Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

12 October 2021

The Rational Dress Society

The Rational Dress Society was founded in 1881 in London.  The aim of the Society was ‘to promote the adoption, according to individual taste and convenience, of a style of dress based upon considerations of health, comfort, and beauty, and to deprecate constant changes of fashion, which cannot be recommended on any of these grounds’.  The Society promoted its work through drawing room meetings, advertisements, pamphlets, leaflets, and by issuing clothing patterns approved by the Committee.  There was an annual membership subscription of 2s 6d.

Rules of the Rational Dress SocietyRules of The Rational Dress Society printed in Viscountess Harberton's Reasons for reform in dress Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1884 Viscountess Harberton, President of the Rational Dress Society, published a pamphlet entitled Reasons for reform in dress.  She contended that anything truly beautiful was in accord with nature and questioned how far current women’s clothing conformed to that rule.  A woman’s waist was naturally broad and flat, but dresses were designed to set off a round waist, sloping in like the letter V from under the arms.

Front cover of Reasons for Reform in DressFront cover of Viscountess Harberton's Reasons for reform in dress Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Skirts were absurd, amounting to the hanging of a sort of curtain round the wearer.  They combined the maximum of weight with the minimum of warmth, and were the cause of many accidents.  Queen Victoria was reported to have sprained her ankle by stepping on her dress.  Women were hurt walking, trying to run, or when getting in and out of trains and carriages.  Every quick or sudden movement was dangerous.  Interference with the power of locomotion resulted in the loss of nerve-power.  A long skirt had a ‘constant liability to disarrangement’ and was difficult to keep clean as it rubbed against the heels and dipped into dust and dirt. 

Moreover, skirts were tiring to walk in – the legs had to be pushed against a mass of drapery.  Going upstairs, a woman probably raised between 2lb and 6lb of weight with her knee at every step.  Women expended maybe twice as much energy as men walking the same distance: ‘Nature gave muscles to the legs to support and convey the body, but never contemplated half the world constructing an artificial jungle for themselves to wade through as long as life lasts’.  Viscountess Harberton therefore advocated the need for women to be able to wear some form of divided skirt.

Viscountess Harberton clothed in Rational Dress - black and white image from a newspaper showing an outfit described as a navy blue jacket and skirt with a white silk vest.
Viscountess Harberton clothed in Rational Dress – navy blue with a white silk vest - from The Gentlewoman 18 April 1891, British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast

The pamphlet also discusses the ‘unmitigated evil’ of stays which displaced the internal organs and reduced the wearer’s ability to breathe.  The human form should not be altered to suit the dress: ‘would it not be wiser were all classes to combine to devise and adopt a dress which was both pretty and convenient? ... Our present dress sins against Art, it sins against Health, and it sins against Utility’.  A fresh start was necessary, ‘and if we are too faint-hearted to do this, we may as well give up the whole thing, with the humiliating reflection, that we have not fulfilled our duty in our generation, though seeing it clearly, but have left a grievous burden on our daughters, from which we could well have freed them, but we lacked the courage of our opinions’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Viscountess Harberton, Reasons for reform in dress (London, 1884) British Library General Reference Collection 7745.bb.6
The Rational Dress Society’s Gazette
Lady Tricyclists

07 October 2021

Gunner George Fish of the Bombay Artillery Part 2

We're continuing our story about George Fish.  Two complementary sets of private and official letters spanning 30 years provide a glimpse into the life of one family separated between two continents.

On 5 April 1841 Gunner George Fish married Eliza Folkers at Bombay.  Eliza was the daughter of Albert Folkers, an East India Company Army pensioner who died in 1835, and his wife Mary.

Marriage of George Fish and Eliza Folkers at Bombay 5 April 1841Marriage of George Fish and Eliza Folkers at Bombay 5 April 1841 - British Library IOR/N/3/15 f.106 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

George and Eliza had a son Philip Charles born on 29 November 1849.  I have been unable to find any other records about Philip.

