Untold lives blog

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214 posts categorized "Conflict"

13 July 2023

Deefholts: An Anglo-Indian Family of Public Servants in Calcutta

In 1947 the Indian Independence Act  was passed by Parliament.  This ended decades of colonial rule in India and paved the way to Partition.  In November 1960, unrest and violence forced my family to leave Calcutta (Kolkata) permanently.

Great-grandparents Cyril Brian and Maureen and great uncle Hans on the ship Indian Resource from Calcutta to LiverpoolMy great-grandparents Cyril Brian and Maureen and great uncle Hans on the ship Indian Resource from Calcutta to Liverpool

Great uncles Stephen and Hans  and grandfather Gerald on the Indian ResourceMy great uncles Stephen and Hans, and grandfather Gerald on the Indian Resource

My Deefholts ancestors have mainly served in government and legal affairs, customer service, international trade and engineering.  We are today an Anglo-Indian family of public servants with roots in Calcutta and ties to a unique culture which is fading away.  Anglo-Indians are citizens of mixed Indian and European ancestry.

I traced my ancestral roots using the catalogues and collections at the British Library in London. The India Office Records document British rule in India and the lives of Anglo-Indians.

The documents pictured below show correspondence conducted by an ancestor in Bengal.  In 1850 and 1854, petitions about financial matters were submitted by Richard Deefholts, an assistant in the Bengal Secretariat Office.  Then, in 1856, a financial agreement was reached between him and the East India Company in London.

Richard Deefholts' financial petition 1854


Richard Deefholts' financial petition 1856Documents about Richard Deefholts’ petition 1854 & 1856 - IOR/E/4/824 and IOR/E/4/834

My great-grandfather Cyril Brian Deefholts was a superintendent for the British trade and shipping operations in Calcutta. He began his career in the war as a pilot for the Indian Army and then worked as a civil servant.

Great-grandparents Cyril Brian and Maureen on a car tripMy great-grandparents on a car trip

Cyril Brian dressed in his army uniformCyril Brian dressed in his army uniform

I discovered tales about my ancestors in The Times of India newspaper that have revealed significant detail and amusing stories about the civic duties and private lives of my ancestors.  They were cricket players, hockey enthusiasts, civil servants, customs officers, and local merchants.  In 1847, ‘two young Bengalee Baboos’ persuaded Robert Horatio Deefholts, Head Clerk, to interfere with the mail and leak examination questions.  On 29 October 1885, The Times of India reported on ‘An event of unusual interest – the golden wedding of one of the most esteemed couples – Mr and Mrs. Richard Deefholts’.  The East Indian Railway Customs Team had its own Deefholts sports stars – C. and E. Deefholts.

Great uncle Stephen and grandfather Gerald with Cyril Brian's hockey sticksMy great uncle Stephen and grandfather Gerald with Cyril Brian's hockey sticks

Great-great grandparents celebrating at a family birthday partyMy great-great grandparents (centre left) celebrating at a family birthday party

Grreat-grandmother celebrating with family and friendsMy great-grandmother (top right corner) celebrating with family and friends

Discovering these documents and articles makes me feel proud to be a Deefholts.  The recent passing of my grandfather and great-grandmother marked the end of an era.  I want my archival research to save our culture from extinction and keep it alive for generations to come.  There is an opportunity to talk about the overlooked role of Anglo-Indians in British society, and the dispersal of our community across the Commonwealth.

Daniel Deefholts
Civil Servant
Creative Commons Attribution licence

Acknowledgements: This blog post was written in memory of Gerald and Maureen Deefholts.  Thank you to my mother Sarah for helping me select the photographs that illustrate this blog post.

Further reading:
British Library IOR/E/4/824 and IOR/E/4/834 - Documents about Richard Deefholts’ petition 1854 & 1856.
‘A Golden Wedding’ - The Times of India 29 October 1885, p.5.
‘Sporting News: East Indian Railway Win Beighton Cup - Customs Beaten’ - The Times of India 30 April 1929, p.11.
‘Calcutta Matriculation Students’ - The Times of India 14 December 1874, p.4.
London Gazette 15 March 1850, p.807. 


