Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Lady Minto’s Indian diary

Academic Foundation, which describes itself as India’s leading independent publisher of academic/scholarly books in social sciences, has just published a condensed edition of the extensive diaries kept by Lady Minto during the five years that her husband was Viceroy and Governor-General of India. According to the publisher, ‘some of her opinions would make contemporary feminists, egalitarians of all sorts, gasp in horror but her extraordinary charm and passion for life, her sense of humour and sharp eye and ear for place, person and dialogue make her irresistible.’

Mary Caroline Grey was born in 1858, the daughter of General Charles Grey, private secretary to Prince Albert and later to Queen Victoria. Her grandfather, the 2nd Early Grey, had been a British Prime Minister. She married Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound in 1883, who succeeded to the title of the 4th Earl of Minto in 1891. They had five children. In 1898, Lord Minto was named Governor General of Canada. In 1901, after Queen Victoria’s death, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later to become King George V and Queen Mary) visited Canada, and travelled with Lady Minto to western Canada and the Klondike. Lord and Lady Minto were both keen sports enthusiasts, and together founded the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa.

In 1905, Lord Minto was appointed Viceroy and Governor-General of India (thus following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, the first Lord Minto). As in Canada, Lady Minto thrust herself wholeheartedly into supporting her husband with lavish social events, and contributing to charitable causes - launching, for example, Lady Minto’s Indian Nursing Association and remaining its president for many years. In 1907, Lady Minto organised a two-week Fete to raise funds for the Indian Nursing Association; and she arranged for the issue of several stamps. However, these caused a furore because they didn’t carry an image of the king - see Indian Postage Stamps for more. 

On returning from India in 1910, Lady Minto was appointed a Lady in Waiting to Queen Mary and, following the death of King George V, she was made an Extra Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Mary. Lady Minto outlived her husband by a quarter of a century, dying in 1940. There is very little detailed biographical information online but the writer William Cross has a small website devoted to Lady Minto, and Wikipedia has an entry on Lord Minto. The Peerage also has a short entry for Lady Mary Caroline Grey

Lady Minto did, though, leave a substantial body of written material behind, now held by the National Library of Scotland (but I can find no trace of the holdings on the Library’s website). Much of this written material is in the form of diaries covering the years 1911-1936. She, herself, drew heavily on the diaries for her book India, Minto and Morley published by Macmillan in 1934 (available as a pdf from Internet Archive). She also made her diary available to the famous Scottish writer John Buchan for his Lord Minto, A Memoir (Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1924). This is available online at Internet Archive or Googlebooks. Buchan describes Lady Minto’s journal as ‘delightful’ and expresses a wish that it ‘could be given intact to the world, for in light and colour those words of an eye-witness are far superior to any chronicle at second hand.’

Only the diaries Lady Minto kept while in India have ever been published in their own right. It seems she had five volumes (and a sixth index volume) printed privately (probably at the Viceroy’s Press) around 1910 for family members and close friends. These volumes appear to be extremely rare. At the time of writing, the specialist antique bookseller Bates and Hindmarsh has a single volume of the index on sale for over £300; it also claims to have sold a full set, bound in blue, to the British Library. Anabel Loyd, a writer on Indian affairs, has edited the original Indian diaries into a single volume, which she self-published in 2015 through Amazon, as Vicereine: The Indian Journal of Mary, Countess of Minto. Since then, the Indian publisher Academic Foundation has re-published Loyd’s book (in March 2017), with the same title but a more upmarket presentation.

Here is the publisher’s blurb: ‘Mary Minto was a woman of her times. Some of her opinions would make contemporary feminists, egalitarians of all sorts, gasp in horror but her extraordinary charm and passion for life, her sense of humour and sharp eye and ear for place, person and dialogue make her irresistible. The people she met, the sights she saw and wrote of from her ringside position are part of all our histories most deliciously described in her journal. Even Lord Kitchener, stiff image on a poster, comes to improbable life playing parlour games at Simla and winning, to general hilarity, a baby elephant at the Minto Fete. There is so much more - maharajas, palaces, tigers and bears, pet dogs, Afghanistan and Burma, kings, queens and princes, a vast brigade of servants. . . this is a vivid slideshow of a particular life in India at the beginning of a century of change illustrated with previously unseen photographs . . . riches indeed.’

