Magazine article The Spectator

Round India with Charly

Magazine article The Spectator

Round India with Charly

Article excerpt


edited by Nancy K. Shields

Eland, £16.99, pp.328,

ISBN 9781906011376 . £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

In 1800 Henrietta Clive, wife of Edward Clive who had been appointed Governor of Madras in 1797, embarked on an 1,100-mile, sevenmonth journey round southern India with her two daughters and her Italian artist friend, Anna Tonelli. This was an unusual thing to do at the time, and the fact that she was accompanied by over 750 people, 14 elephants, 100 bullocks and her pianoforte and harp does not detract from her remarkable journey.

Henrietta Herbert had grown up next door to the Clives on the borders of England and Wales, marrying Edward, Clive of India's son, in 1784. When they embarked for India in 1798 they left their two sons in England.

Henrietta was initially thrilled by her husband's appointment to India, as she loved all things oriental, having had a very eclectic education - something she succeeded in passing on to her daughters. However, she found Madras a disappointment; the lifestyle there turned out to be very British and very military. It was for this reason, and because she was concerned about her and her daughters' health, that she embarked on this ambitious journey. The cultivated, albeit irascible Tipu Sultan, who had been killed by the British in 1799, was to her the embodiment of all things Eastern, and she determined to visit his island kingdom, Seringapatam. She even started to learn Persian so that she could read Hafiz in the original (the first English translation by William Jones had appeared in 1771).

She knew she was something of an anomaly, writing to her friend Lady Douglas:

I believe I am thought a strange restless animal.

A black woman never moves and the white ones in this country are not much more active.

Beside, I descend from my dignity and walk upon my own feet at every place where I take up my abode. …

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