22 June 2023

The actor, the fascist, and the reincarnated queen

That is not the title of an unrealised Peter Greenaway film, nor the pub-going cast list of the opening line to a joke, but three roles occupied by Mary Taviner (1909-1972).

Photograph of Mary Taviner in about 1939Mary Taviner, c. 1939. British Library Add MS 89481/10, f. 50

Taviner’s acting career comprised just four films (one of which was as a nine-year-old).  Contemporary and modern critics agree that there was nothing wrong with these melodramatic stories of ghosts, spies, and murder, apart from the acting, the plots, and the scripts that is!  Her stage career lasted longer; from a 1924 London production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she continued to work until the year of her death.  Again, notices were mixed.  Her only cheerleaders seem to be have been her local newspapers, basking in the glory of having a ‘star’ in their neighbourhood.

Politically, Taviner was on the far-right.  She was a pre-war member of the British Union of Fascists and appeared in a production staged by the Never Again Association, a front for extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism.  Her 1954 film The Devil’s Jest was a vehicle for her view that Britain and Germany should have allied against communism rather than fight each other.  She even sported an Iron Cross on a bracelet.

Taviner had a confused relationship with leading fascists.  She fell in love with Oswald Mosley only to later unsuccessfully sue him for breach of promise.  In this action she enlisted the help of William Joyce (later known as Lord Haw-Haw), who had fallen out with Mosley in 1937.  Yet she later turned on Joyce, accusing him of running a 300-strong pre-war spy ring under the noses of the intelligence services.

She was still working for the fascist cause in the 1960s, and was involved with the White Defence League, Mosley’s Union Movement, and the Young Britain Movement, closely linked to the UM.  She tried to organise a conference of European fascists in Marylebone only for the local council to ban it and she stood as a UM candidate in the Kensington borough elections in 1962 but mustered just 78 votes.

What of that third role Taviner inhabited?  Her claim to be the reincarnation of Mary, Queen of Scots, (she even had her portrait painted as the queen) was the pinnacle of her many fantastical claims about herself.  She claimed her mother was the offspring of German and British aristocrats; she was not.  Taviner styled herself Baroness Marovna, the widow of a scion of the Romanovs, but no such barony existed.  She was supposedly elected spiritual leader of Scotland by an organisation that has left no trace of its existence.  She claimed to have worked in British intelligence during the war; she had not.  Her story about Joyce’s spy ring was a fiction.  All these tales smack of Taviner trying to make herself more interesting to producers and directors.

Despite such an interesting life she remains a peripheral figure.  Her death went almost unnoticed; even The Stage, the theatre’s leading newspaper, missed it.  She is not mentioned in the books written by or about the actors and directors she worked with and there are only passing mentions in a tiny fraction of the books written about British fascists and fascism.

Michael St John-Mcalister
Manuscripts Catalogue and Process Manager

Further reading:
Facts, Fictions, and Fascism: A Life of Actor Mary Taviner (1909–1972), 

Add MS 89481/10


13 June 2023

Medical equipment required for a military expedition: doolies, dandies and kujawahs

