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242 posts categorized "Health"

11 June 2024

Coroner’s records from late 18th-century Bombay

In February 1772 Robert Kitson was appointed by the East India Company as a writer for Bombay.  He sailed to India in the Devonshire.  Kitson started his career in Bombay working in the Secretary’s office.  In October 1775, he was appointed Coroner for the southern half of the island of Bombay at a salary of Rs30 a month plus a fee of Rs4 for each inquest.  He held this post until March 1783, in tandem with his duties as Assistant to the Select or Secret Department.

There were about 40 inquests each year.  If Kitson needed to travel for an inquest, he hired a bullock hackney, or occasionally a palanquin.  The India Office Records holds Kitson’s incomplete list of inquests he conducted, with papers about some of the verdicts.  The cases include both Indians and Europeans and are a useful supplement to the Christian church burial records for those years.  There are 23 inquests for enslaved people: fourteen boys, seven girls, and two not described.

The most common cause of death in cases investigated by Robert Kitson was drowning -in water tanks, in wells and in the sea.  Others were natural causes, murder, suicide, and accidents.

Here are a few examples from Kitson’s coroner records.

Report of inquest held on AllyReport of inquest held on Ally 19 December 1776 - IOR/H/732

On the early evening of 18 December 1776, a man called Ally was sitting near the dock head pier in his boat from Rajapore.  He was accidentally hit in the chest by a musket shot from James Logan who was on sentry duty. Logan was aiming at another boat, but no reason is given for this.

Report of inquest held on FrancisReport of inquest held on Francis 3 September 1777 - IOR/H/732

An inquest was held on 3 September 1777 on ‘Coffree Slave’ Francis who drowned in a well on Old Woman’s Island near the house of his master Captain Charles William Boye, an East India Company military officer.  Boye’s will, made in 1784, shows that there were many enslaved people in his household.  Some he ‘freed’ on his death, urging them to live with members of his family, others he ’gave’ to his children.

Report of inquest held on MungalReport of inquest held on Mungal 26 September 1782 - IOR/H/732

Mungal was found dead on 25 September 1782 at the Bantun Dancing Girls’ House near the Portuguese Church.  He died from two head wounds sustained when trying to escape out of a window at the house on 23 September.

Nattoo, horse-keeper to John Morris, died in March 1783 inn a stable near Bunder from an accidental kick from a horse in his left side.

In August 1782 Toulsie, washerwoman to Colonel Bailey of the Bengal Army, died from a snake bite.

Kitson conducted inquests on a number of murders.  In May 1778 Antonio, servant to Charles Duff, was killed by a blow to the belly from Francis de Rozara, a sailor on the ship Nancy. Sergeant John Forsyth was murdered by Patrick Atkins on the ramparts between the church and bazaar gates in April 1779.

There were suicides.  Maubet Caun, a sepoy in the Marine Battalion, shot himself with a musket in the Esplanade near the powder house in November 1779.  Soldier Isaac Reid killed himself in the town jail in March 1783.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/H/732 Papers of Robert Kitson, Bombay Civil Service


04 June 2024

Case of Edward Murphy, blind orphan at Southampton Workhouse

On 18 January 1879, C. Crowther Smith, Clerk at the St Mary Street Workhouse in Southampton, wrote to the India Office regarding a blind orphan youth named Edward Murphy. 

Letter about Edward Murphy from Mr Crowther Smith at the Southampton WorkhouseLetter about Edward Murphy from C. Crowther Smith at the Southampton Workhouse 8 January 1879, IOR/L/PJ/2/216, File 2542

Aged 19, Murphy had been sent to the Workhouse by the Superintendent of Police as he was destitute.  It appeared that he had been deported from India by the Madras Government and there was no evidence of his legal settlement in the UK.  Smith wished to know from the India Office of any course which could be adopted to prevent Murphy remaining a permanent charge to the parochial rates at Southampton.  The Workhouse Board thought it unfair that the burden of maintaining such cases should be thrown on the ratepayers of the port at which the vessel containing such destitute persons should happen to arrive.

