Untold lives blog

232 posts categorized "Politics"

26 May 2022

Monsieur Roux, the would-be Consul of Baghdad

By the summer of 1917, the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force had been in Mesopotamia for three years.  It had fought the armies of the Ottoman Empire and occupied territory stretching from Basra to Baghdad.  British officials had every reason to feel triumphant.  But then they met an opponent they could not defeat -– a French diplomat determined to be Consul of Baghdad.

A French Consulate for Baghdad
On 20 July 1917, the British authorities in occupied Baghdad were warned that a ‘Mons. Roux’ was en route to Mesopotamia, intending to establish a French Consulate.  The British authorities were bewildered.  They had not been informed about this new Consulate, and were worried that it might complicate efforts to impose imperial control in Mesopotamia.

The first appearance of Monsieur Roux in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force July 1917The first appearance of Monsieur Roux in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3281, f. 90r.

It was too late to prevent Roux reaching Bombay; the Foreign Office ordered that Roux be kept there while they decided on a response.

A captured Turkish steamer ship at BasraA captured Turkish steamer ship at Basra. Roux’s arrival in the busy port meant diplomatic complications for the British occupation. © IWM Q 25326 (htt

From Bombay to Basra
The British did not reckon with the determination of Monsieur Roux.  On 4 August, an embarrassed telegram from Bombay reached Baghdad. Roux had requested that the Government of Bombay let him leave for Basra.  The Government refused, stating that he would have to wait until they received permission from Basra.  Roux- clearly well-versed in the arts of diplomacy- ‘expressed extreme astonishment’ at this delay, and warned of ‘diplomatic complications’ if he was hindered.  Bombay allowed Roux to sail for Basra.  Shortly after his ship had left, a telegram belatedly arrived confirming that under no circumstances was the Frenchman to be allowed to leave.  Monsieur Roux was one step closer to Baghdad - and had left a gaggle of humiliated British administrators in his wake.

Telegram from Bombay reporting that Monsieur Roux has left for BasraBombay reports that Monsieur Roux has left for Basra, against the wishes of Basra’s British authorities in the occupied port city. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282, f. 128r. 

Diplomatic Privileges
By 16 August, Roux had arrived in Basra and was causing more issues for the British.  Roux expected permission to use a locked diplomatic bag and a telegram cipher. However, his British hosts were reluctant to allow him to keep his communications secret.  On 28 September, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff telegrammed that the French Ambassador had complained about an ‘unfriendly and suspicious attitude towards Consul Roux, which may create bad impression in France’.

Telegram reporting that the ‘unfriendly and suspicious’ treatment of Roux drew the attention of the French Ambassador and prompted an official warning from the Imperial General StaffThe ‘unfriendly and suspicious’ treatment of Roux drew the attention of the French Ambassador and prompted an official warning from the Imperial General Staff. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3284, f. 487r

The Chief ordered that this be investigated and that Roux, as ‘official agent of French Government’, be permitted to send cipher telegrams.  The threat of political consequences allowed the Frenchman to get his way again.

The Belgian Consulate at Basra 1917The Belgian Consulate at Basra, 1917. Roux is likely to have occupied similar quarters during his stay in the city. © IWM Q 25679 

Consul Roux 
Roux’s status remained unsettled for over a year. By October 1918, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf had changed his approach, suggesting that Roux should come to Baghdad ‘where he… can be more efficiently influenced and controlled’.  Roux himself was now more interested in events beyond Baghdad.  The oil-rich northern region of Mosul was at the time claimed by both the British and the French.  The commander of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force, Sir William Marshall, recalled in his memoirs that Roux spent November 1918 requesting permission to go to Mosul.  Marshall refused to allow the visit, suspecting that Roux planned to improve French influence in the region by handing out money.

The story of Monsieur Roux illustrates the smaller-scale realities of imperial rivalry.  The presence of a Consul allowed France to exert authority in a territory the British were determined to control.  Roux thus became a cause for concern, and relatively inconsequential incidents of interpersonal tension became part of a broader struggle for post-war imperial supremacy.

