Untold lives blog

100 posts categorized "Crime"

01 July 2021

Theft from an East India Company London warehouse

On 30 November 1814, Truman Wood was convicted at the Old Bailey for stealing from the East India Company 24 lb of paper, value 6s, and 21 lb of tea, value £3.  He was sentenced to be transported for seven years but remained in England on prison hulks.

Prison hulks in Portsmouth Harbour Prison hulks in Portsmouth Harbour by Ambrose-Louis Garneray circa 1812-1814 © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London 


Truman Wood had worked for the East India Company as a labourer for sixteen years.  His theft of Company goods from the Haydon Square tea warehouse was discovered when an officer searched an old woman in the Commercial Road on 27 October 1814.  Hidden underneath her petticoats were a bag containing a small amount of tea and some India paper.  After questioning her, the officer went with two colleagues to Wood’s home at 3 Trafalgar Square, Stepney.  There they found several jars, caddies and parcels containing tea. together with a quantity of India paper.  They also discovered £100 in notes, four guineas in gold, and some bags of silver.

Wood asked the officers if they could just take the money, paper and tea, and say nothing more about it.  It would be the ruin of him if the matter came to the Company’s ears.  He was taken before a magistrate and claimed that the paper was a perquisite of his job and that he had bought the tea from a man in the Commercial Road.  The Old Bailey jury found Wood guilty of theft.

Petition of Truman Wood to the East India Company 16 August 1816Petition of Truman Wood to the East India Company 16 August 1816 - British Library IOR/E/1/252 p.21 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On 16 August 1816, Wood wrote to the directors of the East India Company from the Portland hulk moored at Langstone Harbour, Portsmouth, expressing his ‘sincere and unfeigned sorrow’ for his crime and begging their forgiveness.  He had always tried to conduct himself with the ‘greatest recititude’ in his warehouse duties and in his service with the Royal East India Volunteers.  Before his lamentable lapse, Wood had never been suspected of an illicit transaction.  He had suffered the 'greatest privations and heartfelt afflictions' during his imprisonment.  His wife Jane and two children were reduced to ‘most poignant distress’, which was aggravated by Jane having ‘a Complaint in her breast’ which prevented her from looking after the family.  Wood asked the directors to recommend him for a free pardon.

Wood IOR E 1 251Letter from East India Company to Viscount Sidmouth 17 September 1816 British Library IOR/E/1/251 p.509 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Company forwarded the petition to the Home Secretary, Viscount Sidmouth, with a covering letter expressing the hope that Wood might be pardoned.  The directors asked for Wood’s past good character to be taken into consideration, and suggested that the imprisonment he had suffered might be seen as a sufficient warning to others.  They believed that a continuation of his punishment would be the total ruin of his family who had borne the calamity ‘with becoming resignation and propriety’.

The Company’s intervention was not immediately successful. In October 1816, Wood was transferred to the Bellerophon hulk at Woolwich.  However on 10 July 1818 he was granted a free pardon by Sidmouth and released ten days later.

Sadly it appears that Jane did not recover her health.  The burial records of St Dunstan Stepney show a Jane Wood dying of cancer in February 1819.

Wood married widow Ann Blendall in May 1822 in Bethnal Green.  He was buried at Wycliffe Congregational Church in Mile End Old Town in July 1837.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Petition of Truman Wood - British Library, IOR/E/1/252 pp.21-23, IOR/E/1/251 p.509
Old Bailey Online - Trial of Truman Wood 
Home Office records of Newgate Prison and the hulks – The National Archives via Findmypast
Parish registers for East London via Ancestry and Findmypast

 

28 May 2021

Sadi, servant to the Sulivan family

On 11 July 1787 a young Indian servant named Sadi was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey after being convicted of stealing bank notes to the value of £400 from his employer Stephen Sulivan.  William Morris was tried for receiving the stolen notes and was defended by barrister William Garrow.  Morris was also found guilty by the jury, but sentencing was delayed in his case because of a legal uncertainty.

