Friday, 18 August 2017

Rediscovered: Persian poets and poetry



James White writes


Over the past weeks, I have been cataloguing some of the Persian literary manuscripts in the University of Manchester Library, on a John Rylands Research Institute project sponsored by the Soudavar Foundation.


Sketch of a man in Qajar dress
(found in Persian MS 918)
The Library houses around a thousand Persian manuscripts that came to Manchester after circulating in Iran and India. Some of these are rare works, such as the only substantially complete copy known of ʿAwfī’s Lubāb al-albāb (Persian MS 308), the earliest extant biographical compendium of poets in Persian. Then there is the first volume of ʿAlī Ibrāhīm Khān’s Khulāṣat al-kalām (Persian MS 318), an autograph copy of an anthology of narrative poetry, selected and compiled by a judge who lived in Varanasi in the late eighteenth century. Other manuscripts are significant because they date from the life of the compiler, or just after, like the copies of Tuḥfa-yi Sāmī (Persian MS 317) and Taẕkira-yi Naṣrābādī (Persian MS 315).

I have made some discoveries. Some of the manuscripts had not been identified previously, or had been misidentified. Persian MS 328 (below) turns out to be an anthology compiled by the poet Bāsiṭī (fl.c. 1160/1747). Although anthologies often arrange poems by author, this one is more of a handbook of images. Each chapter takes a different idea, such as ‘On Expectation’, or ‘On Remembering and Forgetting’, and selects lines that engage with the overarching theme. Curiously, Bāsiṭī still refers to this work as a taẕkira (biography) in his preface, a habit that he continued in his other collections of poetry that are not biographical in their genre.

Beginning of Bāsiṭī’s anthology
(Persian MS 308, folio 10b)

Another previously misidentified work in the collection is Persian MS 648, entitled ʿĀshiq ū maʿshūq: Hamīsha Bahār. It was previously thought that this was a copy of the anthology compiled by Ikhlāṣ Chand, but the text is a narrative that follows the adventures of a prince, as he travels through Kashmir in search of the meaning of love. The final line of the work gives the name of the author as Fānī, and the text is dated elsewhere in the manuscript as having been written in 1051/1641-2. On the basis of the name, the date, and the thematic link to Kashmir, the work can be ascribed to the poet Fānī Kashmīrī (d.1081/1671-2). A third previously misidentified work is Persian MS 457, which turns out to be an encyclopaedia compiled for the Quṭb Shāh Abū l-Manṣūr Abū l-Naṣr al-Muẓaffar Sultān ʿAbdallāh.

Sketch of a woman in youth and age
(found in Persian MS 918)
Apart from the texts themselves, the manuscripts have been full of intriguing surprises that provide a glimpse into the lives of their former owners. For example, loose in the pages of Persian MS 918, a copy of Luṭf ʿAlī Bayg’s Ātashkada, is a small leaf with two portraits sketched on it in pencil. One side depicts a man in Qajar dress (see top of page), while the other consists of a drawing that represents a young woman when held from one end, and an elderly woman when held from the other (left).


Descriptions for the twenty-four manuscripts included in the project have been uploaded to Fihrist, alongside briefer records for the whole collection which were created with support from the British Institute for Persian Studies and the Iran Heritage Foundation. Images of selected Persian manuscripts are available via our online Image Collections.


Monday, 14 August 2017

Memories of Partition – 70 years on

New Archives blog published today from Farzana Whitfield, South Asia Librarian at SOAS, looking at family memories of Partition:


https://blogs.soas.ac.uk/archives/2017/08/14/memories-of-partition-70-years-on/



Thursday, 13 July 2017

Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage

Exhibition opening at the Library of Birmingham on 15 July



This family-friendly exhibition, launching on 15 July, will tell the story of the close connections between Britain and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1600 to the present day. It will show how those connections have influenced our food, culture, fashion, politics and heritage and made us who we are today.


The exhibition continues the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham, bringing together their rich and complementary collections to illustrate this important but little-known aspect of British and local history. There will be over 100 exhibits which highlight many different voices from the past.


Princess Sophia Duleep Singh is one of many people who will feature in the exhibition. Image from IOR/L/PS/11/52, P1608 (Image courtesy of the British Library Board)



Exhibits include letters, posters, photographs, advertisements, surveillance files, campaigning materials, oral history, and even a children’s game and a 19th century paper bag for Indian sweets. I and my co-curator of the exhibition, John O’Brien, hope that the variety of exhibits will prompt visitors to consider the many ways that history is recorded and how gaps and silences can be filled.


The exhibition aims to capture Birmingham's importance in global trade and as a centre of industry.

Mirror of British Merchandise, 1888 (Image courtesy of the British Library Board)


The Library of Birmingham collections include stunning images by local photographers past and present which will be showcased in the exhibition. The image below is from the Dyche Collection, 1950-c1975, MS 2912. (Image courtesy of the Library of Birmingham)



Capturing images of Birmingham’s richly diverse community is an important part of the exhibition and engagement programme. A selection of photographs will be included in the exhibition to give a vivid picture of Birmingham and all the people who live there today. Anyone in Birmingham can get involved now by sending their photograph via Twitter #brumpeeps. Exhibition visitors are also invited to ‘make their mark’ and share their own stories.


Please see the Library of Birmingham’s website for activities throughout the duration of the exhibition, such as family days, oral history training and talks at local libraries.


The exhibition and community engagement programme have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records at the British Library and exhibition curator


Further information


Asians in Britain web pages


The Library of Birmingham’s website for details of opening hours and events


#connectingstories
#brumpeeps




Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Three Royal Asiatic Society Persian manuscripts digitized by Cambridge University Library


By Rachel M. Rowe

Detail from 56v of the Gulistan (RAS Persian 258)


This month sees the launch of our Royal Asiatic Society collection with three remarkable Persian manuscripts currently on long loan to the University Library. The Shāhnāmah of Muhammad Juki was copied in Herat between 1440-5 and is considered to be one of the finest Timurid manuscripts of the 15th century.


The Gulistan of the poet Sa’di was completed in 1583 in Fatehpur Sikri. It is noted not only for its exquisite paintings of birds and animals which decorate the pages of the text but also for its colophon portrait which depicts the eminent scribe Muhammad Husayn al-Kashmiri known as Zarrin Qalam (Golden Pen) and the artist, Manohara as a youth.


The Kitab-i Mathnawiyyat-i Zafar Khan is a beautifully illustrated autograph copy of the verses of Ahsanallah b. Abu 'l-Hasan, entitled Zafar Khan, written in Lahore in 1663.


All three manuscripts are available to view on Cambridge Digital Library: https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/ras



Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The History of Lahore and the Preservation of its Historic Buildings

Cross-posted from the Ancient India & Iran Trust blog, original post by Ursula Sims-Williams




‘The History of Lahore and the Preservation of its Historic Buildings’A Symposium to be held 13th and 14th October 2017 at Cambridge


The Ancient India & Iran Trust, in association with the Centre of South Asian Studies (University of Cambridge), is holding a symposium in Cambridge on the history of Lahore and the preservation of its historic monuments, 13-14 October 2017.

The presentations will cover a wide range of subjects, from the earliest history of Lahore and the walled city, via the glory of Mughal architecture, to the colonial period. Keynote lectures will be given by Prof Robin Coningham, Durham University: ‘Lahore’s Rich Architectural Monuments and their Current Threats’ and Fakir Syed Aijazuddin, author and researcher: ‘Lahore: Past, Present and Future’.

