Untold lives blog

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21 April 2023

Misbehaviour in the Bombay Army

‘He had countenanced intemperance and unbecoming conduct among the Officers of the Regiment under his Command by permitting, unchecked and unpunished, […] instances of drunkenness and impropriety, degrading to gentlemen, and ruinous to discipline.’

In February 1854, Lt Col Thomas Gidley was found guilty of gross dereliction of duty during the previous year whilst the Commanding Officer of the East India Company’s 15th Bombay Native Infantry stationed at Bhooj.  Between January and August 1853, Gidley had allowed his officers imbibe to excess both inside and outside the Regimental confines.  He was court-martialled and struck off the strength of the Army.

The ‘Bhooj Revellers’ were Lieutenants Lewis Bingley Comyn and Robert Laurie; Ensigns Frederick James Loft, George Scrope Hammond and Thomas Degennes Fraser; and Surgeon Henry Rodney Elliot.  Their indiscretions were:
• Elliott being drunk and using indecent language at a dinner party given by the Political Agent in Cutch.
• Comyn being drunk when attending the Durbar of His Highness the Rao of Cutch.
• Loft being drunk at a dinner party given by the Political Agent of Cutch.
• Elliott, Loft and Hammond being drunk at a nautch.
• Elliott being drunk, attending Ensign Cole in a medical capacity, having come from Gidley’s house.
• Laurie being drunk in the billiard room.
• Loft being drunk at Gidley’s house whilst Duty Officer.
• Two instances at the billiard room involving inappropriate behaviour.

Photograph of the durbar hall in the palace at Bhuj  GujaratPhotograph of the durbar hall in the palace at Bhooj [Bhuj ]in Gujarat taken by an unknown photographer during the late 1870s -British Library Photo 125/3(10)

The whistleblower reporting these breaches of military discipline was Lt Frederick Alexander Campbell Kane who had joined the 15th Bombay Native Infantry in 1839.  In May 1850 he was appointed as Assistant Magistrate in Khandeish Collectorate.  There he pursued criminals with ‘commendable zeal’.  Two years later he was relieved of these duties because, according to the Bombay Gazette, ‘he had the misfortune to bring down the displeasure of the Government on him’.  Kane rejoined his regiment in March 1853 as Adjutant, the administrative right-hand man to the Commander.  Kane proceeded over the next six months to note the indiscretions of his Commander and fellow officers.

Surgeon Elliot died before he could be disciplined.  Bombay General Orders dated 27 September 1853 recorded that Elliot was indisposed and temporarily relieved of his duties.  He died on 17 October.  By 11 November, Gidley was under arrest, and on 15 November Kane was promoted to Captain.

At Gidley’s court-martial in February 1854, Comyn, Laurie, Loft, Hammond and Fraser all perjured themselves in giving evidence supporting Gidley.  They subsequently each faced a court-martial.  All were found guilty and cashiered in May 1854 except Fraser, whose sentence was commuted for reasons which are unclear.

East India Register 1855 - Bombay Army casualitiesEast India Register 1855 – Bombay Army Casualties

Six weeks later, Lt Albert George Thompson was also cashiered.  At his court-martial he was charged with insubordination and insulting behaviour for declaring to Kane, who was in command of the firing party at Elliot’s funeral, ‘You, sir, are partly the cause of the doctor’s death’.

Gidley, in allowing a culture of excessive drinking and personal approbation, and Kane, seemingly pursuing some sort of moral crusade perhaps to regain personal standing, had brought about the downfall of five young officers. One of them suffered an untimely death: Robert Laurie returned to England and died in 1856 at the age of 32 at his parents' home in Bristol.

Mark Williams
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Bombay Gazette via British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast)
Bombay Army General Orders 1853-1854 IOR/L/MIL/17/4/423-424.


19 April 2023

Eliza Cordelia, the daughter of Chaund Bebee and Charles Rothman

We end our series of posts about Chaund Bebee and her children by looking at the life of her daughter Eliza Cordelia.  Eliza was baptised at Calcutta on 23 January 1803, the ‘Natural Daughter of C Rothman Esq’, and the register gives her date of birth as 20 April 1802.

