Untold lives blog

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24 October 2023

Henry Harpur – JMW Turner’s Cousin and Lawyer (Part 2)

On Monday 30 December 1851, following Turner’s funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral, his cousin and chief executor, Henry Harpur, who had been chief mourner, read the will to the other executors at Turner’s Queen Anne Street gallery.  It was later contested by a collection of Turner’s relations on his father’s side of the family and was not settled until 1856.  Henry and Philip Hardwick, the Royal Academy Treasurer, dealt with the financial aspects of the contested will, leaving other executors to deal with the artworks.

Interior of Turner's Gallery - The Artist showing his Works by George Jones‘Interior of Turner's Gallery: The Artist showing his Works’ by George Jones, probably painted from memory, shortly after Turner's death. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

In the struggle over the will, Henry did battle with another of Turner’s cousins - Jabez Tepper, the son of Turner’s Devon cousin, Mary Turner Tepper (1770-1855).  He was also a London solicitor.

The most disappointing outcome for Henry was that ‘Turner’s Gift’, the proposed Twickenham alms houses for ‘decayd English artists (Landscape Painters only) and single men’, was never fulfilled because under the Mortmain Law, the transfer of the three quarters of an acre of land in Twickenham to a trust, had to be at least a year before Turner’s death, and this had not happened.  This oversight was probably the fault of Henry and Turner’s other legal adviser, George Cobb.

When Turner’s housekeeper, Hannah Danby, died in 1853, her will included the bequest to ‘Mrs Harpur of Cobourg Place Kennington my Tea Caddie’.  This was, of course, Henry’s second wife, Amelia, who had been kind to Hannah. 

The Westminster Hospital c.1834 Wellcome CollectionThe Westminster Hospital, London. Engraving, Wellcome Collection.

In 1868, Henry gave £10,000 to Westminster Hospital, with the request that a ward be endowed in his name.  The hospital was relocated several times and in 1992 amalgamated with Chelsea Hospital to form the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.  There is no longer a Harpur Ward.

Amelia Harpur died on 5th August 1868, aged 54.  Henry died on 2nd March 1877, aged 86.  At the time of his death, he was living at 96 Upper Kennington Lane.  In the 1870s, Evelina Dupuis, Turner’s daughter, had moved into a house at the other end of Kennington Lane, number 154.  Following Evelina’s death there in August 1874, Henry made his last will, bequeathing the remaining money in Turner's Monument Account to her children.

Henry, Amelia and a number of Henry’s siblings are buried in West Norwood Cemetery but their memorials are probably among the 20,000 or so removed by Lambeth Council during the 1970s/80s.

In his will Henry left two Turner paintings to the National Gallery, on the condition that they put them on display.  Strangely, the Gallery refused the paintings.  Apart from several small personal bequests, and having no children, Henry left the bulk of his estate, including the two Turners, to his friend and fellow solicitor, Henry Drake, who was also the sole executor.  One of Drake’s sons, Bernard, had been given the middle name Harpur.

Drake exhibited the two Turner paintings in 1884, 1886 and 1892.  The larger painting, 'Fishing Boats Entering Calais Harbour' is now part of the Frick Collection in New York.  The smaller painting, described as 'Figures and boats in the foreground; low-lying coast seen across the sea on the horizon' is untraced.

In his will, Henry also made special provision for his cat to be cared for by Fanny Hodges.  One can only hope that, unlike the paintings, this bequest was fulfilled.

Report on Henry Harpur's will in Courier and West-End Advertiser 14 April 1877Report on Henry Harpur's will in Courier and West-End Advertiser 14 April 1877 British Newspaper Archive

CC-BY
David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
Selby Whittingham, Of Geese, Mallards and Drakes: Some Notes on Turner's Family, with contributions from others, Part 4 The Marshalls & Harpurs, Independent Turner Society (1999)
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016).

Henry Harpur – JMW Turner’s Cousin and Lawyer (Part 1)

Turner's House logo

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.

