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Untold lives blog

115 posts categorized "Health"

18 May 2018

Royal weddings at Windsor Castle

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Royal weddings at Windsor Castle have a long history.  Five of Queen Victoria’s children married in St George’s Chapel between 1863 and 1882: Edward, Helena, Louise, Arthur and Leopold.  Contemporary newspaper reports of these weddings focus on many of the same aspects found in the coverage of the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – the courtship, the bride’s looks and character, the guest list, the gifts, the ceremony, the outfits.

Royal Wedding 1863 Edward & Alexandra Royal CollectionMarriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark at Windsor, 10 March 1863 by William Powell Frith. Image courtesy of the Royal Collections Trust

Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, was born in 1853, the eighth child and youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  He was a delicate child having inherited the haemophilia gene from his mother, and he also suffered from epilepsy.  Leopold studied at Christ Church College Oxford and was president of the Oxford University Chess Club.  After his student days he continued as a patron of chess, and of the arts and literature.

Prince-Leopold-Duke-of-AlbanyPrince Leopold, Duke of Albany by Lombardi & Co circa late 1870s  NPG x15727 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1882 the British press reported that Prince Leopold was to marry Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont.  The bride-to-be was described as ‘a simple and ladylike country girl … very spontaneous and open, recites with taste, … very musical’.

Princess-Helen-Duchess-of-AlbanyPrincess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont by Judd & Co 1881 NPG D33804 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The couple visited a London photographer and had two sittings, formal and informal.  The photographs showing the Prince with his arm around Helena’s waist and her head resting upon his shoulder were intended for family circulation only.  Apparently they were issued in error with the formal portraits and had to be recalled hastily.

The wedding was planned for April but there was speculation that the ceremony would have to be postponed because the Prince was laid up with a painful swollen knee.  The knee joint had troubled Leopold in the past and he had twisted the ligaments earlier in the year.  He then aggravated that injury by falling in the street after slipping on a piece of orange peel whilst holidaying near his mother in Menton, France.  The Prince’s haemophilia was not a secret – the Aberdeen Evening Express of 5 April 1882 explained: ‘there is some deficiency of a certain element in the blood, which make a fall or bruise a more serious matter to him than it would be to an ordinary person’.

However Leopold returned to England, pale and using a stick to walk, determined that the marriage should go ahead as planned.  On 27 April 1882, thousands of people flocked to Windsor for the wedding.  Some had tickets for admission to the Castle grounds, most wanted to see the procession through the town.  The people of Windsor presented a diamond bracelet to Princess Helena.  Queen Victoria gave the couple Claremont, a residence in Surrey.  As the newly-weds left the Castle in the late afternoon, several Princesses were said to have breached etiquette by appearing outside without bonnets to wave goodbye.

Prince-Leopold-Duke-of-Albany-Princess-Alice-Countess-of-Athlone-Princess-Helen-Duchess-of-AlbanyDuke and Duchess of Albany with their baby daughter Alice by Hills & Saunders 1883 NPG x197970 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In February 1883, Helena gave birth to a daughter Alice. Early the following year Leopold went to Cannes to escape the winter weather.  Sadly he had a fall resulting in an epileptic fit and a brain haemorrhage, and he died on 28 March 1884.  He was buried at Windsor on 6 April, less than two years after his marriage.  His son Charles was born in July.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Dundee Evening Telegraph 28 March 1882, Aberdeen Evening Express 5 April 1882, Derby Daily Telegraph 24 April 1882, Hampshire Advertiser 29 April 1882, Windsor and Eton Express 29 April 1882.

 

06 February 2018

It has to be Perfect!

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In May 1945 the Bahrain Petroleum Company Limited (BAPCO) wished to appoint a medical practitioner, and it believed that it had found the perfect candidate in a young Englishman.  His name, appropriately enough, was Dr Perfect (full name: Arthur John Strode Perfect).

BAPCO 

From advert in Birmingham Daily Post 17 September 1962 British Newspaper Archive


However, having provisionally selected Dr Perfect for the position, the company was informed by the War Medical Bureau that the matter would need to be placed before the Central Medical War Committee, which held control over the appointment of British medical professionals during wartime.  Prior to reaching a decision regarding Dr Perfect’s selection, the Central Medical War Committee enquired as to whether BAPCO had advertised the post so that medical officers returning from service in His Majesty’s forces would have the opportunity to apply.  BAPCO reluctantly agreed to place an advertisement in the British Medical Journal, but fearing that an extensive selection process would further delay the appointment of a suitable medical officer, the Company sought permission from the Committee for Dr Perfect to proceed to Bahrain as soon as possible.Having received no reply from the Central Medical War Committee, Hamilton R Ballantyne of BAPCO wrote to the India Office on 20 November 1945, asking for its assistance in the matter.  Ballantyne stated that the post was a young man’s task; he pointed out that the Company had gone to some trouble to select Dr Perfect, whom it felt would meet its requirements, and that it was unlikely that it would change its mind following applications from other practitioners.

