Category Archives: User perspectives

Reading Readers in the Special Collections

In this week’s blog post Jennifer Scott, a PhD candidate in the English Department, examines a unique copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Goal held in the Special Collections.

There is something undeniably thrilling about handling an early or rare edition of a much-loved work of literature. An even greater thrill of working with Special Collections, however, sometimes comes from an unexpected discovery. The Hartley Library’s copy of The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde – a copy of the fourth edition of this work from 1898 – was, for me, one of those discoveries, holding between its covers a special collection of its very own.

The book is inscribed ‘R. Bruce Boswell 1898’ and has been treated as a kind of scrapbook. Pasted throughout, on the blank verso sides of the pages alongside the text, as well as on the book’s inside covers, are numerous contemporary newspaper clippings, many of which have been marked and dated in the owner’s hand. The clippings concern Oscar Wilde himself, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, the impending publication of De Profundis in 1905, and debates surrounding penal reform. Boswell’s careful collation of these clippings, as well as his written comments, show a reader forming links between the reports of the press and Wilde’s own poetic description of his prison experience.

Examining Boswell’s pencil markings, which range from ambiguous crosses and question marks to more revealing statements and questions, one gains a sense of a reader who was sceptical of Wilde’s account and of his views – a reader who even had the gall to correct some of Wilde’s most famous lines, changing ‘Each man kills the thing he loves’ to ‘Each man may kill the thing he loves’ and replacing ‘The brave man with a sword’ with ‘The bravo with a sword’!

Yet, one may also discover a reader willing to thoroughly engage with Wilde’s text and open-minded enough to also highlight some consistencies between Wilde’s account and those reported in the papers.

Remarkably, Boswell is not the only reader to have left their mark on this book either. A second reader, identifiable only as E.G.C., has responded to comments by Boswell, showing debates about penal reform, and Wilde’s place within it, to have transcended public spaces such as courtrooms and the House of Commons, and to have also occurred more privately.

This book provides a unique glimpse of some of the ways in which ordinary readers responded to Wilde and his poem following his release from prison in 1897. Despite Wilde’s name being too cloaked in scandal to appear on the ballad until 1899, Boswell’s copy reveals just how open the secret of its authorship was.

The first six editions of The Ballad of Reading Gaol bore only Wilde’s cell number, C.3.3.

The first six editions of The Ballad of Reading Gaol bore only Wilde’s cell number, C.3.3.

Furthermore, it reveals the human complexity of Wilde’s readership, which did not fall, as it is so easy to imagine, into black and white categories of supporters and detractors. The marginalia of R. Bruce Boswell and E.G.C. rather exhibit a developing engagement with this text that was influenced by both public and private debate.

I first wrote about this book in my MA thesis in 2010. I am now studying for a PhD and recently revisited the book for a conference paper, which I delivered at the British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS) Annual conference on 23 August 2017.


Researching the Nuremberg trials

In this week’s blog post Emma Chadwick discusses her experience researching the transcripts of the Nuremberg trials for her Master’s thesis.

As part of my Masters course in History, I have spent my summer writing my final thesis. Though longer than my undergraduate dissertation, the project has been far more enjoyable because I have had the opportunity to use original manuscripts held in the University’s Special Collections. In particular, I have been using the collection MS 200 which contains documentation from the Nuremberg trials and the subsequent, International Military Tribunals (1946 – 47).

Embed from Getty Images

The core of my project is examining the relationship between collective memory and Holocaust trials and therefore, I have been comparing the Nuremberg trials and the Eichmann trial (1961). Part of my interest in this particular topic came from an earlier visit to the archives to view a series of tapes that contained survivor testimony. I was struck by the trauma and devastation of the survivor more than I had been by literature I had read. As we are now approaching a time when soon there will be no more survivor’s left to bear witness, I wondered how we would represent the Holocaust in the future. Having already done some research in the Nuremberg trials, I found there was an absence of survivor voice and struggled with the silence within the trial. Though the defence brought witness testimony, survivors did not come to court but were asked to provide affidavits as sources of evidence. I questioned how possible it was that a Holocaust narrative could be formed just by using the Nazi documentation that had been left behind. By contrast, the Eichmann trial had over 120 witnesses speak about what they had experienced leaving those within the courtroom horrified. Therefore, I decided that as the resources were right in front of me, I could look at collective memory in both trials by examining the evidence presented at them along with the original transcripts.

