Untold lives blog

241 posts categorized "Politics"

26 January 2023

Across the Heart of Arabia (1): St John Philby’s Mission to Najd

In 1917 St John Philby, Colonial Office Intelligence Officer, was sent by the British Colonial Office Arab Bureau in Cairo on a mission to cross the desert from Uqair on the Persian Gulf to Riyadh and make contact with Ibn Sa’ud, the ruler of Najd in central Arabia.

In May 1917, he was briefed en route in Baghdad by Major Gertrude Bell, the first female Military Intelligence Officer in the British Army, who was advising the British government on Middle East policy following her earlier archaeological and intelligence gathering expeditions in Iraq, Syria and the Arabian peninsula.

File cover -  Mr Philby’s Mission to NajdIOR/R/15/5//66, f 1 ‘22/16/ Mr Philby’s Mission to Najd – 1918.’

Expedition logistics: tea, tobacco and thermometers

Like any expedition, great attention was paid to logistics including supplies and kit such as tea, tobacco, thermometers and photographic film.

Telegram about Kodak film and tobacco for Philby’s Mission to NajdIOR/R/15/5/66, f 53 ‘22/16/ Mr Philby’s Mission to Najd – 1918.’


Logistics were also facilitated by Abdullah al-Nafisi, Ibn Sa’ud’s agent who smoothed Philby’s path in various ways.

Document about logistics facilitated by Abdullah al-NafisiIOR/R/15/5/66, f 113, ‘22/16/ Mr Philby’s Mission to Najd – 1918.’

Map of Central Arabia with Philby’s route marked in redMap of Central Arabia with Philby’s route marked in red

On the route to Riyadh, Philby undertook pioneering cartographical work and meteorological research, recorded information on the people inhabiting the area, and collected geological and natural history specimens.  In contemporary understandings of imperialism and empire, these expeditions constitute the gathering of ‘colonial knowledge’ on an area: the accumulation and collating of a corpus of information on the inhabitants, terrain, and natural resources of an area which will enable the colonial power to influence, coerce, and if circumstances require it, facilitate the deployment of colonial violence to attempt to achieve outcomes advantageous to the imperial power.

As was his habit, Philby compiled detailed and meticulous notes during his preparations and on the journey.  On arrival in Riyadh, he paced the city walls in order to draw up a map of the settlement and its outer limits.  Also important were gifts: Philby brought tents for Ibn Sa’ud and on his departure back to the Persian Gulf was given two Arabian oryx as gifts for King George V which were led on string back over the dusty terrain en route to England via Bombay.

Before his departure back to the Persian Gulf, Philby also took undertook an expedition along the Wadi Dawasir which had been used for centuries as a route to bring the coffee from Mocha into central Arabia.  All this was to be the start of a lifetime of exploration of the Arabian Peninsula.

Title page of Southern Nejd - Journey to Kharj  Aflaj  Sulaiyyil  and Wadi Dawasir in 1918‘Southern Nejd: Journey to Kharj, Aflaj, Sulaiyyil, and Wadi Dawasir in 1918’

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

Further reading:
Madawi Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia, 2nd edition, (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

 

13 December 2022

The oldest cyclist in the UK

At the age of 80, Mordaunt Martin Monro was advised by his doctor to take up tricycle riding.  He was assured that this would add ten years to his life.  Mr Monro was to be seen pedaling around near his home in Enfield, Middlesex, until shortly before his death at the age of 92 on 21 March 1899.  The cycling press named him ‘the oldest wheelman in the United Kingdom’.

Tricycle of the 1880s1880s tricycle from Nauticus in Scotland - A tricycle tour of 2,462 miles. Including Skye & the West coast (London, 1888) Digital Store 10370.d.28 BL flickr

Monro’s dedication to tricycling was shared by his friend Daniel Gilsenan.  In his 80s, Mr Gilsenan was a familiar sight in Enfield riding a tricycle which pulled a trailer carrying his widowed sister Justina Clark as a passenger.  Most appropriately, Daniel lived in Raleigh Road.