In any military expedition, the logistics of supply and transport are crucial to the success of the endeavour.  One report in the India Office Records gives a flavour of this as it relates to transport of the sick and wounded.  The report is in a thick volume of papers relating to the Abyssinia Expedition of 1868. 
Opening page of Report on Camp Equipage and Sick Carriage ‘Report on Camp Equipage and Sick Carriage’,  1 June 1868 - IOR/L/MIL/5/542
The ‘Report on Camp Equipage and Sick Carriage’, dated 1 June 1868, was written by Captain Holland, Assistant Quarter Master, General Army Headquarters, Abyssinia Field Force.  It lists the numbers of the various different types of sick carriage despatched for the Expedition as follows: 401 doolies, 40 ambulances, 241 kujawahs, 175 camel saddles, 144 mule pads and 128 stretchers.  There were also 39 European hospital tents and 50 hospital marquees.  Plus, an additional 8 swing cots, 128 dandies and 2129 McGuire’s hammocks for the conveyance of the sick and wounded.  Interestingly, the report gives brief descriptions of all these types of carriage, and some even have little sketches showing what they looked like.
Sketch of a doolieSketch of a doolie IOR/L/MIL/5/542
Doolies: very much used in India, they weighed 123lbs, were made of teak with cane bottoms and short legs suspended from a bamboo pole by a light iron framework, and covered by waterproof canvas.  Usually carried in India by six bearers, their weight and bulk made them unfit for service in hilly country without roads. 
Ambulances: drawn by bullocks, they were heavy and were only fit for use on roads. 
Sketch of a dandieSketch of a dandie IOR/L/MIL/5/542
Dandies: consisted of a light wooden framework with a cane bottom with two pieces of iron at either end supporting the bamboo pole. Weighing 54lbs, they had nearly all the advantages of a doolie, their portability making them more suitable over bad roads in hilly country. Fastening a blanket across the pole made a temporary cover.
Sketches of a swing cot and a hammockSketches of a swing cot and a hammock IOR/L/MIL/5/542
Swing cots: a framework of light wood covered with canvas, the whole being supported by a bamboo pole, they weighed 45lbs, and only required four bearers. Well adapted for carrying men suffering from slight ailments or injuries, but not suitable as sleeping cots, and uncomfortable for patients when placed on the ground, especially in wet weather. 
Hammocks: very useful for carrying men who fell out of the line of march from fatigue or temporary ailments, but not adapted for wounded men or for patients suffering from serious illnesses.  Same disadvantage as swing cots in not being placed on the ground in wet weather. 
Kujawahs (camel chair): used for the conveyance of two sick men on each camel.  A good means of conveyance for sick men in a camel country.  However, gave no protection from the sun or rain.  Similarly, camel saddles afforded conveyance for two men sitting astride on each camel.  Fitted with good backs, and in camel country they were a very suitable means of conveyance for men suffering from fatigue or slight ailments, and who were able to sit up. 
Mule pads: weighing 35lbs, generally used for the conveyance of men who had fallen out of the line of march. 
The report also gave details of the different types of camp tents used by the Expedition Force:
155 European soldier double poled tents.
312 European soldier single poled tents
863 Native soldier double poled tents
329 Native soldier single poled tents
323 English circular double fly tents
676 English circular single fly tents. 
John O’Brien 
India Office Records
Further Reading:  
Abyssinia Expeditionary Force 1867-1868: Letters and enclosures from Lord Napier, December 1867-November 1868, shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/5/542. 


06 June 2023

Papers of Sir William Hay Macnaghten and Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten

A recently catalogued collection of India Office Private Papers is now available to researchers in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room.  This consists of papers relating to Sir William Hay Macnaghten, Bengal Civil Service 1814-1841; and Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten, Judge of the Supreme Court of Madras 1809-1815 and Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William 1815-1825.

Surrender of Dost Mahommed Khan to Sir William Hay Macnaghten Bart  at the entrance into Caubul from Killa-Kazee.'Surrender of Dost Mahommed Khan to Sir William Hay Macnaghten Bart at the entrance into Caubul from Killa-Kazee' from James Atkinson, Sketches in Afghaunistan British Library X812 Images Online

In 1838, Sir William Hay Macnaghten was appointed Envoy and Minister at the Afghan Court of Shah Shuja.  The mission to Afghanistan ended in disaster and the collection contains many papers relating to the death of Sir William at Kabul on 23 December 1841 during the first Anglo-Afghan war.  Included is Lady Frances Macnaghten's claim for compensation and a copy of a letter from Captain Lawrence giving an account of the death of Macnaghten and the retreat from Kabul.

First page of note written by Eldred Pottinger
Second page of note written by Eldred PottingerNote written by Eldred Pottinger Mss Eur F760/1

There is also a copy of a note written by Eldred Pottinger, the political officer who succeeded to the position of Envoy on Macnaghten’s death. In the note, he described the desperate situation of the Kabul garrison: ‘Macnaghten was called out to a Conference and murdered….we are to fall back on Jalalabad tomorrow or the next day – in the present disturbed state of the country we may expect opposition on the road – and we are likely to suffer much from the cold and hunger as we expect to have no carriage for tents or superfluities.’  He reported that he had taken charge of the mission and that ‘The cantonment is now attacked’.

