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385 posts categorized "Work"

11 April 2024

A settlement in the Pacific Ocean for growing flax

On 21 June 1785 Sir George Young and John Call submitted a memorial to the Court of Directors of the East India Company on behalf of themselves and several others.

The memorial related to their plans to establish a settlement on one of the smaller islands in the Pacific Ocean for the cultivation of the flax plant and its manufacture into cordage, as well as the supply of masts for shipping. Their preferred island for this settlement was Norfolk Island situated in the southern Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand.

Watercolour of  the penal settlement at Norfolk Island circa 1839Settlement at Norfolk Island, c.1839, watercolour by Thomas Seller - image courtesy of  National Library of Australia 

Part of the reasoning behind this proposal was the growing difficulty in acquiring flax.  At that time most of the hemp and flax used by the Royal Navy for their cordage came from Russia, whose ruler Catherine II had begun restricting its sale.  It was already known that New Zealand flax grew on Norfolk Island, making the island a perfect candidate for such a proposal.

First page of the memorial of  Sir George Young and John Call on behalf of themselves and others to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, 21 January 1785

Letter 213: 'The Memorial of  Sir George Young Knight, and John Call Esq. in behalf of themselves and others' to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, 21 January 1785. IOR/E/1/76, ff. 518-519

There was however a wider political context to the proposal, which related to prison overcrowding and penal transportation in Britain.  The American Revolutionary War of 1775 had meant that penal transportation to the thirteen American colonies had to be stopped, which had in turn led to problems of overcrowding in British prisons.

John Call had put forward a plan for New South Wales in Australia to be used as a penal colony, including the use of Norfolk Island as an auxiliary settlement, and in December 1785 the Government adopted these plans.  The reasoning behind the inclusion of Norfolk Island as part of these plans was that the growing of flax, its manufacture into cordage, and the production of shipping masts all required manpower.  Having convicts sent to the island would provide a steady stream of labour for this work to be undertaken.

Norfolk Island was settled as a penal colony on 6 March 1788 and, except for an 11-year gap from 15 February 1814 to 6 June 1825, served as a penal colony until 5 May 1855.

The island’s usefulness as a place to supply cordage and masts to shipping was shorter-lived as its location was not on any main shipping routes and vessels had to go out of their way to reach it.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/76, ff. 518-519 Letter 213

 

02 April 2024

Papers of Sir Hugh Keeling and Colonel Thomas Ormsby Underwood

The Keeling family’s collection was donated to the British Library in 2023.  The bulk of the collection is focused on Hugh Trowbridge Keeling (1865-1955), who is most notably remembered as the Chief Engineer to New Delhi during its construction between 1912-1925.  There are also papers for Colonel Thomas Ormsby Underwood (1839-1916).

A portrait photograph of Sir Hugh Keeling by Bertram Park c.1955A portrait photograph of Sir Hugh Keeling by Bertram Park c.1955 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F767/2/9

Keeling was born in 1865 and spent four years with the Royal Indian Engineering College, Cooper’s Hill.  After this, he was appointed Assistant Engineer in 1887 on the ‘Perryaur’ (Mullaperiyar) Dam project working under Colonel John Pennycuick of the Royal Engineers.  The collection includes several engineering plans, maps, and manuscripts documenting this work, as well as some photographs.

A view of the Mullaperiyar Dam during construction c.1887-1895A view of the Mullaperiyar Dam during construction c.1887-1895 – India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F767/1/1

With a successful and notable project under his belt, in October 1898 Keeling was appointed Executive Engineer for the Madras Public Works Department where he was steadily promoted.  In November 1912 he was called to be Chief Engineer of the newly relocated capital, New Delhi, although with some reluctance.  Keeling states in one typewritten address (Mss Eur F767/1/4 ff.18r) that he was already involved with another project, and he had to be ordered to take up the position by Sir Harold Stuart, a member of the Executive Council in Madras.