Mordaunt Martin Monro was the child of Captain James Monro of the East India Company’s maritime service by his second wife Caroline née Martin.  He was born at Hadley in Middlesex on 3 November 1806, just a fortnight before his father died.  His mother had him educated at home by tutors, and he then received practical instruction in agriculture at nearby Rectory Farm.  At the age of 22, Monro took over Bury Farm in Southbury Road and his mother lived there with him until her death in 1848.  Daniel Gilsenan worked as his farm bailiff for 26 years, and his sister Jane was servant and housekeeper for Monro for over 30 years.  When Monro retired from the farm, he lived with Daniel and his wife Lucy.

Monro was associated with Richard Cobden and John Bright in anti-corn laws agitation, and in 1849 was a founder member of the National Freehold Land Society, also known as the National Permanent Mutual Benefit Society.  The Society aimed to enable working men to acquire 40 shilling freeholds and thereby the right to vote.  Monro served as director, trustee and chairman, and remained connected to the Society until his death.

Both Caroline and Mordaunt Monro joined the Society of Friends and attended the meeting house at Winchmore Hill.  Mordaunt supported the anti-slavery movement and the 1850s Peace Movement.  He was a regular and generous donor to the Enfield and Tottenham Hospitals, and paid £5 a year to fund the winding of the clock at Enfield Church.  Although said to be of a retiring disposition, Monro held public office, as Poor Law overseer and then as one of the first members of the local board of health.

Mordaunt Monro was also involved in the temperance movement.  He began to abstain from drinking alcohol in 1840 and founded the first Temperance Society in Enfield, using a converted barn as a meeting place.  This barn was also used as premises for an evening school.  In August 1843 he hosted at his farm a meeting of the Total Abstinence Society which was addressed by the Irish celebrity temperance campaigner Father Mathew.  Hundreds of people attended on a very hot day and were supplied with temperance refreshments from tents erected in a large field.  The temperance pledge was taken by about 400 people on that day.

Newspaper article about Father Mathew at EnfieldFather Mathew at Enfield - Hertford Mercury and Reformer 19 August 1843 British Newspaper Archive 

Daniel Gilsenan survived his friend for five years.  He died on 1 August 1904 at his house in Raleigh Road.  Enfield had now lost both of its most elderly cyclists.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper ArchiveHertford Mercury and Reformer 19 August 1843, Westminster Gazette 24 March 1899, The Middlesex Gazette 25 March 1899, Soulby’s Ulverston Advertiser and General Intelligencer 17 September 1903.

Previous posts about Captain James Monro -
The sale of East India Company maritime commands

Private trade and pressed men – the voyage of the Houghton to China

 

23 November 2022

The Attempted Assassination of Lord Lytton: A Letter’s Story

Archivists respect ‘provenance’ and ‘original order’, which means that documents created by the same person, organisation, or institution stay together, and you don’t mix or rearrange them because you think it might make material more ‘useable’.  But documents often have their own story to tell.  I recently came across one such letter in the India Office records from Viceroy Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird.

Photographic portrait of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton - bearded, seated, dressed in long frock coat. Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 1876 NPG x197471 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence


Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl Lytton was Viceroy of India from 1876 to 1880.  It was a controversial term of office.  On the domestic front, the Vernacular Press Act (1878) provoked public protests against the Government’s attempts to control a critical Indian Press.  The Second Anglo-Afghan War was underway, absorbing considerable political and economic resources.  And famine raged across large swathes of India for the first three years of Lytton’s tenure, the disaster of drought exacerbated by a poor Government response to famine relief and the continued export of grain.  Estimates vary, but 10 million people may have died of starvation and its associated diseases.  James Caird was part of the Indian Famine Commission set up to look at ways to prevent and avoid future famines.