Dan McKee
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
India Office Records – Military Department files: IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3281; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3283; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3284; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3309
Mesopotamia campaign - National Army Museum 

 

12 May 2022

The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 2: Inflation in 1800

The current struggles with inflation encompass some of the highest rises in living memory, but current rises pale in comparison to the exceptional case of the year 1800 where inflation reached a dizzying 36%.  This is the highest known figure in British history.

Satirical print  from 1800 entitled 'Hints to forestallers, or a sure way to reduce the price of grain!' , A fat 'forestaller' is dragged along (left to right) by a rope round his neck which is pulled by a chain of countrymen, to the cheers of a crowd.Satirical print from  1800 entitled ‘Hints to forestallers, or a sure way to reduce the price of grain!!’ British Museum number 1868,0808.6904 © The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The explanation given for this incredible rise is that the twenty years of Napoleonic Wars had drained the country’s resources and an ever increasing demand provoked by the industrial revolution.  The economy struggled to supply ample arms, food and fuel to the Army and Navy, and shortages emerged across all sorts of everyday goods.  This drove up the price of clothing, beverages, candles, coal, animal meat, dairy and cereals, so that the common person dealt with rises across most of the items they would ever seek to purchase.  Such goods had been increasing in price for decades as an increase in population and a decrease in mortality rate meant an increase in demand.  Given the incredible rises, wages struggled to keep up, so how did the government analyse the situation at the time?

Extract from a letter written from the Office for Trade at Whitehall: ‘…a mob of people (I think mostly boys)…with a band of musick…shouting Bread! Bread!'Extract from a letter written from the Office for Trade at Whitehall: ‘…a mob of people (I think mostly boys)…with a band of musick…shouting Bread! Bread! Add MS 38234, f.155  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Correspondence to Earl of Liverpool from the Office for Trade offers an insight into the tension on the streets. The Office representative describes crowds of people at Bishopsgate protesting about the price of bread, gathering and shouting in the streets of London.

 

Further correspondence (below) to the Earl describes the mood of the country at large.

Extract from a letter dated London 23 October 1800 to Lord Liverpool - ‘The Present dreadful alarm spread with the uttermost industry…it spreads a spirit of discontent and inspires among the lower orders a shocking desire to mobbing, murder and plunder…the rising prices of the prices of the necessities of life…’Extract from a letter dated London 23 October 1800 to Lord Liverpool - ‘The Present dreadful alarm spread with the uttermost industry…it spreads a spirit of discontent and inspires among the lower orders a shocking desire to mobbing, murder and plunder…the rising prices of the prices of the necessities of life…’Add MS 38234, f.189.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There are various pleas to control prices, both in the Liverpool Papers and in correspondence to Prime Minister William Pitt, the Younger, including pleas about the spiralling cost of meat and the price of salt needed for fisherman wishing to conserve fish. As well as petitions from various industries, one can also see an increasing ideological battle over the right course of economic actions. Two members of the House of Lords, Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville, wrote to Pitt about the inflation crisis, warning the Prime Minister not to attempt to bring in legislation to reign in prices.

Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville writing to Pitt about the inflation crisis: ‘We must [choose] between a free, unchecked and uncontrolled trade in grain flour and bread; or we must undertake to regulate it…which cannot exist in this country with its constitution, or its prosperity as a commercial people’.Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville writing to Pitt about the inflation crisis: ‘We must [choose] between a free, unchecked and uncontrolled trade in grain flour and bread; or we must undertake to regulate it…which cannot exist in this country with its constitution, or its prosperity as a commercial people’, Add MS 89036/1/7, f.73.v.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the letter above, Lord Buckingham states that the best that can be achieved is to ‘regulate a measure but which all grain and flour shall be sold’, but there should be no attempt to then control market prices.

Lord Grenville agrees and even provides some inspiration for his principles in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which had been published 24 years earlier. Lord Grenville describes how he and Pitt were sceptical to the theory of the free-market, but ultimately came around to it.

Letter from Lord Grenville :‘I am confident that provisions like every other article of commerce, if left to themselves, will and must find their own level’.Letter from Lord Grenville :‘I am confident that provisions like every other article of commerce, if left to themselves, will and must find their own level’, Add MS 89036/1/7, f.85.v.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With the government discussing the grander narratives of economics, the population had to push through the inflation crisis.  Output and growth were still up, and consequently many were making the profits needed to ride out the inflationary crisis.  Labour in the Northern cities central to industrial output actually saw real wages rise, as demand for labour was so high, but the average worker in London saw their real income fall.  This particular inflation crisis would be short and painful, as a massive fall in inflation in 1803 would see prices adjust, but such fluctuations would continue throughout the 19th century.

