Untold lives blog

165 posts categorized "Conflict"

08 June 2021

A Scandalous Annotation Part II: George Francis Grand

In a previous post we explored the story of Catherine Grand, whose marriage to George Francis Grand at Chandernagore on 10 July 1777 is recorded in the Bengal Parish Registers.  We know from the annotated entry that Catherine married the famous French politician Talleyrand, but can we find out more about her first husband?


Title page of Narrative of the life of a gentleman long resident in IndiaTitle page of Narrative of the life of a gentleman long resident in India Google Books

We can piece together much of Grand’s life, not least because he wrote Narrative of the life of a gentleman long resident in India.  George Francis (sometimes François) Grand was born sometime after 1750, son of Jean Jacques (John James) Grand, a merchant from Lausanne, Switzerland, and his wife Françoise (Frances) Elizabeth Le Clerc de Virly.  He was educated in Lausanne and apprenticed in London, before entering a military cadetship to Bengal in 1766.  He achieved the rank of Captain, but resigned his military service in March 1773 owing to ill-health and returned to England.  In 1775, through the auspices of family members, Grand was nominated for a writership with the East India Company and sailed again for India, arriving in Bengal via Madras in June 1776.

Grand met and courted the teenage Nöel Catherine Werlée (sometimes Verlée or Varle) at Ghireti House, the home of Monsieur Chevalier, Governor of the French Settlement at Chandernagore.  According to George’s account the couple were blissfully happy after their marriage.  By the end of 1778 however, Catherine’s liaison with the politician Philip Francis had been revealed (amid secret night-time assignations, ladders over walls, and scuffles with servants), and the couple were mired in scandal.  Despite her protestations, George effectively banished his wife and successfully sued Francis in court for ‘criminal conversation’ or adultery.  He was never to see his wife again.

Despite the scandal revealed by the Court case, Grand was appointed as Collector of Tirhut and Hajipur in 1782, probably as a result of his acquaintance with Warren Hastings.  Whilst in Bihar, Grand promoted and invested heavily in indigo manufacture. In 1788 he was appointed Judge and Magistrate in Patna.  However, he was warned by the East India Company that he had to give up his indigo concerns.  His failure to do so led to his eventual removal from the Company’s service, much to Grand’s chagrin.  His appeals to the Company unsucessful, he left India for good in 1799.

Having returned to Europe, Grand certainly visited Paris.  However, he states categorically that he did not see his divorced wife Catherine.  There appears to have been contact though: in 1802, Grand was appointed to a position with the Dutch Government at the Cape of Good Hope.  His position appears to have been procured at the behest of Catherine, and with the influence of Talleyrand.  It certainly removed George Francis far away.  After experiencing some initial hostility at the Cape, Grand had to content himself with a vague position consulting on matters relating to India trade.  By 1806, under the British Government, he was appointed Inspector of Woods and Lands. 

View of the Cape of Good Hope from the sea with sailing ships in the foregroundR . Reeve, View of the Cape of Good Hope, 1807. British Library Maps K.Top.117.116.f Images Online 

Grand married for the second time in 1804 to Egberta Sophia Petronella Bergh (1781-1839) of Oudsthoorn.  He died in Cape Town in January 1820.   In his book he writes: ‘You know the sequel – happy in my second choice of a partner,  I upbraided not the worldly opportunity lost.  May you be blessed in the like manner, should it ever be your lot to deplore as I did the cruel separation which forced me from the first’.

Lesley Shapland,
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
George Francis Grand, Narrative of the life of a gentleman long resident in India (Cape of Good Hope, 1814). Available via Google Books 
H.E. Busteed, Echoes from Old Calcutta (Calcutta: Thomas Spink & Co., 1888). Chapter VIII: Madame Grand. Available online via Google Books 
C. E. Buckland, Dictionary of Indian Biography (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co, 1906).
IOR/N/1/2 Bengal Baptisms, Marriages, Burials (1755-1783), f. 275.
IOR/H/207 Bengal Revenue Papers, pp. 299-319: Papers relative to the appointment of George Francis Grand to the management of Tirhoot.
IOR/H/80 Case papers, memorials, and petitions, (13) pp. 283-7: Memorandum relative to George Francis Grand, Judge of Patna, 18 Sep 1800.
Various references to Grand can be found in the papers of Sir Philip Francis (Mss Eur C8; D18-25; E12-47; F5-17; G4-8).
Letters from Grand to Warren Hastings can be found in Add MS 28973-29236 Official and Private papers of Warren Hastings.

