Untold lives blog

189 posts categorized "Women's histories"

29 June 2022

The new India Office

In the autumn of 1860 the staff of the India Office moved from East India House in Leadenhall Street in the City of London to temporary accommodation in Victoria Street whilst new premises in Whitehall were being purpose-built.  The India Office was the department of state which had taken over from the East India Company in 1858.  East India House was sold in June 1861 and demolished soon afterwards.

The new Foreign and India Offices – the St James’s Park front 1866The new Foreign and India Offices – the St James’s Park front – Illustrated London News 6 October 1866 Image © Illustrated London News Group via British Newspaper Archive

In the second half of 1867, the move from Victoria Street to Whitehall gradually took place.  Decisions were made about the arrangements for maintaining and staffing the new India Office building, which was described by the Homeward Mail as ‘a grand new palace of administration’.

The contract for cleaning the windows, skylights and bookcases was awarded in February 1868 to Alfred Henry of Vauxhall Bridge Road who submitted a tender for £250 per annum.  This was considered a very low rate given the vast quantity of glass to be cleaned.  Henry had previously been employed for plumber’s work at Victoria Street and he had given satisfaction.

Architect and surveyor Matthew Digby Wyatt, wrote a memorandum stating that the numbers sanctioned in 1861 for male indoor and outdoor messengers, and for female servants were not sufficient in Whitehall.  Nineteen additional men were needed to service the messengers’ boxes situated at fixed points throughout the building, using bells and speaking tubes to communicate.  The ‘great extent’ of the new premises meant that nine extra housemaids would be required to keep clean the rooms, passages, staircases, and furniture.  Wyatt also recommended the appointment of an assistant to the housekeeper.  Eight women and the housekeeper should live in the India Office.

The duties of the female servants were:
• Cleaning and dusting thoroughly each room every day.
• Keeping all the linen in order.
• Scrubbing every set of stairs once a week.
• Lighting all fires.
• Keeping the stoves, fenders, coal scuttles and fire irons clean.
• Scrubbing all the uncarpeted wood flooring once a week, and wiping over the Kamptulicon floor covering with a wet cloth and drying it immediately.
This list was expected to occupy the women fully, but Wyatt said that there was plenty of ‘easy’ dusting and cleaning if they had spare time.

Plan of first floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicatedPlan of first floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicated IOR/L/AG/9/8/3 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A list of all the rooms in the new India Office was drawn up in December 1867 with accompanying plans – offices, book rooms, strong rooms, kitchens, luncheon room, refreshment room, stores, closets, washing closets, bedrooms, lumber rooms, coal cellars.   These showed who occupied each room and the messenger post with which the room communicated.  Staff spoke through metal speaking tubes fitted with bone whistles and mouthpieces.

Plan of third floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicatedPlan of third floor of India Office showing the position of rooms and the messenger stations with which they communicated IOR/L/AG/9/8/3 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The female servants’ bedrooms were on the third floor.  Mrs Sally Moore, the housekeeper who supervised them, had rooms in the basement near the women’s kitchen and workroom.

At the time of the 1871 census, Sally Moore and eighteen others were living at the India Office.  As well as female domestic servants, there were four resident male employees with their wives and families: Head Office Keeper William Badrick, Office Keeper Joseph John Hope, Office Porter Henry Vincent, and Private Secretary Horace George Walpole.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/AG/9/8/3 Papers on the administration of the India Office.
IOR/L/L/2/1461-1463 Papers for the India Office temporary accommodation in Victoria Street 1860-1866 – the premises became the Westminster Palace Hotel.
IOR/L/SUR Surveyor’s Department papers
Victorian office moves
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Homeward Mail from India, China, and the East 5 September 1867.


