Untold lives blog

356 posts categorized "Work"

19 January 2023

Celebrating the Lunar New Year on the front lines in World War One

On 11 February 1918 workers from the Chinese Labour Corps based on the front lines in France took a day off from their work and celebrated the Lunar New Year.

The Chinese Labour Corps had been created in 1916 and comprised of over 100,000 men recruited from China to provide support to the British Army during World War One.  They were brought to the front lines of the War in France and Belgium to help with work including building tanks, digging trenches and burying the dead.  Labour Corps workers signed employment contracts for three years and most returned to China after the war.

The Illustrated War News ran several features looking at life on the front lines for members of the Chinese Labour Corps in January and March 1918, and on 6 March 1918 it featured their New Year celebrations in a double page spread.

 Chinese Labour Corps workers in France celebrating the Lunar New Year on 11 February 1918Chinese Labour Corps workers in France celebrating the Lunar New Year on 11 February 1918 - The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4519 Vol.8 pp.18-19

The feature showed Chinese Labour Corps workers based in camps and cantonments across various neighbourhoods in France celebrating the Lunar New Year on 11 February 1918.  The celebrations included entertainments and amusements similar to those they would have taken part in back in China and ranged from jugglers and stilt-walkers to shows and processions.

The celebrations were organised by each neighbourhood with every camp within it staging a different entertainment or show to provide an opportunity for the workers to be able to visit the other camps, enjoy all the festivities and see everyone.

Members of the Chinese Communities in Britain were also able to get involved in supporting the Labour Corp workers celebrations by making financial donations to the Chinese Legation in London for the purchase of gifts to be sent to those on the front lines.

Chinese Legation in London packing crates of New Year’s gifts to be sent to the workers in France and BelgiumChinese Legation in London packing crates of New Year’s gifts to be sent to the workers in France and Belgium - The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4518 Vol.7 p.39

Another image featured in The Illustrated War News on 2 January 1918 showed several gentlemen from the Chinese Legation in London packing crates full of the New Year’s gifts that had been purchased to be sent to the workers in France and Belgium.

The Lunar New Year celebration images from The Illustrated War News March 1918 are included In the British Library’s Chinese and British exhibition, which is now open until 23 April 2023.  The exhibition features the invaluable contributions which Chinese Labour Corps workers made to the British war effort, with images and objects including trench art items made by individual members of the Chinese Labour Corps.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4518 Vol.7 p.39
The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4519 Vol.8 pp.18-19

 

03 January 2023

Charles Tuckett Senior and the British Museum Bindery fire of 1865

What a difference a day makes!  On the morning of 10 July 1865, Charles Tuckett (1796-1876) was manager of the British Museum bindery, a post he had held for 40 years.  That evening a fire, which lasted from approximately 21.00 to 22.15, ended his employment there.  According to Andrew Prescott, ‘The 1865 Bindery fire was arguably the greatest single disaster to the collections since the establishment of the Museum in 1753’.

Red and black leather binding with gold tooling by Charles TuckettBookbinding by Charles Tuckett -  British Library C.21.e.3.  Tuckett’s ‘signature’ as a bookbinder Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The bindings workshop was necessarily stocked with supplies of paper and other flammable materials.  Charcoal braziers supplied the heat required for processes including the tooling of leather.  A brazier in the ‘finishing’ room (the location for gold tooling and other ornamentation) was probably the source of the blaze.  Finishing involved heating engraved metal tools, one in the binder’s hand and three lying flat.

Drawing of a finisher at work with his heated toolsA finisher at work from The Penny Magazine September 1842 supplement RB.23.a.30032. The apparatus shown here was more modern than those in use in the Museum but it is clear what a precarious operation ‘finishing’ could be. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The museum’s fireman was absent on leave; the hosepipe burst; the fire brigade arrived after half an hour but only one of the two fire engines worked.  The manuscripts under treatment were either burned or drenched.  There were some positives: the wind drove the flames to the northeast which prevented further spread, and staff members Fricker and Farrant managed to close an iron workshop door to isolate the fire and protect the Library stacks. Eyewitness Frederick Madden of the Department of Manuscripts noted; 'such a want of organization (after all the fair printed rules and instructions)… I never beheld in my life'.

