Untold lives blog

536 posts categorized "Journeys"

29 June 2022

The new India Office

In the autumn of 1860 the staff of the India Office moved from East India House in Leadenhall Street in the City of London to temporary accommodation in Victoria Street whilst new premises in Whitehall were being purpose-built.  The India Office was the department of state which had taken over from the East India Company in 1858.  East India House was sold in June 1861 and demolished soon afterwards.

The new Foreign and India Offices – the St James’s Park front 1866The new Foreign and India Offices – the St James’s Park front – Illustrated London News 6 October 1866 Image © Illustrated London News Group via British Newspaper Archive

In the second half of 1867, the move from Victoria Street to Whitehall gradually took place.  Decisions were made about the arrangements for maintaining and staffing the new India Office building, which was described by the Homeward Mail as ‘a grand new palace of administration’.

The contract for cleaning the windows, skylights and bookcases was awarded in February 1868 to Alfred Henry of Vauxhall Bridge Road who submitted a tender for £250 per annum.  This was considered a very low rate given the vast quantity of glass to be cleaned.  Henry had previously been employed for plumber’s work at Victoria Street and he had given satisfaction.

Architect and surveyor Matthew Digby Wyatt, wrote a memorandum stating that the numbers sanctioned in 1861 for male indoor and outdoor messengers, and for female servants were not sufficient in Whitehall.  Nineteen additional men were needed to service the messengers’ boxes situated at fixed points throughout the building, using bells and speaking tubes to communicate.  The ‘great extent’ of the new premises meant that nine extra housemaids would be required to keep clean the rooms, passages, staircases, and furniture.  Wyatt also recommended the appointment of an assistant to the housekeeper.  Eight women and the housekeeper should live in the India Office.

The duties of the female servants were:
• Cleaning and dusting thoroughly each room every day.
• Keeping all the linen in order.
• Scrubbing every set of stairs once a week.
• Lighting all fires.
• Keeping the stoves, fenders, coal scuttles and fire irons clean.
• Scrubbing all the uncarpeted wood flooring once a week, and wiping over the Kamptulicon floor covering with a wet cloth and drying it immediately.
This list was expected to occupy the women fully, but Wyatt said that there was plenty of ‘easy’ dusting and cleaning if they had spare time.

Plan of first floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicatedPlan of first floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicated IOR/L/AG/9/8/3 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A list of all the rooms in the new India Office was drawn up in December 1867 with accompanying plans – offices, book rooms, strong rooms, kitchens, luncheon room, refreshment room, stores, closets, washing closets, bedrooms, lumber rooms, coal cellars.   These showed who occupied each room and the messenger post with which the room communicated.  Staff spoke through metal speaking tubes fitted with bone whistles and mouthpieces.

Plan of third floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicatedPlan of third floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicated IOR/L/AG/9/8/3 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The female servants’ bedrooms were on the third floor.  Mrs Sally Moore, the housekeeper who supervised them, had rooms in the basement near the women’s kitchen and workroom.

At the time of the 1871 census, Sally Moore and eighteen others were living at the India Office.  As well as female domestic servants, there were four resident male employees with their wives and families: Head Office Keeper William Badrick, Office Keeper Joseph John Hope, Office Porter Henry Vincent, and Private Secretary Horace George Walpole.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/AG/9/8/3 Papers on the administration of the India Office.
IOR/L/L/2/1461-1463 Papers for the India Office temporary accommodation in Victoria Street 1860-1866 – the premises became the Westminster Palace Hotel.
IOR/L/SUR Surveyor’s Department papers
Victorian office moves
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Homeward Mail from India, China, and the East 5 September 1867.

 

23 June 2022

Dr Sarah Hosmon and the Missionary Hospital in Sharjah

Kentucky born Sarah Hosmon devoted nearly her entire adult life to missionary and medical work in Arabia.  In 1909 Dr Hosmon arrived in Bahrain, and in 1913, under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Church of America’s Arabian Mission, she opened a clinic for women and children in Muscat.  For the next 28 years she treated, medicated and evangelized under often arduous conditions, unperturbed by having a wooden leg as the result of a childhood accident.