View of the scaffold and gallows outside the north quad of Newgate Prison; a screen on the right leading up to entrance to scaffold  with gallows over platform.‘A Perspective View of the temporary Gallows in the Old Bailey’ 1794 © The Trustees of the British Museum Asset number 765670001 - View of the scaffold and gallows outside the north quad of Newgate Prison; a screen on the right leading up to entrance to scaffold, with gallows over platform.

Sadi, also known as George Horne, was a footboy in the Sulivan household in Harley Street, London.  Stephen Sulivan’s father Laurence had been a prominent East India Company director and politician.  Having served the East India Company in Madras and Calcutta, Stephen returned to England in the summer of 1785 with his wife Elizabeth and son Laurence.  The Sulivans brought Sadi with them as he had attended Laurence since his birth in January 1783 and was a favourite of the family.  They wished to preserve Sadi’s ‘simple manners’ and ‘innocent mind’ from corruption by their other servants so he stayed in the nursery, eating and sleeping with his charge.  He had unrestrained access to the private apartments of the house.

However in 1787, Sadi began behaving with ‘repeated irregularities’.  The Sulivans dismissed the young man, intending to send him back to India.  Whilst awaiting a passage in an East Indiaman, Sadi was sent to lodge with Thomas Saunders, the assistant keeper of the East India Company’s tea and drug warehouse.

It came to light that Sadi had been stealing from the Sulivans for two years – muslins, silks, calicos, linen, pearls, clothing, and a special shawl belonging to Elizabeth.  The stolen goods were passed on to other servants in the house who encouraged Sadi to continue with his thefts.  He stole four guineas without being detected and then one bank note for £1,000 and two for £200.  When Sadi showed the £1,000 note to two of his fellow servants, they told him it was too great a sum to pass on without detection.  After keeping it for some days, he threw it under the kitchen grate where it was found by the housekeeper who gave it to Elizabeth.  The notes for £200 were sold by Sadi for a guinea to William Morris, formerly butler to Stephen’s father.

Elizabeth called on Sadi at his lodgings.  He burst into tears and made a full confession, directing her to Morris’s home in Petticoat Lane.  She went there with a constable and Morris’s wife handed over the two bank notes.

Other servants of the Sulivans were also arrested and charged with receiving stolen goods: Thomas Absalom, his wife Martha, and Catherine Smith.  Martha Absalom was apprehended at Maidenhead in Berkshire and found to have property belonging to Elizabeth Sulivan.

On 24 August 1787, the King granted Sadi a reprieve from the death sentence passed on him.  The young Indian remained in Newgate prison but he died shortly afterwards on 9 December.  The death rate in Newgate was extremely high in the late 1780s because of severe overcrowding and an outbreak of ‘gaol fever’ (epidemic typhus).

A few days after Sadi’s death, the case of William Morris was finally settled. He was discharged because the judges agreed with his defence counsel that the bank notes he had received could not be classified as goods and chattels, the term used in the charge against him.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The case is reported in Old Bailey Online and in the British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast), for example Hampshire Chronicle 4 June 1787, Bury and Norwich Post 6 June 1787, Derby Mercury 7 June 1787 and 13 December 1787, Kentish Gazette 24 July 1787, Sheffield Register 1 September 1787.

 

20 April 2021

Another scandalous tale from the Down family

In previous Untold Lives stories, we met two of Major William Down’s children, Arabella and Charles.  Now, for the final instalment of this scandalous tale, we have their sister Eva Magdalene Crompton Down.

Eva was born in St John’s Wood, London on 18 December 1856, the fifth daughter and seventh of the ten children of Major William Down and his wife Christian.

In 1876 Eva was called as a witness in the trial of her brother Charles and Joshua Keith Hilton.  During the trial Hilton had referred to Eva Down as his wife and claimed to have a marriage certificate which he could produce as evidence.  Several other people called as witnesses also stated in their testimony that they believed Eva to be Hilton’s wife.