Initially, I was overwhelmed by the amount of material in the archives relating to the Nuremberg trials (around 500 boxes) and struggled to see how I would pick what to look at. Helpfully, there was a catalogue on the archives website which explained what was in each box so I began to select evidence that I thought might be interesting to get an idea of the trial. To exemplify, I looked at reports from Reinhard Heydrich (a Nazi officer in the SS) on the ‘Final Solution’ which were clear proof of the Nazi’s plans to exterminate the Jews of Europe. As a history student I am familiar with this, but seeing the words on the original manuscript was still shocking. One sentence that was particularly striking read ‘as far as possible the territories enumerated under 1) are to be cleared of Jews, but the very least to be aimed at is the formation of a very few “concentration” towns’. [MS 200 IMT/16/1] Though the document does not specifically refer to the ‘Final Solution’, it is a piece of a puzzle whereby all the evidence can be put together to unveil these horrific plans.

International Military Tribunal: Opening statement for the United States of America, 21 Nov 1945 [MS 200 IMT/13/1]

International Military Tribunal: Opening statement for the United States of America, 21 Nov 1945 [MS 200 IMT/13/1]

The evidence used at the trials was not just official Nazi documentation such as reports. There were also a number of excerpts taken from Hitler’s, Mein Kampf, and newspapers such as National Socialist Monthly which give the historian a glimpse into the anti-Semitic rhetoric that was spread throughout Germany and Eastern Europe. The writings are again, shocking and disturbing but by looking through such a variety of material helped me to understand the case the prosecution was attempting to build against the Nazi’s by showing the methods they used to rally support that led to the murder of six million Jews.

Using the archives has really helped me develop my skills as a historian. Though in my undergraduate degree I used them to look at the Mountbatten Papers collection, it has been through this project that I have really learnt how to select evidence properly and how to critique sources in a way that portrays my argument effectively. What has also been motivating is having access to real documents; it has been important for me to look at original material – rather than just relying on secondary sources – to shape my understanding of the trials. I am also very grateful to the staff at the Archives who have been very patient with me and always helpful in terms of answering questions and providing me with the material that I needed!

Along with the papers of the Nuremberg trial, papers relating to the Eichmann trial can be found among the collections MS 60 Papers of Revd Dr James Parkes and MS 237-41 Papers of the Institute of Jewish Affairs.

An appointment with the Archives

The Special Collections  has a developing programme of events and visits designed to introduce students to both the collections and the work of the Division.   Last week a group of students joined the team for a behind the scenes visit and a taster session working with the collections.  As well as the opportunity to decipher Queen Victoria’ handwriting, the students assessed albums compiled by the Society of Old Hartleyans relating to student life from the first half of the 20th century, helping to choose items that we could use for promotional purposes.  Here are the choices of three of the group, Greg, Núria and Victoriawith their explanations of why the items appealed to them.


As a photograph the striking contrasts of black suit and white shirt make the tone exciting and help to define the faces of the past by highlighting facial features.  Their finely combed hair and crisp collars show the evident attempt on their part to produce a smart picture, tarnished only by the bulb that somewhat hangs randomly on one side of the image as well as the reels of wire stacked in the left of the picture.”

Men's common room, 1918 [MS1/7/291/22/1]

Men’s common room, 1918 [MS1/7/291/22/1]

Greg’s second choice was a photograph of the football team, 1901-2:

Personally, with a keen interest in the history of football in England, this photo gives a sense of the amateur origins of the game of the time.  I love the lack of formality that is conveyed in the mish-mash of clothing on display.  It appeals to me as you are able to see the rugged leather boots and thick long sleeved shirts donned by the players, whilst also seeing the traditional ‛flatcap’ and suit style of the time being worn by gentlemen to the side of the team.  The rawness of the wooden terrace gives a sense of the crowd they played in front of, and the battered pitch an idea of the style of game!

Hartley College football team, 101-2 [MS1/7/291/22/1]

Hartley College football team, 1901-2 [MS1/7/291/22/1]

The early days of the University’s Football Club were on a modest and local scale.  Home matches were mainly played at the Shirley Ground.  The emphasis of the Football Club of 1900s was on “healthy recreation and vigorous exercise for men students” rather than on sporting prowess, hence the lack of formality in the clothing that Greg noted.


Swimming teams, 1933-6 [MS1/7/291/22/2]

Swimming teams, 1933-6 [MS1/7/291/22/2]

Núria’s choice of photographs of the swimming teams was inspired by both the gender balance in the teams and the costume they wore: “It’s mostly boys in the pictures, although there are 7 girls in one of them, which probably shows the start of gender equality in regards to swimming club membership.  I also like the gender equality in the swimming costumes: the men’s costumes are also covering their chests, like the women’s.  The swimming club photos are the ones where you can see the biggest fashion change!

