Last month the library began a series of blog posts about some of the most notable years of India’s history during the British occupation; the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the Rebellion of 1857. Here the last instalment will highlight some works from the library’s collection which give some understanding of the events surrounding the independence of India in 1947 and the subsequent partition.
A particular strength of the collection is its range of official sources which give the viewpoint of the out-going British. The transfer of power, 1942-7, a multi-volume collection of sources published by the H.M.S.O. conveys this view. As one would expect, this work puts the process of independence in the broader context of the 1940s as well as having four volumes (of a twelve volume work) devoted to developments from November 1946 to the 15th August 1947. Also found in our collection are Louis Mountbatten’s report of events during the spring and summer of 1947, as well as the diary of Pamela Mountbatten (1929– ), Lord Mountbatten’s youngest daughter. Although varying in formality, from the official documents issued from the British government to the views of a teenager, all were entrenched in the centre of the British political establishment in India at the time.
Lord Mountbatten addressing the Independence Day session of the Constituent Assembly on August 15, 1947. Seated at his right is Dr Rajendra Prasad, President of the Assembly.
Moving away from the direct centre of the British administration, however, a number of works in the library offer differing glimpses into developments during 1947 and 1948. A civil servant since 1935 and appointed partition secretary in 1947, the memoirs of Hiralal Muljibhai Patel (1903–1993) convey the impressions of someone not only from within the workings of Britain’s imperial administration but also someone who would have a major role to play in the new Indian administration.
Away from the government buildings and bureaucracies the course of independence and partition can be gleaned from two further works from our collection. One is the account of the American journalist (and later ambassador) William Phillips Talbot (1915–2010) who at the time was working for the Institute of Current World Affairs. He was not only a keen observer of political events but also of the social and humanitarian ramifications of the partition. The second work is the memoirs of Sir Fulque Agnew (1900–1975). Although he was a member of the British nobility, his career was at times far from typical; running away from school at 17 to join the British army and later air-force during the First World War, he would later become a conscientious objector working for the Friends Ambulance Unit during World War Two and would be briefly be in India in 1947–48, undertaking humanitarian work where he witnessed, although briefly, some of the horrors that took place during the partition.
A refugee train, Punjab, 1947
Understandably these sources only give the briefest of impressions of events that would affect millions. The library, however, remains committed to add to all its collections and acquire works that will offer a broader spectrum of narratives, from the national to the local. Moreover the area around the Institute of Historical Research is lucky to be rich in other collections, notably the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies which offer many more voices from the years 1947 and 1948.
It cannot be denied that the Rebellion of 1857-8 was a turning point in Britain’s occupation of the Indian subcontinent. This is reflected in the prodigious literature produced on the subject, spanning novels, plays as well as works of historical scholarship. Even by the beginning of the 1860s a flurry of works on the Rebellion had been produced. Yet the subject of this post is George Forrest’s A history of the Indian Mutiny, published decades later, from 1904 to 1912.
Although the work is dedicated to his father, Captain George Forrest (1803/4-1859) who would die as a result of the wounds he suffered in May 1857 defending and eventually destroying the Delhi magazine, the work bears little of the shock and at times anger of the literature produced during and in the immediate aftermath of the Rebellion. Perhaps this is understandable given the chronological distance between the Rebellion and the publication of Forrest’s account. What, then, are the features of Forrest’s narrative?
In his article on the historiography of the Rebellion the historian, S. N. Sen, stated that Forrest acknowledged the epic nature of his account but tried to offer a balanced view (Sen, S. N. ‘Writings of the Mutiny’ in Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, p. 383) and this is something Forrest states explicitly declares in his introduction; although basing his account, ‘on the sure ground of official documents’, he recognises the potency which the events of 1857-8 wielded:
The Indian Mutiny addresses our mind through the intellect and the imagination. It is no mere memorable incident in Anglo-Indian history which conveys many grave lessons to those who labour in our Indian Empire, but it is a noble epic which speaks to every Englishman wherever he may be, and calls up past and glorious memories.
