Untold lives blog

154 posts categorized "South Asia"

13 January 2020

Painting a Thousand Words: Timur and His Mughal Descendants

The Mughal Empire in India was founded in 1526 by Zahir al-Din Muhammad Babur.  Babur was a Central Asian prince who boasted an impressive lineage.  On his mother’s side he was descended from the great Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, while on his father’s he was descended from none other than the conqueror Amir Timur.

Unsurprisingly, the Mughals were proud of their heritage and sought to clearly weave it into their imperial narrative.  An example of this is seen in a stunning Mughal miniature -
 

Timur, seated on a central raised couch, surrounded by his seated Mughal heirsTimur surrounded by his Mughal heirs: British Library - Johnson 64, 38

The painting depicts Timur, seated on a central raised couch, surrounded by his seated Mughal heirs: the first four emperors of the Mughal Empire.  To his right sits Babur, holding a book, and Akbar, while to his left sits Humayun, with his arm outstretched, and Jahangir.  Standing to Timur’s right is the poet Sa’di in white, while an attendant holding a state sword stands to his left.

It is notable that every imperial figure in the image bears a striking jeweled dagger on a golden belt, apart from Humayun.  This may be attributed to the fact that Humayun experienced the misfortune of losing his father’s empire and being forced into exile for a period of 15 years, before successfully reclaiming the empire with the support of Safavid Persia.

Humayun’s relative failure as an emperor therefore perhaps translates into not only his lack of dagger but the simplicity of his attire.  It would appear that in this miniature the strengthening of the empire corresponds with the richness of imperial attire.  We therefore see Babur with a jeweled dagger, Humayun plain, Akbar with a dagger and some jewelled ornaments and finally Jahangir, richly adorned with multiple jewels and pearls across his person.

This painting was created c.1650 during the reign of Shah Jahan, when such group portraits of Mughal ancestors were popular.  It forms part of the rich treasures of the British Library that can be viewed by appointment in the Asia and Africa Studies Print Room.  A well-worth trip to see some beautifully ornate illustrations of history!

Lubaaba Al-Azami
University of Liverpool

 

07 January 2020

Sir Ronald Ross and the Transmission of Malaria

To mark the digitisation of medical archives in the India Office Records, I am highlighting some seminal research relating to Ronald Ross (1857-1932) and his important work discovering the causes of the transmission of malaria.

MosquitoMosquito BL: IOR/R/15/2/1061 Noc

By the late 1870s a miasmic (‘bad air’) theory of transmitting malaria was falling from favour and being replaced by a focus on biological transmission.  Corrado Tommasi-Crudeli and Theodor Klebs had isolated a bacteria from water which they claimed acted like malaria.  A French physician, Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran, had shown that malaria was spread by parasites by performing necropsies on malaria victims.  Following this groundwork, a combination of work from Patrick Manson, Giovanni Grassi and Ronald Ross added ultimately conclusive developments to the theory…

Man hiding under blanket with mosquito hovering overheadImage from Wallis Mackay, The Prisoner of Chiloane; or, with the Portuguese in South-East Africa (London, 1890) British Library 010096.ee.16 Noc BL flickr 

Sir Ronald Ross was born in Almora, India, in 1857 to Sir Campbell Ross, a general in the Indian Army, and his wife Matilda.  He entered the Indian Medical Service in 1881.  During a year’s leave, he studied for the diploma in public health from The Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in England taking a course in bacteriology.

Photograph of Ronald RossSir Ronald Ross. Photograph. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Ross’s interest in malaria began in 1892 when he was converted to the idea that the malaria parasites were in the bloodstream.  Patrick Manson demonstrated this to Ross in 1894.  In India, Ross was investigating if mosquitoes were connected to the transmission of malaria, but he was called away from malaria-infested areas on Indian Medical Service duty.  This frustrated Ross; he sent a letter requesting to be ‘put on special duty for a few months after relief at Bangalore to enable him to investigate the truth of Dr. Patrick Manson’s theory of the Transmission of the infection of malaria by means of the mosquito’. 