The one-piece costume as worn by the men in these images was typical of the designs in the 1920s. In response to demand designs became more body-conscious and athletic abandoning long sleeves and replacing them with generously-cut armholes. This mass produced one-piece enjoyed a considerable chunk of the market in men’s swimwear in this decade.

Núria also was drawn to the images of the tennis club in the 1920s and 1930s, evoking memories of her experience of joining a sports club at the University.

Tennis players, 1927-9, 1933 [MS1/7/291/22/2]

Tennis players, 1927-9, 1933 [MS1/7/291/22/2]

The photo album I’m looking at is a collection of photographs from the sports clubs at university.  The tennis photos seem to be the only one where men and women appear together.  I really like the sense of inclusion that these photographs transmit, it reminds me of my own experience when I arrived at Southampton and joined the fencing club, where I made really good friends, both men and women.  I also find it curious that one of the ladies in the 1927 picture is wearing a tie.

There are other photographs in the collection which show women students wearing ties.  This was a period of formal dress codes when academic dress was still required when students attended lectures and exams.


Swimming club, 1951-2 [MS1/7/291/22/3]

Swimming club, 1951-2 [MS1/7/291/22/3]

For Victoria, it was the informality and realism that appealed in this photograph.  “It really looks as though two of the people have got the giggles when the photo was being taken.  The woman on the right is also pulling a face – this might not have been deliberate, but does add realism to the photo.

The second choice relates to the reunion picnic, in the New Forest, at Whitsun, 1951, of the Society of Old Hartleyans: this was the final event of the weekend programme, including a dinner attended by 226 the previous evening.  The minutes of the annual general meeting of the society noted that “11 members attended a picnic to Beaulieu Heath organised by Mr Glover-James”.

Victoria notes, “it is the informality that appeals to [me] more than anything and the fact that … people look happy…. The photo also provides an insight into the clothing… and even though this is a picnic, people are still fairly formally attired”.

Society of Hartleyans reunion picnic, 1951 [MS1/7/291/22/3]

Society of Old Hartleyans reunion picnic, 1951 [MS1/7/291/22/3]

The Special Collections will be running a number of drop in sessions focusing on different aspects of its holdings in the autumn.   So if you are interested, do keep an eye out for announcements.  We hope that you might be able to join us.

User perspective: a postgraduate’s experience in using the Special Collections for the first time

To coincide with Postgraduate Open Day, MA student Jenny Whitaker reflects on her experience of using the Special Collections.

Jenny Whitaker, MA student

Jenny Whitaker

The Hartley Library’s Special Collections are one of the University of Southampton’s greatest assets, but as an undergraduate student studying here I must confess I didn’t fully get to grips with the scale and variety of the resources available. In several recent MA History Research Skills sessions, which have involved examining just a few of the Collection’s myriad resources, I came to appreciate much more fully the richness of the material we are lucky enough to have here at Southampton. Our focus during the classes has been on specific issues, such as the process of documentation or the role of numbers in historical sources. Whilst these criteria helped to focus our academic attention and regard the sources in new ways, for me the most striking aspect of the Collections is the sense of having history at one’s fingertips. Nothing, for me, engages the mind on a historical question, figure, or event, in quite the same way as a primary source in your hands. Deciphering elegant but illegible historical handwriting and tracing life stories through ledgers are activities which can seem to many the preserve of the only most established academics. However, the Special Collections is highly accessible and welcoming. Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the material for me was its incredible liveliness; especially the evocativeness of individual handwriting styles and notes taken in the margins. Moreover, whilst archival research is usually driven by a precise aim or question, it often seems to throw up serendipitous little pieces of information which a researcher would not have anticipated, or amusing snapshots of past lives. One such occurrence, spotted by an eagle-eyed classmate, occurs in an eighteenth-century account book detailing payments made to the servants of one Henry Temple; a payment has been made to a ‘cook maid’ by the eerily appropriate name of Mary Berry.  Strange coincidences aside, interacting with the Special Collections has been an incredibly interesting and insightful experience, and one I’m looking forward to repeating as my postgraduate career continues.

Mary Berry, cook maid

MS 62 BR 10/1/1 Mary Berry, cook maid, listed as staff at Broadlands, 1740

The travels of William Mogg, RN (1796-1875)

This week the public outcomes for students undertaking their second year History Group Projects will go live. They will include exhibitions, articles, presentations, websites and documentaries, with a number of projects drawing on material from Special Collections. Group 7’s project draws on the journals of William Mogg…

Christopher Columbus, Francis Drake, Marco Polo, James Cook, Robert Falcon Scott… These men all have one thing in common. They are famous explorers who made ground-breaking discoveries through their travels across the world. However, what most people don’t know is that we have our very own local traveller from here in Southampton: William Mogg. This figure, forgotten by history, was actually part of some of the most significant and famous voyages of exploration during the nineteenth century.

