Untold lives blog

166 posts categorized "War"

18 November 2021

The danger of supporting German Cathedrals during the Second World War

Showing support for German creations when at war was dangerous, as Sydney Cockerell found out four years into the Second World War.  The former director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge penned a letter to The Times on 10 July 1943 lamenting the damage to Cologne Cathedral made by British forces.  Whilst he wrote that it was probably unavoidable, he argued that as a nation Britain should not be afraid to express regret of damage to historical monuments, even those situated in enemy countries.  The reaction to this statement is contained in dozens of letters sent to him, collected in the British Library’s Modern Archives.

He received numerous statements of support for his view, with many providing detail of the damage sustained.  Others agreed with him that it was probably unavoidable, and even that the Germans may have known that British forces would hesitate to harm such beautiful buildings.  However, other commentators were not so positive, as can be seen in this letter below which assumes he must be ‘a tottering silly old fool for writing such tripe’.

A letter sent from Newark to Cockerell 13 July 1943A letter sent from Newark to Cockerell 13 July 1943 – Add MS 52771 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A harsh reply, but arguably the worst was to follow.  Another man wrote to Cockerell saying ‘people with your namby pamby views are not wanted in this country & are unworthy of the freedom enjoyed here’.  He goes on, ‘You are not fit to be called an “Englishman” & should be denaturalised & sent to Germany…you would promptly be shot, in some ways the Germans know better how to deal with your type’.

A more rational reply was given by an inhabitant of Coventry, arguing that instead of showing support for German cathedrals, he should focus closer to home, specifically on Coventry Cathedral.  She writes of the ’11 hours of diabolical bombing’ which ‘utterly destroyed it’ in November 1940.  Furthermore, her husband was killed that night on duty as an Air Raid Warden, and her home destroyed.  Included with her letter were two postcards showing the damage done.

Interior view of Coventry Cathedral before the bombingCoventry Cathedral before the bombing Add MS 52771, f. 104v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The shell of Coventry Cathedral after the bombingCoventry Cathedral after the bombing Add MS 52771, f. 105v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Following all these replies, Cockerell went on the offensive. In a further letter written to The Times nine days after the initial one, he asserts that ‘fine architecture is part of the common heritage of humanity, irrespective of frontiers’.  He also bemoans the angry replies, arguing if such people would feel no regret if Beethoven or Mozart were forgotten, ‘As patriotic Englishman, should we now repudiate these enemy composers?  Fine architecture is music and rhythm in stone’.  His archive contains many more letters of support than negative replies, though many are keen to stress that damage is often inevitable, a point he himself makes on multiple occasions.

Cockerell would continue to lament damage to historical monuments throughout the War, including Rouen Cathedral.  He received an interesting reply in an unsigned and undated letter: ‘Most people…would rather see a fine, modern power station (the symbol of a full and glowing life for everyone) than an old cathedral (the symbol of an evil past)’.

Whatever the truth of this statement, this short episode shows how expressing support of historical monuments situated in enemy countries was risky and could lead to vitriol and hatred.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University.  His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Letters, original illustrations, photographs, books and leaflets, together with items issued to air raid wardens form part of the Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. The free display gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War.  It runs from 14 September until 11 December 2021. 

Further reading:
Add MS 52771 - Cockerell Papers, Vol, CXLIX, Correspondence rel. to the bombing of Cologne Cathedral, 1943 (ff. 92-122b); Correspondence and photographs rel. to the damage to Rouen Cathedral, 1944 (ff. 123-162).
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Alan Bell, ‘Cockerell, Sir Sydney Carlyle (1867–1962), museum director and book collector’.

 

16 November 2021

Miguel of Mazagon, Mumbai – Part One

Some years ago, I walked through narrow streets in Mazagon, Bombay (Mumbai), looking for the site of the old Gloria Church.  It was originally the personal chapel in the estate of my ancestor, Sir Miguel de Lima e Souza, who lived there from around 1750 to 1806.  This search was part of a larger quest to trace Sir Miguel’s roots back to the earliest Portuguese Fazendar, or estate owner, Antonio Pessoa in 1547.  That quest floundered in the historically murky era between the conquest of the Portuguese Norte India Province by the Marathas and the recapture of most of that area by the British in 1775.  I never was never able to document fully the family tree prior to Miguel and his father, but I had stumbled upon an intricate web of relations between Miguel's family and the East India Company at the time the Company was metamorphosing from a faltering trading enterprise to opulent overlord of much of the Indian subcontinent.

