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208 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

27 May 2024

India Office catalogue records added to Discovery platform

750,000 India Office Records (IOR) catalogue descriptions have recently been uploaded to the National Archives’ Discovery platform, providing access while the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue is out of action. 

Researchers can use this catalogue to search for IOR materials, make a note of relevant references, and then visit the British Library to order material for consultation. The interim website provides information on reader registration and ordering during the ongoing disruption to library services. 

This post provides an overview of what’s included, what isn’t, and tips on how to use the Discovery platform. 

What is included

The records uploaded consist of the majority of the official IOR collections, including records of the East India Company, the Board of Control for the Affairs of India, the India Office and the Burma Office. 

Older IOR descriptions in Discovery were deleted and replaced with updated versions dating from April 2023. 

The following IOR classes, record groups or fonds have been uploaded: 

  • IOR/A Charters, Statutes and Treaties 
  • IOR/B Minutes of the East India Company’s Directors and Proprietors 
  • IOR/C Council of India 
  • IOR/D Minutes and Memoranda of General Committees and Offices of the East India Company 
  • IOR/E East India Company General Correspondence 
  • IOR/F Records of the Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India 
  • IOR/G East India Company Factory Records 
  • IOR/H Home Miscellaneous 
  • IOR/I Records relating to other Europeans in India 
  • IOR/J Records of the East India College, Haileybury 
  • IOR/K Records of institutions in Britain connected to the East India Company and India Office 
  • IOR/L/AG Accountant General’s Records 
  • IOR/L/E Economic Department Records 
  • IOR/L/F Financial Department Records 
  • IOR/L/I Information Department Records 
  • IOR/L/L Legal Advisor’s Records 
  • IOR/L/MAR Marine Department Records 
  • IOR/L/MIL Military Department Records 
  • IOR/L/PARL Parliamentary Branch Records 
  • IOR/L/PJ Public and Judicial Department 
  • IOR/L/PO Private Office Papers 
  • IOR/L/PS Political and Secret Department Records 
  • IOR/L/PWD Public Works Department Records 
  • IOR/L/R Record Department Papers 
  • IOR/L/SG Services and General Department Records 
  • IOR/L/SUR Surveyor’s Records 
  • IOR/L/WS War Staff Papers 
  • IOR/M Burma Office Records 
  • IOR/N Ecclesiastical Returns 
  • IOR/O Biographical Series 
  • IOR/Q Commission, Committee and Conference Records 
  • IOR/R Records transferred later through official channels 
  • IOR/S Linguistic Survey of India Records 
  • IOR/V Official Publications 
  • IOR/X India Office Maps Reference Collection 

What is not included

Recent additions to the India Office Private Papers (IOPP) have not yet been uploaded. 

Entries for index volumes (IOR/Z) have not been uploaded, as they lack descriptive information and are more easily browsed and located using the physical lists in the British Library Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

Using Discovery

Discovery primarily holds catalogue records for the National Archives, but also hosts descriptions from over 3,500 other UK archive repositories. 

There are extensive help guides to be found in the Discovery help pages, but we will show you a couple of helpful tips below. 


You can use the Filters to restrict search results to records held by the British Library. For the India Office Records, use the ‘British Library: Asian and African Studies’ filter, found under ‘Other archives’. 

Screengrab of filter selection
Screengrab showing filter selection for British Library: Asian and African Studies

Navigating the hierarchy

The India Office Records are organised into record groups as discussed above. If you know which record group you wish to use you can easily find it by searching for its reference in quotations, e.g. “IOR/E” will return the entry for the East India Company General Correspondence.  

You can view records within this section by using the ‘(browse here from hierarchy’) link at the top of the description.

Screengrab of IOR/E description
Screengrab showing hierarchy link above IOR/E description

 This will show you the ‘child’ records of IOR/E on the right-hand side of the screen, as well as listing the other higher level IOR descriptions in reference order.

