Untold lives blog

78 posts categorized "Modern history"

28 September 2023

The Battle of Waterloo and ‘the Honourable Company’s business’

A short exchange of correspondence, digitised for the Qatar Digital Library, sheds a fascinating light on the impact of the Battle of Waterloo beyond Europe.

On 1 September 1815, a letter was addressed to the Governor of Bombay by Johanness Tergasper [Hovhannes Ter Gaspar], the Native Broker at Bussora [Basra].  The name of the letter writer identifies him as a member of the large Armenian trading community living in Basra at that time.  And his job title, Native Broker, meant that he acted as a local partner of the East India Company in that city.  It was a common practice at this time for the EIC, in its more peripheral outposts, to appoint a local merchant to handle its commercial business.

Close-up of an 1804 map showing Basra and the Persian GulfClose-up of an 1804 map showing Basra and the Persian Gulf, taken from ‘A New Map of Arabia, Including Egypt, Abyssinia, the Red Sea, from the Latest Authorities', Qatar National Library, 12886’

One of the duties of EIC personnel in Basra was to oversee the safe passage of mail that came into their hands.  Basra was at an important point on the mail route between Britain and India.  Here, letters arriving overland from Europe were transferred to ships, which transported them through the Persian Gulf and across the Arabian Sea to their final destinations in India.

Hovhannes had deemed it necessary to send the communications he had received as quickly as possible.  However, as he explained to the Governor, his efforts to do so had been frustrated.  As there was no Company ‘cruiser’ available for the task, Hovhannes approached a merchant ship, the Kusrovee. But the commander refused to leave without a promise of payment.  Hovhannes was indignant at this, and asked that the commander be punished when he finally arrived in Bombay.

Excerpt of a letter from Hovhannes Ter Gaspar  1 September 1815Excerpt of a letter from Hovhannes Ter Gaspar, 1 September 1815, IOR/F/4/479/11535, f. 282v

The Governor’s response to this suggestion is not recorded.  Instead, the remaining correspondence is with Captain Williams of the Durable, the ship which ultimately conveyed the letters from Basra.  Williams requests ‘remuneration for loss of what I should otherwise have received in freight’, a loss he claims he took on in order to bring the news contained in the dispatches from Basra.

And what was this news, which was so urgent?  It was ‘good news for us and misfortune to Napoleon Bonaparte’: news of the victory of Britain and its allies at the Battle of Waterloo.

Second excerpt of a letter from Hovhannes Ter Gaspar  1 September 1815Excerpt of a letter from Hovhannes Ter Gaspar, 1 September 1815, IOR/F/4/479/11535, f. 281v

Though these events had happened thousands of miles away, they held great significance for India and the Middle East.  Just a few years earlier, Napoleon had been laying plans for a French invasion of India and had even made an agreement with Persia [Iran] allowing French troops to pass through on their way.  These plans had ultimately come to nothing, but with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, any remaining French threat to British supremacy in India was finally extinguished.

Perhaps understandably, the merchants entreated to convey this news were more concerned about the trade they might forego as a consequence.  The Native Broker in Basra, however, had been unimpressed, declaring: ‘If he has got the English flag and is an English Captain, how can he stop the Honourable Company’s business’?

In contrast to the two merchants concerned only with that season’s profit, this comment of Hovhannes shows his awareness of the wider-reaching significance of the news he had received.  With the French challenge removed, Britain would now be free to consolidate its control over India, including the maritime trade routes stretching out from India across the Arabian Sea and into the Gulf.  The events in Waterloo, therefore, truly were of great significance for ‘the Honourable Company’s business’.

David Woodbridge
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
London, British Library, ‘Delay in the conveyance of certain intelligence from Bussorah to Bombay’ IOR/F/4/479/11535
John Casey, ‘The Impact of the Napoleonic Wars in the Gulf: The Franco-Persian Alliance and Napoleon’s Threat to India’
David Woodbridge, ‘The British Residency in Baghdad’

 

10 August 2023

Henrietta Anne, Duchess of Orléans, and the Secret Treaty of Dover (1670)

Henrietta Anne (1644-1670), Duchess of Orléans and sister to King Charles II, was a key negotiator of an important diplomatic agreement between England and France. In 1670, Charles II and Louis XIV of France signed the Secret Treaty of Dover. Kept hidden from the public, it included Charles’s promise to publicly convert to Catholicism (which never happened) in exchange for vast sums of money, as well as a mutual alliance against the Dutch Republic.

