Saturday, 23 March 2013

Original Letters from India

Finished March 23
Original Letters from India by Eliza Fay

This collection of letters dates from the late 1700s, and describes two visits to India by Eliza Fay, her return to England from the first visit, and her trip to America from the second visit. She later returned to India and died there in 1816.
The first voyage took more than a year and involved many trials. Her husband, a Barrister, was going out to India to practice, and she accompanied him. They left England in the spring of 1779 and went over to France by ship and overland across France to Italy. This despite the fact that England and France were at war at the time. From Italy they travelled by ship to Alexandria and then on to Cairo. The situation in Egypt was not a good one, and they lost some of their belongings due to the unrest.
From here they sailed to Calicut, where the local Governor, Hyder Ali, took them and other Europeans prisoner. They were imprisoned there for three months, and with assistance from others managed to get off to Cochin, but had lost all their belongings save those they had concealed on their persons. From there, they went first to Madras, and then on to Calcutta.
In Calcutta Mr. Fay was admitted to the Bar and began to do business with the courts while Eliza made friends in society. Mr. Fay, however proved a bad judge of things and made some bad choices professionally and personally and by 1782 the couple formally separated. Eliza stayed with a friend until she made her way back to England later that year.
She returned to India in 1794, and set up a millinery business, but had setbacks and ended up leaving again, by 1795. The book ends with her arrival in New York City, with no record of her subsequent experiences there, her trip back to England, or her final return to Calcutta.
As a record of the times it is very interesting, to see the dangers of travel, the interactions of society, and the politics of the times. Included in this edition, is the original preface from 1817, the introductory notes from the 1925 edition by E.M Forster, which give historical context and commentary, and the new introduction by Simon Winchester which added positively to the reading experience.


  1. A good choice for our letter challenge. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. How astonishing that she travelled around so much so early on. Would be nice to hear a little about how things turned out for her in the end, too... the parts you've shared certainly sound eventful!

  3. Yes, it would have been nice to have more detail of the rest of her life. We do know that she died in debt and didn't have good luck in business (or her choice of husband).