THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

125 posts categorized "War"

29 March 2019

Colours of the Royal East India Volunteers

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The British Library is celebrating the completion of a four-year project to conserve two unique but badly degraded silk flags dating from the 1790s.

 Colours of Royal East India Volunteers after conservation  Colours of Royal East India Volunteers after conservation (Foster 1068 and Foster 1069) - image © British Library Board

The flags are a set of colours belonging to the Royal East India Volunteers formed by the East India Company in London during the French Wars to protect East India House and the Company warehouses ‘against hazard from insurrections and tumults’ and to assist the City government in times of disorder. 

The REIV were embodied at two separate periods, from 1796 to 1814 and then from 1820 to 1834.  The field officers were elected from Company directors, and commissioned officers were recruited from clerks and officials at East India House and the warehouses.  The supervisory grades in the warehouses became non-commissioned officers who led labourers serving as privates. By 1799 there were three regiments with about 1500 men.  A register of labourers in the REIV soldiers 1820-1832 has survived giving age, height, home address, reason for discharge from the corps.  Some men were discharged because training clashed with their warehouse duties or secondary afternoon jobs. Others were judged unfit to serve – Charles Twort was discharged for having bad feet and corns.

'The Leadenhall volunteer, drest in his shawl' by James Gillray'The Leadenhall volunteer, drest in his shawl' by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 8 March 1797 NPG D12480 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Each REIV regiment had a set of colours.  It appears that Lady Jane Dundas embroidered all three sets. Her husband Henry Dundas wrote to Company director David Scott on 4 November 1796 that Lady Jane had taken a fancy that she ought to work a pair of colours for the East India Corps and that she needed instructions. Lady Jane presented the colours at three public ceremonies in April 1797, July 1797, and June 1799.

Consecration of colours which Lady Jane Dundas presented to the Third Regiment of Royal East India Volunteers at Lord's Cricket Ground on 29 June 1799Consecration of colours which Lady Jane Dundas presented to the Third Regiment of Royal East India Volunteers at Lord's Cricket Ground on 29 June 1799.  The watercolour by Henry Matthews is part of the British Library’s Visual Arts collections (WD2425). It is reproduced in William Griggs, Relics of the Honourable East India Company (1909).

One set of colours was presented to the re-embodied REIV on 14 June 1821. When the REIV was finally disbanded in 1834, these colours were deposited in the museum at East India House. Sir George Birdwood found the colours later in the 19th century at the India Store Depôt at Lambeth and placed them in the Military Committee Room at the India Office in Whitehall.  They were still on display in Whitehall as late as 1963. 

Photograph of the Military Committee Room, India Office, Whitehall  Photograph of the Military Committee Room, India Office, Whitehall  (BL, Photo 272). The colours can be seen in a degraded state unfurled above the door.

In 1895 the colours were lent to Empire of India Exhibition at Earl’s Court.  The catalogue described them as ‘tattered and torn in the most approved fashion but no tale of glory hangs thereby. Only in marches and reviews in London Fields did these colours wave to the breeze, and damp and the ravages of rats and mice are responsible for their present condition’.

Colours of Royal East India Volunteers before conservation Colours of Royal East India Volunteers before conservation (Foster 1068 and Foster 1069) - image © British Library Board

The colours had become fragile, fragmentary and soiled. Large areas of silk loss made the flags very hard to interpret. Surprisingly, the complex embroideries which decorated the centre of the flags were predominately intact although structurally very weak.

Colours of Royal East India Volunteers before conservation Colours of Royal East India Volunteers before conservation (Foster 1068 and Foster 1069) - image © British Library Board

The conservation treatment of these two flags included: surface cleaning; removal of the central embroideries; wet cleaning; crease removal; mounting on a padded board covered by a digitally printed image of the flag to enable interpretation and covering with a specially dyed nylon net which prevents the loss of the fragmentary silk.

The conservation will enable access, display and research by ensuring the longevity of these precious and important flags.

Liz Rose, Textile Conservator, and Margaret Makepeace, Lead Curator East India Company Records

Further reading:
William Foster, The East India House (1924), chapter XII.
Margaret Makepeace, The East India Company's London Workers: Management of the Warehouse Labourers, 1800-1858 (2010), chapter 6.
The Empire of India Exhibition – Illustrated official catalogue (1895).
C H Philips, The correspondence of David Scott Vol 1 1787-1799 (1951), p.88.
James D. Geddes, Colours of British Regiments (2002).

 

Conservator Liz Rose standing with Royal East India Volunteer colours

Come behind the scenes and meet those involved in this project on Tuesday 2 April at our Textile Conservation Show and Tell.