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

This blog post follows on from Part 1: The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795 

Further Reading:
The Liverpool Papers: Add MS 38190-38489
Gilboy, Elizabeth W. 'The Cost of Living and Real Wages in Eighteenth Century England', The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 18, no. 3, 1936, pp. 134–43, 

 

19 April 2022

The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795

At the end of the 18th century, a succession of bad harvests severely depleted the national crop of wheat.  The harvest of 1795 in particular resulted in chronic shortages.  On top of this, the geopolitical landscape of Europe had been turned upside down by the French Revolution and the subsequent wars with the French Republic altering trade and commerce across the continent.  The combination of these pressures was a doubling of the price of bread among ordinary civilians.  Counties around Britain appealed to the Privy Council for supplies of wheat to aid their populations as people in towns felt the effect.  A number of bread riots broke out across the country as people went hungry.  Burial figures from these years show a marked increase in 1795, implying a rise in death rate.

Document entitled ‘Thoughts in Consequence of the Present High Price of Grain’ ‘Thoughts in Consequence of the Present High Price of Grain’, Add MS 38353, f.208. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Faced with increasing discontent and instability the government had to do something to address the crisis.  There was an effort to import more grain from the Quebec and the Baltic, but there were plans forged at home as well.  Records in the Liverpool Papers show how the government were concerned that big farms were benefitting from the shortage by selling their wheat at over-opulent prices.  There were suggestions of limiting the control that the big farms had over price at the markets, but little action was taken on big producers’ profits.

Instead, attention turned to stretching supply.  Members of Parliament debated a motion to force millers to not strip the bran from their flour, so supplies might go further.  Millers were a popular focus of anger during the crisis.  They were often accused of mixing in other substances into flour in order to stretch their profits, so by forcing millers to change their product from the popular white bread to an unpopular whole-wheat bread, the government hoped some of the public’s ire would be redirected to them.

Document suggesting a plan 'to force the miller to dress his flour coarser than at present’ ‘…to force the miller to dress his flour coarser than at present’, Add MS 38353, f.280.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Advice given to the government at the time shows that given there was least some bran in loaves of bread already it was unlikely that the public would notice too much change.  However, the author of the report stipulates that in his opinion the bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’.

Report suggesting that bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’Report suggesting that bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’, Add MS 38353, f.290. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another suggested course of action was the mixing of grains; unlike wheat, harvests of barley, rye, oats and peas had done well.  Suggestions were made for bakers to mix grains and create new loaves of bread for sale, but again this divergence from the white loaf was unpopular.

Recipe for wheat boiled in milk as a substitute meal instead of breadRecipe for wheat boiled in milk as a substitute meal instead of bread Add MS 38377, f.116.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

When these plans were put in action it was the poorest segment of the population that would be consuming these altered loaves.  The richer demographics could choose to avoid wheaten bread altogether as they could easily exchange it for other sources of food.

The bread crisis would ease a little with a successful domestic harvest in 1796, however prices would continue fluctuate wildly over the end of the 18th century bringing continued hardship to those who relied on bread for many years to come.

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts


Further Reading:
The Liverpool Papers: Add MS 38190-38489
Stern, Walter M. 'The Bread Crisis in Britain, 1795-96', Economica, vol. 31, no. 122, 1964, pp. 168–87.

 

Food Season 2022

British Library Food Season

 

24 March 2022

Sources for Madame Cama, Indian Political Activist

The struggle for Indian independence from British rule was not only carried on in India, but was eagerly pursued by Indian activists and revolutionaries across the world, particularly in Europe and America.  The India Office Records contains some fascinating files on one such activist, Bhikhaiji Rustom Cama, more often known as Madame Cama.