 

19 October 2023

Henry Harpur – JMW Turner’s Cousin and Lawyer (Part 1)

Researching JMW Turner’s cousin, Henry Harpur, is complicated by the fact that he was Henry Harpur lV.  Henry Harpur l was a solicitor who rented a house in Islington to Turner’s grandparents, William and Sarah Marshall.  Their daughter Sarah married the landlord’s son, Henry Harpur ll.  Sarah was the sister of Turner’s mother, Mary.

Henry Harpur ll left London to become vicar of St Giles, Tonbridge, from 1756 to 1791.  Turner is believed to have stayed with Harpur during his summer holidays and on one visit painted a scene of Tonbridge Castle.

Turner's painting of Tonbridge Castle Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Tonbridge Castle, Kent'. Grey and blue wash over graphite, on paper. 1794. Accession Number: 1588 Photograph copyright © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Harpur’s son, Henry Harpur lll, returned to London, where he became a successful lawyer in Westminster, in partnership with a baronet.  He married Elizabeth Lambert at St Giles, Camberwell, on 21 October 1800; by this time the couple already had three children.  Their son, Henry Harpur lV, was probably born on 18 June 1791 and baptised at Christ Church, Southwark on 1 January 1792; he also entered the legal profession.  Despite the sixteen years’ difference in their ages, he and Turner had a close personal and professional relationship for nearly 50 years.

Painting of Henry Harpur IVPainting of Henry Harpur lV - Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Art Collection


Henry married Eleanor Watkins on 11 May 1810 at Christ Church, Southwark and they set up house in Lambeth.  Eleanor was nine years older than Henry.

In 1820, Henry acted for himself and Turner in the challenge to their uncle Joseph Marshall’s will and, as a result, he became the owner of two properties in Wapping: numbers 9 and 10 New Crane, at the southern end of New Gravel Lane (now Garnet Street).

Henry and Eleanor accompanied Turner in 1840 on his trip to Venice, as far as Bregenz on the Rhine.  Leaving Turner, they next visited the Swiss Alps and then went south, via the lakes, to Italy, ending up in Milan.  While Turner was in Venice, Eleanor and Henry wrote to him, enthusing about the scenery in the Alps.  This may well have influenced Turner’s decision to visit Switzerland the following year.

Death notice for Eleanor Harpur from Morning Herald 25 June 1846Death notice for Eleanor Harpur Morning Herald (London) 25 June 1846 British Newspaper Archive

Eleanor Harpur died on 24 June 1846, aged 64.  She and Henry had no children.  On 22 December 1848, Henry married a widow, Amelia Stubbs, née Cotterell, at St James Westminster.

Henry retired as a solicitor in 1849 but still took care of Turner’s affairs and remained a close personal friend.  When Turner’s housekeeper, Hannah Danby, discovered where Turner was living with Sophia Booth, shortly before his death, it was Henry whom she informed of his whereabouts.  Hannah didn’t know that Henry and Amelia had remained in close contact with Turner and had visited him in Chelsea many times during his final illness.  It was Henry who, at the end of November 1851, told the Academy Treasurer, Philip Hardwick, that Turner would not be able to dine with him on Christmas Day ‘as was his custom’ because he was ‘confined to bed and had been since the commencement of October’.

Henry continued to visit Turner in his final days and later told his friend, the painter David Roberts, that Turner was ‘speechless two days at the end’.  This rather spoils the story that Turner expired with the words, ‘The sun is God’ on his lips.  After Turner’s death, to avoid any possible scandal about his relationship with Sophia Booth, Henry and Philip Hardwick arranged to move the body to Turner’s gallery in Queen Anne Street.  Turner had named Henry as his chief executor.


CC-BY
David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
Selby Whittingham, Of Geese, Mallards and Drakes: Some Notes on Turner's Family, with contributions from others, Part 4 The Marshalls & Harpurs, Independent Turner Society (1999).
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016).

Henry Harpur – JMW Turner’s Cousin and Lawyer (Part 2)

Turner's House logo

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.

 

17 October 2023

Gerald Sidney Wilson, Indian Police

A previous post on this blog looked at the career of William Henry Wilson, an officer in the Bombay Staff Corps who had a distinguished career in the Bombay Police.  Another member of the Wilson family was also involved in law enforcement in India.  This was Gerald Sidney Wilson, William’s nephew, who served in the Indian Police in Bombay.

