Untold lives blog

50 posts categorized "Americas"

31 October 2022

Mr Trick and Mrs Treat

At Hallowe’en, we’d like to introduce you to Mr Trick and Mrs Treat.  Both feature in several articles in the British Newspaper Archive.

The Weston-super-Mare Gazette of 21 April 1849 reported that Mr Trick and his family were amongst 90 or so people from north Somerset villages emigrating to the USA.

Newspaper article about families emigrating from Banwell, Somerset, in 1849Weston-super-Mare Gazette 21 April 1849 British Newspaper Archive

William Trick was a baker living in the village of Banwell with his wife Ann and two children.  Trick was a member of the Banwell Total Abstinence Society and regularly addressed meetings during the 1840s.  He belonged to the Banwell Wesleyan Missionary Society and spoke on the subject of ‘missions to the heathen’ at a meeting held in the local chapel in November 1846.

The Emigrant's Last Sight of Home - painting of a man and his family about to set off on a journey by cart, looking back at their village from the top of a hill‘The Emigrant’s Last Sight of Home’ by Richard Redgrave (1858).  Image Photo © Tate Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported) 

The Tricks sailed from Liverpool in steerage on the steamer Sarah Sands on 29 March 1849.  A broken piston rod in the engine meant that the ship had to make a great part of the voyage under sail.  The delay caused anxiety in New York but over 200 passengers and a valuable cargo eventually arrived safely on 1 May.

William, with his wife, daughter and son, travelled onwards to Dubuque County, Iowa, with others from Somerset, such as the Dyers.  The area had been settled by Europeans in the late 1830s, and in the 1850s became known as Dyersville.  William acquired 40 acres of land and also worked as a Methodist preacher, playing a large part in the building of the local church.  In 1855 he was granted naturalization.

According to the 1906 Atlas of Dubuque County, the marriage of William’s daughter Annie to Malcolm Baxter in 1852 was the first in the community.  Annie died in April 1856 aged just 27.

William Trick junior became a hardware merchant who served as mayor of Dyersville.

William Trick senior died on 27 October 1873 aged 78 after a busy life of public service.  He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery Dyersville where his daughter Annie and wife Ann already lay.

Let’s move on to Mrs Treat.

The Edinburgh Evening News of 19 February 1875 published an article entitled ‘Another Animal-Eating Plant’ about Mrs Treat and her carnivorous vegetables.  Very appropriate for Hallowe’en!

Newspaper article about Mrs Treat's carnivorous vegetables‘Another Animal-Eating Plant’ - Edinburgh Evening News 19 February 1875 British Newspaper Archive

Mary Lua Adelia Treat was born in 1830 in New York, the daughter of Methodist minister Isaac Davis and his wife Eliza.  In 1839 the family moved to Ohio.  Mary was married in 1863 to Joseph Burrell Treat, a doctor who also wrote and gave lectures on a variety of subjects including women’s rights and abolition.  The Treats moved in 1869 to Vineland, a model town and community in New Jersey founded by Charles K Landis.

Newspaper article entitled 'A lady and her spiders'‘A Lady and her Spiders’ – Shields Daily Gazette 28 August 1879  British Newspaper Archive

Mary Treat was a self-trained naturalist with a particular interest in insects and carnivorous plants.  Having made scientific investigations with her husband, she continued to research and publish on her own after the couple separated and Joseph went to live in New York.  He died in 1878 at the age of 55 and was buried at Siloam Cemetery in Vineland.

After the separation, Mary supported herself by writing scientific magazine articles as well as books including Chapters on Ants (1879) Injurious insects of the farm and garden (1882); and Home Studies in Nature (1885).  She corresponded with Charles Darwin and had plant and insect species named after her.

Drawing of the geometric web of a garden spider from Mary Treat's Home Studies in Nature
Geometric web of a garden spider from Home Studies in Nature (1885)

Mary Treat died in 1923 aged 92 at Pembroke, New York State, after a fall.  She too is buried in Siloam Cemetery in Vineland.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive  - also available via Findmypast
Findmypast and Ancestry for the passenger list of steamer Sarah Sands; land transactions; naturalization records; UK and US census records; birth, marriage and burial records.
Atlas of Dubuque County 1906 
Injurious insects of the farm and garden
Chapters on Ants
Home Studies in Nature
Tina Gianquitto, ‘Of Spiders, Ants, and Carnivorous Plants – Domesticity and Darwin in Mary Treat’s Home Studies in Nature’, in Annie Merrill Ingram, Ian Marshall, Daniel J. Philippon, and Adam W. Sweeting (eds) Coming into Contact – Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice (University of Georgia Press, 2007)

 

11 October 2022

Can’t fly to Rio for Carnival? Explore the British Library’s Portuguese Language Collections!