Photograph of Dr Sarah HosmonSarah Longworth Hosmon (1883-1964) who graduated from the University of Illinois College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1909. Source of image: How superpower rivalry and fears of a pandemic brought the first doctor to the UAE in 1939 | The National (thenationalnews.com)

Dr Hosmon was accepted by the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions in 1939, and by 1941 she had set up a clinic at the Omani seaport of Saham. The clinic was extremely isolated, with medical supplies often having to be dropped by air plane.

In January 1944 Hosmon approached the British authorities , who virtually controlled the region, for permission to set up a medical practice in Kalba, then an independent emirate on the Gulf of Oman coast.

Extract from letter of Sarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944  to Captain Patrick  Tandy stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in KalbaSarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944 from Kalba to Captain Patrick Tandy, Political Officer for the Trucial Coast, stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in Kalba and to move there after April, subject to Tandy’s permission: IOR/R/15/2/853, f 88r.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎88r] (175/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)


The British inquired into Hosman’s credentials and received a glowing testimonial from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital, Bahrain.

Testimonial for Sarah Hosmon from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital  Bahrain.Letter from Dr Paul W. Harrison (1883-1962) to Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent in Bahrain, January 1944, describing Hosmon’s medical abilities, character, religious opinions and relationship with Arab rulers she had worked under.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎90r] (179/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

Following confirmation that the Regent of Kalba [Shaikh Khālid Bin Aḥmad al-Qāsimi] was happy for Hosmon to move her practice there, the British authorities decided they had no objection once the War had ended and if Hosmon guaranteed that her co-workers would ‘not become destitute and a charge upon the Government of India’s revenues’.

Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham to Major Patrick Tandy 26 March 1944Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent Bahrain, to Major Patrick Tandy, Political Officer, Trucial Coast, 26 March 1944.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎96r] (191/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

In fact Hosmon remained in Saham for another six years.  The British authorities did not like the ‘nebulous’ nature of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions and were reluctant to have too many American missionaries in the Gulf, whose backgrounds they could not check and whose movements they could not control.  Privately, they disliked Hosmon’s strong-headedness and considered she had used ‘underhand’ methods to obtain travel permits for herself and an American nurse.

Memorandum  dated 16 December 1945  by Geoffrey Prior  Political Resident in the Persian Gulf  setting forth British hostility towards HosmonMemorandum, dated 16 December 1945, by Geoffrey Prior, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, setting forth British hostility towards Hosmon - 'File 6/1 Foreign Interests: American Mission at Muscat' [‎5r] (9/52) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

British obstructionism was not the sole cause of delay.  The terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba appear to have been unacceptable to Hosmon, and she wanted to be able to share freely the Gospel with her patients.

Intelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain  February 1945  indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to HosmonIntelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain, February 1945, indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to Hosmon - Ext 1488/44 'Dr Hosmon: American Medical Missionary' [‎5r] (9/28) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

Hosmon finally made the move in 1951, by which time Kalba had been reincorporated as an enclave of the Sheikhdom of Sharjah.  The clinic opened in 1952 and became known as the Dr Sarah Hosmon Hospital (closing in 1994).  The hospital was the only one in Sharjah, primarily for women and children but later also expanded to men, and its services were in heavy demand and frequently over-stretched.  Evangelism was an integral feature of treatment, with Bible readings for patients.

Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast  1935.Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast, 1935

Journalist John Sack described an encounter with Hosmon in the late 1950s, perhaps revealing the physical toll her work had taken: ‘I was met by Dr Sarah L Hosmon, the director, a slight woman of seventy or eighty whose face is taut, severe, and American Gothic, and who, after inviting me in for tea in her living room, said that she’s been on the Arabian peninsula since 1911, in Sharja since 1952….’.

Hosmon worked tirelessly in Sharjah until a few years before her death in 1964, bringing medical relief, saving lives, and contributing to the introduction of new medicines and empirical techniques to Arabia.  Towards the end, her time was spent advising nursing staff and midwives and preaching the Word of God to patients.