Stamp of India 1962 depicting Bhikhaiji Cama.Stamp of India 1962 depicting Bhikhaiji Cama. Copyrighted work of the Government of India, licensed under the Government Open Data License - India (GODL)

Born in 1861 into a wealthy Parsi family in Bombay, Madame Cama was educated at the Alexandra Parsi Girls School in Bombay, and later married Rustom Cama, a lawyer and son of the prominent Parsi reformer K R Cama.  With her health suffering due to her work as social worker during the 1897 plague epidemic in Bombay, Madame Cama travelled to Britain in 1901.  She would spend the next three decades working tirelessly for Indian freedom from British rule, becoming known as the ‘Mother of Indian Revolution’.  In 1907, Madame Cama moved to Paris, where she was at the centre of a small group of Indian nationalists.  That year she also travelled to Stuttgart for the International Socialist Conference, where she spoke of the poverty of the Indian people due to British rule, and unfurled the National flag of India 'amid loud cheers' as reported in the Manchester Courier.

The India Office was greatly concerned at the influence of Indian activists abroad, and through the intelligence services kept a close eye on their activities.  In 1915, the India Office received a copy of a letter sent to the Foreign Office from the British Political Officer in Basra, along with a specimen of Bande Mataram, the pamphlet published by Madame Cama, found in an Indian soldier’s kit.  In his letter, he asked: 'In view of the existing conditions of war and of close alliance with France, could the French Government be got to arrest Madame Cama and put her away somewhere?'  A note in the file suggested such a move would do more harm than good and pointed out: 'The lady is under close observation, and is not now in a position to tamper with Indian troops'.  By February 1917 more direct action had been taken, with the newspaper Call reporting that 'Madame B. Cama, editor of the "Bande Mataram", a Hindu paper published in Paris, is one of the most important women who have been denied their liberty.  She was interned in Paris at the special request of the British Government'.

Intelligence Report on Indian Communists 1924Intelligence Report on Indian Communists -  British Library IOR/L/PJ/12/49 f.134 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the 1920s and 1930s, surveillance of Indian activists continued.  Madame Cama appears in several of the files of Indian Political Intelligence, the branch of British Intelligence responsible for monitoring Indian nationalist in the UK, Europe and America, and some examples are given below in the suggestions for further reading. 

Intelligence Report on Indians in Europe Intelligence Report on Indians in Europe - British Library IOR/L/PJ/12/50 f.14 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Madame Cama's health had never fully recovered from her social work in 1897, and her work, combined with continual government hostility, strained it further.  As she wrote to the Russian political activist Maxim Gorky in 1912: 'All my time and energy are devoted to my country and her struggle'.  In November 1935, she returned to India, and died shortly afterwards in August 1936.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Pamphlets published by Madame Cama of a seditious nature and names of four Indians implicated in sedition, April-May 1915, shelfmark IOR/L/PS/11/91, P 1667/1915.

Indian agitators abroad; containing short accounts of the more important Indian political agitators who have visited Europe and America in recent years, and their sympathisers, compiled in the Criminal Intelligence Office, 1st edition, November 1911 (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1911), shelfmark IOR/V/27/262/1.

Chowdhury, Bulu Roy, Madame Cama: a short life-sketch (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1977), shelfmark Mss Eur F341/108.

Indian Political Intelligence files at British Library:
IOR/L/PJ/12/49: Indian Communist Party: intelligence reports, 1923-1924 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 134 and 187-190.
IOR/L/PJ/12/50: Indian Communist Party: intelligence reports, 1924-1925 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 12-16.
IOR/L/PJ/12/174: Activities and passport application of Mandayam P Tirumal Acharya, 1926-1933 - Madame Cama is mentioned at folio 12.
IOR/L/PJ/12/219: Activities of Indians and Afghans in Paris: activities, 1924-1925 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 10, 11 and 18.
IOR/L/PJ/12/667: M.I.5. B[lack].L[ist]. Volume XXI (Indian Volume), 1921 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the entry for Sirdar Singhji Revabhai Ranna on page 57.

Foreign Office papers regarding Madame Cama can be found at the UK National Archives, references FO 800/56B.

British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast):
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 23 August 1907.
India, 30 August 1907.
The Call (London), 01 February 1917.

The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’.

Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, Rozina Visram (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

 

27 January 2022

The 1914 United Missionary Exhibition 'Other Lands in Leicester': a global and colonial aspiration

In April 1914 the newly built De Montfort Hall in Leicester hosted a United Missionary Exhibition.  ‘Other Lands in Leicester’ was described as ‘A picturesque and vivid representation of work in many lands’.  The exhibition was deliberately fixed during Easter week, between 6 and 16 April, as this is the most important celebration for the Christian religion, and this period must have been thought of as ideal for attracting visitors from all over the country and engaging more volunteers.  The aim was to educate and inspire the public about missionary work abroad.

Advert for ‘Other Lands in Leicester’ at the De Montfort Hall in April 1914Leicester Daily Post, Thursday 19 March 1914, The British Newspaper Archive.

Missionary exhibitions aimed to bring different fields of activity together in one city.   Visitors could tour the colonised world without travelling, through the convenience of a settled exhibition organized by comfortable explanatory pavilions.  In the ethnographic and anthropological museums emerging at the beginning of the 20th century, it was common practice to collect and reframe objects based on colonial contemporary categories.  Material culture circulated in international exhibitions, which emerged around the 1840s and lasted until the 1960s, albeit with substantial changes due to mutations in ideology, politics, and taste after the Second World War.  Both museums and these events played a crucial role in shaping knowledge around the relationship between Britain and Empire through the use of material culture, and therefore the history of collections and taste is closely linked with the objects arrived in Europe through colonial missions abroad.

The concept of a standalone exhibition of missionary objects began with the first independent missionary exhibition organised by the London Missionary Society in 1908 with the name ‘The Orient in London’.  This – and ‘Africa and the East’ the following year, still in London - set the pattern for other exhibitions in Europe and the United States.  These were events to display and sell objects produced before and after the arrival of missionaries.

But what was the idea behind such huge object-based lessons?

While the broader public participated in missionary exhibitions for elements of spectacle, amusement, and exoticism, the Church wanted to show the success of missionary work in converting local population to Christianity, and therefore justify the cost of the Empire and raise funds for further missions.

In ‘Other Lands in Leicester’, three different ecclesiastical institutions – the Baptist Missionary Society, the London Missionary Society, and the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society - gathered together to show their union and will in achieving the goal of the evangelization of the Empire.  This ‘union’, which saw no major divisions between different branches of the Christian Church, might be considered as the will to foster an imperial civilising mission toward ‘the heathens’.   An article inThe Leicester Mail  clarifies that the exhibition’s scope was ‘Not merely the show, but the coming into contact with the nations that would be represented’.

Plan of the Hall at the United Missionary Exhibition in Leicester 1914Plan of the Hall at the United Missionary Exhibition. It is possible to see evocative sections dedicated to the display of a Chinese Tea Garden, a Congo Village, or a Malagasy Market. The Exhibition Herald, 3, February 1914,  The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, box 4D56/91.

But who decided the narrative in the representation of those nations?  How could missionary exhibitions be neutral if they were imperial institutions that conveyed a religious, artistic and political message?

Around 1200 stewards were hired at Leicester with the purpose of explaining the exhibits to the public.  This suggests that objects were used as a means to educate visitors in Leicester about their global place, and to illustrate the national progress and religious success of Christianity through missions.

Maria Chiara Scuderi
AHRC PhD researcher – University of Leicester

Further reading:
Leicester Daily Post, Thursday 19 March 1914, The British Newspaper Archive.
The Leicester Mail, Thursday 4 March 1913, The British Newspaper Archive.
The Exhibition Herald, 1, October 1913, The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, box 4D56/91.
The Exhibition Herald, 3, February 1914, The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, box 4D56/91.
Corbey, R., Weener, F., K., 2015, ‘Collecting while converting: missionaries and ethnographics’, Journal of Art Historiography, 12, pp. 1-14.
Filipová, M., 2016, Cultures of International Exhibitions 1840-1940. Great Exhibitions in the Margins, London: Routledge.
Groten, M., 2018. ‘Difference Between the Self and the Heathen. European Imperial Culture in Dutch Missionary Exhibitions, 1909–1957’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 47,3, pp. 490-513.
Hasinoff, E. L., 2011, Faith in Objects. American Missionary Exposition in the Early 20th century, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jacobs, K., Knowles, C., Wingfield, C., 2015, Trophies, Relics and Curious? Missionary Heritage from Africa and the Pacific, London: Sidestone.
Longair, S., McAleer, J., 2012, Curating Empire, Museums and the British imperial experience, Manchester: Manchester United Press.
McAleer, J., Mackenzie, J., M., 2015, Exhibiting Empire. Cultures of display and the British Empire, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

 

25 January 2022

A Vignette of Inter-War Anglo-American Relations in the Middle East

In January 1931 the American Consul in Baghdad received a rap on the knuckles from the Political Agent and British Consul in Muscat, Major Trenchard C W Fowle.