Sir William’s father was Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten, appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of Madras in 1809. The collection contains a journal written by Sir Francis from this period in his life.  He began writing the journal while on board the ship Bucephalus, which left Portsmouth on 15 November 1809 and arrived at Madras on 25 April 1810. He explained, ‘These notes and memoranda were written on ship board as the matter of them occurred to my memory. They were mainly intended to express for my own use the facts and my feelings upon them. Should they fall into other hands they will I trust be treated accordingly’.

Sketch of a water spout  Mss Eur F760-2Macnaghten's sketch of a water spout Mss Eur F760/2

The journal includes an account of the circumstances of Macnaghten's appointment to the post of Judge at the Supreme Court of Madras, preparations for leaving England, and the voyage to Madras. The journal ends with his being sworn in as a judge on the bench at Fort St George and paying a formal visit to the Nabob of the Carnatic. He includes such information as the fees of a knighthood and some facts on the Bucephalus. Macnaghten also drew a sketch of a water spout which the ship encountered along the way. He described that on 16 December 1809: ‘Saw a water spout. The store ship which we had under convoy fired a gun at it and we saw it regularly dispersing – It emptied itself regularly from its bottom or lower part and we perceived the sea where it fell very much affected by it. It had the appearance of smoke rising from a distant fire’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers relating to Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten (1763-1843), Judge of the Supreme Court of Madras 1809-1815, Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, Bengal 1815-1825; Sir William Hay Macnaghten, Bart (1793-1841), Madras Army 1809, Bengal Civil Service 1814-41, Envoy and Minister at the Afghan Court of Shah Shuja from 1838; and other members of the Macnaghten family, collection reference Mss Eur F760, available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogue is searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

Other Macnaghten papers at the British Library:
• Addresses presented to Sir Francis Workman-Macnaghten (1763-1843), Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, Bengal, on his retirement and departure for Europe, 1822, shelfmark Mss Eur F718.
• Letter book, dated Feb 1839-Mar 1841, of Sir William Hay Macnaghten containing copies of his letters to the Governor-General Lord Auckland, and other British civil and military officers, on foreign political and administrative matters, and in particular on policy towards Afghanistan, shelfmark Mss Eur F336.


23 May 2023

Robert Clive: From Hero to Villain

During Robert Clive’s lifetime, the East India Company commissioned two portraits showing him as a hero.  The first of these, a marble statue of Clive in Roman military costume, was installed in 1764 inside East India House, their headquarters in London.  It was one of four marble portrait statues commissioned by the Company in 1760 of men dressed as Romans.  These neo-classical statues showed the Company as the conqueror of a new Asian empire, with London at its centre.

Statue of Robert Clive in Roman military costumeStatue of Robert Clive in Roman military costume.  Peter Scheemakers, 1764. British Library, Foster 53.  Today, the statue is in Britain’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.

Less than a decade later, Robert Clive’s reputation as a hero had collapsed.  In the late 1760s he returned to Britain, bringing with him a staggering personal fortune that he had amassed in Bengal.  Regarded as one of the richest men in Europe, he conspicuously bought properties in England and Wales, and spared no expense on rebuilding and furnishing these new residences.  Clive’s spending spree coincided with reports of the Bengal Famine, a catastrophe that killed about 10 million people.  The source of Clive’s fortune came under scrutiny and his character was aggressively criticised by the British public.

In May 1771, Town & Country, a satirical magazine, published a searing memoir of Robert Clive which named him 'Nero Asiaticus', who had 'fleeced the Asiatics as much as he was able'.  This alias compared him to the insane emperor who watched Rome burn to the ground.  The comparison was derived from the marble statue of Robert Clive in Roman dress inside East India House.

Robert Clive receiving from the Nawab of Bengal the grant for Lord Clive’s Military Fund.Robert Clive receiving from the Nawab of Bengal the grant for Lord Clive’s Military Fund. Edward Penny, 1772. British Library, Foster 91. Today, the painting is in the Asia & Africa Reading Room of the British Library.