Baptism of Eliza Cordelia Rothman at Calcutta 23 January 1803 Baptism of Eliza Cordelia Rothman at Calcutta 23 January 1803 IOR/N/1/6 f.180

Charles Rothman was a businessman in Calcutta who moved into government service.  He appears to have been close to John Shore, father of Chaund Bebee’s other children – there is a letter written by Rothman in February 1788 passing on a message from Shore who was ill.

Letter from Charles Rothman to George Nesbitt Thompson stating that John Shore is still much indisposed, February 1788Letter from Charles Rothman to George Nesbitt Thompson stating that John Shore is still much indisposed, February 1788 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur D1083/35


Rothman accompanied Governor General Wellesley to Madras in 1798, and was rewarded for his ‘incessant assiduity regularity and integrity’ by being appointed keeper of the Company’s stationery at Calcutta in 1801.  He died on 23 September 1805 aged 48.  His will left everything to his second wife Sarah Anne, and after her death for the benefit of their children.  Eliza is not mentioned.

Eliza Cordelia Rothman married James Urquhart Sherriff at Calcutta on 6 November 1815.  James was an assistant in the Mint and then a house builder.  He died in 1832 at the age of 35, leaving Eliza with eight children: Eliza, Henrietta Rothman, James Charles, Margaret Euphemia, Robert William, Hannah Sophia, David, and George Hill.  Eliza was the main beneficiary of her mother’s will in 1836 and she did not re-marry.

On 12 November 1856 Eliza died at Entally on the outskirts of Calcutta and was buried the following day at Chowringhee.  Her age in the burial register is given as 57 years, 5 months and 20 days, which does not tally with the date given in her baptism record.

Shortly before her death, on 28 October 1856, Eliza made a will which made bequests to her surviving children and their heirs, and to friends, servants, and charities.  Of her four sons, Robert William was still alive, but James Charles, David and George Hill had all died without issue.  Only two of her daughters were living.  Eliza was married to Josiah Rowe, surveyor to the conservancy commissioners of Calcutta, and had children.  Henrietta Rothman was the widow of Charles Ware Brietzcke, second judge of the Calcutta Court of Small Causes, and she had children by her first husband William Ridsdale.  Hannah Sophia had died unmarried without issue.  Margaret Euphemia had been married to John Willie, master mariner, but both were dead.

Newspaper report of loss of ship Hope 14 October 1848Newspaper report of the loss of the Hope - The Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 27 December 1848

In 1848, Eliza’s family had been struck by tragedy.  On 14 October John Willie’s ship Hope was lost in a terrible storm when on a voyage from Calcutta to Penang.  John and his wife Margaret died with their three small children William Robinson, Eliza Rix, and John Burnie.  Also on board were Margaret’s brother-in-law William Risdale and her sister Hannah Sophia Sherriff.  They also drowned.  The ship Framjee Cowasjee had tried to help the people they could see on the stricken ship but only succeeded in rescuing five of the crew.  The Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser wrote: ‘By this sad wreck 7 members of one family have perished, and a widowed lady has been bereaved of 2 daughters, 2 sons-in-law, and 3 grandchildren’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/N/1/4 f.171 Baptism of George, natural son of Charles Rothman, at Calcutta 3 January 1794 (born 31 October 1792). George appears to have died aged 21 in Calcutta in September 1813 [IOR/N/1/9 p.330].
IOR/N/1/4 f.202 Burial of Henrietta Rothman, wife of Charles, at Calcutta 6 December 1796.
IOR/N/2/2 f.352 Marriage of Charles Rothman to Sarah Anne Woodhouse at Fort St George, Madras, 31 August 1799.
IOR/F/4/128/2373 Salary paid to Charles Rothman in consideration of his previous services.
IOR/N/1/6 f.180 Baptism of Eliza Cordelia Rothman at Calcutta 23 January 1803
IOR/L/AG/34/29/17 no.77 Will of Charles Rothman.
IOR/N/1/9 f.269 Marriage of Eliza Cordelia Rothman to James Urquhart at Calcutta 6 November 1815.
IOR/N/1/34 p.363 Burial of James Urquhart Sherriff at Calcutta 8 November 1832.
IOR/N/1/90 f.517 Burial of Eliza Cordelia Sherriff 12 November 1856
IOR/L/AG/34/29/94 Will of Eliza Cordelia Sherriff 1856
The will of Chaund Bebee or Bebee Shore 
The children of Chaund Bebee and John Shore – (1) John Shore 
The children of Chaund Bebee and John Shore – (2) Francis and Martha Shore 
The children of Chaund Bebee and John Shore – (3) George Shore 

