Untold lives blog

108 posts categorized "Domestic life"

13 November 2014

Terror and Wonder Indian-style

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Inspired by the latest exhibition Terror and Wonder I looked for ‘haunted’ materials in the India Office Records. To my disappointment I couldn’t find any ghosts, vampires or Goths among the Honourable East India Company’s servants. All was not lost however: the archive of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA) contains a file with papers relating to ghosts.


From Ghosts: being the experiences of Flaxman Low ... With twelve illustrations by B. E. Minns  British Library on flickr  

In 1839 W. B. Hamilton built a house on a plot of land in Simla near the old cemetery.  Lt. Col. W. L. F. Yonge of the Royal Artillery bought the house in 1865 and 30 years later it was inherited by his daughter Elsie Macandrew.  ‘Charleville’ was rented out by the Yonges and that’s when the trouble started.

Rental document for Charleville  IOPP/Mss Eur G89 Noc

Just before World War One, Col. P. and his wife moved into the house. They invited their niece Miss S. to stay with them.  Returning home one evening they found all the servants outside. The bearer reported he had seen a sahib in Miss S’s room. They searched, but couldn’t find anyone. After a peaceful night, the young lady went to take a bath and suddenly the whole house could hear her screaming.  She was standing, wrapped in towel, shrieking: ‘They are throwing cold water at me! Can’t you see?’

That was just the beginning. Dinner parties at ‘Charleville’ must have been amusing with missing cutlery, misplaced flowers, and rooms in disorder. Maj. H. of the Royal Engineers was certain that the servants were behind the hauntings so he and Col. P. sealed the dining-room and came back the next morning. To their surprise, the seals were unbroken but the whole room was in disarray.

Col. P., being a devout Catholic, called for a priest, who sprinkled holy water and said the prescribed prayers. The poltergeist must have been of a different religious persuasion as the disturbances carried on. The P. family had had enough and decided to move.

When Mr. Bayley lived at ‘Charleville’, one of the servants reported a sighting of a sahib in fancy clothing who walked through the door. After the Bayleys, Officer H. of the Sappers and Miners moved in. His little girl saw a man in old clothes on many occasions. The home didn’t bring good fortune – H. died at Gallipoli.

After the H. family, a Japanese consul and his wife stayed there, but after only three weeks they left in despair. Around 1914 a Mrs. A. bought the house and she still lived there in 1947 undisturbed.

Plan of Charleville  IOPP/Mss Eur G89   Noc

Simla was a-buzz with the story that the ghost was that of a man buried in the cemetery who had murdered his wife and was now earthbound.  The anonymous author ‘Hyderabad’ was so captivated that he checked the graves and burial books. His investigation was not successful, as none of the men matched the story. There were no murders, or at least no confirmed ones, and the only tragedy he uncovered was the death of a Mrs Codrington and her young children. 

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

Further reading:
‘Hyderabad’, 'The most haunted house in Simla', Journal of the United Service Institution of India, v. 78, no. 327, April 1947, pp. 299-304.
Papers relating to ghost stories, including drafts for a book Ghost Tales from the Raj edited by K R N Swamy and Meera Ravi; also copies of articles by Swamy, IOPP/Mss Eur F370/1357.
K. R. N. Swamy, M. Ravi, British ghosts and occult India: an anthology, Writers Workshop, 2004.
William Lambert Francis Yonge Yonge Papers, IOPP/Mss Eur G89 .


07 November 2014

The Moustache Murder

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MoustacheLast Movember we brought you the cautionary Lay of the Red Moustache. This year we have found more tragic verse in the British Library collections to alert our readers to the dangers of becoming too fond of the splendid moustaches now sprouting forth.  A warning - parts of Mr Newton’s poem are not for the squeamish.











 The Moustache Murder
Or, the Cruelly Commercial and Lugubriously Lyrical Legend of Noddlekins and Jemima

 Now all ye good people, pray listen to me well,
‘Tis of a young bank-clerk I’m going for to tell;
His name it was Noddlekins, rather reckless and rash,
Who wore upon his upper lip a very fine moustache.

Now as Noddlekins was a-standing in the counting-house one day,
The Manager came up to him, and thus he did say,
“Go, get a sharp razor, and remove all that hair,
For mustachers the Directors are determined you shan’t wear.”

“My dear sir, my dear sir,” young Noddlekins replied,
“I’ll oblige you in any other mortal thing beside;
But before I will lose one hair out of my moustache,
I will see the whole place go to everlasting smash.”

“Now go, boldest Noddlekins,” the Manager he gasped,
“If you will not consent that your face shall be rasped,
You must leave – for I’ve promised, and my promise I will keep,
To make a separation of the goats from the sheep.”