Deportation request for a number of men including Edward MurphyDeportation request by the Madras Government Workhouse IOR/L/PJ/2/225, File 180

The India Office made enquiries.  On 2 April 1878, Major Balmer, President of the Committee for the Management of the Government Workhouse at Madras, had written to the Madras Government requesting approval for the deportation of seven men under the provision of the Indian Vagrancy Act. A short summary for each man was given, and Edward Murphy’s entry reads: ‘Register No.713, Edward Murphy, of Ireland, age 19, came out some 17 or 18 years ago with his mother to Rangoon; educated there til 17; was then employed on the Prome Railway, where he lost his eyesight.  The Doctor has recommended his deportation to England. Admitted 8th March 1878’.

India Office memorandum about Edward MurphyIndia Office memorandum about Edward Murphy - IOR/L/PJ/2/225, File 180

A memorandum records that Murphy’s parents were Irish, and his father Michael was a Drummer in the 50th Regiment of Native Infantry.  His father died in England, and his mother took Murphy to Rangoon to join an uncle who was a non-commissioned officer in the Telegraph Department.  His mother died shortly after arriving and his uncle placed him in a school there.  The uncle died in 1868, but the Orphan Society in Rangoon supported Murphy enabling him to complete his education.  At 17, he joined the Prome Railway as a Fireman, but after a year left with sore eyes and was admitted to the Rangoon Hospital, and later transferred to the Madras Eye Infirmary.  He could distinguish light from darkness but little else.  He had no one to support him and didn’t know what county or parish he was from.  Murphy was deported to England on the P&O steamer Cathay, leaving Madras on 2 December 1878.

The India Office was scornful of the complaints from the Southampton Workhouse, and in an internal memo, William Macpherson, Secretary to the Judicial & Public Department, noted ‘…there would scarcely seem to be any ground for complaint, as that Parish is best able to maintain the burden by reason of the great advantage the locality must derive from the fleet of the P&O Company sailing to and from that Port, and from the rates they must receive in respect of the Docks there’.  On 15 February 1879, the India Office wrote to the Workhouse stating that they could not advise on Murphy’s case, and that there were no funds at the disposal of the Secretary of State which could be applied in his case.

It appears likely that the Edward Murphy who was admitted, blind, to East London's Homerton Workhouse in April 1879 is the same man.  Murphy spent the next twelve years moving in and out of the workhouse, infirmary, and ophthalmic hospital. We lose track of him after the 1891 census when he is a workhouse inmate.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Letter from the Clerk at the Workhouse, St Mary Street, Southampton, regarding Edward Murphy, 18 January 1879, Judicial Home Correspondence, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/216, File 2542.

Case of Edward Murphy, a vagrant sent from India to Southampton, 1878-1879, shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/2/225, File 1807.

History of the Southampton Workhouse.

The registers of the Southampton Workhouse are held at Southampton Archives Office.

The National Archives - UK census returns for Homerton Workhouse.

London Metropolitan Archives - Poor Law Records.


30 May 2024

The Victorian Diary of William Fletcher of Bridgnorth

As part of Local History and Community month, David Fitzpatrick discusses the compelling diary of a young Victorian bank clerk living in a quiet corner of Shropshire.

Talking With Past Hours: The Victorian Diary of William Fletcher of Bridgnorth comprises a personal diary for 1858-60, edited by archaeologist Jane Killick.  Since 1996, the original handwritten diary has resided in the University of Birmingham’s Special Collections, following its purchase from a dealer.  Its prior whereabouts remain unknown.

Front cover of Jane Killick  Talking With Past Hours The Victorian Diary of William Fletcher of BridgnorthFront cover of Jane Killick, Talking With Past Hours: The Victorian Diary of William Fletcher of Bridgnorth. Copyright Moonrise Press.

William Fletcher was born on 20 October 1839 and was baptised in the Catholic Apostolic Church in Bridgnorth, where his father, also William, became a minister.  When eighteen-year-old William begins his diary in June 1858, he is a devout attendee at church and a well-respected clerk in Cooper’s and Purton’s Bank, located at the southern end of the high street (now the local HSBC branch).  He often works at a sister branch in nearby Much Wenlock and sometimes walks the eight miles there.

Oldbury Terrace  Bridgnorth  where William lodged from February 1858 to June 1859Oldbury Terrace, Bridgnorth, where William lodged from February 1858 to June 1859. Photograph by David Fitzpatrick, 2024.

