Posts Tagged tirhoot

Lockdown Research: Switching the Lens:Beyond Elizabeth Purves

In my previous post, ‘Discovering Elizabeth Purves’, I described something of the life of the Anglo-Indian daughter of Richardson Purves, who, c. 1806, having made his fortune in India, had brought her with him when he returned to England. While undertaking this research I was intrigued to discover that he had left behind at his indigo plantation in Tirhoot a man named John Purves, who had been listed in the New East India Kalendars for 1801 and 1804 as being in his employ. I thought it might be interesting to see what I could find about this branch of the Purves family, for it really would be too extraordinary if John Purves, who records show had arrived in India in 1797 specifically to assist Richardson Purves at Tirhoot, were not related to him in some way.

What I do know is that John Purves did remain in Tirhoot as an indigo planter, dying there in 1820. In the accounts drawn up after his death there is note of a payment to be made to ‘Bebee Razoo’, ‘bebee’ or ‘bibi’ being the term for an indigenous female companion/mistress. This is the only entry for a payment to an Indian woman. As I noted in my previous post, the name of Elizabeth Purves’ mother was rendered on the entry in the St Giles Cripplegate baptismal register as ‘Rajoo’. I did just wonder if that could have been a mis-transcription and perhaps the name should have been ‘Razoo’ (the name in John Purves’ accounts is written with a long tail to the ‘z’). That is, could the woman who appears as a payee in the 1820 accounts of John Purves be the mother of Elizabeth, the payment an indication of long-term maintenance ? Or, after Richardson’s departure, could she have then become the ‘bebee’ of John Purves? Or was she, perhaps, ‘bebee’ to John Purves, but an entirely different woman? Well, as usual with these attempts to peer behind the curtain that separates us from a different time and a different culture, who knows?

However, digging into the digitized India Office records I did find further evidence of the continuing existence of members of the Purves family in Bengal. For there is an entry for the baptism in 1825 of Mary, ‘daughter of John Purves, indigo planter, and a native mother’. There is no other mention at this time in the records of any John Purves other than the indigo planter at Tirhoot and I think it is safe to assume that the father of Mary is the man who was in the employ of Richardson Purves twenty years earlier.

John Purves died intestate so an inventory of his goods, as compiled for auction after his death, is the only surviving record of his life, providing a fascinating insight into the goods with which an indigo planter was surrounded. His extensive library, in particular, interested me. How did one amuse oneself in Tirhoot in the first decades of the 19th c? Why, by reading the Spectator, Edinburgh Review, Blackstone’s Commentaries, Smollett’s Works, Godwin’s Political Justice, Sporting Magazine, Debrett’s Peerage, Poems of Ossian, Smith’s Wealth of the Nations, Swift’s works, Farley’s Cookery etc etc – and numerous Voyages, Gazetteers and atlases. The household inventory does not, however, make any reference to Mary or any other child.

Seven years later the accounts drawn up, in a similar fashion, after the death of another Tirhoot indigo planter, Edward Egerton, do reveal something further about members of the Purves Indian diaspora. The first thing to note is that an 1829 announcement in the London Gazette discloses that one of the two men nominated as Egerton’s next-of-kin was his uncle ‘in England’, Richardson Purves. And, secondly, Edward Egerton’s accounts mention sums paid for the board and tuition of Miss Mary Purves, Mr William Purves, Mr James Egerton, and Miss Fanny Egerton. Extrapolation leads me to surmise that Edward Egerton was a relation of the late John Purves and, since his death, had been charged with care of his children.

I have explained that I’m pretty certain of the parentage of Mary Purves, who must have been born sometime before the death of John Purves in 1820, but what of William Purves? I can find no record of his birth or baptism but from the record of his death at Allahabad in 1870 I think we was born c 1812/1813 and, because he is recorded in Egerton’s accounts alongside Mary Purves, I cannot help thinking he must be her brother, another child of John Purves and ‘a native mother’. There is no record of John Purves having been married to a European woman.