The collection includes his speeches, engineering presentations for New Delhi, and his private and professional correspondence, which provide perspectives from Indian and British voices on the change of capital.  The move to New Delhi from Calcutta (Kolkata) was a controversial one, but the building of an impressive monument to the British Raj was a remarkable ending note to the career of Keeling.  He was awarded a CSI in 1915 and a knighthood in 1923.

A group photograph of what is likely to be the Public Words Department senior officials of DelhiA group photograph of what is likely to be the Public Words Department senior officials of Delhi. Keeling can be seen in the centre. India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F767/1/5

Keeling’s papers show a man who was a lively and popular character.  He was appointed the ‘Commander in Chief’ of his Gymkhana’s social club, the ‘Moonshiners’, and had strong and admiring social relationships with his engineering team.  After a brief retirement in 1920, he was reappointed Chief Engineer for another five years until 1925 when he was succeeded by Sir Alexander Macdonald Rouse, his Superintending Engineer.

The collection is rounded out by a small selection of manuscripts, books, letters, newspaper cuttings and photographs relating to the Underwood family.  Keeling's connection with Colonel Underwood was through his wife, Edith Madeleine, whom he married in India in 1893.  These papers reveal a respected Lieutenant in the 4th Punjab Cavalry and a Colonel in the Madras Army before his retirement in 1894.  Underwood's work is documented in speeches and newspaper clippings, including his active involvement with the Muslim Association, where he promoted projects to encourage higher education and work in industry.

A letter from Camilla Underwood to her mother dated 1811 (Mss Eur F767/3/2 ff.1r-2v) tells the story of Colonel Underwood’s great uncle, Thomas Steele, an officer in the Light Dragoons stationed in India.  In an all-night gambling session, Thomas won over two thousand pagodas from a Captain MacGregor who then denied the debt.  As a matter of honour, Thomas was forced to fight a duel with MacGregor - ‘every officer would have cut him’ for cowardice had he refused.  Despite MacGregor’s reputation as a skilled duellist, Thomas killed him and was tried by court martial.

Maddy Clark
India Office Records

Further reading:
Papers of Sir Hugh Keeling (1865-1955) and Colonel Thomas Ormsby Underwood (1839-1916) India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F767 – a paper catalogue of the contents is available to consult in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.
Wild, A. 2001. Remains of the Raj; The British Legacy in India. East India Company (Publishing) Ltd., London.
The India Office List for 1929. London: Harrison and Sons Ltd.

 

26 March 2024

A letter between female activists

A letter between two 19th-century women can provide a glimmer of light into their personal lives.  It can help researchers relying mainly on published material to find out more about the women than just their public achievements.  Emily Faithfull and Mary Carpenter may not share the same historical fame as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson or Elizabeth Fry, but a letter sent by one to the other gives useful, albeit small, evidence of personality.

Letter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull  2 July 1862 -  first page

Letter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull  2 July 1862 - second pageLetter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull, 2 July 1862 - British Library, Add MS78907H

On 2 July 1862 Mary Carpenter wrote to Emily Faithfull to congratulate her ‘on [the] status given you by being appointed the Queen’s Publisher…’.  Mary was ‘desirous of becoming better acquainted’ with Emily and was keen to meet her if she happened to visit Bristol where Mary resided.  A scrawled note under Mary’s signature suggests that she also had the generosity of spirit to send Emily a mechanical Earth.

Mary Carpenter (1807-1877) was devoted to helping children who were living in poverty, especially those who had unfortunately fallen into committing criminal acts.  Through her lobbying efforts, Parliament introduced two laws known as the Youthful Offenders Act in 1854 and 1857 which approved the establishment of reformatory and industrial schools.  However, Mary became better known for her work in helping to educate women in India with her attempts to establish schools, as well as for establishing the National Indian Association in England. 

Emily Faithfull (1835-1895) was equally committed to promoting the rights of women but in the field of employment in England.  She strongly believed that with good education, women were just as equipped to do the same kind of jobs as men.  This conviction led her to create the Victoria Press in 1860, recruiting women compositors to help publish books.  Emily was rewarded for her efforts by Queen Victoria appointing her as ‘Printer and Publisher in Ordinary’ to Her Majesty.

