Untold lives blog

27 posts categorized "Business"

15 April 2021

William George Sibley of the East India Company - a worthy good man

William George Sibley was baptised in 1733 in Whitechapel, the son of George and Mary.  His father worked for the East India Company and rose to be keeper of the Bengal Warehouse in New Street.  This was a very responsible post, having care of the receipt, storage, sale and delivery of vast quantities of Indian textiles.  The Sibley family had accommodation near the warehouses provided by the Company.   George was a member of the Mercers’ Company and owned property in London and Wanstead in Essex.

Labourers hoisting barrels and bales  into a London warehouse Hoisting goods into a London warehouse by Gustave Doré from William Blanchard Jerrold, London: A Pilgrimage (London, 1872) British Library WF1/1856 Images OnlinePublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Both William Sibley and his younger brother George followed their father into the East India Company’s home establishment.  William joined the East India Company in February 1745/46 in his early teens as a writer (or copyist) in the Leadenhall warehouse where his father was keeper at the time.  In 1756 William was appointed 5th clerk in the Company Treasury at a salary of £60 per annum.  He then worked his way up the departmental hierarchy by virtue of deaths and resignations and was appointed Treasurer in 1788.  His salary leapt from £200 as a senior clerk in 1785 to over £1,000 in 1801 once his gratuity and perquisites were added to his basic pay.

View of East India House in the City of London in 1760sEast India House c.1760 by James Caldwall British Library King’s Topographical Collection, Maps K.Top.24.10.a.BL flickrPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

His brother George became a warehouse-keeper like their father.  The Sibley brothers also followed their father into the Mercers’ Company.  William was Governor in 1790 and George in 1791.

William married Abigail Scott at Wanstead in August 1771 and they had two daughters Mary and Susannah who both died as small babies.  In 1775 Abigail also died.  William remained a widower until March 1790 when he married Jane Amphillis Berthon, the daughter of a City merchant.  In the same year he was elected as Governor to the Foundling Hospital.  He was also a Governor of Christ’s Hospital and a fellow of the Antiquarian Society.

When Jane’s mother Amphillis Berthon made her will in 1791 she shared her property between two sons and two daughters and excluded Jane. William and Jane Sibley were simply each left a ring. Mrs Berthon explained in the will that her reason for excluding her daughter Sibley was not a want of regard – it was clear to see that she loved and esteemed Jane equally with her other children. But Jane was ‘very happily provided for and married to a worthy good man’.

William George Sibley died in March 1807 at his house at 7 Queen Square, Bloomsbury, not far from the Foundling Hospital.  He still held the post of Treasurer at East India House, having worked for the Company for 61 years.  His obituary in The Monthly Magazine echoed the sentiments of his mother-in-law: ‘In his official department he invariably discharged his duty with fidelity and assiduity, and in all respects with satisfaction to the company and honour to himself… In private life, a tender and affectionate husband, a steady friend to the deserving, kind to the poor, and benevolent to all… a truly good and upright man’.

A view of the interior of the Foundling Hospital Chapel with lines of boys and girls leaving, supervised by staffA view of the interior of the Foundling Hospital Chapel 1774 British Library Crach.1.Tab.4.b.3 Images OnlinePublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Sibley was buried in the vaults under the chapel of the Foundling Hospital.  His wife Jane was also buried there, close to her husband, when she died in 1832.  She inherited her husband’s considerable estate and her will made a number of substantial charitable bequests including £300 to the Foundling Hospital.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Obituary in The Monthly Magazine Vol XXIII Part 1 for 1807, p. 389

 

09 April 2021

Non-essential retail in nineteenth-century London

As we look forward to the re-opening of non-essential retail outlets in England, we’d like to share a book about nineteenth-century London shops.  Nathaniel Whittock’s On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London published in 1840 has illustrated descriptions of a variety of businesses and is available as a digital item.

Shop front of Storr and Mortimer, goldsmiths, 156 Bond StreetStorr and Mortimer, goldsmiths, 156 Bond Street - Plate 1 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Storr and Mortimer, goldsmiths and jewellers, was situated at 156 Bond Street.  It was one of the original shops when the houses in Bond Street were first built.  Whittock praised the Ionic style of the shop front for being neat and elegant.  The plants appearing through the trellis work gave a light and pleasing effect.

Shop front of Turner and Clark, mercers and drapers, Coventry Street
Turner and Clark, mercers and drapers, Coventry Street - Plate 3 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Turner and Clark, mercers and drapers, had premises in Coventry Street, Haymarket.  The shop front was decorated with a light, elegant pediment and ornaments of gilt on white-veined marble.

