Letters from the Past

"Thomas Tweedie to Andrew Storie :

India to Edinburgh 1815"


This letter is one of those unusual items where it has not only fascinating postmarks, but the contents are interesting, and I have also been able to find information about the writer. The post marks are just amazing (Fig.1) and tell the story of the journey of the letter from despatch in India to receipt in Scotland – a journey which took from 8th August 1815 to March 24th 1816.

address panel

1) SYLHET POST OFFICE — India – undated, (Fig.2) but 8 August 1815 on the letter – coupled with what looks like Indian script marks in black ink (Fig.3) Sylhet, originally SRIHATTA, is a city in northeastern Bangladesh. It lies along the right bank of the Surma River, and is now the most important town in the Surma River valley.

2) undated Bengal G.P.O. Post Paid in black ink (Fig.4 )

Sylhetindian script Bengal

3) Then the first English postmark on the letter, a boxed, Deal Ship letter stepped 2 line second line in italics in black. (Fig.5)

Deal Ship letter

There has been a regular shipping service for mail from the three Presidencies of the East India Company of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta since 1688, and the mail could be landed at any of the ports. It would probably have been quicker to offload the mail at Deal, and then have it carried the 74 miles to London by road, rather than carry on by sea round the coast of Kent and up the River Thames to the Port of London.

4) In London it received the morning duty double ring date stamp Mar 21 1816 in red (Fig.6) and
5) Additional ½d Boxed type Fig. 133 H & S because it was going to Scotland (Fig.7)

London postmark Add halfpenny

6) the Manuscript charge marks one showing 1 /4 (one shilling and fourpence), which was crossed out and the corrected rate of 1/6 (one shilling and sixpence) would also have been applied in London. (Fig.8)
7) The final mark is the Edinburgh arrival date stamp in red 24 Mar 1816 (Fig.9)

instruction mark Edinburgh postmark

The letter is addressed to Andw. Storie Esq Broughton Place Edinburgh and marked at the top of the address panel P. Mary indicating the vessel which would have transported the mail. In 1815 it is likely that this would have been one of the ships owned by the East India Company. It was written by T.S. Tweedie, in Sylhet which was then in the Bengal establishment of the East India Company and I found a record of him on my CD of the E I C. The entry shows him as a surgeon on the medical establishment of Bengal, and on 22nd Feb 1817 he was on furlough (this was leave of absence in the military service). The table of pay and allowances shows that an assistant surgeon was paid the equivalent of £199 in either Sonaut, Madras or Bombay Rupees (2s 6d) but that if he was made up to Surgeon then he was paid £333.8.0d.

And now to the contents of the letter, the first part of which concerns business at home.

My Dear Sir,

I have been favored with your letter of the 5th last enclosing accounts up to the 15th May 1814 for which accept my thanks; the errors I formerly pointed out have been corrected & the only difference I can now discover is the deficiency in Mr Watson’s rent mentioned in my last, and £1 paid on account Michaels servant Apl 25th 1814, with which he is not charged –
I have likewise to thank for the Copy of the advertisement of the Farms & for what you have done respecting them. The fall that took place in the Value of Landed property which might have been expected and which was likely to be only of a temporary nature would I trust prevent you from entering into a long lease immediately on the expiration of the term specified for closing, unless you had a favourable offer, particularly as the Corn Bill was expected so soon to come before parliament ; and the unhappy change that afterwards took place on the restoration of Bonaparte may likewise have raised the value of Produce, tho’ I fear too late for me to benefit by it.”

(Note: the Corn Laws were passed in 1815; they said that foreign grain could not be imported into Britain until the price of domestic grain reached 80 shillings a quarter (£4). It was an attempt to protect the farmers from losing out to cheap foreign grain.)

The reference to the restoration of Bonaparte… Napoleon escaped from his exile on the island of Elba, and raised his troops again — many of them battle-hardened veterans who still supported their deposed self-styled ‘Emperor’. His army fought several successful battles against the European Allies, commanded by the Duke of Wellington, but it all ended for Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June 1815. During the times of war, the cost of food usually rose, so the writer of the letter was right to be concerned.

“After a 19 years lease of land so much improved as Whitslade, I certainly expected a great rise, it is so well adapted both for pasture and grain – & if I can afford it, as I hope I may, by the time the present lease expires, I will certainly take it under my own management & by sheltering it a little more with hedgerows of Larches make it both prettier and more productive that at present.

I had a great intention to come home on Furlough particularly as I have been offered a free passage next November, but the small increase of rent I am likely to receive and the expenses I should certainly incur have prevented me from sacrificing so much for a temporary gratification & being now entitled to Furlough I can take advantage of it whenever I feel inclined — I would only be allowed two rupees a day as an Asst. Surgn.”

He then carries on with news from India – the first paragraph concerns indigo — here the image of the plant shows it is like a legume. (Fig.10) The leaves of the indigo plant are a major source of natural indigo, a blue dye once used for denim jeans, but now largely replaced by synthetic dyes.


Indigo is still grown in some parts of South Asia, and synthetic indigo is widely used for traditional textiles. In some parts of India the plant used to be well known for treating rabies. T. S.Tweedie had an indigo plantation out there, and made considerable money from it, but not apparently this year.

“The Value of Indigo factories have fallen considerably in consequence of the great number of new ones that have lately been built & we have been obliged to lower the Valuation of ours by the profits arising from the Sale of Indigo of season 1812 in Europe – 1813 was a bad year and the Indigo sold in this country at some loss: Last year 1814, we had about 500Md. (Madras Rupees) part was sold in this country and about 350 sent home. This season promised a most luxuriant crop, but a great inundation in June destroyed about ⅓ rd of the plants in Bengal : The manufacturing is now going on and we expect Md400 which will insure us against loss and perhaps yield some profit.”

The next paragraph is also of interest, showing yet another money making scheme in which he was involved :-
“Last year I sold the most of my Elephants to Govt., & and this year they have agreed to take 25 above seven feet at IRs 730 each and to have the option of those between 6½ and 7 feet at 450 Rs each, I was unfortunate in catching last season; and will only have about the number required.
I expect to be promoted in two years when I must join the Regiment — my pay will be better but my expenses will be more, I propose to retain my share in our Mercantile concern the same as at present.”

He then reverts to home affairs :-

“I fear the Change that has taken place would prevent the income tax from being taken off last April – perhaps I may be more fortunate in having my Farms well let than I have any reason to expect to make up for the loss – My brothers were both well when I last heard. I have been anxiously looking for a letter from you — Remember me to Mrs Storie and all friends & believe me
My dear Sir
Yours very sincerely
T Tweedie Sylhet 8th August, 1815.”

Thomas Stevenson Tweedie — the writer of the letter — was born in 1784 at Glenholm, Peeblesshire, and trained in Edinburgh as a surgeon. He joined the East India Company in 1804 and served with them in India for 40 years. He had one family of 7 children, in India, but after the death of his first wife, he returned to Scotland, where he later married Benjamina Mackay and they had a further 6 children. He returned to India for further service with the East India Company, and he died at Quarter, in Peebleshire in 1855. There is an interesting website devoted to the Tweedie family, but I was unable to make contact with them. The notes on the website indicated that the wealth accumulated by the production and sale of Indigo ran out when the new methods of producing the blue dye by chemicals was introduced.

In this letter he shows that although he is living in India, he is well aware of what is happening in Europe and on the Continent. He may have been an absent landlord, but is still intent on managing his properties in Scotland.

This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

Copyright By EARS Leisurewrite

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