Untold lives blog

10 posts categorized "East Asia"

17 November 2020

William Adams in Japan– a new digital resource

William Adams, 'the first Englishman in Japan', died on 16 May 1620 at Hirado.  Events planned in Japan and the UK to mark the 400th anniversary of his death have unfortunately had to be postponed because of the pandemic.  However the British Library has been able to contribute to the celebration of a remarkable life.  Letters written by Adams during his years in Japan are preserved in the East India Company archive, and we are delighted to announce that digital copies of these are now available to access freely in our Digitised Manuscripts resource.

Firando (Hirado) from the sea 1669 with a Dutch shipFirando (Hirado) viewed from the sea-  Arnoldus Montanus, Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

Adams joined a Dutch merchant fleet as chief pilot in 1598.  He arrived in Japan on board the Liefde in 1600 and built a new life for himself under the patronage of Tokugawa Ieyasu.  William Adams worked for both the Dutch and English East India Companies after they arrived in Japan in 1609 and 1613 respectively.

Firando (Hirado) Castle 1669The castle at Firando (Hirado)  - Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

The earliest letter written by William Adams in the English East India Company records is dated 23 October 1611 in Hirado.  He had heard that there were Englishmen at Bantam (Banten) in Java and so the letter is addressed to unknown friends and countrymen.  Adams gave an account of his life, explaining how he came to be in Japan, what had happened to him since his arrival, his relationship with Tokugawa Ieyasu and the honours he had received.  He had been refused permission to leave Japan and asked for word to be sent to his family that he was still alive.  Adams gave information about trading contacts with the Dutch.

This letter was received in Bantam by East India Company merchant Augustine Spalding.  He sent a reply via the Dutch, together with a bible and three other books.

On 12 January 1613 Adams answered.  He had received a letter from Thomas Smythe, Governor of the East India Company, promising that a ship would be sent to Japan to establish a factory (trading post).  Adams passed on to Spalding valuable commercial intelligence and advice about the best way of establishing trade with Japan.

Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613IOR/E/3/1 ff. 157-58  Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Adams wrote from Hirado on 1 December 1613 to the East India Company in London, announcing the arrival of John Saris in their ship Clove.  He detailed Saris’s reception at court and described how Saris was unhappy when he was not permitted by Japanese custom to hand a letter from King James directly to the emperor but only via his secretary.  Saris asked Adams if he would serve the English East India Company and, after considerable negotiation, a salary of £100 per annum was agreed.

On the same day, Adams wrote to Thomas Best at Bantam updating him with the latest news.  He said that he had intended to go home in the Clove but changed his mind because of discourtesies shown to him by Saris.

Other letters are addressed to English merchants in Japan and to the East India Company in London, with news of people, trade, and Japanese politics.  The final one in the archive was sent in November 1617 from Adams at Sakai to Company merchant Richard Wickham at Hirado.  400 years after his death, the voice of William Adams can still be heard through his written legacy.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator. East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/1 ff 116-29 William Adams at Hirado to his ‘unknown friends and countrymen’ at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 157-58 William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 203-04 Contract between William Adams and the East India Company, Hirado
IOR/E/3/1 ff 209-11 William Adams at Hirado to the East India Company in London
IOR/E/3/1 ff 212-13 William Adams at Hirado to Thomas Best at Bantam
IOR/E/3/2 f 43 William Adams at Hirado to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/3 f 78 William Adams at Shizuoka to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/4 f 143-44 William Adams at Hirado to Sir Thomas Smythe in London
IOR/E/3/5 f 189 William Adams at Sakai to Richard Wickham at Hirado

Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1613-1623 (London: British Library, 1991)

William Adams - from Gillingham to Japan

 

08 September 2020

Captain Charles Foulis and Commodore George Anson

Charles Foulis (c.1714 – 1783) became wealthy from his maritime career with the East India Company.  For his second voyage he served as first mate under Captain Robert Jenkins on the Harrington bound for St Helena, Bombay and China.  The ship arrived at Bombay at the end of July 1742 and had an encounter with Angria’s pirate ships whilst returning from Tellicherry.

On 18 December 1742, Captain Jenkins died of ‘a feaver and flux’ and was buried with military honours in Bombay.  Foulis took over as captain of the Harrington and sailed for China, his first voyage east of India.

