Untold lives blog

05 October 2023

What about the East India Company Women? Emma Roberts and East India Voyagers

In 1827 Emma Roberts published her first book Memoirs of the Rival Houses of York and Lancaster.  The following year she sailed to India in 1828 on board the ship Sir David Scott with her sister Laura who was married to Captain Robert Adair McNaghten of the Bengal Infantry.  The arrival in Calcutta of this ‘celebrated writer’ was announced in the local press.  India became a major focus of Emma’s writing from this point in her life.

East Indiaman Sir David Scott  at the entrance of the Straights of Sunda. February 1830East Indiaman Sir David Scott  at the entrance of the Straights of Sunda. February 1830, by E. Duncan, handcoloured aquatint published by W. J. Huggins, London, 1833 via Wikimedia

Emma published a book of poetry entitled Oriental Scenes, and edited and composed articles for the Oriental Observer in Calcutta.  Laura died in October 1830, and in 1832 Emma returned to London where she wrote on a wide variety of topics.  But in 1839 she travelled to India taking the overland route via France and Egypt.  She arrived in Bombay in November and quickly became very busy with writing, editing, and a project to provide work for India women.  Sadly she fell ill in April 1840 and moved to Poona hoping to aid her recovery, but died there in September.  Emma was buried on 17 September as a spinster, ‘years unknown’.

Burial register entry at Poona for Emma Roberts 17 September 1840Burial entry for Emma Roberts at Poona 17 September 1840 IOR/N/3/14 p.480

Emma’s book The East India Voyager, or ten minutes’ advice to the outward bound was published in 1839.  There were chapters on: Choice of Cabin; Ladies’ Outfit; Desultory Remarks; Domestic Economy, Diet, Clothing ; The Civil Service; Cadets; The Medical Service; Desultory Remarks upon the Office Of Chaplain; The Overland Journey; Journey from London to Bombay; Expenditure on Journey to Bombay.

The choice of cabin was not so important for young men on the ship as they spent the greater part of their time on deck.  But they were advised to secure at least part of a cabin, however economical they were trying to be, since a berth in steerage was particularly disagreeable.

Ladies, married or single, should opt for upper, or poop, cabins which were light and airy.  The ports seldom had to be shut even in the roughest weather.  The cuddy, where meals were served, was only a few steps away, so there was no need to go out on deck, avoiding the annoyance of a rolling vessel and the risk of meeting crew members.  The disadvantages of the upper cabins was the noise overhead – sailors trampling, ropes dragging, blocks falling, the banging of the hen coops, and the cackling of poultry.  But Emma thought this was good preparation for life in India, and ladies could stop their ears with cotton.

The cabin floor needed to be covered with carpet or mats, and a small rug was useful to put under the feet when eating in the cuddy where the boards were very cold.  The ship’s carpenter could be asked to put up swinging shelves and a piece of board with holes of different sizes for wine glasses, tea cups and tumblers.  Soap was useful as a gift for crew members doing odd jobs, as was brandy because many sailors did not like the rum provided.

Emma also gave advice on the care of dogs on board.  They needed to be brushed, and young dogs were to be given a cup of tea every day, preferably green, with milk and sugar.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator. East India Company Records

Further reading:
Emma Roberts, The East India Voyager, or ten minutes’ advice to the outward bound (London, 1839)
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Bombay Gazette 18 June 1828
For other works by Emma Roberts, search Explore the British Library

Untold lives blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs