INDIA DURING THE RAJ: EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS
Diaries and Related Records Held at the British Library, London
Part 1: Diaries and Related Records Describing Life in India, c.1750-1842
Part 2: Diaries and Related Records Describing Life in India, 1819-1859
Extracts - Part 1
Ms Eur E. 379/1 Diary for 1769 of George Paterson (1734-1817), Secretary to the British Government mission to the Nawab of the Carnatic.
In the extract below he describes Tillecherry, near Bombay:
“About four miles North of it lies Tillecherry. It is a Chief-ship dependent on the Precedency of Bombay….
A little before the approach to Tillecherry and all along there for a considerable way is a ridge of Rocks which breaks the Surf on the beach; but which also prevents the approach of Ships and effectually hinders them from coming near enough to have any protection from the Cannon of the Fort in case of necessity. During the last War these Rocks were fortified but since they have been neglected.
The Fort is situated upon a rising ground, the entrance to which is a considerable way from the Beach; but one of its Bastions, the saluting Battery and the old Fort runs along shore. Upon that Bastion of the Fort is placed the Flagstaff and Ensign. The Fort is Walled round, has two Bastions only, is exceedingly irregular and capable I imagine of making a very weak defence against Europeans….
A little further on the same road and at about 1 or 2 miles from the Fort on a rising ground is another Square Fort Cadolah built of Earth and mounted with Cannon—along the East face of which runs a River on the opposite side of the River the Natives have built a Fort on a rising ground which they have fortified strongly with Bamboos. This manner of Fortifying is reckoned impenetrable even to Cannon and not long ago when the English attacked the Fort they could make no impression but with Mortars. The Natives have also another Fort Southward from this but not Bamboo’d….
Hyder Ally was brought into this Country in 1765 at the request of Ally Rajah, who promised him a great deal, in which he has disappointed him, so that he may make an Enemy of this power who was once his good Friend. They say here that Hyder Ally himself being rather old wishes for repose and would gladly be at Peace: but his Son who is ambitious, active and enterprising prevents it. This young man is said to be exceedingly cruel…
The Entry into the Fort of Tellecherry is by a flight of Steps, leading into a large gate way fitted with exceeding thick folding doors, and from thence by crooked Stairs there is an entry into the Court…. The Court is spacious, and a large extensive flight of steps leads to the Chiefs house. There there is a large Hall with a variety of rooms that go off at both sides, and a Viranda looking towards the road with ambrassures in it for Cannon….”
Ms Eur B. 392 Diary of Colonel Massey (1742-1845) of the Madras Army
Colonel Massey was held prisoner in Seringapatam by Hyder Ali (Haidar Ali) and Tipu Sultan from 1780-1784. He recounts his experiences:
“18th Sept 1781 In ye evening begun a grand festival, the parade in front of ye Raja’s Palace being previously prepared for exhibitions. He appeared on a chair of state surrounded by his attendance (all standing in a balcony of his Palace above the Crowd), he seems about 8 years of age. The Head Myer having observed us to look out came to our prison and ordered that any of us who stood an instant for that purpose should be flog’d….
4th Octr Heavy rain—6th To be mustered in future 3 times a day. 11th Monsoon weather. 14th Arrack stopt. That Hyder is come into his country and our army at his heels. 25th Hyder still in ye Carnatic 26th several of ye soldiers seen by us on ye Parade this afternoon dressed as moormen drilling ye boys, it is reported they have taken service and are circumcised.—Several of us ill of a cold and fever. This said to the unhealthy season here. 29th a x fm Serjt Hollingsworth, that the Head Myer and a Bramin came into the soldier’s prison the 19th Sept and chose out 15 healthy looking young men and took them to ye Killedar’s house, where they were pressed to entertain, that on their refusing they were threatened with instant death, and taken from thence one by one into an apartment where an operator assisted by 6 stout Coffries circumcised them by force. A note from Mr Brunton corroborates the above, adding that a drumr and fife were to be taken out but happened to be sick….”
Ms Eur C. 166 Diary for 1813 of George Morris, British Army veterinary surgeon with the Light Dragoons.
