Untold lives blog

36 posts categorized "Writing"

17 September 2020

Sylvia Pankhurst’s Toilet Papers

The panic bulk buying of toilet paper and dried pasta?  Or Captain Tom Moore’s long march for the NHS?  It’s too soon to tell which aspects of 2020 historians will focus on.  However, as Sylvia Pankhurst’s biographer, my own obsession with toilet paper began a few years before the Covid-19 pandemic, and it began in the British Library.

Many people remember Sylvia Pankhurst as the suffragette sister from the first family of feminism who stayed true to its socialist beginnings throughout her great life.  Fewer reflect upon the whole arc of that life; one of art and resistance against war, fascism, racism, colonialism, and inequality.

Head and shoulders portrait photograph of Sylvia Pankhurst 1938

Head and shoulders portrait photograph of Sylvia Pankhurst by Howard Coster, 1938 NPG x24529 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Sylvia was the most incarcerated and tortured of the Pankhursts, but her prison career did not end there.  In 1921 she was once more His Majesty’s guest in Holloway Prison.  This time her crime was not the struggle for women’s equality but sedition, in publishing anti-war articles in her newspaper the Workers’ Dreadnought.  Her health compromised by previous imprisonment and torture, and suffering from endometriosis, one of the bravest Britons of the 20th century served another prison term, this time as a newspaper publisher defending freedom of the press.

Sylvia used her six-month solitary sentence to write.  A political prisoner, her only permitted writing materials were a small slate and chalk.  Yet she was prolific during this period.  On release, she published the poetry anthology Writ on Cold Slate, whose title sonnet agonizes about writing under such conditions.

Whilst many a poet to his love hath writ,
Boasting that thus he gave immortal life,
My faithful lines upon inconstant slate,
Destined to swift extinction reach not thee.

So, I wondered, how did these faithful lines reach us?

My excavation of British Library manuscripts revealed that artist and writer came up with a practical means of transcribing her writing and smuggling it out of Holloway.  Sylvia drafted her ideas with chalk on slate, then reworked them with soft pencil on standard issue HM Prison toilet paper, concealed in the underclothes of her uniform.  These contraband manuscripts were smuggled out by her friend Norah Smyth on prison visits, and other prisoners on release.  Sylvia’s suggestive wipe-away slate metaphor led me to the discovery of the fragile toilet paper reality.  The compressed, previously unsorted bundles surviving today in the BL contain not only poetry but a previously unknown and nearly complete five act play and clandestine correspondence that I spent six months painstakingly transcribing and putting in order for future researchers.

Sylvia complained to Norah that ‘the stuff I write all rubs off because it flops around in my pocket,’ but this line has survived for a century on its little square of rough toilet roll, along with hundreds of other sheets of beige, perforated prison issue toilet paper.  Sylvia Pankhurst died in Ethiopia in 1960, honoured with a state funeral.  When an earthquake and coup followed, her son unsuccessfully attempted to give a portion of her extensive papers to the British Library for safekeeping.  Refuge was instead found in Amsterdam.  Years later, Richard Pankhurst once again offered the BL the opportunity of a further cache of his mother’s papers, including – bundled up in bulging brown envelopes – this toilet paper in which I have found such treasure.  Thank goodness for second chances and for writing under lockdown.

Rachel Holmes
Author 

Further reading:
Pankhurst Papers - British Library Add MS 88925
Rachel Holmes, Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel (Bloomsbury, 2020).

21 June 2020

Fanny Barlow’s letters to Papa

Whilst Sir George Hilaro Barlow was governor of Madras (1807–1813) his daughter, little Frances ‘Fanny’ Barlow (1801–1887), was practising her hand at written correspondence, stating proudly in a letter to her father in 1808, ‘I have written all this letter myself’.  Before his redeployment to Madras, George Barlow was governor-general of Bengal, a powerful position in the East India Company, and he is therefore a prominent figure in Britain’s imperial history. 

Portrait of Sir George BarlowSir George Barlow NPG 4988 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence


Like many imperial families at this time, the lives of his female relatives are less well known and rarely are we attentive to the voices of their children.  However, family history, through the use of personal papers and archives, can help bring them to the fore.  This blog post illustrates how the British Library’s catalogue can be used to begin to build up a picture of Fanny’s life.