Page of letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879 Page of letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879IOR/L/PS/19/570: Letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879, f2v & f3r  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Our letter, dated 12 December 1879, was a private rather than official piece of correspondence, sent from Government House Calcutta to Caird’s London address.  It remained in the Caird family until gifted to the India Office in 1924 as part of a larger collection of correspondence to and from James Caird, which also included material relating to the Famine Commission.  The material was gratefully received, given the shelf-mark Home Miscellaneous 796 (IOR/H/796), and catalogued.  But this particular letter was deliberately removed and placed in the care of the Political and Secret Department.

Document recording transfer of letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird to Political and Secret Department in 1924Document recording transfer of letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird to Political and Secret Department, 1924  -IOR/L/PS/11/247, P 2688/1924  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Amongst other business, the letter describes an assassination attempt against Lytton.  Arriving in Calcutta, Lytton tells Caird: ‘I daresay you will see it stated in the newspapers that I was twice fired at on my way from the Station to Government House’.  He is dismissive, both of the assassination attempt, and of the person making it, saying ‘But the shots were fired by a lunatic Eurasian; and I can assure you that they had not the smallest political significance’.  Lytton’s language is distasteful, not only towards his would-be assassin, but also towards the wider Indian inhabitants of Bengal (‘Bengalee Baboos’) who he describes as ‘disloyal’, including those belonging to the British Indian Association.  Lytton does not name his attacker, but he is identified in the press as George Dessa or De Sa. The newspapers state that his shots had ‘…created indignation but no excitement…it seems doubtful as to whether the man was mad or only drunk’.  His motive is not deemed to be political, but rather that he acted because he had been dismissed from his job.

Report of the assassination attempt on Lytton in Homeward Mail 5 January 1880Report of the assassination attempt on Lytton in Homeward Mail 5 January 1880 British Newspaper Archive


India Office staff in 1924 do not explicitly state the reason for the letter’s removal, but we can surmise that as it refers to an assassination attempt against the Viceroy, it was deemed to be too politically sensitive to remain with the other items.  Lytton’s provocative language may also have been an issue, given the context of rising Indian nationalism within the sub-continent, and the political instabilities in Britain in the 1920s.  Whatever the reasons behind its original removal, improved cataloguing of our records enables us to intellectually link our letter back to its original collection, telling its history along the way.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/19/570: Letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 1879.
IOR/H/796: Correspondence of Sir James Caird, Member of the Indian Famine Commission. 1878-1881.
IOR/L/PS/11/247, P 2688/1924: Letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird, transferred to Political and Secret Department.
The Times of India 16 December 1879 & The Homeward Mail 5 January 1880, accessed via British Newspaper Archive.
IOR/L/PARL/2/173/2: Condition of India. Report by James Caird, C.B. (C.2732). 1880.
Various correspondence between James Caird and the India Office in relation to his Condition of India report can be found at IOR/L/E/6/13, File 705; IOR/L/E/6/11, File 538; IOR/L/E/6/26, File 424; IOR/L/E/6/2, File 59; and IOR/L/E/6/19, File 1164.
Papers of 1st Earl of Lytton, Viceroy of India, Mss Eur F595 and Mss Eur E218.

 

08 September 2022

Granville Archive available

The Untold Lives blog has included several posts on the Granville Archive over the last couple of years.  The archive was acquired by the British Library in 2019, along with a supplementary collection of family papers previously hidden from public view, thanks to support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and other funders.

Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive

Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Like so much else, the project to repackage and catalogue the archive was held up by consecutive lock-downs.  Now, at last, the work is complete: catalogue descriptions for both the main and supplementary collections are available on the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts online catalogue (Add MS 89317 and Add MS 89382).  Readers can now directly request access any of the material in the BL reading rooms.

'Per Balloon Post': congratulatory postcard sent by balloon post to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville

'Per Balloon Post': congratulatory postcard sent by balloon post to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville, inscribed with a charitable appeal to the Countess from the finder, a Rev H Woodhouse, 30 April 1872
(Add MS 89382/4/23, f. 40) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The archive is large.  The main collection consists of 883 volumes and files of correspondence and papers, and the supplementary collection a further 96 (as well as a satin purse in which some of the letters were stored).  The collections span several generations over three centuries.  Of particular importance are the papers of Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl (1773–1846), diplomat and politician, and his son Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl (1815-1891), diplomat, foreign secretary and close friend of Gladstone. 