It must still be remembered, however, that Forrest’s narrative was a product of the high imperialism of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. He acknowledges that various Indian communities did side with the British, depicting them as stoic – perhaps silently compliant – martyrs to Britain’s colonial interests
Photograph of the Lucknow Residency taken from Vol. 2 of Forrest’s The Indian Mutiny
There have been tongues and pens enough to narrate the excesses which have raised the Indian Mutiny to the rank of world-wide tragedy. It is useful that these crimes should be remembered and freshly pondered, but it is equally wise to study the opposite picture. The brave and turbulent population of Oudh with a few exceptions treated the fugitives of the ruling race with a marked kindness. Not only the loyalty and courage but also calm heroic spirit with which the sepoys in the Lucknow Residency endured dangers and trials are worthy of all honour. The devotion and fidelity of humble native attendants and loyal sepoys, the patient endurance and calm courage of our countrymen and countrywomen, the high energy and valour of the British soldier, afford some relief to the most terrible features of a tale of wrath and fury.
Turning away from this depiction, Forrest, when discussing the infamous catalyst for the Rebellion, the use of beef and pork grease in the manufacture of rifle cartridges, citing sources which depict the main enemy as persistent rumours, paying little attention to the fact that initially the fault lay with the British authorities, even though Colonel Richard Birch, military secretary, had ordered all cartridges issued were to be free from grease by the 27th January:
On the 24th January 1857, Major-General Hearsey, Commanding the Presidency Division, forwarded two letters for immediate submission to the Government of India. One of them was from Captain Wright…stating “that there appears to be a very unpleasant feeling existing among the native soldiers…regarding the grease used in preparing the cartridges, some evil-disposed persons having spread a report that it consists of a mixture of the fat of pigs and cows.”…Captain Wright also observed that some of the depot men in conversing with him on the subject had stated that “the report had spread throughout India, and when they went to their homes their friends would refuse to eat with them.
Forrest goes on to state
The propagator of sedition and the fanatic, the two great enemies of our rule, took advantage of the feeling of unrest and suspicion to raise the cry that a systematic attack was to be made on the ancient faith and customs of the people, and they pointed to the introduction of the greased cartridge as a proof of what they so sedulously preached.
This work can be found in the library at shelf-mark CLC.3131/For
This gives the briefest of glimpses into Forrest’s Rebellion and evidently his narrative is far from a sound depiction of the events of 1857-8. However this does not detract from its value. As a text loaded with the language of late nineteenth and early twentieth century British colonialism, it is fascinating in its own right, and is ultimately testament to the fractured nature of narrative and memory.
If you would like to find out more about our items on the Rebellion or our collection on Indian history, with its particular strength on the British period, search our catalogue here.
To highlight some of the items and collections currently stored in the central tower of the Senate House building – and perhaps out of mind – the staff in the library will be selecting a few at regular intervals and give a brief description of the items discussed as well as their merits and limitations as historical sources.
Although 2017 has been, understandably, a busy year for historians both of the Reformation and the Russian Revolution, it does also mark a number of anniversaries in the British occupation of India. This year will mark 260 years since the Battle of Plassey, 160 years since the Indian Rebellion and 70 years since independence was won by many of the states in present day south Asia and in this and subsequent blog posts the library will showcase some of the works from the Indian history collection, describing events during those three fateful years.
Title page from volume 2 of Robert Orme’s Military Transactions
The first item is A history of the military transactions of the British nation in Indostan (London: 1803) by Robert Orme (1728–1801). Robert Orme was present in India for much of the 1750s when the British gained a significant foothold in to region. He had joined the East India Company in 1743 and by the late 1750s was a member of ruling council at Fort St. George in Chennai (Madras), and was thus among the authorities responsible for sending Robert Clive to recapture Kolkatta from the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daulah, leading eventually to the Battle of Plassey on the 23rd June 1757. Orme gives a standard account of the battle, describing the terrain as well as the troop movements of either side in the conflict, as well as depicting the various machinations going on in Siraj-ud-daulah’s camp:
The Nabob had remained in his tent out of reach of danger, continually flattered by his attendants and officers, of whom one half were traitors, with assurances of victory; but about noon he was informed, that Meer Murdeen [Mir Madan Khan], the best and most faithful of his generals, was mortally wounded by a cannon-ball. The misfortune disturbed him to excess; he immediately sent for Meer Jaffier [Mir Jafar]; and as soon as he entered the tent, flung his turban on the ground, saying, “Jaffier, that turban you must defend.” The other bowed, and with his hands on his breast, promised his utmost services; and returning to his troops and associates, immediately dispatched a letter to Colonel Clive…In the meantime, the terrors of the Nabob increased continually: Roydoolub [Rai Durlabh] taking advantage of them, counselled him to return to his capital: his advice prevailed, and the Nabob ordered the army to retreat into the intrenchments. (Vol. II, p. 175)
