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.
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.
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...
….and buildings and their decorations -
…and many beautiful botanical specimens.
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.
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.
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
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