Untold lives blog

8 posts from April 2023

27 April 2023

Tropical Trials – A Handbook for Women in the Tropics

‘Many and varied are the difficulties which beset a woman, when she first exchanges her European home and its surroundings for the vicissitudes of life in the tropics.’  These are the opening words of Tropical trials – A Handbook for Women in the Tropics.  ‘This sudden and complete upset of old-world life, and the disturbance of long existing associations, produces, in many women, a state of mental chaos, that utterly incapacitates them for making due and proper preparations for the contemplated journey.'

Front cover of Tropical Trials with a white sunshade and a sun radiating the names of countries in the tropicsMajor S Leigh Hunt, Madras Army, and Alexander S Kenny, Tropical trials – A handbook for women in the tropics (London, 1883)

The book was published in 1883 by Major Shelley Leigh Hunt of the Madras Army and Alexander S Kenny, demonstrator of anatomy at King’s College London, as a companion work to their On Duty Under a Tropical Sun which had been intended for the use of men. The authors had received several requests from women to write a book for them with guidance about health, clothing, travelling and the management of children in the tropics – India, Burma, Egypt, China, Hong Kong, Australia, and Melanesia.

They claim that the ‘physical resources of women in withstanding the hardships and discomforts imposed upon them’ by tropical life are limited compared to men.  But a woman of sound sense can maintain her body and mind in a healthy state by anticipating the difficulties, and be victorious in her struggle with tropical trials.

List of topics covered in the section on clothing and outfit Clothing and outfit
Grey or dust-coloured dress is recommended for travelling on land or railway.  A pith solar topee is not becoming but essential to avoid danger from the sun.  A silk gossamer veil worn with the topee cuts out glare and dust.

A variety of equipment is suggested – trunks; travelling baths; mosquito curtains; punkahs; goggles; lounge chairs for shipboard use; guide books and maps; toilet requisites; sheet music; books and stationery; saddlery; lamps; candlesticks; cutlery; china and glass; tea trays; household linen; insect powder; sewing machine; piano; refrigerator; mincing machine; coffee mill; knife-cleaning machine; scales and weights; crumb brush and tray; tool chest; chess and backgammon sets; garden seeds; bats, nets and balls for lawn tennis.

 List of topics covered in the section on travelTravel
The book moves on to hints for travelling by sea, rail and road. Advice is given about shipboard life, and going ashore: ‘No lady should ever attempt to land at any port of call without the protection of a male escort’.

 List of topics covered in the section on dietDiet
In temperate climates, ‘injudicious indulgence’ results in temporary indisposition but in hot climates could be disastrous, perhaps resulting in permanent damage to health.  Plain wholesome food is necessary to keep a woman in good health, not tasty ‘kickshaws’ calculated to create an abnormal craving for highly seasoned and harmful snacks.  Women should abstain from alcohol except in cases of sickness and under medical advice.

There are hints on domestic economy - servants, houses in the tropics, stables, dogs, and gardens.

 List of topics covered in the section on the maintenance of health More topics covered in the section on the maintenance of healthMaintenance of health and the treatment of simple maladies
This section is 200 pages long.  One treatment which caught my eye was belladonna linament for sweaty feet.

 List of topics covered in the section on management and rearing of children

Management and rearing of children
‘Children of European parentage are difficult to rear in the tropics’ – their constitutions are unduly taxed by a climate which pushes forward their growth whilst making heavy demands on their physical resources.  In the way that forced vegetables lack flavour, these ‘hot-house nurselings’ generally lack the vigour and stamina possessed by children reared in more favourable conditions.  Parents therefore send their children to Europe if circumstances permit.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Major S Leigh Hunt, Madras Army, and Alexander S Kenny, Tropical trials – A handbook for women in the tropics (London, 1883), British Library shelfmark 7581.bb.10.


25 April 2023

Mystery of a Destitute Man in London

On 17 January 1879, the India Office received a letter from a man named John Carr, who claimed to have been born in Madras, but was destitute in London and asked for help in returning to India.  The India Office regularly received such requests for help, but this case turned out to be a little more mysterious.