Accidental fire was a recognised hazard for Master Bookbinders.  Tuckett had taken out insurance with the Sun Fire Office for his family business located near the Museum in Little Russell Street.  The British Museum Trustees had ordered precautionary measures.  In 1861 one of the flues in the workshop caught alight and Tuckett was instructed to have the flues swept regularly.  The following year, the Trustees ruled that the binders should use lamps not candles.  Only four days before the fire, the London Evening Standard reported Trustee Earl Stanhope’s statement that means of fire prevention were ‘under consideration’.

Early reports stated that the fire was promptly extinguished without any material damage done, but that proved to be wildly optimistic.  The loss included seven unique manuscripts and 282 printed books.

Report of the bindery fire in the Pall Mall Gazette 11 July 1865Report of the bindery fire in the Pall Mall Gazette 11 July 1865 British Newspaper Archive

Half of the six rooms in the bindery were ruined.  By 1 January 1866, however, the repaired bindery reopened.  A fireproof building for ‘finishing’ was built nearby.

Around fifteen manuscripts and 258 printed books had been salvaged and required treatment.  Tuckett was experienced in tending to such material, having learned from specialist Henry Gough, but he was dismissed by the Museum trustees.  His son was appointed his successor.  Charles Tuckett Junior (1822-75) had worked as apprentice to his father, and had written about historic bindings and also devised new bookbinding techniques and patented them.  His brother John (1828-1908?) trained as a lithographer but assumed control of the family workshop in Little Russell Street until 1880.

Letterhead of invoice issued by Charles Tuckett, Bookbinder to the Queen and Prince Albert and to the British Museum.Letterhead of invoice issued by Charles Tuckett, Bookbinder to the Queen and Prince Albert and to the British Museum - Royal Collections Trust RA PPTO/PP/QV/PP2/23/7860

Charles Tuckett senior appeared in the 1871 census as a widower and ‘Retired Bookbinder’ living with his unmarried daughter in Croydon.  It was a far cry from his entry in the 1861 listings for Bloomsbury, as a bookbinder employing 52 men, 19 women and a boy.

P. J. M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings; Printed Historical Sources

Further reading;
Philip Harris, A History of the British Museum Library, 1753-1973 (London, 1998).
Andrew Prescott 'Their Present Miserable State of Cremation': the Restoration of the Cotton Library.

 

30 December 2022

Reynolds’s Christmas Fund for Sandwichmen

In the winter of 1897, Reynolds's Newspaper launched a Christmas Fund for the sandwichmen who carried advertising boards through the streets of London.  This was the brainchild of its editor W. M. Thompson.  The paper appealed to its readers to contribute towards a treat for ‘one of the most hopeless classes in the community- the sandwichmen, or living advertisers’.  These men struggled to earn a few pennies every day to keep themselves out of the workhouse.  A good sum to provide a Christmas dinner for them could be accumulated if readers gave just a penny each.

A drawing of a sandwichman carrying a board saying ‘Friendless, Hopeless, Penniless’A sandwichman carrying a board saying ‘Friendless, Hopeless, Penniless’ - Reynolds's Newspaper 26 December 1897 British Newspaper Archive

Donations arrived from all parts of the world.  The newspaper published lists of the donors’ names and the amount given, as well as letters sent from well-wishers.  Lord Rosebery gave £5 and Messrs Rothschild and Sons £21.  The Prince of Wales donated £10.  Queen Victoria sent her warm sympathy and was criticised by a widow from Clifton, Bristol, for not contributing: ‘I see the old girl of Windsor has not got it in her to give a mite, although she is a widow and praised up to the skies as such.  I think myself as good as her, although I have not had as many farthings as she has had pounds.  If she had to scrub and wash for twenty-five years, sixteen or eighteen hours a day, she would tell another tale.  Poor old men – it shows they have one good friend.  I wish I could give more, but it all tells up’.

A travelling showman sent 5 shillings for the noble effort ‘to let in a gleam of sunshine upon the clouded lives of this helpless class of the community’.  Children contributed small amounts from their money boxes. Eight-year-old Leonard Lumer sent four penny stamps ‘hoping they will have a good feed’.  H. S .Persse & Co donated a case of ten-year-old Galway whiskey, the same as supplied to the House of Commons.  Liptons gave tea, Cadbury sent cocoa.  New and second-hand clothes and boots were received.

