Untold lives blog

214 posts categorized "South Asia"

29 April 2021

Bhicoo Batlivala, Campaigner for Indian Independence

The names of the leading proponents of Indian independence from British rule are well known, but the fight was carried on by many thousands of campaigners and activists who devoted their lives to this important cause.  One such campaigner was Bhicoo Batlivala.

Bhicoo Batlivala - head and shoulders photographic portraitPortrait photograph by Douglas of Bhicoo Batlivala from The Bystander 16 February 1938 British Newspaper Archive also available from Findmypast

Bhicoo Batlivala was born in Bombay on 1 January 1911.  Her father, Sorabji Batlivala, was a successful mill owner.  When she was only ten years old she was sent to Britain for her education, where she attended the Cheltenham Ladies College, before studying law and becoming a Barrister of the Inner Temple in 1932.  In July that year, the Dundee Courier listed her in its piece on ‘Men and Women of Today’, describing her as ‘dark, slender, and with dark auburn hair and regular features’.  Intelligent with an adventurous spirit, Batlivala was also a pilot, and a keen player of polo and tennis.

Bhicoo Batlivala - article in Dundee Courier 14 July 1932Dundee Courier 14 July 1932 British Newspaper Archive also available from Findmypast

After practising as a barrister in the UK for a few years, she returned to India.  It was reported in British newspapers that she was the first woman to be admitted to the State Service of Baroda, where she held a variety of Government positions, including Inspector of Schools.  On returning to England, she married Guy Mansell in London in 1939.  They set up home in Cobham, Surrey.

Batlivala was an active member of the India League, an organisation founded in 1916 to promote the cause of Indian independence.  She regularly attended meetings throughout the 1940s, often as a speaker, a fact noted in Government intelligence reports.  She also became associated with Jawaharlal Nehru, at one point acting as his secretary, and campaigning for his release from prison.  In 1940, she embarked on a six month lecture tour in America causing the British Government considerable anxiety.

On 24 February 1943, Batlivala led a delegation of Indian women to the Central lobby of the House of Commons.  Once there they met several women M.P.s, and put their case for the release of Gandhi who had been imprisoned in India at the start of the Quit India Campaign.  The Derby Daily Telegraph reported that the Indian women wore ‘beautiful native robes’, and quoted Batlivala as saying ‘We are urging that the release of Gandhi should be put before the Government as a very urgent matter.  It is not a question only of Hindus or of one particular community.  Indians of all communities here are very deeply concerned about the present drift of the situation as it is being handled by the Government’.

In an article for International Woman Suffrage News, Batlivala highlighted the hypocrisy of Britain using India’s resources to fight the threat of Nazism, while denying India her own freedom.  She concluded; ‘The Indian people have repeatedly declared that they have no quarrel with the British people, but they will no longer tolerate a system of Imperialism.  If the British Government declares that its fight is for the liberation of all nations then it must liberate India.  The world is watching’.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Miss Bhicoo Batlivala, 1938-1940, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1295.

Indian Political Intelligence files:
India League: reports on members and activities, 1940-1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/453.
India League: reports on members and activities, 1943-1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/456.
Bhicoo Batlivala alias Mansell, India League: activities in USA, 1939-1943, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/631.

The British Newspaper Archive  - also available via Findmypast
Dundee Courier, 14 July 1932.
Gloucestershire Echo, 06 November 1936.
Dundee Evening Telegraph, 28 January 1938.
International Woman Suffrage News, 03 January 1941.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 February 1943.