The India Office responded quickly, for it had reasons of its own for ensuring the appointment of Dr Perfect.  There was in place a policy to maintain as large a proportion of British employees in the American-owned BAPCO as possible.  In a letter to the Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee, Francis Anthony Kitchener Harrison of the India Office stressed the urgency of the situation.  He warned that any further delay to the appointment could result in BAPCO seeking to secure a medical officer from somewhere other than Britain.  Harrison added that the Secretary of State for India was ‘anxious for political reasons to do what is possible to assist the Company to obtain a British Medical Practitioner for their hospital.’ He asked whether it would not be possible for the formalities relating to Dr Perfect’s appointment by BAPCO to be expedited so that he might be able to leave for Bahrain at an early date.

IOR_L_PS_12_384_f_790IOR/L/PS/12/384, f 790: draft letter from the India Office to the Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee, 23 November 1945 Noc

In a swift and brief reply to Harrison’s letter, the Deputy Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee stated that the case of Dr Perfect had been reconsidered and a decision had been made to withdraw the objection to his immediate appointment by BAPCO. Harrison informed Ballantyne of this decision, and Ballantyne replied, remarking that ‘Dr. Perfect is at last released’ and thanking Harrison for his intervention. Dr Perfect was appointed to the position and travelled to Bahrain, where he was later joined by his wife, Mrs Eleanor Perfect, a state registered nurse.

IOR_L_PS_12_384_f_787IOR/L/PS/12/384, f 787: draft letter from the India Office to Hamilton R Ballantyne, Bahrain Petroleum Company Limited Noc

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading:

PZ 3044/40(2) 'Oil. Persian Gulf. Bahrein. Personnel of Bahrein Petroleum Co. Roster of Employees 1941-', IOR/L/PS/12/384

 

25 January 2018

Keeping fit in 1900

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Did you make a New Year Resolution to keep fit?  Are you making the most of a subscription to the gym?  You might be surprised to learn that interest in personal fitness is not a recent phenomenon.  I found a file in the India Office Records which shows that exercise was taken very seriously at the start of the 20th century.

Family  exerciserThe Family Exerciser from a catalogue of gymnastic apparatus supplied by Heath & George IOR/L/PWD/8/220 f.352v

The file comes from a series of records relating to the Royal Indian Engineering College at Cooper’s Hill near Egham in Surrey. It is entitled ‘Gymnasium: Qualifying examination, notices, apparatus, instructors 1900-1906’.  That might not sound thrilling, but it includes some fascinating papers.

The Royal Indian Engineering College was founded in 1871 to train civil engineers for service in India in the Public Works Department.  In 1900 there were approximately 130 students in residence. Compulsory gymnastics and physical drill were part of the curriculum. The College also offered voluntary classes for gymnastics, fencing and boxing.  A gymnastics competition was held each year.

Bridge ladderBridge ladder – from a catalogue of gymnastic apparatus supplied by George Spencer IOR/L/PWD/8/220 f.320

First year students had to pass a gymnastics exam – parallel bars, horizontal bar, rope climbing, vaulting horse, bridge ladder, row of rings, slanting ladder, pair of rings, and high jump.  Marks were awarded equally for ‘performance’ and for ‘form’.  Students had to make half marks overall and, if they failed, had to continue with classes until they did.

Here is a draft of the rules of the Cooper’s Hill gymnasium in 1902.

20180116_172350IOR/L/PWD/8/220 f.223

The clothing to be worn in the gymnasium was flannel trousers, vest or a sweater, gym shoes, and belt.  Smoking was prohibited.

The file contains physical descriptions of students – age, height, weight, and measurements for chest, forearm, upper arm, and deltoid.  Here are the data for a group of first year students in 1903.

