Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

251 posts categorized "Politics"

17 October 2023

Gerald Sidney Wilson, Indian Police

A previous post on this blog looked at the career of William Henry Wilson, an officer in the Bombay Staff Corps who had a distinguished career in the Bombay Police.  Another member of the Wilson family was also involved in law enforcement in India.  This was Gerald Sidney Wilson, William’s nephew, who served in the Indian Police in Bombay.

Photograph of Wilson giving a speech at Bardoli, 10 July 1932 Wilson giving a speech at Bardoli 10 July 1932 - Mss Eur F764/10/7 f.26

Gerald Sidney Wilson was born on 29 October 1880 in Hampstead.  He joined the Indian Police on 23 November 1901 as a 3rd Grade Assistant Superintendent of Police and was stationed at Dharwar.  Wilson had a long career, working his way up to Inspector General of Police for the Bombay Presidency from 1932 until his retirement in 1934.  He was awarded the King’s Police Medal in 1918 and the Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India in 1931.

Photograph of Women's Congress Procession in Bombay 1930  with two policemen in the foreground.

Photograph of Women's Congress Procession in Bombay 1930 - Mss Eur F764/10/4

Wilson served in the police during a turbulent time in modern Indian history.  His papers include some fascinating material relating to the struggle for Independence.  He kept a scrapbook of cuttings from Indian newspapers in 1930 that reported on many key events that occurred in the Bombay Presidency, such as the Congress flag salutation ceremony and women's Congress procession, the release of Vallabhbhai Patel from jail, Khilafat procession in Bombay, and demonstrations on Jawahar Day.  Wilson also collected several editions of The Bombay Congress Bulletin between 1930 and 1932.  These were propaganda sheets issued by the Congress Party in Bombay.  They reported on the activities of party activists and on demonstrations against British rule in India, and took every opportunity to denounce the British authorities.  As Wilson at that time was Commissioner of Police for the city of Bombay, he often came under fire in the Bulletin. The issue of 29 November 1930 reported that Wilson had failed to fulfil his vow to crush Congress: ‘Citizens of Bombay! You have quelled the puffed up pride of this Wilson and made him eat his words by your wonderful solidarity with the Congress movement’.

Bombay Congress Bulletin  29 November 1930  - artlcle about 'Proud Police Chief' WilsonArticle about 'Proud Police Chief' Wilson in The Bombay Congress Bulletin 29 November 1930 - Mss Eur F764/10/7 f.2

In 1932, Wilson had the task of arresting Gandhi.  His papers include his fascinating account of this, which took place in the early hours of 4 January at Mani Bhuvan, Gandhi’s home in Bombay.  When he arrived Gandhi was asleep.  ‘On being awakened Mr Gandhi sat up but uttered no word as it was his silence day.  I said to Mr Gandhi “It is my duty to arrest you” and showed him the warrant to take him to Yeravda Jail under the old Bombay Regulation of 1827.  I read out the warrant and touched his shoulder in token of having arrested him and told him that I would give him half an hour to get ready.  Asking for paper and pencil he wrote “I will be ready in exactly half an hour”.’

Congress stamps with Gandhi's image and the words 'Boycott British Goods. Non-Violence'.Congress stamps - Mss Eur F764/10/4

Gandhi described the arrest simply in his diary entry for that day: ‘Spun 190 rounds.  The police came and arrested me at 3 o’clock in the morning.  Left after reciting a bhajan.  Elwin, Privat, Mills and others were present.  Vallabhbhai also was arrested at the same time.  We met in the jail and are lodged together.  I may say I spent the day resting.  I could take a walk for the first time today after landing [Gandhi had recently returned from the Round Table Conference in London].  Started reading Will Durant’s book [The Case for India].  Ate no fresh fruit today.  Had two seers of milk’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Gerald Sidney Wilson’s papers are part of a recently catalogued collection of India Office Private Papers now available to researchers in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room: Papers of the Wilson Family, Mss Eur F764 that charts the family’s connection with India over four generations.

Papers relating to the career of Gerald Sidney Wilson in the Indian Police, 1901-1933. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/3

Scrapbook of cuttings from Indian newspapers, 1930. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/4.

The Bombay Congress Bulletin, 1930-1932. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/7.

Account by Gerald Sidney Wilson of the arrest of Gandhi on 4 January 1932. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/9.

Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope by Judith M Brown (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1989).