Letter from John CarrLetter from John Carr IOR/L/PJ/2/58, File 7/564

In his letter, Carr claimed that around the middle of July 1878, he left Madras on the ship Gainsborough bound from Pondicherry to Guadeloupe.  During the voyage he fell ill and on arrival at Guadeloupe was immediately sent to hospital.  Once recovered, he discovered that the ship had left him behind.  He was able, ‘through the kindness of the Council and other Gentlemen’ to secure a passage to London on the ship J C Watson of Plymouth, but once there was unable to get a passage on to India.  In his plea for help he wrote: ‘I am now at the end of my resources, I have walked the streets all day without food very often in search of any employment, and I have had also sometimes to walk them at night, not having the means to pay for a bed however poor or humble.  My position is truly desperate, for I can only see a prospect of starvation before me, or of succumbing to the bitter climate, to which I am wholly un-used’.  Carr asked for help in securing a passage to Madras, and even offered to work for it.

India Office Minute Paper on the case of John CarrIndia Office Minute Paper on the case of John Carr IOR/L/PJ/2/58, File 7/564

The official at the India Office thought that there was little official aid that could be offered.  He noted that the Sailors' Home on Well Street, which Carr had given as his address, was ‘in some sort under control of the Board of Trade’.  He worried ‘it may be hoped he will not be allowed to starve’. 

Letter from the Board of Trade about John CarrLetter from the Board of Trade about John Carr IOR/L/PJ/2/58, File 7/564

Enquiries were made but the results were unexpected.  The Board of Trade claimed to know nothing of Carr’s story, and the ship J C Watson could not be traced.  The only record found of a John Carr in Madras was a Sgt Major in the 16th Madras Native Infantry, who had drowned in India on 26 October 1867.

Note on the enquiries made about John CarrNote on the enquiries made about John Carr IOR/L/PJ/2/58, File 7/564

Enquiries were also made at the Sailors' Home, where a search was made of books, letters and names at the Home, as well as at a neighbouring branch asylum, but no trace could be found of Carr.  The India Office official took a dim view of the affair, and noted: ‘He does not say he is in the Home, but he has given a false address, and may be in league with someone to get his letters there, and it has been ascertained that numbers of swindlers and thieves swarm about the Homes’.  Given this lack of verifiable facts, Sir Louis Mallet, Under Secretary of State, advised that the letter should not be answered.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Public Home Correspondence: case of an individual stating himself to be of Indian birth, to have gone from Madras to Guadeloupe in an emigrant ship, whence he came to London and is now destitute and solicits a passage to India, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/58, File 7/564.

History of the Sailors' Home 


21 April 2023

Misbehaviour in the Bombay Army

‘He had countenanced intemperance and unbecoming conduct among the Officers of the Regiment under his Command by permitting, unchecked and unpunished, […] instances of drunkenness and impropriety, degrading to gentlemen, and ruinous to discipline.’

In February 1854, Lt Col Thomas Gidley was found guilty of gross dereliction of duty during the previous year whilst the Commanding Officer of the East India Company’s 15th Bombay Native Infantry stationed at Bhooj.  Between January and August 1853, Gidley had allowed his officers imbibe to excess both inside and outside the Regimental confines.  He was court-martialled and struck off the strength of the Army.

The ‘Bhooj Revellers’ were Lieutenants Lewis Bingley Comyn and Robert Laurie; Ensigns Frederick James Loft, George Scrope Hammond and Thomas Degennes Fraser; and Surgeon Henry Rodney Elliot.  Their indiscretions were:
• Elliott being drunk and using indecent language at a dinner party given by the Political Agent in Cutch.
• Comyn being drunk when attending the Durbar of His Highness the Rao of Cutch.
• Loft being drunk at a dinner party given by the Political Agent of Cutch.
• Elliott, Loft and Hammond being drunk at a nautch.
• Elliott being drunk, attending Ensign Cole in a medical capacity, having come from Gidley’s house.
• Laurie being drunk in the billiard room.
• Loft being drunk at Gidley’s house whilst Duty Officer.
• Two instances at the billiard room involving inappropriate behaviour.