This will be a two-day symposium, and it is hoped that delegates will stay for both days. Sessions will take place at the Lee Seng Tee Hall, Wolfson College, Cambridge CB3 9BB and the Riley Auditorium, Clare College Memorial Court. If you would like to attend, please reserve your place by completing the registration form and sending it as an attachment to conference@indiran.org or by mail to the Conference Administrator, Ancient India & Iran Trust, 23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge, CB2 8BG

Provisional Programme

Registration form

The Conference organisers are grateful for support from The Bestway Foundation, Kirsten Rausing, The Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre, The Pakistan Society and the Thriplow Charitable Trust


Conference organisers: Nicholas Barrington, Trustee AIIT
Abdul Majid Sheikh, Wolfson College, Cambridge

Image: A picture showing the Lahore Fort and Hazuri Bagh Pavilion in 1870

Monday, 5 June 2017

96th SAALG conference programme published


Further to the SAALG blog post on 26th May  the programme for the 96th South Asia Archive and Library Group Conference at the Weston Library in Oxford on Friday 21st July is as follows:

South Asia Archive and Library Group
96th Conference

Friday 21st July 2017, 10.30-16.30
Lecture Theatre, Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG


10.30-11.00 Arrival and coffee

11.00-11.10 Welcome by SAALG chair

11.10-11.50 Rachel Rowe (Cambridge University Library)
Archival adventures with ephemera! Fabric swatches, train timetables and music played by the Royal Marines Band. Treasures from the Queen Mary Indian collection, Cambridge University Library

11.50-12.30 Nancy Charley (Royal Asiatic Society)
Royal Asiatic Society collections: sorting the miscellaneous box

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-14.05 Tour of the Weston Library

14.05-14.35 SAALG business meeting (and opportunity to visit the library’s current exhibitions for those who do not wish to attend the business meeting)

14.35-15.15 Edward Proctor (Duke University Library)
Pyrotechnical printing: fireworks advertising from Sivakasi, South India

15.15-15.45 Tea

15.45-16.30 Ashley Jackson (King’s College London) and David Tomkins (Bodleian Library)
Ephemera and the Empire: a tour through the British colonies and foreign possessions

Contacts:
Farzana Whitfield (fq@soas.ac.uk)
Emma Mathieson (emma.mathieson@bodleian.ox.ac.uk)

The conference fee, due on the day, will be £30.

Please confirm your attendance by emailing the SAALG Secretary on: fq@soas.ac.uk by Wednesday 12th July. Please specify any special dietary requirements.

Unfortunately, any cancellations after that date will incur a catering charge, for which we will have to invoice you.

Friday, 26 May 2017

“The East is a Career”: a centennial appreciation of SOAS. Tuesday 13th June, 6.30-8.30 pm

Another date for your diary!

Burzine Waghmar (SOAS) will give a talk at the Royal Asiatic Society entitled “The East is a Career”: A Centennial Appreciation of SOAS on Tuesday 13th June at 6:30 pm.  All are welcome!

Venue: Royal Asiatic Society, 14 Stephenson Way, London, NW1 2HD



Burzine’s talk will describe the history and growing pains of a very British institution, SOAS University of London, which celebrates its centenary this year.

Burzine writes: “Oriental Studies” initially comprised only the study of the Levant (Syria-Palestine and Egypt), but later came to include lands further to the east. The contributions of this discipline to public life nationally and to scholarship internationally have often been misunderstood during the last quarter of the 20th century.

Do join Burzine and help celebrate the SOAS centenary!

96th SAALG Conference,Oxford, Friday 21 July 2017

Dear SAALG members,

We warmly invite you to the 2017 SAALG conference taking place on Friday the 21st July at the recently renovated Weston Library at Oxford (formerly the New Bodleian):

https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/weston

The 96th conference will centre around the theme of ephemera with papers including treasures from the Queen Mary Indian collection, Cambridge University Library - archival material includes personal scrapbooks and souvenirs.  Further talks will discuss ephemera and the Empire: a tour through the British colonies and foreign possessions, and ephemera relating to the firework industry in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu.

The conference fee, due on the day, will be £30.

Please confirm your attendance by emailing me on: fq@soas.ac.uk by Wednesday 12th July, letting me know if you have any special dietary requirements.

Unfortunately any cancellations after that date will incur a catering charge, for which we will have to invoice you.

