Untold lives blog

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607 posts categorized "Journeys"

18 June 2024

The last surviving East India Company Chaplain

When Edward Godfrey was born in Nettleton, Wiltshire, on 4 September 1820 it could perhaps be foreseen that he would go on to be a priest, following in the footsteps of his father the Reverend Daniel Race Godfrey.  But it is unlikely he could have predicted that he would become known as the last surviving Chaplain of the East India Company.

Edward attended Clare College, Cambridge achieving his M.A. in 1846.  He had already been serving as Curate of Chard in Somerset since 1844, and in 1847 was appointed to as Curate to St Peter’s in Plymouth.

Marriage announcement for the Reverend Edward Godfrey to Miss Emily Clare PayneMarriage announcement for the Reverend Edward Godfrey to Miss Emily Clare Payne, London Evening Standard 7 December 1844 British Newspaper Archive

That same year he applied for an appointment with the East India Company, and he was formally appointed as an Assistant Chaplain to Bengal on 29 March 1848.  He left England with his wife Emily Clare, daughter of Captain René Payne of the Bombay Army, whom he had married in 1844. They sailed for India aboard the Wellesley on 10 June 1848.  The couple already had two children, whom they appear not to have taken to India with them.  Their first child, Vaughan was born in 1846, and on the 1851 census is living in Bath with his paternal grandfather Daniel Race Godfrey.  Daughter Julia was born in 1847, and in 1851 was living in Cheltenham with her maternal grandmother Eliza Julia Payne.

Baptism of  second son Francis Edward Godfrey born at Meerut, Bengal 16 May 1849Baptism of  second son Francis Edward Godfrey born at Meerut, Bengal 16 May 1849 (their first child born in India) - British Library IOR/N/1/75 f.193

The couple would have six more children, all born in India between 1849 and 1871 as Edward held appointments across Bengal over the next 25 years serving in places such as Meerut, Subathoo, Ferozepore, Saugor and Landour.  He was promoted to Chaplain in 1869.

Godfrey was a keen amateur photographer.  His photographs of tribes of Central India were displayed at the London International Exhibition in 1862.  He also contributed photographs to The People of India, an eight-volume publication compiled by John Forbes Watson and John William Kaye between 1868 and 1875.

Edward retired from service in India on 20 October 1873, and on returning to England was appointed Curate of Stainsby, Lincolnshire in 1875.  However, this was not the end of his travels as in 1878 he was appointed Chaplain at Coblenz in Germany, transferring to Dusseldorf in 1880, and then to Milan in 1889.  He returned to England in 1891 serving at St Peter’s Hospital in Covent Garden before being appointed as Vicar of Great Tey in Essex where he remained until 1916.

Photograph of t Barnabas Church, Great Tey, Essex where Edward Godfrey served as Vicar from 1891 onwards.St Barnabas Church, Great Tey, Essex where Edward Godfrey served as Vicar from 1891 onwards. Wikipedia - attribution Robert Edwards, St Barnabas Church, Great Tey, Essex CC BY-SA 2.0 

Edward Godfrey died in Bedfordshire on 24 February 1918 at the age of 97.  He had followed his calling for over 72 years and at the time of his passing had been the very last living Chaplain appointed under the East India Company.  His wife Emily Clare passed away five years later aged 95.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading
The Chaplains of the East India Company, S.J. McNally, 1976 – British Library OIR 253.0954.
John Falconer, A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia.
London Evening Standard, 7 December 1844 – announcement of the marriage of Reverend Edward Godfrey to Emily Clare Payne British Newspaper Archive.
British Library IOR/N/1/75 f.193 - Bengal Baptisms – baptism of Francis Edward Godfrey, 2nd son of Edward & Mary Clare Godfrey.

St Barnabas Church, Great Tey, Essex


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.


21 May 2024

Across the Great Desert: an unlikely rescue on the coast of Oman

In late July 1892, a ship from the Seychelles wrecked on the coast of Oman.  Its two surviving crewmen- brothers named Melicourt and Despilly Savy- were stranded without food or water.

