Untold lives blog

270 posts categorized "Work"

26 November 2020

George Poland & Son – furriers to the rich, friends to the poor

When furrier George Poland died at his home in Oxford Street, London, on 10 May 1860 at the age of 64, many local shops closed as a sign of respect.  Obituaries described him as a benevolent guardian to the poor, diligent, courteous and conscientious.

Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880
Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland was churchwarden for Marylebone at the time of his death.  He was first elected to serve on the St Marylebone Vestry in 1850.  He joked in 1852 that he had lived for 50 years in one house in Oxford Street, but was only two years old as a vestry man.

In September 1853 George Poland joined a committee appointed by the St Marylebone Board of Guardians to enquire into cholera and scarlet fever and the sanitary condition of the crowded and populous local districts.  Poland was also a director of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes which was incorporated by Royal Charter in April 1854.

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - list of directors

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - properties owned with rentsAdvert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 British Newspaper Archive

The aim of the Association was to acquire houses or ground in densely populated districts and provide clean and healthy dwellings for the poor by converting existing properties or building new ones.   Money was raised from shareholders and dividends paid.

By 1858 the Association owned a number of properties, many around Lisson Grove, a very poor area of Marylebone with appalling sanitary conditions.  Rents varied from 1s 3d to 5s 6d per week.  Some accommodation provided water and a sink in each room, whilst others had sculleries, dust shafts, and coppers and flat roofs for washing and drying clothes.  One of the properties acquired by the Association was Lisson Cottages.  The old houses were renovated in 1855 and let as apartments.  The Cottages are now listed artisans’ dwellings

Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes 3
Advert listing rooms to let from Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 16 October 1858 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland and his wife Jane (née Minton) had five sons, but two died as babies.  Charles became a quantity surveyor.  Edward worked as shopman and clerk to his father.  In 1847 Edward incurred debts for a diamond ring and the hire of horses and gigs.  He was admonished at the Insolvent Debtors’ Court for idleness, folly and vain extravagance.  Edward died in 1851 at the age of 27.

The eldest son George Arthur Poland, born in 1820, followed his father into the fur trade, apart from a brief period around 1850 when he worked as a straw hat maker.  He married Hetty Rosina Esquilant in 1842 and they had eleven children, two of whom died in infancy. By 1880, George Poland & Son were furriers to the Royal family.

George Arthur Poland also followed his father in his commitment to public duty.  He was a member of the St Marylebone Vestry for 23 years, serving as chairman and churchwarden.  He represented St Marylebone on the Metropolitan Board of Works and was involved in Liberal politics in the borough.  Poland was Master of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers in 1875.

Poland supported many local social improvement initiatives with both time and money.  When he died in 1883, his obituary in the Marylebone Mercury praised him as ‘an honest, warm-hearted, upright man; an excellent and willing worker; a friend to the poor. To know him was to love him; and the respect and esteem in which he was held by all classes are strong testimony to his excellence and worth’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Marylebone Mercury 10 July and 16 October 1858; 10 May 1879; 3 February 1883.
The Observer 12 January 1852; 14 May 1860
Records of Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes are held at Westminster City Archives ht
Anthony S. Wohl, The Eternal Slum: Housing and Social Policy in Victorian London (London, 1977)

 

05 November 2020

Making gunpowder after the English method

A letter dated 2 February 1725 from the East India Company directors in London to their Council in Bengal contained sections on the manufacture and use of gunpowder.  The Company was concerned about the quality of saltpetre being sent from Bengal and sent instructions on how to improve it.  They were also keen to stop gunpowder being wasted.

Saltpetre was a key ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder.  The Company directors complained that the quality of saltpetre arriving in England had been declining for some years.  Very little had been bought at the London sale in March 1724, so they had decided to analyse samples from the 600 bags of saltpetre which had arrived from Bengal on the Lethieullier, Bridgewater, and Sarum.  The man who refracted the saltpetre reported that, although it looked white and good, there was a quantity of salt left in it.  The directors concluded that the Bengal Council must have employed unskilled people to refine the saltpetre, or their workers hadn’t been careful to separate the salt which was essential if good gunpowder was to be made.