23 June 2022

Dr Sarah Hosmon and the Missionary Hospital in Sharjah

Kentucky born Sarah Hosmon devoted nearly her entire adult life to missionary and medical work in Arabia.  In 1909 Dr Hosmon arrived in Bahrain, and in 1913, under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Church of America’s Arabian Mission, she opened a clinic for women and children in Muscat.  For the next 28 years she treated, medicated and evangelized under often arduous conditions, unperturbed by having a wooden leg as the result of a childhood accident.

Photograph of Dr Sarah HosmonSarah Longworth Hosmon (1883-1964) who graduated from the University of Illinois College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1909. Source of image: How superpower rivalry and fears of a pandemic brought the first doctor to the UAE in 1939 | The National (thenationalnews.com)

Dr Hosmon was accepted by the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions in 1939, and by 1941 she had set up a clinic at the Omani seaport of Saham. The clinic was extremely isolated, with medical supplies often having to be dropped by air plane.

In January 1944 Hosmon approached the British authorities , who virtually controlled the region, for permission to set up a medical practice in Kalba, then an independent emirate on the Gulf of Oman coast.

Extract from letter of Sarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944  to Captain Patrick  Tandy stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in KalbaSarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944 from Kalba to Captain Patrick Tandy, Political Officer for the Trucial Coast, stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in Kalba and to move there after April, subject to Tandy’s permission: IOR/R/15/2/853, f 88r.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎88r] (175/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

The British inquired into Hosman’s credentials and received a glowing testimonial from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital, Bahrain.

Testimonial for Sarah Hosmon from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital  Bahrain.Letter from Dr Paul W. Harrison (1883-1962) to Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent in Bahrain, January 1944, describing Hosmon’s medical abilities, character, religious opinions and relationship with Arab rulers she had worked under.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎90r] (179/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

Following confirmation that the Regent of Kalba [Shaikh Khālid Bin Aḥmad al-Qāsimi] was happy for Hosmon to move her practice there, the British authorities decided they had no objection once the War had ended and if Hosmon guaranteed that her co-workers would ‘not become destitute and a charge upon the Government of India’s revenues’.

Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham to Major Patrick Tandy 26 March 1944Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent Bahrain, to Major Patrick Tandy, Political Officer, Trucial Coast, 26 March 1944.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎96r] (191/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

In fact Hosmon remained in Saham for another six years.  The British authorities did not like the ‘nebulous’ nature of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions and were reluctant to have too many American missionaries in the Gulf, whose backgrounds they could not check and whose movements they could not control.  Privately, they disliked Hosmon’s strong-headedness and considered she had used ‘underhand’ methods to obtain travel permits for herself and an American nurse.

Memorandum  dated 16 December 1945  by Geoffrey Prior  Political Resident in the Persian Gulf  setting forth British hostility towards HosmonMemorandum, dated 16 December 1945, by Geoffrey Prior, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, setting forth British hostility towards Hosmon - 'File 6/1 Foreign Interests: American Mission at Muscat' [‎5r] (9/52) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

British obstructionism was not the sole cause of delay.  The terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba appear to have been unacceptable to Hosmon, and she wanted to be able to share freely the Gospel with her patients.

Intelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain  February 1945  indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to HosmonIntelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain, February 1945, indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to Hosmon - Ext 1488/44 'Dr Hosmon: American Medical Missionary' [‎5r] (9/28) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

Hosmon finally made the move in 1951, by which time Kalba had been reincorporated as an enclave of the Sheikhdom of Sharjah.  The clinic opened in 1952 and became known as the Dr Sarah Hosmon Hospital (closing in 1994).  The hospital was the only one in Sharjah, primarily for women and children but later also expanded to men, and its services were in heavy demand and frequently over-stretched.  Evangelism was an integral feature of treatment, with Bible readings for patients.

Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast  1935.Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast, 1935

Journalist John Sack described an encounter with Hosmon in the late 1950s, perhaps revealing the physical toll her work had taken: ‘I was met by Dr Sarah L Hosmon, the director, a slight woman of seventy or eighty whose face is taut, severe, and American Gothic, and who, after inviting me in for tea in her living room, said that she’s been on the Arabian peninsula since 1911, in Sharja since 1952….’.

