Untold lives blog

234 posts categorized "Politics"

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.

25 November 2021

‘So Long’ from King Naimbanna II - Manuscripts from an 18th Century African King

Within the Clarkson Papers there are a number of volumes relating to the settlement of Freetown, Sierra Leone, from 1791 onwards.  These were explored in a series of Untold Lives blogs called The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists.   We return to these papers to explore a number of fascinating folios of correspondence between John Clarkson and King Naimbanna II.

King, or Obai, Naimbanna II (1720-1793) was a leader of the Koya Temne Kingdom on coast of Sierra Leone.  Agents of the Sierra Leone Company negotiated with Naimbanna in 1788 and persuaded him to sign over some of his land for the Company’s settlement.  Naimbanna later stipulated that the deal had been negotiated too hastily and should not have been given consent.  A digitised version of this treaty is available to view via the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme.

When John Clarkson arrived in Freetown at the end of 1791 he made a conscious effort to engage with Naimbanna as the local leader.  Documents from his papers show that collaboration was deemed essential in order for the new settlement to succeed.


Instructions from abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to his brother John  the Governor of Freetown  to ‘ingratiate yourself with Naimbanna and his secretary Elliot’Instructions from abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to his brother John, the Governor of Freetown, to ‘ingratiate yourself with Naimbanna and his secretary Elliot’. Add MS 41262A, f.65. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A note from John Clarkson to King Naimbanna inviting him to dine with him and explaining he has a letter for him from his son  12 May 1792A note from John Clarkson to King Naimbanna inviting him to dine with him and explaining he has a letter for him from his son, 12 May 1792. Add MS 41262A, f.105. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A working relationship was established, as the documents below illustrate.  Naimbanna gave these folios to John Clarkson when the governor was due to depart Sierra Leone for England at the end of 1792.

First of two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson  described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’ 23 December 1792
Second of two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson  described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’  23 December 1792Two folios from King Naimbanna to John Clarkson, described as ‘His gift to Mr Clarkson on taking leave’. 23 December 1792. Add MS 41262A, ff 211-214. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These fascinating folios stand out among Clarkson’s papers.  They are described as prayers or good luck charms.  Written in Arabic, they consist of scraps of sentences from the Koran that the author hopes will protect the bearer on his journey.  Other notes present with these papers describe the folios as badly written, but despite this criticism from Clarkson’s contemporaries, these letters are important historical documents in their own right.  They illustrate Naimbanna’s cautious engagement with the new settlement and his relationship with its governor Clarkson.

Naimbanna engaged diplomatically with the new settlement believing it could offer certain benefits.  He backed the original abolitionist mission of its founders, aimed to benefit from a proliferation of trade and sought out specialist education for himself and his sons.  Naimbanna sent his children abroad to experience different educations in different parts of the world.  His son Prince John Frederic would travel to England in 1791 to receive an education under the sponsorship of abolitionist and activist, Granville Sharp.

Announcement of the death of Prince Naimbanna  Bury and Norwich Post  1 January 1794Announcement of the death of Prince Naimbanna, Bury and Norwich Post, 1 January 1794. British Newspaper Archive.

With this openness and pragmatism of approach, Naimbanna hoped to both take advantage of the opportunities the new colony could open for the Kingdom, whilst retaining power as the rightful leader of the region.  However, cordial relations would not last.  Naimbanna died in 1793 as did his son, Prince John Frederic, whilst in transit back from England.  Successive Temne dynasties fought with neighbouring communities in an effort to consolidate their lands, but ultimately these lands were taken by the British in the latter half of the 19th century.  The British made Sierra Leone a British protectorate in 1896 and despite the Temne revolts in 1898 they would govern until Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists, Parts 1-4.
Ijagbemi, E. A. 'THE FREETOWN COLONY AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF ‘LEGITIMATE’ COMMERCE IN THE ADJOINING TERRITORIES', Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, vol. 5, no. 2, Historical Society of Nigeria, 1970, pp. 243–56.
Kup, A. P. 'John Clarkson and the Sierra Leone Company', The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, Boston University African Studies Center, 1972, pp. 203–20.
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16 November 2021

Miguel of Mazagon, Mumbai – Part One

Some years ago, I walked through narrow streets in Mazagon, Bombay (Mumbai), looking for the site of the old Gloria Church.  It was originally the personal chapel in the estate of my ancestor, Sir Miguel de Lima e Souza, who lived there from around 1750 to 1806.  This search was part of a larger quest to trace Sir Miguel’s roots back to the earliest Portuguese Fazendar, or estate owner, Antonio Pessoa in 1547.  That quest floundered in the historically murky era between the conquest of the Portuguese Norte India Province by the Marathas and the recapture of most of that area by the British in 1775.  I never was never able to document fully the family tree prior to Miguel and his father, but I had stumbled upon an intricate web of relations between Miguel's family and the East India Company at the time the Company was metamorphosing from a faltering trading enterprise to opulent overlord of much of the Indian subcontinent.

