Untold lives blog

506 posts categorized "Journeys"

20 January 2022

The man who lost his memory – Part 2

We continue our story of the Reverend Philip Read, looking at his work and travels across the globe.

Philip Read (or Philip Chesshyre Read) was born in 1850 in Hyde, Cheshire, the son of Anglican clergyman Alexander and his wife Anne Whiteway.  He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and won a scholarship to Lincoln College Oxford.  He served as a sub-lieutenant in the Oxford Rifle Volunteers.  After graduating, he taught at Marlborough before being ordained as a priest in 1874.  He was headmaster of the school at Newton in Lancashire in 1876.  The following year Read took up an appointment at Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, Quebec, where he became Professor of Classics and Moral Philosophy.  He travelled a good deal, visiting many countries including the West Indies and Spain.

In 1879 he married Helen Rosina McCallum, the daughter of a Quebec barrister.  Their sons Alexander Cuthbert and Philip Austin Ottley were born in Canada before the family moved to England.  Daughter Helen Chesshyre Hazlehurst (known as Hazel) was born in Newcastle in 1889.

Painting of Royal Mail Ship Ormuz at sea - black smoke coming out of the funnelsPainting of RMS Ormuz c. 1895 © Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

At the time of the April 1891 census the Reads were living in Jesmond, but in the autumn of that year they sailed on RMS Ormuz to Ceylon.  Read was installed as Warden of St Thomas’ College Colombo.  There are reports of the family’s activities in the Ceylon Observer, including Philip Read’s stay in the hill town of Nuwara Eliya to recover his health when struck by illness in January 1893.

The College history describes Read as ‘a brilliant scholar and a great preacher’, kind-hearted with a keen sense of humour, a talented organist and pianist.  However he was said to have been unsuited to the post of Warden, as well as being burdened by ‘private sorrows’, and he left the College in 1895.

After Read’s breakdown and memory loss described in our previous post, he returned to South Asia to perform missionary work in Rangoon.  However his health failed again and he went back to England in 1899.  He then served as curate in Walmsley Lancashire, taking special charge of St Andrew’s Mission Church at Toppings.

In 1901 he was boarding with the family of a lithographic printer in Turton, apart from his family.  Son Philip was a pupil at Haileybury College.  Hazel was living with her uncle Thomas Wood Shaw in Bolton.  Alexander, a clerk, had left Liverpool for New York in July 1900 on board SS Lucania.  The passenger list states that he was joining his mother Helen in New Jersey.  Helen appears to have moved between the United States and Canada before setting in Los Angeles.  She died there in 1942.

Obituary for Philip Read

Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser 30 January 1903 British Newspaper Archive Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Philip Read died in January 1903 following an accident on Christmas Day when he slipped into a ditch and broke his leg.  His death was widely mourned, not only by his congregation in Lancashire who had warmed to his ‘kind tact and sympathy’, but also in Ceylon where he was remembered as the ‘most eloquent, most cultivated and most genial of Wardens’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office files about Philip Read's memory loss: IOR/L/PJ/6/417 Files 511 and 570; IOR/L/PJ/6/418 File 615; IOR/L/PJ/6/420 File 845.
Ceylon Observer e.g. 6 November 1891; 5 January 1893; 21 February 1900.
W T Keble, A history of St. Thomas’ College Colombo (Colombo, 1937).
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Manchester Evening News 23 January 1903; Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser 30 January 1903.
Ancestry and Findmypast for census and migration records from UK, Canada and USA.

 

18 January 2022

The man who lost his memory – Part 1

In February 1896 a man calling himself William Simpson was sent from Bhusawal to the Bombay Commissioner of Police.  ‘Simpson’ was suffering from loss of memory and could only remember a few facts about himself.  He had travelled a great deal in England, France, Belgium, Spain and the USA.  He was acquainted with classical Greek and Latin writers, spoke some French, German, Italian and Spanish, and could also read a little Hindustani.  As a youth he had studied Arabic and Sanskrit.  He had lived in Gibraltar for some time and knew a clergyman called Addison.  He remembered finding himself in Calcutta at the beginning of the year and thought he had landed from a steamer. 

