A number of paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in the summer of 1858 took as their subject the recently suppressed Indian ‘mutiny’/uprising. This unrest had broken out in Central and Northern India and lasted from May 1857 to June 1858. 1 The inclusion of such paintings at the Royal Academy— together with daily newspaper accounts and Parliamentary debates—reflected the unprecedented level of public attention in Britain being paid to events in India. One focus of attention was the position of British women in India, with sensationalist accounts of their deaths and barely veiled (but unsupported) hints at their violation resulting in particularly bloodthirsty cries for vengeance. 2 Popular interest about the place of British women in India was also reflected in the Royal Academy exhibition, with paintings by Edward Armitage, Edgar George Papworth, Joseph Noel Paton and Abraham Solomon all depicting British women in the ‘mutiny’ (Harrington 1993). One of these paintings, The Flight from Lucknow by Abraham Solomon (Figure 1), provides the title and subject of this chapter.
The Flight from Lucknow represents the evacuation of Lucknow in November 1857. Together with the rest of the British population in Lucknow, 240 women were confined to the Residency compound from June to November 1857. 3 The majority of these women were married to soldiers, but 69 ‘ladies’ were related to officers or officials (Innes 1895). 4 A number of these ‘ladies’ recorded their experiences of living under siege in diaries and letters, some of which were subsequently published. 5 In September, an unsuccessful ‘relief’ provided reinforcements. Forces sent from Britain, under the command of Sir Colin Campbell, relieved Lucknow for the second time on 17 November. This was followed by the evacuation of Lucknow, first by the injured, and then, on 19 November, by British women and children. This evacuation was followed by the withdrawal of all British troops from Lucknow by 23 November, although fighting continued until Lucknow was recaptured by the British in March 1858 (Hibbert 1978). As well as recording their lives under siege, the diaries and letters written by women also described their evacuation from the Lucknow Residency and their three-month journey by foot, rail and steamer to Calcutta.
The writings of British women travelling from Lucknow to Calcutta from November 1857 to January 1858 represent collective rather than individual