Untold lives blog

19 posts categorized "South East Asia"

04 February 2021

East India Company instructions for keeping records

We’re returning to the ship New Year’s Gift to share some more of the instructions it carried.  This time we’re looking at rules for record-keeping in Asia in the earliest days of the East India Company and the use of codes in correspondence.

The Company merchants in the fleet of four ships which sailed from England in March 1613/14 were told before they sailed that they were expected to record their work with care and ‘exquisiteness’. They were provided with –
• Four pairs of ‘faire bookes,’ i.e. journals and ledgers
• Four large ‘industriall’ or day books
• Books for expenses
• Books for copies of letters
• Large ruled sheets of paper for making copies of the journals
• Eight reams of paper, large and small
• Ink
• Penknives
• Quills
• Hard wax

More books had been sent to the Company’s trading post in Bantam in the ship Concord.

East India Company instructions for record-keeping 1614Instructions to East India Company factors 1614 from Thomas Elkington’s notebook IOR/G/40/25 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Having provided ample supplies of stationery, the Company expected accounts to be kept ‘perfectly’ in all places.  The chief factor at Surat, or someone else appointed to the task, was to keep a fair pair of books for the Company general account.  All factors, whether working at settled factories or employed buying and selling commodities in fairs or markets, were to give their accounts from time to time to the chief factor at Surat so they could be brought into the general books there.  But all factors were also to send to London a copy of their journal and the balance of their ledger whenever Company ships sailed for England.  The chief factor was to send by every shipping a verbatim copy of his journal written on the large ruled paper being supplied.  Since all copies sent would be the same size, they could in future be bound together in one volume in London.  The Company also expected to receive the balance of the chief’s ledger from time to time, and an exact copy of his ledger once a year.

Changes in personnel at Surat must not lead to alterations in the methods of record-keeping.  No factor was to take away Company books as had happened in the past.  Completed books were to be sealed up and sent to London, with copies made to retain in the factory if required.  Local coinage and weights should be used in the accounts, with an explanation provided for London.

Similar instructions were given for the factory at Bantam, with a central record taking in information sent by merchants working away from base.  The Company advised all factors to write down immediately everything that happened – ‘our memory at the best hand is very slippery’.  Moreover, sickness and death could strike at any time.

If factors wrote home about an important matter using a dangerous or doubtful conveyance and passage, the Company asked them to write the letters, or at least ‘poynts of moment’, in ‘caracters’ i.e. a code or cipher.  Then, if the letters were intercepted, trade secrets would not be disclosed and cause damage to the Company.  A copy of the cipher was included with the instructions.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/G/40/25 Instructions to East India Company factors from Thomas Elkington’s notebook
IOR/B/5 Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors 1613-1615

31 December 2020

New Year’s Gift

The New Year’s Gift we are offering you is not wrapped in paper and ribbon.  It is an East India Company ship which sailed from England in March 1613/14 for Surat and Bantam in company with the Hector, Hope and Solomon.  However the fleet was carrying many gifts chosen for rulers in Asia to encourage the granting of trading privileges.

n engraving by Renold Elstrack of the Emperor Jahangir, holding a hawk An engraving by Renold Elstrack of the Emperor Jahangir, holding a hawk c.1616-21. Image courtesy of the Royal Collections Trust 

The presents selected for the Mughal Emperor included a scarlet cloak embroidered with silver, a velvet-covered chest of bottles with ‘hot waters’ (spirits), and several pictures.  The paintings were of King James; his wife Queen Anne; Tamerlane; the Emperor himself; East India Company Governor Sir Thomas Smythe; and three English ladies.

The East India Company was worried about the effect the long voyage would have on the paintings.  Would the colours fade or other damage occur?  They provided detailed instructions for the preservation and repair of the artworks.  Painter-Stainer Edward Gall, trumpeter on New Year’s Gift, was entrusted with carrying out remedial work and directing the making of frames.