One month later, the pair walked into the British Consulate at Muscat, accompanied by the man who had saved their lives and guided them across 230 miles of harsh terrain; Salim-bin-Said-bin-Khatir [Sālim bin Sa‘īd bin Khāṭir], a Bedouin ‘of the Yal Wahibah tribe’.

This remarkable story, told through correspondence between British officials in the Gulf region, provides an insight into how those officials sought to encourage the protection of British subjects, and thereby reinforce imperial prestige.

On 24 June 1892, a sailing boat named Venice left ‘the Isle of Vaches’- most likely Bird Island- with a crew of six men and a cargo of eggs.  The ship was left crippled by ‘a very heavy sea and stormy weather’ and drifted north for almost a month.  Two men died aboard the ship, while another two died just after it had wrecked on the Omani coast.

Melicourt and Despilly likely would have met the same fate, if they had not been found by Sālim bin Sa‘īd.  The Bedouin took them to a nearby hut and hosted them ‘with great kindness and hospitality’ for eight days as they regained their strength.

Once the brothers had recovered sufficiently, the intrepid Bedouin led them on a lengthy journey across Oman to Muscat, where they could expect assistance from the British Consulate:
‘...he took them through the great desert of Oman to Mideibee [Al-Mudhaibi] in the Sharkiyyeh [Ash Sharqiyah], thence through the Baldan-al-Awamir [Buldan-al-Awmir] to Oman proper and through the Wadi Beni Ruhah [Wadi Bani Rwahah] to Semail [Samail], whence he has brought them safely to Muskat [Muscat]’.

Approximate route taken by the sailors and their rescuer from Ras Sarab to MuscatThe approximate route taken by the sailors and their rescuer from Ras Sarab [Ra’s Sirab] to Muscat. Image created by Hannah Nagle, Content Specialist Archivist. Map data ©2024 Google.

The journey took about 20 days, and they arrived in Muscat on 31 August 1892.  Sālim bin Sa‘īd seems to have gone to considerable expense to escort these sailors.  One of his camels died during the journey, and he even sold his dagger to pay for food.

The British Political Agent at Muscat decided to reward the kindness and risk-taking shown by Sālim bin Sa‘īd; his expenses were reimbursed, plus a 100 rupee present.  The Bedouin left Muscat wealthier than he had arrived, while the two sailors were sent home to the Seychelles via Bombay [Mumbai].

Photograph of the British Consulate at Muscat  taken in the 1870sA photograph of the British Consulate at Muscat, taken in the 1870s. 'Muscat Consulate & Agency' [‎22r-b] (1/1), British Library: Visual Arts, Photo 355/1/43, in Qatar Digital Library 

The Agent noted that the reward given to Sālim bin Sa‘īd was intended to ‘act as a stimulus to himself and others of his countrymen to exert themselves in a like manner in protecting British subjects’.  The Political Resident in the Persian Gulf went further than this, suggesting that ‘some special present’ should be sent from the Government of India to Sālim bin Sa‘īd.  He even proposed that the HMS Sphinx should be used to deliver this gift in Sālim bin Sa‘īd’s ‘own country’- ‘The wider the recognition given to actions so creditable... the greater is the prospect of the kind treatment of any who may be unfortunate enough to be shipwrecked hereafter’.  This proposal does not seem to have been taken further, primarily due to the difficulty of finding the Bedouin again.

Dan McKee
Content Specialist Archivist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/P/4185 ‘INDIA. FOREIGN PROCEEDINGS. (External) Sep. to Dec. 1892.’


30 April 2024

A military wife in India - Deborah Marshall's letters

The wives of Army Officers offer a unique perspective into history.  They were often close to conflict and military action but distanced from their husbands and extended family.  Such is the case for Alice Deborah Marshall, known as Deborah, (1899-1993), whose letters sent to her mother document her life as a military wife between 1927-1933 in the North-West Frontier Provinces, India [now Pakistan].  These letters are now part of the India Office Private Papers series Mss Eur F307.

