Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

216 posts categorized "Conflict"

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.

CC-BY
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. 

 

14 March 2023

From Chester to Mesopotamia: Thomas Crawford of the Royal Welch Fusiliers

When sixteen-year-old Thomas John Crawford joined the Second Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers in August 1906 he was escaping a turbulent home life.  His parents Clara (née Jones) and Alfred were married on 8 July 1888 in Chester, and daughter Annie arrived later that year.  Thomas was born in Chester in 1890, younger brother William in Liverpool in 1894.  By this point, the marriage was at breaking point, and Alfred deserted his wife and children, leaving Clara to apply for poor relief.

Report of Alfred Crawford's court case from Chester Chronicle 13 August 1898

Report of Alfred Crawford's court case, British Newspaper Archive Chester Chronicle 13 August 1898

In 1897, after dodging the law, Alfred appeared at Chester Petty Sessions and was sentenced to two months in jail.  The Justices were outraged at ‘one of the worst cases ever brought before them’ - Crawford earned a decent salary of around £2 per week as a compositor while his wife was claiming poor relief.  However the prison sentence was not enough to persuade Crawford to support his family, and he was sentenced to three months’ hard labour in August 1898.  By 1901 he had moved to Wales, and spent the period from 1911 to his death in 1925 as a ‘single’ man living in a boarding house in Warrington.  Clara moved on with her life, ‘marrying’ Samuel Griffiths in 1901 and starting another family.  As an abandoned wife she must have felt morally, if not legally, justified in marrying again.

Photo of Quetta cantonment early 1890s Photograph of Quetta cantonment early 1890s - British Library IOR/L/MIL/7/6553

Thomas Crawford headed overseas, arriving in Shwebo, Burma, in early 1908.  On 31 December 1910, he left Rangoon for Karachi, en route for Quetta, Balochistan.  The Royal Welch took part in the series of events connected with the visit of George V and Queen Mary in that year, including the Coronation Durbar.  The Regimental Records of the Royal Welch state: ‘The Battalion is doing well and is very efficient… Men are clean, healthy and cheerful. There is a tremendous esprit de corps… I consider the Battalion has improved much during its stay in Quetta’.  Thomas’s service record shows a charge against him for neglect of duty, insubordination, and being absent from parade in November 1911, so perhaps Quetta did not improve him personally!  Despite this blemish, he is described as ‘Honest, sober and thoroughly reliable’.

Thomas Crawford 's regimental defaulter sheetDefaulter sheet from the service record of Thomas John Crawford, UK British Army World War I Service Records 1914-1920, The National Archives WO 363

Thomas returned from India in March 1913, transferring to the Army Reserve.  He married his cousin Elsie Maud Jones in July 1914, but Thomas, like many of the Royal Welch reservists, re-enlisted in early August 1914.  He was immediately sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force, serving there for two periods during 1914 and mid-1915, before being shot in the thigh and returning home to recuperate.

October 1915 saw Thomas leave for the Mesopotamia campaign, and by February 1916 he was in Basra.  A report describes the conditions: ‘The whole theatre of operations is as flat as a billiard table. It is impossible to locate one’s position except by compass bearing and pacing.  This induces in the individual a sense of isolation and an impotent feeling of being lost.  The mirage also distorts and confuses all objects…Man in these surroundings feels like an ant on a skating rink… Under the effect of rain or flood the country is turned into a bog of particularly tenacious mud’.  Thomas went missing in action on 9 April 1916 - his body could not be found.  His death was formally certified at Basra on 28 August 1917.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
Reports of Alfred Crawford’s desertion of his wife and family can be found in the Chester Chronicle, 25 December 1897, 18 June 1898 and 13 August 1898, available at the British Newspaper Archive, also via www.findmypast.co.uk.
Regimental Records of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, late the 23rd Foot. Compiled by A. D. L. Cary ... & Stouppe McCance, 4 vols. (London: Royal United Service Institution, 1921-29) - quote from p.326.
IOR/L/MIL/7/6553: Defensive works in Quetta: plans and photographs 1888-1891.
New Horizons Volume 2 Number 1 2008 Cadet Gregory E. Lippiatt ‘No More Quetta Manners: The Social Evolution of the Royal Welch Fusiliers on the Western Front’.
IOR/l/MIL/15/72/1: Critical Study of the Campaign in Mesopotamia up to April 1917, Part I Report (Calcutta; Government of India Press, 1925) - quote from p.66.
1911 Census records the 300 men of the Second Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers at the Roberts Barracks, Quetta.  Available via www.findmypast.co.uk and www.ancestry.co.uk. 

