The British government benefitted greatly from a number of structures and processes already in place in the region of South Asia. An important but not very celebrated one was the use of elephants as a hybrid of machinery and workforce. Not only did they serve to transport products, they were also essential in routine industrial work like loading and unloading ships.
Elephants at work in Rangoon. Photographer Philip Adolphe Klier (1845-1911) British Library Photo 88/1(22)
Elephants at work from Annie Brassey, The Last Voyage - to India and Australia, in the ‘Sunbeam’, New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1889, pp.131 (W51/1046)
Because of their crucial function in the carrying out of human plans, elephants were highly valued. That made interest and research in those animals flourish and even encouraged the development of vaccines. However, the knowledge produced was highly focused on productivity and disregarded most local knowledge.
Elephants and their diseases: a treatise on elephants. British Library Or 13916 (f.2r)
The importance of elephants made them vulnerable not only to exploitation but also to smuggling and fraud. A file in the India Office Records holds correspondence associated with the case of Mr Dalrymple-Clark, Superintendent of the Government kheddas, enclosures to tame and keep wild elephants.
Capturing elephants in Ceylon. c.1825. Military officers supervising the rounding up of elephants. British Library WD2096
Ian Hew Warrender Clark was born in Chelsea on 1 December 1853, the son of Colonel John Clark and Charlotte Sophia Dalrymple. He later changed his surname to Dalrymple-Clark. On 26 November 1873 Dalrymple-Clark joined the Bengal Police Department. He was promoted to District Superintendent in July 1886, and then appointed Superintendent of Kheddas in Burma in October 1902, a position of responsibility. However Dalrymple-Clark apparently profited from selling government elephants privately under the name of a Mr Green. Dalrymple-Clark was said to have reported that an outbreak of anthrax had killed 26 elephants, giving him cover to sell them to private companies in the region himself. That resulted in him being chased in India and London by deputy superintendent Mr Soord. Having retired to England, he was arrested in London in December 1909 under the Fugitive Offenders Act and prosecuted for breach of trust and falsification of accounts.
In early 1910, Dalrymple-Clark returned to face trial in Rangoon. In July, after a trial involving an elephant identity parade, he was found not guilty of criminal breach of trust. In February 1911 he was cleared of falsifying elephant returns. His assistant superintendent, John Briscoe Birch, and two Indian members of staff, Mukerji and Gupta, were convicted of criminal breach of trust and sentenced to five years in prison.
The India Office Records holds published and manuscript material from circa 1600 to 1948 and relating to the British experience in India, including both official and private papers. The Legal Adviser’s Records (IOR/L/L) hold the records of cases of legal dispute in British territory in South Asia. That material is invaluable in providing interesting insights into local entanglements between human, animal and environmental agents.
Bianca Miranda Cardoso
IOR/L/L/8/178 Correspondence associated with the case of Dalrymple-Clarke, prosecuted for breach of trust and falsification of accounts regarding Government elephants and arrested in London under the Fugitive Offenders Act, Dec 1909-Oct 1911.
IOR/L/PJ/6/1061, File 432 - Allowances for Mr Soord while on deputation to England in connection with the criminal prosecution of Mr Dalrymple-Clark.
British Newspaper Archive- many articles on the ‘Kheddah cases’
Colonizing elephants: animal agency, undead capital and imperial science in British Burma | BJHS Themes | Cambridge Core 2, 169-189.
Saha, J. (2021). Vital Resources. In Colonizing Animals (pp. 51-82). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
How to ship your elephant