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21 May 2018

‘A Trustworthy Indian in Stockholm’: A. Yusuf Ali’s Mission to Scandinavia, 1918

A hundred years ago, Stockholm was the centre of Indian anti-colonialism and, at the same time, British counter-intelligence operations. In late April and early May 1918, the Indian lawyer and administrator A. Yusuf Ali gave a series of lectures on Indian culture in Scandinavia, including Copenhagen, Stockholm, Uppsala and Oslo.

A Yusuf Ali 1A. Yusuf Ali from Træk af Indiens Kultur

Delivered in English, the lectures dealt with modern Indian poetry, Indian religion and the role of women in Indian, and they were translated into Danish and published as Træk af Indiens Kultur (Features of Indian Culture) in 1918. In the Foreword, Ali conceded that the lectures were not intended to be published in book form, but ‘valuable friends’ persuaded him to do so. What Ali did not admit was that these ‘valuable friends’ were the British Foreign Office (FO).

A Yusuf Ali 2Træk af Indiens Kultur 

In fact, as reports from the FO show, the British were so worried about the anti-colonial activities of the Indian National Committee (INC) among the socialist delegates assembled in Stockholm for the proposed peace conference that they considered ‘the possibility of sending a trustworthy Indian to Stockholm who could put the case from a loyalist point of view’.

As it happened, the two Indian revolutionaries Virendranath ‘Chatto’ Chattopadhyaya and M.P.T. Acharya from the Berlin-based Indian Independence Committee had arrived in Stockholm in May 1917 and set up the INC. They met the organising Dutch-Scandinavian Committee in July 1917, putting their demands for independence to the socialists, but they were met with little sympathy. The Dutch socialist Pieter Jelles Troelstra noted that ‘the Indian question is important, but it is a distraction’ from the peace negotiations.

However, Chatto and Acharya remained in Stockholm and carried out extensive propaganda in the Swedish newspapers in the next couple of years. For instance, when Finland achieved independence in January 1918, the INC sent congratulatory wishes through the Swedish newspapers Svenska Dagbladet and Aftonbladet, hoping for Finland’s support for Indian independence.

It was such articles that prompted the FO to send Ali on his mission to Scandinavia. In response to the propaganda of the INC, Ali wrote in Stockholms-Tidningen in April 1918 that the Indian revolutionaries were wrong, there was no desire for independence in India, and that the ties between India and Britain had been strengthened during the war. Furthermore, he claimed that the Indian revolutionaries had no support in India, and he referred to them as ‘anarchists’. Chatto denied these accusations, in an article in Stockholms-Tidningen in May 1918, and asserted that they enjoyed widespread support in India, particularly from Bengal.

In his reminiscences of the time in Stockholm, Acharya later wrote that they used to attend Ali’s lectures and hand out their own material to the audience. This meant that many thought that Ali belonged to the INC and subsequently approached him for more information. Ali’s mission had failed, claimed Acharya, and the British called Ali back in the summer of 1918.

The British felt differently, however, as is clear from a review of Ali’s book from The Times Literary Supplement: ‘If it was the object of our Foreign Office to give the Scandinavian public an opportunity of knowing better and valuing more highly the genius of India it would appear that this aim has been excellently fulfilled’ (5 September 1918).

Ole Birk Laursen
Lecturer at NYU London and a Research Associate at The Open University

Further reading:
M. Yusuf Ali, Træk Af Indiens Kultur (Copenhagen: V. Pios Boghandel/H Branner, 1918)
M. A. Sherif, Searching for Solace: A Biography of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Interpreter of the Qur’an (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 1994)
British Library, India Office Records/L/PS/11/126, P 3449/1917 The War: Stockholm Peace Congress; attitude of Oriental delegates

 

18 May 2018

Royal weddings at Windsor Castle

Royal weddings at Windsor Castle have a long history.  Five of Queen Victoria’s children married in St George’s Chapel between 1863 and 1882: Edward, Helena, Louise, Arthur and Leopold.  Contemporary newspaper reports of these weddings focus on many of the same aspects found in the coverage of the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – the courtship, the bride’s looks and character, the guest list, the gifts, the ceremony, the outfits.

Royal Wedding 1863 Edward & Alexandra Royal CollectionMarriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark at Windsor, 10 March 1863 by William Powell Frith. Image courtesy of the Royal Collections Trust

Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, was born in 1853, the eighth child and youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  He was a delicate child having inherited the haemophilia gene from his mother, and he also suffered from epilepsy.  Leopold studied at Christ Church College Oxford and was president of the Oxford University Chess Club.  After his student days he continued as a patron of chess, and of the arts and literature.

Prince-Leopold-Duke-of-AlbanyPrince Leopold, Duke of Albany by Lombardi & Co circa late 1870s  NPG x15727 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1882 the British press reported that Prince Leopold was to marry Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont.  The bride-to-be was described as ‘a simple and ladylike country girl … very spontaneous and open, recites with taste, … very musical’.

