Untold lives blog

38 posts categorized "Money"

03 March 2015

Beards, Barley and Bear-baiting: Revenue Collection in Shiraz

In late December 1829 the Shah of Persia arrived with an army outside the walls of the city of Shiraz, his intention being to collect around 280,000 Tomans (some £21 million in present-day terms) in tax and provisions from Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Mīrzā, the Prince Governor of Fars.

Shiraz. From: James Edward Alexander, Travels from India to England : comprehending a visit to the Burman Empire, and a journey through Persia, Asia Minor, European Turkey, &c., in the years 1825-26 (London, 1827). Available on the Qatar Digital Library Noc

Britain’s Agent at Shiraz, Mīrzā ʿAlī Akbar, reported directly to the Resident in the Gulf in Bushire. In a series of letters he reported the Shah’s arrival at Shiraz in vivid detail, describing how the Prince Governor had ordered the city’s gardens and citadel to be cleared for the Shah’s reception, and the illumination of the bazaar for three nights.  

  Extract of a letter from the British Agent at Shiraz, December 1829.
Extract of a letter from the British Agent at Shiraz, December 1829. IOR/R/15/1/54, pp 5-8. Noc

On December 30 the Shah arrived, and over the course of the next five days collected 200,000 Tomans, mostly through ‘advances from the merchants and the gold ornaments, jewels and shawls of His Royal Highness [Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Mīrzā] and wives’. As the days went on, the demands for payment were unrelenting, and Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Mīrzā became increasingly desperate. ‘Under the form of a loan [he] takes money from everyone he can,’ wrote Mīrzā ʿAlī Akbar. The demands made by the collectors became increasingly preposterous. ‘Yesterday they took an additional 1,000 Tomans from His Royal Highness to purchase materials for dying His Majesty’s beard’ and ‘[Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Mīrzā] has to play at draughts every night with the Shah […] One evening he lost as much as 400 Tomans’.

Extract of a letter from the British Agent at Shiraz, 4 January 1830
Extract of a letter from the British Agent at Shiraz, 4 January 1830. IOR/R/15/1/54, pp 14-17.   Noc


Fath 'Ali Shah, King of Persia 1797-1834
Fath 'Ali Shah, King of Persia 1797-1834. Foster 116. Images Online Noc

Meanwhile, in the streets and surrounding countryside, the Shah’s army had to keep themselves fed, housed and occupied. The supply and price of provisions were severely affected: ‘barley and straw are only to be got by force’ and ‘meat is very scarce and dear’. Meanwhile, the visitors sat about and amused themselves with ‘bear baiting, bullfighting, tiger fighting, spear playing and wrestling’.

  Extract of a letter from the British Agent at Shiraz, 17 January 1830
Extract of a letter from the British Agent at Shiraz, 17 January 1830. IOR/R/15/1/54, pp 35-37. Noc

The reasons underlying the Shah’s demands are not specified in Mīrzā ʿAlī Akbar’s reports, though the British Agent did note that he had learnt from a ‘confidential person’ that the Shah and the Crown Prince Abbas Mīrzā wanted to ‘reduce the power of the Prince of Fars’. Another likely reason is the Shah’s need to raise funds to pay off the huge indemnity of twenty million silver roubles (there were roughly six roubles to the pound at the time, equating to approximately £130 million in present-day terms) demanded by the Russian Government under the terms of the 1828 Treaty of Turkmanchai.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project  Cc-by

Further Reading:
British Library, IOR/R/15/1/54, ‘Vol 69 Letters Outward’ pp 5-9, 14-17, 35-39, 45-48

Present-day monetary values calculator.


16 February 2015

Edward Lloyd and the ‘Penny Bloods’

Edward Lloyd was born on 16 February 1815. He was a publisher and newspaper proprietor, and the founder of two large paper mills.  Here we give you a glimpse into his remarkable career.

