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In the course of studying for an MA in Imperialism and Culture, I have been examining how enthusiastic working class Britons were about the Empire in the period 1870-1914.

Emma Jolly, in the article Naming for Empire

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Genetic Genealogy: My AncestryDNA Results

    Genetic genealogy is becoming increasingly important to contemporary family history research. When a paper trail fails us, a DNA test may provide the missing piece to the puzzle of an illegitimacy, unofficial adoption, or unclear ethnic origins. Recently there have been well-publicized accounts of foundlings discovering a parent and of others finding biological ancestors previously unidentifiable in historical documents.

    AncestryDNA-kitPaper documents are essential to family history research. The birth/marriage/death certificates, censuses, wills, church records, newspaper reports and so on tell us (or give us clues about) the identities of our ancestors. But where the “wrong” father’s name is given on a birth certificate, or no clue exists as to parental identity, genealogists can become stuck.

    With improved accessibility and competitive pricing of family history DNA tests over the past five years, the potential of genealogy has been transformed. You may not know the identity of your father, for example, but through DNA testing you could discover a relative of his, or establish his ethnic origin. To this end, AncestryDNA launched its tests in the UK early this year. I received the results of my tests this week and have analyzed them below.

    Autosomal DNA

    There are three main types of DNA test for family history research:-

    • Y-chromosome (Y-DNA)
    • Mitrochondrial DNA (MtDNA)
    • Autosomal

    Y-DNA is used to research the paternal line. The test can be taken by males only. The MtDNA test can be taken by men or women but is used to research the maternal line only. The autosomal test can be taken by men or women and tests the DNA inherited from autosomal chromosomes. In a nutshell, this is DNA inherited from all of our ancestors back to our 3rd great grandparents and some of the DNA inherited from ancestors up to the 10th great grandparents. For a detailed account of autosomal DNA see this ISOGG Wiki.

    In family history, we can use autosomal DNA primarily for three aims:

    • to find matches with our genetic cousins
    • to identify our recent ethnic origins
    • to find information on our health.

    The largest companies that provide tests for the first two of the above aims are Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), AncestryDNA, and 23&Me. I tested with FTDNA in 2012. FTDNA provides Y-DNA and MtDNA tests alongside their autosomal test, which is known as Family Finder.

    The third of these aims, health information, is provided commercially by the company 23&Me. Otherwise, raw data from Family Tree DNA and AncestryDNA tests can be uploaded for free to Promethease, but care should be taken with this as no analysis of results is provided.

    AncestryDNA tests only for autosomal DNA. Currently, the company does not offer any Y-DNA or MtDNA testing.

    The AncestryDNA Test

    Taking the test was relatively straightforward. I did have to activate the kit by using Ancestry in Chrome rather than my usual Firefox browser, but other than that there were few problems. Unlike FTDNA, which requires a cheek swab, for the AncestryDNA test I had to spit several times into a vial. I then had to fasten the lid tightly without breaking it – which I found quite tricky. Eventually I managed it and then posted off to Ireland.

    A few weeks later, I found my AncestryDNA results by checking on the DNA tab on the Ancestry website. Below is the page showing my results. For privacy reasons, I have removed the images of my genetic cousins which sit below the “DNA Matches” heading.

    AncestryDNA main page

    The results are all summarized on this one page. On the left is a pie chart showing a broad estimate of my ethnic origins. By clicking on this option the full breakdown is revealed.

    Cousin Matches

    On the right in the screenshot above is the section revealing my DNA matches. The last point on the far right suggests that I have 19 4th cousins or closer. In fact, when I click on these cousins, they are all suggested “4th-6th cousins”. The confidence of these cousins being within this range is only “Extremely High” for one match but “Very High” for the other 18. I have 37 pages of matches. Most are in the 5th-8th range, and are thus difficult to match with my known ancestors.