Princess-Helen-Duchess-of-AlbanyPrincess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont by Judd & Co 1881 NPG D33804 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The couple visited a London photographer and had two sittings, formal and informal.  The photographs showing the Prince with his arm around Helena’s waist and her head resting upon his shoulder were intended for family circulation only.  Apparently they were issued in error with the formal portraits and had to be recalled hastily.

The wedding was planned for April but there was speculation that the ceremony would have to be postponed because the Prince was laid up with a painful swollen knee.  The knee joint had troubled Leopold in the past and he had twisted the ligaments earlier in the year.  He then aggravated that injury by falling in the street after slipping on a piece of orange peel whilst holidaying near his mother in Menton, France.  The Prince’s haemophilia was not a secret – the Aberdeen Evening Express of 5 April 1882 explained: ‘there is some deficiency of a certain element in the blood, which make a fall or bruise a more serious matter to him than it would be to an ordinary person’.

However Leopold returned to England, pale and using a stick to walk, determined that the marriage should go ahead as planned.  On 27 April 1882, thousands of people flocked to Windsor for the wedding.  Some had tickets for admission to the Castle grounds, most wanted to see the procession through the town.  The people of Windsor presented a diamond bracelet to Princess Helena.  Queen Victoria gave the couple Claremont, a residence in Surrey.  As the newly-weds left the Castle in the late afternoon, several Princesses were said to have breached etiquette by appearing outside without bonnets to wave goodbye.

Prince-Leopold-Duke-of-Albany-Princess-Alice-Countess-of-Athlone-Princess-Helen-Duchess-of-AlbanyDuke and Duchess of Albany with their baby daughter Alice by Hills & Saunders 1883 NPG x197970 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In February 1883, Helena gave birth to a daughter Alice. Early the following year Leopold went to Cannes to escape the winter weather.  Sadly he had a fall resulting in an epileptic fit and a brain haemorrhage, and he died on 28 March 1884.  He was buried at Windsor on 6 April, less than two years after his marriage.  His son Charles was born in July.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Dundee Evening Telegraph 28 March 1882, Aberdeen Evening Express 5 April 1882, Derby Daily Telegraph 24 April 1882, Hampshire Advertiser 29 April 1882, Windsor and Eton Express 29 April 1882.

 

16 May 2018

The Anti-German Union and the India Office

A file among the records of the India Office Public & Judicial Department shows how the anti-German hysteria that developed in Britain after the outbreak of the First World War came to spread as far as central India.

Anti German Union Museum of Fine Arts Boston CON651696Poster for Anti-German Union 1915 courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

George Makrill was Honorary Secretary of the Anti-German Union  - motto: ‘No German Labour, No German Goods, No German Influence, Britain for the British'.  On 9 August 1915 he wrote to the India Office from the Union's headquarters on The Strand concerning ‘... certain information, which I have received from a source which I know to be trustworthy, and which appears to me to require immediate action’.

This potentially grave matter was then left hanging, as Makrill had forgotten to include in this initial communication a short list of persons with German connections who had worked or were working in the Central Provinces administration.  This was dispatched, with apologies, on 26 August.
 
The India Office thus found itself tasked with investigating four of its own civil servants:
• the late Sir Arthur Blumerhassett, former Chief Secretary - what damage might he have done the Allied cause before his death?
• Mr Marten, his successor - had he been ‘turned’ by Sir Arthur?
• Mr Grille, Assistant Commissioner - was he part of the conspiracy?
• Mr Hullah, Third Secretary  - what was his nefarious role?

Mr Makrill might himself have done some elementary checking prior to alerting the India Office, given that he must have meant Sir Arthur Blennerhassett who had died in late January.  It was soon established that the four individuals were all Oxbridge graduates, which before the Cambridge spy ring scandal erupted decades later must presumably have worked in their favour.  Departmental Secretary Malcolm Seton (Repton and Oriel College, Oxford) took it upon himself to deal with the matter, putting the laconic note in the file on 2 September : ‘Mr. J. T. Marten has a German mother, but the Martens are an old Gloucestershire family.  I have known him intimately for over 20 years.  He has always been rather anti-German in feeling’.  He was plainly not impressed by the error over the Blennerhassett surname: ‘Burke or Debrett could have been consulted’.

In retrospect it is clear that the whole episode stemmed from the Anti-German Union having somehow discovered that a handful of overseas civil servants had some German ancestry and/or had married German wives, and were keen for the India Office to investigate their backgrounds.  Seton’s sense of exasperation is plain in another written comment: ‘If the Anti-German Union hopes to proscribe every official who has German blood, its labours will be protracted’.  No further action seems to have taken place, and Messrs Marten (Clifton and New College, Oxford), Grille (Harrow and Jesus, Cambridge) and Hullah (Oundle and Caius College, Cambridge) were sensibly allowed to continue their careers unmolested.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
IOR/L/PJ/6/1395, file 3304
Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E267