Untold lives blog

176 posts categorized "Conflict"

25 January 2022

A Vignette of Inter-War Anglo-American Relations in the Middle East

In January 1931 the American Consul in Baghdad received a rap on the knuckles from the Political Agent and British Consul in Muscat, Major Trenchard C W Fowle.

Photograph of Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle in military uniform with medals.Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle, by Walter Stoneman, 1937  NPG x167632. Copyright: National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

This mild castigation of the American Consul, Alexander Kilgore Sloan, arose from a request by Dr Sarah Hosmon of the American Mission at Muscat to visit the inland village of Rustaq.  Hosmon wished to ‘take care and prescribe for sick people there’, following an invitation from the Governor of that town.

Sloan was under the impression that Fowle had refused Hosmon’s request and wrote a letter of support on her behalf.

Extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930, supporting Sarah Hosmon’s missionary trip to Rustaq.Extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930, supporting Sarah Hosmon’s missionary trip to Rustaq. Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Sloan concluded that if conditions there had not worsened radically since March ‘I can see no reason to forbid her journey to that town and consequently request that you assist Miss Hosmon in making her contemplated trip’.

Further extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930Further extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Map of Oman and the Persian Gulf

Map of Oman showing Rastaq (inland, south-west of Muscat) - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Three weeks later Fowle replied in a distinctly patronising tone: ‘In the first place I am not “The British Political Adviser, Muscat”, as addressed by you’.

Extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931, ‘clarifying’ the position Extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931, ‘clarifying’ the position - Qatar Digital LibraryPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Fowle refused to incur any responsibility for Hosmon’s journey: ‘When in charge of foreign interests a Consular officer has to be even more careful with regard to such interests than those of his own nationals … if some unfortunate incident befell Miss Hosmon, and if she had taken her journey with my permission, then not unnaturally I should be held responsible for her having proceeded with my approval’.

He noted that the Council of Ministers of Muscat advised against the journey to Rustaq, adding that he had made arrangements for an alternative trip by Hosmon to some coastal villages, which she had not yet made.

Further extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan  8 January 1931Further extract from  letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931 - Qatar Digital Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Perhaps to hammer home his overseeing role, Fowle signs his letter ‘Political Agent & HBM’s Consul, Muscat. (In charge American Interests in Muscat)’.

End of letter from Major Fowle to Sloan  8 January 1931End of letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


In March 1931, on his return from visiting various Gulf ports, Sloan replied to ‘His Britannic Majesty’s Consul, Muscat, Arabia’, thanking him for his ‘courtesy’ in writing to him.

Letter from Sloan to Fowle  10 March 1931 abrogating responsibility for permitting Hosmon’s tripExtract from letter from Sloan to Fowle, 10 March 1931 abrogating responsibility for permitting Hosmon’s trip - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Sloan enclosed a copy of a letter he claimed to have written to Hosmon on 16 December 1930, the same date as his letter to Fowle.  He told Hosmon he had little knowledge of conditions in the Sultanate of Oman, but was aware that travel into the interior could be dangerous.  He cited the case of Mr Bilkert, a member of the American Mission killed in Kuwait territory in 1929, and noted his sympathy with Major Fowle’s ‘reluctance in the matter’ since it has ‘often happened in the past that the killing of an American citizen or of a British subject bound on an errand of mercy has probably caused more distress than that person could have alleviated’.

Extract of a letter from Sloan to Sarah Hosmon  dated 16 December 1930Extract of a letter from Sloan to Sarah Hosmon, dated 16 December 1930 - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence
 

Sloan’s words appear, in part, to contradict what he wrote to Fowle on 16 December.  By enclosing the copy of his letter to Hosmon he appears to exonerate himself for originally endorsing Hosmon’s trip and for offending Fowle, and he diplomatically dumps responsibility back onto the British!

Interestingly the Persian Gulf Administration Report for Muscat 1931 states that Hosmon, with sanction of the Council, visited Sohar, Saham and Al-Khaburah, whilst Dr Storm, another member of the American Mission, ventured into Rustaq.

Extract of the Administration Report of the Political Agency  Muscat  for 1931Extract of the Administration Report of the Political Agency, Muscat, for 1931 - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Was there a hint of anti-American irritation in Fowle’s letter? Growing American influence in the Middle East during this period regularly irked the British colonial authorities who regarded the region as their domain.  Or perhaps risk-taking American missionaries had simply put him in a foul mood…?