Now Noddlekins had a sweetheart, Jemima by name,
She suggested the moustache, and she doted on the same;
And her feelings experienced a terrible crash,
When she heard that her Noddlekins thought of shaving his moustache.

She most viciously jibbed like a foal at a fence,
And she wouldn’t hear a word of poor Noddlekins’ defence;
But she said, “if you mean to act like a little boy at school,
Recollect, Mr Noddlekins, I won’t wed a fool.”

As Jemima was walking near her father’s abode,
She spied her dear Noddlekins a-lying on the road,
Half-shaved, with his throat cut, and a billet-doux to prove,
That his suicide was occasioned by moustachios and love.

On his dear half-denuded mouth she deposited one kiss,
And she said, “It’s my tantrums have brought you to this.”
The she slit her carotid with more spirit than sense,
And their lives are both in the pluperfect sense.

Now all ye young bank-clerks who wish to cut a dash,
Never quarrel with the governor on account of a moustache;
And ye maidens be careful lest you come to act in time a
Sad tragedy like the razor-slaughtered Noddlekins and Jemima.

At twelve the next night, by the Manager’s bed-side,
The ghost of Jemima with weasand slit wide,
Arm-in-arm with her Noddlekins, whose throat was cut too,
Said, “Serene might our gullets be if it hadn’t been for you!”

Now the Manager no longer in the bank dare remain,
So he slipped on his cloak and popped off to the train;
But standing on the platform he felt rather queer,
And he died with a gurgle like a bottle of beer.

Now this is the moral or epilogue to the play,
(The other was an interlude put in by the way,)
You may learn from this song, which is true, I declare,
That this here only happened on account of that hair.


If you would like to read more of John Newton's verse, here is the source -

Shavers Shaved

11649 e.36  Noc

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records

The picture of the man with a moustache is taken from Cook's Handbook for London (1894) 10347.h.23  - available on the British Library flickr photostream.

05 November 2014

Fireworks tragedy sparks succession crisis

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The Raja of Mandvi  died on 19 October 1838 as a result of a fireworks accident.  Waje Singh was watching a display of fireworks during the Diwali festival when a few sparks fell on some gunpowder.   The resulting explosion killed two people on the spot and gravely injured ten others including the Raja.  He was one of six victims to die the following day.

Illuminations and fireworks round Mr. Donnithorne's park at Fatehgarh from 'Views by Seeta Ram from Agra to Barrackpore Vol. X' produced for Lord Moira by Sita Ram between 1814-15. Online Gallery   Noc

This catastrophe opened the door to a succession crisis.  At the time of his death, the Raja had no acknowledged heir.  He had declared a boy born in September 1837 to his estranged wife Dhunkoonverbah illegitimate and ‘spuriously procured’.  After his death, Dhunkoonverbah  made representations to the British to recognise her son as heir to the throne of Mandvi.

Matters were further complicated when on 6 November 1838 the Raja’s  mother wrote to East India Company agent George Lettsom Elliot announcing the birth of a son to the Raja’s younger widow Jallah. Elliot was instructed by the Company’s Bombay Government to institute an immediate enquiry to establish whether the legitimacy of this birth was beyond doubt.  If suspicious he was to enlist the help of one of the medical officers at Surat.

Elliot’s report and copies of the evidence he gathered cover more than 200 pages. He examined 50 witnesses on the respective claims of the two widows. He decided to reject the claims of Dhunkoonverbah, stating that her character had been ‘open to much suspicion’ during her husband’s lifetime. She had been publicly disgraced and punished with the loss of her nose for ‘criminal intercourse’.  Her ‘paramour’ had suffered a painful death.  Dhunkoonverbah had fled the Raja’s protection and become 'a wanderer thro' the country'.  Elliot decided on balance to believe testimony that she had purchased the child whom she said was her son. Letters from the late Raja disclaiming all connection to any offspring Dhunkoonverbah might have were also taken into account.

Turning to consider the legitimacy of Jallah’s son, Elliot provided the Government with witness statements about the birth and the recording of the child’s nativity by an astrologer.  He recalled a letter sent by the late Raja inviting him to a celebration of his wife’s seventh month of pregnancy.  An Indian apothecary verified that Jallah had given birth and had 'an ample supply of nourishment' for the child.  Elliot commented that examination by a European surgeon would have been ‘repugnant’ to the Rani.

Having considered Elliot’s detailed submission, the Bombay Government decided to recognise the posthumous son born to Jallah in 1838 as the rightful heir.  Affairs of state were to be administered during his minority by a manager nominated by the British Government. However the child died on 13 December 1839 and the direct line of succession in Mandvi became extinct. The state was then annexed to the British territories in India.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/1857/78803 Oct 1838-Jun 1840 (NB the widows’ names appear with many variant spellings in the documents.)

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