    DNA tests for family history do not tell you how you are related to a match. You have to work that out for yourself. The test can be used to confirm a relationship with a second cousin, for example, whom you may have found through your family history research or from a shaking leaf on your Ancestry tree. A second cousin should almost always (99% probability) show up as a match in an autosomal DNA test. There is a 90% chance that a 3rd cousin will show up, but far less probability for a 4th cousin. This is because while the two 4th cousins could inherit DNA from their shared ancestor, this may be from different parts of distinct chromosomes. For this reason, care should be taken when using the test to match with those cousins who match distantly on paper. On the other hand, you could find that you share DNA with someone who shares a far more distant ancestor, like a 10th great grandparent. For these reasons, it is helpful to ask as many of your known cousins to test: it is difficult to predict beyond 2nd cousins who will show up in your autosomal DNA matches.

    One of the benefits of AncestryDNA is that, in theory, you can correspond the ancestry of your matches with your own ancestry using the Ancestry Family Trees. Unfortunately, this only works if both you and your match have uploaded a detailed family tree . . . and if the corresponding ancestor has been added. Of my “close” 19 genetic cousins, only 12 have added a family tree. Of those 12, 6 have added less than 100 ancestors to their tree. I have contacted 4 of these matches to see if we can find a common link, but have received only one reply so far. This can be one of the frustrating aspects of genetic genealogy.

    On the FTDNA website, you can use phasing to work out the possible branches on which you match your relative. Below is a screenshot from my Family Finder matches showing the option to click on “In Common With”. After clicking this, a list of all the cousins who match with this relative (in this example, it is my father) will appear. Family Finder also includes details of the amount of shared centimorgans (cM) and a chromosome browser which reveals on which chromosome(s) you are connected to each cousin.

    FamilyFinder pageIn contrast, AncestryDNA has a “Most Recent Common Ancestor” feature. When you review your matches you will see whether some of the proposed cousin matches have trees attached to their results. Once you click into this (provided they have made their tree public), you will be able to see a list of common surnames across both your tree and theirs.

    DNA CirclesLinked to this, Ancestry has a “DNA Circles” section to identify another user who is a DNA match and has the same ancestor in his/her tree. Using the circles you can add a third person who also has matching DNA, or a fourth. The idea behind this is that it is more likely that you’re all related because you’re descendants of a particular ancestor. However, as you can see from the screenshot of my Ancestry results above, I am yet to be included in any circles.

    Another feature for finding common ancestors is the maps and locations tab which allows you to find matches using a location perspective (i.e comparing the people in your tree versus your potential matches).

    So far, it seems that AncestryDNA has good potential for identifying my genetic cousins. One oddity I have found concerns a match who appears in both my Family Finder and my AncestryDNA matches lists. He is clearly the same person as not only does he have the same name, he has exactly the same photograph. For privacy reasons, he shall remain anonymous here, but what is notable is that on Family Finder he is identified as a 2nd-4th cousin, whereas on AncestryDNA he is only a suggested 5th-8th cousin. There is a big difference between the two. I have been in email contact with this cousin but we are yet to prove the link between us. Until then, it is uncertain whether Family Finder or AncestryDNA is the more accurate in measuring our cousin relationship.

    Ethnic Origins

    Family Finder estimates that my ethnic origin is 87% European. This is broken down into 72% “British Isles”, 10% Eastern European, and 5% “Western and Central Europe”.  What it did not identify was any Indian ancestry. For my mother, however, the test identified 2% “Central South Asian” which includes some of the area covered by India during the period of British rule. This was an interesting discovery for us as we had no suggestion from paper research or from family rumour that we had any Indian ancestry.

    On Ancestry, the test has picked up Indian origins in my test. “Asia South” is recognised as providing less than 1% of my DNA and the Caucasus of West Asia also provides less than 1%. This fits with me having half of my mother’s 2% Indian ancestry and I was impressed that the Ancestry test had identified this from my personal DNA.

    Regarding my European origins, Ancestry identifies me as having 85% from “Great Britain”. Separately from those, 5% is “Irish”. In the Ancestry test, “Irish” is regarded as separate from British ancestry. From Y-DNA testing we know there is some Irish ancestry on my Scottish JOLLY branch. However, contrasting this with the paper trail suggests that 5% may be too great an estimate. Nevertheless more work needs to be done on this and it is possible that there is Irish ancestry on one or more other branches of my tree.

