Untold lives blog

59 posts categorized "Religion"

20 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.5 Colonial New England from the 1640s onwards

During the 1630s up to 20,000 people emigrated from England to New England.  This period is known as the Great Migration and many of the emigrés were separatists or puritans.  However, colonial life wasn’t for everyone.  During the 1640s, more puritans returned to England than left.  Many returned to fight in the English Civil War.

In the latter half of the 17th century, English colonies expanded throughout the territories of several Algonquian-speaking tribes.  The English established praying towns to convert local people to Christianity.  Relations between Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag tribe broke down, increasing tensions further.

The war that followed, known as King Philip’s War (1675-1678), was the deadliest conflict seen in North America.  The colonists won; thousands of Native Americans were killed or sold into slavery. It was a huge blow for their resistance to colonisation.

Anxieties about the English Civil War by an early female poet

Open copy of Anne Bradstreet's Several Poems…by a Gentlewoman in New-EnglandAnne Bradstreet, Several Poems…by a Gentlewoman in New-England, 1678. C.39.b.48 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) was an English poet and one of the first female writers to be published in North America.  She emigrated on the Arbella in 1630 and settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony with her family.  Her 1642 poem A Dialogue Between Old England and New is about the English Civil War.  Young America asks Mother England what is troubling her, to which she replies 'a new conflict' and laments her ‘plundered townes’ and her ‘young men slaine’.


Translating the Bible for Algonquian Native Americans

Title page of the first translation of the Bible into the Massachusett languageWusku Wuttestamentum nul-lordumun Jesus Christ nuppoquohwussuaeneumun. Cambridge: Printed by Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson, 1661. C.51.b.3 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This is the first translation of the Bible into the Massachusett language, printed at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1661. It was produced for so-called ‘Praying Indians’ – native people who had been converted to Christianity.

It was jointly translated by John Eliot, a Christian missionary, and Cockenoe, a Native American captured and enslaved during the Pequot War in 1637. Cockenoe taught Eliot the language and acted as his interpreter. This book is known as the Eliot Indian Bible, underplaying Cockenoe’s vital involvement in the work.


Mapping King Philip’s War

First printed map produced in North America  cut by John Foster and orientated to the west instead of the northWilliam Hubbard, A Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England, Boston: Printed by John Foster, 1677, G.7146 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This is the first printed map produced in North America.  It was cut by John Foster and is orientated to the west instead of the north.  The map conveys a political message, illustrating the English settlements attacked by Native Americans during King Philip’s War (marked by a number next to the place name).  This was meant to emphasise the violence of the Native Americans.  The map does not reflect Native American lands or the devastating impact of the war on tribal populations in any way.


Enslaved people in colonial America

Transatlantic slave voyages to Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and South America began in the mid-16th century.  The traders of enslaved people were not only Spanish.  The first recorded transatlantic slave voyage that departed from an English port was in 1563.   This was bound for Hispaniola.

The first transatlantic slave voyage from an English port to an English colony via the African coast was to Barbados in 1641.  However, enslaved African people were bought at South American and Caribbean ports and transported to New England from the 1630s.  English involvement in slavery increased in frequency from the 1640s onwards.  Some colonists in Plymouth Colony owned enslaved people.

Front page of Boston Gazette 11 December 1721 Extract from Boston Gazette with news of inward and outward bound ships and an advertisement for the sale of two women slavesBoston Gazette, 11 December 1721 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


This is an issue from 1721 of the Boston Gazette, one of the earliest newspapers printed in colonial North America.  In the left-hand column, you can see the news of inward and outward bound ships.  Many of these were slave ships.  In the right-hand column, there is an advertisement for the sale of ‘two very likely Negroe Women for either Town or Country Business, to be sold by Mr. John Powell Merchant in Boston’.


Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

08 October 2020

The Law of Forfeiture: Applying English Traditions in India?

In a delicate case from 1864 the Privy Council considered whether the English practice of forfeiture following a suicide should apply to a subject of the British Raj.

Following the death of Rajah Christenauth Roy Bayadoor in Calcutta on 31 October 1844, a second will was discovered, written by him that morning, which left a portion of his estate to the East India Company (EIC).  Since his death was by his own hand, Bayadoor’s widow, Ranee Surnomoyee, disputed the validity of this will on the grounds that it was not written in sound mind.  The court found in favour of Ranee Surnomoyee, declaring the second will to be invalid.