Photograph of the durbar hall in the palace at Bhuj  GujaratPhotograph of the durbar hall in the palace at Bhooj [Bhuj ]in Gujarat taken by an unknown photographer during the late 1870s -British Library Photo 125/3(10)

The whistleblower reporting these breaches of military discipline was Lt Frederick Alexander Campbell Kane who had joined the 15th Bombay Native Infantry in 1839.  In May 1850 he was appointed as Assistant Magistrate in Khandeish Collectorate.  There he pursued criminals with ‘commendable zeal’.  Two years later he was relieved of these duties because, according to the Bombay Gazette, ‘he had the misfortune to bring down the displeasure of the Government on him’.  Kane rejoined his regiment in March 1853 as Adjutant, the administrative right-hand man to the Commander.  Kane proceeded over the next six months to note the indiscretions of his Commander and fellow officers.

Surgeon Elliot died before he could be disciplined.  Bombay General Orders dated 27 September 1853 recorded that Elliot was indisposed and temporarily relieved of his duties.  He died on 17 October.  By 11 November, Gidley was under arrest, and on 15 November Kane was promoted to Captain.

At Gidley’s court-martial in February 1854, Comyn, Laurie, Loft, Hammond and Fraser all perjured themselves in giving evidence supporting Gidley.  They subsequently each faced a court-martial.  All were found guilty and cashiered in May 1854 except Fraser, whose sentence was commuted for reasons which are unclear.

East India Register 1855 - Bombay Army casualitiesEast India Register 1855 – Bombay Army Casualties

Six weeks later, Lt Albert George Thompson was also cashiered.  At his court-martial he was charged with insubordination and insulting behaviour for declaring to Kane, who was in command of the firing party at Elliot’s funeral, ‘You, sir, are partly the cause of the doctor’s death’.

Gidley, in allowing a culture of excessive drinking and personal approbation, and Kane, seemingly pursuing some sort of moral crusade perhaps to regain personal standing, had brought about the downfall of five young officers. One of them suffered an untimely death: Robert Laurie returned to England and died in 1856 at the age of 32 at his parents' home in Bristol.

Mark Williams
Independent researcher

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
Bombay Gazette via British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast)
Bombay Army General Orders 1853-1854 IOR/L/MIL/17/4/423-424.


19 April 2023

Eliza Cordelia, the daughter of Chaund Bebee and Charles Rothman

We end our series of posts about Chaund Bebee and her children by looking at the life of her daughter Eliza Cordelia.  Eliza was baptised at Calcutta on 23 January 1803, the ‘Natural Daughter of C Rothman Esq’, and the register gives her date of birth as 20 April 1802.

Baptism of Eliza Cordelia Rothman at Calcutta 23 January 1803 Baptism of Eliza Cordelia Rothman at Calcutta 23 January 1803 IOR/N/1/6 f.180

Charles Rothman was a businessman in Calcutta who moved into government service.  He appears to have been close to John Shore, father of Chaund Bebee’s other children – there is a letter written by Rothman in February 1788 passing on a message from Shore who was ill.

Letter from Charles Rothman to George Nesbitt Thompson stating that John Shore is still much indisposed, February 1788Letter from Charles Rothman to George Nesbitt Thompson stating that John Shore is still much indisposed, February 1788 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur D1083/35


Rothman accompanied Governor General Wellesley to Madras in 1798, and was rewarded for his ‘incessant assiduity regularity and integrity’ by being appointed keeper of the Company’s stationery at Calcutta in 1801.  He died on 23 September 1805 aged 48.  His will left everything to his second wife Sarah Anne, and after her death for the benefit of their children.  Eliza is not mentioned.

Eliza Cordelia Rothman married James Urquhart Sherriff at Calcutta on 6 November 1815.  James was an assistant in the Mint and then a house builder.  He died in 1832 at the age of 35, leaving Eliza with eight children: Eliza, Henrietta Rothman, James Charles, Margaret Euphemia, Robert William, Hannah Sophia, David, and George Hill.  Eliza was the main beneficiary of her mother’s will in 1836 and she did not re-marry.

On 12 November 1856 Eliza died at Entally on the outskirts of Calcutta and was buried the following day at Chowringhee.  Her age in the burial register is given as 57 years, 5 months and 20 days, which does not tally with the date given in her baptism record.