Painted portrait of Henrietta Anne, Duchess of Orléans, by Peter LelyHenrietta Anne, Duchess of Orleans, by Sir Peter Lely, around 1662, NPG 6028. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Terms of Use: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

The British Library holds a rich volume of papers relating to the Treaty which demonstrates Henrietta’s significant role and is largely written in French.

Henrietta had a brief but extraordinary life. Born in Exeter in 1644, she was quickly whisked away to France because of the English Civil War and raised at the French court. At sixteen, she married Phillippe, Duke of Orléans and brother of Louis XIV. She was highly educated and intelligent, but was embarrassed by her written English and wrote almost exclusively in French.

Title page of a flattering portrait of Henrietta, written in French by Jean Puget de la Serre (1661)Title page of a flattering portrait of Henrietta, by Jean Puget de la Serre (1661). Add MS 33752, f. 3.

In 1669, Charles II wrote a top-secret letter to Louis about the treaty, entrusting its delivery to Henrietta: ‘desireing that this matter might passe through your handes as the person in the world I have most confidence in.’ Charles even sent Henrietta a cipher, so that their correspondence would be totally confidential.

Henrietta was politically invaluable: both exceptionally close with Charles and trusted enough by Louis that he met her almost every day in early 1670 to discuss the negotiations. She provided the link between the two monarchs that allowed Louis to address Charles as ‘monsieur mon frère’ in his letters.

Henrietta’s long letter to Charles II, written in 1669Henrietta’s long letter to Charles II, 1669. Add MS 65138, f. 47.

Unfortunately, many of Henrietta’s letters were destroyed after her death. One of the most striking surviving documents is her letter to Charles about this ‘grande affaire.’ Henrietta, who was Catholic, refers to Charles’s conversion as ‘le desin de la R’ (‘the design about R’), with R standing for ‘religion.’ She advises Charles at length on finances, the prospect of war in Holland, and Louis’s motives. She even suggests that Charles conceal their scheme from the Pope, since he might die before the planned conversion!

After several pages of confident political discussion, Henrietta signs off with a show of modesty, writing that she only dares to meddle in questions above her station because of her great love for her brother.

A visit to Charles by Henrietta was the cover story for the final stage of the treaty’s formation, and she was personally charged with carrying the French copy back to Louis.

Final protocol of the Treaty of Dover, featuring the seals and signatures of Charles II's principal advisorsFinal protocol of the Treaty, featuring the seals and signatures of Charles II’s principal advisors. Add MS 65138, f. 91v.

Tragically, Henrietta died just months later at the age of 26. One first-hand account states that she drank a glass of chicory water, a medicinal drink, before collapsing in agony (Stowe MS 191, f. 22). Another account ungenerously insists on her depraved, sinful life, claiming she was poisoned and spent her final moments repenting (Kings MS 140, f. 107).

What we can be sure of is her affection for Charles. She addresses her letter to him uncharacteristically in English: ‘For the King.’

‘For the King’: a rare example of Henrietta writing in English in her letter to Charles II‘For the King’: a rare example of Henrietta writing in English in her letter to Charles. Add MS 65138, f. 51v.

Isabel Maloney
PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge and PhD placement student in Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:

Keith Feiling, ‘Henrietta Stuart, Duchess of Orleans, and the Origins of the Treaty of Dover’, The English Historical Review, Vol. 47, No. 188 (Oct., 1932), pp. 642-645.

Cyril Hughes Hartmann, Charles II and Madame (London, 1934).

