Calcutta to Glasgow 1834

R. Leishman

A Scotsman in India, 1834
Calcutta to Glasgow

By Eunice Shanahan

This letter from the past written by R Leishman to Mrs M Leishman, Govan Manse, Glasgow, is a page of a living history book, .

The Manse has been demolished, but there is a photograph in the 1996 Sixth Annual Report of the Society of Friends of Govan Old,which shows it as a sturdy building.

click here for larger image

Govan was then a separate Burg, and not actually part of Glasgow.

The Manse was the home of the Minister, and when the letter was written, Matthew Leishman (27.4.1794 — 8.8.1874) held that position. He was the longest serving minister in the history of the parish of Govan, being the incumbent for a total of 53 years, and there is a great deal of information available about him :-

born at Paisley,second son of Thomas Leishman, corn merchant, and Janet Robertson. Early education at Paisley Grammar School, entered the University of Glasgow aged 13 (1807). Graduated from Glasgow with distinction. Entered Edinburgh Divinity Hall aged 18 (1812).

Licensed as a minister by the Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1816 — assistant minister at Renfrew, 1919.

Elected minister of Govan on September 24 1820, ordained to the Parish of Govan, 1 March 1821.

Married Jane Elizabeth Boog at Burntisland on 13 July 1824 DD from University of Glasgow, 1840. Leader of the Middle Party at the Disruption of 1843 Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1858-59.


And now to the letter. It is likely that the writer is Matthew Leishman's brother, but if so, it seems odd that he would address his letter to Mrs Leishman. It is a chatty letter, giving a description of life in India at that time, and some of his spelling is 'different', so I have quoted it as it is written.

It has six postal markings which trace the route from beginning to end.

1) boxed Calcutta G.P.O. datestamp FE 5 1834

2) Boxed 2-line Liverpool India Ship LR

3) Circular datestamp of Glasgow 23 JU 1834 (1,2,3 on Fig 1.)

Click here for larger image

4) boxed 1/2 for the Scottish additional halfpenny mail tax, applied in Liverpool

5) unboxed 2-line GLASGOW PENNY POST

6)manuscript charge mark of 1/3 ( 4d for the India letter charge, plus the inland rate from the port of landing to the destination — Liverpool/Glasgow 200 miles = 11d)

(4,5,6 on Fig 2.)

Click here for larger image

The letter is sealed with an octagonal seal which has a 'waffle' background with an oval in the centre showing the letters D & Co.


The letter is dated inside "Calcutta 27 January 1834"

"My dear Jane,

I have been very remiss lately in writing to you all at home, but the truth is that although not a day, or an hour I may say, passes over my head without thinking of you all, & wondering what you may be doing at the particular time, still the days really pass so rapidly that when I begin writing a letter I really am ashamed of myself when I look at the last date when I wrote home.

However, you must all make every allowance for me, & recollect that I am only one and you are so many engaged in the correspondence, (which is really charity to me) & take every letter I send home & pass it amongst you, as the pastor said.

Mr Dykes has just left this for the upper provinces and will perhaps before his returne go as far as Delhi & Lucknow — as he has started to proceed by the river, I suspect he will be quite satisfied with his trip by the time he reaches Benares the wholly City.

The travelling by the river is so monstrous — you would think when you see the departure of an humble individual like him — or myself — to take a trip to the river that it was some Grandee proceeding on a Mission.

(Note: "Grandee" — O.E.D. Spanish or Portuguese nobleman of highest rank.)

Suppose it to be what is called a BUDGEROW (Mr D has gone on a smaller kind of boat called a BAULEAK), which is a large boat about 70 feet long, pulled by 8 — 10 — or 12 men. It contains one eating room about 12x9feet & two other apartments for sleeping — You must also have another boat for cooking in called the babatchee (cook) nao(boat). For servants you must have a cook, a KIDMUTGAR (or table servant) & a bearer who looks after the sleeping part, takes charge of your cloths, draws on your stockings etc etc. The latter personage is always a hindoo, the kidmutgar a Mussulman (Mahommedan) and the cook a nondescript.

(Note: cloths — maybe should be clothes?)

Then suppose one's fairly on board of his boat snug for the night under mosquitoe curtains, (which cannot be dispensed with), the boat is made fast to the shore or LAGAOOD for the night.

In the morning you are awoke by the KIDMUTGAR at a little before sunrise, who brings your coffee. This is sometimes by lazy folks taken in bed — by active ones on the roof of the boat when perhaps he will enjoy a cheroot (nasty habit), then the Saib gets dressed for breakfast, which is invariably composed of rice & fish — then tiffin at 12, then dinner at four/five or six oclock.

(Note: Tiffin — light meal especially of curried dishes & fruit.)

People who travel in stile generally have another boat or two, one of which is for fishing & perhaps three times the above mentioned number of servants, which is very small.

Tell Tom that I blame myself very much for not long before this writing to him, but perhaps however, he will receive a letter by the same ship in which I send this.

What is the reason that I never now hear anything of the book — I assure you I have been expecting to receive a copy of it by every ship which has left the Clyde for this sory whole. I can only suppose that Matthew is getting lazy — is that the case.

(Note: 'sory whole' should be 'sorry hole')

I suppose you were all at Oakshaw on New Year's Day, how I would have liked to join the party, but I hope you did not forget to drink to my health for I assure you I had a bumber to all friends at home,

(Note: 'Bumber' — usually Bumper — a brimful glass of wine)

Give my very best love to father & mother when you see them, & also to Matthew & his bairns,

I am dear Jane,

yours most affectionately,

R Leishman"


(Note: Oakshaw House, Paisley, purchased by Thomas Leishman on 12 December 1814, for the sum of £1980, as a private residence. Built on lands of Oakshawhead, an oak wood belonging to the mediaeval Abbots of Paisley.)

Jane Elisabeth Boog (Mrs Matthew Leishman) was born at Place Green in Kent on 15 May 1803, daughter of Robert Boog, a Jamaica merchant, and Robina Elisabeth Anderson . She moved with her parents to Burntisland, Fife, in 1808, and married Matthew there in July, 1824. They had 13 children of whom only 7 survived.

When this letter was received in Govan, Mrs Leishman had just given birth to their seventh child, William. Only four months later the previous child died, the fourth of the first six to meet an early death.

Matthew and Jane both died in 1874, three weeks apart and less than two months after their 50th wedding anniversary.

What an exotic life this letter must have described to the family at the Manse, a contrast in every way to the daily life in Scotland.


References : Postage Rates info from "For the Port & Carriage of letters" by David Robinson.

The background information was provided via the Internet by Johanna King & Virginia Russell,(Archives Assistant,) Glasgow University Archives & Business Records Centre.


This was first published in the Australian monthly magazine, Stamp News


for genealogical information about the Leishman family click here

Letters Index page for more Old British letters click here

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