This year the British Library joined CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) and Westminster College to offer new opportunities to train as a Library, Information and Archives Services Assistant (LIAS).  The course was launched by CILIP in 2021, the first institution in the world to offer this unique training qualification.  I am among the first four lucky people to be accepted as an apprentice.  The course will last eighteen months, and I will rotate within three departments.

Montage of photographs illustrating the British Library core purposes - custodianship, research, business, culture, learning, internationalThe British Library core purposes - custodianship, research, business, culture, learning, international Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

My first department is Collections and Curation where I am working with Printed Books, and Modern and Contemporary Manuscripts and Archive Collections.  This has allowed me to access some unique collections items that I am very excited to share with you.

Let me first introduce myself - my name is Sheila, but I am not English, Irish or Australian. I am a ‘Brazuca’.  What does that mean, you may ask?

I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a true carioca!  Cariocas are people born in the City of Rio de Janeiro nicknamed ‘The wonderful City’!  The British Library holds many items written in Portuguese, both printed and manuscript form, and these highlight the beauty of that rich language.

An illustration of nineteenth century Rio de Janeiro city and harbourAn illustration of  19th century Rio de Janeiro city and harbour from Edmondo Luiz, A Côrte de D. João no Rio de Janeiro - British Library X.700/456 Images Online

So, let’s start!  It is time for you ‘Brits’ to practise.  C'mon, I know you can do better than ‘Obrigado/Obrigada'.

The first item is: A Coleccao Dos Documentos, Estatutos e Mais Memorias da Academia Real da Historia Portuguesa, dated 1721

Finding it difficult?  Ok, I will help you.

It translates as 'The Collection of Documents, Statutes, and Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Portuguese History'.

On 8 December 1720, the king of Portugal, John V, decided to establish the academy to register the ecclesiastic history of Portugal and its colonies, as well as the history of all Portuguese conquests.  This date was chosen because it is the day dedicated to ‘N. Sa. Da Conceicao’ the Patron Saint of Portugal.

Cover of Collecçam dos Documentos  estatutos  y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de Villarmayor    Title page of Collecçam dos Documentos  estatutos  y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de Villarmayor

Fly page of Collecçam dos Documentos  estatutos  y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de VillarmayorCover, title and fly page of Collecçam dos Documentos, estatutos, y memorias da academia ... anno 1721 ... ordenada pelo Conde de Villarmayor, British Library 131.g.1 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Next is 'The Memoir of D. Pedro I',  the first emperor of Brazil.  Surprised?  Me too when I found it.  This one was easy - it has an English title!

After the Portuguese Court returned to Portugal, Pedro decided to stay in Brazil.  He declared independence and became the first Brazilian Emperor.  Brazil, the largest country in South America and the fifth largest in the world, became independent in 1822.   So in 2022 we celebrate 200 years of independence.

This 'authentic memoir' was written by an English woman who was the governess to the Emperor’s daughter.  Being trusted with such a task makes her appear closer to him than his family were.   Perhaps it is best not to gossip, but bear in mind that during her time in the household she witnessed the day-to-day life of an Emperor, the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ of a Brazilian/Portuguese dynasty.

Cover of An authentic memoir of the life of Don Pedro    Title page of An authentic memoir of the life of Don Pedro

Folio 1 of An authentic memoir of the life of Don PedroCover, title page and f.1v of An authentic memoir of the life of Don Pedro [Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil (b. 1798, d. 1834)]', covering his early years until 1826: an unpublished work by Maria, Lady Callcott formerly Graham, based on her experiences in Brazil in 1824-1825, British Library Add MS 51996 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Would you like to get your hands on these fantastic items?  Come to the British Library, become a reader and explore our vast collections.