 

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).

 

27 April 2021

Roshani Begum, dancer turned rebel from Tipu Sultan’s court

In 1799 the East India Company’s army killed Tipu Sultan of Mysore.  To ensure the end of his dynasty, the women of his court were exiled from Mysore Kingdom to the fort at Vellore, in the Company controlled presidency of Madras.  Roshani Begum was a dancer in Tipu’s court, and one of the hundreds of women that the Company placed under house arrest.  Originally named Pum Kusur, she was a dancer from Adoni who, along with her sister, joined Tipu’s entourage when he was still a prince.  Roshani Begum was the mother of Tipu’s eldest son, Fateh Haidar, making her a high-status woman at court.  Her son’s portrait, painted in 1801, shows a young man in his 20s, suggesting that Roshani Begum joined Tipu’s entourage in the 1770s.

Portrait of Fateh Haidar, the son of Tipu Sultan and Roshani Begum, by Thomas HickeyPortrait of Fateh Haidar, the son of Tipu Sultan and Roshani Begum, by Thomas Hickey, 1801. Courtesy of Victoria Memorial Hall Kolkata, R2986

In 1802, along with about 550 other women, Roshani Begum was transported from Mysore Kingdom to Vellore Fort, and remained under East India Company custody for the rest of her life.  In spite of suddenly becoming the charge of a foreign trading company, she continued in her vocation.  In 1804 she adopted a girl named Goozeib, whom she trained in her dance traditions.  There were other newcomers inside Vellore Fort, with the population of Tipu’s exiled harem rising from 550 women in 1802 to 790 individuals by 1806.  These increases were reported to William Bentinck, the Governor of Madras, who issued instructions in February 1806 to cut their maintenance budgets.  To him, it was a pragmatic move to reduce their numbers, but to women like Roshani Begum, it spelled the end of the courtly traditions they were trying to uphold.

Company painting of 'Kanchani' dancing girls. In an album depicting trades and occupations at Vellore.Company painting of 'Kanchani' dancing girls. In an album depicting trades and occupations at Vellore, c.1828. British Library, Add.Or.62 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Between February and June 1806, immediately after Bentinck issued the cutbacks, four of Tipu Sultan’s daughters were married at Vellore.  Each wedding featured several days’ worth of music and dance performances inside the fort.   The content of these performances was planned by the musicians and dancers of Tipu’s court such as Roshani Begum.  These festivities coincided with the rapid spread of “destructive tales” about the East India Company’s Indian soldiers at Vellore Fort.  Their uniforms, particularly their headgear, was pinpointed as an affront to their families, and they were told that by wearing them, they’d be denied food, water, and the right to get married.

These threats of domestic expulsion had such a profound effect on the soldiers that, on the evening of 9 July 1806, after a dance performance in the fort, the sepoys of the Madras Native Infantry mutinied.  They killed 129 men, raised the flag of Mysore Kingdom, and declared Fateh Haidar, the son of Roshani Begum, as their king.  The East India Company’s response was to send a relief force to Vellore that killed almost 350 mutineers.  Accounts of the Vellore Mutiny typically view this moment of violence as a purely military event, but closer examination reveals that women like Roshani Begum, motivated by the East India Company’s spurning of their traditions, used their influence as court performers and story tellers to foment a dangerous uprising.

Jennifer Howes
Independent researcher and a former Curator of Visual Arts at the British Library 

Further reading:
Howes, Jennifer. 'Tipu Sultan’s Female Entourage under East India Company Rule.' Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 2021.
Report on the Character of Tipu Sultan’s four oldest sons by Thomas Marriott, April 1804. British Library, IOR/H/508. p.347.
William Bentinck’s decree to cut allowances to Vellore Fort’s inhabitants, 28 February 1806. British Library, IOR/E/4/897, pp.125-126.
Testimonials of the Court of Enquiry at Vellore, July-August 1806. British Library, IOR/H/507 and 508.