Photo of William Mogg wearing the medal presented to him ‘for Arctic discoveries, 1818-1855’ [MS 45 A0188]

Photo of William Mogg wearing the medal presented to him ‘for Arctic discoveries, 1818-1855’ [MS 45 A0188]

Born in 1796 in Woolston, Southampton, Mogg joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer in 1811, serving in the continental blockade of the Napoleonic war. From 1821-5 he joined Captain Lyon and Sir William Parry on their Arctic expeditions on HMS Hecla and Fury, which Mogg describes in his second journal. He also travelled around South America from 1827-33 on HMS Beagle, an expedition on which Charles Darwin was also present on.

Although Mogg is not an established figure in the history of exploration, he played an important role aboard ship and his account of everyday life has proven very significant in enhancing our views of 19th century culture and attitudes.  He served as a clerk on Parry’s expeditions where he recorded meteorological material. His journals also include annotated copies of Robert Fitzroy’s Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and the Beagle, which describes the Beagle’s circumnavigation of the globe.

Throughout Mogg’s six journals he describes his travels to the Arctic, South America, Wales, the West of England, Switzerland and Italy, and within these he also includes a number of drawings, postcards and photographs which he collected during his travels. In his journals, Mogg recorded some incredible stories of his interactions with different native populations such as Arctic Esquimaux, Feugians, and the Patagonians. He immersed himself in the various cultures that he encountered, and has many tales to share of the people he met along the way. He talks of hunting trips he went on, games played with the natives, the languages he learned and even tattoos he was given! Mogg does not only provide interesting and humorous anecdotes, but grants us an insight into another time; a world very different to ours today.

The journals also provide a rare glimpse into the personal thoughts of a man who experienced more in four decades, than most people would in an entire lifetime. His attitudes to different cultures, places and people are fascinating, and his journals are a truly valuable piece of history that should be treasured by Southampton. William Mogg’s journals reveal just how important every member of a crew can be. Although history only notes the leaders of such voyages, Mogg shows that these men would never have been able to achieve the things they did, were it not for the crew which helped them along the way.

A group of second year history students are currently studying journals 2 and 3 from the University’s Special Collections and have created a website to present their fascinating research, aiming to shed light on the life and work of William Mogg, and bring his sadly unknown journeys to life.

Please visit to find out more about one of Southampton’s lost historic figures.

Article by Hollie Geraghty


Southampton University Special Collections, <>,[Accessed 03/05/16].

Mogg, William, The Papers of William Mogg, 1811-c.1870, Journal 1, 2,3,6, Special Collections Division, Hartley Library, University of Southampton.

User perspectives: The Jewish Lads’ Brigade & Club in Manchester

This week Sarah Mills, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Loughborough University, discusses her use of the special collections as part of a research project on the Jewish Lads’ Brigade in post-war Britain.

“This research project aimed to explore attitudes and approaches to religious youth and youth work in post-war Britain and was funded by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). To address these research aims, the project drew upon the case-study of one uniformed youth organisation – the Jewish Lads’ Brigade founded in 1895 and their activities between 1945-1969. The general papers of the Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade at Southampton (MS244) and related collections in Manchester provided important context into the wider post-war reconstruction efforts of the youth organisation as it embarked on an ambitious ‘advance again’ to attract the modern Jewish teenager.

The national Jewish Lads’ Brigade post-war circular ‘Advance Again’

The national Jewish Lads’ Brigade post-war circular ‘Advance Again’

During fieldwork, I became increasingly interested in the unique work of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade & Club in Manchester, led by dynamic (non-Jewish) professional youth worker Stanley Rowe from 1954 onwards. This rich material at Southampton (MS223) allowed me to trace some of the wider geographies of youth work and the politics of paid/unpaid labour within youth organisations. Indeed, national debates about the role of youth and community work, and faith-based volunteering, were played out at the local scale at the JLB & C. A range of material including annual reports, correspondence, scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings, photographs, and youth magazines represented the Club as a vibrant and popular space in the city for Jewish youth and their non-Jewish friends.

Teenagers at the Jewish Lads’ Brigade & Club, Manchester

Teenagers at the Jewish Lads’ Brigade & Club, Manchester

Overall, the example of the JLB & C has provided a useful lens through which to view wider social and political changes in youth culture and Anglo-Jewry at this time, as well as uncovering some of the wider politics of youth work, volunteering and employment. I’d like to thank Karen Robson and all the staff at the Library & Archives for their assistance with this project.”

Sarah has recently published a journal article based on this fieldwork. This is available online for free until October 2015 or via most University library subscriptions.