 

01 February 2023

George Edward Dessa: Lord Lytton’s Would-be Assassin

In a previous blog post I wrote of an assassination attempt on Lord Lytton, Viceroy of India.  I was asked if I could find out more about George Edward Dessa (sometimes written De Sa), the would-be assassin.

Contemporary press reports follow Dessa’s arrest in December 1879, his trial in 1880, and his subsequent transfer to Bhowanipore (Bhawanipur) Lunatic Asylum, as he was deemed to be mentally ill.  Press accounts paint a picture of a confused individual who held a grudge against the Government, believing it to owe him money as compensation for wrongful imprisonment.  The language used is somewhat lurid.  George appears to have stayed at Bhowanipore as a long-term patient.  Our records show that George died there of heart failure on 8 February 1913, age 68, and was buried at the Roman Catholic Military Cemetery at Fort William, Calcutta.

Burial entry for George Edward Dessa 9 February 1913Burial entry for George Edward Dessa 9 February 1913 IOR/N/1/387 page 229  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Originally a private institution, Bhowanipore was managed by the Bengal Government as an asylum for Europeans and those of European descent.  A report giving a snapshot of conditions at Bhowanipore in 1887 can be found online and Annual Reports have been digitised by the National Library of Scotland

File cover of IOR/L/PJ/6/7 File 339 ‘Case of G E Dessa: Attempted Murder of Viceroy of India and Col Sir George Colley’File cover of IOR/L/PJ/6/7 File 339 ‘Case of G E Dessa: Attempted Murder of Viceroy of India and Col Sir George Colley’  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Delving deeper, there is a file on George Dessa in the Public and Judicial Department records, which includes accounts given by his father, George Henry Dessa, and his brother William David Dessa.  What emerges is a picture of a family divided and torn by long-term mental health issues.  The father recounts how his son suffered bouts of ‘insanity’ from an early age, including hallucinations and paranoia.  Attempts to secure him work, including on the East Indian Railway, had all ended in dismissal due to ‘mental unsoundness’.  George’s last job at the Preventative Service, Customs Department, ended with him threatening to shoot his supervisor.  A brief spell in the Benares Lunatic Asylum followed.  His fixation with compensation from the Government stemmed from this ‘imprisonment’.  As well as threats to harm others, George had attempted to harm himself on at least two occasions by taking large doses of opium.  George senior describes how his son was no longer able to live with him: ‘I would not let him live with me because I was afraid of him… at times he is dangerous, but has lucid intervals’.  His brother William felt no longer able to speak to him.

Statement by William Dessa 23 December 1879Statement by William Dessa 23 December 1879 IOR/L/PJ/6/7 File 339  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is clear from the accounts that the family firmly believed Dessa’s mental health struggles were genetic.  In the language of the day, George Henry Dessa described how his youngest (unnamed) son had died aged 12 ‘an idiot’, while his wife, Ann Elizabeth Dessa née Rogers, had also been a patient at Bhowanipore from 1849 to 1874.  Patient returns show that she was admitted on the recommendation from doctors, suffering from ‘imbecillitis’; in 1850 she is described as being in good physical health with a ‘more cheerful’ mental state.  On discharge, she went to live with her son William, who stated ‘She is harmless, but commits mischief. I keep her under lock and key at night. She would tear curtains etc. She does not know me’.  Ann died age 70 on 12 December 1888 of ‘old age’, and was buried in the cemetery attached to the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Calcutta.  Her husband predeceased her, having died at Howrah in 1881.

