Untold lives blog

88 posts categorized "Crime"

10 September 2020

Four 'Weddings' and a Funeral: A Liverpool Story

It started with checking family history loose ends in lockdown.  I was looking for a birth record in 1900 for Elizabeth A. Spinks in Liverpool.  In the 1901 census she was living with her mother Elizabeth Jane Spinks and maternal grandparents William and Margaret Davies in Becket Street, Kirkdale.  I eventually found the record for an Agnes Elizabeth Spinks.  Agnes’s father was Edward Spinks, an able seaman.  Spinks and Elizabeth Jane Davies had married in St Mary’s Church Kirkdale on 14 April 1895.  He wasn’t with his wife and daughter in 1901 because he was moored off Malta on the ship Illustrious

Plan of Liverpool 1845 with illustrations of ships and buildingsPlan of Liverpool (London,John Tallis & Co, 1845) Maps.25.a.2 Images Online

Looking to see what the family was up to in the 1911 census, I wasn’t prepared for the subsequent story of intrigue that surrounded my distant cousin Elizabeth Jane and the downright untruths recorded in the official documents.

Census entry for the Eccleston family 1911 Census entry for the Eccleston family 1911 via Findmypast © Crown Copyright from The National Archives

In 1911 she is recorded as Elizabeth Jane Eccleston, wife of John Eccleston, house painter.  They were living in Thames Street, Toxteth Park, together with daughter Agnes and Ellen Constance Eccleston (3) and John William Eccleston (1).  The census states that the Ecclestons had been married for 5 years.  This is certainly a fib, and the wedding a phantom one, no doubt designed to give the Ecclestons some respectability within the community, and their children some legitimacy. 

Edward Spinks was very much alive at the time of the alleged Eccelston nuptials.  He appears in the admissions registers of Liverpool Workhouse in October 1905, having been taken off the Laconia in Huskisson Dock; he is described as ‘temporarily disabled’ and suffering a fever.  Elizabeth is recorded as his next of kin, living in Pugin Street, Everton.  Edward reappears in the Workhouse records in April 1910, suffering from dropsy.  He had previously spent time in Toxteth Park Workhouse hospital with ‘congestion of the lungs’. 

Elizabeth left Edward to live with John Eccleston at some point in 1906.   Agnes was removed from school in Everton on 21 May 1906, probably because the family moved out of the area.

Marriage entry for Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 25 June 1913, at St Peter’s Church, Liverpool.Marriage entry for Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 25 June 1913, at St Peter’s Church, Liverpool. Lancashire Banns & Marriages via Findmypast, Image © Liverpool City Council.

Elizabeth’s third wedding (counting the fantasy one) took place on 25 June 1913 at St Peter’s Parish Church Liverpool, when she “married” John Eccleston.   She is described as a widow, living in Walnut Street.  Perhaps Elizabeth truly believed that Spinks was dead – his spells in the Workhouse infirmaries indicate he wasn’t a well man.  However, he didn’t die until November 1916, aged 44. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Everton Cemetery.

Marriage entry for Elizabeth Jane Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 5 Nov 1919, at St Mary’s Church, Kirkdale.Marriage entry from General Register Office for Elizabeth Jane Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 5 Nov 1919, at St Mary’s Church, Kirkdale.  The church was opened in 1836, closed in 1973, and demolished in 1979.

Finally, Elizabeth and John Eccleston were married (again) in St Mary’s Church, Kirkdale, on 5 November 1919, 24 years after she’d married Edward Spinks in the same church.  This time, with Edward dead, presumably the marriage was legal.  Interestingly (or shamelessly) she was back living in Pugin Street, although not in the same house she’d lived in with Edward.  I have been unable to find any reference to a charge of bigamy against Elizabeth, though I find it surprising that she wasn’t ‘found out’, given the close knit ties amongst people in working class neighbourhoods within Liverpool at the time.  Perhaps by moving around this large industrial city, and lying on official documents, she was able to disguise her cohabitation, her illegitimate children, and bigamy.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Many cases relating to bigamy at the time can be found in the British Newspaper Archive.  A search for cases of bigamy relating to couples married at St Mary’s Church Kirkdale for example brings up the following cases:
Cheltenham Chronicle 17 Oct 1903: Case of Francis Huxham, barman, who married Agnes Edwards at St Mary’s, Kirkdale in 1900, then bigamously married Jane Hindley.
Cornishman 4 Nov 1909: Case of Daniel Young, seaman, who bigamously married Frances Stephenson at St Mary’s Kirkdale in September 1907 while married to Ellen Jane Opie of Penryn.
Dundee Evening Telegraph 24 Jul 1913: Case of Arabella Margaret Bake, married Joseph William Bake at St Mary’s Kirkdale on 25 Dec 1900, and bigamously married William Woolliscroft at Liverpool Parish Church in December 1905.
Liverpool Daily Post 3 Nov 1916: Case of Walter Turnbull Andrew Collier Hunter, seaman, married Jane Shaw Barton at St Mary’s Kirkdale on 23 December 1914, then bigamously married at St Anne’s Church Aigburth in December 1915.

