Untold lives blog

105 posts categorized "Domestic life"

27 October 2014

Newspaper notices- a window into the past

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Looking for an ancestor?  Or land sales?  Or would you like to know how people felt 100 years ago? Read the newspapers!  And don’t limit yourself only to the main headings.  Go to the ‘boring’,  the ‘why bother flicking to the end’ and the ‘no one reads it anyway’ part – the notices.  You will probably learn more about the past than from the headlines or editor’s comments. The Tribune published in Lahore gives account of the daily issues the locals were facing.  And they were probably much more important than the latest news from Paris or New York.

The Punjab Mental Hospital wanted to outsource the delivery of milk from 1 April 1926 to 31 March 1927. The required five maunds had to be as fresh as possible, so the cows of the successful applicant had to be kept in accommodation provided on the Hospital premises. It was clearly a buyers’ market, as the Medical Superintendent Captain T. H. Thomas wanted a deposit of 1000 rupees and milk tests to be conducted daily.  He retained the right to reject any applicant without giving a reason.

  Milking cow F60054-41
Add.Or.1427  Images Online      Noc

The Swasthya Sahaya Pharmacy at Alipore was giving away freebies. Anyone interested in Sexual Science by Rai Sahib Dr Dass (sic) could just drop by.  The Huston Brothers went even further and their booklet Life after Death was for those who lost their manhood ‘through follies, abuses and excesses’.  This scientific remedy brought domestic happiness without any drugs or medicines.

Equipped with the booklet a man, now fully assured, could check the matrimonial notices.  A girl from a Khatri family, well-educated and well-versed in household work, was just looking for a suitable husband.  Girls and their families could also find a match in the local paper.  A ‘robust young Saraswat Brahmin’ with a permanent commission in the Indian Army was available. It was not that easy though – an interview was absolutely essential. Want more choice? The Lahore Hindu Marriage Bureau had suitable candidates for a spouse – a fifteen year old daughter of a Rai Sahib; a seventeen year  old daughter of a retired shopkeeper;  a bachelor with an income of 1000 rupees and property of five laks; or a handsome chap who just returned from England.

In April 1926 Godar Mall, a clerk at the Arsenal at Rawalpindi ,changed his name to Gian Parkash.  He wanted to inform his relatives and friends that from now on they should address him this way.

Ghulam Mustfa of Bhera announced that Nazool land will be sold on public auction on 17 February 1926 at the Rest House at Bhera.  

C. H. Rice of the Forman Christian College had an unclaimed bicycle. Want it back?  Show the proper documents!

The most interesting notice I need to quote in full:
The General Public is hereby informed that my son Mahla Ram, since over a year and a half has become a vagabond and do not consider him to be a fit person to live in my house. He has no connection whatever with me and with self-acquired property, etc. Those dealing with him will do so at their own risk and I will in no way be accountable nor will my property be. Mahla Ram will be responsible for his own doings and dealings personally. Signed Buta Ram.

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

Further reading:
The Tribune, January to April 1926, shelfmark SM 13.



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 

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.

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)

13 October 2014

Princess Victoria’s cycling adventure

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In April 1901, a few months after her father’s accession to the throne as King Edward VII, Princess Victoria was involved in a confrontation at Windsor Great Park.  The Princess was riding her bicycle with Lady Musgrave through the gates to the Long Walk when the elderly lodge keeper shouted at them to stop - cycling was not permitted there.  As the two women did not seem inclined to obey his order, he caught hold of the Princess’s bicycle and she fell heavily onto the roadway. 

  Cycling c12545-08
Illustrated London News 17 August 1901 Images Online

Lodge keeper William Green was a former sergeant in the Coldstream Guards and a Crimean veteran.  He had held his position at Windsor for over 40 years and had been decorated with an award for distinguished conduct by Queen Victoria shortly before her death. When interviewed by the press, Green denied that he had pushed Princess Victoria off her bicycle or had been in anyway rude to her.  The King and his daughters had not often been at Windsor so he had not recognised her.  If he had known who she was he would certainly have let her pass, although he had strict orders not to allow cyclists to use that roadway and had stopped no fewer than 735 last year.  Green said he had apologised to the Princess and had received a ‘very nice’ letter in reply.  Princess Victoria exonerated him from all blame as he was only doing his duty, but did say that he should not have grabbed the handlebars of her bicycle.