Shortly before her death, on 28 October 1856, Eliza made a will which made bequests to her surviving children and their heirs, and to friends, servants, and charities.  Of her four sons, Robert William was still alive, but James Charles, David and George Hill had all died without issue.  Only two of her daughters were living.  Eliza was married to Josiah Rowe, surveyor to the conservancy commissioners of Calcutta, and had children.  Henrietta Rothman was the widow of Charles Ware Brietzcke, second judge of the Calcutta Court of Small Causes, and she had children by her first husband William Ridsdale.  Hannah Sophia had died unmarried without issue.  Margaret Euphemia had been married to John Willie, master mariner, but both were dead.

Newspaper report of loss of ship Hope 14 October 1848Newspaper report of the loss of the Hope - The Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 27 December 1848

In 1848, Eliza’s family had been struck by tragedy.  On 14 October John Willie’s ship Hope was lost in a terrible storm when on a voyage from Calcutta to Penang.  John and his wife Margaret died with their three small children William Robinson, Eliza Rix, and John Burnie.  Also on board were Margaret’s brother-in-law William Risdale and her sister Hannah Sophia Sherriff.  They also drowned.  The ship Framjee Cowasjee had tried to help the people they could see on the stricken ship but only succeeded in rescuing five of the crew.  The Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser wrote: ‘By this sad wreck 7 members of one family have perished, and a widowed lady has been bereaved of 2 daughters, 2 sons-in-law, and 3 grandchildren’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/N/1/4 f.171 Baptism of George, natural son of Charles Rothman, at Calcutta 3 January 1794 (born 31 October 1792). George appears to have died aged 21 in Calcutta in September 1813 [IOR/N/1/9 p.330].
IOR/N/1/4 f.202 Burial of Henrietta Rothman, wife of Charles, at Calcutta 6 December 1796.
IOR/N/2/2 f.352 Marriage of Charles Rothman to Sarah Anne Woodhouse at Fort St George, Madras, 31 August 1799.
IOR/F/4/128/2373 Salary paid to Charles Rothman in consideration of his previous services.
IOR/N/1/6 f.180 Baptism of Eliza Cordelia Rothman at Calcutta 23 January 1803
IOR/L/AG/34/29/17 no.77 Will of Charles Rothman.
IOR/N/1/9 f.269 Marriage of Eliza Cordelia Rothman to James Urquhart at Calcutta 6 November 1815.
IOR/N/1/34 p.363 Burial of James Urquhart Sherriff at Calcutta 8 November 1832.
IOR/N/1/90 f.517 Burial of Eliza Cordelia Sherriff 12 November 1856
IOR/L/AG/34/29/94 Will of Eliza Cordelia Sherriff 1856
The will of Chaund Bebee or Bebee Shore 
The children of Chaund Bebee and John Shore – (1) John Shore 
The children of Chaund Bebee and John Shore – (2) Francis and Martha Shore 
The children of Chaund Bebee and John Shore – (3) George Shore 

14 April 2023

Paul Ferris - printer and publisher

Paul Ferris was born in 1766 at Fort St George. Madras, the son of Paul Ferris and Agnes Daniel.  He trained as a printer under James Augustus Hicky at his printing office in Calcutta and was one of Hicky’s assistants along with Archibald Thompson in the establishment of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, India’s first English language newspaper, printed from 1780-1782.

Men busy in 18th century printing works18th-century printing works from A Picaud, La Veille de la Revolution, (Paris 1886).General Reference Collection 9225.l.12 BL flickr

In 1792 Ferris and Thompson founded their own newspaper, the Calcutta Morning Post, and were later joined by Morley Greenway as a co-owner.  In June 1818 they acquired the Calcutta Gazette, which had been in circulation since 1784 as the Government’s official news circular.  Shortly after this acquisition, the Calcutta Gazette ceased publication, with its last edition being printed on 29 September 1818.

Ferris also went on to establish his own printing press, Ferris & Co, and a bookselling business in Calcutta. By 1802 Ferris & Co were acting as the Calcutta agents for the Mission Press in Serampore.