Photograph of Wilson giving a speech at Bardoli, 10 July 1932 Wilson giving a speech at Bardoli 10 July 1932 - Mss Eur F764/10/7 f.26

Gerald Sidney Wilson was born on 29 October 1880 in Hampstead.  He joined the Indian Police on 23 November 1901 as a 3rd Grade Assistant Superintendent of Police and was stationed at Dharwar.  Wilson had a long career, working his way up to Inspector General of Police for the Bombay Presidency from 1932 until his retirement in 1934.  He was awarded the King’s Police Medal in 1918 and the Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India in 1931.

Photograph of Women's Congress Procession in Bombay 1930  with two policemen in the foreground.

Photograph of Women's Congress Procession in Bombay 1930 - Mss Eur F764/10/4

Wilson served in the police during a turbulent time in modern Indian history.  His papers include some fascinating material relating to the struggle for Independence.  He kept a scrapbook of cuttings from Indian newspapers in 1930 that reported on many key events that occurred in the Bombay Presidency, such as the Congress flag salutation ceremony and women's Congress procession, the release of Vallabhbhai Patel from jail, Khilafat procession in Bombay, and demonstrations on Jawahar Day.  Wilson also collected several editions of The Bombay Congress Bulletin between 1930 and 1932.  These were propaganda sheets issued by the Congress Party in Bombay.  They reported on the activities of party activists and on demonstrations against British rule in India, and took every opportunity to denounce the British authorities.  As Wilson at that time was Commissioner of Police for the city of Bombay, he often came under fire in the Bulletin. The issue of 29 November 1930 reported that Wilson had failed to fulfil his vow to crush Congress: ‘Citizens of Bombay! You have quelled the puffed up pride of this Wilson and made him eat his words by your wonderful solidarity with the Congress movement’.

Bombay Congress Bulletin  29 November 1930  - artlcle about 'Proud Police Chief' WilsonArticle about 'Proud Police Chief' Wilson in The Bombay Congress Bulletin 29 November 1930 - Mss Eur F764/10/7 f.2

In 1932, Wilson had the task of arresting Gandhi.  His papers include his fascinating account of this, which took place in the early hours of 4 January at Mani Bhuvan, Gandhi’s home in Bombay.  When he arrived Gandhi was asleep.  ‘On being awakened Mr Gandhi sat up but uttered no word as it was his silence day.  I said to Mr Gandhi “It is my duty to arrest you” and showed him the warrant to take him to Yeravda Jail under the old Bombay Regulation of 1827.  I read out the warrant and touched his shoulder in token of having arrested him and told him that I would give him half an hour to get ready.  Asking for paper and pencil he wrote “I will be ready in exactly half an hour”.’

Congress stamps with Gandhi's image and the words 'Boycott British Goods. Non-Violence'.Congress stamps - Mss Eur F764/10/4

Gandhi described the arrest simply in his diary entry for that day: ‘Spun 190 rounds.  The police came and arrested me at 3 o’clock in the morning.  Left after reciting a bhajan.  Elwin, Privat, Mills and others were present.  Vallabhbhai also was arrested at the same time.  We met in the jail and are lodged together.  I may say I spent the day resting.  I could take a walk for the first time today after landing [Gandhi had recently returned from the Round Table Conference in London].  Started reading Will Durant’s book [The Case for India].  Ate no fresh fruit today.  Had two seers of milk’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Gerald Sidney Wilson’s papers are part of a recently catalogued collection of India Office Private Papers now available to researchers in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room: Papers of the Wilson Family, Mss Eur F764 that charts the family’s connection with India over four generations.

Papers relating to the career of Gerald Sidney Wilson in the Indian Police, 1901-1933. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/3

Scrapbook of cuttings from Indian newspapers, 1930. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/4.

The Bombay Congress Bulletin, 1930-1932. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/7.

Account by Gerald Sidney Wilson of the arrest of Gandhi on 4 January 1932. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/9.

Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope by Judith M Brown (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1989).

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.49, January-May 1932 (Government of India Publications Division, 1958-).