Fanny was one of fifteen children, and the fourth daughter, born to George and his wife Elizabeth née Smith.  Her letters, along with the rest of the family’s papers, are held in the India Office Records and Private Papers, and they provide a new perspective, a unique view into the ways that 19th-century girls put their epistolary skills to use in order to maintain a sense of connection and intimacy with parents who lived thousands of miles away.  For young Fanny, her letters were often the only means of regular communication with her ‘dear Papa’.

First page of a letter from Fanny to George Barlow  1808British Library India Office Records and Private Papers, Mss Eur F176. First page of a letter from Fanny to George Barlow, 1808 (photograph taken by the author).


British children born in India were increasingly sent to live with their extended family in Britain, owing to growing concerns about the effect of the tropical climate and so-called ‘native’ influence on their bodies and minds.  After completing their education, the children of imperial families sometimes returned to India to follow in the footsteps of their parents.  But until then, they were entrusted to relatives in Britain who also wrote letters to the parents reporting on their development.  For example, Fanny’s uncle, Reverend Thomas Barlow, assured George that ‘the air of Devon perfectly agrees with [her], [and] her constitution does not betray any symptoms of her having been born in India’.  This guardianship of the Barlow children which fell upon aunts, uncles, and grandparents, served the dual purpose of enabling George to carry out his duties on the Indian subcontinent whilst also protecting Fanny and her siblings from the perceived ‘perils’ of growing up in a colonial environment.

Additional pages of the letter from Fanny to George Barlow 1808

British Library India Office Records and Private Papers, Mss Eur F176. Additional pages of the letter from Fanny to George Barlow, 1808 (photograph taken by the author).

The Barlow children’s letter-writing was prolific, covering a variety of topics, everything from their daily routines to musical accomplishments and thoughts on what they were reading.   George would have been sent reams of personal and business correspondence, so Fanny had to work hard to gain his attention.  In 1811, four years into his governorship in Madras and when Fanny was nine years old, she wrote strategically to George to coax a much-awaited reply from him: ‘I do not recollect that I ever received more than one letter from you, and it will give me great pleasure to receive an answer to this’.  Fanny’s life with her extended family in Devon and London was so disparate from her father’s in India, but letters helped her to fill the void between them… even if his replies were not as frequent as she would have liked.

Ellen Smith
Funded Midlands4Cities AHRC DTP PhD student at the University of Leicester, researching family life in British India c. 1790–1920.


Further reading:
British Library India Office Records and Private Papers, Mss Eur F176: Papers of Sir George Barlow, East India Company servant, Bengal from 1778; Governor-General of Bengal 1805-07; Governor of Madras 1807-13; and papers of his children, 1781–1860.  Particularly, Mss Eur F176/1-24: Family Correspondence, c. 1781–1846.
To trace Fanny’s letter-writing into adulthood see also, Mss Eur F176/96-100: Papers of Frances Barlow (1801-87), fourth daughter of Sir George Barlow, c. 1846–1860.
P. J. Marshall, ‘Barlow, Sir George Hilaro, first baronet (1763–1846)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2008).
For more on the Barlow family, but not concerning Fanny specifically, see, Vyvyen Brendon, Children of the Raj (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), pp.11-40, and for a study on the fascinating love affair that broke up the Barlow family see Margot Finn, ‘The Barlow Bastards: Romance Comes Home from the Empire’ in Margot Finn, Michael Lobban, and Jenny Bourne Taylor (eds.), Legitimacy and Illegitimacy in Nineteenth-Century Law, Literature and History (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp.25-47.
Elizabeth Buettner, Empire Families: Britons and Late Imperial India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

 

02 June 2020

A rebus puzzle

During the last few months you’ve probably puzzled over at least one emoji quiz, one of many inventive online distractions people are sharing to while away the time during lock-down.  These quizzes have something in common with the 'rebus' – a kind of picture puzzle which gained popularity in Europe from the 16th century onwards.  In place of words, the writer inserts pictures and letters whose names sound out the meaning of the sentences.