The cross that marks the spot of the original Gloria Church

The cross that marks the spot of the original Gloria Church (photo taken by Megan deSouza) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Miguel and his brothers seem to have played a significant part in this hinge period: Antonio based in Madras, Thomas in Calcutta, and Manoel in the Far East.  Miguel’s role is well-documented even though his emergence into prominence is something of a mystery.  There is little evidence of his presence before 1775 when the British conquered the island of Salsette north of Bombay from the Marathas.  Initially he was one of the merchants who leveraged the rising military power of the British to monopolise the cotton market in Gujarat and to create a coastal trading system between India and Eastern Africa, with ties to his brothers in Madras and Calcutta.  This mercantile base gave him entry into the newly established British corridors of power in and around Bombay.

Mazagon from the sea, with boats and ships in the foregroundView of Mazagon by Jose M. Gonsalves (fl. 1826-c.1842). Plate 6 from his Lithographic Views of Bombay published in Bombay in 1826. British Library W7506(6)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

One early British connection was an important British official, William Gamul Farmer, who played a prominent role in the wars with the Marathas.  There is a charming account by Farmer’s great granddaughter telling of how Miguel (presumably with his brother Manoel’s help) obtained for Farmer some orange saplings from the Far East.  But Miguel’s presence on the main stage came from his strong and close relationship with the British Governor Jonathan Duncan.

Initially Miguel was Duncan’s emissary in Gujarat to help build a permanent political and military presence.  Duncan appreciated his help enough to specially petition the Governor General Wellesley for a special reward.  However, Miguel was destined to play an even more important role in averting a major crisis during the Napoleonic Wars.  When Napoleon invaded France, the British feared that this would embolden their enemies in India to form an alliance to overwhelm them.  The British feared that the French allies would capture Goa and that the Portuguese were in no position to defend that port which would provide lines of communication between the French in Egypt and the French alliance in India.  Miguel was deputed to negotiate a deal with the Portuguese, and he smoothed the way for a virtual occupation of Goa by the British which secured Goa under British protection as long as the danger lasted.  His role was recognised by both parties with the Portuguese government bestowing on Miguel the Order of Christ, Portugal's highest civil honour, and with British Governor Duncan personally investing him with the same.

Megan deSouza, independent researcher and blogger
Denis Rodrigues, amateur historian interested in the history of Bombay

Further reading:
The Home People 
The Portuguese Militia in Bombay
British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast

Miguel of Mazagon, Mumbai – Part Two 

05 November 2021

Fireworks in India for Queen Victoria

A Royal Proclamation was published in India on 1 November 1858 transferring government from the East India Company to the Crown.  The document, addressed to the Princes, Chiefs, and people of India, was read out in the open in many places in both English and vernacular languages.  Public displays of fireworks and illuminations were organised to celebrate the change.

Copy of the Proclamation by the Queen in Council dated Allahabad 1 November 1858, announcing the transference of the government of India from the East India Company to the CrownCopy of the Proclamation by the Queen in Council dated Allahabad 1 November 1858, announcing the transference of the government of India from the East India Company to the Crown - British Library Mss Eur D620

The transfer of power from the Company to the Crown took place in the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion. Viscount Canning was appointed first Viceroy and Governor General.  The proclamation announced that all Company civil and military personnel were confirmed in post ‘subject to Our future pleasure’.  Treaties and engagements made with Princes of India were to be ‘scrupulously maintained’.  No extension to present British territories was desired and the ‘Rights, Dignity, and Honour’ of the Princes would be respected.  Internal peace and good government would secure social advancement for the whole of India.  The native peoples of British India would be treated with the same obligations of duty as all Queen Victoria’s other subjects.  There was to be no imposition of Christianity, no discrimination on religious grounds, and no interference with belief or worship.  People of any race or creed would be able to hold office if qualified ‘by their education, ability, and integrity’.  Ancient rights, usages and customs would be respected.