 

12 October 2023

Mapping the Dining Culture at Holland House, 1798–1806

Holland House, Kensington, was one of the most important cultural sites in Regency London.  The cosmopolitan circle established in 1799 by Lord and Lady Holland advocated political and religious liberty, and the couple made their home a kind of alternative ministry for liberal culture and politics during decades of Tory rule, receiving European authors and politicians who they hoped would spread reform at home and abroad.  The centre of exchange for this group was the dining room, where Elizabeth Vassall-Fox (Lady Holland) was chatelaine, hosting the leading figures of the day.

Holland HouseHolland House in Kensington by George Samuel - Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A dinner book is a written record of who dined at a given location on a given night, and Lady Holland assiduously kept such books to document forty years of her salon.  The books also acted as a diary, noting when the Hollands and their friends dined elsewhere or went to the theatre, and marking holidays in the country and abroad.

Holland House dinner bookHolland House dinner book  - British Library Add MS 51950)

The Dined project has created a database of the first dinner book (British Library Add MS 51950) which covers dinners from 1799 to 1806.  The database can be searched by date and person, and manuscript images like the one above can be browsed.  You can see information about diners in the Index of People, and about the locations visited by the Hollands in the Index of Places, and what they did in the Index of Events.  Literary figures who dined at Holland House included the poet Thomas Campbell, the novelists Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis and Caroline Lamb, the travel writer Adélaïde de la Briche, and the philosophers Jeremy Bentham and William Godwin.  More important than any individual is the regular attendance of Henry Brougham, Francis Horner and Sydney Smith, three of the founders of the Edinburgh Review (arguably the most significant periodical of the 19th century).  The dinner books also bear witness to the period’s great events including the battle of Trafalgar and the Acts of Union with Ireland, and the death of national figures such as Nelson and Pitt.

While famous diners and events present themselves on almost every page, the books also chronicle the Hollands’ family life.  Lady Holland records her children performing scenes from Shakespeare in Christmas 1805, and is a stickler for recording birthdays, illnesses, and anniversaries, and even on one occasion notes that her mother is coming to babysit.  Browsing the books also illuminates the long-forgotten names who dined beside famous figures such as the Duchess of Devonshire, Fox, and Sheridan.  Few will now remember such figures as Richard ‘Conversation’ Sharp, the celebrity hatter who dined at the house, and organised a meeting between the Hollands and John Horne Tooke; or Don Roberto Gordon, the Hispanicized Scottish vintner who was distantly related to Byron, and who, following dinners in 1800 and 1801, convinced the Hollands to visit him in Jerez in 1803; or Serafino Buonaiuti, the opera librettist at the King’s Theatre who kept the Hollands’ library and later wrote for the Literary Gazette.  It is the presence, and the opportunity to recover, these characters and their stories that make the dinner books captivating to explore.

Will Bowers
Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Thought, Queen Mary University of London

 

10 October 2023

A case of bigamy

On 17 February 1816 Captain George Harrower, a free mariner with the East India Company, stood trial at the Old Bailey, accused of bigamy.

Newspaper report of Harrower's bigamy trial Madras Courier 13 August 1816

Extract from report of Harrower's bigamy trial Madras Courier 13 August 1816

It was claimed that on 5 February 1794 Captain Harrower had married Miss Mary Usher in Bombay, and that he had been married for a second time on 12 October 1812 in London to Miss Susannah Ann Giblet, despite knowing that his first wife was alive and well in India.

Marriage entry, Bombay, 5 February 1794, of Mr George Harraway [Harrower] and Miss Mary UsherIOR/N 3/3 f.389 Marriage entry, Bombay, 5 February 1794, of Mr George Harraway [Harrower] and Miss Mary Usher

The Reverend Arnold Burrowes, the East India Company’s Chaplain in Bombay in 1794 who was acquainted with both Captain Harrower and Miss Usher. was deposed to give testimony on the validity of the marriage.  The entry in the copy marriage register sent to London at the end of 1794 was produced as evidence.

Burrowes' testimony also included that he had visited Mrs Harrower in Bombay in November 1813 prior to his return to England, and had been given three letters for a Mr Giblet, a butcher in London.  He delivered these letters in June 1814 along with news of his visit to Mrs Harrower for both the Captain and Mr Giblet’s information, which is how Mr Giblet learned of his son-in-law’s bigamy.

