Untold lives blog

238 posts categorized "Work"

23 January 2020

Heartbroken on St Helena: the naturalist William John Burchell - Part One

Imagine you’d left your home in London to establish a new life on the island of St Helena.  You begin a trading partnership with your fiancée’s uncle, and the Governor writes to the East India Company’s Directors singing your praises.   As a result, you become the island’s schoolmaster, and later the Company’s naturalist. You send out to England for your fiancée to join you and eagerly await her arrival…. only to find that she has transferred her affections to the ship's Captain and no longer intends to marry you.

This unfortunate turn of events happened to the naturalist and explorer William John Burchell (1781-1863).  During his time on St Helena (1805-10), his travels across South Africa (1810-15), and his expedition to Brazil via Portugal, Madeira and Tenerife (1825-30), he collected tens of thousands of animal, plant, and insect specimens and a variety of ethnographic material.  A talented artist, he made many drawings and paintings, including landscapes, specimens, and the people he encountered.  Burchell has a zebra, several birds, a lizard, fish, butterflies, a plant genus, and even the army ant Eciton burchellii named after him, yet he is not generally well known.

Portrait of William John BurchellWilliam John Burchell by Mary Dawson Turner (née Palgrave), after John Sell Cotman etching (1816) NPG D7805 ©National Portrait Gallery, London

William was born in Fulham in 1781 to the nurseryman Matthew Burchell and his wife Jane.  His early life was surrounded by plants from all over the world, and he came into contact with many of the day's leading botanists.  He worked for a while at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and by 1803 had been elected a fellow of the Linnean Society.  However in August 1805 we find Burchell signed up as 4th mate on the East India Company ship Northumberland.  What made Burchell leave his blossoming botanical career in London?  The answer seems to be a young woman named Lucia Green.  Burchell’s family objected to the match, presumably making him determined to succeed on his own terms.  He arranged a trading partnership with Lucia’s uncle William Balcombe, who had permission ‘to proceed to St Helena for the purpose of exercising the business of an Auctioneer and Appraiser, to the said Island’.

List of the ship's company on the NorthumberlandIOR/L/MAR/B/141 O List of the ship's company on the Northumberland Noc

How Burchell was able to join the Northumberland is not clear.  He did not have the required maritime experience, so perhaps there was a friendship with Captain George Raincock, or a connection with one of the ship’s principal managing owners, Henry Hounsom, William Masson or William Sims.  The ship arrived at St Helena on 13 December 1805.  The ship’s journal notes that Burchell “Left sick at St Helena 28 Jan 1806”, but the presumption is that he never intended to travel further.

 View of Diana's Ridge, from the summit of Sugar Loaf. from Burchell's Saint Helena Journal  View of Diana's Ridge, from the summit of Sugar Loaf. Saint Helena Journal 1806-1810. Dated 8 December 1807 © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Burchell was appointed schoolmaster in June 1806 and asked to focus on educating the young men of the island in the light of Company regulations for cadets.  In November 1806 it was proposed that Burchell develop and look after a botanic garden in James’s Valley.  In 1808 Burchell was appointed as the Company’s naturalist, to “ascertain and investigate the natural productions of the Island… in the hope that something valuable for the purposes of commerce or manufacture might be brought to light”.  He was asked to send back samples of “coloured earths” and “sea fowl guano”, to look after plants destined for England, and investigate the cultivation of cotton. 

Sketch of Mr. Burchell directing Charles - St Helena JournalSketch of Mr. Burchell directing Charles: Burchell - 'There's a famous big one down there Charles; Charles - Yes Sir, I'll soon have that down'. Saint Helena Journal 1806-1810 – Dated 8 December 1807 © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

And all the while, he awaited the arrival of his fiancée Lucia Green.