During the 1840s George transferred to the Ordnance Department and served as Laboratory Man and then Store and Park Corporal, rising to the rank of Sub Conductor.  He died on 18 September 1850.  His widow Eliza married Daniel Sullivan, a Post Office clerk, on 14 October 1850 at Karachi.  She died in 1854.

In June 1860, George’s daughter Mary applied to the India Office in London for the value of her late father’s effects as his only legitimate child.  Mary was a silk weaver living at Pits Oth Moor, Patricroft, near Manchester, the wife of James Lomas, a striker for a smith.  It appears that someone wrote the letter on her behalf as she marked a cross on her marriage register entry and  on an India Office form.  She enclosed the first letter George had sent to his father and mother in 1830 in which he complained about his daughter being baptised as Mary because he had intended her to be named Jane after his grandmother.  Mary had fifteen more letters which she could share.  The last letter received by the family was dated 7 January 1848 in Karachi.  She said that if her father had married in India, he had committed bigamy since her mother Elizabeth was still alive.

The War Office forwarded to the India Office in February 1861 an application from Mary for George’s effects which she had sent to the Duke of Cambridge.   There is an India Office annotation that the estate was valued at Rupees 80 – 3 in the Bombay Government Gazette of 1851.

Amount of estate of George Fish reported in the Bombay Government Gazette of 1851

Amount of estate of George Fish reported in the Bombay Government Gazette of 1851 p. 1209 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mary wrote again to the India Office in April 1861, reporting that her mother had drawn the sum of £2 14s 7d from the Bank of England in Manchester.  She asked when the balance of £5 9s 2d would be paid.   She hoped that her parents’ marriage certificate and her father’s letters, which she had sent as evidence for her claim, would be returned to her as soon as possible.

Letter from Mary Lomas to the India Office  June 1861Letter from Mary Lomas to the India Office  June 1861 - British Library IOR/L/MIL/2/1521 No. 2883 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In June 1861 Mary asked if anything more was owed above the amount of £8 3s 9d now received.  Several men who had served with her father had told her that George was a very steady man and thought to be in possession of a gold watch and chain, with more ready money than the amount paid.  The Military Department informed her that nothing was owed beyond the sum already given to her mother.

Reply to Mary Lomas from the India Office  June 1861Reply to Mary Lomas from the India Office  June 1861 - British Library IOR/L/MIL/2/1521 No. 2883 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In September 1861 Mary questioned whether her father was entitled to any prize money, batta, or medals for his war service. The chain of correspondence between Mary and the India Office appears to end here.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Mss Eur F751 Papers of George Fish, Gunner in the Bombay Army – unavailable at present, awaiting cataloguing.
Baptism of Eliza Folkers at Bombay 3 August 1828 (born 9 July 1828) IOR/N/3/8 f.267.
Burial of Albert Folkers at Bombay 29 November 1835 IOR/N/3/12 p.342.
Marriage of George Fish and Eliza Folkers at Bombay 5 April 1841 IOR/N/3/15 f.106.
Baptism of Philip Charles Fish 23 December 1849 (born 29 November 1849) IOR/N/3/23 f.229.
Marriage of Elizabeth Fish and Daniel Sullivan at Karachi 24 October 1850 IOR/N/3/24 f.279.
Burial of Elizabeth Sullivan at Karachi 16 August 1854 IOR/N/3/28 p.282.
Army appointments for George Fish in Bombay Times 10 January 1844, 11 March 1846, 24 June 1846, 21 October 1848 – British Newspaper Archive also availa ble via Findmypast.
Estate of George Fish IOR/V/11/2148 Bombay Government Gazette of 1851 p. 1209.
Correspondence of Mary Lomas with the India Office – IOR/L/MIL/5/362/3926; IOR/L/MIL/5/362/7252; IOR/L/MIL/5/363/3443; IOR/L/MIL/5/363/6989; IOR/L/MIL/5/363/8815; IOR/L/MIL/5/363/10426; IOR/L/MIL/2/1521 No. 2883.

