Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

28 August 2014

A Polymath in Muscat

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As his British superiors came and went, one long-serving Indian Medical Service officer, based at the Political Agency in Muscat, created a rich and enduring legacy.

Many of the British officers who went on to serve as Political Resident in the Persian Gulf or as Political Agent in Bahrain started off their careers in the Gulf in the post of Political Agent in Muscat.  The Political Agent’s second-in-command was the Agency Surgeon. Between the years 1873 and 1900 this post was held by one man: Atmaram Sadashiva Grandin Jayakar (1844-1911). Jayakar was said to have preferred Muscat to anywhere else in the world, and remained long enough to see no fewer than twelve British Political Agents pass through the town.

View of the waterfront at Muscat, 1900s  Photo 206/(6) Images Online Noc

A Maratha by origin, Jayakar completed his Bachelor in Medicine and Surgery in India before studying to pass the Indian Medical Service exam at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Southampton, England. He was posted to Muscat in 1873, promoted to Surgeon Major around 1880 and then to Surgeon Lieutenant-Colonel ten years later. He also worked as the Acting Agent at Muscat, and personally attended to the Sultan of Muscat, Turki bin Sa’id, when he was sick.

While at Muscat Jayakar wrote a number of papers on the hygiene conditions in the town and its vicinity which appeared in Indian Government publications. These include a Medical Topography of Muscat in 1877 and a Report on the Recent Epidemic of Cholera in Maskat and Matrah in 1900.

Described by his one-time Muscat colleague Percy Cox as ‘a man of great industry and scientific bent’, Jayakar dedicated his spare time to the pursuit of scientific exploration and understanding. He collected scores of wildlife specimens from the desert sands, as well from the shores and waters off the Oman coast. The English explorer Theodore Bent, who visited Muscat in 1899, described Jayakar’s house as being ‘filled with curious animals from the interior, and marvels from the deep’. Jayakar sent many specimens not previously collected or studied to the British Museum in London. Numerous species are named in Jayakar’s honour, including the Arabian Sand Boa (Eryx Jayakari), a lizard (Lacerta Jayakari), a species of goat (Arabitragus Jayakari), a scorpion (Hottentotta Jayakari) and several fish, including the seahorse Hippocampus Jayakari.

‘Hemitragus [or Arabitragus] Jayakari’ from Proceedings of the General Meetings for Scientific Business of the Zoological Society of London for the year 1894, facing p.448. Noc

Jayakar also studied the Arabic language spoken by his fellow inhabitants in Muscat. His paper on the ‘Omani dialect of Arabic’ was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1889. He also published The Shahee dialect of Arabic in 1904, and the Arabic zoological lexicon A̲d-Damîrí's Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān in 1906. A paper entitled ‘Omani Proverbs’ appeared in the Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and was published in book form in 1987.

Given the number of native animal species that Jayakar gave his name to, there is a pleasing symmetry to the fact that the townspeople of Muscat bestowed their own epithet of ‘Muscati’ upon the Indian surgeon who lived amongst them.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project  Cc-by

Further reading:

Medical Topography of Muscat – IOR/V/23/29, No 138

Report on the Recent Epidemic of Cholera in Maskat and Matrah - IOR/V/23/77, No 379

The Shahee dialect of Arabic (AC.8827)

A̲d-Damîrí's Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān [a zoological lexicon] (306.47.H)

Omani Proverbs (YC.1987.a.3255)

26 August 2014

Buffoons, ear-pickers and sherbet-sellers

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Specialist professions such as these are just some of the fascinating details about life in India which are revealed by the reports of the ten-yearly Census of India. It’s a familiar source of information, but each time I look at it, I am amazed by the way in which it records minute details about everyday life. The buffoons, ear-pickers and sherbet-sellers feature in the tables of occupations in the 1891 report on the Punjab. Barber-cropped Interestingly, the table of statistics records the number of people dependent on an occupation, including women and children, not just the people employed in the work. Buffoons were a great rarity with just 20 people in the British territory in the Punjab supported by their efforts to entertain. Ear-picking supported 144 people so this was also a minority profession compared with selling and preparing sherbet which provided for 2,047. ‘Undefined and disreputable’ occupations are listed, including prostitution which supported 6,193 men, women and children.