Screengrab showing IOR/E with child records
Screengrab showing IOR/E, with child records

If you wanted to see all the higher level IOR descriptions arranged in reference order, you could search for “IOR/A” (note the quotation marks), click into the description, then select ‘browse here from hierarchy’.

Similarly, if you search on a subject and topic and find an interesting entry, you can navigate using the hierarchy to browse other records within the sequence. For example, a search for 'Irrigation control Iraq' returns IOR/L/PS/20/C253/1, f 162, a map showing irrigation control in central and lower Iraq. The hierarchy can then be used to view the descriptions for the military report containing the map, the books within the Political and Secret Department Library ‘C’ Range, or the records of the whole departmental library.

Screengrab showing catalogue hierarchy
Screengrab showing the hierarchy for IOR/L/PS/20/C253/1

 Advanced search

The advanced search option can be used to specify search term combinations within reference groupings and dates.  

For example, a search for ‘tax’ within reference IOR/L/PJ (Political and Judicial Department) for the years 1880-1900 returns 52 records. 

Screensgrab showing advanced search
Screengrab showing search results for tax within IOR/L/PJ, 1880-1900

07 May 2024

Stories of Provenance Research: Charles Masson’s papers in the India Office Records

What do an East India Company Army deserter, an American explorer from Kentucky, and an archaeological expert on Afghanistan who wrote his name in the caves at Bamiyan have in common?  They are actually one and the same person.  Charles Masson, as he came to be known, is an intriguing character, a pioneer explorer, archaeologist, and numismatist, a reluctant spy, and an expert on Afghanistan.  Much has been written about his achievements, which include discovering a lost city (Alexandria under the Mountains at Bagram), helping to decipher a lost language (Kharoshthi) and finding treasure (Bimaran casket, British Museum).  His exploits read like a Boys’ Own adventure story, or a film script. 

Born James Lewis in London in 1800, Masson enlisted in the East India Company’s Bengal Artillery in 1821, deserted in 1827, and - in an attempt to avoid the death penalty - changed his name, began his travels and explorations through Northern India and Afghanistan, and pretended to be an American.  You can read more about Masson’s life and his challenging relationship with the East India Company on the Asian and African Studies blog, but it included groundbreaking archaeological research, being unmasked as a deserter, a pardon in exchange for intelligence work for the British, imprisonment, and a return to London in 1842. 

Volumes from the Masson Collection in India Office Private PapersVolumes from the Masson Collection in India Office Private Papers

India Office Records and Private Papers holds a large collection of Masson’s papers while his drawings are held at by the Visual Arts Department.  For the early part of the 20th century, details of how they came to the India Office had been forgotten.  The 1937 catalogue to European Manuscripts reads 'No record is available to show how the Library came into possession of these papers', before the information was rediscovered in time for the publication of the 1968 Library Guide, where it states that the papers were purchased in 1857.

Title page of Kaye and Johnston's India Office Library Catalogue of Manuscripts in European Languages Volume II 1937Title page of Kaye and Johnston's India Office Library Catalogue of Manuscripts in European Languages Volume II (1937)

Entry for the Masson Papers in the Kaye and Johnston 1937 catalogueEntry for the Masson Papers in the Kaye and Johnston 1937 catalogue 

There is a great deal more information about the provenance of the Masson papers in the records.  They were offered to the East India Company by ‘Mr H Burstall’ in 1857, with the Finance & Home Committee Minutes recording that they were purchased on 11 February 1857 with the sanction of the Court of Directors on the recommendation of Professor [Horace Hayman] Wilson. The decision was recorded in the Court of Directors’ Minutes and approved by the Board of Control on 19 March 1857.  The Company paid £100 for the papers, drawings, coins and artefacts – a substantial sum – on the proviso that it was paid to the legal guardian of Masson’s two orphaned children, for their benefit.