William documents almost every aspect of his life in succinct yet candid entries, recording details of his correspondence, work, and social activities in Bridgnorth and beyond.  He appreciates a good sermon, smokes tobacco, and enjoys ‘some splendid ale’.  He takes an interest in local affairs and comments on the construction of the Severn Valley Railway, which would open in 1862.

View from Castle Hill  Bridgnorth.View from Castle Hill, Bridgnorth. Photograph by David Fitzpatrick, 2017.

Central to the first year of the diary is what initially appears to be a budding romance with a young woman named Mary Anne Jones (often referred to as ‘my dear Marianne’), with whom William eventually breaks off correspondence in frustration, following an apparent lack of reciprocation.  His failed courtship touches on universal romantic themes, yet readers who have lived in Bridgnorth will find it especially evocative, given the familiar setting.  For instance, in one entry, William recounts how Mary Anne’s brother, also named William, relayed to him that Mary Anne and her sister Martha had heard that William ‘had been seen with some girls on the Castle Hill’, which he dismisses as ‘utterly false’.  It is easy to imagine young people making similar accusations and refutations almost every year since then, all centred on Castle Hill, with its fine views of the Severn Valley.

Report of William Fletcher’s sudden death – Shrewsbury Chronicle 7 August 1863Report of William Fletcher’s sudden death –Shrewsbury Chronicle 7 August 1863 British Newspaper Archive

Also prominent throughout the diary is William’s struggle with tuberculosis (though not named as such), including consultations in Birmingham, and a trip to Bournemouth for ‘a change of air’.  As Killick’s supplementary notes inform us, William’s illness ultimately led to his premature death in Bridgnorth on 29 July 1863, aged just 23.  On 7 September 1863, Mary Anne married a man named Thomas Titterton, in Port Elizabeth [Gqeberha], South Africa. 

The Fletcher family headstone in Bridgnorth cemetery  made with local sandstoneThe Fletcher family headstone in Bridgnorth cemetery, made with local sandstone. Photograph by David Fitzpatrick, 2024.

William’s diary is an absorbing read, enhanced by Killick’s footnotes and additional biographical information (and an appendix containing an aborted diary by William, dated March-April 1857).  It is a fascinating insight into daily life in Bridgnorth during a time of great change, and a reminder of the fragile and ephemeral nature of life.

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
Jane Killick, Talking With Past Hours: The Victorian Diary of William Fletcher of Bridgnorth (Ludlow: Moonrise Press, 2009)


12 March 2024

Applications for Trinity House Pensions

The British Library holds the papers of Lord George Francis Hamilton (1845-1927), Secretary of State for India 1895-1903.  The papers are on a variety of subjects relating to India, and correspondence with the Viceroy and Governors of Bombay and Madras.  Amongst these papers is a very interesting file of applications relating to the Trinity House in London.

'View of the new Trinity House on Tower Hill'  in 1799'View of the new Trinity House on Tower Hill' 1799 - British Library Maps K.Top.25.8 Images Online

Trinity House is a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers.  It began as a fraternity caring for distressed mariners and their widows and dependants by maintaining alms houses and awarding pensions.  Lord George Hamilton was an Elder Brethren of Trinity House and was able to nominate a mariner in need of help.  The file on this in his papers contain letters applying for his help in securing a place at Trinity House.  Here are a few of the applications he received:

John James in applying for an annuity declared that he was 66 years old and had been employed at sea for the previous 52 years.  He stated that he was thoroughly incapable of filling any post whatsoever having swollen legs and feet due to chronic Bright’s disease [an inflammatory disease of the kidneys].  James further stated that ‘I have no means to support myself and wife and have to rely upon the generosity of my two married daughters’.  He said his savings had been lost through investing in shipping and his wages for the past ten years had not left him any margin for saving.

Letter from John James applying for an annuityLetter from John James applying for an annuity, 1900  - British Library Mss Eur F123/43

William J Spark wrote on behalf of his brother-in-law, J F Spark and wife, whom he described as ‘an old worn-out master mariner & his wife, who are a very deserving couple & are in very needy circumstances – both of them are between 70 & 80 years of age, and I regret to say, are quite broken down & always in the doctor’s hands’.

