Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

4 posts from June 2024

25 June 2024

Sulaiman al-Baruni: life of an Ibadhi scholar and statesman in North Africa and Oman

One of the distinctive features of Oman is that the majority of its population are adherents to the Ibadhi sect of Islam - neither Sunni nor Shi’a - which established itself in the early Islamic period on the periphery of Islamic empire and survives today in Oman and in North Africa on the island of Jerba, the Nafusa mountain range and the Mzab region. 

British India Office Records written in the 1920s and 1930s shed light on the life of one Ibadhi scholar and statesman', ‘Sulaiman al Baruni al Nafusi’,who traversed from Italian-occupied Tripoli to become an adviser in Muscat and Oman.

Cover of India Office file on Sulaiman al-Baruni and his relatives - 'Visitors, Suspects, and Undesirables'Cover of India Office file on Sulaiman al-Baruni and his relatives - British Library IOR/R/15/6/449

Al-Baruni was a notable author and had been a member of the last Ottoman parliament.  In November 1922 he wrote to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, Taimur bin Faisal, that he was attending the peace conference in Lausanne, Switzerland and after that hoped to travel to Oman.

Translation of letter from Sulaiman al-Baruni to the Sultan of Muscat and OmanTranslation of letter from Sulaiman al-Baruni to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, November 1922 - British Library IOR/R/15/6/449 f.4

In December al-Baruni again wrote, saying that his options were becoming more and more constrained by French, Italian and British hostility to him.  British officials noted with suspicion that he ‘seems to claim three nationalities, Turkish, French and Italian’.

Owing to his espousal of nationalist ideas antipathetical to British dominance, in 1923 the Government of India described him as a ‘prominent figure in the turmoil of politics in North Africa’ - an ‘undesirable intriguer’ and ‘a person whom His Highness the Sultan of Muscat would do well to refuse admittance to his country’; however al-Baruni gained entry anyway on a pilgrim’s ship from Jeddah in 1924.

After the First World War al-Baruni had spent time in the Hijaz with the Sherif of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali, and in 1924 he visited his ‘old acquaintance’, Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali, recently installed by Britain as King Faisal I of the Hashemite monarchy of Iraq.  The British noted he was held in high esteem as of ‘religious consequence’ by both the Sultan of Muscat on the coast and the Imam of Oman in the mountainous interior.  In accordance with their strategic interests at the time, Britain had mediated a de facto separation of Muscat and Oman by the ‘Treaty of Sib’ in 1920.  From 1924-1932 al-Baruni served as Financial Adviser to the Imam of Oman in Nizwa. Sa’id bin Taimur, who became Sultan of Muscat in 1932, appointed him in 1938 as Advisor for Internal Affairs and Inspector of Walis.  The British surmised that it was part of Sa’id bin Taimur’s strategy to reunify Muscat and Oman.

Comment on appointment of al-Baruni as advisor for Internal Affairs and Inspector of Walis

Comment on appointment of al-Baruni as advisor for Internal Affairs and Inspector of Walis IOR/R/15/6, f 123

From September 1939 to April 1940 the British intercepted his correspondence with other members of Tripolitania diaspora as the circle of exiles contemplated the future and how they might be free of Italian colonial rule in Tripoli.  This included support of Muhammed Idris Al-Sanussi who was to become the first king of Libya when it gained independence in 1951.

Sulaiman al-Buruni died on his way to Mumbai with Sa’id bin Taimur in May 1940.  Today, on the island of Jerba, Ibadhi texts are still being collected, conserved and digitised for posterity by his descendants and the wider Ibadhi community, so his legacy lives on.

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

Further reading:
British Library, IOR/R/15/6/449 '15/3 Vol I XV - B/1 VISITORS SUSPECTS & UNDESIRABLES SULEMAN AL BARUNI AL NAFUSI & HIS RELATIVES Jan 1923 - June 1940.'
British Library, IOR/L/PS/12/2990 Coll 20/30 'Muscat: Employment of one Suleman al Baruni al Nufusi'
British Library, IOR/R/15/6/264, 'File 8/67 MUSCAT STATE AFFAIRS: MUSCAT – OMAN TREATY.'

