Untold lives blog

204 posts categorized "Politics"

17 September 2020

Sylvia Pankhurst’s Toilet Papers

The panic bulk buying of toilet paper and dried pasta?  Or Captain Tom Moore’s long march for the NHS?  It’s too soon to tell which aspects of 2020 historians will focus on.  However, as Sylvia Pankhurst’s biographer, my own obsession with toilet paper began a few years before the Covid-19 pandemic, and it began in the British Library.

Many people remember Sylvia Pankhurst as the suffragette sister from the first family of feminism who stayed true to its socialist beginnings throughout her great life.  Fewer reflect upon the whole arc of that life; one of art and resistance against war, fascism, racism, colonialism, and inequality.

Head and shoulders portrait photograph of Sylvia Pankhurst 1938

Head and shoulders portrait photograph of Sylvia Pankhurst by Howard Coster, 1938 NPG x24529 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Sylvia was the most incarcerated and tortured of the Pankhursts, but her prison career did not end there.  In 1921 she was once more His Majesty’s guest in Holloway Prison.  This time her crime was not the struggle for women’s equality but sedition, in publishing anti-war articles in her newspaper the Workers’ Dreadnought.  Her health compromised by previous imprisonment and torture, and suffering from endometriosis, one of the bravest Britons of the 20th century served another prison term, this time as a newspaper publisher defending freedom of the press.

Sylvia used her six-month solitary sentence to write.  A political prisoner, her only permitted writing materials were a small slate and chalk.  Yet she was prolific during this period.  On release, she published the poetry anthology Writ on Cold Slate, whose title sonnet agonizes about writing under such conditions.

Whilst many a poet to his love hath writ,
Boasting that thus he gave immortal life,
My faithful lines upon inconstant slate,
Destined to swift extinction reach not thee.

So, I wondered, how did these faithful lines reach us?

My excavation of British Library manuscripts revealed that artist and writer came up with a practical means of transcribing her writing and smuggling it out of Holloway.  Sylvia drafted her ideas with chalk on slate, then reworked them with soft pencil on standard issue HM Prison toilet paper, concealed in the underclothes of her uniform.  These contraband manuscripts were smuggled out by her friend Norah Smyth on prison visits, and other prisoners on release.  Sylvia’s suggestive wipe-away slate metaphor led me to the discovery of the fragile toilet paper reality.  The compressed, previously unsorted bundles surviving today in the BL contain not only poetry but a previously unknown and nearly complete five act play and clandestine correspondence that I spent six months painstakingly transcribing and putting in order for future researchers.

Sylvia complained to Norah that ‘the stuff I write all rubs off because it flops around in my pocket,’ but this line has survived for a century on its little square of rough toilet roll, along with hundreds of other sheets of beige, perforated prison issue toilet paper.  Sylvia Pankhurst died in Ethiopia in 1960, honoured with a state funeral.  When an earthquake and coup followed, her son unsuccessfully attempted to give a portion of her extensive papers to the British Library for safekeeping.  Refuge was instead found in Amsterdam.  Years later, Richard Pankhurst once again offered the BL the opportunity of a further cache of his mother’s papers, including – bundled up in bulging brown envelopes – this toilet paper in which I have found such treasure.  Thank goodness for second chances and for writing under lockdown.

Rachel Holmes
Author 

Further reading:
Pankhurst Papers - British Library Add MS 88925
Rachel Holmes, Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel (Bloomsbury, 2020).

15 September 2020

Hunter, Campbell, and the politics of archiving famine

In the suffocating heat and violent downpours of early August, 1866, Sir William Hunter, his wife, infant son, and a Portuguese nurse, journeyed to Midnapur in Bengal, where Hunter had been appointed Inspector of Schools for the South-Western Division.  They travelled by road in their victoria driven by Hunter himself.  The carriage and horses were crammed on a ferry by which they crossed the torrential river Damodar.  The crossing took fourteen hours, and Hunter drove on until the route was cut off by a chasm created by the floods.  Horses unhitched, the carriage was dragged down the bank to the other side of the chasm.  They reached a rest house which offered little provision.  They travelled again, until, hungry and exhausted, they finally arrived at their destination.

