Untold lives blog

195 posts categorized "Conflict"

01 December 2022

Requests to the India Office for help

A common activity for the India Office was fielding enquiries from members of the public asking for help.  These usually involved help in either travelling to India, in tracing friends or relatives, disputes over money, applications for jobs in government, requests for financial assistance.  Many such enquiries survive in the Home Correspondence files of the Public Department in the India Office Records.  To the majority of such enquiries the India Office declined help, and it is unknown how the situation was resolved.  However these small cries for help still survive in the archives, and here are a small selection.

Enquiry from Mrs E F Saunders regarding her son John CowlishawEnquiry from Mrs E F Saunders regarding her son John Cowlishaw, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/423  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In April 1873, the India Office received a letter from Mrs E F Saunders of Railway Street, Chatham.  Her son, John Cowlishaw had travelled to India in 1868 to work as an engineer in the Bombay Dockyards.  Mrs Saunders reported that he was very ill in the workhouse at Lahore, and asked for any help or advice on getting him home.  An enquiry with the Military (Marine) Department revealed that he had resigned his position as a third Class Marine Engineer on 20 December 1871.  Mrs Saunders was advised to address an enquiry to the Secretary to the Government of the Punjab at Lahore.

Request from Cossim Mooljee for assistance in returning to IndiaRequest from Cossim Mooljee for assistance in returning to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/435  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In July 1873, Cossim Mooljee wrote to the India Office for help in returning to India.  Mooljee had travelled to Mecca from Bombay in 1870, then to Constantinople via Egypt.  While there, he had entered into an agreement with a Greek merchant to serve as a shopkeeper, and travelled with him to Naples and Rome.  While in Italy, the merchant destroyed the agreement and abandoned Mooljee.  With the help of the British Consul, Mooljee had managed to travel to London and secure lodgings at the Strangers' Home at Limehouse where he had been for the past two months.

Application from Ellis H Myers for a free passage back to India.Application from Ellis H Myers for a free passage back to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/442  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In September 1873, Ellis Meyers wrote to the India Office requesting a free passage back to India.  He had arrived in London four months previously with a small fortune that he had lost in speculation.  He wrote that he was ‘quite destitute of means of support at present, and if I was to remain longer here I am positive that I shall starve’.  The India Office was not impressed, with one official writing in the file: 'This request displays an unusual amount of effrontery', and declined his request.

Application from May Mitchell for a passage back to India.

Application from May Mitchell for a passage back to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/56, File 7/508  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In October 1876, a letter was received from May Mitchell in which she described herself as a ‘helpless stranger in England without money or friends’.  She had been a stewardess on a steamship, but had to leave the ship to go into the London Hospital due to ill health.  Having recovered she was now unable to find a vacancy on a ship back to India.  Although European, she had spent all her life in India and this was her first visit to England.  She wrote, ‘The people of this country treat me strangely & I do not care to stay among them’.  She had been around all the shipping agents in the city without success and had no money to advertise in the newspapers.  She insisted that ‘I am not making matters out worse with me than they actually are I have literally nothing to live on’.  Although sympathetic, India Office officials struggled to know how to help, as one noted, ‘Distressing as her case may prove to be, there is no precedent of a European being sent to India at the public expense’.  However, a marginal note in the file stated that Mrs Mitchell had received a ‘private commission’, suggesting that she had managed to secure a passage back home.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Public Home Correspondence for 1873: enquiry from Mrs E F Saunders regarding her son John Cowlishaw, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/423.

Public Home Correspondence for 1873: request from Cossim Mooljee for assistance in returning to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/435.

Public Home Correspondence for 1873: application from Ellis H Myers for a free passage back to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/442.

Public Home Correspondence for 1877: application from May Mitchell for a passage back to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/56, File 7/508.

 

29 November 2022

East India Company discharged soldiers

In the India Office Records are two fascinating registers of discharged soldiers for the period 1820-1882.  They record soldiers other than commissioned officers who served in the East India Company armies in Bengal, Madras, Bombay and St Helena, and in the British Army in India after 1859.