Amanda Engineer
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further Reading:
Saving Sinners, even Moslems: the Arabian mission 1889-1973 and its intellectual roots by Jerzy Zdanowski (2018)
Global View of Christian Missions from Pentecost to the present by J Herbert Kane (1971)
The Sultanate of Oman: A Twentieth Century History by Miriam Joyce (1995)
The Arabian Peninsula by Richard H Sanger (1954)
One Way The Only Way, A Christian Library website, blogpost on Sarah Longworth Hosmon by Tyson Paul
‘Missionary-Statesmen of the Bible Presbyterian Church’ by Keith Coleman, Western Reformed Seminary Journal 11/1 (Feb 2004) 15-19
Report from PRACTICALLY NOWHERE by John Sack (1959)

16 June 2022

Birds, Landscapes, and Letters: Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds in Madras

In 1802, Mary Symonds wrote to her sister Hester James from Madras (now Chennai), 'I hope now we are settled that I shall be able to send something for the curious by every opportunity'.

Painting of the coast near Madras showing the beach with small wooden boatsMary Symonds, Coast Near Madras, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album PIC106.78

Mary had accompanied her sister, the talented ornithologist and painter Elizabeth Gwillim, and Elizabeth's husband Henry Gwillim, a judge in the new Supreme Court of Madras.   The materials the sisters sent home provide a uniquely detailed picture of their work and lives between 1801 and 1808.  In the British Library, four thick volumes contain the sisters' 77 long letters; at McGill University, 164 zoological and botanical paintings represent their scientific work; at the South Asia Collection in Norwich, 78 landscapes and portraits depict their surroundings.

Ink sketch of Elizabeth Gwillim at her writing deskElizabeth Gwillim at her writing desk, sketch in a letter to Hester James, 7 February 1802 Mss.Eur.C.240/1, ff. 33r-38v, f. 36v.

Elizabeth Gwillim was the first to record the avian life of Madras in detail.  Decades before John James Audubon, she painted birds from life and to scale, even the large birds of prey and waterbirds which dominate her collection.  Mary's descriptions and paintings document Elizabeth's artistic process and reveal the crucial role of the Indian bird-catchers who secured the living birds.  Elizabeth's paintings pay unusual attention to the placement of the bird's features and reveal a taxonomical rather than purely artistic interest.  A similar attention to detail is evident in the watercolours of fish, most by Mary Symonds.  The fish paintings reveal a collaborative process of information gathering and several are inscribed with the fishes’ local names.

Two Indian birdcatchersMary Symonds, Birdcatchers, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album, PIC 106.66

Black StorkElizabeth Gwillim, Black Stork Ciconia nigra (Linnaeus 1758) McGill University Library, CA RBD Gwillim-1-010

Painting of Moon wrasse fishMary Symonds, Thalassoma lunare (Moon wrasse, labelled Julis lunaris), McGill University Library, CA RBD Gwillim-2-5

In 1805, Elizabeth wrote 'without some little knowledge of Botany it is impossible to read the Hindoo languages'.  Like her contemporary, William Jones, Elizabeth regarded linguistic and botanical studies as intertwined.  Elizabeth studied Telugu, translating a local temple legend.  She was part of the circle of missionary and medical botanists who linked Madras and the Danish settlement of Tranquebar and she sent plants and seeds back to a nursery garden in Brompton where several grew and were depicted in Curtis' Botanical Magazine.  One of her most detailed botanical images, of the Magnolia coco, remains in the Linnean Society herbarium. 

Magnolia coco'Gwillimia Indica' (Magnolia coco) by Elizabeth Gwillim, Linnean Society Herbarium (LINN-HS 981.10. Magnolia indet. (Herb Smith)), by permission of the Linnean Society of London

Apart from their scientific pursuits, the sisters' letters and paintings provide a wealth of details about food, clothing, and the lives of Madras' inhabitants, from Governor Edward Clive to Elizabeth's maidservant, whose biography she relates in detail.