Front cover of Emily Faithfull  Employment of WomenFront cover of Emily Faithfull, On some of the drawbacks connected with the present Employment of Women (1862) British Library shelfmark 8276.a.13, also available via Google Books

Emily not only issued her own publications about women and employment but also toured the United States giving lectures and helped movements promoting women’s employment rights.  Her beliefs were encapsulated in a paper which she presented to the National Association for the Promotion of Social Sciences.  Mary Carpenter was involved in this group, but clearly hadn't met Emily prior to 1862.  In her paper, Emily argued that a woman should not rely on the income of her husband.  A husband’s sudden death might mean having to find employment to support herself and her family, and an untrained woman was at a disadvantage.  Emily asked: ‘Is it less dignified to receive the wages of industry than the unwilling or even willing bounty of friends and relations?’ and continued to state that it must be, ‘... undignified for her to receive payment for labour...’.  Emily also established the International Musical, Dramatic and Literary Association in 1881 to represent composers and artists.

A letter helps us learn about how women activists might have needed a reason to contact each other, as well as how little they may have met each other in person.

Mary (Marette) Hickford
Library, Information and Archive Services Apprentice

Further reading:
Carpenter, M (1862) Letter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull, 2 July 1862. London: British Library, Add MS78907H.
Faithfull, E (1862) On some of the drawbacks connected with the present Employment of Women. A paper read before the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science ... 3rd edn. London.
Hunt, F (2009) ‘Faithfull, Emily’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Prochaska, F (2004) ‘Carpenter, Mary’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
The National Indian Association and its handbook for students in Britain

19 March 2024

Rescuing a woman from drowning in the Irrawaddy River

On 11 August 1898 23-year-old Charles James Deefholts, Telegraph Signaller in the Government Telegraph Department of Minbu, rescued a Burmese woman called Ma Sein from drowning in the Irrawaddy River.

I located correspondence sent between the Government of India in Rangoon and the India Office in London which document the rescue.  Each letter reveals intriguing details including eyewitness accounts.

Testimony of Charles DeefholtsTestimony of Charles Deefholts - IOR/L/PJ/6/510 File 940

Charles Deefholts was questioned about the incident by the police on 17 August 1898.  He said that he was in the office when two peons came running up and said that a Burmese woman was drowning,  Deefholts ran down to the river bank with Mr Benjamin and saw the woman being taken away by the current, about 25 yards from the bank.  He stripped to his underpants and swam out to her.  When Deefholts reached her, only her face was out of the water and she was motionless.  He seized her from behind and pushed her towards land.  When they came closer to the river bank, the line-man came to help.  Ma Sein’s head went under the water and that brought her round.  She was only wearing a jacket, having lost her longyi.  When they got onto land, she was able to walk away.

Testimonies of Kada Bux and Ma SeinTestimonies of Kada Bux and Ma Sein - IOR/L/PJ/6/510 File 940

Kada Bux, one of the peons, stated that on 11 August he was near the river bank and saw Maung Po Mya (the woman's husband) looking for a boat.  The woman was floating down the river with only her face exposed.  Deefholts came running down, jumped into the water and pulled her to the bank, where the line-man helped him.  She was not fully dressed.

Ma Sein was also questioned.  She said that she could not swim well and got into deep water whilst taking a bath.  Unable to get back to land, she drifted downstream.  Deefholts came and rescued her.  Her longyi was tangled round her feet, but once she had freed herself from it, she was able to float.  She was not attempting to commit suicide, nor had she quarrelled with her husband.

Letter sent by the Government of India to HM Secretary of State for India  27 April 1899Letter sent by the Government of India to HM Secretary of State for India, 27 April 1899 - IOR/L/PJ/6/510 File 940

A letter from the Government of Burma was forwarded on 27 April 1899 from India to Lord George Francis Hamilton, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for India.  It contained an application for an award for Charles Deefholts from the Royal Humane Society for his act of bravery in rescuing Ma Sein.

