Untold lives blog

132 posts categorized "Conflict"

09 July 2020

The forgotten Prince of Burma

The roller coaster ride for royalty in 19th century Burma is well documented in British Library collections.  As well as printed biographies in the English and Burmese languages, the India Office Records contain a mass of correspondence, reports and private papers pertaining to British operations in Burma, particularly regarding the reign and dethronement of King Thibaw, Burma’s last King.

Some of these tumultuous tales are lesser known than others.  An album of photographic illustrations recounts a remarkable journey by a British expeditionary force through the recently annexed country.  Within this document is an intriguing tale of daring escapes, hidden identities, attempted revolution and a long forgotten prince.

King Thibaw ascended the Burmese throne in 1878 aged just 19.  The princes and princesses of Burma had been summoned to the palace in Mandalay to attend the death bed of his father King Mindon.  As each arrived, they were cruelly executed and buried in the palace grounds.  Over 70 family members and potential rivals were eradicated.  This massacre was most likely orchestrated by the Queen Mother and Thibaw’s wife and half sister, Suphayalat, to secure his place on the throne.

The photographic illustrations of the Mandalay & Upper Burma Expeditionary Force, taken and compiled by cavalry officer Robert Blackall Graham between 1886-7, told of two princes who survived the massacre.  Prince Moung Peng and his older brother, grandsons of King Mindon, were rescued by phongyis.

Portrait of Moung Peng seated in a royal carriagePortrait of Moung Peng, a grandson of King Mindon, here seen seated in a royal carriage.  At the time of the taking of this photograph he was aged thirteen. Photographer Robert Blackall Graham, 1887. Photo 996 (56)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Phongyis were Buddhist monks. They dressed in orange robes wrapped around the body, usually thrown over the left shoulder.  Their heads were shaven and always uncovered and they carried a palm leaf fan for protection from the sun.  A phongyi lived on charity, taught the young and lived a life of devotion, in order to be absorbed into the divine essence.

The princes were spirited away from danger and hidden in temples amongst the phongyis, disguised as priests for many years until the British suppression of Mandalay meant the immediate danger to their lives had subsided.  They resided in Ava for a while, but after mistreatment by his older brother, Moung Peng sought refuge with his former protectors in Mandalay.

An astrologer prophesised that Moung Peng would one day be returned to the Burmese throne.  In December 1886 the prophecy was used as justification to rebel against the invading British forces and Moung Peng became the focus of a botched coup.  A plot was arranged to set four fires in Mandalay and draw the British forces into a trap.  One of the fires was mistakenly lit before the arranged date, revealing the entire plan to the occupying armies.  The instigators of the plot, amongst them two senior Burmese monks and several priests, were transported for life to the penal settlement in the Andaman Islands.

Englishman's Overseas Mail 1 February 1887Article about Moung Peng in Englishman’s Overland Mail 1 February 1887 - British Newspaper Archive

Prince Moung Peng, aged just 13, was sent to Dr Marks’ school, a Christian mission in Rangoon. The British aimed to educate the prince in a secure environment and remove any threat he might pose to their control in Burma.  His eventual fate is unclear, but he never fulfilled the prophecy to become King of Burma.

Craig Campbell
Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records


Further Reading:
Photo 996 - Photographic illustrations, with descriptions of Mandalay & Upper Burmah Expeditionary Force, 1886-87. By a cavalry officer [Robert Blackall Graham].
Englishman’s Overland Mail 1 February 1887; pp 9-10 British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast.
India Office Records and Private Papers: Mss Eur F595/8/16 - Confidential India Office Note on the relations between the Government of India and Upper Burma during the present King's Reign [Thibaw Min, King of Burma 1878-1885].
Oriental Manuscripts: Or 14963 Scenes of British deposition of King Thibaw. 
India Office Records and Private Papers: Mss Eur E290 - Papers of Col Sir Edward Sladen, Madras Army 1849, British Burma Commission 1856-86.
V 16959; X.800/6024: W.S. Desai, Deposed King Thibaw of Burma, in India, 1885-1916 (Bombay, 1967). 
DRT ELD.DS.450930 - Sudha Shah, The king in exile : the fall of the royal family of Burma (New Delhi, 2012).
09059.aa.45; T 2865; X7/1536 : E.C.V. Foucar, They reigned in Mandalay (London, 1946).