To be continued…

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/141 O: Journal of the Northumberland
IOR/L/MAR/B/181 F: Journal of the Walmer Castle
IOR/G/32/70-75: St Helena Consultations
IOR/G/32/136-138: St Helena: Original Letters &c from St Helena to the Court
IOR/B/141, 146 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors
Susan Buchanan, Burchell’s Travels. The Life, Art and Journeys of William John Burchell, 1781-1863 (Cape Town, 2015)
William J. Burchell, Travels in the Interior of southern Africa  (London, 1822-1824)
Buchell’s St Helena drawings, and his manuscript notes on the flora and fauna of St Helena (together with other archival material) are held by the Library, Art & Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Burchell’s original St Helena diary, together with other papers and correspondence, is held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.  It has been published by Robin Castell in William John Burchell (1781-1863) [on] St. Helena (1805-1810) (St Helena: Castell Collection, 2011). The diary is quoted in Buchanan, op. cit.
Other Burchell papers, and papers relating to Burchell can be found at the Linnean Society (Correspondence with William Swainston), and the William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand (including copies of material at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the papers of Helen Millar McKay in connection with her research on Burchell). Further drawings and paintings by Burchell can be found in the collections of Museum Africa in Johannesburg.

 

19 December 2019

Christmas appeal from the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union

In 1925 the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union published a touching booklet entitled A Christmas Recipe.  It was an appeal for funds to support their work with needy London children.

Front cover of A Christmas Recipe Front cover of A Christmas Recipe Noc

The Christmas recipe was this:
‘Take a little trouble.  Mix with it a little thought.  Add a pinch of imagination, and some warmth of heart.  Stir yourself up to the point of action.  Pour in as much as you can spare from your pocket.  Take a pen and ink, and an envelope, and a three-halfpenny stamp. Take the result to the post.  And there you are – a bit of happiness worth anybody’s while’.

The recipe from A Christmas Recipe A Christmas Recipe Noc

The old saying of ‘too many cooks’ did not apply to this recipe – the more cooks the better.  The leaflet then went on to urge the reader to open their eyes to children who were poor, lonely, ailing, hungry, and badly clad.  Then to imagine that they were their own children and that they were powerless to help them. 

As for the amount of the donation: ‘Trouble and thought and imagination and warmth of heart together will tell you more clearly than anything else just how much of this ingredient you should use… you should not stint it.  If you can spare half a crown, a florin piece will be just too little to bring the best result of happiness.  If you can spare fifty guineas, fifty pounds will be just too little for a really perfect dish of happiness’.  The very act of donating would bring cheer: ‘You will smile to yourself rather happily as you drop the letter into the box.  You will have a light heart for the rest of the day, and for some days to come’.

The booklet then goes on to set out why money was urgently needed.  Despite increases to wages and the help given through schools and other agencies, many poor children in London lacked warm clothing, nourishing food, and fresh air.  Many were ill or disabled.  In large families the dole given to unemployed men seldom met all necessary expenses after the rent was paid.

As well as gifts of money the Shaftesbury Society asked for clothing, boots, nourishing food, toys, and picture books.   The Society also appealed for donations of time: ‘It just means coming to one of our Missions for an hour or two a week, and being friends with the children’.  The Society’s volunteers were very diverse: ‘the unlettered, the rough toiler, the man and woman who were themselves such children as these,…the scholar, the University graduate, the artist, all eager to help’.

Figures from the 81st Annual Report of the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union Figures from the 81st Annual Report of the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union in A Christmas Recipe Noc

Figures from the 81st Annual Report of the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union demonstrated the breadth of work.  Children were given trips to the seaside and country.  Medical treatment, equipment and ‘industrial training’ was provided for disabled children.  Clothing and boots were supplied.  The Society maintained holiday homes and homes for destitute children, as well as organising day nurseries, infant welfare centres, Sunday Schools, Bible classes, schools and meetings for mothers, companies of Scouts and Guides, and Bands of Hope promoting temperance.

Seasonal greetings from A Christmas Recipe Seasonal greetings from A Christmas Recipe Noc

The Society summed up its aims as to love and to serve.  The booklet includes a quote from the 1924 Declaration on the Rights of the Child: ‘Mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union, A Christmas Recipe (1925) shelfmark X.519/23823

 

05 December 2019

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 2

We left George Byworth in Tasmania working as a merchant officer on sealing voyages.