‘Simpson’ was dressed in soiled white clothing.  His shirt bore the mark of A .G. Copeland of Manchester, and his almost new hat was made by Ellwood.  He wore a gold ring with the initials ‘C S H & S’ inside.

A place was found for ‘Simpson’ in the Strangers’ Home at Bombay where he would receive good care.  The Commissioner asked the Bombay Government to send copies of the information about the man to the police in Manchester and London, together with his ‘Anthrocard’ which bore his photograph and a physical description.

Anthrocard for 'William Simpson', with photograph, thumb print, and physical description.

Reverse of Anthrocard with a diagram of a man showing scar on bridge of nose. 'Anthrocard' for 'William Simpson' completed by the police in Bombay February 1896 IOR/L/PJ/6/417 File 511 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The India Office in London contacted detectives at New Scotland Yard and Manchester to no avail.  No-one at A.G. Copeland remembered ‘Simpson’ as a customer.  However the firm said it would be able to name the person who bought the shirt if they were sent the number stamped on it.

It is unclear from the India Office files if the shirt number proved to be the vital clue, but in April 1896 the Bombay Government knew the identity of ‘William Simpson’.  He was an Anglican priest, the Reverend Philip Read, formerly Warden of St Thomas’ College Colombo.

Read  PhilipPhotograph of Warden Philip Read from W. T. Keble, A history of St. Thomas’ College Colombo Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Ceylon Observer published updates about Philip Read, who was much-liked during his time in Colombo.  He kept himself busy at the Strangers’ Home by teaching the son of the superintendent, and the Bishop of Bombay spent a lot of time with him. His memory was only partially restored and he was not quite himself, although well otherwise.  It was said that a ‘malady’ had been undermining Read’s powers for years before culminating in a complete breakdown at the end of 1895.  His illness had seriously affected his concentration and ability to carry out his duties as College Warden.

The Bishop of Bombay secured a passage to the UK for Read on board SS Hispania.  During the voyage Read suffered from dysentery twice.  On arrival in England, he was attacked with ‘rheumatic gout’ which weakened him.  His family were already in England but he did not join them, instead going to stay with a cousin in the west of Ireland.

Our next post will tell the story of Philip Read’s life and travels before and after his memory loss.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office files about ‘William Simpson’: IOR/L/PJ/6/417 Files 511 and 570; IOR/L/PJ/6/418 File 615; IOR/L/PJ/6/420 File 845.
W. T. Keble, A history of St. Thomas’ College Colombo (Colombo, 1937).
Ceylon Observer 29 April 1896; 21 May 1896; 10 September 1896.

 

11 January 2022

The Spy Who Came in from the Circus: Haji Ali Germani

In 1915, a man was arrested near the Iranian port of Bandar Lengeh by levies in the pay of the British Consulate, accused of inciting the local population against British interests.  He was ‘fair, though now very sunburned’, with ‘fair hair and grey eyes’, spoke German, English, Farsi, and Arabic, and went by the name of Haji Ali Germani.

The arrest took place against a tumultuous backdrop.  To weaken Britain in Europe during the First World War, Germany and its allies were striking at the British imperial system in Asia.  German, Austrian, and Ottoman agents, along with Indian revolutionaries, were spreading across Iran, approaching Afghanistan and causing panic among the British occupying India.  The arrested Haji Ali was believed to be working with German agents, most prominently the feared Wilhelm Wassmuss, ‘the German Lawrence’, to weaken British influence over southern Iran, and thus the Persian Gulf and route to India.

Haji Ali told his captors that his mother was a German circus performer and his father a ‘Moor’ (North African).  He himself had started out as an acrobat, before joining the firm of Robert Wönckhaus, a former Zanzibar slave trader who had moved into business in the Gulf.