 

20 April 2021

Another scandalous tale from the Down family

In previous Untold Lives stories, we met two of Major William Down’s children, Arabella and Charles.  Now, for the final instalment of this scandalous tale, we have their sister Eva Magdalene Crompton Down.

Eva was born in St John’s Wood, London on 18 December 1856, the fifth daughter and seventh of the ten children of Major William Down and his wife Christian.

In 1876 Eva was called as a witness in the trial of her brother Charles and Joshua Keith Hilton.  During the trial Hilton had referred to Eva Down as his wife and claimed to have a marriage certificate which he could produce as evidence.  Several other people called as witnesses also stated in their testimony that they believed Eva to be Hilton’s wife.

Eva was called as a witness regarding the claims which she vehemently refuted, her testimony suggesting she was unimpressed at the allegations and that she only knew Hilton as an acquaintance of her brother.  She even demanded to see the marriage certificate which Hilton claimed to have, but it never materialised.

Woman in dark Victorian dress looking reproachfully at a man in a bowler hatImage from Illustrated London News 22 August 1896 - British Newspaper Archive via Findmypast

Eva may not however have been as innocent as her court testimony suggested.  In 1877 Mrs Margaret Ann Redhead, née Thirkell filed for divorce from her husband of seven  years, Joshua William Readhead, on the grounds of adultery and desertion, citing Eva Down as the mistress.  Mrs Redhead had met her husband while visiting London in 1870 and they had married there in secret on 23 November 1870.  She had returned home to Sunderland shortly afterwards but her new husband did not accompany her and she at first attempted to conceal the marriage before admitting everything to her parents.  She never saw her husband again and her correspondence with him ceased after he attempted to extort money from her mother.  In 1876 Mrs Redhead learned that her husband had been living under the alias Joshua Keith Hilton and had been having an affair with Miss Eva Down, who he had been pretending was his wife. She filed for divorce shortly after.

Eva Down clearly cared about her lover as the couple married in Carlisle in 1881 following his release from prison.  The marriage does not appear to have lasted long however as by 1900 Eva had emigrated to the USA with her husband William Robert Tymms and their daughter Salome.  US immigration records suggest the couple married in England in 1885, however there is no record of that marriage.  Eva died in Benton, New Hampshire on 29 January 1926.

William Joshua Redhead assumed another alias, this time the stage name of Howard Reed, and he became manager of the Ilma Norina Opera Company.  He was romantically involved with its star Ilma Norina (real name Josephine Genese) who herself had divorced in 1888.

Howard Reed, aka Joshua Keith Hilton, aka William Joshua Redhead died in Southend on 23 February 1899.   According to his obituary he was ‘deeply lamented by his sorrowing wife and children’ although which wife and whose children is another mystery.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Old Bailey Proceedings 26th June 1876 No. 265: Charles Victor Cleghorn Down (21), and Joshua Keith Hilton (23), Feloniously forging and uttering a warrant for the payment of 75l., with intent to defraud. 
Madras Military Fund Pension Records, Account-General’s Department, India Office Records:
IOR/L/AG/23/10/1-2 Madras Military Fund Pension Register entry for William Down (1822-1868)
IOR/L/AG/23/10/11, Part 1 No. 90 Certificates submitted in connection with William Down’s subscription to the Madras Military Fund, including baptism certificate for Eva Magdalene Crompton Down [given as Eva Neale Crompton Down].

A 19th century tale of adultery 

Unwitting accomplice or habitual offender? 

 

16 March 2021

Sources for Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Abul Kalam Azad was born on 11 November 1888 in Mecca, the youngest child of Sheikh Khairuddin Dehlavi, an Islamic scholar, and the niece of the mufti of Medina.  In 1898, the family moved to Calcutta.  Azad was given a traditional Indo-Islamic education at home by his father, which included Arabic, Persian and Urdu, study of the Quran and the Hadith, Islamic philosophy and theology, and mathematics.  He also began to explore the new religious and political ideas in the wider Arab world.

