Untold lives blog

536 posts categorized "Journeys"

16 March 2022

Emigration of children from the Madras Orphan Asylums to New South Wales – Part 2

On 22 February 1841 the first group of boys from the Madras Military Male Orphan Asylum arrived safely in New South Wales on board the Sesostris.  The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser wrote: ‘Seven youths, all of whom have been taught trades. have arrived from Madras, to the care of the Government of this Colony.  These youthful immigrants, all of whom are natives of Madras, are said to have been reared in one of the public Orphan Schools.  They promise to be excellent mechanics, and are very intelligent.  Those who have arrived are tailors, carpenters, and printers’.

View of Sydney from east side of coveNew South Wales - View of Sydney, from the east side of the cove by John Heaviside Clark (1810) BL flickr

The boys were kept at the Orphan School for two or three months so they could adjust to the climate before being apprenticed.  The New South Wales government promised that great care would be taken to find suitable masters for them, and the East India Company directors in London were keen for the Madras authorities to obtain reports from Australia on the boys.

A report on the Sesostris boys was sent in February 1844.
• James Marlow was apprenticed to Alexander Martin of the Cowpastures as a farmer.  He was generally well-behaved although somewhat sullen, and was becoming a useful worker.
• Christopher Connors, Samuel Hobart and John Harris were apprenticed as shoemakers to William Mackie, J. Fletcher and James Scott respectively.  All were diligent and well-behaved.
• William Bird was apprenticed as gardener to Henry Cox. a magistrate residing at Penrith.  Cox had no reason to be dissatisfied with William, who displayed ‘no symptom of vice in his disposition’.
• James Barry (named as John in the report) had been apprenticed to Captain G. B. Christmas as a miller who stated that the boy’s behaviour was very bad at first but now greatly improved.  His weak constitution and small size prevented him from being employed in the mill at present and he was on light work until he gained strength.
• James Mackin was apprenticed to Mr Urquhart as a coachbuilder.  His initial stubborn disposition had improved and he was making good progress.

In October 1842 the New South Wales government reported on the boys who had arrived in December 1841 in the British Sovereign (also called Royal Sovereign in the records).
• Matthew Thornhill and Edward Wallace had been apprenticed to the Government Printer in Sydney.  Both were doing well, especially Matthew who was already able to work as a compositor.  Edward was not so advanced so he was still attending the Protestant Parochial School of St James every morning.
• Matthew and James Bradshaw were apprenticed to Robert Dawson, a magistrate living four miles from Sydney.  Matthew was a gardener and James a house servant.  At first, Matthew had tried being a tailor but had not made much progress.  James had a skull fracture before arriving in Sydney and so a house job had seemed best for him.  Both boys were free from any vicious habits, but rather dull and indolent.  The Australians believed that their indolence could be attributed to early habits contracted in India.
• James Callaghan had poor sight so he had been kept in the Male Orphan School of New South Wales.  He was now considered fit for apprenticeship and would be placed once a suitable master was found.

Our next post will tell the story of the girl emigrants from the Madras Female Orphan Asylum.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
British Library IOR/F/4/1855/78481 Proposal of John Sullivan that boy and girl pupils from the Madras Military Male and Female Orphan Asylums should be sent as apprentices to New South Wales - Madras Government forward the proposal to the New South Wales Government, 1838-1839.
British Library IOR/F/4/1916/82082 Seven boys of the Madras Military Male Orphan Asylum are at their own request sent to New South Wales to be apprenticed under the Government of that colony - the Madras Government provides them with a passage to Sydney, [1834]-1841.
British Library IOR/E/4/956 pp.798-802 Letter from London to Fort St George in the Public Department, 8 December 1841.
British Library IOR/E/4/958 pp.566-567 Letter from London to Fort St George in the Public Department , 21 September 1842.
British Library IOR/P/248/5 Madras Public Proceedings, pp.1911-1916 Consultation 13 June 1843.
Trove e.g. The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser 26 February 1841.
Findmypast for baptisms, marriages and burials from the India Office Records.
FIBIS wiki.