Page from register of discharged soldiersRegister of discharged soldiers IOR/L/MIL/10/301 - William Evitt from a recent post appears on this page  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The information given is –
• Names
• Rank
• Service in years and months
• Which establishment i.e. Bengal, Madras, Bombay, St Helena
• Age
• Height
• Complexion e.g. fair, sallow, freckled, dark, swarthy, fresh, ruddy
• Visage e.g. round, long, very long, oval, square, sharp, thin
• Eye and hair colour
• Previous trade
• County and parish of birth
• Character
• Ship sailing to England
• Where enlisted
• Amount of marching money (grant to meet the costs of  the soldier's journey from the place where he was landed  to the place where he enlisted)
• Reason for discharge e.g. time expired, unfit, infamous character, own request, over age
• Notes e.g. admission to pension, scars, details of injuries and infirmities

Explanations are given for why the soldiers were deemed unfit for further service.  Some examples of infirmity are broken hips; fractured knees; wounds; liver, kidney, lung, and heart disease; rheumatism; injuries to hands; loss of limbs; constant headaches; poor eyesight; epilepsy; rupture; venereal disease; alcohol problems.  Several men died before embarkation or during the passage home.  Gunners in the Artillery seem to have been especially prone to injury – ‘contracted’ fingers, deafness, being hit by horses falling on them.  In 1858, discharges because of serious injuries sustained in actions during the Indian Uprising or ‘Mutiny’ dominate the register.

Some men with mental health problems were sent for admission to Pembroke House in Hackney, for example, in 1857, Patrick Glendon and Theophilus Boyd.  Their case histories can be read in the Pembroke House register in the India Office Records (IOR/K/2/36).

There are cases of men being discharged when they needed to return to Europe to settle personal affairs .  Others were removed from the army after being involved in criminal activity such as highway robbery.  James Deer, a private in the St Helena garrison, was discharged and sent to England as an infamous character.  He had been being found guilty of burglary and sacrilege after stealing articles from the London Missionary Society at Jamestown Church on 8 December 1821.  He was spared by giving evidence for the Crown against his fellow soldier Samuel Crump who was sentenced to death.  The East India Company Court of Directors and the London Missionary Society submitted petitions to the Home Secretary Robert Peel, asking for clemency for Crump on the grounds of Christian mercy and his contrition. A royal pardon was granted on condition that Crump serve seven years’ hard labour on St Helena.

Charles Gustasson, a native of Sweden, was discharged in 1823 and granted a pension.  He had originally enlisted in 1806 for service on St Helena but ‘being a foreigner’ was moved to the Cape of Good Hope after the arrival of Napoleon on the island in 1815.

In July 1859 William Ruxton, a gunner in the Bombay Artillery returned to Dublin with a pension and a very good character after 23 years’ service.  He was discharged because of old age, loss of vital energy, and bad teeth. He was aged 45.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading;
IOR/L/MIL/10/301-302 Registers of discharged soldiers 1820-1882, with indexes.
IOR/G/32/142, 153 St Helena records 1822-1823 about Samuel Crump.
The National Archives HO 17/92/50 Petition on behalf of Samuel Crump 1822.

23 November 2022

The Attempted Assassination of Lord Lytton: A Letter’s Story

Archivists respect ‘provenance’ and ‘original order’, which means that documents created by the same person, organisation, or institution stay together, and you don’t mix or rearrange them because you think it might make material more ‘useable’.  But documents often have their own story to tell.  I recently came across one such letter in the India Office records from Viceroy Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird.

Photographic portrait of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton - bearded, seated, dressed in long frock coat. Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 1876 NPG x197471 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence


Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl Lytton was Viceroy of India from 1876 to 1880.  It was a controversial term of office.  On the domestic front, the Vernacular Press Act (1878) provoked public protests against the Government’s attempts to control a critical Indian Press.  The Second Anglo-Afghan War was underway, absorbing considerable political and economic resources.  And famine raged across large swathes of India for the first three years of Lytton’s tenure, the disaster of drought exacerbated by a poor Government response to famine relief and the continued export of grain.  Estimates vary, but 10 million people may have died of starvation and its associated diseases.  James Caird was part of the Indian Famine Commission set up to look at ways to prevent and avoid future famines.

Page of letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879 Page of letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879IOR/L/PS/19/570: Letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879, f2v & f3r  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Our letter, dated 12 December 1879, was a private rather than official piece of correspondence, sent from Government House Calcutta to Caird’s London address.  It remained in the Caird family until gifted to the India Office in 1924 as part of a larger collection of correspondence to and from James Caird, which also included material relating to the Famine Commission.  The material was gratefully received, given the shelf-mark Home Miscellaneous 796 (IOR/H/796), and catalogued.  But this particular letter was deliberately removed and placed in the care of the Political and Secret Department.