Photograph of Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle in military uniform with medals.Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle, by Walter Stoneman, 1937  NPG x167632. Copyright: National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

This mild castigation of the American Consul, Alexander Kilgore Sloan, arose from a request by Dr Sarah Hosmon of the American Mission at Muscat to visit the inland village of Rustaq.  Hosmon wished to ‘take care and prescribe for sick people there’, following an invitation from the Governor of that town.

Sloan was under the impression that Fowle had refused Hosmon’s request and wrote a letter of support on her behalf.

Extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930, supporting Sarah Hosmon’s missionary trip to Rustaq.Extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930, supporting Sarah Hosmon’s missionary trip to Rustaq. Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Sloan concluded that if conditions there had not worsened radically since March ‘I can see no reason to forbid her journey to that town and consequently request that you assist Miss Hosmon in making her contemplated trip’.

Further extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930Further extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Map of Oman and the Persian Gulf

Map of Oman showing Rastaq (inland, south-west of Muscat) - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Three weeks later Fowle replied in a distinctly patronising tone: ‘In the first place I am not “The British Political Adviser, Muscat”, as addressed by you’.

Extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931, ‘clarifying’ the position Extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931, ‘clarifying’ the position - Qatar Digital LibraryPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Fowle refused to incur any responsibility for Hosmon’s journey: ‘When in charge of foreign interests a Consular officer has to be even more careful with regard to such interests than those of his own nationals … if some unfortunate incident befell Miss Hosmon, and if she had taken her journey with my permission, then not unnaturally I should be held responsible for her having proceeded with my approval’.

He noted that the Council of Ministers of Muscat advised against the journey to Rustaq, adding that he had made arrangements for an alternative trip by Hosmon to some coastal villages, which she had not yet made.

Further extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan  8 January 1931Further extract from  letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931 - Qatar Digital Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Perhaps to hammer home his overseeing role, Fowle signs his letter ‘Political Agent & HBM’s Consul, Muscat. (In charge American Interests in Muscat)’.

End of letter from Major Fowle to Sloan  8 January 1931End of letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


In March 1931, on his return from visiting various Gulf ports, Sloan replied to ‘His Britannic Majesty’s Consul, Muscat, Arabia’, thanking him for his ‘courtesy’ in writing to him.

Letter from Sloan to Fowle  10 March 1931 abrogating responsibility for permitting Hosmon’s tripExtract from letter from Sloan to Fowle, 10 March 1931 abrogating responsibility for permitting Hosmon’s trip - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Sloan enclosed a copy of a letter he claimed to have written to Hosmon on 16 December 1930, the same date as his letter to Fowle.  He told Hosmon he had little knowledge of conditions in the Sultanate of Oman, but was aware that travel into the interior could be dangerous.  He cited the case of Mr Bilkert, a member of the American Mission killed in Kuwait territory in 1929, and noted his sympathy with Major Fowle’s ‘reluctance in the matter’ since it has ‘often happened in the past that the killing of an American citizen or of a British subject bound on an errand of mercy has probably caused more distress than that person could have alleviated’.

Extract of a letter from Sloan to Sarah Hosmon  dated 16 December 1930Extract of a letter from Sloan to Sarah Hosmon, dated 16 December 1930 - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence
 

Sloan’s words appear, in part, to contradict what he wrote to Fowle on 16 December.  By enclosing the copy of his letter to Hosmon he appears to exonerate himself for originally endorsing Hosmon’s trip and for offending Fowle, and he diplomatically dumps responsibility back onto the British!

Interestingly the Persian Gulf Administration Report for Muscat 1931 states that Hosmon, with sanction of the Council, visited Sohar, Saham and Al-Khaburah, whilst Dr Storm, another member of the American Mission, ventured into Rustaq.