In 1815 Ferris printed a new edition of John Miller’s The Tutor in English and Bengalee, first published in 1797.  It was published with an addendum stating that it had been ‘carefully revised and corrected by a professional pundit’.  The ‘professional pundit’ was Ganga Kishore Bhattacharji, a publisher of Bengali works who was just starting to work with Ferris. In 1816 Ferris & Co became the first printers to produce an illustrated book in Bengali, a narrative poem Annada Mangal written by Bharatchandra Ray in 1752-1753 and published by Ganga Kishore Bhattacharji.

Ganga Kishore would go on to publish numerous Bengali works with Ferris & Co including Ingreji byakaran (An English grammar), Daybhaeg (Hindu inheritance law) and Bidyasundar (a courtly romance), which was also the first Bengali book to be accompanied by woodcut illustrations.

Pen and ink drawing of the Danish settlement of Serampore  viewed from the opposite bank of the River Hooghly, with a man wearing a turban resting with his arms crossed in the foreground and boats on the water.Danish settlement of Serampore  viewed from the opposite bank of the River Hooghly - pen and ink drawing by Frederic Peter Layard (1842) British Library WD4359 British Library Online Gallery 

Paul Ferris died in Serampore on 29 June 1821 at the age of 55.  He had married Ann Esther Mullins in 1800 (she died in 1845 in Bombay), and the couple had seven children together.  He also had three children prior to his marriage, a son Paul and two daughters Frances and Ann.

Paul Ferris’s obituary is somewhat intriguing as it suggests that, despite the success of his various enterprises, he may have been struggling financially prior to his death: ‘Mr. P. Ferris - in his age 55 years - formerly Editor of Calcutta weekly newspaper, The Morning Post and owner of Calcutta Biblioteck-circulating Library and during the last years reduced to the necessity of keeping a sort of school at this place for Boys and Girls’.

The references in the obituary to the two other initiatives, the Calcutta Bibliotek circulating library and a school, are interesting as no other records of them appear to exist. There was however a Calcutta Library Society with its own lending library, which was established in 1818.  It is perhaps possible that this may be the ‘Bibliotek’ referred to in the obituary, but Ferris’s name does not appear in records as one of its founders.

Karen Stapley,
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Paul Ferris, Memorial at Fort William Burial Ground
‘Glimpses of Serampore (1810-1820)’, published in Bengal Past and Present, Vol. 46 1933 Jul-Dec. British Library Shelfmark: Ac.8603
Hicky’s Bengal Gazette: PENN.NT330 NPL
Calcutta Morning Post: Asia, Pacific & Africa SM 32


12 April 2023

Preventing revel-rout - musicians banned from an East India Company voyage

On 31 December 1713 Thomas Woolley, Secretary to the East India Company, wrote to agent Richard Knight at Deal in Kent where ships were preparing to sail to Asia.  A number of Company directors had ordered Woolley to inform Knight that the supercargoes (merchants) of the ship Hester had several fiddlers with them and intended to take them on the voyage to China.  The directors were very concerned as they had already heard of a revel-rout at Deal caused by the presence of the fiddlers.

Fiddler playing on deck of a ship whilst fellow sailors dance‘The fun got fast and furious’ from Gordon Staples, Exiles of Fortune. A tale of a far north land (London, 1890) British Library Digital Store 012632.g.29 BL flickr 

Knight was to inform the directors of what he knew about the matter or what he could discover.  He was also to tell the supercargoes that they were not to attempt to take fiddlers or any other musicians on the voyage.  Charles Kesar, captain of the Hester, was not to receive on board for the voyage anyone but the ship’s company and others authorised in writing by the Company.  When Knight mustered all the men, he was to check whether any were musicians.  Woolley supposed that the directors would not object to the captain carrying a trumpeter or two and perhaps just one fiddler.

The next day Woolley wrote to supercargoes Philip Middleton, James Naish and Richard Hollond.  The directors had not thought Woolley’s letter to Knight sufficient and ordered him to tell the supercargoes that the Company was very concerned about their management and expected them, especially Naish, to clear themselves of the report if in any way untrue.  From what the directors had heard, the beginnings of their management were a very ‘ill specimen’ of what was expected and it would take an extraordinary future performance to erase them. The supercargoes’ friends would be concerned that they had placed their favours on men who would not use their best endeavours to deserve them but, on the contrary, seemed careless about this.  Woolley said he was sorry to hear the report and hoped their future deportment would show that, if they had no thoughts of their own reputation, they would at least do nothing unworthy of the good intentions of the gentlemen who recommended them to the Company.  He ended by repeating that the directors positively forbade them carrying those fiddlers or any other musicians in the Hester.