Sheila Rabello
LIAS Apprentice, British Library

 

09 June 2022

Five Indian indentured labourers picked up at sea

In 1830, a new system for providing workers for British and French colonies was introduced following the abolition of slavery in Britain.  Known as the indentured labour system, workers could be recruited for a specified time, during which the employer was obliged to provide wages, medical facilities and other amenities.  The system provided an opportunity for large numbers of Indians to work and send wages back home to their families.  However it was criticised for being too similar to slavery, with little scope for protecting those who signed up from abuses.

Statement by the Indian workers Statement by the Indian workers IOR/L/PJ/2/151 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The vulnerable situation in which Indian workers could find themselves was demonstrated by the case of five indentured workers from India who were picked up at sea on 30 March 1878 by the schooner G W Pousland about 80 miles west of Martinique.  The master of the ship took the men to George Stevens, British Consul at the Danish West Indies colony of Saint Thomas.  The five men were named Sahib Boo (27 years), Rupen (20 years), Samhiin (22 years), Narainne (23 years) and Monishanee (26 years), all originally from Madras.  They stated that they were under a five year contract to work on the estate of Monsieur Du Nay of Le Diamant in Martinique.  They had served seven years there, but having been badly treated and detained beyond the period of their contract, they took a boat and left.  After three days at sea their food and water had run short, it had been on the sixth day that they had been rescued.

Consul Steven's letter to the Foreign Office  3 April 1878 Consul Steven's letter to the Foreign Office 3 April 1878 IOR/L/PJ/2/151 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Consul Stevens asked Captain Boxer of the British corvette HMS Tourmaline, which happened to be at St Thomas, to return them for further investigation to Martinique, which he would pass on his way to Barbados.  The men expressed their 'great unwillingness' to return to Martinique, and after consulting with the French authorities it became clear that although no official claim would be made for the men, if they were landed in Martinique they would be liable for the theft of the canoe and for violation of contract.  In summarising these events, an India Office official noted that the treatment of the men by their employer 'whether shown in the withholding of return passage, as has been alleged, and as has been so often a grievance in the French colonies, - or whether of any other kind, - must have been very bad to induce them to trust their lives in a canoe in the open sea, where they might not have been picked up'.

India Office Minute Paper May 1878  India Office Minute Paper May 1878 IOR/L/PJ/3/1055 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Captain Boxer decided not to land the men at Martinique but to take them on to Barbados where further advice could be sought.   Denied permission by the Governor in Chief of the Windward Islands to land the men at Barbados, he carried on to the Island of Antigua, where the Colonial Government gave permission for the men to be landed and new employment found for them.  It was arranged for them to be offered a new contract for three years by Mr G W Bennett, a landed proprietor of the island.  Under the contract they were to be paid one shilling per day, with a house and a plot of land to be allowed each man.  The five men agreed to this, and Captain Boxer reported on 25 April 1878 that they had been landed on Antigua and placed in charge of Mr Bennett.

Captain Boxer's letter 25 April 1878Captain Boxer's letter 25 April 1878 IOR/L/PJ/2/151 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Five indentured Indian labourers picked up at sea, 1878, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/151, File 19/110.

Draft Despatch to India, Public No.66, 27 June 1878, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/3/1055, pages 218-231.

Ship’s log for H.M.S. Tourmaline, The National Archives, reference: ADM 53/1130.

Indians Overseas: A guide to source materials in the India Office Records for the study of Indian emigration 1830-1950.

‘Becoming Coolies’, Re-thinking the Origins of the Indian Ocean Labour Diaspora, 1772-1920

The National Archives guide to Indian Indentured Labourers.

 

30 May 2022

The Adventures of Helen Gloag in Morocco

Helen Gloag’s story is a remarkable tale of adventure and changes in fortune, which saw her cross the world to embrace a wholly new life in royalty.

Born on 29 January 1750, in Perthshire, Scotland, Helen was the daughter of a blacksmith.  Growing up motherless, she bristled under her authoritarian father and small-town life.  At the age of 19 she decided, like many other Scots in this period to start a new life, setting sail with a group of friends for the New World.

However, she never reached her destination.  Instead, her ship was captured by Barbary pirates and redirected to Morocco, where Helen was sold into slavery.  We know few specifics of what happened next, other than that she was taken to Algiers and bought by a wealthy Moroccan merchant to be gifted to the then Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdullah (c.1710-1790).

What was it about Helen that allowed her to gain such favour and rise above others in the Sultan’s harem?