The Cabinet Mission with Congress President Maulana AzadPhoto 134/2(18) The Cabinet Mission with Congress President, Maulana Azad, 17 April 1946 Images Online

Azad began a career in journalism writing for Urdu newspapers, and in 1906 he became editor of the Amritsar newspaper Vakil, the best known Urdu newspaper of the time.  He introduced literary and historical features, and wrote about events in Turkey and the Middle East.  In 1912, he founded the journal al-Hilal in order to more widely raise the cause of Indian Muslims.  Al-Hilal was politically and religiously radical, and was closed by the Bengal Government in 1915.  In 1916, he was interned in Ranchi and detained there until the end of 1919.  During his internment he began work on a translation and commentary on the Koran, called Tarjuman al-Quran.  He was imprisoned again in 1921, along with other nationalist leaders.

In 1923, Azad was elected president of the special session of the National Congress held in Delhi to decide the future course of nationalist action, where he called for Hindu-Muslim co-operation.  He was again imprisoned in 1930 after taking part in Gandhi’s disobedience movement.

In 1940 he was elected President of Congress, a post he held until 1946, and was fully involved in the constitutional negotiations leading up to Independence.  He strove to bring Muslim and Hindu together and vehemently opposed partition.  The principal of a united India was fundamental to Azad’s political ideology, and he resolutely held to it throughout the negotiations.  He believed that there was no harm in deferring freedom by a few years if partition could be avoided.  In India Wins Freedom [p.205] he describes how at the beginning of 1947 he tried to persuade Gandhi of this:

'I pleaded with him that the present state of affairs might be allowed to continue for two years.  De facto power was already in Indian hands and if the de jure transfer was delayed for two years, this might enable Congress and the League to come to a settlement….I realised that if a decision was taken now, partition was inevitable but a better solution might emerge after a year or two.  Gandhi did not reject my suggestion but neither did he indicate any enthusiasm for it'.

In the final years of his life, Azad held the post of Minister for Education, and dictated a political memoir called India Wins Freedom.  He died in Delhi on 22 February 1958.  The India Office Records at the British Library holds many files relating to this fascinating and influential man.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, 1945, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1287.

Prosecution of Mr A K Azad for delivering a seditious speech at Mirzapore Square, Calcutta; judgement, 1922, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1791, File 963.

Government of Bengal refusal of a passport to Mr M A K Azad to proceed to Europe for medical treatment: Parliamentary question, July 1924, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1882, File 2692.

Election of Abul Kalam Azad as Congress President by an overwhelming majority, Feb 1940, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/3553.

Telegram regarding an attempt made by an Indian lawyer to smuggle two unauthorised letters to Abul Kalam Azad, Congress President, in Naini Central Jail, March 1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/4371.

Correspondence between the Viceroy and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, regarding the Indian political situation, Oct-Nov 1945, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/8486.

Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad: passport application, 1924-1925, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/183.

Congress Working Committee: Abul Kalam Azad's letters to Viceroy, dated 28 November 1944, Dec 1944-Apr 1945, shelfmark IOR/R/3/1/329.

Private Office Paper’s file on the Cabinet Mission to India; includes papers on Abul Kalam Azad's response to Cripps and Cabinet Mission's proposals for formation of Interim Government, 1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/115.

Correspondence between the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy, 1945-1947, shelfmarks IOR/L/PO/10/22, IOR/L/PO/10/23 and IOR/L/PO/10/24.

Subject file on Maulana Azad, Apr 1947, shelfmark Mss Eur IOR Neg 15539/6 (in the papers of Earl Mountbatten of Burma as Viceroy 1947 and Governor-General 1947-48 of India).

Correspondence between Jinnah, Nehru, Azad, Prasad, and others, 1938-1939, shelfmark IOR Neg 10762/4 (in the papers of Quaid-i-Azam Mahomed Ali Jinnah, leader of Muslim League in India and founder of Pakistan).

