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71 posts categorized "World War One"

05 March 2019

Indian Seamen and the Steamship 'Rauenfels' during World War One

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The India Office Records contains many interesting files on the subject of Indian seamen, or lascars, during the First World War.  One example is a file on the lascar crews of German ships interned at various Neutral, Allied and British Ports.  The file contains correspondence, memoranda and statements concerning Indian seamen who had been serving on German ships prior to the outbreak of war in 1914, and had either been stranded at whatever port their ship was interned or had managed to return to India but with a loss of wages.  The file includes statements often listing the names of the seamen, the port of discharge, the name of the ship, and the amount of any wages owed.

LE7-858 file 76  Rauenfels crew petitionIOR/L/E/7/858 File 76 Noc

Among the papers in the file is a petition from the Indian crew of the German ship Rauenfels describing their case.  The Rauenfels was a steamship of the Hansa Line Steamer Company of Germany, which embarked from the port of Calcutta on 5 January 1914 with a crew of 40 contracted for a one-year voyage to various ports in Asia and Europe, including Hamburg, Antwerp, Karachi, Bombay, and also New York.  With the outbreak of war in August 1914, the ship took shelter in Bahia in Brazil.  The Indian seamen were kept aboard ship for 5 months in order to complete their agreed term of employment, after which they were forced to go ashore, and left under the care of the British Consul there.  They stayed at Bahia for a month, and were supplied by the Consul with food and lodgings, before being sent back to Calcutta via Marseilles and Rangoon.  The British Consul in Brazil had told the seamen that they would receive the pay still due to them when they reached Calcutta, but six weeks after returning to India, they had still not received it.  They therefore sent a petition to the Bengal Chamber of Commerce in Calcutta, which forwarded it to the Government of India for consideration.  The decision reached by Government was that Local Indian Governments could make such payments to seamen, and then if possible recover the amount plus any repatriation costs from the ships owners or agents.

LE7-858 file 76  Rauenfels crew namesIOR/L/E/7/858 File 76 Noc

With the petition was sent a fascinating list of the 40 crew members giving their names, father’s name, address in India, their capacity (or role) on the ship, term of service, rate of pay, the payment received, and the balance due.  Some of the extraordinary sounding names of the roles listed are intriguing, for instance Donkeyman.  This was someone who was in charge of a steam engine, known as a donkey-engine, which was usually used for subsidiary operations on board ship.

As for the ship, it was seized by the Brazilian Government in 1917 and renamed the Lages.  In September 1942, it was part of convoy of merchant ships which were attacked by a German U-boat off the coast of Brazil.  The Lages was struck by a torpedo and sank with the loss of three lives.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Lascar Crews of German Ships interned at various Neutral, Allied and British Ports, 1915-1917 [Reference IOR/L/E/7/858 File 76]
Tyne Built Ships, A history of Tyne shipbuilders and the ships that they built
Lages

 

21 February 2019

Interviews with Indian Soldiers of World War One and World War Two

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The India Office Records recently acquired a fascinating collection of transcripts of interviews with Indian veterans of the First and Second World Wars.  The interviews were carried out by the American historian DeWitt Ellinwood (1923-2012) and his team of researchers between 1969 and 1986 as part of a historical survey of Indian soldiers, both officers and sepoys, who served in the Indian Army during some part of the period 1914-1939.

Mss Eur F729-1-30 Questions for Indian SoldiersMss Eur F729

The contribution of people from South Asia to the First and Second World Wars was crucial to Britain’s war effort.  India raised the world’s largest volunteer armies for both conflicts.  For each phase of the interviewing project, questionnaires were used as a way of drawing out the veterans’ memories and opinions.  There were questions about background (where the veteran came from, his home village and family), joining the army, training, army career (regiments served with, battles experienced), experiences of British officers, service conditions (food, medical facilities, recreation, and ability to carry out religious duties), contacts with other people (British soldiers, other Indian soldiers of different castes or religions, people of other countries), personal views (did the army change their views or ideas, their political views, their views of the British), and life after leaving the army.

Mss Eur F729-2-1 Questionnaire for World War One soldiersMss Eur F729

The transcripts of the answers given by the veterans give a fascinating glimpse into a period of their lives which saw great turmoil and change across the world, and an insight into what they felt and thought of that period.  The issue of British rule and the struggle for independence loomed large.  For many the experience of army life and the opportunities to meet people from other parts of the world, strengthened their belief that India should be free from British rule.  For others, the lower pay of Indian soldiers and the lack of respect from British officers led them to support the Independence movement.  Looking back, many of the men interviewed saw their army career as being a positive experience, giving them confidence in their abilities and a sense of purpose to their life.

15th Sikhs photo_24_076British and Indian officers, 15th Sikhs, standing in a French farmyard 24 July 1915 Images Online

The catalogue for the collection can be found online in Explore Archives and Manuscripts .

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Transcripts of interviews with former Indian soldiers who served in World War One and World War Two, 1967-1986 [Reference Mss Eur F729].

Harriet Sherwood writing for The Guardian, “Indians in the trenches: voices of forgotten army are finally to be heard”, 27 October 2018.

George Morton-Jack, The Indian Empire at War: From Jihad to Victory, The Untold Story of the Indian Army in the First World War (London: Little, Brown, 2018).

 

05 February 2019

A little piece of India

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In 1917, a new Muslim burial ground opened in Woking for Indian soldiers dying in England during the First World War.

Woking layoutPlan for layout of Woking Burial Ground IOR/L/SUR/5/8/8 Noc

In 2016 we posted a piece about the design of the Muslim Burial Ground with images taken from a military file in the India Office Records.  Today’s post develops the story using evidence from papers in the archive of the Surveyor’s Department.

The file is dedicated to the construction of the cemetery, including correspondence between designers and suppliers, plans of the layout of the cemetery, advertisements for grave and coffin prices, financial statements and the names of seventeen Indian soldiers who were buried at the cemetery.

Woking list of soldiers Indian soldiers buried at Woking IOR/L/SUR/5/8/8 Noc

Not much is said about the soldiers, just their regimental number, rank, name, regiment and the date of their death. All seventeen of the soldiers died between 1915 and 1916 and the majority of them were either a Sowar (Indian Cavalry) or Sepoy (Indian Infantry). There were also two drivers and two cooks included in the list.

Unfortunately, the information on the soldiers stops there, with no indication on how they died or where they were before being laid to rest at Woking. The plans show that each soldier was to be buried with his ‘face towards Mecca’ and ‘each stone bears an inscription at the top in Hindustani, and then follows the other details in English’. This indicates that the designers made sure that each soldier was buried according to his religion.

The site designer, T.H. Winny, took great care in the preparations and construction of the cemetery, having it built in the Indo-Saracenic architectural style. Throughout the file, there is correspondence between designer and builders going into precise detail including the ‘recipe’ of concrete to be used (‘one part of Portland Cement to 2 parts of clean washed river or grit sand and 5 parts of screened river ballast’), a building contract (‘the whole of the materials and workmanship are to be the best of their respective kinds’) and even how many cypresses to plant in the grounds (‘100, in 4 varieties, 2-5 feet high’).

A newspaper clipping gives insight into what the cemetery was like upon opening, stating that in the sunlight it ‘assumes quite an Oriental appearance’ and the representative for the newspaper was ‘struck with its beauty and the splendour of some of the stones erected on the graves’.

Woking gravesDesign for gravestones for Indian soldiers IOR/L/SUR/5/8/8  Noc

Winny and his team of designers, builders and suppliers did everything they could to make this corner of Woking into a little piece of India.

