The subtitle of The Fishing Fleet, by Anne de Courcy, is: Husband-Hunting in the Raj, and that’s what the book is about – the story of eligible single women who travelled to India during the period of British rule there in order to find husbands. There were many of them, and most seem to have found romance in the male dominated country of their adoption.
In those days, British women in India tended to be subsumed into their husband’s professions and interests even more so than in the UK. Their social ranking was entirely dependent on their husband’s ranking and seniority. They could find themselves initially enjoying rounds of parties, dances and shooting expeditions, but once married they might end up following their husbands to far away locations. It was normal for any children to be sent back to Britain to be educated, and without work of any kind, it must have often been a lonely existence for many women. It was also regarded as being not the done thing to mix in any way with the locals – the idea being that authority could only be maintained by strict separation from Indian society.
It is easy to criticise such colonial attitudes today. Most of those who went to India from 1800 onwards, and who faced all sorts of hazzards, did so not in the expectation of great wealth but because, for whatever reasons, they saw it as a sort of duty, and perhaps also as an adventure.
Most history books don’t deal with the personal level as much as this one does, so it has been fascinating to read about matters of the heart, with many examples of lasting relationships of the past.