Directions for refining saltpetre ‘Directions for Refining Saltpetre after the English manner, in order to make Gunpowder’ IOR E/3/102 f.240v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

They sent ‘Directions for Refining Saltpetre after the English manner, in order to make Gunpowder’ based on advice from experts.  The workers in Bengal were to use these in a trial on a small amount of saltpetre to see how they got on.
• Dissolve the saltpetre in fresh boiling water.
• As the scum rises, take it off and put it to one side.
• When no more scum rises, draw off the liquor into vessels and let it settle.  The remaining filth or earth which makes the petre look so dirty will sink.
• When the liquor is perfectly clear, draw it off and boil with a gentle fire until a thin film can be seen on the surface.
• Pour into large shallow coolers, no more than eight inches deep.  The saltpetre will shoot into crystals.
• Decant any surplus liquor.  Either start again with fresh saltpetre added to it or boil it down by itself for a second shooting.

 

View of a Fort St George Madras from the sea, with a church to the left, hill peaks behind and ships in the foreground, including one firing guns.View of Fort St George, Madras, 1782, with a ship firing guns © The Trustees of the British Museum


The letter also reported complaints from the owners of East India ships about the great expense of gunpowder lavished on salutes.  The directors ruled:
• No more than nine guns were to be fired when Company ships arrived at a port in India and had a fort to salute.  The forts were to return salutes with only that number.
• Nine guns when captains first came onshore from Europe or were leaving for Europe. Just seven guns for saluting captains at any other time.
• No more than five guns to answer country ships (except foreigners).
• No more than nine guns when the Governor, members of Council, or other Company personnel came on board or left the ship.
• Be as frugal as possible when using gunpowder at festivals, funerals and other occasions.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/102 ff.231-240 Letter from East India Company directors in London to Bengal, 2 February 1725

East India Company saltpetre warehouses at Ratcliff

24 September 2020

Bringing the children home

In the 19th century, the East India Company made increasing efforts to bring the trade in enslaved people in the Gulf to an end.  The majority of the people imported into the Gulf came from the East Coast of Africa and Zanzibar, but some also came from India.  These were usually women and children who had been kidnapped from their homes to be sold in the Gulf.  It was one of the responsibilities of British Agents in the Gulf to discover and rescue these children.

This was not always easy.  The local rulers could be uncooperative, and the merchants and traders would disguise the origins of the children to avoid detection.  The Native Agent at Muscat complained that his efforts to emancipate children had turned the population against him.  Even after they had tracked down the children, the Agents faced further difficulties in freeing them; the British Government stipulated that they must avoid force, but also directed that no money should be handed over, to avoid stimulating the market.  The Native Agent would look after the children at the British Government’s expense until he was able to place them on a ship to Bombay [Mumbai].  The Senior Magistrate of Police at Bombay was responsible for reuniting children with their parents or finding an alternative situation for them.

Photograph of the buildings of the Muscat Consulate and Agency on a waterfront

The Muscat Consulate and Agency, c. 1870 (Photo 355/1/43)

Mahomed Unwur [Muhammed Anwar] lived with his brother, Mirza Abdulla [‘Abd Allah], in Butcher Street, Bombay, when he was twelve.  One morning his brother sent him to the bazaar where he met a man who enticed him on board a ship with sweets.  Two weeks later, he arrived at Muscat and lived there for six or seven months with the man who had kidnapped him.  He was offered for sale privately at different houses during this time, until one day, when he was gathering dates at the Customs House, he was taken to the house of the Native Agent.  He finally returned to Bombay in November 1843, where he was reunited with his brother and returned to live with him.  This happy ending was sadly fairly unusual for kidnapped children.  On the same ship returning to India as Mahomed Unwur was another child, a girl.