Back in London, his father Thomas died in 1837.  His will left everything to George’s mother Mary.  She carried on with the watch-making business in Lambeth with her son Thomas.

We know that George returned to England at some point, because on 24 October 1844 he married Amelia Webb in Camberwell.  He described himself as a master mariner of Old Kent Road.  Nineteen-year-old Amelia came from Binfield in Berkshire.

View of Singapore with ships at anchorView of Singapore with ships at anchor from Pieter Harme Witkamp, De Aardbol (Amsterdam, 1839) Shelfmark 10002.g.16-19. BL flickr Noc 

The couple were soon travelling.  Their son George Alfred was born in October 1845 and baptised in March 1847 in Singapore.  In June 1847 George was the master of the Antaris sailing from Singapore to Port Jackson with a general cargo.  His wife and son were passengers on the ship.  Sons Donald Campbell and William Wordsworth Russell, were born in Sydney in July 1847 and April 1849.  Four more children were born in Tasmania between 1851 and 1858: Mary Ann Louisa, Amelia Frances, Edith Constance Burnell, and Loughlin Alan.

George’s mother Mary died in 1853.  She left the business premises and equipment to her son Thomas.  Household goods and other personal effects were shared equally between her sons George, John and Thomas.  She named her friend Henry Vandyke of the Marine Society as her executor but he renounced probate in favour of Thomas. An intriguing link to the Marine Society!

In 1854 George changed careers and became licensee of the British Hotel in George Town, Tasmania.   He advertised in his local paper, the Cornwall Chronicle:
‘GEORGE BYWORTH (late Master Mariner) has great pleasure in making known to the public at large, and particularly to families who visit George Town for health and recreation, that he has obtained a license for the BRITISH FAMILY HOTEL, where will be found accommodation for families and parties, of the most agreeable nature, and at moderate remunerative charges. G. B. will devote himself to ensure the comfort of all persons who favour him with their patronage’.

George Town, TasmaniaGeorge Town, Tasmania from Francis Russell Nixon, The Cruise of the Beacon: a narrative of a visit to the Islands in Bass's Straits (London, 1857) Shelfmark 10498.aa.7. BL flickr Noc

However in September 1857 George Byworth, licensed victualler, was declared insolvent.  By July 1859 the Cornwall Chronicle was reporting the destitute state of the family.  George was desperate to find work and, even though he had ‘seen better days’, he was very willing to accept ‘humble employment’.  Local people raised money for the Byworths and donated clothing, flour, tea, sugar, wood and coal.  Amelia was given help to open a milliner’s shop. 

Launceston, TasmaniaLaunceston, Tasmania from Élisée Reclus, The Earth and its Inhabitants (London, 1878) Shelfmark 10005.ff. BL flickrNoc

The next blow was Amelia’s death from dropsy in October 1862.  George tried to earn a living by running evening classes in navigation, and then expanded this into a commercial and nautical school offering ‘an English education’.  But in 1869 the seven-roomed cottage in Launceston he had occupied was advertised for letting, and his household goods were put up for auction – ‘Piano, table, chairs, bedstead, cooking utensils, and quantity of sundries’.

Things weren’t going well for the Byworth family in London either.  In 1869 George’s brother Thomas was sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour for receiving stolen goods.

In September 1870 George Byworth entered the Launceston Invalid Depôt, a government-run institution for the sick and poor.  He was unable to work but left in March 1872 at his own request.  George died in Launceston on 20 October 1876 at the age of 69 after a life full of incident.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Trove newspapers
British Newspaper Archive

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 1

03 December 2019

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 1

We met George Byworth in our story about the East India Company and Marine Society boys.  He was given as an example of a boy apprentice who made good of the opportunity offered by the Marine Society.  Here we look at his interesting life in more detail.