Historians of the period have argued her flame-red hair and pale skin had much to do with it.  But it must have been more than merely her appearance that enabled Helen to gain such favour and become the Sultan’s principal wife as these features are not just associated with Scottish peoples and the ports of Morocco had been for long over a century a meeting place of all nationalities and peoples.  Whatever it was in her personality that drew her to the attention of the Sultan was powerful in its influence and is credited as a reason for the change in the temperament of the Sultan in his attitude towards slaves and his adoption of a more moderate approach to the use of raids on European merchant ships and enslaving those onboard.

Stage of Dorset Garden Theatre set for ''The Empress of Morocco (1673)Stage of Dorset Garden Theatre set for ''The Empress of Morocco (1673), image courtesy of Yale University Library Digital Collections

Through letters Helen sent back to her brother that seem to have been circulated, and visits to the Moroccan court by English delegates, British society learnt of Helen’s story and her influence on the Sultan to be more tolerant of Europeans, Jews, and others.  Over the previous centuries, Britain had had increasing contact through piracy, trade, and embassies with Morocco in particular and through consistent dramatisations of their history, such as Elkanah Settle’s Empress of Morocco (1698) all the way back to the sixteenth century in The Battle of Alcazar (1594).

Life took a drastic turn for Helen once again following the death of the Sultan in 1790.  Although she was the principal wife, the son of another member of the harem seized power.  This put Helen and her two sons in grievous danger as the new Sultan sought to kill off any threats to his consolidation of power.  Her sons were killed before she managed to meet with a British convoy to bring her back to Britain, and it is suspected that she too was killed in the succession upheaval.

Helen’s story and life journey are one left in mystery but should be remembered for how it displays the global contact Europe had with the rest of the world, particularly Africa.

Saoirse Dervla Laaraichi
Doctoral Student at The Shakespeare Institute

Further reading:
Read the whole play The Empress of Morocco for free on Google Books.

Learn more about the world into which Helen stepped through the MEMOs (Medieval and Early Modern Orients) blog series.

See a depiction of a Barbary pirate; the likes of which captured Helen.

This blog post is part 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 will feature 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.

 

17 May 2022

The Society of the Double Cross

In the archives of the Hakluyt Society at the British Library, I found a letter from 1963 sent by Philip Swann to the Honorary Secretary R A Skelton.  Swann had worked as a cartographer in Venezuela in the 1930s and was now living in retirement in New Zealand.

In Venezuela, Swann was introduced by a Scottish mining engineer to a family who produced a curious bundle of documents from a secret society known as La Socied de la Doble Cruz.  The papers referred to hordes of booty hidden across a multitude of exotic hideaways.  They mentioned legendary figures such as Montezuma and Henry Morgan and promised, should the strange hieroglyphics throughout the document be understood, potential lost fortunes might be recovered.  ‘The papers were found in the shape of a ball covered with (bitumen) fastened with two gold pins. There was also ten small bars of gold, one semi-precious stone, four minted coins very poorly done… four or five weights (presumably for weighing gold) a bundle of papers wrapped in a sort of wax…’

Hieroglyphics copied from the Venezuelan papers by Philip SwannHieroglyphics copied from the Venezuelan papers by Philip Swann MSS EUR F594/5/1/3 f.111


Swann said he had been sworn to absolute secrecy and, even 30 years later, felt obliged to ask that the matter be treated as confidential.  He asked the Hakluyt Society for advice on who might take up the research: ‘Even now, I still feel there is a glimmer of truth in it all, and it is worthy of investigation’.  He attached a list of sixteen things which should be explored, including the Booty of Mexico, activities on Lake Maracaibo, the Secrets of the Vulgate, and buried treasure on the Island of Cuanacoco.

Some of the events Swann writes about can be traced in other collection items at the British Library.  Morgan’s raid on Maracaibo was well documented in the 1678 publication Bucaniers of America by Alexandre Exquemelin, which is littered with enticing clues connected to the papers.

Portrait of Captain Henry Morgan set against a background with shipsCaptain Henry Morgan from A. O. Exquemelin, Bucaniers of America, or, A true account of the most remarkable assaults committed of late years upon the coasts of the West-Indies by the bucaniers of Jamaica and Tortuga, both English and French (London, 1684)

Elsewhere I discovered further tantalising leads.  Famed shipwreck salvager and treasure hunter Arthur McKee had a history of success discovering riches of bygone eras.  In his journals, McKee documented a curious excursion: ‘I was contacted by two men from Venezuela who stated they wished to discuss with me some strange markings found on some old documents. These documents were discovered at an old house in Venezuela which had been torn down’.