14 April 2023

Paul Ferris - printer and publisher

Paul Ferris was born in 1766 at Fort St George. Madras, the son of Paul Ferris and Agnes Daniel.  He trained as a printer under James Augustus Hicky at his printing office in Calcutta and was one of Hicky’s assistants along with Archibald Thompson in the establishment of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, India’s first English language newspaper, printed from 1780-1782.

Men busy in 18th century printing works18th-century printing works from A Picaud, La Veille de la Revolution, (Paris 1886).General Reference Collection 9225.l.12 BL flickr

In 1792 Ferris and Thompson founded their own newspaper, the Calcutta Morning Post, and were later joined by Morley Greenway as a co-owner.  In June 1818 they acquired the Calcutta Gazette, which had been in circulation since 1784 as the Government’s official news circular.  Shortly after this acquisition, the Calcutta Gazette ceased publication, with its last edition being printed on 29 September 1818.

Ferris also went on to establish his own printing press, Ferris & Co, and a bookselling business in Calcutta. By 1802 Ferris & Co were acting as the Calcutta agents for the Mission Press in Serampore.

In 1815 Ferris printed a new edition of John Miller’s The Tutor in English and Bengalee, first published in 1797.  It was published with an addendum stating that it had been ‘carefully revised and corrected by a professional pundit’.  The ‘professional pundit’ was Ganga Kishore Bhattacharji, a publisher of Bengali works who was just starting to work with Ferris. In 1816 Ferris & Co became the first printers to produce an illustrated book in Bengali, a narrative poem Annada Mangal written by Bharatchandra Ray in 1752-1753 and published by Ganga Kishore Bhattacharji.

Ganga Kishore would go on to publish numerous Bengali works with Ferris & Co including Ingreji byakaran (An English grammar), Daybhaeg (Hindu inheritance law) and Bidyasundar (a courtly romance), which was also the first Bengali book to be accompanied by woodcut illustrations.

Pen and ink drawing of the Danish settlement of Serampore  viewed from the opposite bank of the River Hooghly, with a man wearing a turban resting with his arms crossed in the foreground and boats on the water.Danish settlement of Serampore  viewed from the opposite bank of the River Hooghly - pen and ink drawing by Frederic Peter Layard (1842) British Library WD4359 British Library Online Gallery 

Paul Ferris died in Serampore on 29 June 1821 at the age of 55.  He had married Ann Esther Mullins in 1800 (she died in 1845 in Bombay), and the couple had seven children together.  He also had three children prior to his marriage, a son Paul and two daughters Frances and Ann.

Paul Ferris’s obituary is somewhat intriguing as it suggests that, despite the success of his various enterprises, he may have been struggling financially prior to his death: ‘Mr. P. Ferris - in his age 55 years - formerly Editor of Calcutta weekly newspaper, The Morning Post and owner of Calcutta Biblioteck-circulating Library and during the last years reduced to the necessity of keeping a sort of school at this place for Boys and Girls’.

The references in the obituary to the two other initiatives, the Calcutta Bibliotek circulating library and a school, are interesting as no other records of them appear to exist. There was however a Calcutta Library Society with its own lending library, which was established in 1818.  It is perhaps possible that this may be the ‘Bibliotek’ referred to in the obituary, but Ferris’s name does not appear in records as one of its founders.