The SAALG Steering Committee look forward to seeing you there!

Best wishes,

Farzana ( SAALG Secretary)

Monday, 8 May 2017

Curries and bugles

Domestic life and natural history.

One of the greatest pleasures in cataloguing the donations made to the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge is coming across books which reflect daily routines or general interests, often annotated.  They come from personal libraries and help to supplement the archive material deposited in the form of recorded interviews, papers and photographs.

Household management
Special diets
Simple menus and recipes for camp, home and nursery by Lucy Carne. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink and Co., 1902, donated by Miss H.M. Alpin Archive ALP 8 which was referred to in the first blog has a section of foods for children. Very soft and plain food seemed to be in order.
Simple menus and recipes for camp, Archive ALP 8
Archive Misc 87 Curries and bugles
Some books look back with fondness to life in India such as a recipe for Chapattis with butter and marmalade taken from Curries and bugles : a memoir and cookbook of the British Raj written and illustrated by Jennifer Brennan. London : Viking, 1990.  Archive Misc 87. 


Complete Indian Housekeeper and cook.
Archive DV 2, donated by Mrs K.M. Davies.









Nineteenth century advice on clothing:

"Whilst on the subject of stockings, a word of warning may be given on open-work decoration : mosquitos are very prevalent in most parts of India, and the bite of a mosquito may mean death. At least four pairs of stays should be taken, as in hot weather they get sodden and require drying and airing"  from The complete Indian housekeeper and cook : giving the duties of mistress and servants, the general management of the house, and practical recipes for cooking in all its branches by F.A. Steel and G. Gardiner. London : William Heinemann, 1907. Archive DV 2, donated by Mrs K.M. Davies. This was originally published in 1888 and a 1921 edition is shelved at Archive (54):64. A 2010 reprint is available from Cambridge core. From the same book: the list of clothing required for a station in the plains where there is society is copied above.

Interests of a Brigadier
Brigadier F.R.L. Goadby (1899-1985) donated in May 1981 over 70 books covering his wide ranging interests in dance, art, architecture, Indian fauna and flora, and army life. Notes inside some of the books show that he carried out botanical research on behalf of friends. He served in the Royal Engineers from 1918 and the Royal Corps of Signals from 1921. In 1926 he joined the Indian Army serving in the 2/3rd Sikh Pioneers. During 1933 he transferred to the 1st Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles (which uses a bugle horn as its insignia). Later in his career he served in Southern Command, India; Simla; Calcutta; Bihar; and Bombay.

The State Library of Victoria has digitized Myauk. The Indian Army ABC (Archive GB 30) http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/87039 which provides a light hearted view of conditions a decade before Goadby joined the Sikh Pioneers.

Botanical guides
During his various postings Goadby studied local flora and built up a collection of botanical guides which  include three volumes of B.O. Coventry, Wild flowers of Kashmir,  London : Raithby, Lawrence & Co. 1923-1930 (Archive GB 2a-c), H. Collett, Flora simlensis : a handbook of the flowering plants of Simla and the neighbourhood, Calcutta : Thacker. 1902 (Archive GB 26), and P.F. Fyson,  Flora of the South Indian Hill stations, Madras : printed by the superintendent, 1932 (Archive GB 25 a&b). Being a private collection means that the books donated have papers and other items included, a problem for archivists and librarians. Charles James Bamber, Plants of the Punjab : a descriptive key to the flora of the Punjab, Lahore : Superintendent Government Printing,  1916 (Archive GB 27) has many pressed plants included.  Should they be sent to a Botany department?





Bamber, Plants of the Punjab. Archive GB 27

Monday, 24 April 2017

Mapping the Maps – by Natasha Pairaudeau

Map of the Maingnyaung region, located between the Chindwin and Mu Rivers in Upper Burma (MAPS-MS-PLANS-R-C-00001-000-00001.jpg)
Imagine maps as big as bedsheets, and then imagine the sheets big enough for beds made wide enough to sleep extended families. Only such a double stretch of the imagination can provide the scale of the three Burmese maps in Cambridge University Library’s collection, which have recently been made available online in digital format.

