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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lady Maria Nugent's eyes

On board East India Company ship Baring, en route to India, after a stopover at the Cape of Good Hope


As readers may remember, Lady Maria, wife of Lieut.-General Sir George Nugent, traveled from England to India in 1811, disembarking at Calcutta in January 1812.  According to the Arrivals column in the Bengal newspapers (found on "fibis," the British India Society database), there were 31 cabin passengers on the Baring, four of them ladies. And the captain's table was headed by Captain Templar, a shipmaster with an uncertain temper and a great deal of pride.

One of the females was Lady Maria herself.  Another was Lady Charlotte, wife of Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. McGregor Murray. The third was Ann, wife of Captain William Midwinter of the Bengal Army ... and the fourth was our very own heroine, Eleanor Reid, who was travelling to Calcutta with Captain Hugh Reid for the launching of his latest ship.  

Not, as you will see, that Lady Maria ever mentions her.  Back in those days, highborn officers of the army and navy looked down on those who were associated with trade, even those who were doing very well financially. But, apart from its testament to Georgian snobbery, this extract from Maria's journal is interesting because it gives an amusing little window into the social complexities of travel by sea at that time.

October 30, 1811. Some new arrangements at the dinner table, made on my account--the medical man at the Cape saying it was injurious to my eyes to sit opposite to the glare of the sun on the sails.

--A Captain Midwinter, of the Company's service, insisted upon keeping his seat, which would place him and his wife next to me and Sir George; and as this was Captain Templar's place, and Colonel and Lady Charlotte Murray next, Captain T. would not submit to it. There was, in consequence, much confusion, and it ended in Captain Midwinter retiring to his cabin, and ordering his and his wife's dinner to be sent to them there.

This was all very uncomfortable to us, but we were not to blame, nor had we it in our power to make either of the gentlemen reasonable. I would have given much to be allowed to dine in my cabin, or to have resumed my former situation [at the table], but this was not permitted. Captain M. sent me an apology, but abused Captain T., when, in fact, he behaved with the most violence of the two. it seems Captain M. is a West Indian, and suspected of being party-coloured, and these people are always very furious, in all their passions.

November 1st. Had an explanation with Captain T. on the subject of yesterday, and insisted on being allowed to dine in my own cabin.  Lady C. Murray begged to be with me, and so it was all settled, excepting that Captain M. was not permitted to resume his seat at the table, but was desired by Captain Templar to dine below, and this he did. 

So Ann Midwinter was banished to the steerage with her husband, and Lady Charlotte and Lady Maria ate their meals in Lady M's cabin.  This means that Eleanor Reid was the only woman left to grace Captain Templar's table -- but, being a most experienced seafarer by now, she undoubtedly handled the strange situation with her usual aplomb. But how one wishes that it was possible to read her description of the posturing and fuss!

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