Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

21 November 2022

Football in the Gulf – some snippets from the early years

With the start of FIFA World Cup 2022 in which Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran will be competing, here is a look at a few mentions of football in the Gulf from the 1930s to the early 1950s from the digitised archives of the Qatar Digital Library. The Administration Report for the Bahrain Agency for 1933 reported there were ‘seven football clubs in Bahrain.'.

Administration Report for the Bahrain Agency for 1933 reporting on sportAdministration Report for the Bahrain Agency for 1933 reporting on sport IOR/R/15/2/297

Apart from regular fixtures, special football matches were arranged on a number of different occasions.  In January 1935 on the anniversary celebrations of the accession of Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as ruler of Bahrain, the Bahrain Sports Club arranged a fancy dress football match.  The British Political Agent, Colonel Percy Loch, wrote to the Adviser to the Bahrain Government, Charles Belgrave, that he would not be able to attend due to an afternoon reception and then Shaikh Sir Hamad’s dinner.

Football matches were also often arranged on the arrival of a British ship in port.  For example, in October 1951 the British consulate in Muscat wrote to Sayyid Tarik bin Taimur (the father of the current ruler of the Sultanate of Oman, Sultan Haitham) to ask if he would care to play in a Muscat team against a visiting team from HMS Loch Quoich.

Letter from British consulate in Muscat  to Sayyid Tarik bin Taimur Letter to Sayyid Tarik bin Taimur to ask if he would care to play in a Muscat team against a visiting team from HMS Loch Quoich  IOR/R/15/6/301, f 28

As in contemporary times football and politics are often inextricably intertwined.  In the late 1930s the provision of sports facilities including ‘soccer fields’ featured in a report by a journalist entitled ‘IS JOHN BULL’s FACE RED’ which lampooned British officialdom for its perceived ineptitude in the handling of the oil opportunity in Bahrain.

Report on provision of sports facilities including ‘soccer fields’'Articles in Press on Gulf Affairs'  IOR/R/15/2/178

Then, as today, the provision of facilities to play football in the Gulf can attract comment in the media both positive and negative.

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

Further reading:
File 8/8 1931-34 Bahrain Agency Administration Reports and Related Papers [‎102r] (208/310), IOR/R/15/2/297
'File 6/58 Accession Celebrations on H. E. Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's accession as the Ruler of Bahrain Islands', IOR/R/15/2/1276
'File 9/1 IV Visits of HM Ships' [‎28r] (55/96), IOR/R/15/6/301
'Articles in Press on Gulf Affairs' [‎50r] (101/728), IOR/R/15/2/178

 

18 November 2022

Chinese & British Now Open!

We're very pleased to announce the opening of Chinese and British: a free exhibition exploring British Chinese communities and cultures!

From the first recorded individuals arriving from China in the late 1600s to Europe's first Chinatown being established in Liverpool during the 1850s, Chinese people, who can trace their heritage to regions across east and southeast Asia, have played an active part in British society for over 300 years.

The exhibition reflects on this long history by exploring the stories of those who lived through it.

Exhibition poster showing footballer Frank SooChinese and British exhibition poster, featuring Frank Soo

Meet remarkable individuals from British Chinese communities across the UK through the personal accounts of merchant seamen, and the local business owners who helped establish Europe's first Chinatowns. Be inspired by the scientists, artists and writers breaking new ground. And learn more about some of the challenges that British Chinese people have encountered through the centuries, and continue to face today.

Hand drawn map of China, showing the area around the Great WallDetail of Shen Fuzong's hand-drawn map of China, 1680s, Sloane MS 853a

Our St Pancras site will host a number of events during the exhibition run, but it is not the only place to experience the exhibition. Public libraries across the UK will also be hosting Chinese and British, through a series of panel displays simultaneously opening in over 30 towns and cities via the Living Knowledge Network. A programme of regional events will also showcase the rich history of Chinese British communities across the UK.

Illustrated_detailExcerpt from 'Influx of Chinese Seamen and Uni Students in Liverpool creates a new Chinatown', Illustrated, 17 April 1943.