Edward Egerton’s accounts reveal that in the early months of 1828 Mary Purves and Fanny Egerton received board and tuition from a Mrs M. Moore, but that, after November 1828, their care was transferred to Theophilus Reichardt. A little research showed that he was the Rev Reichardt, who had been born in Wurttemberg, trained in Basle, and had arrived in Calcutta in 1822 as a missionary under the aegis of the Church Missionary Society for India and the East. This was the society to which Richardson Purves and his family were generous donors. However, just at the time when he undertook the tuition of Mary and Fanny, Reichardt had left the Mission after a disagreement. He and his wife had then, as his obituary in the Calcutta Christian Observer (1836) reported, ‘entered upon the conduct of a seminary for young ladies in the city [Calcutta] where ‘he spared no toil, no pains, no watchfulness, to promote the improvement and comfort of his young charges’. I was pleased to note that the obituarist particularly mentions that ‘his was no stinted board at which his pupils fed sparingly’. Reichardt clearly remained close to Fanny Egerton for in the records of her marriage in Calcutta Cathedral in 1835 he stood as her ‘Next Friend’.

In 1840 Mary Purves married Richard Thaddeus Rutter and had two daughters – Mary, 1844, and Ellen, 1848. James Egerton was born in 1821, the son of James Egerton, an indigo planter. This information comes from his baptismal record, a ceremony he undertook late in life, in 1862. For this record he chose to give his father’s name, but not his mother’s. I think this indicates that he was certainly illegitimate and I am assuming that, therefore, his mother was Indian. I can find no trace of Fanny Egerton’s birth or baptism, but suspect she was sister to James. Her husband, Edmund Watterton Johnson, died in 1839. She had one son, born in 1837 and named for his father. She never remarried and died in 1872.

Edward Egerton’s accounts show that c.1828 young William Purves and James Egerton were receiving board and tuition from ‘Messrs Drummond and Wilson’. David Drummond was a Scotsman whose Calcutta school, Dhurmotollah Academy, offered the best English education, open to both European and mixed-race boys. Equipped with this excellent education William Purves entered government service, rising to become Registrar of the Board of Revenue in Allahabad. He married Harriette Ereth and had a numerous family, among whom the names ‘Richardson’ and ‘Egerton’ are threaded. One son, Robert Egerton Purves (1859-1943) became a renowned hydraulic engineer in the Punjab. I suspect that an effort was made to eliminate knowledge of an Indian ancestor; in his ‘Who’s Who’ entry Robert Egerton Purves merely described his parentage as ‘European’. He retired to England in the mid-1920s, bringing his family ‘home’ and ending an involvement with India that had lasted c 120 years. Although accompanied by children, unlike Richardson Purves he had made no fortune.

I daresay this post seems a little pointless, a good deal being, if not guesswork, then informed conjecture. But I have found the research instructive; on the way I’ve read something about the place of indigo in the 18th and 19thc Indian economy, the way in which the indigo factories were managed, and gleaned something of the position of those then known as ‘Eurasians’ and now as ‘Anglo-Indians’. Although I have absolute proof of the mixed parentage of Mary Purves, I cannot be sure of that of William Purves, or of Fanny and James Egerton. But it has been interesting attempting to unravel the truth. I wonder if Elizabeth Purves, an illegitimate Anglo-Indian living in England, knew anything of relations in India? There is a fascination about lives lived on the cusp of two civilisations.

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Lockdown Research: Switching The Lens – And Discovering Elizabeth Purves

Baptism of Elizabeth Purves at St Giles, Cripplegate, on 28 August 1807.