George was born in London, the son of watchmaker Thomas Byworth and his wife Mary.  His baptism record at St James Clerkenwell from March 1807 gives his date of birth as 23 February 1807.  This tallies with the age given on his death certificate.  However records from the Marine Society and the Board of Trade say George was 14 in March 1823 and 15½ in September 1824, suggesting he was born in 1809.  Why the discrepancy?

Sailor Boy on the lookoutSailor boy on the look-out from Mark James Barrington Ward, The Round World (London, 1890) Shelfmark 10004.f.7.  BL flickr  Noc

From March 1823 to May 1824 George served in the East India Company ship Scaleby Castle on a voyage to Bombay and China.  He sailed with nine other Marine Society boys, one of whom fell overboard and drowned.  They were paid a monthly wage of 10s. 

List of Marine Society Boys on the Scaleby CastleList of Marine Society boys from IOR/L/MAR/B/34-O Journal of Scaleby Castle Noc

Captain David Rae Newall’s journal of the voyage sheds light on how vulnerable these young boys were.  On 1 April 1823 seaman Thomas Barnes was confined in irons for making attempts ‘to commit an unnatural crime on some of the Marine Society Boys’.  On 13 August 1823 a court of enquiry found seaman James Russel guilty of an ‘unnatural attempt’ upon George Byworth.  Russel had a cut on the back of his hand which George said he had made with his knife.  Russel was punished with three dozen lashes.

 In September 1824 George was bound as a merchant navy apprentice to William Shepherd for four years.  He petitioned the East India Company in September 1827 to be granted free mariner’s indentures for India.  This was approved and he spent some time in Calcutta as a merchant officer in the intra-Asia or ‘country’ trade.

George then based himself in Australia undertaking convict and sealing voyages.  Questioned about provisions on sealing vessels in 1834, he described an allowance of pork, bread, flour, coffee, sugar and spirits, supplemented by gathered food such as fish, penguin eggs and petrels.

Map of KerguelenMap of Kerguelen from John Nunn, Narrative of the Wreck of the 'Favourite' on the Island of Desolation (London, 1850) Shelfmark 10460.e.23. BL flickr  Noc

In March 1832 George was the chief officer in the Adelaide when she was sent to Kerguelen, or Desolation Island, to rescue five shipwrecked men.  The Adelaide met with Captain Alexander Distant who reported that he had already taken the men to St Helena.  George went on board Distant’s ship for some supplies but a violent gale prevented him from returning to the Adelaide.  He was obliged to sail with Distant to St Helena.

View of St Helena from the seaView of St Helena from the sea from John Charles Melliss, St. Helena: a physical, historical, and topographical description of the island (London, 1875) Shelfmark 10096.gg.15.  BL flickr Noc

On 14 August 1833 George wrote to the Governor of St Helena telling his story and asking to be paid the cost of clothing provided by Captain Distant plus the rate allowed by the British government to wrecked mariners.  The St Helena Council granted him a daily allowance of 1s 6d.   George wrote again on 9 September expressing his thanks for the island’s kindness, and asking for £12 for his passage on the Lord Hobart to the Cape of Good Hope where he could pick up a ship to return to Tasmania.  The East India Company was repaid George’s expenses by the Admiralty in March 1834.

Part 2 will tell what happened next!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/34-O Journal of Scaleby Castle and IOR/L/MAR/B/34DD Pay Book of Scaleby Castle.
IOR/B/180 pp.398, 406 Petition of George Byworth to the East India Company to be granted free mariner’s indentures September 1827.
The National Archives BT 150/1 Merchant Navy apprenticeship September 1824.
IOR/G/9/24 Cape Factory Records.
IOR/G/32/96 St Helena Factory Records.
Trove newspapers.
Thierry Jean-Marie Rousset, ‘Might is Right’. A study of the Cape Town/Crozets elephant seal oil trade (1832–1869). A dissertation submitted for the degree of Master of Arts in Historical Studies. Faculty of the Humanities University of Cape Town. 2011.