Chinese and British has been curated by Dr Lucienne Loh at the University of Liverpool and Dr Alex Tickell at the Open University, in collaboration with British Library curators Han-Lin Hsieh, Alex Hailey and Karen Stapley. It was designed by PUP architects, with graphics by Studio Wan.

Chinese and British is generously supported by Blick Rothenberg.

Logo of Blick Rothenberg, exhibition sponsors

15 November 2022

Star Baker or Avid Taste-Tester? – Exploring Evanion’s 19th-century baking ephemera collection

Henry Evanion, born 1832 in Vauxhall, London, was a 19th-century conjuror and entertainer.  Evanion’s career began aged just 17 and throughout his life, Evanion performed across the country in small towns, entertained royalty in private performances and had a successful run at the Crystal Palace in London.  Evanion was also an avid collector of paper ephemera from an early age and amassed thousands of items during his lifetime.  The Evanion Collection represents his widespread interests, with themes including local politics, Victorian entertainment and miscellaneous advertisements for products related to everyday household life.

Are you a star baker?
Bakers in the 19th century were spoilt for choice thanks to an increase in products available for home-baking and the enduring popularity of cookery books like Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1859-1861).

In the Victorian period, the development of new ingredients meant that bakers could make quicker and cheaper puddings.  One Victorian invention was self-raising flour, which was first introduced in 1845.  By the 1880s, it had become a baking essential for households with an 1885 advert from McDougall’s (Evan.6234.), claiming that the flour was for ‘everyday use’ and that it could help to ‘avoid indigestion’.

An advertisement for McDougall’s patent self raising flour, with a boy in a chef's hat holding a large pie in a dishAn advertisement for McDougall’s patent self raising flour (c.1885). Evan.6234

A second revolutionary development was egg powder, a cheaper alternative to using eggs in baking.  An advert from 1885 (Evan.4244.) for Freeman’s egg powder shows a  young woman surrounded by the bakes she’s made using the product.  The advert claims that Freeman’s is the ‘largest sale in the world’ and can be used for cakes, pancakes, plum puddings and Yorkshire puddings.

Advertisement card for Freeman’s Digestive Egg Powder.  A young woman, holding a packet of Freeman's egg powder in each hand, stands behind a table on which is displayed a range of cakes and puddings, made from the product.Advertisement card for Freeman’s Digestive Egg Powder (1885) Evan.4244.

Revolutionising Puddings?
An advertisement for Freeman’s Pudding Powder from 1886 (Evan.6504.) offered an alternative for those unable to find the ingredients to make a pudding.  The notice, titled ‘So Glad I Saw This’ tells the story of a woman who asked her friend for the recipe to make a pudding and was surprised to find that the pudding was a powder mix with added milk and sugar.

An advertisement for Freeman’s Delicious Pudding Powder, with a judge taste-testing the pudding with the caption ‘delivering judgement – delicious’An advertisement for Freeman’s Delicious Pudding Powder (1885) Evan.6228

This advert for the mix from 1885 (Evan.6228.) offers to send ladies one of each flavour (almond, lemon, vanilla, peach, chocolate and nectarine) for free by post for 12 stamps.  The witty advert features an image of a judge taste-testing the pudding with the caption ‘delivering judgement – delicious’.  Pudding mixes like Freeman’s revolutionised Victorian desserts because they were a cheaper and quicker alternative to traditional puddings which were labour-intensive and required lots of ingredients.

Next time you are baking a cake, watching a cookery programme or buying a sweet treat from a local bakery, think about the variety of ingredients available today and the ease of opening a tin or using a packet mix to speed up the process. These developments came from 19th-century products like the ones featured here. You can explore more 19th-century baking material via the Evanion catalogue online.

Amy Solomons
PhD Placement Student, Heritage Made Digital

Further Reading
Andrea Broomfield, Food and Cooking in Victorian England, A History (Praeger Publishers: Santa Barbara, 2007).
James Hagy, Early English Conjuring Collectors, James Savren and Henry Evanion (Shaker Heights: Ohio, 1985).
Elizabeth Harland, ‘The Evanion Collection’, The British Library Journal, vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring 1987), pp. 64- 700.