Shop front of W.H. Ablett & Co, outfitting warehouse, Cornhill

W.H. Ablett & Co, outfitting warehouse, Cornhill - Plate 5 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

W.H. Ablett & Co was an outfitting warehouse in Cornhill.  Both storeys of the shop were used for displaying articles sold there, including swords!

Wine & spirit warehouse

Astell’s wine and spirit warehouse at 119 Tottenham Court Road - Plate 10 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Astell’s wine and spirit warehouse stood at 119 Tottenham Court Road, on the corner of Grafton Street.  Two storeys had been converted into one so that huge vats of alcohol could be accommodated inside.  Whittock judged the shop front to be grand but not gaudy.

UpholstererSaunders and Woodley, upholsterers, Regent Street - Plate 13 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The costly front of Saunders and Woodley, upholsterers, in Regent Street was in the style of Louis XIV.  Willock was pleased by the 'very splendid effect', which he deemed quite appropriate for so showy a business.  Piers were formed by the trunks of palm trees terminating in foliage, with capitals of burnished gold.  The elegant iron railing was coloured bronze to match the carvings.

BooksellerGrey, bookseller and stationer - Plate 15 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Bookseller and stationer Grey was given as an example of a shop converted from a dwelling house in a manner that would not breach restrictions in the lease about commercial use.   The parlour windows were used to display books, and the shutters were lined with shallow glass cases sufficiently deep to contain prints and other wares.

India warehouseEvrington’s India shawl warehouse, 10 Ludgate - Plate 18 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Evrington’s India shawl warehouse at 10 Ludgate occupied an old building with low ceilings.  Whittock thought the frontage simple and elegant, but not in accordance with the magnificence of the interior.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Nathaniel Whittock, On the construction and decoration of the Shop Fronts of London, illustrated with eighteen coloured representations, exhibiting the varied styles of the current period, for the use of builders, carpenters, shopkeepers etc (London, 1840)

02 March 2021

Astley’s Amphitheatre presents ‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’

Tucked into an Indian diary of Charlotte, Lady Canning was an unexpected find - a playbill advertising the entertainments offered at Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre during Christmas week 1857.  If you had sixpence to spare, you could find yourself in the Upper Gallery, while for a guinea you could be in the comfort of one of the boxes.  On offer was a ‘National Military Spectacle’ called ‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’.  A series of scenes in three acts, it was described as being ‘…founded upon the present events in India’.  The play covered the outbreak of the Indian Uprising or ‘Indian Mutiny’, the relief of the siege of Cawnpore (Kanpur) and its violent aftermath, and finally the assault on Delhi and its capture by British troops.  These events played out from May to September 1857, Delhi being retaken by the British on 20 September.  The play opened in London on 25 November 1857, scarcely two months later.  Portraying current events, it served as both popular entertainment and dramatized news production.

Playbill for Storming and Capture of Delhi
Playbill for Astley’s Amphitheatre, December 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Situated on Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, Astley’s opened in the 1770s.  It burned down and was rebuilt three times – in 1794, 1803 and again in 1841.  The space was enormous with a pit, gallery and viewing boxes, and a large circular arena in addition to a stage.  It was rather like a cross between a circus and a theatre. The  Illustrated London News in 1843 described the newly rebuilt Astley’s as an octagonal structure, richly decorated with columns, hangings, chandeliers, and a stage measuring 75 x 101 feet.  No expense had been spared on its rebuilding.  Circus proprietor William Cooke leased Astley’s from 1853 to 1860 and revived its popularity; the venue became famous for equestrian displays, including adaptations of Macbeth and Richard III performed on horseback.

Astley's Amphitheatre

Astley’s Amphitheatre from R. Ackermann, The Microcosm of London (London, 1808-1811) Images Online

‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’ was written by the dramatist Charles A. Somerset, about whom very little is known.  In the 1861 census he is 66, unmarried, and an ‘Author Dramatic’, originally from Bath.  He is one of several lodgers at 2 Pitt Street, Southwark.  This is almost certainly the same Charles Somerset living in Devonshire Street, Lambeth in 1841, who is described as a ‘Writer’.  He had been writing for the stage since the 1820s; a check of the British Library catalogue reveals a wide repertoire from historical drama (Bonaparte in Egypt), comic operetta (Good Night Monsieur Pantalon), farce (The electric telegraph, or, the fast man in a fix) to pantomime (King Blusterbubble, and the demon ogre).