Report on the Christmas treat - Reynolds's Newspaper 26 December 1897Report on the Christmas treat - Reynolds's Newspaper 26 December 1897 British Newspaper Archive

The Boxing Day edition of Reynolds's Newspaper carried a report on the Christmas treat.  More than 600 sandwichmen, both young and old, had gathered at the Montpelier Music Hall where ‘ladies and gentlemen’ were eager to act as amateur waiters and general helpers.

The men were cheery and chatty, drowning out the sound of the grand piano.  ‘What life-histories and tragedies were there represented’ – some had been reduced from a comfortable life-style to tramping the streets advertising the playhouses they could not afford to enter.

After the meal, the men were given pipes of tobacco to smoke whilst enjoying the entertainment provided by music-hall artistes for free.  W. M. Thompson addressed them: ‘Friends, this is not a charitable gathering, it is a family party’.  Thompson hoped that even more could be done for the men the following year.

On leaving, each man was given a Christmas box of one shilling and a pair of socks.  Some also received a package of tea, and 200 bottles of whiskey were distributed.

Reynolds's Christmas Fund for sandwichmen continued into the 20th century.  The last reference which I can find to it in the British Newspaper Archive is in December 1915.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive - Reynolds's Newspaper (Strapline - 'Government of the People, by the People, for the People')

 

08 December 2022

Private trade and pressed men – the voyage of the Houghton to China

In January 1784 Captain James Monro of the East India Company ship Houghton submitted to the Canton Factory a list of private trade goods procured in China.  It records the mark and numbers on cargo items, the owner of the commodities, the type of goods, and the quantity of packages and contents

Table of private trade carried from China in the Houghton January 1784Private trade carried from China in the Houghton 1784 IOR/G/12/78 p.110 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Captain James Monro -
Hyson tea 147 chests; rhubarb 20 chests; cassia & buds 52 chests; dragon’s blood 3 chests; Nankeen cloth 5 chests containing 1200 pieces; bamboo fans 2 chests containing 2000; turmeric (loose); sago (loose); rattans 800 bundles; cane mats (loose) 1000 pieces; China ware 1 half chest containing 45 pieces.

Samuel Whedon or Wheadon, first mate -
Hyson tea 20 chests; cassia & buds 16 chests; China ware 1 box.

Archibald Anderson, second mate -
Hyson tea 14 chests.

Robert Robertson, third mate -
Hyson tea 11 chests.

James Stewart, fourth mate -
Hyson tea 7 chests.

Benjamin Smith, fifth mate -
Hyson tea 4 chests.

John Baker, surgeon -
Hyson tea 11 chests; cassia 7 chests; dragon’s blood 1 chest.

John Farington Butterfield, purser -
Hyson tea 12 chests; cassia & buds 12 chests; cotton yarn 1 chest.

James Paterson, gunner -
Hyson tea 3 chests.

Cassia buds were used in medicine, especially as a laxative. Dragon’s blood, disappointingly, was a resin.  Loose goods such as sago were packed round delicate goods much as we use polystyrene chips.  A pecul was a weight equivalent to 133⅓ pounds avoirdupois.

There were set allowances for different private trade commodities according to rank.

Allowances for teaAllowances for tea taken from Charles Cartwright, An abstract of the orders and regulations of the Honourable Court of Directors of the East-India Company (1788) p.lxv Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Allowances for textile piece goods

Allowances for textile piece goods taken from Charles Cartwright, An abstract of the orders and regulations of the Honourable Court of Directors of the East-India Company (1788) p. lxvi  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Allowances for China and Japan ware  cabinets  fans  pictures  lacquer ware and screensAllowances for China and Japan ware, cabinets, fans, pictures, lacquer ware and screens taken from Charles Cartwright, An abstract of the orders and regulations of the Honourable Court of Directors of the East-India Company (1788) p.lxviii  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Allowances for rattans Allowances for rattans taken from Charles Cartwright, An abstract of the orders and regulations of the Honourable Court of Directors of the East-India Company (1788) p. lxix  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The commodities taken into the Houghton for the first mate must have been purchased on his behalf by a shipmate because Samuel Whedon/Wheadon had died as the ship was sailing towards Malacca on its way to China.  He was buried at sea on 12 September 1783 after suffering from ‘a tedious and painful illness ever since leaving Madras’.  Second officer Archibald Anderson took his place. Anderson was to disappear mysteriously in 1790 whilst in command of the Nottingham.