The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’  - Bhicoo Batlivala

Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, Rozina Visram (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

 

27 April 2021

Roshani Begum, dancer turned rebel from Tipu Sultan’s court

In 1799 the East India Company’s army killed Tipu Sultan of Mysore.  To ensure the end of his dynasty, the women of his court were exiled from Mysore Kingdom to the fort at Vellore, in the Company controlled presidency of Madras.  Roshani Begum was a dancer in Tipu’s court, and one of the hundreds of women that the Company placed under house arrest.  Originally named Pum Kusur, she was a dancer from Adoni who, along with her sister, joined Tipu’s entourage when he was still a prince.  Roshani Begum was the mother of Tipu’s eldest son, Fateh Haidar, making her a high-status woman at court.  Her son’s portrait, painted in 1801, shows a young man in his 20s, suggesting that Roshani Begum joined Tipu’s entourage in the 1770s.

Portrait of Fateh Haidar, the son of Tipu Sultan and Roshani Begum, by Thomas HickeyPortrait of Fateh Haidar, the son of Tipu Sultan and Roshani Begum, by Thomas Hickey, 1801. Courtesy of Victoria Memorial Hall Kolkata, R2986

In 1802, along with about 550 other women, Roshani Begum was transported from Mysore Kingdom to Vellore Fort, and remained under East India Company custody for the rest of her life.  In spite of suddenly becoming the charge of a foreign trading company, she continued in her vocation.  In 1804 she adopted a girl named Goozeib, whom she trained in her dance traditions.  There were other newcomers inside Vellore Fort, with the population of Tipu’s exiled harem rising from 550 women in 1802 to 790 individuals by 1806.  These increases were reported to William Bentinck, the Governor of Madras, who issued instructions in February 1806 to cut their maintenance budgets.  To him, it was a pragmatic move to reduce their numbers, but to women like Roshani Begum, it spelled the end of the courtly traditions they were trying to uphold.

Company painting of 'Kanchani' dancing girls. In an album depicting trades and occupations at Vellore.Company painting of 'Kanchani' dancing girls. In an album depicting trades and occupations at Vellore, c.1828. British Library, Add.Or.62 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Between February and June 1806, immediately after Bentinck issued the cutbacks, four of Tipu Sultan’s daughters were married at Vellore.  Each wedding featured several days’ worth of music and dance performances inside the fort.   The content of these performances was planned by the musicians and dancers of Tipu’s court such as Roshani Begum.  These festivities coincided with the rapid spread of “destructive tales” about the East India Company’s Indian soldiers at Vellore Fort.  Their uniforms, particularly their headgear, was pinpointed as an affront to their families, and they were told that by wearing them, they’d be denied food, water, and the right to get married.

These threats of domestic expulsion had such a profound effect on the soldiers that, on the evening of 9 July 1806, after a dance performance in the fort, the sepoys of the Madras Native Infantry mutinied.  They killed 129 men, raised the flag of Mysore Kingdom, and declared Fateh Haidar, the son of Roshani Begum, as their king.  The East India Company’s response was to send a relief force to Vellore that killed almost 350 mutineers.  Accounts of the Vellore Mutiny typically view this moment of violence as a purely military event, but closer examination reveals that women like Roshani Begum, motivated by the East India Company’s spurning of their traditions, used their influence as court performers and story tellers to foment a dangerous uprising.

Jennifer Howes
Independent researcher and a former Curator of Visual Arts at the British Library 

Further reading:
Howes, Jennifer. 'Tipu Sultan’s Female Entourage under East India Company Rule.' Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 2021.
Report on the Character of Tipu Sultan’s four oldest sons by Thomas Marriott, April 1804. British Library, IOR/H/508. p.347.
William Bentinck’s decree to cut allowances to Vellore Fort’s inhabitants, 28 February 1806. British Library, IOR/E/4/897, pp.125-126.
Testimonials of the Court of Enquiry at Vellore, July-August 1806. British Library, IOR/H/507 and 508.

 

15 April 2021

William George Sibley of the East India Company - a worthy good man

William George Sibley was baptised in 1733 in Whitechapel, the son of George and Mary.  His father worked for the East India Company and rose to be keeper of the Bengal Warehouse in New Street.  This was a very responsible post, having care of the receipt, storage, sale and delivery of vast quantities of Indian textiles.  The Sibley family had accommodation near the warehouses provided by the Company.   George was a member of the Mercers’ Company and owned property in London and Wanstead in Essex.