Letter about Haji Ali from the Vice-Consul in Bandar Lengeh to the Commanding Officer in Bushire 25 September 1915Letter from the Vice-Consul in Bandar Lengeh to the Commanding Officer in Bushire [Bushehr], 25 September 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/490 f 138r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Haji Ali was already known, and distrusted, by British authorities.  He had been involved in Wönckhaus’s concession to mine red oxide on Abu Musa island, which hawkish British officers perceived as a threatening German intrusion into the jealously-guarded Gulf and quickly had shut down.

After his arrest Haji Ali was deported to India.  On reaching Bombay [Mumbai] in October 1915, he was sent into internment in Jutogh in the Himalayan foothills.  He was escorted on the long journey north by one Sub-Inspector Schiff, an Arabic speaker in Bombay’s colonial police, who coaxed information from him about Indian revolutionaries with the Germans in Iran.  After ‘a large glass of brandy (neat) and several glasses of beer at Delhi station’, Haji Ali revealed that German agents were planning to ship arms to Indian revolutionaries from Shanghai, taking advantage of relaxed checks on ships coming to India from the east.  After sobering up, he was ‘very much exercised at having said so much and bound Sub-Inspector Schiff to secrecy by all the oaths in the Arabic vocabulary’.

Letter from the Bombay Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of the Government of Bombay 14 October 1915Letter from the Bombay Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of the Government of Bombay, 14 October 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 39vPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Schiff judged that Haji Ali was not a ‘true [German] patriot’, and could be led to make further ‘revelations of interest’.  Thus, no sooner did Haji Ali reach Jutogh than he was sent back to Bombay for further interrogation.  There, he revealed the location of the keys to Wönckhaus’s safes, buried near Lengeh, among other fragments of information.

We hear little more of him.  In 1916, he was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Thayetmyo, Burma.  After the war he seems to have returned to Iran – a 1922 file mentions him back in Lengeh, working in Customs.

Extract from Persian Gulf Residency News Summary July 1922Persian Gulf Residency News Summary, July 1922. IOR/L/PS/10/977 f 143v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is not clear if Haji Ali really was actively involved in German wartime conspiracies, or simply a bystander.  Either way, he was a colourful bit-player in a tempestuous period in Iran.

Despite declaring itself neutral in the war, Iran became a battleground for rival powers, was occupied by British, Russian, and Ottoman troops, and was wracked by shortages, inflation, and famine, causing immense suffering among ordinary Iranians.  Theirs are among the truly untold lives of the First World War.

William Monk
Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, File 3443/1914 Pt 3 'German War: Afghanistan and Persia; German agents; British troops in East Persia', IOR/L/PS/10/474
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 14 'German War: Persia; general situation', IOR/L/PS/10/490
British Library, File 1749/1921 ‘Persian Gulf:- Residency news summaries 1921-25’ [‎143v] (301/494), IOR/L/PS/10/977
British Library, 'File 14/115 VIII B 15 Abu Musa. Red oxide concession.', IOR/R/15/1/260
Abrahamian, Ervand.  A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Staley, Eugene. ‘Business and Politics in the Persian Gulf: The Story of the Wönckhaus Firm.’ Political Science Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 3, 1933, pp. 367–385.

 

04 January 2022

Early modern Iran seen through the eyes of G. Hofstede van Essen

As a well-travelled physician, scholar and Royal Society fellow, Hans Sloane had an interest in foreign places, their people and customs, which also fed into his collection of drawings, such as those kept in Add MS 5234.  This album is one of more than 4000 manuscripts from the Hans Sloane Collection at the British Library, about which you can learn through the collection guide.  It contains miscellaneous notes and drawings collected by visitors to Europe and Central Asia.  Among them is a remarkable but little known series of 30 Indian ink and wash drawings of sights and monuments in Iran, signed by 'G. Hofstede van Essen'.

