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22 October 2014

Launch of Qatar Digital Library

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A new online portal in English and Arabic providing access to previously undigitised British Library archive materials relating to Persian Gulf history and Arabic science was launched by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership today (22 October).

The new portal, hosted by Qatar National Library, is called Qatar Digital Library. It provides contextual material to help make the best use of the 500,000 digitised pages available. This includes 475,000 pages from the India Office Records and 25,000 pages of Arabic medieval manuscripts.

  Lewis Pelly  to Amir Faysul ibn Torky aul Saood
Letter from Colonel Lewis Pelly, Resident Persian Gulf to Amir Faysul ibn Torky aul Saood [Amir Faisul ibn Turki al Sa'ud], Riyath [Riyadh], 16 January 1865. Mss Eur F126/56     Noc

The modern history and culture of the Gulf and wider region, particularly its connection with Britain, are vividly documented in personal and official archives, photographs, maps and recordings of traditional music held at the British Library. Insights into the history of science in the Arabic-speaking world and Arabic cultural heritage are also held in the depths of the Library.

 

  Oman and Persian Gulf map
A revised map of Omân and the Persian Gulf, in which an attempt has been made to give a correct transliteration of the Arabic names, Rev. George Percy Badger, 1871. IOR/X/3210   Noc

 

The British Library has been working in partnership with the Qatar Foundation and Qatar National Library over the last three years to develop this portal. During the last year, curators have been releasing snippets of the stories contained in the files on numerous posts on the Untold Lives blog.

The launch of Qatar Digital Library will be celebrated with a small event at the British Library, where academics and researchers will reflect on the importance of the new resource as a tool to expand and improve our understanding of the Gulf region.

During the event Dr James Onley, Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern History at Exeter University and Editor of Journal of Arabian Studies, will deliver a key note speech and two of the curators, Daniel Lowe and Francis Owtram, will introduce the enhanced catalogue and explain the potential of the resource for teaching.

Onley has stated: “The Qatar Digital Library contains the world’s largest digital collection of historical records on the Gulf Arab states and Iran.  Its launch is a major milestone in the study of these countries.  Now anyone can access the region’s fascinating past from anywhere.  This easy access will enable scholars around the world to discover new things and write new histories that will expand, and ultimately transform, our understanding of the region.”

For live tweets from the event follow us  @BLQatar.

 Valentina Mirabella
Archival Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership  

Cc-by

 

20 October 2014

Missionaries caught up in World War One

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World War One had an impact on some surprising people.  The Government of India reacted to the events in Europe by interning and repatriating Austrian and German citizens including missionaries and madams, who were the subject of an earlier story on Untold Lives. 

The expulsion of missionaries had a major impact on organisations like the Leipzig Evangelical Lutheran Mission. Removal of the German Jesuits from British India was reported in Ireland and William F. Dennehy, the outraged editor of The Irish Catholic,  even wrote to the India Office defending the priests.

Nathan Adderblom, Archbishop of Uppsala, wrote to the Royal British Minister at Stockholm to suggest sending Swedish ladies to help run eleven stations, 194 outstations, 57 schools with 3,405 pupils, and a medical mission. He recommended Ellen Hakansson, Malin (Amalia) Ribbing and Ingrid Söderberg, but these applications were initially refused on the grounds of a policy of exclusion while the war lasted. The agitation of the Indian National Party in Stockholm and its suspected links to the Germans was another obstacle. It must have been especially difficult for Ingrid Söderberg, who was engaged to Reverend Paul Sandegren, who was already working in Tranquebar.

After numerous interventions by the Swedish authorities and the involvement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, permission was granted to four missionaries to travel to India. By that time the war was over, the danger of German spies and of submarines torpedoing passenger liners was gone, and the Swedes could finally go. Detailed applications with photographs are in the India Office Records.

Ellen Josephina Hokannson Ellen Josephina Hokannson   Noc

Ellen Josephina Hokannson came from Helsingborg, but was born in Malmo in 1881. She had worked in India before, serving at Pudukotah from 1907 to 1914. She wanted to go back there for another seven or eight years. She had good relations with the London Missionary Society, whose members Reverend  Parker and his wife were willing to recommend her.     