14 October 2021

Diary of a Lumber Jill

‘Lumber Jill’ was the name given to women who worked in the oft-forgotten Women’s Timber Corps (WTC) during the Second World War, who have only begun to receive proper recognition for their service the past two decades. Initially a sub-division of the Women’s Land Army (WLA), members volunteered – or were conscripted into – working in forestry, carrying out duties previously done by men, such as sawing, felling, measuring, loading cargo, and driving tractors. This was often heavy manual labour, and could also be dangerous, but many women enjoyed it. Vera Lloyd compiled her experiences of the WTC into a diary in 1953, which found its way to our Modern Archives collections.

Opening page of diary showing Timber Corps logo

Opening page with Timber Corps insignia, Add MS 70609

Vera began her journey in Gloucestershire, with working hours typically starting at 7.45am in the morning until 6pm in the evening, with a half-day on Saturdays. During summer, work was daily and often never ending. It was not all hard labour though, early on in the service she rode her first pony, saw another give birth in the wild, and even had the time to fill in the head-sawyer’s cap with sawdust.

After nine months on the job, aged only 23, she was sent to Jacobstowe to lead a group of men at a sawmill – and here encountered some resistance to her leadership. A man named Fred was slacking on the job, often arriving late in the morning. She reflects, ‘It was, I suppose, [a] rather excusable reaction against being under a mere woman, but after a fortnight I decided to act’. Despite never sawing herself before, she worked for two hours before Fred arrived, putting in a significant amount of work. He ‘then eyed me with approval. “Shake” he said, holding out his hand’. She had little trouble from him thereafter.

Diary entry with a sketch showing Vera entering the upstairs window of the house via a ladder

Diary entry with a sketch showing Vera entering the upstairs window of the house via a ladder, Add MS 70609

In 1943 she was relocated further south-west to Baconnoc, to become sub-foreman for 80 workers, a significant increase of people under her charge. She writes a relatable experience of forgetting her keys and having to break into her house. While doing so her landlady returned, at which point she explained the ‘awkward situation with famous tact acquired since employed by Ministry of Supply, but am bowled over by information now imparted that key was under mat.’ We’ve all been there.

Of course, forestry work was perilous too. Early on, she writes that when walking through the forest a tree began to fall, which she dodged ‘with expert skill’. Worse, a few years later a boy came into her office bleeding over the floor. She explains how he had ‘placed [his] thumb too near [the] circular saw and is not the lad he was by quite a large bite’. 

After the War ended she stayed in the Corps to help rebuild, but disliked the office work she was assigned, longing for the manual labour and companionship in the fields. So she ‘rejoined the ranks of civilians, the richer by over five years of happy comradeship with the people of the West Country’. Vera received two recognitions of her service, which she kept in the diary.

Triangular red long service badge pasted into the diary, presented by HRH Princess Elizabeth, 1945

Triangular red long service badge pasted into the diary, presented by HRH Princess Elizabeth, 1945

'Personal message' of appreciation signed by Queen Elizabeth 

'Personal message' of appreciation signed by Queen Elizabeth 

Jack Taylor

Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Vera Lloyd’s diary is part of the Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery from 14 September until 11 December 2021. More information can be found at https://www.bl.uk/events/life-on-the-home-front.

Further Reading:

Add MS 70609 - Vera Lloyd: 'Timber Corps Diary', a calligraphically written account of episodes from the author's service in the forestry section of the Women's Land Army during World War II (6 Feb. 1941-15 May 1946).

Emma Vickers, ‘”The Forgotten Army of the Woods”: The Women’s Timber Corps during the Second World War’, Agricultural History Review 59, no. 1 (2011): 101-112.

Joanna Foat, Lumberjills: Britain's Forgotten Army (Stroud: The History Press, 2019).

 

23 March 2021

The search for Franklin in the Barrow Bequest

An intriguing collection of manuscripts known as the Barrow Bequest was acquired by the British Museum in February 1899. The private collection was created by Sir John Barrow (1764–1848) and his son Colonel John Barrow (1808–1898) during their official careers at the Admiralty and as writers and promoters of Arctic exploration.

