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22 April 2014

India Office First World War Memorial

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A common sight across the length and breadth of Britain are memorials to those who lost their lives in the First World War. In cities, towns and villages, churches and cathedrals, public squares and gardens, and in public buildings of all kinds, these memorials commemorate the sacrifice made by men and women from all walks of life during that terrible conflict. In 1919, the India Office commissioned its own memorial tablet to commemorate the members of the India Office and the India Store Depot who died for their King and country in the Great War.

Quotes for the cost of the work were sought from three companies, J W Singer & Sons Ltd, Farmer & Brindley Ltd, and Ashby & Horner Ltd, and designs were received from each. A file in the India Office Records contains the correspondence and other papers relating to the memorial, along with examples of the different designs. Proposed designs included a bronze centre panel with Sicilian marble frame (by Singer & Sons) for £250, and a white marble panel with an oak frame (by Ashby & Horner Ltd) for £425.

  WWI memorial Pro Patria
IOR/L/SUR/6/20/49  Noc

The contract was subsequently awarded to Farmer & Brindley Ltd for a design in alabaster and statuary marble at a cost of £316. The contract, dated 24 December 1919, and signed by J Herbert Winney, India Office Surveyor, stipulated that the work was to be completed within 20 weeks of that date. However, a number of points remained to be settled. It was decided on chocolate brown for the colour of the lettering in the inscription, and the date of 1914-19 was chosen (although the Military Department insisted that the Great War had not yet officially ended). These issues, along with amendments to the inscription, caused delays, and by October 1920 the India Office was urging Farmer & Brindley to finish the work in time for Armistice Day. The memorial was officially unveiled by the Marquis of Crewe on the 26 February 1921. It lists the names of 30 members of the India Office who died during the war, and is in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office building in Westminster.

  WWI Final Memorial
IOR/L/SUR/6/20/49   Noc

In the same file are copies of the India Office Roll of Honour, recording all those who served in the Great War in whatever capacity. Listed in alphabetical order, class distinctions were dissolved. Included equally in the list are messengers, such as C D A Simmons, Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy, and J Teague, Motor Machine Gun Corps, and a Member of the Council of India, Sir T Morison, K.C.I.E., 2nd Lieutenant in the Cambridgeshire Regiment. Also listed is Miss G F C Arnell, who served in the Voluntary Aid Detachment.

Lynn Osborne and John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:

War memorial for members of India Office who died 1914-19 [IOR/L/SUR/6/20/49]

War Memorials Archive


17 April 2014

Making a little money on the side

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Major William Joseph Mathews of the 9th Bengal Native Infantry had served in the East India Company’s Army for 25 years. Perhaps he thought that his official salary was not enough to maintain his lifestyle and so created a system of stealing from his subordinates and the Government of India.

On four separate occasions Major Mathews simply withheld pay from soldiers. Fifteen sepoys received only 4 pice a day for six months and he kept the rest, which gave him Rs.611. Other newly enlisted sepoys were not paid Rs.1709 between January and June 1818.  The bugle men were Rs.240 short for ten months, and the sircars of his company were not paid at all in June 1819.

Lord Moira camp -  Online Gallery
Lord Moira's camp in Moradabad by Sita Ram c 1814-15  Online Gallery  Noc

The veteran of the Second Mahratta War and former aide-de-camp to Lord Moira also came up with the most sophisticated mechanism to make false muster rolls. In 1818 he inserted fifteen fictitious names for sepoys and claimed their salaries for eighteen months (Rs.1125). He also added 61 names to the muster roll of the non-existent hill sepoys, which brought him an income of Rs.4188. In the same year he discharged six classies (tent-pitchers) but kept their names on the muster roll and gathered Rs.619.  The Government lost Rs.459 as the numbers on the muster rolls were different to the payment books. When he faced a court martial on twelve charges in 1820, it was concluded that ‘from the confused manner in which the muster-rolls are drawn up, the court cannot find the precise number of names and sums embezzled’.

