Untold lives blog

77 posts categorized "Middle East"

25 January 2022

A Vignette of Inter-War Anglo-American Relations in the Middle East

In January 1931 the American Consul in Baghdad received a rap on the knuckles from the Political Agent and British Consul in Muscat, Major Trenchard C W Fowle.

Photograph of Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle in military uniform with medals.Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle, by Walter Stoneman, 1937  NPG x167632. Copyright: National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

This mild castigation of the American Consul, Alexander Kilgore Sloan, arose from a request by Dr Sarah Hosmon of the American Mission at Muscat to visit the inland village of Rustaq.  Hosmon wished to ‘take care and prescribe for sick people there’, following an invitation from the Governor of that town.

Sloan was under the impression that Fowle had refused Hosmon’s request and wrote a letter of support on her behalf.

Extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930, supporting Sarah Hosmon’s missionary trip to Rustaq.Extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930, supporting Sarah Hosmon’s missionary trip to Rustaq. Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Sloan concluded that if conditions there had not worsened radically since March ‘I can see no reason to forbid her journey to that town and consequently request that you assist Miss Hosmon in making her contemplated trip’.

Further extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930Further extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Map of Oman and the Persian Gulf

Map of Oman showing Rastaq (inland, south-west of Muscat) - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Three weeks later Fowle replied in a distinctly patronising tone: ‘In the first place I am not “The British Political Adviser, Muscat”, as addressed by you’.

Extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931, ‘clarifying’ the position Extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931, ‘clarifying’ the position - Qatar Digital LibraryPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Fowle refused to incur any responsibility for Hosmon’s journey: ‘When in charge of foreign interests a Consular officer has to be even more careful with regard to such interests than those of his own nationals … if some unfortunate incident befell Miss Hosmon, and if she had taken her journey with my permission, then not unnaturally I should be held responsible for her having proceeded with my approval’.

He noted that the Council of Ministers of Muscat advised against the journey to Rustaq, adding that he had made arrangements for an alternative trip by Hosmon to some coastal villages, which she had not yet made.

Further extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan  8 January 1931Further extract from  letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931 - Qatar Digital Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Perhaps to hammer home his overseeing role, Fowle signs his letter ‘Political Agent & HBM’s Consul, Muscat. (In charge American Interests in Muscat)’.

End of letter from Major Fowle to Sloan  8 January 1931End of letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


In March 1931, on his return from visiting various Gulf ports, Sloan replied to ‘His Britannic Majesty’s Consul, Muscat, Arabia’, thanking him for his ‘courtesy’ in writing to him.

Letter from Sloan to Fowle  10 March 1931 abrogating responsibility for permitting Hosmon’s tripExtract from letter from Sloan to Fowle, 10 March 1931 abrogating responsibility for permitting Hosmon’s trip - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Sloan enclosed a copy of a letter he claimed to have written to Hosmon on 16 December 1930, the same date as his letter to Fowle.  He told Hosmon he had little knowledge of conditions in the Sultanate of Oman, but was aware that travel into the interior could be dangerous.  He cited the case of Mr Bilkert, a member of the American Mission killed in Kuwait territory in 1929, and noted his sympathy with Major Fowle’s ‘reluctance in the matter’ since it has ‘often happened in the past that the killing of an American citizen or of a British subject bound on an errand of mercy has probably caused more distress than that person could have alleviated’.

Extract of a letter from Sloan to Sarah Hosmon  dated 16 December 1930Extract of a letter from Sloan to Sarah Hosmon, dated 16 December 1930 - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence
 

Sloan’s words appear, in part, to contradict what he wrote to Fowle on 16 December.  By enclosing the copy of his letter to Hosmon he appears to exonerate himself for originally endorsing Hosmon’s trip and for offending Fowle, and he diplomatically dumps responsibility back onto the British!

Interestingly the Persian Gulf Administration Report for Muscat 1931 states that Hosmon, with sanction of the Council, visited Sohar, Saham and Al-Khaburah, whilst Dr Storm, another member of the American Mission, ventured into Rustaq.

Extract of the Administration Report of the Political Agency  Muscat  for 1931Extract of the Administration Report of the Political Agency, Muscat, for 1931 - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Was there a hint of anti-American irritation in Fowle’s letter? Growing American influence in the Middle East during this period regularly irked the British colonial authorities who regarded the region as their domain.  Or perhaps risk-taking American missionaries had simply put him in a foul mood…?

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

Further reading:
IOR/R/15/6/145: ‘File 6/1 Foreign Interests: American Mission at Muscat’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/L/PS/12/3719/1: ‘Persian Gulf: Administration Reports 1926-1938’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/L/PS/10/1177: ‘PERSIAN GULF NEWS SUMMARY 1926-1930’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/X/3210: ‘A Revised map of Oman and the Persian Gulf, in which an attempt has been made to give a correct transliteration of the Arabic names. By the Rev. George Percy Badger, FRGS’, 1871, Map Collections, British Library, London.