Amanda Engineer
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/R/15/6/145: ‘File 6/1 Foreign Interests: American Mission at Muscat’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/L/PS/12/3719/1: ‘Persian Gulf: Administration Reports 1926-1938’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/L/PS/10/1177: ‘PERSIAN GULF NEWS SUMMARY 1926-1930’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/X/3210: ‘A Revised map of Oman and the Persian Gulf, in which an attempt has been made to give a correct transliteration of the Arabic names. By the Rev. George Percy Badger, FRGS’, 1871, Map Collections, British Library, London.

11 January 2022

The Spy Who Came in from the Circus: Haji Ali Germani

In 1915, a man was arrested near the Iranian port of Bandar Lengeh by levies in the pay of the British Consulate, accused of inciting the local population against British interests.  He was ‘fair, though now very sunburned’, with ‘fair hair and grey eyes’, spoke German, English, Farsi, and Arabic, and went by the name of Haji Ali Germani.

The arrest took place against a tumultuous backdrop.  To weaken Britain in Europe during the First World War, Germany and its allies were striking at the British imperial system in Asia.  German, Austrian, and Ottoman agents, along with Indian revolutionaries, were spreading across Iran, approaching Afghanistan and causing panic among the British occupying India.  The arrested Haji Ali was believed to be working with German agents, most prominently the feared Wilhelm Wassmuss, ‘the German Lawrence’, to weaken British influence over southern Iran, and thus the Persian Gulf and route to India.

Haji Ali told his captors that his mother was a German circus performer and his father a ‘Moor’ (North African).  He himself had started out as an acrobat, before joining the firm of Robert Wönckhaus, a former Zanzibar slave trader who had moved into business in the Gulf.

Letter about Haji Ali from the Vice-Consul in Bandar Lengeh to the Commanding Officer in Bushire 25 September 1915Letter from the Vice-Consul in Bandar Lengeh to the Commanding Officer in Bushire [Bushehr], 25 September 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/490 f 138r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Haji Ali was already known, and distrusted, by British authorities.  He had been involved in Wönckhaus’s concession to mine red oxide on Abu Musa island, which hawkish British officers perceived as a threatening German intrusion into the jealously-guarded Gulf and quickly had shut down.

After his arrest Haji Ali was deported to India.  On reaching Bombay [Mumbai] in October 1915, he was sent into internment in Jutogh in the Himalayan foothills.  He was escorted on the long journey north by one Sub-Inspector Schiff, an Arabic speaker in Bombay’s colonial police, who coaxed information from him about Indian revolutionaries with the Germans in Iran.  After ‘a large glass of brandy (neat) and several glasses of beer at Delhi station’, Haji Ali revealed that German agents were planning to ship arms to Indian revolutionaries from Shanghai, taking advantage of relaxed checks on ships coming to India from the east.  After sobering up, he was ‘very much exercised at having said so much and bound Sub-Inspector Schiff to secrecy by all the oaths in the Arabic vocabulary’.

Letter from the Bombay Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of the Government of Bombay 14 October 1915Letter from the Bombay Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of the Government of Bombay, 14 October 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 39vPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Schiff judged that Haji Ali was not a ‘true [German] patriot’, and could be led to make further ‘revelations of interest’.  Thus, no sooner did Haji Ali reach Jutogh than he was sent back to Bombay for further interrogation.  There, he revealed the location of the keys to Wönckhaus’s safes, buried near Lengeh, among other fragments of information.

We hear little more of him.  In 1916, he was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Thayetmyo, Burma.  After the war he seems to have returned to Iran – a 1922 file mentions him back in Lengeh, working in Customs.

Extract from Persian Gulf Residency News Summary July 1922Persian Gulf Residency News Summary, July 1922. IOR/L/PS/10/977 f 143v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is not clear if Haji Ali really was actively involved in German wartime conspiracies, or simply a bystander.  Either way, he was a colourful bit-player in a tempestuous period in Iran.

Despite declaring itself neutral in the war, Iran became a battleground for rival powers, was occupied by British, Russian, and Ottoman troops, and was wracked by shortages, inflation, and famine, causing immense suffering among ordinary Iranians.  Theirs are among the truly untold lives of the First World War.