Extract from 1613 document giving instructions for remedial work on paintings aboard New Year's Gift Instructions for remedial work on paintings IOR/G/40/25  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The ships were also taking looking glasses to Asia.  The Company feared that these might decay and had sent Robert Young to be trained in foiling.  Young was to teach this skill to four or five of his fellow factors so that they could make repairs if he died.

Robert Young died in November 1614 in India.  Edward Gall also perished and his will leaving everything to his wife Eleanor was proved in the City of London.  The National Archives has a number of wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury for other men who died during the voyage.

Many who died in the New Year’s Gift bequeathed items they had acquired in Asia: ‘China girdles’, Chinese porcelain, silk textiles, spices – pepper, mace, nutmeg.  Quarter gunner William Crandall was bringing home 159 lb of pepper when he died.  Sailor Anthony Owen had a barrel contaning 100 lb of mace.

Personal belongings such as clothing and bedding were often left to named crew members.  Otherwise they were sold before the mast and the proceeds added to the estate.  Caulker Christopher Turpin left his tools to his mate Richard Dickson, together with a gown and a remnant of striped taffeta.  This cloth was perhaps left over from the suit of striped taffeta which Turpin left to Richard Brabson – sounds very natty!  Turpin also owned three dimity waistcoats and a laced suit.

Sometimes bequests were made to sailors as thanks for care during sickness.  Close friendships between shipmates are revealed, some pre-dating this voyage.  William Crandall asked his ‘good friend’ Captain Martin Pring to invest a sum of £20 to provide a nest egg for Crandall’s daughter Elizabeth when she came of age.  Master’s mate Lawrence Spooner asked for 30 pieces of satin to be sold and the proceeds invested for the benefit of Pring’s five children.  Spooner left Pring his sword, Euclid’s Elements, clothing and linen.  Pring’s wife Joan received porcelain and a waistcoat, and her mother 20 shillings for a ring.

Poignantly, Lawrence Spooner allocated money to restore the graves of his wife and daughter in Tamworth.  He wanted a likeness of his wife over her monument, with a bowl or spoon in her hand, and the Latin inscription ‘Quisquis eris qui transieris, perlege, plora’ – ‘Whoever you are who pass by, read, weep’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/G/40/25 East India Company instructions to the fleet from Thomas Elkington’s notebook.
Will of Edward Gall MS 9172/29 London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section.
The National Archives PROB 11 - wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

 

17 November 2020

William Adams in Japan– a new digital resource

William Adams, 'the first Englishman in Japan', died on 16 May 1620 at Hirado.  Events planned in Japan and the UK to mark the 400th anniversary of his death have unfortunately had to be postponed because of the pandemic.  However the British Library has been able to contribute to the celebration of a remarkable life.  Letters written by Adams during his years in Japan are preserved in the East India Company archive, and we are delighted to announce that digital copies of these are now available to access freely in our Digitised Manuscripts resource.

Firando (Hirado) from the sea 1669 with a Dutch shipFirando (Hirado) viewed from the sea-  Arnoldus Montanus, Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

Adams joined a Dutch merchant fleet as chief pilot in 1598.  He arrived in Japan on board the Liefde in 1600 and built a new life for himself under the patronage of Tokugawa Ieyasu.  William Adams worked for both the Dutch and English East India Companies after they arrived in Japan in 1609 and 1613 respectively.

Firando (Hirado) Castle 1669The castle at Firando (Hirado)  - Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

The earliest letter written by William Adams in the English East India Company records is dated 23 October 1611 in Hirado.  He had heard that there were Englishmen at Bantam (Banten) in Java and so the letter is addressed to unknown friends and countrymen.  Adams gave an account of his life, explaining how he came to be in Japan, what had happened to him since his arrival, his relationship with Tokugawa Ieyasu and the honours he had received.  He had been refused permission to leave Japan and asked for word to be sent to his family that he was still alive.  Adams gave information about trading contacts with the Dutch.

