Tag Archive | Sarah Martha Siddons Grant

Memoirs of a Highland Lady: Colonel and Mrs. Smith


[Colonel Smith] had come down from Satara, where he commanded, for change of air, not being well. He lived with his friend Doctor Eckford, and we frequently met them in the evenings driving out together and sometimes we met them in society, but our paths did not seem to cross. He paid no particular attention to me neither do I recollect being at all occupied about him, nor did he dine once in my father’s house till many months after we had become acquainted. My father and he had got on a sort of pleasant intimacy ages before he seemed to think of me. We used to meet generally in the mornings. We rode always, my father and I, on the Breach Candi road, which was close to us and agreeable from its skirting the sea, and probably the breeze and the sun rise pleased our new companion, as he came a considerable distance to enjoy them. He also seemed to like political disquisitions, for he and my father rode on before deep in Catholick claims which were then being finally discussed in Parliament, while I had plenty to do, by myself, in managing that dreadful Donegal and watching the Parsees’ morning adoration of the sun…

These rides in this guise continued all the cold weather, our party latterly reinforced by my cousin John Cumming, who was staying with us, and who sometimes got twisted out of his usual place by me to the side of my father, Colonel Smith exchanging with him for a turn or two, to my father’s regret, who on these occasions observed that the Captain had inopportunely interrupted a very interesting argument on the influence of the Irish priesthood over the flocks; that poor Smith was a sad Orangeman, quite benighted, but honest and worth enlightening. It was Mr Gardiner and his radicalism over again.

So began my happy future to gleam on me, particularly after a few, half laughing, half earnest, hints from Dr Eckford, whom my Mother about this time began to talk of as Love’s messenger, and then styled roundly Cupid. Such a Cupid. Children, you have seen him, I need say no more. Cupid knew his business well. He threw shafts and bow away as unsuitable to a staid Brigadier and a maiden past her prime. His object was to touch the lady’s reason, which he did, no matter how, and the parents too, a matter effected principally by the Irish acres, warranted not to be bog. Who would have thought a marriage thus systematically arranged could have turned out so well.

[Satara] was but 30 miles, every comfort was already there in my Colonel’s bungalow, most of my wardrobe was with me, and some furniture. A clergyman was at hand—the smiling one—the Judge could grant the license, and the Resident do the rest.

My father was delighted, particularly when he heard all the particulars of the Irish estate, the bachelour brother etc. He was charmed, too, at the idea of the mountain wedding, so queer, so primitive. I think he wanted to get rid of me with as little expense, too, as possible. Not so my Mother. She had no wish for any marriage, it would only throw so much more trouble on her. She did not see that either of my sisters had done much for herself by her determination to marry. Jane married to an old man who might be her grandfather, hideously ugly, and far from rich. Mary shut up with her airs and her baby, never seeing a creature, nor of any use to any one. She did not understand this craze for marrying; pray, who was to write all the notes. Colonel Smith was no great catch, just a soldier. An Irish lad who went out as a Cadet, like George McIntosh of the Dell and 50 more such, and a marriage huddled up in that sort of way, in a desert, on a mountain, without a church, or a cake, or any preparations, it would be no marriage at all, neither decent nor respectable; she, for one, should never consider people married who had been buckled together in that couple beggar fashion. If there were to be a marriage at all it should be a proper one, in the Cathedral at Bombay by the clergyman who there officiated, friends at the wedding, and every thing as it ought to be.

St. Thomas’s Cathedral, Mumbai

So there was no help, she was resolute. We had to travel down the ghaut, and along the plains, a 100 miles, I think, for she would have no more sea, and travel back again after the ceremony, at the loss of a month’s extra pay, for the Colonel did not receive his allowances when on leave.

A fine long marriage Settlement was prepared, for days before our marriage, news arrived of my Colonel’s brother’s death which made him possessor of the Irish estate, then valued at about £1200 a year. As we had only been 16 months in India, my father told me he would offer me no additions to a wardrobe he presumed must still be amply provided, he would only buy from Mary her habit, which she had never worn as she never rode and give me that, as my own was growing shabby. My dresses in that climate had grow shabby too—but luckily a box arrived from the London dressmaker on chance, containing 3 very pretty new gowns for me, and a pelisse and hat and feathers for my Mother which she not fancying made over to me. My Colonel too sent me a pretty purse with 30 gold mohurs* in it and he ordered mourning for me as he wished me on reaching Satara to put it on for his brother.