The Court House, Calcutta - a hand-coloured print by Frederick Fiebig in 1851, showing people in the foreground, with a cart and a palanquin.The Court House, Calcutta, where the case would first have been heard.  A hand-coloured print from the Fiebig Collection: Views of Calcutta and Surrounding Districts, by Frederick Fiebig in 1851. British Library Online Gallery

An appeal was then made to the Privy Council against this verdict on behalf of the EIC, citing the law of forfeiture in cases of suicide.  A digitised copy of the response of the Council is available to view on the website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII).

Known as felo-de-se within English common law, meaning 'crime of his-, or herself', suicide in England was associated with restless souls.  Confirmed victims were historically buried at crossroads with a stake through their heart, possibly in an effort to stop the soul from wandering.  The law was only changed to allow burials within churchyards following the tragic death of Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereagh in 1822.   Even then, restrictions still applied.   In her book on Victorian attitudes to suicide, Barbara Gates states that churchyard burials were allowed without Christian rites and restricted to 'at night, between the hours of nine and midnight, and his/her goods and chattels must still be turned over to the Crown'.

Robert Stewart  Viscount CastlereaghRobert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, took his own life in 1822, probably due to stress and depression caused by the strain of his political career and public unpopularity. The suicide of such a public figure inspired the re-examination of related English laws. Image from Jonah Barrington, Historic Memoirs of Ireland (London, 1833) BL flickr

Intended as a deterrent to criminals, the law of forfeiture passed the deceased’s property to the Crown and away from inheritors.  It also applied to suicides, which were considered a crime against the individual, God and the Crown.  Abolished by the Forfeiture Act 1870, the practice was applied infrequently, even at the time of our case.

In the appeal the representative of the EIC did not further contest the second will.  Instead he argued that English law, including forfeiture, applied in the colonies.  The privy councillors therefore had to consider the application of these laws in India.

They examined cultural differences between Britons and Indians to find examples of where British law did not fit with Indian traditions.  The main examples given by the Council were polygamy and child marriage.  Although shocking to Victorian sensibilities, these were part of the culture and beliefs of Indians at the time and so the EIC had allowed them to continue.  Therefore, by adapting English law to suit Indian culture, the EIC had set a precedent.

In conclusion, the Privy Councillors expressed their surprise at an effort to enforce forfeiture following a suicide as late as 1844 and their confusion at its application to an Indian Hindu.  They found in favour of the descendants of Rajah Christenauth Roy Bayadoor and allowed them to retain possession of his property.

Matthew Waters
Cataloguer, Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Barbara T Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories, 2nd edn (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Stewart, Robert, Viscount Castlereagh and second Marquess of Londonderry

 

06 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.3 The first 20 years of Plymouth Colony

The colonists signed the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of Plymouth Colony, before they disembarked the ship.  This was to establish legal order and quell dissenting views between the separatists and the other passengers on how the colony should be run.

The colonists settled at an abandoned settlement of the Patuxet people in Wampanoag territory.  They had raided this settlement shortly after their arrival, desecrating graves in their search for corn stores.  It became Plymouth Colony.  Construction began in December but most people stayed on the ship.  Many succumbed to disease and, by the spring, only 47 survived.  Local people made contact in March 1621 and it was only because of the help of Tisquantum, the sole survivor of the Patuxet people, that the colonists survived.

The arrival of the Plymouth colonists put Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags, in a vulnerable position.  He had already witnessed the devastating effects of disease and colonisation on his people and the neighbouring Narragansetts were threatening.  He had little choice but to sign a peace treaty and ally with the English colonists, which he did at the end of March 1621.

That is not to say, however, that the Plymouth colonists maintained peace with other local Native American tribes in the years that followed.  Tensions in the region heightened as the English founded more colonies, encroaching on native territories.  The Plymouth colonists were perpetrators of violence and brutality towards some communities, namely the Massachusetts at Wessagusset in 1623 and the Pequots in the 1630s.

The first printed account of Plymouth Colony

 Title page of 'Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimouth'  1622Edward Winslow and William Bradford, Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimouth, 1622, C.33.c.7 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford, this is the earliest printed account of the establishment of Plymouth Colony.  It functioned as a promotional tract, an appeal for investment and an attempt to gloss over the hardships and uncertainties facing the colony in its first two years.

The Mayflower Compact is printed, for the first time, in this account.  This was to give the impression of law and order within the colony and to emphasise that there was a unified mind-set across the colonists, separatist or otherwise.