The proclamation also spoke of the Rebellion, lamenting ‘the evils and misery which have been brought upon India by the acts of ambitious men’.  Pardons were offered for all ‘Offenders’ except those convicted of ‘having directly taken part in the Murder of British Subjects’.

Viscount Canning presided over the proclamation ceremony at Allahabad, which began with a salute of nineteen guns and the national anthem.  The document was read out in English, followed by an Urdu translation.  A firework display lasted from 8.30pm to nearly midnight – ‘trees of fire, crackers, squibs, whirligigs, and rockets’.

In Calcutta, large numbers of people gathered to hear the proclamation read from the steps of Government House, first in English and then in Bengali.  The royal standard was hoisted, cheered by the Europeans in the crowd.  At night there was a wonderful display of gas light illuminations.  The Homeward Mail was impressed: ‘ No other city in the world could have prepared such a sight... The City of Palaces shone a city of fire… we do not think any pen can paint the beauty of the scene’.  Even the smallest shops were decorated with a few lights.

Crowds flocked to the fort in Bombay to hear the proclamation in English and Marathi.  Ships in the harbour then fired a salute of 101 guns.  The fireworks were on a scale never before seen in Bombay and workmen had spent days constructing elaborate illuminations on government buildings and the private mansions of prominent Indians.  Poor citizens had decorated the narrow streets and alleys.

At Madras the proclamation was read in front of an invited European audience of about 100, and there was a gun salute.  According to The Homeward Mail the only Indian present was the man who translated the document from English.  However a week later there were ‘some bad fireworks’, dancing girls and jugglers, and a state ball at the illuminated banqueting ball.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library Mss Eur D620 Copy of the Proclamation by the Queen in Council dated Allahabad 1 November 1858.
British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast e.g. The Friend of India 4 November 1858; The Homeward Mail 6 December and 15 December 1858; Evening Mail 6 December 1858.

There are a number of files in the India Office Records about public ceremonies held to celebrate the proclamation e.g.
IOR/L/PS/6/495, Coll 76/312 Measures taken to publicize the Royal Proclamation announcing the assumption of the Government of India by the Crown, October 1858-June 1859.
IOR/L/PS/6/463, Coll 36/9 Notification to the Princely States of Northern India of the Royal Proclamation transferring the government of India to the Crown - reports on the public ceremonies held in celebration - complimentary letters from some of the Native Princes, October 1858-January 1859.
IOR/L/PS/6/489, Coll 76/14 Papers relating to the North Western Provinces - expenditure incurred on illuminations in the Rohilkhand Division during the ceremonies accompanying the formal transfer of power from the East India Company to the Queen, November 1858-January 1860.
IOR/L/PS/6/490, Coll 76/46 North Western Provinces - expenditure of 38 rupees 5 annas on illuminations at Jalalabad Fort on the occasion of the reading of the Royal Proclamation, January 1859-January 1860.
IOR/L/PS/6/490, Coll 76/39 North Western Provinces - expenditure of 5446 rupees incurred on providing fireworks and illuminations at Allahabad on the occasion of the reading of the Royal Proclamation, January 1859-January 1860.
IOR/L/PS/6/490, Coll 76/36 North Western Provinces - expenditure of 500 rupees incurred on illuminations and fireworks at Banda during the occasion of the reading of the Royal Proclamation, January 1859-January 1860.

 

13 July 2021

Peter Paul Zohrab: a ‘Secret and confidential Agent’ for the East India Company

Amongst the India Office Political and Secret Department miscellaneous papers are four items of correspondence from 1808-1809 relating to the appointment of Peter Paul Zohrab as a ‘Secret and confidential Agent’ to the East India Company.  His mission, according to the letters, was to travel to Ottoman territories ‘to gain a knowledge of the proceedings and intrigues of the French in Turkey with reference to any designs that Nation is supposed to entertain on the British Possessions in the East Indies’.  During the Napoleonic Wars the East India Company and the British Government were anxious with regard to French intentions towards India.