From bedsheet to map is not a great leap: all three maps are inked or painted on to generous lengths of cloth. Yet they do not depict lines on a map as the eye in the 21st century is accustomed to seeing them. The most colourful of the three maps, the map of the Maingnyaung region [Maps.Ms.Plans.R.c.1 ; see also above for an extract from this map] is the one which forces the most abrupt lurch, down from that comfortable view on high of modern mapping convention.  Instead, the viewer is positioned near ground level, and invited here to view a stupa, there a crocodile down in the river, away in the distance a noble line of hills. Trees are no mere generic features. While the perspective is mostly from the ground, it co-exists with other even less familiar conventions. Pagodas and stupas either loom large or sit very small, their size and their sanctity apparently intermeshed. Towns and villages, rivers and streams are the sole features which come close to appearing from a bird’s eye view. Yet the neat tracings of brickwork, and of waves on the water’s surface, suggest they may be meant to convey not the lay of the land from the air but other rules of belonging, of enclosure or of flow.

The other two maps, the map of the Royal Lands [Maps.Ms.Plans.R.c.3] and map of Sa-lay township [Maps.Ms.Plans.R.c.2], are less colourful than the first, but in some respects even more intriguing. Like the Maingnyaung map, they take many of their bearings from ground level. Manmade landmarks use scales which vary, apparently,  according to their importance rather than their physical size. With vegetation, there is an insistence on specifics. Yet both maps feature grids traced carefully and evenly across the entire surface. These maps present two worlds at once. There are vistas to be contemplated and meaningful features to be explored in the landscape. But there is also a view from on high, where trees were counted and areas under crop were calculated, and probably, somewhere off the surface of the map, converted into tax exactions.

These maps have already received a share of attention. Allegra Giovine (a doctoral student in the History of Science who studies the production of economic knowledge in colonial Burma) helped to translate notes on the Maingnyaung map from Burmese. The Cambridge maps formed the core of a survey of indigenous Burmese maps in UK collections by Professor Tin Naing Win, the inaugural Charles Wallace Burma Trust Fellow (2015) at the Cambridge Centre of South Asian Studies. They sparked the interest of Marie de Rugy in her recent thesis (Paris 1 – Sorbonne) on Maps and the Making of Imperial Territories in the Northern Indochinese Peninsula. François Tainturier of the Inya Institute continues to study these maps and to re-assess their role in pre-colonial Upper Burma. Much remains nonetheless to be learned about these maps, by those equipped to read the Burmese script which annotates them, and to interpret the wider context of their production and the modes of representation they employ. Great credit goes to the Map Department of the UL, both in finding the will and securing the resources to have the maps conserved and digitised, and to the Cambridge Digital Library, for producing digital pages so effortlessly navigable that they take nothing away from the joy of poring over them. They make it easier, in fact, to hover over the details, whether you are contemplating the view from the ground or from on high.  What’s more, the speed of the internet has improved to such an extent in modern Myanmar, that these massive cloth maps can be viewed with ease in Yangon or Mandalay. Maps such as these are rare, non-existent even, in the location where they were originally made. No such maps produced on cloth are known to have survived within Myanmar today. This only adds to the hope and expectation that they will be pored over, enjoyed, and further studied and interpreted from quarters near and far.

The routes, landmarks and other features depicted on these massive cloths remain beautifully clear some 150 years after they were first painted.  This is particularly so in the case of the map of the Maingnyaung region. The route taken by the maps themselves though, in their journey from Burma to Britain, has been more rapidly obscured. All the cloths reveal, thanks to a discreet label at the corner of each one, is that they were donated by Louis Allan Goss in 1910.