Sir William Hunter driving a carriage with his wife, infant son, and a Portuguese nurse, journeying to Midnapur in heat and violent downpours.Sir William Hunter driving a carriage with his wife, infant son, and a Portuguese nurse, journeying to Midnapur in heat and violent downpours.  Image reproduced by the kind permission of the artist ©Argha Manna.

Hunter then left at once to survey the area as the government was anxious to learn about the effect of the Orissa famine on schools in neighbouring districts.  To his horror, he found Bishnupur, the ancient capital of Birbhum, a ‘city of paupers’, as he noted in his letter to the Director of Public Instruction.  The famine relief operations were disrupted by a cholera outbreak.  At his own expense, Hunter set up a temporary orphanage for starving children who roamed the streets, feeding on worms and snails.

The author of The Annals of Bengal - a text often mined for information on the notorious famines in Orissa (1866) and in Bengal (1769-70) - was not simply an excavator of archives.  An aspect of his life not often told seems to be epitomised by this stark physical encounter with famine-affected areas, which officers like Hunter (and their families) could not avoid.  For Hunter, writing the famous Annals was punctuated by such experiences, as he developed his comparative analytical methods, placing side by side archival findings which allowed him to reconstruct the 1770 Bengal famine, and his immediate knowledge of the Orissa famine a century later.

Head and shoulders portrait of Sir William Hunter, dressed in a formal jacket and tie.Portrait of Sir William Hunter. Image reproduced by the kind permission of the artist ©Argha Manna.

These two famines are infamous events in the history of British administration of the Bengal Presidency.  The first resulted in the loss of 10 million lives, and yet the East India Company’s revenue increased in that famine year; during the second, 200 million pounds of rice were exported to Britain while a million starved to death in Orissa.  Hunter’s analytical method relied on recovering local ecology, history, and demography, loosely modelled on the English annals of parishes.  As Hunter wrote to Cecil Beadon in 1868, ‘My business is with the people’ - a rather risky remark perhaps in an epistle to the former lieutenant-governor of Bengal, recently deposed for his mishandling of the Orissa famine and scant attention to the suffering of ‘the people’.  Moreover, Hunter’s approach was analogical, comparing not only past and present famines, but British and Indian models of record keeping; and, finally, it was predictive.  Hunter believed that better administration and prevention of future famines were possible through historically informed reflection on current experience ….

Portrait of Sir George Campbell to the waist, seated with a stick in his left hand and dressed in an informal shirt and jacket.

Portrait of Sir George Campbell.  Image reproduced by the kind permission of the artist ©Argha Manna.

For the rest of this story about Hunter’s differences with his contemporary Sir George Campbell who also shaped interpretations of the Orissa and Bengal famines; their negotiations with colonial governance; their lasting impression on archiving famine; and their publication of a little-known collaborative collection of records of the Bengal Famine of 1769-70, see the full article on the Famine Tales project blog Food Security: Past and Present.

Ayesha Mukherjee
Associate Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture in the Department of English and Film, College of Humanities, University of Exeter, and the Principal Investigator for the AHRC projects Famine and Dearth in India and Britain, 1550-1800, and Famine Tales from India and Britain.

Illustrations by Argha Manna
Graphic artist and journalist based in Calcutta, currently creating a graphic narrative of the 1770 Bengal famine for the Famine Tales from India and Britain project.

With grateful thanks to Dr Antonia Moon for drawing my attention to IOR/V/ 27/830/14 and to Professor Swapan Chakravorty for directing me to valuable sources on colonial archiving policies in India.