A Lady’s Maid - an Indian woman dressed in white carrying a basketMary Symonds, A Lady’s Maid, A Pariah Woman, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album, PIC106.75


The early 19th century was a turning point in the East India Company's regime in India.  The Company was completing its conquest of Mysore, the Carnatic, and the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom.  However, the tenuous nature of British rule was dramatically highlighted by the uprising at Vellore in July 1807, in which Indian soldiers killed their British commanders and took over the fort, raising the flag of Mysore before the uprising was brutally repressed.  Elizabeth and Mary collected first-hand accounts of the event, for which they blamed Company policy.  By the time of Elizabeth's death in 1807, the Gwillim household had been drawn into conflict with the Company regime in Madras, which Henry Gwillim denounced as 'despotic'.  This prompted Henry's recall to Britain, where he and Mary made new lives.  The story of their time in Madras has remained largely untold until now.

Anna Winterbottom
McGill University

To learn more:

• See the exhibition 'A Different Idea of India: Two Sisters Painting Southern India, 1801-1808', opening on 15 June at the South Asia Collection.  
• Visit the Gwillim Project website for transcriptions, case studies, webinars, and more.
• Read the original letters in the British Library manuscript India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C240/1-4.
• Read more about Elizabeth's botanical work on Kew's blog.
• Look out for the forthcoming book, Anna Winterbottom, Victoria Dickenson, Ben Cartwright, and Lauren Williams eds., Women, Environment and Networks of Empire: Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds in Madras (McGill Queen's University Press, 2023).

 

09 June 2022

Five Indian indentured labourers picked up at sea

In 1830, a new system for providing workers for British and French colonies was introduced following the abolition of slavery in Britain.  Known as the indentured labour system, workers could be recruited for a specified time, during which the employer was obliged to provide wages, medical facilities and other amenities.  The system provided an opportunity for large numbers of Indians to work and send wages back home to their families.  However it was criticised for being too similar to slavery, with little scope for protecting those who signed up from abuses.

Statement by the Indian workers Statement by the Indian workers IOR/L/PJ/2/151 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The vulnerable situation in which Indian workers could find themselves was demonstrated by the case of five indentured workers from India who were picked up at sea on 30 March 1878 by the schooner G W Pousland about 80 miles west of Martinique.  The master of the ship took the men to George Stevens, British Consul at the Danish West Indies colony of Saint Thomas.  The five men were named Sahib Boo (27 years), Rupen (20 years), Samhiin (22 years), Narainne (23 years) and Monishanee (26 years), all originally from Madras.  They stated that they were under a five year contract to work on the estate of Monsieur Du Nay of Le Diamant in Martinique.  They had served seven years there, but having been badly treated and detained beyond the period of their contract, they took a boat and left.  After three days at sea their food and water had run short, it had been on the sixth day that they had been rescued.

Consul Steven's letter to the Foreign Office  3 April 1878 Consul Steven's letter to the Foreign Office 3 April 1878 IOR/L/PJ/2/151 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Consul Stevens asked Captain Boxer of the British corvette HMS Tourmaline, which happened to be at St Thomas, to return them for further investigation to Martinique, which he would pass on his way to Barbados.  The men expressed their 'great unwillingness' to return to Martinique, and after consulting with the French authorities it became clear that although no official claim would be made for the men, if they were landed in Martinique they would be liable for the theft of the canoe and for violation of contract.  In summarising these events, an India Office official noted that the treatment of the men by their employer 'whether shown in the withholding of return passage, as has been alleged, and as has been so often a grievance in the French colonies, - or whether of any other kind, - must have been very bad to induce them to trust their lives in a canoe in the open sea, where they might not have been picked up'.

India Office Minute Paper May 1878  India Office Minute Paper May 1878 IOR/L/PJ/3/1055 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Captain Boxer decided not to land the men at Martinique but to take them on to Barbados where further advice could be sought.   Denied permission by the Governor in Chief of the Windward Islands to land the men at Barbados, he carried on to the Island of Antigua, where the Colonial Government gave permission for the men to be landed and new employment found for them.  It was arranged for them to be offered a new contract for three years by Mr G W Bennett, a landed proprietor of the island.  Under the contract they were to be paid one shilling per day, with a house and a plot of land to be allowed each man.  The five men agreed to this, and Captain Boxer reported on 25 April 1878 that they had been landed on Antigua and placed in charge of Mr Bennett.