Proposal to place Surgeon Major Ronald Ross on special dutyIOR/P/5185 Mar 1897 nos 141-45; Proposal to place Surgeon Major Ronald Ross on special duty to investigate the truth of Dr. Patrick Manson's theory of the transmission of the infection of malaria by means of the mosquito Noc

The work would be carried out by someone who was ‘a microscopist and bacteriologist with a bent towards original research’.  Ross planned to follow Manson in proving that it was the mosquito which spread the disease.  He wrote instructions on how to carry out the experiments and listed three necessary proofs:
• That the parasite went through the same change inside the mosquito as it did in blood drawn from humans
• That the parasite was capable of developing and living inside the mosquito
• That the parasite could be communicated from the mosquito to humans.

On 20 August 1897, in Secunderabad, Ross made his breakthrough discovery.  While dissecting the stomach tissue of an Anopheles mosquito, fed four days previously on a malarious patient, he found the malaria parasite.  He noted these memorable words in a poem:
‘..With tears and toiling breath,
I find thy cunning seeds,
O million-murdering Death’.

Communicability of malaria by mosquito bitesBritish Library IOR/P/5644 May 1899 nos 156-59 Communicability of malaria by mosquito bites Noc

Ross continued his research in India and demonstrated that mosquitoes could serve as intermediate hosts for bird malaria.  He showed that the route of infection was through the bite of a mosquito with experiments on four sparrows and a weaver bird.  The account of these findings was presented to the British Medical Association in July 1898.  In 1902 Ross became the first Briton to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

David Moran
Western Heritage Collections

Further Reading:
IOR/P/5185 Mar 1897 nos 141-45 Proposal to place Surgeon Major Ronald Ross on special duty to investigate the truth of Dr Patrick Manson's theory of the transmission of the infection of malaria by means of the mosquito
IOR/P/5644 May 1899 nos 156-59 Communicability of malaria by mosquito bites
IOR/P/5418 Nov 1898 nos 10-12 Ronald Ross, Indian Medical Service, Preliminary Report on the Infection of Birds with Proteosoma by the Bites of Mosquitoes
IOR/P/434/44 Sep 1869 no 01 Report on the causes of malarial fever in Bengal
IOR/P/5644 Jan 1899 nos 79-82 Investigations at Rome into the role of mosquito-bites in the spread of malaria
IOR/P/5644 Jan 1899 nos 206-16 Proposed appointment of a Scientific Commission to investigate the causes and cure of malaria and the deputation to India of Dr C W Daniels to aid in the investigation
IOR/P/1204 Dec 1828 nos 10-13 Results of the trial made in certain hospitals in the Bombay Presidency with Mr Wood's alkaloids in the treatment of malarial fevers
IOR/P/351/37 20 Dec 1854 nos 6117-19 Report on sanitary conditions at Poona Cantonment and in the vicinity, and corrective measures to remove the causes of malaria

 

30 December 2019

The Ruby Mines Murders

Amongst the Public and Judicial records of the India Office, there are glimpses into a darker side of life at the edge of Empire.  Three files recently caught my eye.  They deal with the case of a British Army soldier in a remote outpost in Burma sentenced to death for murder in 1888. 

Paloung women and Shans Paloung women and Shans in the Ruby Mines District Illustrated London News 27 August 1887 British Newspaper Archive ©Illustrated London News Group

John William Grange was a private in the 2nd Battalion Cheshire Regiment.  According to his military records, he was 5 ft 3 ins with dark hair, grey eyes and two scars above his right eye. He was illiterate.  He had joined the 3rd Battalion Manchester Regiment Militia aged 17.  At 18 he transferred to the Cheshire Regiment, serving two years in Europe and two years in India before arriving in Burma in November 1887.  He was stationed in the Ruby Mines District in Upper Burma.
 