Hosmon worked tirelessly in Sharjah until a few years before her death in 1964, bringing medical relief, saving lives, and contributing to the introduction of new medicines and empirical techniques to Arabia.  Towards the end, her time was spent advising nursing staff and midwives and preaching the Word of God to patients.

Amanda Engineer
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further Reading:
Saving Sinners, even Moslems: the Arabian mission 1889-1973 and its intellectual roots by Jerzy Zdanowski (2018)
Global View of Christian Missions from Pentecost to the present by J Herbert Kane (1971)
The Sultanate of Oman: A Twentieth Century History by Miriam Joyce (1995)
The Arabian Peninsula by Richard H Sanger (1954)
One Way The Only Way, A Christian Library website, blogpost on Sarah Longworth Hosmon by Tyson Paul
‘Missionary-Statesmen of the Bible Presbyterian Church’ by Keith Coleman, Western Reformed Seminary Journal 11/1 (Feb 2004) 15-19
Report from PRACTICALLY NOWHERE by John Sack (1959)

16 June 2022

Birds, Landscapes, and Letters: Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds in Madras

In 1802, Mary Symonds wrote to her sister Hester James from Madras (now Chennai), 'I hope now we are settled that I shall be able to send something for the curious by every opportunity'.

Painting of the coast near Madras showing the beach with small wooden boatsMary Symonds, Coast Near Madras, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album PIC106.78

Mary had accompanied her sister, the talented ornithologist and painter Elizabeth Gwillim, and Elizabeth's husband Henry Gwillim, a judge in the new Supreme Court of Madras.   The materials the sisters sent home provide a uniquely detailed picture of their work and lives between 1801 and 1808.  In the British Library, four thick volumes contain the sisters' 77 long letters; at McGill University, 164 zoological and botanical paintings represent their scientific work; at the South Asia Collection in Norwich, 78 landscapes and portraits depict their surroundings.

Ink sketch of Elizabeth Gwillim at her writing deskElizabeth Gwillim at her writing desk, sketch in a letter to Hester James, 7 February 1802 Mss.Eur.C.240/1, ff. 33r-38v, f. 36v.

Elizabeth Gwillim was the first to record the avian life of Madras in detail.  Decades before John James Audubon, she painted birds from life and to scale, even the large birds of prey and waterbirds which dominate her collection.  Mary's descriptions and paintings document Elizabeth's artistic process and reveal the crucial role of the Indian bird-catchers who secured the living birds.  Elizabeth's paintings pay unusual attention to the placement of the bird's features and reveal a taxonomical rather than purely artistic interest.  A similar attention to detail is evident in the watercolours of fish, most by Mary Symonds.  The fish paintings reveal a collaborative process of information gathering and several are inscribed with the fishes’ local names.

Two Indian birdcatchersMary Symonds, Birdcatchers, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album, PIC 106.66

Black StorkElizabeth Gwillim, Black Stork Ciconia nigra (Linnaeus 1758) McGill University Library, CA RBD Gwillim-1-010

Painting of Moon wrasse fishMary Symonds, Thalassoma lunare (Moon wrasse, labelled Julis lunaris), McGill University Library, CA RBD Gwillim-2-5

In 1805, Elizabeth wrote 'without some little knowledge of Botany it is impossible to read the Hindoo languages'.  Like her contemporary, William Jones, Elizabeth regarded linguistic and botanical studies as intertwined.  Elizabeth studied Telugu, translating a local temple legend.  She was part of the circle of missionary and medical botanists who linked Madras and the Danish settlement of Tranquebar and she sent plants and seeds back to a nursery garden in Brompton where several grew and were depicted in Curtis' Botanical Magazine.  One of her most detailed botanical images, of the Magnolia coco, remains in the Linnean Society herbarium. 