 

02 September 2020

Nil Darpan: the Indigo Revolt and the trial of Reverend James Long

Nil Darpan (sometimes Nil Durpan) or The Indigo Planting Mirror was a Bengali play written by Dinabandhu Mitra in 1858-59.  The drama was written in the context of social agitation in Bengal, known as the Indigo Revolt.  The play examines the treatment of the Indian peasantry or ryots by the indigo planters.  It was first published in 1860.

Indigo Factory Bengal, 1863, showing layout and work on different processesWilliam Simpson - Indigo Factory Bengal, 1863 (shelfmark WD 1017) Images Online

Mitra’s play shone a light on the behaviour of certain European indigo planters, the worst excesses of which were further exposed by an official report of the 1861 Indigo Commission.  Ryots were forced to plant indigo, a crop which was in demand by the international textile industry but which degraded the land.  They had to take out loans and sell the crop to planters at fixed (low) prices, forcing them into a cycle of debt and economic dependence that was often enforced with violence.  The play reflected the realities of intimidation, exploitation, violence (including sexual violence), and lack of redress through the judicial system experienced by many in Bengal.

Title page of Nil Durpan and portrait of  author Dinabandhu MitraTitle page of Nil Darpan and portrait of Dinabandhu Mitra from Ramtanu Lahiri, Brahman and reformer. A history of the renaissance in Bengal, from the Bengali ... Edited by Sir Roper Lethbridge (London : Swan Sonnenschein & Co, 1907.), p.94. 

In 1861 Mitra sent a copy of his play to Reverend James Long, who had run the Church Missionary Society school in Calcutta where Mitra was educated.  James Long, an Anglo-Irish priest, had been in India since 1840, and was particularly interested in what he called the ‘Native Press’.  Long had previously assembled lists of books and other publications in Bengali.  He believed that vernacular writings were an important barometer of the feelings of Indian people, and that they had often been ignored by those in power.  Long mentioned the play to William Scott Seton Karr, Secretary to the Government of Bengal, who in turn brought it to the attention of Lieutenant Governor Sir John Peter Grant.  Grant requested an English translation of Nil Darpan, which Long arranged, and which was almost certainly carried out by Michael Madhusudan Dutt.  The translation was edited by Long who also provided his own introduction.  500 copies were printed, and some copies were distributed by Long in official Government envelopes.  This action appeared to give the translation official sanction.

Portrait of Michael Madhusudan Dutt and bust of James Long in KolkataPortrait of Michael Madhusudan Dutt from Ramtanu Lahiri, Brahman and reformer, p.30, and bust of James Long in Kolkata via Wikimedia Commons

Nil Darpan quickly reached the attention of both the indigo planters and the pro-planter press, who felt that they had been defamed by the play, and by Long’s introduction and by Mitra’s original preface.  As a result James Long was taken to court by Walter Brett, proprietor of the Englishman newspaper, together with the Landholders Association of British India and the general body of indigo planters.  The trial for libel took place in July 1861, and there was much sympathy expressed for James Long.  Yet he was found guilty, sentenced to one month in jail and fined 1,000 rupees.  The Bengali author Kaliprasanna Singha immediately paid the fine on Long’s behalf.

Nil Darpan was the first play to be staged commercially at the National Theatre in Calcutta; it was one of a number of politicised plays which provoked the Government of India into enacting restrictive censorship measures on Indian theatre via the 1876 Dramatic Performances Act.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Nil Darpan or the Indigo Planting Mirror, A Drama. Translated from the Bengali by A Native (Calcutta: C.H. Manuel, 1861)
Statement of the Rev. J. Long His Connection With The Nil Darpan (Calcutta: Sanders, Cox and Co., 1861)
Claire Pamment (2009) 'Police of Pig and Sheep: Representations of the White Sahib and the construction of theatre censorship in colonial India', South Asian Popular Culture, 7:3, 233-245.
Geoffrey A. Oddie, Missionaries, Rebellion and Protonationalism: James Long of Bengal 1814-87 (London: Routledge, 1999)

 

28 July 2020

The Trial of Prince Najaf ʿAlī Khān Zand

The Zand dynasty ruled in Persia [Iran] from 1751 to 1794.  The young Prince Najaf ʿAlī Khān Zand, brother of the last ruler of the Zand dynasty, survived his family’s defeat at the hands of the new ruling family, the Qājārs.  At some point in the early 19th century, he left Persia and made his way to Bombay [Mumbai].  There, he was looked after by the East India Company’s Government of Bombay, receiving a pension of 400 rupees per month.