Plan showing the posiiton of the Ruby Mines in Burma 1887 Maps 159 Plan showing the posiiton of the Ruby Mines in Burma 1887 Noc

The Rangoon Gazette Weekly Budget of 30 November 1888 gave a full report of Grange’s trial at the High Court in Rangoon.  Grange was tried for the murder of two Lishaw women named Saw Phoo Mah and Saw Lay Mai.  On 15 September 1888, a mother, daughter and son were walking along a road in a remote area on their way from Leu to Bernardmyo to sell potatoes when they encountered a British soldier.  The soldier approached the young girl, took her by the hand and offered her money. Terrified, the girl refused to take it and called to her mother for help.  Her mother struck the soldier with a large stick and he shot her in the chest.  The young girl cried out for her brother to run, so he fled into the forest and hid in a deserted village.  Another witness working a in a nearby paddy field heard two gunshots, six or seven minutes apart.

Grange testified that he had gone out with a rifle to shoot pigs.  He claimed a fit of madness overcame him as he didn’t recall killing the women, just seeing that they lay dead.  He threw their bodies into a ravine and covered them with banana leaves.  A soldier called Swindels arrived, bringing Grange his breakfast.  Grange confessed to him that he had committed murder, the two men hid the rifle and returned to barracks.

After bodies were discovered, the truth came out and Grange was arrested for murder.  He was convicted on 21 November and sentenced to death.  He appealed, and there was a dispute over the validity of the court proceedings.  A special court in Rangoon declared the trial good but the case was referred to the High Court in Bengal in March 1890 on another point of law.  In April 1890 it was decided to commute Grange’s sentence to penal servitude for life.

File entitled The case of soldier Grange IOR/L/PJ/6/276, File 744 The case of soldier Grange Noc

A common location for penal servitude was Kālā Pānī on the Andaman Islands, a nightmarish prison.  Many tried to escape because of the cruelty of the confinement. Torture, starvation, medical testing and murder were commonplace.  I assume that John William Grange died in prison – or does an Untold Lives reader know otherwise?

Craig Campbell
Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PJ/6/274, File 603 Case of a European soldier named Grange tried at Rangoon in November 1888 for murder of two Burmese women, 2 April 1890
IOR/L/PJ/6/276, File 744 The case of soldier Grange; convicted of murder by the Recorder of Rangoon; sentence commuted to penal servitude for life, 26 April 1890
IOR/L/PJ/6/281, File 1280 Case of John William Grange, a British soldier sentenced to death for the murder of two women in Upper Burma, 8 July 1890
Maps 159 Plan of the Ruby Mine Districts of Burma. Surveyed by R. Gordon ... 1887. (Burma, showing the position of the Ruby Mines.) H. Sharbau del. London, May 1888
IOR/V/24/2240 Criminal justice report of Lower Burma. Rangoon: Judicial Department, 1885-1889
Microform. MFM.MC1198 Rangoon Gazette Weekly Budget
Microform. MFM.MC1160 The Englishman

 

17 December 2019

Out of the Fire: Lady Charlotte Canning’s diaries

Making collections available to all is an integral part of the archivist’s role.  We launch our catalogues into the world, hoping our (fair and balanced) descriptions will inspire research and enable users to find what they need.  But what happens if materials aren’t physically fit for consultation, if allowing researchers to use them will cause harm?  At the British Library we are able to call on the professional skills of qualified conservators in the British Library Conservation Centre (BLCC).

Lady Charlotte Canning sitting in a howdah on an elephant Lady Charlotte Canning sitting in a howdah on an elephant Images Online

The papers of Charles and Charlotte Canning formed part of a major acquisition of Canning family material purchased by the Library from the estate of the 7th Earl of Harewood.  Napoleonic intrigues, Catholic emancipation, the anti-slavery movement, South American independence, the 1857 Indian Uprising and the transformation of the government of India all feature in the collections, while correspondents include Pitt, Lord Liverpool, Peel, Wellington, George III, Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale.  The papers include those of the politician and statesman George Canning (1770-1827), his son Charles, Earl Canning, Viceroy of India (1812-1862), and Charles’s wife Charlotte (1817-1861).  Lady Charlotte Canning travelled quite extensively during the period 1858-1861, visiting the Nilgiri Hills and Coonoor in South India, Simla, and Darjeeling.  She also travelled with her husband to Oudh (Awadh) and the Punjab on the Viceroy’s first tour, and Central India on his second.