The Great Mosque at Isfahan, standing in the market place, with camels in the foregroundAdd MS 5234, item 8: G. Hofstede van Essen, The Great Mosque at Isfahan, c. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Much of this artist’s life and work remains shrouded in mystery, including his full name.  Presumably from Germany, Hofstede is documented as travelling in present-day Syria, Iran and Turkey between 1693 and 1703.   His best-known work is a painting of the ruins of Palmyra, made in 1693, and soon after shipped to historian Gisbert Cuper in The Netherlands, where the painting remains to this day

How did Sloane acquire Hofstede’s drawings?  Sloane may have learned about Hofstede’s work through Gisbert Cuper, from whose library he bought manuscripts at auction.  The Royal Society in London provides another link to Hofstede.  As editor of the Society’s Journal, Philosophical Transactions, Sloane would have read accounts written by fellow members concerning a 1691 expedition to Palmyra organised by the British Levant Company and in which Hofstede possibly took part.

In these drawings, Safavid Iran is seen through the eyes of a European draughtsman, who may have had little understanding of the local language and traditions.  Nevertheless, Hofstede was keen to demonstrate his direct experience of the terrain.  This draughtsman sitting on a hill whilst sketching Soltaniyeh stresses Hofstede’s role as first-hand witness.

A view of Soltaniyeh from a hill with a draughtsman sitting sketching in the foreground

 

Close-up of the draughtsman sketchingAdd MS 5234, item 17: G. Hofstede van Essen, A view of Soltaniyeh from a hill, and a close-up of the draughtsman sketching, c. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Hofstede’s drawings display an interest in recording local traditions – from games to burials – and an antiquarian appreciation for monuments and buildings, evident in the depiction of details from their decoration like this bas-relief from Persepolis.

A bas-relief in Persepolis - a seated man with two attendants, one with fly-whisk, one with sunshade.Add MS 5234, item 6: G. Hofstede van Essen, A bas-relief in Persepolis, c. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The inscriptions on these drawings make the many individuals who must have handled and observed them more tangible.  There are notes in Dutch, with spelling mistakes that suggest a non-native speaker like Hofstede, as well as inscriptions in English and French by different hands.

The red-bordered labels pasted on the folios offer a glimpse into how the drawings were ordered and displayed before coming to the British Museum Library.  Whether the labels were added during Sloane’s lifetime or by somebody rearranging the collection after his death is another open question.  Similar labels appear in other albums from Sloane’s collection (Add MS 5253, 5255 and 5256), that include drawings with a similar ethnographic focus.

Persian caravan - long line of men on horseback and pack animals proceeding downhill along a winding road
Label accompanying drawing of Persian caravanAdd MS 5234, item 25: G. Hofstede van Essen, a Persian Caravan and a close-up of the label accompanying it, ca. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Much about the provenance, historical accuracy and interpretation of Hofstede’s drawings, as well as their relation to other items in Sloane’s collection, remains unclear.  Yet it is certain that Hofstede’s drawings have many fascinating, so far untold, stories to tell.

Alice Zamboni
PhD candidate, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Further reading:
-Add MS 5234 contains many other works on paper, some of which are discussed and illustrated in Kim Sloan, "Sloane’s ‘pictures and drawings in frames’ and ‘books of miniature & painting, designs, & c.” in From Books to Bezoars. Sir Hans Sloane and his Collections (London: The British Library, 2012), 168-189.
-One letter sent from Gisbert Cuper to Sloane survives in Sloane MS 4041, fol. 95. Sloane’s printed books collection includes a copy of the catalogue of Cuper’s library, auctioned in 1717 (General Reference Collection S.C.147).
-Hofstede’s painting of the ruins at Palmyra now belongs to Allard Pierson  (University of Amsterdam Special Collections), and was on display at Museum De Waag, Deventer (The Netherlands), on the occasion of an exhibition about Palmyra in 2016-2017.
-An engraving closely related to Hofstede’s painting of Palmyra was published in Philosophical Transactions 218 (1695), after p. 175.
-Add MS 5024/1, also from Sloane’s collection, is a view of Istanbul seen from the water depicted in ink and blue wash and mounted on a roll. It bears the name of Hofstede van Essen penned in ink on the verso, but more research would be needed to confirm the attribution.
-In the transcript of the catalogues listing the contents of Sloane’s library, drawings by Hofstede van Essen are mentioned in three different albums, which suggests they would have been rearranged in what is now Add MS 5234 at a later date. Transcript of ‘Mins’ BL Sloane MS 3972 C vols 1-8 