Letter from the Royal Humane Society to the India Office with a bronze medal and certificate to be awarded to Charles Deefholts 23 July 1899Letter from the Royal Humane Society to the India Office with a bronze medal and certificate to be awarded to Charles Deefholts 23 July 1899 - IOR/L/PJ/6/513 File 1203

On 23 June 1899 the Royal Humane Society sent the India Office a bronze medal and certificate to be awarded to Charles Deefholts for his ‘gallantry’.

CC-BY
Daniel Deefholts
Civil Servant

Creative Commons Attribution licence

 

12 March 2024

Applications for Trinity House Pensions

The British Library holds the papers of Lord George Francis Hamilton (1845-1927), Secretary of State for India 1895-1903.  The papers are on a variety of subjects relating to India, and correspondence with the Viceroy and Governors of Bombay and Madras.  Amongst these papers is a very interesting file of applications relating to the Trinity House in London.

'View of the new Trinity House on Tower Hill'  in 1799'View of the new Trinity House on Tower Hill' 1799 - British Library Maps K.Top.25.8 Images Online

Trinity House is a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers.  It began as a fraternity caring for distressed mariners and their widows and dependants by maintaining alms houses and awarding pensions.  Lord George Hamilton was an Elder Brethren of Trinity House and was able to nominate a mariner in need of help.  The file on this in his papers contain letters applying for his help in securing a place at Trinity House.  Here are a few of the applications he received:

John James in applying for an annuity declared that he was 66 years old and had been employed at sea for the previous 52 years.  He stated that he was thoroughly incapable of filling any post whatsoever having swollen legs and feet due to chronic Bright’s disease [an inflammatory disease of the kidneys].  James further stated that ‘I have no means to support myself and wife and have to rely upon the generosity of my two married daughters’.  He said his savings had been lost through investing in shipping and his wages for the past ten years had not left him any margin for saving.

Letter from John James applying for an annuityLetter from John James applying for an annuity, 1900  - British Library Mss Eur F123/43

William J Spark wrote on behalf of his brother-in-law, J F Spark and wife, whom he described as ‘an old worn-out master mariner & his wife, who are a very deserving couple & are in very needy circumstances – both of them are between 70 & 80 years of age, and I regret to say, are quite broken down & always in the doctor’s hands’.

Edward Dunstall wrote in February 1901, that he was an old master mariner of the merchant service, aged 66.  In 1890, he had been compelled to vacate the sea service, and in 1894 he had an operation for a ‘very painful internal disease, the effects of which I am still suffering’.  In 1898 he had been accepted as an eligible applicant but had never been nominated.  He appealed to Hamilton for help:’My Lord, myself and wife, having been so long on such poor pittance, and with the enormous rising in the price of living, been unable to procure a sufficiency of the necessaries of life have often to go hungry.  And with ailment in the struggle of life to keep a house over our heads, we are sorely pressed and to get relief we should be ever thankful’.

Letter from Edward Dunstall in 1901 appealing for helpLetter from Edward Dunstall in 1901 appealing for help - British Library Mss Eur F123/43

Elizabeth Mary Goddard wrote to Hamilton in October 1900.   She wrote that she was ‘the unmarried daughter of Captain Charles William Goddard who had the Captains Out Doors Pension and died some years ago and Anna Johanna Elizabeth Goddard my dear Mother who also had the Captains Out Doors Pension also died some years ago’.  Elizabeth was then 60 years old and suffering very much from rheumatism.  She wished to apply for a pension and needed Hamilton to nominate her.  A note on the letter gives the reply: ‘Lord G H has noted her name on his list of applicants and will consider her claims with those of others when an opportunity occurs; but H L is sorry to say that his list for the Trinity House is already a long one, and it is but seldom that he has a presentation at his disposal’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Applications for Trinity House Pensions, 1900-1902, shelfmark: Mss Eur F123/43.
Trinity House

19 October 2023

Henry Harpur – JMW Turner’s Cousin and Lawyer (Part 1)

Researching JMW Turner’s cousin, Henry Harpur, is complicated by the fact that he was Henry Harpur lV.  Henry Harpur l was a solicitor who rented a house in Islington to Turner’s grandparents, William and Sarah Marshall.  Their daughter Sarah married the landlord’s son, Henry Harpur ll.  Sarah was the sister of Turner’s mother, Mary.