  Ingrid Maria Söderberg Ingrid Maria Söderberg  Noc

Ingrid Maria Söderberg was born in Uppsala in 1887. She wanted to work for the Mission of the Church of Sweden at Madura and hoped to marry Paul Sandegren after five years of waiting. Her dream came true when they took their vows at Virudupati on 6 April 1920. In 1955 Ingrid sailed to Bombay on the Chusan travelling with an Indian passport. It was her home.  

 

        Bertil Gustav Israel SjöstrandBertil Gustav Israel Sjöstrand 
Noc

Bertil Gustav Israel Sjöstrand and his wife Rut Hedvig Sjöstrand both came from clergy families. They were a young and eager couple wanting to join Ellen Hokannson at Pudukotah. He was born in Tofteryd and her origins were in Oppeby. 

  Rut Hevig Sjöstrand Rut Hevig Sjöstrand   Noc
 

Bertil was educated in England at Cliff College Training Home and Mission in 1919. Both he and Rut had difficulties obtaining  visas but eventually, after intervention from the Conference of Missionary Societies and the Wesleyan Home Mission, they got permission to travel to India. They lived at a mission of the Church of Sweden at Kodaikand with their children.

Dorota Walker
Reference Specialist, Asian and African Studies Cc-by

 

Furrther reading:

IOR/L/PJ/6/1441 File 2012 Case of seven Swedish missionaries requesting permits to enable them to proceed to Madras, Dec 1915-Jan 1920.

British in India Collection for baptisms, marriages and burials from the India Office Records

 

 

16 October 2014

Never a dull moment – the life of a diplomat’s wife

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What is it like to be a diplomat’s wife?  The cover of the diaries of Lady Doris ‘Dodo’ Symon provides a ready answer: ‘Never a dull moment.’

Dodo Symon (1899-1987) followed her husband Sir Alexander Symon (1902-1974) in all his diplomatic missions for over thirty years.  They were globe trotters who were able to see much of the world before the advent of mass tourism.  They lived in style in luxury hotels and sumptuous ambassadorial residences with an impressive army of servants.  They moved in high society circles, entertaining royalty, visiting exotic resorts, meeting people of different customs and religions, all in the name of ‘furthering the good relations’ between Britain and the country of their diplomatic mission.

    Symon
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F669  Noc

Lucky Dodo enjoyed a wonderful life until an advanced age without experiencing any major personal crisis.  Her diaries spanning  the 1940s to the 1960s read like a long catalogue of entertainment: never a day went by without socialising.  During the 1940s, while the rest of the world broiled in conflicts and tragedies, the Symons escaped the Second World War by being posted to the United States to represent the Government of India.  They lived there and travelled around until the end of the war.  Alexander Symon was then posted to India at the end of the turmoil of Independence.  A few years after the closure of the India Office, he was appointed as the High Commissioner in Pakistan and stayed in Karachi for seven years during which time they visited Afghanistan, Nepal and other neighbouring countries.  Their long diplomatic career did not end there.  Symon was later sent to Nairobi on an economic mission and visited several other African countries.  

As for the wives of diplomats, apart from accompanying their husbands in meeting dignitaries and attending ceremonies, their daily life seemed to be filled with playing with their pet dogs, participating in dog shows, going to horse races, attending concerts, enjoying dinner parties, visiting interesting places, gardening, and shopping.   Every day for them was like Christmas Day, festival after festival, and indeed, “never a dull moment.”  Dodo was particularly talented at organizing events.  Her duty consisted of drafting lists of invitations and preparing menus for lunch, dinner, or cocktail parties, making sure the servants strictly observed the decorum of high society, with the dining room elegantly decorated and flowers suitably arranged.  An energetic woman, Dodo was also a highly efficient journal keeper who made meticulous entries of their daily activities in her cheerful diaries.  She was perhaps her husband’s best secretary. 

The highlight of her husband’s illustrious career was the Queen’s visit to Pakistan in 1961.  This exciting event was recorded in minute detail in her diary accompanied by photographs.  Dodo’s happiness was clearly visible in one of the photographs in which she was shaking hands with the dashing Duke of Edinburgh.     

These diaries, together with 37 reels of 16mm cine films made by Dodo herself, are testimonials of the daily life of an ordinary British diplomat, basking in the carefree optimism of the British post-war period.

Xiao Wei Bond
Former Curator, India Office Private Papers Cc-by

Further reading: India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F669 Papers of Lady Doris Olive Symon (1899-1987)