    Conclusion

    For DNA tests to be useful for family history research, more people are needed to test. The larger the pool of testers, the more likely it is that those of us who have taken tests will find matches. As shown by both Family Finder and AncestryDNA, most of my ancestors in the past 15 generations are from Great Britain. It is probable, therefore, that I will match with more testers if they or most of their ancestors originate in Britain. That AncestryDNA has only recently launched in the UK is exciting for users like myself. I am looking forward to finding more matches over time as more Britons take the test. I just hope that when they do, they take the opportunity to add as many ancestors as they can to their Ancestry trees and that they respond to online messages.

    On that note, if anyone reading this blog recognizes me in their matches on either Ancestry or FTDNA, I would be very delighted to hear from you!

    In this post I have touched only briefly on the very complex science of genetic genealogy. For a clear and comprehensive account of family history tests and the genetics behind them, I recommend Debbie Kennett’s DNA and Social Networking (The History Press, 2011).

    UPDATE APRIL 2016

    Since I posted this, I have received two Ancestry DNA “hints”. These are indicated in the DNA section of my Ancestry profile by the shaking leaf symbol. In the examples on my profile (see screengrab below) the two matches were suggested to be a 4th cousin and a “distant cousin”. Ancestry user names have been removed from the screengrab below to protect privacy.

    Hints page Ancestry DNA

    Both of these Ancestry users have proved to be identifiable cousins thanks to the information in their (and my) online trees. As you can see in the above image, both of my newly-found cousins have high numbers of people in their online Ancestry trees. I also have several thousand people recorded in my Ancestry tree. Using the information we have inputted, the Ancestry DNA technology was able to identify our mutual ancestors (as shown in the screengrabs below).

    This screengrab shows that my match here was correctly identified by Ancestry as my 4th cousin. We share Norfolk ancestors, Clark Pymer and Ann Oxborough.

    Update Ancestry DNA Mar 2016 screengrab

     

    Ancestry DNA blog update

    The second screeengrab shows that this ancestor, Emanuel Billingham (1750-1837), is further removed from my cousin and myself. Here Ancestry is able to identify that my match is my 5th cousin 1x removed.

    I was hoping that there would be a way of confirming that these two Ancestry users were my cousins, as there is on FTDNA. Unfortunately, the only method appears to be through the Ancestry DNA Circles I mentioned above. In order to create an Ancestry DNA Circle (or for one to be created for you), there need to be three confirmed matches. So far, I only have two for each ancestor.

    Thanks to Debbie Kennett for pointing me to this Ancestry DNA blog which explains in detail the requirements for Ancestry DNA Circles: http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/11/20/new-ancestrydna-technology-powers-new-kinds-of-discoveries/

     

     

  2. The Best Websites for British India Research

    I have been on the British Library‘s list of approved researchers for the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, for some years. In 2012, my introductory guide to the British in India for family historians, Tracing Your British Indian Ancestors, was published by Pen and Sword. Since then there have been some major developments in this area of research. One of the most notable is the digitization of large sections of the India Office Records collection by Find My Past.

    Fort William, Calcutta 1735

    Fort William, Calcutta 1735

    Descendants of Europeans and Anglo-Indians who lived in the sub-continent under British rule are now spread widely across the globe. Happily, there are several free and good value online resources that researchers can use to investigate British, European and Anglo-Indian family history in India, Burma, Pakistan or Bangladesh before, and just after, Indian Independence in 1947.

    As some ancestors who lived in the subcontinent also travelled more widely in the British Empire and beyond, a number of related resources from outside the boundaries of India may also be useful.

    Here follows a list of my favourite websites for researching the British in India online. Some of them will lead you to further research in archives, especially at the British Library or The National Archives. If you cannot access archives in the London area, please contact me to obtain copies of documents.

    India Office Family History Search http://indiafamily.bl.uk/UI/

    Discovery (from The National Archives; includes material from The British Library that was formerly indexed on Access to Archives www.a2a.org.uk) http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/

    Families in British India Society (FIBIS; essential database and Wiki resources) http://www.fibis.org/

    Family Search https://familysearch.org/

    British Association for Cemeteries in South India (BACSA) http://indian-cemeteries.org/bacsa/html/cemetery_records.html

    Index to HEIC [Honourable East India Company] Cadets
    http://www.ans.com.au/~rampais/genelogy/india/indexes/cadfram.htm