The cross that marks the spot of the original Gloria Church

The cross that marks the spot of the original Gloria Church (photo taken by Megan deSouza) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Miguel and his brothers seem to have played a significant part in this hinge period: Antonio based in Madras, Thomas in Calcutta, and Manoel in the Far East.  Miguel’s role is well-documented even though his emergence into prominence is something of a mystery.  There is little evidence of his presence before 1775 when the British conquered the island of Salsette north of Bombay from the Marathas.  Initially he was one of the merchants who leveraged the rising military power of the British to monopolise the cotton market in Gujarat and to create a coastal trading system between India and Eastern Africa, with ties to his brothers in Madras and Calcutta.  This mercantile base gave him entry into the newly established British corridors of power in and around Bombay.

Mazagon from the sea, with boats and ships in the foregroundView of Mazagon by Jose M. Gonsalves (fl. 1826-c.1842). Plate 6 from his Lithographic Views of Bombay published in Bombay in 1826. British Library W7506(6)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

One early British connection was an important British official, William Gamul Farmer, who played a prominent role in the wars with the Marathas.  There is a charming account by Farmer’s great granddaughter telling of how Miguel (presumably with his brother Manoel’s help) obtained for Farmer some orange saplings from the Far East.  But Miguel’s presence on the main stage came from his strong and close relationship with the British Governor Jonathan Duncan.

Initially Miguel was Duncan’s emissary in Gujarat to help build a permanent political and military presence.  Duncan appreciated his help enough to specially petition the Governor General Wellesley for a special reward.  However, Miguel was destined to play an even more important role in averting a major crisis during the Napoleonic Wars.  When Napoleon invaded France, the British feared that this would embolden their enemies in India to form an alliance to overwhelm them.  The British feared that the French allies would capture Goa and that the Portuguese were in no position to defend that port which would provide lines of communication between the French in Egypt and the French alliance in India.  Miguel was deputed to negotiate a deal with the Portuguese, and he smoothed the way for a virtual occupation of Goa by the British which secured Goa under British protection as long as the danger lasted.  His role was recognised by both parties with the Portuguese government bestowing on Miguel the Order of Christ, Portugal's highest civil honour, and with British Governor Duncan personally investing him with the same.

Megan deSouza, independent researcher and blogger
Denis Rodrigues, amateur historian interested in the history of Bombay

Further reading:
The Home People 
The Portuguese Militia in Bombay
British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast

Miguel of Mazagon, Mumbai – Part Two 

11 November 2021

Life on the Home Front

From descriptions of shared conditions such as bombing and rationing to individual accounts of evacuation, internment and civilian war-work, a small free display running until 11 December 2021, gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War.  This is a brief introduction to the items on display at St Pancras.

View of Home Front exhibition cases at the British LibraryView of Home Front exhibition cases at the British Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Bombing raids had a devastating impact on civilian life.  On display are the air raid appointment cards, badges, chevrons and whistle of Edgar and Winifred Wilson who served as air raid wardens in St Albans, and a copy of Bombers over Merseyside giving an indication of the heavy bombing of Liverpool.


Opening of book entitled Bombers over Merseyside showing LiverpoolBombers over Merseyside. [Liverpool], 1943. 9101.ff.7 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The British Museum in London was also hit by incendiary bombs.  This photograph shows the damage in 1940 to the King’s Library Gallery, built to house the collection of King George III.

Damage in 1940 to the King’s Library Gallery at the British MuseumKings Library Gallery, British Museum, [1940]. British Library Corporate Archive, Photograph Box A1, no. 51 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In order to escape the bombs, children were evacuated to the countryside.  For some this was a happy episode but for others it was a miserable, dislocating time.  An account by Rita Cowell describes her experience of evacuation to Exmouth, Devon, during which she was treated as a ‘domestic skivvy’.  Another account is taken from News notes produced by the League of Coloured Peoples, an organisation which campaigned against racism.  It describes the prejudice faced by two young boys evacuated to Blackpool.