Goss left nothing to explain how he acquired the maps when he presented them to the Cambridge University Library. From research elsewhere, we know he had been an inspector of schools in Rangoon from the late 1870s. Prior to that he spent a decade in business in Mandalay and Rangoon. He published a few books, both while in Burma and on his return to Britain. His translation of the Buddhist Wethandaya tale (1886), the Burmese Copy Book (1905), and Burmese Spelling Book (1907) all remain in the University Library’s holdings.  At the time he donated the maps, he was living in Cambridge and teaching Burmese at the university. The patent he registered in 1914, for a ‘new and useful Transposing Attachment for Pianofortes’ suggest that, by that time, he was enjoying the leisurely pursuits of semi-retirement.

Goss’ generosity extended, too, beyond the University Library. He had already, in 1907, given three other maps to the India Office Collections. These maps, one on paper and two on cloth, are similarly locally-made, depicting Burmese and Shan territory. They are now held at the British Library (access is currently restricted due to their fragile condition, but they are scheduled for digitisation). While they have not weathered the journey quite as well as the Cambridge maps, there is one among them that clearly follows the same conventions as the Maingnyaung map, and rivals it for colouring and artistry.

The Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) holds further Goss material. In its collections are over 600 glass plates and albumen prints once belonging to Louis Allan Goss. These depict buildings and landscapes from across Burma, dating from the 1860s through the 1880s. Among the collection are some of the earliest photographic images of Upper Burma. Goss’ photographs at the MAA were included in a 2002 exhibition of the museum’s photographic collection, ‘Collected Sights’. Several of the biographical details of Goss’ life come from the efforts of curators at the MAA to inventory this collection. More recently, a further three maps have come to light, which were donated by Goss to the MAA in 1910. None of these are quite as finely detailed as the University Library maps, but all are again made of cloth, and are of similarly generous dimensions.  One of the MAA maps features particularly bold and unusual colouring. These maps are due to be digitised shortly and will be made available online (2017).

The unusual maps and exceptional collection of photographs which Goss donated reflect a somewhat more adventurous life than that of an inspector of schools.  But Goss’ donations only began to make sense with news from Canada of other gifts to a different museum, made by his descendants over a hundred years later. Ron Graham, Trustee of Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, was eager to learn more about the items presented in 2014 to the museum from the estate of Louis Allan Goss. In contacting the Cambridge University Library, he brought together the very small club of people interested in finding out more about Goss.  And from the Cambridge side, the Canadian donations brought the knowledge that linked Goss to an even more intriguing character, his uncle Clement Williams.

The name Clement Williams comes up repeatedly in histories of Upper Burma from the mid-1800s.  In the last decades of the Konbaung dynasty, prior to the British annexation of 1885, he was undoubtedly one of the most engaging figures in a period when European merchants and adventurers had extraordinary access to an outward-looking, modernising monarchy. Williams was among the Italian engineers, French diplomats, and Greek and Armenian merchants who vied for the court’s favour, and the King’s ear. He arrived in Burma in 1858 as an Assistant Surgeon in the British Army, but an informal appointment to tend to British interests in Mandalay set him on a different path. Williams impressed the reigning monarch, King Mindon, with his Burmese language ability, if not his surgical skills. When the British sought to appoint officially their first Political Agent in Upper Burma, Williams secured the post. A troubled history saw him fired within the year and replaced by Edward Sladen – the two men would sustain a long and bitter personal rivalry.  After a brief absence he returned to Mandalay as the town’s first representative of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. By 1872 he was based in Rangoon, where he operated as a businessman and middleman to the European commercial affairs of the Court (and was assisted by his nephew, Louis Allan Goss). Williams continued to act as a commercial agent to the Ava Crown after Mindon’s death in 1878, when Thibaw succeeded to the throne. His relationship with the new king was short-lived, however, as Williams died of typhoid, in 1879, on a return journey to England.

The paper trail left by Clement Williams suggests it was he, more than Goss, who led a life conducive to accumulating outstanding maps and photographs. In his account of an 1863 expedition he bemoans the loss of glass plates in the leaking hull of the steamer carrying him upriver from Mandalay to Bhamo, suggesting a serious pursuit of photography. And an interest in mapping fits easily with the very purpose of the expedition, to investigate the possibility of navigation on the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy, and trade possibilities with China.