Magnolia coco'Gwillimia Indica' (Magnolia coco) by Elizabeth Gwillim, Linnean Society Herbarium (LINN-HS 981.10. Magnolia indet. (Herb Smith)), by permission of the Linnean Society of London

Apart from their scientific pursuits, the sisters' letters and paintings provide a wealth of details about food, clothing, and the lives of Madras' inhabitants, from Governor Edward Clive to Elizabeth's maidservant, whose biography she relates in detail.

A Lady’s Maid - an Indian woman dressed in white carrying a basketMary Symonds, A Lady’s Maid, A Pariah Woman, The South Asia Collection, Norwich, Madras and Environs Album, PIC106.75

The early 19th century was a turning point in the East India Company's regime in India.  The Company was completing its conquest of Mysore, the Carnatic, and the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom.  However, the tenuous nature of British rule was dramatically highlighted by the uprising at Vellore in July 1807, in which Indian soldiers killed their British commanders and took over the fort, raising the flag of Mysore before the uprising was brutally repressed.  Elizabeth and Mary collected first-hand accounts of the event, for which they blamed Company policy.  By the time of Elizabeth's death in 1807, the Gwillim household had been drawn into conflict with the Company regime in Madras, which Henry Gwillim denounced as 'despotic'.  This prompted Henry's recall to Britain, where he and Mary made new lives.  The story of their time in Madras has remained largely untold until now.

Anna Winterbottom
McGill University

To learn more:

• See the exhibition 'A Different Idea of India: Two Sisters Painting Southern India, 1801-1808', opening on 15 June at the South Asia Collection.  
• Visit the Gwillim Project website for transcriptions, case studies, webinars, and more.
• Read the original letters in the British Library manuscript India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C240/1-4.
• Read more about Elizabeth's botanical work on Kew's blog.
• Look out for the forthcoming book, Anna Winterbottom, Victoria Dickenson, Ben Cartwright, and Lauren Williams eds., Women, Environment and Networks of Empire: Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds in Madras (McGill Queen's University Press, 2023).


14 June 2022

Mary Day: Pardoning of a Poisoner

In April 1777 Mary Day was indicted, arraigned and convicted of petty treason and murder at Madras.  She was found guilty of administering a poisoned drink to her husband Thomas Day, a sergeant with the East India Company, who had subsequently become ill and died.  Two accomplices - John Pybus, a cooper in the Company’s employ and Sheik Mucktoom - were also found guilty of murder as they were said to have both procured the poison or caused it to be procured.  This was a capital crime, and all three were sentenced to death by hanging.  For Mary Day, worse could have befallen her – the sentence on the statute book for a woman convicted of killing her husband was to be burned at the stake.

Government House Madras 1795Government House, Fort St George, Madras by Thomas Daniell, 1795 (shelfmark P944) - Plate nine from the second set of Thomas and William Daniell's Oriental Scenery.

However, records show that the Justices weren’t convinced of the trio’s guilt.  The execution was postponed while the Madras Government wrote to the Directors of the East India Company giving the facts in the case, in the hope that they would petition the King for a pardon.  The copy of the petition to His Majesty is full of the details.  It wasn’t clear that Thomas Day had actually been poisoned at all.  The surgeon who attended him during his illness stated that Day's symptoms could have been caused by ‘acrid bile’.  He also tasted a white powder which had been given to the deceased but could not be certain that it was ‘mineral poison'.  The main evidence against Mary Day was apparently her own confession, obtained 'under an implied promise that if she confessed she should be most favourably dealt with'.  Sheik Mucktoom (sometimes given as Muktoon) was convicted after having allegedly confessed to an unnamed person that he had procured the poison - a confession which he vehemently denied in Court.  There was even less evidence again John Pybus: it was said that there was 'no legal Evidence given upon the said Tryal to charge him'.

