A journal offers insights into a British couple’s life in Raj-era India

#1 Dec 9th, 2017, 21:49
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Syed’s Tomb at Sukkur | India Office Private Papers MSS Eur B265/1/British Library

Mary Emma Walter’s journal and album of drawings in the India Office Private Papers are two of my favourite collection items. The illustrated journal describes the voyage to India and her life as an army officer’s wife. Letters sent to her mother in England have been copied in. The album contains pictures of views, flowers, people and objects.

Mary Emma was born on July 23, 1816, the daughter of James Battin Coulthard and his wife Mary née Lee. The family lived in Alton, Hampshire, where James served as a magistrate for many years. On January 3, 1838, Mary Emma married Edward Walter, an officer in the East India Company’s Bombay Light Cavalry, who was on furlough in England. The journal starts with the couple’s journey back to India in October 1838, travelling via France and Egypt.

The journal gives a fascinating insight into the Walters’ life as the regiment moved around India. Mary Emma arrived at their new station at Deesa on September 15, 1839, and must have been heavily pregnant throughout the strenuous journey – she tells us that she was “unexpectedly confined with a little girl” three days later. She left her room on September 23 and resumed her usual amusements, including playing the piano.

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