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.49, January-May 1932 (Government of India Publications Division, 1958-).

 

21 September 2023

What about the East India Company women? Mrs Moore and Raja Chandu Lal

In the British Library, there is a portrait of Raja Chandu Lal, the famous minister to the Nizam of Hyderabad from 1809 to 1843.  He was an influential figure who was so powerful that the British suspiciously regarded him as the proxy ruler of Hyderabad.  The on-line catalogue entry for the portrait says that it was a gift from 'Mrs Moore'.  Who was she, and why did she have a painting of a man who Hyderabad’s British resident, Sir Charles Metcalfe, described as having 'the plausibility ascribed to Satan'?

Portrait of Raja Chandu Lal.  Three-quarter-length portrait, dressed in a white muslin robe and turban.British Library, Foster 16 – Portrait of Raja Chandu Lal (1809-1843) by John Godwin Williams (fl.1813-1837), c.1836.  Given to the India Office by Sophia Stewart Moore, née Yates (1808-1905), probably in the 1870s.

Sophia Stewart Yates was born at Madras in 1808.  Her parents, Richard Hassels Yates of the Madras Army and Benjamina, had ten children.  Sophia and her sisters were probably married off quite young, and her brothers would have been sent into the army.  On 29 July 1827, when she was 19, she married John Arthur Moore, an employee of the Nizam of Hyderabad from 1817 to 1838.  He began as a soldier in Hyderabad’s army, then served as the Nizam’s Military Secretary and Auditor of Accounts for 14 years.  He retired from the Nizam’s service for health reasons and returned to Britain with Sophia in 1839.

The painting of Raja Chandu Lal was printed in London as a mezzotint in 1841 by Charles Turner.  The caption below the mezzotint, written in English and Persian, celebrates Raja Chandu Lal as the 'Rajah of Rajahs… the devoted servant of Asuf Jah who is the Roostum of his Age'.   It is impossible to say why the mezzotint was commissioned, but it might relate to Raja Chandu Lal granting Major Moore a generous pension.

Portrait of Raja Chandu Lal.  Portrait, three-quarter length; seated to right in an armchair: wearing a jewelled cap and tunic, necklaces, bracelets on both wrists, and rings on the ring and little fingers of his right hand, resting on his lap. printed in London as a mezzotintBritish Museum, 1861,0810.148 – Mezzotint of John Godwin Williams’ portrait of Raja Chandu Lal.  Engraved in 1841 by Charles Turner, 50 Warren Street, Fitzroy Square, London.

Unfortunately, the East India Company’s directors in London blocked Major Moore from receiving the pension of 500 rupees a month, claiming that it was 'extremely inexpedient for the Local Government to allow British Officers to be pensioned by the Nizam’s Government or by that of any other Native Prince or Chief'.  Several 'influential men petitioned the Company to allow him to collect the pension, including Charles Metcalfe, the resident at Hyderabad who once described Raja Chandu Lal as 'Satan'.

John Arthur Moore died on 7 July 1860, when Sophia was 52.  Following the East India Company’s liquidation and absorption into the British state, Adolphus Warburton Moore (1841-1887), John and Sophia’s son, became the India Office’s Political Secretary in the 1870s.  He prompted his mother to give the portrait of Raja Chandu Lal to the India Office.

Sophia died in 1905, at the age of 97.  It is intriguing to think that Raja Chandu Lal, a man who the British caricatured as evil, was the subject of a portrait that John and Sophia Moore cherished.  One wonders if young Sophia, who moved to Hyderabad as a teenager and left in her early 30s, personally knew Raja Chandu Lal.  It seems he was kind to her and her husband.

CC-BY Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
Account of John Arthur Moore’s service in India, including letters of support from Charles Metcalfe and Lord Elphinstone to receive a pension from the Nizam of Hyderabad. British Library, IOR/F/4/1780/73179, f.1v-5.
Archer, Mildred. The India Office Collection of Paintings and Sculpture (London: 1986), 47-48.
Foster, William. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Paintings, Statues, &c. in the India Office (London: 1924), 16.
Raja Chandu Lal. 'Translation of a note from the Minister, under date 27th November 1838 to the Resident'. British Library, IOR/F/4/1780/73179, f.19.