The spectacle on show during the winter of 1857-58 had all the hallmarks of an Astley’s production.  There were live animals, including troupes of trained horses as well as real Indian buffalo, zebra and elephants.  According to the reviews, ‘The compiler of the drama…has not encumbered the action with a complex plot or sentimental story but given a rapid succession of stirring scenes…’.   These included daring chases on horseback, stage combat including firing musket rounds, and comic interludes such as British troopers donning women’s bonnets to confuse the enemy.  There was even a romantic sub-plot involving Miss Mathilda, a General’s daughter, and Frank Phos Fix, an artist and volunteer Hussar. 

In addition to individual items like the ‘Storming of Delhi’ playbill, the British Library holds a significant collection of approximately 234,000 playbills dating from the 1730s to the 1950s. Some have been digitised, and many are being made available via the Into the Spotlight project.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F699/2/2/2: Indian Journals of Charlotte Canning.  The Astley’s playbill has been housed in a fascicule at Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6.
Add MS 52969 K 'The storming and capture of Dehli', grand military spectacle in three acts. Licence sent 24 November 1857 for performance at Astley's Royal Amphitheatre 23 November 1857.  Cover signed William Cook, lessee and manager, and W. West, stage manager.  Songs included in MS. LCO Day Book Add. 53073 records the stipulation that all oaths be omitted as well as the names of General Wheeler and his daughter ff. 29. (Part of THE LORD CHAMBERLAIN'S PLAYS AND DAY-BOOKS; 1851-1899, 1824-1903. Add MS 52929-53708: [1851-1899]).
The play was reviewed in The Morning Advertiser on 26 November 1857.  It was also advertised as still being on at Astley’s in The Globe, 26 January 1858.
Charles A. Somerset’s plays can be found amongst the Pettingell manuscripts at the University of Kent, while Somerset’s letters to TP Cooke are held by the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance.

 

04 February 2021

East India Company instructions for keeping records

We’re returning to the ship New Year’s Gift to share some more of the instructions it carried.  This time we’re looking at rules for record-keeping in Asia in the earliest days of the East India Company and the use of codes in correspondence.

The Company merchants in the fleet of four ships which sailed from England in March 1613/14 were told before they sailed that they were expected to record their work with care and ‘exquisiteness’. They were provided with –
• Four pairs of ‘faire bookes,’ i.e. journals and ledgers
• Four large ‘industriall’ or day books
• Books for expenses
• Books for copies of letters
• Large ruled sheets of paper for making copies of the journals
• Eight reams of paper, large and small
• Ink
• Penknives
• Quills
• Hard wax

More books had been sent to the Company’s trading post in Bantam in the ship Concord.

East India Company instructions for record-keeping 1614Instructions to East India Company factors 1614 from Thomas Elkington’s notebook IOR/G/40/25 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Having provided ample supplies of stationery, the Company expected accounts to be kept ‘perfectly’ in all places.  The chief factor at Surat, or someone else appointed to the task, was to keep a fair pair of books for the Company general account.  All factors, whether working at settled factories or employed buying and selling commodities in fairs or markets, were to give their accounts from time to time to the chief factor at Surat so they could be brought into the general books there.  But all factors were also to send to London a copy of their journal and the balance of their ledger whenever Company ships sailed for England.  The chief factor was to send by every shipping a verbatim copy of his journal written on the large ruled paper being supplied.  Since all copies sent would be the same size, they could in future be bound together in one volume in London.  The Company also expected to receive the balance of the chief’s ledger from time to time, and an exact copy of his ledger once a year.

Changes in personnel at Surat must not lead to alterations in the methods of record-keeping.  No factor was to take away Company books as had happened in the past.  Completed books were to be sealed up and sent to London, with copies made to retain in the factory if required.  Local coinage and weights should be used in the accounts, with an explanation provided for London.

Similar instructions were given for the factory at Bantam, with a central record taking in information sent by merchants working away from base.  The Company advised all factors to write down immediately everything that happened – ‘our memory at the best hand is very slippery’.  Moreover, sickness and death could strike at any time.