    Index to Original Papers, Letters, Photographs, and Manuscripts at the British Library
    http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?dscnt=1&dstmp=1410528032513&vid=IAMS_VU2&fromLogin=true&fromLogin=true

    Historical maps of India  http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~poyntz/India/maps.html

    Untold Lives http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/untoldlives/

    Kabristan Archives (Ireland, Ceylon & India Genealogy) http://kabristan.org.uk/

    For ancestors in Burma, see http://www.angloburmeselibrary.com/index.html

    European genealogies for those who lived in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) can be found at the Dutch Burgher Reunion website: http://www.dutchburgherunion.org/genealogy.html

    A useful blog on India and Anglo-Indian family history is at http://geneblanchette.wordpress.com/

    The Colonial Film Catalogue holds many films of Empire families and of events that took place in British India http://www.colonialfilm.org.uk/

    Other colonial records, include Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), can be found in the Records of Former Colonial Administrations from The National Archives (TNA).

    Gibraltar Archives http://www.gibraltar.gov.gi/gibraltar-archives

    Malta Family History http://website.lineone.net/~stephaniebidmead/other%20sites.htm

    Ionian Islands Index http://website.lineone.net/~remosliema/Ionian1.htm

    East Africa records from TNA ref. RG36 www.thegenealogist.co.uk

    Mauritius – Association Maurice Archives http://www.amamu.org/

    East India Company at Home 1757-1857 http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah/

    NewspapersSG has a digital archives of historic newspapers from Singapore and Malaya published between 1831-2009. This resource can be searched at http://newspapers.nl.sg/

    Sarah Speedy, Mrs Livingstone, I Presume? Memoirs of Mrs S.M. Speedy, wife of Major James Speedy 1815-1859 (Allan Speedy, 1996) – see www,speedy.co.nz/recollections/

    Emma Jolly, ‘Open Access Microfilms in the Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections of the British
    Library in the September 2008 edition of The Genealogists’ Magazine – www.sog.org.uk

    I regularly post news on this area of research to the Tracing Your British Indian Ancestors Facebook page. Please ‘like’ the page to receive regular updates.

    And do read the blogpost on my client Evelyn Nelson’s experiences in India, searching for the church registers of St Stephen’s, Ootacamund (Ooty).

  3. St Stephen’s Church, Ootacamund

    Recently, I received a fascinating email from a client, Evelyn Nelson, who had followed up on my research by visiting her family’’s former hometowns of Chennai/Madras and Udhagamandalam/Ootacamund.

    Her first stop was Chennai, where she found the family vault of her ancestor, Richard St Leger Mitchell. She also visited churches of event for more recent members of the family, and the location of the school where Richard was master, in the former ‘Black Town’ area of the city. In 1906, this area was formally re-named ‘George Town’.

    To find out more about her mother’s family, Evelyn and five of her cousins then headed for Udhagamandalam, or Ootacamund. This hill station in the Nilgiri Hills, known as Snooty Ooty in the days of the British Raj, was a popular escape from the heat of Madras below. Evelyn visited St Stephen’s Church, where her mother’s was first married. I had been unable to find any records for Evelyn’s family relating to this church in the India Office Records or on Family Search. Evelyn thus took the opportunity of meeting the priest to ask if any records were held at the church itself. Amazingly, the priest replied by inviting Evelyn to visit his house the following day.

    When Evelyn arrived at the priest’s house, she was shown the church register on a shelf in his study. The priest kindly allowed Evelyn to consult the register, in which she was delighted to find not only the marriage record but all the baptism records of her mother’s siblings.

    I am often asked by clients where they should search if they cannot find a record in the British Library or The National Archives, or online at sites such as the FIBIS database, Family Search, Find My Past, Ancestry, or India Office Family History Search. The answer I have to give is, “Contact the church in India.” This is not always possible for some, and not everyone is in a position to visit. However, Evelyn’s experience shows what successes can be made and that with family history, you should never give up!

    evelynnelson.jpg

    As a postscript to this, the memorials inside St Stephen’s Church have been transcribed by Kae Lewis and can be found on the website: http://www.kaelewis.com/database/ooty/searchpage.htm

  4. A British Christmas in India 1780

    Eliza Fay (1756-1816) is one of the best-known female chroniclers of European life in India during the late eighteenth century. Although she was no Jane Austen, Eliza’s writing was fresh and perceptive. What her letters lack in finesse, they make up in directness and humour. And, whilst she was not sophisticated, Eliza was adventurous and keen to learn about India, its cultures and people. Her enthusiasm is conveyed through the letters she wrote after her arrival in India with her lawyer husband in May 1780.