Document recording transfer of letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird to Political and Secret Department in 1924Document recording transfer of letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird to Political and Secret Department, 1924  -IOR/L/PS/11/247, P 2688/1924  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Amongst other business, the letter describes an assassination attempt against Lytton.  Arriving in Calcutta, Lytton tells Caird: ‘I daresay you will see it stated in the newspapers that I was twice fired at on my way from the Station to Government House’.  He is dismissive, both of the assassination attempt, and of the person making it, saying ‘But the shots were fired by a lunatic Eurasian; and I can assure you that they had not the smallest political significance’.  Lytton’s language is distasteful, not only towards his would-be assassin, but also towards the wider Indian inhabitants of Bengal (‘Bengalee Baboos’) who he describes as ‘disloyal’, including those belonging to the British Indian Association.  Lytton does not name his attacker, but he is identified in the press as George Dessa or De Sa. The newspapers state that his shots had ‘…created indignation but no excitement…it seems doubtful as to whether the man was mad or only drunk’.  His motive is not deemed to be political, but rather that he acted because he had been dismissed from his job.

Report of the assassination attempt on Lytton in Homeward Mail 5 January 1880Report of the assassination attempt on Lytton in Homeward Mail 5 January 1880 British Newspaper Archive


India Office staff in 1924 do not explicitly state the reason for the letter’s removal, but we can surmise that as it refers to an assassination attempt against the Viceroy, it was deemed to be too politically sensitive to remain with the other items.  Lytton’s provocative language may also have been an issue, given the context of rising Indian nationalism within the sub-continent, and the political instabilities in Britain in the 1920s.  Whatever the reasons behind its original removal, improved cataloguing of our records enables us to intellectually link our letter back to its original collection, telling its history along the way.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/19/570: Letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 1879.
IOR/H/796: Correspondence of Sir James Caird, Member of the Indian Famine Commission. 1878-1881.
IOR/L/PS/11/247, P 2688/1924: Letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird, transferred to Political and Secret Department.
The Times of India 16 December 1879 & The Homeward Mail 5 January 1880, accessed via British Newspaper Archive.
IOR/L/PARL/2/173/2: Condition of India. Report by James Caird, C.B. (C.2732). 1880.
Various correspondence between James Caird and the India Office in relation to his Condition of India report can be found at IOR/L/E/6/13, File 705; IOR/L/E/6/11, File 538; IOR/L/E/6/26, File 424; IOR/L/E/6/2, File 59; and IOR/L/E/6/19, File 1164.
Papers of 1st Earl of Lytton, Viceroy of India, Mss Eur F595 and Mss Eur E218.

 

15 August 2022

Sources for Indian Independence and the creation of Pakistan

This month sees the 75th anniversary of the partition of pre-1947 India and the creation of the modern states of India and Pakistan.  The British Library holds a wealth of resources relating to these events.

Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru & Mr M.A. Jinnah  walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge Simla, 11 May 1946.Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru & Mr M.A. Jinnah, walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge Simla. 11 May 1946. British Library Photo 134/2(28) Images Online

India Office Records:
These are the official records of the India Office, the British Government department responsible for the administration of pre-1947 British India.  Created in London or received from India as part of the normal business of government, for example correspondence or copied reports, they complement the huge collections of official records in archives in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Front cover of Top Secret Report on the Punjab Boundary Force Front cover of Top Secret report on the Punjab Boundary Force  1947-1948 IOR/L/WS/1/1134 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The most significant series for the study of independence and partition are:

• Fortnightly reports: Governors, Chief Commissioners and Chief Secretaries 1937-1948, and British High Commissioners and Deputy High Commissioners 1947-1950 (IOR/L/PJ/5/128-336).
• Public & Judicial Collection 117: law and order, 1933-1947 (IOR/L/PJ/8).
• Transfer of Power Papers 1942-1945 (IOR/L/PJ/10).
• Indian Political Intelligence files, 1913 to 1947 (IOR/L/PJ/12).
• Files on political and constitutional development, 1916-1947 (IOR/L/PO/6).
• Private correspondence: printed series and file copies, 1914-1947 (IOR/L/PO/10).
• Political papers and correspondence with Provincial Governors and their Secretaries, 1936-1948 (IOR/R/3/1/1-178).
• Records relating to Gandhi and the Civil Disobedience Movement, 1922-1946 (IOR/R/3/1/289-370).
• Files of the Bengal Governor’s Secretariat, 1936-1947 (IOR/R/3/2/1-86).