‘Back to the land’  pen and ink cartoons by Baroness WentworthJudith, Baroness Wentworth, ‘Back to the land’, pen and ink cartoons. Wentworth Bequest. Add Ms 75276  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Other items reflect the hardships of rationing.  Civilians were advised to grow their own vegetables and to salvage waste for reuse.  Some women as in this cartoon were sent to work on farms to help food production.  Not all foods were rationed and the restaurant Maison Prunier remained open through the blackouts, offering oysters to its clients.

Other documents record the work of volunteers including Vera Lloyd’s diary of her time with the Women’s Timber Corps.  Dilys Powell, film critic for The Sunday Times, volunteered as an ambulance car driver and George Orwell, novelist, as a member of the Home Guard.

Many men and women registered as Conscientious Objectors.  They were assessed at a civilian tribunal on the strength and sincerity of their beliefs.  The Scottish poet Ruthven Todd describes working as a stretcher-bearer until his tribunal.  Michael Tippett, the composer and pacifist, writes to his friend Evelyn Maude on the back of the Wormwood Scrubs Prison paper with a list of requests.  Tippett was imprisoned following his refusal to accept the result of his tribunal to undertake non-combatant military duties.

Letter to Evelyn Maude from Michael Tippett  Wormwood Scrubs Prison  1943Michael Tippett, Letter to Evelyn Maude, Wormwood Scrubs Prison, 1943, MS MUS 1757/5 f.26 Case 4
Usage terms - Reproductions of Michael Tippett’s writings are included by kind permission of the Trustees of the Sir Michael Tippett Will Trust.  Except as otherwise permitted under your national copyright law this material may not be copied or distributed further.  Held by© The Sir Michael Tippett Will Trust

Many Germans and Austrians fled the Nazi regime and thousands of refugees arrived in the UK.  However, on the outbreak of war, all Germans and Austrians resident in the UK were classed as ‘enemy aliens’.  Large numbers were interned in camps across the country.  The letters and diaries of Ernst Roth, Konrad Eisig and Gwyneth Hansen reveal some of their experiences.

The final items on display reflect the war-time experiences of the novelist E.R. Braithwaite and The British Honduran Forestry Unit.  Members of the Unit, sent to help fell trees in Scotland, were greeted with substandard accommodation and a lack of warm clothes.  In his book, Amos Ford, one of the first contingent, recounts that the Hondurans often felt isolated in the remote Scottish forests but that, after initial mistrust, relationships with the local population improved and some married local women.

Photograph of members of the British Honduran Forestry Unit in Scotland from Amos A Ford  Telling the truthMembers of the British Honduran Forestry Unit from Amos A Ford, Telling the truth: The life and times of the British Honduran Forestry Unit in Scotland. London, 1985. X.329/20351  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The items on display represent only a small selection of the wealth of material relating to the Second World War in the Library’s collections and much more can be found via our catalogues.

Laura Walker
Lead Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Life on the Home Front at the British Library St Pancras

28 October 2021

A. A. Milne and Belisha the Hippotish

A curious item was discovered in the British Library’s Modern Archives recently: a torn piece of paper belonging to A. A. Milne (1882-1956), creator of Winnie the Pooh.  On the back of a royalty statement for the Christopher Robin Reader is a drawing of a hippopotamus and six statements predicting the future of the Second World War.  It was written on 21 January 1943, and you can see it below:

Drawing of a hippopotamus and six statements predicting the future of the Second World WarDrawing of a hippopotamus and six statements predicting the future of the Second World War - Add MS 89401.

Immediately noticeable is the sketch of ‘Belisha the Hippotish’ in a long coat and wide brimmed hat.  Not one of his son’s stuffed animals, it is probably a reference to Leslie Hore-Belisha (1893-1957), a Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minster.  If you haven’t heard of him, you’ve probably heard the name Belisha from the beacons named after him.

A Belisha beacon at a pedestrian crossingA Belisha beacon. Source: Wikipedia

As Minister for Transport in the 1930s, he was also responsible for creating the driving test and instituting the standard 30 miles per hour speed limit.  But by the time of Milne’s doodle he had fallen out of favour with the government of the day.

Milne had served in World War One, suffering many illnesses and then injury at the Battle of the Somme.  He was decidedly a pacifist by the advent of the Second World War, although he joined the Home Guard despite this.  He explains his decisions in War with Honour (1940), writing that ‘we are truly fighting the Devil, the Anti-Christ’.