20180116_165751IOR/L/PWD/8/220 f.109

In August 1901 the India Office sanctioned expenditure on improvements to the gymnasium.  The College authorities then had to decide which new equipment to purchase.  Saved with the file are catalogues for two suppliers of gymnastic apparatus: George Spencer and Heath & George. Both firms were based at Goswell Road in London.  The catalogues show gymnastic equipment designed for the home as well as for military and naval institutions, schools, colleges, and public baths.  The apparatus was intended for men, women and children. Here are a few examples of what was on offer.

Home horizontal barThe Portable Home Horizontal Bar from a catalogue of gymnastic apparatus supplied by George Spencer IOR/L/PWD/8/220 f.295v

Whitely exerciserThe Whitely Exerciser from a catalogue of gymnastic apparatus supplied by George Spencer IOR/L/PWD/8/220 f.310v

Nursery gym (2)The Nursery Gymnasium from a catalogue of gymnastic apparatus supplied by Heath & George IOR/L/PWD/8/220 f.343

The  woman supervising the Nursery Gymnasium looks very like Queen Victoria, and isn't that Windsor Castle in the background?  Perhaps Heath & George were trying to tell potential customers that the Royal Family enjoyed ‘combining amusement with healthy exercise’.  Let’s hope that the Queen was as amused as her small charges seem to be.

Margaret Makepeace 
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PWD/8/220 Cooper’s Hill Gymnasium: Qualifying examination, notices, apparatus, instructors 1900-1906

 

09 January 2018

Charles Kingsley’s grandfather in the East India Company Army

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Ensign Charles Kingsley (grandfather of the author of The Water-Babies) was born in 1743. In March 1769 he sailed to Calcutta as a Practitioner Engineer to work on the construction of the new Fort William on a salary of 107 Rupees per month, on the recommendation of Anselm Beaumont, his father’s first cousin. Copies of letters written in 1771-72 show that he was unhappy, having not received the promotion that he had been promised, accidentally losing an eye, and in poor health.

Fort William CalcuttaDetail of handcoloured etching with aquatint of the south west view of Fort William in Calcutta by William Baillie (1752/3-1799) from Twelve views of Calcutta (1794) Online Gallery

In April 1772 he wrote: “Mr Pinman and I have hired a small house about a mile & a half from the Fort in the Country, there is a Garden containing an Acre of Ground, and a fish Pond in it – The house contains a hall & two rooms, and we propose adding two more with such out-houses and conveniences as may be wanting, which will cost me nothing. I shall here have an opportunity of raising my own Poultry feeding Sheep &c which with the fish Pond & produce of the Garden will enable me to live very reasonably, and I shall be out of the way of that number of people who are always calling in upon you in the Fort, besides this I can put 30 Rupees amount of my allowances of rent into my pocket which will [make] some addition to my present small income”.

  Kingsley - Mother's LetterLetter sent to Kingsley by his mother 6 April 1771 – Author’s collection

Two months later he wrote: “The comfortable way of living is already at an end, as I am in orders to proceed the 20 [June] to take the command of the Fort at Budge Budge [about 12 miles down-river from Fort William] – The Garrison consists of 3 Officers, one of Sepoys, a Gentleman to assist me and myself, there are 50 Invalids, 100 Sepoys and 100 Artillery Lascars besides the workmen belonging to the Forts”. In July he wrote: “I am now fixed at Budge Budge as Commanding Officer, Doctor and Parson – I administer Medicines, but neither bleed or amputate, I baptise & bury, but do not read prayers, unless I can get an allowance for it”.
 

Kingsley Letter 9 July 1772Kingsley’s letter to his mother 9 July 1772 including a description of the garden at Budge Budge – Author’s collection

Also in July he wrote “I am very pleasantly situated in this place, have a good house to live in (of which I am Master) & a garden, two fishponds supplied with very fine fish, some of them 5 or 6 feet long – I have also a good breed of Geese, Ducks, Rabbits, Fowls and Pidgeons, I keep Sheep, Goats & Kids with a Cow & Calf – my unnecessarys are a Monkey, Mongoose, Civet Cats and a young Crocodile – Excepting the Climate you I dare say could spend some time very agreeably here”. In August he wrote “My situation is very disagreeable here as at present the Country for many miles around is under water, & will be so for at least a month – the air is hot moist & putrid”.

Charles was made a Lieutenant in September 1773 and he resigned in September 1775. He returned to England in 1776 and died in 1786 aged 43, having received over £20,000 as residuary legatee in Anselm Beaumont’s will.