A childhood letter in the form of a rebus addressed to two young girls survives among the papers from the Granville family archive preserved by Harriet Cavendish, later Lady Granville (1785-1862), now part of Add MS 89382.

Lady Harriet CavendishPortrait of Lady Harriet Cavendish, Countess Granville (1785-1862) by Thomas Barber the elder, from the collections at Hardwick Hall © National Trust 

In 1790, young Harriet and her siblings Georgiana and William, the three children of William Cavendish, fifth Duke of Devonshire (1748–1811), and his wife Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806), were joined in their nursery at Chatsworth by two new playmates – five year old Caroline Rosalie St Jules and two year old Augustus Clifford.

View of Chatsworth House by Paul SandbyView of Chatsworth House by Paul Sandby, published by George Kearsley in The Copper Plate Magazine 1775. British Library, Kings Topographical Collection. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Caroline and Augustus were actually the children’s half sister and brother. They were the illegitimate children of their father, the Duke, and his mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who had been living with the Duke and Duchess in a long-lasting ménage à trois.   The children had been born abroad where they spent their earliest years, and only came to live with their mother at Chatsworth in 1790.

Caroline was almost exactly the same age as her half-sister Harriet (or Hary-o, as she was called by the family).  Both girls had both been born in August 1785, though far apart.  From this time on, from the aged of five, they spent the rest of their childhoods together.  Besides having the company of their three brothers and sisters, they were often joined for visits and on holiday by Hary-o’s cousins, including Caroline Ponsonby, later Caroline Lamb, who was also born in 1785, the same year as the two sisters.

The rebus letter is addressed to both Hary-o and Caroline St Jules, but it is unsigned.  Could it have been written by their cousin Caroline Ponsonby?  Or was it from another young friend of their acquaintance?

Rebus
Rebus letter to Harriet Cavendish and Caroline St Jules. Undated c. 1795-1800 (Add MS 89382/3/5) 

Can you read the letter? If you know the French for 'well' and 'sea' and the names of the notes in the sol-fa music system you are nearly there!  Our imperfect attempt is at the end of this post.  Bonus points if you can hazard a guess at the identity of the village or town drawn at the foot of the page.

This charming and affectionate letter must have held particular significance for Hary-o, who kept it all her life.  It came to the British Library folded in a silk purse, along with surviving letters from her mother Georgiana and other treasured papers.

Tabitha Driver
Cataloguer, Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Address: A[mi] Le[Dé] Henriette [E] [A] Mademoiselle [Ka]roline St Jeule

Letter:
Accep[Té] cheres [E] douce a[mi]
Acceptez chères et douces amis
[Sept] fidelle pettit ^gaie [ré- bé/si(?)]
cette fidelle petit gaie rebus
[E] [croix] combien les [heures]
Et crois combien les heures
[Cent] les [deux] [Dé]lice de ma vie
Sont les deux délices de ma vie
[E –la], Je [ré]grette a[mer]ment
Hélas, Je regrette amèrement
Que je ne [puits] vous conter a pres[cent]
Que je ne puis vous conter à présent
Ce qui [E] passé de[puits] quelque Jours
Ce qui est passé depuis quelques Jours
[Cent] les [deux] a[mi] de mon [coeur]
Sans les deux amis de mon coeur
Maïs jamais Je ne soufrir[ré]
Mais jamais je ne souffrirai
[Un] jour de passé (?) [cent] [ex]primé
Un jour de passer sans exprimer
A mes a[mi] bien aimee
À mes amis bien aimées
Que je ne [puits] les oubli[E]
Que je ne puis les oublier

 

11 February 2020

Internment during the Second World War – Part Two: an album created by a Prisoner of War in Italy

Here is the second of a multi-part series on internment, highlighting the experiences of both civilians and military personnel detained across the globe in the Second World War.

Internment was often a negative experience, but here is something positive which came out of it - a scrapbook put together by British prisoner of war W. “Bill” Millett interned in Rezzanello, Italy.  His regiment was captured in early 1941 while in Africa.  The album features contributions from various men in the camp, Britons, Australians, Indians, and others.  The entries include poems, prose, sketches and even watercolours, showing the talents of these prisoners of war. Bill was evidently held in high regard by others in the camp. Londoner Captain S.G.M. Wright sarcastically reflects:

‘When I look back on these days,
I shall remember you Bill,
With your peculiar annoying ways,
Which, I see you possess still.’