 

24 August 2023

Seditious Publications

In the early decades of the 20th century the Government of India became increasingly concerned by the publication and circulation of what they perceived as anti-British or seditious publications.  This was a particular concern following the Amritsar massacre which sparked protests across India.  One small collection in the India Office Private Papers gives an interesting glimpse of the efforts of government to suppress these publications.

These are a collection of notifications issued by the Government of the United Provinces.  The notifications give the legislation used and details of the publication suppressed.  A government reviewer had also listed the paragraphs or lines of particular concern.  The legislation used was section 99 of the 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure, and section 12 of the Indian Press Act of 1910.  These pieces of legislation allowed the authorities to declare such books, newspapers or other documents forfeited to His Majesty.  Police officers could then seize them.

Notification about book in Hindi - How America Acquired IndependenceNotification about book in Hindi - How America Acquired Independence

One of the defining events, which galvanised the campaign for Indian independence, was the Amritsar massacre.  Many Indian writers and publishers took this as a subject in calling for resistance to British rule in India.  One collection of poems, ‘Jallianwala Bagh ka Mahatma’, has the line ‘Jallianwala Bagh will be immortal in the world’, and in another of the poems is written: ‘It is Jallianwala Bagh, where the martyrs of the motherland and the gems of the country were robbed’.  It goes on to advise the public to consider the Jallianwala Bagh a place of pilgrimage [folio 21]. 

Notification about Gandhi-ki-gazlenNotification about 'Gandhi-ki-gazlen'

Another pamphlet in Hindi ,‘Gandhi-ki-gazlen’, predicted ‘Scenes of Jallianwala Bagh will be repeated in every city if this Government is not driven out of this country’ [folio 48].  The reviewer noted that the writer urged Indians to follow non-cooperation and emphasised the adoption of swadeshi goods.

Notification about Asahyog KajliNotification about 'Asahyog Kajli'

The campaign to boycott British goods and use Indian products, known as swadeshi, features in many of the publications.  For instance, a pamphlet in Hindi entitled ‘Asahyog Kajli’ encouraged people to use the spinning wheel (charkha) and weave cloth for their use [folio 17]. 

Notification about Sawan SwarajNotification about 'Sawan Swaraj'

Another pamphlet in Hindi, ‘Sawan Swaraj’, written by Sallar Maharaj contain songs with the lines: ‘By working at charkhas the enemy will disappear from our sight and from India’ [folio 19].  The non-cooperation campaigns led by Gandhi are a common theme. 

Notification about Swaraj PratiqyaNotification about 'Swaraj Pratiqya'

One pamphlet in Hindi, ‘Swaraj Pratiqya’, collected poems on the subject.  One line urged: ‘Let us take the vow of non-violent non-co-operation with all resoluteness and let us try soon to liberate India from the unlawful possession of the unjust’.  A similar tone was taken in another line: ‘Let there be new sacrifices made on the altar of liberty and let us all be proud of our mother tongue and of swadeshi clothes’ [folio 118].

Notification about leaflet addressed to Gurkha troopsNotification about leaflet addressed to Gurkha troops

One notification concerns a leaflet in Nepalese addressed to Gurkha troops.  Printed and published anonymously it warned: ‘Just as an insect eats the wall from the inside and makes it hollow in the same way the foreign nation (British) which is deceitful and dishonest is going to make us hollow’.  It urges Gurkha soldiers to ‘Leave the services and protect your brothers’ [folio 75].

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
India Office unregistered files containing copies of notifications issued by the Government of the United Provinces proscribing seditious publications, together with translations and summaries of the literature, 1910-1930, reference Mss Eur F242.

Records relating to seditious or proscribed publications can be found in the Public & Judicial Department records series (IOR/L/PJ).

Indian Press Act, 1910

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.  

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).

 

16 August 2023

T.E. Lawrence and the Hashemite dynasty: from the Hejaz in Arabia to Clouds Hill, Dorset

Born on 16 August 1888, Thomas Edward Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) was instrumental in formulating a strategy of guerilla warfare against the Ottoman military forces in the Hejaz during the First World War.

Cover of report Summary of the Hejaz RevoltIOR/L/PS/18/B287, f 75 'Summary of the Hejaz Revolt'

Better known aspects of his life might therefore include orchestrating the attacks against the Hejaz railway.