 

26 June 2020

Researching Women Social Reformers in the Modern Manuscript Collections

Given the fact that for most of history women were excluded from higher education institutions and most forms of professional employment, there is a marked presence of women working in areas of social reform in the archives.  Being excluded from areas of official policy making meant that women used their own intuition to seek changes in areas such as public health, access to education, prison conditions, civil liberties and women’s rights.  They did this through such means as philanthropy, campaigning and protest.

The Modern Manuscript collections holds significant collections from figures such as, health reformer Florence Nightingale, prison reformer Elizabeth Fry and the papers of prominent suffrage campaigners but, as well as these, we hold papers across collections of less well-known reformers.  We have taking the opportunity to examine some of these figures below.

Caroline Norton (née Sheridan) 1808 – 1877 - Law Reformer

Photograph of Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton

Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton née Sheridan, later Lady Stirling Maxwell by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company c.1863 NPG x26597 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

The social reformer Caroline Norton, ironically still primarily known by her married name, ran an extensive campaign for the reform of divorce law after separation from her husband left her without her own earnings, denied access to her children and a divorce.  She campaigned for changes to current laws and submitted a detailed account of her marriage to Parliament to consider when debating.  s a result of her campaigning Parliament passed the Custody of Infants Act 1839, The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 and the Women’s Property Act 1870.  These acts gave women some (but not substantial) access to their children post-divorce and access to legal representation.  There is a volume concerning her separation in the Sheridan Papers at Add MS 42767, as well as various letters from her to William Gladstone in the Gladstone Papers.

 

Mary Carpenter, 1807 – 1877, Education reformer and Abolitionist

Head and shoulders portrait drawing of Mary Carpenter from The Illustrated London NewsMary Carpenter from The Illustrated London News 7 July 1877 British Newspaper Archive

Mary Carpenter worked in Bristol setting up ragged schools and reformatories to help bring education to impoverished and imprisoned youngsters.  She lobbied for several educational acts and was an accomplished public speaker on education.  In 1846 she attended a lecture by Frederick Douglass and became committed to the anti-slavery movement directed at the continuing slavery in the United States.  She also travelled to India where she worked with philosopher and reformer, Keschab Chandra Sen, to improve women’s education in India.  Papers relating to this endeavour can be found at Add MS 74237 PP, and some items of her correspondence can be found in the Margaret Elliot Papers at Add MS 73485.

 

Gertrude Tuckwell, 1861-1951, Trade Unionist and Women’s Rights Reformer

Photograph of Gertrude Mary Tuckwell wearig a fur stoleGertrude Mary Tuckwell by Bassano Ltd, 20 January 1930  NPG x124853 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Gertrude Tuckwell was a committed trade unionist and advocate for women’s rights.  She was president of the Women’s Trade Union League and the National Federation of Women Workers, where she worked to improve women’s safety and prospects in employment.  She was one of the first women in the country to qualify as a magistrate.  Her correspondence with her Aunt, Lady Emilia Dilke, who was also a trade unionist, is available at Add MS 49610 – 49612.  There are also items of her correspondence in the papers of trade unionist and politician, John Elliot Burns (Add MS 46297 – Add MS 46298).

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Women, Peace and Welfare: A Suppressed History of Social Reform, 1880 – 1920, by Ann Oakley. (Bristol: Policy Press, 2019).

Researching Suffragettes in the Modern Manuscripts collection.

The National Indian Association - founded in Bristol in 1871 by Mary Carpenter.

 

22 June 2020

Solving a suffragette mystery – who was Miss Wolff van Sandau?

In 2019 a Women’s Social and Political Union medal was sold at auction in London.  It was awarded in 1912 to Elsie Wolff van Sandau in recognition of ‘ a gallant action, whereby through endurance to the last extremity of hunger and hardship, a great principle of political justice was vindicated’.

WSPU membership card from the scrapbook of Maud Arncliffe SennettWomen’s Social and Political Union membership card from the scrapbook of Maud Arncliffe Sennett


On 4 March 1912 Miss Wolff van Sandau broke a window of the post office in Howick Place, Victoria.  She was sentenced to two months’ hard labour in prison for wilful damage.