Emigration of children from the Madras Orphan Asylums to New South Wales – Part 1
Emigration of children from the Madras Orphan Asylums to New South Wales – Part 3

14 March 2022

Emigration of children from the Madras Orphan Asylums to New South Wales – Part 1

In the late 1830s both the Madras Military Male Orphan Asylum and Madras Female Orphan Asylum were experiencing difficulty finding employment for children old enough to leave the institution.  The Madras Government approached the authorities in New South Wales outlining a scheme for sending children to be apprenticed there.  It was said that the Asylum pupils’ superior education and the care bestowed on their morals might make them a valuable acquisition to the colony, especially the girls.

South east view of Fort St George Madras - DaniellSouth east view of Fort St George, Madras by Thomas Daniell,  from Oriental Scenery. Twenty four views in Hindoostan,Tab.599.a.(2), plate VII  (1797) British Library Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The New South Wales authorities agreed on condition that the children would be at least twelve years of age and of ‘pure European descent’.  They were to be sent to Sydney free of charge and would be apprenticed in the same way as children from local orphan schools.  Apprenticeships lasted until 21 for males and until 21 or marriage for females.  Masters or mistresses had to provide sufficient and suitable food, clothing and bedding, and make payments into the Savings Bank of New South Wales which were handed to the apprentice, with accrued interest, at the end of their term.  When practicable, apprentices had to attend divine service at least once every Sunday.  Particular attention was to be given to the apprentice’s morals.  Justices were to investigate complaints about ill-treatment by masters, lack of provisions etc, as well as misdemeanours by apprentices.

The Madras Military Male Orphan Asylum compiled a list in August 1840 of seven boys willing to emigrate who met the criteria set by New South Wales.

• Samuel Hobart, aged 14 years 3 months, son of Matthew, Sergeant Major of Artillery and Ann.  He could read and was learning to write, cypher, and make shoes.
• James Marlow, aged 13 years 7 months, son of Edward, Private HM 45th Foot, and Catharine.  He was learning to read and write, and could make shoes.
• John Harris, aged 12 years and 7 months, son of Hugh, Sergeant HM 41st Foot, and Jane.  John could read, write and cypher well, and was employed at the Asylum Press as a printer.
• James McKin or MacKin, aged 13 years 7 months, son of Thomas, Private HM 48th Foot, and Mary.  He was able to read, write and cypher tolerably well.
• Christopher Connors, aged 12 years 6 months, son of Daniel, Private HM 54th Foot.
• William Bird, aged 12 years 5 months, son of William, Sergeant Major HM 54th Foot.
• James Barry, aged 12 years, son of Patrick, Gunner Veteran Battalion, and Anne.
Connors, Bird and Barry could all read, write and cypher well.

The terms of emigration and apprenticeship were explained carefully to these boys.  They arrived in Sydney in the Sesostris in February 1841.

Five more lads from the Asylum ‘anxious to emigrate’ took their passage in the British Sovereign (or Royal Sovereign) which arrived in Sydney in December 1841.

• Matthew Thornhill, born October 1827, son of Matthew, Commissariat Department, and Julia.
• Matthew and James Bradshaw, born 1827 and 1829, sons of Matthew, Private HM 41st Foot, and Ann.
• James Callaghan, born 1828, son of Patrick Callaghan, Hospital Sergeant, and Louisa.
• Edward Wallace.

Our next post will tell the story of what happened to these twelve boys when they arrived in New South Wales.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
IOR/F/4/1855/78481 Proposal of John Sullivan that boy and girl pupils from the Madras Military Male and Female Orphan Asylums should be sent as apprentices to New South Wales - Madras Government forward the proposal to the New South Wales Government, 1838-1839.
IOR/F/4/1916/82082 Seven boys of the Madras Military Male Orphan Asylum are at their own request sent to New South Wales to be apprenticed under the Government of that colony - the Madras Government provides them with a passage to Sydney, [1834]-1841.
Findmypast for baptisms, marriages and burials from the India Office Records.
Trove for Australian newspaper reports.
FIBIS wiki.