Extract from the minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors, 16 September 1778 approving the draft of a petition to the King about the three found guilty of murder.Extract from the minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors, 16 September 1778 IOR/B/94 p.227 

The wheels of justice certainly moved slowly for the convicted.  A letter was not sent to the Directors until 5 February 1778, the delay no doubt influenced by the various political and administrative machinations in Madras in 1776-77, which included the Governor Lord Pigot being deposed and his successor and colleagues accused of murder.  The letter urged haste, as 'the unhappy Convicts… have already been several Months lingering in Confinement'.  It took six months for the letter to arrive in London; it was finally received on 6 August 1778.   The East India Company Court of Directors approved a draft of a petition on 16 September 1778, which was sent to the King on 23 September 1778.  Finally, a free pardon was approved at the Court of St James’s on 24 October 1778.  Almost two years after being found guilty by a jury in Madras, the pardon was finally dispatched from London on 18 February 1779.  It can only be assumed that during that time Mary Day, John Pybus and Sheik Mucktoom remained in prison.

And there the story ends. I have not yet been able to trace any further reference to the three convicted ‘poisoners’ in the records.  Perhaps evidence will emerge that proves that they were freed and went on to live long and happy lives.  If anyone knows more, we would love you to get in touch.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading
IOR/E/4/308, f.7: Letters Received from Madras. 7 December 1777-21 January 1780: Letter to Court of Directors, 5 February 1778, requesting pardon.
IOR/B/94, p.227: Court Minutes. 8 April 1778-14 April 1779: Minutes of 16 September 1778. 'The Draught of a Petition to his Majesty for the Pardon of Mary Day, John Pybus and Shief Mucktoom who were capitally convicted at Fort St George in April 1777 was read and approved'.
IOR/H/141, ff.407-409: East Indies Series 49 (Home papers): Copy of the Company’s petition to the King, 23 September 1778.
India Office Private Papers Mack Gen 67/13, pp.267-268: Book of Abstract Letters from England No. 2 Public Department: 'The King’s free pardon to Mary Day, widow of Sergeant Thomas Day, John Pybus and Sheikh Muktoon, a native of India, from the sentence of death passed on them for poisoning Thomas Day'. Court of St James’s, 24 October 1778.
IOR/E/4/868, p.348: Despatches to Madras (Original Drafts). 1778-1779: Letter from Court of Directors to Madras dated 18 February 1779, answering letter of 5 February 1778 above and enclosing pardon.

01 June 2022

Letters from the Garrod children to their father

Among the private papers collections donated to the British Library, the Garrod Family Papers present a very special archive ranging from 1867 to 1990.  They include correspondence, files, maps, printed papers and photographs of William Francis Garrod (1893-1964) and Isobel Agnes Garrod (formerly Carruthers) (1898-1976) relating to their family life in India, Garrod's career in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment 1930-1946, and his service in World Wars One and Two.

A great number of letters were exchanged when William and Isobel got engaged, then married and had four children.  Among lockets of hair, newspaper cuttings and postcards, one can see them overcoming the challenges of family life, household and financial issues while keeping close family ties despite the distance between them.

Children in costumes as the cast of a play Children in costumes as the cast of a play - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

As William spent long periods of time away from home so the children grew up observing their mother write to their father and became interested in writing to him as well.  They took up this habit at a very young age, before even being actually able to write.

Scribbles and love from AndrewScribbles and love from Andrew - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

The children report frequent visits to the cinema, social and academic updates from school, sickness and all the social events their father is missing such as Christmas and birthdays.

Letter from Martin hoping that his father will be back on his birthday because he had not been for his fifth and sixth birthdaysLetter from Martin hoping that his father will be back on his birthday because he had not been for his fifth and sixth birthdays - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Drawing of Daddy, Sammy the cat and Jimmy the dogDrawing of  Daddy, Sammy the cat ,and Jimmy the dog - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Drawing of ‘Sister Steller’ from schoolDrawing of ‘Sister Steller’ from school - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

They do not often mention the war besides hoping their father is well and can come home soon.