Henry Harpur ll left London to become vicar of St Giles, Tonbridge, from 1756 to 1791.  Turner is believed to have stayed with Harpur during his summer holidays and on one visit painted a scene of Tonbridge Castle.

Turner's painting of Tonbridge Castle Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Tonbridge Castle, Kent'. Grey and blue wash over graphite, on paper. 1794. Accession Number: 1588 Photograph copyright © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Harpur’s son, Henry Harpur lll, returned to London, where he became a successful lawyer in Westminster, in partnership with a baronet.  He married Elizabeth Lambert at St Giles, Camberwell, on 21 October 1800; by this time the couple already had three children.  Their son, Henry Harpur lV, was probably born on 18 June 1791 and baptised at Christ Church, Southwark on 1 January 1792; he also entered the legal profession.  Despite the sixteen years’ difference in their ages, he and Turner had a close personal and professional relationship for nearly 50 years.

Painting of Henry Harpur IVPainting of Henry Harpur lV - Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Art Collection


Henry married Eleanor Watkins on 11 May 1810 at Christ Church, Southwark and they set up house in Lambeth.  Eleanor was nine years older than Henry.

In 1820, Henry acted for himself and Turner in the challenge to their uncle Joseph Marshall’s will and, as a result, he became the owner of two properties in Wapping: numbers 9 and 10 New Crane, at the southern end of New Gravel Lane (now Garnet Street).

Henry and Eleanor accompanied Turner in 1840 on his trip to Venice, as far as Bregenz on the Rhine.  Leaving Turner, they next visited the Swiss Alps and then went south, via the lakes, to Italy, ending up in Milan.  While Turner was in Venice, Eleanor and Henry wrote to him, enthusing about the scenery in the Alps.  This may well have influenced Turner’s decision to visit Switzerland the following year.

Death notice for Eleanor Harpur from Morning Herald 25 June 1846Death notice for Eleanor Harpur Morning Herald (London) 25 June 1846 British Newspaper Archive

Eleanor Harpur died on 24 June 1846, aged 64.  She and Henry had no children.  On 22 December 1848, Henry married a widow, Amelia Stubbs, née Cotterell, at St James Westminster.

Henry retired as a solicitor in 1849 but still took care of Turner’s affairs and remained a close personal friend.  When Turner’s housekeeper, Hannah Danby, discovered where Turner was living with Sophia Booth, shortly before his death, it was Henry whom she informed of his whereabouts.  Hannah didn’t know that Henry and Amelia had remained in close contact with Turner and had visited him in Chelsea many times during his final illness.  It was Henry who, at the end of November 1851, told the Academy Treasurer, Philip Hardwick, that Turner would not be able to dine with him on Christmas Day ‘as was his custom’ because he was ‘confined to bed and had been since the commencement of October’.

Henry continued to visit Turner in his final days and later told his friend, the painter David Roberts, that Turner was ‘speechless two days at the end’.  This rather spoils the story that Turner expired with the words, ‘The sun is God’ on his lips.  After Turner’s death, to avoid any possible scandal about his relationship with Sophia Booth, Henry and Philip Hardwick arranged to move the body to Turner’s gallery in Queen Anne Street.  Turner had named Henry as his chief executor.


CC-BY
David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
Selby Whittingham, Of Geese, Mallards and Drakes: Some Notes on Turner's Family, with contributions from others, Part 4 The Marshalls & Harpurs, Independent Turner Society (1999).
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016).