Labourers hoisting barrels and bales  into a London warehouse Hoisting goods into a London warehouse by Gustave Doré from William Blanchard Jerrold, London: A Pilgrimage (London, 1872) British Library WF1/1856 Images OnlinePublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Both William Sibley and his younger brother George followed their father into the East India Company’s home establishment.  William joined the East India Company in February 1745/46 in his early teens as a writer (or copyist) in the Leadenhall warehouse where his father was keeper at the time.  In 1756 William was appointed 5th clerk in the Company Treasury at a salary of £60 per annum.  He then worked his way up the departmental hierarchy by virtue of deaths and resignations and was appointed Treasurer in 1788.  His salary leapt from £200 as a senior clerk in 1785 to over £1,000 in 1801 once his gratuity and perquisites were added to his basic pay.

View of East India House in the City of London in 1760sEast India House c.1760 by James Caldwall British Library King’s Topographical Collection, Maps K.Top.24.10.a.BL flickrPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

His brother George became a warehouse-keeper like their father.  The Sibley brothers also followed their father into the Mercers’ Company.  William was Governor in 1790 and George in 1791.

William married Abigail Scott at Wanstead in August 1771 and they had two daughters Mary and Susannah who both died as small babies.  In 1775 Abigail also died.  William remained a widower until March 1790 when he married Jane Amphillis Berthon, the daughter of a City merchant.  In the same year he was elected as Governor to the Foundling Hospital.  He was also a Governor of Christ’s Hospital and a fellow of the Antiquarian Society.

When Jane’s mother Amphillis Berthon made her will in 1791 she shared her property between two sons and two daughters and excluded Jane. William and Jane Sibley were simply each left a ring. Mrs Berthon explained in the will that her reason for excluding her daughter Sibley was not a want of regard – it was clear to see that she loved and esteemed Jane equally with her other children. But Jane was ‘very happily provided for and married to a worthy good man’.

William George Sibley died in March 1807 at his house at 7 Queen Square, Bloomsbury, not far from the Foundling Hospital.  He still held the post of Treasurer at East India House, having worked for the Company for 61 years.  His obituary in The Monthly Magazine echoed the sentiments of his mother-in-law: ‘In his official department he invariably discharged his duty with fidelity and assiduity, and in all respects with satisfaction to the company and honour to himself… In private life, a tender and affectionate husband, a steady friend to the deserving, kind to the poor, and benevolent to all… a truly good and upright man’.

A view of the interior of the Foundling Hospital Chapel with lines of boys and girls leaving, supervised by staffA view of the interior of the Foundling Hospital Chapel 1774 British Library Crach.1.Tab.4.b.3 Images OnlinePublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Sibley was buried in the vaults under the chapel of the Foundling Hospital.  His wife Jane was also buried there, close to her husband, when she died in 1832.  She inherited her husband’s considerable estate and her will made a number of substantial charitable bequests including £300 to the Foundling Hospital.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Obituary in The Monthly Magazine Vol XXIII Part 1 for 1807, p. 389

 

07 April 2021

Records of People on the Move

The 20th century saw an explosion in international travel, fuelled by developments in modes of travel, and tumultuous events such as two world wars.  The Public & Judicial files of the India Office Records contain many files which reflect this movement of people, providing an important source for family historians and the study of migration.

Gravesend Airport on the cover of Popular Flying magazineGravesend Airport from Popular Flying (1932).  Shelfmark: Lou.Lon.394 Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

One of the most crucial series of records for information on those travelling from India are certificates of identity and duplicate passports.  Travel documents were issued at a number of designated offices in India.  Duplicate identity certificates for Indians proceeding to Europe were issued between 1900 and 1917, and were then replaced by passports very similar to the modern passports we all carry when travelling today.  Duplicate passports were sent to the India Office for security purposes but also for information on the bearer should this be required in Britain or in Europe.