Eva was called as a witness regarding the claims which she vehemently refuted, her testimony suggesting she was unimpressed at the allegations and that she only knew Hilton as an acquaintance of her brother.  She even demanded to see the marriage certificate which Hilton claimed to have, but it never materialised.

Woman in dark Victorian dress looking reproachfully at a man in a bowler hatImage from Illustrated London News 22 August 1896 - British Newspaper Archive via Findmypast

Eva may not however have been as innocent as her court testimony suggested.  In 1877 Mrs Margaret Ann Redhead, née Thirkell filed for divorce from her husband of seven  years, Joshua William Readhead, on the grounds of adultery and desertion, citing Eva Down as the mistress.  Mrs Redhead had met her husband while visiting London in 1870 and they had married there in secret on 23 November 1870.  She had returned home to Sunderland shortly afterwards but her new husband did not accompany her and she at first attempted to conceal the marriage before admitting everything to her parents.  She never saw her husband again and her correspondence with him ceased after he attempted to extort money from her mother.  In 1876 Mrs Redhead learned that her husband had been living under the alias Joshua Keith Hilton and had been having an affair with Miss Eva Down, who he had been pretending was his wife. She filed for divorce shortly after.

Eva Down clearly cared about her lover as the couple married in Carlisle in 1881 following his release from prison.  The marriage does not appear to have lasted long however as by 1900 Eva had emigrated to the USA with her husband William Robert Tymms and their daughter Salome.  US immigration records suggest the couple married in England in 1885, however there is no record of that marriage.  Eva died in Benton, New Hampshire on 29 January 1926.

William Joshua Redhead assumed another alias, this time the stage name of Howard Reed, and he became manager of the Ilma Norina Opera Company.  He was romantically involved with its star Ilma Norina (real name Josephine Genese) who herself had divorced in 1888.

Howard Reed, aka Joshua Keith Hilton, aka William Joshua Redhead died in Southend on 23 February 1899.   According to his obituary he was ‘deeply lamented by his sorrowing wife and children’ although which wife and whose children is another mystery.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Old Bailey Proceedings 26th June 1876 No. 265: Charles Victor Cleghorn Down (21), and Joshua Keith Hilton (23), Feloniously forging and uttering a warrant for the payment of 75l., with intent to defraud. 
Madras Military Fund Pension Records, Account-General’s Department, India Office Records:
IOR/L/AG/23/10/1-2 Madras Military Fund Pension Register entry for William Down (1822-1868)
IOR/L/AG/23/10/11, Part 1 No. 90 Certificates submitted in connection with William Down’s subscription to the Madras Military Fund, including baptism certificate for Eva Magdalene Crompton Down [given as Eva Neale Crompton Down].

A 19th century tale of adultery 

Unwitting accomplice or habitual offender? 

 

25 March 2021

Eliza Armstrong’s husband

Since 2012 we have been sharing stories which try to piece together the later life of Eliza Armstrong, the child bought for £5.  This post focuses on Eliza’s husband Henry George West.

Henry George West’s birth was registered in Shoreditch in the first quarter of 1857.  He was the son of Henry West and his wife Elizabeth née Wetenhall.  His parents had three children born in East London and then moved their family to Newcastle-upon-Tyne where five more were born.  Henry senior was a boot and shoe maker, then a traveller in the boot trade, and finally the manager of a shoe warehouse.  Elizabeth was a dressmaker.

In January 1879 Henry George West, 22, married Sarah Turnbull, 19, at St Peter's Church Newcastle and his profession in given as barman.  However the 1881 census describes him as a plumber and gasfitter. 

Interior of a music hall 1873 focusing on the audience‘London sketches - at a music hall’ from The Graphic 5 April 1873 p. 329. Copyright British Library Images Online

Sarah’s father William Turnbull was said to be a wine merchant on her marriage certificate.  William appears in local newspapers in 1885-1886 as landlord of the George Tavern in King Street, North Shields, and proprietor of the Gaiety Theatre in the same street.  The business manager for Turnbull’s Gaiety Theatre in 1886 was Mr H. G. West.