Painting showing the defeat of Prince Najaf’s brother, Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, the last Zand ruler, with the city of Shiraz in the backgroundI.O. Islamic 3442, f.218v showing the defeat of Prince Najaf’s brother, Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, the last Zand ruler: ‘Defeat of Lutf ‘Ali Khan Zand by (Agha) Muhammad Shah; the city of Shiraz in the background’ -  BL Images Online

This relationship was put to the test under dramatic circumstances in 1828-29.  A dispute between Prince Najaf’s entourage and a group of men from the Custom House escalated and the Prince fired his gun, killing two of the Custom House men.   The Prince was arrested and the case referred to the highest level of authority in the Government of Bombay – the Council.

Copies of letters sent from the Government of Bombay to the Court of Directors reveal an intense debate which broke out amongst the Council.  On one side, Council member John Romer argued that, due to the seriousness of the charges against him, the Prince must be tried as normal in the Circuit Court at Tannah [Thane].  On the other side, the Governor in Council, Sir John Malcolm, argued that the Prince must not be treated as a ‘common criminal’, as this would be a great insult to the Court of Persia.  As the debate intensified, Romer’s language became more and more dramatic. He argued that there were no political considerations which justified withdrawing the Prince from the hands of justice.

Extract of Minute by John Romer at Government of Bombay Judicial Consultation  25 April 1829IOR/F/4/1266/50907, ff. 334v-335r: Extract of Minute by John Romer at Government of Bombay Judicial Consultation, 25 April 1829, arguing that ‘I do not think that any political considerations [justify] withdrawing him [Prince Najaf] from the hands of justice.’  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Meanwhile, Malcolm attempted to pick holes in the accusations levied at the Prince, questioning the witnesses’ accounts and concluding that the Prince had only fired his pistol after being physically assaulted by the Custom House men.

Ultimately, Malcolm revealed that in addition to appeasing the Court of Persia, a trial must be avoided in order to preserve favour with the southern tribes in Persia, from which Prince Najaf’s family had originated.  According to Malcolm, these tribes continued to hold Prince Najaf’s brother and his great-uncle, Karīm Khān Zand (founder of the Zand dynasty), in such high regard that subjecting Prince Najaf to a ‘degrading’ common trial would have serious consequences.  Most pressingly, Malcolm argued that if Anglo-Russian relations were to deteriorate, the Russians might persuade the Court of Persia to allow them access to British India through Persia.  In this scenario, the best line of defence would be for the British to incite the southern tribes in Persia to rise up against the Qājārs.  However, their support could not be counted on if a trial of Prince Najaf were to go ahead. 

Portrait of Sir John MalcolmP616: Portrait of Sir John Malcolm, 1832 - BL Images Online

Despite Romer’s pleas to respect the pursuit of justice in order to preserve the rule of law, no trial ever went ahead.  Prince Najaf was held in comfort at the Company’s Fort at Thane before being sent to Bussorah [Basra] with his family, free to continue with his life.

Curstaidh Reid
Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/1266/50907 ‘Removal of Nujif Ali Khan (a Prince of Persia) to Bussorah, in preference to his being tried for murder of which he was accused – His pen[sion] of Rs 400 discontinued from 30th November the allowance of Rs 120 per mo[nth] to the Mother of […] Prince made payable at Bussorah’ 
John Perry, ‘ZAND DYNASTY’, Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016 

 

21 July 2020

This boy just tried to kill the Queen!

On the afternoon of Sunday 3 June 1842, 18-year-old John William Bean made an attempt on the life of Queen Victoria as she travelled from Buckingham Palace to the Chapel Royal at St James to attend divine service.

Queen Victoria in 1837 F60125-20Queen Victoria in 1837 from Illustrated London News Diamond Jubilee (special edition) 1897 BL- Images Online

Bean was initially charged with attempted regicide but this dropped shortly after his arrest and he was instead charged with the lesser crime of misdemeanour.  It was recorded that Bean was eligible for bail following the decision to charge him with the lesser crime, but that he had refused to produce individuals to provide sureties for him.  Even his father visiting him in prison could not get him to talk other than sending his mother his love.