The passports in the Public & Judicial files are mainly for Asians but also include some Europeans and Eurasians.  They show the name of the holder, date and place of birth, description, national status, profession, address, caste, father's name, and details of wife and children.  Sometimes a signature or fingerprint is attached and in most cases, a good photograph of the bearer survives.

Aerial view of Municipal Offices and Victoria Terminus  Bombay

Aerial view of Municipal Offices and Victoria Terminus, Bombay, 1937.  The Victoria Terminus with platforms and sidings to the north takes up the central portion of this print, with the Municipal Offices and Maidan in the foreground.  The General Post Office is to the right, with the Docks beyond.  Shelfmark Photo 91/(5) Images OnlinePublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the 1940s, the Second World War left millions homeless and displaced, and the partition of India forced large numbers to cross borders into the newly independent states of India and Pakistan, or the many British residents in India to return to the UK to start afresh.  The subjects crossing the desks of officials in the India Office, and later the Commonwealth Relations Office, include:
• Transit visas for India and Pakistan.
• Applications for the grant of passport facilities for the UK.
• Applications for the grant of an assisted passage for travel between the UK and India or Pakistan, and the later recovery of such advances.
• Recovery of sums advanced to European British evacuees who elected to remain in India.
• Passport Control Department circulars on various individuals.

With the passing of the 1948 British Nationality Act, which created the status of Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, the CRO began fielding increasing numbers of enquiries from individuals concerning the nationality of themselves and their families.  Another common enquiry was for information on the whereabouts of individuals from concerned friends or family members.

These files provide a glimpse into the lives of many people, giving a sense of the dislocation and upheaval of those tumultuous years.  A search can be made of the India Office Public & Judicial Files on the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Public and Judicial Department Annual Files, 1880-1930 (IOR/L/PJ/6).

Public and Judicial Department Annual Files, 1931-1950 (IOR/L/PJ/7).

Public and Judicial Department Collections on Aliens 1931-1950, Emigration 1926-1952, Passports and Visas 1906-1950, and Refugees 1947-1948 (IOR/L/PJ/8).

Duplicate Passports, 1932-1948 (IOR/L/PJ/11). These have featured in a previous Untold Lives post.

 

04 April 2021

E. G. G. Hunt

Last Easter we brought you the story of the Bunny Family of Berkshire.  This year we have E. G. G. Hunt who came to my attention when I was looking through The Navy List for 1939.

Navy List 1939 - entry for E G G Hunt in the ship IndusEntry for E. G. G. Hunt in The Navy List February 1939

Eric George Guilding Hunt had a long and distinguished naval career.  He was born in Littleborough, Lancashire, on 22 June 1899, the son of George Wingfield Hunt, a Church of England clergyman, and his wife Ethel née Scholfield.   In 1915 Hunt joined HMS Conway, a naval training ship stationed on the Mersey near Liverpool.  From 1917 to 1919 he was on active service in the Royal Naval Reserve for the duration of the war as a Temporary Midshipman.

After the First World War, Hunt became an officer in the Royal Indian Marine, which later became the Royal Indian Navy.  He rose to the rank of Commander and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in a coastal operation in the Red Sea when in charge of HMIS Indus in 1941.

HMIS Indus IWM
HMIS Indus in Akyab harbour, Burma. Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum ADNO 9148 

The Hunt family had other connections to India, to the sea, and to the Church.  George Wingfield Hunt was born in Akyab, Burma (now Sittwe).  His father Thomas Wingfield Hunt was a mariner in India and then a Salt Superintendent.  His mother Mary Anne was the daughter of Lansdown Guilding, an Anglican priest in the West Indies.  Lansdown Guilding was a naturalist who wrote many scholarly papers, becoming a Fellow of the Linnean Society.  In 1825 he published An account of the Botanic Garden in the island of St Vincent, from its first establishment to the present time. 