Plan of the 'Damascus-Mekka Railway'IOR/W/L/PS/10/12 (ii) 'Damascus-Mekka Railway'

T.E. Lawrence and the Hashemites
Lawrence had been sent from the Arab Bureau, Cairo, to the Hejaz region of western Arabia.  Here he linked up with Faisal, the second son of Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca.  Hussein was the head of the Hashemite dynasty who was encouraged by Britain to launch a revolt against the Ottoman Empire.  In return the Hashemite dynasty expected the creation of an independent Arab Kingdom as discussed in the Hussein-McMahon letters, 1915-16.  The map below indicates the areas to be ruled by the Hashemite dynasty: Hussein and his sons Abdullah and Faisal.

Map indicating the areas to be ruled by the Hashemite dynastyMss Eur F112/276, f 104

Lawrence helped to foment this revolt which started in June 1916 undertaking intelligence work including producing maps of the Hejaz.

Plan of Womat  ArabiaWomat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917. Photograph: Francis Owtram

In regards to the maps of north-west Arabia the Arab Bulletin reported that he had produced new information about Wadi Sirhan including the preponderance of poisonous snakes and that ‘all existing maps leave much to be desired’ although ‘Miss Bell’s was good … but too slight.’

Paragraph on maps of north-west Arabia in the Arab BulletinIOR/L/PS/10/568, f 9v

Faisal and Lawrence: onwards from Aqaba to Damascus

Photograph of Aqaba from the seaIOR/L/PS/12/2160B, f 50 1 'AKABA (Transjordan)' (this photograph created in 1937)

Faisal and Lawrence successfully took Aqaba with a surprise attack from land and sought to establish Faisal in Damascus.  However, France evicted him following the Sykes-Picot agreement secretly signed by Britain and France which undercut the Hussein-McMahon correspondence.  In compensation Faisal was installed by Britain as King of Iraq; that monarchy was overthrown in 1958.  For strategic reasons Britain chose not to intervene when Ibn Saud conquered the Kingdom of Hejaz in 1925 but the dynasty lives on in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

From Arabia to Dorset
It is possibly lesser known that disillusioned with the post-war peace settlement, Lawrence sought anonymity and signed up under an alias to the Tank Regiment in Dorset.

Photograph of Clouds Hill DorsetClouds Hill, Dorset Photograph: Francis Owtram

He renovated a dilapidated cottage at Clouds Hill.  It was here that he wrote his autobiographical account of his involvement in the 1916-18 ‘Arab Revolt’, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Painting of Faisal in the Music Room at Clouds HillPainting of Faisal in the Music Room at Clouds Hill. Photograph: Francis Owtram

He was later to spend time in Afghanistan but thereafter returned to rural Dorset indulging his love for speed on his Brough Superior motorbike.  On 19 May 1935 he came round a bend and to avoid two boys on bicycles skidded off the road.  He died a few days later and was buried in the cemetery of St Nicholas Church, Moreton.

Grave of T.E. Lawrence  cemetery of St Nicholas Church  MoretonGrave of T.E. Lawrence, cemetery of St Nicholas Church, Moreton. Photograph: Francis Owtram

Lawrence, who in his quest for adventure had travelled the world from Aqaba to Afghanistan, found his final resting place under the Dorset clouds.

Francis Owtram
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading
James Barr, Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia, 1916-18 (Bloomsbury, 2006)
Rodney Legg, Lawrence of Dorset: From Arabia to Clouds Hill (Dorset Publishing Company, 2005)

 

10 August 2023

Henrietta Anne, Duchess of Orléans, and the Secret Treaty of Dover (1670)

Henrietta Anne (1644-1670), Duchess of Orléans and sister to King Charles II, was a key negotiator of an important diplomatic agreement between England and France. In 1670, Charles II and Louis XIV of France signed the Secret Treaty of Dover. Kept hidden from the public, it included Charles’s promise to publicly convert to Catholicism (which never happened) in exchange for vast sums of money, as well as a mutual alliance against the Dutch Republic.

Painted portrait of Henrietta Anne, Duchess of Orléans, by Peter LelyHenrietta Anne, Duchess of Orleans, by Sir Peter Lely, around 1662, NPG 6028. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Terms of Use: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

The British Library holds a rich volume of papers relating to the Treaty which demonstrates Henrietta’s significant role and is largely written in French.

Henrietta had a brief but extraordinary life. Born in Exeter in 1644, she was quickly whisked away to France because of the English Civil War and raised at the French court. At sixteen, she married Phillippe, Duke of Orléans and brother of Louis XIV. She was highly educated and intelligent, but was embarrassed by her written English and wrote almost exclusively in French.