Peter Covey-Crump
Independent researcher

Further reading:
More on Anselm Beaumont - English Nabob amasses a fortune from salt in Bengal 
PAK Covey-Crump, Letters from India to his family in England from Charles Kingsley, East India Company, Calcutta MSS Eur F562
Major V. C. P. Hodson, List of Officers of the Bengal Army 1758-1834

 

30 November 2017

The journal and drawings of Mary Emma Walter

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Mary Emma Walter’s journal and album of drawings in the India Office Private Papers are two of my favourite collection items.   The illustrated journal describes the voyage to India and her life as an army officer’s wife.  Letters sent to her mother in England have been copied in. The album contains pictures of views, flowers, people, and objects.

Mary Emma was born on 23 July 1816, the daughter of James Battin Coulthard and his wife Mary née Lee. The family lived in Alton, Hampshire, where James served as a magistrate for many years.  On 3 January 1838 Mary Emma married Edward Walter, an officer in the East India Company’s Bombay Light Cavalry, who was on furlough in England.  The journal starts with the couple’s journey back to India in October 1838, travelling via France and Egypt.

   Lyons 1838Lyons 1838 - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Cairo 1838A street in Cairo 1838  - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

The journal gives a fascinating insight into the Walters’ life as the regiment moved around India.  Mary Emma arrived at their new station at Deesa on 15 September 1839 and must have been heavily pregnant throughout the strenuous journey - she tells us that she was ‘unexpectedly confined with a little girl’ three days later.  She left her room on 23 September and resumed her usual amusements, including playing the piano. 

Walter bungalow DeesaThe Walter bungalow at Deesa - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

Unusual events such as an earthquake in April 1840 are described amongst the details of the Walter family’s daily routine. Mary Emma records how her baby was vaccinated against smallpox and how the child lost weight when suffering from the heat.

Mary Emma drew pictures of everyday life in India, both people and objects...

AyahAyah - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Bullock cartBullock cart - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  CarpenterCarpenter - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Pungi muscial instrumentPungi - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

….and buildings and their decorations -

Syed's tomb SukkurSyed’s Tomb at Sukkur - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1
 

Tiles - SukkurTiles at Sukkur - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

…and many beautiful botanical specimens.

Botanical 4India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Botancial 1India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

  Botanical 3 India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1
         

By the time Mary Emma and Edward took leave to England in 1843, they had two daughters - Emma Frances and Louisa. Two more girls, Mary and Alice, were born during their stay and both were baptised at Bishopstoke in Hampshire.

  Bishopstoke HantsBishopstoke in Hampshire - India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1

Edward returned to India in December 1846, but Mary Emma stayed on until October 1847 and then travelled back to Bombay with Alice.  Her three other daughters stayed on in England and were educated on the Isle of Wight. A fifth daughter Gertrude was born at Sholapore in 1849.

Mary Emma Walter died at Neemuch on 30 October 1850 aged only 34. She was buried there the following day by the splendidly named Assistant Chaplain, Hyacinth Kirwan.  Edward retired from the Bombay Army in 1851 and returned to England. He married Caroline Janetta Bignell in 1853. The 1861 census shows Edward and Caroline living on the Isle of Wight with their two young sons Herbert and Edward, four of Mary Emma’s daughters, a governess, and five servants. Edward senior died on 10 December 1862. 

Eldest daughter Emma Frances Walter had married Julius Barge Yonge in 1858.  In 1871 her sisters Alice and Gertrude were living with her. Gertrude suffered from chronic rheumatism.  In 1873 Gertrude moved into the home of Julius’s sister, the well-known novelist Charlotte Mary Yonge.  She acted as Charlotte’s secretary/companion until her death in 1897.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Journal and album of Mary Emma Walter (1816-1850) India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1-2
Article on Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) by Elisabeth Jay in the Dictionary of National Biography

 

24 November 2017

Dr Elsie Inglis and her father John's teenage misdemeanours

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Delving into the India Office collections sheds new light on the life of a First World War heroine and, more intriguingly, on her father.
 
The woman in question is Elsie Inglis who died 100 years ago, on 26 November 1917. She was, unquestionably, a remarkable individual. Not only was she prominent in the suffragist struggle, but having qualified as a doctor in 1892 during the First World War she went out to Serbia with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service. Undaunted by the patronising attitude of the War Office and a typhus epidemic, after Serbia was invaded in the autumn of 1915 she found herself interned and repatriated. Nevertheless she returned to the fray the following year leading a medical unit in southern Russia and Romania. In April 1916 she became the first woman to be awarded the Serbian Order of the White Eagle.    