Soldiers' References in the East India Company Military Department  IOR/L/MIL/5 

 

05 October 2021

Gunner George Fish of the Bombay Artillery Part 1

We were delighted recently to receive a donation of papers belonging to George Fish, a British private soldier serving in the Bombay Army.  These documents complement official East India Company records held at the British Library and give us a more rounded understanding of Fish’s life.

George Fish was born on 22 December 1807 at Stoke Damerel in Devon, the son of John and Flora Fish. The family subsequently moved to John’s home area around Bolton in Lancashire.  In September 1827 George married Elizabeth Gaskell.  Their first child Flora died in infancy in May 1829.  Her baptism record states that George was a collier.  A second daughter Mary was baptised on 25 July 1830.  George is now described as a soldier.

On 11 June 1830 George had enlisted at Manchester as a gunner in the Bombay Artillery for unlimited service.  The East India Company recruitment records give his age as 20 years 1 month and provide this description: long visage, dark brown hair, grey eyes, fresh complexion, height 5 ft 7 ins, and single.  He sailed for Bombay in the Buckinghamshire in January 1831 without his wife and daughter.

Photograph of George Fish in Army uniformPhotograph of George Fish in Army uniform - British Library Mss Eur F751 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We can pick up the next stage in George’s story from his side of the correspondence with his family in Tyldsley.  The earliest letter in the collection is dated September 1831 at Admednagar.  The voyage from England took 3½ months.  He is in good health and says that the soldiers are provided with the best of rations and a daily dram of liquor (but George subsequently gave up drinking).  Although well-liked by all his comrades, he would be happier if his dear wife was with him.  He comments that ‘the Natives of this Contrey are all Verey Black but verey Rich and som of theme Makes houer Soulders good Wifes’.

First page of letter from George Fish to his family in England September 1831First page of letter from George Fish to his family in England September 1831 - British Library Mss Eur F751 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The next letter dated 1832 says that George is content with his situation but wishes Elizabeth and Mary were with him as they would want for nothing.  A woman came to her husband in India by asking her parish overseers to apply to ‘Indey House’ in London.  Young ladies coming to India would bring Elizabeth as a servant, so perhaps Mary could be left with his father.

In June 1833 George reports that he has spent four months in hospital with a pain in his side but is now recovered.  He is glad that his parents are caring from Mary whilst Elizabeth works in the coal pits.  George thinks that he will see them again soon.

Writing from Bombay in September 1837 George speaks of being hospitalised with a severe fever which has affected large numbers of soldiers.  He can send letters home every month now and hopes that his father will write more often.  Mary is thanked for the few lines she sent, which made the tears run down his face.  George promises to make amends for all his past failings and asks for a lock of Mary’s hair as a keepsake and comfort, enclosing one of his 'grey' curls for her.

The last letter in the collection was written to his parents and daughter from Hyderabad in September 1845 and talks of preparing for war against the Punjabis.

We shall continue George’s story in our next post.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Mss Eur F751 Papers of George Fish, Gunner in the Bombay Army – unavailable at present, awaiting cataloguing.
East India Company register of recruits IOR/L/MIL/9/9.
East India Company Artillery depot list IOR/L/MIL/9/30.
Embarkation list  IOR/L/MIL/9/77.

 

30 September 2021

An examination guide for Bombay Army officers

In 1868, Captain Newman Burfoot Thoyts of the Bombay Staff Corps published A guide to candidates for admission into the Staff Corps (Native Infantry Branch), being a series of questions and answers in nearly every subject on which they are usually examined.  Under General Orders issued in Bombay on 16 July 1864, officers seeking admission to the Staff Corps in the Native Infantry branch had to undergo ‘an examination of a somewhat searching character, consisting of not less than fifty questions and answers’.  Officers had to demonstrate knowledge of the systems operating in the Native Infantry - the way of investigating and dealing with offences, complaints, and petitions from the men; the manner of keeping rosters for furlough and guard; the pay and accounting system; every piece of equipment used, with the cost and method of carrying them.

