Untold lives blog

26 posts categorized "Black & Asian Britain"

03 May 2022

Case of a destitute man in London

From time to time the Public Department of the India Office in London would receive desperate requests for help from travellers who had fallen on difficulties while in London.  One such case was that of Francis Peters which came to the attention of the India Office in June 1875.

India Office minute about Francis Peters June 1875India Office minute about Francis Peters, Jun 1875 IOR/L/PJ/2/55, File 7/486 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Francis Peters had been employed on the ship Forfarshire taking Indian indentured labourers from Calcutta to British Guiana towards the end of 1874.  He had worked on the ship as a Compounder (responsible for receiving and organising the labourers on board ship) and Interpreter.  He subsequently travelled from British Guiana to Britain intending to find a ship back to India, but had fallen on hard times while in London.  The Bengal Government sent to the India Office a copy of the agreement made with Peters which showed that he received in India an advance of £10 and was to receive £25 and a gratuity of 6d for each emigrant landed alive.  He was also to receive from the British Guiana Government passage back to India which had been budgeted at £40 for that purpose.  On making enquiries with the Emigration Commissioners in London, it became clear that it was the general practice to give the compounder the return passage allowance, and they then usually came to London to find a passage back to India.  This was due to the infrequency of ships returning to India from British Guiana.

Letter from the Strangers' Home  9 August 1875Letter from the Strangers' Home to the India Office 9 August 1875 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The India Office wrote to the Strangers’ Home for Asiatics, located in Limehouse in East London.  The Secretary of the Home replied that Peters had squandered his earnings on ‘debauchery’.  According to the Secretary, Peters ‘has been residing in the house of a disreputable woman who has been to the knowledge of the officers of the Home the ruin of two or three others – one of whom who was in England last year we find actually recommended Peters to find her out which he has done to his cost’.  Peters also wrote to the India Office stating that he was ‘suffering great distress from want of a home and food’, and he begged the Secretary of State for India to overlook his faults and pardon him on this occasion.  He wrote that ‘I am daily trying to get a ship but cannot meet with any success and am now homeless’.  He claimed that he had tried to explain his case to the authorities at the Strangers’ Home but that they refused to listen to him.  He concluded that ‘The gnawing pain of hunger has made me appeal to your Lordship’.

Extract from letter written by Francis Peters  7 July 1875Extract from letter written by Francis Peters 7 July 1875 IOR/L/PJ/2/55, File 7/486 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The feeling in the India Office was that something had to be done as Peters was actually starving, even though his conduct may not have been deserving of any sympathy.  The Strangers’ Home was prevailed upon to admit him, and it was arranged that he would work his passage to India aboard the SS Puttiala as a cuddy servant (working in the galley and waiting at dinner). 

Bill for Peters’ stay at the Strangers' Home from 7 July to 6 August plus cartage to the steamer.

Bill for Peters’ stay at the Home from 7 July to 6 August plus cartage to the steamer IOR/L/PJ/2/55, File 7/486 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On 9 August 1875 the Secretary of the Strangers’ Home wrote to confirm that Peters had left on the ship, and he enclosed the bill for Peters’ stay at the Home from 7 July to 6 August plus cartage to the steamer which came to £3 and 6 shillings.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Case of a man employed as a Compounder and Interpreter on board an emigrant ship and now destitute in London, Jul-Aug 1875, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/55, File 7/486.
Letter from the Bengal Government, Public No.187 of 1874, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/3/72, page 304.

 

24 March 2022

Sources for Madame Cama, Indian Political Activist

The struggle for Indian independence from British rule was not only carried on in India, but was eagerly pursued by Indian activists and revolutionaries across the world, particularly in Europe and America.  The India Office Records contains some fascinating files on one such activist, Bhikhaiji Rustom Cama, more often known as Madame Cama.

Stamp of India 1962 depicting Bhikhaiji Cama.Stamp of India 1962 depicting Bhikhaiji Cama. Copyrighted work of the Government of India, licensed under the Government Open Data License - India (GODL)

Born in 1861 into a wealthy Parsi family in Bombay, Madame Cama was educated at the Alexandra Parsi Girls School in Bombay, and later married Rustom Cama, a lawyer and son of the prominent Parsi reformer K R Cama.  With her health suffering due to her work as social worker during the 1897 plague epidemic in Bombay, Madame Cama travelled to Britain in 1901.  She would spend the next three decades working tirelessly for Indian freedom from British rule, becoming known as the ‘Mother of Indian Revolution’.  In 1907, Madame Cama moved to Paris, where she was at the centre of a small group of Indian nationalists.  That year she also travelled to Stuttgart for the International Socialist Conference, where she spoke of the poverty of the Indian people due to British rule, and unfurled the National flag of India 'amid loud cheers' as reported in the Manchester Courier.