Resolution to buy the Masson Papers, 11 February 1857 - first page
Resolution to buy the Masson Papers, 11 February 1857 - second pageResolution to buy the Masson Papers, 11 February 1857 -  Mss Eur F303/42 ff.158-158v

Henry Abraham Burstall was acting on behalf of Masson’s children, because they were family.  Masson had married Mary Ann Kilby, an 18-year-old farmer’s daughter from Northamptonshire, in 1844.  They had two children - Charles Lewis Robert (born 1850), and Isabella Adelaide (born 1853).  Sarah Kilby, sister of Mary Ann’s father John Carter Kilby, married Abraham Bustall in 1812, making her son Henry Abraham Burstall first cousin to Mary Ann Masson.  Her death in 1855 followed Charles’s death in 1853, leaving her children orphaned and living with her Kilby relatives in Watford, Hertfordshire.  John Kilby, Mary Ann’s brother, was designated their legal guardian.  Charles Lewis Masson followed his father into the military, enlisting as a gunner in the Royal Marine Artillery in 1870, while Adelaide was able to live ‘on her own means’ during her lifetime.

Lesley Shapland
Archivist & Provenance Researcher
India Office Records & Private Papers

Further Reading:
IOR/B/233 pp.885-886: Court of Directors Minutes 11 Feb 1857.
IOR/L/PJ/1/76 No 97: i) Note by HH Wilson on the Masson Collection, Feb 1857 ii) List of Masson Mss by Henry A Burstall 19 Jan 1857 iii) Letter from Henry A Burstall 19 Jan 1857.
IOR/L/PJ/1/77 No 260: letter from Henry A Burstall 8 Apr 1857 accepting £100 in payment for the Masson Collection on behalf of the Masson children.
Mss Eur F303/42, f.158 Finance & Home Committee Minutes.
Mss Eur F303/179 ‘Historical Records, Collections, Original Drawings’.
Charles Masson, Narrative of various journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, the Panjab, & Kalat, during a residence in those countries… 4 vols (London, 1844).
Elizabeth Errington, ‘Charles Masson (1800-1853)’,  Encyclopaedia Iranica
Elizabeth Errington, The Charles Masson Archive: British Library, British Museum and Other Documents Relating to the 1832–1838 Masson Collection from Afghanistan (British Museum, 2017).
Edmund Richardson, Alexandria: The Quest for the Lost City (Bloomsbury, 2021).

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.


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.


26 March 2024

A letter between female activists

A letter between two 19th-century women can provide a glimmer of light into their personal lives.  It can help researchers relying mainly on published material to find out more about the women than just their public achievements.  Emily Faithfull and Mary Carpenter may not share the same historical fame as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson or Elizabeth Fry, but a letter sent by one to the other gives useful, albeit small, evidence of personality.

Letter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull  2 July 1862 -  first page

Letter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull  2 July 1862 - second pageLetter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull, 2 July 1862 - British Library, Add MS78907H

On 2 July 1862 Mary Carpenter wrote to Emily Faithfull to congratulate her ‘on [the] status given you by being appointed the Queen’s Publisher…’.  Mary was ‘desirous of becoming better acquainted’ with Emily and was keen to meet her if she happened to visit Bristol where Mary resided.  A scrawled note under Mary’s signature suggests that she also had the generosity of spirit to send Emily a mechanical Earth.

Mary Carpenter (1807-1877) was devoted to helping children who were living in poverty, especially those who had unfortunately fallen into committing criminal acts.  Through her lobbying efforts, Parliament introduced two laws known as the Youthful Offenders Act in 1854 and 1857 which approved the establishment of reformatory and industrial schools.  However, Mary became better known for her work in helping to educate women in India with her attempts to establish schools, as well as for establishing the National Indian Association in England. 