Candace Martin-Burgers
Librarianship Placement Student, RMIT, Melbourne

Further reading:
IOR/L/SUR/5/8/8 India Office Surveyor’s Department file on the Muslim Burial Ground at Woking

 

29 January 2019

The shooting of the British Consul General at Isfahan and Sowar Chowdri Khan

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Persia (Iran) declared its neutrality in the First World War on 1 November 1914.  Nevertheless, owing to its oil deposits and proximity to British-ruled India, Persia became a battleground for the Great Powers during the War.  In January 1915, the Germans launched a major infiltration campaign in British occupied southern Persia.  German agents sought to instigate popular rebellion amongst the local population against Allied forces, and to sabotage and destroy British installations and interests.

IOR L PS 10 332 f77Map of ‘Persia & Afghanistan’, April 1908 (IOR/L/PS/10/332, f 77) Open Government Licence

On 2 September 1915, Thomas George Grahame, British Consul General at Isfahan, and Chowdri Khan, one of the Indian sowars (cavalry soldiers) composing his escort, were attacked in a lane after riding out on horseback from the Consulate.  This attack resulted in the wounding of Grahame and the death of Khan.  The incident was viewed by Charles Murray Marling, HM Minister to Tehran, as being part of a German campaign of assassinations.
 

IOR R 15 1 710 f10Map of British consular jurisdictions in Persia, 1907 (IOR/R/15/1/710, f 10) Open Government Licence

Grahame sent an account of the incident to Marling.  He recounted that he saw a man walking in front of him in the lane, who suddenly turned around and stepped to the side of the path.  Grahame ‘saw his arm raised, heard a shot and felt a twinge under [his] left arm’.  He saw the man moving in the direction of Chowdri Khan, as Grahame’s frightened horse broke into a canter.  He then saw another man, who ‘raised both arms as if to give a signal to some one unseen’ as Grahame passed him.  As Grahame galloped away he ‘heard three shots fired – presumably on Chowdri Khan’.

IOR L PS 10 490 f249

IOR L PS 10 490 f250 Copy of statement by Thomas George Grahame, British Consul General at Isfahan, 2 September 1915 (IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 249-250) Open Government Licence

Grahame wrote that he sought help for Chowdri Khan from two policemen and another Indian Sowar he passed on his way back to the Consulate, from where orders were given to find and assist Chowdri Khan.

Resaidar Malik Rab Nawaz Khan, of the 11th King Edward’s Own Lancers, Native Officer in charge of the Isfahan Consulate General Guard, stated that Sowar Khan Mohamed Khan was the first to be ready to search for Chowdri Khan.  He left the Consulate alone, ‘regardless of dangers’, and found Chowdri Khan, ‘wounded, but still alive’.

Khan Mohamed Khan tried to carry Chowdri Khan to the nearby Church Missionary Society Hospital, but after going 200 yards his strength failed him.  Some Persians came to his assistance and Chowdri Khan was carried to the Hospital, but after a few minutes, he died.

The Resaidar stated that he hoped that Khan Mohamed Khan’s ‘promptitude and bravery’ would be ‘recognised in a fitting manner’.

IOR L PS 10 490 f252

IOR L PS 10 490 f253 Copy of statement by Resaidar Malik Rab Nawaz Khan, 11th King Edward’s Own Lancers, 6 September 1915 (IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 252-253) Open Government Licence

Grahame learnt that seven shots in total had been heard from the CMS Hospital.  The first was the one fired at Grahame, but the rest appeared to have been fired by two other men ‘lurking about in the lane’.  According to one informant, ‘two of these three men were wearing German badges’. 

This incident was soon followed by the British Vice-Consul at Shiraz being shot and killed in the street on 7 September.  By the end of 1915, the situation in southern Persia had deteriorated so badly for the British that they decided they needed to raise ‘a force for the restoration of law and order’, the South Persia Rifles.

Susannah Gillard
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
India Office Records files which can be viewed on the Qatar Digital Library:
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 14 'German War: Persia; general situation' IOR/L/PS/10/490
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 9 'German War: Persia' IOR/L/PS/10/486
Touraj Atabaki, ‘Persia/Iran’, 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson (Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin, 2016).
Touraj Atabaki (ed.), Iran and the First World War: Battleground of the Great Powers (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006).
Donald M. McKale, War by Revolution: Germany and Great Britain in the Middle East in the Era of World War I (Kent, Ohio; London: Kent State University Press, 1998).
Denis Wright, The English Amongst the Persians During the Qajar period, 1787-1921 (London: Heinemann, 1977).