    More than a century later, it was this freshness and eye for detail that inspired EM Forster to arrange for the British publication of Eliza Fay’s letters in 1925.

    After their arrival in India, Eliza and her husband settled in Calcutta. It was there that she was living at the Christmas of that year. Eliza detailed her first Christmas in India in a letter to her sister on 27th January 1781 (Letter XVIII):

    My Dear Sister,— Since my last we have been engaged
    in a perpetual round of gaiety. Keeping Christmas, as it is
    called, though sinking into disuse at home, prevails here with
    all its ancient festivity. The external appearance of the
    English gentlemen’s houses on Christmas Day is really
    pleasing from its novelty. Large plantain trees are placed
    on each side of the principal entrances, and the gates and
    pillars, being ornamented with wreaths of flowers fancifully
    disposed, enliven the scene.

    All the servants, from the Banian down to the lowest menial,
    bring presents of fish and fruit ; for these, it is true, we are
    obliged in many instances to make a return perhaps beyond
    the real value, but still it is regarded as a compliment to our
    burrah din. A public dinner is given at Government House
    to the gentlemen of the Presidency, and the evening concludes
    with an elegant ball and supper for the ladies. These are
    repeated on New Year’s Day and on the King’s birthday. I
    should say have been, for that grand festival happening at the
    hottest season, and every one being obliged to appear full
    dressed, so much inconvenience resulted from the immense
    crowd, even in some cases severe fits of illness being the
    consequence, that it has been determined to change the day
    of celebration to the 8th of December which arrangement
    gives general satisfaction. I shall not attempt to describe
    these splendid entertainments further than by saying that they
    were in the highest style of magnificence. In fact such grand
    parties so much resemble each other that a particular detail
    would be unnecessary and even tiresome.

    Eliza then goes on to describe a social event of ‘some time ago’ giving further insight into the social mores of the Georgian British abroad:

    Mrs. Hastings was of the party. She came in late, and
    happened to place herself on the opposite side of the room,
    beyond a speaking distance: so strange to tell, I quite forgot
    she was there ! After some time had elapsed, my observant
    friend, Mrs. Jackson, who had been impatiently watching
    ‘ my looks, asked if I had paid my respects to the Lady
    Governess? I answered in the negative, having had no
    opportunity, as she had no chance to look towards me when
    I was prepared to do so. ” Oh !” replied the kind old lady,
    ” you must fix your eyes on her, and never take them off till
    she notices you. Miss C— dy has done this and so have I.
    It is absolutely necessary to avoid giving offence.” I followed
    her prudent advice, and was soon honoured with a complacent
    glance, which I returned, as became me, by a most respectful
    bend. Not long after, she walked over to our side, and
    conversed very affably with me, for we are now, through
    Mrs. Jackson’s interference, on good terms together.
    She also introduced me to Lady Coote and her inseparable
    friend, Miss Molly Barrett. It was agreed between them
    when they were both girls, whichever married first, the other
    was to live with her : and accordingly when Sir Eyre took his
    lady from St. Helena, of which place her father was
    Governor, Miss Molly, who is a native of the island, accom-
    panied them to England and from thence to India, where
    she has remained ever since. Thus giving a proof of steady
    attachment not often equalled and never perhaps excelled.

    A few months after this was written Eliza Fay and her husband separated. The split left her struggling to maintain her social status. She tried her hand at a number of dubious business investments, several of which required her to continue her travels. She was later to record journeys to England, New York and India.

    Sadly, after several bouts of bankruptcy, Eliza died insolvent on 9 September 1816 in Calcutta, where was buried the following day (British Library ref. IOR:N/1/9-10).