Front cover of A guide to candidates for admission into the Staff Corps (Native Infantry Branch)Front cover of A guide to candidates for admission into the Staff Corps (Native Infantry Branch) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The guide was divided into thirteen sections:
• Articles of war for the Native Army
• Pay and allowances
• Pension and unfits of short service
• Clothing and necessaries, and equipment
• Compensation
• Furlough
• Transports and foreign service, camp equipage, carriage and conveyance by rail
• Hutting rules
• Medals
• Schools
• Ammunition
• Arms and accoutrements
• Miscellaneous

The section for clothing and equipment makes interesting reading.  Native officers and other ranks were supplied with a tunic and a pair of serge trousers every two years.  Once worn for a year, these garments became the property of the soldier.  Every four years havildars and fife majors received a worsted sash, and drum majors a silk sash.  Extra equipment was issued when troops were embarking on foreign service – two flannel banians [jackets or shirts]; two pairs of flannel trousers; one pair of boots; one country blanket; one canteen; one haversack.  These became the property of the soldier once his foreign service was completed.  Knee caps were provided.  Greatcoats reaching six inches below the knee were supplied at the men’s own expense and had to last six years before they were renewed.

List of regimental equipment and the cost of each itemList of regimental equipment and the cost of each item

Soldiers were issued with a ‘set of necessaries’ or equipment: clothing, footwear, brushes, cooking utensils, and bedding. Deductions were made from pay for replacements.

Indents for clothing were submitted on 1 April each year.  Size rolls were drawn up using measurements taken with great care.  Allowance was made for young growing men.  Clothing was seldom issued until twelve months after the rolls were prepared so failure to allow for growth entailed wasted expense.

Very precise instructions were given to ensure the quality of clothes issued. When packages of clothing were received, they had to be checked immediately to ensure they had not been tampered with.  If clothing was condemned by the Regimental Committee, it was checked again by a Station Committee of officers unconnected with that regiment.  Each article was examined separately and the Committees had to give a precise reason for rejection.

The clothing of native soldiers who died, deserted or were taken as prisoners of war was returned to the stores for re-issue.  Reasonable attention was to be paid to ‘the distinctions of family, tribe etc’, for example ’the tunic of a Purwarree or Moochee should not be issued to a Mahomedan or Purdasee’.  Invalids struck off the strength were allowed to take their clothing with them.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Captain Thoyts, A guide to candidates for admission into the Staff Corps (Native Infantry Branch), being a series of questions and answers in nearly every subject on which they are usually examined (Bombay, 1868) – British Library Tr. 448(b)

28 September 2021

Bury me at sea inside my piano

During a voyage to India in 1804-05, John Linley Cantelo amended his will to give instructions for burial at sea in his piano if he should die before he reached port.

John Linley Cantelo came from a musical family of Bath.  He served as Purser on the East India Company ship Lascelles before becoming a free mariner in India and then a Lieutenant in the Company’s Bengal Marine.  In June 1804 he married Eleanor Allen in Bath.  Three months later he embarked on East Indiaman Travers to return to Calcutta leaving Eleanor behind, pregnant with their daughter Julia Wilhelmina.  With him was an expensive piano he had commissioned from John Broadwood and Sons – square with a frame and shelf made particularly strong, able to be played at sea.

On 26 July 1804 Cantelo wrote a will leaving his property to his wife Eleanor who had moved to be near to her family in Haverfordwest.  He added a codicil whilst at sea in the Travers on 12 February 1805.

Extract from the will of John Linley Cantelo Extract from will of John Linley Cantelo giving instructions for burial at sea in his piano IOR/L/AG/34/29/17 no.67 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

‘Should it please the Almighty disposer of Events to Extinguish my flame of existence during our Passage to Bengal – I hereby will and desire that my mortal frame be enclosed in the Piano forte corse [case] well dunnaged with any bodys old bed and Cloaths who will take my Cot in exchange the outside to be well rattened and secured for which expense the owners are to be reimbursed and the Carpenter apply to my Executor for a Hogshead of the rest [sic] Bengal Spirits for the use of his messhorne.  The whole Crew to have a Puccoh house dinner when on liberty at Calcutta for their trouble – the Package may then be pricipitated Overboard with no other cerimony than three cheers after once repeating Popes Universal prayer by Mr Tyrer for which Service he is bequeathed my Sword Cambridge Tables Two Largest Trunks (Empty) and Thermomiter.’

