Untold lives blog

7 posts from October 2021

26 October 2021

William Shakespeare’s family in Calcutta

At the start of the 19th century, Bengal became the home for the Shakespear family of Calcutta, whose ancestry dated back to close relations of William Shakespeare.

Shakespear tombs in Calcutta’s South Park Street CemeteryShakespear tombs in Calcutta’s South Park Street Cemetery - author's photograph

In Calcutta’s South Park Street Cemetery, one can still find two Shakespear tombs. One of them belongs to John Talbot Shakespear, born in 1783 to John and Mary Shakespear in England; the other belongs to his wife Emily.  Shakespear arrived in Calcutta during the early 1800s as an East India Company official, marrying Emily Amelia Thackeray in 1803.  She was the eldest daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray senior, who was the grandfather of the more famous Calcutta-born author William Makepeace Thackeray.  Emily’s brother, Reverend Francis Thackeray, married John Talbot Shakespear’s sister Mary Anne.  Another brother, Richmond, arrived from London around the same time to become the Secretary to the Board of Revenue.  He married Anne Becher and their son, William Makepeace Thackeray, was born in 1811 at Thackeray House in Alipore.  Clearly, the eminence of the Thackerays seems to have overshadowed the lineage of the Shakespearean relative in their midst.  Thus, Thackeray’s father’s name Richmond also became the name of the youngest son of John Talbot and Emily Shakespeare, Sir Richmond Campbell Shakespear.  He would later acquire renown as an agent to the Governor-General of Central India and a Companion of the Bath.  Another son of John Talbot and Emily was named William Makepeace Shakespear.

But what do we know about John Talbot himself, and how does his ancestry trace back to Shakespeare?

John Talbot Shakespear was appointed by Richmond Makepeace Thackeray as the assistant to the Collector of Birbhum.  John’s brother Henry also served in the Bengal Civil Service. John’s own successful career at the East India Company was truncated by his death at sea on board the Rose in 1825, a few months after the death of his wife.

Extract from John Talbot Shakespear's will specifying burial in a grave he had purchased next to his wife'sExtract from John Talbot Shakespear's will specifying burial in a grave he had purchased next to his wife's IOR/L/AG/34/29/37 p.46

 

Memorial inscriptions for John Talbot and Emily Shakespear from South Park Street CemeteryMemorial inscriptions for John Talbot and Emily Shakespear from South Park Street Cemetery recorded in The Bengal Obituary (Calcutta, 1851)

We cannot ascertain whether the Thackerays knew about John Talbot’s illustrious relative.  The oldest recognizable discovery of John Talbot’s lineage dates back to George Russel-French’s Shakspeareana Genealogica (1869), later reproduced by Charlotte Carmichael Stopes in Shakespeare’s Family (1901).  Despite the variant spelling of this ‘Shakespear’ branch (without the ‘e’), it belonged to the Stepney (or Shadwell) Shakespears.  They had either descended from William Shakespeare’s brother Gilbert, or his uncle Thomas.  Russel-French claimed that this family tree was supplied to him by Lieutenant Colonel John Davenport Shakespear, a nephew of John Talbot.  Key evidence to the linkage between the Shakespeare and Shakespear families was two-centuries old ‘drawing on a parchment of a coat of arms, pronounced by an eminent herald’ which is exactly the same as the coat of arms granted to William Shakespeare’s father in 1596.  John Davenport Shakespear possessed this in the 1860s.

India has been generous to Shakespeare, adopting his works.  However, John Talbot has not been recognised, as his and his wife’s tombs languish in oblivion.  Recently, there have been reports of former British prime minister David Cameron’s lineage dating back to John Talbot Shakespear.  But historians are yet to take note of the Shakespear in question being a significant leaf on a stem of the bard’s family that branched out to India.