The India Office was greatly concerned at the influence of Indian activists abroad, and through the intelligence services kept a close eye on their activities.  In 1915, the India Office received a copy of a letter sent to the Foreign Office from the British Political Officer in Basra, along with a specimen of Bande Mataram, the pamphlet published by Madame Cama, found in an Indian soldier’s kit.  In his letter, he asked: 'In view of the existing conditions of war and of close alliance with France, could the French Government be got to arrest Madame Cama and put her away somewhere?'  A note in the file suggested such a move would do more harm than good and pointed out: 'The lady is under close observation, and is not now in a position to tamper with Indian troops'.  By February 1917 more direct action had been taken, with the newspaper Call reporting that 'Madame B. Cama, editor of the "Bande Mataram", a Hindu paper published in Paris, is one of the most important women who have been denied their liberty.  She was interned in Paris at the special request of the British Government'.

Intelligence Report on Indian Communists 1924Intelligence Report on Indian Communists -  British Library IOR/L/PJ/12/49 f.134 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the 1920s and 1930s, surveillance of Indian activists continued.  Madame Cama appears in several of the files of Indian Political Intelligence, the branch of British Intelligence responsible for monitoring Indian nationalist in the UK, Europe and America, and some examples are given below in the suggestions for further reading. 

Intelligence Report on Indians in Europe Intelligence Report on Indians in Europe - British Library IOR/L/PJ/12/50 f.14 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Madame Cama's health had never fully recovered from her social work in 1897, and her work, combined with continual government hostility, strained it further.  As she wrote to the Russian political activist Maxim Gorky in 1912: 'All my time and energy are devoted to my country and her struggle'.  In November 1935, she returned to India, and died shortly afterwards in August 1936.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Pamphlets published by Madame Cama of a seditious nature and names of four Indians implicated in sedition, April-May 1915, shelfmark IOR/L/PS/11/91, P 1667/1915.

Indian agitators abroad; containing short accounts of the more important Indian political agitators who have visited Europe and America in recent years, and their sympathisers, compiled in the Criminal Intelligence Office, 1st edition, November 1911 (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1911), shelfmark IOR/V/27/262/1.

Chowdhury, Bulu Roy, Madame Cama: a short life-sketch (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1977), shelfmark Mss Eur F341/108.

Indian Political Intelligence files at British Library:
IOR/L/PJ/12/49: Indian Communist Party: intelligence reports, 1923-1924 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 134 and 187-190.
IOR/L/PJ/12/50: Indian Communist Party: intelligence reports, 1924-1925 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 12-16.
IOR/L/PJ/12/174: Activities and passport application of Mandayam P Tirumal Acharya, 1926-1933 - Madame Cama is mentioned at folio 12.
IOR/L/PJ/12/219: Activities of Indians and Afghans in Paris: activities, 1924-1925 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 10, 11 and 18.
IOR/L/PJ/12/667: M.I.5. B[lack].L[ist]. Volume XXI (Indian Volume), 1921 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the entry for Sirdar Singhji Revabhai Ranna on page 57.

Foreign Office papers regarding Madame Cama can be found at the UK National Archives, references FO 800/56B.

British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast):
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 23 August 1907.
India, 30 August 1907.
The Call (London), 01 February 1917.

The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’.

Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, Rozina Visram (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

 

17 December 2021

One theft too many?

In the late 1760s Charles Eyloe ran a boarding house at his home Orchard House in Blackwall, London.  One of his contracts was with the East India Company to provide lodgings for the Asiatic sailors, known as lascars, who came to England as part of the Company's ship crews. The sailors needed somewhere to stay until they could return home.

In August and September 1767 Eyloe suffered a string of break-ins and robberies at his house.  The first was on 2 August when his house was broken into and 50 shillings in silver was taken.  The second occurred on 6 August when his cellar window was broken and a 12lb shoulder of veal and a bushel of flour were stolen.