Extract of the Administration Report of the Political Agency  Muscat  for 1931Extract of the Administration Report of the Political Agency, Muscat, for 1931 - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Was there a hint of anti-American irritation in Fowle’s letter? Growing American influence in the Middle East during this period regularly irked the British colonial authorities who regarded the region as their domain.  Or perhaps risk-taking American missionaries had simply put him in a foul mood…?

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

Further reading:
IOR/R/15/6/145: ‘File 6/1 Foreign Interests: American Mission at Muscat’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/L/PS/12/3719/1: ‘Persian Gulf: Administration Reports 1926-1938’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/L/PS/10/1177: ‘PERSIAN GULF NEWS SUMMARY 1926-1930’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/X/3210: ‘A Revised map of Oman and the Persian Gulf, in which an attempt has been made to give a correct transliteration of the Arabic names. By the Rev. George Percy Badger, FRGS’, 1871, Map Collections, British Library, London.

11 January 2022

The Spy Who Came in from the Circus: Haji Ali Germani

In 1915, a man was arrested near the Iranian port of Bandar Lengeh by levies in the pay of the British Consulate, accused of inciting the local population against British interests.  He was ‘fair, though now very sunburned’, with ‘fair hair and grey eyes’, spoke German, English, Farsi, and Arabic, and went by the name of Haji Ali Germani.

The arrest took place against a tumultuous backdrop.  To weaken Britain in Europe during the First World War, Germany and its allies were striking at the British imperial system in Asia.  German, Austrian, and Ottoman agents, along with Indian revolutionaries, were spreading across Iran, approaching Afghanistan and causing panic among the British occupying India.  The arrested Haji Ali was believed to be working with German agents, most prominently the feared Wilhelm Wassmuss, ‘the German Lawrence’, to weaken British influence over southern Iran, and thus the Persian Gulf and route to India.

Haji Ali told his captors that his mother was a German circus performer and his father a ‘Moor’ (North African).  He himself had started out as an acrobat, before joining the firm of Robert Wönckhaus, a former Zanzibar slave trader who had moved into business in the Gulf.

Letter about Haji Ali from the Vice-Consul in Bandar Lengeh to the Commanding Officer in Bushire 25 September 1915Letter from the Vice-Consul in Bandar Lengeh to the Commanding Officer in Bushire [Bushehr], 25 September 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/490 f 138r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Haji Ali was already known, and distrusted, by British authorities.  He had been involved in Wönckhaus’s concession to mine red oxide on Abu Musa island, which hawkish British officers perceived as a threatening German intrusion into the jealously-guarded Gulf and quickly had shut down.

After his arrest Haji Ali was deported to India.  On reaching Bombay [Mumbai] in October 1915, he was sent into internment in Jutogh in the Himalayan foothills.  He was escorted on the long journey north by one Sub-Inspector Schiff, an Arabic speaker in Bombay’s colonial police, who coaxed information from him about Indian revolutionaries with the Germans in Iran.  After ‘a large glass of brandy (neat) and several glasses of beer at Delhi station’, Haji Ali revealed that German agents were planning to ship arms to Indian revolutionaries from Shanghai, taking advantage of relaxed checks on ships coming to India from the east.  After sobering up, he was ‘very much exercised at having said so much and bound Sub-Inspector Schiff to secrecy by all the oaths in the Arabic vocabulary’.

Letter from the Bombay Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of the Government of Bombay 14 October 1915Letter from the Bombay Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of the Government of Bombay, 14 October 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 39vPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Schiff judged that Haji Ali was not a ‘true [German] patriot’, and could be led to make further ‘revelations of interest’.  Thus, no sooner did Haji Ali reach Jutogh than he was sent back to Bombay for further interrogation.  There, he revealed the location of the keys to Wönckhaus’s safes, buried near Lengeh, among other fragments of information.

We hear little more of him.  In 1916, he was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Thayetmyo, Burma.  After the war he seems to have returned to Iran – a 1922 file mentions him back in Lengeh, working in Customs.