According to the press, there were many attempts by cyclists to evade Green’s vigilance at the gate.  One of the few to succeed was a cyclist who rode nearly up to the gates, dismounted, put his machine onto a passing carriage, and remounted again once the vehicle had gone through the gates.

The story had a postscript.  In 1905, William Green had to have a leg amputated. A stranger called at the lodge to ask after him. When Mrs Green asked her name, the caller smiled and said she should tell her husband that the lady pushed off her bicycle had come to see him.  The Princess then went to sit at the old man’s bedside. Other members of the royal family also visited.  William Green died in October 1905 and was buried at Windsor with full military honours. 

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records

Further reading:

British Newspaper Archive

Evening Telegraph 17 April 1901

Lancashire Evening Post 17 April 1901

Western Gazette 21 July 1905


03 October 2014

Sausages and bunting comfort troops in Paris

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These women are doing their bit_smallThe contribution of women during the First World War, whether as munitions workers, members of the Women’s Land Army, determined knitters or sustaining correspondents, is commemorated in our current exhibition Enduring war: grief, grit and humour. One of the individual women featured is Albinia Wherry (1857-1929) whose collection of posters and postcards, donated to the Library, includes material relating to the Women’s Emergency Canteen in Paris which you can see in the exhibition.  (Now extended until 26 October!)

During the First World War she worked at the Women’s Emergency Canteen beneath the Gare du Nord in Paris. Opened in April 1915, initially as an initiative of the Women’s Emergency Corps (a suffrage organisation), with a staff of mostly British women, it was also known as the Cantine Anglaise.


These women are doing their bit: learn to make munitions. Poster [London, 1916]   Noc

Over the course of the war, it provided meals, drinks, cigarettes, magazines, washing facilities and sleeping accommodation for Allied troops. An illustrated account of the canteens in France compiled by Josephine Davies (Work of the Women’s Emergency Canteens in France) gives a flavour of what life was like and the hectic nature of the work especially in the period when the ambulance trains were routed through the Gare du Nord. The chapter on the Paris canteen includes a description of the wonderment of a soldier when he descends the gloomy stairs to find a huge hall, hung with flags and bunting, the inviting smell of sausages and a ready welcome. This sense of the warmth of the welcome is also reflected in the comments quoted by Davies from the Visitors’ Book which include the following accolade: “the most homely place I’ve been in since leaving my home in 1914”.

Albinia Wherry worked at the Paris Canteen from 1915 to 1918 and is recorded in Davies as one of the Paris workers who had been awarded a badge for her service there. Postcards from her collection relating to that period feature both in Enduring war and in the related display Postcards, stamps and covers from the First World War (in the Philatelic Exhibition space on the Upper Ground Floor) and colleagues have posted in our European Studies blog about some of the French posters and Russian postcards from her collection.

Albinia was the daughter of Robert Needham Cust the orientalist (whose diaries are held by the Library: Add MS 45390-45406) and Maria Adelaide Hobart. In 1881, she married George Edward Wherry, a surgeon at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and a member of the Alpine Club. Her own wide range of interests is reflected in her pre-war publications, including several about art which were aimed squarely at both school children and the lifelong learner. Some biographical material, including a photograph and a family tree, can be found in The Albinia book (about women named Albinia descended from Albinia Cecil), a work she compiled with her cousin Albinia Stewart but which was published posthumously, with the assistance of her brother Robert Henry Hobart Cust, following her death in a car accident in 1929.

See our blog about Sophia Duleep Singh to learn about another remarkable woman who worked for the welfare of soldiers during the First World War.

Alison Bailey
Co-Curator, Enduring war     Cc-by

Further reading:

The Albinia book…Compiled by Albinia Lucy Cust (Mrs. Wherry). Illustrations and genealogies collected by Albinia Frances Stewart. London: Mitchell Hughes and Clarke, 1929. British Library shelfmark: 10824.b.7.

The Work of the Women’s Emergency Canteens in France 1915-1919. Compiled by Josephine Davies. [London]: [Women's Printing Society], [1919] B.L. shelfmark: YA.1989.a.3456.

