THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

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13 December 2018

The Red Sea to India non-stop: Amelia Earhart, Southern Arabia, and British Obstructionism

On 15 June 1937, Amelia Earhart, the pioneering aviator, and her navigator, Fred Noonan, landed at Karachi airport in their specially modified Lockheed Model 10 Electra plane.  They had been flying for over thirteen hours and travelled more than 1800 miles from Assab, in Eritrea.  By doing so they’d completed the first ever non-stop flight from the Red Sea to India, as Karachi was a part of then.

Amelia_Earhart_standing_under_nose_of_her_Lockheed_Model_10-E_Electra _smallAmelia Earhart standing under the nose of her Lockheed Model 10 Electra plane via Wikipedia

Earhart had flown from Assab that morning and had used Aden as a checkpoint along the way.  Permission had also been given to land at the British enclave should it be necessary.  From Aden, however, the Americans were restricted to flying a course along the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.  This restriction has often been attributed to Saudi refusal to grant permission to fly over its territory, but the region in question was not, and still is not, part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  The flight would have passed over the Hadhramaut, at the time under a loose British protectorate, and the territories of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, where British influence and control was strong.  In December of the previous year, the United States Embassy in London had written to the Foreign Office giving details of Earhart’s plans for a round-the-world flight and requesting permission to fly through and land in British territories along the way.  The matter was passed on to the Government of India, who agreed to the flight, with certain restrictions, but envisaged complications with the stretch along the South Arabian coast.

IOR_L_PS_12_1981_0592

IOR_L_PS_12_1981_0594 Extracts from a letter from the US Ambassador to London to the British Foreign Secretary, IOR/L/PS/12/1981, ff. 296-297

Civil aviation was in its infancy at the time and the British had been developing an air route along the Arab side of the Persian Gulf from Baghdad.  For various strategic and pragmatic reasons the British had gone to some lengths to establish control over the air space in the region, securing agreements with the Arab Sheikhs that gave them a good deal of authority over the management of air traffic.

IOR_L_PS_12_2054_0271Map showing some of the Royal Air Force routes from the United Kingdom to Far East Asia, via the Arabian Peninsula and India, IOR/L/PS/12/2054, f. 134

The Sheikhs of Bahrain and Sharjah had agreed to delegate to the British the authority to refuse private aviators permission to fly through or land within their territories.  The British had so far failed to obtain the same from the Sultan of Muscat.  Earhart’s requested flight was seen as an opportunity to gain this further degree of control in the region.

The attempts of the Political Agent in Muscat, Major Ralph Watts, to secure the Sultan’s agreement to delegate such authority to the British were unsuccessful, however, and instead efforts were made by the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf and the Government of India to try to dissuade the Americans from looking to fly through or land in the Sultan’s territories.  They were told that there was little hope of obtaining permission from the Sultan and the country in question was described as “desolate, inaccessible and entirely unsuitable for any emergency landings”.  Those that did land risked death or injury at the hands of “wild tribesmen”.

T 11308_0015Al-Hawtah, capital of the district of Lahej, part of the “desolate” and “inaccessible” country the British warned of, part of 'An Account of the British Settlement of Aden in Arabia, compiled by Captain F.M. Hunter

It was this obstructionism from the British, rather than Saudi refusal, which compelled Earhart to follow a line just off the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, rather than over land.  An obstructionism given in response to the Sultan of Muscat’s refusal to relinquish yet more power to the British.

John Hayhurst
Content Specialist, Gulf History – BL/Qatar Foundation Partnership

11 December 2018

Deserted families in The Poor Law Unions’ Gazette

Information about men and women who deserted their families was published in The Poor Law Unions’ Gazette in the second half of the 19th century.  Each week, descriptions of the wanted persons appeared, listing their last known address, their age, height, build, facial features, clothing when last seen, and occupation.  The authorities were keen to trace them because their spouses and children were now chargeable to the Poor Law.  Rewards were offered for information leading to the apprehension of the individuals listed, most of whom were men. Names appeared in the list week after week, sometimes for years, suggesting that no information had been forthcoming and that those sought had managed to cover their tracks successfully.