Edward Dunstall wrote in February 1901, that he was an old master mariner of the merchant service, aged 66.  In 1890, he had been compelled to vacate the sea service, and in 1894 he had an operation for a ‘very painful internal disease, the effects of which I am still suffering’.  In 1898 he had been accepted as an eligible applicant but had never been nominated.  He appealed to Hamilton for help:’My Lord, myself and wife, having been so long on such poor pittance, and with the enormous rising in the price of living, been unable to procure a sufficiency of the necessaries of life have often to go hungry.  And with ailment in the struggle of life to keep a house over our heads, we are sorely pressed and to get relief we should be ever thankful’.

Letter from Edward Dunstall in 1901 appealing for helpLetter from Edward Dunstall in 1901 appealing for help - British Library Mss Eur F123/43

Elizabeth Mary Goddard wrote to Hamilton in October 1900.   She wrote that she was ‘the unmarried daughter of Captain Charles William Goddard who had the Captains Out Doors Pension and died some years ago and Anna Johanna Elizabeth Goddard my dear Mother who also had the Captains Out Doors Pension also died some years ago’.  Elizabeth was then 60 years old and suffering very much from rheumatism.  She wished to apply for a pension and needed Hamilton to nominate her.  A note on the letter gives the reply: ‘Lord G H has noted her name on his list of applicants and will consider her claims with those of others when an opportunity occurs; but H L is sorry to say that his list for the Trinity House is already a long one, and it is but seldom that he has a presentation at his disposal’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Applications for Trinity House Pensions, 1900-1902, shelfmark: Mss Eur F123/43.
Trinity House

14 September 2023

The short life of Beatrice Goodacre

The realities of life for working class women in the 19th century are often hard to envisage, but sometimes an individual story can bring things firmly into focus. 

Group of three women seated in front of a kitchen fireplace, looking at a young baby being cradled by one of themFrom The Illustrated London News 15 September 1900 British Newspaper Archive

Beatrice Goodacre was born on 28 April 1880 in Rock Ferry, an area on the Wirral Peninsular south of Birkenhead.  Originally an place of genteel villas, Rock Ferry had expanded to house many of the workers from nearby Cammell Laird’s shipbuilders.  Beatrice’s mother Mary Elizabeth Goodacre was 25 when her daughter was born.  She was unmarried and had been working as a domestic servant.  Beatrice was baptised at St Peter’s Church in Liverpool rather than the local church, which may say something about her illegitimate status, although it was not uncommon for families to have their children baptised ‘across the water’ in the parish church of Liverpool.  There is no mention of Beatrice’s father on her baptism record or birth registration.

Black and white photo of St Peter's Church LiverpoolSt Peter’s Church Liverpool from Henry Peet, ‘Reliquiae of St Peter's Church Liverpool’, Journal of The Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire Vol 74 (1922) 

Baby Beatrice was left in the care of her maternal grandparents William and Ann Goodacre.  The 1881 census enumerator failed to record that she was a granddaughter rather than a daughter.  Mary Elizabeth had found employment as a domestic servant in the household of architect and surveyor James Murgatroyd - not on the Wirral, but in Didsbury, Manchester.  In December 1884 she married George Davies, a carter, and in 1891 was living in Gothic Street, Rock Ferry, having had four babies in six years.  It’s a five minute walk to where Beatrice was living with her widowed grandmother in Medway Road.  The census is of course a snapshot and we can’t know whether Beatrice ever lived with her mother, step-father and half-siblings, or how she was treated as part of the family.  She didn’t adopt the Davies name and remained a Goodacre.

In a story that mirrors her mother’s, 18-year-old Beatrice found herself pregnant.  She was not abandoned and on 19 June 1898 married bricklayer’s labourer George Davenport, the marriage entry underlining the fact that Beatrice did not have a father to name.  The marriage not only gave Beatrice legitimacy as a married woman, it cemented that of her expected child.  The newly married Davenports set up home in (now demolished) Bold Street in nearby Tranmere, not far from her mother and grandmother and next door to her maternal aunt Alice Taylor.

