THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

126 posts categorized "South Asia"

16 April 2019

An Easter vacation for Indian cadets at Sandhurst

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In the India Office Records there is a file dedicated to Easter vacation arrangements for Indian gentleman cadets at the Royal Military College Sandhurst in 1920.  Some cadets wanted to stay with family or guardians in the UK whilst others had more ambitious plans.  Letters between the Military Department of the India Office and the College show a wish to take account of the cadets’ wishes balanced with a duty of care for the young men.

IOR L MIL 17 19051 1IOR/L/MIL/7/19051 Noc

Military Department official William Henry Swain sent Sandhurst a proposal that Captain Conrad Bertie Lochner of the Indian Army should take Madanjit Singh and Tek Bahadur Shah to visit the occupied territory in Germany.  Madanjit Singh wrote a polite letter to Swain thanking him for arranging a stay in London and the trip to Cologne, but questioning whether it would be worth going to Germany for only a week.  He was keen ‘to see a few Theaters’ in London. 

Faiz Muhammad and Khan Sikandar Ali Mirza wished to stay together in London without a guardian. Instead it was suggested that they stay in Harrow on the Hill with Mrs Ellen Stogdon, a widow in her late 70s. Faiz Muhammad Khan wrote to Swain that although Mrs Stogdon had been very kind to him on a previous visit, he was keen to stay elsewhere. 

Sikandar Ali Mirza also sent a letter to Swain saying that he did not like the idea of staying with Mrs Stogdon.  There was absolutely nothing to do there and ‘besides I have an impression that Indians are not very welcome at Harrow on the Hill’ although ‘Mrs Stogdon herself is very kind’.   He believed he was old enough to take care of himself and to distinguish between right and wrong. 

Swain suggested to Major-General Reginald Stephens, Commandant at the Royal Military College, that Madanjit Singh and Sikandar Ali Mirza might be allowed to make their own arrangements for the holiday as both would soon be fully-fledged officers.  Stephens advised against letting them loose in London alone for a fortnight.  It was agreed that Major J W H D Tyndall would take charge of Madanjit Singh, Sikandar Ali Mirza, Faiz Muhammad Khan, and Edris Yusuf Ali at the Russell Hotel in London.

IOR L MIL 17 19051 2IOR/L/MIL/7/19051 Noc


The file records that it was very difficult finding suitable officers to look after some of cadets.  The terms offered by the India Office were not sufficiently attractive. Hitherto it had offered pay plus 10s per day.  It was proposed to increase this to pay and allowances plus £1 per day and also a reasonable sum for travel and incidental expenses for officers whilst the cadets were in their charge.  Taking the young men to theatres and other places of amusement involved the officers in considerable extra expenditure.  In some cases the India Office was having to make advances to cadets for vacation expenses and then recoup this from parents or guardians in India.  There is a comment by General Sir Edmund George Barrow, Council of India, that in his opinion none of the vacation expenses should fall to Indian revenues as the cadets’ parents should provide financially for all aspects of their sons’ care.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/7/19051 Collection 430/42 Indian cadets at Sandhurst: arrangements for Easter 1920 vacation.

 

21 March 2019

Telephone Map of India 1934

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The files of the India Office contain many different kinds of maps of pre-1947 India, which give a fascinating visual representation of different aspects of the country.  One striking example is a telephone map of India from 1934, showing projects in progress and approved.

Telephone Map of India 1934 (Detail)IOR/L/E/9/1348 Telephone map of India 1934 (detail)

Telephone Map of India 1934IOR/L/E/9/1348 Telephone map of India 1934

The map is in a file in the India Office Records on the subject of a radio-telephone service between India and the UK.  Communications between Britain and India had always been challenging, with a six month sea journey during the era of the East India Company, being cut to six weeks with the opening of the Suez Canal.  The development of the telegraph and later aviation speeded things up further, allowing civil servants in London to more easily communicate with their counterparts in Calcutta and Delhi.

Telephone Map of India 1934 (Punjab detail)IOR/L/E/9/1348 Telephone map of India 1934 (detail - Punjab)

In today’s world of smartphones and almost instant global communication, it is interesting to think of the long road of technological development which has been travelled.  As the map shows, in India in the mid-1930s the telephone system only really linked the major urban centres, with most of the country not yet connected.  In a letter to His Majesty’s Postmaster-General, dated 29 September 1934, Lord Willingdon, Viceroy of India, stated that the development of the telephone was being slowed by a lack of demand, with Indians making comparatively little social use of the telephone, often due to the distances involved and the cost of a telephone being larger than the incomes of a large proportion of the population.  Despite this, progress was being made, with 36,000 miles of aerial trunk lines having been installed in the previous years to 1934.