Title page of a flattering portrait of Henrietta, written in French by Jean Puget de la Serre (1661)Title page of a flattering portrait of Henrietta, by Jean Puget de la Serre (1661). Add MS 33752, f. 3.

In 1669, Charles II wrote a top-secret letter to Louis about the treaty, entrusting its delivery to Henrietta: ‘desireing that this matter might passe through your handes as the person in the world I have most confidence in.’ Charles even sent Henrietta a cipher, so that their correspondence would be totally confidential.

Henrietta was politically invaluable: both exceptionally close with Charles and trusted enough by Louis that he met her almost every day in early 1670 to discuss the negotiations. She provided the link between the two monarchs that allowed Louis to address Charles as ‘monsieur mon frère’ in his letters.

Henrietta’s long letter to Charles II, written in 1669Henrietta’s long letter to Charles II, 1669. Add MS 65138, f. 47.

Unfortunately, many of Henrietta’s letters were destroyed after her death. One of the most striking surviving documents is her letter to Charles about this ‘grande affaire.’ Henrietta, who was Catholic, refers to Charles’s conversion as ‘le desin de la R’ (‘the design about R’), with R standing for ‘religion.’ She advises Charles at length on finances, the prospect of war in Holland, and Louis’s motives. She even suggests that Charles conceal their scheme from the Pope, since he might die before the planned conversion!

After several pages of confident political discussion, Henrietta signs off with a show of modesty, writing that she only dares to meddle in questions above her station because of her great love for her brother.

A visit to Charles by Henrietta was the cover story for the final stage of the treaty’s formation, and she was personally charged with carrying the French copy back to Louis.

Final protocol of the Treaty of Dover, featuring the seals and signatures of Charles II's principal advisorsFinal protocol of the Treaty, featuring the seals and signatures of Charles II’s principal advisors. Add MS 65138, f. 91v.

Tragically, Henrietta died just months later at the age of 26. One first-hand account states that she drank a glass of chicory water, a medicinal drink, before collapsing in agony (Stowe MS 191, f. 22). Another account ungenerously insists on her depraved, sinful life, claiming she was poisoned and spent her final moments repenting (Kings MS 140, f. 107).

What we can be sure of is her affection for Charles. She addresses her letter to him uncharacteristically in English: ‘For the King.’

‘For the King’: a rare example of Henrietta writing in English in her letter to Charles II‘For the King’: a rare example of Henrietta writing in English in her letter to Charles. Add MS 65138, f. 51v.

Isabel Maloney
PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge and PhD placement student in Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:

Keith Feiling, ‘Henrietta Stuart, Duchess of Orleans, and the Origins of the Treaty of Dover’, The English Historical Review, Vol. 47, No. 188 (Oct., 1932), pp. 642-645.

Cyril Hughes Hartmann, Charles II and Madame (London, 1934).

24 July 2023

Lord Curzon’s letter from Lausanne

24 July 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace with Turkey commonly referred to as the Treaty of Lausanne which ended the war between the Allies and Turkey [now known officially as Türkiye/the Republic of Türkiye]. It was the final Treaty of the First World War.

Front cover of Treaty of Lausanne 1923Front cover of the Treaty of Lausanne 1923 Mss Eur F112/280/2


One of the issues on the table at the Lausanne conference was the question of Mosul – whether the city and its province should become part of the new Republic of Turkey or the British mandate of Iraq.

Extract from document headed 'The Question of Mosul'‘The Question of Mosul’ Mss Eur F112/294, f 237

Mosul had been occupied by the British at the end of the war. The head of the British delegation was the Foreign Secretary and former Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon.  He was adamant about the importance of retaining Mosul; the final decision to change the British Navy’s fuel from coal to oil was taken during the war.

Paragraph on the importance of controlling oil field development in MosulThe importance of controlling the development of the Mosul oil field Mss Eur F 112/294, f 10

Curzon resisted Turkish attempts to settle the matter at the Lausanne conference.  He wrote from the Hotel Beau Rivage to General Mustafa İsmet İnönü Pasha, the leader of the Turkish delegation, that Mosul ‘is under a Mandate administered by Great Britain, which I have had the honour to inform you repeatedly that I am not in a position to surrender’.