Masked burglar entering a house through a window‘The Burglary’, p. 47 of The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of Night. A story of the present day, London 1866. British Library 12620.h.27.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Following these break-ins, Eyloe had a new cellar door put in and a metal bar put across his wine cellar.  These precautions appear to have deterred the thief from the cellar for a time, however instead eight hens and a cock were taken on 11 September.  On 14 September the thief managed to rip the cellar door off its hinges and took four pieces of beef worth 5 shillings and Eyloe suspected wine, beer and brandy was taken although he couldn’t say for sure.

The thief turned out to be Thomas James, a lascar from Bengal, who had previously boarded at Eyloe’s house.   James had indeed taken bottles of brandy from Eyloe’s cellar on 14 September, and was caught after promising ten of the bottles to a fellow sailor who then reported the incident to Eyloe.

Newspaper summary of Old Bailey sentencings October 1767, including Thomas James.Derby Mercury, 30 Oct 1767: summary of Old Bailey sentencing October 1767, including Thomas James. British Newspaper Archive

James was tried at the Old Bailey on 21 October 1767 and was found guilty and sentenced to death.  However on 24 February 1768  he was granted a conditional pardon and on 12 July 1768 his sentence was changed to transportation for life.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Old Bailey Online – Trial of Thomas James 21 October 1767.
British Newspaper Archive - Derby Mercury 30 October 1767.

 

10 June 2021

Sobriety and decorum - Passengers on East India Company ships

The movement of people on board East India Company ships to and from Asia was subject to strict rules in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The ships carried civilian employees, maritime and military personnel, non-official inhabitants, women, children, and Indian servants.  Large contingents of troops took their passage, both for the Company and Royal armies, and in 1708 the Company ordered that ship surgeons would be allowed 10 shillings for each soldier delivered alive in India.

 East Indiaman Essex at anchor in in Bombay HarbourEast Indiaman Essex at anchor in in Bombay Harbour by Francis Jukes (1785) British Library P493 Images Online

East India Company commanders were required to keep ‘true and exact diaries and journals of the ship’s daily proceedings’, including the names of passengers with the places where they entered and left the ship.  All passengers were issued with printed regulations established to preserve good order in Company ships, outward and homeward bound.  Commanders were to pay attention to comfortable accommodation and ‘liberal treatment’ of their passengers, setting an example of sobriety and decorum.  Diversity of characters and dispositions on board ship made some restraint necessary for all.  Good manners and known customs should prevail.  Commanders were to mediate in disputes between officers and passengers.

In 1819, the Company stated that the ‘wholesome practices’ formerly observed had been laid aside.  Late hours and the ‘consequent mischiefs’ had been introduced, endangering the ships and destroying propriety.  No fire was to be kept beyond 8pm unless in a stove for the use of the sick.  Candles were to be extinguished by 9pm between decks and by 10pm at the latest in cabins.  Lights must not be visible to any vessel passing in the night.  Passengers and officers were to leave the meal table at the same time as the commander.  One puncheon (84 gallons) of rum marked ‘Captain’s Table’ was sent on board for the commander and his servants, officers, and cabin passengers.  No other spirits were to be drawn from the ship’s stores by these groups.

Any commander carrying out or bringing home a passenger without the permission of the Company’s Court of Directors was fined: £500 for a European or for a native of India who was the child of a European; £20 for a male or female ‘black servant’, native of India or elsewhere.  The Company said it had incurred great expense returning to India servants who had been discharged by their masters and mistresses after being in England for some time.  Commanders must have a certificate of a deposit of £50 made for each ‘black servant’ or refuse to accept them.  Care was to be taken not to take on board European deserters from the Company armies.

Commanders charged those proceeding to India at their own expense for passage and a place at their table.  Rates were on a sliding scale according to rank, from £200 for an Army general to £80 for writers, lieutenants, ensigns, and single women, and £60 for cadets.