As for the predictions – how accurate were they?  Well, a few were completely wrong, but most did happen…eventually.  ‘The Axis will be axed in Africa’ occurred a few months later than Milne thought, in May 1943 following the conquering of Tunisia.  ‘Mass raids from East and West on Berlin’ also commenced with bombing campaigns the following month in June 1943, though ‘no effective reprisals in England’ would not turn out to be true, as it felt the force of V-2 rockets towards the end of 1944.

Photographic portrait of  A A Milne in May 1939Portrait of A. A. Milne in May 1939 by Bassano - courtesy of National Portrait Gallery London NPG x85610 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Similarly, ‘Invasion from the North’ would not commence until eighteen months after his estimation, and Finland refused to make peace until it had resisted invasion by the Soviet Union.  Another inaccuracy was ‘Nothing much will happen in the Far East’, a somewhat dismissive statement.  Allied forces did launch offensives there, though most were disastrous and necessitated retreat.

Overall though, he was not too far off.  His predictions captured the spirit of wartime Britain well, at a time of gaining momentum.  Most of them just took a lot longer than he thought.

So why did Milne decide to scribble all this on the back of a royalty check?  The answer is probably just that – it was a doodle when he was bored, getting out his thoughts of the day.  It doesn’t appear to have been written for anyone, certainly not for publication, and it’s a wonder it survived.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Letters, original illustrations, photographs, books and leaflets, together with items issued to air raid wardens form part of the Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. The display gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War. It runs from 14 September until 11 December 2021. 

Further Reading:
A.A. Milne, It's too late now: the autobiography of a writer (2017 [1939]).
A.A. Milne, War with Honour (1940).
Add MS 89401 - A A Milne, ‘Programme for the Next 3 Months’.
A.A. Milne’s pacifist pamphlets Five minutes of your time printed in October 1935 and 5 minutes of your time (3rd ed.) printed May 1937, produced by the League of Nations Union, are in the collection at shelfmark J/8425.pp.29.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Ann Thwaite, ‘Milne, Alan Alexander (1882–1956), writer’. 
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Keith Robbins, ‘Belisha, (Isaac) Leslie Hore-, Baron Hore-Belisha (1893–1957), politician’.

 

21 October 2021

The bombing of Britain

Air Raids were a consistent source of terror and dread for Britons during the Second World War (1939-1945).  The first warning siren sounded only 22 minutes after war had been declared; it was a false alarm, with bombing not beginning in earnest until the following September.  The most sustained bombing campaign – The Blitz – lasted until May 1941, and claimed the lives of around 43,000 people.  Bombing continued after this period, across various regions of the United Kingdom.  Some people wrote about their experiences.

Diaries are an especially good source of information on the difficulties of living in fear and anticipation of air raids.  Those of Judith Blunt-Lytton (Lady Wentworth) are particularly detailed about her life in Sussex.  Perhaps the most evocative entry is from 29 November 1940, where she wrote how she had to jump in some wet bushes after the warning sounded, and that explosions in nearby Horsham ‘looked like an aurora borealis’.

Afsa Horner described how bombing evolved over the years.  She writes in her memoirs that she preferred V2 rockets – which often did not trigger warning sirens – as you had no time to wonder about getting to safety.  Although deadlier, they were less frightening as you had no time to be scared.

Letter from Rupert D'Oyly Carte to Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte  26 November 1940Letter from Rupert D'Oyly Carte to Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte, 26 November 1940 - Add MS 89231/18/44

Staying in a hotel, especially in London, was extremely risky.  Nevertheless, business continued despite the persistence of air raids.  Evelyn B. Graham-Stamper was in bed with her husband at the Hans Crescent Hotel in September 1941, ‘when, suddenly, the most blinding flash and every-thing seemed to fall around us’.  She continues, ‘We both knew the end had come and clung to each other waiting for the coup de grace which was to finish us off.’  However, they survived and managed to make their way to safety.  Similar experiences did not hurt the trade of one grand hotel, The Savoy.  Owner Rupert D’Oyly told his wife in a letter from September 1940 that after a series of bombs falling, causing damage on multiple floors, ‘in fact the 200 or so people living in the hotel increased the next day’.  Life went on.

