Tag Archive | Bombay

Memoirs of a Highland Lady: Shipboard Life

Mount Stewart Elphinstone’ with the cliffs of the English coastline in the distance. Figures are shown on deck looking towards the coast. Built of teak in India in 1826, the ‘Mount Stewart Elphinstone’ had a trading life of more than 50 years. Over several voyages she carried nearly 1,700 convicts to Sydney and Hobart, as well as emigrants to Australia. The ship took between three and five months to make each voyage and in 1849 was described by Sir Lucius O’Brien of County Clare as a ‘deplorable prison-ship’. The painting has been signed and dated by the artist ‘W. Knell 1840’.

1827-1828

A long four months’ voyage in a narrow space amid a crowd of strangers. I could not avoid believing that some of them must have become acquainted with the humiliating circumstances attending our departure; they never showed this, and the Captain, who had been an actor in the miserable scene, was the most delicate of all, apparently ignorant of all; yet in odd ways Mary and I fancied he was more interested in us than in any of the rest of his passengers. We had taken a dislike to the good little man; we had met him at a tea party… On board his ship no man could be quieter or more agreeable than Captain Henning. My father and mother were the principal people’ we had the best accommodation, and we formed a large party ourselves. My father and mother had one cabin, a poop cabin, Mary and I had the other, Isabella’s smaller one opened out of ours; opposite to hers was Mr Gardiner; the two deck cabins were occupied by my brother John and the captain. It was quite a home circle apart from every body else; they were all below on the main decks.

The first feeling that struck me was the absence of all fear; alone on those wide waters, with but a plank between our heads and death, the danger of our situation never occurred to me. There was such a sober certainty of life apparent in the regular routine observed; the early holy stoning, the early cleaning, manoeuvring, arranging, the regular bells, the busy crew, the busy cuddy servants, the regular meals, the walks upon the deck, the quiet preparation of all in the Cuddy*, of all in our cabins, as if we were to go on thus for ever, as if we had gone on thus for years past; all looked so usual that the terrours which assail the spirits of those on shore who watch the sea never once entered the heads of the most cowardly amongst us. Storms, rocks, fogs without, fires, leaks, want of care within, all so readily arranged before the timid ashore, never once started up in a single mind at sea.

On we sailed, those bright summer days, with hardly breeze enough to fill our sails, skimming leisurely over undulating rather than swelling waves, hardly aware that we were crossing the Bay of Biscay. With Fatima’s help our cabin was soon set in order. It was well filled; a sofa bed, a dressing table that closed over a washing apparatus, a writing table, a pianoforte, a bookcase, and a large trunk with trays in it, each tray containing a week’s supply of linen. In the locker was a good supply of extra stores, water well bottled, in particular. A swing tray and a swing lamp hung from the roof, and two small chairs filled corners; there was a pretty mat upon the floor, and no little room could look more comfortable. The whole locker end was one large window, closed till we left the colder latitudes, open ever after, and shaded by Venetians during the heat of the day. A small closet called a galley, in which Ayah kept her peculiar treasures, had a shower bath in it, readily filled by the sailors, and a most delightful and strengthening refreshment to us…

We soon learned to employ our days regularly, taught by the regularity round us. The life we led was monotonous, but far from being disagreeable, indeed after the first week it was pleasant; the quiet, the repose, the freedom from care, the delicious air, and a large party all in spirits, aided the bright sun in diffusing universal cheerfulness. Few were ill after the first weeks, the soreness of parting was over, a prosperous career was before the young, a return to friends, to business, and to pay awaited the elder; and we had left misery behind us and were entering on a new life free from trials that had been hard to bear.

… I occupied myself pretty much as at home, reading, writing, working, shading my charts, and making extracts from the books I read, a habit I had indulged for some years and found to be extremely useful, the memory was so strengthened by this means and the intellect expanded as thought always accompanied this exercise. We were all well supplied with books and lent them freely to one another. Captain Henning had a very good library, and with him and one or two others we could converse pleasantly.

So on we sped in our ‘gallant ship,’ the Mountstewart Elphinstone, 600 tons, built by Captain Henning his own self up at Surat, and a very slow sailer! he made her. As we proceeded under brightening skies we ourselves seemed to grow sunnier. We learned to vary our amusements too, I got on famously. The little Ceylon children were very nice, particularly the little girl; it was a pity to see them lose what they had been learning, so I made them come to me to school for 3 hours daily, Mary when she was well enough, helping to teach them; however, she soon gave herself something better to do… [O]ne of the Officers proposed to me to make a chart of the voyage with the ship’s course traced regularly and dated; it was very interesting getting on day by day, sometimes great long runs that carried by dots on ever so many degrees, and then a little shabby move hardly observable. Once in a calm, we went round in a circle for 3 or 4 days, quite annoyingly.