Lloyd was a pioneer of cheap popular literature.  His ‘Penny Bloods’ were a great success with working class readers.  From 1835 he published titles such as Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads etc, and History of the Pirates of All Nations.  He and writer Thomas Peckett Prest then produced imitations of the works of Charles Dickens, for example The Life and Adventures of Oliver Twiss the Workhouse Boy, and Memoirs of Nickelas Nicklebery.  These stories sold many thousands of copies each week.

  Two men fighting in front of a woman and children
From The Gambler’s Wife; or, Murder will Out Noc

Lloyd issued works of history, horror, and romance.  Stories were published in instalments, and all featured plenty of drama and bloodthirsty action.  It was Lloyd who introduced vampires to a mass readership with Varney the Vampyre; or, the Feast of blood.

Varney the Vampyre attacking a woman in bed
From Varney the Vampyre  Noc

Lloyd’s Weekly Newpaper was founded in 1843. Lloyd put a good deal of effort into promotion and it was claimed in the 1890s: ‘The pictorial advertisements of Messrs. Lloyd’s journals  - themselves works of art – are prominent at all stations and throughout the country, and there is no village in England so obscure as to be unaware of the existence of Lloyd’s News’.  Circulation grew to a huge 930,000 copies weekly. Stories deemed to be of particular importance were illustrated by artists kept on the staff.  There was a successful ‘Lost Relative’ column: people wrote in from every part of the world and a shortened version of the letters was published for free.

By 1861 Lloyd was using so much paper that he started his own paper mill on the River Lea at Bow in East London. As it was becoming difficult to obtain sufficient supplies of rags, esparto grass was brought in as a raw material from Algeria and Spain.  Soon Lloyd’s mill was expanding to make paper for rival newspapers.

In 1877 Lloyd’s firm purchased the Daily Chronicle. Much of this newspaper was devoted to events in London, but it also gathered news from the rest of the UK, and from abroad via daily cables. Circulation was increased from 8,000 to 140,000 in the space of eight years, and to meet demand a second mill was opened at Sittingbourne in Kent which produced a wide variety of paper types.  By 1895, Lloyd’s were employing over 700 people at the mills and 500 at the newspaper offices and home and export departments.

  Cover of Miranda
From Miranda, or the Heiress of the Grange  Noc

It has been claimed that having established himself in ‘higher’ publishing circles Lloyd then tried to supress the ‘Penny Bloods’, sending out agents to buy up and destroy the stocks at coffee shops and circulating libraries.  Whether or not this is true, many 'Bloods' have survived and a good number can be found at the British Library, some in digitised format.

Edward Lloyd died on 8 April 1890 having amassed a fortune from his various business ventures. The value of his estate at death was £563,000.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
Edward Lloyd Ltd, A glimpse into paper making and journalism (1895)
John Medcraft, A bibliography of the penny bloods of Edward Lloyd (1945)

Further reading:
Edward Lloyd Ltd, A glimpse into paper making and journalism (1895)
John Medcraft, A bibliography of the penny bloods of Edward Lloyd (1945)
Varney – an early vampire story
Edward Lloyd


26 January 2015

Personal gifts from Mr Churchill

This week the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill is being commemorated.  There has been a flood of articles analysing his role in British history.  Untold Lives would like to highlight three little-known files in the India Office Records which show Mr Churchill’s generosity to men who had been his servants when he was a young officer in the British Army.

Churchill sailed for India with his regiment, the Queen’s Own Hussars, in October 1896.  He was stationed initially at Bangalore. In July 1943 the India Office set its administrative wheels in motion on behalf of Prime Minster Churchill who wished to send a personal gift of 100 rupees to his former servant Mr S Joshua. Mr Joshua was an inmate of the Friend-in-Need Society’s home in Bangalore.  Officials in London and India liaised to transfer the money through the Resident in Mysore to Mr Joshua after he had shown proof of his identity.  Churchill conveyed his thanks from Quebec where he was attending an Allied conference. He sent a cheque for £9 6s 9d made out to ‘Accountant-General India Office’ to cover to cost of the gift and a telegram to India.