Emigration of children from the Madras Orphan Asylums to New South Wales – Part 2
Emigration of children from the Madras Orphan Asylums to New South Wales – Part 3

10 March 2022

Mary Broad's origins in Cornwall

The extraordinary escape from Botany Bay of nine transportees in an open boat has been narrated many times.  Mary Broad was the only woman who escaped on this boat in March 1791, travelling for 69 days, before reaching Kupang in Timor, with her two children and husband, William Bryant, who led and organised their escape.

Painting of The Hamoaze and Dock, Plymouth Devon Hamoaze, Plymouth where Mary Broad was held in the Dunkirk prison hulk before being transported with the First Fleet. 

Painting of The Hamoaze and Dock, Plymouth, Devon by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde. Image courtesy of Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery.

Mary’s husband and children died before she was returned to London in 1792.  James Boswell took up the case of the five returned transportees, and advocated their release from prison.  It is thanks to Boswell that Mary Broad’s family origins in Cornwall can be identified here.

Boswell's papers noted that Mary Broad’s ‘aged’ father was living in Cornwall.  He met Mary's younger sister Dolly Broad.  Boswell corresponded with Mary's married sister Elizabeth Puckey.  And her husband, Edward Puckey, a tailor in Fowey, who wrote to Boswell about an anticipated Broad family inheritance, which was a Pope family legacy.

Using this information, Mary Broad can be historically identified as the granddaughter of Prudence Pope, who married Josiah Broad.  Mary’s father was their eldest son William Broad, who was aged 84 in 1793, when Mary was aged 28.  Mary’s mother was William’s wife Dorothy Guilleff, who died aged 50 in 1778, when Mary was aged 13.  And William and Dorothy Broad’s daughters were Elizabeth (baptised 1756), Mary (baptised 1765), and Dorothy (baptised 1769).

Josiah and Prudence Broad, and most of their adult children, lived in the neighbouring Cornish parishes of St Neot or Braddock.  William and his brother Matthew Broad described themselves as ‘colliers’, and obtained leases to coppice woodland.  It may have been the profits from this trade which enabled William Broad to obtain a farm.  In the 1760s, William Broad moved his family between parishes within a few miles of Fowey.  Mary’s christening in 1765 was at Lanlivery, and Dorothy’s in 1769 was at St Veep.  By the late 1770s, some family members were present in Fowey, where the elder Dorothy Broad died in 1778, and Elizabeth married Edward Puckey in 1779.

Map of Fowey, Cornwall1805 Map of Fowey river and parishes by Robert Dawson British Library Online Gallery Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the 1930s, the Boswell scholar Frederick A. Pottle sought to identify Mary Broad's family origins.  Through the assistance of members of the Old Cornwall Society, the Fowey and Lostwithiel parish registers were searched for her baptism.  This led to the suggestion that her parents had been a mariner William and his wife Grace Broad, who also had a daughter named Mary.  Judith Cook later acknowledged that there were many inconsistencies and gaps between the evidence related to this family and Boswell’s account.  William and Grace Broad did not have daughters named Dorothy or Elizabeth, and they had left Cornwall before Mary Broad returned home in 1794.

Members of Mary Broad's extended family as identified here can be found in other historical records, including the Clift family letters.  She was not the only member of her family to be accused or convicted of assault.  And it is possible to see her influence and legacy in the decisions of James and William Puckey, the nephews of Edward Puckey, to travel from Cornwall to Tahiti, New South Wales, and New Zealand.

Dr Charlotte MacKenzie
Independent researcher
@HistoryCornwall

Further reading
Tim Causer (ed), Memorandoms by James Martin (2017)
Charlotte MacKenzie, Mary Broad the documentary (2021)

 

08 March 2022

Looting of golden bells from the Temple of Heaven

The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1900) began as an uprising against foreign influence in China and resulted in fighting between Chinese forces and an eight-nation alliance, which included Britain and Germany.  Following the conflict, troops from the foreign coalition occupied areas in northern China for over a year, during which time looting and acts of violence were common.