 

20 December 2021

The stork in fable and record

In September 1942, a flock of around 200 white storks (ciconia ciconia) arrived in Bahrain, as reported in the intelligence summaries from the country.  A ring on one of them showed that it had come from Lithuania.  They were shot at by the Bahrainis, who did not recognise the species, whereas elsewhere in the Middle East they were never harmed, suggesting that they were very infrequent visitors in Bahrain.  The report continues: ‘it was, no doubt, a coincidence that the same night a son was born to Mrs. Wakelin, wife of the Bahrain Government Director of Education’.

Painting of storks in a landscape surrounded by trees and flowersStorks (ciconia nigra) Or 3714, f 391r  - public domain

Stories about storks have circulated for millennia.  Their size makes them extremely visible and their habit of nesting on roofs of buildings, which also allowed their care of their chicks to be seen.  This, combined with their apparent care of the old and monogamous habits, led the Romans to believe that when they reached old age, they were transformed into human shape as a reward for their piety.

Storks have also been considered extremely lucky birds.  As travellers visited the Persian Empire and the Middle East, they frequently remarked on the presence of storks as the birds were common in mainland Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Eastern Europe, but almost unknown in Britain.  They were considered as generally bringing good luck to the house on which they nested, and therefore were never harmed.  In 1758 Edward Ives described the scene in Baghdad: ‘You generally see on the Minarets the Stork, a large bird called by the Arabs Leg-leg, a destroyer of serpents; the Turks never offer to molest it…those who own a house where Storks have nested, are supposed to receive great blessings from heaven'.

Painting of storks nesting on a building Storks nesting on a building Or 2265, f 15 - public domain

Some hints about the origin of this belief can be found in the name sometimes given to them, haji laqlaq, suggesting that they had made a pilgrimage to Mecca.  ‘Laklak’ has existed as a name for storks since the Akkadian period, and as the main noise that storks make is clapping their bills, it is may be imitative in origin.

In the late 17th century, John Fryer visited Persepolis and remarked on the storks present there ‘which may serve to contradict the received Opinion, of Storks abiding only where Commonwealths are; this always having been an Empire’.  One of strangest stories about storks current at the time was that they would not nest under a monarchy, which served to explain why they did not nest in England, while they did in Holland and other places in Europe.

In ‘The Frogs who asked for a King’, one of Aesop’s Fables, a group of frogs ask Jupiter for a king.  He sends a log, which they play with and make fun of, and ask Jupiter for a real king. He then sends a stork, which starts to eat them.  This tale was still used as a metaphor in 1905 for two different ideas of power: King Log and King Stork.

Extract from official document speaking of King Log and King Stork  in reference to the ruler of BahrainKing Log and King Stork, in reference to the ruler of Bahrain IOR/L/PS/10/81, f 105r   open government licence 

And as for the Director of Education’s son arriving with the storks?  Despite stories from Eastern Europe and Egypt of storks having human souls, it is perhaps more likely that the story that storks brought babies was an extension of the idea that storks were ‘lucky’: a baby being the ultimate blessing a house could have.

Anne Courtney
Gulf History Cataloguer - British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
John Fryer’s visit to Persepolis is told in his account of his travels, W 3856 
The arrival of storks in Bahrain appears in IOR/R/15/2/314 ‘File 8/16 Bahrain Intelligence Reports’ 
Edward Ives describes seeing storks nesting, W 4137

 

15 December 2021

The story the India Office Records preserve about kasids

Within the India Office Records (IOR) catalogued for the British Library-Qatar Project, there are a number of references to local messengers called kasids (sing. kasid).  The term kasid (qasid: قاصد) originates from the Arabic verb qa sa da (قصد), ‘to aim at’, and qasid itself means someone who knows his direction and moves with a purpose.  In Persian, the term has been adapted to also refer to a messenger (Pr. پيغامبر، قاصد، رسول ). The East India Company (EIC) adopted the Persian term in reference to a certain type of messenger employed within its establishments in Persia [Iran].  This blog explores the available records on kasids and examines their role within the postal system of the EIC and the India Office afterwards.