Daily Mail  28 August 1930Daily Mail 28 August 1930

The file records the establishment of an international telephone service between Britain and India. The Times newspaper reported that this service was inaugurated on 1 May 1933, with Big Ben sounding the quarter hour, followed by an exchange between Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for India, and Sir Frederick Sykes, Governor of Bombay.  The service was initially restricted to Bombay and Poona, and a three minute call from anywhere in Great Britain was £6, and the other way from India to Britain the cost was 80 rupees!

Telephone numbers  1933IOR/L/E/9/1348 List of telephone numbers 1933

The service rapidly expanded through the late 1930s, but was suspended with the outbreak of the Second World War due to security concerns over the danger of enemy eavesdropping.  The line was re-opened on 3 December 1945 by Sir Mahomed Usman, Member for Posts and Air, Government of India, who made a call to Lord Listowel, Postmaster-General, in London.

London-India Telephone Service Re-openedIOR/L/E/9/1348 London-India telephone service re-opened 1945

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Telegraphy - India-U.K. Radiotelephone Service and other long-distance services: inauguration and arrangements regarding official calls, 1929-1945 [Reference IOR/L/E/9/1348].

 

05 March 2019

Indian Seamen and the Steamship 'Rauenfels' during World War One

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The India Office Records contains many interesting files on the subject of Indian seamen, or lascars, during the First World War.  One example is a file on the lascar crews of German ships interned at various Neutral, Allied and British Ports.  The file contains correspondence, memoranda and statements concerning Indian seamen who had been serving on German ships prior to the outbreak of war in 1914, and had either been stranded at whatever port their ship was interned or had managed to return to India but with a loss of wages.  The file includes statements often listing the names of the seamen, the port of discharge, the name of the ship, and the amount of any wages owed.

LE7-858 file 76  Rauenfels crew petitionIOR/L/E/7/858 File 76 Noc

Among the papers in the file is a petition from the Indian crew of the German ship Rauenfels describing their case.  The Rauenfels was a steamship of the Hansa Line Steamer Company of Germany, which embarked from the port of Calcutta on 5 January 1914 with a crew of 40 contracted for a one-year voyage to various ports in Asia and Europe, including Hamburg, Antwerp, Karachi, Bombay, and also New York.  With the outbreak of war in August 1914, the ship took shelter in Bahia in Brazil.  The Indian seamen were kept aboard ship for 5 months in order to complete their agreed term of employment, after which they were forced to go ashore, and left under the care of the British Consul there.  They stayed at Bahia for a month, and were supplied by the Consul with food and lodgings, before being sent back to Calcutta via Marseilles and Rangoon.  The British Consul in Brazil had told the seamen that they would receive the pay still due to them when they reached Calcutta, but six weeks after returning to India, they had still not received it.  They therefore sent a petition to the Bengal Chamber of Commerce in Calcutta, which forwarded it to the Government of India for consideration.  The decision reached by Government was that Local Indian Governments could make such payments to seamen, and then if possible recover the amount plus any repatriation costs from the ships owners or agents.

LE7-858 file 76  Rauenfels crew namesIOR/L/E/7/858 File 76 Noc

With the petition was sent a fascinating list of the 40 crew members giving their names, father’s name, address in India, their capacity (or role) on the ship, term of service, rate of pay, the payment received, and the balance due.  Some of the extraordinary sounding names of the roles listed are intriguing, for instance Donkeyman.  This was someone who was in charge of a steam engine, known as a donkey-engine, which was usually used for subsidiary operations on board ship.

As for the ship, it was seized by the Brazilian Government in 1917 and renamed the Lages.  In September 1942, it was part of convoy of merchant ships which were attacked by a German U-boat off the coast of Brazil.  The Lages was struck by a torpedo and sank with the loss of three lives.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Lascar Crews of German Ships interned at various Neutral, Allied and British Ports, 1915-1917 [Reference IOR/L/E/7/858 File 76]
Tyne Built Ships, A history of Tyne shipbuilders and the ships that they built
Lages

 

26 February 2019

Trying to grow Syrian tobacco in Bombay

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In 1841 seeds from Syrian tobacco plants were acquired by the Bombay Presidency.  Seeds were distributed to twelve collectorates or botanic gardens throughout Bombay Presidency with instructions to undertake experiments to see if the correct soil and climate conditions for growing the plants could be found.

