Untold lives blog

94 posts categorized "Crime"

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.

 

22 December 2020

Soldier’s life saved by Princess Mary's Christmas gift

In February 1915 Private Michael Brabston of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards was fighting at Givenchy.  In his breast pocket was the metal cigarette box he had received from Princess Mary's Gift Fund at Christmas.  A German bullet was on target to hit Brabston’s heart but it struck the box and he survived.

Princess Mary's Christmas Gift Box 1914 now in Imperial War MuseumPrincess Mary's Gift Fund box containing a packet of tobacco and carton of cigarettes, 1914. Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum
© IWM EPH 9380 

A few days later, Brabston was wounded above his left eye and he was sent to Edenbridge Hospital in Kent for treatment.  The matron forwarded the box and the bullet to Princess Mary.  A reply was received from Windsor Castle that the Princess was delighted that one of her boxes had saved a soldier’s life.  The box had been shown to the King and Queen who hoped that Private Brabston would soon recover from his wounds.

Brabston was awarded the Military Medal for his service in France.  On 17 August 1916, he was discharged from the British Army  as being no longer physically fit for war service.  He received a pension of 24 shillings per week.

Returning to his home in Clonmel Ireland, Brabston worked as a labourer before enlisting in the Irish National Army on 26 June 1922.  In May 1923, the Army was rounding-up Irish nationalists.  Sergeant Brabston was with a party of soldiers outside a dance hall at Goatenbridge when a young man approached him, hands in his pockets and whistling.  The two men exchanged greetings.  When the young man casually walked back the way he had come, Brabston became suspicious and followed him.  The man suddenly whipped out a revolver, shot Brabston in the chest at short range, and escaped into the woods.  Brabston died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

Michael Brabston’s mother Mary was awarded a gratuity of £100, paid in 20 monthly instalments of £5.  In 1927 an application for further payment was made on her behalf.  She had relied on her son to help support the family as he used to give her all his British Army pension plus money from his wages.  The claim stated that Mary was getting old, her nerves had been shattered by the sudden death of her son, she lacked nourishing food, she suffered from rheumatism, and she was incapable of earning a living.  The authorities ruled that nothing more could be paid as she had not been totally dependent upon Michael.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Leicester Daily Post 28 June 1915; Dublin Evening Telegraph 8 & 9 May 1923
World War I medal card for Michael Brabston available from The National Archives UK
Documents relating to Michael Brabston’s service in the Irish Army are available from Defence Forces Ireland Military Archives 

 

19 November 2020

Eliza Armstrong’s children

This is a further instalment in the story of Eliza Armstrong, the child bought for £5.

Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885 Image © The British Library Board British Newspaper Archive

Helena Goodwyn’s recent post told how the Salvation Army stepped in to help Eliza when she was in financial difficulties following the death of her husband. This post focuses on Eliza’s children.

Eliza Armstrong was married at the age of 21 to Henry George West on 24 October 1893 in Newcastle upon Tyne.  Henry was a widower aged 35 living in Jarrow and he was working as a plumber.  The couple’s first child Reginald Ladas West was born in 1894.  His unusual middle name may perhaps be explained by the fact that there was a racehorse called Ladas which was very successful in 1893-1894.

Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 from Illustrated London News 16 June 1894 Image © Illustrated London News Group British Newspaper Archive


Sadly Reginald died aged 3 of tubercular meningitis in June 1897.  Eliza and Henry had five other children: Alice Maud May, William Frederick, Sybil Primrose, Phyllis Irene, and Henry George (Harry). 

Eliza’s life took another sad turn in February 1906 when her husband died of heart disease aged just 42.  She took in lodgers to help ends meet and places were found in National Children’s Homes for the three middle children.  Sybil Primrose and Phyllis Irene (just Irene in some records) were sent 300 miles to Stokesmead at Alverstoke in Hampshire.  They are both there in the 1911 census, aged 10 and 8 respectively.  In 1914 the Hampshire Telegraph reported that Irene West from the children’s home had won a Band of Hope prize.

William Frederick was placed at Edgworth children’s home in Lancashire, a ‘farm colony’ where boys and girls were trained in practical skills.  Many were sent to Canada.  In March 1912 William sailed from Liverpool with 90 other boys in the Dominion to Halifax, Nova Scotia. William became a farm hand in Ontario.

Eliza gave birth to five more children between 1907 and 1915: Reginald West in May 1907 (no father is named on his birth certificate) and four with Samuel O’Donnell, a lead worker - Francis Maurice, Frederick, Minnie, and Norman.