Letter from Curzon at Hotel Beau Rivage to General Mustafa İsmet İnönü Pasha  the leader of the Turkish delegation January 1923 - 1 Letter from Curzon at Hotel Beau Rivage to General Mustafa İsmet İnönü Pasha  the leader of the Turkish delegation January 1923 - 2Letter from Curzon at Hotel Beau Rivage to General Mustafa İsmet İnönü Pasha, the leader of the Turkish delegation, Mss Eur F112/295, f 13

Instead, the question of Mosul was pushed onto to the League of Nations whose committee ruled that Mosul should be part of the new British-controlled mandate of Iraq.  In 1926, the ‘Brussels Line’ was drawn as the boundary of Iraq, and Iraq agreed to pay Turkey 10 per cent royalties on Mosul’s oil resources for 25 years.

Map of the Mosul areaMap of the Mosul area IOR/L/PS/20/C204, f 34 ‘Map No. 3’

Curzon’s instinct turned out to be prescient as oil in vast quantities was discovered in Kirkuk in 1927.

The Hotel Beau Rivage still welcomes international guests to the shores of Lake Geneva today.

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


Further reading:
Kristian Coates-Ulrichsen, The Middle East in the First World War (Hurst, 2014)
Jonathan Conlin and Ozan Ozavci (eds) They All Made Peace – What is Peace? The 1923 Lausanne Treaty and the New Imperial Order, (Ginko, 2023)
The Lausanne Project – the New Middle East, 1922-23
Francis Owtram, ‘Oil, the Kurds and the Drive for Independence: An Ace in the Hole or a Joker in the Pack’, in A. Danilovich (ed) Iraqi Kurdistan in Middle East Politics (Routledge, 2016)

 

22 June 2023

The actor, the fascist, and the reincarnated queen

That is not the title of an unrealised Peter Greenaway film, nor the pub-going cast list of the opening line to a joke, but three roles occupied by Mary Taviner (1909-1972).

Photograph of Mary Taviner in about 1939Mary Taviner, c. 1939. British Library Add MS 89481/10, f. 50

Taviner’s acting career comprised just four films (one of which was as a nine-year-old).  Contemporary and modern critics agree that there was nothing wrong with these melodramatic stories of ghosts, spies, and murder, apart from the acting, the plots, and the scripts that is!  Her stage career lasted longer; from a 1924 London production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she continued to work until the year of her death.  Again, notices were mixed.  Her only cheerleaders seem to be have been her local newspapers, basking in the glory of having a ‘star’ in their neighbourhood.

Politically, Taviner was on the far-right.  She was a pre-war member of the British Union of Fascists and appeared in a production staged by the Never Again Association, a front for extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism.  Her 1954 film The Devil’s Jest was a vehicle for her view that Britain and Germany should have allied against communism rather than fight each other.  She even sported an Iron Cross on a bracelet.

Taviner had a confused relationship with leading fascists.  She fell in love with Oswald Mosley only to later unsuccessfully sue him for breach of promise.  In this action she enlisted the help of William Joyce (later known as Lord Haw-Haw), who had fallen out with Mosley in 1937.  Yet she later turned on Joyce, accusing him of running a 300-strong pre-war spy ring under the noses of the intelligence services.

She was still working for the fascist cause in the 1960s, and was involved with the White Defence League, Mosley’s Union Movement, and the Young Britain Movement, closely linked to the UM.  She tried to organise a conference of European fascists in Marylebone only for the local council to ban it and she stood as a UM candidate in the Kensington borough elections in 1962 but mustered just 78 votes.

What of that third role Taviner inhabited?  Her claim to be the reincarnation of Mary, Queen of Scots, (she even had her portrait painted as the queen) was the pinnacle of her many fantastical claims about herself.  She claimed her mother was the offspring of German and British aristocrats; she was not.  Taviner styled herself Baroness Marovna, the widow of a scion of the Romanovs, but no such barony existed.  She was supposedly elected spiritual leader of Scotland by an organisation that has left no trace of its existence.  She claimed to have worked in British intelligence during the war; she had not.  Her story about Joyce’s spy ring was a fiction.  All these tales smack of Taviner trying to make herself more interesting to producers and directors.

Despite such an interesting life she remains a peripheral figure.  Her death went almost unnoticed; even The Stage, the theatre’s leading newspaper, missed it.  She is not mentioned in the books written by or about the actors and directors she worked with and there are only passing mentions in a tiny fraction of the books written about British fascists and fascism.