Baggage allowances were also given according to rank.  The return baggage from India, exclusive of bedding and a few pieces of cabin furniture, ranged from five tons for gentlemen of the Company Councils and generals, to one ton for writers, lieutenants, ensigns, single women, and other cabin passengers.  Additional tonnage was allocated for wives and families.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
Charles Cartwright, An Abstract of the Orders and Regulations of the Honourable Court of Directors of the East-India Company, and of Other Documents (London, 1788).
Instructions from the commanders of the East India Company's own ships to their officers, &c. (London, 1819)
IOR/L/MAR/B East India Company marine records 

Servants sailing from India with the East India Company

28 May 2021

Sadi, servant to the Sulivan family

On 11 July 1787 a young Indian servant named Sadi was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey after being convicted of stealing bank notes to the value of £400 from his employer Stephen Sulivan.  William Morris was tried for receiving the stolen notes and was defended by barrister William Garrow.  Morris was also found guilty by the jury, but sentencing was delayed in his case because of a legal uncertainty.

View of the scaffold and gallows outside the north quad of Newgate Prison; a screen on the right leading up to entrance to scaffold  with gallows over platform.‘A Perspective View of the temporary Gallows in the Old Bailey’ 1794 © The Trustees of the British Museum Asset number 765670001 - View of the scaffold and gallows outside the north quad of Newgate Prison; a screen on the right leading up to entrance to scaffold, with gallows over platform.

Sadi, also known as George Horne, was a footboy in the Sulivan household in Harley Street, London.  Stephen Sulivan’s father Laurence had been a prominent East India Company director and politician.  Having served the East India Company in Madras and Calcutta, Stephen returned to England in the summer of 1785 with his wife Elizabeth and son Laurence.  The Sulivans brought Sadi with them as he had attended Laurence since his birth in January 1783 and was a favourite of the family.  They wished to preserve Sadi’s ‘simple manners’ and ‘innocent mind’ from corruption by their other servants so he stayed in the nursery, eating and sleeping with his charge.  He had unrestrained access to the private apartments of the house.

However in 1787, Sadi began behaving with ‘repeated irregularities’.  The Sulivans dismissed the young man, intending to send him back to India.  Whilst awaiting a passage in an East Indiaman, Sadi was sent to lodge with Thomas Saunders, the assistant keeper of the East India Company’s tea and drug warehouse.

It came to light that Sadi had been stealing from the Sulivans for two years – muslins, silks, calicos, linen, pearls, clothing, and a special shawl belonging to Elizabeth.  The stolen goods were passed on to other servants in the house who encouraged Sadi to continue with his thefts.  He stole four guineas without being detected and then one bank note for £1,000 and two for £200.  When Sadi showed the £1,000 note to two of his fellow servants, they told him it was too great a sum to pass on without detection.  After keeping it for some days, he threw it under the kitchen grate where it was found by the housekeeper who gave it to Elizabeth.  The notes for £200 were sold by Sadi for a guinea to William Morris, formerly butler to Stephen’s father.

Elizabeth called on Sadi at his lodgings.  He burst into tears and made a full confession, directing her to Morris’s home in Petticoat Lane.  She went there with a constable and Morris’s wife handed over the two bank notes.

Other servants of the Sulivans were also arrested and charged with receiving stolen goods: Thomas Absalom, his wife Martha, and Catherine Smith.  Martha Absalom was apprehended at Maidenhead in Berkshire and found to have property belonging to Elizabeth Sulivan.

On 24 August 1787, the King granted Sadi a reprieve from the death sentence passed on him.  The young Indian remained in Newgate prison but he died shortly afterwards on 9 December.  The death rate in Newgate was extremely high in the late 1780s because of severe overcrowding and an outbreak of ‘gaol fever’ (epidemic typhus).

A few days after Sadi’s death, the case of William Morris was finally settled. He was discharged because the judges agreed with his defence counsel that the bank notes he had received could not be classified as goods and chattels, the term used in the charge against him.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The case is reported in Old Bailey Online and in the British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast), for example Hampshire Chronicle 4 June 1787, Bury and Norwich Post 6 June 1787, Derby Mercury 7 June 1787 and 13 December 1787, Kentish Gazette 24 July 1787, Sheffield Register 1 September 1787.

 

29 April 2021

Bhicoo Batlivala, Campaigner for Indian Independence

The names of the leading proponents of Indian independence from British rule are well known, but the fight was carried on by many thousands of campaigners and activists who devoted their lives to this important cause.  One such campaigner was Bhicoo Batlivala.