Mr Giblet then visited Bow Street Police Station and requested that his son-in-law be arrested, but he could not be found, as Captain Harrower had fled to France in the company of a Mr Thompson as he ‘feared for his life because of false accusations of Bigamy against him’.

Mr Thompson gave testimony and during cross-examination admitted he had asked Captain Harrower outright whether his first wife was still alive, and that the Captain had admitted it.  He had then told several people what he had learned on his return to England.

Captain Harrower’s own testimony made no mention at all of his first his wife.  He spoke solely of his relationship with Mr Giblet, who was insolvent, and claimed had been extorting him for money having handed over £30,000 since 1812.  He also accused Mr Giblet of having stolen £10,000 that had been settled on his daughter as part of the marriage agreement in 1812.

The judge in summing up the trial observed that only two questions actually mattered. Was the accused legally married to Miss Mary Usher in 1794, and was his second marriage to Miss Giblet in 1812 therefore an act of bigamy?

The jury found Captain Harrower guilty of bigamy, and he was sentenced on 22 February 1816 to six months in Newgate Gaol.

According to the trial reports following the judge’s verdict Susannah Harrower/Giblet was ‘bathed in tears’ and had to be conveyed out of the courtroom.  Her father and Mr Thompson were subjected to much ‘hooting and hissing’ and Mr Thompson was even pelted with mud and dirt.

Captain Harrower lived with Susannah for the rest of his life, and in 1818 the couple petitioned unsuccessfully for his conviction to be pardoned.  They applied again in 1828 for the conviction to be overturned but were still unsuccessful.  It is likely the application was made knowing that Mrs Mary Harrower had died in Bombay in January 1826 and that Captain Harrower was now legally a widower.

Bombay burial register entry for Mary Harrower January 1826Burial entry for  Mary Harrower in Bombay January 1826 IOR/N/3/7 p.429

 George Harrower died in Edinburgh on 9 August 1829.  Susannah Ann Harrower was remarried In 1833 to John Hutchinson.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Madras Courier, 13 August 1816 accessed via British Newspaper Archive 21 September 2023.
IOR/N/3/3 f.389 – marriage entry, Bombay, 5 February 1794, of Mr George Harrower & Miss Mary Usher in Bombay (Captain Harrower is mistakenly recorded as Harraway in the entry).
IOR/N/3/7 p.429 – burial entry, Bombay, 9 January 1826, for Mrs Mary Harrower.

 

05 October 2023

What about the East India Company Women? Emma Roberts and East India Voyagers

In 1827 Emma Roberts published her first book Memoirs of the Rival Houses of York and Lancaster.  The following year she sailed to India in 1828 on board the ship Sir David Scott with her sister Laura who was married to Captain Robert Adair McNaghten of the Bengal Infantry.  The arrival in Calcutta of this ‘celebrated writer’ was announced in the local press.  India became a major focus of Emma’s writing from this point in her life.

East Indiaman Sir David Scott  at the entrance of the Straights of Sunda. February 1830East Indiaman Sir David Scott  at the entrance of the Straights of Sunda. February 1830, by E. Duncan, handcoloured aquatint published by W. J. Huggins, London, 1833 via Wikimedia

Emma published a book of poetry entitled Oriental Scenes, and edited and composed articles for the Oriental Observer in Calcutta.  Laura died in October 1830, and in 1832 Emma returned to London where she wrote on a wide variety of topics.  But in 1839 she travelled to India taking the overland route via France and Egypt.  She arrived in Bombay in November and quickly became very busy with writing, editing, and a project to provide work for India women.  Sadly she fell ill in April 1840 and moved to Poona hoping to aid her recovery, but died there in September.  Emma was buried on 17 September as a spinster, ‘years unknown’.

Burial register entry at Poona for Emma Roberts 17 September 1840Burial entry for Emma Roberts at Poona 17 September 1840 IOR/N/3/14 p.480

Emma’s book The East India Voyager, or ten minutes’ advice to the outward bound was published in 1839.  There were chapters on: Choice of Cabin; Ladies’ Outfit; Desultory Remarks; Domestic Economy, Diet, Clothing ; The Civil Service; Cadets; The Medical Service; Desultory Remarks upon the Office Of Chaplain; The Overland Journey; Journey from London to Bombay; Expenditure on Journey to Bombay.