This account also emphasises the devout nature of Plymouth Colony.  However, a mention of the whaling opportunities in the area lets slip the economic factors behind its establishment.  The colony quickly got involved with the profitable fur trade.  These things tend to be glossed over in the Pilgrim tradition.

This account also emphasises that relations between the local people and the English were cordial, ignoring any tension and conflict caused by their invasion of Wampanoag land.  Indeed, this relation’s description of the sharing of food between the Wampanoags and the English has become celebrated as the First Thanksgiving, but this is a mythologised 19th century reinterpretation of events.

Winslow and Bradford’s account also introduces us to Tisquantum of the Patuxet people.  Tisquantum had been abducted by English explorer Thomas Hunt and sold into slavery.  He escaped, returning to America to find his tribe wiped out by disease.  He worked ceaselessly to establish peace between the colonists and the local people, living in the colony for 20 months and acting as a translator, advisor and diplomat for Massasoit.  Tisquantum is often depicted as a ‘noble savage’ but he should be remembered as a practical advisor and skilled diplomat.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

29 September 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.2 Who were the so-called Pilgrims?

The separatist congregation that made up a third of the Mayflower’s passengers are remembered and celebrated today as the Pilgrim Fathers of North America but who were they really?

The other passengers aboard the Mayflower were servants and independent settlers hired by the Merchant Adventurers Company who financed the voyage and the prospective colony.  However, it was the elders of the separatist congregation who governed the new colony in its formative years and their religious beliefs shaped how it was run.

The English Reformation

The tremors of the English Reformation, in which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church during the reign of King Henry VIII, were still being felt in the early 17th century.

It caused decades of conflict, intolerance and persecution on both sides as each monarch after Henry VIII swung back and forth between Protestantism and traditional Catholic beliefs, culminating in the English Civil War.

 

Illustration showing the burning of Thomas Cranmer at Oxford from John Foxe’s Book of MartyrsThe burning of Thomas Cranmer at Oxford from John Foxe, [Book of Martyrs], 1563, C.37.h.2 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The persecution of Protestants is famously depicted in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a highly influential work printed in 1563 that fuelled the radicalism of English non-conformists and separatists, such as the congregation that helped to establish the Plymouth Colony.


A difference of opinion

A catalogue of the severall sects and opinions in England and other nationsA catalogue of the severall sects and opinions in England and other nations. With a briefe rehearsal of their false and dangerous tenents, 1647, (669.f.10(111)) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

English separatists were Protestants who believed the Church of England hadn’t gone far enough in its renunciation of Catholicism.  Separatists existed in many diverse groups but they were united in their desire to defy the law, form their own churches and resist state interference in religious matters.

The separatist congregation that established the Plymouth Colony were originally from the East Midlands.  They immigrated to Leiden in Holland initially but a desire for more religious freedom, financial difficulties, a dislike of Dutch culture and the potential for missionary work compelled them to sail to North America aboard the Mayflower in 1620.


Worms gnawing the kingdom to the bone

The Mayflower congregation are remembered as legendary pioneers who established one of the earliest English settlements in North America, all in the search of religious freedom.  However, this was not how they were seen at the time.

A Whip for the Back of a Backsliding Brownist - broadside from 1640 demonstrating the unpopularity of separatistsA Whip for the Back of a Backsliding Brownist, c.1640, Lutt.II.237 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This unique broadside from 1640 demonstrates the unpopularity of separatists, and Brownists in particular (which is the particular sect that the Mayflower congregation identified as).  They were seen as intolerant fanatics and trouble-makers who were needlessly rocking the boat.  This broadside compares them to papists, arguing that both extreme groups “breed the mischief here” and jeopardise the Church of England.  The separatists are described as 'wormes' gnawing 'the kingdome to the bone'.

Colonial life: An equipment list

We don’t know for sure what supplies the passengers on the Mayflower brought with them but it is likely to be similar to the provisions described in this rare broadside.

List of provisions needed by settlers in New England 1630A Proportion of Provisions Needful for such as Intend to Plant Themselves in New England, 1630 816.m.18(13) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Atlantic crossing itself took 66 days and was beset by winter storms.  The colonists didn’t intend to settle in modern-day New England.  The Mayflower was bound for Virginia but it was forced to anchor in Provincetown Harbour, Cape Cod, due to rough seas.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

22 September 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.1 English colonisation of North America prior to 1620

This month marks a pivotal moment in English colonial and North American history: the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing to North America in 1620.