  World War II propaganda poster featuring Winston Churchill
World War II propaganda poster featuring Winston Churchill ©De Agostini/The British Library Board Images Online

Mr P Muniswamy wrote a letter to Churchill from Bangalore in December 1946 and again in May 1947 after he heard about the 100 rupees sent to Mr Joshua.  He claimed to be an ‘old old Servant’ who had worked for Churchill when he was stationed in India.  Churchill thought that he did remember a servant of that name some 50 years earlier and asked the Private Secretary to the Maharaja of Mysore to help investigate Mr Muniswamy’s character and circumstances so that he could judge whether or not to send him a gift of money.  Information was gathered locally and sent to England. Mr Muniswamy was about 68 years of age and bore a good character. He was earning 40 rupees a month as a bearer in the officers’ mess of Queen Victoria's Own Madras Sappers and Miners but likely to be discharged in August 1947 when the British officers left Bangalore. His five children were grown-up and his wife was his only dependant.  The three sons were prepared to help their parents financially but Mr Muniswamy ‘wanted a gift from his old master for personal requirements’. Churchill sent a cheque for £5.


  Letter to British High Commissioner about Churchill's gifts
IOR/L/PJ/7/14249  Noc

In December 1948 Churchill received a letter from M A Ranookapathy whose father K M Anthimoolum had been Churchill’s dressing boy and butler. Churchill asked the Commonwealth Relations Office to ensure that a letter in reply reached Mr Ranookapathy safely and forwarded a cheque for £5.  Arrangements were made for the money to be paid into Mr Ranookapathy’s savings account in Bombay.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this story is the personal attention given by Winston Churchill to his former servants in India.   He took time to ensure the gifts reached the intended recipients even when he was carrying the burden of being Prime Minister of a nation at war.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
IOR/R/2/Box26/214 Mysore Residency files

09 October 2014

Looking a gift horse in the mouth

On 28 May 1742, the British Agent dispatched a gift of cloth and other rich goods to the Sardar (a military commander) of the region around Bandar Abbas. To his great surprise, his gift was politely declined, though with thanks and replaced by a shopping list of goods for the Sardar’s family in Khorasan, with promise of payment. This was very surprising as the Persians were rarely backward in their expectation of gifts and presents. The Persian custom known as Pishkash is a catch-all term for gifts given for political purposes, rather than out of any personal friendship. Often, when these gifts were not forthcoming as expected, they were politely, but firmly requested. This habit was viewed by the Europeans and most especially the British, as a form of taxation and deeply resented by them. The rejection of their gift, far from causing offence, elicited the following response from the Agent, Nathaniel Whitwell:

“This Extraordinary procedure, against the mode of the times, in which an honest, generous Persian is hardly to be found, we being so used to see so much of the reverse…” [IOR/G/29/6 f.216].

Safavid Persian prince at court
Safavid Persian prince at court, miniature from a Persian manuscript, 1650. ©De Agostini/The British Library Board  Images Online

 The British were often undermined in their attempts to withhold from this practice of giving ‘presents’ by their European cousins, the Dutch. The Dutch regularly jumped the gun, providing generous presents to Persian officials without prompt [IOR/G/29/6 f.204] or giving unnecessary gifts when they saw favour being given to the British. This happened just after the incident with the Sardar when the Dutch Chief at Bandar Abbas gave 200 toman (nearly £500 of the time) in order to receive a horse from the Governor of Shiraz, who had given the one to the British Agent as a sign of his favour.

The giving of Pishkash was a cause of concern to the Presidency in Bombay, especially as visits by more important officials could incur significant costs to the Company. It was not just the major officials: their retainers, viziers and other staff were also given gifts by the British when their masters received theirs. This was firstly an expectation and secondly a useful tool to gain influential voices within the Royal and regional courts, mostly importantly in Shiraz, the seat of the Governor responsible for the areas in which the majority of British interests lay.