Whilst the Houghton was at Madras in July 1783, 36 of Monro’s best sailors were pressed and taken off the ship by officers from HMS Superb.  He commented in his journal: ‘The Admiral has taken so many Men & the Men of Warrs Boat &c so frequently on board, we can scarse find a Man in the Ship, they hide themselves for fear of being pressed’.  Monro issued each pressed man with a certificate to confirm the dates of his service with the East India Company and the amount of wages owed.  In August a few men deserted from the Houghton at Madras, including the sixth mate John White.

As a postscript, HMS Superb was wrecked off Tellicherry on 5 November 1783 but no lives were lost.

There were lighter moments during the voyage.  Monro recorded that as the Houghton approached Madras on 19 July 1783: ‘This Morning & at noon we have the most astonishing quantity of Butterflys about’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Records for the Houghton - IOR/L/MAR/B/ 438-O Journal 1783-1784; IOR/L/MAR/B/438- II(1) & II (2) Ledger and Pay Book.
Correspondence of James Monro – British Library Mss Eur Photo Eur 488B.
James Monro and the sale of East India Company maritime commands.
Charles Cartwright, of the India House, An abstract of the orders and regulations of the Honourable Court of Directors of the East-India Company, and of other documents relating to the pains and penalties the commanders and officers of ships in the Company's service are liable to ... Including also, the full particulars of the allowances of private trade, outward and homeward ... To which is added, as an appendix, copies of the papers usually given by the Company to the commanders and officers. And a list of the duties, etc. (London, 1788).

 

06 December 2022

Papers of Sergey and Emilie Prokofieff

A wonderful new collection, which was recently acquired for the India Office Private Papers, has now been catalogued and is available in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room.  The Prokofieff Papers relate to the life of Sergey Tarasovitch Prokofieff (1887-1957) and his wife Emilie Prokofieff (née Rettere) (1903-1997) in pre-1947 India.  The papers illustrate the modernising works taking place in an Indian Princely State in the first half of the 20th century, and the friendship between a Russian emigré couple and the Gwalior Royal Family.

Sergey Prokofieff was born in June 1887 in St Petersburg, and studied to be an engineer at the Ports and Roads University between 1906 and 1912.  He then worked on irrigation and water projects in Crimea, Bokhara and Tashkent.  In 1920, following the revolution, Sergey escaped from Russia by walking from Tashkent to British Persia, and then on to Ahmednagar in India.  He joined the Public Works Department in Bombay as a Senior Assistant Engineer on projects related to the Tansa water works.  In 1927, he became Executive Engineer in the Indian State of Gwalior, and worked on many water works projects around the State, later acting as a consulting engineer.

Photograph of Tansa water works showing a pipeline and railway built above the lakePhotograph of Tansa water works  Mss Eur F761/4/2  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1927, Sergey visited France, and while in Nice met Emilie Rettere.  Born in Moscow in 1930, Emilie was the second of four daughters.  Her father was a coffee merchant with a string of coffee shops around the city, her mother was from Brittany and the family retained connections with France.  In 1918, the family were caught up in the revolution, with Emilie’s father arrested and held for a time in the feared Lubyanka jail.  On being reunited, the family fled to France and settled in Nice.  Sergey and Emilie were married in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Bombay in 1931, and lived together in India until Sergey’s retirement in 1954, when the couple returned to Nice.  Sergey died in January 1957.  Emilie moved to London in 1958, and died in 1998.  Both Sergey and Emilie wrote memoirs about their life in India that survive in the collection.

Blueprint of a design for a comfortable bungalow Design for a comfortable bungalow Mss Eur F761/4/11  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Prokofieff Papers consists in large part of material relating to Sergey’s work as an engineer in Bombay and Gwalior.  This includes articles written by Sergey on engineering subjects, papers and reports on water works projects in Bombay, Gwalior and Ujjain, and photographs showing construction works in progress and completed.  The couple formed a friendship with the Maharaja of Gwalior and his family, which Emilie maintained after Sergey’s death.  