Henry Harpur – JMW Turner’s Cousin and Lawyer (Part 2)

Turner's House logo

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.

 

17 October 2023

Gerald Sidney Wilson, Indian Police

A previous post on this blog looked at the career of William Henry Wilson, an officer in the Bombay Staff Corps who had a distinguished career in the Bombay Police.  Another member of the Wilson family was also involved in law enforcement in India.  This was Gerald Sidney Wilson, William’s nephew, who served in the Indian Police in Bombay.

Photograph of Wilson giving a speech at Bardoli, 10 July 1932 Wilson giving a speech at Bardoli 10 July 1932 - Mss Eur F764/10/7 f.26

Gerald Sidney Wilson was born on 29 October 1880 in Hampstead.  He joined the Indian Police on 23 November 1901 as a 3rd Grade Assistant Superintendent of Police and was stationed at Dharwar.  Wilson had a long career, working his way up to Inspector General of Police for the Bombay Presidency from 1932 until his retirement in 1934.  He was awarded the King’s Police Medal in 1918 and the Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India in 1931.

Photograph of Women's Congress Procession in Bombay 1930  with two policemen in the foreground.

Photograph of Women's Congress Procession in Bombay 1930 - Mss Eur F764/10/4

Wilson served in the police during a turbulent time in modern Indian history.  His papers include some fascinating material relating to the struggle for Independence.  He kept a scrapbook of cuttings from Indian newspapers in 1930 that reported on many key events that occurred in the Bombay Presidency, such as the Congress flag salutation ceremony and women's Congress procession, the release of Vallabhbhai Patel from jail, Khilafat procession in Bombay, and demonstrations on Jawahar Day.  Wilson also collected several editions of The Bombay Congress Bulletin between 1930 and 1932.  These were propaganda sheets issued by the Congress Party in Bombay.  They reported on the activities of party activists and on demonstrations against British rule in India, and took every opportunity to denounce the British authorities.  As Wilson at that time was Commissioner of Police for the city of Bombay, he often came under fire in the Bulletin. The issue of 29 November 1930 reported that Wilson had failed to fulfil his vow to crush Congress: ‘Citizens of Bombay! You have quelled the puffed up pride of this Wilson and made him eat his words by your wonderful solidarity with the Congress movement’.

Bombay Congress Bulletin  29 November 1930  - artlcle about 'Proud Police Chief' WilsonArticle about 'Proud Police Chief' Wilson in The Bombay Congress Bulletin 29 November 1930 - Mss Eur F764/10/7 f.2

In 1932, Wilson had the task of arresting Gandhi.  His papers include his fascinating account of this, which took place in the early hours of 4 January at Mani Bhuvan, Gandhi’s home in Bombay.  When he arrived Gandhi was asleep.  ‘On being awakened Mr Gandhi sat up but uttered no word as it was his silence day.  I said to Mr Gandhi “It is my duty to arrest you” and showed him the warrant to take him to Yeravda Jail under the old Bombay Regulation of 1827.  I read out the warrant and touched his shoulder in token of having arrested him and told him that I would give him half an hour to get ready.  Asking for paper and pencil he wrote “I will be ready in exactly half an hour”.’

Congress stamps with Gandhi's image and the words 'Boycott British Goods. Non-Violence'.Congress stamps - Mss Eur F764/10/4

Gandhi described the arrest simply in his diary entry for that day: ‘Spun 190 rounds.  The police came and arrested me at 3 o’clock in the morning.  Left after reciting a bhajan.  Elwin, Privat, Mills and others were present.  Vallabhbhai also was arrested at the same time.  We met in the jail and are lodged together.  I may say I spent the day resting.  I could take a walk for the first time today after landing [Gandhi had recently returned from the Round Table Conference in London].  Started reading Will Durant’s book [The Case for India].  Ate no fresh fruit today.  Had two seers of milk’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Gerald Sidney Wilson’s papers are part of a recently catalogued collection of India Office Private Papers now available to researchers in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room: Papers of the Wilson Family, Mss Eur F764 that charts the family’s connection with India over four generations.