Sir John Barrow appointed Sir John Franklin to lead the ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1845. Less well-known than his father, John Barrow Junior has recently been called the ‘quiet hero of the search for Franklin’ for his efforts in coordinating the search expeditions from 1848 onwards.  Franklin’s two ships – HMS Erebus and HMS Terror – were last seen by Europeans on 26 July 1845 near Baffin Bay in Greenland, and later by Inuit near King William Island.  

The Barrow Bequest includes drawings made during a British diplomatic mission to China in 1792–93 and Sir John Barrow’s expedition to southern Africa in 1801–02 (Add MS 35300), as well as the manuscripts of Barrow’s autobiography and other writings. The largest part of the collection, however, relates to Arctic exploration.

The letters, drawings, maps and printed materials collected by John Barrow Junior while he was Keeper of the Records for the Admiralty tell the stories of the early expeditions which embarked for the Arctic in search of Franklin and his missing expedition. Many of the letters from individuals involved in the expeditions are addressed to Barrow, including several from Jane Franklin, who tirelessly promoted and sponsored the missions to discover her husband’s fate.

Add MS 35304 contains records relating to the voyage of HMS North Star, commanded by James Saunders in 1849–50. The North Star was intended as a provision ship for the Franklin search expedition under Sir James Clark Ross.

View of Wolstenholme Sound showing the outlet between Baring’s Island and the northern mainland [Greenland]View of Wolstenholme Sound showing the outlet between Baring’s Island and the northern mainland [Greenland], 1849-50. Add MS 35304, f. 9.

Highlights include five watercolour drawings of Wolstenholme Sound on the north-west coast of Greenland near Baffin Bay. These show a desolate landscape of glaciers and barren islands. Tiny figures explore their surroundings while their ship, the North Star, is locked in the ice. The North Star failed to meet the Ross expedition and returned to England after spending a winter in the ice in what is now named North Star Bay.

View of Wolstenholme Sound showing Wolstenholme Island, Dundas Hill and Baring’s Island, GreenlandView of Wolstenholme Sound showing Wolstenholme Island, Dundas Hill and Baring’s Island, Greenland, 1849-50. Add MS 35304, f. 10.

Another highlight is The Queen's Illuminated Magazine and North Cornwall Gazette, a handwritten magazine illustrated with watercolour and pen-and-ink drawings which was 'published in winter quarters, Arctic Regions’ between 28 October 1852 and 12 February 1853. The magazine is written largely in the hand of Sherard Osborn, who was in command of HMS Pioneer in the Franklin search expedition under Sir Edward Belcher. It was created for the entertainment of the crew and the volume includes two playbills for the Queens Arctic Theatre printed on board HMS Assistance. The crews abandoned the ships in the summer of 1854 after spending two winters in the ice and failing to find Franklin.

A scene from Hamlet in The Queen's Illuminated Magazine and North Cornwall Gazette,A scene from Hamlet in The Queen's Illuminated Magazine and North Cornwall Gazette, 1852-53. Add MS 35305, f. 32.

Playbill for the The Queens Arctic Theatre, 21 Dec 1852, HMS Assistance.Playbill for the The Queens Arctic Theatre, 21 Dec 1852, HMS Assistance. Add MS 35305, f. 31v.

The wrecks of Erebus and Terror were found in 2014 and 2016 by Parks Canada in an area that was identified by Inuit. The search for evidence of the Franklin expedition continues to this day.

Catherine Angerson
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts
@BL_ModernMSS

Digital Resources:

The British Library has digitised the ten volumes in partnership with Adam Matthew for Age of Exploration, an online collection of primary sources relating to five centuries of global exploration, trade and colonial expansion.

The following volumes are now available to view in full on our Digitised Manuscripts website:

Vol. I. Drawings by William Alexander and Samuel Daniell [in China, Southeast Asia, South America and southern Africa] (Add MS 35300)

Vol. II. Autograph manuscript of Sir John Barrow’s Voyages of Discovery and Research within the Arctic regions (Add MS 35301)

Vol. III. 'An Autobiographical Memoir of Sir John Barrow, Bart. (late of the Admiralty)' (Add MS 35302)

Vol. IV. ‘A Supplementary Chapter to the Biographical Memoir of Sir John Barrow, Bart.’ (Add MS 35303)

Vol. V. Watercolour drawings and printed materials relating to the voyage of H.M.S. North Star to Baffin Bay and Barrow Straits (Add MS 35304)

Vol. VI. Manuscript of The Queen's Illuminated Magazine and North Cornwall Gazette (Add MS 35305)

This list will be updated as further volumes are added. You can also browse the collection and read full catalogue descriptions in our online catalogue.