Unfortunately, there was no happy ending.  Beatrice gave birth to daughter Fanny on 6 January 1899 and became ill days later.  After an agonising twelve days suffering from puerperal peritonitis she died on 22 January, a few months shy of her nineteenth birthday.  At that time, an estimated 4-6 women per thousand died in childbirth, almost half of those from sepsis like Beatrice.  Daughter Fanny was baptised on 12 January in a private baptism, which often meant that the child was not expected to survive.  In this case she outlived her mother by six short months, dying in July 1899.  Fanny died of ‘malnutrition marasmus’ which seems horrifying, but perhaps this was not an unusual fate for motherless babies as families were forced into artificial feeding, with foodstuffs such as cow’s milk, condensed milk, and cereals.

Mary Elizabeth outlived her daughter Beatrice by over 40 years.  She and husband George had five children, two girls and three boys.  She was widowed in July 1936 but continued to live at 19 The Causeway, Port Sunlight, in company housing supplied by George’s employer Lever Brothers.  She died in Port Sunlight on 23 May 1943.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Irvine Loudon, Death in Childbirth: An International Study of Maternal Care and Maternal Mortality 1800-1950 (Oxford, Clarendon Press 1992)
Irvine Loudon, The tragedy of childbed fever (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
P J Atkins, 'Mother’s milk and infant death in Britain, circa 1900-1940' in Anthropology of food 2 September 2003 https://doi.org/10.4000/aof.310


05 September 2023

Sanatorium for European soldiers in Western Australia

In 1859 a British Army medical officer, Henry Huggins Jones, published a booklet: Western Australia, recommended as a sanatorium, for the restoration to health and usefulness of European soldiers, prostrated by those diseases of India, for which the climate of the hill stations does not afford a remedy.

Title page of 'Western Australia, recommended as a sanatorium, for the restoration to health and usefulness of European soldiers'Title page of Western Australia, recommended as a sanatorium, for the restoration to health and usefulness of European soldiers

The ‘invaliding season’ in India started at the end of autumn.  Regimental officers put forward the names of men incapacitated for further Indian service.  The annual invaliding board then passed the men who usually went back to the UK.  If other men showed symptoms of needing a change of climate after the board had met, the army surgeon had no alternative but to carry on treating them unless the regiment was stationed within reach of a sanatorium.  Jones believed that men were dying unnecessarily and proposed that they be taken from India to Western Australia.  The voyage by steam vessel would be beneficial because of the ‘health-reviving influence of the S.E. trade wind’.

Jones criticised military hygiene – cramped living quarters, stinking urinals, ‘confined’ bathrooms, bad drainage, imperfect clothing, unfiltered water, badly managed cooking.  Western Australia offered a plentiful supply of fresh water, natural products and food crops.  It was free from epidemics which hit other parts of Australia.  There were few fever cases, and no syphilis.  Dysentery, diarrhoea, and liver disease were rare.  The climate was healthy: from mid-March to the beginning of November ‘not surpassed by any in the world’.  During April to October ’there is an elasticity of the atmosphere indescribably exhilarating, when nature allows a license to the European, denied to the resident of India.  Man feels intended not to die’.

The advantages of the plan were said to be:
• Many useful lives would not be lost in India.
• Soldiers might like Australia and take their discharge to settle there rather than be invalided to the UK.
• Once their health improved, soldiers could be dispersed throughout the colony to strengthen the military presence.
• If there was another uprising in India, an immediate large force would be available in Australia.

A principal hospital at Perth and convalescent barracks in different parts of the colony could be staffed with medical officers from India who had suffered from the climate.  Once recovered, soldiers could be returned to India in early November to avoid the hot season when temperatures could reach over 100˚F.  This heat caused lassitude ‘though totally differing from the same sensation experienced in India’.

Henry Huggins Jones had been born in India.  He was baptised in Calcutta on 8 February 1824, the son of John Benjamin Jones, a writer in Palmers & Co’s office, and his wife Frances.  He joined the British Army as a surgeon and served in both India and Australia.  In 1854 Jones married Frances (Fanny) Brockman at Gingin in Western Australia.  Henry and Fanny had eight children, born across the globe where the Army postings took them: Australia, India, Ireland and Gibraltar.

Jones was appointed to the rank of Surgeon Major in January 1869 on completion of 20 years’ service.  However he died on 21 May 1869 at his home in Bristol aged 46, leaving Fanny to raise their family, the youngest aged just eleven months.  Fanny did not remarry and died in Bristol on 21 February 1925.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Jones’s postings to different British Army regiments can be traced through the British Newspaper Archive – his name is often recorded as Henry Higgins Jones.


26 July 2023

Further research on the Dessa Family: Ann Elizabeth Dessa and Jacob Rogers

In a previous post, I promised to share any further discoveries about the Dessa family, whose son George Edward Dessa (d. 1913) had attempted to assassinate Viceroy Lord Lytton whilst struggling with mental health problems.

George’s mother, Ann Elizabeth Dessa (otherwise De Sa) had undergone her own mental health struggles, having been admitted to the Bhowanipore (Bhawanipur) Lunatic Asylum in 1849.  A snapshot of Bhowanipore in 1856-57 certainly challenges perceived notions of Victorian lunatic asylums.  Sited on a two-acre plot south of Fort William, its well laid out gardens were said to ‘impart to the Asylum a pleasing feature of rural quiet’.  The boundary walls were hidden by climbing plants. Emphasis was on the circulation of fresh air, hygiene, liberal quantities of well-cooked quality food, and kindness, the latter being ‘the real substitute for mechanical restraint’.  Ann Elizabeth was released back into the care of her family in 1874, having been institutionalised for a quarter of a century.  She died in Calcutta on 12 December 1888.

We can find a little more about Ann Elizabeth's background in the records.  She was born on 15 October 1818 at Mirzapur, daughter of Jacob Rogers and his wife Elizabeth, and was baptised there on 10 August 1821.  According to the East India Register, she married George Henry Dessa, a writer, at Chuprah on 11 October 1832, days before her fourteenth birthday.  Entries in the East India Register refer to the birth of two sons, on 23 May 1837 and 22 October 1843.  These are possibly her sons William David and George Edward, although we know she and her husband had at least three boys, the youngest of whom died aged 12.  The family moved to Calcutta, and appear to have suffered from financial difficulties despite George Henry working in various government roles such as in the Civil Auditor’s Office, and later on the East Indian Railway.  There are five entries in the London Gazette between 1842 and 1862 referring to petitions filed in the Court of Relief of Insolvent Debtors naming George Henry Dessa.

Portrait of Jacob Rogers by Jiwan Ram - Bodleian Libraries  University of OxfordPortrait of Jacob Rogers by Jiwan Ram, Bodleian Library LP 846. Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Terms of use: CC-BY-NC 4.0. 

It should have been so different for Ann Elizabeth. Her father Lieutenant Jacob Rogers had been in the service of Maharaja Daulat Rao Scindia, the ruler of Gwalior state, and was an East India Company pensioner.  A portrait of him by the Indian artist Jiwan Ram entitled ‘Quartermaster Rogers’ survives; it once formed part of the collection of the Begum Samru (Joanna Nobilis Sombre) at Sardhana palace.  Bought by T. R. Wyer, a Collector in Meerut, in 1894, it was gifted to the Indian Institute, 1913 and now forms part of the Bodleian Library collections. 

Will of Jacob Rogers

 Copy of the will of Jacob Rogers dated 12 March 1819 IOR/L/AG/34/29/36, pp.97-100

Ann’s early life was comfortable, living in a bungalow in Mirzapore surrounded with servants and possessions, all of which Jacob left to his wife Elizabeth in his will written of 1819. Jacob’s death on 10 January 1824, age 41, changed everything; the worth of Rogers’ estate was almost identical to the outstanding claims against it, effectively leaving few assets for his wife and daughter. All his belongings – books, furniture, pictures, carpets, guns, plate, jewellery, clothing, horses, buggy – were sold at public auction just weeks after his death.

Estate papers of Jacob Rogers showing his servants' wagesEstate  papers of Jacob Rogers showing his servants' wages IOR/L/AG/34/27/81 p.659

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Report by Theodore Cantor, Superintendent of the Asylums… at Bhowanipore and Dullunda for 1856-57 can be found online.  
Sir Evan Cotton ‘The Sardhana Pictures in Government House, Allahabad’, Bengal Past and Present vol LII, part I (1936).