The rest of Orme’s account describes how the British forces attacked the retreating part of the Nawab’s army, Clive’s belated recognition that one of the lingering divisions was Mir Jaffar’s, as well as the British forces eventual capturing of the Nawab’s camp in the late afternoon of June 23rd. Orme also describes how Siraj-ud-Daulah was captured for Mir Jafar’s forces as well as his eventual execution only a few weeks after the battle on July 2nd. He concludes that Siraj-ud-Daulah’s defeat was largely due to alienating forces in his own court rather than any perceived military prowess on the side of the British:
Tyrant as he was, if he had respected the advice of his grandfather Allaverdy [Ali Vardi 1671–1756], and not have excited the detestation of the Gentoos, at the same time that he was rendering himself dreadful to the principal Mahomedan officers of his court, the English would have found no alliance sufficient to have ventured the risque of dethroning him: but it is probable that the same iniquity of character, which urged him to the destruction of Calcutta, would soon have called forth other avengers of other atrocious deeds (Vol. II, p. 185)
Portrait of Siraj-ud-Daulah
Orme’s account is, obviously, limited, being both a classic example of history from the victor’s perspective as well as dripping with preconceived orientalist notions of someone entrenched in the conquest-capitalism of the East India Company. Understandably, this does not diminish its value as a source. Although one could rightly doubt many aspects of Orme’s account of eighteenth century India, the implicit details and assumptions conveyed by his narrative tells us probably more about British attitudes to India, conquest and race than is does about the events of 1757.
If you would like to consult this work yourself, or any others from the library’s collections of works on India from the 18th to the early 20th century, just contact the library office at firstname.lastname@example.org or come along in person, we’re on the first floor. Try a search of the catalogue to find out what other items we have.
Anyone craving a bit of Enlightenment might want to head to the third floor reading room of the Institute’s library where there is a small display showing a few choice articles from Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie.
Thanks to the generosity of R. E. Madisson the library obtained a first edition of this seminal text of the French Enlightenment in 1957. Although not all the volume are on display one can browse some of the articles Diderot wrote himself, including Droit Naturel, where he defines his concepts of the private will and the general will, Autorité Politique, highlighting Diderot’s thoughts on violent and conferred political power, and Intolérance, where he states the vital need for religious tolerance within a state and between its citizens.
If you would like to find out more about the library’s collection on French history just click here.
Accompanying the Institute’s Winter Conference, the library has put together a small exhibition on the lower ground floor, show-casing some of the resources you can find in its collections on the subject of civil war.
Displays include a varied selection of sources on the civil war of the 1640s, including a range of contemporary works on political thought, including an 18th century edition of John Milton’s tract, The tenure of Kings and Magistrates, as well as works highlighting the wars influence on political discourse in the latter seventeenth century and beyond, accounts of the conflict in Ireland, Scotland, and a range of English counties, as well as a selection of civil war ballads. Imagery too is included; one can view a copy of the famous front-piece to Εικον Βασιλικη, found in the library’s edition of the works of Charles I.
Works on economic history abound within the library and it is hoped a new collection guide on the subject will indicate the range of material we have here and help readers locate specific works that may be of use to their research. The bulk of the guide comprises of an overview showcasing some of the works we have here in the library. These include some of our bibliographic resources, works on the historiography of economic history, reference works and editions of published statistics as well as a selection of items on a range of topics from banking and finance, international trade, to even whaling and the fishing industry (during the course of writing this guide I discovered that a particular strength of the library’s collections is agriculture history, especially for Britain and Ireland).
As well as the overview there are details of the University of London theses relevant to economic history we have, as well as the electronic resources you can access from within the library.
Having worked in the IHR library for a while, it can be easy, perhaps, to lose sight of how the library may come across to our readers. In an interesting exercise suggested by our graduate trainee, Siobhan Morris, each member of the library staff played the role of a hypothetical reader for a day to see how easy it is to use the library and find any relevant material for their subject.
For a while I have also been curious to see if the library could meet the needs of someone whose primary research interest is not history. So my imaginary reader is a politics student currently studying an MA very similar to the masters in EU Politics currently being taught at the London School of Economic. Besides looking at the coverage in the IHR’s collections relevant for my imaginary course, I will also attempt to get an understanding of how easy it is to use the space and resources within the library and identify any obstacles that may arise.