 

Advert for Turnbull's Gaiety Theatre Shields Daily News 1 October 1886Advert for Turnbull's Gaiety Theatre from Shields Daily News 1 October 1886 British Newspaper Archive

Tragedy struck the family in December 1886.  Sarah West, aged just 27, was found dead in bed by her servant Mary Cooper at home in Marine Terrace, North Shields.  The inquest found that Sarah had a weak heart.

By February 1887, the Gaiety Theatre had passed into the ownership of George Duncan, a Tyneside comedian.  In January 1888, Henry George West was landlord of the Lord Byron Inn in North Shields.  He was summoned for allowing drinking after hours.  The police could hear men’s voices and drinks being ordered.  PC King covered the back door whilst Sergeant Clarke knocked at the front.  Three men were let out the back but retreated indoors when they saw Clarke.  West claimed that the men were friends being privately entertained.  He had only been at the pub at short while and was planning to leave because it didn’t pay.  The bench fined West £1 plus costs.  The other men were each fined 2s 6d plus costs.

The report of the case in the Shields Daily Gazette stated that West’s sister Florence, who kept house for him, had given evidence in his defence.  Henry wrote to the newspaper pointing out that his sister Florence was not involved and the name given should have been Audrey West.

Henry did not have a sister Audrey.  In the 1891 census, he was again working as a plumber and living in Jarrow with the family of Albert Overton, a barman born in  Aylesham, Norfolk.  Audrey West from Aylesham is with him and the couple are listed as Albert’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

Two and a half years later, Henry George West married Eliza Armstrong in Newcastle upon Tyne on 24 October 1893 and appears to have continued working as a plumber from that time.  Audrey (Audy) Overton, born in Norfolk, was living in Jarrow with her sister in 1901.

When West’s father Henry died in July 1890, the obituaries spoke of his long years of work as a temperance reformer in Newcastle.  I wonder what Henry thought of his son’s pub work?

Obituary for Henry West Newcastle Daily Chronicle 5 July 1890Obituary for Henry West Newcastle Daily Chronicle 5 July 1890 British Newspaper Archive

Henry George West died of heart disease on 17 February 1906 at home in Hebburn, leaving Eliza alone with five young children.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong?
Eliza Armstrong – still elusive!
Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle
Eliza Armstrong’s children

British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast e.g. Shields Daily News 1886 for William Turnbull and the Gaiety Theatre; Shields Daily News 27 December 1886 for Sarah West’s death; Shields Daily Gazette 13 & 25 January 1888 for the court case involving Henry George West; Newcastle Daily Chronicle 5 July 1890 & Newcastle Chronicle 12 July 1890 for obituaries of Henry West.

 

23 February 2021

Unwitting accomplice or habitual offender?

On 29 June 1876 Joshua Keith Hilton and his accomplice Charles Victor Cleghorn Down were tried at the Old Bailey for forgery and intent to defraud.  Hilton was known to the authorities as a serial forger.  He would befriend someone with the authority to cash cheques on another individual’s behalf and then pretend to have been given a cheque by that individual which needed to be cashed, getting his new friend to take it to the bank for him.  Once he had the cash he would exchange it among local tradesmen so that the money could not easily be traced back to him.

Scene of a trial at the Old Bailey in 1872 showing a young man in the dock
'A sketch at the Central Criminal Court during the late trial of O'Connor' from  The Graphic 20 April 1872 British Library Images Online

Charles Victor Cleghorn Down was born in February 1855, the second son of Captain William Down of the Madras Army.  At the time of his father’s death in April 1868 Charles was the eldest surviving son, his brother William Henry having died in 1864.  His older sister Arabella has already been featured in Untold Lives following her involvement in a divorce scandal in 1869.