Photographs of Maulana Azad, 1946, shelfmarks Photo 1117/1(31), Photo 1117/1(36), Photo 1117/2(4), Photo 134/1(31), Photo 134/2(17), Photo 134/2(18), Photo 134/2(24), Photo 134/2(27)

Abul Kalam Azad, India Wins Freedom (the complete version) (London: Sangam, 1988), shelfmarks YC.1989.a.5439 and ORW.1989.a.1244.

For printed collections of Abul Kalam Azad’s writings search the British Library catalogue.

 

08 March 2021

Mūzah bint Aḥmad Āl Bū Sa‘īd - The Protector of Muscat

In early 19th century Oman, one of the Imam of Muscat’s trusted advisors was a woman – his paternal aunt, Mūzah bint Aḥmad Āl Bū Sa‘īd.

9 April 1832: Muscat was in disarray.  Reuben Aslan, the East India Company’s agent in the city, wrote to his superior, Samuel Hennell, Resident in the Persian Gulf, that citizens on the city’s outskirts had retreated inside its walls for protection, the markets had closed and the people were ‘in the greatest terror’ (IOR/F/4/1435/56726, f. 242v).  The Imam of Muscat, Sayyid Sa‘īd bin Sulṭān Āl Bū Sa‘īd, was in East Africa furthering his colonial projects in Zanzibar.  He had left three relatives in charge.  One of them – Sa‘ūd bin ‘Alī bin Sa‘īd, Shaikh of Barka – had imprisoned the other two in his fort at Barka.  Together with the Shaikh of Al Suwayq, Shaikh Sa‘ūd then launched an attempted takeover of the Imam’s territories along the Al Bāţinah coast, situated to the west of Muscat.

The town of Muscat photographed in the late 19th centuryThe town of Muscat photographed in the late 19th century. Photo 355/1(44) [Public Domain] 

Amongst this chaos, the Imam’s respected and influential aunt, Mūzah, took charge as interim leader.  On receiving the news of her great nephews’ imprisonment, Mūzah took action, requesting British support and writing an urgent letter to the Imam.  She began recruiting troops and reinforcing Muscat’s defences by distributing gunpowder and shot to the city’s fortresses.  She dispatched three envoys to Barka to find out more information on Shaikh Sa‘ūd’s plans and sent reinforcements to Muḥammad bin Sālim Āl Bū Sa‘īd’s fort at Masnaah, against which Shaikh Sa‘ūd and the Shaikh of Al Suwayq had launched a siege.

Letter written by Muzā to the Governor of BombayHeading to the letter written by Muzā to the Governor of Bombay [Mumbai] requesting support, 8 April 1832. IOR/F/4/1435/56726, f. 235v [Crown copyright]

Within a few weeks, Mūzah’s actions bore fruit.  The EIC’s agent in Muscat provided updates in further letters on 24 and 27 April, writing that Shaikh Sa‘ūd’s siege at Masnaah had proved unsuccessful and that, thanks to ‘…the courage of the Imaum’s [sic] aunt, Muscat is in perfect peace’ (IOR/F/4/1435/56727, f 545v).

Whilst the eventful spring of 1832 is recorded in the IOR/F/4 papers, further research shows that this was not Mūzah’s first time defending her family’s territory and control.  Mūzah first became well known thanks to her role in helping to secure power for Sayyid Sa‘īd and his brother Salim in 1806 (Ibn Ruzayq, Arab.D.490, pp. 266-283).  Emilie Ruete, Sayyid Sa‘īd’s daughter, went further and referred to Mūzah as his regent for the first few years of his reign (Ruete, pp. 159-162).  In fact, Ruete claimed that Sayyid Sa‘īd was able to develop his colonies in East Africa because of the peaceful realm in Oman which Mūzah handed over to him (Ruete, p. 162).  The revenue from East Africa, including the Indian Ocean Slave Trade, formed a significant part of Sayyid Sa‘īd’s wealth and power.