Letter from Janet -  ‘we are quite alright and I hope you are well and will soon come back to us’

Letter from Janet - ‘we are quite alright and I hope you are well and will soon come back to us’ - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Letter from Martin hoping his father is happy at the warLetter from Martin hoping his father is happy at the war - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

However, they do show in drawings how they imagine it to be.

Drawing of war ship attacked by planesDrawing of war ship attacked by planes - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Planes attacking Nazi ship. Pilots parachute and sailors take lifeboatsDrawing of planes attacking Nazi ship. Pilots parachute and sailors take to lifeboats. - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

They also depict their image they have of their father’s role in it and the dangers he faces being away from home.

Letter from Martin with drawing of Daddy killing HitlerLetter from Martin with drawing of Daddy killing Hitler India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Luckily, those drawings are also often accompanied by captions sometimes composed by the children themselves, sometimes by thoughtful Isobel to make sure the drawings would be understood on the other end.

Daddy being saved from a snake by a squirrelDaddy being saved from a snake by a squirrel  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Isobel is also very careful in numbering the letters in case they get lost, delayed or get to William all at once. In some of the letters one can imagine how frustrating it must have been to not have control over that and to be aware there was an inevitable delay between sending a message and it reaching William.

Letter 53 from Isobel – ‘I wonder when I am going to hear from you again and where you are’Letter 53 from Isobel – ‘I wonder when I am going to hear from you again and where you are’- India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Not only does the collection give a fascinating glimpse into the life of a British family living and working in India at the end of the British Raj, it also provides the very rare perspective of children.

Bianca Miranda Cardoso
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Garrod Family Papers - Collection reference: India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730. They are available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogue is searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

William Francis Garrod’s story from Bristol in 1893 to northern India has been explored in a previous Untold Lives blog post.
The Garrod papers also feature in anther Untold Lives blog post about the General Strike of 1926.


30 May 2022

The Adventures of Helen Gloag in Morocco

Helen Gloag’s story is a remarkable tale of adventure and changes in fortune, which saw her cross the world to embrace a wholly new life in royalty.

Born on 29 January 1750, in Perthshire, Scotland, Helen was the daughter of a blacksmith.  Growing up motherless, she bristled under her authoritarian father and small-town life.  At the age of 19 she decided, like many other Scots in this period to start a new life, setting sail with a group of friends for the New World.

However, she never reached her destination.  Instead, her ship was captured by Barbary pirates and redirected to Morocco, where Helen was sold into slavery.  We know few specifics of what happened next, other than that she was taken to Algiers and bought by a wealthy Moroccan merchant to be gifted to the then Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdullah (c.1710-1790).

What was it about Helen that allowed her to gain such favour and rise above others in the Sultan’s harem?

Historians of the period have argued her flame-red hair and pale skin had much to do with it.  But it must have been more than merely her appearance that enabled Helen to gain such favour and become the Sultan’s principal wife as these features are not just associated with Scottish peoples and the ports of Morocco had been for long over a century a meeting place of all nationalities and peoples.  Whatever it was in her personality that drew her to the attention of the Sultan was powerful in its influence and is credited as a reason for the change in the temperament of the Sultan in his attitude towards slaves and his adoption of a more moderate approach to the use of raids on European merchant ships and enslaving those onboard.

Stage of Dorset Garden Theatre set for ''The Empress of Morocco (1673)Stage of Dorset Garden Theatre set for ''The Empress of Morocco (1673), image courtesy of Yale University Library Digital Collections

Through letters Helen sent back to her brother that seem to have been circulated, and visits to the Moroccan court by English delegates, British society learnt of Helen’s story and her influence on the Sultan to be more tolerant of Europeans, Jews, and others.  Over the previous centuries, Britain had had increasing contact through piracy, trade, and embassies with Morocco in particular and through consistent dramatisations of their history, such as Elkanah Settle’s Empress of Morocco (1698) all the way back to the sixteenth century in The Battle of Alcazar (1594).