An account of air raids by William Carpenter  Chief Air-raid Warden of Poplar September1940An account of air raids by William Carpenter, Chief Air-raid Warden of Poplar, September 1940 - Add MS 48988 M

A persistent theme throughout these narratives is morale.   The Chief Air Raid Warden of Poplar emphasised that people are ‘wonderful considering what had happened’: multiple streets destroyed with numerous deaths.  On the other hand, Julian Symonds described London life as ‘depressing’.  Either way, the experience of huddling in shelters together was the ‘new spirit’ of the country, as editor of Poetry London Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu wrote.

Air Raids were terrifying part of life on the Home Front, which continued throughout the War.  However, what comes through in most of these narratives is a sense of positivity, that life must continue as normal as possible.  The accounts described here are only a small sample of those which survive in our collections.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Further Reading:
The Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery includes cartoons by Judith Blunt-Lytton, Lady Wentworth, depicting the experiences of Mary in the Women’s Land Army and the badges, chevrons and appointment cards of the air raid wardens, Edgar and Winifred Wilson. The display gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War. It runs from 14 September until 11 December 2021. 
Add MS 48988 M – 'Intensified Air Raids on London', a memorandum by William Carpenter, Chief Air-raid Warden of Poplar, Sept. 1940 (ff. 47-51).
Add MS 75028 – Wentworth Bequest (Series II), Vol. XXVI, Pocket Diaries (1 Jan. 1940-31 Dec. 1940).
Add MS 78862 – Phyllis Bottome Papers, VOL. XXXI, Letter from Evelyn B. Graham-Stamper (14 September 1941).
Add MS 85265 - Letters from Julian Gustave Symons D. S. Savage (ff. 13-15).
Add MS 88997 – Afsa Horner: Memoirs.
Add MS 89231/18/44 - D'Oyly Carte Family Papers: Letters from Rupert to Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte.

 

07 September 2021

Personal Reflections on the Indian Political Service – Part Three: Travels between Britain and India

This is the third and final part in a series of blog posts about Mss Eur F226, a collection of 35 memoirs by former members of the Indian Political Service (IPS).  Here we step back again to look more generally at the collection and consider the subject of travel.  This is a dominant theme throughout all the memoirs.

Head and shoulders photographic portrait of Sir Tom Hickinbotham Sir Tom Hickinbotham. Photograph by Elliott & Fry, 7 December 1960. © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG x82837 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Many IPS officers changed posts frequently during their careers, and these memoirs document a considerable amount of travelling by land, air and sea, not only from Britain to India (and back again) but also within the wider region.  Tom Hickinbotham shares his memories of a journey undertaken from Quetta to Europe via north Persia [Iran] in 1927, travelling in a Fiat Tourer, on what he claims to be the first trip taken by car from India to the Mediterranean.  Thomas Rogers recalls being appointed to the IPS in 1937 and deciding to travel from London to Bombay [Mumbai] by car, passing through Turkey, Syria, and Iran along the way, with three other recruits whom he had persuaded to join him.

There are many insights into the thrills and dangers of early commercial flights.  John Cotton recalls how passengers travelling on small planes were weighed at intermediate stops, along with their luggage.  Patrick Tandy remarks on how leisurely air travel seemed at the time, before recounting the trauma of descending in an unpressurised aircraft from a cruising height of several thousand feet to 1,600 feet below sea level, while flying over the Dead Sea.

Least fondly remembered are journeys by sea.  Cotton remembers the rather cramped conditions on board Royal Navy sloops, where he passed the time playing ‘interminable games of Monopoly’.  Michael Hadow describes the ‘appalling’ conditions on a voyage back to Britain in summer 1946, aboard a ship built for the cooler climes of the North Atlantic Ocean.  Hugh Rance shares a similar experience, albeit in the opposite direction, on a cockroach-infested ship that ‘may have been fine for the Atlantic run but was hellish in the Red Sea’.  Tandy writes of one of his voyages home: ‘we were four to a cabin, and the man in the bunk below me had about thirty years army service and appeared not to have changed his socks since the day he was recruited’.

Extract from Herbert Todd’s memoir, 1978.Extract from Herbert Todd’s memoir, 1978. Mss Eur F226/30, f. 80. The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item

Herbert Todd gives a detailed account of a perilous journey undertaken with his wife and family in September 1940, after a period of extended home leave.  Their initial attempt at a passage to India ended when their ship, SS Simla, was torpedoed in the Irish Sea.  Todd and his family were taken aboard the Guinean, a ‘lightly laden cargo boat’, which he later learned had disobeyed orders in leaving the convoy and coming to their rescue.

