Untold lives blog

244 posts categorized "South Asia"

22 July 2021

Mrs Carthew’s recipe book

In the India Office Private Papers is a manuscript book of recipes inscribed ‘Mrs Carthew’s receipt Book: copied by V.L. Peter “Butler”, Rangoon, 1 August 1862’.  The book contains recipes for a wide variety of Indian and European dishes, such as Bengal chutney, curry, curry paste, a pillar of rice, gingerbread, blancmange, cheap soup, rhubarb cake, wedding cake, plain cake for children, transparent pudding, cream cheese, citron preserve, coconut biscuits, rice ragout, cheese fritters, potato pudding, junket, chocolate cream, peppermint cordial, Indian sandwiches, and milk punch.

Mrs Carthew's recipe for Indian sandwichesMss Eur F 613 Mrs Carthew's recipe for Indian sandwiches Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Indian sandwiches were made from chicken, veal or game; ham or tongue; anchovies, white sauce; curry powder; lemon juice; fried bread; grated cheese; and butter.  The ingredients for Mrs Carthew's 'cheap soup' were 2oz dripping, 1lb of diced meat, ¼lb onions, ¼lb turnips, 2oz leeks, 3oz celery, 8oz rice or pearl barley, 3oz salt, 4¼oz brown sugar, and water.

Mrs Carthew's recipe for hair wash

Mss Eur F 613 Mrs Carthew's recipe for hair wash  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There are also recipes for hair wash and soap jelly, instructions for knitting a jumper and for making Brigadier James’s cholera cure.  The cure consisted of cloves, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, and sugar candy ‘bruised up together’ and added to a bottle of best brandy.  This mixture was then set alight and reduced by a half.  After standing for a day, it was strained and bottled.  Dosage was a teaspoonful for ‘a little derangement’ and a tablespoonful (or even more) for more severe illness.

Who was Mrs Carthew?  The most likely candidate appears to be Jemima Borland Carthew, wife of Morden Carthew of the East India Company's Madras Army.  The family was linked to Burma in the early 1860s when the book was created. Major General Carthew was appointed Divisional Commander of Pegu Province in Lower Burma in 1861.  The Carthews’ daughter Jemima Fanny was married in Rangoon in July 1862.

Jemima Borland Carthew (née Ewart) was born in Scotland on 4 September 1810, the fifth and youngest daughter of John Ewart.  She sailed to India in 1826 and married Lieutenant Carthew on 16 July 1827.  They had ten children born between 1828 and 1847, three of whom died in infancy.

At the time of the 1861 census, Mrs Carthew was lodging in Cheltenham with five of her children.  Morden Carthew returned from Burma on leave to England in early 1863.  He did not resume his career in India.  On 19 April 1863 Jemima Carthew died at 64 Baker Street London aged 52.  The cause of death was given as ‘Softening of Brain, Paralysis’.  She was buried on 22 April 1863 at All Souls Cemetery, Kensal Green.

Photographic portrait of Mrs Morden CarthewMrs Morden Carthew by Camille Silvy, 17 November 1862 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG Ax61899

There is another Mrs Carthew who might possibly have owned the original recipe book - the wife of Jemima's son Morden, who also served with the Madras Army in Burma.  Maynard Eliza Charlotte Rochfort Bogle married Morden Carthew junior in 1854 in Moulmein.  Her father Sir Archibald Bogle was Chief Commissioner of the Tenasserim and Martaban Provinces. The Carthews'  two elder children were born in Burma, but their son Morden Ewart was born in Marylebone in 1858.  Morden Carthew resigned from the Army in March 1862.  In November 1862 the above photograph of ‘Mrs Morden Carthew’ was taken by Camille Silvy who had a portrait studio in London. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F 613 Mrs Carthew’s receipt book


20 July 2021

Servants sailing from India with the East India Company

Our recent post about passengers on East India Company ships mentioned the regulation that a deposit had to be made for each ‘black’ or ‘native’ servant carried to England.  There is a register in the Company’s maritime records which names some of these people and gives a glimpse into their lives.

Male and female Indian servants accompanied military and civil employees or their wives and families.  Here are some examples from the register -
John Lewis with Colonel Thomas Munro on Lord Melville 1803
E. Manuel Rebeira with Surgeon Robert Hunter on Bencoolen 1820
John Steppen with Mrs Munt on the extra ship Batavia 1817
‘Portuguese servant’ William Ross with the family of Mrs Stephen on Woodford 1824
‘Portuguese servant’ Joaquim Dias with the son of Major George Ogilvie on Triumph 1828
Mary Manuel, a Christian native of Bombay, with Lady Grant on Earl of Hardwick 1839
Imaum Ayah with the daughter of J Curnin on Exmouth 1839
Mariam with the child of the late Captain R W Smith on Inglis 1840.