Tobacco plantTobacco plant from p.37 of The Making of Virginia and the Middle Colonies. 1578-1701. 9605.c.18. BL flickr Noc

On 10 July 1843 the Bombay Revenue Department submitted a letter reporting on the results of these experiments to the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London. The experiments had very mixed results.

In the collectorates of Ahmedabad, Khandesh, Ratnagiri, Surat and Thane the experiments failed completely as the plants either did not vegetate or died shortly after they appeared above the ground.

In Kaira [Kheda] the seeds sprang up well but most were washed away in heavy rain.  Those that survived produced a very small yield of an inferior quality to the local tobacco grown and were therefore considered a failure.

In Pune two of the three experiments failed, and the third although successful was not harvested in time and became a victim of the strong winds in that region.  As some seeds from the successful experiment had been preserved, it was decided that future experiments should be conducted by the Botanic Gardens there.

In Ahmednagar and Solapur one or two plants grew successfully and produced leaves of a good quality; seeds from these plants were preserved to be sown again the following year.

Dharwar was considered to be the most successful province as the first attempt sprung up and was growing well, but was a victim of the strong winds that follow the monsoon.  A second attempt was made to plant the seeds much earlier, however none of these vegetated so on the third attempt they were again planted later in the year.  This attempt was successful with good healthy plants and good quality leaves, but the plants received considerable injury from insects.  The seeds from these plants were preserved with the intention of trying again the following season and of sending them to other collectorates such as Thane to see if they would be successful there too.

The Botanic Gardens at Dapurie attempted the experiments on a much larger scale and they were successful in obtaining a good quantity tobacco from their plants.  They even sent samples of the product to London for the Court of Directors to test and give their opinions.

IMG_1699Extract from report by Dr Gibson of the Botanic Gardens at Dapurie on the experiments on the Syrian tobacco seeds IOR/F/4/2808/91724 Noc

The report concluded however that Syrian tobacco had not generally adapted to the soil and climate of Bombay Presidency.  There had however been requests for fresh seeds to do more experiments and that request had been sent to the Company’s agent in Egypt.  They hoped that some of the collectorates that had seen some success would be able to replicate it on a larger scale in the future.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/2808/91724 experiments introduced in the several collectorates of the Bombay Presidency with a view of proving the adaptation of the soil and climate to the production of Syrian tobacco

 

21 February 2019

Interviews with Indian Soldiers of World War One and World War Two

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The India Office Records recently acquired a fascinating collection of transcripts of interviews with Indian veterans of the First and Second World Wars.  The interviews were carried out by the American historian DeWitt Ellinwood (1923-2012) and his team of researchers between 1969 and 1986 as part of a historical survey of Indian soldiers, both officers and sepoys, who served in the Indian Army during some part of the period 1914-1939.

Mss Eur F729-1-30 Questions for Indian SoldiersMss Eur F729

The contribution of people from South Asia to the First and Second World Wars was crucial to Britain’s war effort.  India raised the world’s largest volunteer armies for both conflicts.  For each phase of the interviewing project, questionnaires were used as a way of drawing out the veterans’ memories and opinions.  There were questions about background (where the veteran came from, his home village and family), joining the army, training, army career (regiments served with, battles experienced), experiences of British officers, service conditions (food, medical facilities, recreation, and ability to carry out religious duties), contacts with other people (British soldiers, other Indian soldiers of different castes or religions, people of other countries), personal views (did the army change their views or ideas, their political views, their views of the British), and life after leaving the army.

Mss Eur F729-2-1 Questionnaire for World War One soldiersMss Eur F729

The transcripts of the answers given by the veterans give a fascinating glimpse into a period of their lives which saw great turmoil and change across the world, and an insight into what they felt and thought of that period.  The issue of British rule and the struggle for independence loomed large.  For many the experience of army life and the opportunities to meet people from other parts of the world, strengthened their belief that India should be free from British rule.  For others, the lower pay of Indian soldiers and the lack of respect from British officers led them to support the Independence movement.  Looking back, many of the men interviewed saw their army career as being a positive experience, giving them confidence in their abilities and a sense of purpose to their life.

15th Sikhs photo_24_076British and Indian officers, 15th Sikhs, standing in a French farmyard 24 July 1915 Images Online

The catalogue for the collection can be found online in Explore Archives and Manuscripts .