For my morning session (1st August) I chose to work in the basement since this is where the International Relations collection is currently housed. Although by no means loud, the noise from the reception above and the lift meant that this spot is not as quiet as one might think. Thankfully connecting to the Wi-Fi with my laptop (using Windows 10) was very easy. The main obstacle I did face, however, was the inadequate lighting in the International Relations room – hopefully this can be rectified soon. During this morning session I also used a variety of e-resources from the library PC also in the basement. I did not have any major problems using resources like J-Stor or the Times Digital Archive and, in this instance, there were no problems printing or photocopying.
For my afternoon session (2nd August) I had intended to use one of the reader spaces in the main reading room on the second floor but all were taken at this point; there were still seats free in the smaller reading rooms on that floor but I went across the landing to the North American room, which was empty at this point. Locating the material I needed in the various European history collections was largely problem free, and it was particularly helpful having so many complementary collections on open access (locating local contemporary political works in the Italian collection, for example, with the catalogue alone would have been quite difficult).
Using the catalogue on my laptop I initially did a number of keyword searches using terms such as:
“European Economic Community”
This did result in quite a few hits. Yet this type of search was bringing up a lot of internet resources that were only accessible via MyILibrary, even though I had limited it to an IHR library only facet. The current position of access in the library has been made clear, however on the library page about Electronic resources.
Next I carried out a number of subject searches with the name of a country suffixed with terms such as “politics and government”, “foreign relations”, etc. Therefore the terms I used for France were as follows:
France Politics and Government 1945-
France Politics and Government 1958-
France Politics and Government 1969-
France Politics and Government 1981-
France Foreign Relations 1945
France Foreign Relations Germany 1945-
This might be construed as cheating, slightly, since these terms are Library of Congress Subject Headings and hence something only librarians tend to be familiar with. However it was a useful type of search to employ, giving a useful impression of the strengths within the various collections investigated, and is a strategy I will recommend to new users in the future. Yet no search strategy is perfect, which is why, as mentioned above, my third method for discovering material was just to browse the open shelves.
Throughout the course of my searches the bulk of the material I found for the post-1945 period centred, perhaps unsurprisingly, on Britain, with also significant holdings for France (especially post-1945 international relations) and Germany. A smaller number of titles were retrieved for Italy, Spain and Portugal, and very little, if anything, for the Netherlands and Belgium, Ireland, Austria and Scandinavia. Also the material currently in the library tends to concentrate on the c. 1945-c.1970 period with diminishing returns for later periods. This is something both myself and my fellow collection librarian, Mette Lund, are aware of, and as new works are published about the post-1970 or post-1989 period, which fall into the collection remit of the library, we will acquire them.
Although this exercise did flag-up a few issues regarding collection coverage, overall I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of material that could be found in the library for the hypothetical politics student. Coupled with some of the IHR’s other activities, such as its varied seminar programme, this makes it clear that the IHR and its library is not for historians alone.
15th century miniature depicting the conquest of Constantinople, 1204.
Thanks to the work of Daniel Cesarani, who recently completed a brief internship in the library, we have been able to produce guides for both the Byzantine and Crusades collection.
Each guide has a brief overview of each respective collection and then goes into further detail, highlighting some of the sub-sections within each collection, from relevant bibliographies and archive guides, through to the published primary sources to be found in the library, to the various journal titles in our possession.
Given that at times these areas of research complement each other (for example, source material on the Fourth Crusade can be found in both collections) each guide refers to the other. Additionally the guides also refer to other collections within the library such as the Church History, French and Italian collections, which may be of interest to anyone researching Byzantine or Crusader history, as well as other relevant libraries in the London area.
From John Britton’s The original picture of London, 26th ed. (1826)
Two years before Burlington Arcade opened, the Gentleman’s Magazine published an article describing some of the reasons for its construction:
It is said that after numerous deliberations, Lord George Cavendish [1st Earl of Burlington] has determined to appropriate a proportion of the grounds connected with Burlington House for the gratification of the publick, and to give employment to industrious females…What first gave birth to the idea was the great annoyance to which the garden is subject from the inhabitants of a neighbouring street throwing oyster-shells, &c., over the wall. The intended erections will prevent these nuisances in future and also block out their view of so delightful a place. (Gentleman’s Magazine, Sept. 1817, p. 272)
Going beyond the fact that Burlington Arcade served Lord Cavendish as a garden fence – a very ornate one, mind you – later visitors understandably commented on its merits as a fashionable, commercial space. In the 1822 edition of Samuel Leigh’s New Picture of London, the author states how Burlington Arcade, ‘is a handsome covered avenue…containing 72 genteel shops’ while during a trip to London, the Polish philosopher, Krystyn Lach-Szyrma (1790–1866) noted how:
High society only frequent places dedicated to fashion…a similar sight can be seen in Burlington Arcade in Bond Street, which is built in the shape of a long gallery lined on both sides with shops…
Both works, however, comment emphatically how the arcade is flanked by two doormen, ‘to keep out improper visitors.’