Captain Boxer's letter 25 April 1878Captain Boxer's letter 25 April 1878 IOR/L/PJ/2/151 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Five indentured Indian labourers picked up at sea, 1878, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/151, File 19/110.

Draft Despatch to India, Public No.66, 27 June 1878, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/3/1055, pages 218-231.

Ship’s log for H.M.S. Tourmaline, The National Archives, reference: ADM 53/1130.

Indians Overseas: A guide to source materials in the India Office Records for the study of Indian emigration 1830-1950.

‘Becoming Coolies’, Re-thinking the Origins of the Indian Ocean Labour Diaspora, 1772-1920

The National Archives guide to Indian Indentured Labourers.

 

01 June 2022

Letters from the Garrod children to their father

Among the private papers collections donated to the British Library, the Garrod Family Papers present a very special archive ranging from 1867 to 1990.  They include correspondence, files, maps, printed papers and photographs of William Francis Garrod (1893-1964) and Isobel Agnes Garrod (formerly Carruthers) (1898-1976) relating to their family life in India, Garrod's career in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment 1930-1946, and his service in World Wars One and Two.

A great number of letters were exchanged when William and Isobel got engaged, then married and had four children.  Among lockets of hair, newspaper cuttings and postcards, one can see them overcoming the challenges of family life, household and financial issues while keeping close family ties despite the distance between them.

Children in costumes as the cast of a play Children in costumes as the cast of a play - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

As William spent long periods of time away from home so the children grew up observing their mother write to their father and became interested in writing to him as well.  They took up this habit at a very young age, before even being actually able to write.

Scribbles and love from AndrewScribbles and love from Andrew - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

The children report frequent visits to the cinema, social and academic updates from school, sickness and all the social events their father is missing such as Christmas and birthdays.

Letter from Martin hoping that his father will be back on his birthday because he had not been for his fifth and sixth birthdaysLetter from Martin hoping that his father will be back on his birthday because he had not been for his fifth and sixth birthdays - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Drawing of Daddy, Sammy the cat and Jimmy the dogDrawing of  Daddy, Sammy the cat ,and Jimmy the dog - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Drawing of ‘Sister Steller’ from schoolDrawing of ‘Sister Steller’ from school - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

They do not often mention the war besides hoping their father is well and can come home soon.

Letter from Janet -  ‘we are quite alright and I hope you are well and will soon come back to us’

Letter from Janet - ‘we are quite alright and I hope you are well and will soon come back to us’ - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Letter from Martin hoping his father is happy at the warLetter from Martin hoping his father is happy at the war - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

However, they do show in drawings how they imagine it to be.

Drawing of war ship attacked by planesDrawing of war ship attacked by planes - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Planes attacking Nazi ship. Pilots parachute and sailors take lifeboatsDrawing of planes attacking Nazi ship. Pilots parachute and sailors take to lifeboats. - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

They also depict their image they have of their father’s role in it and the dangers he faces being away from home.

Letter from Martin with drawing of Daddy killing HitlerLetter from Martin with drawing of Daddy killing Hitler India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Luckily, those drawings are also often accompanied by captions sometimes composed by the children themselves, sometimes by thoughtful Isobel to make sure the drawings would be understood on the other end.

Daddy being saved from a snake by a squirrelDaddy being saved from a snake by a squirrel  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Isobel is also very careful in numbering the letters in case they get lost, delayed or get to William all at once. In some of the letters one can imagine how frustrating it must have been to not have control over that and to be aware there was an inevitable delay between sending a message and it reaching William.

Letter 53 from Isobel – ‘I wonder when I am going to hear from you again and where you are’Letter 53 from Isobel – ‘I wonder when I am going to hear from you again and where you are’- India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Not only does the collection give a fascinating glimpse into the life of a British family living and working in India at the end of the British Raj, it also provides the very rare perspective of children.