Painting of a street in Bombay busy with people, 1867‘A street in Bombay’, chromolithograph by William Simpson, from India Ancient and Modern, 1867. BL Online Gallery 

Eleven-year-old Auzeemah [‘Azimah] knew that she had been born in a village near Moradabad.  She was kidnapped and lived in Moradabad for three or four years.  A man then took her to Muscat and tried to exchange her for a boy, but while at Muscat she was discovered and taken to live with the Native Agent until she could be sent home.  Unfortunately, she remembered so little about her parents or her village that, despite lengthy enquiries by the Government of Agra, her parents were not found.   Auzeemah was instead placed with a family in Bombay who would bring her up.

Anne Courtney
Gulf History Cataloguer

Further reading:
The stories of Mahomed and Auzeemah can be found in IOR/F/4/2034/98123.

 

15 September 2020

Hunter, Campbell, and the politics of archiving famine

In the suffocating heat and violent downpours of early August, 1866, Sir William Hunter, his wife, infant son, and a Portuguese nurse, journeyed to Midnapur in Bengal, where Hunter had been appointed Inspector of Schools for the South-Western Division.  They travelled by road in their victoria driven by Hunter himself.  The carriage and horses were crammed on a ferry by which they crossed the torrential river Damodar.  The crossing took fourteen hours, and Hunter drove on until the route was cut off by a chasm created by the floods.  Horses unhitched, the carriage was dragged down the bank to the other side of the chasm.  They reached a rest house which offered little provision.  They travelled again, until, hungry and exhausted, they finally arrived at their destination.

Sir William Hunter driving a carriage with his wife, infant son, and a Portuguese nurse, journeying to Midnapur in heat and violent downpours.Sir William Hunter driving a carriage with his wife, infant son, and a Portuguese nurse, journeying to Midnapur in heat and violent downpours.  Image reproduced by the kind permission of the artist ©Argha Manna.

Hunter then left at once to survey the area as the government was anxious to learn about the effect of the Orissa famine on schools in neighbouring districts.  To his horror, he found Bishnupur, the ancient capital of Birbhum, a ‘city of paupers’, as he noted in his letter to the Director of Public Instruction.  The famine relief operations were disrupted by a cholera outbreak.  At his own expense, Hunter set up a temporary orphanage for starving children who roamed the streets, feeding on worms and snails.

The author of The Annals of Bengal - a text often mined for information on the notorious famines in Orissa (1866) and in Bengal (1769-70) - was not simply an excavator of archives.  An aspect of his life not often told seems to be epitomised by this stark physical encounter with famine-affected areas, which officers like Hunter (and their families) could not avoid.  For Hunter, writing the famous Annals was punctuated by such experiences, as he developed his comparative analytical methods, placing side by side archival findings which allowed him to reconstruct the 1770 Bengal famine, and his immediate knowledge of the Orissa famine a century later.

Head and shoulders portrait of Sir William Hunter, dressed in a formal jacket and tie.Portrait of Sir William Hunter. Image reproduced by the kind permission of the artist ©Argha Manna.

These two famines are infamous events in the history of British administration of the Bengal Presidency.  The first resulted in the loss of 10 million lives, and yet the East India Company’s revenue increased in that famine year; during the second, 200 million pounds of rice were exported to Britain while a million starved to death in Orissa.  Hunter’s analytical method relied on recovering local ecology, history, and demography, loosely modelled on the English annals of parishes.  As Hunter wrote to Cecil Beadon in 1868, ‘My business is with the people’ - a rather risky remark perhaps in an epistle to the former lieutenant-governor of Bengal, recently deposed for his mishandling of the Orissa famine and scant attention to the suffering of ‘the people’.  Moreover, Hunter’s approach was analogical, comparing not only past and present famines, but British and Indian models of record keeping; and, finally, it was predictive.  Hunter believed that better administration and prevention of future famines were possible through historically informed reflection on current experience ….

