Michael Spencer, Bangalore

India Letters
Michael Spencer In Bangalore, 1835
by
Eunice Shanahan

front of letter

click here for larger image


Bangalore to York, 1835
This letter has a good assortment of postmarks and postal markings which allows me to trace the route taken by this letter written by Michael Spencer in 1835 from Bangalore in the southern Highlands of India to his father I. Spencer, The Plantation, Nr. York in England.

It began on November 10th 1835 when it was written partly by Michael and partly by his wife Ellen. The writer noted on the bottom left corner of the front of the letter Bangalore November 14 1835 - then at the top he wrote 'Post Paid' - and then at the back of the letter 'To be sent by the first ship to England'. Then, in another handwriting 'postage pd to Madras As 14'.

The first postmark was a boxed 'BANGALORE POST PAID' postmark, in red ink, rather faint after all these years. From there it went to Madras where it received two postmarks, an oval datestamp in black MADRAS 17 NO 17 1835 and then the oval MADRAS OUT STATION SHIP LETTER date stamp also for 17 November - so it took 3 days to get it to the despatch point. The next postmark was the boxed INDIA LETTER PORTSMOUTH in England but that was undated, so the next was the London, morning duty circular datestamp showing the code letter F, and the date 23 MR 23 1836, which should only have been a day or so after the letter had been received in Portsmouth. There is no receiving town stamp to show when it was received in York. This is a total of 4 months for the journey.


(From the Stamp Atlas : Stuart Rossiter & John Flower)
An organised system regulating carriage of letters by sea between England and the presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, with Post offices at those places was established in 1688. Regular overland communications between Madras and Calcutta began in 1720 and to Bombay in 1775. Handstruck marks are known on mail from the 1770s.

When the British GPO extended its steam packet from Malta to Alexandria in 1835, Thomas Waghorn operated an overland mail service by camel to Suez to connect with an east India Company's steamer.


The charge marks on the letter (which must cover the cost of the inland postage, as it was marked post paid, and perhaps the amount paid in India only took it to the first port in England?) This is a query as Portsmouth to London is 72 miles and London to York is 195, so combined total is 267 miles which should have cost 1/- so why was it altered to 1/4d?

The inside page of the letter has been cut out, (except for the place and date) and the rest of the letter is one of these really messy crossed letters, written on twice all over the pages, so that it is a puzzle to see where the letter continues from one page to another, plus it is written in two different hand writings, one of which is rather thin and faint. As a result I cannot be 100% sure of all the words - but that is one of the challenges of these old family letters.

On the inside the only two lines that are left where the rest was cut off are quite tantalising

"almost unaccountably affected at the event in which a horse of his ran and...."

The next sentence is the end of Michael's part of the letter :- "with best love to all, believe me, your affectionate and grateful son, M.M. Spencer - Ellen writes below to Isaac."

The letter is then continued in a totally different writing, in a faint ink, and the lines are crossed, so it is very hard to read the beginning paragraphs.

"My dear brother,
Many thanks for your kind letter, which was doubly valuable to me from the necessity(?) it shows about ?eing Miss Banks who will I am sure follow strictly the arrangements of Dress if necessary are <....?> to mine. We were both as you (hole in the paper), most worried <....?> at his going myself more particlarly for no one who has not experienced it can know the wretchedness of being left alone when you know how it is on guard three or four miles off as has to be the case when he was a subaltern and on the Fort Guard - and he needs must be absent more than two or three hours at a time, I am sure we can never either of us forget the gratitude we owe to such a Father. Believe me, Mike feels fearfully the interest you have always shown for him - he intends writing to you himself in a short time. I wish that happy something you talk of in your letter were soon to take place, for this is a fearful country to live in
The page has then been turned and writing crossed

...and impress upon you most awfully the truth that "death Smites", with no distinctions, taking the strong and the weak. One of the strongest men in the Regiment Captain Borough was suddenly called to his last account after less than 24 hours illness. the event has cast a gloom over the whole Company.

Women are not nearly so liable to illness as men are, as we never can expose ourselves to the air, which they are often obliged to do - our present station is the healthiest if not in all the Presidencies in fact in this, and I dread the thoughts of a change which they say is soon to take place, however the Almighty will order all for the best.

There is nothing attaining here that would interest you in the least unless there is a war, which I pray may never be again. India is the most monothonous place in the world. I will write to my sisters shortly, to whom I beg you will give my best love as also my dear aunt, good father & praying that every blessing may attend you all, believe me, your affectionate sister

S. Ellen Spencer.

That is the end of Ellen's part of the letter, but then Michael takes over again on the 'ears' or 'wings' of the letter, and they are also both 'crossed', but in his case they are much easier to read, but some of the words still need deciphering!

"My dear Polly & Jinny
You are both two lazy monkies for not writing oftener - why do not you tell me about the old people I know at Poppleton, you have no idea how pleasing it is to be reminded of even the humblest being you know in your fatherland, especially to such as an old stilo as I am . If it ever is my
[page turned to continue...]

luck to see you all again, you will not know me, till I announce myself, I am nearly as black as a 'nigger'.

Is old Groves the tailor still alive - he used to be a great ally of mine. If he is it will please him to know that "The Captain" enquired after him. Tell him that, although a cripple, I and two Brother ...

The page is turned again here 90 degrees, to continue with ,,,

officers went out the other day and bagged 32 /thirtytwo/ couple of snipe - 12 of which I floored myself - this beats the Ingses at Poppleton out & out.

Is old Deighton still alive - in short tell me all about the old people. Herewith I send you a picture which is the image of my "Cara Sposa" (dear wife - Spanish) don't you think .....

it pretty. (*)

She is now walking in the garden pulling flowers - we have thousands of roses etc. You may imagine what a fine climate this must be for India when a lady can walk out at 10 am - in Madras they never stir after 7.

God bless you both and believe me your affectionate brother
Mike.


(*) is this why the page was removed as it included a drawing?

We have had this old letter for a long time, and I had fun checking out the location of Nether and Upper Poppleton, (which are near York), and Madras and Bangalore (in India) in our atlases at home, but nowadays they can be found on line.

I put a request on the CD archives list to see if anyone knew if there was a Mr Groves, Tailor, living in York, or Poppleton at that time, and received a reply 1/1/2002 from Margar1813@aol.com GENUKI for Yorkshire, quoting from the Baines directory of York 1823, showing that there was a record of such a man, listed among the tradesmen.

Miscellany of trades

Atkinson Wm. vict. Fox
***Groves John, tailor ***
Hairsine Thos. schoolmaster
Hodgson Peter, vict. Red Lion
Lupton John, blacksmith & ferryman
Richardson Robt. lime & coal merchant
Rider Joseph, shoemaker
Taylor John, vict. Lord Nelson
Tindall Richard, butcher


This is just one of our letters written to and from India in the mid 19th century, and it shows how important the correspondence was at that time. The letters are full of information about the life in the new country, and reminiscences of 'home'. This letter was sent in November 1835 and took until March 1836 (nearly four months) to arrive so that you can imagine the excitement such a letter would have generated. It is such a contrast to the instant communication of the 21st century with one-line text messages full of abbreviations being sent on mobile devices directly from one person to another completely by-passing any postal systems. Life has changed forever, and there will be no necessity for postal historians in the future.

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