 

10 November 2022

Finding employment for surplus Indian Army Officers

Following the implementation in April 1923 of the Royal Warrant 1922 a number of Indian Army Officers found their roles ‘surplus to requirements’.

One of the opportunities presented to these officers, was the opportunity to settle in the state of Victoria, Australia, with a significant plot of land for farming.

Newspaper advert for the Australian farms schemeAdvert for the Australian farms scheme -  Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore) 26 July 1922 British Newspaper Archive

A financial agreement could be entered into with Australian Farms Limited whereby they would supply the land, tools, livestock etc. required for the officers to establish themselves in farming, and in return the officers would take out a financial loan with the company to cover the costs which would have to be paid back monthly.

The agreement also included an understanding that the gratuities these officers would be receiving from the India Office following their discharge (such as pension, annuities, bonus etc.) would be paid directly to Australian Farms Limited, who would then take their monthly payment from the gratuity received and forward the remainder of it onto the officer.

Newspaper report on the working of the scheme 1924Report on the working of the scheme  - Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore) 22 January 1924 British Newspaper Archive

Problems arose however in June 1925 when the India Office was notified that Australian Farms Ltd had gone into voluntary liquidation.  This raised questions about how the officers' gratuities would now be paid to them, as the company had in effect been acting as the agent for these individuals.

Letter reporting liquidation of Australian Farms Ltd, June 1925Letter reporting liquidation of Australian Farms Ltd,, June 1925  - IOR/L/AG/29/1/151, part 6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Enquiries were made with the Government of Victoria to identify how many of the 93 individuals who had originally taken out these contracts were still operating these farms, as some individuals had sold their land and bought themselves out of the agreement, whilst others had their contracts cancelled by being recalled to the Army.

Page from a list of officers who entered the schemePage from a list of officers who entered the scheme - IOR/L/AG/29/1/151, part 6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

From the original list of 93 individuals, 80 were found to have chosen to remain in Australia and continue with the land and farm in June 1925.  Their contracts were re-assigned to the Treasurer for the State of Victoria, the state government having decided to take on the responsibility for the settling of the land by the officers in question.

Newspaper article about the plight of the men in the farm scheme December 1926Article about the plight of the men in the farm scheme -  Dundee Evening Telegraph 28 December 1926 British Newspaper Archive

Arrangements were therefore subsequently made for the gratuities to be paid via the Government of Victoria in future.  However any officer who was found to be in debt to Australian Farms Ltd at the time of liquidation was required to use their gratuity to pay off that debt first.

Some of the 80 individuals would later choose to sell up their land and return to England, but the vast majority settled in Australia permanently.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/L/AG/29/1/151, part 6 - Australian Farm Cases, 1925-1926.
British Newspaper Archive

 

08 November 2022

The Collier family of Bethnal Green and the East India Company

Following on from our overview of East India Company Home Correspondence, we look at a document from this collection which is the key to uncovering a wealth of detail about one East London family’s links to India.

In July 1856 Matthew Collier of Bethnal Green, a pewterer in his late 50s, sent a petition to the East India Company asking for a position.  He started by naming five members of his family who had served the Company – his father, two brothers, a nephew and a son.  Matthew said that he had been twenty years with his current employer but now felt inclined to finish his days with the Company as a firelighter or doorkeeper at East India House or in any other ‘low’ situation.  The hours would be shorter than at present and the work much easier.

Matthew Collier's petition for a position at East India House Matthew Collier's petition for a position at East India House - IOR/E/1/193 Letter no. 238  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Company’s Secretary wrote in August informing Matthew that Court of Directors was ‘under the necessity of declining to comply with his request’.

From the information given by Matthew in the petition, it is possible to trace details of his relatives’ service with the Company in other parts of the India Office Records.