Life took a drastic turn for Helen once again following the death of the Sultan in 1790.  Although she was the principal wife, the son of another member of the harem seized power.  This put Helen and her two sons in grievous danger as the new Sultan sought to kill off any threats to his consolidation of power.  Her sons were killed before she managed to meet with a British convoy to bring her back to Britain, and it is suspected that she too was killed in the succession upheaval.

Helen’s story and life journey are one left in mystery but should be remembered for how it displays the global contact Europe had with the rest of the world, particularly Africa.

Saoirse Dervla Laaraichi
Doctoral Student at The Shakespeare Institute

Further reading:
Read the whole play The Empress of Morocco for free on Google Books.

Learn more about the world into which Helen stepped through the MEMOs (Medieval and Early Modern Orients) blog series.

See a depiction of a Barbary pirate; the likes of which captured Helen.

This blog post is part of a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs). On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.


10 May 2022

Grants of money made by the East India Company

In 1831 the East India Company was directed by its General Court of Proprietors to prepare a statement of expenditure since 1813 on grants of money and pensions.  This was to include grants over £200, pensions of £100 per annum and above, and all superannuation and retirement allowances, except those paid to civil and military personnel under Company regulations.  Names of recipients, amounts, and reasons were set down, and the list was printed for the information of the Company’s shareholders.

Title page of Grants of Money  Pensions  Superannuations  and Retiring Allowances made by the East India CompanyTitle page of Grants of Money Pensions Superannuations and Retiring Allowances made by the East India Company IOR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A wide range of European men and women received money for many different reasons, relating to activities both in Asia and in the UK.  Famous names appear.  Captain George Everest received £600 in 1830 for ‘the superior nature of his duties’ when employed on the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.  Thomas Stamford Raffles was paid £315 in 1816 for expenses involved in publishing his History of Java.  Major General Henry Shrapnel was awarded a pension of £200 per annum in 1828 as a consideration for any future supplies to the Company of shells of his invention.

Clarke AbelClarke Abel. Lithograph by M. Gauci after P. W. Wilkin. Image courtesy of Wellcome Collection 363i.

At the top of the list of grants are two payments to surgeon and naturalist Dr Clarke Abel.  The first for £434 was made in 1818 as the value of the apparatus Abel lost in the wreck of the Alceste when returning from China with the Amherst embassy.  The second grant in 1823 for £500 was to provide equipment required for Abel’s research as a naturalist going to India with Lord Amherst.

First page of grants of money in the statementFirst page of grants of money in the statement  OR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Further down the page are two more surgeons.  Dr Whitelaw Ainslie received £600 in 1816 for ‘the merit and utility’ of his book Materia Medica of Hindostan.  James Annesley of the Madras medical establishment was given £500 for ‘the talents, energy and zeal displayed by him, in the publication of an elaborate work on the diseases of India’.

The Abbé Dubois, a Roman Catholic missionary, received a pension of £100 per annum from 1824 for vaccinating patients in India and for his ‘high character’.

Captain Thomas Mackeson, formerly a commander in the Company’s mercantile marine, was awarded a pension of £200 per annum in 1814 for his services and a wound received from a Spaniard on board his ship.  According to the Madras Courier, Mackeson was visiting the sick on his ship the Sarah Christiana towards the end of 1809 when he was hit on the back of the head with a hatchet by a crew member.  A court martial was held in Madras in March 1810 and the man was sentenced to death.

In 1815 Lieutenant Colonel George Hanbury Pine was granted £600 for his long detention in France as a prisoner of war.

Widow Mary Ann Sawyer was granted a pension of £100 per annum in 1824 in recognition of her late husband’s service in sorting the Company’s cinnamon which ‘materially contributed to its advantageous sale’.

Royal Navy captains were given money for convoying Company ships.  Many entries concern distressed widows and children of Company men.  There are a number of pensions awarded to civil and military servants for ‘insanity’.  London employees were rewarded for long service when they retired: auditor William Wright was allocated a pension of £1800 per annum in 1825 after 54 years with the Company.

