Untold lives blog

21 December 2012

Having a ball - Christmas in Calcutta

Christmas cards all written and in the post?  Unless members of the Royal Family or the Prime Minister follow us, it is unlikely that any reader of Untold Lives will have a more impressive Christmas card list than Lord Brabourne, Governor of Bengal 1937-1939. His Christmas card list for 1938 begins:
His Majesty The King
Her Majesty The Queen
Her Majesty Queen Mary
The next name on the list is HH The Rt Hon The Aga Khan, PC, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO

Brabourne sent 140 cards and the recipients included:
•    5 kings and queens
•    1 princess
•    2 countesses
•    2 earls
•    5 marquesses and marchionesses
•    11 viscounts and viscountesses
•    5 lords
•    16 ladies
•    16 knights
•    2 dames


Mr Fezziwig's Ball, from Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

C.58.b.7, frontispiece. Mr Fezziwig's Ball, from Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol with illustrations by John Leech.  Images Online   Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

And if you are worrying about entertaining friends and family over the festive period, spare a thought for Lord Brabourne’s staff. On 27 December 1938 there was a ball for 2,530 guests at Government House Calcutta. 

Detailed lists of supplies purchased for the ball supper can be found in Brabourne’s papers in the India Office Private Papers. 

Here is a selection:
•    850 eggs
•    800 limes
•    15 dozen oranges
•    15 bunches of plantains
•    70lb cooking butter
•    20lb fresh cream
•    100 cucumbers
•    200 lettuces
•    82lb potatoes
•    67lb hump of beef
•    18lb leg of mutton
•    75 shinbones
•    205lb ‘round beef’
•    328lb bekti fish
•    330 roasting fowls
•    67lb ham
•    78 tins of fruit in syrup
•    43 bottles of wine
•    120 bottles of whisky
•    558 quarts of champagne
•    33 bottles of brandy
•    30 quarts of beer
•    130 dozen bottles of soda water
•    10 dozen bottles of lemonade
•    4300 Virginia cigarettes
•    1100 Turkish cigarettes
•    385 cigars

The total bill for the supper amounted to Rupees 5296-8-0, of which ‘Drinks and Smokes’ accounted for Rupees 4208-5-6. 

I hope that this gives you something to ponder as you push your trolley round the supermarket loading up with goodies for the holidays. 

Seasonal Greetings from Untold Lives!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading
IOPP/MSS Eur F97/57-58


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