Approximately one third of the passengers on board the Mayflower were English separatists who wanted to make a living in the profitable ‘New World’ away from religious restrictions.  They are known euphemistically as the Pilgrim Fathers of the United States of America, and are mythologised today as symbols of religious freedom.  They have become a central theme in the United States of America’s founding story.

The settlers founded Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts and what was then Wampanoag land.  Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags, had no choice but to sign a peace treaty with the invaders.

Jamestown and Plymouth were the first of many English colonies in North America and the Caribbean.  This was driven by the pursuit of economic profit and the fight for influence amidst other European powers.

The consequences of colonisation were grave for everybody who was not European. Native Americans were devastated by disease, the buying out of land and violent conflict. The racial enslavement and transportation of African people to work on colonial plantations became endemic and horribly profitable.

More colonists wanted

The English Virginia Company established the colony of Jamestown in 1607 on Paspahegh land.  The Powhatan Confederacy, a collective of Algonquian peoples that included the Paspahegh, resisted English colonial establishment and expansion for many years in the Anglo-Powhatan Wars (1610-1646).

The settlers defeated the Powhatan Confederacy but they did struggle in the early years of the colony.  No crops were planted in the first year and supply ships either brought more hungry settlers or failed to arrive at all.   There were many fatalities from 1609 to 1610, a period known as the starving time.  The colony desperately needed more settlers.

An advert printed in London by the Virginia Company in 1609 calling for people to sign up.

For the Plantation in Virginia, 1609, C.18.e.1(63) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This is an advert printed by the Virginia Company calling for people to sign up, giving no indication that Jamestown was on the brink of collapse.


Native Americans as seen through European colonial eyes

Picture entitled ‘A weroan or great Lorde of Virginia’ showing two men with bows and arrows, with text describing these 'Princes' of Virginia‘A weroan or great Lorde of Virginia’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Picture and text explaining the manner of making boats by Native Americans in Virginia, hollowing out tree trunks‘The manner of making their boates’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Engravings by Theodor de Bry in Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590. C.38.i.18

These engravings are the only surviving visual record of the Native Americans encountered by England’s first colonists.

Although stylised, they depict the Secota, Roanoke and Pomeiooc peoples of North-Carolina and their settlements. De Bry based his engravings on the watercolours of John White, a member of the short-lived Roanoke Colony, who drew from life the Carolina Algonquian people in that area.

These images played a central role in shaping European conceptions about the so-called New World and its inhabitants.


How New England became New England

Map of New England unfolded from a book, first printed in 1616Map from John Smith, New England’s Trials, 1622, G.7197 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This map, first printed in 1616, marks the first time that New England was called New England.

It was named by John Smith, the coloniser famous for his association with Matoaka, the Powhatan woman who was captured and held for ransom by colonists during the First Anglo-Powhatan War.  She is known today as Pocahontas.

John Smith’s book is essentially a promotional brochure about North America’s riches and natural resources.  The then Prince Charles (who became Charles I in 1626) renamed the Native American places with English alternatives, erasing their people’s history and culture.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

04 September 2020

St Helena laws for inhabitants 1672

From its earliest days, the East India Company’s ships called at the South Atlantic island of St Helena on homeward voyages from Asia.  They gathered supplies of fresh water, citrus fruits, meat and fish. Company ships also used St Helena as a place of rendezvous.  It was safer to complete the final stage of the voyage with other vessels, especially in times of war.

Friar Rock on the island of St Helena - an immense pile of rocks rising perpendicularly eight hundred feet above the level of the sea.

Friar Rock on the island of St Helena - an immense pile of rocks rising perpendicularly eight hundred feet above the level of the sea.  Image from St. Helena: a physical, historical, and topographical description of the island ... The botanical plates from original drawings by Mrs. J. C. Melliss (London, 1875) British Library Digital Store 10096.gg.15 BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

In 1658 the Company decided to fortify St Helena and establish a colony.  The first group of English settlers arrived in May 1659.  Slaves were brought from West Africa to work on the plantations.

On 4 September 1672 a set of laws was issued: ‘Laws and Constitutions Ecclesiasticall Civill and Millitary made by the Councell to be observed by all the inhabitants of the Island St Hellena’.

Document showing extract from St Helena laws 1672IOR/E/3/33 ff.153v-154 Laws to be observed by the inhabitants of St Helena 4 September 1672 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Laws were:

1 God was to be worshipped and served diligently.  The guard at Fort St John was to attend morning and evening prayers at the toll of the bell, and all inhabitants were to attend church on Sunday unless prevented by necessity.