In 1876 Charles was living in Stafford Place off Buckingham Palace Road in London and was employed in the theatre which is where he met Joshua Hilton.  Both men worked backstage in set design and as general stage hands and found themselves employed at the same theatre.

Charles Down was also a friend of Hilton’s next target, the son of his landlord.  Hilton used Down to lend validity to his story: Down even accompanied the victim to the bank when he went to cash the cheque, worth £75.

The Court found both Joshua Hilton and Charles Down guilty of forgery and intent to defraud.  As the mastermind Hilton was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.  The jury concluded that Down had been an unwitting accomplice, but an accomplice nonetheless, and that he should have realised something wasn’t right.  Down was sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment at Clerkenwell House of Correction.

For Charles Down this appears to have been the start of a downward spiral into a life of crime.  The Habitual Offenders register records him being released from Cold Bath Fields Prison, London on 27 August 1881, and being placed under police supervision for the next four years.  It is unclear whether he had his original sentence extended, or whether he committed another crime following his original release.  Charles Down died unmarried in Marylebone in 1889.

Perhaps Charles Down was not quite so innocent and unwittingly involved in the crime of forgery as was claimed in court?

In a future post we will follow the story of Charles’s younger sister Eva Crompton Neale Down, a witness at her brother’s trial.  Eva was caught up in scandal and adultery involving her brother’s partner in crime Joshua Hilton!

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Old Bailey Proceedings 26 June 1876 No. 265:
Charles Victor Cleghorn Down (21), and Joshua Keith Hilton (23), Feloniously forging and uttering a warrant for the payment of 75l., with intent to defraud. 
Madras Military Fund Pension Records, Account-General’s Department - British Library IOR/L/AG/23/10/1-2 William Down (1822-1868)

26 January 2021

Daniel Seton – Magistrate of Surat

A volume listing court cases from Surat, India, in 1796, reveals a lot about the legal process in a British trading post and a little about a Scottish administrator.

Introductory paragraph to the diary of Daniel SetonIntroductory paragraph to the diary of Daniel Seton IOR/G/36/81 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

As part of the India Office Records team’s ongoing efforts to identify historically overlooked individuals in our collections, I recently compiled a summary of the cases held in a judicial diary (IOR/G/36/81).  The summary has been added to the catalogue description on the British Library website.  The diary was compiled by Daniel Seton, Chief of Surat, while completing his duties in 1796.  It lists 242 cases and includes the names of the petitioners and defendants, the crimes or subject of dispute, and the decisions made by Seton.

List of cases from the diary of Daniel SetonList of cases from the diary of Daniel Seton IOR/G/36/81  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Surat factory or trading post, in Gujarat, was established by the East India Company in 1612.  A history of the area can be found in the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Surat and Broach.  At first the chief seat of the Company’s trade, Surat declined in importance when the British took possession of Bombay in 1661 and made it their centre of administration in 1687.  By the time Seton was writing, Surat was run-down, having borne the brunt of warring European powers, a vicious storm in 1782, and a famine in 1790.

The History of the family of Seton during eight centuries lists Daniel Seton as the second son from the second marriage of Daniel Seton of Powderhall, Edinburgh, but we know little else about him.  Daniel’s role as Chief seems to fit between the Governor of the city and its administrators.  According to the Gazetteer of Bombay, a Dutch visitor to Surat in 1774 saw the native Governor as a puppet ruler under the Chief.  He claimed they had to obey British commands like ‘the lowest inhabitant’, although the Company men would ‘show him externally some honour’.

However this doesn’t seem to match with how Seton saw his role.  He wrote in this volume that he held ‘all the duties of magistrate prescribed by law to subjects living under the Anglish protection’ and hoped ‘to act up to a true sense [of] humanity.’  And in a letter from Seton to the Governor, or Nabob, of Surat, he claimed friendship and a desire ‘to co-operate with you to the honor of your Government and the Protection of the Subjects’.