Further Reading:

The search for John Franklin and the discovery of the Northwest Passage, British Library (2018)
Claire Warrior, New discoveries from the lost Franklin expedition, Royal Museums Greenwich (Feb 2020)

23 July 2020

The lesser-known early years of Sultan Qaboos

Fifty years ago today, on 23 July 1970, the late Sultan Qaboos overthrew his father, Sa’id bin Taimur, in a British-supported palace coup in the monsoon soaked southern province of Dhofar to become ruler of the Sultanate of Oman.  He was to go on to become the Middle East’s longest ruling monarch until his death in January 2020.

Qaboos’ role in facilitating dialogue such as that which led to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is now well known but perhaps lesser-known are the circumstances of his early years.  It is said that the first seven years are the formative years of a person’s life, thus the information on Qaboos gleaned from digitised India Office Records,  although sparse and seemingly incidental may be of quite some significance.

In October 1940 the British Political Agent, Muscat, recorded a conversation with Sultan Sa’id concerning succession in Muscat that should anything happen to him ‘at present he has no male heir and has no particular affection for any single member of his family’.  Further, he would prefer a British officer to fill the post of Regent rather than any other members of his family.

Qaboos was born a month later in November 1940 to Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur, Sultan of Muscat and Oman, and Mazoon Al-Mashani, ‘a Dhufari women of good family’.  Sultan Sa’id received the news from Dhofar in Muscat.

Letter from Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur to Political Agent  MuscatIOR/R/15/6/216, f 44 Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur to Political Agent, Muscat


As the child was legitimate congratulations were sent by the King of England and the Viceroy.

Text of telegram from Political Resident at Kuwait  to Secretary of State for India  LondonIOR/R/15/6/216, f 51, Political Resident at Kuwait, to Secretary of State for India, London

Sa’id bin Taimur treated Dhofar as his private estate avoiding ‘the tedium of Muscat weather and Muscat politics’.

British briefing note about Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur

IOR/L/PS/12/3720A, f 413 British briefing note on Sa’id bin Taimur  

Interestingly, Taimur bin Faisal, Qaboos’ grandfather, who had been allowed by the British to abdicate after many years of imploring British officials, kept his grandson in mind as he lived out his life in India and Japan under the name of Al Said, ending a telegram in 1943 with ‘MY BEST WISHES TO QABOOS’.

Telegram from Taimur bin FaisalIOR/R/15/6/217, f 21 Telegram from Taimur bin Faisal

In 1945 the Political Agent, Muscat informed Colonel Galloway, the Resident in Bushire, that he had inquired to Sultan Sa’id about the education of Qaboos.  It seemed Sa’id was considering an elementary education in Egypt from the age of eight and indeed had discussed this with King Farook.

Question of Qaboos's education in letter from Political Agent  Muscat  to the Political Resident in the Persian GulfIOR/R/15/6/216, f 190 Political Agent, Muscat, to the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf

The Annual Muscat Administration Report for 1950-51 notes the isolation of the Heir Apparent.  Qaboos, now aged ten, had still not started education in Egypt but was kept ‘strictly under constant supervision and guard’ rarely meeting anyone outside of the palace.

Note on Qaboos in Annual Muscat Administration Report  1950-51IOR/R/15/6/343, f 11 Annual Muscat Administration Report, 1950-51 

Qaboos’ education was eventually to take place in the UK in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.  From here he returned to Salalah where he was kept as a virtual prisoner by his father forbidden to meet anyone apart from the Sultan’s trusted advisors.  Sultan Sa’id’s ‘personal estate’ with its myriad petty restrictions had become intolerable for its inhabitants and in 1965 a rebellion had started.  It was in the Sultan’s palace, Salalah on 23 July 1970 at the height of the Dhofar War that with the help of his Sandhurst classmate, Tim Landon, that a British-supported coup took place, and Qaboos became the Sultan of Oman.