 

08 September 2020

Captain Charles Foulis and Commodore George Anson

Charles Foulis (c.1714 – 1783) became wealthy from his maritime career with the East India Company.  For his second voyage he served as first mate under Captain Robert Jenkins on the Harrington bound for St Helena, Bombay and China.  The ship arrived at Bombay at the end of July 1742 and had an encounter with Angria’s pirate ships whilst returning from Tellicherry.

On 18 December 1742, Captain Jenkins died of ‘a feaver and flux’ and was buried with military honours in Bombay.  Foulis took over as captain of the Harrington and sailed for China, his first voyage east of India.

Portrait of George Anson, three-quarters length standing to left, looking towards the viewer, holding a telescope in both hands, his left elbow resting on a grassy ledge beside his hat, wearing a suit with sword and wig.Portrait of George Anson, 1747 - Courtesy of  British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Meanwhile, Commodore George Anson (1697-1762) was continuing a voyage around the world in the Centurion, the last remaining ship of his small fleet.  When the Centurion called at Macao in November 1742, neither the Europeans nor the Chinese wanted this armed warship to approach Canton and threaten the delicate trade balance.  However, she was badly in need of repair, water and stores, and assistance was reluctantly given.  She departed on 19 April 1743, supposedly for England.  There was huge consternation when she returned nearly three months later, towing the Spanish treasure galleon Covadonga as her ‘prize’ worth about £60 million in today’s money.

Anson made his way up river towards Canton, threatening violence to the Chinese officials who tried to stop him.  When the Harrington arrived on 17 July, Captain Foulis was caught up as a pawn in the affair, torn between his respect for Anson and his responsibility to the East India Company.

Foulis went on board the Centurion to discuss the situation with Anson.  Eventually on 28-29 July the Centurion was allowed upstream and Harrington, with a local pilot aboard, guided her through the channels.  After delicate negotiations, Anson was permitted to visit Canton for a meeting with the Chinese officials.

The Centurion left China in December 1743 and the Harrington at the end of January 1744. On 4 July Anson’s magnificent procession of 32 wagons of treasure passed through the streets of London on its way to the Tower.

Introductory page of the journal and log of the Anson 1746Introductory page of the journal and log of the Anson 1746 - IOR/L/MAR/B/549A Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Foulis’s next voyage was in the 1746/7 season as captain of the Anson, under the management of David Crichton, a relative of his wife.  The Anson had a battle with the French outside Bombay but the captain got his papers and treasure landed before the ship was captured.  Foulis managed to return to England and on 2 November 1748 the East India Company Court of Directors agreed that Captain Foulis had ‘done his Duty and behaved like a Gallant and Discreet Officer and is Justly entitled to the Courts Favour’.

From 1750 to 1755 Foulis captained the Lord Anson for two uneventful voyages before retiring from the sea to manage voyages for the East India Company.  Between 1759 and his death in 1783 he managed 38 voyages made by 12 ships and was a significant figure in the shipping lobby.

The memorial erected by Captain Robert Preston to Charles Foulis in St.Mary’s church, Woodford, Essex.

The memorial erected by Captain Robert Preston to Charles Foulis in St.Mary’s church, Woodford, Essex, as a testimony of his gratitude. Foulis had managed three voyages which Preston made as captain and then worked with him in the City. In his will Foulis named Preston as his ‘residuary legatee and executor’. Author;'s photograph. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Charles Foulis had other connections with the East India Company: his sister Margaret married William George Freeman, a director in 1769, 1774-76 and 1778-81.  His wife had a sister who married Andrew Moffatt of Cranbrook House in Ilford, another Principal Managing Owner who was involved in shipping insurance.

