In 1928, Francis Graham Arnould retired as the Chief Engineer for the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway. Born in 1875, Arnould had studied engineering at the City & Guilds (Engineering) College in London from 1892 to 1895. On graduating, he had joined the B,B & CI Railway. He worked on many important railway construction projects such as the Tapti Valley Railway and the Rewari Phulera Chord Line, gradually working his way up to Chief Engineer. In 1928, he was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (C.I.E.).
His colleagues saw him off in style, with a grand farewell dinner at the Willingdon Sports Clubs, Bombay on Saturday 31 March 1928. Guests were treated to a band playing a selection of popular show tunes of the time, such as ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’, ‘No, No, Nanette’, ‘Gonna Get A Girl’ and ‘The Blue Train’. They ate well too with a scrumptious sounding menu:
• Oeufs au Caviar.
• Consommé au vin de Madère.
• Pomfret du Willingdon Club with Punch a la Romaine.
• Tournedos de Boeuf Bearnaise with Pomme Chippes.
• Pintade au Jambon Froid with Salade a l’Adeline.
• Poires a la Chantily.
• Laitances sur Croutes.
However, there was probably one retirement present he was not expecting. In June 1928, he received a letter from the Museum Darulfalah in Delhi, congratulating him on his C.I.E. and presenting him with a humble ‘present’ of a ‘Wonderful Rice’. This arrived by separate post with a letter of explanation. The ‘Wonderful Rice’ was a common seed of rice with the 'difficult and incredible skill of inscription' making it a ‘marvellous curio’. In his letter, the Museum manager explained that it was inspired by 'the historical event of a verse in the Holy Quran being inscribed on a split pea of a gram, which was then presented to the Emperor Akbar. The Emperor was extremely surprised and amused of it and rewarded the inscriber with Jagirs worth lakhs of Rupees'.
Miniature writing goes back at least 4,000 years, with very small clay tablets written in cuneiform from ancient Mesopotamia. It is thought that writing on rice began in ancient Anatolia and India, with artisans inscribing short messages using rice as a symbol of abundance and good fortune.
The grain of rice sent to Arnould (No.7108) apparently had 102 English characters, saying ‘Long & happily live F.G. Arnould Esq., C.I.E., Chairman, Indian Rlys Confce. Assocn (Enging) & Chief Engineer, B.B. & C.I.Rlys, Bombay. 5.6.1928’. Arnould also received a leaflet on the ‘Wonderful Rice’ which claimed that King George V had sent for one, and that the King of Siam had so admired his that he had given a donation of 300 rupees. Arnould was also requested to send a donation to the Museum, as the Museum manager explained, ‘As the beginning of every work is difficult, so our work has also great many difficulties and the chief of them is the lack of capital, which is a hindrance to our efforts’. The correspondence does not say what Arnould thought of his present and whether he did send a donation, and unfortunately we do not have the ‘Wonderful Rice’.
India Office Records
Papers relating to the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway, 1923-1927, shelfmark: Mss Eur E403/1.
Papers relating to F G Arnould's retirement as Chief Engineer of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway, 1928, shelfmark: Mss Eur E403/2.
Letters from the Manager of the Museum Darulfalah, Sadar Bazar, Delhi, regarding presenting Arnould with the "Wonderful Rice", a grain of rice inscribed with words, 1928, shelfmark: Mss Eur E403/3.
Supplement to the London Gazette, 4 June 1928
Doris V Welsh, The History of Miniature Books (Albany, New York: Fort Orange Press, Inc. 1987).