Extract from a letter sent by Deborah Marshall to her mother describing an incident where a young British soldier was shot on a train  28 July 1931Extract from a letter sent by Deborah to her mother Isabella Alice Cree describing an incident where a young British soldier was shot on a train, 28 July 1931 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F307/5

Deborah was the wife of Major-General John Stuart Marshall (1883-1944), who served in the Indian Army between 1904-1940.  She came from a military family herself, born to Major General Gerald Cree (1862-1932) and Isabella Sophie Alice née Smith (1874-1966), with a brother, Brigadier Gerald Hilary Cree (1905-1998), whose very active career during World War Two is well documented.

The life described in her letters is one she seems at ease with despite the hazards and constant upheaval.  In her witty and descriptive manner, she documents the lively and gossipy social life of a military town and the characters involved, as well as the minutiae of how she occupied her days and her responsibilities as a mother to her daughter Suzanne Mary (1924-2007) .

We see the towns she lived in, Gulmarg and Peshawar primarily, changing over the year, becoming lonely ghost towns when the army moved on or weathering the destruction the monsoon caused.  Golfing and gardening are casually discussed alongside the daily conflicts of the Indian Army and the dramatic events of the Afridi Redshirt Rebellion (1930-1931).

Crowd on Khissa Khani Bazaar 31 May 1930 Crowd on Khissa Khani Bazaar in Peshawar, 31 May 1930 -  British Library Photo 345 (66) Images Online

Her husband John Stuart Marshall’s military duties and his involvement in the conflict are described in detail.  Between 1930 and 1931 battles fought against the Afridi tribal freedom-fighters in the Tirah Valley as well as in the Khajuri Plains are described by Deborah to her mother.  At the end of the year in December and January 1931-2 we see the intensity of the mass arrests of ‘Redshirt’ sympathizers in Peshawar.  ‘Rebels’ were beaten bloody and imprisoned and Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the anti-colonialist activist, was arrested. While living in Army-occupied Peshawar at that time Marshall writes to her father:
'They [the British soldiers] combed the City through and when they marched out (...) were salaamed on all sides by a perfectly silent crowd!  Those with any tendency to shouting hicalab [revolution] by that time were nursing horrible bruises at home! (…)  Everyone is very hopeful on the effect this may have on the rest of India, when they see what a very strong line they have taken here' (Mss Eur F307/5 f.287).

Scenes such as this and Deborah’s observations reveal the everyday British attitudes towards their own rule during a time when great political upheaval was imminent.  John Stuart Marshall would eventually go on to become Chief Administration Officer of Eastern Command in India and of the Eastern Army before passing away in 1944.  Deborah was re-married in 1946 to Major Arthur John Dring (1902-1991) of the Indian Political Service, subsequently becoming Lady Dring until her death in 1993.

Maddy Clark
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Deborah Alice Marshall Papers India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F307– a paper catalogue of the contents is available to consult in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.
Allen, C. 1975. Plain tales from the Raj : images of British India in the twentieth century. St Martin’s Press, New York.
Papers of Lt Col Arthur John Dring 1927-c.1948 India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F226/8.


23 April 2024

Unclaimed packages and post in Bombay

In the 19th century the Bombay Gazette published lists of unclaimed packages and post.  The Custom House in Bombay advertised details of unclaimed goods, giving notice that they would be sold at public auction if not cleared before a certain date.

A list of packages which had been left at the Custom House between March and November 1863 was published in the Bombay Gazette on 3 February 1864.  Owners were given until 25 February to clear their goods.