'This is my 10th attempt to print': the 2nd Earl Granville’s struggle with a typewriter. Letter from Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville.

'This is my 10th attempt to print': the 2nd Earl Granville’s struggle with a typewriter. Letter from Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, to Castalia Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville, 6 March 1876
(Add MS 89382/4/11, f. 142-143) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Women members of the family are well represented, including Lady Susanna Leveson-Gower (1742-1805), wife of Granville Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford; Lady Henrietta (Harriet) Leveson-Gower (1785-1862), wife of the first Earl Granville; and Castalia Leveson-Gower (1847-1938), wife of the 2nd Earl Granville.  Henrietta Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough (1761-1821) and her sister Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) feature prominently in the supplementary collection.

'My dearest Granville'. Letter from Lady Stafford to her 17-year-old son, Granville Leveson-Gower, 22 February 1791

'My dearest Granville'. Letter from Lady Stafford to her 17-year-old son, Granville Leveson-Gower, later 1st Earl Granville, 22 February 1791 (Add MS 89382/1, f. 150) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anyone interested in 18th-19th century diplomacy and foreign affairs, national politics, aristocratic society and intimate family life, the development of higher education, and national museums is likely to find material of interest in the Granville Archive and supplementary papers.

Self-portrait with dog on the shore below the cliffs at Hastings, by Lady Bessborough.

Self-portrait with dog on the shore below the cliffs at Hastings, by Lady Bessborough.  Enclosed in a letter to Granville Leveson-Gower, later 1st Earl Granville, while he was away in St Petersburg, Russia, 19 October 1804
(Add MS 89382/2/22, f. 70) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

To find out more about some parts of the archive, see the previous Untold Lives blogposts, and enjoy a detailed account of innovative conservation treatment for locks of hair in the collection by BL conservator Veronica Zoppi (listed below).

Tabitha Driver
Cataloguer, Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Lord Granville Leveson Gower: Private Correspondence, ed. Castalia Granville (London, 1916)
Hary’o: the Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish, 1796-1809, ed. George Leveson Gower and Iris Palmer (London, 1940)
Edmond Fitzmaurice, The Life of Granville George Leveson Gower K.G. 1815-1891. 3rd ed. (London, 1905)
Janet Gleeson,  An aristocratic affair: The life of Georgiana's sister, Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough (London, 2006).
The political correspondence of Mr Gladstone and Lord Granville, 1868–1876, ed. A. Ramm, 2 vols. (London, 1952).

Cache of hidden letters in the Granville Archive
Ciphers and sympathetic ink: secret love letters in the Granville papers
A rebus puzzle
Conservation of the Granville Archive papers

 

05 September 2022

Introducing Prime Ministers’ Papers from Robert Walpole to H. H. Asquith

The Modern Archives collections holds many of the personal papers of the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom.  These are rich and extensive papers, which offer an incredible insight into the British political establishment over two centuries.  Our new collection guide introduces our holdings relating to British Prime Ministers.  The collections listed are valuable resources that can offer first-hand accounts of the some of the most prominent political personalities and infamous events of modern British history.  The papers include dialogues with Royals, correspondence from politicians, petitions, personal diaries and drafts of legislation.

We have selected a few items from this huge collection that highlight some of the fascinating stories hidden within these papers.

The folio below is from the copybook of letters of the John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, Prime Minister from 1762 to 1763.  In this volume of transcripts of the Earl of Bute’s letters are a number of letters to the Prince of Wales, the future King George III.  The Earl of Bute offers his personal advice to the Prince, the transcript below offers insights into the tone of these letters.

Earl of Bute’s advice to the future George IIIEarl of Bute’s advice to the future George III, Add MS 36797, f.66v. 