Extract from Persian Gulf Residency News Summary July 1922Persian Gulf Residency News Summary, July 1922. IOR/L/PS/10/977 f 143v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is not clear if Haji Ali really was actively involved in German wartime conspiracies, or simply a bystander.  Either way, he was a colourful bit-player in a tempestuous period in Iran.

Despite declaring itself neutral in the war, Iran became a battleground for rival powers, was occupied by British, Russian, and Ottoman troops, and was wracked by shortages, inflation, and famine, causing immense suffering among ordinary Iranians.  Theirs are among the truly untold lives of the First World War.

William Monk
Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, File 3443/1914 Pt 3 'German War: Afghanistan and Persia; German agents; British troops in East Persia', IOR/L/PS/10/474
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 14 'German War: Persia; general situation', IOR/L/PS/10/490
British Library, File 1749/1921 ‘Persian Gulf:- Residency news summaries 1921-25’ [‎143v] (301/494), IOR/L/PS/10/977
British Library, 'File 14/115 VIII B 15 Abu Musa. Red oxide concession.', IOR/R/15/1/260
Abrahamian, Ervand.  A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Staley, Eugene. ‘Business and Politics in the Persian Gulf: The Story of the Wönckhaus Firm.’ Political Science Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 3, 1933, pp. 367–385.

 

06 January 2022

Protesting Against the Simon Commission

One controversial moment in India’s fight for freedom from British rule in the 1920s, was the arrival in India of the members of the Indian Statutory Commission in 1928.  The India Office Private Papers at the British Library contains some wonderful material documenting this event.

The Indian Statutory Commission was a British commission appointed on 26 November 1927 to enquire into the working of the system of government, the growth of education, and the development of representative institutions in British India, and to recommend future policy regarding further constitutional reforms.  It is often referred to as the Simon Commission after its Chairman Sir John Allsebrook Simon.  Unfortunately, the members of the Commission all belonged to the British ruling classes, and the exclusion of Indian members understandable prompted outrage in India, with both Congress and the Muslim League boycotting the Commission.  The Commission visited India twice, once in February/March 1928, and again from 11 October 1928 to 13 April 1929, and wherever they travelled there were protest marches.  Protestors questioned the Commission's legitimacy and demanded that it leave India.

A black flag with the words ‘Simon Go Back’ in white lettering'Simon Go Back’ flag, reference Mss Eur D856 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

One particularly striking item in the Private Paper collections relating to these protests is a black flag with the words ‘Simon Go Back’ in white lettering, reference Mss Eur D856.  The flag had been given to Lady Carter, wife of Richard Henry (later Sir Archibald) Carter, Assistant Secretary to the Commission.  It had been presented to her while on a visit to the United Provinces by the Governor, Sir Malcolm Hailey (later Baron Hailey).  Of him, she wrote: ‘I first saw him at a tennis party and he swooped down on us like a great hawk.  Everybody seemed frightened of him, but I loved him at first sight’.  The story Lady Carter told of how Lord Hailey obtained the flag was that he had joined one of the processions against the Commission.  She said: ‘He gave me one of the black flags that they carry in the processions against the Commission, with a SIMON GO BACK on it’.

Protest banner with the words: 'Indian Uninvited Guest, Simon Go Back’Protest banner Mss Eur D890/1 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There is also another protest banner in the papers of Sir (Samuel) Findlater Stewart (1879-1960), India Office official from 1903 to 1940, demanding ‘Indian Uninvited Guest, Simon Go Back’, reference Mss Eur D890/1.

The Commission published its report in two volumes in 1930 to further criticism and condemnation in India.  It was rejected by virtually all parts of the Indian political spectrum, and in London it sparked a march from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Station by around 200 protestors.  The British Government responded by holding a series of Round Table Conferences held in London between November 1930 and December 1932.  This eventually fed into the reforms incorporated into the 1935 Government of India Act.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
`Simon go back' black flag used in Congress demonstrations against the Indian Statutory (Simon) Commission; reference Mss Eur D856.

Papers of the Indian Statutory Commission 1928-1930; series reference IOR/Q/13.

Papers of the Round Table Conference, 1930-1932; series reference IOR/Q/RTC.

Papers of 1st Viscount Simon as Chairman of Indian Statutory Commission 1927-1930; collection reference Mss Eur F77.

Government of India Act 1935.

Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950: Indian Statutory Commission.

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