First entries from the list of unclaimed goods published in the Bombay Gazette 3 February 1864First entries from the list of unclaimed goods published in the Bombay Gazette 3 February 1864 British Newspaper Archive

The list includes a wide variety of items arriving in ships from across the world.  Amongst the packages were:
• 2 bottles of spirits from Goa
• 2 bundles of snuff from Cutch
• 2 boxes of glass toys
• 4 ‘goolabdanees’ [gulabdanis] - rose water sprinklers
• 1 slab of copper (stolen property)
• 55 kegs of horseshoes from Liverpool
• I½ lbs of indigo
• 2 packages of goracco – tobacco paste smoked in a hookah
• 1 package of sticklac from Siam
• 2 mats from China
• 9 bowls from China
• I bale of cotton from Jodia
• 7 broken watch charms
• 2 bundles of matting from Hong Kong
• 2 bottles of country spirits from Goa
• 3 chairs from Suez
• I box of brass hinges from Surat
• 1 package from London addressed to T Crawford, Army Scripture Reader
• 4 bamboo stools from China
• 18 bags of sugar from Calcutta
• 12 bags of rice (damaged) from Calcutta
• 25 cases of wine from Liverpool – 8 broken
• 1 bag of rape seed
• 4 cases of cigars from Hong Kong, and 6 cases from London
Other packages contained brandy; spun yarn; chintz; iron bars, hoops, and plates; and writing desks.

The notices of unclaimed letters can reveal sad stories.  In this list from July 1836, at least two of the people had died.

List of unclaimed letters Bombay Gazette 30 July 1836 List of unclaimed letters Bombay Gazette 30 July 1836 British Newspaper Archive

Major Thomas Michael Claridge of the 43rd Regiment Madras Native Infantry was buried at Ellore on 29 April 1836, just days before his 40th birthday.  The Church of England funeral service was read over Claridge’s remains by Archibald Goldie Young, a Lieutenant in his regiment.  Claridge’s widow Eliza and son Henry were living in London at the time of the 1841 census.  Henry went back to India in 1845 following in his father’s footsteps as a cadet in the Madras Army, and Eliza also returned to Madras in March 1845.  She died of smallpox at Kamptee in June 1853.

Hugh Coventry of the 20th Regiment Bombay Native Infantry had died on 22 March 1835 at Porbandar, aged 34.  In January 1830 he had been allowed furlough to Europe for three years for the benefit of his health, returning to Bombay in the ship Lady Melville in 1833.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Bombay GazetteBritish Newspaper Archive, also via Findmypast.
Burial of Thomas Michael Claridge 29 April 1836 IOR/N/2/18 p.291.
Cadet papers for Henry Charles Zachary Claridge IOR/L/MIL/9/208 ff.285-287v.
Burial of Eliza Thomasine Ann Claridge 27 June 1853 IOR/N/2/332 p.148.
Memorial inscription for Hugh Coventry at St Fillans Churchyard, Aberdour - Findmypast.


17 April 2024

Case of Gholam Hosain

In November 1879, the India Office received a communication from the Foreign Office relating to a gentleman named Gholam Hosain, a native of the Indian city of Lahore, who was stranded in Italy and needed help to return home.  The India Office often received requests for help from individuals who found themselves in distressed circumstances.  Usually the India Office declined to help, but this was not the case with Gholam Hosain.

First page of India Office file on Gholam HosainCase of Gholam Hosain, a native of Lahore, stranded at Venice, Italy, 1879, IOR/L/PJ/2/59, File 7/582.

Gholam Hosain’s case was laid out in a letter of 24 October 1879 to the Foreign Office in London from the Consul at Florence, D E Colnaghi.  Gholam Hosain was about 25 years old and had arrived at Venice from Alexandria on board the P&O steam ship Pera on 20 October 1879.  He had a passport issued to him by the British Consul, Charles Alfred Cookson at Alexandria, a copy being enclosed in Colnaghi’s letter.  He stated that he had been robbed of his clothes and £40 on arrival at Venice.  However he had made no complaint at the time as he did not speak Italian and was afraid that his story would not be believed.  He had intended to visit England to see Mr Brandreth, one of the Commissioners in the Punjab. Brandreth was on leave and staying in London.  Gholam Hosain had been in his service for several years.