Matthew said that his father William Delves Collier had made a voyage for the East India Company in 1790-1791.  He didn’t know the name of the ship but I have found a William Collier who was surgeon’s servant in the Hawke.  William entered the ship on 19 April 1790 and the pay book shows that he was owed wages of £7 11s for ten months and two days. That means that William left the Hawke in Bengal. What did he do then?

Next, Matthew named his eldest brother William who had died in Bombay having served as a sergeant in the European Light Infantry using their mother’s maiden name Evitt.  William Evitt, a painter and glazier, enlisted in the Company’s army in July 1821 aged 19.  In 1825 he was discharged with chronic rheumatism and tremor of the limbs and sent back to England.  He was permitted to re-enlist in 1830.  He married Catherine King at Bombay in 1835, describing himself as a widower.  Catherine, née Hardcastle, was the widow of James King, a sergeant in the Bombay Horse Artillery.  William died on 18 October 1841 and was buried at St Andrew’s Church, Bombay.

According to Matthew, his next brother John Collier was a musician on board the Earl of Balcarras on a voyage to Bengal.  The ship’s journal records that seaman John Collier died at New Anchorage Bengal on 5 July 1826.  On 31 May 1827, William Delves Collier received wages of £5 2s 3d owed to his son.

Ship Earl of Balcarras pay book - receipt for wages of John Collier signed by W D CollierReceipt for wages of John Collier signed by W D Collier. IOR/L/MAR/B/35Q(2) Pay book for the ship Earl of Balcarras  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The fourth member of the family to serve the Company was Matthew’s nephew George Richards who was a private in the European Light Infantry.  Weaver George enlisted at the age of 21 in August 1840.  He died in Aden and was buried on 7 April 1847.  In a will written on 2 April 1847, George left Rs 100 to his brother William Richards of Spitalfields and all the remainder of his estate and effects to his ‘friend and companion’ Private William Theed.

Will of George RichardsWill of Private George Richards 2 April 1847 - IOR/L/AG/34/30/26 no.22 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Lastly, Matthew’s son Samuel Collier was a sergeant in the European Light Infantry.  Samuel, a groom, had enlisted for unlimited service in February 1840. He died in Sind on 13 November 1855 aged 34.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading;
IOR/E/1/193 Letter no. 238 IOR/E/1/193 Letter no. 238 Petition of Matthew Collier of 4 Tapp Street, Bethnal Green, July 1856.
IOR/E/1/305 Letter no. 3276 East India Company Secretary to Matthew Collier, 4 August 1856.
IOR/E/1 is now available as part of AM’s East India Company resource. 
IOR/L/MAR/B/390K Journal of the ship Hawke 1790-1791.
IOR/L/MAR/B/35H, and 35Q(2) Journal and pay book for the ship Earl of Balcarras
Documents for William Evitt:
IOR/L/MIL/9/2 London District recruitment register July 1821.
IOR/L/MIL/9/99 p.173 Embarkation list for the ship Berwickshire December 1821 .
IOR/L/MIL/10/301 Discharge register.
IOR/L/MIL/9/42 Embarkation list for the ship Buckinghamshire January 1831.
IOR/L/MIL/9/77 p.197 Embarkation list for the ship Buckinghamshire January 1831
Bombay Army muster rolls and casualty lists e.g. IOR/L/MIL/12/147-149, 1823-1825; IOR/L/MIL/12/157, 1833; IOR/L/MIL/12/165, 1841.
IOR/N/312 f.246 Marriage of William Evitt to Catherine King, 1835.
IOR/N/3/15 f.471 Burial of William Evitt, 1841.
Documents for George Richards:
IOR/L/MIL/9/6 London District recruitment register August 1840.
IOR/L/MIL/9/101 p.48 Embarkation list for the ship Donna Pascoa October 1840.
Bombay Army muster rolls and casualty lists e.g. IOR/L/MIL/12/177-178, 1846-1847.
IOR/L/AG/34/30/26 no.22 Will of Private George Richards, 2 April 1847.
IOR/N/13/14 Burial of George Richards, Aden 1847.
Documents for Samuel Collier:
IOR/L/MIL/9/5 London District recruitment register February 1840.
IOR/L/MIL/9/78 Embarkation list for the ship  Northumberland April 1840.
Bombay Army muster rolls and casualty lists e.g. IOR/L/MIL/12/186-187, 1855-1856.
IOR/N/3/29 p.348 Burial of Samuel Collier, 1855.