 

01 January 2019

Indian Honours List, New Year 1919

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On 1 January 1919 the India Office published its honours list approved by the King.  There is a memorandum in the archives giving the reasons why the awards were made. 

The first name on the list is Sir Dorabji Jamshedji Tata who was elevated to Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (K.C.S.I.) in recognition of being a pioneer of industrial enterprise in India.  He is followed by European, Indian and Burmese men holding civil, military, medical, scientific and diplomatic posts, as well as by Indian princes.  The Maharaja of Baroda and the Maharaja of Alwar, Rajputana, were made Knights Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (G.C.I.E.), the first for raising cash for the First World War as well as for his life-long efforts to improve the condition of his state; the second for providing soldiers.  Many honours were awarded for services connected with the War.

Star of India investitureFirst investiture of the Star of India November 1861 - Plate 17 of William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern.  The Nawab Begum of Bhopal appears in the centre of the picture. Online Gallery

Forty-seven women in India were honoured in January 1919, mostly Europeans. Three women were made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.). Lady Eva Cardew had undertaken religious and philanthropic work in Madras and Ootacamund, as well as charitable efforts in connection with the War.  Mrs Gertrude Carmichael had worked with the East Indies Naval Fund; Bombay University; and Lady Willingdon’s scheme for maternity homes. Mrs Miriam Isabel Lyons had served for the past three years as President of the Poona Branch of the War and Relief Fund.

Fourteen women were made Officer of the British Empire (O.B.E.).  A number had been active in the Red Cross during the War.  Mrs Maud Lilian Davys had worked as an assistant to her husband Major Gerard Irvine Davys of the Indian Medical Service in a new laboratory for examining foodstuffs at Kasuali in the Punjab.  According to the 1939 Register, Mrs Davys was still working as a food scientist at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Mrs Alice Todhunter’s O.B.E. recognised her work with the Madras War Fund Ladies’ Depot, especially her success in securing the support of Indian women.  Mrs Todhunter had also been busy with the St John Ambulance Association and with the National Indian Association, striving for the education of Indian women and the encouragement of social intercourse between Indians and Europeans.

The list of Members of the British Empire had 27 women, seven Indian.  Bai Champabahen Manibhai of Bombay was praised for carrying on her mother’s philanthropic activities, including providing equipment for the Kapadwanj Dispensary and bearing the expenses of recruits at the Anand Depot.

Three women were awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal.  Miss Sarah Isabel Hatch of the Canadian Baptist Telegu Mission in Madras had established an asylum for lepers at Ramachandrapuram in the Godavari District in 1899 and now had over 100 inmates from across the Presidency.  Mrs Pandita Ramabai of Bombay had furthered the education of Indian women, with a team of ‘English and American ladies working under her’.  There were now 1,000 women and girls at a mission provided entirely by her.  Miss Gertrude Davis was Principal Matron in the Australian Army Nursing Service based at the Victoria War Hospital in Bombay.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/15/41 File H224/1918 New Year’s Honours 1919
H Taprell-Dorling, Ribbons and Medals (London, 1916)

 

11 November 2018

From library to battlefield – Rifleman Frederick Boxall

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At the staff entrance of the British Library in London, there is a memorial plaque with 142 names. This is the roll of honour for the British librarians who lost their lives while serving in the First World War.

BLMemorial
In 2014, Untold Lives told the story of the first of the librarians named on the memorial to die:  Quartermaster Sergeant Herbert Gladstone Booth.  The last man on the memorial to die prior to the Armistice of 11 November 1918 was Frederick James Boxall, formerly an assistant at Sion College Library in London.  305423 Rifleman Frederick James Boxall of the 1/5th (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment, the 1st Battalion, London Rifle Brigade, died of wounds in France on 7 November 1918, aged nineteen.