  Inglis  Elsie (Wellcome)Image from Dr Elsie Inglis by Lady Frances Balfour (1918) Wellcome Collection    Cc-by

What is less well known is the fact that she was born in Naini Tal, India, on 16 August 1864. Her father John Forbes David Inglis had been posted to India as an East India Company writer in 1841, marrying Elsie’s mother Harriet in Agra on 7 February 1846.  ‘Elsie’ was not, in fact, her real Christian name, as the church register entry shows that she was baptised ‘Eliza Maude’ on 12 October.

  Inglis  Eliza Maude baptismIOR/N/1/110 f. 76 Baptism of Eliza Maude Inglis 1864 Noc

 

A small cache of letters in the private papers collection however, shows that Mr Inglis very nearly didn't make it to India. On 29 May 1839 the Principal of the East India College at Haileybury, Charles Le Bas, wrote to his father:

'It is with unfeigned grief that I have to announce to you, that we have been under the afflicting necessity of rusticating your son for the remainder of the present term. You will doubtless recollect that, on a former occasion (Nov. 1838), I had the painful duty of inflicting on him … a solemn Reprimand & Admonition, for joining a late, and very turbulent party, by which much mischief was done, and several students greatly annoyed and molested. His recent offence is, that … he dined at an Inn at Hoddesdon, and returned to College in a state of very questionable sobriety … '.

  Haileybury K top Vol 15 no. 74‘The South Front of the College at Hailey-Bury, Herts’: K top Vol 15 no. 74 Noc

The reply penned by Inglis Senior has not survived, but the Principal’s letter of 1 June shows that he was very reluctant to expel the young man:

'That the intelligence, which it was my misfortune to communicate, has "cut you to the heart" I can most readily understand. For, there is no hypocrisy in saying, that it has had almost the same effect upon my Colleagues and myself! … I do most ardently hope that your son will return to us, impressed with the necessity, - and, let me add, with the facility, of avoiding , in future, all such trifling with his own good, and with your peace of mind … '. 
 
Clearly his elders and betters made young Inglis see the error of his ways, otherwise Elsie might never have been born!

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
Leah Leneman, In the service of life: the story of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (Edinburgh, 1994) – shelfmark YK.1995.b.6352
Margot Lawrence, Shadow of swords: a biography of Elsie Inglis (London, 1971) shelfmark – X.329/4826)
IOR/N/1/110 f.76 – baptism of Eliza Maude Inglis available online via findmypast
IOR/J/1/57 ff.213-230 - East India College papers of John Forbes David Inglis available online via findmypast
IOR/N/1/69f.44 - marriage of John Forbes David Inglis to Harriet Lowis Thompson available online via findmypast
India Office Private Papers - Mss.Eur.B164 Davis Deas Inglis Papers

 

14 November 2017

A paper maker makes the papers: the shocking death of William Moinier Leschallas

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Here in the British Library's Reference Team we often receive enquiries that spark our curiosity, tempting us to dig a little deeper. Following a recent request for help in establishing the identity of a paper manufacturer, I was surprised to find myself drawn into a Victorian mental health crisis, one which lead to a tragic death.

Tasked with establishing who watermarked their paper with the word ‘Moinier’ followed by the date, I began browsing newspaper reports on British Newspaper Archive. A search for ‘Moinier’ and ‘paper’ quickly revealed the full name of our man – William Lewis Moinier Leschallas. He was a wholesale stationer, rag merchant and manufacturer of a unique type of paper based in Chatham. His business ventures did not receive widespread media attention, but there was plenty of coverage in the circumstances of his demise.

Kendal Mercury

Kendal Mercury, Saturday 18 December 1852, British Newspaper Archive.

William ended his own life in 1852. His brother John Leschallas reported that William was 57 years old (although another report suggests he was 75, an early typo perhaps). This meant that he would have started seeing societal changes in approaches to mental health. At a local level, the 1808 County Asylums Act encouraged the building of county lunatic asylums. However, poor ‘lunatics’ often found themselves sent to workhouses, houses of correction or prisons, until asylum building became compulsory in 1845. These were intended to cure patients, where possible, with the introduction of new therapeutic regimes. A substantial number of patients were discharged from institutions within twelve months of admission.

Northampton General LA

‘The Northampton General Lunatic Asylum’, from Edward Pretty, 1849, Wetton's Guide-book to Northampton, and its vicinity, 1303.d.3. BL Flickr.