The choice of cabin was not so important for young men on the ship as they spent the greater part of their time on deck.  But they were advised to secure at least part of a cabin, however economical they were trying to be, since a berth in steerage was particularly disagreeable.

Ladies, married or single, should opt for upper, or poop, cabins which were light and airy.  The ports seldom had to be shut even in the roughest weather.  The cuddy, where meals were served, was only a few steps away, so there was no need to go out on deck, avoiding the annoyance of a rolling vessel and the risk of meeting crew members.  The disadvantages of the upper cabins was the noise overhead – sailors trampling, ropes dragging, blocks falling, the banging of the hen coops, and the cackling of poultry.  But Emma thought this was good preparation for life in India, and ladies could stop their ears with cotton.

The cabin floor needed to be covered with carpet or mats, and a small rug was useful to put under the feet when eating in the cuddy where the boards were very cold.  The ship’s carpenter could be asked to put up swinging shelves and a piece of board with holes of different sizes for wine glasses, tea cups and tumblers.  Soap was useful as a gift for crew members doing odd jobs, as was brandy because many sailors did not like the rum provided.

Emma also gave advice on the care of dogs on board.  They needed to be brushed, and young dogs were to be given a cup of tea every day, preferably green, with milk and sugar.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator. East India Company Records

Further reading:
Emma Roberts, The East India Voyager, or ten minutes’ advice to the outward bound (London, 1839)
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Bombay Gazette 18 June 1828
For other works by Emma Roberts, search Explore the British Library

03 October 2023

François Frederic Roget - lecturer, historian, ski mountaineer and Huguenot

The pension records of the East India Company and India Office can sometimes lead to the discovery of fascinating individuals whom pensioners or their children had married.

One such individual is Professor François Frederic Roget, a university lecturer, historian, High Alps ski mountaineer and Huguenot.

Cover of Ski-Runs in the High Alps  with a drawing of a bearded man on a mountain slope, presumably F F Roget

Born in Geneva in 1859, he was the son of Philippe Roget and grandson of François Roget a writer and Professor of Classical History at Geneva.  Roget was educated in Geneva and Heidelberg before coming to England (where his mother originated) to work first as a schoolmaster.  He eventually settled in Edinburgh, working first at Fettes College and later at the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews.

In 1896 Roget returned to Geneva where he took up a post at the University of Geneva lecturing on French and English Literature, and he would remained connected with the University for the next 40 years.

As well as his academic work, Professor Roget was also a Genevan historian and many of his papers and publications promoted the Huguenot virtues and values to which he ascribed.  He became a Fellow of the Huguenot Society in 1887 and an Honorary Fellow in 1924, writing many papers and giving many speeches including one for the monument erected in Geneva to commemorate the Calvinistic Reformation.  He was also a prolific author, with over 70 published works to his name covering his professional and personal interests.

His love of Geneva extended to the mountains and he had a reputation both as a very experienced Alpinist and as a pioneer of High Alpine mountaineering on ski.  In January 1909 he succeeded, along with Arnold Lund, to complete a high level traverse of the Bernese Oberland from end to end.  The two men went from Kandersteg to Meieringen, and achieved the first ever winter ascent of the Finstaraarhorn.

Professor Roget was married 3 times and had a son and two daughters from his marriages.  He died in Geneva on 16 August 1938.

It is his marriage to his second wife, Mrs Mary Jane Hutchinson, which brought him into the Madras Medical Fund Contingent Pension Records.  Mrs Hutchinson was the widow of Alfred Hutchison Esq., a Canton merchant and the daughter of Dr Kenneth McKenzie Adams, a former Madras Assistant Surgeon.  Roget had become acquainted with her during his time in Edinburgh, and the couple married on 2 October 1896. They had one daughter Frances Ismay, born in Geneva in 1898.

