Many readers of historical romance might be surprised to know that Anglo-Indian marriages were common during the era of the British East India Company (1600 to 1858, although the company traded until 1874).
The hero, Ravi, in The Heart of a Bluestocking (coming September 2018) is the second son of Lord Dalhinge, and his wife Lady Ahilyabai Dalhinge who descended from a local Maharajah. I named Ravi’s mother after Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar.
“You shouldn’t ask that of Claire. Her curiosity will have you answering questions all day,” said Wil with a laugh. She blinked and he could see her brain working behind those vibrant gold flecked eyes.
“I’m not that bad. I just want to know how she came to meet your father, and, well, everything.” Her words faded at the end of her sentence, while Wil’s smile grew. Ravi could see the unasked question. The one that touched on the complexities of a mixed-race marriage. The question that everyone wanted answered, but that had no simple answer.
“The previous Lord Dalhinge, my father, went to India with the East India Company to build a railway line. He fell in love with India before he met my mother, Ahilyabai, and if it wasn’t for the ‘57 Uprising, they probably would’ve stayed.”
The railway line is real. The first-ever Indian railway line began operations on 16 April 1853 between Mumbai (previously Bombay) and neighbouring Thane, over a distance of 21 miles. The 1857 Uprising is a pivotal piece of history in the presence of Britain in India, marking the end of the rule of the British East India Company and the beginning of the administration under Queen Victoria and the British Raj. India would continue to fight for independence for another century, with the Indian Independence Act passed in 1947.
How common were these marriages?
In the 1780s, one third of the wills of East India Company officials left their assets to their Indian wives and Anglo-Indian children. At this point in time, the East India Company controlled one fifth of the world’s trade, and extended across India, Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia, Singapore and British Hong Kong. For most of the history of the British East India Company, the company paid a stipend to Indian mothers when their offspring with East India Company employees were baptized. These inter-marriages were encouraged, making them common and acceptable, such as the wedding in 1800 between Colonel James Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa.
The children of these East India Company inter-marriages often suffered terrible racism (and sexism), for example the children of James Dalrymple and Mooti Begum Dalrymple were divided on gender lines with the boys sent to Madras for education and later to Scotland, while the sole daughter Noor Jah Begum remained in India where she married one of her father’s sepoy officers.
The frequency of these inter-marriages reduces with time, between 1805 and 1810 one quarter of wills included Anglo-Indian marriages, and by 1830 it had fallen to one in six thanks in part to the rise in the Evangelical Movement in England (and disapproval of intermingling of religions). One source states they disappear from record after this, however this is surely exacerbated by the 1857 Uprising and the fall of the East India Company. No company equals no records on employees wills, and thus the ability to count such marriages disappears.
The Regency period (the most popular of historical romance) is between 1811-1820. For any Regency writer to discuss nabobs or the East India Company without ever mentioning the one quarter of Anglo-Indian marriages occurring at the time is an erasure of history.
Recommendations for further reading
A brilliant book to read on this subject is An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor, while the novel Those Days- A Novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay is set at this time and is a fascinating view point.
A fascinating article about Anglo-Indian romance novels, written in 2004 by Hsu-Ming Teo, can be found here.
This article makes the statement; “Between 1890 and 1945, an astonishing number of novels were published in Britain dealing with the theme of romance in India or exploring the possibilities and perils of interracial love. A quick glance through Brijen K. Gupta’s annotated bibliography, India in English Fiction, 1800-1970,1 reveals a steady increase in novels with romantic themes from the late 1880s, reaching a peak in the interwar years.”