Al Muatasim Said Saif Al Maawali, ‘The Omani Experience of Multi-religious Coexistence and Dialogue: A Historical Approach to the Omani Principles and its Luminous Examples’, Journal of Islamic Thought and Civilization, 11, no. 1 (2021). 59-78.
Adam Gaiser, Muslims, Scholars, Soldiers: The Origins and Elaboration of the Ibadhi Imamate Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2010)
Valerie J. Hofmann, The Essentials of Ibadhi Islam (Syracuse University Press, 2012)
Abdulrahman al-Salimi: From the First Renaissance to the Second: The Historical and Legal Basis for the Sultanate, in Allen James Fromherz and Abdulrahmen al-Salimi, (eds), Sultan Qaboos and Modern Oman, 1970-2020 (Edinburgh University Press, 2022)


18 June 2024

The last surviving East India Company Chaplain

When Edward Godfrey was born in Nettleton, Wiltshire, on 4 September 1820 it could perhaps be foreseen that he would go on to be a priest, following in the footsteps of his father the Reverend Daniel Race Godfrey.  But it is unlikely he could have predicted that he would become known as the last surviving Chaplain of the East India Company.

Edward attended Clare College, Cambridge achieving his M.A. in 1846.  He had already been serving as Curate of Chard in Somerset since 1844, and in 1847 was appointed to as Curate to St Peter’s in Plymouth.

Marriage announcement for the Reverend Edward Godfrey to Miss Emily Clare PayneMarriage announcement for the Reverend Edward Godfrey to Miss Emily Clare Payne, London Evening Standard 7 December 1844 British Newspaper Archive

That same year he applied for an appointment with the East India Company, and he was formally appointed as an Assistant Chaplain to Bengal on 29 March 1848.  He left England with his wife Emily Clare, daughter of Captain René Payne of the Bombay Army, whom he had married in 1844. They sailed for India aboard the Wellesley on 10 June 1848.  The couple already had two children, whom they appear not to have taken to India with them.  Their first child, Vaughan was born in 1846, and on the 1851 census is living in Bath with his paternal grandfather Daniel Race Godfrey.  Daughter Julia was born in 1847, and in 1851 was living in Cheltenham with her maternal grandmother Eliza Julia Payne.

Baptism of  second son Francis Edward Godfrey born at Meerut, Bengal 16 May 1849Baptism of  second son Francis Edward Godfrey born at Meerut, Bengal 16 May 1849 (their first child born in India) - British Library IOR/N/1/75 f.193

The couple would have six more children, all born in India between 1849 and 1871 as Edward held appointments across Bengal over the next 25 years serving in places such as Meerut, Subathoo, Ferozepore, Saugor and Landour.  He was promoted to Chaplain in 1869.

Godfrey was a keen amateur photographer.  His photographs of tribes of Central India were displayed at the London International Exhibition in 1862.  He also contributed photographs to The People of India, an eight-volume publication compiled by John Forbes Watson and John William Kaye between 1868 and 1875.

Edward retired from service in India on 20 October 1873, and on returning to England was appointed Curate of Stainsby, Lincolnshire in 1875.  However, this was not the end of his travels as in 1878 he was appointed Chaplain at Coblenz in Germany, transferring to Dusseldorf in 1880, and then to Milan in 1889.  He returned to England in 1891 serving at St Peter’s Hospital in Covent Garden before being appointed as Vicar of Great Tey in Essex where he remained until 1916.