Definition of kasid  based on its Arabic origin Definition of kasid, based on its Arabic origin, IOR/R/15/5/397, f 618r, Crown Copyright

 

Reference to kasid as a messenger in its Persian contextA reference to kasid as a messenger in its Persian context, V 3148, p 113, Crown Copyright

The earliest records showing the EIC employing kasids within its establishments in Persia are from the 18th century.  These records indicate that kasids were foot messengers whose main task was to deliver letters to and from the EIC’s representatives and local governors.  They are not to be confused with another type of messengers in Persia known as shaters.  It is most likely that the EIC employed kasids from the local population, taking advantage of their familiarity with the region, its people and landscapes.  These kasids were paid 30 rupees a month for their service.

Note of kasid’s paymentKasid’s payment, IOR/G/29/25, f 411v, Crown Copyright

Besides their main job as messengers, kasids also collected intelligence relating to certain people, incidents or events.  They wrote down their collected observations within reports that are referred to as akhbar.  In a number of fascinating folios dated 5 June 1799, the EIC’s Resident at Bushire, Mirza Mahdi Ali Khan, wrote to the Governor of Bombay, Jonathan Duncan, informing him of the akhbar he had received from his kasids.  This akhbar contained details of the French siege of Acre, and how the Governor of Sidon, Jezzar Pasha, and the British navy had responded to the siege.

Akhbar on the French siege of AcreAkhbar on the French siege of Acre, IOR/G/29/25, f 413r, Crown Copyright

The same akhbar included information about the encounters between the Governor of Baghdad Büyük Süleyman Pasha, the Wahhabis, and the Arab tribes of Iraq.  However, the records also indicate that the akhbar received from kasids were not always accurate.  And in cases where fake news had been conveyed, the kasids were simply dismissed from their positions.

Akhbar on the Governor of Baghdad  Wahhabis  and Arab tribesAkhbar on the Governor of Baghdad, Wahhabis, and Arab tribes, IOR/G/29/25, f 414r, Crown Copyright

In some other cases, kasids themselves quit their jobs, primarily due to the hardship they faced during their journeys.  In a couple of references to kasids in the early 20th century, we learn that the Indo-European telegraph system relied on kasids to deliver the post during bad weather conditions or military disturbances.  This was not an easy task, and many kasids were reportedly refusing to return to their jobs, something which often caused disruption to the postal service.

Extract from Shiraz News noting that kasids were part of the Indo-European telegraph systemKasids being part of the Indo-European telegraph system, IOR/L/PS/10/163, f 18r, Crown Copyright

Report of kasids quitting their jobsKasids quitting their jobs, IOR/L/PS/10/163, f 17v, Crown Copyright

The records also show that, during World War I, the kasids who were delivering post between Persian towns were accused of serving the British interest.  They were attacked and beaten, when caught on duty, by anti-British Persian Gendarmerie.  The concerns which the Government of India raised about this issue indicate how essential the kasids’ service was to the postal system.

News of Persian Gendarmerie attacking kasidsNews of Persian Gendarmerie attacking kasids, IOR/L/PS/10/484, f 96r, Crown Copyright

In summary, the story preserved about kasids, although brief, offers glimpses of the way they performed their job in Persia between the 18th and early 20th centuries.  Future cataloguing of India Office Records may bring to light more information about the kasids and the history of their attachment to the EIC and the India Office.

