A shady hat and a bottle of smelling salts.

Flora LouisaThis pretty sepia photograph was taken in India to celebrate the wedding of Flora and Edward Hart at the church of St John, Calcutta in 1883. Flora sent this copy home to her family, thousands of miles away in Bristol.

I purchased the photo from a flea market many years ago. The reverse gives a name and a date, but I misread the surname and so unable to find any clue of Flora, I gave up. Defeated. Until now. Having recently found* the picture again  and looked at the name from all angles until there it was, staring back at me.  SLANT became HART and all was revealed. And a good job too really because Flora has an interesting story to tell.

*Not that it was lost, it was just filed away ☺……

Flora Louisa Dix was born in 1857 in Bristol, England. She was the fourth of seven children born to  George Dix and Emma Churchill.  George was a local Auctioneer and by 1853 also the Landlord of the Black Horse. Emma -along with her four siblings -had grown up in the pub, her father Robert having owned it at the time.  The family seem to be a fairly affluent one, documents found online show George was able to loan money to friends and family. £500 in one case, a huge sum at that time.

Emma Churchill suffered a truly horrendous year in 1871. Firstly, in the February, she lost her husband George, his death was was quickly followed a few weeks later by her mother Mary aged 71 and then her father Robert passed away aged 77. She gave the pub up in 1874 and settled back comfortably (maybe a well-deserved glass of stout in hand?) to watch her children marry well.

Lets get back to Flora… now  we do have one teeny tiny problem with Flora. I can find no record of her climbing aboard a steamship and sailing to India. Nothing about the 2 or 3 week voyage she took through the increasingly hot weather, what class she travelled in or even the name of the ship that took her.  Nothing about who she sailed with or when she left England. It must have been after the census taken in April 1881 where she was living with her mother. And it must have been before February 1883 because she married in the March. Infuriating isn’t it.  We know she was single though, but we don’t know if she knew her future husband or not at this point. When she stepped off the ship and into a new life full of exciting sights and smells, who was waiting for her at the dock?

Fortunately however, we can have a little peek at what her voyage would have been like.  Because in 1882 a handy little book was published for people wanting to travel to India. Its called Indian Outfits and establishments, a practical guide for persons to reside in India, and its online to browse through. It gives advice about routes to travel, baggage weights, what clothes to take -12 thin cotton nightdresses, 12 thicker cotton nightdresses, 26 various kinds of petticoat, vests, drawers, bodices, 36 lace hankies, corsets, stockings, wrappers, mittens, a good stock of collars and frills, plain dresses, afternoon dresses, evening dresses, tennis dresses, – the list of clothing  is endless. This of course is in addition to clothes simply needed for the actual journey.

The traveller is advised to pack a months worth of clothes for the voyage and onward travel by train. It won’t be possible to wash clothes while sailing. And  a shady hat for using on deck. And ginger in case of seasickness. A favourite book and some writing materials. Brandy, sticking plaster, smelling salts, a glass to drink from. Oh and some candles for the train. Maybe a tin of sugar and some cocoa and biscuits.  An umbrella, waterproof wrap and some shawls. Also a chair may be of some comfort.

Cabins might be shared with 4 or 5 other women, I can’t imagine how jam-packed the ladies were with all their bits of luggage.  But of course these ladies wouldn’t have been able to buy these vital comforts en route to their new homes. The book goes on to describe places of interest to visit if time allows, how to engage and manage servants, how to furnish your home, illness and entertaining and a great deal more. It really is a fascinating read.

During the British Raj (1858-1947) a great many British men had travelled to India, the majority to work in some capacity. Edward Hart was to be one of these men. He was born in Portsmouth on the south coast of England in 1856. His  father, Edward Hart Snr – an Engineer,  had died when Edward was a small boy and his mother Elizabeth had married again a short time later. Her new husband, Thomas Hindmarsh, was a Civil Engineer who was involved in building the railway system in India. Elizabeth and Thomas had three children during the 1860s and then it seems Edward may have accompanied his stepfather on one of his trips to India after 1871.  Edward had been training to be an engineer himself and would eventually work on the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. Again there is no record of these outward journeys, argh!

Perhaps the couple met through their families,  perhaps through mutual friends. Maybe they wrote letters to each other and then Flora travelled to meet her intended. It is even possible that Flora simply upped and left England with friends bound for India and met Edward for the first time over there, many women did indeed do this. What we do know though is that the couple settled to down and had four children who, like their peers, were sent to boarding school in England. A country they had never seen, with a completely different climate and with family they had never met.

In 1889 Edwards half-sister Elizabeth married  another Civil Engineer, Sulyarde Cary. The marriage was short-lived  and the widowed Sulyarde went on to marry Georgianna Dix, a younger sister of Flora’s in 1893. This sister had followed Flora out some years later,  perhaps as a result of Floras letters home. A second sister, Beatrice, joined them in 1900, along with her husband – Edward Harts half brother Thomas Hindmarsh who had been working in Bengal on the railways since 1884.  It is possible the 3 sisters were near enough to each other to be able to enjoy each others company in what could otherwise have been a lonely existence, having to live at a distance from the servants and local population with only a small crowd of fellow British wives. While the men got on with their work the wives were left to keep house and raise the children.

I have found a  mention of Edward Hart being promoted to from Captain to a Major of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Volunteer Rifle Corps in July 1903. 

Beatrice died in India in 1904 at the age of 30. She was shipped home to Bristol and buried in the village churchyard. Georgianna followed her sisters path in 1906 aged just 33 possibly escorted by Flora who stayed in England, while Edward seemed to make many more crossings to Bombay.  Edward died in 1934 and his death registered in Southampton. Flora is living in London at this point and remained there, dying at Ealing Common during the second world war in 1941.

What an amazing life Flora must of lived, from our distant viewing point – Flora may well have disagreed.

 

 

 

 

 

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