There are 53 contributions, many providing an insight into life in the camp.  One concerns food: ‘The burial of one more (breakfast) at Rezzanello’. The author longs for eggs, bacon, and coffee.  Another regards gambling: ‘Smoke filled eyes and tongues all furry, scarcely seeing in the gloom, Knights of the Round Table, see them, in the castle anteroom.’  Perhaps the most insightful is this two-page drawing showing important times of day, including waiting for the toilet:

‘Another Day’ - sketches by Arthur Powell‘Another Day’ by Arthur Powell, 13 December 1941 – Add MS 89265 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The illustrations include sketches of men, women, children, regiment logos, and even two watercolours of horses.  Horse racing is a theme which consistently appears throughout the album, generally with the jaded pessimism of experienced gamblers.  Most however, appear when the contributors ask Bill to come and see them after the War.  This belief that the War will be over soon persists throughout.

While most contributions are written in English, the album contains prose in other languages too.  One man wrote a couplet in Persian which he saw in Delhi, which he (doubtfully) ascribes to Firdawsi; it contains a few mistakes and is composed in reality by Amīr Khusrau Dehlavī.  Another man gave a short passage in Morse Code:

Couplet in Persian Giles Farmer, 27 January 1942 - Add MS 89265  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence                            

 

Passage in Morse CodeL.Canty [undated] - Add MS 89265 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Dickie Findlay-Shirras of the Gordon Highlanders takes the prize for most impressive prose, writing in a combination of English, French, Italian and German!
 

Message in a combination of English, French, Italian and GermanDickie Findlay-Shirras [undated] - Add MS 89265 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Unsurprisingly, many entries contain philosophical thinking on the effects of internment.  Perhaps Major Brian Ashford-Russell says it best, identifying the positive outcomes of their imprisonment:

‘If our forced sojourn in Italy
has taught us tolerance… given us a better understanding
of the problems and comradeship
of the members of the great-
British Commonwealth, then the
Days will not have been wasted
And we may regard ourselves
As making a real contribution
To the peace, if not to the war.'

The album is not a typical prisoner of war diary.  Judging from the album, men interned at Rezzanello appear to have been treated leniently and with relative freedom.  Major H.A. Moorley, nicknamed Sinbad the Sailor, should have the last word:


 ‘And if ever in the afterwards,
I am called upon again,
To languish in a prison camp,
in sun or snow or rain,
I hope that arrangements are made,
By the Powers that Be to see,
That the same eight cheeky blighters,
Are in a room with me.’

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Further Reading:
Add MS 89265 - Album of W. (Bill) Millett, Rezzanello prisoner of war camp, Italy.
BBC News, ‘An Italian adventure’   17 October 2005
Charles Rollings, Prisoner Of War: Voices from Behind the Wire in the Second World War (2007) (especially pp.272-281).
The Memory Project, ‘Veteran Stories: Arthur Powell’ 
 

05 February 2020

Garrod Family Papers

A recent addition to the collections of India Office Private Papers has been fully catalogued and is now available to researchers.  The Garrod Papers consist of the family archives of William Francis Garrod, a Chaplain in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment from 1930 until 1947, his wife Isobel and their four children.  The collection gives a fascinating glimpse into the life of a British family living and working in India at the end of the British Raj.

The Garrod family in 1933 - parents with two small children  The Garrod Family in 1933-  India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

William was born in Bristol in 1893.  He served in France with the Worcestershire Regiment from 1915 until 1918, and in India and the Middle East with a Punjab Regiment until 1922.  On returning to England, he studied history and theology at Queens College, Oxford, where he met Isobel who worked in the Bursary at the College.  They got engaged in August 1926, and were married two years later in July 1928.  The collection contains a lovely group of correspondence between them from this period, which was featured in an earlier Untold Lives blog .  In 1930, they travelled to India on William’s appointment as a Chaplain in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment.  They spent the next ten years raising a family, while William worked in various parishes across northern India.

