Described in a letter from Mary Cunliffe to Walter Cunliffe dated 4 July 1938, Mowbreck Hall, Kirkham, Lancashire: "The spice box was 'loot' from Delhi, I think the siege and capture was in Sept 14th-23rd 1857 and my father was Captain Ellis Cunliffe at the time & his regt. the 1st European Bengal Fusiliers."
The box was probably used to store the betel leaf used in the preparation of paan. Lime paste is mixed with grated areca nut and flavourings and the resulting mixture is rolled in the betel leaf to form a small parcel which can then be chewed. As well as being an integral part of Indian hospitality paan is believed to possess medicinal properties and was also taken as an aphrodisiac. The present box, which was elaborately designed for this purpose, would have been taken out ceremoniously on special occasions.
Captain Cunliffe commanded the 1st Bengal Fusiliers during the conflict until the arrival of Captain Hume, (see G W Forrest, (ed.) The Indian Mutiny, 1857-8, Calcutta, 1902, vol. iii, p. 486), and was favourably mentioned following the conflict by General Sir Robert Walpole (1808-1876). Although it is unclear who exactly Captain Cunliffe was, it is almost certain he belonged to the Cunliffe family of Liverpool, where Ellis is often used as a Christian name. Interestingly the Cunliffe family were active in India during the period of the uprising including General Sir Robert Cunliffe who served in the Bengal Army and his son Robert Ellis Cunliffe and cousins Charles and Foster Cunliffe, who both served with the Bengal Civil Service and were killed during the 1857 conflict.