Portrait of Sir George Campbell to the waist, seated with a stick in his left hand and dressed in an informal shirt and jacket.

Portrait of Sir George Campbell.  Image reproduced by the kind permission of the artist ©Argha Manna.

For the rest of this story about Hunter’s differences with his contemporary Sir George Campbell who also shaped interpretations of the Orissa and Bengal famines; their negotiations with colonial governance; their lasting impression on archiving famine; and their publication of a little-known collaborative collection of records of the Bengal Famine of 1769-70, see the full article on the Famine Tales project blog Food Security: Past and Present.

Ayesha Mukherjee
Associate Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture in the Department of English and Film, College of Humanities, University of Exeter, and the Principal Investigator for the AHRC projects Famine and Dearth in India and Britain, 1550-1800, and Famine Tales from India and Britain.

Illustrations by Argha Manna
Graphic artist and journalist based in Calcutta, currently creating a graphic narrative of the 1770 Bengal famine for the Famine Tales from India and Britain project.

With grateful thanks to Dr Antonia Moon for drawing my attention to IOR/V/ 27/830/14 and to Professor Swapan Chakravorty for directing me to valuable sources on colonial archiving policies in India.

 

08 September 2020

Captain Charles Foulis and Commodore George Anson

Charles Foulis (c.1714 – 1783) became wealthy from his maritime career with the East India Company.  For his second voyage he served as first mate under Captain Robert Jenkins on the Harrington bound for St Helena, Bombay and China.  The ship arrived at Bombay at the end of July 1742 and had an encounter with Angria’s pirate ships whilst returning from Tellicherry.

On 18 December 1742, Captain Jenkins died of ‘a feaver and flux’ and was buried with military honours in Bombay.  Foulis took over as captain of the Harrington and sailed for China, his first voyage east of India.

Portrait of George Anson, three-quarters length standing to left, looking towards the viewer, holding a telescope in both hands, his left elbow resting on a grassy ledge beside his hat, wearing a suit with sword and wig.Portrait of George Anson, 1747 - Courtesy of  British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Meanwhile, Commodore George Anson (1697-1762) was continuing a voyage around the world in the Centurion, the last remaining ship of his small fleet.  When the Centurion called at Macao in November 1742, neither the Europeans nor the Chinese wanted this armed warship to approach Canton and threaten the delicate trade balance.  However, she was badly in need of repair, water and stores, and assistance was reluctantly given.  She departed on 19 April 1743, supposedly for England.  There was huge consternation when she returned nearly three months later, towing the Spanish treasure galleon Covadonga as her ‘prize’ worth about £60 million in today’s money.

Anson made his way up river towards Canton, threatening violence to the Chinese officials who tried to stop him.  When the Harrington arrived on 17 July, Captain Foulis was caught up as a pawn in the affair, torn between his respect for Anson and his responsibility to the East India Company.

Foulis went on board the Centurion to discuss the situation with Anson.  Eventually on 28-29 July the Centurion was allowed upstream and Harrington, with a local pilot aboard, guided her through the channels.  After delicate negotiations, Anson was permitted to visit Canton for a meeting with the Chinese officials.

The Centurion left China in December 1743 and the Harrington at the end of January 1744. On 4 July Anson’s magnificent procession of 32 wagons of treasure passed through the streets of London on its way to the Tower.

Introductory page of the journal and log of the Anson 1746Introductory page of the journal and log of the Anson 1746 - IOR/L/MAR/B/549A Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Foulis’s next voyage was in the 1746/7 season as captain of the Anson, under the management of David Crichton, a relative of his wife.  The Anson had a battle with the French outside Bombay but the captain got his papers and treasure landed before the ship was captured.  Foulis managed to return to England and on 2 November 1748 the East India Company Court of Directors agreed that Captain Foulis had ‘done his Duty and behaved like a Gallant and Discreet Officer and is Justly entitled to the Courts Favour’.