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Transcripts of interviews with former Indian soldiers who served in World War One and World War Two, 1967-1986 [Reference Mss Eur F729].

Harriet Sherwood writing for The Guardian, “Indians in the trenches: voices of forgotten army are finally to be heard”, 27 October 2018.

George Morton-Jack, The Indian Empire at War: From Jihad to Victory, The Untold Story of the Indian Army in the First World War (London: Little, Brown, 2018).

 

05 February 2019

A little piece of India

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In 1917, a new Muslim burial ground opened in Woking for Indian soldiers dying in England during the First World War.

Woking layoutPlan for layout of Woking Burial Ground IOR/L/SUR/5/8/8 Noc

In 2016 we posted a piece about the design of the Muslim Burial Ground with images taken from a military file in the India Office Records.  Today’s post develops the story using evidence from papers in the archive of the Surveyor’s Department.

The file is dedicated to the construction of the cemetery, including correspondence between designers and suppliers, plans of the layout of the cemetery, advertisements for grave and coffin prices, financial statements and the names of seventeen Indian soldiers who were buried at the cemetery.

Woking list of soldiers Indian soldiers buried at Woking IOR/L/SUR/5/8/8 Noc

Not much is said about the soldiers, just their regimental number, rank, name, regiment and the date of their death. All seventeen of the soldiers died between 1915 and 1916 and the majority of them were either a Sowar (Indian Cavalry) or Sepoy (Indian Infantry). There were also two drivers and two cooks included in the list.

Unfortunately, the information on the soldiers stops there, with no indication on how they died or where they were before being laid to rest at Woking. The plans show that each soldier was to be buried with his ‘face towards Mecca’ and ‘each stone bears an inscription at the top in Hindustani, and then follows the other details in English’. This indicates that the designers made sure that each soldier was buried according to his religion.

The site designer, T.H. Winny, took great care in the preparations and construction of the cemetery, having it built in the Indo-Saracenic architectural style. Throughout the file, there is correspondence between designer and builders going into precise detail including the ‘recipe’ of concrete to be used (‘one part of Portland Cement to 2 parts of clean washed river or grit sand and 5 parts of screened river ballast’), a building contract (‘the whole of the materials and workmanship are to be the best of their respective kinds’) and even how many cypresses to plant in the grounds (‘100, in 4 varieties, 2-5 feet high’).

A newspaper clipping gives insight into what the cemetery was like upon opening, stating that in the sunlight it ‘assumes quite an Oriental appearance’ and the representative for the newspaper was ‘struck with its beauty and the splendour of some of the stones erected on the graves’.

Woking gravesDesign for gravestones for Indian soldiers IOR/L/SUR/5/8/8  Noc

Winny and his team of designers, builders and suppliers did everything they could to make this corner of Woking into a little piece of India.

Candace Martin-Burgers
Librarianship Placement Student, RMIT, Melbourne

Further reading:
IOR/L/SUR/5/8/8 India Office Surveyor’s Department file on the Muslim Burial Ground at Woking

 

03 January 2019

The Great War Fund Fete

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On 13 January 1941 a War Fund Fete was held at Government House, Madras.  As well as raising money for the Madras War Fund, the fete was also intended as a propaganda event.

Fete programme coverIndia Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2 f 1 Front cover of the War Fund Fete programme 

It was a grand affair with the programme featuring 91 entries for stalls, games, entertainments and food and drink establishments, along with more practical facilities including cloakrooms and parcel stores, lost property and medical stations.  Currency for the fete was in coupons and the public had to purchase books of coupons in order to make purchases or enjoy the entertainments on offer.

One local newspaper on the day of the fete described Government House as having been 'transformed into a pleasureland' for that night's merrymaking.  According to the Madras Mail of 14 January 1941, the fete was opened when 'Tough cowboys burst open the gates at Government House yesterday and their tempestuous entrance made it possible for the public to enter at last'.

Many of the stalls were similar to those featured at fetes nowadays with lucky dips, raffles, coconut shy’s, and bagatelle.  Others however had more unusual titles, including ‘Bunty pulls the strings’ and ‘Breaking up the happy home’ (similar to today’s crockery smash stalls).  There were also elephant rides, several magic gardens and even a Chinese Laundry!  One of the most popular stalls at the Fete was that of Woolworth’s.  One local newspaper the following day observed:
'Equally crowded was the excellent “Woolworth” stall, where the most effective household oddments, artfully and thriftily contrived, were sold for a song'.