 

Arrest of Miss Wolff Van Sandau reported in 'Votes for Women' 29 March 1912
Votes for Women 29 March 1912 British Newspaper Archive

Miss Wolff van Sandau had previously been imprisoned in February 1907 after taking part in a suffragette deputation, and again in November 1910 when she was arrested in Parliament Square on ‘Black Friday’.

The name van Sandau rang bells with me.  We published a blog post featuring Lewis van Sandau of the Bengal Army who was shot dead when mistaken for a ghost.  I wondered if I could find a connection between our unfortunate officer and the suffragette.

There are references to both Elsie Wolff van Sandau and Mathilde (or Matilda) Wolff van Sandau in suffragette records, leading some to conclude that there were two sisters campaigning.  But I believe that there was only one Miss Wolff van Sandau.

Votes for Women published a brief biography in 1910 stating that ‘Miss Wolff von Sandau’ had worked for women’s suffrage for nearly 30 years.  She was a music teacher.  Her grandfather Reverend Dr Ernst Schwabe had been private chaplain to Queen Victoria’s mother.

Biographical note from 'Votes for Women'
Votes for Women 25 November 1910 British Newspaper Archive

I found the marriage in London in 1832 of Ernst Schwabe’s daughter Bethia Friedericke to Ernst Woolf, who was a flax manufacturer in Leeds.  In the early 1840s Ernst and Bethia moved with their children to Dresden in Germany.  Their daughter Elise Eugenie Mathilde Wolff was born there in 1843.

In the 1881 census Elise Eugenie M. Wolff is a music professor aged 37 living in Clapham, South London.  In 1891 she is listed in Kensington as Mathilda Wolff, pianist.

A newspaper advertisement in 1888 names her as Fraulein Mathilde Wolff of the Dresden Conservatoire.

Advertisement for the Hastings and St Leonards College of Music in The Hastings and St Leonards Observer 22 September 1888Advertisement for the Hastings and St Leonards College of Music in The Hastings and St Leonards Observer 22 September 1888 British Newspaper Archive

There are reports of her concerts, such as this one in 1888 at Collard’s Rooms in Grosvenor Street London.


Report of concert in 'The Era' 16 June 1888Report of concert at Collard’s Rooms in Grosvenor Street London The Era 16 June 1888 British Newspaper Archive

 

Miss Wolff advertised in newspapers for pupils and for lodgers. She entertained members of the Women’s Vegetarian Union at her home.

Meeting of Women's Vegetarian Union reported in 'The Queen' 20 July 1895Meeting of Women's Vegetarian Union - The Queen 20 July 1895 British Newspaper Archive

 

In 1889 she used the name Wolff  van Sandau when publishing a song ‘David’s Message’.

 Article mentioning song 'David's Message' in 'The Graphic' 12 January 1889
The Graphic 12 January 1889 British Newspaper Archive

 

It was reported in 1895 that Miss Mathilde Wolff van Sandau was managing the new Equitable International Chess Club for Ladies.


Newspaper article about Equitable International Chess Club for LadiesMorning Post 10 June 1895 British Newspaper Archive

 

In 1911 she refused to provide information to the 1911 census and is recorded as simply ’Miss Wolfe – Suffragette’.

Her brother Henry William Wolff (1840-1931) also left Germany to live in England. He was a well-known journalist and writer and founder of the Co-Operative Alliance.

Portrait of Henry William Wolff writing at the Reform Club

Henry William Wolff at the Reform Club by Eyre Crowe, 1905 NPG D6688 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

In the 1920s Matilda van Sandau of Brooklyn Road, Shepherds Bush, was offering typewriting and translation services.  Is this the same woman?

By 1926 our Matilda was lodging in Putney.  She died in a local nursing home on 29 August 1926 aged 83 and was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery as Matilda Wolff.

One mystery remains.  Why did Matilda adopt the name van Sandau?  I have found one connection between the families.  Andrew van Sandau, brother to Lewis, was a witness at her parents’ marriage.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Her recorded surname varies between Wolff and Wolff van/von Sandau in census returns, electoral registers and directories, and her first names are any combination of Elise Eugenie Mathilde with variant spellings. It appears she is named as Elsie only in suffragette records and related newspaper reports.

British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast.

The National Archives papers from Home Office, Director of Public Prosecutions, and Metropolitan Police Commissioner – see the Suffragette Collection on Findmypast .