Emily Faithfull (1835-1895) was equally committed to promoting the rights of women but in the field of employment in England.  She strongly believed that with good education, women were just as equipped to do the same kind of jobs as men.  This conviction led her to create the Victoria Press in 1860, recruiting women compositors to help publish books.  Emily was rewarded for her efforts by Queen Victoria appointing her as ‘Printer and Publisher in Ordinary’ to Her Majesty.

Front cover of Emily Faithfull  Employment of WomenFront cover of Emily Faithfull, On some of the drawbacks connected with the present Employment of Women (1862) British Library shelfmark 8276.a.13, also available via Google Books

Emily not only issued her own publications about women and employment but also toured the United States giving lectures and helped movements promoting women’s employment rights.  Her beliefs were encapsulated in a paper which she presented to the National Association for the Promotion of Social Sciences.  Mary Carpenter was involved in this group, but clearly hadn't met Emily prior to 1862.  In her paper, Emily argued that a woman should not rely on the income of her husband.  A husband’s sudden death might mean having to find employment to support herself and her family, and an untrained woman was at a disadvantage.  Emily asked: ‘Is it less dignified to receive the wages of industry than the unwilling or even willing bounty of friends and relations?’ and continued to state that it must be, ‘... undignified for her to receive payment for labour...’.  Emily also established the International Musical, Dramatic and Literary Association in 1881 to represent composers and artists.

A letter helps us learn about how women activists might have needed a reason to contact each other, as well as how little they may have met each other in person.

Mary (Marette) Hickford
Library, Information and Archive Services Apprentice

Further reading:
Carpenter, M (1862) Letter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull, 2 July 1862. London: British Library, Add MS78907H.
Faithfull, E (1862) On some of the drawbacks connected with the present Employment of Women. A paper read before the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science ... 3rd edn. London.
Hunt, F (2009) ‘Faithfull, Emily’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Prochaska, F (2004) ‘Carpenter, Mary’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
The National Indian Association and its handbook for students in Britain

12 March 2024

Applications for Trinity House Pensions

The British Library holds the papers of Lord George Francis Hamilton (1845-1927), Secretary of State for India 1895-1903.  The papers are on a variety of subjects relating to India, and correspondence with the Viceroy and Governors of Bombay and Madras.  Amongst these papers is a very interesting file of applications relating to the Trinity House in London.

'View of the new Trinity House on Tower Hill'  in 1799'View of the new Trinity House on Tower Hill' 1799 - British Library Maps K.Top.25.8 Images Online

Trinity House is a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers.  It began as a fraternity caring for distressed mariners and their widows and dependants by maintaining alms houses and awarding pensions.  Lord George Hamilton was an Elder Brethren of Trinity House and was able to nominate a mariner in need of help.  The file on this in his papers contain letters applying for his help in securing a place at Trinity House.  Here are a few of the applications he received:

John James in applying for an annuity declared that he was 66 years old and had been employed at sea for the previous 52 years.  He stated that he was thoroughly incapable of filling any post whatsoever having swollen legs and feet due to chronic Bright’s disease [an inflammatory disease of the kidneys].  James further stated that ‘I have no means to support myself and wife and have to rely upon the generosity of my two married daughters’.  He said his savings had been lost through investing in shipping and his wages for the past ten years had not left him any margin for saving.

Letter from John James applying for an annuityLetter from John James applying for an annuity, 1900  - British Library Mss Eur F123/43

William J Spark wrote on behalf of his brother-in-law, J F Spark and wife, whom he described as ‘an old worn-out master mariner & his wife, who are a very deserving couple & are in very needy circumstances – both of them are between 70 & 80 years of age, and I regret to say, are quite broken down & always in the doctor’s hands’.

Edward Dunstall wrote in February 1901, that he was an old master mariner of the merchant service, aged 66.  In 1890, he had been compelled to vacate the sea service, and in 1894 he had an operation for a ‘very painful internal disease, the effects of which I am still suffering’.  In 1898 he had been accepted as an eligible applicant but had never been nominated.  He appealed to Hamilton for help:’My Lord, myself and wife, having been so long on such poor pittance, and with the enormous rising in the price of living, been unable to procure a sufficiency of the necessaries of life have often to go hungry.  And with ailment in the struggle of life to keep a house over our heads, we are sorely pressed and to get relief we should be ever thankful’.