Entry for Maidman in the register of deposits for Indian servantsEntry for Maidman in IOR/L/MAR/C/888 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

European servants are also named.  In 1808 George Maidman paid a deposit for Jane Walker who was accompanying his children to England.  Mrs Walker sailed on Lord Hawkesbury from Madras in February 1808 with Lucy aged seven, William Richard five, and Isabella three.  Their sister Maria, born in 1806, went to England later.

On 13 January 1809 the Court of Directors in London gave permission for Jane Walker to return to her husband in Madras with no expense to be incurred by the East India Company.  The Maidman children all returned to India as young adults.  Lucy sailed to Madras in 1821.  William Richard secured a cadetship in the Company’s army in 1817 and served in the Bengal Artillery.  Isabella and Maria travelled together to India in 1825.

Entry for Kirkpatrick in the register of deposits for Indian servantsEntry for Kirkpatrick in IOR/L/MAR/C/888 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Some familiar names appear in the register.  In 1805 a deposit was paid on behalf of Lieutenant Colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick whose children with his Indian wife Khair un-Nissa were going to England with a servant named as Mahomed Durab.  Their ship was listed in the register as the Devaynes but they are included in the passenger list of Lord Hawkesbury – William Kirkpatrick aged 3 years 6 months, and Catherine Kirkpatrick aged 2 years 7 months.  They were also accompanied on the voyage by a European servant Mrs Jane Perry. The Court of Directors sanctioned her return to her husband in India on 17 March 1807.

There are also unexpected entries.  In 1839 the vakeels or agents of the Raja of Satara deposited money for the Indian servants accompanying them to England.  The Raja was in dispute with the Bombay Government and he sent vakeels to put his case to the Company in London shortly before he was deposed.  The vakeels and their servants stayed for two years, struggling from lack of funds.  British newspapers criticised the East India Company’s poor treatment of the Raja’s representatives.  The Company responded to an appeal from the men in 1841 by advancing £4,000 to pay their debts and to enable them to return home.  As the Raja was still in power when his vakeels left for England, the Company instructed the authorities in India to recover this money from Satara.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/C/888 - Register of deposits on account of native servants who have come to England.
IOR/L/MAR/B/323G  - Journal of Lord Hawkesbury 1804-1806.
IOR/B/144 pp.1326, 1345  - Permission for Jane Perry to return to India, March 1807.
IOR/B/148 p.1011  - Permission for Jane Walker to return to India, January 1809.
IOR/E/4/767 pp.717-719 - Letter to India regarding the Raja of Satara’s vakeels, 25 August 1841.
Michael H. Fisher, ‘Indian Political Representations in Britain during the Transition to Colonialism’, Modern Asian Studies Vol. 38, No. 3 (Jul., 2004), pp. 649-675.
British Newspaper Archive (also available va Findmypast) e.g. Sun (London) 23 August 1841.


15 July 2021

Sir William Fraser of the East India Company maritime service

In the 18th century nearly 2200 voyages were made by ships sailing for the East India Company.  Of these, 42 ships were ordered to remain abroad and on 2014 occasions the ships returned home.  Another 34 ships were captured by the enemy and 108 were lost.  Of this 108, sixteen blew up or were burnt, eighteen were wrecked, some were just lost and not seen again, but ten were lost in the Hugli River approaching Calcutta.  One of these was the Lord Mansfield under Captain William Fraser.  His ship was ‘Lost in the Bengal River, 7 Sept 1773’ but thankfully the crew and passengers were all saved.

ap of entrance of the Hughly River at Calcutta showing the location of the Lord Mansfield and the Lord Holland lost in the Eastern Brace.Extract from Maps K.MAR.VI.24 'Entrance of the Hughly River with its course from the town of Calcutta' by Benjamin Lacam (1779) showing the location of the Lord Mansfield and the Lord Holland lost in the Eastern Brace. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This was Fraser’s first voyage in command of an East Indiaman, but instead of leaving the service of the Company in disgrace the Court found the loss was due to an error of judgement by the pilot and that the Captain was in no way to blame.  Fraser went on to captain a new ship, Earl of Mansfield, for three more voyages under the same owners before he retired from the sea in 1785.

Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors 22 July 1774 stating that Fraser was not to blame for the loss of his shipIOR/B/90 p.145 Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors 22 July 1774 stating that Fraser was not to blame for the loss of his ship. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Many of the East India Company officials and administrators came home from India to build luxury homes and become Members of Parliament, J.P.s etc.  However the captains, being used to command and making instant decisions, often wanted a life with more challenges.  Many of them continued their connection with the sea by managing ships for voyages carrying the East India Company cargoes.  Fraser continued in this way for 25 years, managing nine ships making 34 voyages.  He was a little unlucky early on in this venture: Ocean struck a reef in the Banda Sea (east of Indonesia) and was scuttled on 5 February 1797, while two years later Earl Fitzwilliam was burnt in the Hugli River on 23 February 1799.

Portrait of Sir William Fraser sitting in front of an open atlasPortrait of Sir William Fraser by Benjamin Smith, after George Romney, 1806 NPG D38426 © National Portrait Gallery, London

On 26 September 1786, almost exactly a year after he retired as a Captain, William Fraser married Elizabeth (Betty) Farquharson at St Giles, Camberwell, and they went on to produce a large family – 28 children according to the Gentleman’s Magazine!  While he conducted his business from premises at New City Chambers, Bishopsgate, he also had a home for his family beyond the City.  By 1804 Fraser was paying rates on Ray Lodge at Woodford, Essex.  The previous owner, Sir James Wright of Ray House, started to build Ray Lodge on part of his land in 1793.  He commissioned John Papworth (later John Buonarotti Papworth), who was then only eighteen years old, as architect for the house which was intended for his son George.  This was a splendid new home for Fraser’s growing family, with a 64-acre park out in the country air but an easy ride to the shipyards at Wapping and his business interests in the City.

Fraser was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1791 and was created 1st Baronet of Ledeclune in 1806.  He was also an Elder Brethren of Trinity House.  He attended the Prince Regent’s levee on 12 February 1818 in good health, but he died suddenly the next day in a fit of apoplexy at Bedford Square, London.  His memorial tells us he was in the 78th year of his age and he left a widow, three sons and eleven daughters still living.

Georgina Green
Independent scholar

Further reading:
IOR/E/4/32 Letter from Bengal 13 October 1773 pp.61-63  regarding the loss of the Lord Mansfield
IOR/B/90 p.145 Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors 22 July 1774
Gentleman’s Magazine Vol.88 p.379-380 (1818)

13 July 2021

Peter Paul Zohrab: a ‘Secret and confidential Agent’ for the East India Company

Amongst the India Office Political and Secret Department miscellaneous papers are four items of correspondence from 1808-1809 relating to the appointment of Peter Paul Zohrab as a ‘Secret and confidential Agent’ to the East India Company.  His mission, according to the letters, was to travel to Ottoman territories ‘to gain a knowledge of the proceedings and intrigues of the French in Turkey with reference to any designs that Nation is supposed to entertain on the British Possessions in the East Indies’.  During the Napoleonic Wars the East India Company and the British Government were anxious with regard to French intentions towards India.

Instructions for a secret mission to the Ottoman Empire issued by the Secret Committee of the East India Company, to ZohrabIOR/L/PS/19/173, f.1 Original instructions for a secret mission to the Ottoman Empire issued by Edward Parry, Charles Grant and John Manship, Secret Committee of the East India Company, to Zohrab dated 12 January 1808. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Instructions dated 12 January 1808 directed Zohrab to travel to Constantinople (Istanbul) in the first instance.  His task was to associate himself with any French people and ‘accredited Agents’ of the French, observe them and gather information – particularly any possible plans to march troops towards India. In addition, the East India Company’s Secret Committee gave Zohrab authority to travel into Armenia and Persia if necessary for further gathering intelligence.  Of particular interest was the newly established French Embassy in Persia, established as part of a Franco-Persian accord between Napoleon and the Shah of Persia.  As Peter Paul Zohrab was a merchant, he was specifically instructed to carry out his travels and observations only under that guise.  The Secret Committee advised him not to make himself known to the British Minister at the Persian Court.  He was also warned not to commit anything in writing that might reveal the true nature of his travels.  Indeed, the original instructions were to be returned to the Secret Committee after Zohrab had ‘impressed the substance of them on your memory’.