Perhaps to heal his toxifying reputation, the East India Company commissioned Edward Penny, the Royal Academy’s first 'Professor of Painting', to create the second artwork of Robert Clive, this time showing him performing a heroic deed.  Titled 'Lord Clive explaining to the Nabob the situation of the invalids in India', the painting shows him with the Nawab of Bengal, at the alleged moment when the East India Company’s Military Fund was founded.  In the background are the fund’s intended recipients.  On the right is a group of needy soldiers and at the centre, a beautiful young widow sits, surrounded by children.  The painting was completed in 1772 and exhibited in the Royal Academy’s annual show before being moved to East India House.

'The India Directors in the Suds.''The India Directors in the Suds.' Town & Country, December 1772. The cartoon is accompanied by a descriptive text.

The Royal Academy’s annual shows were busy, popular public events.  Edward Penny’s painting of Clive would have been seen by thousands of people.  One of those people happened to be a cartoonist who worked for Town & Country magazine.  The resulting cartoon, titled 'The India Directors in the Suds' (suds being a euphemism for excrement), was published later that same year.  In place of the Nawab of Bengal and his entourage, it shows a procession of Indian ghosts who represent the Bengal Famine’s victims.  A terrified Robert Clive is shown leaping backwards.   Behind him, in place of the invalids and the widow, the East India Company’s directors stare at the scene.

Artworks like these demonstrate how the East India Company tried to cultivate a strong, positive reputation in London by commissioning artworks.  However, such manoeuvring, particularly in Georgian London’s critical atmosphere, could also backfire.

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
Anonymous. 'Memoirs of a Nabob.' Town & Country, London, May 1771: 255-256.
Anonymous. 'The India Directors in the Suds or the Jaghire Factor Dismayed at the Ghosts of the Black Merchants.' Town & Country, London, December 1772: 705-706.
Hazzard, Kieran. 'The Clives at Home: Self-fashioning, Collecting, and British India.' In Coutu, Joan. Politics and the English Country House, 1688-1800. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, February 2023.
Howes, Jennifer. The Art of a Corporation: The East India Company as Patron and Collector. New Delhi: Routledge, April 2023 


21 April 2023

Misbehaviour in the Bombay Army

‘He had countenanced intemperance and unbecoming conduct among the Officers of the Regiment under his Command by permitting, unchecked and unpunished, […] instances of drunkenness and impropriety, degrading to gentlemen, and ruinous to discipline.’

In February 1854, Lt Col Thomas Gidley was found guilty of gross dereliction of duty during the previous year whilst the Commanding Officer of the East India Company’s 15th Bombay Native Infantry stationed at Bhooj.  Between January and August 1853, Gidley had allowed his officers imbibe to excess both inside and outside the Regimental confines.  He was court-martialled and struck off the strength of the Army.

The ‘Bhooj Revellers’ were Lieutenants Lewis Bingley Comyn and Robert Laurie; Ensigns Frederick James Loft, George Scrope Hammond and Thomas Degennes Fraser; and Surgeon Henry Rodney Elliot.  Their indiscretions were:
• Elliott being drunk and using indecent language at a dinner party given by the Political Agent in Cutch.
• Comyn being drunk when attending the Durbar of His Highness the Rao of Cutch.
• Loft being drunk at a dinner party given by the Political Agent of Cutch.
• Elliott, Loft and Hammond being drunk at a nautch.
• Elliott being drunk, attending Ensign Cole in a medical capacity, having come from Gidley’s house.
• Laurie being drunk in the billiard room.
• Loft being drunk at Gidley’s house whilst Duty Officer.
• Two instances at the billiard room involving inappropriate behaviour.

Photograph of the durbar hall in the palace at Bhuj  GujaratPhotograph of the durbar hall in the palace at Bhooj [Bhuj ]in Gujarat taken by an unknown photographer during the late 1870s -British Library Photo 125/3(10)

The whistleblower reporting these breaches of military discipline was Lt Frederick Alexander Campbell Kane who had joined the 15th Bombay Native Infantry in 1839.  In May 1850 he was appointed as Assistant Magistrate in Khandeish Collectorate.  There he pursued criminals with ‘commendable zeal’.  Two years later he was relieved of these duties because, according to the Bombay Gazette, ‘he had the misfortune to bring down the displeasure of the Government on him’.  Kane rejoined his regiment in March 1853 as Adjutant, the administrative right-hand man to the Commander.  Kane proceeded over the next six months to note the indiscretions of his Commander and fellow officers.