In January 1915 William enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He arrived back in England with his army unit in August 1915 and went to fight in France in May 1916.  William was wounded in the right leg at Passchendaele on 31 October 1917.  He was sent back to Colchester for hospital treatment.

From August 1916 to his discharge in July 1919, William assigned 10 dollars of his pay to his mother.  He returned to Hebburn and married Eliza Carr in April 1919.  The couple moved to Canada and later to the USA.

Newspaper report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917Report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917 British Newspaper Archive

In February and March 1917, Harry West (12) and his brother Reginald (9) appeared at a juvenile court after stealing purses by pickpocketing.  They had run away from home, sleeping rough and eating in cocoa rooms.  Eliza had searched for them night and day.  She asked that her sons be taken away, although they had a good home, because she could do nothing with them.  As the boys had several previous convictions for petty theft, it was decided to send them to Wellesley Training Institution until they were sixteen.

Poor Eliza’s troubles did not end there.  Just weeks later, on 19 May 1917, Samuel O’Donnell died aged 49.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Jarrow Express 2 July 1897, 23 February 1906, & 30 March 1917; Shields Daily News 24 February & 27 March 1917; Hampshire Telegraph 17 April 1914
Stokesmead National Children’s Home 
Edgworth National Children’s Home 

Canadian immigration record for William Frederick West
Canadian Expeditionary Force papers for William Frederick West 

Previous blog posts -
Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong?
Eiiza Armstrong – still elusive!
Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle

 

12 November 2020

Stand and deliver! Cross-dressing highwaywomen in broadside ballads

You’ve heard of highwaymen, but what about highwaywomen?  Female highway robbers definitely existed in the 17th and 18th centuries.  They worked alone, as part of a gang, or with husbands.  They appear in the records of county session court trials and in other sources like the Newgate Calendar.  They were notorious for cross-dressing.

Highwaywomen also appear in broadside ballads, a major part of popular news culture at that time.  Printed cheaply on a single sheet, they focussed on sensational tales of murder, doomed lovers, cheating husbands, wonders, famous military victories, highwaymen and, occasionally, highwaywomen.  The so-called unladylike behaviour and cross-dressing of highwaywomen caused quite the scandal.  Most of the time, the ballads are written from the perspective of the highwaywoman on the scaffold, about to confess and be hanged.

Ballad entitled A True Relation of One Susan Higges with illustrations of her robbing whilst dressed as a man, and being hanged.A True Relation of One Susan Higges, dwelling in Risborrow a Towne in Buckinghamshire and How She Lived 20. Yeeres, by Robbing on the High-Wayes. London, c.1640. British Library, C.20.f.7.(424-425), EBBA 30289  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In A True Relation of One Susan Higges and The Sorrowfull Complaint of Susan Higges (two ballads about the same person printed in 1640), Susan Higges commits highway robbery for twenty years while dressed as a man, before being caught and executed.  Her shocking exploits are described as acts of gallantry and female boldness:
    'In mens attire I oft have rode,
    upon a Gelding stout,
    and done great robberies valiantly,
   the countries round about'.

Retribution comes when she robs a woman who recognises her.  Higges stabs the other woman who, as she dies, spits three drops of blood at Higges’s face, which cannot be washed off.  Higges is caught and executed, but not before warning the readers: 'Be warned by this story, you ruffling roysters all: the higher that you climbe in sinne, the greater is your fall'.

Ballad entitled The Sorrowfull Complaint of Susan HiggesThe Sorrowfull Complaint of Susan Higges. London, c.1640. Pepys Library, EBBA 20002.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Highwaywomen rarely got away with it, as it were.  In another pair of ballads, The Female Frollick and The Female Highway Hector (1690), the female highway robber is raped by a highwayman: 'with her he did what he pleased', and this is presented as her comeuppance for committing robbery and, especially, cross-dressing.

Ballad entitled The Female Highway Hector  with illustrations of her dressed as a woman and as a man holding the reins of a horse.The Female Highway Hector: or, An Account of a Woman, Who Was Lately Arraign’d For Robbing on the Highway in Man’s Apparel. [London?], c.1690. National Library of Scotland, Crawford Collection, EBBA 33924.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There is an 18th-century ballad about a woman avenging herself on highwaymen, rather than committing robbery herself.  The Cook-Maid’s Garland was popular; it was printed at least five times in the 1760s and 1770s.   It tells of a 'handsome brisk cook-maid' at a Reigate inn.  Five naked gentleman arrive, having been robbed by highwaymen en route.  The cook-maid offers to take these highwaymen on for £100.  One man agrees, promising to marry her if she succeeds.  She dresses up as the devil on horseback, covering herself with soot and attaching the antlers of a stag to her head.  She terrorises the highwaymen and captures them.