On 3 January 1714 Middleton, Naish and Hollond replied to the directors protesting their innocence.  They said that they were ‘much Surprized to hear of Entertaining Fidlers and the Revel Rout occation’d thereby’ as they had not heard the sound of an instrument since leaving London.  However they were glad to know the Company’s ‘Pleasure in this perticular’ and would hold this in as great a regard as any other command.  The reports were groundless and the supercargoes aimed to obey every order and behave in a way conformable to the directors’ ‘good liking’.  It seemed that Naish especially was expected to clear himself, so he declared that he had not, nor intended, to entertain any fiddler or other musician to go on the voyage.

Richard Hollond's letter to the East India Company apologising for exceeding his private trade allowance IOR/E/1/6/ f.249 Richard Hollond’s letter to the East India Company apologising for exceeding his private trade allowance, November 1715

Middleton, Naish and Hollond found themselves again in trouble with the Company on their return from the voyage to China in 1715.  All three men had exceeded their allowances for private trade and wrote asking for forgiveness.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/200 pp.75-78 Letters from Thomas Woolley about musicians at Deal, December 1713 and January 1714.
IOR/E/1/5 ff. 1-4v Letter to Company from Middleton, Naish and Hollond 3 January 1714.
IOR/E/1/6 – letters from Middleton, Naish and Hollond about their private trade allowances, 1715.


06 April 2023

The disastrous paintings of Richard Greenbury

Richard Greenbury was an artist and decorator of furniture in early 17th century London.  In the 1620s, he received two important painting commissions from the East India Company.  Both documented incidents of treachery and suffering.

The first commission showed an odious moment of horror on the Indonesian island of Ambon.  In this faraway place, the East India Company was exporting spices alongside a larger, more established Dutch trading station.  In 1623, the Dutch tortured to death ten Englishmen at Ambon, claiming that they were going to invade the Dutch fort.  News of this event sparked a diplomatic incident in Europe.  In London, the East India Company published a pamphlet telling its side of the story, titled A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna.

Frontispiece of the East India Company’s pamphlet  'A True Relation of the Unjust  Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at AmboynaFrontispiece of the East India Company’s pamphlet, A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna.  The illustration on the left might have been the basis for Richard Greenbury’s painting. (British Library, T39923)

Richard Greenbury’s painting of the event, titled 'The Atrocities at Amboyna', was so graphic that the Company had to ask him to repaint part of it.  Crowds flocked to the painter’s studio to see it before it was finished.  One woman, purportedly a widow of one of the massacred Englishmen, fainted when she saw it.  It stirred such outrage that London’s Dutch citizens had to appeal to the Privy Council of King Charles I for protection from the furious public.  In February 1625 the completed painting went on display inside the East India Company’s headquarters, but only two weeks later, it was removed by order of the king and never seen again.  It was most likely destroyed by order of the Privy Council.  Reluctant to pay for a vanished painting, the East India Company eventually gave Greenbury less than half the amount of money he expected to receive.

Portrait of Naq’d Ali Beg by Richard GreenburyPortrait of Naq’d Ali Beg by Richard Greenbury (British Library, Foster 23)

The Company then gave Greenbury another commission.  This time, it wanted a pair of portraits of Naq’d Ali Beg, a trade ambassador from the court of Shah Abbas of Persia.  Unfortunately, this exotic young man’s stay in London was fraught with scandals, and he was ordered by King Charles I to return to the court of Shah Abbas.  Unable to bear the embassy’s failure, Naq’d Ali Beg committed suicide during the journey back to Persia in 1627.  Even though the East India Company contributed to the Persian ambassador’s disgrace, Greenbury’s portrait was displayed inside its headquarters in London.  Today, that same painting is part of the British Library’s permanent collections.

The disastrous subject matter of Greenbury’s paintings highlights the instability and sloppy diplomacy that the East India Company somehow survived in the 17th century.  One hundred years later, a new, relatively stable United East India Company emerged.  By the late 18th century it was a systemic part of Britain’s economy and a prolific corporate patron of British art.