Surgeon Elliot died before he could be disciplined.  Bombay General Orders dated 27 September 1853 recorded that Elliot was indisposed and temporarily relieved of his duties.  He died on 17 October.  By 11 November, Gidley was under arrest, and on 15 November Kane was promoted to Captain.

At Gidley’s court-martial in February 1854, Comyn, Laurie, Loft, Hammond and Fraser all perjured themselves in giving evidence supporting Gidley.  They subsequently each faced a court-martial.  All were found guilty and cashiered in May 1854 except Fraser, whose sentence was commuted for reasons which are unclear.

East India Register 1855 - Bombay Army casualitiesEast India Register 1855 – Bombay Army Casualties

Six weeks later, Lt Albert George Thompson was also cashiered.  At his court-martial he was charged with insubordination and insulting behaviour for declaring to Kane, who was in command of the firing party at Elliot’s funeral, ‘You, sir, are partly the cause of the doctor’s death’.

Gidley, in allowing a culture of excessive drinking and personal approbation, and Kane, seemingly pursuing some sort of moral crusade perhaps to regain personal standing, had brought about the downfall of five young officers. One of them suffered an untimely death: Robert Laurie returned to England and died in 1856 at the age of 32 at his parents' home in Bristol.

Mark Williams
Independent researcher

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
Bombay Gazette via British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast)
Bombay Army General Orders 1853-1854 IOR/L/MIL/17/4/423-424.


12 April 2023

Preventing revel-rout - musicians banned from an East India Company voyage

On 31 December 1713 Thomas Woolley, Secretary to the East India Company, wrote to agent Richard Knight at Deal in Kent where ships were preparing to sail to Asia.  A number of Company directors had ordered Woolley to inform Knight that the supercargoes (merchants) of the ship Hester had several fiddlers with them and intended to take them on the voyage to China.  The directors were very concerned as they had already heard of a revel-rout at Deal caused by the presence of the fiddlers.

Fiddler playing on deck of a ship whilst fellow sailors dance‘The fun got fast and furious’ from Gordon Staples, Exiles of Fortune. A tale of a far north land (London, 1890) British Library Digital Store 012632.g.29 BL flickr 

Knight was to inform the directors of what he knew about the matter or what he could discover.  He was also to tell the supercargoes that they were not to attempt to take fiddlers or any other musicians on the voyage.  Charles Kesar, captain of the Hester, was not to receive on board for the voyage anyone but the ship’s company and others authorised in writing by the Company.  When Knight mustered all the men, he was to check whether any were musicians.  Woolley supposed that the directors would not object to the captain carrying a trumpeter or two and perhaps just one fiddler.

The next day Woolley wrote to supercargoes Philip Middleton, James Naish and Richard Hollond.  The directors had not thought Woolley’s letter to Knight sufficient and ordered him to tell the supercargoes that the Company was very concerned about their management and expected them, especially Naish, to clear themselves of the report if in any way untrue.  From what the directors had heard, the beginnings of their management were a very ‘ill specimen’ of what was expected and it would take an extraordinary future performance to erase them. The supercargoes’ friends would be concerned that they had placed their favours on men who would not use their best endeavours to deserve them but, on the contrary, seemed careless about this.  Woolley said he was sorry to hear the report and hoped their future deportment would show that, if they had no thoughts of their own reputation, they would at least do nothing unworthy of the good intentions of the gentlemen who recommended them to the Company.  He ended by repeating that the directors positively forbade them carrying those fiddlers or any other musicians in the Hester.