 

21 March 2019

Telephone Map of India 1934

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article from Daily Mail  28 August 1930Daily Mail 28 August 1930

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

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

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

Document stating that the London-India Telephone Service had re-openedIOR/L/E/9/1348 London-India telephone service re-opened 1945

John O’Brien
India Office Records

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

 

21 February 2019

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

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

Questions for Indian SoldiersMss Eur F729

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

Questionnaire for World War One soldiersMss Eur F729

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

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

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

John O’Brien
India Office Records

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

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

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

 

24 January 2019

‘Methods of barbarism’: how Emily Hobhouse exposed the humanitarian crisis of the Boer War

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On 24 January 1901 Emily Hobhouse arrived in Bloemfontein, South Africa, bringing with her a large consignment of supplies for the women and children of the refugee camp there.  The inhabitants of the camp were fleeing the fighting and destruction caused by the Second Anglo-Boer War.  The Bloemfontein camp was home to thousands of displaced Boer civilians who were confined in the camp in temporary shelter without the facilities needed to sustain such large numbers.  The appalling conditions that Hobhouse witnessed would motivate her to challenge the British authorities at the highest level.

Hobhouse brought to light the conditions of the camp, as well as the extreme military tactics being utilised against the Boer in South Africa under General Kitchener.  After visiting the camp in Bloemfontein Hobhouse visited a number of other camps to survey the wider situation and found conditions much the same.

Admittance card for the Camp Hospital at MafekingAdd MS 42848 A: example of admittance card for the Camp Hospital at Mafeking

Determined to change the situation, she resolved to take it up with the authorities on her return to England.  One of the Parliamentarians she met was Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who was leader of the opposition.  The report of what Hobhouse had encountered in Bloemfontein is recorded in Campbell-Bannerman’s papers at the British Library (Add MS 41252, ff.244-245).

Extract from report of what Hobhouse had encountered in Bloemfontein Add MS 41252 Campbell-Bannerman Papers

On hearing Hobhouse’s account of the camps in South Africa, Campbell-Bannerman was shocked by such ‘methods of barbarism’.  As well describing as the condition of the people in the camps, Hobhouse lamented how British military tactics were the source of this misery.  She explained that the British Army, wherever they went, took care to destroy all means of subsistence.  They did this by burning farms, grains and livestock.  Such tactics intentionally left the women and children with little choice but to move to the British camps or face starvation.  Her meeting with Campbell-Bannerman led him to make a famed speech on the matter at Holborn in June 1901.  He then took forward her complaints to Parliament, as outlined in Campbell-Bannerman’s ‘Notes on South Africa’ (Add MS 41243 A).

Motion by Campbell Bannerman in House of Commons on Hobhouse's complaintAdd MS 41243 Campbell-Bannerman Papers

Hobhouse’s protest did not end there.  She sent her report to another Liberal politician, George Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon, as recorded in the Ripon Papers (Add MS 43638), and continued to expose the camps in her book The Brunt of the War (1902) which gave testimonies of those who were there.  The book also recorded the number of deaths in the camps, counting them in the tens of thousands and included estimates of the deaths of non-white refugees.  Through this book, knowledge of the squalor of the camps was communicated to the wider public.

Emily Hobhouse and her reports from Bloemfontein gave the British authorities a different perspective on the Boer War and made the camps – which became known as concentration camps – a national scandal.  Her persistence ensured that the conditions of the camps were relayed to Parliament, which was eventually forced to establish the Fawcett commission to investigate.

The signature of Emily Hobhouse on one of her letters to RiponThe signature of Emily Hobhouse on one of her letters to Ripon,Add MS 43638 f.76.


Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts


Further Reading:
Hobhouse, E. The Brunt of the War, (London: Methuen & Co, 1902)
Add MS 41243 A, Campbell-Bannerman Papers, ff.36-37, On Methods of Barbarism. 1901-1902.
Add MS 41252, Campbell-Bannerman Papers, ff. 234-243; (f) reminiscences by Emily Hobhouse relating to South Africa, 1901.
Add MS 43638, The Ripon Papers, ff. 36, 54, 75, 93, 97 Emily Hobhouse, social reformer in South Africa: Correspondence with Lord Ripon: 1901-1906.

 

03 January 2019

The Great War Fund Fete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

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

 

29 November 2018

Cadet William Lambert writes from Bombay in 1780

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In April 1780, East India Company military cadet William Lambert wrote from Bombay to his friend Jonathan Oldman in England.  He reported on the long voyage from England, his first impressions of India, his hopes of advancement, and a longing for female company.

Cadet Tom Raw gets introduced to his Colonel Tom Raw gets introduced to his Colonel from Tom Raw, The Griffin (London, 1828)

The letter is addressed to Mr Jonathan Oldman, Bannest Hill, Caldbeck, Cumberland.