It was often noted by commentators that in contrast to other Gulf states, Qaboos was ‘alone on the throne’, ruling in isolation from other family members.  Perhaps these glimpses into his early years shed light on this behaviour in his later life.

Dr Francis Owtram
Gulf History Specialist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
The archival extracts in this article are from IOR/L/PS/12/3720A, IOR/R/15/6/216, IOR/R/15/6/217 and IOR/R/15/6/343 and are all available on the Qatar Digital Library.
A finding aid to the records of the Muscat Agency, IOR/R/15/6 has been written by Ula Zeir.
Francis Owtram, A Modern History of Oman: Formation of the State since 1920 (London: IB Tauris, 2004)
Abdel Razzaq Takriti, Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans and Empires in Oman, 1965–1976 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)
Marc Valeri, Oman: Politics and Society in the Qaboos State, (London: Hurst, 2017)

 

24 October 2019

The General Strike 1926

Whilst cataloguing a new acquisition to the India Office Private Papers, I came across some interesting items relating to the General Strike of 1926.  The Garrod Papers consist of the family archives of William Francis Garrod, a Chaplain in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment from 1930 until 1947, his wife Isobel and their four children.  The collection also contains letters between Garrod and Isobel before they got married and moved to India, and it is in these letters that Garrod described his experience as a volunteer policeman during the Strike.

Oxford Daily Strike BulletinOxford Daily Strike Bulletin 10 May 1926 (Garrod Papers) - Copyright of heirs to proprietors of Oxford Monthly (discontinued 1972)

Emergency Bulletin 10 May 1926Emergency Bulletin (shelfmark Mss Eur F142/82) - Copyright of heirs to Chandler & Co

The General Strike was one of the biggest industrial disputes in British history.  It started with a dispute over the pay and working hours of miners, and spread to workers from other industries who came out in support of the striking miners.  Between 4 May and 12 May 1926, thousands of bus and train drivers, dock workers, print workers, and workers in the gas, electricity, building, iron, steel and chemical industries went on strike.  Protests by strikers took place in towns and cities around Britain, often coming into conflict with the police.  The Army was mobilised to protect food lorries and volunteers began doing some of the work of strikers, such as driving buses. 

Recruitment poster for volunteers during the General StrikeVolunteer recruitment poster (shelfmark 1851.d.30.) - Copyright City of Westminster

The Government’s efforts to find volunteers to fill jobs temporarily is clear from a file in the India Office Records.  The India Office’s Military Department put together lists of Indian Army officers who happened to be on leave in Britain at the time, and who could be called on to temporarily fill civilian jobs.  A letter was sent to everyone on the lists stating that they were at liberty to offer their services to the local authorities during the ‘present emergency’.  However, they were not to wear their uniform, and any volunteer employment was not to be allowed to interfere with their return to duty in India at the end of their leave.

List of Indian Army Officers on leaveList of Indian Army Officers on leave (shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/7/12530)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Circular letter to Officers on leave Circular letter to Officers on leave (shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/7/12530) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In four letters to Isobel, Garrod describes travelling from Oxford down to Southampton docks.  At 10am on Tuesday 11 May, he was sworn in as a Special Constable along with a number of other Oxford men.  Equipped with an armband and a truncheon, the men patrolled the docks in two 12 hour shifts, and were garrisoned on the cross-Channel steamer Alberta.  Garrod was on the night shift patrols and described it as ‘frightfully boring’.  He wrote that the docks were busy, with very little likelihood of any trouble, and that he got a cheer from some strikers when he walked through the dock gates. 

Garrod letters (Garrod Papers)Letters from the Garrod Papers Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Garrod’s time as a Special Constable was brief; the strike was called off on 12 May and he returned to Oxford a few days later. 