Map of pre-partitiion India from Mountbatten's last report showing which parts became PakistanMap of pre-partitiion India from Mountbatten's last report showing which parts became Pakistan IOR/L/PJ/5/396/15 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

India Office Private Papers:
These collections of papers differ from the official records through being created or kept by individuals, families or organisations separate from government.  They provide alternative perspectives on official business and insights into individuals’ lives, and include significant collections relating to independence and partition. To take just a few examples:

• Secretaries of State for India, such as Sir Samuel Hoare (Mss Eur E240) and the Marquess of Zetland (Mss Eur D609).
• Viceroys, such as the 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow (Mss Eur F125), Lord Wavell (Mss Eur D977) and Earl Mountbatten of Burma (IOR Neg 15538-67).
• Provincial Governors, such as Sir Maurice Hallett (Mss Eur E251) and Sir Francis Mudie (Mss Eur F164).
• Permanent Under-Secretaries of State for India, 1920-1948 (Mss Eur D714).
• Military men, such as Major John McLoughlin Short, Civil Liaison Officer to the Sikh community 1940-42, and Personal Assistant to Sir Stafford Cripps during Cabinet Mission to India 1946 (Mss Eur F189).
• Indian political leaders and supporters of independence such as Gandhi (several small collections), Mahomed Ali Jinnah (IOR Neg 10760-826), and Sir Fazl-i-Husain (Mss Eur E352).
• The struggle for freedom during the last three decades of British rule in India was the backdrop to the lives of many British families in India.  Not surprisingly, it often features in memoirs, journals, diaries and letters home found in numerous small collections of private papers.  For example: a letter, dated 26 Sept 1947, from Freda Evelyn Oliver, wife of the Deputy Commissioner of Bahawalpur State, describing her family's journey from Simla to Bahawalpur during the disturbances following partition (Mss Eur A168).

Map showing the partition of Punjab Map showing the partition of Punjab IOR/L/WS/1/1134 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Library holds a mass of other source materials for the study of independence and partition, including photographs and newspapers.   There is a wonderful collection of Indian publications banned or ‘proscribed’ by the British Government as they were considered seditious or liable to incite unrest.  In addition, one of the most fascinating resources the British Library holds is the Oral History collections, allowing researchers the ability to hear the voices of the people who lived through those momentous times.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
The Transfer of Power, 1942-7: Constitutional Relations between Britain and India, edited by Nicholas Mansergh, 12 vols. (London, 1970-1983).

Gandhi and Civil Disobedience: Documents in the India Office Records 1922-1946 by Amar Kaur Jasbir Singh (London, 1980).

Indian Independence Collection Guide

Publications proscribed by the Government of India: a catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books, British Library Reference Division, edited by Graham Shaw and Mary Lloyd (London: British Library, 1985).

Oral History collections relating to independence and partition: Oral histories of migration, ethnicity and post-colonialism - scroll down to the section on ‘British rule in India’.

Titles of English language Indian newspapers are listed on the Explore the British Library catalogue, and British newspaper reports can be found online by searching the British Newspaper Archive.

Collections in the UK on Indian Independence and Partition

 

21 July 2022

The sale of East India Company maritime commands

The British Library and London Metropolitan Archives both hold collections of papers for James Monro who served in the East India Company’s maritime service in the second half of the 18th century. The documents give a fascinating insight into Monro's professional and personal life, and the use of private trade to accumulate a fortune which would allow him to quit the sea.

Portrait of Captain James Monro by John Downman - three-quarter length, in profile, the sea beyond Portrait of Captain James Monro by John Downman  (1789)  - image courtesy of The British Antique Dealers' Association via Wikimedia Commons

James Monro was the son of Dr John Monro, physician to Bethlehem Hospital.  He began his life at sea in 1766 at the age of just ten years, sailing to Madras and China as servant to Captain William Smith in the East Indiaman Houghton. Captain Smith was his mother’s brother.  Another uncle, Culling Smith, was one of the owners of the Houghton.  Monro made three more voyages with William Smith in the Houghton, as midshipman in 1769-1771; as 5th mate in 1773-1774; and as 2nd mate in 1777-1778.  Monro also sailed as a seaman to the West Indies and Calais, and as mate in two other East Indiamen, the Osterley to Benkulen, and the York to China.