Bombay April the 30th 1780

Mr Oldman

Sir
I set me down with a great deal of pleasure to scrawl two or three lines to you.  I hope these lines will find you perfectly Happy in the Arms of your Dear ------ as I hope to be in a short time with one of the Beauties of the East.  I have arrived at the (long looked for) place, at last, after a passage of about Nine Months, which was very tedious time on Board a Ship, but knowing it was only for a time, and not for ever we spent our time agreeably as we could.  I have the pleasure of informing you that India is much pleasanter than I Expected, only the Middle of the day is rather to hold.  I thought when I left England, that I left all the Wars behind me, but have had the pleasure to find it to the Contrary, as the more danger more Honour, for the War is much hotter here than Europe, I have not yet got a Commission but expecting one every day.  I arrived on the Island on the 23rd of February 1780, this part of the World produces every thing one could wish for, the Pay of a Cadet is a Rupee per day, that is equall to half a Crown in England, and as soon as Commissioned more than double the sum; how happy I should be to be with you in Cumberland was it only for one day. 

We should have a pleasant [w]alk and an evening retreat, one might have a walk on a grass pland, but grass I have not seen in India the Sun burns all that away, so that we always walk on a Sand Bank, as on the Sea shore, which is very disagreeable for the dust.  If you will take upon you to Freight a Ship for the East Indies I will take upon me to tell what her Cargo must consist of; and that must be Ladies, for they fetch the highest prizes of any one articule.  I think some of your North Country Ladies will do very well, the Ladies here have Money plenty, we dont want you to bring any Fortunes only Beauties so if you think any thing about this affair I shall wait to purchase a part of your Cargo which I hope you’ll let me know in your first Letter which you’ll send by the First Ship that Sails for India, the News of India I have not Collected yet but by the next Ship you may Expect another line which is all at present from your ever loving and nevr failing Friend and Wellwisher

W Lambert
Cadet

NB direct to me at Bombay East Indies Ensign

PS I hope by the time you receive this to have a good step towards a Lieutenant Commission

Letter from William Lambert to Jonathan OldmanIndia Office Private Papers MSS Eur C917

In our next post, I shall tell you more about William Lambert and how his life in India turned out.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers MSS Eur C917 Letter from William Lambert, Bombay Army Cadet, to Jonathan Oldman in Cumberland, 30 April 1780

 

18 October 2018

Propaganda Portraits of Muslim Rulers during WW2

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The Ministry of Information was the British Government department responsible for publicity and propaganda during the Second World War. On 22 August 1940, Arthur John Arberry at the Ministry of Information wrote to Roland Tennyson Peel at the India Office, enclosing colour portraits of Emir Abdullah of Transjordan (ʿAbdullāh bin Ḥusayn al-Hāshimī), the Sultan of Muscat and Oman (Sa‘īd bin Taymūr Āl Bū Sa‘īd), and the Shaikh of Bahrain (Shaikh Ḥamad bin ‘Īsá Āl Khalīfah, erroneously referred to as the Shaikh of Kuwait in the letter).

Arberry wrote that the Ministry’s Far Eastern Section had ordered a large quantity of these portraits for distribution in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), and that a caption would be added ‘indicating that these Muslim rulers support Britain in the present war’, in an attempt to foster support for the Allies amongst the predominantly Muslim population. He went on to request Peel’s advice ‘as to whether these portraits could appropriately be used for distribution on a large scale in the Middle East, especially in Hadhramaut and the Persian Gulf’, as propaganda.

This letter and the portraits, below, are included in the file IOR/L/PS/12/3942, which has been digitised and will soon be available to view on the Qatar Digital Library

Letter to the India Office from the Ministry of Information

Letter from Arthur John Arberry of the Ministry of Information, to Roland Tennyson Peel of the India Office, 22 August 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 19. 

Ogl-symbol-41px-retina-black

Portrait of Emir Abdullah of TransjordanPortrait of Emir Abdullah of Transjordan (ʿAbdullāh bin Ḥusayn al-Hāshimī), c 22 Aug 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 21.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

Portrait of the Sultan of Muscat and OmanPortrait of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman (Sa‘īd bin Taymūr Āl Bū Sa‘īd), c. 22 August 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 22.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

  Portrait of the Hakim of Bahrain
Portrait of the Hakim of Bahrain (Shaikh Ḥamad bin ‘Īsá Āl Khalīfah), c. 22 August 1940 . Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 23.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

Arberry was sent a reply from John Percival Gibson of the India Office, advising him that ‘we think it undesirable to make any use for publicity purposes of the Sultan of Muscat’s portrait, chiefly for the reason given in Peel’s letter to Rushbrook Williams of the 23rd January [1940]’. The letter referred to is not included in this file, however a draft copy of it can be found in file IOR/L/PS/12/2995, f 9. In this letter, Peel informs Laurence Frederic Rushbrook Williams of the Ministry of Information that ‘the Sultan of Muscat has asked that steps might be taken to prevent publicity being given…to Muscat. Apparently the Sultan is apprehensive that such publicity might draw unwanted attention to his country in German & Italian quarters’, and ‘We have promised to respect his wishes’. 