On 3 January 1714 Middleton, Naish and Hollond replied to the directors protesting their innocence.  They said that they were ‘much Surprized to hear of Entertaining Fidlers and the Revel Rout occation’d thereby’ as they had not heard the sound of an instrument since leaving London.  However they were glad to know the Company’s ‘Pleasure in this perticular’ and would hold this in as great a regard as any other command.  The reports were groundless and the supercargoes aimed to obey every order and behave in a way conformable to the directors’ ‘good liking’.  It seemed that Naish especially was expected to clear himself, so he declared that he had not, nor intended, to entertain any fiddler or other musician to go on the voyage.

Richard Hollond's letter to the East India Company apologising for exceeding his private trade allowance IOR/E/1/6/ f.249 Richard Hollond’s letter to the East India Company apologising for exceeding his private trade allowance, November 1715

Middleton, Naish and Hollond found themselves again in trouble with the Company on their return from the voyage to China in 1715.  All three men had exceeded their allowances for private trade and wrote asking for forgiveness.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/200 pp.75-78 Letters from Thomas Woolley about musicians at Deal, December 1713 and January 1714.
IOR/E/1/5 ff. 1-4v Letter to Company from Middleton, Naish and Hollond 3 January 1714.
IOR/E/1/6 – letters from Middleton, Naish and Hollond about their private trade allowances, 1715.


06 April 2023

The disastrous paintings of Richard Greenbury

Richard Greenbury was an artist and decorator of furniture in early 17th century London.  In the 1620s, he received two important painting commissions from the East India Company.  Both documented incidents of treachery and suffering.

The first commission showed an odious moment of horror on the Indonesian island of Ambon.  In this faraway place, the East India Company was exporting spices alongside a larger, more established Dutch trading station.  In 1623, the Dutch tortured to death ten Englishmen at Ambon, claiming that they were going to invade the Dutch fort.  News of this event sparked a diplomatic incident in Europe.  In London, the East India Company published a pamphlet telling its side of the story, titled A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna.

Frontispiece of the East India Company’s pamphlet  'A True Relation of the Unjust  Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at AmboynaFrontispiece of the East India Company’s pamphlet, A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna.  The illustration on the left might have been the basis for Richard Greenbury’s painting. (British Library, T39923)

Richard Greenbury’s painting of the event, titled 'The Atrocities at Amboyna', was so graphic that the Company had to ask him to repaint part of it.  Crowds flocked to the painter’s studio to see it before it was finished.  One woman, purportedly a widow of one of the massacred Englishmen, fainted when she saw it.  It stirred such outrage that London’s Dutch citizens had to appeal to the Privy Council of King Charles I for protection from the furious public.  In February 1625 the completed painting went on display inside the East India Company’s headquarters, but only two weeks later, it was removed by order of the king and never seen again.  It was most likely destroyed by order of the Privy Council.  Reluctant to pay for a vanished painting, the East India Company eventually gave Greenbury less than half the amount of money he expected to receive.

Portrait of Naq’d Ali Beg by Richard GreenburyPortrait of Naq’d Ali Beg by Richard Greenbury (British Library, Foster 23)

The Company then gave Greenbury another commission.  This time, it wanted a pair of portraits of Naq’d Ali Beg, a trade ambassador from the court of Shah Abbas of Persia.  Unfortunately, this exotic young man’s stay in London was fraught with scandals, and he was ordered by King Charles I to return to the court of Shah Abbas.  Unable to bear the embassy’s failure, Naq’d Ali Beg committed suicide during the journey back to Persia in 1627.  Even though the East India Company contributed to the Persian ambassador’s disgrace, Greenbury’s portrait was displayed inside its headquarters in London.  Today, that same painting is part of the British Library’s permanent collections.

The disastrous subject matter of Greenbury’s paintings highlights the instability and sloppy diplomacy that the East India Company somehow survived in the 17th century.  One hundred years later, a new, relatively stable United East India Company emerged.  By the late 18th century it was a systemic part of Britain’s economy and a prolific corporate patron of British art.

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
East India Company. A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna. London: Nathaniel Newberry, 1624.
Howes, Jennifer. 'Chaos to Confidence'. Chapter one in Howes, J. The Art of a Corporation: The East India Company as Patron and Collector, 1600-1860. New Delhi: Routledge, April 2023. 


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