McKee described manuscripts inscribed on a skin-like material and leather, dated as early as 1557, which referred to ‘The organisation of the Doble Cruz’.  He spoke of the same strange hieroglyphs mentioned by Swann.  His translations mirrored those of Swann in a fashion beyond mere coincidence, with just enough translation discrepancies to suggest this wasn’t a copy of earlier research.  He appeared to be witnessing the same original documents.

In 1976 McKee organised an expedition.  The Forte La Tortuga was a supposed pirate fortress located 110 miles off the Venezuela coast.  McKee and two academics were transported to the deserted island by helicopter.  The expedition was doomed.  Injury and disorientation led to a very real fight for survival.  Rescued by the army ten days later, the quest was abandoned.

La Orden de la Doble Cruz still exists.  Based in Venezuela, a branch of the Knights Templar Illuminati Order fly the flag of the Double Cross, their legitimacy ‘evidenced by authentic ancient documents that rest in this city of Maracaibo, in our beloved country Venezuela’.

Craig Campbell
Formerly Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records
@archaeodad

Further reading:
MSS EUR F594/5/1/3 Correspondence addressed to the Honorary Secretary of the Hakluyt Society, R.A. Skelton. ff 108-111 Letter from Philip Swann. 1963.
British Library Add MS 36330 Venezuela Papers. Vol. XVII. (ff. 345). 1653-1680. ff. 317, 332 Captain Henry Morgan: News of his design to surprise Cartagena: Madrid, 18 Mar. Spanish. 1676.
British Library Add MS 12428-12430 A Collection of Tracts relating to the Island of Jamaica, from 1503 to 1680. Journal kept by Col. William Beeston, from his first coming to Jamaica, 1655-1680.
British Library Sloane MS 2724 Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Carlisle: Collection of his papers and letters: 17th cent. f. 1 Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Morgan, Deputy-Governor and Commander in Chief of Jamaica: Proclamation conc. the Royal African Company: 1680/1
British Library RB.23.b.6178 Bucaniers of America: or, a true account of the most remarkable assaults committed of late years upon the coasts of the West-Indies, by the bucaniers of Jamaica and Tortuga, both English and French… London : printed for William Crooke, at the Green Dragon without Temple-bar. A. O Exquemelin, (Alexandre Olivier) 1684.

 

20 January 2022

The man who lost his memory – Part 2

We continue our story of the Reverend Philip Read, looking at his work and travels across the globe.

Philip Read (or Philip Chesshyre Read) was born in 1850 in Hyde, Cheshire, the son of Anglican clergyman Alexander and his wife Anne Whiteway.  He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and won a scholarship to Lincoln College Oxford.  He served as a sub-lieutenant in the Oxford Rifle Volunteers.  After graduating, he taught at Marlborough before being ordained as a priest in 1874.  He was headmaster of the school at Newton in Lancashire in 1876.  The following year Read took up an appointment at Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, Quebec, where he became Professor of Classics and Moral Philosophy.  He travelled a good deal, visiting many countries including the West Indies and Spain.

In 1879 he married Helen Rosina McCallum, the daughter of a Quebec barrister.  Their sons Alexander Cuthbert and Philip Austin Ottley were born in Canada before the family moved to England.  Daughter Helen Chesshyre Hazlehurst (known as Hazel) was born in Newcastle in 1889.

Painting of Royal Mail Ship Ormuz at sea - black smoke coming out of the funnelsPainting of RMS Ormuz c. 1895 © Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

At the time of the April 1891 census the Reads were living in Jesmond, but in the autumn of that year they sailed on RMS Ormuz to Ceylon.  Read was installed as Warden of St Thomas’ College Colombo.  There are reports of the family’s activities in the Ceylon Observer, including Philip Read’s stay in the hill town of Nuwara Eliya to recover his health when struck by illness in January 1893.

The College history describes Read as ‘a brilliant scholar and a great preacher’, kind-hearted with a keen sense of humour, a talented organist and pianist.  However he was said to have been unsuited to the post of Warden, as well as being burdened by ‘private sorrows’, and he left the College in 1895.