The following extracts are taken from the British Library’s (blue-covered) volumes of Lady Minto’s My Indian Journal.

3 February 1908
‘Remained at Barrackpore till the evening, planning garden improvements. Our big dinner party was postponed on account of the court mourning. Returned to Calcutta.’

6 February 1908
‘Violet, Francis, and I motored into the slums of the city and witnessed the worship of the Goddess of Wisdom by hundreds of little Hindu children. They sang a sort of chant, and then offered flowers. They have all sorts of strange traditions - if any worshipper of Saraswati does not abstain from using pen and ink on the feast day, they expect to be struck dumb. I believe they all prayed that I might have some share in the wisdom that the goddess freely dispenses; this no doubt will benefit me greatly during remainder of the year. The priest were delighted at my visit, and I departed covered with garlands, and scattering petals of flowers that clung to my garments.’

7 February 1908
‘Visited the Presidency General Hospital, and saw all the improvements they have made owing to our donation of Rs. 20,000 given from the Minto Fete Fund. The nurses in Calcutta are not up to date, and it is almost impossible to get a satisfactory nurse under Rs. 10 a day, and very often there is not one to be had for love or money. This makes me hope that Bengal will join my Nursing Scheme, but Calcutta is a difficult place to tackle, so many different people and interests have to be considered. Drove with Mrs. Forbes to the Tollygunge Steeplechases; crowds of people there. Captain Holden won two races: one on Lord Harry, the other on his new horse Jasper.’

15 June 1908
‘Went to church, and then had a quiet day, reading letters and papers. It is rather amusing that the Times should accuse the Government of India of inaction, and express a hope that they will not go to sleep again. It is not altogether probable that the people who are affected by the bombs and outrages should have any desire to fall asleep! It is easy to criticise from a distance of 5,000 miles. I hear Chirol has been ill, and is hors de combat at present. It is rather unlucky that the Times have taken on as Indian correspondent a man called Eraser who used to be on the staff of the Times of India; he got into trouble owing to drink and was dismissed; he also wrote for the National Review; he is very clever with his pen. He is a tremendous partisan, and I suppose because we were succeeding Lord Curzon he began to write spiteful articles before we reached India; these continued from time to time; then he made a most violent attack on me about the Nursing Scheme, saying I had simply made use of Lady Curzon’s work, &c., &c. It is rather strange to think of the power a man like this has, and that the British public accept as Gospel truth whatever views the most wrong-headed correspondent chooses to give vent to.’

29 June 1908
‘Went with Captain Goldie to see Lady Duff. She has made her house charming, quite the most English-looking abode I have seen in India. She has wall-papers which make the rooms much more cosy, they are a rare luxury out here. Each room is entirely of one colour, the shades all thought out with the greatest care.’

19 December 1908
‘Went to the races. Tea was spread out in a shamiana under the trees of which numerous people partook. This is an excellent way of getting in touch with Calcutta society.

Went down to Barrackpore by motor. Miserable at receiving a most anxious account of Lord Windsor. The nurses are splendid; Colonel Crooke is quite devoted and never leaves the house unless relieved for an hour or so by Major Bird wood or Captain O’Meara. Captain Gibbs and Arthur Guise are both at Agra, but have not been allowed into Lord Windsor’s room.’