City of Westminster poster about coal and light restrictions and the resumption of household refuse collectionsCity of Westminster poster 17 May 1926 about coal and light restrictions and the resumption of household refuse collections (shelfmark 1851.d.30.) - Copyright City of Westminster

The Garrod Papers will be available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room from next year.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Garrod Family Papers [Collection reference: Mss Eur F730] 
Papers published during the General Strike May 1926 [Reference: Mss Eur F197/536] 
General Strike news-sheets 1926 [Reference: Mss Eur F142/82] 
General Strike, May 1926: arrangements for emergency duties by personnel of India Office [Reference: IOR/L/MIL/7/12530]
A collection of posters and pamphlets issued during the general strike, 1926, in the City of Westminster (London, 1926) [General Reference Collection 1851.d.30.]  
The National Archives online guide: The General Strike

 

26 September 2019

The Theatre Censors Part 4: The Lord Chamberlain’s Office and the Policy of Appeasement

The 1930s were a problematic time for the Earl of Cromer, Lord Chamberlain from 1922 to 1938.  It fell to him to balance representations of Fascism on stage with the policy of appeasement that the British Government espoused at the time.


Portrait of Rowland Thomas Baring, 2nd Earl of Cromer 1930Rowland Thomas Baring, 2nd Earl of Cromer after Randolph Schwabe (1930) NPG D20814 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC By

In 1933 the Examiner of Plays, George Street, recommended the play Who Made the Iron Grow, for licence, but he suggested that it might present some political difficulties.  The play was a domestic drama that focused on the persecution of Jews in Hitler’s Germany.


Detail from Who Made the Iron Grow Reader ReportDetail from Who Made the Iron Grow Reader Report, LR 1933/4 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Lord Chamberlain disagreed with Street’s assessment and refused the play a licence.  When the author, Alan Peters, took issue with the refusal the Lord Chamberlain laid out the anxieties he had about the play:
‘The whole thing is a strong indictment of atrocities and excesses committed by the Nazis in Germany, and while possibly there is much truth in it all, I did not think that the British stage was a vehicle for this sort of propaganda...’.

Take Heed (1933) by Leslie Reade, was upfront in its criticism of the Nazi Third Reich.  Its plot culminated in the suicide of the protagonist’s Jewish wife and a vitriolic verbal attack on the evils of Fascism.  Street again saw merit in the play saying that he disliked the brutality of the Nazis, but Lord Cromer had the German response in mind and contacted the Foreign Office for advice.  The Foreign Office agreed that the play should be refused a licence, adding that giving a licence could be seen as an official endorsement of its themes.

Detail from Take Heed Reader ReportDetail from Take Heed Reader Report, LR 1934/4 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


It is this idea of the licence being interpreted as an endorsement that conflicted with the policy of appeasement.  Elsewhere in the UK’s media, the government was seeking to stem the flow of anti-Nazi sentiment, but the policy of appeasement could most easily enforced in the theatre because of the official role of the censor and their importance as a representative of the Crown.

Such policies would be abandoned after Britain went to war in 1939 and in retrospect would be highly criticised by figures such as Winston Churchill.   It is debatable whether these censored plays could have mobilised public opinion one way or the other given the dominance of other media.  However, there is no doubt that amongst these refused plays is a startling insight into the fate of the Jews in Germany.  Authors in 1933 and 1934 were already outlining the shocking consequences of state sponsored antisemitism.

Heroes was submitted in 1934 and promptly refused a licence.  The play described some of appalling experiences that many Jewish people on the continent would soon face, including removal, abuse, harassment, violence and murder.  Its portrayal of a Jewish family suffering under the Nazis emphasised the horrors that were both present and yet to come, but its vision and warning were silenced when public empathy with the Jewish people was most needed.