Georgina Green
Independent scholar


Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/654D Journal of the Harrington 1741-1744
IOR/L/MAR/B/549A Journal of the Anson 1746-1747
IOR/B/70 East India Company Court of Directors’ Minute Book
Sally Rousham (ed.), The Greatest Treasure - Philip Saumarez and the voyage of the Centurion (Guernsey Museum, 1994)
Glyn Williams, The Prize of all the Oceans (Harper Collins, 1999)

 

27 August 2020

Collections in the UK on Indian Independence and Partition

The India Office Records and Private Papers, held at the British Library, contains one of the largest archives outside South Asia of records relating to the Indian independence struggle, and the eventual partition of pre-1947 India into the independent states of India and Pakistan.  This includes official government records, as well as significant collections of private papers.

Photograph of Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State for IndiaMahatma Gandhi and Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India, 18 April 1946 - Photo 134/2(19) Images Online c13486-31

 

However, there are also a wealth of records on this subject to be found in local archives, libraries, and record offices around the UK.  Here are a just a few examples of some of the wonderful collections available to be explored.

There are of course many libraries in London which hold collections relating to Indian Independence, including the National Archives, the Parliamentary Archives, the Marx Memorial Library, and the London School of Economics Library. There are also a great many important collections to be found at Oxford and Cambridge, for instance:
• The Bodleian Library in Oxford holds the papers of Clement Richard Attlee, British Prime Minister 1945-1951, along with the papers of several British politicians who were involved with Indian affairs and Indian civil servants.
• Cambridge University holds the papers of many British politicians involved in the administration of British India, while the Centre for South Asian Studies holds the private papers of many members of the India Civil Service and their families, and officers and other ranks who served in the Armed Forces in India at the time of Independence.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru & Mr M.A. Jinnah walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge, SimlaPandit Jawaharlal Nehru & Mr M.A. Jinnah walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge, Simla,  11 May 1946 - Photo 134/2(28) Images Online c13486-35

 

Elsewhere around the UK are wonderful collections on this subject, here are just a few examples:
• The Keep Archive Centre in Brighton, which holds a collection of letters from Gandhi to Madeleine Slade (often known as Mirabehn), many written while he was at Yeravda Prison and during his period of fasting; and a collection of official papers and reports accumulated by Major-General Thomas Wynford Rees, Commander of the Punjab Boundary Force, August and September 1947.
• Correspondence between Jawaharlal Nehru and Eleanor Rathbone, May-Nov 1941, at University of Liverpool, Special Collections & Archives.
• The Mountbatten Papers and the papers of Lieutenant Colonel Nawab Sir Malik K H Tiwana (relating to the Punjab and its partition), both collections at the University of Southampton.
• Papers of Dr V.N. Sharma, Director General of Hospitals in India which include photocopies of letters and photographs sent to him by Subhas Chandra Bose at Hull History Centre.
• Quit India poster (Bombay, 1942) at West Glamorgan Archive Service.

Map showing India and Pakistan boundaries, dated 1947Map showing India and Pakistan boundaries, dated 1947 - Maps MOD OR 6409 Images Online B20151-85

In recent years there has been many fascinating projects to collect oral histories relating to independence and partition.  To name just three:
• The Memories of Partition Project Archive, a project to record the memories of those affected by the 1947 Partition of India is held at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre, University of Manchester.
• The White Line - Here, There, Then, Now Oral History Project, in which interviews were carried out with people who eventually migrated to Huddersfield to record their memories of pre-Partition, the Partition era and what happened afterwards, is held at Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield.
• India: A People Partitioned Oral Archive at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Indian Independence Collection Guide 
Archives HUB 
AIM25 
The National Archives (TNA) Discovery
Scottish Archive Network 
List of UK archives 
Chris Cook (ed), The Routledge Guide to British Political Archives: Sources since 1945 (Routledge, 2006)

18 August 2020

Quetta to Sistan: The Development of a Strategic Trade Route

‘Such Central Asian trade as of old [that] drew its goods from British sources has slowly drifted into the hands of Russia, which on its part has not been backward in putting in motion every engine that ingenuity could devise, and its paramount position in Central Asia afforded to popularize its Asian and Persian trade at the expense of ours.’

