Untold lives blog

22 posts categorized "Business"

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)

 

03 February 2020

La Freya – 'artistic visions and superb poses'

On 3 February 1908 the Swansea Empire was offering a varied bill of entertainment – music, magic, comedy, ventriloquism, the American Bioscope, and La Freya ‘The Parisian Beauty, in a Novel Speciality’.

Theatre bill for Swansea February 1908South Wales Daily Post 3 February 1908 British Newspaper Archive

 

La Freya was a French vaudeville performer whose act consisted of ‘artistic visions and superb poses’.  She appeared at theatres the length and breadth of Britain between the years 1907 and 1915.  In 1909 she was on the bill at the Euston Theatre of Varieties which stood opposite St Pancras Station, a stone’s throw from the British Library’s present site.  

 
 
Euston Theatre of VarietiesEuston Theatre of Varieties from The Era 16 June 1900 British Newspaper Archive 

Advert for Euston Theatre of Varieties April 1909Advert for Euston Theatre of Varieties from Music Hall And Theatre Review 2 April 1909 British Newspaper Archive 

Taking the stage, La Freya stood on a podium in front of a black velvet curtain, dressed in a thin white silk body suit.  Her body was used as a screen.  She adopted a variety of poses as her husband projected lantern slides he had painted to ‘clothe’ her.  The ‘Decors Lumineux of Mr La Freya’ transformed her into visions such as a fairy, a butterfly, a mermaid, a gondolier, and a Scottish Highlander in full warpaint. 
  Full-length portrait photograph of La Freya

Portrait photograph of La Freya by Antoni Esplugas - Government of Catalonia, National Archive of Catalonia courtesy of  Europeana

La Freya and her husband had developed the act when they were working at the Folies Bergère in Paris.  The act lasted for ten minutes and the strain of standing still made La Freya sick when she first performed it.  She overcame this, although the lights continued to hurt her eyes.

The couple went to England intending to stay for just one season but ended up staying for several years, apparently because their management would not let them leave.  However La Freya and her husband did travel abroad for short seasons.  For example, from September to December 1910 they were in the United States, captivating audiences in New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia.

Review of La Freya's act from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 November 1910 Review of La Freya's act from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 November 1910 via findmypast Copyright: 'Fair Use' allowed (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)

They sailed to South Africa in June 1911 with other performers to fulfil engagements with Sydney Hyman at the Empire in Johannesburg.  By September La Freya was back on the London stage.

In June 1912 ‘Mr and Mrs La Freya’ were passengers on SS Medina to Australia.  They appeared in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Brisbane and the act was well-received.  A special tableau was created – the personification of Australia with Sydney Town Hall in the background.

The Australian press was keen to interview the couple.  La Freya spoke to journalists in English with her husband acting as interpreter.  She came from the south of France and her husband, identified as Monsieur La Mort, from Paris.  The Sydney Sunday Times  published a special illustrated feature on La Freya’s fitness regime, with advice on how to achieve a corsetless figure through ten or fifteen minutes’ exercise every day.

‘Mr and Mrs La Freya’ were bound by contracts for two more years and were aiming to make as much money as possible.  Then they planned to retire whilst La Freya was still a big name in vaudeville.  She wanted to concentrate on setting up a house and garden in the south of France, whilst her husband intended to shoot and fish.

It seems that La Freya disappears from the newspapers in early 1915.  So did she retire to lead a quiet life far away from the public gaze?  Can anyone tell me what happened to ‘the most perfectly formed woman in the universe’?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
Trove newspapers from Australia
Anita Callaway, Visual ephemera – Theatrical art in nineteenth-century Australia (2000)

 

02 September 2019

The Great Fire of London and the East India Company

On the morning of 2 September 1666, the Great Fire started its sweep through the City of London.  Some idea of the effect of the Fire on the East India Company headquarters in Leadenhall Street is provided by the petty cash accounts of its Secretary John Stanyan.  Large quantities of goods were moved to safety. It was thirsty work judging from the number of entries for the cost of drinks!

