My father was born in Lonavala, a hill-station near Poona (now known as Pune), in Maharashtra, India, in 1907, and was sent 'home' in 1914 for a British education at Dollar Academy, Scotland. He boarded with an aunt, and wasn't to see his mother again until after the end of the First World War. A family photograph of that time (see below) includes someone who was perhaps an 'ayah', who may have accompanied the children on the voyage. I read recently that these women were often shamefully abandoned after they outlived their usefulness. I hope this wasn't the case with my family.
It was said that John Howard eloped with a young woman he first spied over the fence of an enclosure. It's not always possible to tease out fact from fiction, but it is rumoured that their meeting was the basis of the love story in MM Kaye's The Far Pavilions. He married her in 1831, she converted from Hinduism to Christianity, after being re-named Maria Suffolk. She was the daughter of Kheru-Jumnu, Hereditary Vizier of Bashahr, and also the ward of the Rana of Kumarsain. I have been told that her father was put to death by the British for his part in the Indian Mutiny (I have recently read The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple, which was very illuminating on the subject of the Mutiny from the Indian viewpoint). Maria died in 1852, ten years before her husband.
I am told that John Howard Wakefield persuaded all of his regiment to take the pledge, and go teetotal, and that in 1862, resident by that time in Canonbury Square, Islington, he caught a chill on the way home from a temperance meeting at the Union Chapel on Upper Street and died soon after of pneumonia.
Their son, my great-grandfather, was George Edward Wakefield* (East India Company Deputy Commissioner Ludhiania, Punjab ) (1831-1892). One of his daughters was my grandmother Violet Mary Wakefield.
My grandfather, Owen Chilton Goodenough Hayter was a Police Commissioner, in Simla, and he married Violet at Christchurch in Mussoorie circa 1900. They had thirteen children, but only five of them survived to adulthood (according to a Twitter acquaintance, Sanjay Argarwal, the church, the oldest in the Himalayas, is still maintained very nicely.) Eventually my grandfather retired and they returned to live in England, but not all of Violet's siblings were willing to leave India, and some returned to India at the end of their schooling in the UK, including her brother Jack, who worked as Agent to the Maharajah of Tikari, and his son, Colonel John Felix Wakefield, who spent much of his later life working as Director of an elephant reserve/jungle lodge in Kabini, Kerala.
After an en route visit to Mohenjodaro, Janet flew on to Lahore "where I hoped to get help in tracing great-grandmamma's grave", which she did, via the Anglican Cathedral and the Diocesan Council's records of old burials. She wrote: "...In the morning I called on the Reverend ...he called for someone to open a room going on the garden ... When the door was opened we were faced with a horrible smell. Don't go in, said the Reverend, "let the air go in first" ... the room had some odd growths hanging like strings from the roof, and one wall was lined with enormous leather-bound volumes in a very bad state of preservation and in no kind of order. They were going to fetch me a chair, and I was prepared to spend the whole morning, perhaps several mornings, searching. But by an extraordinary stroke of luck, the very first volume I picked out at random was an index of graves in the old Taxali Gate Cemetery, and so in less than five minutes I had found what I wanted... the Gate is one of the five gates of the old walled city... when I entered the cemetery my heart sank ... it is enormous ... and most of the gravestones have been knocked about and destroyed ... I walked through, and there it was - a plain slab of red sandstone flat but raised from the ground and in a remarkably good state of preservation, one of the best in the cemetery. Beautiful undefaced lettering."
Then she went on to Simla: "Explored Simla. Climbed Jacko - terribly steep - to Raja of Bushayr's house, which has what must be the most wonderful view in the world.
And on again, "breathtakingly lovely run", to Ranpur. "We climbed to almost 9,000 feet, and then gradually (the run took 6 hours), dropped down into a deep valley made by the famous River Sutlej. Ranpur , the ideal capital of a small state ... one of the first free schools in India formed by the late Rajah Padam Singh ... on it is inscribed: BETTER UNBORN THAN UNTAUGHT, BETTER UNTAUGHT THAN ILLTAUGHT, and below that, COME AND LEARN GO AND SERVE and SERVE MAN AND SO SERVE GOD". (Note - I have inherited Aunty Janet's love of copying down inscriptions!)."The same Rajah built the new place, in 1926, where I am staying in lonely state ... in the grounds is an ornamental pavilion ... the most ancient building in Bushahr ... over it stands an enormous peeput tree - four or five hundred years old. I wonder whether Great Grandmamma played under it?... Taku Sahib, who is Chairman of the Municipal Council, thinks Great Grandmamma may have come from Pooh, another day's journey from here, and says there is a ninety year old there who is reputed to have talked about a Bushahr girl going off with an English soldier... alas! It is in restricted territory and I could only get a permit to go there in Simla... I'll have to come here again, later in the year next time."
Back in Simla, she "rushed to see Rajah of Bushahr, who said if I tell him the name of the Old Man of Pooh, he'll write to him and try and get some information for me. He said he was sure he'd seen the name Wakefield on a sword or something."
In Mussoorie, she visited the church where her mother was married, and "Granny's house ... where we used to spend the hot weather ... I remembered how I had built a shrine on the steep bank above it and made a cross out of two bits of dried bamboo, and knelt there and prayed fervently. When I got bored with that I used to scramble down, go into the house, stand on a chair and steal toffee out of a large jar on a high shelf. Then I'd go back to my shrine and pray for forgiveness - and then back for more toffee, and then more prayers!"
I'd love to track down my great-great-grandmother's original home one day, should the opportunity present itself. I learnt today that 'in a step to create one of the largest repositories of Indian genomes, Bangalore-based Medgenome has teamed up with a southeast Asian consortium that has committed to sequence 100,000 Asian genomes. Were it to work to plan this could mean a consolidated storehouse of at least 30,000 Indian genomes'. So maybe one day I'll be meeting one of my distant Himalayan cousins!
*John Howard’s aunt Isabella Wakefield married John Nicholson, Quaker of County Down, and they had 16 children, the third child Alexander himself being the father of Brigadier-General John Nicholson, Soldier and Administrator, later styled ‘Hero of Delhi’, killed in the Indian Mutiny. He was Deputy Commissioner of Peshawar in 1857 with George Edward Wakefield (1831-1892, East India Company Deputy Commissioner Ludhiana, Punjab ) as an assistant (and also his first cousin, twice removed).