Greetings cards from the Maharaja of Gwalior Greetings cards from the Maharaja of Gwalior Mss Eur F761/1/5  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The collection contains letters and greetings cards from members of the Royal Family to her and photographs from social events in India, for instance the wedding of Princess Kamala Raja Scindia in 1934 and the races of elephants given on 5 May 1935 by the Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior on the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers of Sergey Tarasovitch Prokofieff (1887-1957), Engineer, and his wife Emilie Prokofieff (nee Rettere) (1903-1997) are searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts, collection reference Mss Eur F761.

 

01 December 2022

Requests to the India Office for help

A common activity for the India Office was fielding enquiries from members of the public asking for help.  These usually involved help in either travelling to India, in tracing friends or relatives, disputes over money, applications for jobs in government, requests for financial assistance.  Many such enquiries survive in the Home Correspondence files of the Public Department in the India Office Records.  To the majority of such enquiries the India Office declined help, and it is unknown how the situation was resolved.  However these small cries for help still survive in the archives, and here are a small selection.

Enquiry from Mrs E F Saunders regarding her son John CowlishawEnquiry from Mrs E F Saunders regarding her son John Cowlishaw, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/423  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In April 1873, the India Office received a letter from Mrs E F Saunders of Railway Street, Chatham.  Her son, John Cowlishaw had travelled to India in 1868 to work as an engineer in the Bombay Dockyards.  Mrs Saunders reported that he was very ill in the workhouse at Lahore, and asked for any help or advice on getting him home.  An enquiry with the Military (Marine) Department revealed that he had resigned his position as a third Class Marine Engineer on 20 December 1871.  Mrs Saunders was advised to address an enquiry to the Secretary to the Government of the Punjab at Lahore.

Request from Cossim Mooljee for assistance in returning to IndiaRequest from Cossim Mooljee for assistance in returning to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/435  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In July 1873, Cossim Mooljee wrote to the India Office for help in returning to India.  Mooljee had travelled to Mecca from Bombay in 1870, then to Constantinople via Egypt.  While there, he had entered into an agreement with a Greek merchant to serve as a shopkeeper, and travelled with him to Naples and Rome.  While in Italy, the merchant destroyed the agreement and abandoned Mooljee.  With the help of the British Consul, Mooljee had managed to travel to London and secure lodgings at the Strangers' Home at Limehouse where he had been for the past two months.

Application from Ellis H Myers for a free passage back to India.Application from Ellis H Myers for a free passage back to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/442  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In September 1873, Ellis Meyers wrote to the India Office requesting a free passage back to India.  He had arrived in London four months previously with a small fortune that he had lost in speculation.  He wrote that he was ‘quite destitute of means of support at present, and if I was to remain longer here I am positive that I shall starve’.  The India Office was not impressed, with one official writing in the file: 'This request displays an unusual amount of effrontery', and declined his request.

Application from May Mitchell for a passage back to India.

Application from May Mitchell for a passage back to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/56, File 7/508  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In October 1876, a letter was received from May Mitchell in which she described herself as a ‘helpless stranger in England without money or friends’.  She had been a stewardess on a steamship, but had to leave the ship to go into the London Hospital due to ill health.  Having recovered she was now unable to find a vacancy on a ship back to India.  Although European, she had spent all her life in India and this was her first visit to England.  She wrote, ‘The people of this country treat me strangely & I do not care to stay among them’.  She had been around all the shipping agents in the city without success and had no money to advertise in the newspapers.  She insisted that ‘I am not making matters out worse with me than they actually are I have literally nothing to live on’.  Although sympathetic, India Office officials struggled to know how to help, as one noted, ‘Distressing as her case may prove to be, there is no precedent of a European being sent to India at the public expense’.  However, a marginal note in the file stated that Mrs Mitchell had received a ‘private commission’, suggesting that she had managed to secure a passage back home.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Public Home Correspondence for 1873: enquiry from Mrs E F Saunders regarding her son John Cowlishaw, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/423.

Public Home Correspondence for 1873: request from Cossim Mooljee for assistance in returning to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/435.

