Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

21 January 2021

Isabella Keiskamma Frend - a challenging life

Isabella Keiskamma Frend was born 5 July 1829 at Fort Wiltshire, Cape of Good Hope (South Africa).  She was the daughter of Captain Albert Frend, HM 55th Regiment and his wife Ellen, née Last.  Her unusual middle name was taken from the Keiskamma River on which the Fort stood.

 View of the Cape of Good Hope; a tall, peaked mountain on the right with ships in the Table Bay below on the left and Cape Town on the rightView of Cape Town and highlands by F. Jukes published 1794 Maps K.Top.117.116.e.2 Images Online

As an Army family the Frends moved around frequently.  Their first child Ellen was born in Essex in 1815, and their two sons Albert and John were born in Jersey in 1815 and 1819 respectively.  Albert senior and Ellen didn’t marry until 14 August 1820 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, where their daughter Jane was born in September that year.  The family then travelled to the Cape of Good Hope where daughters Hester Tew (1823), Eliza (1824), Maria (1826) and Isabella herself were all born.  By 1832 the family were in India and their final child, Sarah, was born in Bellary, Madras, on 22 August 1832.

On 12 February 1833 tragedy struck the family.  Albert died in Bellary, Madras, and Ellen, who had set out with her children for Madras intending to return home to England, died on route at Cuddapah on 25 April 1833.  The nine Frend children found themselves orphaned, with only the eldest daughter Ellen already married and in a position to care for her siblings.

Isabella and Sarah were the only two not to remain in India.  They were adopted by Joseph and Emily Clulow and by 1841 were living in St Andrew, Devon.  Joseph passed away shortly afterwards and Emily moved with Isabella and Sarah to Brighton where both girls married.

On 13 August 1852 Isabella married Octavius Child, a Volunteer in the Indian Navy.  The couple had three children: Isabella Emily Sarah born 1853 in Aranjuez, Spain; Georgina Elizabeth born 1855 in Brighton; and Albert Octavius born 1857 in Santander, Spain.  Octavius died in Brighton 9 April 1858 age 31, after just six years of marriage.

Isabella married for a second time on 5 April 1862 in Gloucestershire to widower Francis Lawford, a Captain in the Madras Army.  As well as their children from their first marriages, they had a further three children together: Margaret Frances Isabella born in 1863; Bessie Ellen born 1865, died 1866; and Lionel Francis born in 1867.  Francis died on 28 August 1870, after eight years of marriage.  As a Madras Army Officer he subscribed to the Madras Military Fund Pension scheme.  Following his death not only did Isabella receive an annual pension, but so did all of Francis’s children who at the time of his death were unmarried (in the case of the girls) or under the age of 21 (in the case of the boys).

Isabella continued to live in Gloucestershire and on 15 September 1880 she married for a third time to the Baptist Minister William Millard.  There were no children from this marriage, which lasted for twelve years until William’s death in 1892.

After William's death Isabella was re-admitted to the Madras Military Fund as Captain Lawford’s widow.  Isabella moved to Ilfracombe, Devon where she remained until her own death on 14 September 1902.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records


Further Reading:
IOR/L/AG/3/10/1-2 Registers of subscribers to the Madras Military Fund and their widows and dependents.
IOR/L/AG/23/10/11, Part 2 No. 222 Certificates submitted in connection with Captain Francis Lawford’s subscription to the Madras Military Fund, including his marriage certificate to Isabella Keiskamma Child.
IOR/L/AG/23/10/13A, Part 3 No. 1103 Certificates submitted in connection to Mrs Isabella Keiskamma Millard’s eligibility for re-admission to the Madras Military Fund as the widow of Captain Francis Lawford.

 

19 January 2021

Richard Walpole and the East India Company at sea

Writer Horace Walpole had a cousin Richard who served as an East India Company maritime officer from 1744-1757.  Richard Walpole had at least two encounters with hostile French shipping whilst serving as a Company officer, exemplifying the dangers faced by merchant ships even when as heavily armed as East Indiamen.

During Walpole’s first voyage as 6th mate and purser in the Augusta, his ship captured the French vessel Baronette on 21 October 1747.

Whilst commanding the Houghton in March 1757, Walpole was involved in an action near the Cape of Good Hope.  His journal of the voyage records how on the afternoon of 9 March the East Indiamen Houghton, Suffolk and Godolphin were approached by two unidentified ships.  Walpole immediately began to clear his ship in readiness for battle.  The three East Indiamen steered away but were followed.  Walpole had everyone on board prepared for action all night.

At daybreak the Suffolk raised its flags and made the signal for line of battle.  Here is a splendid drawing of that line of battle from the journal of the Suffolk.

Drawing showing the three East India ships in the line of battleLine of battle for the three East Indiamen from the journal of the Suffolk IOR/L/MAR/B/397D  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

At 8 am the unknown ships hoisted French colours.   The larger of the two shot at the English ships and the Suffolk returned fire.   After a short exchange, the ‘warm engagement’ ceased as the ships found themselves positioned outside the bearings of each other’s guns.  The French made to sail westward but were pursued by the East Indiamen.  They then tacked and came in close to the English ships and ‘a very smart fire’ was maintained by both sides.  At noon the French sailed away, probably bound for Mauritius.  Walpole recorded: ‘Every Body behaved during the whole Engagement with great Courage & Resolution; several of the Shot from the large Ship reached us, & four of them have lodged…(thank God) no Body hurt’.