Botanic Garden in St Vincent from the bottom of the central walkThe Botanic Garden in St Vincent from the bottom of the central walk  - from Lansdown Guilding, An account of the Botanic Garden in the island of St Vincent (Glasgow, 1825) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Botanic Garden in St Vincent from the superintendent's houseThe Botanic Garden in St Vincent from the superintendent's house  - from Lansdown Guilding, An account of the Botanic Garden in the island of St Vincent (Glasgow, 1825)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

India, the sea, and the Church were also prominent in the family of E. G. G. Hunt’s wife Marjorie.  She was born in Coonoor, Madras, in 1902  where her father Thomas Henry Herbert Hand was an officer in the Royal Indian Marine.  Thomas was a well-known marine painter in watercolour, signing his work T. H. H. Hand.  His father was Captain Henry Hand of the Royal Navy, and Henry’s father was an Anglican priest.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives, ADM 340/72/14 Record of service in Royal Navy for Eric George Guilding Hunt 1917-1919.
British Library, IOR/L/MIL/16/5/52, 238, 240, 248 Record of service in Royal Indian Marine/Navy for Eric George Guilding Hunt 1919-1946.
Supplement to London Gazette 4 September 1945 - Award of Distinguished Service Cross to Eric George Guilding Hunt.
British Library, IOR/L/MIL/16/3/155-56, 162-64 : IOR/L/MIL/16/8/110, 186 IOR/L/MIL/16/9/75 1890-1921 – records of service for Thomas Henry Herbert Hand in the Royal Indian Marine/Navy 1890-1921.

 

16 March 2021

Sources for Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Abul Kalam Azad was born on 11 November 1888 in Mecca, the youngest child of Sheikh Khairuddin Dehlavi, an Islamic scholar, and the niece of the mufti of Medina.  In 1898, the family moved to Calcutta.  Azad was given a traditional Indo-Islamic education at home by his father, which included Arabic, Persian and Urdu, study of the Quran and the Hadith, Islamic philosophy and theology, and mathematics.  He also began to explore the new religious and political ideas in the wider Arab world.

The Cabinet Mission with Congress President Maulana AzadPhoto 134/2(18) The Cabinet Mission with Congress President, Maulana Azad, 17 April 1946 Images Online

Azad began a career in journalism writing for Urdu newspapers, and in 1906 he became editor of the Amritsar newspaper Vakil, the best known Urdu newspaper of the time.  He introduced literary and historical features, and wrote about events in Turkey and the Middle East.  In 1912, he founded the journal al-Hilal in order to more widely raise the cause of Indian Muslims.  Al-Hilal was politically and religiously radical, and was closed by the Bengal Government in 1915.  In 1916, he was interned in Ranchi and detained there until the end of 1919.  During his internment he began work on a translation and commentary on the Koran, called Tarjuman al-Quran.  He was imprisoned again in 1921, along with other nationalist leaders.

In 1923, Azad was elected president of the special session of the National Congress held in Delhi to decide the future course of nationalist action, where he called for Hindu-Muslim co-operation.  He was again imprisoned in 1930 after taking part in Gandhi’s disobedience movement.

In 1940 he was elected President of Congress, a post he held until 1946, and was fully involved in the constitutional negotiations leading up to Independence.  He strove to bring Muslim and Hindu together and vehemently opposed partition.  The principal of a united India was fundamental to Azad’s political ideology, and he resolutely held to it throughout the negotiations.  He believed that there was no harm in deferring freedom by a few years if partition could be avoided.  In India Wins Freedom [p.205] he describes how at the beginning of 1947 he tried to persuade Gandhi of this:

'I pleaded with him that the present state of affairs might be allowed to continue for two years.  De facto power was already in Indian hands and if the de jure transfer was delayed for two years, this might enable Congress and the League to come to a settlement….I realised that if a decision was taken now, partition was inevitable but a better solution might emerge after a year or two.  Gandhi did not reject my suggestion but neither did he indicate any enthusiasm for it'.