Bhicoo Batlivala - head and shoulders photographic portraitPortrait photograph by Douglas of Bhicoo Batlivala from The Bystander 16 February 1938 British Newspaper Archive also available from Findmypast

Bhicoo Batlivala was born in Bombay on 1 January 1911.  Her father, Sorabji Batlivala, was a successful mill owner.  When she was only ten years old she was sent to Britain for her education, where she attended the Cheltenham Ladies College, before studying law and becoming a Barrister of the Inner Temple in 1932.  In July that year, the Dundee Courier listed her in its piece on ‘Men and Women of Today’, describing her as ‘dark, slender, and with dark auburn hair and regular features’.  Intelligent with an adventurous spirit, Batlivala was also a pilot, and a keen player of polo and tennis.

Bhicoo Batlivala - article in Dundee Courier 14 July 1932Dundee Courier 14 July 1932 British Newspaper Archive also available from Findmypast

After practising as a barrister in the UK for a few years, she returned to India.  It was reported in British newspapers that she was the first woman to be admitted to the State Service of Baroda, where she held a variety of Government positions, including Inspector of Schools.  On returning to England, she married Guy Mansell in London in 1939.  They set up home in Cobham, Surrey.

Batlivala was an active member of the India League, an organisation founded in 1916 to promote the cause of Indian independence.  She regularly attended meetings throughout the 1940s, often as a speaker, a fact noted in Government intelligence reports.  She also became associated with Jawaharlal Nehru, at one point acting as his secretary, and campaigning for his release from prison.  In 1940, she embarked on a six month lecture tour in America causing the British Government considerable anxiety.

On 24 February 1943, Batlivala led a delegation of Indian women to the Central lobby of the House of Commons.  Once there they met several women M.P.s, and put their case for the release of Gandhi who had been imprisoned in India at the start of the Quit India Campaign.  The Derby Daily Telegraph reported that the Indian women wore ‘beautiful native robes’, and quoted Batlivala as saying ‘We are urging that the release of Gandhi should be put before the Government as a very urgent matter.  It is not a question only of Hindus or of one particular community.  Indians of all communities here are very deeply concerned about the present drift of the situation as it is being handled by the Government’.

In an article for International Woman Suffrage News, Batlivala highlighted the hypocrisy of Britain using India’s resources to fight the threat of Nazism, while denying India her own freedom.  She concluded; ‘The Indian people have repeatedly declared that they have no quarrel with the British people, but they will no longer tolerate a system of Imperialism.  If the British Government declares that its fight is for the liberation of all nations then it must liberate India.  The world is watching’.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Miss Bhicoo Batlivala, 1938-1940, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1295.

Indian Political Intelligence files:
India League: reports on members and activities, 1940-1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/453.
India League: reports on members and activities, 1943-1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/456.
Bhicoo Batlivala alias Mansell, India League: activities in USA, 1939-1943, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/631.

The British Newspaper Archive  - also available via Findmypast
Dundee Courier, 14 July 1932.
Gloucestershire Echo, 06 November 1936.
Dundee Evening Telegraph, 28 January 1938.
International Woman Suffrage News, 03 January 1941.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 February 1943.

The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’  - Bhicoo Batlivala

Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, Rozina Visram (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

 

05 January 2021

Bevin Trainees now in India Office Family History Search

In 1941 the British Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin, supported the establishment of the Bevin Training Scheme to provide practical training in engineering for young Indians.  The Scheme was an effort to meet the demand for skilled engineers in Indian industries supporting the war effort.

Leo Amery, Secretary of State for India, chatting to an Indian trainee at work in a factoryLeo Amery, Secretary of State for India, chatting to an Indian trainee at work in a factory - from Engineering Bulletin September 1941 published by the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Crown Copyright) IOR/L/I/1/978

A previous story on Untold Lives revealed that the India Office Records include lists of the first seven batches of trainees invited to the UK and details of the firms they were placed with and houses they lodged in.

Example of a page from the India Office file showing the details recorded about the traineesExample of a page from IOR/L/E/8/8112 showing the details recorded about the trainees Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

As part of the India Office Records team’s efforts to identify records of individuals in our collections who historically have been overlooked, we have now transcribed all the names and details from these lists into the British Library’s India Office Family History Search.