Public Home Correspondence for 1873: application from Ellis H Myers for a free passage back to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/53, File 7/442.

Public Home Correspondence for 1877: application from May Mitchell for a passage back to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/56, File 7/508.

 

10 November 2022

Finding employment for surplus Indian Army Officers

Following the implementation in April 1923 of the Royal Warrant 1922 a number of Indian Army Officers found their roles ‘surplus to requirements’.

One of the opportunities presented to these officers, was the opportunity to settle in the state of Victoria, Australia, with a significant plot of land for farming.

Newspaper advert for the Australian farms schemeAdvert for the Australian farms scheme -  Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore) 26 July 1922 British Newspaper Archive

A financial agreement could be entered into with Australian Farms Limited whereby they would supply the land, tools, livestock etc. required for the officers to establish themselves in farming, and in return the officers would take out a financial loan with the company to cover the costs which would have to be paid back monthly.

The agreement also included an understanding that the gratuities these officers would be receiving from the India Office following their discharge (such as pension, annuities, bonus etc.) would be paid directly to Australian Farms Limited, who would then take their monthly payment from the gratuity received and forward the remainder of it onto the officer.

Newspaper report on the working of the scheme 1924Report on the working of the scheme  - Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore) 22 January 1924 British Newspaper Archive

Problems arose however in June 1925 when the India Office was notified that Australian Farms Ltd had gone into voluntary liquidation.  This raised questions about how the officers' gratuities would now be paid to them, as the company had in effect been acting as the agent for these individuals.

Letter reporting liquidation of Australian Farms Ltd, June 1925Letter reporting liquidation of Australian Farms Ltd,, June 1925  - IOR/L/AG/29/1/151, part 6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Enquiries were made with the Government of Victoria to identify how many of the 93 individuals who had originally taken out these contracts were still operating these farms, as some individuals had sold their land and bought themselves out of the agreement, whilst others had their contracts cancelled by being recalled to the Army.

Page from a list of officers who entered the schemePage from a list of officers who entered the scheme - IOR/L/AG/29/1/151, part 6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

From the original list of 93 individuals, 80 were found to have chosen to remain in Australia and continue with the land and farm in June 1925.  Their contracts were re-assigned to the Treasurer for the State of Victoria, the state government having decided to take on the responsibility for the settling of the land by the officers in question.

Newspaper article about the plight of the men in the farm scheme December 1926Article about the plight of the men in the farm scheme -  Dundee Evening Telegraph 28 December 1926 British Newspaper Archive

Arrangements were therefore subsequently made for the gratuities to be paid via the Government of Victoria in future.  However any officer who was found to be in debt to Australian Farms Ltd at the time of liquidation was required to use their gratuity to pay off that debt first.

Some of the 80 individuals would later choose to sell up their land and return to England, but the vast majority settled in Australia permanently.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/L/AG/29/1/151, part 6 - Australian Farm Cases, 1925-1926.
British Newspaper Archive

 

08 November 2022

The Collier family of Bethnal Green and the East India Company

Following on from our overview of East India Company Home Correspondence, we look at a document from this collection which is the key to uncovering a wealth of detail about one East London family’s links to India.

In July 1856 Matthew Collier of Bethnal Green, a pewterer in his late 50s, sent a petition to the East India Company asking for a position.  He started by naming five members of his family who had served the Company – his father, two brothers, a nephew and a son.  Matthew said that he had been twenty years with his current employer but now felt inclined to finish his days with the Company as a firelighter or doorkeeper at East India House or in any other ‘low’ situation.  The hours would be shorter than at present and the work much easier.

Matthew Collier's petition for a position at East India House Matthew Collier's petition for a position at East India House - IOR/E/1/193 Letter no. 238  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Company’s Secretary wrote in August informing Matthew that Court of Directors was ‘under the necessity of declining to comply with his request’.

From the information given by Matthew in the petition, it is possible to trace details of his relatives’ service with the Company in other parts of the India Office Records.

Matthew said that his father William Delves Collier had made a voyage for the East India Company in 1790-1791.  He didn’t know the name of the ship but I have found a William Collier who was surgeon’s servant in the Hawke.  William entered the ship on 19 April 1790 and the pay book shows that he was owed wages of £7 11s for ten months and two days. That means that William left the Hawke in Bengal. What did he do then?