Explore over 500 historical sources from across Europe, together with new insights by World War One experts in our World War I online resource


22 September 2014

Bringing Archive Catalogues to Life – the SNAC Project

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Some readers of this blog will know that we at the British Library have spent the last few years developing an integrated catalogue for our archives and manuscripts collections which is made available online as Search our Catalogue Archives and Manuscripts.  A bonus of having all the catalogue records in one system is that we can now share them with projects en masse beyond the British Library, and this includes the 300,000 or so records of the people who were involved in the creation of, or who are the subject of, the archives and manuscripts.

These records then have been included in the US based Social Networks and Archival Context project – more memorably known as SNAC.  Part of this is looking at how to help researchers find all the relevant material relating to a particular person, both archives and publications and so has developed a ‘Prototype Research Tool’  with this in mind: 

  SNAC Noc

The British Library’s records are included alongside those from many US institutions and data is being loaded from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and university repositories in the UK. Anyone can click one of the ‘featured’ images on the front page or search for an individual they are interested in. The result will be a page for an individual such as this entry for Robert Clive:

SNAC CliveNoc

 Here information about related archive collections is presented with links back to the originating repository’s catalogue, where details of how to get access to the material can be found. There are also links to publications and other resources relating to the person with links to WorldCat  which again can help with accessing the material.

The project is also interested finding out if the links between people found in catalogues when they are brought together in this way might help researchers navigate around all this data, so as well as providing links to related people the project provides a visualisation for the social and professional ‘network’ of individuals in a ‘radial graph view’ such as this one again for Robert Clive:

  SNAC Clive 2Noc

Given the richness of the catalogues and the millions of records included links can be found to the humble individual as well as the ‘great and the good’, so here can be seen a link between Lord Clive and one Mrs Bayly Brett, whose commonplace book includes a copy of a letter written by him to his mother in 1757.

Please have a look at SNAC and tell us what you think. Happy hunting!

Bill Stockting
Cataloguing Systems & Processing Co-ordinator Cc-by


18 September 2014

Arsenic, Cyanide and Strychnine - the Golden Age of Victorian Poisoners

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In July 1857 a sensational murder trial swiftly became the most talked about case in the country. The accused was Madeleine Smith, a young middle-class woman charged with murdering her lover with arsenic.  

Pierre Emile L'Angelier had attempted to blackmail Smith with their old love-letters once she tried to end their relationship. The Illustrated London News described in detail “the violent illness and sudden death of L’Angelier”, and “the prisoner’s declaration in which she admitted having purchased arsenic but stated that she used it in washing, as a cosmetic…for the alleged purpose of killing rats”.  The post-mortem found approximately 88 grains of arsenic in the stomach of the victim, a hitherto unheard of amount, whilst L’Angelier’s diary alluded to feeling ill after being served coffee by Smith. Smith was found not guilty, but the case still gained a lasting notoriety, fed by the Victorian fascination for a new ‘Golden Age’ of poisoning.

  Poisoner c13485-54
Noc  Joanna preparing the poison for Sir John Cleveland - Reynolds’s Miscellany [PP.6004.b Vol.21 No 525 p.1] Images Online 

One of the main reasons why poisoning became such a common means of murder in the Victorian era was, quite simply, ease of access. Cyanide was everywhere, in everything from paints to daguerreotypes to wallpapers. As a poison, its effects were unmistakable, including unconsciousness, convulsions, nausea, cardiac arrest and death, often in a matter of seconds. Its speed, from a poisoner’s point of view, was a plus, but its distinctive effects were easily recognisable and hard to pass off as anything but murder.

Strychnine, meanwhile, was broadly used as a form of pest control in big cities. In humans, it caused frothing at the mouth and muscle spasms which increased in intensity until the victim died from asphyxiation due to paralysis of the neural pathways. Although a fairly unsubtle way to kill someone, strychnine was a popular poison for some years, favoured by murderers such as Thomas Neil Cream and Belle Gunness. In a particularly sinister instance, The Penny Illustrated reported a case in 1871 in which poisoned food parcels were sent to families in Brighton bearing the message: “A few home-made cakes for the children; those done up are flavoured on purpose for yourself to enjoy. You will guess who this is from; I can’t mystify you, I fear”.  As the paper noted, a large quantity of strychnine had recently been obtained from a local chemist by way of a forged order.