The trial described how Bean had positioned himself on the Mall between Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace about fifteen minutes before the Queen was due to depart and that he had a pistol in his right hand.  As the Queen’s carriage came by, he moved to the front of the crowd, raised his gun and fired.  Fortunately it was a misfire.  A bystander, Charles Edward Dassett, took hold of him preventing him from firing the gun again, and led him to the police announcing to the crowd ‘This boy just tried to kill the Queen’.  The crowd however believed the event to be a hoax, and demanded Bean be given back his gun.  Dassett approached two separate policemen, neither of whom would take custody of Bean claiming there was not enough proof a crime had been committed.  Bean escaped but there were people in the crowd able to identify him.  Dassett took the gun to the police station at the Mall where he was initially accused of the crime, before having his statement taken as a witness.  John William Bean was arrested later that evening.

Reports into the crime noted that although outwardly John Bean appeared sullen and reserved, claiming to have made the attempt because he was ‘tired of life’, the investigators believed he was inwardly revelling in the attention his crime was receiving.  This it was claimed was part of the reason the charge was lessened and it was hoped that the newspapers paying him little attention would put paid to any hopes of notoriety he may have had from the public’s fascination with the crime of high treason.

John William Bean was found guilty of misdemeanour at the Old Bailey on 22 August 1842 and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison.

Prisoner ILNSketch of a prisoner in his cell from Illustrated London News 8 May 1888 British Newspaper Archive accessed via Findmypast

Bean was born in 1824 in Holborn, the son of John William, a jeweller, and his wife Sally Ann.  The family resided in Clerkenwell and the description given of John William junior in 1842 was of a young man who looked more like thirteen than eighteen, with a hunchback.

After he left prison, he found employment as a jeweller and news vendor.  He married twice, firstly to Esther Martin with whom he had one son Samuel born in 1849, and secondly to Catherine Watson.  Bean died in 1882 in Camberwell.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey - John William Bean, Royal Offences, 22 August 1842
An attempt on the life of the QueenThe Court Magazine and Monthly Critic, and Lady’s Magazine and Museum of the Belle Lettres … volume 21, 1842. BL General Reference Collection P.P.5141

 

30 June 2020

Remembering the Vere Street Coterie: a story of gay community, a police raid and library censorship

During Pride Month especially, it is vital that we remember the injustices and hardships faced by the British gay community over the centuries.  On 8 July 1810, the lives of a group of gay men in London were turned upside down.

The Bow Street Runners, an early version of the police force, launched a surprise raid on the White Swan in Vere Street, a molly house.  Many were arrested, six were convicted of sodomy and two others were later hanged.  This has become known as one of, if not the most, brutal public punishments of gay men in British history.

In 1813 a lawyer called Robert Holloway tells the story, somewhat disapprovingly, in a book called The Phoenix of Sodom, or the Vere Street Coterie. The British Library has two copies of this book, and both were secreted away in the Private Case, a collection of forbidden books, as soon as they arrived.  

The Phoenix of SodomThe Phoenix of Sodom, or, The Vere Street Coterie. Sold by J. Cook, at and to be had of all the booksellers, 1813.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Homosexual activity was illegal and heavily prosecuted during the 19th century.  Gay men were treated with derision and disgust, and their punishment often involved public humiliation.  Molly houses were meeting places for gay men.  They were taverns, public houses, coffee houses and brothels where men could meet, socialise and find sexual partners.  Gay couples could even get married.  Even though same-sex marriage was not legalised in the United Kingdom until 2014, unofficial ceremonies were conducted at the White Swan by a minister called John Church, arguably the first openly gay ordained Christian minister in England.  Needless to say, visiting these places was risky.

On 8 July 1810, amidst the chaos and panic, the Bow Street Runners arrested many men at the White Swan.  Six were charged with sodomy: William Amos, whose alias was Sally Fox, Philip Kett, William Thomson, Richard Francis, James Done and Robert Aspinall.  They were sentenced to an hour in the pillory and some were also sentenced to imprisonment.

On 27 September, the streets surrounding the Old Bailey were crammed with angry, self-righteous and moralistic people waiting with bated breath for the prisoners to appear.  The mob was armed with mud, the corpses of cats and dogs, rotten fish, spoiled eggs, dung and whatever else they could get their hands on.  Soon the men were bleeding and beaten insensible.

But the authorities didn’t stop there.  Two men who had visited the White Chapel in the past were betrayed by an informer and were sentenced to death.  They were Thomas White, a 16-year-old drummer of the Guards and John Newbolt Hepburn, a 42-year-old ensign in a West India regiment.  They were hanged at Newgate prison on 7 March 1811.

