Several cousins and ancestors on my Barlow side were involved (to a greater or lesser degree) in the maintenance of the British Empire’s Indian branch-offices. My grandfather’s cousin Arthur was the last of them; he retired in 1947 after twenty years in the Indian Civil Service as a Political Officer and Agent. The Political Office was an informal sub-agency of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency – British India being regarded as “domestic” – so Arthur was a spy of some sort.
(Flipping through an old address-book of his after he died, I came across the name Anthony Blunt, who also joined MI5, and who notoriously spied for the Soviets in the 1930s and ‘40s. Arthur couldn’t have spied for them, or he wouldn’t have been buried inside the grounds of Wells Cathedral! Only for his Queen and country.)
The first head of MI5, in 1909, was a British Army Officer from the South Staffordshire Regiment. From that same regiment had also come, in 1905, Arthur’s (and my grandfather’s) cousin Harry Barlow. In that year, Harry was appointed the Official Tutor of the son and heir of the Raja of Sirmur – one of the nominally independent Princely States of the Punjab, in the north-west of what is now the nation of India Bharat.
I have no access to the records of whichever agency preceded MI5, but it seems reasonable to suppose that Harry was instructed to teach the boy how to further the interests of the Empire. His pupil generously contributed the lives of some hundreds of his soldiers to Britain’s war effort against the Germans in the European theatre of the War of 1914-18. Besides coaching the boy, Harry probably had a hand in training The Sirmur Rifles, a regiment of Gurkhas based in the Protectorate.
He had been a Captain in the South African War of 1899-1902, and the Military Administrator of an Afrikaner town after the War. His parents had died young, and he had been raised in the household of his uncle, a former Private Secretary to Cabinet Ministers in London. So he would have been considered “the right sort of chap” to represent British interests abroad – at least at the modest level required.
There was one blot on his escutcheon, though it wasn’t fatal to his career. In 1902 his wife divorced him for adultery, naming as the co-respondent an actress daughter of the house of Branson & Branson, English barristers in Madras for at least three generations, and in Bombay for at least one. He married the girl immediately afterwards. (Not so much a girl, by then, but I always think of her as a girl.) As a professional actress, she was probably reckoned to have “married up”, in England; but in India it would have been Harry who married up.
Branson is not all that common a name, and Google has links to the ancestry of Sir Richard-of-the-Virgins, whose grandfather was a cousin of hers. Her side of the family may not have been as successful at lawyering as his side, because her deceased estate amounted to only 647 pounds when she died in 1954, aged 90. 647 pounds wasn’t much, in 1954. Maybe she received a monthly remittance from back home; I hope so.
Harry died of cholera during one of the region’s regular epidemics, in 1909 – on the train down to Delhi, on his way to stay with Ada in Bombay. He was buried where he fell, more or less – in the Nicholson Cemetery in Delhi; I even have the grave number (#800F in Pukka Plot 15 #25), although I doubt it’s still there. As far as I can tell, Ada lived the rest of her life in London, where she must have had relatives. Her mother had been buried in Golders Green.
She (Ada) had been married before the affair with Harry, and presumably her husband divorced her about the same time as Harry divorced his wife and two children. A few years ago I had to track down one of Harry’s granddaughters (by the first wife), when she and I inherited a few quid on the death of cousin Arthur’s widow. She (the granddaughter) had never heard of Ada Branson; I expect the name was taboo in that household.
I once asked Arthur how Harry came to be employed in the Palace of Sirmur, only to be brushed off with the suggestion that he had probably answered an advertisement in The Times. A typically MI5 lie, it seems to me now.