This letter was received in Bantam by East India Company merchant Augustine Spalding.  He sent a reply via the Dutch, together with a bible and three other books.

On 12 January 1613 Adams answered.  He had received a letter from Thomas Smythe, Governor of the East India Company, promising that a ship would be sent to Japan to establish a factory (trading post).  Adams passed on to Spalding valuable commercial intelligence and advice about the best way of establishing trade with Japan.

Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613IOR/E/3/1 ff. 157-58  Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Adams wrote from Hirado on 1 December 1613 to the East India Company in London, announcing the arrival of John Saris in their ship Clove.  He detailed Saris’s reception at court and described how Saris was unhappy when he was not permitted by Japanese custom to hand a letter from King James directly to the emperor but only via his secretary.  Saris asked Adams if he would serve the English East India Company and, after considerable negotiation, a salary of £100 per annum was agreed.

On the same day, Adams wrote to Thomas Best at Bantam updating him with the latest news.  He said that he had intended to go home in the Clove but changed his mind because of discourtesies shown to him by Saris.

Other letters are addressed to English merchants in Japan and to the East India Company in London, with news of people, trade, and Japanese politics.  The final one in the archive was sent in November 1617 from Adams at Sakai to Company merchant Richard Wickham at Hirado.  400 years after his death, the voice of William Adams can still be heard through his written legacy.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator. East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/1 ff 116-29 William Adams at Hirado to his ‘unknown friends and countrymen’ at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 157-58 William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 203-04 Contract between William Adams and the East India Company, Hirado
IOR/E/3/1 ff 209-11 William Adams at Hirado to the East India Company in London
IOR/E/3/1 ff 212-13 William Adams at Hirado to Thomas Best at Bantam
IOR/E/3/2 f 43 William Adams at Hirado to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/3 f 78 William Adams at Shizuoka to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/4 f 143-44 William Adams at Hirado to Sir Thomas Smythe in London
IOR/E/3/5 f 189 William Adams at Sakai to Richard Wickham at Hirado

Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1613-1623 (London: British Library, 1991)

William Adams - from Gillingham to Japan

 

15 June 2020

The mystery of the Roebuck

The records of the Marine Department of the India Office (IOR/L/MAR) include logs and journals from thousands of voyages made by East India Company ships.  It also contains a mystery.  Here is what the records tell us about the Roebuck, a ship that appears to have been in two places at once.

Inscription at the start of the Journal of Henry CrosbyInscription at the start of ‘The Jornall of Henry Crosbye’ (IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX f 7) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX is a journal kept by Henry Crosby during journeys on three ships between 1619 and 1624.  As appears to have been common practice at the time, the ship’s journal went with its writer when he changed vessels rather than remaining with the ship.  Although Crosby departed England on the Charles in March 1619, having reached Achine [Banda Aceh, Indonesia] he wrote in July 1620 ‘We came awaye out to Sea the Charles the Rubye the Dymond and the Rauebucke… me in the Rauebucke’.  A pencil annotation in the margin, probably added by someone within the India Office during the 20th century, comments ‘The Writer Henry Crosby now in the Raebuch’.  The only East India Company ship that appears to match these two alternative spellings is the Roebuck, a ship built in 1619.  Assuming that this the same ship as the ‘Rauebucke’ in the text (and the mentions of ‘Rubye’ and ‘Dymond’ in the same sentence show the inconsistencies of 17th century spelling), Crosby remained on board the Roebuck in the vicinity of Sumatra before disembarking at Jakatraye [Jakarta] in December 1620.

Henry Crosby writes of departing Banda Aceh on the ‘Rauebucke’,Alternate spellings: Henry Crosby writes of departing Banda Aceh on the ‘Rauebucke’, which a later annotation calls the ‘Raebuch’ (IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX, f 15) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

IOR/L/MAR/A/XXX is a journal kept by Richard Swan during journeys on two ships between 1620 and 1622.  In July 1620, when Henry Crosby was departing Banda Aceh on the Roebuck, Richard Swan was at least 1500 miles away sailing between the Cape of Good Hope and Surat, India, also on the Roebuck.  When Crosby was disembarking at Jakarta in December, Swan was arriving at Jasques [Bander-e Jask, Iran] over 4000 miles away.  Both of them, apparently, still on board the Roebuck.