In 1920, the British Foreign Office was informed that an individual had approached German officials offering - for a price - evidence of such looting carried out by Indian Army personnel.  The individual believed this would interest the German government as the Treaty of Versailles required them to return looted items, and such evidence might give them some political benefit.  The Germans declined to purchase it, but its existence prompted the British to investigate the matter.

The evidence comprised communications between officers in the 16th Cavalry and inspired a flurry of correspondence between India and the UK.  Reading these, we can determine the sequence of events.

The Temple of Heaven, PekingThe Temple of Heaven, Peking from The Earth and its Inhabitants. The European section of the Universal Geography by E. Reclus. Edited by E. G. Ravenstein (London, 1878). Public Domain Creative Commons Licence
 BL flickr

During the occupation of Peking (modern Beijing), two golden bells were taken from the Temple of Heaven by Indian Army officers; one was taken by C. E. Thornton of the 16th Cavalry from what was subsequently described as a rubbish heap.  The commanding officer gave permission for the bells to be taken back to India as regimental trophies, where the 16th kept theirs as mess decoration.  In 1906, while Thornton was on leave for medical reasons, other officers in the regiment voted to sell the bell.  Thornton objected, claiming that as ‘finder’ he had sole rights over the bell.  The dispute prompted Thornton to contact lawyers and the bank where the bell was temporarily stored, and the whole affair was made public.  Ultimately, the British government decided that as the bells were found in ‘rubbish’ and as commanding officers had given permission for their removal, no looting had taken place.

In 1927, Mr H. Beechey started sending letters insisting on the restoration of either the bells or their value to the Temple of Heaven.  Beechey was persistent; he sent multiple letters to the Foreign Office, various politicians, the Prime Minister, and even the King-Emperor George V himself.

The recipients of his letters were dismissive of such demands; however, newspaper articles from the time suggest the general public was not.  In 1921, the Daily Express reported demands raised by Chinese voices in London for the value of the bells to be restored to the Temple.  Articles continued to appear in various papers over the next decade, but eventually the public lost interest in the story.

In 1994, there were reports in online publications of a bell returned by the Indian Government to the Temple of Heaven, one of sixteen that were taken by British troops during the Boxer Rebellion.  Whether the bells mentioned in file IOR L/MIL/7/16819 were part of this set is unclear, but perhaps there are other files in the India Office Records, waiting to be discovered, that could add to the story.

Djurdja Brankovic
Student of librarianship, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive -Daily Express, 15 July 1921
New York Herald, 3 January 1926
IOR L/MIL/7/16819 Collection 402/153 Alleged looting of golden bells from Temple of Heaven, Peking (Beijing) by British officers of Indian Army, 1920-1927.

 

02 March 2022

Letters of James Jackson of the Royal Navy – Part 2

A recent post on this blog introduced James Jackson, Royal Navy seaman, whose letters to his family in England have been acquired by the India Office Private Papers.  We left James aboard the HMS Suffolk sailing to India.

On 30 September 1794, James wrote from Madras Roads.  He says that they had a ‘tolerable pleasant voyage of 4 months and 9 days…but the monsoons or winter months are now very near coming on – we yesterday was drove from our anchor to sea in violent weather but are here again all well’.  Of India he says: ‘I find this country very hot but I think it pleasanter than Europe’, although he is unimpressed by the lack of good meat: ‘the beef is not bigger than your small calves of a twelvemonths growth, the sheep are also very diminutive and pigs like rats – all skin and bone’.