Mss Eur F111_386_0282_cropDrawing of a telegraph station along the Quetta-Sistan Road (Mss Eur F111/386, f.137)


Thus wrote Lieutenant Frank Webb Ware, Political Assistant at Chagai, in his first report on the trade route being opened up between Quetta, in British Indian territory, and Sistan, on the Persian frontier.  Such fears of Russian dominance in Persia were the very reason for the British plan to revive what was an ancient road.  Russian influence had been growing in Persia since the Napoleonic era and their presence felt in Sistan since at least the 1860s. Being on the doorstep of the Indian Empire, any interference in Sistan could not be tolerated by the British, and their efforts to assert their own power over the region was a part of the ‘Great Game’ between Russia and Britain for predominance in Central Asia.

Mss Eur F111_377_0098_cropPhotograph of the ‘Mil-i-Nadir, or Pillar of Nadir’, probably taken by H A Armstrong, Assistant Superintendent, Indian Telegraph Department (Mss Eur F111/377, f.46)

To counter Russian activities in Sistan, Webb Ware was appointed at Chagai and tasked by the Government of India to establish wells, guard houses, and levy posts along the new route from Quetta.  Trade was seen as an important way of gaining influence and protecting British interests.  After travelling the route himself in the early part of the year, Webb Ware submitted his first report on the subject in the summer of 1897, remarking that he was ‘disagreeably astonished’ at the ascendancy that Russia had already gained in Sistan.

Mss Eur F111_377_0067_cropPhotograph of the landscape near the trade route, close to Dehbakri, Iran, probably taken by H A Armstrong (Mss Eur F111/377, f.30)

In the following years more reports would be submitted and progress made on the development of the route.  Recommendations were made to extend the railway from Quetta along the same road, largely for military purposes.  The project was of such significance that Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India at the time, kept copies of all the relative documents.  It is from his papers that these images are taken.

Mss Eur F111_386_0291_cropDrawing of the landscape near Kirtaka, Pakistan (Mss Eur F111/386, f.141)

Military intelligence was gathered and a telegraph line proposed.  The resulting surveys produced photographs and sketches of a region little-known to the British.  The line drawings are reminiscent of those of the Lake District by Alfred Wainwright, albeit they were made for very different purposes.  These, along with Webb Ware’s reports, are being digitised as part of the Qatar Foundation-British Library Partnership Programme and are available on the Qatar Digital Library

John Hayhurst
Gulf History Specialist

Further reading:
'Report on the Baluch-Persian Caravan Route and Nushki, Chagai and Western Sinjerani Districts' - Mss Eur F111/362, f.10 and f.11 

'Report of Khan Bahadur Maula Bakhsh, Attaché to the Agent to the Governor General of India and Her Britannic Majesty's Consul-General for Khurasan and Sistan, on His Journey from Meshed to Quetta via Turbat-i-Haidari, Kain, Sistan, Kuh-i-Malik Siah and Nushki (7th April to 28th July 1898)' - Mss Eur F111/363 

'Report on the Nushki, Chagai and Western Sinjerani Districts for the year 1897-98 and on the Development of The Quetta-Seistan [Sistan] Trade Route' - Mss Eur F111/364 

'Report on the Development of the Baluch-Persian Caravan Route and on the Nushki, Chagai and Western Sinjerani Districts, for the year 1899-1900' - Mss Eur F111/374 

'Military Report on Persian Seistan' - Mss Eur F111/378 

'Notes on Persian Seistan' - Mss Eur F111/382 

 

28 July 2020

The Trial of Prince Najaf ʿAlī Khān Zand

The Zand dynasty ruled in Persia [Iran] from 1751 to 1794.  The young Prince Najaf ʿAlī Khān Zand, brother of the last ruler of the Zand dynasty, survived his family’s defeat at the hands of the new ruling family, the Qājārs.  At some point in the early 19th century, he left Persia and made his way to Bombay [Mumbai].  There, he was looked after by the East India Company’s Government of Bombay, receiving a pension of 400 rupees per month.