  5. Here and There: The Story of the Bangladeshi Community in Camden

    I was lucky enough to be invited to a private view last night (Thursday 27 October 2011) of the latest exhibition at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre .Here and there

    The exhibition, Here and There, details the lives of members of Camden’s Bangladeshi Community through their experiences in both Bangladesh and London. Curated by the Bengali Workers’ Association, the exhibition focuses on the Community’s life in Camden from the 1950s to the present day.

    Today the Bangladeshi Community is well-integrated into Camden life and many members now work as professionals in the area. Bengalis are well-represented politicially too: Councillor Nasim Ali OBE, the Leader of Camden Council, is featured in the exhibition; and Councillor Tulip Siddiq gave an introductory talk at the launch.

    The exhibits themselves are comprised of oral testimonies, recorded as part of a history project by members of the Oral History Society. Robert Wilkinson of the Society told us how few recordings have been made of Bangladeshi memories. He welcomed the Lottery funding that enabled this exhibition and the opportunity to keep these stories alive.

    One of the highlights of the evening was a fascinating talk by the founder of the Bengali Workers’ Association, Abdul Momen. Mr Momen is featured in the exhibition, and related to the audience some of his memories of growing up in Bengal and his esteemed work in Camden, which led to him saving lives through community action and welfare support.

    Born near Calcutta in 1938, Mr Momen’s childhood was disrupted by his father’s career in the postal service. The regular moves across Bengal meant Mr Momen attended eight schools: the saddest part of this, he told us, was that he couldn’t play football as he was never at a school long enough to join the team. He also remembered dark times, such as the horrendous Bengal Famine of 1943. Mr Momen was horrified by the sight of extrememly thin women begging for the starchy water from cooked rice. Happier memories included those of summer holidays at his grandmother’s rural house, where every morning he ran out to collect the ripe mangoes that had fallen from the trees. His life changed completely in 1969 after he received a scholarship to do a doctorate in English at Leeds University. In 1971 he was appointed Asian Community Officer in Camden.

    In February 1976 Mr Momen founded the Bengali Workers Action Group, now the Bengali Workers Association. This acted as an advice centre for issues such as immigration, accommodation and welfare. Today the Association continues to act as a support for members of the Bengali community as well as working closely with NHS Camden, the police, and local and national government. I met Tahmina Khanom who works with senior members of the community, helping to alleviate problems of isolation and language difficulties.

    A wide range of topics are covered in the exhibition, including the themes of village life and education in Bangladesh, migration and the lives of Bangladeshi women; and aspects of life in the UK, such as community, marriage and employment.

    Beside talks, we were also treated to poetry readings, Bengali dancing and wonderfully tasty samosas from the excellent caterers Ambala in nearby Drummond Street.  I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and learning more about my Bangladeshi neighbours.

    The exhibition runs from 8 October to 19 December 2011, and is warmly recommended to anyone visiting central London over the next couple of months.

  6. The Urban Genealogist on Holiday: The Clive Collection at Powis Castle, Wales

    powis-castle

    Whilst writing a book on tracing ancestors in British India, I explored the character and actions of one of the most notorious Britons in India, Robert Clive (1725-1774). Later he became Baron Clive of Plassey but was popularly known as ‘the conqueror of India’, or simply ‘Clive of India’. Clive is central to the history of British involvement in India for, without him, it is unlikely that the British East India Company (EIC) would ever have gained the power that they did.

    Throughout the eighteenth century Britain waged war with age-old enemy, France. The conflict spread beyond Europe, affecting EIC trade in India. Clive, the son of a Shropshire squire, rose to prominence in India after he defeated a French-Indian force at the siege of Arcot in 1751. The Indians nicknamed him Sabit Jang, Steady in War.

    200px-lordclive

    Clive was appointed Governor of Bengal on two occasions: once from 1757-60 and secondly in 1765. The first time was after he had defeated the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Daula, at the Battle of Plassey (Palashi) in June 1757. This battle is regarded as the turning point in Indian history: the time when the British changed from being traders in India to becoming landowners and rulers. The battle was fought in response to the Nawab’s attacks on EIC factories and their base in Calcutta in 1756. During these attacks, the Nawab was assisted by the French.

    It was at the EIC’s trading post at Calcutta, Fort William, that the Nawab’s armies captured between sixty and one hundred and fifty British prisoners, imprisoned them in a tiny cell and left many of them to suffocate to death. The size of the cell and the number of Britons who died is disputed by historians, but the incident became remembered as the legend of the Black Hole of Calcutta. Clive drew from the horrified reaction of Britain to this incident to justify his consequent aggression.