Bianca Miranda Cardoso
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Garrod Family Papers - Collection reference: India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730. They are available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogue is searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

William Francis Garrod’s story from Bristol in 1893 to northern India has been explored in a previous Untold Lives blog post.
The Garrod papers also feature in anther Untold Lives blog post about the General Strike of 1926.

 

30 May 2022

The Adventures of Helen Gloag in Morocco

Helen Gloag’s story is a remarkable tale of adventure and changes in fortune, which saw her cross the world to embrace a wholly new life in royalty.

Born on 29 January 1750, in Perthshire, Scotland, Helen was the daughter of a blacksmith.  Growing up motherless, she bristled under her authoritarian father and small-town life.  At the age of 19 she decided, like many other Scots in this period to start a new life, setting sail with a group of friends for the New World.

However, she never reached her destination.  Instead, her ship was captured by Barbary pirates and redirected to Morocco, where Helen was sold into slavery.  We know few specifics of what happened next, other than that she was taken to Algiers and bought by a wealthy Moroccan merchant to be gifted to the then Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdullah (c.1710-1790).

What was it about Helen that allowed her to gain such favour and rise above others in the Sultan’s harem?

Historians of the period have argued her flame-red hair and pale skin had much to do with it.  But it must have been more than merely her appearance that enabled Helen to gain such favour and become the Sultan’s principal wife as these features are not just associated with Scottish peoples and the ports of Morocco had been for long over a century a meeting place of all nationalities and peoples.  Whatever it was in her personality that drew her to the attention of the Sultan was powerful in its influence and is credited as a reason for the change in the temperament of the Sultan in his attitude towards slaves and his adoption of a more moderate approach to the use of raids on European merchant ships and enslaving those onboard.

Stage of Dorset Garden Theatre set for ''The Empress of Morocco (1673)Stage of Dorset Garden Theatre set for ''The Empress of Morocco (1673), image courtesy of Yale University Library Digital Collections

Through letters Helen sent back to her brother that seem to have been circulated, and visits to the Moroccan court by English delegates, British society learnt of Helen’s story and her influence on the Sultan to be more tolerant of Europeans, Jews, and others.  Over the previous centuries, Britain had had increasing contact through piracy, trade, and embassies with Morocco in particular and through consistent dramatisations of their history, such as Elkanah Settle’s Empress of Morocco (1698) all the way back to the sixteenth century in The Battle of Alcazar (1594).

Life took a drastic turn for Helen once again following the death of the Sultan in 1790.  Although she was the principal wife, the son of another member of the harem seized power.  This put Helen and her two sons in grievous danger as the new Sultan sought to kill off any threats to his consolidation of power.  Her sons were killed before she managed to meet with a British convoy to bring her back to Britain, and it is suspected that she too was killed in the succession upheaval.

Helen’s story and life journey are one left in mystery but should be remembered for how it displays the global contact Europe had with the rest of the world, particularly Africa.

Saoirse Dervla Laaraichi
Doctoral Student at The Shakespeare Institute

Further reading:
Read the whole play The Empress of Morocco for free on Google Books.

Learn more about the world into which Helen stepped through the MEMOs (Medieval and Early Modern Orients) blog series.

See a depiction of a Barbary pirate; the likes of which captured Helen.

This blog post is part of a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs). On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.

 

26 May 2022

Monsieur Roux, the would-be Consul of Baghdad

By the summer of 1917, the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force had been in Mesopotamia for three years.  It had fought the armies of the Ottoman Empire and occupied territory stretching from Basra to Baghdad.  British officials had every reason to feel triumphant.  But then they met an opponent they could not defeat -– a French diplomat determined to be Consul of Baghdad.

A French Consulate for Baghdad
On 20 July 1917, the British authorities in occupied Baghdad were warned that a ‘Mons. Roux’ was en route to Mesopotamia, intending to establish a French Consulate.  The British authorities were bewildered.  They had not been informed about this new Consulate, and were worried that it might complicate efforts to impose imperial control in Mesopotamia.

The first appearance of Monsieur Roux in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force July 1917The first appearance of Monsieur Roux in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3281, f. 90r.