Arup K. Chatterjee
Teacher at OP Jindal Global University, India, and author of The Purveyors of Destiny: A Cultural Biography of the Indian Railways (2017), The Great Indian Railways (2018), Indians in London: From the Birth of the East India Company to Independent India (2021) and The Great Indian Railway Saga (2022)

 

21 October 2021

The bombing of Britain

Air Raids were a consistent source of terror and dread for Britons during the Second World War (1939-1945).  The first warning siren sounded only 22 minutes after war had been declared; it was a false alarm, with bombing not beginning in earnest until the following September.  The most sustained bombing campaign – The Blitz – lasted until May 1941, and claimed the lives of around 43,000 people.  Bombing continued after this period, across various regions of the United Kingdom.  Some people wrote about their experiences.

Diaries are an especially good source of information on the difficulties of living in fear and anticipation of air raids.  Those of Judith Blunt-Lytton (Lady Wentworth) are particularly detailed about her life in Sussex.  Perhaps the most evocative entry is from 29 November 1940, where she wrote how she had to jump in some wet bushes after the warning sounded, and that explosions in nearby Horsham ‘looked like an aurora borealis’.

Afsa Horner described how bombing evolved over the years.  She writes in her memoirs that she preferred V2 rockets – which often did not trigger warning sirens – as you had no time to wonder about getting to safety.  Although deadlier, they were less frightening as you had no time to be scared.

Letter from Rupert D'Oyly Carte to Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte  26 November 1940Letter from Rupert D'Oyly Carte to Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte, 26 November 1940 - Add MS 89231/18/44

Staying in a hotel, especially in London, was extremely risky.  Nevertheless, business continued despite the persistence of air raids.  Evelyn B. Graham-Stamper was in bed with her husband at the Hans Crescent Hotel in September 1941, ‘when, suddenly, the most blinding flash and every-thing seemed to fall around us’.  She continues, ‘We both knew the end had come and clung to each other waiting for the coup de grace which was to finish us off.’  However, they survived and managed to make their way to safety.  Similar experiences did not hurt the trade of one grand hotel, The Savoy.  Owner Rupert D’Oyly told his wife in a letter from September 1940 that after a series of bombs falling, causing damage on multiple floors, ‘in fact the 200 or so people living in the hotel increased the next day’.  Life went on.

An account of air raids by William Carpenter  Chief Air-raid Warden of Poplar September1940An account of air raids by William Carpenter, Chief Air-raid Warden of Poplar, September 1940 - Add MS 48988 M

A persistent theme throughout these narratives is morale.   The Chief Air Raid Warden of Poplar emphasised that people are ‘wonderful considering what had happened’: multiple streets destroyed with numerous deaths.  On the other hand, Julian Symonds described London life as ‘depressing’.  Either way, the experience of huddling in shelters together was the ‘new spirit’ of the country, as editor of Poetry London Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu wrote.

Air Raids were terrifying part of life on the Home Front, which continued throughout the War.  However, what comes through in most of these narratives is a sense of positivity, that life must continue as normal as possible.  The accounts described here are only a small sample of those which survive in our collections.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Further Reading:
The Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery includes cartoons by Judith Blunt-Lytton, Lady Wentworth, depicting the experiences of Mary in the Women’s Land Army and the badges, chevrons and appointment cards of the air raid wardens, Edgar and Winifred Wilson. The display gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War. It runs from 14 September until 11 December 2021. 
Add MS 48988 M – 'Intensified Air Raids on London', a memorandum by William Carpenter, Chief Air-raid Warden of Poplar, Sept. 1940 (ff. 47-51).
Add MS 75028 – Wentworth Bequest (Series II), Vol. XXVI, Pocket Diaries (1 Jan. 1940-31 Dec. 1940).
Add MS 78862 – Phyllis Bottome Papers, VOL. XXXI, Letter from Evelyn B. Graham-Stamper (14 September 1941).
Add MS 85265 - Letters from Julian Gustave Symons D. S. Savage (ff. 13-15).
Add MS 88997 – Afsa Horner: Memoirs.
Add MS 89231/18/44 - D'Oyly Carte Family Papers: Letters from Rupert to Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte.