Portrait of George Anson, three-quarters length standing to left, looking towards the viewer, holding a telescope in both hands, his left elbow resting on a grassy ledge beside his hat, wearing a suit with sword and wig.Portrait of George Anson, 1747 - Courtesy of  British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Meanwhile, Commodore George Anson (1697-1762) was continuing a voyage around the world in the Centurion, the last remaining ship of his small fleet.  When the Centurion called at Macao in November 1742, neither the Europeans nor the Chinese wanted this armed warship to approach Canton and threaten the delicate trade balance.  However, she was badly in need of repair, water and stores, and assistance was reluctantly given.  She departed on 19 April 1743, supposedly for England.  There was huge consternation when she returned nearly three months later, towing the Spanish treasure galleon Covadonga as her ‘prize’ worth about £60 million in today’s money.

Anson made his way up river towards Canton, threatening violence to the Chinese officials who tried to stop him.  When the Harrington arrived on 17 July, Captain Foulis was caught up as a pawn in the affair, torn between his respect for Anson and his responsibility to the East India Company.

Foulis went on board the Centurion to discuss the situation with Anson.  Eventually on 28-29 July the Centurion was allowed upstream and Harrington, with a local pilot aboard, guided her through the channels.  After delicate negotiations, Anson was permitted to visit Canton for a meeting with the Chinese officials.

The Centurion left China in December 1743 and the Harrington at the end of January 1744. On 4 July Anson’s magnificent procession of 32 wagons of treasure passed through the streets of London on its way to the Tower.

Introductory page of the journal and log of the Anson 1746Introductory page of the journal and log of the Anson 1746 - IOR/L/MAR/B/549A Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Foulis’s next voyage was in the 1746/7 season as captain of the Anson, under the management of David Crichton, a relative of his wife.  The Anson had a battle with the French outside Bombay but the captain got his papers and treasure landed before the ship was captured.  Foulis managed to return to England and on 2 November 1748 the East India Company Court of Directors agreed that Captain Foulis had ‘done his Duty and behaved like a Gallant and Discreet Officer and is Justly entitled to the Courts Favour’.

From 1750 to 1755 Foulis captained the Lord Anson for two uneventful voyages before retiring from the sea to manage voyages for the East India Company.  Between 1759 and his death in 1783 he managed 38 voyages made by 12 ships and was a significant figure in the shipping lobby.

The memorial erected by Captain Robert Preston to Charles Foulis in St.Mary’s church, Woodford, Essex.

The memorial erected by Captain Robert Preston to Charles Foulis in St.Mary’s church, Woodford, Essex, as a testimony of his gratitude. Foulis had managed three voyages which Preston made as captain and then worked with him in the City. In his will Foulis named Preston as his ‘residuary legatee and executor’. Author;'s photograph. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Charles Foulis had other connections with the East India Company: his sister Margaret married William George Freeman, a director in 1769, 1774-76 and 1778-81.  His wife had a sister who married Andrew Moffatt of Cranbrook House in Ilford, another Principal Managing Owner who was involved in shipping insurance.

Georgina Green
Independent scholar


Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/654D Journal of the Harrington 1741-1744
IOR/L/MAR/B/549A Journal of the Anson 1746-1747
IOR/B/70 East India Company Court of Directors’ Minute Book
Sally Rousham (ed.), The Greatest Treasure - Philip Saumarez and the voyage of the Centurion (Guernsey Museum, 1994)
Glyn Williams, The Prize of all the Oceans (Harper Collins, 1999)

 

11 January 2018

The fascinating life of Stella Alexander

In 2016 the British Library acquired the papers of Stella Alexander, a Quaker and scholar of Yugoslav history. She lived a long and fascinating life, and her papers are a rich resource for a wide variety of research subjects. Her letters and draft unpublished memoir give first-hand accounts of diplomatic and expat life in 1920s and 1930s China, the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, and Chinese customs and society. The reports she wrote for the Quakers on her visits to Yugoslavia give rare eye-witness reports of life in eastern Europe during the Cold War. Her work for the Quakers and her travels round India, where she met Gandhian educationalists at Sevagram, are also covered thoroughly by the papers.

Photograph of  Stella Alexander née Tucker lying on her front on grass, Shanghai 1929 Stella Alexander née Tucker in Shanghai, 1929 - British Library Add MS 89279 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Stella Tucker was born a “privileged alien” in Shanghai in 1912, the daughter of an American bullion broker. She was educated in Shanghai, the United States, and Oxford. After graduation she married John Alexander, a British diplomat, and returned to China in the midst of a tempestuous time in the country’s history. Japan had invaded Manchuria in 1931 and occupied Shanghai in 1932.