It was too late to prevent Roux reaching Bombay; the Foreign Office ordered that Roux be kept there while they decided on a response.

A captured Turkish steamer ship at BasraA captured Turkish steamer ship at Basra. Roux’s arrival in the busy port meant diplomatic complications for the British occupation. © IWM Q 25326 (htt

From Bombay to Basra
The British did not reckon with the determination of Monsieur Roux.  On 4 August, an embarrassed telegram from Bombay reached Baghdad. Roux had requested that the Government of Bombay let him leave for Basra.  The Government refused, stating that he would have to wait until they received permission from Basra.  Roux- clearly well-versed in the arts of diplomacy- ‘expressed extreme astonishment’ at this delay, and warned of ‘diplomatic complications’ if he was hindered.  Bombay allowed Roux to sail for Basra.  Shortly after his ship had left, a telegram belatedly arrived confirming that under no circumstances was the Frenchman to be allowed to leave.  Monsieur Roux was one step closer to Baghdad - and had left a gaggle of humiliated British administrators in his wake.

Telegram from Bombay reporting that Monsieur Roux has left for BasraBombay reports that Monsieur Roux has left for Basra, against the wishes of Basra’s British authorities in the occupied port city. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282, f. 128r. 

Diplomatic Privileges
By 16 August, Roux had arrived in Basra and was causing more issues for the British.  Roux expected permission to use a locked diplomatic bag and a telegram cipher. However, his British hosts were reluctant to allow him to keep his communications secret.  On 28 September, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff telegrammed that the French Ambassador had complained about an ‘unfriendly and suspicious attitude towards Consul Roux, which may create bad impression in France’.

Telegram reporting that the ‘unfriendly and suspicious’ treatment of Roux drew the attention of the French Ambassador and prompted an official warning from the Imperial General StaffThe ‘unfriendly and suspicious’ treatment of Roux drew the attention of the French Ambassador and prompted an official warning from the Imperial General Staff. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3284, f. 487r

The Chief ordered that this be investigated and that Roux, as ‘official agent of French Government’, be permitted to send cipher telegrams.  The threat of political consequences allowed the Frenchman to get his way again.

The Belgian Consulate at Basra 1917The Belgian Consulate at Basra, 1917. Roux is likely to have occupied similar quarters during his stay in the city. © IWM Q 25679 

Consul Roux 
Roux’s status remained unsettled for over a year. By October 1918, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf had changed his approach, suggesting that Roux should come to Baghdad ‘where he… can be more efficiently influenced and controlled’.  Roux himself was now more interested in events beyond Baghdad.  The oil-rich northern region of Mosul was at the time claimed by both the British and the French.  The commander of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force, Sir William Marshall, recalled in his memoirs that Roux spent November 1918 requesting permission to go to Mosul.  Marshall refused to allow the visit, suspecting that Roux planned to improve French influence in the region by handing out money.

The story of Monsieur Roux illustrates the smaller-scale realities of imperial rivalry.  The presence of a Consul allowed France to exert authority in a territory the British were determined to control.  Roux thus became a cause for concern, and relatively inconsequential incidents of interpersonal tension became part of a broader struggle for post-war imperial supremacy.

Dan McKee
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
India Office Records – Military Department files: IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3281; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3283; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3284; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3309
Mesopotamia campaign - National Army Museum 

 

17 May 2022

The Society of the Double Cross

In the archives of the Hakluyt Society at the British Library, I found a letter from 1963 sent by Philip Swann to the Honorary Secretary R A Skelton.  Swann had worked as a cartographer in Venezuela in the 1930s and was now living in retirement in New Zealand.