Letter from Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reporting the action against the French published in the Newcastle Courant newspaperLetter from Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reporting the action against the French published in Newcastle Courant 9 July 1757 British Newspaper Archive

The three ships reached the UK without further incident.  Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reported that the officers and sailors ‘behaved with all the Bravery and Intrepidity peculiar to our English seamen’.  He and his fellow captains asked the Company to honour a promise to reward mariners for their response to enemy attack.

Some of the crew of the Houghton, Suffolk and Godolphin did not reach their homes at the end of this eventful voyage.  They were pressed by the Royal Navy and found themselves on board HMS Hussar.

The French did defeat Richard Walpole five years later.  The ship Walpole for which he was Principal Managing Owner was captured off Ceylon by two French men of war and a frigate on 20 September 1762 on its outward journey to Bengal, laden mainly with cloth.  Captain Parson Fenner and some of the crew ended up at the Cape of Good Hope, others at Mauritius.  The East India Company decided that the capture was not through any misconduct of Fenner or his officers, but entirely owing to the superior force of the enemy which they were ‘utterly unable to resist’.  Richard Walpole was given permission by the Company to build a new ship for Fenner on the bottom of the Walpole.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Court Minutes IOR/B/74 and IOR/B/79
Ship journals: Houghton IOR/L/MAR/B/438H; Suffolk IOR/L/MAR/B/397D
British Newspaper Archive (also accessible through Findmypast) e.g. Newcastle Courant 9 July 1757

 

14 January 2021

Bibee Zuhoorun: Women’s Voices in the Indian Indenture Trade

Bibee Zuhoorun was one of 1.3 million Indian labourers recruited in Caribbean and Indian Ocean sugar plantations after slave-labour was abolished in the British Empire.  She migrated to Mauritius in the 1830s and on her return to India, testified in an official inquiry committee set up to investigate transgressions in the Indian indenture trade.  As the earliest voice of female indentured labourers, Zuhoorun’s testimony offers a rare insight into early migration—painting a story of deception, ill-treatment and injustice.

Title page of Report of the Calcutta Committee of Inquiry 1839 containing Zuhoorun’s testimonyReport of the Calcutta Committee of Inquiry, 1839, containing Zuhoorun’s testimony 

In Calcutta, she was persuaded by a labour-recruiter to travel to Mauritius and work as a servant.  After her departure, however, she realised she had been deceived: ‘I got no clothes given to me, nor blankets, nor brass pots’.   Nor did she receive the quality of wages, or the six-month wage advance that the recruiter had promised.

In Mauritius, she spoke of the injustice meted out to fellow labourers—a story of overworked men subjected to ill-treatment and corporal punishment.  Labourers were often confined within plantations, and denied wages if they refused to work.  She felt stuck in a foreign land with no means of returning to her homeland, urging ‘every one would leave if there was a land journey; not one would advise any of their friends to go there’.

View looking towards a ground of labourers' huts on a sugar plantation in the Plaines Wilhelms district of Mauritius, with a small group of labourers posed in the foreground and a mountain rising against the skyline in the background.‘Indian huts on a sugar plantation, Plain William near Port Louis’ c. 1853. Photographer: Frederick Fiebig. British Library Photo 250(25) Images Online

Zuhoorun’s testimony attested to the gendered experience of indentured migrants.  While men tended to cultivate and process sugar, women often worked in the households of plantation-owners.  Zuhoorun testified to ‘making salt, climbing tamarind trees to pick them, sweeping the house, and cutting grass for cattle’.  She even learnt French to communicate with her French ‘master’.

Her testimony also highlighted instances of sexual harassment and the expectation of sexual favours—a common occurrence in plantations.  Zuhoorun complained that her plantation-owner Dr. Boileau asked her to be his mistress.  She refused, saying ‘I have degraded myself by going on board ship; I would not further degrade myself’'.  Her attempts to complain to the police were met with a three-month stint at a house of correction, and then a return to Boileau’s house, where she was beaten and harassed further.  Eventually, she decided to return to India before the end of her five-year contract, even if it meant not receiving any wages for her 2.5 years of service.

Zuhoorun’s bitterness towards the indenture system is evident in her testimony.  She urged: ‘I would not return to Mauritius on any account; it is a country of slaves; […] I would rather beg my bread here’.  Overseas migration had also damaged her social position.  She implored, ‘even my mother will not drink water from my hand or eat with me’; a sign of social ostracization tied to a taboo on crossing the Indian Ocean.

Indian and Chinese Indentured Labourers in British GuianaIndian and Chinese Indentured Labourers in British Guiana. Image from Edward Jenkins, The Coolie, His Rights and Wrongs (1871) from Wikimedia commons

Zuhoorun’s story is not just one of tragedy, injustice and violence, but also strength and resilience.  She not only resisted Boileau’s advances and ended her contract early, but even complained to his wife, sacrificing her livelihood at the same time.  Although relegated to the footnotes of history, her testimony remains the earliest account of a female indentured migrant, characterised by its strength, detail and passionate criticism of the indenture system.

Purba Hossain
University of Leeds

Further reading:

Read the testimonies of Zuhoorun and other indentured migrants in Letter from Secretary to Government of India to Committee on Exportation of Hill Coolies: Report of Committee and Evidence. Parliamentary Papers (House of Commons) 1841, Vol. 16, No. 45

Discover the life stories of indentured labourers -
‘Becoming Coolies’ - Life Stories and From the Archive
The Indentured Archipelago 

Marina Carter, Voices from Indenture: Experiences of Indian Migrants in the British Empire (London; New York: Leicester University Press, 1996).
Marina Carter, Servants, Sirdars, and Settlers: Indians in Mauritius, 1834-1874 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Gaiutra Bahadur, Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2013).