Instructions for a secret mission to the Ottoman Empire issued by the Secret Committee of the East India Company, to ZohrabIOR/L/PS/19/173, f.1 Original instructions for a secret mission to the Ottoman Empire issued by Edward Parry, Charles Grant and John Manship, Secret Committee of the East India Company, to Zohrab dated 12 January 1808. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Instructions dated 12 January 1808 directed Zohrab to travel to Constantinople (Istanbul) in the first instance.  His task was to associate himself with any French people and ‘accredited Agents’ of the French, observe them and gather information – particularly any possible plans to march troops towards India. In addition, the East India Company’s Secret Committee gave Zohrab authority to travel into Armenia and Persia if necessary for further gathering intelligence.  Of particular interest was the newly established French Embassy in Persia, established as part of a Franco-Persian accord between Napoleon and the Shah of Persia.  As Peter Paul Zohrab was a merchant, he was specifically instructed to carry out his travels and observations only under that guise.  The Secret Committee advised him not to make himself known to the British Minister at the Persian Court.  He was also warned not to commit anything in writing that might reveal the true nature of his travels.  Indeed, the original instructions were to be returned to the Secret Committee after Zohrab had ‘impressed the substance of them on your memory’.

Zohrab 2-1IOR/L/PS/19/173, f.3 Letter from Zohrab in London, to the Secret Committee of the East India Company dated 12 January 1808. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

For his intelligence gathering activities, Zohrab was given a salary of £500 per year, with an additional payment of £500 per year for travelling and other expenses.  He was appointed for two years.  A system was set up whereby payments and correspondence would be channelled through John Green, Zohrab’s agent in London.  Green was to forward Zohrab’s letters unopened to the Chairman of the East India Company if addressed in a particular way.  Zohrab’s letters to the Secret Committee appear to have not survived, though their receipt can be tracked in the Secret Committee Minutes.  We know he left for Malta on 20 February 1808, and travelled on to Constantinople.  His mission however was cut short due to the changing political landscape; a letter from the Secret Committee dated 11 April 1809 informed him that his appointment was to cease on 10 February 1810 as there was now peace between Britain and the Ottoman Empire.

We know little of Zohrab’s background and career.  He may have been the son of Paul Zohrab, dragoman (translator, guide) to the Danish Embassy in Constantinople.  The East India Company have him as Peter Paul Joseph Zohrab, other sources refer to him as Peter Paul John.  He married his first wife Elizabeth Hitchens in St Pancras, London, in September 1807 – five months before his expedition to Turkey.  He then appears as a merchant in Malta, where he married his second wife Frances Williams in September 1816.  By 1830 Zohrab and his family were living in Smyrna (now Izmir), when he was appointed as a dragoman to the consulate at Erzerum.  In 1844, he was appointed to the position of dragoman in the consulate at Trebizond (now Trabzon).

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/19/173: Secret mission of Peter Paul Joseph Zohrab to the Ottoman Empire, Jan 1808-Apr 1809, 4 items
IOR/L/PS/1/10: Minutes of the Secret Committee, 10 Apr 1806-15 Apr 1824
List of Consular Officials in the Ottoman Empire and its former territories from the sixteenth century to about 1860 by David Wilson, July 2011

 

 

01 June 2021

The Development of Pakistan

The India Office Records contain many important files relating to the history of South Asia pre-1947.  One such file documents the early development of the idea of the new nation of Pakistan.

Cover of file entitled 'Alternative schemes to replace Federal provisions of Government of India Act, 1935',

Cover of file entitled 'Alternative schemes to replace Federal provisions of Government of India Act, 1935',

The idea of Indian Muslims constituting a separate nation within India equal to that of a Hindu nation went back at least to the 19th century and the work of Sayyid Ahmed Khan.  However it was the writings of the poet Muhammad Iqbal who gave concrete expression to the concept of an autonomous political Muslim state in the north-west of India.  The idea gained popular ground throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, representing for many the idea of a modern nation state for India’s Muslims and a symbol of Muslim identity.

Display of booklets on schemes for reform

Booklets on alternative schemes to replace Federal provisions of Government of India Act, 1935, including advocacy of Pakistan, 1933-1946, shelfmark IOR NEG 584.

During this period, the India Office received copies of publications by groups and individuals outlining their conception of what they thought Pakistan should be, or in what ways India’s constitution should be reformed to take account of its different communities.  Some of the booklets were submitted by leading figures in India such as Sir Ardeshir Dalal and Sir Sikander Hyat-Khan, and there is even a booklet on ‘Pakistan and Muslim India’ with a foreword by M.A. Jinnah.

Beginning of 'Now or Never: Are we to live or perish forever?'Beginning of Now or Never: Are we to live or perish forever? 