Photograph of t Barnabas Church, Great Tey, Essex where Edward Godfrey served as Vicar from 1891 onwards.St Barnabas Church, Great Tey, Essex where Edward Godfrey served as Vicar from 1891 onwards. Wikipedia - attribution Robert Edwards, St Barnabas Church, Great Tey, Essex CC BY-SA 2.0 

Edward Godfrey died in Bedfordshire on 24 February 1918 at the age of 97.  He had followed his calling for over 72 years and at the time of his passing had been the very last living Chaplain appointed under the East India Company.  His wife Emily Clare passed away five years later aged 95.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading
The Chaplains of the East India Company, S.J. McNally, 1976 – British Library OIR 253.0954.
John Falconer, A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia.
London Evening Standard, 7 December 1844 – announcement of the marriage of Reverend Edward Godfrey to Emily Clare Payne British Newspaper Archive.
British Library IOR/N/1/75 f.193 - Bengal Baptisms – baptism of Francis Edward Godfrey, 2nd son of Edward & Mary Clare Godfrey.

St Barnabas Church, Great Tey, Essex


11 June 2024

Coroner’s records from late 18th-century Bombay

In February 1772 Robert Kitson was appointed by the East India Company as a writer for Bombay.  He sailed to India in the Devonshire.  Kitson started his career in Bombay working in the Secretary’s office.  In October 1775, he was appointed Coroner for the southern half of the island of Bombay at a salary of Rs30 a month plus a fee of Rs4 for each inquest.  He held this post until March 1783, in tandem with his duties as Assistant to the Select or Secret Department.

There were about 40 inquests each year.  If Kitson needed to travel for an inquest, he hired a bullock hackney, or occasionally a palanquin.  The India Office Records holds Kitson’s incomplete list of inquests he conducted, with papers about some of the verdicts.  The cases include both Indians and Europeans and are a useful supplement to the Christian church burial records for those years.  There are 23 inquests for enslaved people: fourteen boys, seven girls, and two not described.

The most common cause of death in cases investigated by Robert Kitson was drowning -in water tanks, in wells and in the sea.  Others were natural causes, murder, suicide, and accidents.

Here are a few examples from Kitson’s coroner records.

Report of inquest held on AllyReport of inquest held on Ally 19 December 1776 - IOR/H/732

On the early evening of 18 December 1776, a man called Ally was sitting near the dock head pier in his boat from Rajapore.  He was accidentally hit in the chest by a musket shot from James Logan who was on sentry duty. Logan was aiming at another boat, but no reason is given for this.

Report of inquest held on FrancisReport of inquest held on Francis 3 September 1777 - IOR/H/732

An inquest was held on 3 September 1777 on ‘Coffree Slave’ Francis who drowned in a well on Old Woman’s Island near the house of his master Captain Charles William Boye, an East India Company military officer.  Boye’s will, made in 1784, shows that there were many enslaved people in his household.  Some he ‘freed’ on his death, urging them to live with members of his family, others he ’gave’ to his children.

Report of inquest held on MungalReport of inquest held on Mungal 26 September 1782 - IOR/H/732

Mungal was found dead on 25 September 1782 at the Bantun Dancing Girls’ House near the Portuguese Church.  He died from two head wounds sustained when trying to escape out of a window at the house on 23 September.

Nattoo, horse-keeper to John Morris, died in March 1783 inn a stable near Bunder from an accidental kick from a horse in his left side.

In August 1782 Toulsie, washerwoman to Colonel Bailey of the Bengal Army, died from a snake bite.

Kitson conducted inquests on a number of murders.  In May 1778 Antonio, servant to Charles Duff, was killed by a blow to the belly from Francis de Rozara, a sailor on the ship Nancy. Sergeant John Forsyth was murdered by Patrick Atkins on the ramparts between the church and bazaar gates in April 1779.

There were suicides.  Maubet Caun, a sepoy in the Marine Battalion, shot himself with a musket in the Esplanade near the powder house in November 1779.  Soldier Isaac Reid killed himself in the town jail in March 1783.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/H/732 Papers of Robert Kitson, Bombay Civil Service


04 June 2024

Case of Edward Murphy, blind orphan at Southampton Workhouse

On 18 January 1879, C. Crowther Smith, Clerk at the St Mary Street Workhouse in Southampton, wrote to the India Office regarding a blind orphan youth named Edward Murphy. 