If factors wrote home about an important matter using a dangerous or doubtful conveyance and passage, the Company asked them to write the letters, or at least ‘poynts of moment’, in ‘caracters’ i.e. a code or cipher.  Then, if the letters were intercepted, trade secrets would not be disclosed and cause damage to the Company.  A copy of the cipher was included with the instructions.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/G/40/25 Instructions to East India Company factors from Thomas Elkington’s notebook
IOR/B/5 Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors 1613-1615

26 November 2020

George Poland & Son – furriers to the rich, friends to the poor

When furrier George Poland died at his home in Oxford Street, London, on 10 May 1860 at the age of 64, many local shops closed as a sign of respect.  Obituaries described him as a benevolent guardian to the poor, diligent, courteous and conscientious.

Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880
Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland was churchwarden for Marylebone at the time of his death.  He was first elected to serve on the St Marylebone Vestry in 1850.  He joked in 1852 that he had lived for 50 years in one house in Oxford Street, but was only two years old as a vestry man.

In September 1853 George Poland joined a committee appointed by the St Marylebone Board of Guardians to enquire into cholera and scarlet fever and the sanitary condition of the crowded and populous local districts.  Poland was also a director of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes which was incorporated by Royal Charter in April 1854.

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - list of directors

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - properties owned with rentsAdvert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 British Newspaper Archive

The aim of the Association was to acquire houses or ground in densely populated districts and provide clean and healthy dwellings for the poor by converting existing properties or building new ones.   Money was raised from shareholders and dividends paid.

By 1858 the Association owned a number of properties, many around Lisson Grove, a very poor area of Marylebone with appalling sanitary conditions.  Rents varied from 1s 3d to 5s 6d per week.  Some accommodation provided water and a sink in each room, whilst others had sculleries, dust shafts, and coppers and flat roofs for washing and drying clothes.  One of the properties acquired by the Association was Lisson Cottages.  The old houses were renovated in 1855 and let as apartments.  The Cottages are now listed artisans’ dwellings

Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes 3
Advert listing rooms to let from Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 16 October 1858 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland and his wife Jane (née Minton) had five sons, but two died as babies.  Charles became a quantity surveyor.  Edward worked as shopman and clerk to his father.  In 1847 Edward incurred debts for a diamond ring and the hire of horses and gigs.  He was admonished at the Insolvent Debtors’ Court for idleness, folly and vain extravagance.  Edward died in 1851 at the age of 27.

The eldest son George Arthur Poland, born in 1820, followed his father into the fur trade, apart from a brief period around 1850 when he worked as a straw hat maker.  He married Hetty Rosina Esquilant in 1842 and they had eleven children, two of whom died in infancy. By 1880, George Poland & Son were furriers to the Royal family.

George Arthur Poland also followed his father in his commitment to public duty.  He was a member of the St Marylebone Vestry for 23 years, serving as chairman and churchwarden.  He represented St Marylebone on the Metropolitan Board of Works and was involved in Liberal politics in the borough.  Poland was Master of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers in 1875.

Poland supported many local social improvement initiatives with both time and money.  When he died in 1883, his obituary in the Marylebone Mercury praised him as ‘an honest, warm-hearted, upright man; an excellent and willing worker; a friend to the poor. To know him was to love him; and the respect and esteem in which he was held by all classes are strong testimony to his excellence and worth’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Marylebone Mercury 10 July and 16 October 1858; 10 May 1879; 3 February 1883.
The Observer 12 January 1852; 14 May 1860
Records of Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes are held at Westminster City Archives ht
Anthony S. Wohl, The Eternal Slum: Housing and Social Policy in Victorian London (London, 1977)

 

11 August 2020

Receipts of the Late Thomas Lakin

Despite an active career as a potter, Thomas Lakin (1769-1821), whose pieces can be found in collections globally, is almost entirely absent from the written history of Staffordshire Pottery.  He is scantily mentioned in the pottery directories of the time, and was omitted completely from Simeon Shaw’s History of the Staffordshire Potteries, one of the principal texts on the history of the industry.

Lakin spent his working life in the Leeds and Staffordshire potteries.  He worked a number of years for John Davenport in the Longport glassworks, and traded in pottery under numerous titles including 'Lakin & Poole', 'Lakin & Son' and 'Lakin & Co.'.  Before his death he was a Principal Manager of the higher departments of the Leeds Pottery.  An obituary in The Staffordshire Advertiser, which asserted his reputation, noted ‘he had long been distinguished for his taste, judgement and ingenuity as a potter'.  Little is known of Lakin’s personal affairs: unlike many of his better known contemporaries, he did not leave a business or family archive.  He did however leave what is considered one of the seminal published texts on 18th century pottery techniques - Potting, enamelling and glass-staining ... Receipts of the late Thos Lakin ... with ... directions for their preparation and use in the manufacture of Porcelain Earthenware and Iron Stone China, etc. printed for Mrs Lakin (Leeds: Edward Baines, 1824).