Entry in Who Was Who for Henry William Wolff.

Researching Suffragettes in the British Library’s Modern Manuscripts and Archive Collections.

 

19 June 2020

Get Up, Listen Up! for Windrush Day 2020

Windrush Day was introduced in 2018 to mark the 70th anniversary of the docking of the Empire Windrush at the port of Tilbury.  The day honours the life and work of the British Caribbean community whose presence in the UK long predates the arrival of the Windrush, but grew in the post-war years as the forces of colonial oppression pushed people to travel to a ‘Mother Country’ in need of rebuilding.  72 years on, the relationship between Britain, the Caribbean and the descendants of the ‘Windrush Generation’ continues to be fraught as anti-racist protests gather force and people await compensation following the fallout of the Windrush Scandal.

To mark Windrush Day this year we have released audio of three public events that speak to our current times. These events were recorded at our Knowledge Centre in 2018 as part of a series accompanying our exhibition Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land.    The exhibition shed new light on the significance of the arrival of the Windrush as part of a longer history of slavery and colonialism, telling the story of Caribbean people’s struggles for social recognition, self-expression and belonging throughout history.

Here’s your chance to listen again (or perhaps for the first time) to a lecture on that other ‘Middle Passage’ by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles; a conversation on race relations legislation and the Windrush Scandal produced in association with the Runnymede Trust; and the incredible voices of Wasafiri magazine’s ‘Windrush Women’ writers with Beryl Gilroy, Jay Bernard, Hannah Lowe, Valerie Bloom and Susheila Nasta.

For more explorations of race, migration and culture take a look at our Windrush Stories website which includes articles, collection items, videos and teaching resources. You’ll find suggestions for further resources specific to each event below.

Jonah Albert and Zoë Wilcox

 

British Trade in Black Labour: The Windrush Middle Passage
Recorded on Friday 15 June 2018 and sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

In this keynote lecture Professor Sir Hilary Beckles examines the circumstance which lead to people from the Caribbean re-crossing the Atlantic in response to the push of colonial oppression and exploitation, and the demand for their labour in the UK.

Historian Hilary Beckles is Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.  Born in Barbados, he received his higher education in the UK and has lectured extensively in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. He is the founder and Director of the CLR James Centre for Cricket Research, and a former member of the West Indies Cricket Board.

For more on this topic take a look at the articles in the Waves of History section of our Windrush Stories site.  You can discover personal stories of migration in The Arrivants section, including video portraits from the 1000 Londoners series and video interviews with members of the Caribbean Social Forum.


Race Relations: An Act?
Recorded on Friday 6 July 2018, this event was produced in association with The Runnymede Trust.

Image by Michael Ward © Getty image

There have been four Race Relations Acts since 1965.  Our panel of experts discusses the impact of immigration legislation on the Windrush generation and other migrants and their descendants.

Sir Geoffrey Bindman founded Bindmans LLP in 1974 and throughout his long and distinguished legal career has specialised in civil liberty and human rights issues.  He was legal adviser to the Race Relations Board from 1966-1976 and to the Commission for Racial Equality until 1983.

Amelia Gentleman writes on social affairs for The Guardian.  An awarding winning journalist, she is known for her investigative and campaigning work on the Windrush scandal.

Maya Goodfellow, chair of the conversation, is a writer and researcher.  Her work spans a range of issues including UK politics, gender, migration and race.

Matthew Ryder was Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement at City Hall.  He became a barrister in 1992 and writes regularly for national newspapers on social policy and cultural issues.

Iyiola Solanke is Professor of European Law and Social Justice at the University of Leeds, and an Associate Academic Fellow of the Inner Temple.  She has published on judicial independence and diversity, intersectionality and race relations in Britain and Germany.

For further reading see our series of articles, Perspectives on the Windrush Generation Scandal, by Judy Griffith, David Lammy and Amelia Gentleman.

 

Windrush Women: Past and Present
Recorded on Monday 25 June 2018 and produced in association with Wasafiri

There are many stories missing from the Windrush narrative, not least those of the bold and pioneering women who left everything behind, to better their family’s lives and their own.  At this event, contemporary international writing magazine Wasafiri celebrates women writers from the Windrush era.  Former Editor-in-Chief of Wasafiri, Susheila Nasta introduces a recording of her interview with one these pioneers, Beryl Gilroy - writer, poet and London’s first Black head teacher.  Poets Jay Bernard, Val Bloom and Hannah Lowe read work inspired by their legacy of these women.