2 Sunday was to be kept holy and all were to refrain from cursing, swearing and excessive drinking.

3 To prevent idleness, every family was to have a plantation.  They must not encroach on their neighbours’ lands or privileges.

4 Everyone was to look after their plantations, keep the ground well-fenced, ring their hogs, and improve the stock of cattle for the promotion of trade.

5 Inhabitants should endeavour to live in love and unity.  Anyone bickering, brawling, or slandering neighbours would be severely punished.

6 No-one was to take revenge over a quarrel, instead going with witnesses to the Council for redress.

7 Every man was to live honestly and maintain himself and his family by careful labour and industry.  The Council would punish anyone stealing from a neighbour.

8 Anyone found guilty of murder, burglary, buggery or any other capital crime would be shipped to England for trial and sentencing.

9 If debts were not settled on time, the Council would seize goods or cattle as payment.

10 Inhabitants were encouraged to build outside the Fort for the convenience of trade, and had permission to go on board English or friends’ ships.

11 Seamen were not to stay on the island without permission.  Anyone harbouring a sailor would be fined £5.  The sailor would be housed with the black slaves and work on the Company’s plantations until he could be returned to England,

12 Everyone capable of bearing arms was to respond to all alarms, with a 20s fine or a week’s imprisonment for each default.

13 The watch was to be observed continually and strictly when shipping approached.  Each instance of neglect would be punished by a fine of 5s or another penalty decided by the Council.

14 Everyone was to go to Fort St John four times a year to be trained in martial discipline for the safety and defence of the island.

15 Anyone raising a mutiny or causing a disturbance of orderly government would be put in irons and sent home to the Company.

16 Anyone hearing of a plot, conspiracy or mutiny was liable to the same punishment as the perpetrators if they failed to alert the Council.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/33 ff.153v-154 Laws to be observed by inhabitants of St Helena 4 September 1672
William Foster, ‘The Acquisition of St. Helena’, The English Historical Review July 1919, Vol. 34, No. 135, pp. 281-289.
St Helena settlers in 1667

 

11 June 2020

Strange News for Strange Times

We might feel like we’re living through a surreal period of strange news at the moment, but that’s nothing compared to some of the stories reported in news pamphlets of the early 17th century.  During this period reports of freak weather, unearthly sightings of ghosts, monstrous births and more were frequent.  The question is, did people living in the 17th century think these reports were as strange as we do today?

In 1616, news broke of three dead bodies rising from their graves in a town in Germany.  In the aftermath of a ‘tempest’, the townspeople believed they saw three corpses rising from the graveyard to preach a terrible warning about God’s wrath.  Rumours of this spread, pamphlets were printed across Europe and news of it eventually reached Edward Allde in London, where he printed this account.

Cover of Miraculous Newes featuring three skeletonsMiraculous newes, from the cittie of Holdt, in the Lord-ship of Munster (in Germany) the twentieth of September last past, 1616. Where there were plainly beheld three dead bodyes rise out of their graves, admonishing the people of judgements to come. London: Printed [by E. Allde] for John Barnyes, 1616. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

As you can see, 'Miraculous Newes' is splashed across the half-title page, just as any sensational headline would be today, and a fantastic woodcut of the three skeletons is emblazoned below.  This incident may seem surreal to us today but then it would have been only too believable.  People in the early modern period were accustomed to interpreting strange sightings and weird phenomena as signs of divine judgement or wrath.  This was the only way they could interpret them.

So did people always believe these strange news reports?  Well, in 1620, Nathaniel Butter published a news report translated out of Italian about a vision seen over the Prophet Mohammad’s tomb in ‘Arabia’ and an account of the skies raining blood in Rome.

Cover of Good Newes to Christendome showing skies raining bloodCortano, Ludovico. Good newes to Christendome. Sent to a Venetian in Ligorne, from a merchant in Alexandria, Discovering a wonderfull and strange apparition, visibly seene for many dayes…with many other notable accidents. London: Printed for Nathaniel Butter, 1620. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the preface, the translator writes that he found it hard to believe this account.  After all, other recent strange reports, such as the 'Sussex Serpent, the German Ghosts' (a reference to the pamphlet described above?) and a great army marching in the sky, all 'came out of the shop of invention'.  But he apparently realised his mistake and is now convinced that this vision isn’t fake news. This one is definitely true, and if it’s true, then it has to be a sign from God.