User perspectives: Examining arts patronage at Broadlands

This week Ruby Shaw discusses her exploration of the Broadlands archives as part of research undertaken for her MA in Historic Interiors and Decorative Arts at the University of Buckingham.

“When contemplating the daunting question of deciding upon a topic for my dissertation, it was almost by chance that I came across the Broadlands archives at the University of Southampton!  Although I knew that I wanted to base my research around a historic house within my local area (I am studying for an MA in Historic Interiors and Decorative Arts with the University of Buckingham but live in Southampton) I was surprised by how few local archives there are with collections relevant to art history students.  Then I stumbled across the Broadlands archives and what a wealth of material it has to offer!

‘Broadlands in Hampshire, the seat of Lord Palmerston' drawn by Lord Duncannon

‘Broadlands in Hampshire, the seat of Lord Palmerston’ drawn by Lord Duncannon

The archives are probably better known for material relating to the career of Lord Palmerston, the 3rd Viscount, who became prime minister to Queen Victoria.  Yet Lord Palmerston’s father, Henry Temple the 2nd Viscount, was an influential eighteenth-century figure, particularly as a patron of the arts.  This interest in art and antiquities was ultimately reflected in the collections and interior decoration of his country house at Broadlands.

Although I have often stolen a glimpse of Broadlands house through the gates, I was unaware until now of how much of its eighteenth-century interiors and furnishings survive.  This includes paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds with whom Lord Palmerston enjoyed a close friendship.  Many famous names have also been associated with the construction of Broadlands.   The first phase of Lord Palmerston’s building campaign in the 1760s, for example, was carried out by the famous landscape gardener Lancelot “Capability” Brown.  A further phase in the 1780s was meanwhile executed by the architect Henry Holland, most famous for his construction of the splendid Carlton House in London for the future George IV.

From an initial consultation of the archives, I could see that there was an extensive range of material to conduct a stimulating research project.  This material has been drawn upon to explore the role of Henry Temple, the 2nd Viscount (1739-1802) as a collector and architectural patron at Broadlands.   Numerous visits to the archives have given me the pleasure of delving into Lord Palmerston’s Grand Tour travel journals, as well as art sale catalogues, architectural drawings and correspondence with various dealers.  Viewing an original letter by “Capability” Brown was a particular treat!  Some of the correspondence between Lord and Lady Palmerston also makes for amusing reading.  The unfavourable temperament of the plasterer at Broadlands, Joseph Rose, for example is highlighted by the repeated reference to him as “Mr Melancholy.”  Humorous appeal aside, these personal insights have been extremely valuable in helping to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between architects, craftsmen and clients during this period.

BR101/34 List of pictures and marbles purchased by Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, in Italy, 1764

BR101/34 List of pictures and marbles purchased by Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, in Italy, 1764

In general, the wide range of material in the Broadlands archives has allowed for an enjoyable exploration of a much overlooked patron of the arts in the eighteenth-century, from Lord Palmerston’s acquisition of antique sculpture on the Grand Tour to his purchases of contemporary Wedgwood pottery.   This exploration has only of course have been made possible with the help and patience the archives team, for which I am very grateful.”

User perspectives: Researching Royal Refugees using the Palmerston Papers

Matthew Brand, who is a post-graduate research student at the University of East Anglia, reflects on his use of the Palmerston collection at Southampton.

“When one thinks of refugees, royalty don’t usually come to mind. This is perhaps also true of the 19th century, when countless European liberals and revolutionaries fled to Britain. However, many politicians and royal families also arrived, including French Kings and their families (Charles X in 1830 and Louis Philippe in 1848), and Spanish pretenders who sought to acquire the throne by force of arms – Don Carlos in 1834, and his son Carlos Luis, Count Montemolin in 1846.

Ships sailing near the Culver Down cliffs

Ships sailing near the Culver Down cliffs

I first made use of the Palmerston Papers for my MA dissertation, and have continued to use them whilst studying for my PhD. The collection is vast in scope; the nineteenth century was an era of ‘government by correspondence’, and private, rather than “official” letters often contained sensitive information.

Among the most intriguing items I have found is a letter from Don Carlos to King William IV, in which Carlos arrogantly excused his departure to lead his troops in a brutal civil war. He also wished that his family, who had remained in Britain, returned to Spain and left the damp English climate behind. Palmerston appears to have kept the letter because Britain did not recognise Carlos as King of Spain.