Diary of Charlotte Canning before conservation India Office Private Papers: Mss Eur F699 Diary of Charlotte Canning before conservation Noc

Back in 2018, I wrote a blog about the Indian diaries of Charlotte, Lady Canning, and how they and other of her papers had been damaged by a tent fire in December 1859.  Lady Canning, her husband the Governor General Charles Canning, and their entourage, were travelling through Oudh (Awadh) and the Punjab in a grand progress.  They held a series of Durbars or ceremonial gatherings in order to confer official thanks and gifts upon local rulers and dignitaries for their assistance during the Indian Uprising or ‘Indian Mutiny’ of 1857-58.

Diary of Charlotte Canning after conservationIndia Office Private Papers: Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/3 Diary of Charlotte Canning after conservation Noc

The papers of Charles and Charlotte Canning have quickly become one of the most well used collections in India Office Private Papers, with a range of researchers from family historians, PhD students, and academics all using the archive.  But of course part of the collection had to remain closed until it was conserved.  Now, the burned material is fully available for the first time. 

Burned fragments of Charlotte Canning's diary after conservationIndia Office Private Papers: Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6 Burned fragments of Charlotte Canning's diary after conservation Noc

Our talented colleagues in the BLCC surveyed all the items one by one and worked to stabilise the loose papers and letters – including Queen Victoria’s – to enable handling.  The original diaries however required extensive conservation. Work went on behind the scenes to establish what was needed for each volume, as each required different processes.  Some volumes were slightly charred, others were missing boards and parts of spines, and one from 1859 was reduced almost entirely to brittle fragments.  Their transformation from ‘unavailable’ to ‘unrestricted’ has been a remarkable feat of conservation and it is a testament to the professional skills of our conservators that these materials are now available for consultation in our Reading Rooms.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
India Office Private Papers: Mss Eur F699, Papers of Charles Canning and Charlotte Canning, Earl and Countess Canning

 

12 December 2019

Emma Ewart Larkins' last letter from Cawnpore

On 9 June 1857, Emma Ewart Larkins, the wife of an artillery officer in Cawnpore, composed a letter to family and friends in England.  Along with about a thousand others, she, her husband George, their three youngest children, and Munna, their cherished family ayah, were sheltering from bombardment under appalling siege conditions, and behind hopelessly inadequate defences.

 Letter written by Emma Larkins in Cawnpore 9 June 1857 and smuggled out by her AyahMSS Eur F732/1 Letter written by Emma Larkins in Cawnpore 9 June 1857 and smuggled out by her Ayah


Addressing a sister-in-law in London, Emma began: ‘I write this dearest Henrietta in the belief that our time of departure is come’.  She explained: ‘the whole of the troops rose here & we took refuge in a Barrack We are so hemmed in by overpowering numbers that there seems no hope of escape’.  Emma was right: death was staring her in the face.  But Munna would take the dangerous decision to attempt to slip away, and she successfully carried the letter with her.

Portrait of Emma Ewart Larkins, India, 1840Emma Ewart Larkins by L. Power, India, 1840. © Rebecca Gowers.

Months later it somehow reached England.  Within it were individual messages for Henrietta and several others, including Emma and George’s four oldest children, sent ‘home’ for their education.  One of these, Alice Shaffalitzky Larkins, then aged 11, was my great-great-grandmother; and I was brought up knowing that my own life depended on the fact that she had avoided the Cawnpore Massacre.  Emma’s last letter was kept by the family in a double-sided picture frame so that it could be read front and back, though the crossed writing made it incredibly hard to decipher.  My grandmother showed it to me as a child.  But four years ago, when I found myself wondering about it again, I realised I no longer had any idea where it was.

Photograph of George and Alice Larkins 1851George Larkins, Artillery Commander, Cawnpore, 1857, here with his daughter Alice: daguerrotype, India, Christmas 1851. © Rebecca Gowers.