In Gibson’s reply to Arberry, he also stated that provided the Sultan of Muscat’s portrait was omitted, he did not think there would be any objection to distribution of the other portraits in the Middle East generally, but that this was more a matter for the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office. However, he added that ‘I doubt it would be worth the expense to make any distribution in the Persian Gulf, where the attitude of the Sheikhs is well enough known’.

Arberry further consulted the India Office about whether it would be politically acceptable to include a portrait of the Shaikh of Kuwait (Shaikh Aḥmad al-Jābir Āl Ṣabāḥ), to which Peel responded that there was no objection.

Before the portraits were finally approved, Sir Hassan Suhrawardy, Adviser to the Secretary of State for India, was asked for his opinion on them. Suhrawardy approved the green border of the portraits, but thought that it should be an olive shade instead. He also advised the Ministry of Information that the star and crescent symbol should be omitted from the border, for the reasons stated in the letter below.

letter from Sir Hassan Suhrawardy to E J Embleton

Copy of a letter from Sir Hassan Suhrawardy to E J Embleton, Studio Manger at the Ministry of Information, 5 November 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 11.

Ogl-symbol-41px-retina-black

 

Susannah Gillard,

Content Specialist, Archivist

British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading

British Library, Coll 30/202 ‘Persian Gulf. Photographs of Notabilities (Sheikhs &c) (used for propaganda purposes)’ IOR/L/PS/12/3942

British Library, Coll 20/35 'Sultan of Muscat's desire to avoid wireless and press publicity during wartime' IOR/L/PS/12/2995

03 October 2018

‘Lads of true spirit’ – recruiting for the East India Company in Ireland

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Before Robert Brooke of the Bengal Army became Governor of St Helena in 1787, he spent time in his native country of Ireland.  He volunteered to recruit soldiers for the East India Company armies, and then devoted his time to establishing a cotton mill at Prosperous in County Kildare. 

  Army Recruits (1780) Recruits (1780) - image courtesy of British Museum

The legality of Brooke recruiting men in Ireland on behalf of the East India Company was questioned in the House of Commons by Sir Lucius O’Brien in February 1778.  By way of reply Brooke wrote a paper justifying his activities. Brooke stated that the Company’s charter allowed it to raise men for the defence of their settlements abroad.  The war against America had forced the government to increase the bounty offered to recruits for the King’s Army, causing a sharp fall in the numbers of men volunteering to serve the Company in India.  Therefore the Company had turned to Ireland for manpower to defend its interests in India ‘which may hereafter prove to be the richest Jewell in the British Crown’.

Brooke countered arguments that Company recruitment would thin the population of Ireland with reasons for allowing the ‘temporary Emigration of the Natives’.  He claimed that ‘Idle and dissolute Mechanics will find that Employment of which they were deprived at Home… the Kingdom will no longer wear a face of poverty.. and Ireland will be purged of a riotous Peasantry, that often pass their Lives in beggary, and generally conclude them in Jail’.  The Irish would fight for the British Crown rather than join French or Spanish forces.

He also defended his methods – he did not send out recruiting parties; he did not beat a drum or give arms to any man; he did not lure men with false representations or ply them with liquor; and he did not rob masters of their apprentices.  Instead he placed a series of advertisements in the Irish press aimed at attracting young men ‘desirous of pushing their fortunes abroad’. 

  Advertisement from Dublin Evening Press 16 December 1779 for East India Company recruitment in IrelandDublin Evening Press 16 December 1779 British Newspaper Archive

Brooke said that many ‘spirited Lads’ had gone to India as soldiers and returned home with ‘ample Fortunes’.  He claimed that war with France and Spain now gave the prospect of speedy success through prize money.  Boys under eighteen had to have their parents’ permission to enlist. The East India Company ships taking the recruits from Dublin were searched for deserters.

The  registers of East India Company recruits embarking for India give a description of those who enlisted in Dublin during Brooke’s campaign.  The vast majority were recorded as being labourers under twenty years of age.  Very young boys joined as drummers: in 1779 John Hewitson aged 11 and Christopher Hewitson aged 12 sailed together for Bengal on the ship Neptune.

Given the very high risk of death from disease or in military action, many of Brooke’s lads would never have made the return journey from India to Ireland.  But perhaps some did find ‘not only a Road to Station and Honour, but to Wealth also’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
IOR/H/139 Papers on the recruitment of soldiers for the East India Company in Ireland 1778
IOR/L/MIL/9/90 East India Company embarkation list 1775-1784