Here he describes his arrival in Madras after the voyage from England:
“Wednesday July 7th 1813…. I went on shore with Conl Nicholls, and got into a Hack Palanquin and proceeded to the Town Mayer to Report myself &c…. Capt Hole went with me to the different offices to report after which, I retired to a Tavern with him where we took a lunchin or what is Calld in this Country a Tiffin… all the European officers look exremly Ill as to myself I reely think the very marrow is all sweated out of my bones.
July 9th 1813 After Breakfast this morning I came on Shore & had my 12 Bearrers & Palanquin with four Black Servts—ready. I had made up my mind not to ever get into a Palanquin or to Keep any Servts. However It was Impossible to Walk in the Day without being Struck down by the Sun, at 3 OCk I got some Dinner, and drank, about Two bottles of Maderia—the Common drink here but everything—extremely dear—at 6 OClock I went to the Beach and got my men disembarked & Immediately proceeded to Poonamallee An Army depot about 15 miles from Madras and my sufferings in this march having been so long on Board of Ship together with the dust and Heat is allmost beyond description—however I got half way, and halted…. The Bread is excellent, the meet & fowls Bad & tough—except the Capons which are very large the Arrack very Stupefying, but Cheep. the Wines good but the same price as in England, the water very Bad, as to good Beer—is five shillings a Small wine Bottle & Cheese Six shillings a pound….”
Ms Eur C. 537 Journal, 1818-1820 of Mrs M E Doherty, wife of Major Joseph Doherty
The extract below describes their impressions of Madras society shortly after their arrival from England:
“...on the Tuesday morning we disembarked in one of the country boats rowed by 24 Indians whose song stunned us: on landing we were driven through the town in a Chariot to Mr P’s garden House which was large and handsome but to an English eye very ill furnished. Our reception was kind, but to those accustomed in England constantly to mix with Strangers very formal and ceremonious—they gave us a Bungalow to ourselves, introduced us to the first houses at Madras, assisted us in procuring everything we wanted Servants, houses, furniture etc.
The mode of life was to me very fatiguing. Breakfast was ready soon after 8 and from that time till past one the family sat in the Breakfast room receiving morning visitors the room was so darkened you could not see to read or work. If you went out to pay visits you first changed your dress putting on what you would wear at a public déjeuné in England. At about two came what they called tiffin, the real dinner, after which the family separated and lay on the sophas till the Carriages are ready at ½ past five o’clock…. Afterwards we drove up and down the Mount Road for an hour, the Gentlemen riding on horse-back and then dressed for dinner either at home or out at seven. These dinner parties were the most formal things imaginable generally about thirty or forty - when you arrived at the stranger’s house two Gentlemen came down the steps to hand you into the Drawing room…. The Ladies were dressed as for a Ball, the Gentlemen if officers in Regimentals….”
Ms Eur A. 210 Diary of William Parry Okeden (1800-1868) of the Bengal Civil Service, describing a journey by boat and palanqueen from Calcutta to Agra in 1821
“6th Not a boat to be got, and after much trouble we were obliged to write to the Collector for a chokey boat, which was ready at 3pm. The wind and stream were both against us, however, and as we could not be worse off we left the budgerows for Mr Chester’s. The first difficult place was the Fort Bastion, where the water ran like a sluice; a short way on is the part of the city called Chehil Setoon (40 pillars), and the remains of the British factory are still to be seen, where the massacre of all the English (about 150 to 200) took place in 1763; after being whirled about the eddies, and driven out into the stream, we passed the town about 6pm, having been three hours coming three miles, expecting the boat would upset every moment. In passing the town the old buildings towering one above the other on the banks of the river, with innumerable ghauts communicating with the town by long, narrow, dirty passages, give a most striking picture of native filthiness and native dirtiness…
7th Up at daylight (4.30) and went to see the building the Company erected as a granary to be filled and kept in case of a famine; it is a large brick building in the shape of a beehive, with two winding staircases on the outside, 179 steps to each; there is a round hole at the top where the grain was to be poured in, with two small doors at the bottom to take it out….”