 

31 October 2022

Mr Trick and Mrs Treat

At Hallowe’en, we’d like to introduce you to Mr Trick and Mrs Treat.  Both feature in several articles in the British Newspaper Archive.

The Weston-super-Mare Gazette of 21 April 1849 reported that Mr Trick and his family were amongst 90 or so people from north Somerset villages emigrating to the USA.

Newspaper article about families emigrating from Banwell, Somerset, in 1849Weston-super-Mare Gazette 21 April 1849 British Newspaper Archive

William Trick was a baker living in the village of Banwell with his wife Ann and two children.  Trick was a member of the Banwell Total Abstinence Society and regularly addressed meetings during the 1840s.  He belonged to the Banwell Wesleyan Missionary Society and spoke on the subject of ‘missions to the heathen’ at a meeting held in the local chapel in November 1846.

The Emigrant's Last Sight of Home - painting of a man and his family about to set off on a journey by cart, looking back at their village from the top of a hill‘The Emigrant’s Last Sight of Home’ by Richard Redgrave (1858).  Image Photo © Tate Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported) 

The Tricks sailed from Liverpool in steerage on the steamer Sarah Sands on 29 March 1849.  A broken piston rod in the engine meant that the ship had to make a great part of the voyage under sail.  The delay caused anxiety in New York but over 200 passengers and a valuable cargo eventually arrived safely on 1 May.

William, with his wife, daughter and son, travelled onwards to Dubuque County, Iowa, with others from Somerset, such as the Dyers.  The area had been settled by Europeans in the late 1830s, and in the 1850s became known as Dyersville.  William acquired 40 acres of land and also worked as a Methodist preacher, playing a large part in the building of the local church.  In 1855 he was granted naturalization.

According to the 1906 Atlas of Dubuque County, the marriage of William’s daughter Annie to Malcolm Baxter in 1852 was the first in the community.  Annie died in April 1856 aged just 27.

William Trick junior became a hardware merchant who served as mayor of Dyersville.

William Trick senior died on 27 October 1873 aged 78 after a busy life of public service.  He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery Dyersville where his daughter Annie and wife Ann already lay.

Let’s move on to Mrs Treat.

The Edinburgh Evening News of 19 February 1875 published an article entitled ‘Another Animal-Eating Plant’ about Mrs Treat and her carnivorous vegetables.  Very appropriate for Hallowe’en!

Newspaper article about Mrs Treat's carnivorous vegetables‘Another Animal-Eating Plant’ - Edinburgh Evening News 19 February 1875 British Newspaper Archive

Mary Lua Adelia Treat was born in 1830 in New York, the daughter of Methodist minister Isaac Davis and his wife Eliza.  In 1839 the family moved to Ohio.  Mary was married in 1863 to Joseph Burrell Treat, a doctor who also wrote and gave lectures on a variety of subjects including women’s rights and abolition.  The Treats moved in 1869 to Vineland, a model town and community in New Jersey founded by Charles K Landis.

Newspaper article entitled 'A lady and her spiders'‘A Lady and her Spiders’ – Shields Daily Gazette 28 August 1879  British Newspaper Archive

Mary Treat was a self-trained naturalist with a particular interest in insects and carnivorous plants.  Having made scientific investigations with her husband, she continued to research and publish on her own after the couple separated and Joseph went to live in New York.  He died in 1878 at the age of 55 and was buried at Siloam Cemetery in Vineland.

After the separation, Mary supported herself by writing scientific magazine articles as well as books including Chapters on Ants (1879) Injurious insects of the farm and garden (1882); and Home Studies in Nature (1885).  She corresponded with Charles Darwin and had plant and insect species named after her.

Drawing of the geometric web of a garden spider from Mary Treat's Home Studies in Nature
Geometric web of a garden spider from Home Studies in Nature (1885)

Mary Treat died in 1923 aged 92 at Pembroke, New York State, after a fall.  She too is buried in Siloam Cemetery in Vineland.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive  - also available via Findmypast
Findmypast and Ancestry for the passenger list of steamer Sarah Sands; land transactions; naturalization records; UK and US census records; birth, marriage and burial records.
Atlas of Dubuque County 1906 
Injurious insects of the farm and garden
Chapters on Ants
Home Studies in Nature
Tina Gianquitto, ‘Of Spiders, Ants, and Carnivorous Plants – Domesticity and Darwin in Mary Treat’s Home Studies in Nature’, in Annie Merrill Ingram, Ian Marshall, Daniel J. Philippon, and Adam W. Sweeting (eds) Coming into Contact – Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice (University of Georgia Press, 2007)

 

27 October 2022

‘Dear old Squirrel’ - Cyril Davenport of the British Museum

Cyril Davenport, pictured below in his 80s, does not appear to be as careworn as his life and career should demand!  Not only did he devote 45 years to work at the British Museum Library, he also found time to paint, engrave, photograph, write and edit reference works, lecture on diverse subjects, and judge for international exhibitions.  In addition, he was a Justice of the Peace and Major of the 37th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers.  Only someone with a lifespan of around 93 years could have managed it!

Portrait of Cyril Davenport in his 80s by Edward Patry from Hastings Museum and Art Gallery - white hair, beard and moustache, dressed in a black formal coatPortrait of Cyril Davenport by Edward Patry - Image courtesy of Hastings Museum and Art Gallery

Davenport was not an obvious candidate for a job in the Museum, which he joined as an assistant in 1868 and later supervised the bookbindings department.  He was born in Sterling to an army family, educated at Charterhouse and worked as a draftsman for the War Office.  It seems likely that this training gave him technical and practical understanding in the analysis and description of objects, an experience lacking in his more academic Museum and Library colleagues.

Davenport recognised the importance of identifying and recording the outsides of books.  His ledgers containing descriptions, sketches and rubbings of the remarkable bindings held in the Museum Library are still useful to researchers.

Davenport’s ledger of descriptions and sketches of bindingsDavenport’s descriptions and sketches of bindings in the Library’s Case 20 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Davenport’s publications did not always meet with universal approbation.  His book English Heraldic Book-stamps was subject to particular censure; errors in the heraldry were noted in reviews.  Other books addressed subjects as diverse as coronation regalia, cameos, architecture, mezzotints, and miniatures.

Davenport was much in demand as a public speaker, by learned institutions as well as local societies of amateurs.  There is evidence that he could be inspirational, in one case at least.  The well-known bookbinder Cedric Chivers resolved to create his own decorated vellum covers ('vellucent') after hearing Davenport lecture on the subject.

Vellucent binding by Chivers showing a naked woman draped in mauve cloth with a wine jug on her shoulder, against an Art Nouveau backgroundThe Rubaiyat (1903) with a ‘vellucent’ binding by Cedric Chivers - Shelfmark c108bbb3. Image by permission of the copyright holder. Database of Bookbindings

After his retirement in 1913, Davenport moved to Hastings with his wife Constance (d.1932) and arts-loving daughter Dorothy (b.1891).  His son Cyril Henry had died in the previous year.

There was a rich social life in Sussex with many communal activities, a notable example being the Hastings historical pageant in 1914.  Davenport participated and was apparently a great help in the costume and banner department!

Newspaper article reporting Davenports’s third prize in a national art competitionNews of Davenports’s third prize in a national art competition includes a character analysis! Weekly Dispatch (London), 1 June 1925 p.7 British Newspaper Archive

Perhaps the most sympathetic view of Davenport’s character came from his eccentric friend and British Museum colleague, poet Theo Marzials.  In  a condolence letter to Davenport’s daughter, Marzials wrote: 'Cyril is a bit of me – of course, and always was and ever will be.  We just meet and are side by side, arm in arm, heart to heart …. Dear old Squirrel'.

