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The Intriguing History of Fort St George by David Ebsworth

Today I welcome David Ebsworth to my blog to tell us about one of the fascinating buildings he came across during his research for his ‘Wicked Mistress Yale’ Series. Over to Dave:

‘I thought it was just coincidence,’ he said. A friend for the past sixty years reading the first part of my Yale Trilogy, The Doubtful Diaries of Wicked Mistress Yale. ‘You set the story in Fort St. George – and guess what? That’s the name of my local.’

We checked it out. Mike’s favourite pub sits on the south bank of the River Cam, Midsummer Common. It’s supposed to be one of the oldest in Cambridge itself and it’s usually just known as the Fort. A footbridge crosses the river there, the Fort St. George Bridge. The place is supposedly named for its resemblance to Fort St. George in old Madras, modern Chennai. But a quick glance at the pub sign hanging outside lends the lie to this.

Dave Ebsworth Fort St GeorgeI know because, for the best part of a year, it felt like I lived at the original Fort St. George, while I was writing The Doubtful Diaries.

Fort St. George in old Madras – the start of the Raj

It had been built in 1639, the very first British fortification in India, constructed by what was then the Honourable English East India Company. Fort St. George therefore stands almost as the prologue in the story of the British Raj, warts and all. And it was built on virtually uninhabited land, bordered by two tiny villages – Madraspatnam on one side, Chennapatnam on the other. The population of the two villages no more than a few hundred souls, on the south-eastern Coromandel Coast of India.

The great thing? Much of it’s still there, the walls intact and many other reminders of those early days remain standing. Of course, it’s now dwarfed by the metropolis that’s grown around it, a present population of over 7 million, and the name changed from Madras to Chennai back in 1996, the capital of Tamil Nadu.

Fort St. George and Catherine Hynmers Yale
But let’s go back to 1670, and the arrival there of nineteen year-old Catherine Hynmers with her older husband, Joseph, a senior official for the East India Company. There, they moved into a substantial house on Middle Gate Street. The gate is still there – and so is the street, though it’s seen better days. 

Fort St George Chennai
Middle Gate Street

Catherine gave birth to four boys, possibly five, but in 1680, Joseph was taken by a fever. No wonder, for one in every five of the European population of Fort St. George died every year.

Joseph was buried inside an impressive mausoleum, beneath a tall pyramid – and his tomb still stands, complete with an inscription that confirms his status. But Catherine now had a difficult decision to make. Four surviving children, on the far side of the world, and in 1680 the far side of the world was very distant indeed. At least a six-month stinking, cramped and hugely perilous voyage, with only one stop on the way. She chose to look for a second husband, settled on an unlikely choice, a junior clerk called Elihu Yale. They were married at the newly consecrated St. Mary’s Church. 

St Mary's Church Chennai

St. Mary’s stands too, in almost pristine condition, and the record of Yale’s marriage to Catherine still viewable in the parish register.

Yale Marriage Record
Yale Marriage Record

Yale, of course, gained much of Joseph’s wealth from the marriage, used it to furnish himself with not one mistress, but two – and to set them both up in a specially constructed villa, a “garden house.”

Meanwhile, Catherine had given birth to four more children, three girls and another boy, David Yale, who died while still a baby and was buried in the same mausoleum as Joseph Hynmers. David’s inscription can be seen on the tomb, too.

The tomb of Joseph Hynmers and David Yale at Fort St. George

Fort St. George and the Indian Ocean Slave Trade

Yale himself had now risen to the position of Governor at Fort St. George and, in that position, he supervised the Company’s new and highly profitable trade in slaves – Indian slaves. 

How do we know all this? Because, for all their sins, the East India Company kept meticulous records, minutes of every single, daily meeting that took place – the Consultation Books for Fort St. George. And, from those minutes, we see that each vessel bound for the English colony on St. Helena was required to carry ten Indian slaves, for there was then a great demand for slaves in that colony. In one month alone, over 600 Indian slaves are recorded as having been dispatched, either to St. Helena in the west, or to Sumatra in the east.

By 1689, Catherine – a woman of strong Dissenter beliefs – could stand the situation no longer and returned to England with her brood of children, and that’s where the Yale Trilogy leaves Fort St. George and Madraspatnam behind, more or less. Yale would eventually bequeath his name to one of the world’s great universities, though to Catherine he left nothing in his will but the slur of branding her a “wicked wife.”

But that, as they say, is another story and, clearly, it certainly wasn’t the end of the fort’s own saga.