Other interesting documents include a disagreement between Palmerston and his Ambassador to France, Lord Normanby, in December 1851, about whether French President Louis Napoleon’s coup d’état had been in response to the exiled royal family’s rumoured plots. Another extraordinary exchange, with Prime Minister Lord Grey and Ambassador to France Lord Granville, discusses the potential implications of Charles X and his family’s departure to Austria in 1832. Charles’s daughter-in-law, the Duchesse de Berry, was then evading capture in France after a failed rebellion.

Palmerston’s diaries, draft newspaper articles and correspondence have helped me to piece together the story of a neglected but often important group in Victorian Britain. This fascinating collection and the archivists’ endless patience and professionalism have been of enormous benefit to my research.”

User perspectives: Researching international dimensions of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan from 1947 to 1966

In this week’s post PhD student Rakesh Ankit looks back over his time researching the Mountbatten Papers among “the jewels in the crown of the University of Southampton.”

“When, in the winter of 2010, I was gathering information and collecting material to make a successful application to start a PhD in the United Kingdom, Southampton was among the 3-4 universities I applied to. It quickly emerged as my first choice for three reasons: an opportunity to work under Prof Ian Talbot, the possibility of a fully-funded bursary and archival studentship and the presence of the Mountbatten and related papers at the Hartley Library. I was, therefore, delighted when, in the spring of 2011, I was informed of the successful outcome of my application. Today, in the autumn of 2014 as I await my viva – having submitted my thesis – I look back on three very pleasant and productive academic years.

Lord Mountbatten being received by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan at Palam airport, Delhi, 22 March 1947

Lord Mountbatten being received by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan at Palam airport, Delhi, 22 March 1947

A key reason for this lies on the shelves of the strong room and the desks of the reading room of the Special Collections on Level 4 of the Hartley Library, where I have probably spent maximum time when in campus. My PhD thesis is on the international dimensions of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan from 1947 to 1966. This was also roughly the period during which Louis Mountbatten (along with his wife Edwina) was at his most involved and most influential, with diminishing returns as the years went, in Indian affairs. To state the obvious, therefore, his papers, those of his wife and his Press Officer, Alan Campbell-Johnson, have been the foundational source for my enquiry. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it was Mountbatten who was responsible for any international dimensions accruing to the Kashmir dispute by his successful suggestion to his close friend and the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to take the matter to the United Nations in December 1947. Otherwise, it might well have remained a subcontinental or a Commonwealth affair.

As befits a rich and enduringly relevant set of papers, MB files have been used by scholars ever since they were first put together in their present form almost two decades ago. Thus far, the chief focus has been Mountbatten’s role in the end of Britain’s India Empire with increasingly a look at his anomalous position as independent India’s first Governor-General from August 1947 to June 1948. Of course, as a contentious historical figure, Mountbatten has been subject to laudatory or condemnatory accounts from as early as early-1950s with the high water marks of biographical history-writing on him being reached in the mid-1980s and subsequently.

From the start, therefore, I was conscious to avoid the trodden tracks and while I sifted through the material for my prime purpose – the international dimensions of the Kashmir dispute that simmered on Mountbatten’s watch as the last Viceory and boiled over during his tenure as Governor-General – I was perhaps keener to move away from the academic battles of 1947-48 involving Mountbatten. In this endeavour, I was encouraged by Prof Chris Woolgar. I can do no more than join the many researchers, who have benefitted from their interactions with the always generous, indeed indulgent, Head of Special Collections (1990-2013), in expressing my gratitude. And so, instead of starting with the MB1/D series as most if not all South Asia students do, I did everything else first: MB1/C, E, F, G, H, I, J, K et al. This research provided the basis for an article I wrote on Mountbatten and India, 1948-1964, which was published in The International History Review earlier this year in April.

When, after this detour, I turned to Mountbatten’s Viceroyalty, my attention was caught by the very first file, a rather thick one, in the MB1/D series, which contained the fortnightly personal letters that each of the last 11 provincial governors in British India wrote to the last Viceroy between March and August 1947. While the months leading up to the partition of British India has been looked at in perhaps every single detail now, at the national, provincial and local levels, one missing link in this story had been the provincial governors. One glance through the file made me embark upon a detailed plumbing of the letters, aimed at bringing these men to light. My supervisor, Prof Ian Talbot, gave me crucial confidence and support for this old-fashioned foray into personality politics of a period rather populated with personalities. It bore fruit recently (issue dated 2 August 2014) as an article in the journal Economic & Political Weekly titled The Last Sahibs: Governors in British India, March-August 1947.