Richard Swan describes arriving at Bander-e Jask in December 1620Richard Swan describes arriving at Bander-e Jask in December 1620, 4000 miles away from Henry Crosby in Jakarta (IOR/L/MAR/A/XXX f 22) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 
An extra complication is added by some date discrepancies within IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX.  The dates in the first half of the journal have been altered to a year earlier than originally written.  Since the altered dates fit with the dates in the second half of the journal, they have been presumed to be correct.  But if the dates as originally written are actually the correct ones, then perhaps the Roebuck was in Indonesia in 1621 instead of 1620.  Unfortunately, this explanation does not solve the mystery.  In July 1621 Richard Swan was with the Roebuck on the Island of Mazera [Masirah, Oman], 2800 miles from Banda Aceh.

The solution to this mystery can be found in IOR/E/3/7, a volume of East India Company correspondence from 1619-21.  Two letters within the volume make mention of Crosby’s Roebuck, but refer to it as a pinnace, a type of small sailing vessel that attended larger vessels.  While Swann was on one side of the Indian Ocean on the East India Company’s ship Roebuck, Crosby was on the other side aboard a pinnace that, with little regard for future historians, had been given the same name.

Matt Griffin
Content Specialist, Gulf History, British Library Qatar Foundation partnership

Further reading:
Full copies of the ship journals discussed in this post are available from the Qatar Digital Library:

IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX    

IOR/L/MAR/A/XXX  

 

06 May 2020

The East India Company and the Spice Islands

When the East India Company began trading in 1600, the focus of its activities was the Spice Islands of Southeast Asia rather than India.  There are many letters and documents in the India Office Records about the fierce, and sometimes violent, rivalry between the English and Dutch merchants as they strove to gain the upper hand in securing the valuable commodities grown in the region.

Map of Banda Islands
Map of the Banda Islands from a 17th century Dutch Portolano, British Library Add. 34184 f.64 Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1621 the Dutch took the island of Lantar (now Lontor or Banda Besar in the Banda Islands).  The men at the English house were taken prisoner and the Company’s goods seized.  Robert Randall, the East India Company’s chief merchant on Lantar, was tied to a stake with a halter fixed to his neck.  He was terrified that his head would be cut off by the Japanese soldier who had already beheaded Chinese men found with the English.  Captain Humphrey Fitzherbert arrived in the Company’s ship Royal Exchange and negotiated terms of peace and the release of his fellow countrymen.


Inventory of the Company’s goods seized by the Dutch 1621
Inventory of the Company’s goods seized by the Dutch 1621 IOR/G/40/25 f.308 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

An inventory was drawn up of the Company’s goods seized by the Dutch: mace; nutmeg; elephants’ teeth (ivory); rials of eight; oils of nutmeg and mace; textiles; wax and wax candles; arrack; rice; cakes of sago; copper kettles; empty jars; China ware; opium; fowling-pieces; chests of clothes and linen; a bed and pillows; an English flag.  According to Fitzherbert, the Dutch flew an English flag on two of their ships, leading the local people to think that the English had betrayed them.

Accounts for the English ‘castle’ on Amboina for April 1621Accounts for the English ‘castle’ on Amboina for April 1621 IOR/G/40/25 f.305  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Accounts for the English ‘castle’ on Amboina for March and April 1621 survive in the Company archive.  A major expense was the upkeep of a large garrison – salary, monthly allowance and provisions for 49 married soldiers, 196 soldiers, and 61 Japanese.  Their diet was rice, arrack, beef, pork, ‘sweet oil’, vinegar and salt.  Food for workmen is also listed – rice, beef and pork- and for prisoners – bread, wine, fish.  Sick men in the hospital were supplied with beef, pork, rice, wine, and fresh victuals.

