Untold lives blog

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113 posts categorized "Crime"

17 April 2024

Case of Gholam Hosain

In November 1879, the India Office received a communication from the Foreign Office relating to a gentleman named Gholam Hosain, a native of the Indian city of Lahore, who was stranded in Italy and needed help to return home.  The India Office often received requests for help from individuals who found themselves in distressed circumstances.  Usually the India Office declined to help, but this was not the case with Gholam Hosain.

First page of India Office file on Gholam HosainCase of Gholam Hosain, a native of Lahore, stranded at Venice, Italy, 1879, IOR/L/PJ/2/59, File 7/582.

Gholam Hosain’s case was laid out in a letter of 24 October 1879 to the Foreign Office in London from the Consul at Florence, D E Colnaghi.  Gholam Hosain was about 25 years old and had arrived at Venice from Alexandria on board the P&O steam ship Pera on 20 October 1879.  He had a passport issued to him by the British Consul, Charles Alfred Cookson at Alexandria, a copy being enclosed in Colnaghi’s letter.  He stated that he had been robbed of his clothes and £40 on arrival at Venice.  However he had made no complaint at the time as he did not speak Italian and was afraid that his story would not be believed.  He had intended to visit England to see Mr Brandreth, one of the Commissioners in the Punjab. Brandreth was on leave and staying in London.  Gholam Hosain had been in his service for several years.

Copy of passport issued to Gholam HosainCopy of passport issued to Gholam Hosain by the British Consul, Charles Alfred Cookson at Alexandria, , IOR/L/PJ/2/59, File 7/582


Enquiries were made to the P&O Office, and Captain Hyde of the Pera stated that there had been a deck passenger answering to Gholam Hosain’s description on the ship, but he had not been able to discover if there were grounds for complaint as there had been no report to the captain or any other person on board regarding a robbery.  Gholam Hosain did not appear to have any baggage, just the clothes he wore and a blanket.  Hyde was inclined to think from his appearance that he was a loafer.  A request was made to the P&O Agent to grant Gholam Hosain a free return deck passage to India, but the reply was that they only carried 1st and 2nd class passengers to India.  The Vice-Consul at Venice, Mr de Zuccats, granted Gholam Hosain a sailor’s allowance of 2 lira 50 centimes per diem to enable him to procure the actual necessaries of life pending further enquiries being made.

On 31 October 1879, Colnaghi informed the Foreign Office that he had heard from Mr Brandreth.  He stated that Gholam Hosain was a 'respectable Munshi or Professor of Persian and Arabic, late Tutor to the Raja of Lambragram', and although he was mistaken in his endeavour to reach England, his case was deserving of consideration.  A minute paper in the India Office file gives the additional information that Gholam Hosain had been travelling to see Mr Brandreth in the hope that he might be restored to an office from which he had been dismissed by one of Mr Brandreth’s subordinate officers.

Happily, the India Office agreed to fund a passage for Gholam Hosain to Bombay, and the P&O Company agreed to take him at the cost of £17.  The passage was duly arranged, and the Foreign Office reported that he had shipped for Bombay on the P&O steam ship Zanzibar which had sailed from Venice on 28 November 1879.  In addition, the cost of his stay in Italy came to 101 lira, which the Foreign Office reclaimed from India Office funds.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Case of Gholam Hosain, a native of Lahore, stranded at Venice, Italy, 1879, shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/2/59, File 7/582.
The service history of Arthur Brandreth, Commissioner at Lahore, can be traced in the India Office List.

 

10 October 2023

A case of bigamy

On 17 February 1816 Captain George Harrower, a free mariner with the East India Company, stood trial at the Old Bailey, accused of bigamy.

Newspaper report of Harrower's bigamy trial Madras Courier 13 August 1816

Extract from report of Harrower's bigamy trial Madras Courier 13 August 1816

It was claimed that on 5 February 1794 Captain Harrower had married Miss Mary Usher in Bombay, and that he had been married for a second time on 12 October 1812 in London to Miss Susannah Ann Giblet, despite knowing that his first wife was alive and well in India.

Marriage entry, Bombay, 5 February 1794, of Mr George Harraway [Harrower] and Miss Mary UsherIOR/N 3/3 f.389 Marriage entry, Bombay, 5 February 1794, of Mr George Harraway [Harrower] and Miss Mary Usher

The Reverend Arnold Burrowes, the East India Company’s Chaplain in Bombay in 1794 who was acquainted with both Captain Harrower and Miss Usher. was deposed to give testimony on the validity of the marriage.  The entry in the copy marriage register sent to London at the end of 1794 was produced as evidence.