The papers of Lord North, Prime Minister from 1770 to 1782, offer insights into the British State’s response to the American Revolutionary War.  Among the papers are various letters from Loyalists including a petition of prisoners requesting assistance.  The folio below is a letter from Richard Clarke on behalf of his son Isaac who was one of the merchants chosen by the English East India Company to deal with tea consignments in Boston.  He refers to the violence that erupted during the event known as the Boston Tea Party, which brought suffering to his son and ended his employment.  From here, he appeals to Lord North for compensation for his son’s loss of income.

Letter to Lord North from Richard Clarke recalling his son’s experience of the Boston Tea PartyLetter to Lord North from Richard Clarke recalling his son’s experience of the Boston Tea Party, he was ‘greatly exposed to the violence of the rioters, even before those teas were destroyed’. Add MS 61864, f.25. 

The papers of George Canning, prime minster in 1827, include files relating to the campaign to abolish slavery within the British Empire. The British trade in slaves had been illegal since 1807; however, ownership of slaves in British colonies was still legal until 1833. Some of Canning’s papers explore slavery within the British Empire, like the folio below concerning the case of a man who was contesting his enslavement in British Guiana.

Papers considering the case of a man who was contesting his enslavement in British GuianaPapers considering the case of Barra[h/k], a man who was contesting his enslavement in British Guiana. Canning Papers, Add MS 89143/1/8/2. No foliation. 

The extensive Gladstone Papers cover his four premierships and offer a unique insight into an expansive range of policy interests and political issues over the 19th century.  This letter is one of many from women’s suffrage campaigners. Millicent Fawcett writes to Gladstone’s office to thank Gladstone for his sympathy towards her sick husband.

Letter to Gladstone from Millicent Fawcett  1885Gladstone Papers, Letter to Gladstone from Millicent Fawcett, 1885, Add MS 44156, f.191v. 

These fascinating examples from the collection are just a few folios from a vast set of collections that offer unique perspectives on the history of governance, policy, power and politics in Britain from the 17th to the 20th century.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives

Further Reading:
Prime Ministers’ Papers and Correspondence

 

17 August 2022

Read all about it - Brendan Bracken's letters to Max Aitken

Politicians and journalists have a strange love/hate relationship.  A newspaper can bring down a politician (think The Guardian and MPs Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton); equally a politician can spell trouble for a newspaper (see Tom Watson’s campaign against phone hacking).  However, they also depend on each other: politicians need to be in the public eye; newspapers need stories, ideally with sources close to the heart of government.  That relationship is important today but imagine how much more important it was in the 1930s and 1940s when, without the internet, no television to speak of, and really just one channel on the radio, the only truly mass media was newspapers, which sold in their millions every day across hundreds of local and national titles.  So the correspondence of a government minister and the owner of the country’s best selling newspaper could be expected to be rich with stories, gossip, and tips.  The letters of Brendan Bracken to Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, spanning more than 30 years and acquired by the  British Library in April 2022, do not disappoint.

Photographic portrait of Brendan BrackenBrendan Bracken by Elliott & Fry, bromide print, 13 January 1950. NPG x86452 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

The two met around 1923, possibly through their mutual friend, Winston Churchill, and soon struck up a firm friendship.  They had much in common.  Bracken had a background in financial journalism.  He became an MP in 1929, was appointed Churchill’s Parliamentary Private Secretary in 1940 (Bracken was to be one of Churchill’s closest allies throughout the latter’s long political career), and Minister of Information the following year.  Beaverbrook was an MP from 1910 to 1916 before being created a baron, and had himself served as Minister of Information in 1918.  He had been involved in British newspapers since 1911, and was the owner of the Daily Express, which by 1937 was the country’s best selling newspaper and post-war became the world’s largest selling newspaper.  When Churchill appointed Beaverbrook Minister of Aircraft Production in 1940, (the first of three War Cabinet posts he was to hold), Bracken and Beaverbrook found their interests and politics merging at the very centre of power, with all the access to information and gossip that would bring.