After crossing the equator we found a charming occupation—a map of the Southern sky. The constellations were so beautiful. We have no idea in these cloudy climates of the exquisite brilliancy of the cloudless ones, the size of the stars too. We marked each as it rose, often staying on the poop till actually ordered away. The Cross, Sirius, Aldebaran, never were such diamonds in a sky…

Just as if they had been dotted on top of the myriads of glowing suns in the Milky Way, this image depicts some of the brightest stars of the southern sky: on the right, in a rhomboidal shape reminding that of a kite, are the four stars of the constellation Crux, the Southern cross; in the lower left part, instead, shine the two most brilliant stars of the constellation Centaurus, the Centaur.

Besides these more private intellectual pursuits we had publick diversions. Mrs Morse played the harp well, Mr Lloyd sang; every Saturday night the captain gave us a supper; in return each guest spoke or sang, the worse the better fun, but we did our best.…

Another day was for the sailors; they danced and they sang, and did athletick exercises, ending with a supper. Mrs Morse gave a Concert once a week down below in her range of cabins, and my Mother, opening our 4 en suite, gave another. Then we played cards in the Cuddy. Every body inclining to be agreeable, amusement was easily managed.

The Cadets killed a shark, and the Doctor dissected the head, giving quite a pretty lecture on the Eye. A nautilus, too, came under his knife, and a dolphin, and flying fish and sucking fish. One day I had been doing my map in the Cuddy, and wanting some pencil or something, went into our cabin; the locker Venetians were all open, and there before me, resting on the water beyond, was an albatross, surrounded by her young. Such a beautiful sight. That ‘Ancient Mariner’ committed a dreadful crime. Another day a storm at a distance revealed to us as it ended a waterspout, which, had it broken on us, would have been our end. It was in hour glass form, spouting up very high.

We had stormy weather near the Cape, bitterly cold; all the thick wraps we were provided with were insufficient to keep us comfortable. One really wild day I had myself lashed to the campanion that I might take a steadier survey of the sea ‘mountains high.’ The weaves rose to the mast head, apparently; we were up on top of them one minute, down in such a hollow the next, the spray falling heavy on the deck.

We landed on the 8th of February 1828 in Bombay. We entered that most magnificent harbour at sunset, a circular basin of enormous size, filled with islands, high, rocky, wooded, surrounded by a range of mountains beautifully irregular; and to the north on the low shore spread the City, protected by the Fort, screened by half the shipping of the world. We were standing on the deck. ‘If this be exile,’ said my father musingly, ‘it is splendid exile.’ ‘Who are those bowing men?’ said my mother, touching his arm and pointing to a group of natives with Couloured high crowned caps on some heads, and small red turbans on others, all in white dresses, and all with shoeless feet, who had approached us with extraordinary deference. On of the high caps held out a letter. It was from Uncle Edward, my Mother’s younger brother… and these were his servants come to conduct us to his country house.

*The Cuddy was the public room, where the passengers sat and ate ; and cuddy servants were those who waited at table.

Memoirs of a Highland Lady

‘I was born on the 7th May 1797 of a Sunday evening at No. 5 N. side of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, in my father’s own lately built house and I am the eldest of five children he and my mother raised to maturity.’ Thus opens one of the most famous set of memoirs ever written. Since its first bowdlerised edition in 1898, they have been consistently in print. This is the first ever complete text. Written between 1845 and 1854 the memoirs were originally intended simply for Elizabeth’s family, but these vivid and inimitable records of life in the early 19th century, and above all on the great Rothiemurchus estate, full of sharp observation and wit, form an unforgettable picture of her time. The story ends with the thirty-three-year-old Elizabeth finding her own future happiness in marriage to an Irish landowner, Colonel Smith of Baltiboys. ‘A masterpiece of historical and personal recall.’ Scotsman

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Memoirs of a Highland Lady: Further Hardships and Preparing for a Voyage

Jane’s marriage to Colonel Pennington, a much older man:

Jane was determined. She had argued the point in her own strong mind, decided it, and it was to be. Perhaps she was not wrong; the circumstances of the family were deplorable, there did not appear to be any hope of better days, for the girls at any rate, and we were no longer very young. So a very handsome trousseau was ordered, our great Uncle the Captain, kind old man, having left each of us £100 for the purpose, spent long before, I suppose, but Jane said she was entitled to it and so she got more than the worth of it, it added but a small sum to the vast amount of debt.

After Jane’s marriage, the Grants’ economic difficulties worsened. When their father lost his seat in Parliament to the Duke of Bedford’s son (according to Elizabeth Grant), he left Scotland to go to London and then abroad, with his son John.

Then came the news of his appointment to a judgeship in India—Bombay; Charles Grant, now Lord Glenelg, had done it, and we were desired to proceed to London immediately to prepare for the voyage. It was a blessing, and a shock—to me at least; every one else was rejoicing. Letters of congratulation came by every post. My poor mother smiled once more, and set about her preparations for removal with an alacrity that surprised us.

Preparing for a Voyage

There was a good deal to be done, for the house was to be left in a proper state to be let furnished with the shootings, a new and very profitable scheme for making money out of bare moors in the highlands. We were to take nothing with us but our wardrobes, all else was to be left for sale, and lists of the property left had to be made to prepare the way for the Auction. The stock and crop at the farm, the wine, the plate, the linen, the books, there was the rub, all and everything that was not furniture was to go, even what belonged to my sister and me, except a few pet treasures…

It was in August, early in the month; the weather was beautiful, the country looked lovely, the Spey sparkled under the sunshine, the wooded hills on either side stood as they stand now, and we watched the sun setting behind the Tor Alvie on that last day, without a tear. Mary and I had determined to be brave.