Burrowes' testimony also included that he had visited Mrs Harrower in Bombay in November 1813 prior to his return to England, and had been given three letters for a Mr Giblet, a butcher in London.  He delivered these letters in June 1814 along with news of his visit to Mrs Harrower for both the Captain and Mr Giblet’s information, which is how Mr Giblet learned of his son-in-law’s bigamy.

Mr Giblet then visited Bow Street Police Station and requested that his son-in-law be arrested, but he could not be found, as Captain Harrower had fled to France in the company of a Mr Thompson as he ‘feared for his life because of false accusations of Bigamy against him’.

Mr Thompson gave testimony and during cross-examination admitted he had asked Captain Harrower outright whether his first wife was still alive, and that the Captain had admitted it.  He had then told several people what he had learned on his return to England.

Captain Harrower’s own testimony made no mention at all of his first his wife.  He spoke solely of his relationship with Mr Giblet, who was insolvent, and claimed had been extorting him for money having handed over £30,000 since 1812.  He also accused Mr Giblet of having stolen £10,000 that had been settled on his daughter as part of the marriage agreement in 1812.

The judge in summing up the trial observed that only two questions actually mattered. Was the accused legally married to Miss Mary Usher in 1794, and was his second marriage to Miss Giblet in 1812 therefore an act of bigamy?

The jury found Captain Harrower guilty of bigamy, and he was sentenced on 22 February 1816 to six months in Newgate Gaol.

According to the trial reports following the judge’s verdict Susannah Harrower/Giblet was ‘bathed in tears’ and had to be conveyed out of the courtroom.  Her father and Mr Thompson were subjected to much ‘hooting and hissing’ and Mr Thompson was even pelted with mud and dirt.

Captain Harrower lived with Susannah for the rest of his life, and in 1818 the couple petitioned unsuccessfully for his conviction to be pardoned.  They applied again in 1828 for the conviction to be overturned but were still unsuccessful.  It is likely the application was made knowing that Mrs Mary Harrower had died in Bombay in January 1826 and that Captain Harrower was now legally a widower.

Bombay burial register entry for Mary Harrower January 1826Burial entry for  Mary Harrower in Bombay January 1826 IOR/N/3/7 p.429

 George Harrower died in Edinburgh on 9 August 1829.  Susannah Ann Harrower was remarried In 1833 to John Hutchinson.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Madras Courier, 13 August 1816 accessed via British Newspaper Archive 21 September 2023.
IOR/N/3/3 f.389 – marriage entry, Bombay, 5 February 1794, of Mr George Harrower & Miss Mary Usher in Bombay (Captain Harrower is mistakenly recorded as Harraway in the entry).
IOR/N/3/7 p.429 – burial entry, Bombay, 9 January 1826, for Mrs Mary Harrower.

 

19 September 2023

William Henry Wilson of the Bombay Police

William Henry Wilson was an officer in the Bombay Staff Corps in the second half of the 19th century.  Born in Worcester on 13 September 1839, Wilson was appointed to the Indian Army in December 1856, and posted to the 18th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry.  Present during operations against insurgents in the North Canara and Bedee Districts in 1858, he was awarded the Mutiny Medal.  He had a successful army career, and served in the Bombay Police.

Decorated scroll in praise of Wilson  1891

Decorated scroll in praise of Wilson 1891 - Mss Eur F764/7/8

In 1870, Wilson was the Superintendent of Police for the Kaira District, and was called on to oversee police arrangements for the fair at Dakore held in April of that year.  The fair was a success and Wilson was commended for the judicious manner in which the arrangements were devised and carried out with due regard to the feelings of the people attending the event.  Wilson noted in his papers that, 'There was a tremendous concourse of people, especially women……The Maharajah wanted to give me a sword but I said government would not approve as I had only done my duty'.