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.’

 

14 September 2021

Memorabilia of Captain James Cecil Thornton

One of the most pleasing aspects of private paper collections is the small items of ephemera they often contain.  One example of this in the India Office Private Papers is a folder of memorabilia of Captain James Cecil Thornton (1888-1932), Royal Field Artillery, and Supply and Transport Corps, India and Mesopotamia.

Examples of memorabilia belonging to Captain James Cecil Thornton - tickets from Makinah Gymkhana Club and Baghdad Officers' ClubExamples of memorabilia belonging to Captain James Cecil Thornton - British Library Mss Eur D791 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The India Office Records also holds his Indian Army service file which gives some information on Captain Thornton.  Born in London on 22 August 1888, his nationality is listed as Scottish.  His father was George Thornton, residing in Eltham, Kent.  James Thornton joined the Royal Field Artillery in 1912 as a Second Lieutenant.  He clearly excelled in the role as he rose to be appointed a Captain in 1916.  In June 1917 he travelled to India, and in April 1918 was attached to the Supply & Transport Corps in Mesopotamia.  In January 1919, Thornton married Muriel Augusta Florence Hardwick, and they had a daughter, Rosemary Muriel Augusta, born at St George’s Ditchling, East Sussex on 2 November 1919.  The service record also notes Thornton’s language skills.  In February 1918, he passed the examination taken in Baghdad in colloquial Arabic.  He also had conversational Urdu and good colloquial French.

Front page of Indian Army Army service record for James Cecil Thornton Indian Army Army service record for James Cecil Thornton - British Library IOR/L/MIL/14/30321 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The folder of memorabilia shows the social life of an army officer.  It contains books of tickets for various clubs: Baghdad Officers’ Club, Makinah Gymkhana Club, and the Busreh Club.  There is also a programme of sports held by the 4th Brigade of the R.F.A. on 30 September 1917, and a programme for the R.F.A. Brigade Horse Show on 16 February 1918 at Samarrah.

Programme of sports held by the 4th Brigade of the R.F.A. on 30 September 1917Programme of sports held by the 4th Brigade of the R.F.A. on 30 September 1917 - British Library Mss Eur D791 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The folder also gives a glimpse into the tasks he performed as part of his duties.  There are two permits ‘to send goods up country’, dated Baghdad 26 October 1917.  The goods listed on the permits were a packet of Baghdad-made clothing articles, a bag of indigo, and 1 bale containing 61 packets of silk and other Baghdad-made articles.  There is also a statement showing the average rates paid for various articles including rice, wheat, barley, ghee, dates, millet, maize, lentils, firewood, sesame and onions.

Permit to send goods up countryPermit to send goods up country  - British Library Mss Eur D791 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

James Thornton left military service in 1922.  He returned to England to pursue a career as a solicitor in Brighton, where he was also responsible for organising the Horse Show for the ‘Greater Brighton’ celebrations in 1928.  In 1929, he suffered severe injuries in a tragic accident when he fell from his bedroom window.  The local newspaper reported that he was known to walk in his sleep.  He died in 1932.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Memorabilia of Captain James Cecil Thornton (1888-1932), Royal Field Artillery, and Supply and Transport Corps, India and Mesopotamia 1917-1922, British Library shelfmark Mss Eur D791.
Army service record for James Cecil Thornton, 1912-1922, British Library shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/14/30321.
Mid Sussex Times, 22 October 1929 and 29 November 1932, online in the British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast).

 

09 September 2021

‘An unseemly squabble’ in Aden

An argument at a dinner party.  A guest drinking too much.  A brush with the law.   An evening which would end a 30-year friendship.

After Captain Robert Cogan retired from active service with the Indian Navy, he settled in Aden, working for a trading company.  Perhaps his choice of town was influenced by the presence of his friend Captain Stafford Bettesworth Haines, who was the British Political Agent there.

Head and shoulders portrait of Captain Stafford Bettesworth Haines with a full, dark beard and bow tieA portrait of Captain Stafford Bettesworth Haines from a lithograph at the British Embassy, Aden. 

On 27 October 1846, Cogan and Haines, together with Haines’ wife Mary, dined at the house of Captain George James Duncan Milne.  By the next day, that 30-year friendship would be in tatters.

After dinner, the gentlemen joined the ladies in the drawing room, and Cogan took up the subject of society in Aden, focusing on Mrs Haines’ role and mentioning one occasion where he believed she had been negligent.  The rest of the party disagreed, and this led to a heated argument between Milne and Cogan.  At this point, Haines stepped in to de-escalate the dispute.  The argument continued between Haines and Cogan at Haines’ house, where Cogan called Haines ‘a cold blooded being’, and Haines tried to calm him down and persuade him to go home.

Captain Haines’ version of events from the East India Company archivesCaptain Haines’ version of events, IOR/F/4/2203/108123, f 329. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Meanwhile, Haines, acting as the local magistrate, directed a policeman to watch Cogan unobtrusively that night, giving orders that if he seemed about to leave his house to continue the quarrel, he was to be forced to remain at home.  Haines also required Milne to agree not to pursue an apology that night.