A Muslim barber, Add. 27255 f.211v
Images Online

 Education and literature supported 11,752 and 6,650 people respectively, and included teachers, authors, reporters, private secretaries and clerks, students and pandits. It is pleasing to note the inclusion of 'library service' under literature. However, people working in libraries may have been even more rare than ear-pickers, supporting only 121 people!

Diwan Babu Ram K90086-32

Portrait of Diwan Babu Ram with papers, books, pen-cases and spectacles, Add. Or. 1264
Images Online

Agriculture, manufacturing and commerce were of course the major sources of income. Civil and military service, ranging from people employed as officials and officers to ‘menials’, provided for 182,239 people while ‘professional’ occupations supported 135,834. Reflecting the almost obsessive drive to gather and organise information, these figures are broken down into sub-sections. For example, professional occupations include religion, education, literature, law, medicine, engineering and surveying, other sciences, pictorial art and sculpture, music, acting and dancing, sport, and finally exhibitions and games, which is where I found the buffoons. A separate table shows how people combined an interest in the land with other occupations. Regional variations are revealed by the statistics for individual districts. These statistics, far from being dry and boring, provide a fascinating snapshot of life in the Punjab in 1891. Census-occupations

Summary created from the detailed statistics relating to Districts and States 
Census of India, 1891: the Punjab and its Feudatories
, Vol XIX Part II: Imperial Tables and Supplementary Returns, IOR/V/15/46

The Punjab volume of the 1891 Census of India includes text which explains the methodology underlying the statistics and makes observations on history and society. Subjects include population, religion, marriage, health, language, migration, occupations, and of course the perennial obsession – castes, tribes and races. Maps illustrating population changes, migration, religion, the distribution of lepers and blind people, and the proportion of male to female children highlight the interests of the British information-gatherers.  
Census map-religion

Frontispiece to Census of India, 1891: the Punjab and its Feudatories, Vol XIX Part I, IOR/V/15/46

Although the Census of India reflects British preoccupations, observations and understanding of India, imaginative reading of the source provides marvellous insights into how people lived and worked. It is also a reminder of the importance of knowledge in maintaining a position of power.

Further reading
IOR/V/15 Census Reports 1853-1944
These comprise the decennial census of India 1871-1941 and a few earlier provincial census reports.

Penny Brook
Lead Curator, India Office Records

Text    Cc-by

Images    Noc


21 August 2014

Raising the Dead: Tales of Untold Lives

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One of the aims of this blog is to inspire new research and encourage enjoyment, knowledge and understanding of the British Library and its collections.  So we are delighted to tell you about the work of writer Jamie Rhodes which ticks all those boxes!

Jamie has written several short films and teaches creative writing and screenwriting at school and community group workshops.  He is a folklore enthusiast and his writing is often inspired by rare and unusual stories. So collaboration with Untold Lives is a match made in heaven! 

Jamie contacted us through Twitter in June 2013 and we met for a chat which resulted in Jamie contributing guest posts to the blog.  Then in 2014 Jamie received a grant from the Arts Council to write a book of historical fiction inspired by stories which have been posted on Untold Lives.  Each of the short tales uses the archive collections as a starting point and seeks to explore how ‘a writer can bring alive a not altogether impossible re-imagining of our past’.  Jamie believes that in order to create good fictional characters, it is necessary to observe ‘the small but beautiful details of real lives’.  Documents in the British Library have given him a window to observe people of the past and he has imagined the personalities behind the pens.

Dead Men’s Teeth and other stories from Voices Past will be published later this year.  The stories in the collection are - Dead Men’s Teeth; Quarantine; Arrowhead; Mary March; How I Did Long fer a Tattie Pasty!; Death or Australia; Printed on the Thames; Ignatius Sancho’s Shop; Vulture Temple; and Stolen from India. Fans of this blog will spot some familiar titles there! 

Story telling 081086
J E Millias, Christmas Story Telling from The Illustrated London News (1862) Images Online Noc

Jamie Rhodes will be hosting an event at the British Library on Monday 20 October 2014 at 18.00 Raising the Dead: Tales of Untold Lives.  Join us for a spine-tingling evening of Gothic horror-themed readings from his collection of short tales.

And please do let us know if you have been inspired by Untold Lives!

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by