Cantelo added another codicil in July 1805 after he had arrived in India: ‘By Devine Providence I am now at Calcutta and seeing my acquaintance dying Cheerly I revoke the last Codicil its Purpose being done away’.  He then gave specific instructions about his burial in the cemetery at Calcutta: ‘I have looked out a snug Pucha birth at the end of the burying Ground walk turning to the left as you enter the Porch past Mr Edmonstone & Impeys I want nothing but a square tomb over English fashion with J. L. Cantelo only the least Expense possible so as not to be mean’.

Cantelo wrote a final codicil on 28 July 1805. This included a bequest to Lascelles, his son by an Indian woman named Catharina, and the gift of his piano and two books for it to Miss Bella McArthur, daughter of his executor James Alexander McArthur.

The following day, Cantelo died at Fort William.  His grave in South Park Cemetery is marked with a stone inscribed simply ‘John Linley Cantelo Obit July 29 1805’.

List of the effects of John Linley Cantelo sold at auction in CalcuttaList of the effects of John Linley Cantelo sold at auction in Calcutta - Bengal Hurkaru 13 August 1805 - image courtesy of World Digital Library, Library of Congress.

Cantelo’s effects in India were sold at public auction on 14 August 1805 – clothing, rare books, charts, mathematical and nautical instruments including a sextant, telescopes, globes, watches, plate, china, mirrors, lamps, furniture, cooking utensils, palanquins, ‘choice liquors', and a bay saddle horse.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

With thanks to Barry Cantelo for alerting us to this story and providing information.

We are stumped by the word ‘messhorne’!   Can anyone help us?  Is it a transcription error by the clerk copying Cantelo’s will?  Suggestions please to [email protected] or Twitter @UntoldLives.

Further reading:
Estate papers of John Linley Cantelo IOR/L/AG/34/29/17 no.67, IOR/L/AG/34/27/34 no. 59, IOR/L/AG/34/27/50 pp. 923-926.

 

23 September 2021

Landscape in law

Archives on the environment appear in unexpected places.

Under the Permanent Settlement of 1793, India’s British rulers fixed the taxes which land-holders in certain regions paid on their land.  But land itself was not permanent.  Across the Sub-continent, rivers and their tributaries were constantly changing the landscape.   They flooded, dried up, and changed course.  They submerged some areas and exposed others; they created bogs, swamps and marshes which were neither land nor water.  Little wonder that colonial officials, intent on extracting revenue from the land, described India’s rivers variously as ‘mischievous’, ‘unruly’ or ‘evil’.

If a change in the river created more land on your land, should you pay more tax?  This was the question facing the Maharajah Jagadindra Nath Roy Bahadoor in 1892, after the great Brahmaputra had changed course and new land had emerged on his estates in Bengal.  No, said the Maharajah: the land, although under water before, had always been there.  Yes, said the government: new land above water was just that - new.

The Maharajah took the government to court.  By 1902 the case had escalated through the High Court of Bengal to the final court of appeal, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.  Archives about the case survive in the records of the Legal Adviser to the India Office, who acted for the Secretary of State for India.  The Committee found in the government’s favour: you can read the judgment here.

On points of law, the case attracted a certain interest; it is summarised in Indian Appeals.  But what draws the attention now are the maps prepared for the earlier hearings.  Twenty maps show the disputed land at different times in the 19th century.  Some are prepared from old survey maps; others are composites, telling the story on a single sheet like this example below.  It shows the river’s course in 1892 [A] superimposed on its course as measured out in 1852 [B].  The new land is marked out in yellow, with patches of jungle and sand drawn in.