 

19 October 2021

Stanley Cinchona Plantation

While browsing through a volume of India Office Public Works Department correspondence for 1866, I came across this lovely colour sketch of the Stanley Cinchona Plantation in the Kundah Hills in India.  Intrigued, I read through the correspondence to find out more.

Colour sketch of the Stanley Cinchona Plantation in the Kundah Hills in India showing trees and plants with a building in the backgroundSketch of the Stanley Cinchona Plantation in the Kundah Hills in India IOR/L/PWD/3/512 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Cinchona is a tree indigenous to South America which was discovered to have valuable medicinal properties.  In particular, it was the source for the drug quinine used in the treatment of malaria. In the mid-19th century, attempts were made to cultivate Cinchona in various different parts of the British Empire.  The Stanley Cinchona Plantation was named after the first Secretary of State for India, Lord Stanley, who in April 1859 commissioned the geographer and explorer Clements Markham to undertake an expedition to South America to collect seeds and plants, and arrange for their transport to India.

Black and white sketch of a clump of cinchona trees with a man wearing a hat standing beneath themCinchona trees from Clements Markham 's Peruvian Bark ORW.1986.a.2987

The Public Works Department file is primarily concerned with the construction of roads in the Nilgiri and Kundah hills in the Madras Presidency (now Tamil Nadu).  An India Office memorandum acknowledged that the absence of roads into such a remote area had hindered plans for opening the Kundahs for cultivation, and stated: 'The formation of a Government plantation in what is now one of the most remote and wild parts of these mountains renders the construction of roads a matter of course'.  It was noted that one Cinchona planter had already been drowned in coming from the Kundahs to Ootacamund 'owing to the neglect of the Public Works Department to repair a bridge'.  An aggrieved administrator in the India Office wrote over this sentence with the comment 'This is rather hard upon the P.W. Dept.'.

Report on roads in the Kundah HillsReport on roads in the Kundah Hills IOR/L/PWD/3/512 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In his report of 6 January 1866 to the Madras Government on the subject of cinchona cultivation, Markham described the Kundahs as the finest hills he had yet seen in India, and wrote that: 'The soil is of extraordinary depth and fertility both in the forests and grass land, and there are abundant supplies of water.  Indeed the scenery of these beautiful hills; the long lines of forest with all the varied tints of foliage; the rich grass land intervening here and there; the magnificent waterfalls and precipices; and the sharp peaked outline of the distant mountains – is far and away the finest I have yet seen in the Western Ghauts'.  However, it seems that the costs involved with building roads into the area proved too great for Government.  In his book Peruvian Bark, Markham noted that the Kundah hills plantation was abandoned in 1872 due to the distance from Ootacamund and the lack of roads, with the cinchona tress which had been planted 'being left to take their chance with the native vegetation', and later ordered to be felled.

Map of Kundah Hills Map of  the Kundah Hills IOR/L/PWD/3/512  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Oddly, nowhere in the papers is the colour sketch mentioned.  Who created it and why it was included in a Government file remains a mystery.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Public Works Despatches to Madras (Original Drafts), 1865-1866, BL shelfmark IOR/L/PWD/3/512.
Public Works Letters from Madras, 1866-1867, BL shelfmark IOR/L/PWD/3/191 – page 333 for Public Works letter No.33, dated 27 July 1867.
Report by C R Markham on the spread of the cinchona cultivation through the hill districts, 16 January 1866, BL shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/3/1356 no.15.
Clements R Markham, Peruvian Bark. A popular account of the introduction of Chinchona cultivation into British India, (London: John Murray, 1880), BL shelfmark ORW.1986.a.2987.
The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. XVI Kotchandpur to Mahavinyaka (Oxford, 1908).
Products of the Empire: Cinchona: a short history. Cambridge University Library.
Donovan Williams, ‘Clements Robert Markham and the Introduction of the Cinchona Tree into British India, 1861’, The Geographical Journal, vol. 128, no. 4 (1962), pages 431–442. 