William Monk
Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, File 3443/1914 Pt 3 'German War: Afghanistan and Persia; German agents; British troops in East Persia', IOR/L/PS/10/474
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 14 'German War: Persia; general situation', IOR/L/PS/10/490
British Library, File 1749/1921 ‘Persian Gulf:- Residency news summaries 1921-25’ [‎143v] (301/494), IOR/L/PS/10/977
British Library, 'File 14/115 VIII B 15 Abu Musa. Red oxide concession.', IOR/R/15/1/260
Abrahamian, Ervand.  A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Staley, Eugene. ‘Business and Politics in the Persian Gulf: The Story of the Wönckhaus Firm.’ Political Science Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 3, 1933, pp. 367–385.

 

06 January 2022

Protesting Against the Simon Commission

One controversial moment in India’s fight for freedom from British rule in the 1920s, was the arrival in India of the members of the Indian Statutory Commission in 1928.  The India Office Private Papers at the British Library contains some wonderful material documenting this event.

The Indian Statutory Commission was a British commission appointed on 26 November 1927 to enquire into the working of the system of government, the growth of education, and the development of representative institutions in British India, and to recommend future policy regarding further constitutional reforms.  It is often referred to as the Simon Commission after its Chairman Sir John Allsebrook Simon.  Unfortunately, the members of the Commission all belonged to the British ruling classes, and the exclusion of Indian members understandable prompted outrage in India, with both Congress and the Muslim League boycotting the Commission.  The Commission visited India twice, once in February/March 1928, and again from 11 October 1928 to 13 April 1929, and wherever they travelled there were protest marches.  Protestors questioned the Commission's legitimacy and demanded that it leave India.

A black flag with the words ‘Simon Go Back’ in white lettering'Simon Go Back’ flag, reference Mss Eur D856 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

One particularly striking item in the Private Paper collections relating to these protests is a black flag with the words ‘Simon Go Back’ in white lettering, reference Mss Eur D856.  The flag had been given to Lady Carter, wife of Richard Henry (later Sir Archibald) Carter, Assistant Secretary to the Commission.  It had been presented to her while on a visit to the United Provinces by the Governor, Sir Malcolm Hailey (later Baron Hailey).  Of him, she wrote: ‘I first saw him at a tennis party and he swooped down on us like a great hawk.  Everybody seemed frightened of him, but I loved him at first sight’.  The story Lady Carter told of how Lord Hailey obtained the flag was that he had joined one of the processions against the Commission.  She said: ‘He gave me one of the black flags that they carry in the processions against the Commission, with a SIMON GO BACK on it’.

Protest banner with the words: 'Indian Uninvited Guest, Simon Go Back’Protest banner Mss Eur D890/1 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There is also another protest banner in the papers of Sir (Samuel) Findlater Stewart (1879-1960), India Office official from 1903 to 1940, demanding ‘Indian Uninvited Guest, Simon Go Back’, reference Mss Eur D890/1.

The Commission published its report in two volumes in 1930 to further criticism and condemnation in India.  It was rejected by virtually all parts of the Indian political spectrum, and in London it sparked a march from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Station by around 200 protestors.  The British Government responded by holding a series of Round Table Conferences held in London between November 1930 and December 1932.  This eventually fed into the reforms incorporated into the 1935 Government of India Act.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
`Simon go back' black flag used in Congress demonstrations against the Indian Statutory (Simon) Commission; reference Mss Eur D856.

Papers of the Indian Statutory Commission 1928-1930; series reference IOR/Q/13.

Papers of the Round Table Conference, 1930-1932; series reference IOR/Q/RTC.

Papers of 1st Viscount Simon as Chairman of Indian Statutory Commission 1927-1930; collection reference Mss Eur F77.

Government of India Act 1935.

Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950: Indian Statutory Commission.

30 November 2021

Report of a crash-landing of a Japanese bomber

The papers of Frank Owen Bell, Indian Civil Service officer, contain some fascinating reports of a fire-fight between local police and a group of Japanese airmen during the Second World War.  The file in the India Office Private Papers consists of reports and telegrams between 25 and 30 December 1942 circulating between local government officials in the area of Kalapara in the District of Patuakhali in Bengal (now Bangladesh).  As the reports circulated, a picture began to build up of a dramatic skirmish as the Japanese air-crew attempted to evade capture.