 

Sadly for William, he did not receive the support that he needed. A servant found his body seated upright between two piles of papers in his warehouse. A discharged pistol clasped in his right hand caused the bullet wound in his right temple. Many of the reports go into startling graphic detail about the servant’s gruesome discovery. The inquest into William’s suicide provides us with some understanding of what he was going through.

Witnesses alluded to William’s struggles with deteriorating mental health. His brother John told the Coroner that William had been suffering from deteriorating mental health for over a year. Problems were thought to have started shortly after a mill forming a significant part of his business was destroyed by a fire. This caused William believed that his business had fallen into financial difficulty. Prior to this, a report from 1836 suggested that William had encountered financial hardships before, when a partnership was dissolved because of growing debts.

Perry Bankrupt GazettePerry's Bankrupt Gazette, Saturday 06 February 1836, British Newspaper Archive

Scrutiny of accounts suggested that business had recovered, contrary to William’s beliefs, and was actually doing rather well. He thought that the company’s healthy accounts had been fabricated in order to mislead him. In a letter read out at the inquiry William mentioned that he thought he was being watched, and had attempted suicide on a previous occasion. This led to many newspapers declaring that William suffered from ‘delusions’ and ‘insanity’.

Carlisle JournalCarlisle Journal, Friday 24 December 1852, British Newspaper Archive

After all the evidence was heard at the inquest, the jury returned a verdict of ‘temporary insanity’.

Claire Wotherspoon

Manuscripts Reference Specialist

Further reading:

Barbara T. Gates, 2014, Victorian suicide: mad crimes and sad histories, YC.2015.b.2389.

Joseph Melling and Bill Forsythe (Eds.), 1999, Insanity, institutions, and society, 1800-1914: a social history of madness in comparative perspective, YC.2000.a.5463.

Andrew Scull, 1993, The most solitary of afflictions: madness and society in Britain 1700-1900, YC.1993.b.4876.

10 October 2017

Advice for ladies in India

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In 1847 a book called Real Life in India by ‘An Old Resident’ offered advice to British ladies going to live in India. This covered clothing, equipment for the voyage, household management, and ways of passing the time.

European young lady's toilet

From William Tayler, Sketches Illustrating the Manners & Customs of the Indians & Anglo Indians (London, 1842) Noc

A long list of essentials for the voyage was provided.  Women were told to take dozens of chemises, nightgowns, petticoats, ‘cambric trousers’, handkerchiefs, towels, stockings, and gloves, together with fourteen dresses of different sorts, bonnets  shoes, one warm cloak, and six mosquito sleeping drawers.  Other necessities included bedding, table linen, shoe ribbons, haberdashery, hair brushes and combs, tooth brushes and powder, soap, perfume, stationery and books, candles, and a supply of Bristol water and soda.  A considerable amount of cabin furniture was recommended: couch, swinging cot, chest of drawers, bookcase, chairs, looking glass, lamp, foot-bath, waterproof trunks, and air-tight cases for dresses.

India - ladies' equipment

 From Real Life in India by An Old Resident (London, 1847)   Noc

On first arrival in India, ladies were advised to consult friendly females about the management of domestic affairs.  The ‘Old Resident’ pointed out that a British woman who had been accustomed to performing various household duties would be surprised to find that in India there was nothing for her to do. Everything would be done by the domestic staff. The day’s supplies were purchased by the khansuma (butler) at the market soon after day-break.  Shopping, ‘a source of entertainment and economy in England’, was not an occupation for a lady in India.  An immediate supply of hams, cheeses, or pickles could be obtained by sending a peon with a note to the local store.  Only preparations for the gaieties of the cool season gave ladies an excuse to venture out to visit the milliner or jeweller for new finery.

Ladies could combat the lassitude caused by the Indian climate by reading, painting, music, needlework, intelligent conversation and occasional soirées, or taking a morning and evening promenade.  Our ‘Old Resident’ points out the danger of falling victim to ‘indolent habits and coarse indulgences’: ‘the sylph-like form and delicate features which distinguished the youth of her arrival, are rapidly exchanged for an exterior of which obesity and swarthiness are the prominent characteristics, and the bottle and the hookah become frequent and offensive companions’.

Painting and needlework equipment should be taken out from Britain. Silver knitting needles were best as steel ones tended to rust from the warmth of the hand.  Ladies who were accustomed to riding should take out saddles, bridles and a riding habit as prices were higher in India.

The author ends his chapter devoted to information for ‘the weaker sex’ with detailed advice about the care of pianos in India. He encouraged ladies to learn the art of tuning since piano tuners and instrument repairers were not found at every station in India. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records