Photographic portrait of William Maxwell Aitken 1st Baron BeaverbrookWilliam Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1930 NPG x2803 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Bracken’s letters are full of behind the scenes rumour, news, and comment relating to politics and the press.  The letters touch on every major event and crisis of those turbulent times: the rise of Nazi Germany, appeasement, the Czechoslovak crisis, World War II, Churchill’s leadership, the reforming post-war Labour government, the economy, factions in both the Conservative and Labour parties, decolonisation and the end of empire, and the Suez crisis.  There is comment on all the major political figures of the period: Chamberlain, Churchill, Attlee, Dalton, Bevin, Bevan, Morrison, Butler, Macmillan, and Eden.  The letters also discuss major figures in diplomacy and international affairs, business and industry, the newspaper trade, Anglo-American relations, and post-war South Africa under its National Party government.

Bracken’s letters have a relaxed, informal, conversational style about them and should not just be seen as a source of political and press tittle tattle.  They can also be read as a record of a genuine friendship.   Real warmth comes through, and they contain the discussions of health, hospitality, birthday gifts, and visits to see each other that one would expect from letters between any two old friends.  These two old friends just so happened to be two of the most powerful people in the country!

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager

Further reading:
Add MS 89495 Letters from Brendan Bracken to Max Aitken, Baron Beaverbrook, 1925-1958
Richard Cockett, ed., My Dear Max: the Letters of Brendan Bracken to Lord Beaverbrook, 1925-1958 (London: The Historians’ Press, 1990)
Charles Edward Lysaght, Brendan Bracken (London: Allen Lane, 1979)
Charles Williams, Max Beaverbrook: Not Quite a Gentleman (London: Biteback, 2019)

 

15 August 2022

Sources for Indian Independence and the creation of Pakistan

This month sees the 75th anniversary of the partition of pre-1947 India and the creation of the modern states of India and Pakistan.  The British Library holds a wealth of resources relating to these events.

Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru & Mr M.A. Jinnah  walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge Simla, 11 May 1946.Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru & Mr M.A. Jinnah, walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge Simla. 11 May 1946. British Library Photo 134/2(28) Images Online

India Office Records:
These are the official records of the India Office, the British Government department responsible for the administration of pre-1947 British India.  Created in London or received from India as part of the normal business of government, for example correspondence or copied reports, they complement the huge collections of official records in archives in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Front cover of Top Secret Report on the Punjab Boundary Force Front cover of Top Secret report on the Punjab Boundary Force  1947-1948 IOR/L/WS/1/1134 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The most significant series for the study of independence and partition are:

• Fortnightly reports: Governors, Chief Commissioners and Chief Secretaries 1937-1948, and British High Commissioners and Deputy High Commissioners 1947-1950 (IOR/L/PJ/5/128-336).
• Public & Judicial Collection 117: law and order, 1933-1947 (IOR/L/PJ/8).
• Transfer of Power Papers 1942-1945 (IOR/L/PJ/10).
• Indian Political Intelligence files, 1913 to 1947 (IOR/L/PJ/12).
• Files on political and constitutional development, 1916-1947 (IOR/L/PO/6).
• Private correspondence: printed series and file copies, 1914-1947 (IOR/L/PO/10).
• Political papers and correspondence with Provincial Governors and their Secretaries, 1936-1948 (IOR/R/3/1/1-178).
• Records relating to Gandhi and the Civil Disobedience Movement, 1922-1946 (IOR/R/3/1/289-370).
• Files of the Bengal Governor’s Secretariat, 1936-1947 (IOR/R/3/2/1-86).

