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Student Profile

Reconstructing a Family

My name is Ngaio Palmer. I was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand. When I was ten years old, my parents immigrated to the United States and settled in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I attended New Trier High School and graduated in 1998. That fall, I entered BYU as an honors student. I am now a senior, majoring in history with a minor in political science.

Last May, I received grants from the History and Honors Departments and from the Kennedy Center to pursue research in England at the British Library, the Public Records Office, and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. It was an incredible experience. Although I had initially proposed to research late nineteenth century yellow journalism and British African policy, I quickly discovered the British East India Company Collection at the British Library and a very different research topic.

Before I left for England, my father gave me a family group sheet with the names of four generations of my family who had lived in India. With the invaluable assistance and support of my thesis advisor, Dr. Paul Kerry, I spent four weeks reconstructing my family’s involvement in the British East India Company. With additional guidance from many individuals, I was able to find personal and official correspondence, military histories and records, and government files about my ancestors.

The most memorable discovery occurred during my last three days in England. I had been looking unsuccessfully for any information about the Lithographic Press of Calcutta, of which my great-great-great grandfather had been the head for quite some time. I happened to ask one of the head librarians of the collection, a Mr. Baxter, a question about the press. In a matter of fifteen minutes, Mr. Baxter retrieved three government files relating to it. The first file was almost three hundred pages of official government documents about a scandal involving my relative and the press. Naturally, I was very excited by this discovery. The last two files did not appear to be relevant.

On the last day, five hours before I was scheduled to fly out of Heathrow, I felt impressed to go back and read the last two files again. As I was about to leave, I accidentally opened one of the books to the wrong file number and found that it was the file that I had been looking for. It contained an additional two hundred pages of material relating to the scandal. Both of these files were microfilmed and sent to me in the States. I am now in the process of transcribing the microfilms and writing my honors thesis.

From what I have gathered so far, until about 1859, India was essentially controlled and run by the British East India Company—a private stock company in which people bought and sold shares. Profitability depended on trading, exportation of cotton and opium, etc. Because of the amount of official dispatches and correspondence that went on between the British government, the British East India Company, and various subsidiaries, the company established a Lithographic Press to produce official government documents—namely maps—for the company and the public.

Dr. Rind, superintendent of the press, was a close friend of my ancestor, George Wood. In fact, Rind was accused of having too close a relationship with Wood—permitting Wood to establish a rival lithographic press, known as the Lithographic Press of Calcutta or the Asiatic Press. The accusations came because Rind not only allowed the press to operate in the same building as the Official Lithographic Press, but he also supplied the press with ink, paper, and stones (for carving). The arrangement lasted for five or six years, but blew up in 1829 when one of the senior assistants, disgruntled that he had lost his job, exposed the illegalities. The account of exactly what transpired is still very murky, filled with accusation and mudslinging from both sides.

I have the original transcripts of letters, meetings, and disputes that went on between the various parties—Rind, Wood, and the company. They also provide incredible insight into the history of Calcutta and the inner workings of the company during this time. With this information, I plan to put together a history of this scandal and Calcutta life during this time.

I am currently working at the International World Headquarters of Rotary International in the Polio Plus department. Together with WHO and UNICEF, our goal is to eradicate polio by 2005. I also volunteer at the Newberry Library in an effort to put a cartography catalog of fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth century maps and articles online.

After graduating from BYU in April 2001, I am planning to attend Oxford University to read for a Master’s of Studies in British Commonwealth History. I would like to pursue a PhD in Modern History with an emphasis on European interaction and intervention in Southeast Asia and Africa during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I am interested in teaching or possibly working for an NGO.

Palmer’s research, and that of many other students and faculty each year, is made possible by grants provided by donors who have established endowments through the center. Learn how you can become a donor at