Major Mathews did not scorn embezzling even small amounts. He kept a part of the Bazar Chowdree’s salary (this was an agent supplying workmen and goods for public purposes) and once the man left the post, Mathews just paid himself the salary (Rs.60). In a similar manner the Bazar Mootsuddie (native accountant) was robbed of Rs.25. He also appointed three virtual Jhunda-Wallas and claimed Rs.117.

Mathews gathered about Rs.10,000 altogether.  He was found guilty on 26 January 1820 of eleven charges and dismissed from the service. On the insistence of the Commander-in-Chief the sentence was changed and Mathews was cashiered, which meant he was debarred from future employment with the Company. Interestingly the biographical note in Hodson’s Officers of the Bengal Army does not mention any of this and states that he was pensioned on 5 February 1820 and retired from the service the following year.

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

Further reading:

Capt William Hough & George Long, The practice of courts-martial, also the legal exposition and military explanation of the Mutiny Act and Articles of War, together with the crimes and sentences of numerous courts-martial, and the remarks thereupon by His Majesty and the several Commanders-in-Chief in the East Indies and on foreign stations & c. (London, 2nd ed. 1825)

Major V. C. P. Hodson, List of the Officers of the Bengal Army, 1758-1834 (1927-47)

15 April 2014

Zanzibar brawl

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31 March 1860, a sultry afternoon in the beautiful beach town of Zanzibar. Monsieur Frédérick Rochiez, a French grocer, was having a quiet siesta and enjoying his peaceful life in this quasi-paradise.  His tranquillity was broken by the intrusion of a group of rowdy English sailors who barged in asking for brandy.  When they were told there was none, the drunken seamen went on a rampage, vandalizing the shop and helping themselves with any booze they could lay their hands on.  After the shop was wrecked, they ran away with crates of wines as well as cash stolen from the till.

Drunken sailors c13568-56
   ‘Lall Bazaar, Calcutta.’ [WD 4336]  1860s.   Images Online

M. Rochiez incurred a substantial financial loss by this wilful looting and pillaging.   He lodged a complaint via French Consul M. Derché to Lt-Col Christopher Palmer Rigby, British Consul at Zanzibar, demanding an apology and compensation.

The British authorities felt this was French ‘extortion’, a deliberate put-up job to frame the English.  Rigby immediately launched a personal attack on the character and conduct of the French diplomats in Zanzibar.  In his letter dated 1 June 1861 to the Secretary of State for India he wrote: “I beg to state that the present French Consul (Monsieur Derché) was born and bred in the Levant…  he is now about to leave by the first opportunity, and the present Chancellier who is appointed to succeed him, is a Pole, who is stated to have deserted from the ranks of the Russian Army in the Crimea by feigning death during an action.  He lives in a most disreputable manner, and bears a very indifferent character…”.

The complaint about the drunken English sailors was not unprecedented.  The English and French had been bickering with each other for several years since both nations established their consular offices on the island.  

The wine shop brawl quickly escalated to a serious accusation of slave trafficking.  The British on Zanzibar, charged with the duty of the abolition of slave trade, captured and confiscated the Famosa Estrella, a ship under Spanish colours.  The ship was consigned to a notorious slave agent named Buona Ventura Mas, who had long carried on an extensive traffic in slaves with both Cuba and La Réunion.   The British claimed that “Buona Ventura Mas was the Agent here for the two slave dealing houses of Vidal Frères, and Regis & Co” both supported by the French Consul which proclaimed to provide French protection to the ships and subjects of any Roman Catholic State, including Spanish and Portuguese.

Just next to the French territory of La Réunion sits Mauritius, a British possession in 1861. Hundreds of thousands of indentured labourers were shipped across the Indian Ocean to work in the British plantations on Mauritius under the conditions hardly any better than those of slaves under French protection.

Xiao Wei Bond
Curator, India Office Private Papers


Further reading:
India Office Records/ L/PS/9/37-38 Zanzibar correspondence