Simla steamshipSS Simla - image © Bibliothek für Zeitgeschichte / Württembergische Landesbibliothek

There are numerous other travel anecdotes to be found in the memoirs, and many other stories besides.

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

 

19 August 2021

Soldiers’ References in the East India Company Military Department

A recent acquisition to the India Office Private Papers gives a glimpse into the daily work of administrators in the Military Department of the East India Company.  The acquisition is a small bundle of enquiries known as Soldiers’ References.  These enquiries, received from soldiers or their relatives, covered a wide range of subjects and would have been a substantial part of the Department’s daily business.

The India Office Records contains a much larger collection of these enquiries as part of the records of the Military Department, dating from 1860 to 1873.  The subjects of the enquiries include the whereabouts of soldiers; applications for medals, prize money, allowances, discharge papers, free passage for a family, and pensions; claims to a deceased soldier's estate; and miscellaneous statements and certificates in support of claims.  All enquiries prior to 1860 were sent for destruction in the mid-19th century, with only those thought to still be required for ongoing business surviving.  As sometimes happens in such cases, small survivals occasionally turn up, which is the case with this new acquisition. Here are a few examples of the enquiries it contains.

Letter from Dr Green applying for the position of Superintendent of the Calcutta Eye InfirmaryLetter from Dr Green applying for the position of Superintendent of the Calcutta Eye Infirmary Mss Eur F749 f.4 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

W Green, Civil Assistant Surgeon, Bengal, applied to the East India Company for the position of Superintendent of the Calcutta Eye Infirmary in a letter dated 7 January 1847.  Dr Green had heard that the position was about to become vacant due to the retirement of the then incumbent.  He noted that before leaving England for India in 1830 he had attended the practice of the Eye Infirmary at Moorfields, London.

Enquiry from Henry Dean about the effects of William DeanEnquiry from Henry Dean Mss Eur F749 f. 11 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Enquirers writing to the Department often received a reply asking them to fill in an application form.  This was the case with Henry Dean of Liverpool who enquired about the effects of the late William Dean, a Private in the Bombay Fusiliers who died in India on 10 September 1850.  Henry returned the reply with a handwritten note at the bottom stating that he would forward the form to his father Mr John Dean who would answer the questions on it.

Letter from John Foster enquiring about his Punjab medalLetter from John Foster Mss Eur F749 f. 16 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 On 2 August 1852, Corporal John Foster of the 2nd European Bengal Fusilier Regiment, wrote expressing his surprise that his medal had not been sent to him.  He had received his money from the Staff Officer of Pensioners at Waterford, and had expected his medal for service in the Punjab to be sent to him at the same time.

Application from John Munro enquiring about the estate of his late brother WilliamLetter from John Munro  Mss Eur F749 f. 21 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


An example of the standard application form which enquirers were asked to complete is that of John Munro, who in November 1852 enquired after the estate of his late brother William, a recruit in the Bombay Establishment.  The Munro family were from Auchterarder in Perthshire, Scotland.  Both parents were dead, and there were two surviving brothers: John still living in Perthshire, and James who was living in New York.  There was also a sister Janet, another sister Mary having died in March 1852.  Mary’s son William Inglis is recorded as living with his father, also in New York.  The form also lists a grandparent, and aunts and uncles still living in Auchterarder.  As was required by the East India Company, the form was signed by the Minister of the Parish, Robert Young.  The need for a parish minister or churchwarden to sign application forms was to discourage speculative applications from persons with no degree of relationship with the deceased from attempting to make fraudulent claims.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Soldiers' References: letters of enquiry addressed to the East India Company Military Department in London, May 1839-Feb 1853, BL shelfmark: Mss Eur F749. A full list of the contents can be found on the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. 
Soldiers' References for the years 1860 to 1873 are in the India Office Records at IOR/L/MIL/5/362-375. Registers of correspondence for the years 1829 to 1873 are at IOR/Z/L/MIL/5/16-43.
Anthony Farrington, Guide to the records of the India Office Military Department (London 1982).

 

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

 

 

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