The life of a diplomat’s wife involved seemingly non-stop entertaining of diplomats, politicians, and journalists, but it was not all glamour; it was also peripatetic and the family (including their two children) moved frequently with John’s postings, with each move necessitating setting up home anew.

It would have been easy for Stella to settle into the “the narrow, shallow-rooted life” of the diplomatic community, but instead she took the trouble to learn Chinese, spoke Chinese not pidgin English to her staff, made Chinese friends, and ensured her children played with local children.

This comfortable life changed dramatically in December 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. Foreign diplomats in China were interned, in the case of the Alexanders in the Cathay Hotel, “in adequate comfort… like a prolonged ocean cruise”, according to Stella. It was a far cry from the conditions that the thousands of internees without diplomatic status had to endure.

In September 1942 the family was among approximately 1500 Allied citizens who were exchanged for a similar number of Japanese civilians who had been interned in the United States and Stella returned to the US.

It became increasingly difficult for Stella to follow John’s postings, and his frequent secondments and moves between Paris, New York, and Geneva, and the lengthy separations these occasioned, eventually took their toll and they divorced amicably in 1950.

After her divorce Stella worked for the United Nations Association, travelled round India for a year, and became increasingly involved in the Quakers, representing the London Yearly Meeting at the UN General Assembly in 1957. It was through her work for the Quakers that Stella developed her other great interest. After meeting three young Yugoslavs at a seminar in 1957 she became enthralled by the country. She visited almost annually from 1961 into the 1970s, travelling round by bus and train, often alone, learned Serbo-Croat, and wrote academic tomes on Yugoslav subjects.

Stella Alexander in later life - photograph Stella Alexander in later life - photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Anthony Upton.  © Anthony Upton

Stella remained active in Quaker affairs, even after being received into the Catholic Church in 1991, and lived out her long and active life in London, surrounded by children and grandchildren. She died, aged 85, in 1998. The phrase ‘a life well lived’ could have been written for her.

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager

Further reading:
British Library Add MS 89279
Stella Alexander, Church and State in Yugoslavia since 1945 (Cambridge: University Press, 1979).
Stella Alexander, The Triple Myth: A Life of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac (Boulder: East European Monographs, 1987).

 

28 November 2017

Sir Hans Sloane: Physician, Collector and Armchair Traveller

The Anglo-Irish physician Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) rose in his profession to serve the royal family and became both President of the Royal Society and President of the Royal College of Physicians. Yet, most notably, Sloane was a collector of books, manuscripts and specimens ranging from medicine and natural history to religious tracts and beyond. This immense collection formed the foundation of the British Museum, from which the British Library and the Natural History Museum were later born. An illustrious man of science notwithstanding, these three institutions of knowledge and learning are his greatest legacy.

Sloane’s collection is vast. It contains at least 45,000 printed items, which the British Library’s Sloane Printed Books Catalogue has been meticulously cataloguing in a dedicated online open access database. The physician did not limit his remit to his field, but stretched well beyond it, reflecting the breadth of his interests. Sloane was a keen traveller – albeit largely of the armchair variety.

Having spent a formative educational period in France which also served to polish his command of the language, in 1687 Sloane secured the lucrative opportunity to serve as the personal physician to the newly appointed governor of Jamaica, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle. The two years spent in Jamaica, along with the period spent in France, were the extent of the Sloane’s travels abroad. Yet these limited experiences would nonetheless spark an insatiable interest in travel and the wider world that was expressed in his vast collection.

Title Page for Some ObservationsSome Observations made upon the Molucco Nutts, imported from the Indies, 546.g.18.(1.)

In both diversity of language and topic, Sloane’s Printed Books Collection is a treasure trove of literature on the far reaches of the world. They include medical literature on herbs from distant lands, including a work on ‘Molucco Nuts’ [546.g.18.(1.)] from the East Indies ‘shewing their admirable virtues in curing the Collick‘ and a work on ‘Brazilian Root’ [778.e.41.(12.)] from South America that possesses ‘wonderful virtue against vomiting and loosness’.

Title page for Some Observations made upon the Brasillian Root, called Ipepocoanha:
Some Observations made upon the Brasillian Root, called Ipepocoanha: imported from the Indies, 778.e.41.(12.)