Telegram concerning the report of a crashed aircraft 28 December 1942Telegram concerning the report of a crashed aircraft 28 December 1942 Mss Eur D733/40 f.3  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On 24 December at 10.40 in the evening, a Japanese bomber crashed at Dhulasar, a few miles from the sea shore.  The plane had been struck by anti-aircraft fire causing it to crash heavily.  The seven crew members all survived, with only 2 being slightly wounded.  No doubt frightened and confused, they approached a nearby house, but the residents fled thinking them to be robbers.  The following morning, having taken shelter in the house for the night, the Japanese airmen looked for someone who could help them escape by sea but were hindered by being unable to speak the local language or any English.

Around this time local police officers, consisting of a head-constable and four constables, arrived and began searching for the airmen.  At about 11.00am, they spotted the Japanese airmen crossing a river, and immediately opened fire.  The Japanese retaliated with machine gun fire before retreating into the jungle.  No-one was hit and the policemen kept guard on the river bank.

Report about the crashed bomber 30 December 1942Report about the crashed bomber 30 December 1942 Mss Eur D733/40 f.1. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

At around 3.30pm, the Japanese airmen emerged from a different part of the jungle, and rushed a large boat firing revolvers and a machine gun.  The fishermen on the boat dived overboard and swam to safety.  The boat was loaded with rice and vegetables, and was equipped with a sail.  The airmen set sail out to sea, and were not seen again.  In a printed report of the incident sent to the Inspector General of Police in Bengal, it was estimated that it would take four days to sail to Burma.  Search aircraft attempted to locate the Japanese airmen without success.  A handwritten note on the back of the report commented that the villagers were naturally frightened but showed no pro-Japanese or anti-British sentiments.

Born on June 1907, Bell was educated at Christ’s Hospital at Horsham, and Christ’s College, Cambridge.  He joined the Indian Civil Service on 16 October 1930, and arrived in India November 1930.  He served in Bengal as Assistant Collector and Magistrate; and in December 1931 was promoted to Joint Magistrate and Deputy Collector.  From October 1936 he was a Settlement Officer.  He was awarded the OBE in January 1946. On returning to England in 1947, Bell qualified as a solicitor and worked for the Greater London Council.  He died in 1991.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Correspondence connected with the crash-landing of a Japanese bomber at Dhulasar, Bengal, 24 December 1942, BL shelfmark: Mss Eur D733/40.
India Office and Burma Office List (1947) page 142, for brief details of Frank Owen Bell’s ICS career.
Papers relating to Frank Owen Bell's service as a councillor in Chesham UDC and Buckinghamshire County Council, held at Buckinghamshire Archives, reference D_190

 

23 November 2021

Miguel of Mazagon, Mumbai- Part Two

We continue our story of Miguel de Lima e Souza.

Miguel was now part of the British establishment in Bombay, both politically and socially.  He was a member of the Insurance Society, a key association of those who mattered financially.   The Bombay Almanac of 1798 announced the birth of his son and listed him among the ten most prominent European merchants in Bombay.  Father Ernest Hull wrote that Miguel was one of the richest people in Bombay. 

Description of the estate formerly owned by Miguel de Lima e Souza when it was sold ini 1823

Bombay Gazette  29 October 1823 British Newspaper Archive 

Miguel's connections destined him to play the leading role in the Padroado-Propaganda struggle, which at one point threatened the future of the Catholic Church not only in Bombay but also the whole of Asia.  This was a very complex matter with its roots going back to the early 16th century.   In Miguel’s time, Rome was attempting to take on greater responsibility for the Church in the East, a role which was strongly resisted by the Portuguese state and church which had traditionally had the right of ‘Patronage’, or the authority to manage and have the last word in all ecclesiastical issues in the region.

View from Belmont looking towards the back of the harbour including part of the village of Mazagon, the islands of Carranjar, Elephanta and Butcher bounded by the hills of Mahratta countryView from Belmont looking towards the back of the harbour including part of the village of Mazagon, the islands of Carranjar, Elephanta and Butcher bounded by the hills of Mahratta country - from James Wales, Bombay Views: Twelve Views Of The Island Of Bombay And Its Vicinity Taken In The Years 1791 And 1792 Shelfmark: X 436 

At that time, Bombay was under Propaganda or the direct authority of Rome.  Sir Miguel now fell foul of the local authorities.  According to Father Hull, Miguel asked to have a prominent Protestant stand as godfather to his son, and this request was refused as being contrary to Church law.  This apparently was so offensive to Sir Miguel that he set in motion a process with the support of the British both locally and in London, as well as the backing of the Primate of Goa and Lisbon, that led to the transfer of Bombay to the jurisdiction of the Padroado Archbishop of Goa.  This proved unpopular locally with both the foreign elite as well as the lower classes of indigenous Catholics and the decision was reversed.  Miguel however leveraged all his political and social status to reverse this decision in turn and this led to a lot of ecclesiastical turmoil eventually leading to what is called the Double Jurisdiction, with some Churches under Rome and others under Goa.  The resulting bitterness led to a serious rift amongst the Catholic population, both people and priests, with one group of priests coming under the threat of excommunication in what is known as the Salsette schism.