Ula Zeir, Content Specialist-Arabic Language
British Library/Qatar Foundation Project

Further reading:
Al-Zabidi, Taj al-‘Arus min Jawahir al-Qamus, vol. 9. (Ed. Abdul Sattar Ahmad Farraj), (Kuwait: Kuwait Government Press, 1971).
Dehkhoda Lexicon Institute & International Center for Persian Studies
IOR/G/29/25 ‘Various Papers Relating to the Work and Activities of the East India Company in the Gulf of Persia.’
IOR/L/PS/10/163 ‘File 948/1909 Persia: Situation in the South; Condition of the Roads. Attack on Mr Bill. Road Guard Scheme.’
IOR/L/PS/10/484 ‘File 3516/1914 Pt 7 German War: Persia’
IOR/R/15/5/397 ‘John Richardson, A Dictionary, Persian, Arabic, and English; with a Dissertation on the Languages, Literature, and Manners of Eastern Nations
V 3148Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde; accompanied by a geographical and historical account of those countries, with a map.’

 

30 November 2021

Report of a crash-landing of a Japanese bomber

The papers of Frank Owen Bell, Indian Civil Service officer, contain some fascinating reports of a fire-fight between local police and a group of Japanese airmen during the Second World War.  The file in the India Office Private Papers consists of reports and telegrams between 25 and 30 December 1942 circulating between local government officials in the area of Kalapara in the District of Patuakhali in Bengal (now Bangladesh).  As the reports circulated, a picture began to build up of a dramatic skirmish as the Japanese air-crew attempted to evade capture.

Telegram concerning the report of a crashed aircraft 28 December 1942Telegram concerning the report of a crashed aircraft 28 December 1942 Mss Eur D733/40 f.3  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On 24 December at 10.40 in the evening, a Japanese bomber crashed at Dhulasar, a few miles from the sea shore.  The plane had been struck by anti-aircraft fire causing it to crash heavily.  The seven crew members all survived, with only 2 being slightly wounded.  No doubt frightened and confused, they approached a nearby house, but the residents fled thinking them to be robbers.  The following morning, having taken shelter in the house for the night, the Japanese airmen looked for someone who could help them escape by sea but were hindered by being unable to speak the local language or any English.

Around this time local police officers, consisting of a head-constable and four constables, arrived and began searching for the airmen.  At about 11.00am, they spotted the Japanese airmen crossing a river, and immediately opened fire.  The Japanese retaliated with machine gun fire before retreating into the jungle.  No-one was hit and the policemen kept guard on the river bank.

Report about the crashed bomber 30 December 1942Report about the crashed bomber 30 December 1942 Mss Eur D733/40 f.1. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

At around 3.30pm, the Japanese airmen emerged from a different part of the jungle, and rushed a large boat firing revolvers and a machine gun.  The fishermen on the boat dived overboard and swam to safety.  The boat was loaded with rice and vegetables, and was equipped with a sail.  The airmen set sail out to sea, and were not seen again.  In a printed report of the incident sent to the Inspector General of Police in Bengal, it was estimated that it would take four days to sail to Burma.  Search aircraft attempted to locate the Japanese airmen without success.  A handwritten note on the back of the report commented that the villagers were naturally frightened but showed no pro-Japanese or anti-British sentiments.

Born on June 1907, Bell was educated at Christ’s Hospital at Horsham, and Christ’s College, Cambridge.  He joined the Indian Civil Service on 16 October 1930, and arrived in India November 1930.  He served in Bengal as Assistant Collector and Magistrate; and in December 1931 was promoted to Joint Magistrate and Deputy Collector.  From October 1936 he was a Settlement Officer.  He was awarded the OBE in January 1946. On returning to England in 1947, Bell qualified as a solicitor and worked for the Greater London Council.  He died in 1991.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Correspondence connected with the crash-landing of a Japanese bomber at Dhulasar, Bengal, 24 December 1942, BL shelfmark: Mss Eur D733/40.
India Office and Burma Office List (1947) page 142, for brief details of Frank Owen Bell’s ICS career.
Papers relating to Frank Owen Bell's service as a councillor in Chesham UDC and Buckinghamshire County Council, held at Buckinghamshire Archives, reference D_190

 

25 November 2021

‘So Long’ from King Naimbanna II - Manuscripts from an 18th Century African King

Within the Clarkson Papers there are a number of volumes relating to the settlement of Freetown, Sierra Leone, from 1791 onwards.  These were explored in a series of Untold Lives blogs called The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists.   We return to these papers to explore a number of fascinating folios of correspondence between John Clarkson and King Naimbanna II.

