We have no idea quite why, but we seem to have been drawn to the East India Company (EIC) or The Honourable East India Company as it was also known, in so much of our research.
Whilst researching Grace Dalrymple Elliott and her family we discovered that her cousin John Mordaunt, the illegitimate sons born to Grace’s aunt Robinaiana Brown when she was the mistress of Charles Mordaunt, 4th Earl of Peterborough went out to India to make his fortune, as was popular for well to do young men of the time.
John Mordaunt (Jack to his friends) became a favourite at the court of the Asaf-ud-Daula, Nawab of Oudh in Lucknow, where the two men shared a love for the sport of cock-fighting, a brutal and barbaric activity. John had several gamecocks imported from England for this purpose.
Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match shows a scene from the Nawab’s court with the two men engaged in this activity. Painted by Johan Zoffany c.1784-86 during his time in India, it was commissioned by Warren Hastings shortly before he resigned as the Governor-General of India. Hastings is not present in the picture, but he was in attendance at John Mordaunt’s cockfight on the 5th April 1784, on which this painting is probably based. Jack Mordaunt was an easy-going and charming fellow, quite the male counterpart to his cousin Grace. He was in charge of the Nawab’s bodyguards and at the head of all the amusements of the court.
Now, somewhat surprisingly for us, two of Grace’s female cousins also travelled out to India for what appears to have been a ‘husband hunting trip’ – cousins Janet (known as Jessy) and Susannah Brown.
It was a tried and tested method of securing a wealthy spouse. Eligible young girls were encouraged to travel to India by the directors of the EIC who were aghast at their men taking local girls as their wives and adopting Indian custom and practices, in effect ‘going native’ even though the practice did ensure a certain level of inﬂuence for the British ofﬁcials with the rulers of the territories.
If enough British girls could be sent out there, then it was hoped that the company men would settle with them instead. The two Brown sisters had enough male relatives already in India to look after them, and they could expect their Mordaunt and Dalrymple cousins to introduce them to their fellow ofﬁcers and to the best society that India had to offer.
They lived in Calcutta with Colonel John Mordaunt at his house on the esplanade in the Chowringhee area, formerly a tiger-infested jungle but, since the construction of Fort William thirty years earlier, abounding with magniﬁcent houses built by the British residents. Their scheme worked.
In May 1788 in the church at Fort William, Calcutta, Janet Lawrence Brown married John Kinloch. The marriage, however, was, as was often the case, short-lived. John Kinloch was in bad health and, hoping that a change of air would cure him, he journeyed to Serampore on the banks of the Hoogli River, unfortunately, this trip did not prevent his death which occurred less than four months after his marriage.
Six months later, at the same church in which her now widowed sister had married, on 3 March 1789 Susannah Robiniana Brown married Major Samuel Farmer, an officer in the Bengal army. Samuel Farmer was considered one of the three best officers in the company’s service and he moved in the same social circles as her cousins Colonel John and Captain Henry Mordaunt.
All was not lost for Jessy though, as there were plenty of well-to-do men in India. She remained a widow for over four years before accepting the proposal of John Bebb Esquire, a wealthy EIC director. Their marriage settlement was drawn up on 12 January 1793 and John Bebb promised to pay 100,000 Indian rupees or £10,000 sterling into a trust to be administered by several trustees including the Honourable Charles Stuart of Calcutta, a Member of the Supreme Council of the EIC on their Bengal establishment, and Janet’s brother-in-law Samuel Farmer. This trust would be for his wife’s beneﬁt in the event of her becoming a widow.
Ultimately the couple returned to England where, anticipating his permanent return home, John Bebb had purchased the picturesque estate of Donnington Grove in Berkshire in 1795, the former home of the Brummell family and where the infamous Beau Brummell grew up.
Once again, whilst researching our Georgian Heroine we found ourselves delving back into EIC on discovering the love our heroine, Charlotte’s life, none other than Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), who held the powerful post of British Resident to the Mughal court at Delhi.
Charlotte met him whilst they were both teenagers, but rather than staying in England to marry her, he sailed for India, leaving a desolate Charlotte, whose life was to take a very different path, but despite this she never forgot the first love of her life and wrote to him in 1821, recounting part of her life story, probably wishing her life had turned out differently. Ochterlony, by this time had ‘gone native’ and had 13 concubines, who he paraded through the streets each evening on elephants – we do wonder whether Charlotte ever knew of this. He clearly never forgot the first love of his life and named one of his children, Charlotte – was this done deliberately? We would like to believe so.
Whilst researching Dido Elizabeth Belle, who we have recently been writing about, yet again our research has led us to the EIC and her seemingly unknown uncle, brother to Sir John Lindsay, William Lindsay who, before he died leaving questionable provision for his native children.
Dido’s half brother also, John Lindsay also lived with a native woman, he, on the other hand provided extremely well for both mother and daughter when he died in 1821. Other relatives of Dido also found themselves in the EIC including her two sons, Charles and William Daviniere, Archibald Campbell, who was a company director at the end of the 1700’s.
If the East India Company and life in India during this period interests you then you can find a list of some of the others articles we’ve written which have mentions of it, below.
Art Detectives: The Mysterious Sir Thomas Mills and Lady Elizabeth
Revealing new information about the courtesan, Nelly O’Brien
The miser, his daughter and her lover: Elizabeth Cardinall, 1776-1803
Fanny Williams and the Amherst family of Kent
What happened to Parson John Ambrose and his family?
The family of Allan Ramsay, principal portrait painter to George III
‘Choultry’, or Travellers’ Rest House, Srirangam, Madras, Francis Swain Ward (c.1734–1805), British Library