Karen Stapley,
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Paul Ferris, Memorial at Fort William Burial Ground
‘Glimpses of Serampore (1810-1820)’, published in Bengal Past and Present, Vol. 46 1933 Jul-Dec. British Library Shelfmark: Ac.8603
Hicky’s Bengal Gazette: PENN.NT330 NPL
Calcutta Morning Post: Asia, Pacific & Africa SM 32


12 April 2023

Preventing revel-rout - musicians banned from an East India Company voyage

On 31 December 1713 Thomas Woolley, Secretary to the East India Company, wrote to agent Richard Knight at Deal in Kent where ships were preparing to sail to Asia.  A number of Company directors had ordered Woolley to inform Knight that the supercargoes (merchants) of the ship Hester had several fiddlers with them and intended to take them on the voyage to China.  The directors were very concerned as they had already heard of a revel-rout at Deal caused by the presence of the fiddlers.

Fiddler playing on deck of a ship whilst fellow sailors dance‘The fun got fast and furious’ from Gordon Staples, Exiles of Fortune. A tale of a far north land (London, 1890) British Library Digital Store 012632.g.29 BL flickr 

Knight was to inform the directors of what he knew about the matter or what he could discover.  He was also to tell the supercargoes that they were not to attempt to take fiddlers or any other musicians on the voyage.  Charles Kesar, captain of the Hester, was not to receive on board for the voyage anyone but the ship’s company and others authorised in writing by the Company.  When Knight mustered all the men, he was to check whether any were musicians.  Woolley supposed that the directors would not object to the captain carrying a trumpeter or two and perhaps just one fiddler.

The next day Woolley wrote to supercargoes Philip Middleton, James Naish and Richard Hollond.  The directors had not thought Woolley’s letter to Knight sufficient and ordered him to tell the supercargoes that the Company was very concerned about their management and expected them, especially Naish, to clear themselves of the report if in any way untrue.  From what the directors had heard, the beginnings of their management were a very ‘ill specimen’ of what was expected and it would take an extraordinary future performance to erase them. The supercargoes’ friends would be concerned that they had placed their favours on men who would not use their best endeavours to deserve them but, on the contrary, seemed careless about this.  Woolley said he was sorry to hear the report and hoped their future deportment would show that, if they had no thoughts of their own reputation, they would at least do nothing unworthy of the good intentions of the gentlemen who recommended them to the Company.  He ended by repeating that the directors positively forbade them carrying those fiddlers or any other musicians in the Hester.

On 3 January 1714 Middleton, Naish and Hollond replied to the directors protesting their innocence.  They said that they were ‘much Surprized to hear of Entertaining Fidlers and the Revel Rout occation’d thereby’ as they had not heard the sound of an instrument since leaving London.  However they were glad to know the Company’s ‘Pleasure in this perticular’ and would hold this in as great a regard as any other command.  The reports were groundless and the supercargoes aimed to obey every order and behave in a way conformable to the directors’ ‘good liking’.  It seemed that Naish especially was expected to clear himself, so he declared that he had not, nor intended, to entertain any fiddler or other musician to go on the voyage.

Richard Hollond's letter to the East India Company apologising for exceeding his private trade allowance IOR/E/1/6/ f.249 Richard Hollond’s letter to the East India Company apologising for exceeding his private trade allowance, November 1715

Middleton, Naish and Hollond found themselves again in trouble with the Company on their return from the voyage to China in 1715.  All three men had exceeded their allowances for private trade and wrote asking for forgiveness.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/200 pp.75-78 Letters from Thomas Woolley about musicians at Deal, December 1713 and January 1714.
IOR/E/1/5 ff. 1-4v Letter to Company from Middleton, Naish and Hollond 3 January 1714.
IOR/E/1/6 – letters from Middleton, Naish and Hollond about their private trade allowances, 1715.


06 April 2023

The disastrous paintings of Richard Greenbury

Richard Greenbury was an artist and decorator of furniture in early 17th century London.  In the 1620s, he received two important painting commissions from the East India Company.  Both documented incidents of treachery and suffering.

The first commission showed an odious moment of horror on the Indonesian island of Ambon.  In this faraway place, the East India Company was exporting spices alongside a larger, more established Dutch trading station.  In 1623, the Dutch tortured to death ten Englishmen at Ambon, claiming that they were going to invade the Dutch fort.  News of this event sparked a diplomatic incident in Europe.  In London, the East India Company published a pamphlet telling its side of the story, titled A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna.