Title page for A Full and True Relation of the great and wonderful Revolution that hapned lately in the Kingdom of Siam
A Full and True Relation of the great and wonderful Revolution that hapned lately in the Kingdom of Siam, in the East-Indies, 582.e.39.

But such medically related works in his travel collection are in fact sparse in comparison to material on trade and beyond. Sloane’s collection contains numerous works on the East India Company and its forays, including a swashbuckling narrative detailing ‘A Full and True Relation of the great and wonderful Revolution that hapned lately in the Kingdom of Siam, in the East-Indies ... And of the expulsion of the Jesuits ... and Soldiers of the French Nation out of that Kingdom’ [582.e.39.]. A curiosity about religions abroad also emerges from Sloane’s catalogue, with a work on religious sects of India described as ‘A Display of two forraigne sects in the East Indies, vizt: the sect of the Banians, the ancient natives of India and the sect of the Persees the ancient inhabitants of Persia’ [696.c.11.(1.)] as well as a work on ‘the Present State of Christianity in China’ [489.g.14.(1.)].

Title page
A Display of two forraigne sects in the East Indies, vizt: the sect of the Banians, the ancient natives of India and the sect of the Persees the ancient inhabitants of Persia, 696.c.11.(1.)

Title page with manuscript annotations
A True Account of the Present State of Christianity in China, 489.g.14.(1.)

The colourful collage of Sloane’s interests was so diverse that many a reader’s taste is catered for. Perhaps you too might like to explore and see what you find to interest you in the Sloane Printed Books Catalogue – the database for the original collection, today held largely at the British Library.

Lubaaba Al-Azami
Sloane Printed Books Catalogue

07 September 2017

David Scott, India merchant, and British Supercargoes at Macao

Country ships, privately-owned British and Portuguese merchant vessels, were frequently employed by the networks of India merchants David Scott, William Fairlie and William Lennox.  Their myriad of business activities in India, China and elsewhere was also greatly helped by their use of agency houses, together with the establishment of Portuguese partners in Goa.  David Scott was a founder of many of these local and international alliances.

PortraitPortrait of David Scott (1746-1805), merchant and director of East India Company, by John Young (1798).  Image courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland  

Macao was important for both intra-regional and global trade.  Its residents included the Fitzhughs who were members of the East India Company Select Committee at Canton/Macao, and the British merchants John Henry Cox, a pioneer of the Nootka maritime fur trade, and Thomas Beale.  William Fitzhugh played a key role by going to Manila in 1787 to negotiate the Canton Committee's contract with the Royal Philippine Company with regard to bullion exchange.

Watercolour, view of Canton
Bird’s-eye view of Canton (Guangzhou) c.1770 

Merchants Michael Hogan, Alexander Tennant & Captain Donald Trail were all associates of David Scott. They traded slaves at Mozambique from the Cape and were at the vanguard of merchants making alliances with the Portuguese merchants in Goa and Macao to ship slaves to Brazil after British Abolition.

Etching of Goa HarbourJames Forbes, View of Goa Harbour (1813)

Another development was the illicit Malwa opium trade to China in the 18th century centred on Goa.  Scott, Adamson, Fairlie and the others were trading in opium from the 1780s, a precursor to the rise of the 19th century Bengal trade.

As merchants withdrew from their slave trading activities after British Abolition, they continued with 'investment' in the trade through Asian agency via Macao and India.
 
Ken Cozens and Derek Morris
Independent scholars

Further reading:
José Maria Braga, A Seller of 'sing-songs': A Chapter in the Foreign Trade of China and Macao (1967)
Cheong Weng Eang, 'Changing the Rules of the Game (The India-Manila Trade: 1785 - 1809)', Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2 September 1970, pp. 1-19.
Michael Greenberg, British Trade and the Opening of China 1800-1842 (1951).
Richard J. Grace, Opium & Empire: The Lives and Careers of William Jardine & James Matheson (2014)
Celsa Pinto, Trade & Finance in Portuguese India: A study of the Portuguese Country Trade 1770-1840 (1994)
Arvind Sinha, The Politics of Trade: Anglo-French Commerce on the Coromandel Coast 1763-1793 (2002)

24 August 2017

Daydreaming in the service of the East India Company

The British Library holds an interesting maritime journal showing the daydreams of one young man.  The journal records the voyage of the East India Company ship Ceres from Madras to China and then to England in 1797 to 1798.  Interspersed with entries recording latitude, longitude, weather conditions, deaths and punishments on board copied from the official journal of the ship is a collection of doodles and jotted thoughts.