Michael St John-Mcalister
Manuscripts Catalogue and Process Manager

Further reading:
Facts, Fictions, and Fascism: A Life of Actor Mary Taviner (1909–1972), 

Add MS 89481/10

 

06 June 2023

Papers of Sir William Hay Macnaghten and Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten

A recently catalogued collection of India Office Private Papers is now available to researchers in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room.  This consists of papers relating to Sir William Hay Macnaghten, Bengal Civil Service 1814-1841; and Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten, Judge of the Supreme Court of Madras 1809-1815 and Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William 1815-1825.

Surrender of Dost Mahommed Khan to Sir William Hay Macnaghten Bart  at the entrance into Caubul from Killa-Kazee.'Surrender of Dost Mahommed Khan to Sir William Hay Macnaghten Bart at the entrance into Caubul from Killa-Kazee' from James Atkinson, Sketches in Afghaunistan British Library X812 Images Online

In 1838, Sir William Hay Macnaghten was appointed Envoy and Minister at the Afghan Court of Shah Shuja.  The mission to Afghanistan ended in disaster and the collection contains many papers relating to the death of Sir William at Kabul on 23 December 1841 during the first Anglo-Afghan war.  Included is Lady Frances Macnaghten's claim for compensation and a copy of a letter from Captain Lawrence giving an account of the death of Macnaghten and the retreat from Kabul.

First page of note written by Eldred Pottinger
Second page of note written by Eldred PottingerNote written by Eldred Pottinger Mss Eur F760/1

There is also a copy of a note written by Eldred Pottinger, the political officer who succeeded to the position of Envoy on Macnaghten’s death. In the note, he described the desperate situation of the Kabul garrison: ‘Macnaghten was called out to a Conference and murdered….we are to fall back on Jalalabad tomorrow or the next day – in the present disturbed state of the country we may expect opposition on the road – and we are likely to suffer much from the cold and hunger as we expect to have no carriage for tents or superfluities.’  He reported that he had taken charge of the mission and that ‘The cantonment is now attacked’.

Sir William’s father was Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten, appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of Madras in 1809. The collection contains a journal written by Sir Francis from this period in his life.  He began writing the journal while on board the ship Bucephalus, which left Portsmouth on 15 November 1809 and arrived at Madras on 25 April 1810. He explained, ‘These notes and memoranda were written on ship board as the matter of them occurred to my memory. They were mainly intended to express for my own use the facts and my feelings upon them. Should they fall into other hands they will I trust be treated accordingly’.

Sketch of a water spout  Mss Eur F760-2Macnaghten's sketch of a water spout Mss Eur F760/2

The journal includes an account of the circumstances of Macnaghten's appointment to the post of Judge at the Supreme Court of Madras, preparations for leaving England, and the voyage to Madras. The journal ends with his being sworn in as a judge on the bench at Fort St George and paying a formal visit to the Nabob of the Carnatic. He includes such information as the fees of a knighthood and some facts on the Bucephalus. Macnaghten also drew a sketch of a water spout which the ship encountered along the way. He described that on 16 December 1809: ‘Saw a water spout. The store ship which we had under convoy fired a gun at it and we saw it regularly dispersing – It emptied itself regularly from its bottom or lower part and we perceived the sea where it fell very much affected by it. It had the appearance of smoke rising from a distant fire’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers relating to Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten (1763-1843), Judge of the Supreme Court of Madras 1809-1815, Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, Bengal 1815-1825; Sir William Hay Macnaghten, Bart (1793-1841), Madras Army 1809, Bengal Civil Service 1814-41, Envoy and Minister at the Afghan Court of Shah Shuja from 1838; and other members of the Macnaghten family, collection reference Mss Eur F760, available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogue is searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

Other Macnaghten papers at the British Library:
• Addresses presented to Sir Francis Workman-Macnaghten (1763-1843), Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, Bengal, on his retirement and departure for Europe, 1822, shelfmark Mss Eur F718.
• Letter book, dated Feb 1839-Mar 1841, of Sir William Hay Macnaghten containing copies of his letters to the Governor-General Lord Auckland, and other British civil and military officers, on foreign political and administrative matters, and in particular on policy towards Afghanistan, shelfmark Mss Eur F336.

 

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