After Read’s breakdown and memory loss described in our previous post, he returned to South Asia to perform missionary work in Rangoon.  However his health failed again and he went back to England in 1899.  He then served as curate in Walmsley Lancashire, taking special charge of St Andrew’s Mission Church at Toppings.

In 1901 he was boarding with the family of a lithographic printer in Turton, apart from his family.  Son Philip was a pupil at Haileybury College.  Hazel was living with her uncle Thomas Wood Shaw in Bolton.  Alexander, a clerk, had left Liverpool for New York in July 1900 on board SS Lucania.  The passenger list states that he was joining his mother Helen in New Jersey.  Helen appears to have moved between the United States and Canada before setting in Los Angeles.  She died there in 1942.

Obituary for Philip Read

Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser 30 January 1903 British Newspaper Archive Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Philip Read died in January 1903 following an accident on Christmas Day when he slipped into a ditch and broke his leg.  His death was widely mourned, not only by his congregation in Lancashire who had warmed to his ‘kind tact and sympathy’, but also in Ceylon where he was remembered as the ‘most eloquent, most cultivated and most genial of Wardens’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office files about Philip Read's memory loss: IOR/L/PJ/6/417 Files 511 and 570; IOR/L/PJ/6/418 File 615; IOR/L/PJ/6/420 File 845.
Ceylon Observer e.g. 6 November 1891; 5 January 1893; 21 February 1900.
W T Keble, A history of St. Thomas’ College Colombo (Colombo, 1937).
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Manchester Evening News 23 January 1903; Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser 30 January 1903.
Ancestry and Findmypast for census and migration records from UK, Canada and USA.

 

19 October 2021

Stanley Cinchona Plantation

While browsing through a volume of India Office Public Works Department correspondence for 1866, I came across this lovely colour sketch of the Stanley Cinchona Plantation in the Kundah Hills in India.  Intrigued, I read through the correspondence to find out more.

Colour sketch of the Stanley Cinchona Plantation in the Kundah Hills in India showing trees and plants with a building in the backgroundSketch of the Stanley Cinchona Plantation in the Kundah Hills in India IOR/L/PWD/3/512 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Cinchona is a tree indigenous to South America which was discovered to have valuable medicinal properties.  In particular, it was the source for the drug quinine used in the treatment of malaria. In the mid-19th century, attempts were made to cultivate Cinchona in various different parts of the British Empire.  The Stanley Cinchona Plantation was named after the first Secretary of State for India, Lord Stanley, who in April 1859 commissioned the geographer and explorer Clements Markham to undertake an expedition to South America to collect seeds and plants, and arrange for their transport to India.

Black and white sketch of a clump of cinchona trees with a man wearing a hat standing beneath themCinchona trees from Clements Markham 's Peruvian Bark ORW.1986.a.2987

The Public Works Department file is primarily concerned with the construction of roads in the Nilgiri and Kundah hills in the Madras Presidency (now Tamil Nadu).  An India Office memorandum acknowledged that the absence of roads into such a remote area had hindered plans for opening the Kundahs for cultivation, and stated: 'The formation of a Government plantation in what is now one of the most remote and wild parts of these mountains renders the construction of roads a matter of course'.  It was noted that one Cinchona planter had already been drowned in coming from the Kundahs to Ootacamund 'owing to the neglect of the Public Works Department to repair a bridge'.  An aggrieved administrator in the India Office wrote over this sentence with the comment 'This is rather hard upon the P.W. Dept.'.

Report on roads in the Kundah HillsReport on roads in the Kundah Hills IOR/L/PWD/3/512 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In his report of 6 January 1866 to the Madras Government on the subject of cinchona cultivation, Markham described the Kundahs as the finest hills he had yet seen in India, and wrote that: 'The soil is of extraordinary depth and fertility both in the forests and grass land, and there are abundant supplies of water.  Indeed the scenery of these beautiful hills; the long lines of forest with all the varied tints of foliage; the rich grass land intervening here and there; the magnificent waterfalls and precipices; and the sharp peaked outline of the distant mountains – is far and away the finest I have yet seen in the Western Ghauts'.  However, it seems that the costs involved with building roads into the area proved too great for Government.  In his book Peruvian Bark, Markham noted that the Kundah hills plantation was abandoned in 1872 due to the distance from Ootacamund and the lack of roads, with the cinchona tress which had been planted 'being left to take their chance with the native vegetation', and later ordered to be felled.