Zohrab 2-1IOR/L/PS/19/173, f.3 Letter from Zohrab in London, to the Secret Committee of the East India Company dated 12 January 1808. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

For his intelligence gathering activities, Zohrab was given a salary of £500 per year, with an additional payment of £500 per year for travelling and other expenses.  He was appointed for two years.  A system was set up whereby payments and correspondence would be channelled through John Green, Zohrab’s agent in London.  Green was to forward Zohrab’s letters unopened to the Chairman of the East India Company if addressed in a particular way.  Zohrab’s letters to the Secret Committee appear to have not survived, though their receipt can be tracked in the Secret Committee Minutes.  We know he left for Malta on 20 February 1808, and travelled on to Constantinople.  His mission however was cut short due to the changing political landscape; a letter from the Secret Committee dated 11 April 1809 informed him that his appointment was to cease on 10 February 1810 as there was now peace between Britain and the Ottoman Empire.

We know little of Zohrab’s background and career.  He may have been the son of Paul Zohrab, dragoman (translator, guide) to the Danish Embassy in Constantinople.  The East India Company have him as Peter Paul Joseph Zohrab, other sources refer to him as Peter Paul John.  He married his first wife Elizabeth Hitchens in St Pancras, London, in September 1807 – five months before his expedition to Turkey.  He then appears as a merchant in Malta, where he married his second wife Frances Williams in September 1816.  By 1830 Zohrab and his family were living in Smyrna (now Izmir), when he was appointed as a dragoman to the consulate at Erzerum.  In 1844, he was appointed to the position of dragoman in the consulate at Trebizond (now Trabzon).

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/19/173: Secret mission of Peter Paul Joseph Zohrab to the Ottoman Empire, Jan 1808-Apr 1809, 4 items
IOR/L/PS/1/10: Minutes of the Secret Committee, 10 Apr 1806-15 Apr 1824
List of Consular Officials in the Ottoman Empire and its former territories from the sixteenth century to about 1860 by David Wilson, July 2011



29 June 2021

Outfitting an East India Company employee

When new employees of the East India Company embarked on their first voyage to India to take up their post, they needed to think carefully about what to pack.  By the 1840s this was a well-trodden path for British officials and one company was on hand to provide everything they would need.

'List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India'`List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India' - British Library Mss Eur F94. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Amongst the collections of India Office Private Papers is a `List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India'.  This was issued between 1839 and 1844 by Grindlay, Christian, & Matthews, agents and bankers to the British Army and business community in India.  The company was founded by Robert Melville Grindlay, a retired Captain in the Bombay Infantry.  Grindlay had plenty of experience of travel with his regiment and had served as Secretary at the Committee of Embarkation at Bombay.  On returning to London he started the agency Leslie & Grindlay in 1828, principally to organise all the arrangements for clients travelling to India.  The agency would have several changes of name, and later gravitate towards banking and financial services.

Grindlay’s list of outfit for East India Company employees travelling to India makes fascinating reading in terms of what someone was expected to equip themselves with.  There is a long list of shirts, collars, waistcoats, drawers, stockings, gloves, jackets and not forgetting the trusty umbrella.  Also night wear, toiletries and tobacco.  When it comes to foot wear, there are boots, walking or dress shoes, shooting shoes, and of course slippers for relaxing in.

Clothing and military accoutrements from `List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India'Clothing and military accoutrements from `List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India' - British Library Mss Eur F94. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There is, as you would expect, military clothing such as dress coats, frock coats, shell jackets and regimental trousers. Along with the items of uniform are all the necessary adornments, for example caps (full dress or foraging), swords (with waterproof sword bag), belts, sashes, shoulder epaulettes, and Japanned tin cases to keep them in.

Books offered in `List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India'Books offered in `List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India' - British Library Mss Eur F94. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A range of reference books relating to India are listed, and various volumes on military matters including Napoleon’s Military Maxims and Infantry Sword Exercise.  There is even a folding bookcase to keep them in.

Saddlery and Sundries from `List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India'Saddlery and sundries from `List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India' - British Library Mss Eur F94. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

As every traveller knows, it is often the small items which are forgotten, such as candles, candle sticks and snuffers, tin mugs, looking glasses, tools, writing materials, cutlery, tea pot and biscuits, watch and compass.  All could be purchased from Grindlay, along with a range of trunks to keep everything in, engraved with the owner's name on brass plates.