Letter written by James Jackson from Madras Roads. 30 September 1794

Letter written by James Jackson from Madras Roads. 30 September 1794 - Mss Eur F756 f.8Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

His sixth letter is dated 20 August 1795 and gives news of the British invasion of Ceylon.  He says they have been laying siege to Trincomalee for three weeks, ‘I cannot say how long they may hold it out with us – but we are determined to be victorious – it is the most valuable island the Dutch have in this country and nearly as large as England’.  The British were stopping all vessels that came to Ceylon so that the Dutch could get no supplies: ‘there is a strange vessel in sight of us now and I am going in our boat to board her’.  He also reports on the sinking of the British ship HMS Diomede, ‘but by the endeavours of all people on board the other ships here at that time – her men was saved but the loss was great happening at this critical time’.  He mentions that his brother William was well when last he heard in July, but he does not expect to see him on this voyage.

Letter written by James Jackson 19 March 1796 on board the Suffolk in the East IndiesLetter written by James Jackson 19 March 1796 on board the Suffolk in the East Indies - Mss Eur F756 f.14 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


James’s last letter is dated 19 March 1796, on board the Suffolk in the East Indies.  He describes the British attacks on Amboyna (‘this island was full of cloves and other spices and their warehouses were all full’) and Banda (‘the nutmegs on this island alone are valued at two hundred thousand pounds sterling’) in the Dutch-held Molucca islands.  He expected the British ships to sail for Europe about Christmas, but the war had taken its toll: ‘we have not much above half our compliment of men, we have buried a great many indeed’, and he was worried about the lack of fresh provisions ‘as we are all upon very short allowance of victuals - what we have is badly salted - the country is very hot and unhealthy for Europeans in this part which is near the Pacific Ocean’.  However, he is hopeful ‘if our Agents for our prize money do us the least justice in nature we shall be pretty well and decently paid for our troubles’.  James concludes his letter by looking forward to meeting his family again in England.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers of the Jackson Family, 1784-1843, British Library shelfmark: Mss Eur F756.
HMS Suffolk 

28 February 2022

John Sanderson’s horrible housemates

The Levant Company clerk John Sanderson had arrived in Istanbul on 12 March 1592.  However, something had changed in the behaviours and manners of the English residents since his first being there.  Sanderson wrote that there had been a ‘great alteration; frome serving God devoutly and drinking puer water, nowe to badness stoutly and much wine (the witts hater).’  In Sanderson’s absence the embassy had been taken over by Edward Barton and Sanderson now had to decide whether to move in with him.  Despite his reservations, the benefits – and probably also savings– were too great to forego Barton’s offer.

Sanderson_title pageTitle page of John Sanderson's commonplace book British Library Lansdowne MS 241 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Born in 1560 John Sanderson is a rare example of an early modern man of trade who wrote a record of his life.  His miscellaneous commonplace book is held in the British Library manuscript collection (BL Lansdowne MS 241).  His short ‘autobiography’, entitled by its author ‘a record of the birthe and fortunes of John Sanderson, alias Bedic’, noted down not only Sanderson’s illnesses, fortunes and misfortunes, but also and very keenly, his many judgments (‘censures’) about other people.  And there were loads of them.

Reading Sanderson’s account, anyone who has ever been stuck in a riotous house-share with horrible house-mates will soon start to feel sympathy.  Sanderson claims that the ambassador Barton ‘vexed me to my very soule,’ although his foremost adversary seems to have been William Aldrich, who Sanderson claims to have ‘stealingly’ struck him.  After Sanderson struck him back the ambassador Barton himself ‘laid his fists one my face for so doinge, and confined me to my chamber.’  After all these fisticuffs Barton sent a stern letter to Sanderson’s room, threatening to deport him back home to England.  After the altercation Aldrich refused to dine in the same table with Sanderson and complained that he ‘outlooked him'.  Ill-will continued for some time, although the ambassador eventually tried to make amends by gifting Sanderson ‘a redd velvett goune wch the Gran Sigr had vested him with before he kiste his hand'.  Additional proof of this reconciliation was that Sanderson later acted as the ambassador’s deputy when Barton famously, and somewhat notoriously, accompanied the Ottoman sultan Mehmet III to his wars in Hungary.  However, the scuffles continued between Sanderson, Aldrich, and the steward of the house.