 

21 November 2019

Hostility to the Census of India in 1880

In 1872, the British began the decennial Census of India, as part of the continuing work to survey India and its people. The next census was carried out in 1881, and every ten years after that.  The collecting of data for the census was sometimes looked on with fear and suspicion by local people.  One such instance is described in a report from the Santal Parganas, an area in the Bengal Presidency, where local people objected to the recording of names and the numbering of houses.

Santal Parganas - detail from a Forest Map 1908 Santal Parganas - detail from a Forest Map  1908  IOR/V/27/450/37

The hostile reaction to the collection of census data was reported on by W B Oldham, Deputy Commissioner of the Santal Parganas, on 14 December 1880.  He described being informed of a meeting held at Narayanpore where anti-British sentiment was strongly expressed.  Oldham immediately set out to find and arrest the ringleaders.  Arriving at Jamtara, he was confronted by a man named Gulia who informed Oldham that he would not permit any names to be taken as part of the census.  Gulia was arrested on the spot, and later that day Oldham tried and sentenced him to six months rigorous imprisonment.

Government of India orders about the 1880 censusGovernment of India orders  IOR/L/E/6/54

As wild rumours circulated, a panic spread among the non-Santal and British residents who feared escalating violence.  The Deputy Magistrate at Jamtara, W Rattray, was so nervous he sent his wife away by the afternoon train to ensure her safety.  His fears were not without foundation as that evening he awoke to find his bungalow on fire.  The building was quickly consumed by the flames, although Mr Rattray escaped, and the Government records and most of his furniture was saved.  Oldham wrote that there was no possibility of the fire being accidental.

Account by Mr Rattray of the fireAccount by Mr Rattray of the fire  IOR/L/E/6/54

In his account of his escape Rattray wrote: ‘At about 12.30am, I was startled by hearing the crackling of timber.  On awaking, to my utter astonishment, and at the moment in utter bewilderment, I found the north-west corner in flames.  My first thought was that I had been surrounded by the Sonthals, so I wished for my gun, which I kept loaded resting against the wall, some six feet from my bed, but could not reach it as the roof had already fallen in.  I then made a rush for the bath’.  Rattray went on to claim that he believed the Sonthals had made up their mind to kill him, and being unable to get into his bungalow had set it on fire in the hope of burning him.

Report by Mr OldhamReport by Mr Oldham  IOR/L/E/6/54

On this point Oldham commented in his report: ‘Mr Rattray was naturally much frightened.  There are no other grounds for this belief.  Mr Rattray is too nervous and fidgety an officer to deal with an occurrence like the present; but will no doubt be able to carry on the census satisfactorily, when he is in a position to deal with opponents to it’.  Oldham was sceptical that the Santals were responsible, but felt that stringent measures against those opposing the law, with a corresponding strengthening of the police would put a stop to any further agitation.  The Government of India ordered that the numbering of houses could be dispensed with, and the registering of males by name relaxed, if it would help allay the apprehensions of the people.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Correspondence regarding the state of public feeling in a part of the Sonthal Pergunnahs [Santal Parganas] in Bengal in respect to the Census, December 1880 to February 1881 [Reference: IOR/L/E/6/54, File 98]  
 

14 November 2019

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 2

Continuing our story of Arthur Thomas Williams and the Peace Pledge Union….

The fake telegrams were carefully run off on a duplicator and then planted. 

One of the spurious telegrams planted at the India Office One of the spurious telegrams planted at the India Office - from The National Archives file KV 2/1093 Crown copyright

On 18 December 1942 Williams left the India Office carrying an attaché case and made his way to Endsleigh Street.  Before he could reach the PPU offices, he was arrested and taken to New Scotland Yard.

Williams told the police that he was taking home documents to read for his own interest before returning them to the India Office. Fourteen official deciphered telegrams were found in the case; none were the planted ones.

A thorough search was then made of the offices of the PPU.  Stuart Morris made no attempt to obstruct this and it was ‘carried out in the friendliest and politest manner possible’.  Morris said he looked at the documents brought by Williams and then burned them.  Five India Office deciphered telegrams were found in one drawer, and a second batch in a sealed envelope in another drawer including one of the spurious telegrams.  Stuart Morris was then also arrested.  