Next, Matthew named his eldest brother William who had died in Bombay having served as a sergeant in the European Light Infantry using their mother’s maiden name Evitt.  William Evitt, a painter and glazier, enlisted in the Company’s army in July 1821 aged 19.  In 1825 he was discharged with chronic rheumatism and tremor of the limbs and sent back to England.  He was permitted to re-enlist in 1830.  He married Catherine King at Bombay in 1835, describing himself as a widower.  Catherine, née Hardcastle, was the widow of James King, a sergeant in the Bombay Horse Artillery.  William died on 18 October 1841 and was buried at St Andrew’s Church, Bombay.

According to Matthew, his next brother John Collier was a musician on board the Earl of Balcarras on a voyage to Bengal.  The ship’s journal records that seaman John Collier died at New Anchorage Bengal on 5 July 1826.  On 31 May 1827, William Delves Collier received wages of £5 2s 3d owed to his son.

Ship Earl of Balcarras pay book - receipt for wages of John Collier signed by W D CollierReceipt for wages of John Collier signed by W D Collier. IOR/L/MAR/B/35Q(2) Pay book for the ship Earl of Balcarras  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The fourth member of the family to serve the Company was Matthew’s nephew George Richards who was a private in the European Light Infantry.  Weaver George enlisted at the age of 21 in August 1840.  He died in Aden and was buried on 7 April 1847.  In a will written on 2 April 1847, George left Rs 100 to his brother William Richards of Spitalfields and all the remainder of his estate and effects to his ‘friend and companion’ Private William Theed.

Will of George RichardsWill of Private George Richards 2 April 1847 - IOR/L/AG/34/30/26 no.22 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Lastly, Matthew’s son Samuel Collier was a sergeant in the European Light Infantry.  Samuel, a groom, had enlisted for unlimited service in February 1840. He died in Sind on 13 November 1855 aged 34.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading;
IOR/E/1/193 Letter no. 238 IOR/E/1/193 Letter no. 238 Petition of Matthew Collier of 4 Tapp Street, Bethnal Green, July 1856.
IOR/E/1/305 Letter no. 3276 East India Company Secretary to Matthew Collier, 4 August 1856.
IOR/E/1 is now available as part of AM’s East India Company resource. 
IOR/L/MAR/B/390K Journal of the ship Hawke 1790-1791.
IOR/L/MAR/B/35H, and 35Q(2) Journal and pay book for the ship Earl of Balcarras
Documents for William Evitt:
IOR/L/MIL/9/2 London District recruitment register July 1821.
IOR/L/MIL/9/99 p.173 Embarkation list for the ship Berwickshire December 1821 .
IOR/L/MIL/10/301 Discharge register.
IOR/L/MIL/9/42 Embarkation list for the ship Buckinghamshire January 1831.
IOR/L/MIL/9/77 p.197 Embarkation list for the ship Buckinghamshire January 1831
Bombay Army muster rolls and casualty lists e.g. IOR/L/MIL/12/147-149, 1823-1825; IOR/L/MIL/12/157, 1833; IOR/L/MIL/12/165, 1841.
IOR/N/312 f.246 Marriage of William Evitt to Catherine King, 1835.
IOR/N/3/15 f.471 Burial of William Evitt, 1841.
Documents for George Richards:
IOR/L/MIL/9/6 London District recruitment register August 1840.
IOR/L/MIL/9/101 p.48 Embarkation list for the ship Donna Pascoa October 1840.
Bombay Army muster rolls and casualty lists e.g. IOR/L/MIL/12/177-178, 1846-1847.
IOR/L/AG/34/30/26 no.22 Will of Private George Richards, 2 April 1847.
IOR/N/13/14 Burial of George Richards, Aden 1847.
Documents for Samuel Collier:
IOR/L/MIL/9/5 London District recruitment register February 1840.
IOR/L/MIL/9/78 Embarkation list for the ship  Northumberland April 1840.
Bombay Army muster rolls and casualty lists e.g. IOR/L/MIL/12/186-187, 1855-1856.
IOR/N/3/29 p.348 Burial of Samuel Collier, 1855.

 

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