Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

31 August 2023

What about the East India Company women?

My recent blog post  ‘100 Years in the Service of the East India Company’, which told the story of seven Barker men in the employ of the Company, prompted one reader to ask, ‘…but what about the women?’

By comparison with men, there are relatively few records that describe the lives of Company women in any detail.  When they are mentioned, women are often referred to as Miss or Mrs XYZ without a first name or initials.

Here is what I have managed to discover about three of the Barker women.

Maria de Perpetua Pereira was the wife of sea captain Robert Barker.  Between 1807 and 1816, Maria gave birth to four children in Rio de Janeiro.  Her name was only fully revealed on the death certificate of her daughter Maria in Glasgow in 1907.  Her first child, John Thomas Barker, was conceived in 1807 during Captain Barker’s last Company voyage in the Northampton.  Maria appears in the passenger list of that ship as Mrs Barker, travelling with a servant.  I do not know the date and place of her birth, marriage or death, nor where she met Barker.

Passengers aboard the Northampton for the return voyage from Bengal  September 1806Passengers aboard the Northampton for the return voyage from Bengal, September 1806
Source: The British Library, India Office Records and Papers, Northampton Journal: IOR/L/MAR/B/198D 19 Apr 1805 - 15 May 1807, Passenger List (Cropped)

Frances Brown Barker married Reverend Joseph Laurie on 6 October 1822 at the Troqueer Church in Dumfries.  She was 32 and five years his senior.  Two weeks later they were aboard the Theodosia sailing from Liverpool to Bombay where Joseph was to be Junior Minister of the Church of Scotland.  The Company allowed Frances to journey with him ‘at no expense to the Company’.

Joseph Laurie’s appointment and permission to take Frances to India at no expense to the Company  25 Sep 1822

Joseph Laurie’s appointment and permission to take Frances to India at no expense to the Company, 25 September 1822 (Cropped). See also p.541 Sureties for the couple, 9 October 1822.
Source: The British Library, India Office Records and Papers, IOR/B/175 p.514.

Their first child Robert was born on 21 September 1823.  Frances gave birth to three more children at Colaba, Bombay, the younger two dying as infants.  The two surviving boys travelled to Scotland to be educated at Annan College, Dumfries and Edinburgh Academy, but I have been unable to resolve whether Frances accompanied them back to the UK.

Frances and Joseph returned to the UK for good in 1841.  She pre-deceased her husband in 1865 when they were living in Bristol.

Ann Goldie married Thomas Brown Barker, East India Company Surgeon, in 1826.  Ann was 27, he was 30.  In 1828 Ann accompanied Thomas back to India, again at no cost to the Company, sailing in the Robarts under Captain Joseph Corbyn.

It was an eventful voyage.  The ship became de-masted in the Bay of Biscay and had to return to Plymouth for repairs.  Then the Captain announced that he intended to make an unscheduled stop at Tristan da Cunha for water and that passengers would need to forego soup, tea and rolls to conserve supplies.  The male passengers signed a letter, drawing the captain’s attention to the large number of dogs on board consuming water.  Corbyn’s response was to have the 38 dogs thrown overboard.

At the conclusion of the voyage, passenger Daniel Cullimore brought a lawsuit against Captain Corbyn for trespass, assault and false imprisonment after being confined below decks.  Thomas gave a character witness for Cullimore at the trial, and Corbyn was found to be at fault.

On 31 January 1848, Ann and Thomas set sail for England from Calcutta aboard the Gloriana.  However, Thomas died on 16 March as the ship was sailing towards the Cape of Good Hope.  Ann received an annual widow’s pension from the Company of £250 6s 4d effective from 17 March 1848 until she died in 1866.

Bengal Military Fund - Register of pensioners and pension paymentsBengal Military Fund: Register of pensioners and pension payments, IOR/L/AG/23/6/3 : Jul 1866-Dec 1871 Establishment no. 126. (Cropped)

Mark Williams
Independent Researcher

Creative Commons Attribution licence

Further reading:
East India Company Court of Director Minutes e.g. IOR/B/181 p. 363 and p. 370.
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Morning Herald, 1 June 1848, p.4.
Asiatic Intelligence, The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register […], Vol. 1-New Series (January to April 1830), (London: Parbury and Allen, 1830), pp. 38-44.


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