Burial entry for Ann Elizabeth Dessa 13 December 1888Burial entry for Ann Elizabeth Dessa 13 December 1888  IOR/N/1/206 page 380  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We’ll share any further discoveries about the Dessa family on this blog. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PJ/6/7 File 339 ‘Case of G E Dessa: Attempted Murder of Viceroy of India and Col Sir George Colley’, Feb-Mar 1880.
IOR/P/2957 Jul 1887 nos 43-49: Proposal of the Government of Bengal for providing increased accommodation in the Bhowanipore Lunatic Asylum, Jan 1887-Jul 1887.
IOR/P/14/5 nos. 44-45 Returns of public patients treated at Bhawanipur and Dullunda Asylums, 1849-50. 7 Aug 1850.
1867-1924 - Annual report of the insane asylums in Bengal - Medicine - Mental health - Medical History of British India - National Library of Scotland.
IOR/N/1/387 page 229 Burial entry for George Edward Dessa 9 February 1913 - Findmypast.
IOR/N/1/206 page 380 Burial entry for Ann Elizabeth Dessa 13 December 1888 -Findmypast.
For Bhawanipur Lunatic Asylum see Waltraud Ernst, ‘Madness and Colonial Spaces: British India, c1800-1947’ in Topp et al (eds.), Madness, Architecture and the Built Environment: Psychiatric Spaces in Historical Context (London: Routledge, 2007).
Accounts of George Dessa’s arrest, arraignment and subsequent trial can be followed in newspapers such as the Madras Weekly Mail (20 Dec 1879, 31 Dec 1879), The Illustrated Police News (10 Jan 1880), The Friend of India (21 Jul 1880) and The Homeward Mail (23 Sep 1880, 1 Oct 1880) available at the British Newspaper Archive, also via Find My Past.

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

 

06 December 2022

Papers of Sergey and Emilie Prokofieff

A wonderful new collection, which was recently acquired for the India Office Private Papers, has now been catalogued and is available in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room.  The Prokofieff Papers relate to the life of Sergey Tarasovitch Prokofieff (1887-1957) and his wife Emilie Prokofieff (née Rettere) (1903-1997) in pre-1947 India.  The papers illustrate the modernising works taking place in an Indian Princely State in the first half of the 20th century, and the friendship between a Russian emigré couple and the Gwalior Royal Family.

Sergey Prokofieff was born in June 1887 in St Petersburg, and studied to be an engineer at the Ports and Roads University between 1906 and 1912.  He then worked on irrigation and water projects in Crimea, Bokhara and Tashkent.  In 1920, following the revolution, Sergey escaped from Russia by walking from Tashkent to British Persia, and then on to Ahmednagar in India.  He joined the Public Works Department in Bombay as a Senior Assistant Engineer on projects related to the Tansa water works.  In 1927, he became Executive Engineer in the Indian State of Gwalior, and worked on many water works projects around the State, later acting as a consulting engineer.

Photograph of Tansa water works showing a pipeline and railway built above the lakePhotograph of Tansa water works  Mss Eur F761/4/2  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1927, Sergey visited France, and while in Nice met Emilie Rettere.  Born in Moscow in 1930, Emilie was the second of four daughters.  Her father was a coffee merchant with a string of coffee shops around the city, her mother was from Brittany and the family retained connections with France.  In 1918, the family were caught up in the revolution, with Emilie’s father arrested and held for a time in the feared Lubyanka jail.  On being reunited, the family fled to France and settled in Nice.  Sergey and Emilie were married in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Bombay in 1931, and lived together in India until Sergey’s retirement in 1954, when the couple returned to Nice.  Sergey died in January 1957.  Emilie moved to London in 1958, and died in 1998.  Both Sergey and Emilie wrote memoirs about their life in India that survive in the collection.

Blueprint of a design for a comfortable bungalow Design for a comfortable bungalow Mss Eur F761/4/11  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Prokofieff Papers consists in large part of material relating to Sergey’s work as an engineer in Bombay and Gwalior.  This includes articles written by Sergey on engineering subjects, papers and reports on water works projects in Bombay, Gwalior and Ujjain, and photographs showing construction works in progress and completed.  The couple formed a friendship with the Maharaja of Gwalior and his family, which Emilie maintained after Sergey’s death.  

Greetings cards from the Maharaja of Gwalior Greetings cards from the Maharaja of Gwalior Mss Eur F761/1/5  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The collection contains letters and greetings cards from members of the Royal Family to her and photographs from social events in India, for instance the wedding of Princess Kamala Raja Scindia in 1934 and the races of elephants given on 5 May 1935 by the Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior on the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers of Sergey Tarasovitch Prokofieff (1887-1957), Engineer, and his wife Emilie Prokofieff (nee Rettere) (1903-1997) are searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts, collection reference Mss Eur F761.

 

01 December 2022

Requests to the India Office for help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application from May Mitchell for a passage back to India.

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

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

John O’Brien
India Office Records

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

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

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

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

 

29 November 2022

East India Company discharged soldiers

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

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

23 November 2022

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

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

 

Untold lives blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs