Roger Hudson on the Eden sisters’ journals from India

Strolling about on an Elephant

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Up the stairs past the coloured 1850s lithographs of British sportsmen pig-sticking in India; into the room with the campaign chest and Grandfather’s medals on top, their clasps with names like Waziristan and Chitral, and the picture of the General, his half-brother, a Mutiny hero who eventually expired of apoplexy on the parade ground at Poona. There was no escaping the Raj – witness the fact that my first job when I joined John Murray in 1972 was to superintend an update of their Handbook to India.

In 1988 a typescript arrived at Murray’s from the elderly Janet Dunbar, a stalwart of the BBC in her time. It turned out to be a transcript of some illustrated journals kept in India by Fanny Eden while accompanying her brother George, Lord Auckland, the Governor-General from 1836 to 1842. They were lively, perceptive, full of shrewd irony, and worth publishing, but their editing and transcription left a lot to be desired. So off I went to the India Office Library to check with the originals, and for background I read Up the Country by Fanny’s sister Emily, covering the same period and events, since she was also out there with brother George.

Up the Country had been published in 1866 with the subtitle ‘Letters written to her sister [another one back in England] from the Upper Provinces of India’. It gives a clue to the book’s subject – a journey out of Bengal following the Ganges beyond Benares towards Delhi. This is what the unmarried George did in 1837, accompanied by his youngest sisters Emily and Fanny, an entourage of 12,000, plus 140 elephants, 850 camels and innumerable bullocks and horses, only returning to Calcutta two and a half years later. The main object was for George to cement the treaty of friendship signed by his predecessor with Ranjit Singh, the ‘Lion of the Punjab’ and mighty King of the Sikhs, by paying him a state visit. He, it was hoped, would be so impressed by ‘the clinquant

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About the contributor

After editing Fanny Eden’s journals roger hudson found himself making a selection from William Hickey’s largely Indian memoirs, and then compiling The Raj: An Eyewitness History of the British in India, both for the Folio Society.

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