Victorian Bournemouth (146)

Victorian Bournemouth (145): British Indians (3)



Victorian Bournemouth (145) explores the way in which British Indians perhaps experienced difficulty after migrating from their native homeland to British society. They may have found alienation and rejection, to escape from which they gravitated to spas, whose soothing climate and exclusive society perhaps reminded them of time they had spent in such hill-stations as Simla.

Victorian Bournemouth (145): disorientation

Deceptive dream

Some British-born people served in India for decades, perhaps punctuated by occasional sabbatical trips home. Many chose to retire back in Britain, that dream forming a key motivation for some. Yet, some found a nightmare waiting. The country had changed, new buildings for old, a network of railway tracks when only canals had existed, a different place. Subdued colours, ever-present rain did not compare well with the vibrant colouration found in the Indian countryside, buildings, and textiles. Some chose to return. For those native to India, the Anglo-Indians, the ‘country-bred’, however, a permanent dislocation from their homeland to another may have resulted in a grating experience. A land about which they had heard many fables perhaps failed to justify its expectation as a type of paradise. Just as the returning British-born perhaps could never again find their home, so the Anglo-Indians may have found somewhere unrecognisable even from its stories.

Social no-man’s-land

When Anglo-Indian visitors to Bournemouth in 1881 entered a cab, the driver may have observed no physical differences or heard little difference in accent from customers born in Britain. During the nineteenth century, the British native to India had worked hard to acquire the homeland’s attitudes and lifestyles to widen the social gap separating them from local people. They saw a strength in creating an introverted society whose exclusive membership became its essential quality. During the nineteenth century, some families had lived in India for at least two generations already. Their numbers could bolster the very small ex-patriate population, but not all recognised them as members. Lady Canning, for example, wife of the Governor-General, serving during the 1850s, had this to say about such families, always connected to home but only sent there for education. They ‘are more insipid and dull than words can express, and generally very underbred’.

Victorian Bournemouth (145): social position

Good pedigrees

Genealogical exploration for the identifiable Anglo-Indians visiting Bournemouth during 1881 suggests that most belonged to the privileged levels of society. Few consisted of working people, rankers’ children. Also, few had grown up in a boxwallah’s home, becoming tainted by association with trade not government. Most had fathers who served as army officers, including several who became generals. Gertrude Baker’s father, Alexander Duncan, rose as a fighting general in several Indian wars. She married Sir William Baker, an army engineer, later a member of Council. Other fathers worked in the Civil Service, carrying a similar rank to the army, or the judiciary. A long-term Bournemouth resident, Cicely Yardley, born in Bombay, saw her father rise to become Chief Justice of that Presidency’s court. Despite such pedigrees, however, given Lady Canning’s perspective, perhaps some in the homeland did not accord native Anglo-Indians the levels of recognition and esteem they expected.

Making things clear

Such people completed the census questions about place of birth in different ways. Some gave the actual town. Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras gave the enumerators little difficulty. Problems arose if the respondents gave lesser towns as their birthplace, Meerut, Mirzapur, Cawnpore, Ambala, or Lahore. These received a form of dismissive scribbling from the enumerators, much as they did for servants’ birthplaces. Often, either the respondent or the enumerator avoided the issue by recording nothing beyond Indies, East Indies, or India. Some respondents, however, took a further step by noting their status as a ‘British subject’. Thus, their motivation for adding this information deserves consideration. Their accents should have given little cause for doubt. Few, if any, appear to have come from ‘mixed marriages’. They may have wanted to discount doubts about their inclusion within British society, having experienced forms of a similar prejudice to that expressed by Lady Canning.

Victorian Bournemouth (145): haven of spas

Spa-trekkers: privileged limbo

English spa society consisted of affluent people, a dense concentration of privilege separated from the local communities, though dependent on them. This behaviour resembled that practised by the British in India. Watering places and spas, therefore, offered an apparent haven for those experiencing social doubts having migrated to England. They constituted an apparent social home-from-home for those far from their native origin. The 1881 census records many Anglo-Indians visiting or settled in spas or watering places. It listed good numbers of such people present in Bath (Walcot), Eastbourne, St Leonard’s, Brighton-and-Hove. The amount identified for Bournemouth at this time corresponds to that found elsewhere. Some settled there, listed as apparent Bournemouth residents over subsequent census reports. Others, however, after visiting Bournemouth wandered to other English spas: Torquay, Tunbridge Wells, Cheltenham, Hastings and so on. They preferred to inhabit the privileged limbo of spa society which asked its members few questions.

Hill station society

As time passed, the British in India chose to spend the hot summers at settlements built high in the cooler climate of mountainous areas, for example those adjoining the Himalayas. Simla perhaps has most recognition, but over a hundred of such oases appeared during the nineteenth century. Such places also functioned as a sanatorium for those whose health required a period of convalescence. Thus, they performed a similar role to the spas which mushroomed in Britain. Kipling’s waspish vignettes, describing Simla’s society, presented a recognisable if distorted picture of its members. He shows people locked within an introverted social space, imprisoned by boredom and back-biting. It seems not dissimilar to that lampooned by Austen or Dickens in their satires about English spa society. Perhaps, therefore, the privileged society comprised of Bournemouth’s visitors may have had a flavour of that depicted by the satirists. Bournemouth perhaps became to them Simla-by-the-sea.


Victorian Bournemouth (145) has explored the self-image and social position for Anglo-Indians once transported from their native homeland to Britain. Despite their British heritage, they may have felt this insufficient to take up an unassailable position once leaving their homes. Some may have sought to bolster their position and self-esteem by gravitating to the nomadic and almost anonymous nature of spa society, thereby explaining their visits to or residence in Bournemouth.


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