Miguel was the spearhead of the Propaganda party initially, aiming to make the local church self-sustainable by founding a seminary known as the Bombay College on his own property.   But his efforts for local autonomy were not successful and the Propaganda parishes came under the tight control of the authorities of Goa.  There were stories that Miguel later regretted his role in the split and reportedly was reconciled to Rome and Propaganda on his deathbed.  While there is no direct evidence for this, his grandson Miguel de Lima e Souza (Junior) owed allegiance to Propaganda.  But that is another story!

Megan deSouza, independent researcher and blogger
Denis Rodrigues, amateur historian interested in the history of Bombay

Further reading:
The Home People 
Ernest R Hull, Bombay mission-history with a special study of the Padroado question (Bombay, 1927, 1930) British Library shelfmark Asia Pacific & Africa V 2145
The Portuguese Militia in Bombay
British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast

Miguel of Mazagon, Mumbai- Part One

18 November 2021

The danger of supporting German Cathedrals during the Second World War

Showing support for German creations when at war was dangerous, as Sydney Cockerell found out four years into the Second World War.  The former director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge penned a letter to The Times on 10 July 1943 lamenting the damage to Cologne Cathedral made by British forces.  Whilst he wrote that it was probably unavoidable, he argued that as a nation Britain should not be afraid to express regret of damage to historical monuments, even those situated in enemy countries.  The reaction to this statement is contained in dozens of letters sent to him, collected in the British Library’s Modern Archives.

He received numerous statements of support for his view, with many providing detail of the damage sustained.  Others agreed with him that it was probably unavoidable, and even that the Germans may have known that British forces would hesitate to harm such beautiful buildings.  However, other commentators were not so positive, as can be seen in this letter below which assumes he must be ‘a tottering silly old fool for writing such tripe’.

A letter sent from Newark to Cockerell 13 July 1943A letter sent from Newark to Cockerell 13 July 1943 – Add MS 52771 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A harsh reply, but arguably the worst was to follow.  Another man wrote to Cockerell saying ‘people with your namby pamby views are not wanted in this country & are unworthy of the freedom enjoyed here’.  He goes on, ‘You are not fit to be called an “Englishman” & should be denaturalised & sent to Germany…you would promptly be shot, in some ways the Germans know better how to deal with your type’.

A more rational reply was given by an inhabitant of Coventry, arguing that instead of showing support for German cathedrals, he should focus closer to home, specifically on Coventry Cathedral.  She writes of the ’11 hours of diabolical bombing’ which ‘utterly destroyed it’ in November 1940.  Furthermore, her husband was killed that night on duty as an Air Raid Warden, and her home destroyed.  Included with her letter were two postcards showing the damage done.

Interior view of Coventry Cathedral before the bombingCoventry Cathedral before the bombing Add MS 52771, f. 104v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The shell of Coventry Cathedral after the bombingCoventry Cathedral after the bombing Add MS 52771, f. 105v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Following all these replies, Cockerell went on the offensive. In a further letter written to The Times nine days after the initial one, he asserts that ‘fine architecture is part of the common heritage of humanity, irrespective of frontiers’.  He also bemoans the angry replies, arguing if such people would feel no regret if Beethoven or Mozart were forgotten, ‘As patriotic Englishman, should we now repudiate these enemy composers?  Fine architecture is music and rhythm in stone’.  His archive contains many more letters of support than negative replies, though many are keen to stress that damage is often inevitable, a point he himself makes on multiple occasions.

Cockerell would continue to lament damage to historical monuments throughout the War, including Rouen Cathedral.  He received an interesting reply in an unsigned and undated letter: ‘Most people…would rather see a fine, modern power station (the symbol of a full and glowing life for everyone) than an old cathedral (the symbol of an evil past)’.