Jay Bernard is a writer, film programmer and archivist from London.  In 2016, Jay was poet-in-residence at the George Padmore Institute, where they began writing Surge, a collection based on the New Cross Fire and which won the 2018 Ted Hughes Award for new work.

Hannah Lowe is a poet and researcher.  Her first poetry collection Chick won the Michael Murphy Memorial Award for Best First Collection.  She has published a family memoir Long Time No See.  She teaches Creative Writing at Brunel University and is the current poet-in-residence at Keats House.

Valerie Bloom is an award-winning writer of poetry for adults and children, picture books, pre-teen and teenage novels and stories.

Susheila Nasta was Founder and Editor in Chief for 35 years from 1984 to 2019 of Wasafiri, the magazine of international contemporary writing.  A literary activist, writer and presenter, she is currently Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at Queen Mary, University of London.

For over three decades, Wasafiri has created a dynamic platform for mapping new landscapes in contemporary international writing featuring a diverse range of voices from across the UK and beyond.  Committed to profiling the ‘best of tomorrow’s writers today’ it aims to simultaneously celebrate those who have become established literary voices.

You will find more on Beryl Gilroy’s books Black Teacher and In Praise of Love and Children on our Windrush Stories website, as well as articles on the work of Andrea Levy and performances by female poets of Caribbean heritage including Malika Booker, Maggie Harris, Khadijah Ibrahiim, Hannah Lowe, Grace Nichols and Kim O’Loughlin.

 

17 June 2020

The treasures of King Thibaw of Burma

In 1885, British forces sailed up the River Irrawaddy in Burma to force the abdication of King Thibaw.  On 28 November, General Sir Harry Prendergast and Colonel Edward Sladen entered Mandalay Palace and accepted the King’s surrender.

King Thibaw and two royal ladiesKing Thibaw and two royal ladies Illustrated London News 14 April 1894 British Newspaper Archive

Thibaw’s palace in Mandalay was a magnificent carved and gilded structure with a great seven- roofed spire.  Whilst the government reported a largely peaceful and mutual transfer of power, other accounts suggested an unruly takeover.  The palace was brimming with priceless treasures, and there was a scramble for its riches as British soldiers took control.

Royal Palace MandalayRoyal Palace at Mandalay Illustrated London News 14 April 1894 British Newspaper Archive

Thibaw was exiled to Ratnagiri in India and saw out the remainder of his life in some degree of comfort.  He wrote to King George V, claiming Colonel Sladen had promised to secure his crown jewels for safe custody and return them when it was safe to do so - a pledge he did not keep.

Many of the regalia were shipped to Britain, but some royal treasures simply disappeared.  Rumours began to circulate of rogue British soldiers securing a portion of it.  They were said to have buried loot in bags within the palace compound, being unable to sneak it past the guards at the gates. Amongst the missing treasures was a gold calf weighing several hundredweight, a crown studded in rubies and diamonds surmounted by a peacock, quantities of precious stones, and an enormous and valuable ruby formerly on the forehead of a giant golden statue of Gautama Buddha.

On 9 January 1893, John Mobbs, an estate agent in Southampton, wrote to the Earl of Kimberley at the India Office regarding a rumour he had heard from a Charles Berry.  William White, alias Jack Marshall, was a private in the 2nd Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment.  He spent two years in Burma on the signalling staff, spoke the language, and left a wife and son there.   White lodged for some time with Berry’s mother-in-law at Wandsworth, and disclosed that he and another soldier had hidden away King Thibaw’s crown jewels and regalia.  The second soldier had given a death bed confession, admitting the theft and burial.

White was working in Kent and Surrey as a labourer and dock worker.  Mobbs sought him out to ascertain details of his story.  White agreed to cooperate so long as the government indemnified him from punishment for the theft.  The government, unsure of the situation and unwilling to participate in a treasure hunt, offered Mobbs a percentage of the treasure’s worth should he retrieve it.

The situation was complicated when White decided to retrieve the jewels alone.  He deemed the government reward insufficient and intended to move permanently to Burma.  Having received his indemnity, he took his last pension payment and disappeared.