I recently noticed that the London Metropolitan Archives has launched a new database – Switching the Lens – Rediscovering Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous Heritage, 1561 to 1840. This is an aspect of history that captured my imagination some time ago [ see, for instance, Suffrage Stories: Black And Minority Ethnic Women: Is There A ‘Hidden History’?]  and I was interested to see whether this new database would make the uncovering of individual histories any more possible. Through the centuries there have always been some men and women of BAME heritage living in Britain whose lives have, for one reason or another, been recorded in some degree of detail; the great majority, however, have hitherto remained untraceable. I gave details of the Switching the Lens website in my previous post and can now tell something of another life I encountered there, represented by a single entry in the database.

This entry in the St Giles baptism register tells us that Elizabeth Purves, born on 19 October 1799, was the daughter of ‘Richardson Purves, Merchant, and Rajoo, a Native of Hindostan’. But what is her story?

Richardson Purves, born c1764, perhaps in Scotland, was by 1789 an employee of the East India Company working in Bengal. By 1797 he was overseeing the Company’s indigo works at Patnah (now Patna, capital of Bihar province). Indigo was a very lucrative product and by 1801 Purves had established himself as an indigo planter at Tirhoot (450km from Patna). He remained there until about 1806 but then ‘retired to England with a considerable fortune derived from the indigo manufacturies’ (as quoted in a footnote in Singh, History of Tirhoot, 1922).

A view from ‘Middleton’s Complete System of Geography’, 1779

So it was as a nabob that, after c 17 years in the East, Purves returned, accompanied not only by a fortune but also by a 7-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. We know nothing of her mother other than the one name ‘Rajoo’, which was probably her surname. As in the case of Africa-born Eliza Herbert, we don’t know for certain whether Elizabeth Purves’ mother had died, or whether, when the child’s father decided to return to England, she had felt compelled to part with her daughter. However, in such cases it is obvious that the contest was unequal; the wealthy European father held all the cards. In my next post I will attempt to shine a tiny glimmer of light on the situation, over two hundred years ago, at Tirhoot after the departure of Richardson Purves. But I think it is incontestable, and is as poignant now as then, that Elizabeth was old enough when she sailed from India to carry with her clear memories of her mother, whom she would never again see.

It would appear that Richardson Purves was a diligent father, wasting little time after his arrival in England in arranging the baptism of his daughter. She could, of course, have been baptised in India but, for whatever reason, he had waited until the ceremony could be conducted in London. Because I have been unable to uncover reliable details of his parentage I cannot guess why he chose ‘Elizabeth’ as her name. It would have been interesting to know if it was a family name, his mother’s perhaps.

Three years later, on 24 October 1808, Richardson Purves married Jane Hyde (1781-1853) in St Margaret Pattens, Eastcheap. At the time he was a resident in the parish of St James, Clerkenwell, and it is to be presumed that young Elizabeth had been living with him since their return from India. Richardson Purves proceeded to father two legitimate daughters, Jane in 1810 and Frances in 1813. The latter was born in the family’s town house in Bedford Place, Bloomsbury, they moved later to Harley Street. With his Indian fortune Richardson Purves had also purchased a large estate, Sunbury Place, at Sunbury-on-Thames. That house, now known as Sunbury Court, still stands, owned for the last 100 years by the Salvation Army.

Sunbury Place, shortly before it was bought by Richardson Purves (courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum)

There were, of course, no censuses during the first third of the 19th century to give us proof that Elizabeth Purves was living with the rest of the family, but I believe she was. She certainly acted in concert with the other members, included, along with Mrs Jane Purves, Miss Jane Purves, and Miss Frances Purves, as a generous donor to a number of worthy causes, such as the Anti-Slavery Reporter (1831), to which she gave a two-year donation of four guineas, and to the Church Missionary Society to Africa and the East.

In 1841, when the first census was taken, Elizabeth Purves is listed at home with the rest of the family in their Harley Street house. However, when, in 1848, Richardson Purves died he made no mention of Elizabeth in his will, while going to considerable lengths to settle money on the unmarried daughters of another family, the Boldings. I have been unable to establish why this was but there must have been some underlying family or business connection that resists my attempts to tease it out. Provision must have been made for Elizabeth Purves in some arrangement that lay outside the terms of her father’s will because there is no suggestion whatsoever of anything other than that she was a completely integrated member of his family. When the 1851 census was taken Elizabeth is a ‘visitor’ at Sunbury Place, living there with the two Janes, her stepmother and half-sister. But yet again, when the senior Jane Purves died in 1853 there is no mention of Elizabeth in her will.