Williams’ life is remarkable too for the way it exemplifies the close interweaving of British private and state interests, and the force of individual personalities, in the years preceding formal colonial annexation. It raises the question of whether, just possibly, the continued relationship of men like Williams with the Burmese Court might have allowed the monarchy, and Burmese sovereignty, to be maintained. Thanks to the care of Goss’ descendants and their donations to the Royal Ontario Museum, and now a collaboration between the ROM and the Cambridge MAA, we can look forward to soon hearing more about Clement Williams’ life story, and seeing more of the photography collection amassed by both uncle and nephew.

The Burmese cloth maps held by the University Library were exhibited at the brilliant Cambridge Festival of Ideas in 2013. When I first saw them there, I was drawn to them merely through a broader interest in the small collections of archives at Cambridge which relate to Burmese history. My research, on Prince Myingoon, one of Mindon’s renegade sons, bore no obvious connection to three massive maps lying for over a century in the University Library, but I soon found Myingoon’s life and antics did not lie far beyond them. Prince Myingoon spent most of his life in exile, first in India and then in French Indochina. He would have left Mandalay not long after the maps were acquired, and it is his exit, rather than his time in Mandalay, that he is best known for. He mounted a rebellion at the Court in 1866 but fled once his bid for power failed. Yet he is someone whose life, like that of Williams, begs the question of whether things might have worked out differently. He might have accepted an offer of the crown under British tutelage, or succeeded in securing French support to regain Mandalay through the Shan States. Instead he died in Saigon in 1921, dejected and in debt. With the reunification of Vietnam his grave was removed (like that of many others) and his remains have lain long forgotten in an indifferent reburial pit.

The maps and Myingoon have little to do with one another, but Williams would have been in Mandalay while Myingoon was still there. Sure enough, the search for the Prince now leads just as often to Clement Williams. I went looking for Prince Myingoon in another of Cambridge’s remarkable Burma-related repositories, the Scott Collection. Sir James George Scott’s long career as an administrator and author included posts overseeing the Shan States from the late 1880s. He would most certainly have had Myingoon’s troublesome partisans in his sights. His private papers are marvellous. The beautifully rounded script of Burmese correspondence jostles with missives from Shan Chiefs elaborately signed in trailing swirls of red ink. Added to the mix are Scott’s own pencilled summaries, unguarded jottings-to-self, and his own fine collection of indigenous maps.

Prince Myingoon, unfortunately, remains buried deep within Scott’s papers, but Clement Williams is there in plain sight. Receipts and notes held by Scott from the early 1870s relate to payments made by ‘Clement Williams of Bristol England, The Agent to HM the King of Burma’. They document Williams’ wholesale purchases of machinery on King Mindon’s behalf, as well as the transactions in gems undertaken to obtain them. Williams was back in Bristol in 1871 buying equipment for sugar refining, a full iron smelting plant, and a further twenty thousand pounds’ worth (no small sum) of unspecified ‘Machinery’ and ‘fire bricks’.  Williams’ buying trip overlapped with the diplomatic mission of Mindon’s Foreign Minister to Europe. Both parties clearly arrived weighed down with rubies. When Williams met with the Kinwun Mingyi in Sheffield in 1872, he relayed to the touring Minister the disappointing news that only 16 000 ‘coins’ could be obtained in sterling for one consignment of rubies, giving them less cash to spend than they had hoped. Another receipt records 25 000 rupees paid direct in rubies to a Bristol merchant, with both Clement Williams and Louis Allan Goss named as the King’s intermediaries in the transaction.

Williams appears again in another set of Burma papers, the Sladen Collection at the British Library. Edward Sladen, Her Majesty’s Resident in Upper Burma once Williams left the post, and Williams’ long-standing rival, wrote a dramatic eye witness account of Myingoon’s 1866 ‘Revolution at Mandalay’. Right when the Prince’s rebel band attacked and killed his uncle (who was favoured by Mindon for the succession), Sladen was with Williams in the Palace, in an audience with the King.

