As has become normal recently our President, Sarah, welcomed us all to the meeting on zoom. It was lovely to see everyone again and exchange news.
Sarah then introduced our speaker for the evening, Jenny Mallin whose talk was entitled “A Grandmother’s Legacy – the early days” and covered the beginning of the British Raj. Jenny’s parents had left India at the time of partition in 1947 and had brought the family archive with them. These records formed the basis of Jenny’s talk and as she had worked as a researcher for the B.B.C. she was able to add considerably to this information.
Three of her male ancestors had been in the British Army in the 18th Century to safeguard the trade of the East India Company and the lucrative trade route to China. This involved fighting or forming allegiances with local maharajas, competing robustly with the Dutch and the Portuguese and later fighting the French as it was the time of The Napoleonic Wars. The chief items traded were spices, tea, cotton, silks and opium. In wartime saltpetre also became a valuable product that needed guarding from the French in particular. By the beginning of the 19th Century British domination had been established and by 1850 one of Jenny’s ancestors was working on the railway which now crisscrossed the sub-continent.
Of particular interest was the role of women. In the early days men sent for their wives or girlfriends from home. The wife of one of Jenny’s ancestors had to wait over twenty years before she could join her husband. Later on, when there was a shortage of men in the U.K., as many were away fighting in the far east, young women elected to board ship and undertake the long and difficult voyage to India in the hope of finding a husband. There was even a scheme whereby women were paid £300 to go to India to find a husband. They were given a year to accomplish this and if they were unsuccessful they were returned home humiliated. Such was the shortage of women that many men proposed to widows as soon as their husbands died - sometimes even at the funeral!
Although the men fought in very difficult circumstances, the standard of living for the wives was very good with plenty of servants. Interestingly we learned that the word “memsahib” is translated as “madame boss”.
After many questions, Beryl Knight thanked Jenny for her interesting and entertaining talk which had drawn on all aspects of life during the British Raj.
After completing the usual business it was decided that a coffee morning would be held on zoom. Everyone was looking forward to this – yet another first for our W.I.!