From 1750 to 1755 Foulis captained the Lord Anson for two uneventful voyages before retiring from the sea to manage voyages for the East India Company.  Between 1759 and his death in 1783 he managed 38 voyages made by 12 ships and was a significant figure in the shipping lobby.

The memorial erected by Captain Robert Preston to Charles Foulis in St.Mary’s church, Woodford, Essex.

The memorial erected by Captain Robert Preston to Charles Foulis in St.Mary’s church, Woodford, Essex, as a testimony of his gratitude. Foulis had managed three voyages which Preston made as captain and then worked with him in the City. In his will Foulis named Preston as his ‘residuary legatee and executor’. Author;'s photograph. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Charles Foulis had other connections with the East India Company: his sister Margaret married William George Freeman, a director in 1769, 1774-76 and 1778-81.  His wife had a sister who married Andrew Moffatt of Cranbrook House in Ilford, another Principal Managing Owner who was involved in shipping insurance.

Georgina Green
Independent scholar


Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/654D Journal of the Harrington 1741-1744
IOR/L/MAR/B/549A Journal of the Anson 1746-1747
IOR/B/70 East India Company Court of Directors’ Minute Book
Sally Rousham (ed.), The Greatest Treasure - Philip Saumarez and the voyage of the Centurion (Guernsey Museum, 1994)
Glyn Williams, The Prize of all the Oceans (Harper Collins, 1999)

 

02 September 2020

Nil Darpan: the Indigo Revolt and the trial of Reverend James Long

Nil Darpan (sometimes Nil Durpan) or The Indigo Planting Mirror was a Bengali play written by Dinabandhu Mitra in 1858-59.  The drama was written in the context of social agitation in Bengal, known as the Indigo Revolt.  The play examines the treatment of the Indian peasantry or ryots by the indigo planters.  It was first published in 1860.

Indigo Factory Bengal, 1863, showing layout and work on different processesWilliam Simpson - Indigo Factory Bengal, 1863 (shelfmark WD 1017) Images Online

Mitra’s play shone a light on the behaviour of certain European indigo planters, the worst excesses of which were further exposed by an official report of the 1861 Indigo Commission.  Ryots were forced to plant indigo, a crop which was in demand by the international textile industry but which degraded the land.  They had to take out loans and sell the crop to planters at fixed (low) prices, forcing them into a cycle of debt and economic dependence that was often enforced with violence.  The play reflected the realities of intimidation, exploitation, violence (including sexual violence), and lack of redress through the judicial system experienced by many in Bengal.

Title page of Nil Durpan and portrait of  author Dinabandhu MitraTitle page of Nil Darpan and portrait of Dinabandhu Mitra from Ramtanu Lahiri, Brahman and reformer. A history of the renaissance in Bengal, from the Bengali ... Edited by Sir Roper Lethbridge (London : Swan Sonnenschein & Co, 1907.), p.94. 

In 1861 Mitra sent a copy of his play to Reverend James Long, who had run the Church Missionary Society school in Calcutta where Mitra was educated.  James Long, an Anglo-Irish priest, had been in India since 1840, and was particularly interested in what he called the ‘Native Press’.  Long had previously assembled lists of books and other publications in Bengali.  He believed that vernacular writings were an important barometer of the feelings of Indian people, and that they had often been ignored by those in power.  Long mentioned the play to William Scott Seton Karr, Secretary to the Government of Bengal, who in turn brought it to the attention of Lieutenant Governor Sir John Peter Grant.  Grant requested an English translation of Nil Darpan, which Long arranged, and which was almost certainly carried out by Michael Madhusudan Dutt.  The translation was edited by Long who also provided his own introduction.  500 copies were printed, and some copies were distributed by Long in official Government envelopes.  This action appeared to give the translation official sanction.

