merchant seamen, and the local business owners who helped establish Europe's first Chinatowns. Be inspired by the scientists, artists and writers breaking new ground. And learn more about some of the challenges that British Chinese people have encountered through the centuries, and continue to face today.

Hand drawn map of China, showing the area around the Great WallDetail of Shen Fuzong's hand-drawn map of China, 1680s, Sloane MS 853a

Our St Pancras site will host a number of events during the exhibition run, but it is not the only place to experience the exhibition. Public libraries across the UK will also be hosting Chinese and British, through a series of panel displays simultaneously opening in over 30 towns and cities via the Living Knowledge Network. A programme of regional events will also showcase the rich history of Chinese British communities across the UK.

Illustrated_detailExcerpt from 'Influx of Chinese Seamen and Uni Students in Liverpool creates a new Chinatown', Illustrated, 17 April 1943.

Chinese and British has been curated by Dr Lucienne Loh at the University of Liverpool and Dr Alex Tickell at the Open University, in collaboration with British Library curators Han-Lin Hsieh, Alex Hailey and Karen Stapley. It was designed by PUP architects, with graphics by Studio Wan.

Chinese and British is generously supported by Blick Rothenberg.

Logo of Blick Rothenberg, exhibition sponsors

15 November 2022

Star Baker or Avid Taste-Tester? – Exploring Evanion’s 19th-century baking ephemera collection

Henry Evanion, born 1832 in Vauxhall, London, was a 19th-century conjuror and entertainer.  Evanion’s career began aged just 17 and throughout his life, Evanion performed across the country in small towns, entertained royalty in private performances and had a successful run at the Crystal Palace in London.  Evanion was also an avid collector of paper ephemera from an early age and amassed thousands of items during his lifetime.  The Evanion Collection represents his widespread interests, with themes including local politics, Victorian entertainment and miscellaneous advertisements for products related to everyday household life.

Are you a star baker?
Bakers in the 19th century were spoilt for choice thanks to an increase in products available for home-baking and the enduring popularity of cookery books like Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1859-1861).

In the Victorian period, the development of new ingredients meant that bakers could make quicker and cheaper puddings.  One Victorian invention was self-raising flour, which was first introduced in 1845.  By the 1880s, it had become a baking essential for households with an 1885 advert from McDougall’s (Evan.6234.), claiming that the flour was for ‘everyday use’ and that it could help to ‘avoid indigestion’.

An advertisement for McDougall’s patent self raising flour, with a boy in a chef's hat holding a large pie in a dishAn advertisement for McDougall’s patent self raising flour (c.1885). Evan.6234

A second revolutionary development was egg powder, a cheaper alternative to using eggs in baking.  An advert from 1885 (Evan.4244.) for Freeman’s egg powder shows a  young woman surrounded by the bakes she’s made using the product.  The advert claims that Freeman’s is the ‘largest sale in the world’ and can be used for cakes, pancakes, plum puddings and Yorkshire puddings.

Advertisement card for Freeman’s Digestive Egg Powder.  A young woman, holding a packet of Freeman's egg powder in each hand, stands behind a table on which is displayed a range of cakes and puddings, made from the product.Advertisement card for Freeman’s Digestive Egg Powder (1885) Evan.4244.

Revolutionising Puddings?
An advertisement for Freeman’s Pudding Powder from 1886 (Evan.6504.) offered an alternative for those unable to find the ingredients to make a pudding.  The notice, titled ‘So Glad I Saw This’ tells the story of a woman who asked her friend for the recipe to make a pudding and was surprised to find that the pudding was a powder mix with added milk and sugar.

An advertisement for Freeman’s Delicious Pudding Powder, with a judge taste-testing the pudding with the caption ‘delivering judgement – delicious’An advertisement for Freeman’s Delicious Pudding Powder (1885) Evan.6228

This advert for the mix from 1885 (Evan.6228.) offers to send ladies one of each flavour (almond, lemon, vanilla, peach, chocolate and nectarine) for free by post for 12 stamps.  The witty advert features an image of a judge taste-testing the pudding with the caption ‘delivering judgement – delicious’.  Pudding mixes like Freeman’s revolutionised Victorian desserts because they were a cheaper and quicker alternative to traditional puddings which were labour-intensive and required lots of ingredients.