Primary sources which mention Mūzah are sparse and, to date, little else has been written about her in English or Arabic.  Projects, like the BLQFP, which provide the time and resources for cataloguing to an intermediate level, help influential women who operated in patriarchal societies, such as Mūzah, to be brought to light.

Curstaidh Reid
Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
London, British Library, 'Affairs of the Persian Gulf. Vol: 3'. IOR/F/4/1399/55442
London, British Library, ‘Affairs of the Persian Gulf. Vol:I’. IOR/F/4/1435/56726
Emilie Ruete, Memoirs of an Arabian princess, an autobiography (New York: D. Appleton and company, 1888) 
The Runaway Princess
Hamid ibn Muhammad ibn Ruzayq, History of the imams and seyyids of ‘Oman by Salil-ibn-Razik, from A.D. 661-1856; translated from the original Arabic, and edited with notes, appendices, and an introduction, continuing the history down to 1870, trans. by George Percy Badger F.R.G.S. (London: Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1871) Arab.D.490

 

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.

 

12 February 2021

Chinese New Year in Canton 1731

James Naish was Chief of the English East India Company Council in Canton (Guangzhou), China.  He kept a diary of ‘Observations and Transactions’ which includes a description of Chinese New Year celebrations in January and February 1730/31.

View of  Canton (Guangzhou) circa 1760-1770View of  Canton (Guangzhou) c.1760-1770 Maps K.Top.116.22.2 tab. BL flickr

Naish’s diary reads –

27th January This being the first day of the new Moon & of the new Year, great ceremony is observed by the Mandarins & all other persons in their visits and congratulations thereupon.

30th January The Foyen or Vice Roy of the Province haveing signified his approbation of all sorts of diversions, costly Pageants are daily carried about the streets, in which the State & Power of Mandarins in high stations are represented, Country & Low life well describ’d, & the seasons curiously discover’d.  At night the streets are finely illuminated, & a vast variety of fire works continually seen in the Air from all parts of the City.

17th February The Foyen hath Affixed a chop in several places which putts an end to the long continued festival, & likewise directs all persons to return to their professions & employments, the Mandarins of Justice may punish such Offenders as have been guilty of any crimes since new years day, from which time to this no sort of punishment could have been inflicted upon any criminal whatever.

Account of Chinese New Year celebrations from James Naish's diary
Account of Chinese New Year celebrations from James Naish's diary IOR/G/12/32 p.1 27 January-17 February 1730/31 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

James Naish was a very experienced China trade merchant.  He was supercargo on East India Company voyages to Canton in 1716, 1722, 1725 and 1730, and had also worked for the Ostend Company.  In 1730-1731 he spent a whole year at Canton instead of returning to England between trading seasons, the only English East India Company supercargo ever to do this.   Naish wrote reports on the tea industry during his extended stay.

When China merchant George Arbuthnot arrived back in England in the summer of 1731, he accused Naish of fraud.  Arbuthnot claimed that Naish had understated the amount of money received for goods sold in China and inflated the cost of commodities purchased there.  Naish was also said to have imported a large quantity of gold bullion from China without paying duty. The East India Company decided that Naish had broken his covenant and considered sending a ship to seize his unlicensed goods and bring him to England under arrest.  Naish’s wife Hester was desperate to prevent this.  She had been given a letter of attorney by her husband in 1729 authorising her to conduct his business, so she agreed to deposit £20,000 with the Company to allow Naish to return as a free man.

The Company began proceedings in the Court of Exchequer.  Naish protested his innocence and lodged counter-claims against the Company in the courts.

The legal process dragged on for years.  When Naish made his will in 1736, he left everything to Hester because the size of his estate was uncertain, dependent upon the outcome of several pending law suits.  He said the family had long experience of Hester’s skilful management of his affairs whilst he was abroad and he trusted her to divide the estate as he would wish.  Although Naish did not die until January 1757, this will was the one submitted for probate.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/G/12/32 Observations and Transactions by James Naish at Canton in China (1926, 1929)
The Political State of Great Britain, Volume 44 July-September 1732
The Athenaeum January-June 1892,p.793
Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Courts of King's Bench ..., Volume 2 Naish v East India Company

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