Letter from Edward Dunstall in 1901 appealing for helpLetter from Edward Dunstall in 1901 appealing for help - British Library Mss Eur F123/43

Elizabeth Mary Goddard wrote to Hamilton in October 1900.   She wrote that she was ‘the unmarried daughter of Captain Charles William Goddard who had the Captains Out Doors Pension and died some years ago and Anna Johanna Elizabeth Goddard my dear Mother who also had the Captains Out Doors Pension also died some years ago’.  Elizabeth was then 60 years old and suffering very much from rheumatism.  She wished to apply for a pension and needed Hamilton to nominate her.  A note on the letter gives the reply: ‘Lord G H has noted her name on his list of applicants and will consider her claims with those of others when an opportunity occurs; but H L is sorry to say that his list for the Trinity House is already a long one, and it is but seldom that he has a presentation at his disposal’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Applications for Trinity House Pensions, 1900-1902, shelfmark: Mss Eur F123/43.
Trinity House

12 October 2023

Mapping the Dining Culture at Holland House, 1798–1806

Holland House, Kensington, was one of the most important cultural sites in Regency London.  The cosmopolitan circle established in 1799 by Lord and Lady Holland advocated political and religious liberty, and the couple made their home a kind of alternative ministry for liberal culture and politics during decades of Tory rule, receiving European authors and politicians who they hoped would spread reform at home and abroad.  The centre of exchange for this group was the dining room, where Elizabeth Vassall-Fox (Lady Holland) was chatelaine, hosting the leading figures of the day.

Holland HouseHolland House in Kensington by George Samuel - Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A dinner book is a written record of who dined at a given location on a given night, and Lady Holland assiduously kept such books to document forty years of her salon.  The books also acted as a diary, noting when the Hollands and their friends dined elsewhere or went to the theatre, and marking holidays in the country and abroad.

Holland House dinner bookHolland House dinner book  - British Library Add MS 51950)

The Dined project has created a database of the first dinner book (British Library Add MS 51950) which covers dinners from 1799 to 1806.  The database can be searched by date and person, and manuscript images like the one above can be browsed.  You can see information about diners in the Index of People, and about the locations visited by the Hollands in the Index of Places, and what they did in the Index of Events.  Literary figures who dined at Holland House included the poet Thomas Campbell, the novelists Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis and Caroline Lamb, the travel writer Adélaïde de la Briche, and the philosophers Jeremy Bentham and William Godwin.  More important than any individual is the regular attendance of Henry Brougham, Francis Horner and Sydney Smith, three of the founders of the Edinburgh Review (arguably the most significant periodical of the 19th century).  The dinner books also bear witness to the period’s great events including the battle of Trafalgar and the Acts of Union with Ireland, and the death of national figures such as Nelson and Pitt.

While famous diners and events present themselves on almost every page, the books also chronicle the Hollands’ family life.  Lady Holland records her children performing scenes from Shakespeare in Christmas 1805, and is a stickler for recording birthdays, illnesses, and anniversaries, and even on one occasion notes that her mother is coming to babysit.  Browsing the books also illuminates the long-forgotten names who dined beside famous figures such as the Duchess of Devonshire, Fox, and Sheridan.  Few will now remember such figures as Richard ‘Conversation’ Sharp, the celebrity hatter who dined at the house, and organised a meeting between the Hollands and John Horne Tooke; or Don Roberto Gordon, the Hispanicized Scottish vintner who was distantly related to Byron, and who, following dinners in 1800 and 1801, convinced the Hollands to visit him in Jerez in 1803; or Serafino Buonaiuti, the opera librettist at the King’s Theatre who kept the Hollands’ library and later wrote for the Literary Gazette.  It is the presence, and the opportunity to recover, these characters and their stories that make the dinner books captivating to explore.