In the final years of his life, Azad held the post of Minister for Education, and dictated a political memoir called India Wins Freedom.  He died in Delhi on 22 February 1958.  The India Office Records at the British Library holds many files relating to this fascinating and influential man.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, 1945, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1287.

Prosecution of Mr A K Azad for delivering a seditious speech at Mirzapore Square, Calcutta; judgement, 1922, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1791, File 963.

Government of Bengal refusal of a passport to Mr M A K Azad to proceed to Europe for medical treatment: Parliamentary question, July 1924, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1882, File 2692.

Election of Abul Kalam Azad as Congress President by an overwhelming majority, Feb 1940, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/3553.

Telegram regarding an attempt made by an Indian lawyer to smuggle two unauthorised letters to Abul Kalam Azad, Congress President, in Naini Central Jail, March 1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/4371.

Correspondence between the Viceroy and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, regarding the Indian political situation, Oct-Nov 1945, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/8486.

Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad: passport application, 1924-1925, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/183.

Congress Working Committee: Abul Kalam Azad's letters to Viceroy, dated 28 November 1944, Dec 1944-Apr 1945, shelfmark IOR/R/3/1/329.

Private Office Paper’s file on the Cabinet Mission to India; includes papers on Abul Kalam Azad's response to Cripps and Cabinet Mission's proposals for formation of Interim Government, 1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/115.

Correspondence between the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy, 1945-1947, shelfmarks IOR/L/PO/10/22, IOR/L/PO/10/23 and IOR/L/PO/10/24.

Subject file on Maulana Azad, Apr 1947, shelfmark Mss Eur IOR Neg 15539/6 (in the papers of Earl Mountbatten of Burma as Viceroy 1947 and Governor-General 1947-48 of India).

Correspondence between Jinnah, Nehru, Azad, Prasad, and others, 1938-1939, shelfmark IOR Neg 10762/4 (in the papers of Quaid-i-Azam Mahomed Ali Jinnah, leader of Muslim League in India and founder of Pakistan).

Photographs of Maulana Azad, 1946, shelfmarks Photo 1117/1(31), Photo 1117/1(36), Photo 1117/2(4), Photo 134/1(31), Photo 134/2(17), Photo 134/2(18), Photo 134/2(24), Photo 134/2(27)

Abul Kalam Azad, India Wins Freedom (the complete version) (London: Sangam, 1988), shelfmarks YC.1989.a.5439 and ORW.1989.a.1244.

For printed collections of Abul Kalam Azad’s writings search the British Library catalogue.

 

02 March 2021

Astley’s Amphitheatre presents ‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’

Tucked into an Indian diary of Charlotte, Lady Canning was an unexpected find - a playbill advertising the entertainments offered at Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre during Christmas week 1857.  If you had sixpence to spare, you could find yourself in the Upper Gallery, while for a guinea you could be in the comfort of one of the boxes.  On offer was a ‘National Military Spectacle’ called ‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’.  A series of scenes in three acts, it was described as being ‘…founded upon the present events in India’.  The play covered the outbreak of the Indian Uprising or ‘Indian Mutiny’, the relief of the siege of Cawnpore (Kanpur) and its violent aftermath, and finally the assault on Delhi and its capture by British troops.  These events played out from May to September 1857, Delhi being retaken by the British on 20 September.  The play opened in London on 25 November 1857, scarcely two months later.  Portraying current events, it served as both popular entertainment and dramatized news production.