The file contains the pamphlet entitled Now or Never: Are we to live or perish forever?  Issued in 1933 by Choudhary Rahmat Ali, a Punjabi student at Cambridge, it outlined a plan for a separate Muslim state outside India.  He even suggested a name, ‘Pakstan’, meaning ‘land of the pure’ from the Persian pak for pure; and also an acronym for the areas in northwest Indian in which Muslims were in a majority: Punjab, Afghan (North-West Frontier) Province, Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan.  The same year, Rahmat Ali founded the Pakistan National Movement in order to build political support for the creation of Pakistan.  Included in the file is his circular letter of 8 July 1935 with a small map in the letterhead illustrating what he envisaged Pakistan to be.  He would continue to campaign for a separate state for Indian Muslims until his death in 1951, with his proposed schemes becoming ever more elaborate.  Inevitably he was disappointed with the Partition plan accepted by the Muslim League in 1947, publishing 'The Greatest Betrayal: How to Redeem the Millat?' in response.

Rahmat Ali's circular letter of 1935

Rahmat Ali's circular letter of 1935

The file also shows the Viceroy and the Government of India, and the British Government through the Secretary of State, struggling with increasingly rapid constitutional developments in the final years of British India.  As such it is a valuable file for the study and understanding of the end of British rule in India and the subsequent Independence of India and the creation of Pakistan.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Alternative schemes to replace Federal provisions of Government of India Act, 1935, including advocacy of Pakistan, 1933-1946, shelfmark IOR NEG 584.
Complete works of Rahmat Ali, edited by K. K. Aziz (Islamabad: National Commission of Historical and Cultural Research, 1978), shelfmark: Document Supply 3610.265000 no 2.
The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’ 

20 May 2021

Personal Reflections on the Indian Political Service – Part One: An Overview

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the European Manuscripts section of the India Office Library and Records ran a project called the Indian Political Officers Scheme.  The project’s aim was to collect written accounts from ex-Indian Political Service (IPS) officers who had lived and served through the last decades of British India.  It followed on from an earlier successful project to collect the memoirs of ex-Indian Civil Service (ICS) members, which ran between 1974 and 1979.  A list was compiled of former IPS officers, and to each one a letter was sent outlining the project and soliciting contributions.

The resulting collection (Mss Eur F226) contains the memoirs of 35 former officers (or in some cases, their wives) who responded to the request, some of whom had enjoyed second careers in other spheres such as politics (e.g. Francis Pearson) and diplomacy (e.g. John Shattock and Michael Hadow).  Their memoirs mainly cover the period 1920-47, documenting service as political officers in the Indian States, the North-West Frontier Province, and Balochistan, as well as the Agencies, Residencies and Consulates in the Persian Gulf.  A few ex-officers also record their post-IPS careers and even their years in retirement.

Head and shoulders photographic portrait of Sir Francis Fenwick Pearson aged 58Sir Francis Fenwick Pearson, 1st Bt. (1911-1991). Photograph by Godfrey Argent, 26 November 1969. © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG x166029 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

With the exception of Balraj Krishna Kapur, all the former officers were of British or Irish origin.  Some had family ties with British India; a few were also born there.  John Cotton writes of ‘a continuous connection with the Indian service in the direct line for more than one hundred and seventy years’, while Louis Pinhey notes that his great-grandfather was Surgeon-General of Madras [Chennai].  Both Hadow and Patrick Tandy were born in India, as was Charles Chenevix Trench (later a successful author), whose father also served in the IPS.  Many were from privileged families, although a few came from more humble beginnings, such as Thomas Rogers, the son of a shipbuilder, and Herbert Todd, who grew up on a farm in Kent.

Whilst the memoirs largely focus on experiences in the IPS, many of the authors also reflect on other aspects of their lives.  As a result, the memoirs abound with varied and often-amusing anecdotes of the kind that rarely surfaces in official correspondence.  There are stories of trips taken during leave, details of leisure pursuits, and glimpses into officers’ social lives.  Also mentioned are encounters with famous figures, some of which might be expected (e.g. Mahatma Gandhi), whereas others are rather surprising (e.g. Agatha Christie).

Head and shoulders photographic portrait of Sir Joseph Herbert Thompson aged 63Sir (Joseph) Herbert Thompson (1898-1984). Photograph by Godfrey Argent, 17 October 1961. © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG x171150 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Most of the memoirs were written at least 30 years on from the events they describe, in response to the request. Inevitably, the authors are less reserved in their memoirs than in official records, and consequently a greater number of passages contain offensive descriptions of members of colonised populations.

The reflections on British India are mainly positive.  There is some criticism of how Britain handled the transfer of power in 1947, and a few negative remarks about certain senior British officers and politicians, but mostly the authors remember the Empire and their roles within it with fondness.

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F226 

 

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