Williams’s statement made on 18 December stated that he had heard someone in Hyde Park talking about India. He thought that the speaker was being unfair to the British government and told him that he saw documents at the India Office showing that the government was interested in Indian reform and independence.  Williams then took documents from the secret waste and delivered them to the PPU about once a week.  Morris returned the telegrams from the previous visit and William put them back in the sack for pulping. However the authorities did not believe that Morris had returned the documents and they judged Williams to be disloyal to the British government and to the India Office in particular.

The next day Williams and Morris were charged at Bow Street with ‘retaining’ and ‘receiving’ under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Acts. They were remanded in custody and taken to Brixton Prison. The proceedings were held in camera and no reference to the case was to be made in newspapers.

However the Daily Worker reported on 21 December that Stuart Morris was being held on unknown charges.  Evening newspapers mentioned the Official Secrets Act.  The Censorship Department moved to stop further press speculation.

Visits to Williams in Brixton Prison from Annie, Rose, his son Sid, his brother and a friend are recorded in the Security Service file with details of their conversations.  Williams was heard to say that his conscience was clear and he had only been guilty of a ‘grave indiscretion’.

The trial was held in camera at the Old Bailey on 19 January 1943.  Williams’s defence said he had been interested in India since serving eight years there with the Army.  He was described as a foolish and simple man, without political motivation. The judge accepted that it was not a case of treachery.

Williams was sentenced to twelve months in prison, Morris to nine.  Further interviews were conducted with both men in Wormwood Scrubs.  A notice about the case was drafted for the press – the India Office insisted that it was not identified as the government department involved.

Report of Official Secrets Act trial -  Western Daily Press 17 February 1943Report of trial of Williams and Morris Western Daily Press 17 February 1943 British Newspaper Archive

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives KV 2/1093 The Security Service: Personal (PF Series) Files - Arthur Thomas Williams - available as a download
British Newspaper Archive

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 1

 

12 November 2019

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 1

Our last post told the story of how India Office Records were stored in a Cheshire salt mine during the Second World War.  I felt sorry for paperkeeper Arthur Thomas Williams who worked in very uncomfortable conditions in Winsford.  What had happened to him after he returned to London?  I was very surprised at what I discovered!

A staff list revealed that Arthur Thomas Williams left the India Office suddenly in December 1942.  And the reason why is found in a Security Service file at The National Archives.  Williams was tried in January 1943 under the Official Secrets Act.  The file reads like the plot of a spy novel. 

MI5 Christmas card croppedDetail from MI5 Christmas card 1924 in papers of Sir Malcolm Seton, India Office official 1898-1933 Mss Eur E267/224

On 15 September 1942 a letter was sent by MI5 to the Indian Political Intelligence section at the India Office.  A man, referred to as ‘Q’, had attended a public meeting in Hyde Park and introduced himself to Stuart Morris of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU).  ‘Q’ told Morris that he was sympathetic to Morris’s views on India.  He worked for the India Office and could pass on information from secret telegrams.  Every effort was being made to identify ‘Q’ as quickly as possible.

MI5 was still trying to put a name to ‘Q’ on 10 October 1942.  He was described as ‘a nondescript, middle-aged Civil Servant paid at a comparatively low-grade rate, and who had been previously employed in the Records Office either at Chester or in Cheshire’.  The words salt mines had been overheard.  ‘Q’ dealt with cables in his work.

By 22 October, the India Office had reported that the only person who fitted the description was 57-year-old Arthur Thomas Williams who had worked there since 1927.  One of Williams’s tasks was to collect waste paper from the Telegrams Branch.  His wife Rose had a temporary wartime job in the India Office External Department Registry, where she might possibly have had access to most of the telegrams cited in the case.