Money was spent on barrels of powder, shot, matches, tiles, planks, shoes, porcelain, sailcloth to make tents, and table cloths.  There were slaves to clothe with shirts, ‘baftoes’ and silk, and they were also provided with other unspecified ‘necessaries’.  A school with ten pupils was maintained.  The Governor spent money on gifts to oil the wheels of commerce - rice, textiles, and silk. 

These fascinating documents shed light on life in the European posts in Southeast Asia in the early 17th century, where the threat of untimely death was always hovering over the merchants trying to win commercial advantage for their masters.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/8 ff 5-8 Humphrey Fitzherbert on the Royal Exchange at Banda Neira to the East India Company in London, 27 March 1621.
IOR/G/40/25 ff.302-307 Accounts from the English house on Amboina March-April 1621.
IOR/G/40/25 f.308 Inventory of goods belonging to the East India Company taken from Lantar by the Dutch in 1621.
A courante of newes from the East India: a true relation of the taking of the ilands of Lantore and Polaroone ... by the Hollanders ... Written to the East India Company in England from their factors there. (London, 1622).
W. Noel Sainsbury (ed.), Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series - East Indies, China and Japan 1617-1621 (London, 1870).

Mr Muschamp's wooden leg

East India Company Factory Records (IOR/G) are available as a digital resource from Adam Matthew Digital which is free to access in British Library Reading Rooms (all British Library buildings are closed at present).

30 April 2020

Mr Muschamp’s wooden leg

In 1630 the East India Company kept back £3 from the wages of Brute Gread, carpenter of the ship London on a voyage to Bantam.  The stoppage was to pay for a copper kettle which Gread was said to have removed from the ship.  Gread’s wife Dorothy petitioned for repayment because the kettle brought ashore was defective with a burnt-out bottom, and it was cut into pieces and used to sheath Mr Muschamp’s wooden leg.  The Company ordered that the money be repaid.

Petition of Dorothy Gread 3 November 1630Petition of Dorothy Gread 3 November 1630 IOR/B/14 p.81 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


George Muschamp was a Company merchant who had lost his right leg in July 1619 on board the Sampson in a fight with the Dutch at Patani in the East Indies.  The leg was shot off by a cannon and he spent four months in ‘miserable torture’ for want of medicines.  However this terrible injury did not stop Muschamp having a long career with the Company.

Muschamp’s first petition for employment in the Company was considered by the Court on 4 August 1615.  He outlined his career to date: four years in Antwerp and Middleburgh, ’brought up in marchandize’ eight years.  Muschamp could speak Dutch and French and said he was skilled in silk, silk wares and linen cloth, and in keeping accounts.  He had recently been employed by Duncombe Halsey, a City of London mercer.  After his ‘sufficiency and carriage’ were examined, he was engaged in September.

George Muschamp’s petition for employment 4 August 1615George Muschamp’s petition for employment 4 August 1615 IOR/B/5 p.460 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The East India Company sent Muschamp to the spice islands in Southeast Asia.  He moved around, serving at Batavia and Amboyna.  In 1623 the council at Batavia accepted his request to leave because his ‘want of one leg’ was preventing him from performing his services as he would wish.  They reported that Muschamp was a ‘very sufficient merchant and has been faithful, honest and careful’.

The city of Batavia from the sea, with ships in the foregroundPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence  The city of Batavia from An embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperour of China (London, 1669), shelfmark X.1202 Images Online

Muschamp arrived back in England in the Palsgrave in June 1623.  In October he was given a gratuity of £100 on account of his good reputation and loss of his leg.  He then negotiated terms with the Company for a second voyage.   Although he wanted a salary of £250 per annum, he accepted an offer of £150.  Musgrave asked to be employed at Surat, mainly for health reasons, but was sent back to Southeast Asia.  He was President at Bantam from 1629 to 1630.