Fort St. George and Later Celebrities

In 1744, another junior clerk arrived there. Robert Clive. Over the following nine years he distinguished himself in the East India Company’s army and, in 1753, married Margaret Maskelyne and they lived together in the fine mansion still known as Clive House. He would distinguish himself still further, of course, at the Battle of Plassey and elsewhere, and he would literally finish the work begun at Fort St. George a hundred years earlier – the establishment of British India and the British Empire. 

Clive's House
Clive’s House

Later still, the young Arthur Wellesley had a house in Fort St. George and it was within its walls that Major Stringer Lawrence laid the foundations for the Indian Army. 

Apart from the buildings and the fortress walls, the Fort St. George Museum is still a great repository for almost four hundred years of British involvement and history in Madras, with all its contradictions.

Wellesley House
The remaining portion of Wellesley House

Fort St. George – the Cambridge Connection

But what is the connection between that original Fort St. George and the pub in Cambridge? I have a favourite theory that it’s all connected to the story of Colonel Sir William Draper, who successfully defended Madras and its fortress, in 1758, against a siege by the French during the Seven Years War. Draper had close connections to Cambridge and, at the end of the conflict, he presented the colours he’d taken – both in India and the Philippines – to his old college, King’s College, Cambridge. The presentations apparently occasioned great celebration and hence, perhaps, Fort St. George itself became celebrated and fêted in the town.

If readers have other theories, or if you’ve visited the Fort – either in Chennai or in Cambridge – it would be great to hear from you. 

Thank you to David Ebsworth for this exploration of one of the great historical buildings in India. If you’d like to contact him for more information you can find him on his website 

Or you could buy the books

 

Categories
Blog Reviews

Recent Recommended Reads Private Lives by JG Harlond and Daughters Of India by Jill McGivering

cover193221-mediumWith lockdown in progress, and my new book just finished, I’ve made time for plenty of reading this month. Here are the first two reviews and I’ll be posting the rest of the reviews shortly.

Private Lives by J G Harlond

I read the first of these Bob Robbins mysteries set in WW2 and loved it, so couldn’t wait for more. This is the ultimate cosy read, full of humour, but also hiding some dark and dangerous depths. I think of it as Agatha Christie meets Dad’s Army, but the characters have plenty of depth. The mystery starts from the off, with Bob Robbins witnessing (from afar) what he thinks might be a shotgun murder. But when he searches the spot there is no body to be found, and the person he saw has simply disappeared. Bob is supposed to be on holiday, but of course he can’t help being curious, and is soon sucked into the investigation, forfeiting his longed-for summer break.

A body does eventually appear, but not the man they are looking for, adding to the mystery.

Bob Robbins  is aided in his investigations by raw recruit Laurie Oliver, who has a love of the ladies and of English Literature, and always has an apt quotation to hand. Fun is added by the setting which includes a chintzy seaside boarding house with a group of thespians preparing to entertain the holidaymakers. Nearly all of them have something to hide, and give Bob a run for his money. The vivacious  actress Jessamyn Flowers (who incidentally has several other names) who runs the lodging house is especially enjoyable. Anyone who does ‘Am Dram’ will recognise this world, and appreciate it. The background of wartime England is accurately and evocatively drawn, with preparations for ‘D Day’ going on all the time. Settle down with your cocoa for this ideal slice of entertaining escapism.

 

Daughters Of India by Jill McGivering

71wUcBYYImLI love to read anything set in India and was really impressed by the sense of place in this book. Right from the beginning, McGivering shows us the heat and colour of India then contrasts it with the chilly Yorkshire Dales, where Isabel must spend the holidays at boarding school and then away from her family and her beloved India. These early parts, seen through childhood eyes, add to the feeling of India as a place of golden memory. Later we are treated to the smells and sounds of Delhi, and then the Andaman Islands – a place I had never even heard of, in the Bay of Bengal. I feel now I have a picture of these places in my imagination.

The two main protagonists, Isabel, born into Colonial luxury of the British Raj, but always feeling an outsider, and Asha, a hindu, are both courageous women. From the cover, I thought this might be a light romantic read, but it is a hard-hitting exploration of attitudes during the final days of the Raj, when India looks for self-rule and the Raj looks to maintain control. The politics are well-researched and sensitively handled, the male characters real people not just ciphers. The book deftly explores the difference between what some call murderers and some call freedom fighters. If you want a book that will take you to a different time and place, that will surprise you, shock you and move you, then this is very highly recommended.

 

Categories
Blog Reviews

The East India Company – The Palace of Lost Dreams

I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Charlotte Betts today, to tell us the history of the East India Company.

My review of Charlotte’s most recent novel, The Palace of Lost Dreams is at the bottom of this article.