Fire of London T00017-81Samuel Rolls, The Burning of London in the year 1666 (London, 1667) 291.b.29 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence
  Images Online

2 September 1666
Given to musketeers who guarded the warehouse door when Mr George Day came to demand his goods, fearing they would be burned in Leadenhall - 5s

3 September 1666
Given to Red Coats who pressed carts to carry goods from Leadenhall to Blue Warehouse at St Helen’s – 3s 6d
Drink for the porters and for myself and Captain Proud – 2s
Drink for men at the pump and women sweeping the kinnell [gutter?] – 3s
Paid 6 men pumping all day – 12s
Cartage of 52 bales of cloth from Leadenhall to Blue Warehouse @ 12d per bale -  £2 12s

4 September 1666
For 6 pails - 6s

6 September 1666
Paid 2 carmen who carried 9 bales to Doctor Clarke’s house at Stepney from Leadenhall @4s per bale - £1 16s
Paid 2 men who removed bales from the wall at Leadenhall ‘for fear it should fly out’ and for drink – 5s

15 September 1666
Paid 4 men for 5 nights apiece watching calicoes at Doctor Clarke’s @2s per night - £2
Paid 3 men for half a day piling goods at Leadenhall – 3s

16 September 1666
Paid 4 men for 1 night watching at Dr Clarke’s - 6s

17 September 1666
Paid 4 men for 1 night watching at Dr Clarke’s - 6s
Paid 4 men for 1 day helping to pile goods and for drink – 8s

22 September 1666
Paid 4 men for 4 nights watching at Dr Clarke’s - £1 12s
Paid cartage of 375 bales and 3 bundles from Pinners Hall to Leadenhall - £7 16s 6d
Paid 8 men for 4 days helping to load and unload these bales and piling them - £3
Paid 1 man for 4 days helping with these goods – 12s
Given for drink – 3s

27 September 1666
Cartage of 52 bales from Blue Warehouse to Leadenhall @4d per bale – 17s 4d
Paid 5 men for 4 days piling and loading - £2
Given for drink – 2s

29 September 1666
Paid 4 men for 7 nights watching at Dr Clarke’s - £2
Paid 9 men for 2 days helping to lade and unlade calicoes from Dr Clarke’s - £1 16
Paid to the porters for their dinners because they worked all noon times for 3 days – 5s 8d

2 October 1666
Paid 9 men for 2 days helping to load and pile bales from Dr Clarke’s - £1 16s

13 October 1666
Paid Goodman North for bringing 69 bales and cases from Dr Clarke’s to Leadenhall - £1 9s 6d
Paid Mr Wright for bringing 73 parcels from Dr Clarke’s - £2 16s
Paid Goodman Grigson for bringing 54 parcels from Dr Clarke’s  - £1 16s
Paid to servants of Doctor Clarke, Mr Crowther and Captain Proud when bales were fetched away - £1 3s

The accounts then return to their normal pattern of expenditure.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/H/17 John Stanyan’s petty cash accounts
More on the Fire of London and the East India Company: ‘A most fearefull and dreadfull fire’
More on John Stanyan - Decorating the East India Company's records

25 July 2019

Decorating the East India Company's records

One of my favourite items from the East India Company archives is currently on display in the British Library exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark.  It is a volume of official minutes from the Court of Directors 1657 to 1665, and it is special because a bored or creative clerk has added drawings or decorations to some of the headings to enliven the usual plain format.

This is the entry being shown in the exhibition – is it a hawk?

Page from Court of Directors' Minutes 20 February 1662/63  IOR/B/26 f.296 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 20 February 1662/63 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Here are some other examples of his handiwork, starting with a bird which looks like a cross between a pheasant and a dodo.