The Lord Chamberlain’s licence refusal on the Reader Report for HeroesThe Lord Chamberlain’s licence refusal on the Reader Report for Heroes, LR 1934/5 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Censorship of British Drama, 1900-1968, Volume 2 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2005)
Dilemmas, Choices, Responses: Britain and the Holocaust – Online Exhibition The Weiner Library
Lord Chamberlain Plays, Licence Refused: Add MS 68816 - 68850
Lord Chamberlain Plays Reports, Licence Refused: Original Reference LR 1903- LR 1949

 

25 June 2019

The Revolutions of 1848: an English translation of Russian socialist Alexander Herzen

A radical political thinker known as the ‘father of Russian socialism’, Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) witnessed first-hand the democratic and liberal revolutions that swept through Europe in 1848. Leaving Russia for Paris in 1847, Herzen soon became disillusioned with the uprisings which sought to replace European monarchies with republican government, but which resulted in the deaths and exile of thousands of people. His collection of essays ‘From the Other Shore’ explores the failures of the revolution. Originally written in Russian and sent to his friends in Moscow, he described the work as ‘a record of a strife in which I have sacrificed many things, but not the boldness of knowledge’ (‘To my Son’, Add MS 89364/1).

Title page of the Two Shores manuscriptThe Two Shores’, title page, Add MS 89364/1

The British Library has recently acquired an English manuscript translation from the late 19th century entitled ‘The Two Shores’. Although unpublished and unsigned, the translation can been attributed to the English suffragist and writer Lady Jane Maria Strachey (1840-1928). A letter addressed to Strachey by her friend Mlle Souvestre refers to her translation of Herzen’s work (29 October 1874, 9/27/G/064, Strachey Letters, The Women’s Library, LSE) and this particular manuscript was sold from the papers of her son, Giles Lytton Strachey, in 2015.

Strachey was an active feminist with a keen interest in politics. She moved in literary and political circles that included George Eliot and the leader of the women’s suffrage movement, Millicent Fawcett. Bold and forward thinking, it is easy to see why Herzen’s essays appealed to Strachey. Her translation begins with Herzen’s address to his son Alexander, in which the revolutionary spirit of the work is clear:

‘I am not afraid of placing in your young hands the protest – at times bold to rashness – of an independent mind against a system which is obsolete servile & lying, against those absurd idols of former times which are now stripped of all meaning and are ending their days in our midst,
hindering some and terrifying others’.

Manuscript draft of Herzen's address to his son‘To my Son’, Add MS 89364/2. Reproduced with permission from The Society of Authors as agents of The Strachey Trust.

Another passage articulates Herzen’s continued faith in socialist and individualist ideals – not dissimilar to Strachey’s own – despite his disappointment in the liberal revolutionaries:

‘… do not remain upon the shore of the old world – better perish, than seek safety in the hospital of re-action. Faith in a future social organisation is the only religion I bequeath you, it offers no paradise, & no rewards but those of our own Conscience’.

Covers of the German and French editionsGerman and French editions: Add MSS 89364/3 and 89364/4

Acquired with the manuscript were the first printed edition of Herzen’s work, a German copy ‘Vom anderen Ufer’, published in Hamburg in 1850, and a French translation ‘De l’autre rive’ (Geneva, 1871). The French edition was the source for this translation, which appears in draft form and was seemingly never published. Indeed, the first English translation of ‘From the Other Shore’ was not published until 1956. In this case Strachey’s translation – if it is by her – is likely to be the earliest translation of Herzen’s essays into English.

As well as providing an insight into the translation process, then, this manuscript and its accompanying volumes also reveal the radical political reading of an important figure in the British feminist movement. It further hints at Herzen’s engagement with British intellectuals in London, where he lived during the 1850s and 60s, and the reception of his writing in British political thought.

Further reading:

All translations cited are from 'The Two Shores', an English manuscript translation of Alexander Herzen's ‘From The Other Shore’, Add MS 89364

Alexander Herzen, From the other Shore, translated from the Russian by Moura Budberg; and The Russian People and Socialism: an open letter to Jules Michelet, translated from the French by Richard Wollheim; with an introduction by Isaiah Berlin (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1956)

On Jane Maria Strachey, see: R. Vetch, ‘Strachey, Sir Richard (1817–1908), scientist and administrator in India’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) [accessed 28 May 2019]

By Sara Hale
Heritage Made Digital and Modern Archives and Manuscripts

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