Next time you are baking a cake, watching a cookery programme or buying a sweet treat from a local bakery, think about the variety of ingredients available today and the ease of opening a tin or using a packet mix to speed up the process. These developments came from 19th-century products like the ones featured here. You can explore more 19th-century baking material via the Evanion catalogue online.

Amy Solomons
PhD Placement Student, Heritage Made Digital

Further Reading
Andrea Broomfield, Food and Cooking in Victorian England, A History (Praeger Publishers: Santa Barbara, 2007).
James Hagy, Early English Conjuring Collectors, James Savren and Henry Evanion (Shaker Heights: Ohio, 1985).
Elizabeth Harland, ‘The Evanion Collection’, The British Library Journal, vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring 1987), pp. 64- 700.


10 November 2022

Finding employment for surplus Indian Army Officers

Following the implementation in April 1923 of the Royal Warrant 1922 a number of Indian Army Officers found their roles ‘surplus to requirements’.

One of the opportunities presented to these officers, was the opportunity to settle in the state of Victoria, Australia, with a significant plot of land for farming.

Newspaper advert for the Australian farms schemeAdvert for the Australian farms scheme -  Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore) 26 July 1922 British Newspaper Archive

A financial agreement could be entered into with Australian Farms Limited whereby they would supply the land, tools, livestock etc. required for the officers to establish themselves in farming, and in return the officers would take out a financial loan with the company to cover the costs which would have to be paid back monthly.

The agreement also included an understanding that the gratuities these officers would be receiving from the India Office following their discharge (such as pension, annuities, bonus etc.) would be paid directly to Australian Farms Limited, who would then take their monthly payment from the gratuity received and forward the remainder of it onto the officer.

Newspaper report on the working of the scheme 1924Report on the working of the scheme  - Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore) 22 January 1924 British Newspaper Archive

Problems arose however in June 1925 when the India Office was notified that Australian Farms Ltd had gone into voluntary liquidation.  This raised questions about how the officers' gratuities would now be paid to them, as the company had in effect been acting as the agent for these individuals.

Letter reporting liquidation of Australian Farms Ltd, June 1925Letter reporting liquidation of Australian Farms Ltd,, June 1925  - IOR/L/AG/29/1/151, part 6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Enquiries were made with the Government of Victoria to identify how many of the 93 individuals who had originally taken out these contracts were still operating these farms, as some individuals had sold their land and bought themselves out of the agreement, whilst others had their contracts cancelled by being recalled to the Army.

Page from a list of officers who entered the schemePage from a list of officers who entered the scheme - IOR/L/AG/29/1/151, part 6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

From the original list of 93 individuals, 80 were found to have chosen to remain in Australia and continue with the land and farm in June 1925.  Their contracts were re-assigned to the Treasurer for the State of Victoria, the state government having decided to take on the responsibility for the settling of the land by the officers in question.

Newspaper article about the plight of the men in the farm scheme December 1926Article about the plight of the men in the farm scheme -  Dundee Evening Telegraph 28 December 1926 British Newspaper Archive

Arrangements were therefore subsequently made for the gratuities to be paid via the Government of Victoria in future.  However any officer who was found to be in debt to Australian Farms Ltd at the time of liquidation was required to use their gratuity to pay off that debt first.

Some of the 80 individuals would later choose to sell up their land and return to England, but the vast majority settled in Australia permanently.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/L/AG/29/1/151, part 6 - Australian Farm Cases, 1925-1926.
British Newspaper Archive


08 November 2022

The Collier family of Bethnal Green and the East India Company

Following on from our overview of East India Company Home Correspondence, we look at a document from this collection which is the key to uncovering a wealth of detail about one East London family’s links to India.

In July 1856 Matthew Collier of Bethnal Green, a pewterer in his late 50s, sent a petition to the East India Company asking for a position.  He started by naming five members of his family who had served the Company – his father, two brothers, a nephew and a son.  Matthew said that he had been twenty years with his current employer but now felt inclined to finish his days with the Company as a firelighter or doorkeeper at East India House or in any other ‘low’ situation.  The hours would be shorter than at present and the work much easier.

Matthew Collier's petition for a position at East India House Matthew Collier's petition for a position at East India House - IOR/E/1/193 Letter no. 238  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Company’s Secretary wrote in August informing Matthew that Court of Directors was ‘under the necessity of declining to comply with his request’.

From the information given by Matthew in the petition, it is possible to trace details of his relatives’ service with the Company in other parts of the India Office Records.