Here are some examples of entries:
Prasad, R. – Placed with the Cincinnatti Milling Machine Company, Birmingham, on 13 Oct 1941.  Lodged at 77 Eachelhurst Road, Erdington, Birmingham.  Trainee reference number 2/42.
Deshpande, H.G. – Placed with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, Crewe, on 28 Sep 1942.  Lodged at Saxon House, Carlton Road, Whalley Range, Manchester.  Trainee reference number 5/38.
Nandy, S. – Placed with Vauxhall Motors, Luton, on 7 June 1943.  Lodged at 21 Ascot Road, Luton.  Trainee reference number 7/5.

We hope that this data will help your family history research and reveal stories about collaboration across cultures.

Matthew Waters
India Office Records

Further reading:
Bevin Training Scheme: papers not transferred to the High Commissioner for India, including lists of Indian trainees showing firms with whom placed and lodging addresses, May 1941-Sep 1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/E/8/8112]
Indian workmen training in UK (Bevin Boys), 1940-1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/I/1/978]

 

15 October 2020

Tracing the lives and letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 1 The Journey to Sierra Leone

With the outbreak of the American War of Independence in April 1775, the British Army soon realised that it lacked the manpower it needed to prosecute the war.  One action taken was the issuing of the Dunmore Proclamation in November 1775 which decreed that slaves who joined the British to fight against the American revolutionaries would be freed from slavery.  Thousands of slaves joined the British forces in response where they became known as the Black Loyalists and were formed into a number of military units such as the Black Pioneers and the Ethiopians.   The Black Pioneers accompanied General Henry Clinton to Rhode Island when he was tasked with taking Newport in 1776.

Map of Rhode Island in 1776 marked with the positions of British RegimentsMap of Rhode Island in 1776, Add MS 57715, f.3. The map is marked with the positions of British Regiments. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With the conclusion of hostilities, the future of the Black Loyalists remained uncertain and they were under threat of re-enslavement.  General Washington demanded that the British obey the Treaty of Paris (1783) which had specified that all American property, including slaves, be returned.  The British instead attempted to keep their original promise by relocating thousands of ex-slaves outside of the United States.  Sir Guy Carleton, commander of British forces in North America, oversaw the evacuation of Black Loyalists and many other black individuals living behind British lines – some runaway slaves, some born free men, as well as their families - to British territory including Jamaica, London (where many became known as London Black Poor), and Nova Scotia.

A manuscript record of some of the orders issued by Sir Guy Carleton during the American War of IndependenceA record of some of the orders issued by Sir Guy Carleton during the American War of Independence. Add MS 21743, f.2. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Nova Scotia the Black Loyalists were promised land and freedom, but Nova Scotia proved to be hostile both environmentally and socially.  A description of the relocation to Nova Scotia is given in a report commissioned by Sir Carleton.

Title page of the manuscript report on Nova ScotiaTitle page of the report on Nova Scotia, Kings MS 208, f.1. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Page from manuscript report showing increase in population in Nova Scotia as ‘New Inhabitants’ arriveThis page traces the increase in population in Nova Scotia as ‘New Inhabitants’ arrive. Kings MS 208, 24 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The report made direct reference to the Black Loyalists settling in Nova Scotia and stated that they numbered around 3000 at the point of writing in 1784.

The following page of the report explains the difficulties that have arisen already with lack of land to cultivate and insists that provisions be made for the new settlers lest they ‘perish – they have no other country to go to – no other asylum'.

Manuscript document giving description of the shortcomings of resettlement in Nova ScotiaDescription of the shortcomings of resettlement in Nova Scotia. Kings MS 208, f.32 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With many of the black settlers feeling betrayed, an unusual and challenging plan was devised: to relocate these families from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, to form a new colony of free people, who would govern themselves.  The decision to relocate the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia developed upon an earlier project that had relocated a number of the ‘black poor’ of London to Sierra Leone.  Granville Sharp, philanthropist and abolitionist was a seminal figure in the original plan.  The recently formed Sierra Leone Company would orchestrate the new project and instigated John Clarkson - the younger brother of abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson - as the agent in charge of the mission.  However, the figure who was instrumental in devising the plan was the former slave and Black Pioneer, Thomas Peters.

The next blog post in this series will examine Thomas Peters’ role in the establishment of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and the letters in the British Library that were composed by him.

A view from the sea of the New Settlement in Sierra Leone 1790 with a sailing ship in the foregroundA View of the New Settlement in Sierra Leone by Cornelis Apostool. 1790, before the re-settlement of the Nova Scotian Black Loyalists. British Library Maps.K.Top.117.100 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

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