Despite the popularity of Cyanide and Strychnine, Arsenic was nonetheless the chief poison of the Victorian era. Readily available in a staggering array of forms from flypaper to cosmetics, it was comparatively difficult to detect. A tasteless, odourless compound, its effects could often be written off as food poisoning, making foul play harder to trace. Its popularity led to the Arsenic Act of 1851, which enforced tighter restrictions on its sale and required most arsenic to be coloured indigo to make it harder to disguise. Measures like this, as well as development in the fields of toxicology and pathology, marked the beginning of a decline in the poisoner’s free-for-all of the early 19th century. With poisons becoming more easily traceable and mass media broadcasting their effects more widely, old favourites such as cyanide, strychnine and arsenic gradually became less commonly used. However new drugs and new poisons were developed, with figures such as the notorious Doctor Crippen representing further flowerings of disturbing invention on the 19th century murder scene.  

Julia Armfield
Former Intern, Printed Historical Resources     Cc-by

Further reading:  

Esther Inglis-Arkell, The Deadliest Poisons in History 

Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, A Poisonous History of Victorian Society

Royal Holloway Victorian MA Blog, Murder! The Glasgow Poisoning Case, July 1857

Douglas McGowan, The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith (Edinburgh: 2007)

15 September 2014

King Silence - the lives of Victorian deaf children

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As a historical source, an autobiographical novel presents the problematical challenges of both fiction and autobiography, and often doubles as a polemic for the author’s own world view. However, King Silence: A Story written by Arnold Hill Payne has provided me with insight into the lives of Victorian deaf children that I did not find in more traditional sources. 


Title page King Silence Noc


Arnold Payne was the hearing son of Benjamin Payne who was the deaf principal of the Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Swansea between 1876 and 1909.  Prior to attending a local school at the age of seven, Arnold’s everyday companions were deaf children boarding in this very well respected institution. Like his parents he was a passionate advocate for sign language in a time when ‘oralism’, or teaching the deaf to lip read and speak, was decreed to be the better method of communication.

Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb Noc

The Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb - from Annual Reports of the Cambrian Institution at Swansea Central Library 

Arnold Payne became assistant chaplain to the Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb in London, regularly speaking against oralism as he believed that signing enabled deaf people to be better educated and to interact with each other. He also wrote a comprehensive entry for ‘the deaf and dumb’ in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica and spent a year at Gallaudet College in Washington DC, the leading higher education establishment for deaf students.

The descriptions of the fictional ‘Sicard College’ in Washington DC which featured in King Silence were recognisable as Gallaudet College. His father, Benjamin Payne can also be identified in the book as ‘Mr Gordon’, the principal of the fictional institution remarkably similar to the Cambrian Institution in Swansea.

Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb schoolroom Noc

Cambrian Institution Schoolroom - from Annual Reports of the Cambrian Institution at Swansea Central Library 

The depiction of one pupil in King Silence highlights the loneliness and isolation experienced by a deaf child. A seven year old boy who had been born deaf stood ‘silent, lonely, passive, patient’ while his mother discussed his admittance to the institution with the principal. When another pupil entered the room and used signs and gestures to the boy, he was transformed by the ‘sudden revelation that there was someone here who talked in a language he could comprehend’. He had been accustomed to people around him talking about him, while keeping him ‘in ignorance’ of what they discussed. Here however were children who could communicate with him and had also experienced his isolation, ‘the sensitiveness, the shame, the loneliness’; the boy burst into tears because he felt he was ‘no longer alone!’.

Principal Benjamin Payne would have been familiar with these feelings of isolation, even though he had not been born deaf, and although the above account in King Silence is tinged with sentimentality, it is nevertheless a recognisable portrayal of discovering one is not alone. Indeed, Benjamin Payne used isolation as a punishment, preferring to forbid pupils from talking to a miscreant for a short while, rather than using corporal punishment. Some institutions beat pupils for using forbidden sign language and some reportedly tied the pupils’ arms to their sides for the same ‘offence’.

In King Silence, Arnold Payne enhances our understanding of the feelings and emotions of deaf children sent away from home in the nineteenth century. For many children, the experience was a positive one which enabled them to befriend and communicate with other deaf children, possibly for the first time.

Lesley Hulonce
Historian and Lecturer, Swansea University


Further reading:

Arnold H Payne, King Silence: A Story, London: Jarrolds, 1919. British Library 012603.g.16.

Paddy Ladd, Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2003.

Lesley Hulonce, ‘”Likely to conduce to the happiness and advantage of the inmates”? Victorian Education for Deaf Children’, Workhouse Tales