The next morning a message came to Cogan from Captain Milne, requiring him to retract his offensive expression.  Cogan readily agreed, and Milne also withdrew his language.  Cogan wrote to Mrs Milne to apologise, and to Captain Haines, regretting his bad taste and the ‘unhappy events…[which] have given me much pain’.  However, he also objected to Haines’ ‘irritating’ manner.  Haines was not satisfied, and replied that Cogan’s ‘conduct and singular expressions of last night preclude the continuance of our acquaintance’.  Cogan, upset, intended to consult friends about the dispute and was in the act of mounting his horse at his door, when ‘for the first time in my life, [I was] publicly arrested by a Police Constable’.

Cartoon entitled 'The Modest Couple' - a man turning away from a seated woman, with another older, cross-looking man between them gesturing towards her.'The Modest Couple' from The Bab Ballads, with which are included Songs of a Savoyard ... With 350 illustrations by the author by William Gilbert, (London, 1898).  BL flickr

This was a misunderstanding, as Haines had only ordered Cogan to be prevented from going out the previous night.  He was freed once Haines had been informed of what had happened.  However, Cogan was outraged to discover that he had been under police surveillance as being ‘likely to cause a breach of the Peace’.  To add to his outrage, Haines refused to forward his complaint about the arrest to his superiors in India, and he had to send it to the Governor of India himself.

The Government took this complaint of arrest on insufficient grounds seriously, although ignored the ‘unseemly squabble’, and asked Haines for his full explanation.  However, they decided that Haines had acted properly as he was motivated by his public duty, especially as Cogan had previously requested that a guest of his was placed under similar guardianship a few evenings before.  It is unclear whether their friendship ever recovered before Cogan died the following year.

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

Further reading:
The story of Cogan’s wrongful arrest appears in IOR/F/4/2203/108123.

 

07 September 2021

Personal Reflections on the Indian Political Service – Part Three: Travels between Britain and India

This is the third and final part in a series of blog posts about Mss Eur F226, a collection of 35 memoirs by former members of the Indian Political Service (IPS).  Here we step back again to look more generally at the collection and consider the subject of travel.  This is a dominant theme throughout all the memoirs.

Head and shoulders photographic portrait of Sir Tom Hickinbotham Sir Tom Hickinbotham. Photograph by Elliott & Fry, 7 December 1960. © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG x82837 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Many IPS officers changed posts frequently during their careers, and these memoirs document a considerable amount of travelling by land, air and sea, not only from Britain to India (and back again) but also within the wider region.  Tom Hickinbotham shares his memories of a journey undertaken from Quetta to Europe via north Persia [Iran] in 1927, travelling in a Fiat Tourer, on what he claims to be the first trip taken by car from India to the Mediterranean.  Thomas Rogers recalls being appointed to the IPS in 1937 and deciding to travel from London to Bombay [Mumbai] by car, passing through Turkey, Syria, and Iran along the way, with three other recruits whom he had persuaded to join him.

There are many insights into the thrills and dangers of early commercial flights.  John Cotton recalls how passengers travelling on small planes were weighed at intermediate stops, along with their luggage.  Patrick Tandy remarks on how leisurely air travel seemed at the time, before recounting the trauma of descending in an unpressurised aircraft from a cruising height of several thousand feet to 1,600 feet below sea level, while flying over the Dead Sea.

Least fondly remembered are journeys by sea.  Cotton remembers the rather cramped conditions on board Royal Navy sloops, where he passed the time playing ‘interminable games of Monopoly’.  Michael Hadow describes the ‘appalling’ conditions on a voyage back to Britain in summer 1946, aboard a ship built for the cooler climes of the North Atlantic Ocean.  Hugh Rance shares a similar experience, albeit in the opposite direction, on a cockroach-infested ship that ‘may have been fine for the Atlantic run but was hellish in the Red Sea’.  Tandy writes of one of his voyages home: ‘we were four to a cabin, and the man in the bunk below me had about thirty years army service and appeared not to have changed his socks since the day he was recruited’.

Extract from Herbert Todd’s memoir, 1978.Extract from Herbert Todd’s memoir, 1978. Mss Eur F226/30, f. 80. The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item

Herbert Todd gives a detailed account of a perilous journey undertaken with his wife and family in September 1940, after a period of extended home leave.  Their initial attempt at a passage to India ended when their ship, SS Simla, was torpedoed in the Irish Sea.  Todd and his family were taken aboard the Guinean, a ‘lightly laden cargo boat’, which he later learned had disobeyed orders in leaving the convoy and coming to their rescue.

Simla steamshipSS Simla - image © Bibliothek für Zeitgeschichte / Württembergische Landesbibliothek

There are numerous other travel anecdotes to be found in the memoirs, and many other stories besides.

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

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