Rothiemurchus

My father had been knighted, and was safe in France, with John. William had been in London and Edinburgh and I know not where else, and had returned to take charge of us.

We entered the carriage, never once looked back, never shed a tear, though the eyes sometimes filled, very gravely we made out those eight miles among those hills and woods, and heaths and lakes, and the dear Spey, all of which we had loved from childhood and which never again could be the same to any of us.

We travelled on thro’ the bleak hill road, and posting all the way reached Perth to dinner.

Here an unexpected difficulty met us. A coachmaker, not paid for some repairs done to the carriage at various times, seized it for a debt of £40… We were in despair, feeling how very little would upset our poor mother—it was the last straw… [A]fter a good night’s sleep we entered our redeemed carriage and drove on to Edinburgh. There the carriage was seized again and allowed to go; we wanted it no longer. We were much annoyed my brother and I by hosts of unpaid tradesmen, whom it was agreed that I should see, as they were likely to be more considerate with me—I, who could do nothing. William kept out of the way and we would not allow my Mother to be worried…

We were two beautiful days and two calm nights at sea; I recollect the voyage as agreeable…

We reached London, or rather Blackwall, in the afternoon, engaged two hackney coaches for ourselves and our luggage… and on we went to Dover Street, Piccadilly, where lodgings had been taken for us… Our imprudent father could not keep quiet; he was so well known he was followed once or twice, and being so short sighted he might have been seized but for the cleverness of the shop people. So it was resolved therefore to send him away, and on Sunday he and John steamed from the Tower stairs to Boulogne… I got on quickly with the necessary preparations. Most of those I had to deal with were so kind, and when Mrs Need had to go home good Mrs Gillio came daily to me; her daughter Isabella was going to Bombay under my mother’s care, so that our business was the same. She went with me to the docks to see the ships and arrange the cabins… The cabins were furnished, and all the linen of our wardrobes, gentlemen and ladies, supplied by an Outfitter in the Strand, and even our ordinary dresses the few that we required. I had only to get besides, shoes, stockings, gloves, books, stationery, all the little necessaries our toilettes and our occupations needed.

Every one was obliging except old Mr Churton, who had been the family’s hosier for years. My father sent me to him with the ready money order, a good large one, as some amends, the only one in his power at present, for old unpaid debts. He refused to have any dealings with it, caught up his long bills and a long story, and a grievance, with reflexions on my father’s conduct to him which it was not comfortable for his daughter to hear. I told the old cross crab what my father had told me, adding that this was sure money, and that we were going where he would soon save sufficient to pay all his creditors in full. He did not care, he wanted none of this money, nor any orders from the family, nor any speeches either; he wanted nothing but his rights. I had never met with such incivility, was quite unused to be so addressed. I got very faint and queer I fancy, for he seemed frightened and called his sister, who appeared distressed, told the ‘dear young lady’ not to mind and brought me a glass of wine. But I had recovered, and got grand, and would not touch it, swallowed my tears, and… walked out à la Princesse, leaving the ill conditioned old man making humble apologies to the air. It was very cruel in him to taunt a young girl with her parents’ delinquencies.

It was late in the September day—the 28th I remember it was, in the year 1827—nearly dark. We got into a good sailing boat and proceeded out to sea… In an hour we reached our huge ‘ocean home’; down came the chair, we were soon upon the deck, amid such confusion, all noise, all hubbub, all a dream, but not to last long, for the rumour grew in a moment that the wind has changed. The captain ordered the anchors up… We stood out to sea and beat about till nearly 10 o’clock, when a Jersey boat sighted our peculiar light, came alongside, and my father and both my brothers came on deck; a few moments were allowed for a few words. My father shut himself up with my Mother; John remained beside Mary and me. William, in an agony of grief I never saw equaled in any man, burst out of our Cabin. We watched the sound of the oars of the Jersey boat as it bore him from us, and then said Mary, pale as a corpse, but without a tear, ‘We are done with home.’ We got under weigh directly, and favoured by the wind, long before we waked from heavy slumbers, were out of reach of any silver oars.

Memoirs of a Highland Lady

‘I was born on the 7th May 1797 of a Sunday evening at No. 5 N. side of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, in my father’s own lately built house and I am the eldest of five children he and my mother raised to maturity.’ Thus opens one of the most famous set of memoirs ever written. Since its first bowdlerised edition in 1898, they have been consistently in print. This is the first ever complete text. Written between 1845 and 1854 the memoirs were originally intended simply for Elizabeth’s family, but these vivid and inimitable records of life in the early 19th century, and above all on the great Rothiemurchus estate, full of sharp observation and wit, form an unforgettable picture of her time. The story ends with the thirty-three-year-old Elizabeth finding her own future happiness in marriage to an Irish landowner, Colonel Smith of Baltiboys. ‘A masterpiece of historical and personal recall.’ Scotsman

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