Entertainment at the fete included two bandstands and a theatre which featured dance groups and musicians as well as plays.  The performances on show included the Tamil comedy The Sub-Assistant Magistrate of Sultanpet and the Tamil play The Pongal Feast.

Food and drink were also in abundance with American style diners and saloons, coffee and refreshment stalls and a Toc H Bar.  For those looking for a full evening’s entertainment there was a Tocaitchaski bar with its own orchestra, a banqueting hall with dancing from 9pm to 2am (evening dress was optional) and a cabaret dinner, promenade and bar with the cabaret performance at 9pm.

The Mail 14 Jan 1941India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2, f 23 Front page of The Mail 14 January 1941 showing the crowds surging into the fete

According to the newspaper reports people attended the fete in their thousands: 'In they surged, school boys and girls, scores of excited men and women, mothers with babies and with chattering kiddies clinging to available fingers, happy young things on the arms of their beaux, while burnished cars and buses squeezed through as well'.

In a letter written on 16 January 1941 Sir Arthur Hope, the Governor of Madras, congratulated Captain Thomas William Barnard, Honorary Secretary to the Fete’s organising committee, on the wonderful success of the fete and also commented that 'Apart from the financial result, it was a great piece of propoganda [sic] which will have its effect'.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2 - The Great Fete at Government House Grounds Madras 13 January 1941
- Includes press cuttings from The Mail (formerly known as The Madras Mail) 14 January 1941

 

01 January 2019

Indian Honours List, New Year 1919

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On 1 January 1919 the India Office published its honours list approved by the King.  There is a memorandum in the archives giving the reasons why the awards were made. 

The first name on the list is Sir Dorabji Jamshedji Tata who was elevated to Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (K.C.S.I.) in recognition of being a pioneer of industrial enterprise in India.  He is followed by European, Indian and Burmese men holding civil, military, medical, scientific and diplomatic posts, as well as by Indian princes.  The Maharaja of Baroda and the Maharaja of Alwar, Rajputana, were made Knights Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (G.C.I.E.), the first for raising cash for the First World War as well as for his life-long efforts to improve the condition of his state; the second for providing soldiers.  Many honours were awarded for services connected with the War.

Star of India investitureFirst investiture of the Star of India November 1861 - Plate 17 of William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern.  The Nawab Begum of Bhopal appears in the centre of the picture. Online Gallery

Forty-seven women in India were honoured in January 1919, mostly Europeans. Three women were made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.). Lady Eva Cardew had undertaken religious and philanthropic work in Madras and Ootacamund, as well as charitable efforts in connection with the War.  Mrs Gertrude Carmichael had worked with the East Indies Naval Fund; Bombay University; and Lady Willingdon’s scheme for maternity homes. Mrs Miriam Isabel Lyons had served for the past three years as President of the Poona Branch of the War and Relief Fund.

Fourteen women were made Officer of the British Empire (O.B.E.).  A number had been active in the Red Cross during the War.  Mrs Maud Lilian Davys had worked as an assistant to her husband Major Gerard Irvine Davys of the Indian Medical Service in a new laboratory for examining foodstuffs at Kasuali in the Punjab.  According to the 1939 Register, Mrs Davys was still working as a food scientist at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Mrs Alice Todhunter’s O.B.E. recognised her work with the Madras War Fund Ladies’ Depot, especially her success in securing the support of Indian women.  Mrs Todhunter had also been busy with the St John Ambulance Association and with the National Indian Association, striving for the education of Indian women and the encouragement of social intercourse between Indians and Europeans.

The list of Members of the British Empire had 27 women, seven Indian.  Bai Champabahen Manibhai of Bombay was praised for carrying on her mother’s philanthropic activities, including providing equipment for the Kapadwanj Dispensary and bearing the expenses of recruits at the Anand Depot.

Three women were awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal.  Miss Sarah Isabel Hatch of the Canadian Baptist Telegu Mission in Madras had established an asylum for lepers at Ramachandrapuram in the Godavari District in 1899 and now had over 100 inmates from across the Presidency.  Mrs Pandita Ramabai of Bombay had furthered the education of Indian women, with a team of ‘English and American ladies working under her’.  There were now 1,000 women and girls at a mission provided entirely by her.  Miss Gertrude Davis was Principal Matron in the Australian Army Nursing Service based at the Victoria War Hospital in Bombay.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/15/41 File H224/1918 New Year’s Honours 1919
H Taprell-Dorling, Ribbons and Medals (London, 1916)