In a letter dated 9 March 1630, the East India Company ordered Muschamp to return to England because of his ‘great abuse’ of private trade.  The Company seized his assets and in 1631 exhibited two bills in Chancery against him and two others.   A fine of £200 was subsequently imposed on Muschamp.

However in 1639 Muschamp was appointed President at Bantam for a second term.  In December 1640 his wife Mary asked for permission to join her husband.  The Company refused, partly because of the cost, but also because such a licence had never yet been granted and they thought it would be an ‘ill precedent’.  She was advised to be patient until the end of her husband’s contracted time, otherwise they could order his return by the next ships.

Then news arrived that Muschamp had died in the spring of 1640.  Mary Muschamp petitioned for help as she had small five children.  On 9 March 1642 the Company’s General Court of Proprietors granted her £250 to relieve her ‘miserable and comfortless state’.

Grant of £250 to Mary Muschamp noted in the Court Minutes of the East India CompanyGrant of £250 to Mary Muschamp 9 March 1642  IOR/B/20 p.132 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Court of Director's Minutes IOR/B.
George Muschamp's correspondence can be found in IOR/E/3  and IOR/G/40/25(4) - the letters are listed in Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

IOR/B and IOR/G are available as a digital resource from Adam Matthew Digital which is free to access in British Library Reading Rooms (all British Library buildings are closed at present).

 

04 April 2019

Cholera on board ship at Singapore

We are pleased to mark the 200th anniversary of the founding of Singapore with a story from its very early days.
 

Singapore from the Government Hill Singapore from the Government Hill by W C Smith c.1830 (P1681) Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Anyone interested in researching the medical profession in pre-independence South Asia is indebted to the indefatigable Lt Col D G Crawford who published biographical information relating to thousands of individuals who served as doctors in British India. The entries in Crawford’s Roll of the Indian Medical Service, 1615-1930 often provide details such as dates of birth, retirement and death, entry into and progress through the  service, honours and awards received, and books published, and are of enormous value to those researching ancestors in this particular field.

A certain act of heroism, however, appears to have entirely escaped Crawford’s notice, for it is nowhere mentioned in the entry for William Montgomerie.

Entry for William Montgomerie in Crawford's Roll of the Indian Medical ServiceD G Crawford, Roll of the Indian Medical Service, 1615-1930

Montgomerie was a young East India Company assistant surgeon who was working in Singapore in 1823 when a ship flying the flag of the Habsburg Empire limped into port.  She was almost certainly also flying an internationally recognised warning flag, because at some point during her voyage out from Europe the deadly disease cholera had broken out among her crew.  Showing great courage over and above his professional commitments Montgomerie went aboard La Carolina to do what he could for those affected, and partly because of his efforts the vessel was able a while later to sail away safely,  most likely back to her home port of Trieste.

News of this episode on the other side of the world seems to have reached the Court in Vienna.  On 5 May 1824 the Austrian chargé d’affaires at Chandos House in London, Philip Von Neumann, wrote to British Foreign Secretary George Canning to inform him that His Imperial and Apostolic Majesty the Emperor of Austria wished to convey the gift of a ring set with diamonds as a token of gratitude for the humanitarian assistance Montgomerie had rendered to the stricken sailors.  His letter is in the Company’s archives and was written in French, the diplomatic language of the day.

It must have been extremely difficult to ensure that the ring made its way from a landlocked European capital all the way to the recipient in southeast Asia, but we do know that it was safely delivered. 

Article about Montgomerie in Morning Chronicle 5 May 1824
Morning Chronicle 5 May 1824 British Newspaper Archive

Lt Col William Farquhar, Resident in Singapore, was made a Knight of the Order of Leopold by the Emperor in recognition of his humane services to La Carolina .  However the King’s regulations regarding foreign orders prevented Farquhar from accepting this honour.  So the Emperor sent a gold snuff box ornamented with brilliants which was presented to Farquhar by Prince Esterhazy in 1826.