Portrait of Michael Madhusudan Dutt and bust of James Long in KolkataPortrait of Michael Madhusudan Dutt from Ramtanu Lahiri, Brahman and reformer, p.30, and bust of James Long in Kolkata via Wikimedia Commons

Nil Darpan quickly reached the attention of both the indigo planters and the pro-planter press, who felt that they had been defamed by the play, and by Long’s introduction and by Mitra’s original preface.  As a result James Long was taken to court by Walter Brett, proprietor of the Englishman newspaper, together with the Landholders Association of British India and the general body of indigo planters.  The trial for libel took place in July 1861, and there was much sympathy expressed for James Long.  Yet he was found guilty, sentenced to one month in jail and fined 1,000 rupees.  The Bengali author Kaliprasanna Singha immediately paid the fine on Long’s behalf.

Nil Darpan was the first play to be staged commercially at the National Theatre in Calcutta; it was one of a number of politicised plays which provoked the Government of India into enacting restrictive censorship measures on Indian theatre via the 1876 Dramatic Performances Act.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Nil Darpan or the Indigo Planting Mirror, A Drama. Translated from the Bengali by A Native (Calcutta: C.H. Manuel, 1861)
Statement of the Rev. J. Long His Connection With The Nil Darpan (Calcutta: Sanders, Cox and Co., 1861)
Claire Pamment (2009) 'Police of Pig and Sheep: Representations of the White Sahib and the construction of theatre censorship in colonial India', South Asian Popular Culture, 7:3, 233-245.
Geoffrey A. Oddie, Missionaries, Rebellion and Protonationalism: James Long of Bengal 1814-87 (London: Routledge, 1999)

 

20 August 2020

Death on the Cherwell

Browsing the British Library Online Shop, one of the Crime Classics caught my eye - Death on the Cherwell.  My great great uncle drowned in the River Cherwell and this is his story.

Cover of Death on the Cherwell showing two girls in a punt
Death on the Cherwell, a novel by Mavis Doriel Hay originally published in 1935 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Edwin Thomas Smith was born in 1856 in Headington, Oxford, the sixth of the eight children of Thomas, a mason’s labourer, and his wife Mary. His siblings married, and all but one sister left the area.  Edwin stayed with his widowed mother in the High Street at Old Headington and worked as a gardener.  He took an active part in village life, attending St Andrew’s Church regularly.  Edwin belonged to the Temperance Society, helping to run its lending library.   He was also a hardworking member of the Loyal Havelock Lodge of the Oddfellows friendly society, serving as Grand Master, Lecture Master, and Vice-President of the Juvenile Branch.

In 1885, Edwin was appointed caretaker of the newly established Headington Cemetery.  His duties were to dig graves, keep the cemetery tidy, and to keep the register of burials.  He did not stay in post long, but resigned following a dispute over his pay.  Then he became gardener at Lady Margaret Hall.

On the morning of Friday 7 June 1901 Edwin was found in the River Cherwell, face down in the water by the landing stage at Lady Margaret Hall.  A student called Miss May discovered him on her way to the boathouse.  Two workmen were summoned to lift Edwin out of the water, and the Vice-Principal, Miss Edith Pearson, attempted artificial respiration to no avail.

An inquest was held the same day.  Edwin’s sister Sarah Baker said that he had been suffering from giddiness for some time.  Jane Bunce, housemaid at Lady Margaret Hall, said she had spoken to Edwin just before he went down to the river to fetch water for the indoor plants.  He said that he had had a bad night and complained of chest pains.  The jury returned a verdict of ‘Found Drowned’.

Edwin was buried on Sunday 9 June in Headington Cemetery.  His body was taken from his home in the High Street to St Andrew’s Church preceded by 130 brethren of the Loyal Havelock Lodge.  The service was ‘impressively read’ by the vicar Reverend R W Townson.  Everyone then moved to the cemetery where the rest of the burial service was read, followed by the Oddfellows’ service.  The grave was covered with wreathes.  At Evensong later that day, Reverend Townson devoted the greater part of his sermon to the lessons to be learned from Edwin’s God-fearing life.

Edwin’s mother Mary died in 1905.  She was buried with her son.  Here is their grave, the inscription to Edwin faded and its stone cross broken from the base.