Based on his writings, Sanderson was a keen observer of the faults of other people.  He listed all the names or sometimes the initials of his ‘frenemies’, saying that ‘many other agreevances and discontents passed whilst I was ther, in comp of Bushell, Aldrich, Mons, Wragg, Rivers, Babington’...  The animosities between Sanderson and the two Aldrich brothers, William and Jonas, were explained by the different ‘conditions and qualities’ of the men, whereas the differences between Sanderson and Barton were probably due to breaching social hierarchies and trying to police Barton’s behaviour too much (possibly due to toxic masculine bravado).  Sanderson gave all these men derogatory nicknames ranging from ‘wicked athiesticall knave’ to ‘poysoner’ and ‘whoremonger’ and continued to record their deaths with no small amount of glee.

The selected texts from this old ledger volume bought by Sanderson’s father were edited by William Foster, the then president of the Hakluyt Society and published in 1931.  You can find this fascinating manuscript as part of the Lansdowne collection.

Dr Eva Johanna Holmberg
Academy Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy, History, and Art Studies, University of Helsinki
(eva.holmberg@helsinki.fi)


Further reading:
British Library Lansdowne MS 241.
The Travels of John Sanderson in the Levant 1584-1602. Ed. by William Foster. Hakluyt Society 2nd Series ; No 67. London: Hakluyt Society, 1931.
Eva Johanna Holmberg, ‘‘Passages recollected by memory’: Remembering the Levant Company in seventeenth-century merchants’ life writing’, in Trading Companies and Travel Knowledge in the Early Modern World. Routledge, 2021. p. 211-239 (Hakluyt Society Studies in the History of Travel; Vol. 1).

This blog post is the second in 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.

24 February 2022

Letters of James Jackson of the Royal Navy – Part 1

An interesting new addition to the India Office Private Papers gives a glimpse into the life of a seaman in the British Royal Navy in the late 18th century.  Little is known about James Jackson other than he was serving aboard HMS Suffolk from 1793 to 1796.  His letters were sent home to his ‘brother and sister’ who were living in Enfield, England at that time.

The first three letters were written at Spithead on 18 November 1793, 5 January 1794 and 19 April 1794 where the Suffolk was being refitted in preparation for sailing with the next fleet to India.  In his first letter he apologises for not writing sooner ‘but was prevented from fulfilling it by our ship’s being unexpectedly ordered to sea’.  He mentions mutual friends, and says ‘I think Brother John Clarkson has met his fate poor fellow in the watery Element as well as Robert or you would have heard some tidings of him before this’.

Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 18 November 1793Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 18 November 1793 - Mss Eur F756 f.1 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In these letters he enquires anxiously after the health of his sister who he had heard was ill, and reports a rumour that he had heard from an officer who he is friendly with that they will be continuing on to the East Indies, and that they will be attacking islands belonging to the French.  James believes that they will not be returning to England for about two years.  He mentions that if he gets the opportunity he will try to contact their brother William who is in India.  The collection does also include three letters from William Jackson in Calcutta.  He thanks them for paying the postage on their reply to his previous letter as ‘otherwise I could not redeem it at present we have not been paid as it is customary to be the last thing before we sail altho’ we are now quite ready for sea waiting for it’.

Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 5 January 1794Letter written by James Jackson from Spithead 5 January 1794 - Mss Eur F756 f.3 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In his third letter, on the eve of sailing he wrote: ‘it is a pleasing satisfaction to me to be able to inform you that I leave this country without the least regret and in good health which I hope will be continued till my return both on my part and yours’.  He promises to write whenever he can but warns that it may be eighteen months or longer before they hear from him again.  In May 1794, the Suffolk under the command of Captain Peter Rainier led a convoy of merchant ships to Madras.  During the voyage, James was able to send off a letter home, via the East Indiaman Earl of Wycombe to St Helena, dated 6 June 1794 ‘at sea’: ‘I have this first opportunity embraced to forward you this letter according to your request as also to acquaint you that I am very well.  I might say never better only very warm for we are at this time nearly under the sun….we shall touch at Rio Janario in South America’.  He concludes ‘I wish you well but the boat is waiting alongside so adieu’. We will catch up with James in a forthcoming post.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers of the Jackson Family, 1784-1843, British Library shelfmark: Mss Eur F756.
HMS Suffolk