In 1782 James Monro succeeded his uncle William Smith as captain of the Houghton, making four voyages to China and India before resigning and passing the command to Robert Hudson in 1792.  Captains were appointed by the ship owners and approved by the East India Company, and Monro’s correspondence sheds light on this system.

In April 1792, William Smith wrote to his nephew, addressing him as ‘Dear Jim’.  Smith understood that Monro had sold the command of the Houghton for 8,000 guineas, having paid him £4,000 for it.  Although Monro had not promised  him anything, Smith thought he should receive half the profit.  Smith claimed that he could have sold his command at a far higher price, perhaps as much as £7,000, but he had his nephew’s interest too much at heart to consider such offers.  He regretted the ‘disagreeable necessity’ of speaking his mind.

James Monro’s reply began ‘My dear Sir’.  He felt that he was being put in a very unpleasant position, and put forward his side as he would to someone not related.

Monro was away on board the York when it was decided that he should succeed as commander of the new Houghton which was being built to replace Smith’s ship.  On his return to England he was told to pay Smith £4,000. He had no idea that any future demand would be made on him until a chance conversation with his uncle some time later.

Both the East India Company and the owners had been trying to lessen the price given for ships, or to prevent totally the sale of commands.  If they had succeeded, would Smith have refunded part of his £4,000?  Smith had not paid for his own command but had received interest on Monro’s £4,000 for ten years.

Monro had always thought to offer his uncle £1,000 when he sold the command.  He would cheerfully give him 1,000 guineas and nothing more need be said.

Smith replied to ‘My dear James’.  He wished his nephew had told him sooner about the intention to offer £1,000.  This sum satisfied him and he asked Monro to pay it to his banker when convenient.  He hoped this business would make no difference or coolness between them, and closed by sending his best love to Mrs James and the young ones.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library – India Office Private Papers Photo Eur 488-B.
London Metropolitan Archives - ACC/1063 Records of the Monro family of Hadley, 1673-1905. Letters 45-48 Correspondence between James Monro and William Smith 1792.
Anthony Farrington, A biographical index of East India Company maritime service officers 1600-1834 (London, 1999).
James Monro features in Kate Smith, ‘Anglo-Indian ivory furniture in the British country house’ in Margot Finn and Kate Smith (eds.), The East India Company at Home.

 

19 July 2022

Life in Khartoum between Hicks and Gordon

A small collection of letters reveals the military career of a little-known British officer in Sudan in the late 19th century and his swift rise following a disastrous expedition.

The British Government was drawn into a war in Sudan by the bankruptcy of the Egyptian government in 1878.  The remaining shares of the new Suez Canal were bought up by the British to stabilise Egyptian debt. The British majority control of the canal gave them power over Egypt, effectively transforming it into a client state.

This intervention coincided with the rise of the self-proclaimed Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmed ‘ibn Abdullah, in Sudan, who declared war with Egypt in 1881.  With British support, the Egyptian ruler, Khedive Tewfik, launched an offensive to take back Sudan in 1883, appointing Colonel William Hicks as commander.

Head and shoulders portrait of William HicksColonel William Hicks from Charles George Gordon, Gordon and the Mahdi, an illustrated narrative of the war in the Soudan, etc (1885) Digital Store 9061.f.9 BL flickr

Henry de Coëtlogon, a retired Major from the Indian Army, received an appointment in Hicks’ staff and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  His time in Sudan is recorded in a series of intimate letters to his wife which are now available to view at the British Library (Add MS 89463).

Head and shoulders portrait of Henry de CoëtlogonColonel Henry de Coëtlogon from Charles George Gordon, Gordon and the Mahdi, an illustrated narrative of the war in the Soudan, etc (1885) Digital Store 9061.f.9 BL flickr

The letters detail how the Army travelled by boat and camel down through Egypt into Sudan to establish their base in the city of Khartoum.  From there de Coëtlogon joined an expedition to confront the rebels in spring 1883, including a skirmish near Aba Island on 29 April 1883, before the force returned to Khartoum to wait out the monsoon season. 

For his involvement in the preparations for the return to hostilities, de Coëtlogon was promoted by Hicks to the full rank of Colonel.  However, the General chose to leave de Coëtlogon in Khartoum to maintain their base and patrol the Nile, while the main force marched on the Mahdi in September 1883.

After over a month in the desert, Hicks’ force was led into a waterless wasteland and ambushed on 5 November 1883.  Nearly the whole force was killed, leaving de Coëtlogon as the only British Officer remaining of the original Army.