I looked idly online, and found the letter selectively quoted in a number of books on the Indian Mutiny.  The British Library held a rough transcript, but where was the original?  While I tried to solve this question, I stumbled on an outré, unproven theory: that another of the four children to survive, Henry Thomas Larkins, also addressed in Emma’s letter, just might be the same person as ‘Major Harry Larkyns’, a mysterious, louche character murdered in 1874 by the famous photographer of galloping horses, Eadweard Muybridge.  To my surprise, this was a theory I found myself able to verify almost at once.  And it has led to my writing a book about Harry’s genuinely extraordinary exploits.  Setting about this project, I badgered numerous relatives about boxes in their attics that might contain Larkins-family archive, with the particularly gratifying result that I ended up being given not only Emma’s final letter, but others that had preceded it too.  This reassembled correspondence forms a total of about a hundred letters whose terrific details I could only hint at in my book.

It was a great pleasure for me recently to donate the whole collection to the British Library, where I hope they will be of interest to other writers and historians.  Emma's last letter was in a frail state indeed, but it has now been conserved, and digitised as well, meaning that this pitiful survivor is now available for all to see.

Rebecca Gowers
Writer

Further reading:
MSS Eur F732 Papers of Emma Ewart Larkins (d. 1857), wife of Major George Larkins (1807-1857), Bengal Artillery
Rebecca Gowers The scoundrel Harry Larkyns and his pitiless killing by the photographer Eadweard Muybridge (2019)

 

03 December 2019

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 1

We met George Byworth in our story about the East India Company and Marine Society boys.  He was given as an example of a boy apprentice who made good of the opportunity offered by the Marine Society.  Here we look at his interesting life in more detail.

George was born in London, the son of watchmaker Thomas Byworth and his wife Mary.  His baptism record at St James Clerkenwell from March 1807 gives his date of birth as 23 February 1807.  This tallies with the age given on his death certificate.  However records from the Marine Society and the Board of Trade say George was 14 in March 1823 and 15½ in September 1824, suggesting he was born in 1809.  Why the discrepancy?

Sailor Boy on the lookoutSailor boy on the look-out from Mark James Barrington Ward, The Round World (London, 1890) Shelfmark 10004.f.7.  BL flickr  Noc

From March 1823 to May 1824 George served in the East India Company ship Scaleby Castle on a voyage to Bombay and China.  He sailed with nine other Marine Society boys, one of whom fell overboard and drowned.  They were paid a monthly wage of 10s. 

List of Marine Society Boys on the Scaleby CastleList of Marine Society boys from IOR/L/MAR/B/34-O Journal of Scaleby Castle Noc

Captain David Rae Newall’s journal of the voyage sheds light on how vulnerable these young boys were.  On 1 April 1823 seaman Thomas Barnes was confined in irons for making attempts ‘to commit an unnatural crime on some of the Marine Society Boys’.  On 13 August 1823 a court of enquiry found seaman James Russel guilty of an ‘unnatural attempt’ upon George Byworth.  Russel had a cut on the back of his hand which George said he had made with his knife.  Russel was punished with three dozen lashes.

 In September 1824 George was bound as a merchant navy apprentice to William Shepherd for four years.  He petitioned the East India Company in September 1827 to be granted free mariner’s indentures for India.  This was approved and he spent some time in Calcutta as a merchant officer in the intra-Asia or ‘country’ trade.

George then based himself in Australia undertaking convict and sealing voyages.  Questioned about provisions on sealing vessels in 1834, he described an allowance of pork, bread, flour, coffee, sugar and spirits, supplemented by gathered food such as fish, penguin eggs and petrels.

Map of KerguelenMap of Kerguelen from John Nunn, Narrative of the Wreck of the 'Favourite' on the Island of Desolation (London, 1850) Shelfmark 10460.e.23. BL flickr  Noc

In March 1832 George was the chief officer in the Adelaide when she was sent to Kerguelen, or Desolation Island, to rescue five shipwrecked men.  The Adelaide met with Captain Alexander Distant who reported that he had already taken the men to St Helena.  George went on board Distant’s ship for some supplies but a violent gale prevented him from returning to the Adelaide.  He was obliged to sail with Distant to St Helena.