  Whampoa waterfront with boats and merchantsPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence
Whampoa from Thomas Allom, China, historisch romantisch, malerisch (Carlsruhe, 1843) British Library 792.i.30.
BL flickr 

The author of the journal was seaman William Davenport Crawley who joined the Ceres in Madras aged about 20. His identity is revealed by many examples of his signature as he practised writing it in the journal.  Crawley belonged to an Irish family from Castleconnell in County Limerick.  There is a letter inserted in the volume addressed to Thomas Crawley at Castleconnell, and a note that Thomas was an officer in HM 32nd Regiment of Foot.

Crawley writes out the names and addresses of female relatives, for instance, Miss Mary Crawley, 38 Southampton Street, Strand, London.  He jots down a message to Mary: ‘Miss Mary Crawley, you are a very bad girl for not writing’.  Another doodle reads: ‘Sally Davis, WDC loves you’.  William also fantasises about becoming a captain. He tries signing ‘Captain Crawley’ several times.

The reality of life on board ship was that periods of boredom could be punctuated by distressing events. One entry remarks:
‘At 7 am Departed this Life Thos. Spinks, Seaman. At Noon Committed the Body to the Deep’.

Another entry records the meeting of the Ceres with an American ship in September 1797. The Ceres was told that that ‘the Americans were at war with France’ and that Admiral Nelson had engaged the French fleet. This may refer to the blockade of Cadiz against the Spanish fleet, rather than the French.

On 30 September 1797, Crawley records that a ship from Cork has appeared bringing news of ‘Adml. Nelson being killed and his Ship Sunk’. This was not true, although Nelson had been wounded in July 1797 and one arm was amputated. The crew of the Ceres would have been unable to verify that Nelson had survived until they reached port. Bad news, and worries about dangers at sea, could prey upon the mind. It is perhaps unsurprising that William Crawley occasionally mused upon mortality. He wrote out the following motto twice:
‘All human things are subject to decay and Death the broom that sweeps us all away’.

 

  Limerick - White AbbeyPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence
Thomas Walmsley, White Abbey near Limerick (1806) K. Top. LIV no. 23

We have been trying to discover more about William Davenport Crawley.  It appears that he returned to Ireland to live as a member of the local gentry at White Hill Castleconnell and had children.  He died aged 73 on 11 July 1850 at the home of his daughter Mrs Elizabeth Kelly in the town of Limerick ‘to the deep regret of his family and friends’.  Elizabeth’s son William Pierce Kelly followed his grandfather’s example and journeyed to India, joining the Madras Medical Service in 1857.  William Pierce Kelly’s son, born in Rangoon in 1877, was named William Davenport Crawley Kelly.

Can any of our readers help us fill in the gaps before William joined the Ceres in India and tell us more about his later life?

Helen Paul
Lecturer in Economics and Economic History, University of Southampton
Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Journal compiled by William Davenport Crawley, seaman, East India Company ship Ceres - British Library Mss Eur F490
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Limerick Chronicle 13 July 1850
Journal of voyage of Ceres by Captain George Stevens IOR/L/MAR/B/215J
Assistant Surgeon papers for William Pierce Kelly IOR/L/AG/9/397 ff.594-598, 639-640
A Passage to India –Shipboard Life: podcast of event held at British Library in June 2017

 

27 January 2017

The East India Company and Nootka Sound

Viewers of the BBC TV series Taboo have heard about Nootka Sound and the machinations of the East India Company to acquire land there owned by James Keziah Delaney. Taboo is fictional, but Nootka is a real place and the East India Company had indeed been interested in it in the late 18th century.

Nootka is situated on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the province of British Columbia, Canada.  The Sound is one of many inlets along the Pacific coast of the island.

  Map of Vancouver Island

 From Handbook to Vancouver Island and British Columbia (London, 1862)Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Captain James Cook’s third voyage (1776-1780) had shown that there was potential for a maritime fur trade between North West America and China.  As China lay within the area of the East India Company’s trading monopoly, it was likely that British merchants would try to circumvent this restriction by entering foreign employment. To avoid losing out, the Company had to enter the fur trade itself or license British traders to operate at Canton in China.  Experimental voyages were sent out from England, India, and Macao. One of these was the result of a proposal sent to the East India Company in 1785 by Richard Cadman Etches, a London merchant. Etches headed a syndicate consisting of merchants and gentlemen, and one woman - Mary Camilla Brook, tea dealer of London.