While on the subject of provinces, yet another fruitful avenue of research that the Mountbatten files present is the situation in the non-partitioned seven provinces of British India at the cusp of independence and what that tells us about the continuities and linkages between the colonial and post-colonial state across the divide of 1947. Naturally, the historiography on Mountbatten and India in 1947 has been dominated by the plight of Punjab and Bengal, their partition and its aftermath. By shifting one’s gaze besides them to those other, sometimes bigger in size and population, provinces that escaped territorial division and communal calculations but wrestled with their own problems no less important for their imprint on the new dominions of India and Pakistan, aided by the files on them in the Mountbatten collection, one gets much food for thought.

Apart from the provinces, the other rich subject of enquiry for Mountbatten’s time in India is his treatment of the princely states – a much-written about subject. One princely state among the 550-odd that has escaped attention is the tiny western state of Junagadh, which was the first crisis of accession between India and Pakistan. As I worked on the biggest crisis – Kashmir – my attention came to the smallest – Junagadh. Once again, a set of four files in the MB1/D series made me realise the continuing potential of the Mountbatten collection to throw new light on many episodes of early independent Indian history, where there are still more assumptions than answers. Here, the Alan Campbell-Johnson files too registered a prominent presence.

These last two topics – the non-partitioned provinces and Junagadh – remain works in progress but how can one adequately express gratitude for the congenial research base provided for the PhD as well as the research possibilities pointed for a post-doc by this seemingly inexhaustible collection? Mountbatten was uniquely involved in the war and diplomacy around Kashmir in 1947-48 and then retained his influence to be brought out to India in the summer of 1963 to prevail upon his old friend Nehru to settle the dispute. Naturally, his papers have a range of material – from the official to the strictly personal. Among the galaxy of Britons who chose to stay back in India and Pakistan post-August 1947, none found himself in a more peculiar position than Mountbatten whose reputation as the imperial Crown Representative would give way to charges of partisanship in favour of India, not only in Pakistan but in the establishment circles in London too.

But before partition and charges of partisanship came, Mountbatten had gone to India to head a coalition government of the Congress and the Muslim League in March 1947 and, for the next two months, ran British India as the head of this council whose political and ideological incompatibility has overshadowed the complex collaborational governance exercise it was engaged in. Once again, those files in the Mountbatten collection, which contain the minutes of these Cabinet meetings, flag an interesting research topic, an enquiry into the nature and working of the last central government of British India that existed between September 1946 and August 1947.

There are many merits of the Mountbatten and related papers; first and foremost of which is that here one can find material that is still under lock and key in India (and Pakistan). Equally there are pitfalls in relying exclusively on this collection, like any other but especially so here given the personality and career of Mountbatten himself; the chief being the need to be wary of Mountbatten’s and his staff’s propensity to exaggerate his importance and centrality in the scheme of things as well as their production of contemporary records always keeping an eye on history-writing thereby at times taking liberty with facts and figures and sequences and sentiments.

It would be remiss to conclude without a mention of the very kind and helpful staff in the reading room. I have always felt at home and would rather be there than at any other place when on campus in Southampton. I will also remember fondly the behind-the-scenes view of the strong room that the Senior Archivist, Karen Robson personally handled for me and my parents. I write not only with a sense of attachment and affection, but also in praise of the personal touch and the professionalism with which the Special Collections are handled at the Hartley Library. Add the Wellington, Palmerston and the Anglo-Jewish Archives, and it is no exaggeration to say that the Special Collections are the jewels in the crown of the University of Southampton.”

User perspectives: Examining Palmerston and Shaftesbury through the Broadlands Archives

In the autumn of 2013 Bry Martin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame, visited the Archives to conduct research for his dissertation, titled “The Power and the Country: The Earls of Shaftesbury, 1621-1885”. In the passage below he discusses his experience exploring the Broadlands Archives, including examining the relationship between Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, and Anthony Ashley-Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury.

Cartoon of the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, operating the vice extinguisher

Cartoon of the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, operating the vice extinguisher

“Regency and Victorian Britain, torn by the new money and social squalor of the Industrial Revolution, ascendant in the muscular imperialism of a renewed empire, and expansive in its commercial and financial power, rested in the uncertain grasp of a relatively small number of gentlemen and their families. Yet those same families, and particularly those of the South, withstood a political, economic and social assault on many of their traditional roles and values. As organizers of the militia for the maritime counties, their role as Britain’s first line of land defense against a Channel invasion strained beneath the weight of a flourishing professional army and navy. As landed families living close to ports, an ancient interdependence between the covetous energy of the merchant and the staid balance of the manor teetered under industrial pressures of factory and credit. As farmers, rentiers, and politicians, the families of the South gravitated in the season to London’s lure of civil society, political participation, and fashion, but recoiled at its corruption, its slums, and its violence. Looking outward at Europe, the Atlantic and the world, exercising a statesmanship that would leave a British footprint in all of the above, these families also embraced and worried over the immemorial landed England of the country estate.

