During the time of the British rule in India (1757-1947) and after, many Scots to include members of our own family saw India as the place for expats to go. Employment came in various guises; the East India Company or its regiments, the British Army in India, independent British interests such as the tea trade and of course working for the British civil authorities in the region. We are therefore pleased to offer you excerpts from a Lady’s diary regarding a trip through India to Ceylon, written by the hand of the wife of Col Nigel Mitchell Carruthers, of the Holmains line who was there at the time. We hope you enjoy the parts as they are published.
As the officially recognised Society, we are fortunate enough to have access to information and documentation from within the family itself. This includes, amongst other pieces, a diary written in India by the grandmother of our European Clan Commissioner, Cécilia Mitchell-Carruthers, and the second wife of Colonel Nigel Laurie Carruthers, who served in the British Army in India and Ceylon.
This information and any pictures remain copyrighted to our society.
The Diary of a Military wife – and so it begins
We started from the Inspection Bungalow’ Fort Sandiman, at 1.30 am on the 26th May, 1836. Transport was organised to take us and all our luggage to Quetta. We both sat in the front seat with the driver and had a wonderful view as far as the Hindu Bagh where we stopped for a picnic lunch in the gardens of the Officers Bungalow. Nigel had to write his name in the ‘Arrival and Departures’ book which was in the Mess of the Gurkha detachment. The driver wanted to refill with petrol but found there was not any to be had from Bagai.
We progressed by driving very carefully until at Khanai, another driver supplied us with 4 gallons, which allowed us to reach the hotel in Quetta at 3.30 pm after an excellent and fairly cool journey. Mrs. Hopkins, the hotel proprietress was there to meet us and arranged our hut accommodation. After tea we drove to the railway station to see about the bookings and drove back by the Staff Captains office as Nigel, had again to write his name in the arrival and departure book. We also did some Shopping for the train and had a quite limited time in the’ hut’ accommodation. The weather was perfectly cool again and next morning when we left hotel for the station at 4.30pm.
A block of ice was put in as it would be a very hot journey and really uncomfortable up to Ails. There we had dinner and the train started without us, but was soon stopped again for us to get in. Nigel had a few words with the station master for not having informed the dining room of his station of the departure of the train. We were assigned a nice cabin on the new B.I boat called Varsaw, but there was only one tiny fan in the cabin. We settled in quickly and had tea on the deck. Later on, Mrs Pratt and the Commander’s wife, Mrs Beggs came to see us. We left the anchorage at 1.30 pm, half an hour later than expected and the boat seemed empty as all our friends had departed only the awful remains of their flowers, garlands and bouquets were left to remind us.
The swell began immediately we got into the open sea and only about six of us managed to face dinner and we got to bed early. Next morning I did not get up and when I did I only managed to stand for a few minutes on deck, the motion was very tiring.
We had a small dinner in the room as the dining room floor was too slippy and again we retired early. We woke at 6:30am had some tea and got up only to find that the boat was anchored miles out and we had to get to the docks in a small tender. The whole boat had to reach the docks to allow the 3rd class and deck passengers as well their numerous belongings. It was all very smelly indeed. At 9:30 am after the usual shouting and swearing by the hands, we left the Varsaw side which took one hour to get to the quay and had to do two unsuccessful manoeuvres. By the time got there the rain was coming down heavily and the Calcutta Mail was blocking the way. It took another hour to have all our baggage collected and put into two different taxis. Finally we started out for the Taj Mahal Hotel but were stopped at the first gate as being passengers from Karachi we could not leave the docks by it and had to go two further miles to be let out the ‘head gate’.
It was 11am when we arrived at the hotel. Liahot, the ayah we were taking out to Ceylon with us was there waiting, as we had booked a room ahead. It was (303) the usual sort of room, very demure with a telephone. Nigel quickly rang up the Cook and the W.I.A.A. and garage as by the timer we had out baggage it was 11:30 am and all out business had to be done between then and 1.00 pm, being a Saturday. We had lunch in the Grill and at 3pm, went again to the W.I.A.A. and returned to the hotel for a late siesta and afterwards did some shopping and had a hurried dinner in the Grill again, which we had previously chosen. Afterwards we went to the Capitol Cinema to see Charlie Chaplin in ‘Modern Times’, a very amusing film. As we left the Cinema we saw Pat O’Conner just behind us. We went with him and his friend Graham to the yacht club for a glass of something refresshing and cool.
At 12:30 we were back in the Taj and went in the dining room to see the cabaret and bed by 2 am. On Sunday we did not leave the room before 12 noon and drove to ‘Josephs’ to do more shopping and to “Cornaglia”, the band was very good and the place was full of Germans. The place itself was filled with beddings and other household items, some of which we put in the car to include spare parts for it. Finally the bearer found his seat comfortably with his personal goods and a large umbrella.
The leaving of Bombay (Mumbai) was easier than expected as the streets were almost empty being the middle of the afternoon. We followed the train lines for miles and passed by a very large suburb, quite unknown to us but amazingly well built and with many new houses and flats. The car itself was running well and on my knees I held the map, as I navigated for Nigel, who was very involved in his driving trying to avoid running children and animals of all sorts.
We moved on to new parts of the country, feeling more relaxed after all the work and effort before starting off. We wanted to reach Poona (Pune), but we were late in setting off at 2:30pm so we decided to make our first stop at the Grand Hotel Khandala (a hill station in the Western Ghat Mountains). The road between Bombay and Khandala is rather mountainous and the small villages are very poor, with the houses made of bamboo covered in mud. We passed the famous ‘Tata’ station with all its many cables going in all directions which is absolutely worth seeing. Thankfully it remained remarkably cool and we arrived at the Hotel at 6:00 pm.
To be continued.