Untold lives blog

11 July 2023

Request for help in returning to India

On 25 January 1893, the India Office in London received a letter from James Irwin residing in the Garden Hospital, Dublin requesting help in returning to his home in India.  James stated that he had been born in Poona and that he had travelled to Ireland with an ‘invalid gentleman who died in three months time after embarkation in the year 1891.  I have since that time been very bad suffering from a very severe attack of fever & ague, but thank God I am quite recovered and able to proceed home’.  James went on to say that, his wife had died from smallpox in June 1889, that he had four little children in the Byculla School at Bombay, and that he wished to return to them.  He claimed that his friends would be able to obtain employment for him as a guard on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, as he had previously worked for the Railway before leaving due to illness.   A second letter from James was received on 3 February, reiterating his situation.

Letter from James Irwin to the India Office received 3 February 1893Letter from James Irwin to the India Office received 3 February 1893 IOR/L/PJ/6/337 

The letters came across the desk of the Political A.D.C. at the India Office, Sir W.G.S.V. Fitzgerald.  As it happened, his nephew Edward Macartney-Filgate was in Dublin and was given the task of investigating James’s story.  Investigations disclosed that the Garden Hospital was a portion of the South Dublin Union Workhouse.  Macartney-Filgate was at first refused admission when he went there, it being a Saturday and not visiting day.  On explaining that he was on business from the India Office, he was allowed in and was able to talk to James.  He claimed he was born in India to English parents, that he had been a soldier, and then worked on the railways.  He came to Dublin as a servant, got out of employment and fell into poverty. 

Letter from Macartney-Filgate to his uncle about his visit to James Irwin, dated 20 February 1893Letter from Macartney-Filgate to his uncle about his visit to James Irwin, dated 20 February 1893 IOR/L/PJ/6/337 

Macartney-Filgate’s opinion of James was mixed, he believed James to be ‘plain pure and simple an Englishman’ but admitted that he showed ‘accurate knowledge of India as far as I was able to sound him’.  In the end, Macartney-Filgate thought, ‘His story may be true or not, I really could not form any definite opinion.  I do not believe many people but he seemed to withstand questioning.  On the other hand, as he has been in this workhouse since 1889 he may have simply raked together the whole story from some other inmate’.

Cover of India Office file on James IrwinCover of India Office file on James Irwin IOR/L/PJ/6/337 

Although Fitzgerald noted that this seemed to be ‘an unhappy case’, he thought that it was not one in which the India Office should interfere.  A letter was sent to James on 3 March 1893 stating that the Secretary of State was unable to assist him.

Letter from James Irwin to the India Office 2 May 1894Letter from James Irwin to the India Office 2 May 1894 IOR/L/PJ/6/372

A year later, James tried again, sending two letters to the India Office in April 1894.  He claimed that he had been given a promise of doing something to send him back to India, although he now wrote that he had two little children in the Byculla School in Bombay.  He asked for the boat fare to London so that he could have a personal meeting with the Secretary of State.  The India Office noted: ‘This man’s case has already been fully considered’, and a further letter declining to help was sent to him.  In reply to this, James wrote a final letter to the India Office expressing his disappointment and requesting help in obtaining employment on a P&O ship.  An instruction was written at the bottom of this letter to resend the previous letter declining to help.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Application from Mr James Irwin for assistance to return to India, 23 January to 15 February 1893, reference: IOR/L/PJ/6/337, File 146.

Application from James Irwin to be sent back to India, 13 April 1894, reference IOR/L/PJ/6/371, File 627.

James Irwin; request for assistance in returning to India, 2 May 1894, reference IOR/L/PJ/6/372, File 778.

South Dublin Union Workhouse.

Dublin Workhouses Admission & Discharge Registers 1840-1919 on Findmypast.co.uk

 

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