Painting showing the defeat of Prince Najaf’s brother, Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, the last Zand ruler, with the city of Shiraz in the backgroundI.O. Islamic 3442, f.218v showing the defeat of Prince Najaf’s brother, Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, the last Zand ruler: ‘Defeat of Lutf ‘Ali Khan Zand by (Agha) Muhammad Shah; the city of Shiraz in the background’ -  BL Images Online

This relationship was put to the test under dramatic circumstances in 1828-29.  A dispute between Prince Najaf’s entourage and a group of men from the Custom House escalated and the Prince fired his gun, killing two of the Custom House men.   The Prince was arrested and the case referred to the highest level of authority in the Government of Bombay – the Council.

Copies of letters sent from the Government of Bombay to the Court of Directors reveal an intense debate which broke out amongst the Council.  On one side, Council member John Romer argued that, due to the seriousness of the charges against him, the Prince must be tried as normal in the Circuit Court at Tannah [Thane].  On the other side, the Governor in Council, Sir John Malcolm, argued that the Prince must not be treated as a ‘common criminal’, as this would be a great insult to the Court of Persia.  As the debate intensified, Romer’s language became more and more dramatic. He argued that there were no political considerations which justified withdrawing the Prince from the hands of justice.

Extract of Minute by John Romer at Government of Bombay Judicial Consultation  25 April 1829IOR/F/4/1266/50907, ff. 334v-335r: Extract of Minute by John Romer at Government of Bombay Judicial Consultation, 25 April 1829, arguing that ‘I do not think that any political considerations [justify] withdrawing him [Prince Najaf] from the hands of justice.’  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Meanwhile, Malcolm attempted to pick holes in the accusations levied at the Prince, questioning the witnesses’ accounts and concluding that the Prince had only fired his pistol after being physically assaulted by the Custom House men.

Ultimately, Malcolm revealed that in addition to appeasing the Court of Persia, a trial must be avoided in order to preserve favour with the southern tribes in Persia, from which Prince Najaf’s family had originated.  According to Malcolm, these tribes continued to hold Prince Najaf’s brother and his great-uncle, Karīm Khān Zand (founder of the Zand dynasty), in such high regard that subjecting Prince Najaf to a ‘degrading’ common trial would have serious consequences.  Most pressingly, Malcolm argued that if Anglo-Russian relations were to deteriorate, the Russians might persuade the Court of Persia to allow them access to British India through Persia.  In this scenario, the best line of defence would be for the British to incite the southern tribes in Persia to rise up against the Qājārs.  However, their support could not be counted on if a trial of Prince Najaf were to go ahead. 

Portrait of Sir John MalcolmP616: Portrait of Sir John Malcolm, 1832 - BL Images Online

Despite Romer’s pleas to respect the pursuit of justice in order to preserve the rule of law, no trial ever went ahead.  Prince Najaf was held in comfort at the Company’s Fort at Thane before being sent to Bussorah [Basra] with his family, free to continue with his life.

Curstaidh Reid
Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/1266/50907 ‘Removal of Nujif Ali Khan (a Prince of Persia) to Bussorah, in preference to his being tried for murder of which he was accused – His pen[sion] of Rs 400 discontinued from 30th November the allowance of Rs 120 per mo[nth] to the Mother of […] Prince made payable at Bussorah’ 
John Perry, ‘ZAND DYNASTY’, Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016 

 

23 July 2020

The lesser-known early years of Sultan Qaboos

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

British briefing note about Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

09 July 2020

The forgotten Prince of Burma

The roller coaster ride for royalty in 19th century Burma is well documented in British Library collections.  As well as printed biographies in the English and Burmese languages, the India Office Records contain a mass of correspondence, reports and private papers pertaining to British operations in Burma, particularly regarding the reign and dethronement of King Thibaw, Burma’s last King.