Will Bowers
Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Thought, Queen Mary University of London


19 September 2023

William Henry Wilson of the Bombay Police

William Henry Wilson was an officer in the Bombay Staff Corps in the second half of the 19th century.  Born in Worcester on 13 September 1839, Wilson was appointed to the Indian Army in December 1856, and posted to the 18th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry.  Present during operations against insurgents in the North Canara and Bedee Districts in 1858, he was awarded the Mutiny Medal.  He had a successful army career, and served in the Bombay Police.

Decorated scroll in praise of Wilson  1891

Decorated scroll in praise of Wilson 1891 - Mss Eur F764/7/8

In 1870, Wilson was the Superintendent of Police for the Kaira District, and was called on to oversee police arrangements for the fair at Dakore held in April of that year.  The fair was a success and Wilson was commended for the judicious manner in which the arrangements were devised and carried out with due regard to the feelings of the people attending the event.  Wilson noted in his papers that, 'There was a tremendous concourse of people, especially women……The Maharajah wanted to give me a sword but I said government would not approve as I had only done my duty'.

Report of the fair at Dakore 1870  with the offer of a sword as a giftReport on the fair at Dakore 1870 -  Mss Eur F764/7/2

In 1885, Wilson was the District Superintendent of Police at Nasik. I n October of that year, he had to deal with a riot that broke out at Malegaon in the District.  The cause of the riot seemed to be a dispute between members of the Hindu and Muslim communities who were celebrating the festivals of Dasara and Muharram.  The unrest lasted four days and 42 people were arrested.  At one point, a Hindu temple was attacked forcing the police guard to fire on the rioters wounding two men.  The Government commended Wilson and the local Magistrate Mr Frost for their promptitude and discretion.  In Wilson’s copy of the report on the riot, he noted in the margin that, 'It was a hot business' and that leading Muslim leaders had asked him to release the 42 men who had been arrested, to which he had refused.  They were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of between three to eighteen months.

Report of riot at Malegaon 1885 Report of riot at Malegaon 1885  - Mss Eur F764/7/2

In 1887, Wilson, serving as Superintendent of Police in the Poona District, was involved in tracking down a gang of robbers.  Wilson reported that, 'five of the Koli gang of dacoits have surrendered to Inspector Ganpatrao Malhar and that a sixth, who alleges he was pressed into the dacoit’s service against his will, has also given himself up' . Wilson recommended that the reward of Rs.500 should be increased to Rs.1000 and distributed to local villagers 'who have done so well and have suffered in the service'.

Report of the surrender of a gang of dacoits 1887  Surrender of a gang of dacoits 1887 - Mss Eur F764/7/2

Between 1888 and 1893, Wilson served as Commissioner of Police for the Town and Island of Bombay.  During that time, he met a number of visiting dignitaries, including Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence in 1889.  The following year, he met Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, future Emperor of Russia, who was on a tour of India.  Wilson wrote that it was rather a responsibility for the Governor, Lord Harris, especially as the Indian Government 'were very jumpy'.  Of the Tsesarevich, Wilson wrote, 'He was very unformed in manners & never thanked me'. I n January 1893, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria visited Bombay as part of his tour of India during his trip round the world.  Wilson commented that Lord Harris 'found him a pleasant guest; and he specially thanked me at the railway station on his departure'.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
William Henry Wilson’s papers are part of a recently catalogued collection of India Office Private Papers now available to researchers in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room: Papers of the Wilson Family, Mss Eur F764 that charts the family’s connection with India over four generations.
Papers relating to the service history of William Henry Wilson, 1866-1914, shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/7/1.
Official correspondence relating to William Henry Wilson's career, 1860-1893, shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/7/2.


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