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
East India Company. A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruell and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna. London: Nathaniel Newberry, 1624.
Howes, Jennifer. 'Chaos to Confidence'. Chapter one in Howes, J. The Art of a Corporation: The East India Company as Patron and Collector, 1600-1860. New Delhi: Routledge, April 2023. 


04 April 2023

Exercises for Ladies

Following on from Walker’s Manly Exercises, we bring you, by the same author, Exercises for Ladies; calculated to preserve and improve beauty, and to prevent and correct personal defects, inseparable from constrained or careless habits: founded on physiological principles.  This book was first published in 1836.

Donald Walker claimed that few young women were exempt from some degree of deformity which always increased with age.  These deformities were caused by the women performing nearly every act of their lives in a one-sided manner.  Prevention required an equal and similar use of the other side of the body.

Illustrations of bad positions leading to a crooked spineBad positions leading to a crooked spine

The book was divided into several sections.

Physiological Principles – the structure of the body, the vertebral column, the chest.

Functions of the body connected with exercise – locomotion, nutritive, thinking.  The effects of excessive exercise – exhaustion of the cerebral and spinal nervous system, and premature ageing of appearance.

Debility caused by constraint – whalebone stays causing debility and wrong positions.: ‘The little girl, in the attempt to render her thin and genteel, speedily becomes hump-backed’.  If boys are straight in figure without the aid of whalebone stays, why shouldn’t girls be the same?

Illustration of two young women showing the wrong and right positions in writingWrong and right positions in writing

Wrong positions which resulted from debility and from the employment of muscles unfavourably situated – standing, sitting, writing, drawing, guitar-playing, harp-playing, riding, lying in bed, all the acts of common life.

Guitar playing - wrong and right positionsGuitar-playing – wrong and right positions

Wrong and right positions in harp-playingPlaying the harp – wrong and right positions

Standing – if standing for a long time, the tendency to balance on one leg throws out the hip and distorts the spine.
Sitting – by always sitting on the same side of the window or fire, persons lean to one side, and this has the effect of raising one shoulder.

Injuries done by wrong positions to locomotive organs and functions, vital organs and functions, mental organs and functions.Utility of exercises to locomotive, nutritive, and thinking systems.

Exercises – active (the body is moved and agitated by its own powers); passive (the body is moved without any effort of its own); mixed.

Position of figure – standing (‘females, in particular, find the standing position very fatiguing’ because of the size of their pelvis), walking, dancing.

Exercises for the arms (rod, dumb-bells, Indian sceptre, clubs). Walker describes Indian sceptre exercises practised in the Army with clubs.

Young woman performing Indian Sceptre exercise

Young woman performing Indian Sceptre exercise Indian sceptre exercises

Exercises for the limbs (balance step, walking at different speeds, running and leaping).

Walking - the quick paceWalking – the quick pace

Running and leaping – ‘Owing to the excessive shocks which both of these exercises communicate, neither of them are congenial to women’.  So Walker moved quickly on to exercises for the feet.

Dancing – Ladies were to dance in a very different manner from gentlemen – ‘lithesome and graceful motions’.  Every lady was to desist from dancing as soon as she felt any difficulty breathing –‘oppression and overheating render the most beautiful dancer an object of ridicule or of pity’.


Deportment – how to curtsey.

Three stages of a curtseyThe curtsey

Games – ‘Le Diable Boiteux’ (which exercised shoulders), 'La Grace' (catching hoops on sticks), skipping rope, shuttlecock and battledore, bow and arrow.

Geary's exercise staysGeary’s Exercise Stays

Walker recommended exercise stays invented by Mrs Nicholas Geary of 61 St James’s Street.  He said that these stays were absolutely essential for all exercises of the arms, especially the Indian exercises for which they were constructed.  Their pressure on every part of the chest was slight as the very elastic shoulder straps were longer and fixed lower than usual, and they also played freely in the lateral direction under a transverse band at the back.

Advertisement for Mrs Nicholas Geary’s stays from Morning Herald (London) 3 October 1836Advertisement for Mrs Nicholas Geary’s stays from Morning Herald (London) 3 October 1836 British Newspaper Archive

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Donald Walker, Exercises for Ladies