Whatever the truth of this statement, this short episode shows how expressing support of historical monuments situated in enemy countries was risky and could lead to vitriol and hatred.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University.  His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Letters, original illustrations, photographs, books and leaflets, together with items issued to air raid wardens form part of the Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. The free display gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War.  It runs from 14 September until 11 December 2021. 

Further reading:
Add MS 52771 - Cockerell Papers, Vol, CXLIX, Correspondence rel. to the bombing of Cologne Cathedral, 1943 (ff. 92-122b); Correspondence and photographs rel. to the damage to Rouen Cathedral, 1944 (ff. 123-162).
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Alan Bell, ‘Cockerell, Sir Sydney Carlyle (1867–1962), museum director and book collector’.

 

05 November 2021

Fireworks in India for Queen Victoria

A Royal Proclamation was published in India on 1 November 1858 transferring government from the East India Company to the Crown.  The document, addressed to the Princes, Chiefs, and people of India, was read out in the open in many places in both English and vernacular languages.  Public displays of fireworks and illuminations were organised to celebrate the change.

Copy of the Proclamation by the Queen in Council dated Allahabad 1 November 1858, announcing the transference of the government of India from the East India Company to the CrownCopy of the Proclamation by the Queen in Council dated Allahabad 1 November 1858, announcing the transference of the government of India from the East India Company to the Crown - British Library Mss Eur D620

The transfer of power from the Company to the Crown took place in the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion. Viscount Canning was appointed first Viceroy and Governor General.  The proclamation announced that all Company civil and military personnel were confirmed in post ‘subject to Our future pleasure’.  Treaties and engagements made with Princes of India were to be ‘scrupulously maintained’.  No extension to present British territories was desired and the ‘Rights, Dignity, and Honour’ of the Princes would be respected.  Internal peace and good government would secure social advancement for the whole of India.  The native peoples of British India would be treated with the same obligations of duty as all Queen Victoria’s other subjects.  There was to be no imposition of Christianity, no discrimination on religious grounds, and no interference with belief or worship.  People of any race or creed would be able to hold office if qualified ‘by their education, ability, and integrity’.  Ancient rights, usages and customs would be respected.

The proclamation also spoke of the Rebellion, lamenting ‘the evils and misery which have been brought upon India by the acts of ambitious men’.  Pardons were offered for all ‘Offenders’ except those convicted of ‘having directly taken part in the Murder of British Subjects’.

Viscount Canning presided over the proclamation ceremony at Allahabad, which began with a salute of nineteen guns and the national anthem.  The document was read out in English, followed by an Urdu translation.  A firework display lasted from 8.30pm to nearly midnight – ‘trees of fire, crackers, squibs, whirligigs, and rockets’.

In Calcutta, large numbers of people gathered to hear the proclamation read from the steps of Government House, first in English and then in Bengali.  The royal standard was hoisted, cheered by the Europeans in the crowd.  At night there was a wonderful display of gas light illuminations.  The Homeward Mail was impressed: ‘ No other city in the world could have prepared such a sight... The City of Palaces shone a city of fire… we do not think any pen can paint the beauty of the scene’.  Even the smallest shops were decorated with a few lights.

Crowds flocked to the fort in Bombay to hear the proclamation in English and Marathi.  Ships in the harbour then fired a salute of 101 guns.  The fireworks were on a scale never before seen in Bombay and workmen had spent days constructing elaborate illuminations on government buildings and the private mansions of prominent Indians.  Poor citizens had decorated the narrow streets and alleys.

At Madras the proclamation was read in front of an invited European audience of about 100, and there was a gun salute.  According to The Homeward Mail the only Indian present was the man who translated the document from English.  However a week later there were ‘some bad fireworks’, dancing girls and jugglers, and a state ball at the illuminated banqueting ball.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library Mss Eur D620 Copy of the Proclamation by the Queen in Council dated Allahabad 1 November 1858.
British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast e.g. The Friend of India 4 November 1858; The Homeward Mail 6 December and 15 December 1858; Evening Mail 6 December 1858.