Army identity card for William Garrod Army identity card for William Garrod -  India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Photograph of William Garrod in Army uniformWilliam Garrod -  India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1941, William returned to military service as a chaplain in the Indian Army, being posted to Iraq and Syria with the 10th Indian Division.  In 1943, he was promoted to Assistant Chaplain General, first with Eastern Command, then with the Southern Army.  He returned to civil duty in January 1946, and the family returned to England later that year on William’s retirement from the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment.

Letter from Isobel Garrod  April 1941 Letter from Isobel Garrod April 1941 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The collection contains a large amount of family correspondence.  William and Isobel wrote regularly to each other whenever they were apart, particularly when he was on active service during the Second World War.  The importance of keeping in touch with family through writing letters was made clear by William in a file in the collection (shelfmark Mss Eur F730/2/12).  In a short article sent to all Chaplains in the Southern Army, William highlighted the importance of letter writing for the morale of the men in the Army overseas.

Article on the importance of letter writing by William GarrodArticle on the importance of letter writing by William Garrod  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Also included in the collection are files of demi-official correspondence relating to William’s war work as Assistant Chaplain General, maps of the Middle East, printed papers (including instruction guides for officers during the First World War, and papers on Christian teaching and prayer), and albums of family photographs illustrating their life in India.

The Garrod Family Papers are available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogue is searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Garrod Family Papers - Collection reference: Mss Eur F730

 

17 January 2020

William Wordsworth: The Poetry of Place

2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth.  To commemorate this the British Library is hosting a free exhibition on the poet that opens today in our Treasures Gallery.  Entitled ‘William Wordsworth: The Poetry of Place’ this exhibition tells the story of Wordsworth’s life and explores the role place played in his poetry.  Visitors will be able to see original documents from the British Library’s collections including early drafts of Wordsworth’s verse, his notebooks, his annotated books, correspondence and more.  The earliest surviving draft of Wordsworth’s poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ can be seen alongside books bound in one of Mary Wordsworth’s old dresses.

Manuscript draft of ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’Manuscript draft of ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ prepared for the printers, 1806. Add MS 47864. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Wordsworth was born on the edge of the Lake District in Cockermouth, Cumberland, on 7 April 1770.  Throughout his life he found solace and inspiration in the natural world and expressed this in his poetry which was often closely connected with specific locations.

‘Place’ is more than a geographic area but a host of associations.  As a concept it encompasses the, often highly personal, emotional, cultural, political, and religious responses an individual – or group – attaches to a territory.  Wordsworth fully understand this concept of ‘place’ and his poem ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’ is a landmark in this regard.  The poem invokes personal memory, experience and feeling to convey the private meaning the abbey has for the poet.

The South East View of Tintern AbbeyFrederick Calvert, The South East View of Tintern Abbey (London: Burkitt & Hudson, 1815). Maps.K.top.31.16.k.2. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Wordsworth first saw the abbey as a troubled, ‘thoughtless youth’ in 1793, having just made his French mistress, Annette Vallon, pregnant in Revolutionary France before becoming separated from her by the French Revolutionary Wars.  Upon ‘revisiting’ the abbey, five years later, in 1798 the tranquillity of the site and his hope for a better future inspired the poem.  By expressing the personal emotional connotations the abbey held for him, Wordsworth establishes ‘Tintern Abbey’ as poem of ‘place’ rather than ‘landscape’. By reflecting upon his current and former self within a powerful and unchanging landscape the poem marks an important divergence in the genre of topographical poetry which had traditionally simply praised an estate or particular view.  ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’ was published shortly after Wordsworth’s visit in Lyrical Ballads in 1798.

‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’ in Lyrical Ballads ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’ in Lyrical Ballads (Bristol, 1798). Ashley 2250. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Many of Wordsworth’s poems contain in their titles claims that they were ‘composed’ in the places they describe.  This is the case with several poems on display in the British Library’s exhibition, including the poems ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ and ‘To a Friend.  Composed near Calais on the road leading to Ardres’.  The titles consciously convey Wordsworth’s understanding of ‘place’ and that poetry can express the emotional responses that a particular location can elicit.