My father gave me 20 gold mohurs* on my Wedding morning, as I had not spent all Uncle Edward had given me on landing, I felt quite rich for the first time in my life; and I never felt poor again, for though circumstances reduced our future income infinitely below our expectations, we so managed our small income that we never have yet owed what we could not pay, nor ever known what it was to be pressed for money.

My Colonel was married in his Staff uniform, which we thought became him better than his Cavalry light gray. There was a large party of relations, a few friends, and the good Bishop, then only Mr Carr, married us. My Mother, who had become reconciled to my choice, outraged all propriety by going with me to the Cathedral; both she and I wished it, as I was to proceed across the bay immediately after the ceremony. So it all took place, how, I know not, for between the awfulness of the step I was taking, the separation from my father and mother, whose stay I had been so long, and the parting for an indefinite time from poor Mary, I was very much bewildered all that morning, and hardly knew what was doing until I found myself in the boat, sailing among the islands, far away from every one but him who was to be in lieu of every one to me for ever more. The first movement that occurred to me was to remember Fatima’s advice—retired to the inner cabin, take off all my finery.

I had been married in white muslin, white satin, lace, pearls, and flowers and put on a cambrick wrapper she had sent on board and had laid ready. The next, to obey my new master’s voice and return to him in the outer cabin, where, on the little table, was laid an excellent luncheon supplied privately by my mother, to which, as I had certainly eaten no breakfast, I, bride as I was, did ample justice. Indeed we both got very sociable over our luxurious repast and quite enjoyed the nice cold claret that accompanied it.

[Our home] was the usual Indian bungalow, one long building divided into two rooms, with Verandahs all round subdivided into various apartments. The peculiar feature of this very pretty cottage was that the centre building to the front projected in a bow, giving such a charming air of cheerfulness to our only sitting room, besides very much encreasing its size; the Verandah to one side held the sideboard and other necessaries for the table, the other Verandah acted as entrance hall and anteroom. There were no walls on either side between the house and the Verandah, only pillars to support the roof. The back part of the long building was the bedroom, one side Verandah the Colonel’s dressing room, the other mine, and the one at the end was furnished in boudoir fashion for me. The bathrooms were in a small court adjoining, the servants’ offices at a little distance, and any strangers who came to see us slept in tents. Was there ever any establishment more suited to the country.

The Smiths had to leave India because of the Colonel’s illness; Elizabeth refers to it as asthma. The Colonel managed to survive the difficult voyage back to England, and the memoir ends with the birth of their daughter Jane.

And here I think I’ll leave my Memoirs for the present. You know, dear children, what my Irish life had been, the friends we found, the friends we made, the good your dear father did. Ten months in Dublin sufficed to shew us a town life was not then suited to us. We resolved to settle among our own people, your father finding in his own old neighbourhood all those companions of his youth whom he had left there more than thirty years before. A very happy life we led there. First in the pretty cottage at Burgage which we improved without, and within, and made so comfortable, and then in our own fine house built by ourselves, such a source of happy occupation to the Colonel for years and the means of raising his tenantry from debt and apathy and wretchedness to the thriving condition in which we now have them. It would take a volume to describe our slow but regular march of improvement, never wearying in well doing, bearing patiently with ignorance and all its errours, and carefully bringing up our own dear children to follow us in doing likewise. One only trouble assailed our happy home, the want of health—that miserable asthma breaking him and breaking me and stepping in between us and many enjoyments. The purse, though never heavy, was never empty, our habits being simple. On looking back I find little essential to regret and much, Oh so much, to be truly thankful for.

Dublin, February 1854


*The chief gold coin of British India


• Elizabeth’s niece (her brother John’s daughter) was Jane Maria Strachey, an English diarist and suffragette. Jane was also instrumental in editing and publishing her aunt’s memoirs.

• Elizabeth’s brother William married Sarah Martha Siddons, daughter of the renowned actress.

More of Elizabeth Grant’s Memoirs

A Highland Lady in Dublin

A Highland Lady in France

Memoirs of a Highland Lady