Peter Good
PhD candidate University of Essex/British Library Cc-by

 Further reading:

India Office Records - Factory Records for Persia and the Persian Gulf c.1620-1822 [IOR/G/29]


22 September 2014

Bringing Archive Catalogues to Life – the SNAC Project

Some readers of this blog will know that we at the British Library have spent the last few years developing an integrated catalogue for our archives and manuscripts collections which is made available online as Search our Catalogue Archives and Manuscripts.  A bonus of having all the catalogue records in one system is that we can now share them with projects en masse beyond the British Library, and this includes the 300,000 or so records of the people who were involved in the creation of, or who are the subject of, the archives and manuscripts.

These records then have been included in the US based Social Networks and Archival Context project – more memorably known as SNAC.  Part of this is looking at how to help researchers find all the relevant material relating to a particular person, both archives and publications and so has developed a ‘Prototype Research Tool’  with this in mind: 

  Screenshot of SNAC website Noc

The British Library’s records are included alongside those from many US institutions and data is being loaded from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and university repositories in the UK. Anyone can click one of the ‘featured’ images on the front page or search for an individual they are interested in. The result will be a page for an individual such as this entry for Robert Clive:

Screenshot of SNAC page on Robert CliveNoc

 Here information about related archive collections is presented with links back to the originating repository’s catalogue, where details of how to get access to the material can be found. There are also links to publications and other resources relating to the person with links to WorldCat  which again can help with accessing the material.

The project is also interested finding out if the links between people found in catalogues when they are brought together in this way might help researchers navigate around all this data, so as well as providing links to related people the project provides a visualisation for the social and professional ‘network’ of individuals in a ‘radial graph view’ such as this one again for Robert Clive:

  SNAC ‘radial graph view’ for Robert CliveNoc

Given the richness of the catalogues and the millions of records included links can be found to the humble individual as well as the ‘great and the good’, so here can be seen a link between Lord Clive and one Mrs Bayly Brett, whose commonplace book includes a copy of a letter written by him to his mother in 1757.

Please have a look at SNAC and tell us what you think. Happy hunting!

Bill Stockting
Cataloguing Systems & Processing Co-ordinator Cc-by


24 July 2014

Pottinger’s property lost in Afghanistan

Eldred Pottinger came to prominence in the service of the East India Company in the 1830s as an assistant to his uncle Henry Pottinger, Resident at Cutch, and through his travels in Afghanistan. When the uprising against the British presence in Afghanistan broke out in 1841, Pottinger was serving as a political officer in Kohistan, a district north of Kabul. During what came to be known as the First Anglo-Afghan War, Pottinger received a serious leg injury, and was detained as a hostage by the Afghan leader Akbar Khan. On his return to India in 1842, he was granted medical leave and travelled to Hong Kong where he died on 15 November 1843.

  Dr William Brydon arriving at Jelalabad
Dr William Brydon,  the only survivor of the 4,500 British soldiers and 12,000 camp-followers who left Kabul on 6 January 1842 to escape, arriving at Jelalabad with news of the disaster, on 13 January © UIG/The British Library Board

At the time of his death, Pottinger was in dispute with the Company over compensation he felt was due to him for the loss of his property in Afghanistan. The India Office Records holds a memorial prepared by him, and submitted to government after his death by his younger brother Lieutenant John Pottinger of the Bombay Artillery. John hoped the Company would give the compensation he felt had been due to his older brother to his mother and sister living in Jersey, and he pointed out that three of his brothers had died in the Company’s service.