Sladen’s account describes how a distraught senior Queen whisked Mindon away, leaving Sladen and Williams with a group of the King’s officials as rebels overran the Palace. A group of rebels, swords drawn, scaled a partition into the chamber where they stood. The Englishmen, following the King’s officials, scarpered over another partition, only to drop down into a vestibule where more rebels were swarming “stupefied and frenzied by drink and excitement”. One of them “carried in his left hand the gory head of the Crown Prince who had just been murdered”. Sladen and Williams managed to exit the Palace, and after some days they were steaming downriver for Rangoon, with much of the European population of Mandalay. The Prince by then was travelling in the same direction, and the British steamer passed Myingoon’s craft at Magway. Sladen continued downriver, still fearful for his passengers’ safety. But a small skiff was sent across with the message that the Prince’s intentions were friendly and that he too was seeking refuge in British-occupied Burma. Sladen does not record a face-to-face encounter between Myingoon and Williams. The distance separating the two men, though, could be measured in the width of a Palace partition, in one severed head of separation, or in a steamer’s length on the Irrawaddy.

With so little information about what they were and how they ended up there, and distributed into a least three archival collections, the maps Goss donated to Cambridge and London archives became cut loose from their bearings, a particularly rich irony for a set of giant maps. Not only were they far from home, they were severed from their circumstances, from the long relationships or brief associations which put the items in Goss’ hands or prompted him to pass them on. An educated guess would indicate that the maps and photos came down from Williams to Goss, and that Goss then parcelled them out to different institutions as a result of encounters with various people who showed an interest. Cambridge was conducive to this process. It was small with a high concentration of interested scholars and archivists, and small libraries able to provide homes for curious objects. That this process spilled over to London is equally understandable.

This process applies to other archival objects, of course, as much as it does to Goss’ donations, even if some donors are more assiduous at labelling than others. When objects find their way into archival collections, a fog falls over the pathways that once connected them, over the conventions within which they were once understood, and over the force of individual personalities or the push and pull of human relationships. Goss left little to describe or explain what he donated or why. For George Scott’s part too, though, it takes some puzzling to work out how Clement Williams’ invoices, written out long before Scott arrived in Burma, ended up in his possession.

To lift a little fog from some of these pathways relies as much on chance encounters as it does on the concerted effort of delving back into archives. While writing this piece, I returned to the internet to check some details about Goss. I was distracted instead by the proliferation of sites, with the centenary of World War One upon us, telling stories of the men named on war memorials. There is a detailed account of Goss’ son, Edouard, who was one of those men. It says he died in the first day of fighting at the Somme, and that his name appears on war memorials in Bristol, Sevenoaks, and Rangoon. It mentions too the Cambridge address where he lived with his parents just before the war. In some senses Cambridge has not grown any larger over the years. A friend, it turns out, currently lives in the same house. Her children are now tapping the walls and floorboards, listening for hollow places that might hide that mislaid bag of rubies. Watch this space.

The Map Department is very grateful to Natasha for her support of and enthusiasm for these maps, and for her generosity in writing this blog post.

Note added by the Library on the digitisation of the three maps of parts of Burma on cloth:

Photographing the Burmese maps was quite a challenge for the Library’s Digital Content Unit. The smallest map was made of 126 images, the largest of 420 and it had to be stitched into 9 parts first before being put into one piece. Some parts of the process took a few hours to complete for the computer with 64 GB RAM memory and 3Ghz 8 core computer. The biggest challenge was obviously handling. It was impossible to move the map without changing the arrangement. Hence the last map, the largest [Maps.Ms.Plans.R.c.3] took a long time to prepare as they had to experiment with different stitching methods.

This post was first published on Cambridge University Library's Special Collections Blog by the Library's Map Librarian, Anne Taylor on 18 April 2017 https://specialcollections.blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=14308