View of St Helena from the seaView of St Helena from the sea from John Charles Melliss, St. Helena: a physical, historical, and topographical description of the island (London, 1875) Shelfmark 10096.gg.15.  BL flickr Noc

On 14 August 1833 George wrote to the Governor of St Helena telling his story and asking to be paid the cost of clothing provided by Captain Distant plus the rate allowed by the British government to wrecked mariners.  The St Helena Council granted him a daily allowance of 1s 6d.   George wrote again on 9 September expressing his thanks for the island’s kindness, and asking for £12 for his passage on the Lord Hobart to the Cape of Good Hope where he could pick up a ship to return to Tasmania.  The East India Company was repaid George’s expenses by the Admiralty in March 1834.

Part 2 will tell what happened next!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/34-O Journal of Scaleby Castle and IOR/L/MAR/B/34DD Pay Book of Scaleby Castle.
IOR/B/180 pp.398, 406 Petition of George Byworth to the East India Company to be granted free mariner’s indentures September 1827.
The National Archives BT 150/1 Merchant Navy apprenticeship September 1824.
IOR/G/9/24 Cape Factory Records.
IOR/G/32/96 St Helena Factory Records.
Trove newspapers.
Thierry Jean-Marie Rousset, ‘Might is Right’. A study of the Cape Town/Crozets elephant seal oil trade (1832–1869). A dissertation submitted for the degree of Master of Arts in Historical Studies. Faculty of the Humanities University of Cape Town. 2011.

 

26 November 2019

Sending sad news from India in 1858

A letter reporting the death of a friend in India in 1858 was donated earlier this year to India Office Private Papers.  Alfred Eteson of the Bengal Medical Service wrote from Camp Amorka Gorruckpore on 4 April 1858 giving an account of the death of Dundas William Gordon, Bengal Artillery, who was killed at Lucknow on 8 January 1858 during the Indian Uprising. 

EtesonMss Eur F731 Letter from Alfred Eteson at Camp Amorka Gorruckpore 4 April 1858, giving an account of the death of Dundas William Gordon

Eteson asked a friend, Mrs Barnett, to pass on the sad news to the Gordon family: ‘I think it is incumbent on every survivor in these troubled times to send home if he possibly can, any account of those who have fallen, more particularly if he has been at all intimate with any one of them’.  From clues in the letter, I have identified the recipient as Eliza Barnett, wife of medical practitioner Henry Barnett, living in Blackheath, Kent.  Her son James was serving as an officer in the Madras Army - Eteson reported that he thought he had caught sight of him in Burma.

Alfred Eteson and Dundas Gordon had lived in the same house in Burma from November 1854 until May 1857.  They then travelled together to Calcutta where they separated in July. Eteson went with Major Vincent Eyre to Arrah whilst Gordon was disappointed to be left in Ghazipur to guard the opium in the warehouses. 

The young men were reunited in September 1857 and went on together to Allahabad.  Eteson then stayed behind, ill with fever, and that was the last he saw of his friend.   He wrote to Gordon several times but the letters may never have reached him as the post was so uncertain at that time.  Eteson received no reply.  He only heard of Gordon’s death when he met up with two sergeants of their old battery a few days before he wrote to Mrs Barnett.

Gordon had been in charge of an 8-inch howitzer gun at the Alambagh in Lucknow.  He was leaning over the parapet, looking through his glasses, when a stray round struck the top of his head killing him instantly. Eteson said he felt full of hatred and vengeance at losing an old friend in this way.

Gordon never told Eteson anything about his family and so he did not know their address or even if the parents were alive.  Eteson had found out by accident that Gordon knew his friends the Barnetts.  When talking about batting, Gordon mentioned that he had been a pupil of ’Felix’ at Blackheath – Nicholas, or ‘Felix’, Wanostrocht was a schoolmaster and famous amateur cricketer.  Eteson then asked if he knew the Barnetts of Blackheath.  Gordon said he did and that he had just received a letter saying that his sister had gone to a ball with Miss Barnett.  