Frontispiece of the East India Company’s pamphlet  'A True Relation of the Unjust  Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at AmboynaFrontispiece of the East India Company’s pamphlet, A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna.  The illustration on the left might have been the basis for Richard Greenbury’s painting. (British Library, T39923)

Richard Greenbury’s painting of the event, titled 'The Atrocities at Amboyna', was so graphic that the Company had to ask him to repaint part of it.  Crowds flocked to the painter’s studio to see it before it was finished.  One woman, purportedly a widow of one of the massacred Englishmen, fainted when she saw it.  It stirred such outrage that London’s Dutch citizens had to appeal to the Privy Council of King Charles I for protection from the furious public.  In February 1625 the completed painting went on display inside the East India Company’s headquarters, but only two weeks later, it was removed by order of the king and never seen again.  It was most likely destroyed by order of the Privy Council.  Reluctant to pay for a vanished painting, the East India Company eventually gave Greenbury less than half the amount of money he expected to receive.

Portrait of Naq’d Ali Beg by Richard GreenburyPortrait of Naq’d Ali Beg by Richard Greenbury (British Library, Foster 23)

The Company then gave Greenbury another commission.  This time, it wanted a pair of portraits of Naq’d Ali Beg, a trade ambassador from the court of Shah Abbas of Persia.  Unfortunately, this exotic young man’s stay in London was fraught with scandals, and he was ordered by King Charles I to return to the court of Shah Abbas.  Unable to bear the embassy’s failure, Naq’d Ali Beg committed suicide during the journey back to Persia in 1627.  Even though the East India Company contributed to the Persian ambassador’s disgrace, Greenbury’s portrait was displayed inside its headquarters in London.  Today, that same painting is part of the British Library’s permanent collections.

The disastrous subject matter of Greenbury’s paintings highlights the instability and sloppy diplomacy that the East India Company somehow survived in the 17th century.  One hundred years later, a new, relatively stable United East India Company emerged.  By the late 18th century it was a systemic part of Britain’s economy and a prolific corporate patron of British art.

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:
East India Company. A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna. London: Nathaniel Newberry, 1624.
Howes, Jennifer. 'Chaos to Confidence'. Chapter one in Howes, J. The Art of a Corporation: The East India Company as Patron and Collector, 1600-1860. New Delhi: Routledge, April 2023. 


04 April 2023

Exercises for Ladies

Following on from Walker’s Manly Exercises, we bring you, by the same author, Exercises for Ladies; calculated to preserve and improve beauty, and to prevent and correct personal defects, inseparable from constrained or careless habits: founded on physiological principles.  This book was first published in 1836.

Donald Walker claimed that few young women were exempt from some degree of deformity which always increased with age.  These deformities were caused by the women performing nearly every act of their lives in a one-sided manner.  Prevention required an equal and similar use of the other side of the body.

Illustrations of bad positions leading to a crooked spineBad positions leading to a crooked spine

The book was divided into several sections.

Physiological Principles – the structure of the body, the vertebral column, the chest.

Functions of the body connected with exercise – locomotion, nutritive, thinking.  The effects of excessive exercise – exhaustion of the cerebral and spinal nervous system, and premature ageing of appearance.

Debility caused by constraint – whalebone stays causing debility and wrong positions.: ‘The little girl, in the attempt to render her thin and genteel, speedily becomes hump-backed’.  If boys are straight in figure without the aid of whalebone stays, why shouldn’t girls be the same?

Illustration of two young women showing the wrong and right positions in writingWrong and right positions in writing

Wrong positions which resulted from debility and from the employment of muscles unfavourably situated – standing, sitting, writing, drawing, guitar-playing, harp-playing, riding, lying in bed, all the acts of common life.

Guitar playing - wrong and right positionsGuitar-playing – wrong and right positions

Wrong and right positions in harp-playingPlaying the harp – wrong and right positions

Standing – if standing for a long time, the tendency to balance on one leg throws out the hip and distorts the spine.
Sitting – by always sitting on the same side of the window or fire, persons lean to one side, and this has the effect of raising one shoulder.

Injuries done by wrong positions to locomotive organs and functions, vital organs and functions, mental organs and functions.Utility of exercises to locomotive, nutritive, and thinking systems.