Letter about Edward Murphy from Mr Crowther Smith at the Southampton WorkhouseLetter about Edward Murphy from C. Crowther Smith at the Southampton Workhouse 8 January 1879, IOR/L/PJ/2/216, File 2542

Aged 19, Murphy had been sent to the Workhouse by the Superintendent of Police as he was destitute.  It appeared that he had been deported from India by the Madras Government and there was no evidence of his legal settlement in the UK.  Smith wished to know from the India Office of any course which could be adopted to prevent Murphy remaining a permanent charge to the parochial rates at Southampton.  The Workhouse Board thought it unfair that the burden of maintaining such cases should be thrown on the ratepayers of the port at which the vessel containing such destitute persons should happen to arrive.

Deportation request for a number of men including Edward MurphyDeportation request by the Madras Government Workhouse IOR/L/PJ/2/225, File 180

The India Office made enquiries.  On 2 April 1878, Major Balmer, President of the Committee for the Management of the Government Workhouse at Madras, had written to the Madras Government requesting approval for the deportation of seven men under the provision of the Indian Vagrancy Act. A short summary for each man was given, and Edward Murphy’s entry reads: ‘Register No.713, Edward Murphy, of Ireland, age 19, came out some 17 or 18 years ago with his mother to Rangoon; educated there til 17; was then employed on the Prome Railway, where he lost his eyesight.  The Doctor has recommended his deportation to England. Admitted 8th March 1878’.

India Office memorandum about Edward MurphyIndia Office memorandum about Edward Murphy - IOR/L/PJ/2/225, File 180

A memorandum records that Murphy’s parents were Irish, and his father Michael was a Drummer in the 50th Regiment of Native Infantry.  His father died in England, and his mother took Murphy to Rangoon to join an uncle who was a non-commissioned officer in the Telegraph Department.  His mother died shortly after arriving and his uncle placed him in a school there.  The uncle died in 1868, but the Orphan Society in Rangoon supported Murphy enabling him to complete his education.  At 17, he joined the Prome Railway as a Fireman, but after a year left with sore eyes and was admitted to the Rangoon Hospital, and later transferred to the Madras Eye Infirmary.  He could distinguish light from darkness but little else.  He had no one to support him and didn’t know what county or parish he was from.  Murphy was deported to England on the P&O steamer Cathay, leaving Madras on 2 December 1878.

The India Office was scornful of the complaints from the Southampton Workhouse, and in an internal memo, William Macpherson, Secretary to the Judicial & Public Department, noted ‘…there would scarcely seem to be any ground for complaint, as that Parish is best able to maintain the burden by reason of the great advantage the locality must derive from the fleet of the P&O Company sailing to and from that Port, and from the rates they must receive in respect of the Docks there’.  On 15 February 1879, the India Office wrote to the Workhouse stating that they could not advise on Murphy’s case, and that there were no funds at the disposal of the Secretary of State which could be applied in his case.

It appears likely that the Edward Murphy who was admitted, blind, to East London's Homerton Workhouse in April 1879 is the same man.  Murphy spent the next twelve years moving in and out of the workhouse, infirmary, and ophthalmic hospital. We lose track of him after the 1891 census when he is a workhouse inmate.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Letter from the Clerk at the Workhouse, St Mary Street, Southampton, regarding Edward Murphy, 18 January 1879, Judicial Home Correspondence, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/216, File 2542.

Case of Edward Murphy, a vagrant sent from India to Southampton, 1878-1879, shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/2/225, File 1807.

History of the Southampton Workhouse.

The registers of the Southampton Workhouse are held at Southampton Archives Office.

The National Archives - UK census returns for Homerton Workhouse.

London Metropolitan Archives - Poor Law Records.