Eteson wanted to pass on to the Gordons £30 which was his friend’s share of the house in Burma.  He had instructed his agents to keep this money separate from his estate should anything happen to him meanwhile.  He expressed his willingness to do anything necessary in Bengal for the Gordon family. 

The letter ends with him sending good wishes to the Barnetts although he added: ‘I can scarcely flatter myself by supposing any of the younger ones remembering me after so long an absence’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Mss Eur F731 Letter from Alfred Eteson (1832-1910), Bengal Medical Service, at Camp Amorka Gorruckpore 4 April 1858, giving an account of the death of Dundas William Gordon, Bengal Artillery, who was killed at Lucknow on 8 January 1858.  Kindly donated in 2019 by Lucy Henley, great great niece of Dundas William Gordon.

 

21 November 2019

Hostility to the Census of India in 1880

In 1872, the British began the decennial Census of India, as part of the continuing work to survey India and its people. The next census was carried out in 1881, and every ten years after that.  The collecting of data for the census was sometimes looked on with fear and suspicion by local people.  One such instance is described in a report from the Santal Parganas, an area in the Bengal Presidency, where local people objected to the recording of names and the numbering of houses.

Santal Parganas - detail from a Forest Map 1908 Santal Parganas - detail from a Forest Map  1908  IOR/V/27/450/37

The hostile reaction to the collection of census data was reported on by W B Oldham, Deputy Commissioner of the Santal Parganas, on 14 December 1880.  He described being informed of a meeting held at Narayanpore where anti-British sentiment was strongly expressed.  Oldham immediately set out to find and arrest the ringleaders.  Arriving at Jamtara, he was confronted by a man named Gulia who informed Oldham that he would not permit any names to be taken as part of the census.  Gulia was arrested on the spot, and later that day Oldham tried and sentenced him to six months rigorous imprisonment.

Government of India orders about the 1880 censusGovernment of India orders  IOR/L/E/6/54

As wild rumours circulated, a panic spread among the non-Santal and British residents who feared escalating violence.  The Deputy Magistrate at Jamtara, W Rattray, was so nervous he sent his wife away by the afternoon train to ensure her safety.  His fears were not without foundation as that evening he awoke to find his bungalow on fire.  The building was quickly consumed by the flames, although Mr Rattray escaped, and the Government records and most of his furniture was saved.  Oldham wrote that there was no possibility of the fire being accidental.

Account by Mr Rattray of the fireAccount by Mr Rattray of the fire  IOR/L/E/6/54

In his account of his escape Rattray wrote: ‘At about 12.30am, I was startled by hearing the crackling of timber.  On awaking, to my utter astonishment, and at the moment in utter bewilderment, I found the north-west corner in flames.  My first thought was that I had been surrounded by the Sonthals, so I wished for my gun, which I kept loaded resting against the wall, some six feet from my bed, but could not reach it as the roof had already fallen in.  I then made a rush for the bath’.  Rattray went on to claim that he believed the Sonthals had made up their mind to kill him, and being unable to get into his bungalow had set it on fire in the hope of burning him.

Report by Mr OldhamReport by Mr Oldham  IOR/L/E/6/54

On this point Oldham commented in his report: ‘Mr Rattray was naturally much frightened.  There are no other grounds for this belief.  Mr Rattray is too nervous and fidgety an officer to deal with an occurrence like the present; but will no doubt be able to carry on the census satisfactorily, when he is in a position to deal with opponents to it’.  Oldham was sceptical that the Santals were responsible, but felt that stringent measures against those opposing the law, with a corresponding strengthening of the police would put a stop to any further agitation.  The Government of India ordered that the numbering of houses could be dispensed with, and the registering of males by name relaxed, if it would help allay the apprehensions of the people.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Correspondence regarding the state of public feeling in a part of the Sonthal Pergunnahs [Santal Parganas] in Bengal in respect to the Census, December 1880 to February 1881 [Reference: IOR/L/E/6/54, File 98]  
 

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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