Copy of passport issued to Gholam HosainCopy of passport issued to Gholam Hosain by the British Consul, Charles Alfred Cookson at Alexandria, , IOR/L/PJ/2/59, File 7/582

Enquiries were made to the P&O Office, and Captain Hyde of the Pera stated that there had been a deck passenger answering to Gholam Hosain’s description on the ship, but he had not been able to discover if there were grounds for complaint as there had been no report to the captain or any other person on board regarding a robbery.  Gholam Hosain did not appear to have any baggage, just the clothes he wore and a blanket.  Hyde was inclined to think from his appearance that he was a loafer.  A request was made to the P&O Agent to grant Gholam Hosain a free return deck passage to India, but the reply was that they only carried 1st and 2nd class passengers to India.  The Vice-Consul at Venice, Mr de Zuccats, granted Gholam Hosain a sailor’s allowance of 2 lira 50 centimes per diem to enable him to procure the actual necessaries of life pending further enquiries being made.

On 31 October 1879, Colnaghi informed the Foreign Office that he had heard from Mr Brandreth.  He stated that Gholam Hosain was a 'respectable Munshi or Professor of Persian and Arabic, late Tutor to the Raja of Lambragram', and although he was mistaken in his endeavour to reach England, his case was deserving of consideration.  A minute paper in the India Office file gives the additional information that Gholam Hosain had been travelling to see Mr Brandreth in the hope that he might be restored to an office from which he had been dismissed by one of Mr Brandreth’s subordinate officers.

Happily, the India Office agreed to fund a passage for Gholam Hosain to Bombay, and the P&O Company agreed to take him at the cost of £17.  The passage was duly arranged, and the Foreign Office reported that he had shipped for Bombay on the P&O steam ship Zanzibar which had sailed from Venice on 28 November 1879.  In addition, the cost of his stay in Italy came to 101 lira, which the Foreign Office reclaimed from India Office funds.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Case of Gholam Hosain, a native of Lahore, stranded at Venice, Italy, 1879, shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/2/59, File 7/582.
The service history of Arthur Brandreth, Commissioner at Lahore, can be traced in the India Office List.


11 April 2024

A settlement in the Pacific Ocean for growing flax

On 21 June 1785 Sir George Young and John Call submitted a memorial to the Court of Directors of the East India Company on behalf of themselves and several others.

The memorial related to their plans to establish a settlement on one of the smaller islands in the Pacific Ocean for the cultivation of the flax plant and its manufacture into cordage, as well as the supply of masts for shipping. Their preferred island for this settlement was Norfolk Island situated in the southern Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand.

Watercolour of  the penal settlement at Norfolk Island circa 1839Settlement at Norfolk Island, c.1839, watercolour by Thomas Seller - image courtesy of  National Library of Australia 

Part of the reasoning behind this proposal was the growing difficulty in acquiring flax.  At that time most of the hemp and flax used by the Royal Navy for their cordage came from Russia, whose ruler Catherine II had begun restricting its sale.  It was already known that New Zealand flax grew on Norfolk Island, making the island a perfect candidate for such a proposal.

First page of the memorial of  Sir George Young and John Call on behalf of themselves and others to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, 21 January 1785

Letter 213: 'The Memorial of  Sir George Young Knight, and John Call Esq. in behalf of themselves and others' to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, 21 January 1785. IOR/E/1/76, ff. 518-519

There was however a wider political context to the proposal, which related to prison overcrowding and penal transportation in Britain.  The American Revolutionary War of 1775 had meant that penal transportation to the thirteen American colonies had to be stopped, which had in turn led to problems of overcrowding in British prisons.

John Call had put forward a plan for New South Wales in Australia to be used as a penal colony, including the use of Norfolk Island as an auxiliary settlement, and in December 1785 the Government adopted these plans.  The reasoning behind the inclusion of Norfolk Island as part of these plans was that the growing of flax, its manufacture into cordage, and the production of shipping masts all required manpower.  Having convicts sent to the island would provide a steady stream of labour for this work to be undertaken.

Norfolk Island was settled as a penal colony on 6 March 1788 and, except for an 11-year gap from 15 February 1814 to 6 June 1825, served as a penal colony until 5 May 1855.