Map of pre-partitiion India from Mountbatten's last report showing which parts became PakistanMap of pre-partitiion India from Mountbatten's last report showing which parts became Pakistan IOR/L/PJ/5/396/15 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

India Office Private Papers:
These collections of papers differ from the official records through being created or kept by individuals, families or organisations separate from government.  They provide alternative perspectives on official business and insights into individuals’ lives, and include significant collections relating to independence and partition. To take just a few examples:

• Secretaries of State for India, such as Sir Samuel Hoare (Mss Eur E240) and the Marquess of Zetland (Mss Eur D609).
• Viceroys, such as the 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow (Mss Eur F125), Lord Wavell (Mss Eur D977) and Earl Mountbatten of Burma (IOR Neg 15538-67).
• Provincial Governors, such as Sir Maurice Hallett (Mss Eur E251) and Sir Francis Mudie (Mss Eur F164).
• Permanent Under-Secretaries of State for India, 1920-1948 (Mss Eur D714).
• Military men, such as Major John McLoughlin Short, Civil Liaison Officer to the Sikh community 1940-42, and Personal Assistant to Sir Stafford Cripps during Cabinet Mission to India 1946 (Mss Eur F189).
• Indian political leaders and supporters of independence such as Gandhi (several small collections), Mahomed Ali Jinnah (IOR Neg 10760-826), and Sir Fazl-i-Husain (Mss Eur E352).
• The struggle for freedom during the last three decades of British rule in India was the backdrop to the lives of many British families in India.  Not surprisingly, it often features in memoirs, journals, diaries and letters home found in numerous small collections of private papers.  For example: a letter, dated 26 Sept 1947, from Freda Evelyn Oliver, wife of the Deputy Commissioner of Bahawalpur State, describing her family's journey from Simla to Bahawalpur during the disturbances following partition (Mss Eur A168).

Map showing the partition of Punjab Map showing the partition of Punjab IOR/L/WS/1/1134 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Library holds a mass of other source materials for the study of independence and partition, including photographs and newspapers.   There is a wonderful collection of Indian publications banned or ‘proscribed’ by the British Government as they were considered seditious or liable to incite unrest.  In addition, one of the most fascinating resources the British Library holds is the Oral History collections, allowing researchers the ability to hear the voices of the people who lived through those momentous times.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
The Transfer of Power, 1942-7: Constitutional Relations between Britain and India, edited by Nicholas Mansergh, 12 vols. (London, 1970-1983).

Gandhi and Civil Disobedience: Documents in the India Office Records 1922-1946 by Amar Kaur Jasbir Singh (London, 1980).

Indian Independence Collection Guide

Publications proscribed by the Government of India: a catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books, British Library Reference Division, edited by Graham Shaw and Mary Lloyd (London: British Library, 1985).

Oral History collections relating to independence and partition: Oral histories of migration, ethnicity and post-colonialism - scroll down to the section on ‘British rule in India’.

Titles of English language Indian newspapers are listed on the Explore the British Library catalogue, and British newspaper reports can be found online by searching the British Newspaper Archive.

Collections in the UK on Indian Independence and Partition

 

23 June 2022

Dr Sarah Hosmon and the Missionary Hospital in Sharjah

Kentucky born Sarah Hosmon devoted nearly her entire adult life to missionary and medical work in Arabia.  In 1909 Dr Hosmon arrived in Bahrain, and in 1913, under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Church of America’s Arabian Mission, she opened a clinic for women and children in Muscat.  For the next 28 years she treated, medicated and evangelized under often arduous conditions, unperturbed by having a wooden leg as the result of a childhood accident.

Photograph of Dr Sarah HosmonSarah Longworth Hosmon (1883-1964) who graduated from the University of Illinois College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1909. Source of image: How superpower rivalry and fears of a pandemic brought the first doctor to the UAE in 1939 | The National (thenationalnews.com)

Dr Hosmon was accepted by the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions in 1939, and by 1941 she had set up a clinic at the Omani seaport of Saham. The clinic was extremely isolated, with medical supplies often having to be dropped by air plane.

In January 1944 Hosmon approached the British authorities , who virtually controlled the region, for permission to set up a medical practice in Kalba, then an independent emirate on the Gulf of Oman coast.