The terrible fate of these men, who became known as the Vere Street Coterie, terrorised the gay community in London.  Meanwhile, the mainstream press revelled in it, denouncing the men as “monsters” before the trial had even begun.  Raids like this were unfortunately all too common and were part of a general crackdown on immoral behaviour in the first half of the 19th century.

The British Museum Library was part of this; the Private Case collection was created in response to the Obscene Publications Act, which made the spread of obscene material illegal.  Library staff decided that The Phoenix of Sodom was obscene, obviously because it was about homosexuality, and locked both copies away.  Since then, they’ve been removed from the Private Case and restored to the general collection, where anybody can call them up and examine their account of a disturbing piece of our history.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

24 June 2020

A fraudulent shipwreck

When Commander John Porter heard of a case of shipwreck in the summer of 1843, there seemed to be nothing remarkable about the case.  Shipwrecks were common, and navigation in the Gulf could be dangerous.  But this shipwreck was different.  Porter went to offer what assistance he could to the stricken ship, the Mary Mallaby (also written Mary Mullaby).  He offered to assist Captain Charles Fisher with attempting to refloat his ship, which he thought would be possible.  Instead, Fisher rejected his offer, and insisted on selling the Mary Mallaby to the Shaikh of Qeshm.

Bandar Abbas from the sea

Bandar ‘Abbas from the sea - image from Philip Howard Colomb, Slave-Catching in the Indian Ocean (London, 1873) BL flickr

The ship’s log records that when the ship ran ashore, a ‘party of Arabs’ arrived in a small boat to offer assistance, but then refused to help by taking the anchor.  A few of them stayed on board overnight, but in the morning, they had vanished – along with two treasure boxes.

Fisher’s version of events differed markedly from that of the Shaikh of Bandar ‘Abbas.  Fisher claimed the Shaikh had refused to help, whereas the Shaikh claimed he had assisted as much as he was able to, given that it was the date harvesting season, and indeed countered that some of his offers of help had been refused.  Fisher even went so far as to object to the Shaikh sending the letter to Porter informing him about the wreck.

Brigantine by Oswald Walters Brierly - National Maritime Museum'A Brigantine' by Oswald Walters Brierly - image courtesy of National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London PAD9215 

Looking into the circumstances of the wreck carefully made Porter more suspicious.  The ship had run aground at a location that had been properly mapped, and yet Fisher had not let go the anchor early enough.  The incident had occurred during the afternoon, in calm, sunny weather.  He had then hoisted his sails, driving his ship further on shore.  Both the crew and the people watching on shore agreed that it looked deliberate.

Following the event, more facts began to emerge.  Fisher was seen in Muscat retrieving a chronometer and a sextant which he had left there before the incident, and which could have been damaged by the sudden impact of the wreck.  A traveller on the same ship to India as Fisher and his wife heard her say that her husband told her to hold tight just before they hit the shore.

Letter from the Chief Secretary at Bombay Castle  20 March 1844 to Captain Samuel Hennell  Resident in the Persian Gulf  giving his suspicions about Fisher

Letter from the Chief Secretary at Bombay Castle, 20 March 1844 to Captain Samuel Hennell, Resident in the Persian Gulf, giving his suspicions about Fisher IOR/R/15/1/102, f. 34r

The final piece of evidence came when two treasure boxes matching Fisher’s description were dredged up from the wreck site while the new owner of the Mary Mallaby, Sultan Thuwaini bin Sa’id, was looking for the anchor that had been lost.  These were carefully carried to be opened in the presence of the shaikhs of Bandar ‘Abbas and Qeshm, and all other local dignitaries, including Captain James Cromer of the Columbia.  Cromer described the opening of the boxes, and the astonishment of the room, when they were found to contain only copper dross ‘such as I have sometimes seen ships have for ballast’.  The opinion of the Bombay Government was clear: this was attempted fraud, and they conveyed as much to Fisher’s insurers.

Anne Courtney
Gulf History Cataloguer -British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
The story of the Mary Mallaby is told over multiple files: IOR/R/15/1/100; IOR/R/15/1/102; IOR/R/15/1/103, which are all available on the Qatar Digital Library.

Articles about the insurance fraud case can be found in the British Newspaper Archive - also available from Findmypast.

 

22 June 2020

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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


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

 

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

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

Portrait of Henry William Wolff writing at the Reform Club

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

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

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

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

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

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

British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast.

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

Entry in Who Was Who for Henry William Wolff.

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

 

17 June 2020

The treasures of King Thibaw of Burma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report on the Burma regalia The Glasgow Herald 3 April 1894

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

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

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

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

Craig Campbell
Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records

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

 

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