Report on the Burma regalia The Glasgow Herald 3 April 1894

Report on the Burma regalia The Glasgow Herald 3 April 1894 British Newspaper Archive

Reports stated White left England for Rangoon in May 1894.  The India Office did not believe he could recover the hidden treasure without their knowledge, though Mobbs feared some could be accessed with ease.

Information on the hunt is as elusive as the jewels themselves.  Where did White go?  Did Mobbs make the journey to Mandalay?

The missing treasure also remains shrouded in mystery.  Did the Government hide it?  Did soldiers retrieve the buried loot?  Maybe palace staff discovered it?  Perhaps it is buried there still?

Craig Campbell
Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive also available through Findmypast -
Illustrated London News 7 April & 14 April 1894
Englishman's Overland Mail 9 May 1894
The Lincolnshire Echo 21 May 1894
The Glasgow Herald 3 April 1894, p.7 and 6 April 1894, p.8
The Sphere 28 March 1959
Southern Reporter 7 June 1894
Photo 312 : 1885-1886 - Burma - One hundred photographs, illustrating incidents connected with the British Expeditionary Force
Photo 472 : 1870s-1940s - Sir Geoffrey Ramsden Collection: Photographs relating to the life and career in India of Sir Geoffrey Ramsden
Photo 1237 : 1885-1886 - Lantern slides relating to the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War
IOR/L/PS/20/MEMO38/14 : 4 Dec 1885 - Memorandum by His Excellency the Governor [on Upper Burma, following occupation of Mandalay by British forces] M E Grant Duff, 4 Dec 1885
IOR/L/MIL/7/9167 : 1885-1888 - Collection 205/7 Reports by General Prendergast and his officers on operations up to fall of Mandalay.
IOR/L/MIL/7/9162 : 1885 - Collection 205/2 Telegraphic reports of operations until fall of Mandalay, November 1885.
IOR/L/PS/20/MEMO38/14 : 4 Dec 1885 - Memorandum by His Excellency the Governor [on Upper Burma, following occupation of Mandalay by British forces] M E Grant Duff, 4 Dec 1885
Mss Eur E290 : 1845-1891 - Papers of Col Sir Edward Sladen

 

06 May 2020

The East India Company and the Spice Islands

When the East India Company began trading in 1600, the focus of its activities was the Spice Islands of Southeast Asia rather than India.  There are many letters and documents in the India Office Records about the fierce, and sometimes violent, rivalry between the English and Dutch merchants as they strove to gain the upper hand in securing the valuable commodities grown in the region.

Map of Banda Islands
Map of the Banda Islands from a 17th century Dutch Portolano, British Library Add. 34184 f.64 Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1621 the Dutch took the island of Lantar (now Lontor or Banda Besar in the Banda Islands).  The men at the English house were taken prisoner and the Company’s goods seized.  Robert Randall, the East India Company’s chief merchant on Lantar, was tied to a stake with a halter fixed to his neck.  He was terrified that his head would be cut off by the Japanese soldier who had already beheaded Chinese men found with the English.  Captain Humphrey Fitzherbert arrived in the Company’s ship Royal Exchange and negotiated terms of peace and the release of his fellow countrymen.


Inventory of the Company’s goods seized by the Dutch 1621
Inventory of the Company’s goods seized by the Dutch 1621 IOR/G/40/25 f.308 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

An inventory was drawn up of the Company’s goods seized by the Dutch: mace; nutmeg; elephants’ teeth (ivory); rials of eight; oils of nutmeg and mace; textiles; wax and wax candles; arrack; rice; cakes of sago; copper kettles; empty jars; China ware; opium; fowling-pieces; chests of clothes and linen; a bed and pillows; an English flag.  According to Fitzherbert, the Dutch flew an English flag on two of their ships, leading the local people to think that the English had betrayed them.

Accounts for the English ‘castle’ on Amboina for April 1621Accounts for the English ‘castle’ on Amboina for April 1621 IOR/G/40/25 f.305  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Accounts for the English ‘castle’ on Amboina for March and April 1621 survive in the Company archive.  A major expense was the upkeep of a large garrison – salary, monthly allowance and provisions for 49 married soldiers, 196 soldiers, and 61 Japanese.  Their diet was rice, arrack, beef, pork, ‘sweet oil’, vinegar and salt.  Food for workmen is also listed – rice, beef and pork- and for prisoners – bread, wine, fish.  Sick men in the hospital were supplied with beef, pork, rice, wine, and fresh victuals.