P J M Marks
Curator, Bookbindings, Printed Historical Sources

Further reading;
Theo Marzials and Davenport in The Best of Betjeman 1878 Selected by John Guest 
British Newspaper Archive e.g. The Hastings pageant - Hastings and St Leonards Observer Saturday 27 June 1914 p.9; Lecture by Davenport entitled ‘Beautiful Bookbindings’ - Hastings and St Leonards Observer 24 October 1914 p.7

 

25 October 2022

Exploring the richness and variety of letters sent to the East India Company

Over 300 volumes of East India Company Home Correspondence have recently been digitised and they are now available through an Adam Matthew Digital resource

There are two series: IOR/E/1/1-195 letters sent to the Court of Directors 1701-1858, and IOR/E/1/196-314 (Miscellanies) copies of letters being sent out by the Court of Directors to Company agents, servants and Government departments 1688-1859.  ‘Home’ indicates that the correspondence is with individuals in Britain and Europe rather than Asia.

Copies of outgoing letters written by the East India Company Secretary James Cobb in January 1817 

Copies of outgoing letters written by the East India Company Secretary James Cobb in January 1817  - IOR/E/1 /253 p.57  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The home correspondence arriving at East India House covers a vast array of topics and subjects ranging from the day-to-day running of the Company, personal requests from employees and their families, and even unsolicited letters advertising patents, proposals and publications.

The correspondence is arranged by the date it was received at the Court, rather than the date it was sent.  The date the letter was received is recorded on the back of the letter, along with any actions taken by the Court, such as referral to a committee; read in Court; laid on the table for any interested parties to look at; or given to a specific individual to answer.  When a letter was read in Court, the Court Minutes [IOR/B] can be consulted to discover the Company’s response.

Much of the routine correspondence relates to the East India ships, including signing charterparties; appointing captains and crew; paying wages, supplies and repair bills; notifications of ship arrivals in various ports; and matters relating to the trade goods being carried on board.   Other correspondence relating to trade includes dealings with Customs officials; notifications of sales; intelligence received from agents in other countries relating to rival companies’ trade and goods; and London merchants sending money and goods to Asia in exchange for diamonds, jewels and coral.

Approval of officers for Company ships 1761Approval of officers for Company ships 1761 - IOR/E/1/43 f.306 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Related to matters of trade and shipping was correspondence with other Government departments, particularly the Admiralty, as Royal Navy vessels often provided escort services for East Indiamen and the ships would come to each other’s aid at sea.

Letters from the Company’s agents in places like Italy, Vienna, Madeira and the Levant also form part of this series.  These tend to relate to packets of the Company’s correspondence sent overland, and intelligence about political relations between countries which might impact the Company.  In the case of Madeira, there are bills and invoices for wine supplied to East Indiamen, the Court of Directors, and key Company employees.

Commercial intelligence about commodities traded by the Dutch East India Company 1771Commercial intelligence about commodities traded by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) 1771  - IOR/E/1/55 f.486 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There are also many letters from Company employees and their families, mostly in the form of petitions.  These include requests from employees to be considered for promotion, to extend leave in England owing to illness, or for relief or other assistance from relatives of employees who found themselves in financial distress.  Other topics include requests to send family members and servants to and from India, and the administration of deceased relatives' estates in India.  Occasionally there are letters from people trying to ascertain whether their relative overseas is still alive.

Petition of Mary Winbolt, widow of Gale Winbolt former doorkeeper, for relief 1764Petition of Mary Winbolt, widow of Gale Winbolt former doorkeeper, for relief December 1764 - IOR/E/1/46 ff.796-797  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Other recurring themes are concerns about the smuggling of Indian tea into England and Scotland; arrangements with missionary societies for sending supplies to their missions in the East Indies; and letters from individuals attempting to get the East India Company to take up their patent or invention, or to purchase copies of their recently published books.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/E/1 – Home Correspondence 
Adam Matthew Digital: East India Company Module 5