Report of the fair at Dakore 1870  with the offer of a sword as a giftReport on the fair at Dakore 1870 -  Mss Eur F764/7/2

In 1885, Wilson was the District Superintendent of Police at Nasik. I n October of that year, he had to deal with a riot that broke out at Malegaon in the District.  The cause of the riot seemed to be a dispute between members of the Hindu and Muslim communities who were celebrating the festivals of Dasara and Muharram.  The unrest lasted four days and 42 people were arrested.  At one point, a Hindu temple was attacked forcing the police guard to fire on the rioters wounding two men.  The Government commended Wilson and the local Magistrate Mr Frost for their promptitude and discretion.  In Wilson’s copy of the report on the riot, he noted in the margin that, 'It was a hot business' and that leading Muslim leaders had asked him to release the 42 men who had been arrested, to which he had refused.  They were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of between three to eighteen months.

Report of riot at Malegaon 1885 Report of riot at Malegaon 1885  - Mss Eur F764/7/2

In 1887, Wilson, serving as Superintendent of Police in the Poona District, was involved in tracking down a gang of robbers.  Wilson reported that, 'five of the Koli gang of dacoits have surrendered to Inspector Ganpatrao Malhar and that a sixth, who alleges he was pressed into the dacoit’s service against his will, has also given himself up' . Wilson recommended that the reward of Rs.500 should be increased to Rs.1000 and distributed to local villagers 'who have done so well and have suffered in the service'.

Report of the surrender of a gang of dacoits 1887  Surrender of a gang of dacoits 1887 - Mss Eur F764/7/2

Between 1888 and 1893, Wilson served as Commissioner of Police for the Town and Island of Bombay.  During that time, he met a number of visiting dignitaries, including Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence in 1889.  The following year, he met Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, future Emperor of Russia, who was on a tour of India.  Wilson wrote that it was rather a responsibility for the Governor, Lord Harris, especially as the Indian Government 'were very jumpy'.  Of the Tsesarevich, Wilson wrote, 'He was very unformed in manners & never thanked me'. I n January 1893, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria visited Bombay as part of his tour of India during his trip round the world.  Wilson commented that Lord Harris 'found him a pleasant guest; and he specially thanked me at the railway station on his departure'.

 

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
William Henry Wilson’s papers are part of a recently catalogued collection of India Office Private Papers now available to researchers in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room: Papers of the Wilson Family, Mss Eur F764 that charts the family’s connection with India over four generations.
Papers relating to the service history of William Henry Wilson, 1866-1914, shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/7/1.
Official correspondence relating to William Henry Wilson's career, 1860-1893, shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/7/2.

 

12 September 2023

How to smuggle an elephant

The British government benefitted greatly from a number of structures and processes already in place in the region of South Asia.  An important but not very celebrated one was the use of elephants as a hybrid of machinery and workforce.  Not only did they serve to transport products, they were also essential in routine industrial work like loading and unloading ships.

Photograph of elephants at work in Rangoon, moving stone blocksElephants at work in Rangoon. Photographer Philip Adolphe  Klier (1845-1911) British Library Photo 88/1(22) 

Elephants at work in India, moving heavy objects

Elephants at work from Annie Brassey, The Last Voyage - to India and Australia, in the ‘Sunbeam’, New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1889, pp.131 (W51/1046)


Because of their crucial function in the carrying out of human plans, elephants were highly valued.  That made interest and research in those animals flourish and even encouraged the development of vaccines.  However, the knowledge produced was highly focused on productivity and disregarded most local knowledge.

Drawings of four elephants showing their diseasesElephants and their diseases: a treatise on elephants. British Library Or 13916 (f.2r)

The importance of elephants made them vulnerable not only to exploitation but also to smuggling and fraud.  A file in the India Office Records holds correspondence associated with the case of Mr Dalrymple-Clark, Superintendent of the Government kheddas, enclosures to tame and keep wild elephants.

Military officers supervising the rounding up of elephants in Ceylon Capturing elephants in Ceylon. c.1825. Military officers supervising the rounding up of elephants. British Library WD2096 

Ian Hew Warrender Clark was born in Chelsea on 1 December 1853, the son of Colonel John Clark and Charlotte Sophia Dalrymple.  He later changed his surname to Dalrymple-Clark.  On 26 November 1873 Dalrymple-Clark joined the Bengal Police Department.  He was promoted to District Superintendent in July 1886, and then appointed Superintendent of Kheddas in Burma in October 1902, a position of responsibility.  However Dalrymple-Clark apparently profited from selling government elephants privately under the name of a Mr Green.  Dalrymple-Clark was said to have reported that an outbreak of anthrax had killed 26 elephants, giving him cover to sell them to private companies in the region himself.  That resulted in him being chased in India and London by deputy superintendent Mr Soord.  Having retired to England, he was arrested in London in December 1909 under the Fugitive Offenders Act and prosecuted for breach of trust and falsification of accounts.