Money was spent on barrels of powder, shot, matches, tiles, planks, shoes, porcelain, sailcloth to make tents, and table cloths.  There were slaves to clothe with shirts, ‘baftoes’ and silk, and they were also provided with other unspecified ‘necessaries’.  A school with ten pupils was maintained.  The Governor spent money on gifts to oil the wheels of commerce - rice, textiles, and silk. 

These fascinating documents shed light on life in the European posts in Southeast Asia in the early 17th century, where the threat of untimely death was always hovering over the merchants trying to win commercial advantage for their masters.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/8 ff 5-8 Humphrey Fitzherbert on the Royal Exchange at Banda Neira to the East India Company in London, 27 March 1621.
IOR/G/40/25 ff.302-307 Accounts from the English house on Amboina March-April 1621.
IOR/G/40/25 f.308 Inventory of goods belonging to the East India Company taken from Lantar by the Dutch in 1621.
A courante of newes from the East India: a true relation of the taking of the ilands of Lantore and Polaroone ... by the Hollanders ... Written to the East India Company in England from their factors there. (London, 1622).
W. Noel Sainsbury (ed.), Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series - East Indies, China and Japan 1617-1621 (London, 1870).

Mr Muschamp's wooden leg

East India Company Factory Records (IOR/G) are available as a digital resource from Adam Matthew Digital which is free to access in British Library Reading Rooms (all British Library buildings are closed at present).

04 May 2020

A (g)lovely gift from Peter the Great to John Evelyn

Gloves are an indispensable accessory.  They protect our hands from all manner of harm, and have served as a glamorous fashion statement for centuries.  Before their wider availability in the mid-18th century, gloves were treated as the embodiment of both power and protection; their luxury status and embedded symbolism making them the ideal gift of the wealthy.

John Evelyn's doe-skin glovesAdd MS 78429, John Evelyn's Doe-Skin Gloves, 17th century, British Library. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These 17th century gloves belonged to the diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706).  Typical of their time, they are made from light doe-skin, embroidered with fine gold work flowers, and lavishly embellished with spangles (the 17th century equivalent to sequins) and gold fringe.  The significant skill required to produce gloves at this time rendered them a particularly expensive accessory, worn chiefly by the elite.  Designs were elaborate and ornamental, and as a general rule, the more ostentatious the glove, the more commanding (and rich) the hand.

Historically the gloves were believed to have been gifted to Evelyn by Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia (1672- 1725).  The story goes that whilst a tenant at Evelyn’s London property Sayes Court in 1698, Peter all but trashed the house and grounds.  From destructive wheelbarrow races through Evelyn’s immaculately landscaped gardens, to using paintings for target practice and furniture for firewood, the young Tsar was not as ‘great’ as his epithet may imply, and certainly not a model tenant.

Sayes CourtAdd MS 78628. A Plan of Sayes Court and its Gardens. Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Since it had been William III who had arranged the Tsar’s tenancy, the Treasury covered the £350 9s 6d of property damages incurred from his wild antics.  The gloves were sent by the Tsar to Evelyn as an apology for the terrible inconvenience.

Beyond merely being an expensive gift, the act of presenting gloves at this time was intimately connected to their symbolic and ceremonial past, and had accumulated numerous motives: a royal or political sanction, a gift of honour, a symbol of challenge, or of amity, a figurative token of love or a legal exchange.  The act was even embedded in the ceremonial investiture of monarchs, and in international diplomacy as a token of fidelity.  Queen Elizabeth I, who is alleged to have owned over 300 pairs of gloves, is believed to have engaged extensively in political glove gifting. The Evelyn Gloves are in fact remarkably similar to a pair that now reside at the Ashmolean Museum, that were presented to the Virgin Queen during a visit to Oxford.  By the 17th century, gloves were exchanged frequently between the wealthy, and so symbolic was the act that it wasn’t even seen to matter if they fit.