Map of Mouza Garamara, 1895. Map of Mouza Garamara, 1895. Map no 18 in IOR/L/L/8/78 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Bengal the Maharajah had also called witnesses, and their recollections fill out the scene.  'The lands were washed away by the river in eight or nine years.  The river remained current on the spots for a year or two, then receded towards the north.'  ' have seen jute, aus [rice], paddy and mustard being grown upon the land.'

We are currently cataloguing the Legal Adviser’s records and have found other lawsuits arising from changes in river courses.  This is a map from an Appeal of 1928 (for parties and judgment see here).

Comparative Map of Kalaran Chandipur, 1919Comparative Map of Kalaran Chandipur, 1919. Map no 5 in IOR/L/L 26G (210) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These maps and testimonies must have given a diverting glimpse of the natural world to the Privy Councillors while they sat in their Council chamber at no 9 Downing Street.  Today, the documents catch the eye again, especially for anyone interested in the historical river-scape of the Bengal delta.

Antonia Moon
Lead Curator, India Office Records


Further reading
IOR/L/L/8/78; IOR/L/L (Box 26G (210))
For the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and related British Library holdings, see here
Sunil Amrith, Unruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, Coasts and Seas Have Shaped Asia’s History (London: Penguin Books, 2018)
Rohan D'Souza, “Mischievous Rivers and Evil Shoals: the English East India Company and the Colonial Resource Regime”, in The East India Company and the natural world ed. by Vinita Damodaran, Anna Winterbottom and Alan Lester (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
The Law Reports. Indian Appeals: being cases in the Privy Council on appeal from the East Indies. Reported by W. Macpherson, vol. 30 (London: Council of Law Reporting, 1903)

 

21 September 2021

Indian soldiers protest about the loss of extra pay

In December 1841 Indian private soldiers of the Madras Army stationed at Asirgarh and Secunderabad refused to receive their monthly pay.  The sepoys were protesting at the removal of their allowance, or batta, which had been paid to troops stationed at a distance from their home Presidency to cover extra expenditure.  They claimed that the amount of pay without batta was insufficient to maintain their families.

European officers and Indian officers and NCOs tried in vain to persuade the men to accept their pay without batta.  They warned that refusal would be regarded as mutiny.  At Secunderabad nearly 300 privates of the 32nd Regiment of Native Infantry persisted with their protest but obeyed when told to ground their arms.  They were then taken prisoner by a party of Europeans.  A similar situation developed with the 48th Regiment of Native Infantry.

Military General Orders  Choltry Plain  27 January 1842Military General Orders ,Choltry Plain, 27 January 1842 - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84995 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The most prominent men in the protest were selected for trial by Court Martial.  Good conduct pay was forfeited by those who had taken part but an amnesty was granted to the main body of offenders.  However native officers and NCOs were punished for having failed in their duty, either through ‘ignorance of any plan of insubordination so settled and matured’, or from having allowed it to proceed because they also stood to lose out from the removal of batta.  There were demotions and blocks on future promotions.

Military General Orders Fort St George 12 April 1842Military Department General Orders by Governor in Council, Fort St George, 12 April 1842 - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84997 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

General James Stuart Fraser, the Resident in Hyderabad, was sympathetic to the soldiers’ complaint and promised to recommend an enquiry into what they alleged about the cost of living.  Fraser collected data which he hoped would enable the government to judge whether the soldiers were justified in protesting.  Was pay without batta sufficient to maintain them and their families?

An estimate of monthly expenses was drawn up for food and clothing for three categories of Indian soldiers at Secunderabad living with a wife and two children: a ’Man of the Talinga or Malabar Caste’; a ‘Musselman’; and a ‘Native of Bengal’.  Costs were given for rice; inferior grain; meat; ‘dholl’; salt; lamp oil; ghee; firewood; betel nut and tobacco; ‘masalah’; vegetables; ‘goodaccoo’; cholum flour; and clothing.