Page from Court of Directors' Minutes 8 April 1663 IOR/B/26 f.303 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 8 April 1663 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Page from Court of Directors' Minutes 14 January 1662/63IOR/B/26 f.288v Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 14 January 1662/63 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Page from Court of Directors' Minutes 13 April 1663IOR/B/26 f.305 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 13 April 1663 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It appears that the clerk was told to stop embellishing the minutes as there are letters prepared for decoration but left unfilled.  I haven’t been able to discover the identity of our artist.  Until 1666 East India Company Secretaries employed their own clerks who weren’t on the official payroll and it seems likely our man fell into this category.

The Company Secretary at this time was John Stanyan.  His brother Laurence was employed as his salaried assistant.  The Stanyans faced difficult challenges during their time in office.  In 1665 plague spread through London: Laurence stayed to deal with Company business whilst John was given permission to go the country.  Laurence was rewarded with a gratuity of £50 for remaining in town at a time of ‘great mortality’.  The following year, John helped to organise operations when East India House in Leadenhall Street and Company goods were threatened with destruction during the Great Fire of London.

In December 1666 John Stanyan was dismissed by the East India Company. The directors discovered that he had carried out private trade in prohibited goods, and had advised the Company’s overseas merchants on how to maximise their personal trading profits to the detriment of the Company.  He had also written disparagingly of the Court and its orders.  Laurence Stanyan was sacked in May 1677 for private trading, and for copying letters with confidential information written by his brother.

Settlement of John Stanyan’s affairs took years – he was still negotiating with the Court in 1671.  He secured the post of Principal Registrar of the Consistory Court in Gloucester, presumably through his wife’s father, John Pritchett, who was the Bishop there.  Since the work in Gloucester could be carried out by a deputy, John enjoyed the life of a country gentleman in Harefield Middlesex.

Laurence also prospered, becoming Commissioner of the Revenue, settling in Monken Hadley near Barnet.  His son Abraham became a diplomat and MP.

But I wonder what became of our artistic scribe?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

13 September 2018

A day in the life of an East India Company Director

Every April the stockholders of the East India Company elected 24 men to serve as directors for the following year.  Two were then chosen by the directors to be Chairman and Deputy.  These ‘merchant- statesmen’ had responsibility for governing a vast overseas empire as well as dealing with administrative minutiae such as petitions from home staff.  What was a typical working day for an East India Company director in the early 19th century? 

Exterior of East India House in Leadenhall Street 1817Joseph C Stadler, East India House 1817 - P1389 Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Court of Directors met at East India House in Leadenhall Street in the City of London to take ‘cognizance of all matters of record relating to the Company’.  Thirteen directors had to be present to form a quorum.  One Court had to be held every week, but the directors often met two, three, or more times.  Proceedings generally started at 11am or midday, sometimes at 10am.  They usually broke up between 6pm and 7pm, although sittings might go on until 10pm. There were fines for non-attendance. During a sitting, some directors might go off to other parts of East India House whilst unimportant matters were being dealt with, but if something was brought forward for discussion, all directors were recalled to the Court before business continued.

  The Court Room, East India House c.1820  - tables, chairs and pictures on wallThomas Hosmer Shepherd, The Court Room, East India House c.1820  - WD 2465 Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Court meetings started with the reading of all papers received since the last session. Dispatches from India were read in Court before being sent to the different departments at East India House, but the vast body of consultations copied back to London were merely referred to and read as necessary. Lengthy debates often took place. Matters were either dealt with immediately or referred to one of the specialised committees of directors. There were sixteen committees in 1813: Buying, College, Correspondence, Government Troops and Stores, House, Law Suits, Library, Military Fund, Military Seminary, Preventing the Growth of Private Trade, Private Trade, Secrecy, Secret, Shipping, Treasury, and Warehouses.

The Court then adjourned and the committees of directors convened.  About 5pm the Court came back together to consider reports from the committees and make final decisions. The Court also swore in captains and officers of Company ships, and saw civil and military servants returning to India.