It wasn’t just ghosts and visions that were divine interventions either.  Extreme weather was also a likely sign from God.  This pamphlet is a 'true relation' of a storm and severe flooding in Barcelona and the surrounding area in November 1617.  The woodcut depicts people drowning in the floods.  It was only with much prayer and dipping of the Holy Cross into the water that the storm eventually abated.  The pamphlet ends with a reminder of God’s 'chastisements and warnings' and a warning to serve him with 'more truth and sinceritie'.

Cover of Newes from Spain showing people drowning in the floods

Rejaule, V. A true relation of the lamentable accidents, caused by the inundation and rising of Ebro, Lobregat, Cinca, and Segre, rivers of Spaine. Together with a narration of a fearefull storme, which happened the third of November, in the yeare 1617. In the haven and port of Barcelona. London: printed for William Blackwall, 1618.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These strange news reports that today we would brush off as fake news were in fact serious matters in the early modern period.  Whilst people may not have believed every incredible story, they were wary enough of divine judgement to certainly believe some.  Strange news reports like these became more prevalent in times of upheaval, anxiety and uncertainty, such as in the build-up to the English Civil War, as people didn’t know what to believe.  Surreal times generated surreal headlines, and we can certainly empathise with that.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Sir Hans Sloane as a collector of “strange news”

09 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – Star of the Evening Part 2

We left sixteen-year-old Mermanjan in 1849 about to run away from Afghanistan to find her beloved Captain Thomas Maughan in north-west India (today Pakistan).  Accompanied only by a servant, Mermanjan rode her horse close to 1,000 miles from the Khyber Pass through Multan and Kohtri to Karachi. 

Watercolour of Indian landscapes, possibly by MermanjanWatercolour of Indian landscapes, by Mermanjan? - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas Maughan or Mermanjan  O’Kearney)

They encountered hardship and prejudice on the way, on account of being Muslim, but also found people who helped them on their way.   When the fugitives’ money ran out and they were facing hunger, Mermanjan decided to sell her ring at a local bazaar.  The shop owner paid them much less than it was worth, but an Indian soldier saw that they were being tricked and made the shop owner give them the rightful amount. 

Watercolour of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan

Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas Maughan or Mermanjan  O’Kearney)

On their final stretch in Kotri when they had to cross the Indus river, they found that they didn’t have enough for the boat fare.  They pleaded with the boatman and even though he could not understand them, he had heard of Captain Maughan and his regiment. Presumably Mermanjan had written ahead to tell him that they would be arriving, and by chance the day before Thomas had sent an orderly to find them.  The boatman rushed off and caught the orderly just as he was about to buy his return ticket. He took the man to the travellers, and soon all was arranged. 

When the travelling party finally made it to Maughan’s bungalow, Mermanjan refused to dismount until her beloved came out: ‘he will only know me when he sees me on my black horse, for I am in rags and soiled and disfigured with boils and blisters and very ill’.  She sat there patiently but ‘almost fainting from fatigue and fear now that the terrible strain of her great adventure was nearly at an end.’  Maughan was urgently sent for and found her a ‘poor huddled little form’ seated on her black horse sobbing bitterly.  ‘Tenderly he carried her into her house and sent for the doctor… soon she was cared for and comforted but it was a long time before she recovered from the effects of her hardships and was very ill for many weeks’. 

In the early days after Mermanjan was reunited with Thomas, she could not be persuaded to see anyone, so nervous and frightened had she become.   A fellow Colonel remarked: ‘[he] always made an awful fuss over her, even to bathing her daily even when she was over twenty’, also buying her dolls and picture books as though she were a child.  From these years Mermanjan kept many of Thomas’s little drawings calculated to amuse his young wife - little ladies in crinolines; caricatures of his fellow officers.  She used account books to practise writing rows of letters as she gradually learnt to write in English.   She preferred seclusion ‘considered by the higher orders as indispensable to a woman after a marriage’ and took to flower arranging in the house.  

Caricatures of English Victorians in India possibly by Thomas MaughanCaricatures of English Victorians in India by Thomas Maughan?  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas Maughan or Mermanjan  O’Kearney)

These were perhaps the happiest years of Mermanjan’s life. However, there was not to be a fairy-tale ending for our heroine.  Find out what happened next in Part 3!

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening – Part 1, Part 3, Part 4
Gertrude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection

 

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