  Bazaar at Kabul in the fruit season
Bazaar at Kabul in the fruit season (X 614, plate 19) NocImages Online

Enclosed with the memorial is a list of Eldred’s property taken by the enemy in the castle of Laghman in the Kohistan of Kabul on 5 November 1841, and it gives an interesting glimpse into what a Company officer on political service felt he needed to do his job and to preserve the dignity of his position. There is a long list of books on a wide range of subjects such as history, botany, geology, mathematics, engineering, and politics. Not all seem to be directly related to his posting. There are volumes of poetry by Chaucer, Shelly, Byron and Wordsworth. Gillies’ History of Greece and Leland’s Life of Philip of Macedon sit alongside Robertson’s History of Scotland and Burke’s Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful, and the satirical The Clockmaker, or Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick. The collection of Eldred’s books and maps alone was valued at £715 in 1843.

Title page of Burke’s Sublime and Beautiful
Title page of Burke’s Sublime and Beautiful (RB.23.a.18100) Images OnlineNoc

As well as the books and maps, Eldred listed scientific equipment, guns and swords, European and Persian clothes, furniture (tables and chairs, bookcases not surprisingly), Persian carpets, dinning implements (plates, knives, forks, spoons, some in silver), wine, beer and spirits, and six horses. The total value of his lost property was taken as £2,322 or roughly £102,000 in today’s money!

The opinion of the Governor General of India was that Eldred Pottinger was only entitled to the same compensation as if he had sustained the loss on military, rather than political service, and that the compensation should have no relation to the value of the property lost, but only to the value of the property an officer ought to have with him on service.

John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:

Memorial from Lieutenant John Pottinger of the Regiment of Artillery respecting certain claims of his late brother, Major Eldred Pottinger for allowances and compensation alleged to be due to him for loss of his property in Afghanistan, October 1842 to June 1844 [IOR/F/4/2058/94289]

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Historical currency converter


30 April 2014

The Birth of Empire: the East India Company

Tonight BBC2 broadcasts episode one of The Birth of Empire: the East India Company, a new series featuring the British Library’s extensive India Office collections. Historian Dan Snow traces the rise and fall of the English East India Company from its beginnings in 1600 as a small commercial enterprise run by a group of London merchants to its demise in 1858.

  Birth of Empire advert Noc

Using the letters and diaries of the men and women who were there, Snow tells the story of a company which revolutionised the British lifestyle, sparked a new age of speculation and profit, and by accident created one of the most powerful empires in history.

In the first few minutes of the programme, you can see shots of our archives held in the British Library’s basements in St Pancras. Spanning over 9 miles of shelving and encompassing over a million letters, documents and manuscripts, they tell the unique story of the Company and its employees.

Robert HutchinsonRobert Hutchinson

Robert Hutchinson, the historical consultant to the programme, has spent years exploring the enthralling India Office Records. Here are a few of the interesting facts he has discovered.

England's first 'tea lady'
The East India Company appointed England’s first ‘tea lady’. A Mr and Mrs Harris were paid to look after its first headquarters in 1661 and one of Mrs Harris’ duties was to brew tea for meetings of the directors.

Fortune hunters
Many of its merchants and employees amassed huge fortunes from commission, prize-money earned during military campaigns, and private trading. Thomas Pitt, governor of Madras, decided to send his fortune home in the form of a 410 carat (82 gram) diamond he had purchased from an Indian merchant called Jamchaud in 1701 for £20,400.   In 1717, the huge gem was sold for £135,000 (or £18•6 million in today’s money) to the French regent, Philippe II, duc d’Orléans. The diamond became part of the French crown jewels, apart from a brief spell when it adorned Napoleon’s sword, and is now in the Royal Treasury in the Louvre, Paris.

Uncivil servants
Haileybury College in Hertfordshire was established in 1806 to train the Company’s officials for overseas service. Mayhem sometimes lurked behind that august façade of learning. In the early years, the college was notorious for the drunken behaviour of its young scholars. Politician George Canning was summoned urgently to the college from London to subdue a riot. Thoroughly shaken by the experience, he reported:
I have faced bitter opposition in the House of Commons. I have encountered riots in Liverpool… but I was never floored and daunted till now – and that by a lot of Haileybury boys.


