THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

04 May 2017

The Turings of India

Mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing had many family connections to India.  His father Julius Mathison Turing belonged to the Indian Civil Service and his mother Ethel was daughter of Edward Waller Stoney, chief engineer of the Madras Railway Company.  Back in the 1790s, the physical appearance of one of the Turings born in Madras prompted the East India Company to introduce a regulation blocking the employment of men with Indian mothers.

  Civil servant c13441-10

'A civilian going out' from Twenty four plates illustrative of Hindoo and European manners in Bengal (1781.b.18 plate 23) Images Online  Noc

The Turings were a Scottish family whose members had served the East India Company since 1729 when Robert Turing was appointed as a surgeon in Madras.  Robert’s sister Helen married a cousin Henry Turing who was a peruke-maker in St Martin-in the Fields London.  Helen and Henry’s sons John and William joined the Company as Madras civil servants in the 1760s. Both rose steadily through the ranks from writer to senior merchant.

William Turing had a son John William, born on 20 May 1774 and baptised at Chingleput on 24 January 1776, ‘mother unknown’.  However the mother’s identity is revealed in William’s will, made when he was dying at Nellore in November 1782.  William wrote that he had so many bad debts that it was impossible to say how his estate would turn out, but he left 2,000 pagodas each to his ‘natural son’ John William, his ‘girl Nancy’, and the child she was carrying.  The will was proved on 17 January 1783 and the accounts show that the bequests were paid to John William and his Indian mother Nancy. 

  Turing William will
IOR/L/AG/34/29/186 p. 47 Will of William Turing 1782 Noc

Nancy gave birth to William's daughter on 13 May 1783.  The baby was baptised Margaretha at Chingleput on 12 June (again 'mother unknown'), and buried at Pulicat on 17 June 1783.

It appears that John William Turing was in London by 1791.  The East India Company's Committee of Shipping reported on 19 April 1791 that a John Turing who had been appointed as a military officer cadet for Madras appeared to be ‘a Native of India’.  The Court of Directors called in the young man so they could inspect him. After he withdrew, the directors resolved unanimously that the sons of native Indians would henceforward not be appointed by the Court to employment in the Company's civil, military, or marine services.  John Turing’s cadetship was rescinded.

Turing exclusion IOR B 113 p.17

IOR/B/113 p.17 Court Minutes 19 April 1791 Noc

During the following years, the Company gradually extended the categories for exclusion.  In 1795 Anglo-Indians were disqualified from service in the Company’s Armies except as bandsmen and farriers. On 19 February 1800 the Committee of Shipping reported on the case of Hercules Ross who was presented to be 3rd mate of the Hugh Inglis.  Ross came from Jamaica and the Court decided that the previous regulations should be applied to persons born in the West Indies 'whose Complexion evidently shows that their Parents are not severally Natives of Great Britain or Ireland'. 

It is unclear what happened to John Turing after he was deprived of his chance to be a Company military officer.  On 20 April 1791 the Court of Directors granted Alexander Clark permission to take a native named John Turing to Bengal on the ship Dublin, at no cost to the Company.  Does anyone know his subsequent story?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/N/2/11 pp.25-26 Baptism of John William Turing at Chingleput 24 January 1776.
IOR/L/AG/34/29/186 pp. 2-23, 47 Will and estate papers for William Turing.
IOR/N/2/11 pp.39-40 Baptism of Margaretha Turing at Chingleput 12 June 1783.
IOR/N/2/11 pp.817-818 Burial of Margaretha Turing at Pulicat 17 June 1783.
(The above documents are available online through findmypast).
IOR/B/113 p.17 Court Minutes 19 April 1791 for John Turing’s exclusion.
IOR/B/130 pp.997-998 Court Minutes 19 February 1800 for Hercules Ross’s exclusion.