Papers relating to the career of Gerald Sidney Wilson in the Indian Police, 1901-1933. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/3

Scrapbook of cuttings from Indian newspapers, 1930. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/4.

The Bombay Congress Bulletin, 1930-1932. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/7.

Account by Gerald Sidney Wilson of the arrest of Gandhi on 4 January 1932. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/9.

Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope by Judith M Brown (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1989).

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.49, January-May 1932 (Government of India Publications Division, 1958-).

 

05 October 2023

What about the East India Company Women? Emma Roberts and East India Voyagers

In 1827 Emma Roberts published her first book Memoirs of the Rival Houses of York and Lancaster.  The following year she sailed to India in 1828 on board the ship Sir David Scott with her sister Laura who was married to Captain Robert Adair McNaghten of the Bengal Infantry.  The arrival in Calcutta of this ‘celebrated writer’ was announced in the local press.  India became a major focus of Emma’s writing from this point in her life.

East Indiaman Sir David Scott  at the entrance of the Straights of Sunda. February 1830East Indiaman Sir David Scott  at the entrance of the Straights of Sunda. February 1830, by E. Duncan, handcoloured aquatint published by W. J. Huggins, London, 1833 via Wikimedia

Emma published a book of poetry entitled Oriental Scenes, and edited and composed articles for the Oriental Observer in Calcutta.  Laura died in October 1830, and in 1832 Emma returned to London where she wrote on a wide variety of topics.  But in 1839 she travelled to India taking the overland route via France and Egypt.  She arrived in Bombay in November and quickly became very busy with writing, editing, and a project to provide work for India women.  Sadly she fell ill in April 1840 and moved to Poona hoping to aid her recovery, but died there in September.  Emma was buried on 17 September as a spinster, ‘years unknown’.

Burial register entry at Poona for Emma Roberts 17 September 1840Burial entry for Emma Roberts at Poona 17 September 1840 IOR/N/3/14 p.480

Emma’s book The East India Voyager, or ten minutes’ advice to the outward bound was published in 1839.  There were chapters on: Choice of Cabin; Ladies’ Outfit; Desultory Remarks; Domestic Economy, Diet, Clothing ; The Civil Service; Cadets; The Medical Service; Desultory Remarks upon the Office Of Chaplain; The Overland Journey; Journey from London to Bombay; Expenditure on Journey to Bombay.

The choice of cabin was not so important for young men on the ship as they spent the greater part of their time on deck.  But they were advised to secure at least part of a cabin, however economical they were trying to be, since a berth in steerage was particularly disagreeable.

Ladies, married or single, should opt for upper, or poop, cabins which were light and airy.  The ports seldom had to be shut even in the roughest weather.  The cuddy, where meals were served, was only a few steps away, so there was no need to go out on deck, avoiding the annoyance of a rolling vessel and the risk of meeting crew members.  The disadvantages of the upper cabins was the noise overhead – sailors trampling, ropes dragging, blocks falling, the banging of the hen coops, and the cackling of poultry.  But Emma thought this was good preparation for life in India, and ladies could stop their ears with cotton.

The cabin floor needed to be covered with carpet or mats, and a small rug was useful to put under the feet when eating in the cuddy where the boards were very cold.  The ship’s carpenter could be asked to put up swinging shelves and a piece of board with holes of different sizes for wine glasses, tea cups and tumblers.  Soap was useful as a gift for crew members doing odd jobs, as was brandy because many sailors did not like the rum provided.

Emma also gave advice on the care of dogs on board.  They needed to be brushed, and young dogs were to be given a cup of tea every day, preferably green, with milk and sugar.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator. East India Company Records

Further reading:
Emma Roberts, The East India Voyager, or ten minutes’ advice to the outward bound (London, 1839) British Library shelfmarks 10057.bb.7. and T 37318
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Bombay Gazette 18 June 1828
For other works by Emma Roberts, search the British Library online catalogue

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