Exercises – active (the body is moved and agitated by its own powers); passive (the body is moved without any effort of its own); mixed.

Position of figure – standing (‘females, in particular, find the standing position very fatiguing’ because of the size of their pelvis), walking, dancing.

Exercises for the arms (rod, dumb-bells, Indian sceptre, clubs). Walker describes Indian sceptre exercises practised in the Army with clubs.

Young woman performing Indian Sceptre exercise

Young woman performing Indian Sceptre exercise Indian sceptre exercises

Exercises for the limbs (balance step, walking at different speeds, running and leaping).

Walking - the quick paceWalking – the quick pace

Running and leaping – ‘Owing to the excessive shocks which both of these exercises communicate, neither of them are congenial to women’.  So Walker moved quickly on to exercises for the feet.

Dancing – Ladies were to dance in a very different manner from gentlemen – ‘lithesome and graceful motions’.  Every lady was to desist from dancing as soon as she felt any difficulty breathing –‘oppression and overheating render the most beautiful dancer an object of ridicule or of pity’.


Deportment – how to curtsey.

Three stages of a curtseyThe curtsey

Games – ‘Le Diable Boiteux’ (which exercised shoulders), 'La Grace' (catching hoops on sticks), skipping rope, shuttlecock and battledore, bow and arrow.

Geary's exercise staysGeary’s Exercise Stays

Walker recommended exercise stays invented by Mrs Nicholas Geary of 61 St James’s Street.  He said that these stays were absolutely essential for all exercises of the arms, especially the Indian exercises for which they were constructed.  Their pressure on every part of the chest was slight as the very elastic shoulder straps were longer and fixed lower than usual, and they also played freely in the lateral direction under a transverse band at the back.

Advertisement for Mrs Nicholas Geary’s stays from Morning Herald (London) 3 October 1836Advertisement for Mrs Nicholas Geary’s stays from Morning Herald (London) 3 October 1836 British Newspaper Archive

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Donald Walker, Exercises for Ladies 


30 March 2023

Women travellers on Indian railways

In 1869, newspapers in India and Britain reported that the Viceroy of India had approved a proposal to construct special carriages for Hindu and Muslim ‘Lady Travellers’ on the East India Railway.  This was considered the best means of preventing ‘insults’ to Indian women travelling by train.

East India Railway steam locomotive pulling carriagesEast India Railway train  from Illustrated London News 19 September 1863 Image © Illustrated London News Group. British Newspaper Archive - image created courtesy of The British Library Board.

The carriages, reserved for ‘respectable native women’, were to be of a first-class standard but with lower fares than other first-class accommodation.  It was recommended that there should be a European female guard and a European female ticket collector in attendance.  The guard would ensure that the women were comfortable, and any male relatives would be provided for in an adjoining carriage.  The Dacca Prakash suggested that there should also be carriages where females could ride with relatives if they objected to being separated.

Hindoo Lady Travellers 1869Article entitled 'Hindoo Lady Travellers' from Leicester Guardian 27 October 1869

In 1910 the Committee of the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce raised concerns about female carriages on the railways.  Committee Secretary Sita Nath Roy wrote to the President of the Railway Board expressing alarm at ‘the repeated robberies and outrages’ perpetrated in the carriages reserved for women travellers.  He referred to the recent robbery at Tinpahar when a Bengali woman was cut with a knife, her jewellery stolen, and three of her children thrown out of the train window.  Roy said that women in the secluded compartments found themselves ‘absolutely helpless in the hands of ruffians and desperadoes’, and did not know how to use the alarm bell when they or their property came under attack.

Newspaper article on women travelling on the railways in India 1910Article on women travelling on the railways in India from Englishman’s Overland Mail 4 August 1910

Unless remedial steps were taken, the Committee believed that there might be a considerable falling-off in passenger traffic on the railways.  The Committee therefore suggested some ‘protective measures’:
• Female carriages of all classes to be put together where possible and a trusted police officer with two or three constables place at the front and rear.
• Intermediate and third-class carriages should not be partitioned into compartments.
• Two female guards should be posted to protect women passengers on night trains.
• Windows should be protected with strong iron bars.
• Female carriages should have side lights.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Friend of India and Statesman 10 June 1869; Leicester Guardian 27 October 1869; Englishman’s Overland Mail 4 August 1910.