Playbill for Storming and Capture of Delhi
Playbill for Astley’s Amphitheatre, December 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Situated on Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, Astley’s opened in the 1770s.  It burned down and was rebuilt three times – in 1794, 1803 and again in 1841.  The space was enormous with a pit, gallery and viewing boxes, and a large circular arena in addition to a stage.  It was rather like a cross between a circus and a theatre. The  Illustrated London News in 1843 described the newly rebuilt Astley’s as an octagonal structure, richly decorated with columns, hangings, chandeliers, and a stage measuring 75 x 101 feet.  No expense had been spared on its rebuilding.  Circus proprietor William Cooke leased Astley’s from 1853 to 1860 and revived its popularity; the venue became famous for equestrian displays, including adaptations of Macbeth and Richard III performed on horseback.

Astley's Amphitheatre

Astley’s Amphitheatre from R. Ackermann, The Microcosm of London (London, 1808-1811) Images Online

‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’ was written by the dramatist Charles A. Somerset, about whom very little is known.  In the 1861 census he is 66, unmarried, and an ‘Author Dramatic’, originally from Bath.  He is one of several lodgers at 2 Pitt Street, Southwark.  This is almost certainly the same Charles Somerset living in Devonshire Street, Lambeth in 1841, who is described as a ‘Writer’.  He had been writing for the stage since the 1820s; a check of the British Library catalogue reveals a wide repertoire from historical drama (Bonaparte in Egypt), comic operetta (Good Night Monsieur Pantalon), farce (The electric telegraph, or, the fast man in a fix) to pantomime (King Blusterbubble, and the demon ogre).

The spectacle on show during the winter of 1857-58 had all the hallmarks of an Astley’s production.  There were live animals, including troupes of trained horses as well as real Indian buffalo, zebra and elephants.  According to the reviews, ‘The compiler of the drama…has not encumbered the action with a complex plot or sentimental story but given a rapid succession of stirring scenes…’.   These included daring chases on horseback, stage combat including firing musket rounds, and comic interludes such as British troopers donning women’s bonnets to confuse the enemy.  There was even a romantic sub-plot involving Miss Mathilda, a General’s daughter, and Frank Phos Fix, an artist and volunteer Hussar. 

In addition to individual items like the ‘Storming of Delhi’ playbill, the British Library holds a significant collection of approximately 234,000 playbills dating from the 1730s to the 1950s. Some have been digitised, and many are being made available via the Into the Spotlight project.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F699/2/2/2: Indian Journals of Charlotte Canning.  The Astley’s playbill has been housed in a fascicule at Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6.
Add MS 52969 K 'The storming and capture of Dehli', grand military spectacle in three acts. Licence sent 24 November 1857 for performance at Astley's Royal Amphitheatre 23 November 1857.  Cover signed William Cook, lessee and manager, and W. West, stage manager.  Songs included in MS. LCO Day Book Add. 53073 records the stipulation that all oaths be omitted as well as the names of General Wheeler and his daughter ff. 29. (Part of THE LORD CHAMBERLAIN'S PLAYS AND DAY-BOOKS; 1851-1899, 1824-1903. Add MS 52929-53708: [1851-1899]).
The play was reviewed in The Morning Advertiser on 26 November 1857.  It was also advertised as still being on at Astley’s in The Globe, 26 January 1858.
Charles A. Somerset’s plays can be found amongst the Pettingell manuscripts at the University of Kent, while Somerset’s letters to TP Cooke are held by the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance.

 

25 February 2021

Sources for Dr B R Ambedkar

The India Office Records and Private Papers contains much fascinating material relating to one of the most inspiring figures in India’s struggle for independence from British rule, Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.  Despite the obstacles put in his way, Dr Ambedkar rose to become one of the leaders in the Indian Independence movement and championed the poorest and most disadvantaged in Indian society.