Mrs Hutchinson’s father had been a contingent pension subscriber to the Madras Medical Fund, and this meant that following his death in 1859, Mary Jane had been entitled to a pension for any periods of time that she was either unmarried or widowed.  As her marriage to Professor Roget ended one such pension period, the details of the marriage were recorded in the fund registers.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Ac.2073 Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London, Vol. 16 1938-1941, p. 204
IOR/L/AG/23/9/5 Madras Medical Fund List of Contingent Pensioners, 1867-1948

28 September 2023

The Battle of Waterloo and ‘the Honourable Company’s business’

A short exchange of correspondence, digitised for the Qatar Digital Library, sheds a fascinating light on the impact of the Battle of Waterloo beyond Europe.

On 1 September 1815, a letter was addressed to the Governor of Bombay by Johanness Tergasper [Hovhannes Ter Gaspar], the Native Broker at Bussora [Basra].  The name of the letter writer identifies him as a member of the large Armenian trading community living in Basra at that time.  And his job title, Native Broker, meant that he acted as a local partner of the East India Company in that city.  It was a common practice at this time for the EIC, in its more peripheral outposts, to appoint a local merchant to handle its commercial business.

Close-up of an 1804 map showing Basra and the Persian GulfClose-up of an 1804 map showing Basra and the Persian Gulf, taken from ‘A New Map of Arabia, Including Egypt, Abyssinia, the Red Sea, from the Latest Authorities', Qatar National Library, 12886’

One of the duties of EIC personnel in Basra was to oversee the safe passage of mail that came into their hands.  Basra was at an important point on the mail route between Britain and India.  Here, letters arriving overland from Europe were transferred to ships, which transported them through the Persian Gulf and across the Arabian Sea to their final destinations in India.

Hovhannes had deemed it necessary to send the communications he had received as quickly as possible.  However, as he explained to the Governor, his efforts to do so had been frustrated.  As there was no Company ‘cruiser’ available for the task, Hovhannes approached a merchant ship, the Kusrovee. But the commander refused to leave without a promise of payment.  Hovhannes was indignant at this, and asked that the commander be punished when he finally arrived in Bombay.

Excerpt of a letter from Hovhannes Ter Gaspar  1 September 1815Excerpt of a letter from Hovhannes Ter Gaspar, 1 September 1815, IOR/F/4/479/11535, f. 282v

The Governor’s response to this suggestion is not recorded.  Instead, the remaining correspondence is with Captain Williams of the Durable, the ship which ultimately conveyed the letters from Basra.  Williams requests ‘remuneration for loss of what I should otherwise have received in freight’, a loss he claims he took on in order to bring the news contained in the dispatches from Basra.

And what was this news, which was so urgent?  It was ‘good news for us and misfortune to Napoleon Bonaparte’: news of the victory of Britain and its allies at the Battle of Waterloo.

Second excerpt of a letter from Hovhannes Ter Gaspar  1 September 1815Excerpt of a letter from Hovhannes Ter Gaspar, 1 September 1815, IOR/F/4/479/11535, f. 281v

Though these events had happened thousands of miles away, they held great significance for India and the Middle East.  Just a few years earlier, Napoleon had been laying plans for a French invasion of India and had even made an agreement with Persia [Iran] allowing French troops to pass through on their way.  These plans had ultimately come to nothing, but with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, any remaining French threat to British supremacy in India was finally extinguished.

Perhaps understandably, the merchants entreated to convey this news were more concerned about the trade they might forego as a consequence.  The Native Broker in Basra, however, had been unimpressed, declaring: ‘If he has got the English flag and is an English Captain, how can he stop the Honourable Company’s business’?

In contrast to the two merchants concerned only with that season’s profit, this comment of Hovhannes shows his awareness of the wider-reaching significance of the news he had received.  With the French challenge removed, Britain would now be free to consolidate its control over India, including the maritime trade routes stretching out from India across the Arabian Sea and into the Gulf.  The events in Waterloo, therefore, truly were of great significance for ‘the Honourable Company’s business’.

David Woodbridge
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
London, British Library, ‘Delay in the conveyance of certain intelligence from Bussorah to Bombay’ IOR/F/4/479/11535
John Casey, ‘The Impact of the Napoleonic Wars in the Gulf: The Franco-Persian Alliance and Napoleon’s Threat to India’
David Woodbridge, ‘The British Residency in Baghdad’