Extract from letter of Sarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944  to Captain Patrick  Tandy stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in KalbaSarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944 from Kalba to Captain Patrick Tandy, Political Officer for the Trucial Coast, stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in Kalba and to move there after April, subject to Tandy’s permission: IOR/R/15/2/853, f 88r.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎88r] (175/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)


The British inquired into Hosman’s credentials and received a glowing testimonial from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital, Bahrain.

Testimonial for Sarah Hosmon from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital  Bahrain.Letter from Dr Paul W. Harrison (1883-1962) to Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent in Bahrain, January 1944, describing Hosmon’s medical abilities, character, religious opinions and relationship with Arab rulers she had worked under.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎90r] (179/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

Following confirmation that the Regent of Kalba [Shaikh Khālid Bin Aḥmad al-Qāsimi] was happy for Hosmon to move her practice there, the British authorities decided they had no objection once the War had ended and if Hosmon guaranteed that her co-workers would ‘not become destitute and a charge upon the Government of India’s revenues’.

Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham to Major Patrick Tandy 26 March 1944Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent Bahrain, to Major Patrick Tandy, Political Officer, Trucial Coast, 26 March 1944.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎96r] (191/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

In fact Hosmon remained in Saham for another six years.  The British authorities did not like the ‘nebulous’ nature of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions and were reluctant to have too many American missionaries in the Gulf, whose backgrounds they could not check and whose movements they could not control.  Privately, they disliked Hosmon’s strong-headedness and considered she had used ‘underhand’ methods to obtain travel permits for herself and an American nurse.

Memorandum  dated 16 December 1945  by Geoffrey Prior  Political Resident in the Persian Gulf  setting forth British hostility towards HosmonMemorandum, dated 16 December 1945, by Geoffrey Prior, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, setting forth British hostility towards Hosmon - 'File 6/1 Foreign Interests: American Mission at Muscat' [‎5r] (9/52) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

British obstructionism was not the sole cause of delay.  The terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba appear to have been unacceptable to Hosmon, and she wanted to be able to share freely the Gospel with her patients.

Intelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain  February 1945  indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to HosmonIntelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain, February 1945, indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to Hosmon - Ext 1488/44 'Dr Hosmon: American Medical Missionary' [‎5r] (9/28) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

Hosmon finally made the move in 1951, by which time Kalba had been reincorporated as an enclave of the Sheikhdom of Sharjah.  The clinic opened in 1952 and became known as the Dr Sarah Hosmon Hospital (closing in 1994).  The hospital was the only one in Sharjah, primarily for women and children but later also expanded to men, and its services were in heavy demand and frequently over-stretched.  Evangelism was an integral feature of treatment, with Bible readings for patients.

Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast  1935.Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast, 1935

Journalist John Sack described an encounter with Hosmon in the late 1950s, perhaps revealing the physical toll her work had taken: ‘I was met by Dr Sarah L Hosmon, the director, a slight woman of seventy or eighty whose face is taut, severe, and American Gothic, and who, after inviting me in for tea in her living room, said that she’s been on the Arabian peninsula since 1911, in Sharja since 1952….’.

Hosmon worked tirelessly in Sharjah until a few years before her death in 1964, bringing medical relief, saving lives, and contributing to the introduction of new medicines and empirical techniques to Arabia.  Towards the end, her time was spent advising nursing staff and midwives and preaching the Word of God to patients.

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

Further Reading:
Saving Sinners, even Moslems: the Arabian mission 1889-1973 and its intellectual roots by Jerzy Zdanowski (2018)
Global View of Christian Missions from Pentecost to the present by J Herbert Kane (1971)
The Sultanate of Oman: A Twentieth Century History by Miriam Joyce (1995)
The Arabian Peninsula by Richard H Sanger (1954)
One Way The Only Way, A Christian Library website, blogpost on Sarah Longworth Hosmon by Tyson Paul
‘Missionary-Statesmen of the Bible Presbyterian Church’ by Keith Coleman, Western Reformed Seminary Journal 11/1 (Feb 2004) 15-19
Report from PRACTICALLY NOWHERE by John Sack (1959)

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