Living expenses for different categories of Indian soldiers at SecunderabadAn estimate of monthly expenses for food and clothing for Indian soldiers at Secunderabad  - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84995 p.430 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Other East India Company officials also recorded sympathy for the Indian soldiers.  John Bird of the Council of Fort St George expressed his regret that it had been found impracticable to issue pardons to the offenders, instead dismissing all the prisoners of the 4th Regiment.  He would have preferred the adoption of Fraser’s recommendation to transfer the men to other regiments. Bird also thought the treatment of the officers was too harsh and that innocent men would be punished.

Sir James Law Lushington, Chairman of the Court of Directors in London, also believed the punishments to be misguided.  The Court wrote to Madras in August 1842 stating that the directors would approve if men of previous good character could safely be shown leniency.

Lord Elphinstone, Governor of Madras, wrote of the bond of union between the sepoys and the European officers being cast aside in recent years.  At the same time as batta was being taken away from native troops at stations where it had long been in place, it was given to European officers based away from their home Presidency.  Elphinstone said the chasm between the officers and the native soldiers had widened.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Papers relating to the batta protests and the cost of living for native soldiers - British Library IOR/F/4/1952/84995-84998, IOR/F/4/1973/86723.
Hastings Fraser, Memoir and Correspondence of General James Stuart Fraser of the Madras Army (London, 1885)

16 September 2021

Breakfast in British India

In 1810 Captain Thomas Williamson, a retired Bengal Army officer, published The East India Vade-Mecum; or complete guide to gentlemen intended for the civil, military or, naval service of the East India Company.  It is a fascinating book to dip into and this caught my eye:
’A breakfast in India bears a strong resemblance to the same meal in Scotland, with the exception of whiskey; the introduction of which, (if to be had,) or of any other spirits would be considered both nauseous and vulgar’.

After this surprising revelation about Scottish breakfasts, Williamson moves on to detail the bill of fare.  Breakfast for Europeans in Williamson’s India was generally a substantial meal: tea, coffee, toast, bread, butter, eggs, rice, salt-fish, kitcheree (kedgeree), sweetmeats, orange marmalade, and honey.  Sometimes, following hunting and shooting expeditions, cold meat and accompaniments were served.

Breakfast In India - A young married couple (an East India Company civil servant and his wife) breakfasting on fried fish, rice and Sylhet oranges, with servants in attendance..'The Breakfast' from William Tayler, Sketches illustrating the manner and customs of the Indians and the Anglo-Indians (London, 1842) British Library shelfmark X42 Images Online

European gentlemen rose at daybreak and, before breakfast, either went on parade or to their ‘field diversions’, or rode on horses or elephants, enjoying the cool morning air.  Williamson recommended wearing the clothes worn on the previous evening for exercise and then changing into a clean suit on return, sitting down to breakfast in comfort.

Williamson cautioned against eating eggs at breakfast, believing that they aggravated bilious conditions.  Eggs were ‘innocent’ in the climate of England for people with a robust constitution, but in Asia, ‘where relaxation weakens the powers of digestion, they are a pernicious article of diet’.  He also believed that salt-fish should be banned from the breakfast table, as eating it caused ’thirst, heat, and uneasiness’.

Newspaper announcement of a public breakfast, Calcutta 1785Calcutta Gazette 3 February 1785 British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast

In the late 18th century it had been customary for the Governor General and members of Council to have weekly public breakfasts: ‘persons of all characters mixed promiscuously, and good and bad were to be seen around the same tea-pot’.  The breakfast was considered as ‘merely the preface to a levee’.  When Lord Cornwallis arrived, these public breakfasts were replaced by open levees.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Thomas Williamson, The East India Vade-Mecum; or complete guide to gentlemen intended for the civil, military or, naval service of the East India Company (London, 1810) 
Owain Edwards,’ Captain Thomas Williamson of India’, Modern Asian Studies Vol. 14, No. 4 (1980), pp. 673-682

 

In the mid-19th century, there was a selection of marmalades available in India. As well as orange marmalade, there was mango, citron, lemon, and ginger.

Marmalade types from Bombay Gazette 1863Bombay Gazette 3 February 1863 British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast

What would Paddington Bear think of that?

Paddington – The Story of a Bear


Paddington Bear - advert for exhibition at British Library