Seton also favoured local advice, such as ‘a punchat or arbitration’ for property cases, or using ‘the patells or heads of the caste’ to solve social disputes ‘conformally to the laws of their sects’; thus demonstrating consideration of an unfamiliar culture.

Seton also imposed rules on the treatment of the accused.  Following reports about violent treatment and internment before trial, Seton ‘established as a rule never to be deviated from, that he should not himself or any other of the officers of Government attempt to p[un]ish before conviction any individual whatever’.

Of course we cannot know truthfully how fair Seton was, or how true to his word, but we can be thankful he has left us a valuable record of individuals and their crimes under his jurisdiction in 1796.

Matthew Waters
India Office Records

Further reading:
Surat Factory Records (IOR/G/36/81 : 1796)
Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Surat and Broach, Sir James MacNabb Campbell, Reginald Edward Enthoven (Bombay, 1894)
National Library of Scotland – History of the family of Seton during eight centuries – Volume 1

 

12 January 2021

The hunt for Syed Mahamad Yusufuddin

A dip into the records of the India Office Legal Adviser reveals an exciting tale of espionage behind a Privy Council appeal against wrongful imprisonment.

The judgement of Privy Council appeal No. 19 of 1902, brought by Syed Mahamad Yusufuddin against the Secretary of State for India, is available to view on BAILII, but doesn’t tell the whole story of the case. 

Photograph of a street scene in Simla (Shimla) in the 1880s showing shops and people going about their daily business Photograph of a street scene in Simla (Shimla) taken by an unknown photographer in the 1880s British Library Photo 94/2(35) British Library Online Gallery

The background of the case can be found in the India Office Records held at the British Library in the Legal Adviser’s records (IOR/L/L/8/42).  The story begins in Simla, in the far north of India, in July 1895 with the conviction of Babu Gopal Chandar, a hotelier, for attempting to procure government documents from the Record Keeper, Mr Schorn, through bribery.  The record keeper reported that Chandar had visited him at his home and offered 600-700 rupees and an annual salary in return for information on Hyderabad, the largest princely state in British India.  Mr Schorn contacted the police and arranged a further meeting with Chandar so an inspector could eavesdrop and take notes as evidence.

Following his arrest, Mr Chandar claimed he was working on behalf of a 'Sardar of Hyderabad' , meaning a prince or nobleman, staying at his establishment, the Central Hotel.  As a result, in September a warrant was issued for the arrest of one Syed Mahamad Yusufuddin, who we assume was staying in the hotel when the crime was committed.  However, by then, Yusufuddin had left Simla, so a manhunt began.

A copy of the initial order for the arrest of YusufuddinA copy of the initial order for the arrest of Yusufuddin taken from case documents supplied by the Foreign Department at the time in a file marked 'SECRET – Internal'. IOR/L/L/8/42 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Magistrate issuing the warrant was aware that if Yusufuddin had returned to the princely state of Hyderabad, then, as a foreign territory, the warrant would not apply.  Therefore the British would have to rely on the Nizam of Hyderabad adhering to extradition law.

However, the fugutive was tracked down in Hyderabad on 28 November 1895 at Shankarpalli railway station.  Fortunately for the British, at this time “the Government of India ... exercise[d] jurisdiction upon the railway” and could arrest him.  However, this jurisdiction only applied to railway offences, which brought into question their right to hold Yusufuddin.

A copy of a telegram dated on behalf of the Nizam of Hyderabad calling for the release of YusufuddinA copy of a telegram dated on behalf of the Nizam of Hyderabad calling for the release of Yusufuddin IOR/L/L/8/42 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Reminiscent of the 'Great Game' of espionage made famous in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, this manhunt across different territories in British-controlled Asia reveals a kernel of truth behind the fantastic stories to be found in contemporary literature for boys.  And Chandar’s covert attempt to gather information on British plans also suggests the suspicion in which the British were held in princely states like Hyderabad.

Yusufuddin was released on bail two days later on 30 November and avoided conviction.  He went on to appeal against his arrest outside of a British territory and claim damages for false imprisonment.  The case eventually reached the Privy Council who dismissed it, as the claim was made too long after the imprisonment.