The following is taken from William Parry Okeden’s sporting journal, 1823-1841, Ms Eur A. 210, also included in Reel 14:
Party.- Grote, Wheeler, Mangles and Okeden
March 11th Arrived at Ruderpore to breakfast. At 12 mounted our elephants and went to a jheel just below the village. We put up a number of mahars (red deer); Wheeler shot a doe. As we entered a piece of thick grass Grote viewed a tigress, when we instantly gave chase, but in our eagerness passed her; she sprang on the hind quarters of Mangles’ elephant, but dropped immediately and crouched for a fight, but, we all seeing her, a well-directed fire soon put an end to the contest. We then beat up the jheel, and I shot a fine buck. On entering a deep swamp a large wild buffalo was started, which went away across a midaun for about five miles, when, having received eleven wounds, he fell by a ball from Wheeler; my elephant running sulky I was not up for the fight…”
Ms Eur B. 208 Diary for 1831 of Capt Christopher D’Oyley Aplin (1787-1833), Bengal Army
He describes preparations for a trip to the Hill Provinces:
“….January 1 1831 Cawnpore. After attending Parade at M for the purposes of Muster the greater part of the morn was passed in receiving visits from my brother officers & in exchanging the Compliments of the Season. Our friendly wishes for each other’s health & welfare were, I am confident, as honestly, as kindly expressed. I have received since joining the Regiment in February last, much attention both social & polite from the officers junior to myself in the Corps, & I am happy in having secured their good will & esteem - in a day or two I again separate from them ? with a journey to the Hill provinces for the ? of my health.
2d&3d Passed chiefly in preparation for my march. I have engaged for the conveyance of Tents, Tables, Boxes, Wines, Plates & Dishes, Beds, Chairs etc, and Mrs Aplin’s Palakeen 5 Camels, 3 Waggons or Carts to be drawn each by Three Bullocks, & 10 Bearers—these means are in addition to my own regular Establishment which consists, after much reduction from former occasions of Three Servants for waiting at Table, cooking, & clean knives, forks etc etc Three Bearers for looking after my furniture, Wines, Clothes, Military Equipment….”
Ms Eur B. 360A Notebook, 1832, of Florentia (1790-1853), wife of Major-General Sir Robert Henry Sale (1782-1845)
She describes a visit with the Doctor to a pregnant Princess:
“…. On the 6th I paid another visit to the Bace, taking Henrietta with me as Interpretess. Dr Murray also accompanied us as the Bace wished to consult him regarding Chemneer Bace’s health, the Princess had suffered much from anxiety during the period she was separated from her Mother & was so much reduced and altered as serving to be unrecognisable for the same lovely girl we had seen at Gwalior. The Mahrattas have a strange Custom of not allowing any woman who is enceinte to eat Meat or any thing that is strengthening. Dr Murray sat in the outer tent against the Purdah having the ? by his side and Hindoo Proa and Appah Sahib near him and we consulted him through the screen. Dr Murray was not permitted to feel her pulse, although the Bace would have followed Dr M’s Suggestion of putting the Hand through the Purdah, but on Enquiry they found the Chiefs were there….”
Eur Ms B. 330 Journal, 1838-1839 of Capt (later Lt General Sir) James Outram 1st Bart, 1803-1863), Bombay Army
The journal tells of his march through Sinde to Ghazni and Kabul in the first Afghan War:
“10th Dec At 6am Left Gharry Pote & travelled without intermission till 9pm estimating the distance 45 miles at the rage on an average of 3 miles an hour the camels latterly being completely done up (one of them dropping about 5 miles from the camp & not got up till next evening the whole route across the delta of the Indies—covered with tamarisk jungle of the most luxurious growth and another shrub a favourite food for innumerable camels in sight intersected by artificial canals every 300 or 400 yds which I was informed had been dry for the last 3 or 4 years in consequence of the stoppage of one of the branches of the Indus which supplied them...
The march of this day is delayed for want of carriage, half of the camels brought up with us being now disabled or lost by casualty & the stoves hitherto brought by boat having now to be carried, with all the assistance of the Bengal Commissariat it is now evident that the whole of this army cannot advance & the chief has with great regret been compelled to resolve to leave a position….”