Popular colour print depicting Dr Ambedkar, shown wearing glasses and in a European suit and tie.Popular colour print depicting Dr Ambedkar © The Trustees of the British Museum 

Dr Ambedkar was born on the 14th April 1891 at Mhow, India, into a Dalit Mahar family.  During his childhood he regularly experienced discrimination from higher caste members of his school and community.  A scholarship awarded by the Gaekwad of Baroda enabled him to continue his education, and he studied economics and law in New York and London, following which he set up a legal practice in Bombay.

He quickly became a leading campaigner for the rights of Dalits, starting protest groups, founding newspapers and journals to raise awareness of their plight, and entering the political arena to push for reforms.  He served in the first government following independence as Minister for Law, and helped shape India’s future through his contributions to the writing of India’s Constitution.

Dr Ambedkar has inspired people around the world fighting discrimination and injustice, and the British Library’s collections illustrate the many stages of his life.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1946, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1272.

Journey to England from the USA of British subject Bhimrao, alias Brimvran Ambedkar, 1916, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1443, File 2349.

Correspondence regarding a proposed scheme by Dr B R Ambedkar to start a Social Centre for Depressed Classes in Bombay, 1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/4410.

Publication in English entitled Mr Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables by Dr B R Ambedkar (Bombay, 1943), shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/7068.

Cabinet Mission; Depressed Classes, Apr-Dec 1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/10/50. This file contains a note marked ‘Secret’ of a meeting between the Cabinet Delegation, the Viceroy and Dr Ambedkar on the 5th April 1946. It also has a letter from Dr Ambedkar to the Viceroy, Lord Wavell regarding the Cabinet Mission, and the Viceroy’s reply.

Duplicate passport for Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1932, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/11/1/585.

File on political developments, including Ambedkar on scheduled castes, 1943-1947, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/102C.

File on the Poona Pact including correspondence with Dr Ambedkar regarding Depressed Classes, 1931-1933, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/77.

File on the Poona Pact, including Ambedkar on modification of Depressed Classes seats, 1933-1935, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/89A.

Correspondence between the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy, 1944-1946, shelfmarks IOR/L/PO/10/21, IOR/L/PO/10/22 and IOR/L/PO/10/23.

Submissions to the Indian Statutory Commission, 1928-1929, shelfmarks IOR/Q/13/1/6, item 3; IOR/Q/13/1/23, item 10; and IOR/Q/13/4/23.

Submissions to the Round Table Conference, 1930-1931, shelfmarks IOR/Q/RTC/2, IOR/Q/RTC/24 and IOR/Q/RTC/25.

Submissions to the Indian Franchise Committee, 1932, shelfmarks IOR/Q/IFC/41, IOR/Q/IFC/51, IOR/Q/IFC/74 and IOR/Q/IFC/80.

Correspondence with Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar and Ramsay MacDonald, 1932, shelfmark Mss Eur E240/16 (from the papers of Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for India 1931-35).

Ambedkar is discussed in the correspondence between Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy Lord Willingdon, 1932-1933, shelfmarks Mss Eur E240/2, Mss Eur E240/3 and Mss Eur E240/6.

Papers relating to the resignation of Dr Ambedkar as Minister for Law, 1951, shelfmark Mss Eur F158/1015 (from the papers of the India, Pakistan and Burma Association). It also contains two bulletins from the Reuters news agency reporting the death of Dr Ambedkar on the 6th December 1956.

Correspondence, papers and pamphlets concerning Indian constitutional reforms, particularly the Communal Award and the Poona Pact, 1933-1934, shelfmark Mss Eur D609/22 (from the papers of 2nd Marquess of Zetland as Governor of Bengal 1917-22, and Secretary of State for India 1935-40).

Photographs of Dr Ambedkar, 1930-1946, shelfmarks Mss Eur F138/16(1), Photo 81(13), Photo 1117/1(44) and Photo 134/1(37).

Castes in India, by Bhimrao R Ambedkar, (Bombay, 1917), shelfmark 10005.g.19. (Re-printed from the “Indian Antiquary”, Vol. XLVI, Part DLXXXII, May 1917).

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