Poor Law Unions' Gazette 25 Sep 1897The Poor Law Unions’ Gazette 25 September 1897 British Newspaper Archive

The mini biographies in the Gazette are a rich and fascinating source for social and family historians.  Let’s dip into the issue for 25 September 1897. 

Charles Mooring was a boot salesman well-known in the trade, formerly of 9 Prince of Wales Road, Kentish Town.  Aged 24, he was 5 feet 9½ inches tall, with fair hair and a moustache.  He was last seen wearing a black morning coat, light trousers, and a Trilby hat. It was thought that he might visit his mother at the Kentish Town address.  He had left a wife and one child.

Mary Brown had stayed at the Euston Hotel on 6 July 1895 and deserted her child Francis Henry aged 13 months by leaving him at 100 Euston Road.  She was 30 years of age, about 5 feet 3 or 4 inches in height, with very dark hair and eyes, having ‘the appearance of being a Hindoo’.  When last seen she was wearing a blue serge skirt, white blouse, and white straw hat.

Georgina Smith alias Organ was 34, of medium size, with dark hair and eyes, a prominent nose, and a front tooth missing. She was a native of Bitton in Gloucestershire and well known in Bristol where she cohabited with George Organ.  She had deserted her three children in Cardiff in July 1888.

George Organ was a mason aged about 50, with sandy hair, whiskers and moustache.  He was last heard of in Keynsham Somerset and was likely to be working as a builder.  He was wanted for disobeying a bastardy warrant concerning Georgina’s children.  
 

Poor Law Unions' Gazette 25 Sep 1897 child desertionThe Poor Law Unions’ Gazette 25 September 1897 British Newspaper Archive

This issue of the Gazette also published details of a child deserted five years earlier.  A baby boy aged about seven months had been found on Southsea Beach at 5pm on 19 September 1892.  He had fair curly hair and light eyes, and was well-clothed in several layers of flannel, linen, calico and muslin, with pearl buttons and lace trimmings, a cap, bib and woollen shoes.  The woman seen with him that afternoon was aged about 25-30, height 5 feet 3 inches, with a very pale complexion. She had been dressed in a drab hat with a broad brim and light coloured dolman without sleeves.

The notices in the Poor Law Unions’ Gazette prompt the reader to wonder about the sad stories which must lurk behind the bare details. What prompted these men and women to disappear? And what happened to the deserted families? 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The Poor Law Unions’ GazetteBritish Newspaper Archive

06 December 2018

Who repaired the pavements in London?

In 1764 the London Commission of Sewers and Pavements produced a report into the state of the city’s pavements and roads.  The report inventoried the impediments it found to walking and traffic throughout the city.  These included defective pavements, rubbish, unloading wagons, parcels, craftsmen working in the streets, shop signs and rainspouts.  The report concluded that London roads were 'defective, even in the principal streets' and the Commission set about trying to resolve as many of the impediments as they reasonably could.  Many were on the site of properties which the City of London leased to various companies and individuals.  The leases for these properties included clauses regarding responsibility for maintaining pavements and roads within properties boundaries in good working order.

One such lease was between the City of London and the East India Company and was for warehouses on Leadenhall Street, which had been leased by the Company since 1741.

Plan of leadenhall warehouses croppedPlan of warehouses on Leadenhall Street leased to the East India Company enclosed with the lease renewal of 31 October 1759. IOR/L/L/2/293

On 31 July 1764 the Court of Directors of the East India Company received a letter from the Commissioners of Sewers and Pavements for the City of London.  The letter concerned the state of disrepair of the pavement in front the Company’s warehouse at Leadenhall Street and requested that 'The Court will cause the said pavement to be forthwith effectually repaired'.

The letter was read at the next session of the Court of Directors on 1 August 1764, and the minutes of this meeting record the Court instructing the immediate repair of the pavement in question. The 1764 report was also responsible for the creation in London, in 1765, of the world’s first kerbed sidewalks, a feature which would subsequently be copied by other cities and can be found the world over today.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/E/1/46, f 507 Letter 252, John Smith, Clerk to the Commissioners of Sewers and Pavements to Robert James, Secretary to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, 31 July 1764
IOR/B/80, Court Minutes, 1 August 1764.
IOR/L/L/2/293 Renewal of lease 31 October 1759 from City of London to East India Company for warehouses on Leadenhall Street.