There are a number of files in the India Office Records about public ceremonies held to celebrate the proclamation e.g.
IOR/L/PS/6/495, Coll 76/312 Measures taken to publicize the Royal Proclamation announcing the assumption of the Government of India by the Crown, October 1858-June 1859.
IOR/L/PS/6/463, Coll 36/9 Notification to the Princely States of Northern India of the Royal Proclamation transferring the government of India to the Crown - reports on the public ceremonies held in celebration - complimentary letters from some of the Native Princes, October 1858-January 1859.
IOR/L/PS/6/489, Coll 76/14 Papers relating to the North Western Provinces - expenditure incurred on illuminations in the Rohilkhand Division during the ceremonies accompanying the formal transfer of power from the East India Company to the Queen, November 1858-January 1860.
IOR/L/PS/6/490, Coll 76/46 North Western Provinces - expenditure of 38 rupees 5 annas on illuminations at Jalalabad Fort on the occasion of the reading of the Royal Proclamation, January 1859-January 1860.
IOR/L/PS/6/490, Coll 76/39 North Western Provinces - expenditure of 5446 rupees incurred on providing fireworks and illuminations at Allahabad on the occasion of the reading of the Royal Proclamation, January 1859-January 1860.
IOR/L/PS/6/490, Coll 76/36 North Western Provinces - expenditure of 500 rupees incurred on illuminations and fireworks at Banda during the occasion of the reading of the Royal Proclamation, January 1859-January 1860.

 

23 September 2021

Landscape in law

Archives on the environment appear in unexpected places.

Under the Permanent Settlement of 1793, India’s British rulers fixed the taxes which land-holders in certain regions paid on their land.  But land itself was not permanent.  Across the Sub-continent, rivers and their tributaries were constantly changing the landscape.   They flooded, dried up, and changed course.  They submerged some areas and exposed others; they created bogs, swamps and marshes which were neither land nor water.  Little wonder that colonial officials, intent on extracting revenue from the land, described India’s rivers variously as ‘mischievous’, ‘unruly’ or ‘evil’.

If a change in the river created more land on your land, should you pay more tax?  This was the question facing the Maharajah Jagadindra Nath Roy Bahadoor in 1892, after the great Brahmaputra had changed course and new land had emerged on his estates in Bengal.  No, said the Maharajah: the land, although under water before, had always been there.  Yes, said the government: new land above water was just that - new.

The Maharajah took the government to court.  By 1902 the case had escalated through the High Court of Bengal to the final court of appeal, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.  Archives about the case survive in the records of the Legal Adviser to the India Office, who acted for the Secretary of State for India.  The Committee found in the government’s favour: you can read the judgment here.

On points of law, the case attracted a certain interest; it is summarised in Indian Appeals.  But what draws the attention now are the maps prepared for the earlier hearings.  Twenty maps show the disputed land at different times in the 19th century.  Some are prepared from old survey maps; others are composites, telling the story on a single sheet like this example below.  It shows the river’s course in 1892 [A] superimposed on its course as measured out in 1852 [B].  The new land is marked out in yellow, with patches of jungle and sand drawn in.

Map of Mouza Garamara, 1895. Map of Mouza Garamara, 1895. Map no 18 in IOR/L/L/8/78 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Bengal the Maharajah had also called witnesses, and their recollections fill out the scene.  'The lands were washed away by the river in eight or nine years.  The river remained current on the spots for a year or two, then receded towards the north.'  ' have seen jute, aus [rice], paddy and mustard being grown upon the land.'

We are currently cataloguing the Legal Adviser’s records and have found other lawsuits arising from changes in river courses.  This is a map from an Appeal of 1928 (for parties and judgment see here).

Comparative Map of Kalaran Chandipur, 1919Comparative Map of Kalaran Chandipur, 1919. Map no 5 in IOR/L/L 26G (210) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These maps and testimonies must have given a diverting glimpse of the natural world to the Privy Councillors while they sat in their Council chamber at no 9 Downing Street.  Today, the documents catch the eye again, especially for anyone interested in the historical river-scape of the Bengal delta.

Antonia Moon
Lead Curator, India Office Records


Further reading
IOR/L/L/8/78; IOR/L/L (Box 26G (210))
For the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and related British Library holdings, see here
Sunil Amrith, Unruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, Coasts and Seas Have Shaped Asia’s History (London: Penguin Books, 2018)
Rohan D'Souza, “Mischievous Rivers and Evil Shoals: the English East India Company and the Colonial Resource Regime”, in The East India Company and the natural world ed. by Vinita Damodaran, Anna Winterbottom and Alan Lester (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
The Law Reports. Indian Appeals: being cases in the Privy Council on appeal from the East Indies. Reported by W. Macpherson, vol. 30 (London: Council of Law Reporting, 1903)

 

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