Chair covered in red velvet and decorated with East India Company coat of arms used by the Chairman of the Court of Directors,manufactured c.1730 Chair used by the Chairman of the Court of Directors manufactured c.1730 - Foster 905 Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Directors took turns at presiding over sales at East India House, and committees often sat on days when the Court was not meeting.  With very few exceptions, the Chairman and Deputy attended East India House every morning, and frequently were there until late in the day: ‘their constant attention is indispensable, from the frequent communication with Ministers and the Government Offices’. They often had to go to the west end of town on government business.  

General Court Room, East India House, c.1820, showing a crowded meetingThomas Hosmer Shepherd, General Court Room, East India House, c.1820 - WD 2466 Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In return for their services, directors enjoyed patronage rights over certain civil and military appointments as well as a salary, fixed in 1793 at £300 per annum for directors and £500 each for the Chairman and Deputy.  In 1814, the General Court of Proprietors voted an increase: £1200 for the Chairman, £1000 for his Deputy, and £500 for directors (£700 for those on the Secret Committee or Committee of Correspondence).  Not all stockholders approved of the pay rise: the vote was 51 in favour, 21 against.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Proceedings of the Select Committee appointed by the General Court of Proprietors, on the 6th October 1813, to consider and report upon the expediency of augmenting the allowances to the Directors for their attendance upon the business of the Company … (London, 1814)

 

26 June 2018

British-US rivalry in the race to discover oil in Iraq

How the race to discover ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’ led to the British Government’s belief that an American oil company had helped secretly fund the Iraqi revolt against British occupation in 1920.

  Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916.Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916. IOR/L/PS/18/D228, f 141 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the aftermath of the First World War, much of the defeated Ottoman Empire’s dominions were carved up between the War’s victors. In the case of Mesopotamia [Iraq], this meant military occupation and administration by the British.

The British Government saw great strategic and commercial value in Mesopotamia, thanks in part to the significant oil reserves they believed it to possess. Britain already had an effective monopoly on oil exploration and production in neighbouring Persia [Iran], through the operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. But at the end of the First World War, foreign oil companies were also eager to discover oil reserves in Mesopotamia.

The two major players in Mesopotamia in 1919 were the British Anglo-Saxon Oil Company (ASOC, now part of Royal Dutch Shell) and the American Standard Oil Company of New York (SONY). The stakes were high. In a letter intercepted by British censors, one of the two geologists sent by SONY to explore Mesopotamia reported to a relative that he was on his way to find ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’.

Naturally the British Government favoured British interests over American, but could not be seen to be giving preference to one over the other. The solution was to request that both companies halt their exploration work, explaining that while Mesopotamia remained under military occupation, oil exploration could be conducted for military purposes only. In the meantime, ASOC’s geologists were retained by the military, and their work paid for by British military funds.

Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 147 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The frustrations of the two SONY geologists, stuck in Baghdad and unable to carry out their work, is made clear in another intercepted letter, written in June 1920 by one of the geologists to his fiancé. ‘If you know the inside history of this you will find that the British have held up […] American firms from doing business in places conquered by the British while we were doing their fighting in France’ he wrote.

  Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 29 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

By this time angry Iraqis were on the streets, protesting against Britain’s continued occupation of their country, two years after the end of the War. The intercepted geologist’s letter affirmed the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia’s belief that SONY were financing the anti-British movement in Mesopotamia. In a secret telegram sent to Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in August 1920, the Commissioner further wrote it was ‘clear that [the] United States Consul has frequent conversation of an intimate nature with extremists to such an extent that in recent meetings in mosques, cries have been raised by extremists “long live America and her Consul”’.

Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921.Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 4 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The British officials involved conceded that they had no concrete proof to back up any of their suspicions and accusations. Nevertheless, Curzon felt it ‘desirable that any avenue that might lead to proof, should be kept open’.

Mark Hobbs
Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading:
British Library, London, ‘File 2249/1915 Pt 2 ‘Oil: Mesopotamia and Persia: oil; Sir J Cowan's deputation & Standard Oil Co.’ (IOR/L/PS/10/556)

 

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