Our story concludes on 18 January 1850 when Montgomerie made his will.  Among its clauses is the following:

  ‘I desire that the diamond Ring presented to me by order of the Emperor of Austria … be left in possession of my eldest unmarried daughter until the return and settlement in England of my eldest surviving son’.


Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services Team Leader

Further reading:
Von Neumann letter, IOR/F/4/727/file 19740
Will of William Montgomerie, IOR/L/AG/34/29/93/10 (digitised by Find My Past)
Burial of William Montgomerie at Calcutta, 22 March 1856, IOR/N/1/89/216 (digitised by Find My Past)
D G Crawford, Roll of the Indian Medical Service, 1615-1930, on open access OIR.355.345
British Newspaper Archive

 

18 January 2018

When it’s Not Rude to Point: Manicules in Sir Hans Sloane’s Catalogue

We’ve all been taught that it’s rude to point.  But did you know that a pointing finger was quite a popular symbol in early manuscripts?

Poster with Lord Kitchener's pointing finger demanding Britons enlist for the First World WarLord Kitchener's pointing finger demands Britons enlist for the First World War (Wikicommons)

First used in medieval times, the manicule became a firm favourite of the Renaissance humanists.  Many a margin would be graced by these tiny fists with an extended finger or two, pointing out notable areas in a book.  Predictably enough, the term "manicule" is taken from the Latin maniculum, or "little hand".
  Extract from Sir Hans Sloane's catalogue with manicules along the left hand margin

Extract from Sir Hans Sloane's catalogue, volume one.  Manicules can be seen along the left hand margin. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The library of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), a physician and collector whose collections would form the foundation of the British Museum and British Library, is no exception.  These curious little scribbled fists with elongated index fingers are often encountered along the margins of volume one of his eight volume catalogue, pointing out particular works. Although the exact reason for their use by Sloane is uncertain, the manicule was traditionally used to highlight points of interest, and it is likely that they served the same purpose for Sloane.
  Extract from Sir Hans Sloane's catalogue with manicules along the left hand margin

Extract from Sir Hans Sloane's catalogue, volume one.  Manicules can be seen along the left hand margin. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

What is more interesting is the manicules almost exclusively point to travel literature.  Sloane the armchair traveller was keen on the wider world, although he didn’t make a great deal of effort to see it in person.  As such, his materials on travel are substantial; in fact the manicules only point out selected works from quite a broad range.

These maniculed works encompass literature on numerous countries and continents, including India, China, Japan, Peru, the Americas, North Africa and Persia.  Their topics include accounts of voyages to China [566.g.5.], piracy and buccaneering in the West Indies [1197.h.2./ C.32.h.14.], sugar plantations in America [816.m.13.(156.)], the history and geography of Barbados [796.ff.20.], diplomacy in Tartaria [568.g.6.], the Berber Jewish community of North Africa [860.a.13.], and Botany and medicine in New Spain [546.g.14.].

Illustration of man in feathered headdress and costume entitled 'The Jews in Barbary'

Illustration from The Present State of the Jews [860.a.13.] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  Title page of Diuers Voyages de la Chine, et Autres Royaumes de l'Orient Title page of Diuers Voyages de la Chine, et Autres Royaumes de l'Orient [566.g.5.] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Whatever the exact reasons for Sloane’s use of manicules, the little pointing fists peppered across his catalogue makes for a fascinating exploration of his incredible collection and the materials he deemed worthy, quite literally, of pointing out.  If you would like to explore some of these works then head over to the Sloane Printed Books Catalogue and pop ‘manicule’ into the search bar.  Following Sloane’s own guiding hands, it will open a door into the varied and rich world of the travel-minded collector.

Lubaaba Al-Azami
Sloane Printed Books Catalogue

See an example of a manicule from the East India Company archives.

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