 

22 February 2022

‘A mishap to German aviators’ in Mesopotamia: a tale of engine failure and a small Persian dog

In 1917, four German aviators and their dog faced the dangers of unreliable machinery and merciless desert heat in Mesopotamia.

World War I saw the first large-scale use of aerial warfare.  Aeroplanes proved particularly valuable in the deserts of Mesopotamia, where the Ottoman Empire and its German allies faced off against the invading British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force.  British and German pilots were crucial to war on this front, flying over vast stretches of desert to observe enemy troop movements.  A single mechanical failure could send a mission spiralling towards disaster.

Map of Mesopotamia 1916Map of Mesopotamia, 1916. 'Map 3. Mesopotamia' [‎365] (1/1)  Qatar Digital Library 

One such incident is recorded in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force and gives an insight into the early problems of military aviation as it adapted to new environments.

On 7 July 1917, two German two-seater planes set out southwards from Tikrit.  The four aviators were tasked with flying over British positions near Baghdad and gathering information.  The mission went mostly to plan; both planes made it to their rest stop at Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and stayed there until 9 July.

Extract from British report on the German mission  21 July 1917

Extract from British report on the German mission, 21 July 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282- Crown Copyright, available via the Qatar Digital Library

Disaster struck on their return journey, ‘about halfway across the 50 odd miles of desert they had to pass over’.  One plane ‘suffered a serious breakdown’ and was forced to land.  The other plane landed to try and help.  The stricken craft could not be repaired, and so the Germans burnt it to avoid it falling into British hands.  It now seemed as though two of the pilots had no way to escape the desert.

Photograph of a Rumpler C.III  a German reconnaissance planePhotograph of a Rumpler C.III, a typical German reconnaissance plane.  Image from the Ray Wagner Collection, courtesy of San Diego Air & Space Museum

These aviators were nothing if not creative, however.  They loaded the surviving plane with all their belongings, a salvaged machine gun, ‘and a small Persian dog which habitually accompanied all important reconnaissance’.  Two pilots took their seats in the plane, while the other two ‘sat on each wing where they held on as best they could’.  Four men, three machine guns, and a small dog managed to fly in this manner for around 25 minutes.  But the extra weight prevented the plane from climbing high enough to cool its engine.  The Germans landed once again, resolving to wait until the evening brought colder temperatures.

Second extract from British report on the German mission  21 July 1917Second extract from British report on the German mission, 21 July 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282- Crown Copyright, available via the Qatar Digital Library

They may have quickly regretted this decision.  The Germans spent a torturous day in the desert, exposed to the sun and forced to drink near-boiling water from the engine’s radiator.  As the sun finally set, the exhausted men drove their plane across the sands rather than attempting to fly.  Roughly fifteen miles from Samarra, this plane’s engine also failed.  The Germans burnt it and continued on foot.

The trials of the day proved too much for two of the men, who ‘collapsed and had to be abandoned’.  The surviving pair reached British lines at dawn on 10 July.  The British sent patrols to search for the two men left behind but found no sign of the pilots.  The two survivors were now prisoners of war.

Not all of the plane’s passengers suffered such a grim fate.  The ‘small Persian dog’ survived the desert trek, and found itself switching its wartime allegiance.  It was given to some British troops ‘with whom it is no doubt a popular pet’.

Highland Territorials entrenched with a dog mascot  France  1915Highland Territorials entrenched with a dog mascot, France, 1915. 


Dan McKee
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282  - available via the Qatar Digital Library
Mesopotamia campaign
Aerial warfare during World War One 

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