28 March 2023

Close Encounters of the ‘Sea Duck’ kind

The East India Company ship Martha under Captain Thomas Raynes (or Raines) set sail from England in April 1700, destined for Bombay.  It zig-zagged across the globe on the prevailing winds, via the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, and Bahia de Todos os Santos (All Saints’ Bay) on the Brazilian coast, before heading towards Southern Africa, across to Sumatra, and then onwards to India.  By January 1701, the ship had reached the Malabar coast, sailing to Bombay via Cochin, Karwar and Goa.  After reaching Bombay, the Martha made a journey to the port of Gombroon (Bander Abbas), before heading back to Bombay and then on to Surat.

Title page of Samuel Goodman's journal

Title page of Samuel Goodman's journal  - IOR/L/MAR/A/CXLVI 

India Office Records and Private Papers holds the journal of this latter part of the Martha’s voyage, written by mate Samuel Goodman.  It is a daily account of the voyage, mostly detailing navigational information, and wind, weather and sea conditions- if you were on a sailing ship in the early 18th century, this is what you would expect to be occupying the mind of the ship’s senior crew.   The text is interspersed with an occasional sketch of the coastline as seen from the ship.

Page from Goodman's journal showing sketches of the coastline around the CapPage from Goodman's journal showing sketches of the coastline around the Cape -  IOR/L/MAR/A/CXLVI, f.38v

But on the morning of Sunday (‘Soonday’) 27 October 1700, having not long left the Cape of Good Hope, heading towards India, Goodman observed something that must have been so out of the ordinary that he choose to record it in detail.  He came across a group of peculiar birds - black and white creatures with fins and no visible legs, with a yellow streak on their heads.  He even made a sketch of one of the birds, and captioned it the ‘Sea Duck’.

Entry from the Journal of the Martha for 27 October 1700 with a sketch of the 'Sea Duck'Entry from the Journal of the Martha for 27 October 1700 with a sketch of the 'Sea Duck' - IOR/L/MAR/A/CXLVI, f.43v

Goodman wrote: ‘I saw beetwene 15 and 16 fishes or fowells ass it may bee termed, the[y] Came close too the ships side, the[y] had A head and neck And A yallow bill like A Duck And Ass well formed Ass A land fowel Is, And A bodey ass bigg Ass A midling Duck two fins like A turtell, butt A fishes tayle Ass you may see by the figer the[y] lay a pretty while upon the surface of the Watter Soe thatt I had A full vew And Saw them oute of the watter as the[y] playd too and froo: and one particuler thing I Observed Ass the[y] Came Close to the side the would stare you in the face: the[y] had all of them too yallow strakes upon there heds, the back parte wass blacke And the belley all White butt had Noe Leggs: wee Could not distinguish them from A Blacke duck butt by the fishes tayle and There finns’.

Sketch of the Sea DuckSketch of the 'Sea Duck' - IOR/L/MAR/A/CXLVI, f.43v

So what animal did Samuel Goodman see playing in the waters off the Cape?  His physical description of the birds, as well as the description of their behaviour, lead us to believe that Goodman’s ‘Sea Duck’ wasn’t a duck at all , but actually a penguin.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/L/MAR/A/CXLVI: Journal of the Martha to Bombay, 20 Apr 1699 [1700] to 3 May 1702.
If you would like to delve further into the journal, it has been fully digitised and is available via the Qatar Digital Library
IOR/L/MAR/B/118A(1): The remainder of the Samuel Goodman’s journal of the Martha’s voyage, detailing the return voyage of the ship to England, 1702-1703, via Mauritius, Saint Helena, Ascension, Barbados, and Erith has also been digitised and is available via the Qatar Digital Library. 
Anthony Farrington, Catalogue of East India Company ships' journals and logs, 1600-1834 (London: British Library, 1999).
A copy of IOR/L/MAR/A/CXLVI, f.43v, showing the Sea Duck, with a transcription, can be found amongst the papers of Anthony Farrington Mss Eur F704/4/3/1 Visual material relating to ships (this collection will be available for consultation shortly).