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.
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 )
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)
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
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)
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.
(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.
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 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.
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
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.
This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.
Copyright By EARS Leisurewrite
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