Cabin furniture and bedding from `List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India'Cabin furniture and bedding from `List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India' - British Library Mss Eur F94. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

To ensure a comfortable night’s sleep, a range of beds and bedding was on offer, including a sofa with drawers, a cane sofa to swing as a cot, or an iron or brass camp bedstead, along with blankets, sheets and pillow cases.  While on the move, British officials also required appropriate furniture in order to conduct their business.  To this end, Grindlay offered a variety of chairs (cabin arm chair, folding camp chair or Dover folding chair) and tables (mahogany camp table or swinging tray or table).

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
`List of Outfit for Writers, Cadets, and Assistant Surgeons, proceeding to India', issued c1839-44, by Grindlay, Christian, & Matthews, East India Army Agency, London, shelfmark Mss Eur F94.
Grindlay, Christian, & Matthews, East-India Army and General Agency and East-India Rooms, [London: Grindlay, Christian, & Matthews, 1839] shelfmark: Asia, Pacific & Africa DRT Digital Store T 29729
A history of Grindlays Bank Ltd
Arup K Chatterjee, ‘Robert Melville: The artist, Indophile and imperialist who founded Grindlays Bank’ in Scroll.in   

Advice for ladies in India - equipment on the voyage and clothing for women


24 June 2021

Precedence of British officials and their wives in 19th century India

In 1843 Captain Christopher Simpson Maling of the Bengal Army asked the authorities about the precedence of his wife in Indian society.  Her name had been omitted from the table of precedence.  Jane Wemyss Maling was the daughter of Hon. Leveson Granville Keith Murray of the Madras Civil Service and the granddaughter of the Earl of Dunmore.

The government replied to Captain Maling that it had never interfered to regulate claims based on a statute of precedence in England.  A copy of the correspondence was sent to the East India Company Court of Directors in London.  In July 1844 a despatch to India from the directors stated that it would be perfectly correct for the government in Calcutta to decide the relative rank of ladies based on Royal Warrants and accompanying orders.  The Warrant under which the relative ranks of people in India was to be determined was dated 28 June 1841, and it specifically addressed the rank of ladies having precedence in England.  The directors anticipated that there would be no difficulty in deciding any question that might arise.  Ranks of people not mentioned in the Warrant should be regulated by general custom as decided by the Governor General in Council.

The same question of precedence was raised in 1846 by Hew Drummond Elphinstone Dalrymple, Acting Chief Magistrate and Superintendent of Police at Madras.  His wife Helenora Catherine was the daughter of Major General Sir John Heron Maxwell, Baronet of Springkell, Dumfries.  Dalrymple asked whether the daughter of a baronet was divested of her hereditary place and precedence on arriving in India, or did she fall under the last clauses of the Royal Warrant?  The Government of Fort St George consulted Calcutta and were told that the clause in the Royal Warrant applied.  This stated: ‘All Ladies to take place according to the rank assigned to their respective husbands, with the exception of ladies having precedence in England, who are to take place according to their several ranks, with reference to such precedence, after the wives of the members of council at the presidencies in India’.

Order of Precedence by Royal Warrant 28 June 1841 Continuation of Order of Precedence by Royal Warrant 28 June 1841Order of Precedence by Royal Warrant 28 June 1841 -  East-India Register and Army List 1846

The order of precedence specified by the Royal Warrant of 1841 was published in the East-India Register and Army List.  At the top of the list was the Governor General, followed by the Deputy Governor of Bengal, and the Governors of Madras, Bombay and Agra.  Then came the chief justices and bishops, followed by the commanders-in-chief; members of the different Councils; judges; and naval military and law officers.  Civilians were divided into six classes, and the military were ranked according to date of commission.  There were also stipulations for the relative rank of naval and medical personnel compared with military officers.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/2266 File 115085 Precedence of wives in India 1840s


22 June 2021

Adopting an alias on board an East India Company ship

In December 1756, Robert Young joined the East India Company ship Boscawen as a seaman on a voyage to India and China.  His monthly wage was set at £2 5s.  Young received two months’ imprest or advance pay, and five months’ absence money was paid to his ‘attorney’.

Sailor strapped to ship, heaving the lead 'Heaving the lead' - illustration by George Cruikshank from Thomas Dibdin, Songs, naval and national (London, 1841)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The journal of the Boscawen records that Robert Young died at sea on the afternoon of 18 August 1758 during the passage from Madras to China.  There were unpaid wages to claim, but his family had a problem: Robert Young did not officially exist.

The sailor’s real name was Robert Wood and the explanation behind the adoption of an alias can be found in the probate records held at The National Archives.  Robert wrote his will, using his birth name of Wood, on 16 August 1758, just two days before his death when ‘weak in Body’.  He left everything to his mother Margaret Wood of Warkworth, Northumberland.