Ballad entitled The Cook-Maid’s Garland  with an illustration of her dressed as the devil on horsebackThe Cook-Maid’s Garland: or, The Out-of-the-way Devil [London?, c.1775], British Library C.20.f.9(772-773), EBBA 31494  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Precious few highwaywomen cried 'stand and deliver!', both in real life and in broadside ballads.  They were outnumbered by highwaymen.  They also don’t get away with it for very long.  Did these women cross-dress as a disguise or were they making a bolder statement about their gender?  We will never know but this glimpse into their lives is intriguing indeed.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

10 November 2020

A fatal pub brawl and its consequences

The saying goes that fate can turn on a sixpence, but for my great-great-grandfather John Barlow (1843-1884) it turned on a pint.  On 29 December 1884, John was having a drink after work in the Farmer’s Arms, New Ferry, when he accidentally picked up the wrong pint of beer and drank from it.  The pint’s owner, John Whitehouse, alias Mantle, objected and an argument quickly escalated into a fight. 

Two men fighting in a pub watched by other customers- Illustrated Police News 17 April 1869Two men fighting in a pub - Illustrated Police News 17 April 1869 British Newspaper Archive

Unfortunately, John sustained fatal injuries and died next morning in the Borough Hospital, Birkenhead.

Report of the fatal pub brawl at New Ferry - Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885Report of the fatal pub brawl at New Ferry - Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885 British Newspaper Archive

John’s death was obviously catastrophic for the family.  His wife Elizabeth was left widowed with three children – George Robert (16), John Robert (13), and Mary Jane (10).  Her parents Robert and Mary Gore lived in the same street and were a source of support, but her father died in 1887.  In the same year Elizabeth married a shoemaker called William Tasker.  In family legend, Tasker was a villain whose behaviour towards his step-children caused the boys to leave home.  But is there any evidence to support this?

In June 1886, George Robert Barlow joined the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, but that was before his mother’s remarriage.  By 1894 he was in Kirkee, Poona, where he married a nurse Rhoda Mary Moss.  By 1901, he was in Liverpool and described himself as a retired soldier.  He died in 1905, leaving his wife and one surviving son.

My great-grandfather John Robert Barlow (1871-1959) certainly left home to join the Merchant Navy, though the exact date is unclear.  Merchant Navy records are not centralised and it is difficult to track down individuals if you don’t know the name of the ship.  He is certainly absent from the 1891 and 1901 censuses; unlike ships in British ports, ships at sea were not enumerated.  Various documents describe him as a ‘trimmer’ (stoker), and later a marine fireman, so he clearly worked in the engine room of steam ships.  His death certificate describes him as a retired boatswain.  He married in Kirkdale in 1905 when he was 33, his bride Emma Gibbons was 18.

In 1889 Elizabeth and William Tasker had a son together named William George; in 1891, they were staying in a common lodging house in Birkenhead.  By 1901 they were lodging in Ormskirk, Lancashire.  In 1911, Elizabeth and William George were living with her daughter Mary Jane Kirkby in Rock Ferry, and Elizabeth is described as a widow.

And what of William Tasker?  The son of Daniel Tasker, shoemaker of Hoole, Chester, and his wife Mary, he was baptised in Chester in 1842.  His year of birth fluctuates in the records; on his marriage certificate in 1887, Tasker describes himself as 37 rather than 44.  Lying about your age is one thing, but did great-great-grandma Elizabeth really marry a wrong un’?  Possibly.  There is a William Tasker, shoemaker of Hoole, Chester, who appears in the Calendar of Prisoners Sent for Trial in both 1870 and 1871.  He was found guilty of riot in August 1870 after attacking Hoole Police Station, and sentenced to 14 days' hard labour at Chester Castle.  He was then found guilty of larceny in September 1871, having stolen ‘a coat, a pair of trowsers and a medal…’ from his father, and was sentenced to 12 months' hard labour.  Included are details of Tasker’s record of previous convictions for drunkenness, ‘breaches of Militia discipline’, assaulting police, and in May 1868 he served 14 days for stealing a duck.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
British Newspaper Archive (can also be accessed through Findmypast) includes reports of John Barlow’s death, for example Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885 & 29 January 1885; Cheshire Observer 3 January 1885; Chester Courant 7 January 1885; Morning Post 2 January 1885.
British India Office Marriages via Findmypast (Bengal, Madras and Bombay: Registrar Marriages ‎ (1891-1895) IOR/N/11/8 f.677, no.3)

 

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)

 

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