Matthew said that his father William Delves Collier had made a voyage for the East India Company in 1790-1791.  He didn’t know the name of the ship but I have found a William Collier who was surgeon’s servant in the Hawke.  William entered the ship on 19 April 1790 and the pay book shows that he was owed wages of £7 11s for ten months and two days. That means that William left the Hawke in Bengal. What did he do then?

Next, Matthew named his eldest brother William who had died in Bombay having served as a sergeant in the European Light Infantry using their mother’s maiden name Evitt.  William Evitt, a painter and glazier, enlisted in the Company’s army in July 1821 aged 19.  In 1825 he was discharged with chronic rheumatism and tremor of the limbs and sent back to England.  He was permitted to re-enlist in 1830.  He married Catherine King at Bombay in 1835, describing himself as a widower.  Catherine, née Hardcastle, was the widow of James King, a sergeant in the Bombay Horse Artillery.  William died on 18 October 1841 and was buried at St Andrew’s Church, Bombay.

According to Matthew, his next brother John Collier was a musician on board the Earl of Balcarras on a voyage to Bengal.  The ship’s journal records that seaman John Collier died at New Anchorage Bengal on 5 July 1826.  On 31 May 1827, William Delves Collier received wages of £5 2s 3d owed to his son.

Ship Earl of Balcarras pay book - receipt for wages of John Collier signed by W D CollierReceipt for wages of John Collier signed by W D Collier. IOR/L/MAR/B/35Q(2) Pay book for the ship Earl of Balcarras  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The fourth member of the family to serve the Company was Matthew’s nephew George Richards who was a private in the European Light Infantry.  Weaver George enlisted at the age of 21 in August 1840.  He died in Aden and was buried on 7 April 1847.  In a will written on 2 April 1847, George left Rs 100 to his brother William Richards of Spitalfields and all the remainder of his estate and effects to his ‘friend and companion’ Private William Theed.

Will of George RichardsWill of Private George Richards 2 April 1847 - IOR/L/AG/34/30/26 no.22 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Lastly, Matthew’s son Samuel Collier was a sergeant in the European Light Infantry.  Samuel, a groom, had enlisted for unlimited service in February 1840. He died in Sind on 13 November 1855 aged 34.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading;
IOR/E/1/193 Letter no. 238 IOR/E/1/193 Letter no. 238 Petition of Matthew Collier of 4 Tapp Street, Bethnal Green, July 1856.
IOR/E/1/305 Letter no. 3276 East India Company Secretary to Matthew Collier, 4 August 1856.
IOR/E/1 is now available as part of AM’s East India Company resource. 
IOR/L/MAR/B/390K Journal of the ship Hawke 1790-1791.
IOR/L/MAR/B/35H, and 35Q(2) Journal and pay book for the ship Earl of Balcarras
Documents for William Evitt:
IOR/L/MIL/9/2 London District recruitment register July 1821.
IOR/L/MIL/9/99 p.173 Embarkation list for the ship Berwickshire December 1821 .
IOR/L/MIL/10/301 Discharge register.
IOR/L/MIL/9/42 Embarkation list for the ship Buckinghamshire January 1831.
IOR/L/MIL/9/77 p.197 Embarkation list for the ship Buckinghamshire January 1831
Bombay Army muster rolls and casualty lists e.g. IOR/L/MIL/12/147-149, 1823-1825; IOR/L/MIL/12/157, 1833; IOR/L/MIL/12/165, 1841.
IOR/N/312 f.246 Marriage of William Evitt to Catherine King, 1835.
IOR/N/3/15 f.471 Burial of William Evitt, 1841.
Documents for George Richards:
IOR/L/MIL/9/6 London District recruitment register August 1840.
IOR/L/MIL/9/101 p.48 Embarkation list for the ship Donna Pascoa October 1840.
Bombay Army muster rolls and casualty lists e.g. IOR/L/MIL/12/177-178, 1846-1847.
IOR/L/AG/34/30/26 no.22 Will of Private George Richards, 2 April 1847.
IOR/N/13/14 Burial of George Richards, Aden 1847.
Documents for Samuel Collier:
IOR/L/MIL/9/5 London District recruitment register February 1840.
IOR/L/MIL/9/78 Embarkation list for the ship  Northumberland April 1840.
Bombay Army muster rolls and casualty lists e.g. IOR/L/MIL/12/186-187, 1855-1856.
IOR/N/3/29 p.348 Burial of Samuel Collier, 1855.