    As a man, he is remembered for his military prowess, cunning and greed. Clive had showed his cunning prior to the Battle of Plassey, when he persuaded Siraj ud Doula’s rival and uncle, Mir Jafar, to defect to the British side. He was also accused of corruption: despite defending his actions, he committed suicide in London shortly afterwards.

    It was from Mir Jafar that Clive was given £234,000 (equivalent to £34 million today). Despite this, during his second term as Governor of Bengal, Clive reduced the Bengali treasury by some 5 million dollars. Clive also put up rents in Bengal, leading to famines and displacement. The Bengal famine of 1769-70 particularly increased antipathy against nabobs like him: Walpole wrote, ‘What think you of the famine in Bengal, in which three million perished, being caused by a monopoly of provisions, by the servants of the East India Company?’ (Walpole Letters, V, 378)

    The nabobs of the Georgian age, men like Clive and Thomas Pitt, weresenior officials in India who took vast riches back to Britain. The Age of Enlightenment was opening eighteenth century minds and encouraging an intellectual curiosity in all cultures and philosophies, including those in India. Amongst the nabobs this curiosity manifested itself in collecting Asian art and antiquities. During 1760-1830 many great collections were formed in India, notably that of the later impeached Governor General Warren Hastings (1732-1818). The nabobs preferred collecting miniature paintings and small, but valuable, items of furniture. These were easy to transport around India and back to Britain, where they would be displayed in the grand setting of magnificent stately homes. Some collectors even brought foodstuffs: when the Indian treasures ofThomas Alexander Cobb (1788-1836) of the 37th Native Infantry were sold after his death, several of the mango and guava jellies and chutneys he had brought back sold for more than some of his paintings (Christie’s 24 & 26 May 1837).

    Robert Clive brought many of his Indian treasures to Claremont, his great house near Esher in Surrey. However, a large part of what is on display at Powis Castle today was brought to Wales by Robert’s eldest son, Edward, 2nd Lord Clive (1754-1839). In 1784, Edward married Lady Henrietta Antonia Herbert (1758-1830), daughter of the Earl of Powis. Later, in 1798, Edward became Governor of Madras and was thus well-placed to receive and bring back his own treasures. Lady Clive kept extensive diaries during their time in Madras, which reveal her own passion for collecting and give an insight into the history of the objects.

    One of the most dramatic events that occurred during Edward’s governorship was the defeat and death of Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, in 1799. Following this, the spoils of his treasury were divided between the soldiers, apportioned according to rank. Colonel Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) was ordered by his older brother, the Governor-General, Lord Mornington, to ‘preserve the most significant contents of Tipu’s palace’. Mornington then presented a small part of the Sultan’s throne to Lady Clive – a bejewelled tiger’s head from the arm rest, covered in rubies, emeralds and diamonds. This and other items from the Sultan’s palace at Seringapatam made their way back with Lady Clive to Britain. It was on her way home in 1801 that Lady Clive was told of the death of her brother, the Earl of Powis, who was unmarried with no heir. After this, Powis Castle was inherited by Lady Clive’s husband, Edward. He became Earl of Powis in 1804, after his own return to Britain, and the Castle became home to the Clive Collection.

    Besides paintings, this collectionof ‘Indian Jewels, Curiosities, Arms etc.’ includes ‘India’s indigenous traditions’ such as bronze gods; ‘objects signalling the preoccupations and life styles of India’s nobility’ such as the ‘paraphernalia of the aristocracy with whom Clive came into contact’ like Mughal fly-whisks and Robert Clive’s jewelled hookahs; and ‘European-style furniture’. Many items of armoury and weaponry are also featured, including the sword of Tipu Sultan and the iron tusk defences of elephants. The remaining pieces of the enormous elephant armour are held in the Royal Armouries in Leeds http://www.royalarmouries.org/about-us/

    Source: Mildred Archer, Christopher Rowell, Robert Skelton, Treasures from India: The Clive Collection at Powis Castle (The National Trust, 1987)

    http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-powiscastle_garden.html

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