This is just a small selection from a 41-page document providing fascinating glimpses into lives which were intertwined with the East India Company.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379 Grants of Money, Pensions, Superannuations, and Retiring Allowances made by the East India Company (Printed in London 1831).
British Newspaper Archive: Madras Courier 20 December 1809 and 27 March 1810.

28 April 2022

The Soldiers’ Daughters’ Home

In December 1880 thirteen-year-old Ada Rose Mills was removed from the Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Hampstead because she had started to suffer from frequent epileptic fits.  Girls applying for a place at the Home underwent a medical examination and only those judged to be in good physical and mental health were accepted.  If, after admission, a girl was found be afflicted with ‘a malignant, infectious, or incurable disorder’, ‘any bodily or mental defect’, or subject to fits, she was returned immediately to those who recommended or placed her in the Home.  Poor Ada Rose was sent to her widowed mother in Ireland.

Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead in 1858Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead Illustrated London News 19 June 1858 . Image copyright Illustrated London News Group - British Newspaper Archive

The Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead was founded in 1855.  Its object was ‘to nurse, clothe, board, and educate the destitute female children, orphans or not, of Soldiers in Her Majesty’s Army, born during the service, or subsequent to the honourable discharge, of the father’.  The Home aimed to instruct the girls in ‘industrial habits’ fitting them for domestic service.  Scholarships were granted to the ‘most industrious’ to support them whilst training as regimental or parish schoolmistresses.

There were two classes of admission: by election with places supported by the Foundation, and by payment of fees.  This was the order of preference for admission when destitution was proved:
• Total orphans
• Motherless daughters of soldiers
• Fatherless daughters of soldiers
• Girls whose parents were still alive, with the father on active or foreign service.
Two sisters could not attend at the same time unless there were exceptional circumstances.

Girls were taken in from under three years of age up to thirteen, and they could not remain after they reached sixteen.  The Home’s Committee tried to find a suitable situation for each girl, and presented her with an outfit including a Bible and prayer book.  Ex-pupils were considered to be under partial guardianship whilst they remained unmarried and they could return to live at the Home temporarily if seeking a job.

Ada Rose Mills entered the Soldiers' Daughters' Home on 14 June 1877 as a scholar paid for by the Secretary of State for India.  She was born in Bangalore on 21 June 1867, the daughter of Sergeant William Mills of the Madras Sappers and Miners and his wife Annie née Hopkins.  Five siblings were also born in India.

William Mills died of a brain tumour at Secunderabad on 5 September 1873.  His widow Annie was living in Dublin when her son Archibald George enlisted in the Royal Engineers in July 1879 aged fourteen.  He had previously attended the Royal Military Asylum Chelsea for nearly three years as an apprentice.  Annie later moved to Gosport in Hampshire.

The India Office gave Annie Mills payments amounting to £32 0s 6d to support her daughter after she left the Soldiers' Daughters' Home.  Sadly Ada Rose died on 16 February 1885 aged seventeen and her mother was paid £4 for her funeral expenses.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Records IOR/L/MIL/7/15824-15836 Soldiers' Daughters' Home 1869-1902, includes IOR/L/MIL/7/15833 Admission of Ada Rose Mills in place of Emily Godden and Isabella Hamilton, 1876-1877;  IOR/L/MIL/7/15834 Death of Ada Rose Mills, an inmate of the Soldiers' Daughters' Home, 1881-1889 – the file includes a copy of the rules for the Home dated 1878.
Baptism 14 August 1867 of Ada Rose Mills IOR/N/2/48 f.158, and burial 6 September 1873 of William Mills IOR/N/2/54 f. 157, plus other entries from church records for the family – available via Findmypast.
Record of service for Archibald George Mills The National Archives WO 97/3471 no. 28 - available via Findmypast.


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