  Edward Augustus Prinsep promises to abstain from keeping dogs, shooting, and sporting in the neighbourhood of the College Noc
Edward Augustus Prinsep promises to abstain from keeping dogs, shooting, and sporting in the neighbourhood of the College [IOR/J/1/70 f.121]. See this and other digitised India Office Records on find my past.

Too stupid for Haileybury?
George Campbell was sent to Haileybury at the age of 16 in 1840. He discovered that the college qualifying examination ‘threw out not only a few of the worst but frightened a good many more….’  But all was not lost if you failed to come up to the mark:
Directors did not like to send up a boy likely to fail. It would be difficult to turn him adrift. The fashion was to send into the Company’s cavalry a young man too idle or too stupid to go through Haileybury.

We look forward to tuning in tonight on BBC2 at 9.00pm. In next week’s episode, you can see more of the British Library’s collections as Dan Snow continues to build the story of the East India Company and its immense empire.

See more about Birth of Empire here

17 April 2014

Making a little money on the side

Major William Joseph Mathews of the 9th Bengal Native Infantry had served in the East India Company’s Army for 25 years. Perhaps he thought that his official salary was not enough to maintain his lifestyle and so created a system of stealing from his subordinates and the Government of India.

On four separate occasions Major Mathews simply withheld pay from soldiers. Fifteen sepoys received only 4 pice a day for six months and he kept the rest, which gave him Rs.611. Other newly enlisted sepoys were not paid Rs.1709 between January and June 1818.  The bugle men were Rs.240 short for ten months, and the sircars of his company were not paid at all in June 1819.

Lord Moira's camp in Moradabad
Lord Moira's camp in Moradabad by Sita Ram c 1814-15  Online Gallery  Noc

The veteran of the Second Mahratta War and former aide-de-camp to Lord Moira also came up with the most sophisticated mechanism to make false muster rolls. In 1818 he inserted fifteen fictitious names for sepoys and claimed their salaries for eighteen months (Rs.1125). He also added 61 names to the muster roll of the non-existent hill sepoys, which brought him an income of Rs.4188. In the same year he discharged six classies (tent-pitchers) but kept their names on the muster roll and gathered Rs.619.  The Government lost Rs.459 as the numbers on the muster rolls were different to the payment books. When he faced a court martial on twelve charges in 1820, it was concluded that ‘from the confused manner in which the muster-rolls are drawn up, the court cannot find the precise number of names and sums embezzled’.

Major Mathews did not scorn embezzling even small amounts. He kept a part of the Bazar Chowdree’s salary (this was an agent supplying workmen and goods for public purposes) and once the man left the post, Mathews just paid himself the salary (Rs.60). In a similar manner the Bazar Mootsuddie (native accountant) was robbed of Rs.25. He also appointed three virtual Jhunda-Wallas and claimed Rs.117.

Mathews gathered about Rs.10,000 altogether.  He was found guilty on 26 January 1820 of eleven charges and dismissed from the service. On the insistence of the Commander-in-Chief the sentence was changed and Mathews was cashiered, which meant he was debarred from future employment with the Company. Interestingly the biographical note in Hodson’s Officers of the Bengal Army does not mention any of this and states that he was pensioned on 5 February 1820 and retired from the service the following year.

Dorota Walker
Reference Specialist, Asian and African Studies  Cc-by

Further reading:

Capt William Hough & George Long, The practice of courts-martial, also the legal exposition and military explanation of the Mutiny Act and Articles of War, together with the crimes and sentences of numerous courts-martial, and the remarks thereupon by His Majesty and the several Commanders-in-Chief in the East Indies and on foreign stations & c. (London, 2nd ed. 1825)

Major V. C. P. Hodson, List of the Officers of the Bengal Army, 1758-1834 (1927-47)

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