The Boscawen arrived back in the Thames in March 1760.  On 21 March 1761, Mary Wood, spinster of St James Westminster, gave evidence to the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.  She stated that she was acting for her mother Margaret Wood, now the wife of Henry Taylor.  Mary understood that Robert had taken on his mother’s maiden name of Young when he joined the Boscawen in case he was pressed by a Royal Navy warship on the homeward bound voyage.  He might then desert with greater safety by reverting to his real name and evading detection.  Several other sailors who had entered the ship with him had taken on aliases for the same reason.

Receipt signed by Mary Wood on 3 April 1761 for the balance of Robert Young’s wages  in the BoscawenReceipt signed by Mary Wood on 3 April 1761 for the balance of Robert Young’s wages  in the Boscawen IOR/L/MAR/B/572 G(2) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Probate was granted on 28 March 1761 to Mary Wood as attorney of Margaret Taylor.  Mary then applied to the East India Company for the money owed to Robert.  On 3 April 1761 she was paid a balance of £28 3s 9d.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Journal and pay accounts for the Boscawen 1756-1758 - IOR/L/MAR/B/572C, 572G(1), 572G(2).
Probate of will for Robert Wood, otherwise Young, 28 March 1761 - The National Archives PROB 11/864/155.


15 June 2021

Personal Reflections on the Indian Political Service – Part Two: Life in the Gulf

This is the second of three blogs on Mss Eur F226, a collection of memoirs written by former members of the Indian Political Service (IPS).

Ten officers’ memoirs from Mss Eur F226 document service in the Persian Gulf and were recently digitised for online publication by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership.  Of these ten officers, all except Herbert Todd (1893-1977) were born between 1900 and 1915.  Naturally, they all served in the IPS, although several began their careers in the Indian Civil Service (ICS).  Some transferred to the British Diplomatic Service following Indian independence.  Their memoirs mainly cover the period 1920-47; a few officers also record their post-IPS careers and even their years spent in retirement.

It was common for an IPS officer to be posted to the Gulf for the first time at a relatively early stage in his career, usually to a junior position.  John ‘Jack’ Bazalgette, who arrived in Bushire [Bushehr] in the mid-1930s to take up the post of Under-Secretary at the Political Residency, remembers how a lack of work led to him being tasked with ‘sorting over the archives which dated back to before 1750 and were fascinating’.  It is intriguing to read of officers stumbling upon little-known details in the archives, much as cataloguers and researchers do today with the same material.

Contents page from John Bazalgette’s memoirContents page from John ‘Jack’ Bazalgette s memoir, 1984. Mss Eur F226/2, f. 2. © Estate of John Bazalgette

The tedious nature of imperial administration is well documented , and several memoirs describe a dearth of stimulating work, although perhaps this was a matter of opinion.  Hugh Rance, who was Assistant Political Agent in Bahrain just after the Second World War, found the work ‘interesting and extremely varied’, whereas his predecessor Michael Hadow describes it as ‘stultifying.’

In their spare time, many officers pursued the same leisure activities to which they were accustomed back home, albeit with notable differences.  Officers recall playing tennis and golf on ‘baked mud’ surfaces in Bushire.  While serving in Bahrain, Hugh Rance played in cricket matches against teams from the Royal Navy, the Bahrain Petroleum Company and the British Overseas Airways Corporation, on concrete or gravel pitches.

Some officers write of feeling isolated in their Gulf locations, whereas others describe active social lives.  According to Rance, Bahrain in the 1940s was ‘a great meeting place’, with many British officers and their families passing through, as well as British and United States expatriates arriving as oil company employees.  He remembers being out ‘nearly every night at some party or other’ when the weather was good.

Front cover of Hugh Rance’s memoir 'A Grandfather's Tale'Front cover of Hugh Rance’s memoir, 1984. Mss Eur F226/23, f. 1.  The copyright status is unknown.  Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

Unsurprisingly, the memoirs discuss the weather and climate at length.  There are numerous accounts of sleeping on roofs and bathing in irrigation tanks in attempts to stay cool during the summer months.  Some found it too much, took extended leave and never returned.  Others stayed on, until replaced by their equivalents from the Foreign Office in 1948. 

In sum, these ten memoirs provide a unique insight into one generation’s experiences of living and working in the Gulf during the last years of British India.

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F226/2, 7, 10, 13, 22, 23, 26, 28, 30 and 34
Personal Reflections on the Indian Political Service – Part One: An Overview


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