Grave of Edwin Thomas Smith and his mother Mary, with a stone cross propped in front of the main stone and a bunch of freesias

Grave of Edwin Thomas Smith and his mother Mary in Headington Cemetery - author's photograph Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (available via Findmypast) – e.g. Jackson’s Oxford Journal 15 June 1901.
Rules of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity Friendly Society

13 August 2020

‘Black Peggy’ and the Foundling Hospital

In 1793 the London Foundling Hospital received a petition from ‘Black Peggy’, a native of Bengal.

‘Being a poor unfortunate girl just arrived at the age of fourteen was on my voyage to England with Mrs Harding, unhappily seduced by my fellow servant James Murray by a false promise of marriage, but on our arrival at Ostend he knowing of my pregnancy left me friendless and unprotected.  Nothing but the kind humanity of my mistress could have supported me through this scene of misery and repentance and who is still inclin’d to be my friend could I conceal my disgrace by your benevolence.  This gentleman urges me in the most supplicating manner to entreat and solicit your generous aid and protection to the unhappy infant of your very humble petitioner.’

Peggy’s mistress, Mrs Elizabeth Harding of 2 Buckingham Street, recommended acceptance of the child because of the girl’s penitence and past good conduct.  On 4 May 1793 Peggy’s two-month-old daughter was admitted to the Hospital as Foundling No.18142.  She was baptised with the name Jane Williams and sent as a nurse child to Dorking.  Sadly Jane died a year later and was buried at St Martin’s Church in Dorking on 11 May 1794.

Foundling Hospital Chapel with children filing in.sFoundling Hospital Chapel – British Library Crach.1.Tab.4.b.3. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is not clear whether Peggy was of Asian or African descent.  African slaves were brought to Bengal in the 18th century.

I believe that Peggy’s mistress was the wife of Thomas Harding an officer in the East India Company’s Bengal Army.  In May 1794 Elizabeth Harding was granted permission by the East India Company Court of Directors to return to her husband in India.  At the same time Thomas Parry Esq, (the Company director?), was authorised to return a black servant named Peggy to Bengal on the Royal Admiral with no expense to be incurred by the Company.

Extract from East India Company Court of Directors' Minutes for 7 May 1794IOR/B/119 p.93 East India Company Court of Directors' Minutes 7 May 1794  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the passenger list for the Royal Admiral, Peggy is recorded as the servant to Mrs Anna Maria Freeman who was returning to her husband in Bengal.  The ship sailed from Plymouth in August 1794 and the two women landed at Calcutta in February 1795.

The homeward passenger list for the Royal Admiral shows Anna Maria Freeman and her black servant, now named as Peggy Harding.  This link to her previous mistress surely confirms that this is the Foundling Hospital’s ‘Black Peggy’?  What had happened to cause Mrs Freeman to leave again for England on the Royal Admiral in August 1795?  Did she discover that her husband had died in her absence?  Frustratingly I have been unable to identify with any certainty who her husband was.

Passenger list homeward of ship Royal Admiral 1795IOR/L/MAR/B/338G Passenger list homeward of ship Royal Admiral 1795 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Mrs Freeman and Peggy left the ship in the Bristol Channel on 8 January 1796.  Less than a month later Anna Maria Freeman, described as a widow, married William Fairfax in Bristol.  Fairfax had been first mate in the Royal Admiral on the 1794-1796 voyage to India and back.

For now, the story of Peggy ends here.   Perhaps she is the black female servant called Peggy who sailed on the Houghton to Bengal in the spring of 1797?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/338G Journal of Royal Admiral for 1794-1796 voyage with passenger lists.

London Metropolitan Archives Foundling Hospital records - Petition of 'Black Peggy' is in A/FH/A08/001/001/018 Petitions admitted to ballot 1792-1793.

Forgotten Foundlings: black lives and the eighteenth-century Foundling Hospital.

Untold lives blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs