THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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128 posts categorized "Health"

30 October 2018

The 1918 influenza pandemic in India

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‘Nearly every household was lamenting a death, and everywhere terror and confusion reigned.’

This year marks the centenary of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Of all countries, India was the worst afflicted. Perhaps as many as 17 millions died, in two waves of disease that swept the land in May and October.

Official documents in the India Office Records record the outbreak, progress, and aftermath of a disease for which no one was remotely prepared. Northern, Central and Western India suffered the most. The files bring together reports of sanitary commissioners from across the country, such as this despatch from the Punjab:

Image 1 (Punjab) IOR/L/E/7/949

The commissioner of Bombay noted the terrifying speed of contagion:

Image 2 (Bombay)IOR/L/E/7/949

Popular treatments included quinine, hot whisky, and aspirin.  They had no effect. Of more value were practical measures: those taken by the commissioner of Madras were typical:

Image 3 (Madras)IOR/L/E/7/949

Once the epidemic had passed, the officials considered what they might have done differently. The general mood was defeatist. If America and Europe had failed to halt the epidemic, what hope had a country like India? Without a marked improvement in living conditions, it was clear that India would remain vulnerable to future outbreaks of the disease.

There was a solitary cause for satisfaction: the heroic behaviour of communities and individuals. In their thousands, members of the public, community leaders, and government servants had stepped forward to give practical and financial help:

Image 4 (cert)Mss Eur F534/143 ‘Certificate of thanks issued to George Dick, barrister’

 

Image 5 (Delhi) IOR/L/E/7/949, ‘Report from Health Officer, Delhi, on outbreak in Calcutta’

Without this remarkable surge of support locally, the commissioners agreed that the calamity nationally would have been even worse.

Antonia Moon
Lead Curator, Post-1858 India Office Records

Further reading:
India Office Records -
IOR/L/E/7/949 (‘Influenza’, 1919)
IOR/P/10595 (India Medical Proceedings, 1919)

David Arnold, ‘Disease, Rumor and Panic in India’s Plague and Influenza Epidemics, 1896-1919’, in Empires of Panic: Epidemics and Colonial Anxieties, ed by Robert Peckham (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2015), pp. 111-29.

 

23 October 2018

A unique appeal from four Indian schoolgirls

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Whilst working on the collection of Thomas William Barnard Papers (Mss Eur C261), I found a fascinating letter dating from 1923.  It was sent to Captain Barnard of the Indian Medical Service by four poor girls at a school in Pudukad. The letter is elaborately decorated with a border of stamps from India, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand and Austria.

  IMG_0968Mss Eur C261/5/5

The letter reads:

Jesus Mercy.
The good God rewardeth even a cup of Cold Water given in His name to one of His little ones.
O.J. Annie, Mary, Catherine and Elizabeth. Poor Students. Chemgaloor, Pudukad Post, Malabar

Most Honred Sir,
We, four poor student girls (Mary and Catherine are orphans) most respectfully and humbly beg to state that we are in great difficulties and distress. We are badly in need of food and Clothes. We are promoted to our new class. We have not got new books. We most humbly pray you will be kind enough to send us some help. We pray you will not refuse our humble prayer. Thanking you in anticipation, we beg to remain

Yours most obedient and humble servants.
O.J. Anne and others
22.6.1923

Can any of our readers shed light on the authors of this appeal?

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
Mss Eur C261/5/5 – unique appeal for a donation from girls attending a school in Pudukad, 22 June 1923.

 

11 October 2018

An Irish soldier in India

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In July 1859 Gunner Richard Scott wrote a letter to his father from Poona.  Scott was about to return to Britain after fighting with the Bombay Horse Artillery in the Indian Mutiny or Rebellion.  He wrote of his military experiences and asked for help in finding employment.

  Poona 1871Street scene in Poona by John Frederick Lester (1825-1915) c.1871 WD3549 No. 18

Richard Scott enlisted at his home town of Dublin on 24 August 1857 for twelve years’ service with the East India Company.  Scott was 5 feet 7⅛ inches tall, with brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. His age is given as twenty but records point to him being just seventeen, suggesting that he was joining the army without parental consent.  This is borne out by his letter home.

  Scott letter L MIL 5 365IOR/L/MIL/5/365 no.473 Noc

 ‘Dear Father
Altho I never wrote to let you know of it I suppose you are aware that I am a soldier in the East India Company’s forces.  I would have written long since to let you know how I was getting on, but from the time I landed in the Country up to the present I could not be shure if I wrote would I ever live to receive an answer.  All the fiting is now over and we are just returned to quarters after being out on field service for nearly 18 months.  The Troop to which I belong has been engaged several times with the rebels but I came off unhurt through it all and strang to say, altho we often were obliged to take the field against overwhelming numbers, our small forse always came off victorios.

Dear Father I suppose you are aware that by a late Act of parliment the East India Company’s Troops are disbanded that is all that wish to take their discharge can have it and all those who wish to stop in the country can Remain as they are, their former service will count for them.   I have taken my discharg & come what will of it for I do not like the country, And perhaps I would never get the chace of leaving it again. Dear Father I cannot expect that you will do any thing for me when I go home again, but I will be in a very poor condition when I land, I will be left in London without one penny in my pocket and who have I to look to except you, if you can spare it Dear Father send me a few pounds that will keep me some time an buy me a suit of clothes And shurly you have interst enough to get me a situation with some Gentleman.  I would go as a groom, I have been Riding horses since I joined the service both in the Military style and the other way.’
 

Lucknow after Mutiny IWMAftermath of the Siege of Lucknow by Felix Beato  © IWM (Q 69821)

 Scott was given a certificate of discharge from the Bombay Regiment of Artillery on 1 October 1859 ‘being unwilling to serve in HM Indian forces’ after the disbandment of the East India Company armies.  Sadly he died of dysentery on 26 October 1859 at sea on board the Hope on his way home.  His father John sent his letter to the India Office in 1863 with an application for payment of Lucknow Prize Money.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/9/23 Recruitment register Dublin 1855-1858
IOR/L/MIL/12/282 f.1369 Discharge certificate for Richard Scott 1859
IOR/L/MIL/5/365 nos.473, 1793, 2491 – enquiries about soldiers

09 October 2018

Hungary Water for Missionaries?

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In November 1764 the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge wrote to the Court of Directors of the East India Company for permission to send a number of ‘sundry items’ out to their missionaries in India on the ships sailing that season.  The Society sent out various supplies to their missionaries each year and their lists often included unexpected items such as the Four Cheeses in Lead and a Harpsichord sent out in 1762 and featured previously on Untold Lives.

The 1764 list of sundry items included the surprising entry of two bottles of Hungary Water.  Hungary Water, also often known as “The Queen of Hungary’s Water” was one of the first alcohol based perfumes to be produced in Europe and was primarily made with rosemary.   It was the most popular fragrance and remedy in Europe until the development of Eau de Cologne in the late 18th Century.  The water has many myths associated with it, the most common one being that it was named after the Queen of Hungary who used it and at age 70 was believed to have looked so youthful a 25 year old Duke asked for her hand in marriage believing her to be of a similar age.

Hungary waterAdvertisement for Hungary Water in Homeward Mail from India, China and the East 9 June 1857

Hungary Water was most commonly used as a cure-all beauty tonic and was believed to help maintain a youthful appearance and beauty.  It was also considered to have health benefits when digested including to improve strength and eyesight and to dispel gloominess.  The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge presumably sent it to their missionaries for the health benefits, rather than to maintain their youthfulness and beauty.

The Toilet of Flora Title PageThe Toilet of Flora (1775)   Noc


The 1775 publication The Toilet of Flora features a recipe to make what is refers to as ‘Genuine Hungary Water’:

'Put into an alembic a pound and a half of fresh pickt Rosemary Flowers; Penny royal and Marjoram Flowers, of each half a pound; three quarts of good Coniac Brandy; having close stopped the mouth of the alembic to prevent the spirit from evaporating, bury it twenty-eight hours in horse-dung to digest, and distill off the Spirit in a water-bath.

A drachm of Hungary Water diluted with Spring Water, may be taken once or twice a week in the morning fasting.  It is also used by way of embrocation to bathe the face and limbs, or any part affected with pains, or debility.  This remedy recruits the strengths, dispels gloominess, and strengthens the sight.  It must always be used cold, whether taken inwardly as a medicine, or applied externally.'

More recipes from the publication The Toilet of Flora featured in the 2013 Untold Lives blog post Lip Salve and Worms in the Face.

Karen Stapley
Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
J Broughton, Secretary to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge to Robert James, Secretary to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, Nov 1764. IOR/E/1/46, ff 737-739

 

18 September 2018

‘Pierce your heart’: Letters from Europe and North Africa by Indian prisoners in the Second World War

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Indian prisoner-of-war (PoW) experiences during the Second World War varied sharply, depending on where soldiers were taken captive and who their captor was.  Letters archived at the British Library, documented in military censorship reports, reveal how such experiences are inflected by differences in war fronts, military rank, individual agency – and sheer luck.

Pic 1Men of the 4th Indian Division with a captured German flag at Sidi Omar, North Africa. © IWM (E 6940)

The top priorities for one incarcerated Jemadar are toothpaste and shoes.  Writing to his friend in August 1942, he describes being imprisoned in Libya and then Germany, where has ‘a comfortable time'.  However, ‘we need some other things of daily use such as toothpaste and stockings.  If it is no trouble to you please send me a pair of shoes of No. 9 size’.  The Jemadar also reflects on the emotional charge of receiving letters from home: ‘The whole of that day the memory of India was fresh in our minds'.

Imprisoned in Germany, Sepoy Ajmer Singh, one of the few named soldiers in the censorship reports, writes rather accusingly in July 1943 to Sepoy Jahar Singh in Cairo: ‘I don’t know whether you are getting my mail, but I’ve sent you a lot of letters and had no reply. As prisoners of war we have nothing to take up our minds and we look forward to getting letters, so you must write to me once a month, or better still, once a week'.  Ajmer Singh’s prescriptiveness about epistolary regularity highlights an acute sense of boredom and loneliness.  How is one to pass the time in prison?

Pic 2Soldiers of the 4th Indian Division decorate the side of their lorry 'Khyber Pass to Hellfire Pass'.  'Hellfire Pass' was the nickname for the strategically important Halfaya Pass in Egypt, fortified by the Germans and which the British attacked, unsuccessfully, during Operation Battleaxe. © IWM (E 3660)

This significance of emotional connections established by textual exchanges is emphasised by an Indian sepoy in December 1942: ‘We were prisoners of Germany when our British forces reached Benghazi.  Germans left all prisoners and ran away. Now we are quite well and safe.  We suffered a lot for five months and did not receive any letter from home’.  He also reveals the physical and psychological cost of incarceration: ‘Our work was very hard starting at 5 am and finished at 7 pm…We were loading and unloading ammunition and petrol from the ships, for their advance line.  Once we refused to do that kind of work saying that it was against our King and country.  They said that if we disobey their orders, we will be shot down’.

Such terrible conditions of imprisonment continue to be detailed in a letter by a ‘Hindu bearer’ to his mother: ‘Dear mother, I was taken prisoner … in the month of June… I cannot describe how atrociously we prisoners were treated by the Germans.  We were given half a pint of water and one 8oz biscuit.  This was all our daily meal.  We were employed on odd jobs, fatigues from early morning till it was dark.  We were beaten and kicked by the Germans…We have suffered such a lot which, if I write down will pierce your heart’.

It is from such PoWs that Indian revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose started recruitment in Germany in 1941 and Southeast Asia in 1943 for the Azad Hind Fauj, which offered armed resistance to British colonial rule in undivided India.

Diya Gupta
PhD researcher, Department of English, King’s College London
Find out more in this short film

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops -
August 1942-April 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/654
April 1943-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655
November 1943-January 1944, IOR/L/PJ/12/578

‘We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War 

The ‘Kashmir of Europe’ and other exoticisms: Indian soldiers’ tales of travel in the Second World War 

Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

 

30 August 2018

Hints for the general management of children in India

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Hints for the general management of children in India in the absence of professional advice by Dr Henry Goodeve was first published in Calcutta in 1844.  The book proved to be very popular and ran to several editions.

Henry Goodeve was an East India Company surgeon in Bengal.  He became Professor of Anatomy at the Calcutta Medical College in 1835 and then specialised in obstetrics.

  GoodeveDr Henry Goodeve from C Grant, Lithographic Sketches of the Public Characters of Calcutta 1833-1850 Noc

The Hints were originally printed for private circulation only. But a friend wrote about it in a public paper and this sparked a general demand for the book.  It was meant to help British families in India who were living at a distance from doctors.

Newly born babies should be washed, dressed, and given a dose of castor oil to purge them.  Goodeve told his readers that teething and irritation of the bowels were the two most common complaints amongst babies. Gums should be lanced when there was the ‘remotest cause to apprehend that teeth are coming through’.  Bowels must be cleaned out before medicines were administered.

Goodeve stressed that that the chief cause of all diseases in young children was error in their diet, with more infants dying from improper feeding than any other cause.  Babies should depend upon breast milk until about six months old.  At nine or ten months, provided four teeth had been cut, the child might be fed on chicken broth with bread or on 'pishpash', a soup or stew containing rice and small pieces of meat.

Children should be vaccinated within three or four months of birth if possible. Goodeve believed that vaccination was rarely effective in months of hot weather and rain.

Childhood diseases such as lung complaints, diarrhoea and dysentery could be alleviated by a change of air:  ‘The sea especially, possesses a peculiar charm, and if possible, should always be resorted to where diseases prove uncontrolable by medicine’.  Fresh air, light, and exercise in the open air were very important, although exposure to the sun should be avoided.  Children should be allowed to run about instead of being carried in the arms of servants or in carriages. Horse riding was very good exercise.

On the question of sending children to Europe, Goodeve believed that it might be best for a delicate child to leave India once weaned.  Although some children ‘apparently’ thrived in India until ten or twelve years of age, as a general rule children in ordinary health should not stay after the age of six.

India Muir family c13866-71Group portrait in India  including Sir William and Lady Muir Photo 793/(59)

The Hints list common childhood complaints, giving symptoms, treatment, and dietary advice for fever, coughs, croup, whooping cough, diarrhoea, dysentery, protrusion of the bowel, colic, cholera, worms, thrush, sores, boils, abscesses, ringworm, scarlet fever, measles, chicken pox, jaundice, inflamed eyes, stoppage of urine, convulsions, bites, burns and scalds, fractures, ruptures, and birth deformities.  Treatments included emetics, purgatives, leeches, quinine, mustard plasters, castor oil, hot baths, lotions of turpentine and brandy, tonics, and opiates.  However Goodeve gave warnings about some of these remedies – ‘young infants have not infrequently died from the bleeding of a single leech being permitted to continue unchecked for some hours’, and babies could be poisoned by a single drop of laudanum.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
H H Goodeve, Hints for the general management of children in India in the absence of professional advice,  2nd edition, (Calcutta, 1844)

 

22 August 2018

Emergency Rations in the India Office during the Second World War

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In February 1939, tensions in Europe were running high, and in the offices of British Government departments thoughts were turning to the possibility of war with Germany.  One issue raised was what provisions existed for the staff working in Government buildings in Central London in the event of air raids.  A file in the India Office Records at the British Library contains interesting correspondence on the subject.

Essential Staff - TelephonistsIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

A sub-committee set up to enquire into the matter decided that it was not necessary for large stocks of food to be held by Government Departments, but that the Luncheon Clubs in the various Government offices should arrange to increase their stocks sufficient to provide meals for 50% of their regular customers for a 48 hour period.  The response of the India Office was put in a secret letter of the 15 May 1939 to the Treasury.  This states that the India Office Luncheon Club was a small business run a by a caterer named Miss Lane, who served about 230 lunches a day to staff from the India Office, Foreign Office and Colonial Office.  She had made assurances that she had a stock of supplies sufficient to meet the sub-committee’s requirements, and that she was alive to the necessity for keeping fresh supplies.   

India Office Luncheon ClubIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

A year later, in June 1940, the Treasury informed the India Office that this arrangement had been reviewed in light of the new situation, and that Departments would be issued with a number of “Voyage and Landing Rations” by the Army Authorities.  The aim was to provide an emergency ration for essential staff who may have been required to remain at their offices or who were unable to obtain meals in the normal way.  The allotment to the India Office was 100 such rations for one day.  The following order was shortly received from the Army Supply Reserve Depot at Deptford, and carefully stored in the basement: 36lb preserved meat, 75lb M&V (meat and veg) rations, 75lb biscuits (Spratt’s), 6lb tea in tins (Brooke Bond), 14lb sugar (Tate & Lyle), 8lb margarine, 13½lb cheese in tins, 14lb of jam (Tickler), 12½lb chocolate (Cadbury, Fry), plus 20 tommy cookers (a small portable stove issued to British troops).

Ration Voucher (1)IOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

Ration Voucher (2) IOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

As London and other British cities were battered during the Blitz, the arrangements were adjusted accordingly to provide sleeping accommodation and food in the event that essential staff could not return to their homes. In July 1941, it was decided to store enough rations for three days.  Under the new arrangements the scale of rations for one person for one day was 6ozs preserved meat or 12ozs meat & vegetables, 8ozs biscuits, ½oz tea, 2ozs sugar, 2ozs condensed unsweetened milk, 2ozs cheese, 2ozs jam and 2ozs chocolate.

Daily Scale of RationsIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

The rest of the file is mostly taken up with correspondence on the regular return and replacement of expired rations.  However, it also contains a fascinating War Office booklet from 1943 on the use of special ration packs, and a press cutting from the Daily Express on self-heating soup!

   War Office booklet croppedIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc



John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
File E/1022 Provision of emergency rations for India Office, 1939-1945 [Reference IOR/L/SG/8/524]

 

14 August 2018

Recommendations for Life Pensions in Colaba, India

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A file in the collections of the Board of Control, part of the India Office Records, gives some brief but fascinating details of those living in the former Indian Princely State of Colaba which had come under British control in the 1840s. On annexing the territory from the ruling Angria family, British officials faced the responsibility for the financial maintenance of members of the Angria family, their dependants, and those who had loyally served the Colaba State.

ColabaView of Colaba by Jose M. Gonsalves from Lithographic Views of Bombay published in Bombay 1826 Online Gallery  Noc

The file contains lists of persons who had received a pension under the previous rulers and those newly recommended for a life pension due to their past service. The recommendations were submitted to the Bombay Government by I M Davies, Political Superintendent of Colaba.

P7270117 croppedIOR/F/4/2075/95768 Noc

Here are some examples of the entries (spellings as given in the file):

• Luxumon bin Baboo Meetbhowkur, aged 13: This boy’s father was accidentally blown from a gun at the marriage of one of the Chief’s daughters in March 1840. His son was pensioned, and was in the receipt of 2½ rupees monthly when the State was attached.

• Tsanag Dubboo, alias Dzomaee, aged 70: Widow of an old servant in the ‘Armarr’, or department of vessels. Has received an allowance for many years, in consequence of the death of her son caused by falling off the Flag Staff in the Fort of Colaba.

• Annundrow bin Crishnarow Dhoolup, aged 36: A great grandson of the famous Mahratta Admiral, Dhoolup. Received a pension from the Chief, Raghojee Angria in 1836/37. He resides at Viziadroog and is a very respectable person.

• Wasdeo Babjee Pitkur, Pooranick, aged 70: A servant of the late State, of upwards of 40 years standing. He accompanied Baboorow Angria in Hindustan from 1805 to 1812 and has since resided at Alibagh, where he was entrusted with the duties of Officer of the Adawlut. Under the Political Superintendent he has been employed in the same capacity and is one of the Assessors of the Superintendent’s Court. He enjoyed a liberal maintenance under the late State.

• Appajee Bajee, aged 75: Served as a Puntojee, or teacher, in the Chief’s family for upwards of 40 years. He has for some years past been dependent upon the charity of the Ranees. It is recommended that a pension of 5 rupees per mensem be assigned to him.

• Manajee bin Luxman Lar, aged 45: An old Shingara, or horn blower. He lost his eye sight from smallpox and was 8 years employed in the Artificer’s shop as bellowsman. He received in that employment 8 annas per mensem and 1½ maund of bhat. Being very destitute I beg to recommend that he be allowed a pension of 1½ rupees per mensem during his life.

• Sheik Ismael Gohundaz, aged 100: An old sepoy who has served the State upwards of 70 years. He is still borne upon the books as a sepoy of Saughurgur Fort where he has been for upwards of 40 years. I beg to recommend that a pension of 3½ rupees per mensem be allowed to him during the remainder of his life.

P7270116IOR/F/4/2075/95768  Noc

In submitting his recommendations, Davies assured the Bombay Government that he had been as frugal as he had been able to suggest. 

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
A list of persons recommended by the Political Superintendent of Colaba for life pensions, 1844 [Reference IOR/F/4/2075/95768]