Turning away from these descriptive sources, the library’s collection of London directories allows a glimpse into who was trading in the arcade. Looking at Robson’s London Commercial Directory…for 1830, for example, we can see most of the shops specialised in the luxury clothing trade: listed were nine hosiers, two ladies shoe makers, eight milliners, two boot makers and one haberdasher. Moreover, although the directory only provides us with a list of names and their trade, one can make cautious, but educated guesses about some of the traders: at No. 15 Burlington Arcade was the hosier David Peden who also had another outlet on 228 Regent St. – presumably quite a successful retailer, while at No. 40 was the milliner Eliza Rainger, whose shop was next door to the jeweller, Frederick Raigner – possibly a late Georgian husband and wife business team?
From a facsimile of the 1812 Langley & Belch New Map of London.
Looking beyond Burlington Arcade to the streets to the north, the library’s directories reveal something of the early history of tailoring in Mayfair. Although Savile Row is now synonymous with luxury, bespoke tailoring, this was not always the case. According to Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide for 1817 Savile Row (or Street as it was still known) was the haunt mainly of medical professionals. It was nearby Cork Street where many tailors decided to trade. This trend is confirmed in Pigot’s Directory, 1826-7 and Robson’s London Directory, 1830 and 1835. However one does start to see a rise from 1830 (in 1830 four tailors were based in Savile Row, in 1835 this had risen to seven). Interestingly one of those listed, trading at No. 32 Savile Row was James Poole, whose son, Henry Poole (1814–1876) would go on to mark Savile Row as the destination for luxury tailoring in Victorian Britain and also invent the dinner jacket in 1865 for his friend, Bertie, the Prince of Wales.
Next month, as you may have already heard, there will be a number of events held at the IHR to mark the bicentenary of Otto von Bismarck’s birth including an exhibition on the statesman and a lecture given by Prof. Jonathan Steinberg.
This is naturally, therefore, an opportune time to highlight some of the resources to be found in the library’s collections for those researching Bismarck and his impact on German and European politics. Given the central position Bismarck played in many different political arenas it would be feasible to write substantial guides on a number of different subjects (e.g. the nature of his relationship with Kaiser Wilhelm I, Friedrich III and finally Wilhelm II, the Kulturkampf, his attitude to the growth of German party politics, etc.). Yet here we concentrate on the three wars of the 1860s and early 1870s which would bring about the creation of a politically unified German state.
Text of Bismarck’s famous “Iron and Blood” speech.
Editions of speeches, letters and telegrams form the core of the library’s holdings on Bismarck where, understandably, one would find his words and thoughts on the prospect and viability of German unity and Prussia’s role within this process as well as the course of the wars with Denmark, Austria and France. The main editions include:
Moving on from the library’s extensive German collection one can find works of relevance in the Diplomatic History and Military Collections, especially regarding the Franco-Prussian War (the library now has over 250 published works on the conflict thanks in part to a large bequest from Dr. Vincent Wright). Other relevant works in the Diplomatic and Military collection include:
Additional material can also be found in some of the other national collections within the library. In the Scandinavian collection works on the war with Denmark currently include an account of the Battle of Dybbøl, the general work and source collection Manuel historique de la question du Slesvig and Den Danske Regering og Nordslesvigs geforening med Danmark by the Danish historian Aage Friis; a work about the repercussions of the war in Denmark. Besides the works already mentioned from the Diplomatic and Military collections additional material on the Austro-Prussian War can also be found in the Austrian collection, especially from the period of Richard Belcredi’s chancellorship. Additional sources on the Franco-Prussian War can understandably be found in the library’s French collection including a collection of the writings of Émile Ollivier, Prime Minister of France during the first few months of the war, as well as editions of Le Moniteur Universel from the years 1870-71.
For more information on the library’s German holdings see our guide on the collection or feel free to browse the shelves on your next visit (the German collection can be found on the second floor in the Peter Marshall and Past & Present rooms)