King, or Obai, Naimbanna II (1720-1793) was a leader of the Koya Temne Kingdom on coast of Sierra Leone.  Agents of the Sierra Leone Company negotiated with Naimbanna in 1788 and persuaded him to sign over some of his land for the Company’s settlement.  Naimbanna later stipulated that the deal had been negotiated too hastily and should not have been given consent.  A digitised version of this treaty is available to view via the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme.

When John Clarkson arrived in Freetown at the end of 1791 he made a conscious effort to engage with Naimbanna as the local leader.  Documents from his papers show that collaboration was deemed essential in order for the new settlement to succeed.


Instructions from abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to his brother John  the Governor of Freetown  to ‘ingratiate yourself with Naimbanna and his secretary Elliot’Instructions from abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to his brother John, the Governor of Freetown, to ‘ingratiate yourself with Naimbanna and his secretary Elliot’. Add MS 41262A, f.65. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A note from John Clarkson to King Naimbanna inviting him to dine with him and explaining he has a letter for him from his son  12 May 1792A note from John Clarkson to King Naimbanna inviting him to dine with him and explaining he has a letter for him from his son, 12 May 1792. Add MS 41262A, f.105. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A working relationship was established, as the documents below illustrate.  Naimbanna gave these folios to John Clarkson when the governor was due to depart Sierra Leone for England at the end of 1792.

First of two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson  described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’ 23 December 1792
Second of two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson  described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’  23 December 1792Two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson, described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’. 23 December 1792. Add MS 41262A, ff 211-214. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These fascinating folios stand out among Clarkson’s papers.  They are described as prayers or good luck charms.  Written in Arabic, they consist of scraps of sentences from the Koran that the author hopes will protect the bearer on his journey.  Other notes present with these papers describe the folios as badly written, but despite this criticism from Clarkson’s contemporaries, these letters are important historical documents in their own right.  They illustrate Naimbanna’s cautious engagement with the new settlement and his relationship with its governor Clarkson.

Naimbanna engaged diplomatically with the new settlement believing it could offer certain benefits.  He backed the original abolitionist mission of its founders, aimed to benefit from a proliferation of trade and sought out specialist education for himself and his sons.  Naimbanna sent his children abroad to experience different educations in different parts of the world.  His son Prince John Frederic would travel to England in 1791 to receive an education under the sponsorship of abolitionist and activist, Granville Sharp.

Announcement of the death of Prince Naimbanna  Bury and Norwich Post  1 January 1794Announcement of the death of Prince Naimbanna, Bury and Norwich Post, 1 January 1794. British Newspaper Archive.

With this openness and pragmatism of approach, Naimbanna hoped to both take advantage of the opportunities the new colony could open for the Kingdom, whilst retaining power as the rightful leader of the region.  However, cordial relations would not last.  Naimbanna died in 1793 as did his son, Prince John Frederic, whilst in transit back from England.  Successive Temne dynasties fought with neighbouring communities in an effort to consolidate their lands, but ultimately these lands were taken by the British in the latter half of the 19th century.  The British made Sierra Leone a British protectorate in 1896 and despite the Temne revolts in 1898 they would govern until Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists, Parts 1-4.
Ijagbemi, E. A. 'THE FREETOWN COLONY AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF ‘LEGITIMATE’ COMMERCE IN THE ADJOINING TERRITORIES', Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, vol. 5, no. 2, Historical Society of Nigeria, 1970, pp. 243–56.
Kup, A. P. 'John Clarkson and the Sierra Leone Company', The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, Boston University African Studies Center, 1972, pp. 203–20.
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