Map of Kundah Hills Map of  the Kundah Hills IOR/L/PWD/3/512  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Oddly, nowhere in the papers is the colour sketch mentioned.  Who created it and why it was included in a Government file remains a mystery.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Public Works Despatches to Madras (Original Drafts), 1865-1866, BL shelfmark IOR/L/PWD/3/512.
Public Works Letters from Madras, 1866-1867, BL shelfmark IOR/L/PWD/3/191 – page 333 for Public Works letter No.33, dated 27 July 1867.
Report by C R Markham on the spread of the cinchona cultivation through the hill districts, 16 January 1866, BL shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/3/1356 no.15.
Clements R Markham, Peruvian Bark. A popular account of the introduction of Chinchona cultivation into British India, (London: John Murray, 1880), BL shelfmark ORW.1986.a.2987.
The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. XVI Kotchandpur to Mahavinyaka (Oxford, 1908).
Products of the Empire: Cinchona: a short history. Cambridge University Library.
Donovan Williams, ‘Clements Robert Markham and the Introduction of the Cinchona Tree into British India, 1861’, The Geographical Journal, vol. 128, no. 4 (1962), pages 431–442. 

 

03 June 2021

Most flattering prospects to perfect destitution – Samuel Benstead’s emigration to New York

In the 1830s, thousands of London warehouse labourers lost their jobs when the East India Company stopped all its commercial operations.  The men were given pensions, but some decided to apply for a lump sum in lieu of regular payments to enable them to emigrate with their families.  Sometimes this bold step was not as successful as the labourers believed it would be.

The Emigrant's Address - Illustrated cover of printed music showing a sailing shipThe Emigrant's Address by W Sanford - Illustrated cover of printed music (1853) Shelfmark H.1742.(3.)  © The British Library Board

Samuel Benstead retired from the Company’s Fenchurch Street tea warehouse in September 1834 aged 41 on a weekly pension of 7s 6d.  He couldn’t find work so he put in a request to commute his pension so he could emigrate to New York with his wife Frances Mary (Fanny) and their seven children.  Samuel had been a hosier before joining the Company and he planned to work in America as a slop seller  (a dealer in cheap ready-made clothing).  After rejecting his first application, the Company granted him a lump sum of £203 in February 1835.

Samuel had had to undergo a medical examination by a Company surgeon to prove that he was in good health and of temperate habits.  He had also submitted a certificate, signed by a doctor in Whitechapel, that he was sober and industrious and that there was a reasonable prospect that the large sum of money would be more useful to the family than a regular allowance.

In May 1838 Samuel wrote to the Company from America, petitioning for help. The family had arrived in New York in May 1835. Within a few weeks Samuel had set up business as grocer in New Jersey.  Then he was persuaded to invest in a ‘large concern’ and lost money.  He was reduced from ‘most flattering prospects to perfect destitution’.  Another child was born in 1836.

A second letter was sent by Samuel in July 1838, but this time from Limehouse Fields in London.  Help from a friend had enabled him to return on a Quebec packet ship.  When he landed after 3½ years’ absence, Samuel only had 6d in his pocket.  His two eldest sons had been left in America where he believed they would do well.  The Company turned down Samuel’s request for help.

In April 1840 Samuel petitioned the Company again, giving more details of what had happened in New York.  His business as grocer and general provision dealer was successful until May 1837 when it was hit by the ‘Panic’, a financial crisis in New York.  Almost all business was done on credit, and many hundreds of dollars were owed to Samuel.

Penniless and sick on his return to London, Samuel said that he now had a good opportunity in Jersey and asked the Company for a small sum to help him move his family there.  He claimed he had no other prospect on earth if he couldn’t get to Jersey.  The Company decided that Samuel’s request could not be considered, so in May 1840 his wife Frances sent another petition asking for help with transport costs.  This was also turned down.

The 1841 census shows Samuel, once more a hosier, living in Mile End Old Town with Frances and four of their children aged between four and twelve,  By 1851, Samuel was dead, and Frances was working as a nurse, still living in Mile End with a daughter and two sons.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Records about the Benstead family can be found in the India Office Family History Search and in IOR/L/F/1/2; IOR/L/F/2/30, 48 & 49; IOR/L/AG/30/4 & 5; IOR/L/MIL/5/485.

 

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