Hearing the news, de Coëtlogon stopped patrolling the river and instead began reinforcing Khartoum’s walls and recalling garrisons from the surrounding forts.  He continued strengthening his position and drilling his troops for several months, all the while fearing an imminent attack, until the British government voted to send General Charles Gordon to relieve him.

Head and shoulders portrait of General Charles GordonGeneral Charles Gordon from James Smith, A Pilgrimage to Egypt: an account of a visit to Lower Egypt (1897) Digital Store 010095.ee.2 BL flickr

Following Gordon’s arrival in Khartoum in February 1884, de Coëtlogon was swiftly dismissed.  The collection even includes a letter from Gordon to de Coëtlogon, dated 20 February 1884, which praises his work and promises, with characteristic confidence and some hubris, 'you may rest assured that you leave a place which is as safe as Kensington Park'.

By mid-March the city was surrounded by the Mahdi’s forces, and a siege began which would last 317 days.  Eventually, on 26 January 1885, the walls were breached and Gordon killed.  Meanwhile, Henry de Coëtlogon had returned to Egypt and received an appointment in the police force.

Matthew Waters
Manuscripts Cataloguer

Further reading:

Papers of Henry de Coëtlogon
Gordon,Charles George (1833–1885), army officer | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

 

12 July 2022

Mary Ann Ayah accused of theft

In May 1826 Mary Ann Ayah arrived in London, having accompanied Eliza Scott and Marian Grace Warner on the voyage from India in the  East Indiaman Royal George.  Mrs Scott and Mrs Warner were sisters, the daughters of Sir Henry White.  Both were the widows of officers in the Bengal Army.  The following month, the magistrates at Marylebone were asked to settle a dispute between Mary Ann and her former employers.

Full-length standing carte-de-visite photographic portrait of an ayah, early 1870s.Full-length standing carte-de-visite photographic portrait of an ayah: Bourne and Shepherd, early 1870s. Shelfmark: Photo 127/(74) BL Online Gallery Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mrs Warner had found that some of her property was missing from the luggage she had left on the ship with Mary Ann, including a valuable writing desk, and she had asked the magistrates to investigate.  Mary Ann attended the Marylebone Police Office accompanied by her sailor son, whom she had met accidentally in London.  She told the magistrates that she had been promised a gratuity of £10 and a certificate of ‘character’ on arrival in England if her service was satisfactory.  She had called on Mrs Scott and Mrs Warner in Marylebone to be given these before she took a passage to India in the same ship as her son.

Mary Ann defended herself in English ‘with a great deal of ingenuity’, denying that she had stolen anything.  This had been her fifth voyage to England and she produced several certificates of good character from the families she had previously attended.

Mrs Warner asked that an officer should make a search of the trunks belonging to Mary Ann and her son.  This would be also be to the satisfaction of Captain William Reynolds, the commander of the Royal George, who was indignant that his crew were under suspicion.  Nothing was found but the sisters still refused to give the gratuity.  There followed a ’long and animated dialogue in the Hindostan language’ between Mrs Warner, Mrs Scott, Mary Ann and her son whilst the magistrates looked on.  The sisters said Mary Ann had no claim upon them for the £10 and referred her to Captain Reynolds.  Magistrate John Rawlinson announced that he could not decide between the parties since the contract was made in India and he recommended that Mary Ann should call on Reynolds at the Jerusalem Coffee House in the City of London.  Mrs Scott wrote the address on a piece of paper but Mary Ann refused to take it.  She asked Mr Rawlinson to write it down for her.

Captain Reynolds wrote to Rawlinson stating that Mary Ann’s character was above suspicion and that she had conducted herself properly during the voyage to England.  In his opinion, Mrs Warner and Mrs Scott should pay the gratuity and he asked the magistrate to help in the matter.  Rawlinson showed the letter to Mrs Scott, and the following day her manservant came to the Police Office with Mary Ann and handed over five sovereigns and eight rupees as a ‘gift’.  Mary Ann accepted and, according to the newspaper reports, apparently seemed satisfied.  She left the office ‘making her obeisance after the Oriental fashion’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper ArchiveMorning Herald 13 and 24 June 1826.

 

09 June 2022

Five Indian indentured labourers picked up at sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

John O’Brien
India Office Records

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

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

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

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

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

The National Archives guide to Indian Indentured Labourers.

 

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