Matthew Waters
India Office Records

Further reading:
P.C. No. 19 of 1902 - 1896-1903 - British Library reference IOR/L/L/8/42
Syed Mahamad Yusuf-ud-din v The Secretary of State for India in Council (Hyderabad) [1903] UKPC 32 (15 May 1903) 

 

29 December 2020

Suffrage scrapbooks: forgotten histories of political activism

When you picture a scrapbook, you likely conjure up an image of a homemade album dedicated to the family or a hobby.  It’s less likely you’ll think of scrapbooks as records of political campaigns, such as women’s suffrage.  Yet here at the British Library, 37 bulging hardback scrapbooks tell us a personal history of suffrage activism through the eyes of Alice Maud Mary Arncliffe Sennett (1862-1936).

Women's Social and Political Union membership card from the scrapbook of Maud Arncliffe SennettWomen's Social and Political Union membership card from the opening volume of Sennett’s first scrapbook. , British Library C.121.g.1.


Actress turned businesswoman; Sennett was a dynamic, strident suffrage campaigner.  She served time in prison on Black Friday in 1910 and again in 1911 after smashing the Daily Mail’s office windows.  She also set up the Northern Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage.

Article 'Why I want the vote' published in The Vote 26 February 1910An article 'Why I want the vote' written by Maud Arncliffe Sennett in 1910 for The Vote, journal of the Women’s Freedom League.

Through all this campaigning, she scrapbooked prolifically.  She kept the key from her husband’s stay at Bloomsbury Street hotel before he picked her up from prison.  More conventionally, she carefully lifted articles from a plethora of publications, encircling them with annotations.

In one instance, next to an article on Herbert Asquith published in 1910, she criticised his ‘cruel looking mouth and sinister eyes’ and wrote how she would like to ‘shoot Asquith right at the place where his heart ought to be’.  Sennett’s scrapbook facilitated her critical engagement with press coverage on women’s rights.

Sennett also used her scrapbooks to record the support networks underpinning her activism.  One way she did this was through preserving congratulatory letters praising her public speaking.  In her first scrapbook, she included a letter from suffrage activist Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who described Sennett as the ‘one of the greatest platform successes she had ever known’.

Before this letter however, Sennett pasted in another one.  It was from her servant Bessie.  Working for her mistress since at least 1906, census records identify Bessie as Eliza Punchard, who lived with her husband and three sons in Beckenham.

After hearing Sennett’s speech, Bessie wrote, 'Do you know you made a simply splendid speech, I was so proud of you’.  She continued, writing how she would happily go to prison of her accord if it would help the cause; she would ‘make the sacrifice in my own right not to feel that you will be worrying over me if I should go’.

Lifting the cover of Sennett’s fourth scrapbook powerfully articulates Sennett’s appreciation of her servant’s support.  In a beautiful, flowing font, Sennett dedicates her scrapbook to Bessie, ‘the only one true and trusted friend I have found…the star to which I have hitched by wagon of loneliness’.  Bessie’s support meant a great deal to Sennett, so much so that she immortalised it in the front of her scrapbook.

Sennett’s scrapbooks offer an intensely personal history of the suffrage activism, blurring the lines between the personal and the political. She chronicles the exceptional and mundane, turning to an assortment of materials to offer her history of the suffrage campaign.

Over a century later we are given a tantalising glimpse into the material, emotional histories of suffrage activism, as well as forgotten women such as Bessie, who played a vital part in women’s political campaigning.


Cherish Watton
PhD student studying a history of scrapbooking in Britain from 1914-1980 at Churchill College, Cambridge.  She founded and runs the website Women’s Land Army 
@CherishWatton


Further Reading:
Read more about Arncliffe-Sennett’s scrapbooks.
Read more about suffrage scrapbooks in the American context in Ellen Gruber’s Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. Oxford University Press, 2012, chapter 5.

 

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