Letter concerning enquiry into Dalrymple-Clark - first page Letter concerning enquiry into Dalrymple-Clark - second pageEnquiry regarding Dalrymple-Clark IOR/L/PJ/6/504, File 456


In early 1910, Dalrymple-Clark returned to face trial in Rangoon.  In July, after a trial involving an elephant identity parade, he was found not guilty of criminal breach of trust.  In February 1911 he was cleared of falsifying elephant returns.  His assistant superintendent, John Briscoe Birch, and two Indian members of staff, Mukerji and Gupta, were convicted of criminal breach of trust and sentenced to five years in prison.

The India Office Records holds published and manuscript material from circa 1600 to 1948 and relating to the British experience in India, including both official and private papers.  The Legal Adviser’s Records (IOR/L/L) hold the records of cases of legal dispute in British territory in South Asia.  That material is invaluable in providing interesting insights into local entanglements between human, animal and environmental agents.

Bianca Miranda Cardoso
Manuscripts Cataloguer

Further reading:
IOR/L/L/8/178 Correspondence associated with the case of Dalrymple-Clarke, prosecuted for breach of trust and falsification of accounts regarding Government elephants and arrested in London under the Fugitive Offenders Act, Dec 1909-Oct 1911.
IOR/L/PJ/6/1061, File 432 - Allowances for Mr Soord while on deputation to England in connection with the criminal prosecution of Mr Dalrymple-Clark.
British Newspaper Archive- many articles on the ‘Kheddah cases’
Colonizing elephants: animal agency, undead capital and imperial science in British Burma | BJHS Themes | Cambridge Core 2, 169-189. 
Saha, J. (2021). Vital Resources. In Colonizing Animals (pp. 51-82). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
How to ship your elephant 

 

30 March 2023

Women travellers on Indian railways

In 1869, newspapers in India and Britain reported that the Viceroy of India had approved a proposal to construct special carriages for Hindu and Muslim ‘Lady Travellers’ on the East India Railway.  This was considered the best means of preventing ‘insults’ to Indian women travelling by train.

East India Railway steam locomotive pulling carriagesEast India Railway train  from Illustrated London News 19 September 1863 Image © Illustrated London News Group. British Newspaper Archive - image created courtesy of The British Library Board.

The carriages, reserved for ‘respectable native women’, were to be of a first-class standard but with lower fares than other first-class accommodation.  It was recommended that there should be a European female guard and a European female ticket collector in attendance.  The guard would ensure that the women were comfortable, and any male relatives would be provided for in an adjoining carriage.  The Dacca Prakash suggested that there should also be carriages where females could ride with relatives if they objected to being separated.

Hindoo Lady Travellers 1869Article entitled 'Hindoo Lady Travellers' from Leicester Guardian 27 October 1869

In 1910 the Committee of the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce raised concerns about female carriages on the railways.  Committee Secretary Sita Nath Roy wrote to the President of the Railway Board expressing alarm at ‘the repeated robberies and outrages’ perpetrated in the carriages reserved for women travellers.  He referred to the recent robbery at Tinpahar when a Bengali woman was cut with a knife, her jewellery stolen, and three of her children thrown out of the train window.  Roy said that women in the secluded compartments found themselves ‘absolutely helpless in the hands of ruffians and desperadoes’, and did not know how to use the alarm bell when they or their property came under attack.

Newspaper article on women travelling on the railways in India 1910Article on women travelling on the railways in India from Englishman’s Overland Mail 4 August 1910

Unless remedial steps were taken, the Committee believed that there might be a considerable falling-off in passenger traffic on the railways.  The Committee therefore suggested some ‘protective measures’:
• Female carriages of all classes to be put together where possible and a trusted police officer with two or three constables place at the front and rear.
• Intermediate and third-class carriages should not be partitioned into compartments.
• Two female guards should be posted to protect women passengers on night trains.
• Windows should be protected with strong iron bars.
• Female carriages should have side lights.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Friend of India and Statesman 10 June 1869; Leicester Guardian 27 October 1869; Englishman’s Overland Mail 4 August 1910.

 

01 February 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

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

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

 

29 November 2022

East India Company discharged soldiers

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

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

23 November 2022

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

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

 

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