The island’s usefulness as a place to supply cordage and masts to shipping was shorter-lived as its location was not on any main shipping routes and vessels had to go out of their way to reach it.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/76, ff. 518-519 Letter 213


02 April 2024

Papers of Sir Hugh Keeling and Colonel Thomas Ormsby Underwood

The Keeling family’s collection was donated to the British Library in 2023.  The bulk of the collection is focused on Hugh Trowbridge Keeling (1865-1955), who is most notably remembered as the Chief Engineer to New Delhi during its construction between 1912-1925.  There are also papers for Colonel Thomas Ormsby Underwood (1839-1916).

A portrait photograph of Sir Hugh Keeling by Bertram Park c.1955A portrait photograph of Sir Hugh Keeling by Bertram Park c.1955 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F767/2/9

Keeling was born in 1865 and spent four years with the Royal Indian Engineering College, Cooper’s Hill.  After this, he was appointed Assistant Engineer in 1887 on the ‘Perryaur’ (Mullaperiyar) Dam project working under Colonel John Pennycuick of the Royal Engineers.  The collection includes several engineering plans, maps, and manuscripts documenting this work, as well as some photographs.

A view of the Mullaperiyar Dam during construction c.1887-1895A view of the Mullaperiyar Dam during construction c.1887-1895 – India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F767/1/1

With a successful and notable project under his belt, in October 1898 Keeling was appointed Executive Engineer for the Madras Public Works Department where he was steadily promoted.  In November 1912 he was called to be Chief Engineer of the newly relocated capital, New Delhi, although with some reluctance.  Keeling states in one typewritten address (Mss Eur F767/1/4 ff.18r) that he was already involved with another project, and he had to be ordered to take up the position by Sir Harold Stuart, a member of the Executive Council in Madras.

The collection includes his speeches, engineering presentations for New Delhi, and his private and professional correspondence, which provide perspectives from Indian and British voices on the change of capital.  The move to New Delhi from Calcutta (Kolkata) was a controversial one, but the building of an impressive monument to the British Raj was a remarkable ending note to the career of Keeling.  He was awarded a CSI in 1915 and a knighthood in 1923.

A group photograph of what is likely to be the Public Words Department senior officials of DelhiA group photograph of what is likely to be the Public Words Department senior officials of Delhi. Keeling can be seen in the centre. India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F767/1/5

Keeling’s papers show a man who was a lively and popular character.  He was appointed the ‘Commander in Chief’ of his Gymkhana’s social club, the ‘Moonshiners’, and had strong and admiring social relationships with his engineering team.  After a brief retirement in 1920, he was reappointed Chief Engineer for another five years until 1925 when he was succeeded by Sir Alexander Macdonald Rouse, his Superintending Engineer.

The collection is rounded out by a small selection of manuscripts, books, letters, newspaper cuttings and photographs relating to the Underwood family.  Keeling's connection with Colonel Underwood was through his wife, Edith Madeleine, whom he married in India in 1893.  These papers reveal a respected Lieutenant in the 4th Punjab Cavalry and a Colonel in the Madras Army before his retirement in 1894.  Underwood's work is documented in speeches and newspaper clippings, including his active involvement with the Muslim Association, where he promoted projects to encourage higher education and work in industry.

A letter from Camilla Underwood to her mother dated 1811 (Mss Eur F767/3/2 ff.1r-2v) tells the story of Colonel Underwood’s great uncle, Thomas Steele, an officer in the Light Dragoons stationed in India.  In an all-night gambling session, Thomas won over two thousand pagodas from a Captain MacGregor who then denied the debt.  As a matter of honour, Thomas was forced to fight a duel with MacGregor - ‘every officer would have cut him’ for cowardice had he refused.  Despite MacGregor’s reputation as a skilled duellist, Thomas killed him and was tried by court martial.

Maddy Clark
India Office Records

Further reading:
Papers of Sir Hugh Keeling (1865-1955) and Colonel Thomas Ormsby Underwood (1839-1916) India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F767 – a paper catalogue of the contents is available to consult in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.
Wild, A. 2001. Remains of the Raj; The British Legacy in India. East India Company (Publishing) Ltd., London.
The India Office List for 1929. London: Harrison and Sons Ltd.


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