Published post-humously by his wife Catherine, the text contains a variety of trade recipes for various enamels, coloured glazes, underglazes, glass staining, and more used by Lakin.  The preface by his wife provides us with the only published primary biographical source for Lakin, beyond newspaper clippings.

The British Library’s Add MS 89436 is a manuscript copy of Potting, Enamelling & Glass Staining.

Cover of Thomas Lakin's 'Potting Enamelling and Glass Staining'Thomas Lakin's 'Potting Enamelling and Glass Staining' Add MS 89436

Manuscript copies of texts continued to offer an alternative to printed publications well into the 19th century.  Various factors led to their production: practice of penmanship, dissemination of ‘banned’ publications or plays, and cost or scarcity of the printed text.  Lakin’s volume was a considerable £50 on release.  Thanks to its uniqueness, and valuable content, the volume would have been in high demand and probably sold quickly.  Manuscript copies were likely made by those that either could not afford the printed version, or simply could not get their hands on it.  The British Library’s copy stands out for its remarkable penmanship and beautiful calligraphic coloured title page.

Enormous care and time was taken to produce this copy, and no doubt it would have been treasured by the owner throughout their career.  Add MS 89436 may have been copied by a potter, from a fellow potter’s printed copy.  It wasn’t unheard of for potters themselves to have well-practised penmanship, as surviving business ledgers demonstrate.  This was likely a result of extensive record keeping and the need for legible documentation within the business.

A recipe for 'cobalt blue' by Thomas Lakin.Add MS 89436, a recipe for 'cobalt blue' by Thomas Lakin.

Several other manuscript copies of Lakin’s text have been up for auction in the past decade, and can be found in collections globally, including one at the Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass, in New York.

Zoe Louca-Richards
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Please note that due to work-flow restrictions resulting from Covid-19 action this material may not be accessible via the reading rooms until later in the year.

Thank you to Patricia Halfpenny from the Northern Ceramic Society for her assistance in tracing information relating to Thomas Lakin and his career.

Further Reading:
LAKIN, Thomas. Potting, enamelling and glass-staining ... Receipts ... with ... directions for their preparation and use in the manufacture of Porcelain Earthenware and Iron Stone China, etc. Leeds : printed for Mrs Lakin, by Edward Baines, 1824.
Harold Blakey, “Thomas Lakin: Staffordshire Potter 1769-1821”, Northern Ceramic Society Journal, Vol. 5, 1984. pp.79-115.

 

12 April 2020

The Bunny Family of Berkshire

The Bunny Family was well-known in the Newbury area of Berkshire in the late 18th and 19th centuries.  Descendants of grocer Blandy Buck Bunny became prominent members of local society working as bankers and in the legal profession.

Blandy’s grandson Jeré Bunny was a solicitor in Newbury.  In 1813 he married Clara Slocock, the daughter of a brewer.  Clara died in 1835 at the age of 46.  Ten of their children, born between 1815 and 1834, survived to adulthood, and their lives took many different paths: vicar’s wife, soldier, farmer, fugitive, solicitor, gold miner.

The Bunny daughters were Clara, Caroline Eliza, Laura, Gertrude and Alice.  Clara married Charles Hopkinson, a wealthy banker.  Gertude and Alice became the wives of clergymen Henry Towry White and Douglas Belcher Binney.  Caroline Eliza and Laura remained single and lived as annuitants.

Eldest son Charles farmed at East Woodhay in Hampshire on land passed down the family. 

The next brother Brice Frederick trained as a barrister.  He emigrated to Australia in the early 1850s and worked as a gold miner at Forest Creek in Victoria, but gave up after six months, moving to Melbourne to resume his legal career.  Brice became a highly regarded equity lawyer.  He served as an MP and then became a judge.


Forest Creek Victoria
S. T. Gill, Forest Creek, Mount Alexander Diggings 1852- from National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Edward William Bunny studied at Oriel College Oxford and trained as a solicitor. He had to have a leg amputated because of a diseased knee joint.  In 1861 Edward moved to New Zealand, becoming Registrar of the Supreme Court.

Henry Bunny also qualified as a solicitor and worked with his father in Newbury.  By 1853 he was the town clerk.  Then he suddenly disappeared with his family to escape his debts.  A special messenger was sent by his creditors to the Duke of Portland which was about to sail from Plymouth to New Zealand.  Mrs Bunny and her children were found on board but there was no sign of Henry.  It was rumoured that he was on the ship but disguised in women’s clothes.