There are few better windows into the lives and struggle of these families in the Nineteenth Century than the Broadlands Archives at the University of Southampton’s Hartley Library. Organized around the papers, relations and correspondents of Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston, Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, whose seat was the Broadlands Estate in nearby Romsey, the Broadlands Archives are a treasure of both the imperial and the intimate. At the highest level, Palmerston projected his conviction that every Briton should walk and sail the planet bound only by British laws wherever he or she went, and in domestic policy displayed a flexible liberalism, still rooted in the conservative politics of the early nineteenth century, but adaptable to changing times. In his personal letters to his correspondents and family, including his wife and her children, Palmerston’s letters in the Hartley Library display his sense of pragmatic dispatch, eagerness to do favors for friends, a tolerance for sleights and annoyances, and a moral humility always watchful of the world to do his best on its terms rather than imposing his own. His wife Emily, the organizer of polite society’s calendar, buttressed her husband’s political power with a general empathy and courtesy that extended even to political enemies, however much it pained her to see her husband subjected to the sleights accompanying political life.

I arrived at the Hartley Library, an American graduate student working on a dissertation about a different, but related family: the Ashley-Coopers, Earls of Shaftesbury. The Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, the “Poor Man’s Earl” commemorated in Piccadilly Circus by its famous statue of Eros, married Lady Palmerston’s daughter, and the Hartley Library has an extensive archive of their family correspondence. Shaftesbury strikes a remarkable contrast to Lord and Lady Palmerston. More saintlike than benign, he was chiliastic in holding unwavering convictions in the face of approaching end times, nostalgic in his longings for the Ancient Constitution and the dissolving harmony of the manor, and inflamed by a near-depressive compassion for the suffering of Britain’s many down-and-outs: lunatics, factory workers, indigent children and street pedlars. That Shaftesbury and Palmerston could not only tolerate but admire each other is a small wonder of British character with big implications for British history. Together they moderated the sharp ideological divisions by which the old divide of Whig and Tory was transforming into that of Liberal and Conservative.

Lord Shaftesbury’s diary for 29 December 1852

Lord Shaftesbury’s diary for 29 December 1852

The key to the personal chemistry, family affection, and political partnership of Palmerston and Shaftesbury lay in their papers at the Hartley Library. There, researchers may read of Palmerston’s continued, weary efforts to reward the cash-strapped Earl with lucrative offices, and the Earl’s refusal to take paid offices that could potentially force him to support even a friendly government against his own judgment. There, Palmerston consults Shaftesbury repeatedly and often decisively on matters ranging from whether Britain should pursue a Christian Zionist foreign policy with the Ottoman Empire to ecclesiastical appointments in the Church of England. In an age when duplicity and ladder-climbing was a given in politics, Palmerston seemed stunned into respect and trust by the selfless sincerity and naked emotion of Shaftesbury, just as Lady Palmerston had been when, as a bizarrely earnest and candid young man, he had courted her daughter. But also in the papers at the Hartley Library one can read Shaftesbury write his wife rebuking her mother’s worldliness and write his son bemoaning Palmerston’s placid flexibility and his religious ignorance. Later, he would grieve just as deeply for them, and never be quite so potent an influence on British political life in their absence as he had been when they had tempered his righteousness with their characteristic forbearance and tolerance for human frailty.

There is much else indispensable for the understanding of Shaftesbury at the Hartley Library. Just a few examples are: the extensive diaries he kept for most of his long life; a pained correspondence about electioneering in 1830s Dorset; letters registering the family heartbreak as they reeled from the premature deaths of children; and the affectionate humor of his surviving children at their intense, old-fashioned father. The Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury presents only the final generation of my study of a great British family, a study detailing the family’s central place in British “country” politics, opposing traditional local institutions to emerging modern pockets of power that threatened their independence and traditions. For most of two centuries, the Earls of Shaftesbury played a leading part in British “country” politics, Whig or Tory. The Hartley Library has been enormously helpful in providing an important archival basis to one of the most remarkable generations of the family.

One advantage of research at the Hartley Library ought not be omitted: the people. While the Hartley Library’s holdings are extensive, it is also a human-scale and personal archive. Perhaps as a result, I found that the archivists had a greater familiarity with the sources that I was using, and a greater depth of learning in the specific scholarship surrounding the manuscripts than is common elsewhere. In the course of academic research that is sometimes unavoidably lonely and stultifying, the Hartley Library offered the camaraderie of an intelligent, friendly staff that had already spent considerable time reading and thinking about many of the documents I was studying. I hope to return to the Hartley Library for a short visit in the Fall, revisiting its records of a remarkable family and the hardworking custodians of their legacy.”