British Library India Office Records available via Findmypast -
IOR/N/1/64, f.43 Baptism of Ann Elizabeth Rogers (later Dessa), 10 Aug 1821 at Mirzapore.
IOR/L/AG/34/29/36, pp.97-100 Copy of the will of Jacob Rogers dated 12 Mar 1819, proved 25 Feb 1824.
IOR/L/AG/34/27/81, pp. 641-661 Inventory of the estate of Jacob Rogers, including a catalogue of the sale of his goods at auction.
IOR/L/AG/34/27/80, pp.618-619 and IOR/L/AG/34/27/80, pp. 702-704 Accounts relating to the estate of Jacob Rogers.


11 July 2023

Request for help in returning to India

On 25 January 1893, the India Office in London received a letter from James Irwin residing in the Garden Hospital, Dublin requesting help in returning to his home in India.  James stated that he had been born in Poona and that he had travelled to Ireland with an ‘invalid gentleman who died in three months time after embarkation in the year 1891.  I have since that time been very bad suffering from a very severe attack of fever & ague, but thank God I am quite recovered and able to proceed home’.  James went on to say that, his wife had died from smallpox in June 1889, that he had four little children in the Byculla School at Bombay, and that he wished to return to them.  He claimed that his friends would be able to obtain employment for him as a guard on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, as he had previously worked for the Railway before leaving due to illness.   A second letter from James was received on 3 February, reiterating his situation.

Letter from James Irwin to the India Office received 3 February 1893Letter from James Irwin to the India Office received 3 February 1893 IOR/L/PJ/6/337 

The letters came across the desk of the Political A.D.C. at the India Office, Sir W.G.S.V. Fitzgerald.  As it happened, his nephew Edward Macartney-Filgate was in Dublin and was given the task of investigating James’s story.  Investigations disclosed that the Garden Hospital was a portion of the South Dublin Union Workhouse.  Macartney-Filgate was at first refused admission when he went there, it being a Saturday and not visiting day.  On explaining that he was on business from the India Office, he was allowed in and was able to talk to James.  He claimed he was born in India to English parents, that he had been a soldier, and then worked on the railways.  He came to Dublin as a servant, got out of employment and fell into poverty. 

Letter from Macartney-Filgate to his uncle about his visit to James Irwin, dated 20 February 1893Letter from Macartney-Filgate to his uncle about his visit to James Irwin, dated 20 February 1893 IOR/L/PJ/6/337 

Macartney-Filgate’s opinion of James was mixed, he believed James to be ‘plain pure and simple an Englishman’ but admitted that he showed ‘accurate knowledge of India as far as I was able to sound him’.  In the end, Macartney-Filgate thought, ‘His story may be true or not, I really could not form any definite opinion.  I do not believe many people but he seemed to withstand questioning.  On the other hand, as he has been in this workhouse since 1889 he may have simply raked together the whole story from some other inmate’.

Cover of India Office file on James IrwinCover of India Office file on James Irwin IOR/L/PJ/6/337 

Although Fitzgerald noted that this seemed to be ‘an unhappy case’, he thought that it was not one in which the India Office should interfere.  A letter was sent to James on 3 March 1893 stating that the Secretary of State was unable to assist him.

Letter from James Irwin to the India Office 2 May 1894Letter from James Irwin to the India Office 2 May 1894 IOR/L/PJ/6/372

A year later, James tried again, sending two letters to the India Office in April 1894.  He claimed that he had been given a promise of doing something to send him back to India, although he now wrote that he had two little children in the Byculla School in Bombay.  He asked for the boat fare to London so that he could have a personal meeting with the Secretary of State.  The India Office noted: ‘This man’s case has already been fully considered’, and a further letter declining to help was sent to him.  In reply to this, James wrote a final letter to the India Office expressing his disappointment and requesting help in obtaining employment on a P&O ship.  An instruction was written at the bottom of this letter to resend the previous letter declining to help.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Application from Mr James Irwin for assistance to return to India, 23 January to 15 February 1893, reference: IOR/L/PJ/6/337, File 146.

Application from James Irwin to be sent back to India, 13 April 1894, reference IOR/L/PJ/6/371, File 627.

James Irwin; request for assistance in returning to India, 2 May 1894, reference IOR/L/PJ/6/372, File 778.

South Dublin Union Workhouse.

Dublin Workhouses Admission & Discharge Registers 1840-1919 on Findmypast.co.uk


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