In New Zealand Henry set up business as a solicitor but was suspended when a case for fraud was brought against him in the UK.  However he bounced back and then entered politics.  He was elected a representative in the Provincial Council of Wellington and served in the New Zealand Parliament.  Sadly Henry committed suicide in 1891 whilst suffering from ‘melancholia’ and sciatica.   The inquest returned a verdict of temporary insanity.  A monument funded by public subscription was erected in his memory.

Youngest son Arthur Bunny had a distinguished career in the Bengal Artillery.  He fought in many campaigns and received awards for bravery.  At the battle of Multan in 1848 he was wounded by a musket ball in the shoulder and had his horse shot under him.  Arthur was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1873.

Siege of MultanHenry Martens, The Siege of Multan, January 1849 British Library Foster 198 Images Online


Jeré Bunny died in 1854.  Newspapers speculated that his death had been hastened by the strain of the legal proceedings against his son Henry.  Jeré’s will was made in May 1851, but a codicil dated November 1853 revoked all bequests to Henry, except 20 shillings.   Another codicil the following month withdrew all bequests to Charles, Brice, Henry and Arthur as their entitlement had been already been spent on their ‘advancement’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive also available via findmypast
Trove  - Australian newspapers
Papers Past  - New Zealand newspapers

 

20 February 2020

Baptisms, Barracks, Bazaars: indexing the India Office Records

'Cleverness is not required in an indexer; brilliancy is dangerous.  The desirable quality is clearness.'

So begins The Technique of Indexing (1904), a manual by a pioneer in the field of indexing, Mary Petherbridge.  A graduate in natural sciences from Cambridge University, Mary set up The Secretarial Bureau in London in 1895.  The Bureau offered a range of services; enterprisingly, it also gave training in secretarial and indexing work.  For women, this was an opportunity to learn skills that could help them to earn an independent living.

Mary’s timing was fortunate.  The great department of state, the India Office, held many volumes of historical documents that were effectively unusable because they had no indexes.  Of particular concern were 488 volumes of East India Company letters to India, covering the Company’s history from 1753 to 1858.  In 1901 the Superintendent of Records, Arthur Wollaston, decided that male clerks could not be spared for indexing work.  Women from the Bureau were commissioned instead.

Although freelance, Mary quickly established a firm relationship with the India Office.  She set up an office in the Record Department, at one point even bringing in her own furniture.  There her small staff, usually between four and eight women, indexed the correspondence, Royal Commission reports, and other records.  Mary also acted as the Department’s Dutch and Portuguese translator.  Her business flourished, as her office stationery shows:

Office stationery from The Secretarial BureauIOR/L/R/7/101 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

For the Bureau, the India Office commission was clearly prestigious.  Examples from the East India Company’s records featured in The Technique of Indexing:

The Technique of IndexingPage from The Technique of Indexing Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mary selected her best pupils to be trained on the India Office premises.  One of these was Theodora Bosanquet, who later was to become well known as the secretary to Henry James.  Years afterwards, Theodora recalled being hard at work in the office when she heard The Ambassadors being read aloud to a fellow pupil – a dictation exercise.  James had approached the Bureau to find a secretary; Theodora volunteered for the role.  The scene that she evokes is an appealing one: James’s words echoing in the offices upstairs, while the business of government carried on in the formal rooms below.

The indexing of the India correspondence was finally completed in 1929.  Mary and her staff had created a remarkable 430,000 index entries, filling 72 volumes.  Not long afterwards, Mary closed down the Bureau.  She herself continued to work as Official Indexer to Government until her death in 1940.

These index entries make up almost a third of the entries in the Records catalogue today.  Mary’s contribution is recorded only in the invoices that she submitted (at a rate of 2s 6d per 100 entries by 1929).  But no one did more to open up the East India Company’s later archives than she.  Generations of researchers have reason to be grateful!

Antonia Moon
Lead Curator, Post-1858 India Office Reocrds

Further reading:
India Office Records: IOR/L/R/6/224
Hazel K Bell, From Flock Beds to Professionalism: a history of index makers (Oak Knoll Press: Hatfield, Herts, 2008)
Theodora Bosanquet, ‘As I Remember Henry James’, Time & Tide, 3 July 1954, pp. 875-76
Mary Petherbridge, The Technique of Indexing (The Secretarial Bureau: London, 1904)

 

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