‘To a Friend. Composed near Calais on the road leading to Ardres, August 1802’ ‘To a Friend. Composed near Calais on the road leading to Ardres, August 1802’ prepared for the printers, 1806. Add MS 47864. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Both poems, ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ and ‘To a Friend’ were originally written by Wordsworth as he travelled to meet his illegitimate daughter, Caroline, in France for the first time.  As such, the places Wordsworth passed through on his journey attained a new importance that he expresses in these powerful poems.

‘William Wordsworth: The Poetry of Place’ is open in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery from 17 January –31 May 2020.

Alexander Lock
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Stephen Gill, Wordsworth’s Revisitings (Oxford: OUP, 2011)
David McCracken, Wordsworth and the Lake District: A Guide to the Poems and their Places (Oxford: OUP, 1985)
Fiona Stafford, ‘Wordsworth’s Poetry of Place’ in The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth, ed. by Richard Gravil & Daniel Robinson (Oxford: OUP, 2015), PP.309-324

 

09 January 2020

Internment during the Second World War – Part One: the diary of a Jewish refugee confined by Britain

This blog is the first of a series on internment, highlighting the experiences of both civilians and military personnel detained across the globe in the Second World War.

In 1940, Winston Churchill ordered what he later referred to as ‘a deplorable and regrettable mistake’: the internment of men and women living in Britain from enemy countries.  This included Germans, Austrians, and Italians; among them were refugees who had fled Nazi persecution, including Jews.  One was nineteen-year-old Konrad Eisig, whose diary of internment on the Isle of Man and his voyage to Australia on HMT Dunera is held by the British Library.

The first page of the diary, noting Konrad’s arrest and journey to the Isle of Man The first page of the diary, noting Konrad’s arrest and journey to the Isle of Man – Add MS 89025 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Konrad had escaped Germany on the eve of the War, settling in Leicester.  When he applied to travel to the Lake District for a holiday, the police showed up at his door in May 1940 to detain him. He entered the Onchan Internment Camp on the Isle of Man in June.  He worked as a cook, attended numerous classes, and was involved with the camp university and youth organisation. Writing to his girlfriend, he exclaimed: ‘I want to see you, I want to be free!…but we shall come together again.  We must’.

However, Konrad was transported to Australia on HMT Dunera, setting sail on 10 July.  The voyage was horrific, with more than 2500 men on board, 1000 over capacity - Jewish refugees, Nazis, prisoners of war, and Italian refugees who survived the sinking of the Arandora Star.  Konrad reported that British soldiers ‘robbed and plundered us’.  Detainees were kept in a hold which was not big enough, and were only allowed ten minutes of air and exercise each day.  One man committed suicide by jumping overboard.  Another was thrown down the stairs by soldiers for not taking his wedding ring off quickly enough, and another ‘got a bayonet into his back’ for daring to ask for permission to keep his prayer book.

The seventh page of the diary, showing Konrad’s journey to HMT DuneraThe seventh page of the diary, showing Konrad’s journey to HMT Dunera – Add MS 89025 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A torpedo missed the Dunera by only 50-100 yards two days after setting sail.  The ship eventually arrived in Australia in September.  The internees were well treated by the Australians, who quickly realised most of the men were not the evil Nazis they had been expecting.  The men were taken to Hay, New South Wales, which was ‘much better than we expected’, though the climate was a vast change from England and Germany!  Konrad again attended many classes ‘in order to leave as little time for thinking as was at all possible’.

Konrad’s diary finishes abruptly on 1 August 1941.  The fear of German invasion by Nazis disguised as refugees had died down, and arrangements were being made for refugees to return.  Joining the Pioneer Corps gave priority.  However Konrad was disdainful of this option: ‘it is an insult, a crime against all justice’.  It appears that he waited for a later ship.

The final page of the diary, explaining Konrad’s misery and the effect of internment on his life expectancy The final page of the diary, explaining Konrad’s misery and the effect of internment on his life expectancy – Add MS 89025 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Konrad had escaped persecution but then been unjustly incarcerated where he thought himself safe.  He says: ‘We were called “Refugees from Nazi Oppression”, we were used as England’s best advertisement.  Then suddenly “Intern the damned fifth columnists” and here we are’.