Some of these tumultuous tales are lesser known than others.  An album of photographic illustrations recounts a remarkable journey by a British expeditionary force through the recently annexed country.  Within this document is an intriguing tale of daring escapes, hidden identities, attempted revolution and a long forgotten prince.

King Thibaw ascended the Burmese throne in 1878 aged just 19.  The princes and princesses of Burma had been summoned to the palace in Mandalay to attend the death bed of his father King Mindon.  As each arrived, they were cruelly executed and buried in the palace grounds.  Over 70 family members and potential rivals were eradicated.  This massacre was most likely orchestrated by the Queen Mother and Thibaw’s wife and half sister, Suphayalat, to secure his place on the throne.

The photographic illustrations of the Mandalay & Upper Burma Expeditionary Force, taken and compiled by cavalry officer Robert Blackall Graham between 1886-7, told of two princes who survived the massacre.  Prince Moung Peng and his older brother, grandsons of King Mindon, were rescued by phongyis.

Portrait of Moung Peng seated in a royal carriagePortrait of Moung Peng, a grandson of King Mindon, here seen seated in a royal carriage.  At the time of the taking of this photograph he was aged thirteen. Photographer Robert Blackall Graham, 1887. Photo 996 (56)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Phongyis were Buddhist monks. They dressed in orange robes wrapped around the body, usually thrown over the left shoulder.  Their heads were shaven and always uncovered and they carried a palm leaf fan for protection from the sun.  A phongyi lived on charity, taught the young and lived a life of devotion, in order to be absorbed into the divine essence.

The princes were spirited away from danger and hidden in temples amongst the phongyis, disguised as priests for many years until the British suppression of Mandalay meant the immediate danger to their lives had subsided.  They resided in Ava for a while, but after mistreatment by his older brother, Moung Peng sought refuge with his former protectors in Mandalay.

An astrologer prophesised that Moung Peng would one day be returned to the Burmese throne.  In December 1886 the prophecy was used as justification to rebel against the invading British forces and Moung Peng became the focus of a botched coup.  A plot was arranged to set four fires in Mandalay and draw the British forces into a trap.  One of the fires was mistakenly lit before the arranged date, revealing the entire plan to the occupying armies.  The instigators of the plot, amongst them two senior Burmese monks and several priests, were transported for life to the penal settlement in the Andaman Islands.

Englishman's Overseas Mail 1 February 1887Article about Moung Peng in Englishman’s Overland Mail 1 February 1887 - British Newspaper Archive

Prince Moung Peng, aged just 13, was sent to Dr Marks’ school, a Christian mission in Rangoon. The British aimed to educate the prince in a secure environment and remove any threat he might pose to their control in Burma.  His eventual fate is unclear, but he never fulfilled the prophecy to become King of Burma.

Craig Campbell
Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records


Further Reading:
Photo 996 - Photographic illustrations, with descriptions of Mandalay & Upper Burmah Expeditionary Force, 1886-87. By a cavalry officer [Robert Blackall Graham].
Englishman’s Overland Mail 1 February 1887; pp 9-10 British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast.
India Office Records and Private Papers: Mss Eur F595/8/16 - Confidential India Office Note on the relations between the Government of India and Upper Burma during the present King's Reign [Thibaw Min, King of Burma 1878-1885].
Oriental Manuscripts: Or 14963 Scenes of British deposition of King Thibaw. 
India Office Records and Private Papers: Mss Eur E290 - Papers of Col Sir Edward Sladen, Madras Army 1849, British Burma Commission 1856-86.
V 16959; X.800/6024: W.S. Desai, Deposed King Thibaw of Burma, in India, 1885-1916 (Bombay, 1967). 
DRT ELD.DS.450930 - Sudha Shah, The king in exile : the fall of the royal family of Burma (New Delhi, 2012).
09059.aa.45; T 2865; X7/1536 : E.C.V. Foucar, They reigned in Mandalay (London, 1946).

 

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