A description of Williams was provided to MI5: ‘Height about 5’ 5”, fairly slim build, clean shaven, somewhat pointed chin, black hair rather thin but well plastered down, going bald on crown: does not wear glasses; young looking for his age’.  Williams had not supplied his home address to the India Office since his return from Cheshire and it was established that he was not living with his wife Rose in Clapham.  Rose was observed meeting her husband in Parliament Square shortly before 9am and then continuing to King Charles Street with him, thus giving the impression that they had travelled in together.

MI5 reported in November that Arthur Williams lived in Hounslow.  Unfortunately their agent had mistakenly followed a messenger called Earney home from the India Office.  On 23 November Williams was successfully tracked back to Red Lion Square where he was found to be living with a woman called Annie Homard.

Surveillance of Williams continued throughout December.  He bought beer and cigarettes, had tea at Lyons, changed his library books, visited relatives and went to the offices of the PPU in Endsleigh Street.  The authorities wanted sufficient legal evidence against him for a prosecution.  A plan was devised to place fake telegrams in the waste which Williams collected from the Telegraph Branch.  If these appeared at the PPU offices, then MI5 would have their man!

To be continued…

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives KV 2/1093 The Security Service: Personal (PF Series) Files - Arthur Thomas Williams – available as a download
IOR/L/AG/30/18/58 India Office Establishment List

 

07 November 2019

India Office Records sent to the salt mine

In November 1940, a large quantity of original records was sent by the India Office in Whitehall to Meadowbank Salt Mine in Winsford, Cheshire for storage during the war.  Paperkeeper A T Williams went to Winsford to oversee the move.  A decision had to be taken whether to store the volumes at the top or bottom of the mine.  The chief engineer said that ‘there was a slight damp at bottom & a remote or possible chance of flooding apart from which there was a possibility of interference & handling of the volumes by malicious men below who might damage them, unless they were secure, some wire caging round them, or stored…above in a room in racks on the top level of the mine.  Also if by any chance the mine was bombed heavily in, or on the top section they again might not be safe’.

Salt mine 1Arthur Williams' letter to the India Office 8 December 1940 IOR/L/SG/8/499 Noc

Williams started his task of sorting the records.  He wrote on 8 December: ‘The sooty London dust has gone from them and now they are more or less covered with a fine film of salt which is however quite dry’.  It was a tedious and tiring job, often by candlelight.  He requested overtime pay: ‘The amount of our stuff here has caused some astonishment.  It really is a colossal pile and there are 15 wagons in the siding’.  The salt had rotted his leather shoes, so he bought himself a pair of Wellington boots.

Williams’ update of 23 February 1941 contained further worrying information.  All the volumes were covered with a thin layer of salt, and hundreds were encrusted with small particles up the diameter of a sixpence because they had been unloaded in wet or damp weather and then placed on the floor of the mine.  Some covers were warping.  Williams had worn out his leather gloves and his hands were sore and lacerated.  He had about 20,000 more volumes ‘to wade through’.  By the end of March it had been decided the leave the volumes at the bottom of the mine and joiners were at work fixing strong book racks.

Salt Mine 2List of India Office Reocords stored in the salt mine IOR/L/SG/8/499 Noc

The government’s Paper Shortage Committee became aware of the volumes at Winsford,  some dating from the 18th century. In November 1941 a note was sent to the India Office: ‘The Committee realises of course that this material may be of real historical value but it has thought it worth while to ask for your comments in view of the great demand for safe underground storage, and in view of the urgent need for waste paper salvage’.  The Committee was assured that all the records were either of historical value or of importance to discharging peacetime functions. The 44,000 volumes, weighing 250 tons, comprised copies of Proceedings of governments in India; Public and Judicial records; military recruitment and embarkation lists; Army muster rolls, lists and statements.

After the war the records had to be removed from the mine.  However the basement of the India Office had been altered and there was no room for them.   Arrangements were made in 1947 to take the records to the deep shelter at Stockwell Station in London, but only after the film of salt had been dusted off.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/SG/8/499 Storage of records at Winsford

 

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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