3 February 1907
The Drummonds left at 8 a. m. Roily and I started in the motor at 11 o’clock for Barrackpore; the others came by launch. The Amir arrived at 1 o’clock and remained till 6 o’clock; he enjoyed himself so enormously. I was so exhausted after looking after him for all those hours that I went straight to bed, having had a terrible week of fatigue with the Fete. The Adams, Clem, Violet Crawley, and Lena Ashburton all came to help us to entertain the Amir, but what he really enjoyed was playing croquet with Eileen; he had never seen the game before, and enjoyed it so much that to my horror he suggested returning the next day to have another lesson. Sir Henry McMahon came to our assistance and put difficulties in the way. There was a good deal of chaff about a policeman who was engaged to guide him from Hastings House to the Lieutenant-Governor’s, a distance of a 100 yards; but the man lost his head and took him round and round and contrived to keep him 3/4 of an hour en route. The Amir said he was quite glad of this, as it had given him such amusement. I told him that he had visited so many places in Calcutta that he must know the city so much better than I did, that he could certainly be my guide. He answered with a bow - “If I was your guide, I should only guide you to Hastings House” (where he is lodging). After luncheon he said he had a few presents he wished to give us, and under the banyan tree were four separate piles of goods for myself and the three girls. He took the greatest delight in giving us each individual thing. The girls waited while he made me my presentations - first a lovely diamond and ruby bird of paradise, then some Astrakhan skins and other furs, and innumerable stuffs all made in Afghanistan, a shawl he insisted on pinning round me, and lastly two beautiful Persian rugs. Each girl had exactly the same in smaller numbers: Eileen a lovely ruby and diamond ribband ornament, Ruby five small diamond stars, and Violet one larger one, unfortunately all set in gold. Rolly was given the presents on a previous occasion. Gigantic carpets, furs, stuffs - and some Indian silver; also a silver cigarette-case with Venus in coloured enamel! a most startling apparition, but these will have to go to the Toshakahna. The Amir and I drove round the garden in the small pony-carriage. He is very fat and broad, and I had almost to sit on the spash board to avoid being squeezed flat by his portly figure. The shrubs are looking beautiful and are now in full bloom. Bill Lascelles has returned from Singapore; be was nearly boiled alive, and is most thankful to have got back again. It was an expedition he is glad to have experienced but is heartily thankful it is over.’

17 September 1910
‘After luncheon I paid a round of visits, said good-bye to Mrs. Clerke, sat some time with the Buchner family, visited Longe’s recently married wife, and then went on to see Mr. Parson’s garden. Unluckily a terrific storm came on which prevented my going beyond his green house. His flowers are celebrated and provide table decoration for the whole of Simla. Had tea with the Harnam Singhs. Lady Harnam is an exceptionally nice woman and very clever. All their sons have been brought up in England and one of them is married to an English woman. This son left India so young that, when he returned after leaving College, he could not understand a word of his own language; he alludes to the English and himself as “we”, and to natives as “they ”. Went on to see Mrs. Spence and sat with her till nearly dinner time. Went with the Erskines and Showers to the first performance of the Mikado, which was extremely good. Captain Hewett made a most excellent Chinaman, and Nelly Dane as one of the three little maids from school looked extremely pretty. It was terribly long and we did not get to bed till 1-30.’

29 October 1910
‘Rolly and I drove to the foot of the hill at Mashobra and rode round by Wild Flower Hall and had tea at the Retreat. Looked round the little house and garden for the last time, where we have spent so many happy days. We left the old mali in tears and walked by our favourite walk down the hill to the Mashobra bazaar, where the carriage awaited us. We felt very sentimental driving along the winding road for the last time with the overhanging rocks and pine trees lit up with the reflected gold from the setting sun.’

13 November 1910
‘My birthday brings a nasty jar with it, reminding me of advancing years, but the mail dispelled depression, as I received such delightful letters of good wishes from all the family. It gave me the pleasure to know what I was being thought of by loved ones far away. We received a cable last night from Mr. Gamier with the good news of Larry’s complete recovery. It was most thoughtful of him sending it, as I should otherwise have fussed on receiving the details of his accident, which was a very severe one. He was cantering across a stubble field with a friend when his horse must have put his foot into a rabbit hole and fallen with such force that the horse broke its neck and Larry was thrown violently to the ground. He was picked up in an unconscious condition and taken to a neighbouring farm-house, where the owners have been most kind and hospitable in allowing him to remain there. Mr. Gamier sent for the most eminent surgeon in the eastern counties, and I am thankful to say that no ill-effects are anticipated. I am so touched by the kind thought that has been evinced on all sides and so grateful to Lord Albermarle and Mr. Gamier for the care they have taken of Larry. I hope we shall find him entirely restored to health on our return.

Played a round of golf with Colonel Victor in tho early morning before the heat of the day. We are agreeably surprised to find the weather exceptionally cool for November. There has been an unprecedented amount of rain here during the autumn, consequently the Park is greener than I have ever seen it, and trees and shrubs look luxuriantly fresh and healthy. Roily and I went for a short ride in the afternoon before the 6 o’clock service, which we all attended. After dinner we sat out quite late enjoying the perfect temperature and the gorgeous moon which lighted up the whole river, and made the scene about as perfect a one as could be imagined.’

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