 

14 October 2021

Diary of a Lumber Jill

‘Lumber Jill’ was the name given to women who worked in the oft-forgotten Women’s Timber Corps (WTC) during the Second World War, who have only begun to receive proper recognition for their service the past two decades. Initially a sub-division of the Women’s Land Army (WLA), members volunteered – or were conscripted into – working in forestry, carrying out duties previously done by men, such as sawing, felling, measuring, loading cargo, and driving tractors. This was often heavy manual labour, and could also be dangerous, but many women enjoyed it. Vera Lloyd compiled her experiences of the WTC into a diary in 1953, which found its way to our Modern Archives collections.

Opening page of diary showing Timber Corps logo

Opening page with Timber Corps insignia, Add MS 70609

Vera began her journey in Gloucestershire, with working hours typically starting at 7.45am in the morning until 6pm in the evening, with a half-day on Saturdays. During summer, work was daily and often never ending. It was not all hard labour though, early on in the service she rode her first pony, saw another give birth in the wild, and even had the time to fill in the head-sawyer’s cap with sawdust.

After nine months on the job, aged only 23, she was sent to Jacobstowe to lead a group of men at a sawmill – and here encountered some resistance to her leadership. A man named Fred was slacking on the job, often arriving late in the morning. She reflects, ‘It was, I suppose, [a] rather excusable reaction against being under a mere woman, but after a fortnight I decided to act’. Despite never sawing herself before, she worked for two hours before Fred arrived, putting in a significant amount of work. He ‘then eyed me with approval. “Shake” he said, holding out his hand’. She had little trouble from him thereafter.

Diary entry with a sketch showing Vera entering the upstairs window of the house via a ladder

Diary entry with a sketch showing Vera entering the upstairs window of the house via a ladder, Add MS 70609

In 1943 she was relocated further south-west to Baconnoc, to become sub-foreman for 80 workers, a significant increase of people under her charge. She writes a relatable experience of forgetting her keys and having to break into her house. While doing so her landlady returned, at which point she explained the ‘awkward situation with famous tact acquired since employed by Ministry of Supply, but am bowled over by information now imparted that key was under mat.’ We’ve all been there.

Of course, forestry work was perilous too. Early on, she writes that when walking through the forest a tree began to fall, which she dodged ‘with expert skill’. Worse, a few years later a boy came into her office bleeding over the floor. She explains how he had ‘placed [his] thumb too near [the] circular saw and is not the lad he was by quite a large bite’. 

After the War ended she stayed in the Corps to help rebuild, but disliked the office work she was assigned, longing for the manual labour and companionship in the fields. So she ‘rejoined the ranks of civilians, the richer by over five years of happy comradeship with the people of the West Country’. Vera received two recognitions of her service, which she kept in the diary.

Triangular red long service badge pasted into the diary, presented by HRH Princess Elizabeth, 1945

Triangular red long service badge pasted into the diary, presented by HRH Princess Elizabeth, 1945

'Personal message' of appreciation signed by Queen Elizabeth 

'Personal message' of appreciation signed by Queen Elizabeth 

Jack Taylor

Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Vera Lloyd’s diary is part of the Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery from 14 September until 11 December 2021. More information can be found at https://www.bl.uk/events/life-on-the-home-front.

Further Reading:

Add MS 70609 - Vera Lloyd: 'Timber Corps Diary', a calligraphically written account of episodes from the author's service in the forestry section of the Women's Land Army during World War II (6 Feb. 1941-15 May 1946).

Emma Vickers, ‘”The Forgotten Army of the Woods”: The Women’s Timber Corps during the Second World War’, Agricultural History Review 59, no. 1 (2011): 101-112.

Joanna Foat, Lumberjills: Britain's Forgotten Army (Stroud: The History Press, 2019).

 

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.