Asian surprises at the British Library

After three years at the British Library I have almost ceased to be surprised by items we hold.  However colleague Hedley Sutton managed to come up trumps during his recent ‘Show and Tell’ for staff.

Here are a selection of some the curious documents from the Asian & African Studies collections he managed to find for us to educate and  inform:

•    A copy of the New Testament published in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) during 1914.  The text is written in Armenian script.

•    ‘Nature’s Self-Printing’ published in Mangalore City (South West India)  by the Mission Press, a publishing house run by Missionaries who loved India. Appeared to contain samples of pressed Indian Flora from 1862. Some plant-resins appeared had leaked through the paper pages, various leaves showed signs of being nibbled by bugs.

•    1844 examination papers for entrance into the East India Company’s administration (the equivalent of the Civil Service). Any student who wanted to enter the Company had to study for six months and then pass examination with at least two Indian languages, with papers in economy and history, also Latin, Greek and Mathematics.

•    This was a boxed collection of miniature books from Japan from the 1960’s and 1970’s. One of the books in was less than one inch square, with the initials JC embossed on the front; the content was Jimmy Carter’s inaugural speech both in English and Japanese.

•    One of a series: ‘HogHunters Annual’, an Indian serial publication from 1928 dedicated to the hunting of hogs/wild pigs (aka Pig Sticking). The annual detailed ways of killing hogs with spears while riding on horseback.

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•    Unexpected was a batch of Nazi propaganda leaflets. These were again a serial publication, written in German in the late 1930s and distributed to Germans living in India.

•    The presentation took a rather grisly turn with the record of Courts Martial held by the East India Company between 1801 – 1821. In the early 19th century East India Company, the attitude to behaviour was pretty severe. For example, in November 1818 a Private was sentenced to 1,000 lashes on his bare back for being drunk and refusing to go to his barrack when ordered to do so.  Because all 1,000 lashes administered at once would kill anyone, the punishment would have taken place in instalments over several days or weeks. The record also gives a gruesome step-by-step guide for carrying out an execution by firing squad, including the music to be played (the Dead March from Handel’s ‘Saul’) and at what point to blindfold the prisoner.

Many thanks to Heather Morley for sharing her detailed notes of the meeting.

1 thought on “Asian surprises at the British Library

  1. Pingback: More Asian and African surprises from the British Library collections « In through the outfield

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