 

Drawing entitled Natives of Nootka Sound

From James Bryce, A Cyclopædia of Geography (London, 1862) BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


In May 1785 Etches met with the Directors who sat on the Company's Committee of Correspondence. He proposed sending the ships King George and Queen Charlotte to the North West Coast of America where small trading posts would be established to purchase furs and other goods to sell in Japan and China. The Committee agreed that it was safe for the Company’s interests to grant a licence to the two ships to trade within the limits of its charter. However strict conditions were laid down, with large financial penalties if broken:

• The ships were to go to America via Cape Horn or the Straits of Magellan and then on to Japan or other places northward to sell furs and other goods.
• The ships were not to go southward or westward of Canton or westward of New Holland (Australia).
• No European goods were to be supplied to Canton.
• Money received for furs and other goods was to be paid into the Company treasury at Canton in return for bills of exchange.
• Unsold furs were to be offered to the Company's supercargoes at Canton, possibly for sale in India.
• If Etches’ ships were sound, they were to be used to carry a cargo of tea and other Chinese goods to London.  They needed to be free of any smell which might damage the tea. If unsuitable, the ships could go back to North West America and load goods for Europe.
•  If the traders upset the native peoples within the Company's monopoly limits, they were to make reparation so that Company interests were not damaged.

There are some journals for Etches’ ships in the East India Company archives as well as many papers about the various Nootka Sound expeditions, including ‘Additions to Capt. Cook's Vocabulary of the Nootka Sound Language’.  Plenty to satisfy the curiosity of anyone wanting to delve into the themes of Taboo!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Barry M Gough, Distant Dominion (University of British Columbia, 1980).
IOR/H/800 Papers concerning a Voyage to Nootka Sound.
IORL/MAR/B/404-O Journal of the voyage of the Prince of Wales to North West America and China 1786-1788.
IOR/L/MAR/B/477A Journal of the voyage of the Queen Charlotte from China to England 1788.
IOR/L/MAR/B/402G Journal of the voyage of the King George from China to England 1788.
IOR/D/120 Committee of Correspondence 6 May 1785.

IOR/D - the papers of the Committee of Correspondence 1700-1858 - now accessible as a digital resource:
East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there is access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.

 

09 November 2016

Archives seeking refuge

After the Japanese invasion of Thailand in 1941, just before the Thai Government declared war on Britain and the United States on 25 January 1942, 22 cases containing the archives of the British Legation in Bangkok were removed. A similar thing happened to the 84 boxes containing the archives of the British Embassy in China for the years 1931-1939, which went from Beijing to Nanjing and, in 1941, were also removed for safe custody during the war.

 

Japanese troops at Singapore 1942

Japanese troops at Singapore 1942 Wikimedia Commons

 

Confidential documents were said to have been destroyed, and then the boxes containing the two archives were carefully sent to Singapore in 1941. 

Note on the Peking Embassy archives

IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 34 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

But this wasn’t a safe choice. Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, and the two archives were shipped to India shortly afterwards. The archives remained in Calcutta until the end of the war and, after Indian Independence in 1947, they were sent to the Foreign Office Library in London, in 1948, as part of the process of transferring records to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British government.

  Note on the Peking Embassy archives
IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 29  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The file IOR/L/PS/12/716, part of the India Office Records and digitised for the Qatar Foundation Partnership, contains the correspondence telling the story of these two archives. Arrangements for the shipping and costs of the transport and storage are described in the file.

The exact content of the cases wasn’t known at the time.
There is a letter from the Foreign Office Librarian in 1948, saying that the content of the boxes was unknown to him and, at the purpose of shipping back to Bangkok the files which were less than 20 years old and were therefore considered current, he should have opened the boxes, or shipped the entire archives back to Thailand instead.

  Letter from Foreign Office Librarian in 1948
IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 33 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We can guess that these archives ended up staying in London. The archives of the HM Legation in Bangkok and of the HM Embassy in China should now be available for public consultation at The National Archives in Kew.

Valentina Mirabella
Archival Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership 

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