Frederick James Boxall was born at Battersea on 25 February 1899, the son of James Boxall and Edith Kate Boxall (née Bishop).  At the time of the 1901 Census, the family was living at 13 Brassey Square, Battersea and James was working as a carpenter.  Frederick’s  younger brother Herbert was born on 21 July 1901.  The family moved to Croydon.  School records show that Frederick studied from 1904 at Ecclesbourne Road Infants School, transferring to Winterbourne Boys School in 1906.  Frederick Boxall left school in December 1913 to become a junior assistant at Croydon Library. Two years later, he was appointed assistant at Sion College Library.

Frederick Boxall was called up in 1916.  He attested at Croydon on 9 December 1916, when he was seventeen years old.  He served with the 1st Battalion, London Rifle Brigade, a Territorial Force unit that was in late 1918 part of 169th Infantry Brigade in the 56th (1/1st London) Division. On 5 November 1918, the 56th Division was advancing towards the Honnelle River, close to the Franco-Belgian border between Valenciennes and Mons.  At 5.30 am, the 169th Brigade attacked and captured the village of Angreau.  Attempts to advance any further were prevented by heavy machine-gun fire.  The 169th and 168th Brigades attempted to continue the advance the following morning.  The 1st London Rifle Brigade were successful in capturing their first objective, but strong German counter attacks eventually pushed them back to their original lines. The battalion war diary (TNA: WO 95/2962/6) noted that the weather conditions were not good: ‘rain fell all day and the River Honnelle had to be waded across’.  The operation failed because the village of Angre was still held by the Germans, and units on the battalion’s right had also failed to make progress. 

A notice of Rifleman Boxall’s death was published in Library World, December 1918:
'We regret to announce the death of FREDERICK JAMES BOXALL, assistant in Sion College Library, who was mortally wounded while succouring a wounded comrade on 6th November, and died next day.  Boxall, who was nineteen years old, served as a junior in the Croydon Libraries from December, 1913, to December, 1915, when he was appointed at Sion College. A gentle-mannered, earnest and promising young man, his early but heroic death is much deplored'.

  Canadian casualty clearing station 1918Ward scene of a Canadian Casualty Clearing Station in Valenciennes. November 1918 Canadian Official World War 1 Photographs 1920 l.r.233.b.57.v4

Rifleman Boxall is buried in Cambrai East Military Cemetery in France. His name appears on the West Croydon Congregational Church war memorial, now in East Croydon United Reformed Church.

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager

 

26 June 2018

British-US rivalry in the race to discover oil in Iraq

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How the race to discover ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’ led to the British Government’s belief that an American oil company had helped secretly fund the Iraqi revolt against British occupation in 1920.

  Hobbs Oil 1Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916. IOR/L/PS/18/D228, f 141

In the aftermath of the First World War, much of the defeated Ottoman Empire’s dominions were carved up between the War’s victors. In the case of Mesopotamia [Iraq], this meant military occupation and administration by the British.

The British Government saw great strategic and commercial value in Mesopotamia, thanks in part to the significant oil reserves they believed it to possess. Britain already had an effective monopoly on oil exploration and production in neighbouring Persia [Iran], through the operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. But at the end of the First World War, foreign oil companies were also eager to discover oil reserves in Mesopotamia.

The two major players in Mesopotamia in 1919 were the British Anglo-Saxon Oil Company (ASOC, now part of Royal Dutch Shell) and the American Standard Oil Company of New York (SONY). The stakes were high. In a letter intercepted by British censors, one of the two geologists sent by SONY to explore Mesopotamia reported to a relative that he was on his way to find ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’.

Naturally the British Government favoured British interests over American, but could not be seen to be giving preference to one over the other. The solution was to request that both companies halt their exploration work, explaining that while Mesopotamia remained under military occupation, oil exploration could be conducted for military purposes only. In the meantime, ASOC’s geologists were retained by the military, and their work paid for by British military funds.