In Venezuela, Swann was introduced by a Scottish mining engineer to a family who produced a curious bundle of documents from a secret society known as La Socied de la Doble Cruz.  The papers referred to hordes of booty hidden across a multitude of exotic hideaways.  They mentioned legendary figures such as Montezuma and Henry Morgan and promised, should the strange hieroglyphics throughout the document be understood, potential lost fortunes might be recovered.  ‘The papers were found in the shape of a ball covered with (bitumen) fastened with two gold pins. There was also ten small bars of gold, one semi-precious stone, four minted coins very poorly done… four or five weights (presumably for weighing gold) a bundle of papers wrapped in a sort of wax…’

Hieroglyphics copied from the Venezuelan papers by Philip SwannHieroglyphics copied from the Venezuelan papers by Philip Swann MSS EUR F594/5/1/3 f.111


Swann said he had been sworn to absolute secrecy and, even 30 years later, felt obliged to ask that the matter be treated as confidential.  He asked the Hakluyt Society for advice on who might take up the research: ‘Even now, I still feel there is a glimmer of truth in it all, and it is worthy of investigation’.  He attached a list of sixteen things which should be explored, including the Booty of Mexico, activities on Lake Maracaibo, the Secrets of the Vulgate, and buried treasure on the Island of Cuanacoco.

Some of the events Swann writes about can be traced in other collection items at the British Library.  Morgan’s raid on Maracaibo was well documented in the 1678 publication Bucaniers of America by Alexandre Exquemelin, which is littered with enticing clues connected to the papers.

Portrait of Captain Henry Morgan set against a background with shipsCaptain Henry Morgan from A. O. Exquemelin, Bucaniers of America, or, A true account of the most remarkable assaults committed of late years upon the coasts of the West-Indies by the bucaniers of Jamaica and Tortuga, both English and French (London, 1684)

Elsewhere I discovered further tantalising leads.  Famed shipwreck salvager and treasure hunter Arthur McKee had a history of success discovering riches of bygone eras.  In his journals, McKee documented a curious excursion: ‘I was contacted by two men from Venezuela who stated they wished to discuss with me some strange markings found on some old documents. These documents were discovered at an old house in Venezuela which had been torn down’.

McKee described manuscripts inscribed on a skin-like material and leather, dated as early as 1557, which referred to ‘The organisation of the Doble Cruz’.  He spoke of the same strange hieroglyphs mentioned by Swann.  His translations mirrored those of Swann in a fashion beyond mere coincidence, with just enough translation discrepancies to suggest this wasn’t a copy of earlier research.  He appeared to be witnessing the same original documents.

In 1976 McKee organised an expedition.  The Forte La Tortuga was a supposed pirate fortress located 110 miles off the Venezuela coast.  McKee and two academics were transported to the deserted island by helicopter.  The expedition was doomed.  Injury and disorientation led to a very real fight for survival.  Rescued by the army ten days later, the quest was abandoned.

La Orden de la Doble Cruz still exists.  Based in Venezuela, a branch of the Knights Templar Illuminati Order fly the flag of the Double Cross, their legitimacy ‘evidenced by authentic ancient documents that rest in this city of Maracaibo, in our beloved country Venezuela’.

Craig Campbell
Formerly Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records
@archaeodad

Further reading:
MSS EUR F594/5/1/3 Correspondence addressed to the Honorary Secretary of the Hakluyt Society, R.A. Skelton. ff 108-111 Letter from Philip Swann. 1963.
British Library Add MS 36330 Venezuela Papers. Vol. XVII. (ff. 345). 1653-1680. ff. 317, 332 Captain Henry Morgan: News of his design to surprise Cartagena: Madrid, 18 Mar. Spanish. 1676.
British Library Add MS 12428-12430 A Collection of Tracts relating to the Island of Jamaica, from 1503 to 1680. Journal kept by Col. William Beeston, from his first coming to Jamaica, 1655-1680.
British Library Sloane MS 2724 Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Carlisle: Collection of his papers and letters: 17th cent. f. 1 Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Morgan, Deputy-Governor and Commander in Chief of Jamaica: Proclamation conc. the Royal African Company: 1680/1
British Library RB.23.b.6178 Bucaniers of America: or, a true account of the most remarkable assaults committed of late years upon the coasts of the West-Indies, by the bucaniers of Jamaica and Tortuga, both English and French… London : printed for William Crooke, at the Green Dragon without Temple-bar. A. O Exquemelin, (Alexandre Olivier) 1684.

 

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