Unfortunately, the story behind the gifting of these gloves has never been corroborated with evidence, and so continues to remain speculation.  However, if we are to believe the myth, the message the Tsar was sending was far grander than a simple ‘sorry’. Not only would they have served as a not so subtle reminder to Evelyn of the Tsar’s superior status, but could also be seen as a humble extension of respect and friendship.  One wonders however, if this is the case, whether Evelyn might have preferred instead that the Tsar show his respect by not ruining his lawn.

Zoe Louca-Richards
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Angus Trumble, The Finger: A Handbook, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2010)
British Library, Evelyn Papers, (Add MS 78168-78693)

 

30 April 2020

Mr Muschamp’s wooden leg

In 1630 the East India Company kept back £3 from the wages of Brute Gread, carpenter of the ship London on a voyage to Bantam.  The stoppage was to pay for a copper kettle which Gread was said to have removed from the ship.  Gread’s wife Dorothy petitioned for repayment because the kettle brought ashore was defective with a burnt-out bottom, and it was cut into pieces and used to sheath Mr Muschamp’s wooden leg.  The Company ordered that the money be repaid.

Petition of Dorothy Gread 3 November 1630Petition of Dorothy Gread 3 November 1630 IOR/B/14 p.81 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


George Muschamp was a Company merchant who had lost his right leg in July 1619 on board the Sampson in a fight with the Dutch at Patani in the East Indies.  The leg was shot off by a cannon and he spent four months in ‘miserable torture’ for want of medicines.  However this terrible injury did not stop Muschamp having a long career with the Company.

Muschamp’s first petition for employment in the Company was considered by the Court on 4 August 1615.  He outlined his career to date: four years in Antwerp and Middleburgh, ’brought up in marchandize’ eight years.  Muschamp could speak Dutch and French and said he was skilled in silk, silk wares and linen cloth, and in keeping accounts.  He had recently been employed by Duncombe Halsey, a City of London mercer.  After his ‘sufficiency and carriage’ were examined, he was engaged in September.

George Muschamp’s petition for employment 4 August 1615George Muschamp’s petition for employment 4 August 1615 IOR/B/5 p.460 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The East India Company sent Muschamp to the spice islands in Southeast Asia.  He moved around, serving at Batavia and Amboyna.  In 1623 the council at Batavia accepted his request to leave because his ‘want of one leg’ was preventing him from performing his services as he would wish.  They reported that Muschamp was a ‘very sufficient merchant and has been faithful, honest and careful’.

The city of Batavia from the sea, with ships in the foregroundPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence  The city of Batavia from An embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperour of China (London, 1669), shelfmark X.1202 Images Online

Muschamp arrived back in England in the Palsgrave in June 1623.  In October he was given a gratuity of £100 on account of his good reputation and loss of his leg.  He then negotiated terms with the Company for a second voyage.   Although he wanted a salary of £250 per annum, he accepted an offer of £150.  Musgrave asked to be employed at Surat, mainly for health reasons, but was sent back to Southeast Asia.  He was President at Bantam from 1629 to 1630.

In a letter dated 9 March 1630, the East India Company ordered Muschamp to return to England because of his ‘great abuse’ of private trade.  The Company seized his assets and in 1631 exhibited two bills in Chancery against him and two others.   A fine of £200 was subsequently imposed on Muschamp.

However in 1639 Muschamp was appointed President at Bantam for a second term.  In December 1640 his wife Mary asked for permission to join her husband.  The Company refused, partly because of the cost, but also because such a licence had never yet been granted and they thought it would be an ‘ill precedent’.  She was advised to be patient until the end of her husband’s contracted time, otherwise they could order his return by the next ships.

Then news arrived that Muschamp had died in the spring of 1640.  Mary Muschamp petitioned for help as she had small five children.  On 9 March 1642 the Company’s General Court of Proprietors granted her £250 to relieve her ‘miserable and comfortless state’.

Grant of £250 to Mary Muschamp noted in the Court Minutes of the East India CompanyGrant of £250 to Mary Muschamp 9 March 1642  IOR/B/20 p.132 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Court of Director's Minutes IOR/B.
George Muschamp's correspondence can be found in IOR/E/3  and IOR/G/40/25(4) - the letters are listed in Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

IOR/B and IOR/G are available as a digital resource from Adam Matthew Digital which is free to access in British Library Reading Rooms (all British Library buildings are closed at present).

 

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