The diary covers a variety of themes: justice, mental health, anti-Semitism, homosexuality, and more.  It gives a unique insight into an experience which has not received much attention, reminding us that the War affected innocent refugees, even in Britain.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Further reading:
Add MS 89025 – Letter diary of Konrad Eisig's voyage on HMT Dunera and his internment in Australia
Cyril Pearl, The Dunera Scandal: Deported by Mistake (1983).
Rachel Pistol, Internment during the Second World War: A Comparative Study of Great Britain and the USA (2017).

 

03 January 2020

Cache of hidden letters in the Granville Archive

The Granville Archive recently acquired by the British Library includes a collection of supplementary material previously hidden from public view.  When Castalia Leveson-Gower prepared her edition of the private correspondence of diplomat and statesman Granville Leveson-Gower (1773-1846), her father-in-law – the bulk of them are letters from his lover, Harriet Ponsonby, Lady Bessborough (1761-1821) – she carefully omitted any letters referring to the couple’s passionate affair, the secret births of their two children, and the delicate discussions between them and Lord Granville’s eventual wife, Harriet’s niece.  Even letters that were chosen for inclusion in the published edition had to be carefully filleted to cut out any tender endearment or reference to their illegitimate daughter and son.  The entire collection of original letters, including those published, was retained in private hands.  Its whereabouts was unknown to researchers until its acquisition by the British Library (along with Castalia Leveson-Gower’s research papers and her own private correspondence with her husband, the second Earl Granville).  The collection arrived at the Library, bundled in boxes and trunks, at the same time as the main, larger, Granville Archive (Add MS 89317).  Now the supplementary collection has been catalogued (Add MS 89382), and it provides a fascinating complement to the main family archive.

Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The new cache of letters will be a rich new source for researchers into late 18th and early 19th century politics and upper class society.  They shed particular light on the personal and political lives of aristocratic women of the period.  Besides the intimate letters between Lady Bessborough and Lord Granville relating to their clandestine affair and children, there are letters from other members of their circle of friends and relations, including Lord Granville’s mother, Susanna Leveson-Gower, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (Lady Bessborough’s sister), and Caroline Lamb (her daughter).

Letter from Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire to her daughter Harriet, written before leaving for France, 1789 'I leave you and give you the only valuable gift in my power, wrote in my blood, my blessing.'  Letter from Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire to her daughter Harriet, written before leaving for France, 1789 (Add MS 89382/3/4) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Alongside discussion of the latest books and politics, perennial concerns about reputation, scandal and money run throughout this correspondence.  Huge gambling debts were a worry for many in their circle: in a bundle of letters to Lord Granville, the Duchess of Devonshire pleads urgently for funds to stave off creditors.  When the Duke of Devonshire died in 1811, a litigious dispute arose between his heir, the sixth Duke, and his widow, former mistress Lady Elizabeth Foster, over the family diamonds.  Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum there are smaller sums, such as the itemised accounts for housing and educating their illegitimate children which feature in Lady Bessborough’s letters to Lord Granville.

Expenditure on the two children 1805-1807.  Letter from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, June 1807. 'I have just given 30 guineas for a piano forte for tho it is a lump down it is cheaper in the end than hiring.'  Expenditure on the two children 1805-1807.  Letter from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, June 1807 (Add MS 89382/2/27) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The letters from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville tell a vivid story of their long relationship.  Frequent, often daily, letters passed between them, from their first meeting in Naples in 1794, when she was a married woman of 32 and he a 20 year old ‘Adonis’, until her death in Florence in 1821.  They describe the course of their affair through flirtation, intimacy, subterfuge, and passion, and the enduring friendship that survived it, cemented by the birth of their two children and his eventual marriage into her family in 1809.

Tabitha Driver
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts
 
Further reading:
Lord Granville Leveson Gower: Private Correspondence, ed. Castalia Granville (London, 1916)
Amanda Foreman, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire (London, 1998)
Janet Gleeson, An Aristocratic Affair: the Life of Georgiana's Sister, Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough (London, 2006)

 

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