Hobbs Oil 2Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 147

The frustrations of the two SONY geologists, stuck in Baghdad and unable to carry out their work, is made clear in another intercepted letter, written in June 1920 by one of the geologists to his fiancé. ‘If you know the inside history of this you will find that the British have held up […] American firms from doing business in places conquered by the British while we were doing their fighting in France’ he wrote.

  Hobbs Oil 3Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 29

By this time angry Iraqis were on the streets, protesting against Britain’s continued occupation of their country, two years after the end of the War. The intercepted geologist’s letter affirmed the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia’s belief that SONY were financing the anti-British movement in Mesopotamia. In a secret telegram sent to Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in August 1920, the Commissioner further wrote it was ‘clear that [the] United States Consul has frequent conversation of an intimate nature with extremists to such an extent that in recent meetings in mosques, cries have been raised by extremists “long live America and her Consul”’.

Hobbs Oil 4Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 4

The British officials involved conceded that they had no concrete proof to back up any of their suspicions and accusations. Nevertheless, Curzon felt it ‘desirable that any avenue that might lead to proof, should be kept open’.

Mark Hobbs
Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading:
British Library, London, ‘File 2249/1915 Pt 2 ‘Oil: Mesopotamia and Persia: oil; Sir J Cowan's deputation & Standard Oil Co.’ (IOR/L/PS/10/556)

 

16 May 2018

The Anti-German Union and the India Office

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A file among the records of the India Office Public & Judicial Department shows how the anti-German hysteria that developed in Britain after the outbreak of the First World War came to spread as far as central India.

Anti German Union Museum of Fine Arts Boston CON651696Poster for Anti-German Union 1915 courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

George Makrill was Honorary Secretary of the Anti-German Union  - motto: ‘No German Labour, No German Goods, No German Influence, Britain for the British'.  On 9 August 1915 he wrote to the India Office from the Union's headquarters on The Strand concerning ‘... certain information, which I have received from a source which I know to be trustworthy, and which appears to me to require immediate action’.

This potentially grave matter was then left hanging, as Makrill had forgotten to include in this initial communication a short list of persons with German connections who had worked or were working in the Central Provinces administration.  This was dispatched, with apologies, on 26 August.
 
The India Office thus found itself tasked with investigating four of its own civil servants:
• the late Sir Arthur Blumerhassett, former Chief Secretary - what damage might he have done the Allied cause before his death?
• Mr Marten, his successor - had he been ‘turned’ by Sir Arthur?
• Mr Grille, Assistant Commissioner - was he part of the conspiracy?
• Mr Hullah, Third Secretary  - what was his nefarious role?

Mr Makrill might himself have done some elementary checking prior to alerting the India Office, given that he must have meant Sir Arthur Blennerhassett who had died in late January.  It was soon established that the four individuals were all Oxbridge graduates, which before the Cambridge spy ring scandal erupted decades later must presumably have worked in their favour.  Departmental Secretary Malcolm Seton (Repton and Oriel College, Oxford) took it upon himself to deal with the matter, putting the laconic note in the file on 2 September : ‘Mr. J. T. Marten has a German mother, but the Martens are an old Gloucestershire family.  I have known him intimately for over 20 years.  He has always been rather anti-German in feeling’.  He was plainly not impressed by the error over the Blennerhassett surname: ‘Burke or Debrett could have been consulted’.

In retrospect it is clear that the whole episode stemmed from the Anti-German Union having somehow discovered that a handful of overseas civil servants had some German ancestry and/or had married German wives, and were keen for the India Office to investigate their backgrounds.  Seton’s sense of exasperation is plain in another written comment: ‘If the Anti-German Union hopes to proscribe every official who has German blood, its labours will be protracted’.  No further action seems to have taken place, and Messrs Marten (Clifton and New College, Oxford), Grille (Harrow and Jesus, Cambridge) and Hullah (Oundle and Caius College, Cambridge) were sensibly allowed to continue their careers unmolested.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
IOR/L/PJ/6/1395, file 3304
Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E267