The mid-1850s saw the marriages of both Purves half-sisters. They were now in their mid-fifties and I had wondered if illegitimacy and her Indian heritage had hindered Elizabeth’s marriage prospects – but Jane, too, despite what I know to be her sizeable inheritance, had, for whatever reason, not married before now. Thus, on 4 July 1855 Jane Purves married a widower, Alexander Beattie, and on 31 July 1856 Elizabeth Purves married John Parker Bolding, widower of Mary* (nee Richardson). Mary’s brother, William Richardson, was the husband of Eleanor, John Bolding’s sister, at whose wedding Richardson Purves had been a witness. It is obvious that the Bolding, Richardson, and Purves families (very much including Elizabeth) had been closely entwined over a period of many years.

Elizabeth Purves was married in the parish church at Tunbridge Wells, the witnesses being Elizabeth Bolding (John’s sister) and Sidney Roper Curzon. Both Elizabeth Bolding and the Beatties lived in Tunbridge Wells, Elizabeth Bolding at Osborne House and the Beatties at Sunbury Place (presumably named in honour of Jane’s former home) and it was presumably with one or the other that Elizabeth Purves was staying at the time of her marriage. The Hon Sidney Roper Curzon, son of the 14th Baron Teynham, was the husband of the bride’s half-sister, Frances. I imagine that Richardson Purves, the nabob, was gratified that one of his daughters had married into the aristocracy, albeit into its lower echelons.

John Parker Bolding was a solicitor and the couple, with his three young children, lived for a time in Croydon, in a house named ‘Eversholt Lodge’. Eversholt in Bedfordshire was the parish in which John Bolding had been born and where his father had held an estate [see here for more about the Bolding family]. They later moved to 3 Bromfield Gardens, Richmond where, in 1888, John Parker Bolding died.

Sometime after Elizabeth moved to a house in Cambridge Road, Norbiton, a few minutes’ walk from the home, ‘Norbiton Place, London Road, of her widowed half-sister Frances. Elizabeth, supported by a cook and a parlour maid, lived alone, dying there in 1898. She left over £14,000, her executors being her stepson and the two stepsons of her half-sister Jane. Frances when she died shortly after, left only something over £200. Aristocratic connections had presumably proved expensive.

It was not, perhaps, unusual for a man in Richardson Purves’ position to choose to bring his child by an Indian woman back to England, but it would appear that the great majority of the offspring of such relationships did remain in India after the father’s departure. Moreover, a brief survey of the literature available to me (during a period when I cannot access a library) leads me to the conclusion that Elizabeth Purves was more fully integrated into her father’s subsequent family than many other mixed-race children. (See, for instance, here). This could have been a factor of wealth – Richardson Purves could certainly afford to support his illegitimate daughter – but it also must have been a matter of temperament.

Although Richardson Purves made his fortune in India and then returned ‘home’, there were certainly members of the East India Company connected to him wo continued to live and work in India in the second half of the 19th century and early years of the 20th. I wonder if Elizabeth Purves knew anything about them? I will do what I can in my next blog to follow the shadows they have cast, as revealed in documents created in India in the 19th century.

*UPDATE: Not that it’s particularly relevant to the life of Elizabeth Purves, but I’ve now worked out that Mary Richardson (her husband’s first wife) was a cousin of John Ruskin and from the age of 15, after her mother’s death, until her marriage to John Parker Bolding, lived with the Ruskin family in Herne Hill. Ruskin’s father, John James Ruskin, was brother to Jessie Richardson, Mary’s mother.

Copyright All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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