THE EAST INDIA COMPANY

India 2007 075

The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies (The Company) was founded in 1600. It established a ‘factory’, or free-trade area, in Masulipatnam in India where local inhabitants could interact with foreign merchants with the consent of local rulers. In 1640 a further factory was established in Madras and this was followed by rapid expansion into other areas. Meanwhile, other companies founded by the Dutch, Portuguese, Danish and the French were also spreading their tentacles throughout India.

Dance-Holland, Nathaniel; Robert Clive (1725-1774), 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, 'Clive of India'; National Trust, Powis Castle; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-clive-17251774-1st-baron-clive-of-plassey-clive-of-india-102275
Dance-Holland, Nathaniel; Robert Clive (1725-1774), 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, ‘Clive of India’

The company’s victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 under Robert Clive, Commander-in-Chief of British India, established political and military supremacy of the East India Company in Bengal. Clive followed this by securing large areas of land, and its riches, in south Asia – Bangladesh, India and Pakistan – becoming a multi-millionaire at the same time. Together with Warren Hastings, the first Governor of Bengal, the foundations were laid for the British Raj.

The British government began an intensive effort to work with the East India Company, who already had armies in place, to snatch power and control over India as a whole. In 1797 the two strongest powers in India, Mysore and the Marathas, had declined in strength and it was a good time for Britain to grasp the upper hand. The Marquis of Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s elder brother, arrived in India in 1798 to take up his new post as Governor General at a time when Britain was locked in a life or death struggle with France all over the world.

Since Napoleon had set his sights on India, too, Wellesley had to move quickly. To achieve his aims, he set up a system of Subsidiary Alliances, which signed away an Indian state’s independence and right of self-defence. The Alliance system was advantageous to the British since they could now maintain a large army at the cost of the Indian states. The first Subsidiary Treaty was signed between Wellesley and the Nizam of Hyderabad on 1st September 1798.

A month later, the largest French force in India was disarmed by the British, who had only a third of their number, without any casualties or a single shot being fired. This turning point, combined with Admiral Nelson’s sinking of the French fleet in Aboukir Bay, effectively ruined Napoleon’s dreams of India becoming a French colony and allowed the Company, backed by the British government, to annex more and more of India.

Queen_Victoria_Golden_Jubilee (1)In 1813, Parliament renewed the Company’s charter but terminated its monopoly, except with regard to tea and trade with China, opening India both to private investment and missionaries. Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the rule of British India was transferred from the British East India Company to the Crown. In 1876 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.

Kistna_viaduct,_Great_Indian_Peninsula_Railway

During the hey-day of the Raj, the British civil service collected taxes, raised armies, which included local forces, imposed a system of justice and a postal service, instigated the building of railways, canals, schools and universities. At all times the British demonstrated a breath-taking level of self-confidence that their customs, religions and moral values were infinitely superior to those of the Indians whose country they had appropriated. The British system of governance remained until Partition in 1947.

The Palace of Lost Dreams is set in Hyderabad in 1798.

ThePalaceOfLostDreams (1)Newly widowed Beatrice Sinclair returns to the India of her childhood to visit her brother, an employee of the British East India Company. She’s astonished to discover he has married a beautiful Indian girl and lives with his wife’s extended family in a dilapidated palace.

As an outsider in an unfamiliar world, she faces many challenges.

 Meanwhile the French and British forces become locked in a battle over India’s riches, and matters are complicated further by the presence of the dashing Harry Wyndam: a maverick ex-soldier and suspected spy.

 With rebellion in the air, Bee must decide where her loyalties lie . . .

The Palace of Lost Dreams is out now. Buy it here

Follow Charlotte on Twitter: @CharlotteBetts1

Facebook: Charlotte Betts Author

Website: www.charlottebetts.com

Many thanks to Deborah for hosting me!

My Review of The Palace of Lost Dreams – perfect escapism

Set in the eighteenth century, in an India riven by political conflict, the era provides a rich, evocative setting for a romance and one full of tension. When recently-bereaved Bee returns to India she remembers her childhood friend, Harry, but he has a son by now, and this is not the only obstacle to their closeness. Whilst in the palace she must unravel the mystery of her mother’s sudden departure from India, and the simmering background to the loss of a rare jewel which is now the cause of intense feelings in her newly adopted family.

Bee is a lovely character, who picks herself up from tragedy and is determined to save the diapidated palace with her own new idea for a business.

Charlotte Betts fleshes out the history of India with detail and atmosphere. There is a glossary of Indian words in the back too, and historical notes for anyone who is unfamiliar with Indian history.

This is both an adventure and a romance and perfect escapism for a summer holiday read. Highly recommended.