Tag Archives: East India Company

From India to Fulham – On the Track of a Love Story

Some time ago I bought a battered little book from an on-line auction site for a few pounds. It measures approximately 8 x 6.5 inches (10 x 6 cm), the cover was battered and the thin spine had given way completely. The pages inside were loose and covered in handwriting in ink that, in places, had faded badly.

whole thing

Many pages were difficult to read but I saw at a glance that it was what I had hoped – a book of household recipes and hints  that some careful 19th century housewife had collected. But who was she and when did she keep her notebook?

Inside one cover was “9, High Row 60£” and “G.G.Mills Esq, North End Terrace, Fulham”.  Somehow I didn’t think that Mr Mills himself was carefully collecting recipes for raspberry vinegar or fish sauce. The other cover, amidst various scribbled notes, had, “Mrs Bernard Ryan”, the date 31st August 1812 and “Kensington Wilds Library Hornton St.” There was also a strip that had been torn from a letter and stuck in with instructions for restoring the lustre to silverware written on it. The letter had been addressed to Mrs Mills. The glue obscures the notes in the top left hand corner of the inside cover but it is possible to read “1819 Sept 21st”, “G.G.M 10th Dec 1819” and very faintly below that “To make good curry.”

inside cover

So, I had a Regency housewife’s notebook – but if this belonged to Mrs Mills, who was Mrs Bernard Ryan? And why had someone apparently tried to copy Mrs Bernard Ryan’s name in wobbly handwriting above it as “Mrs Renard Ry”? A child, perhaps?

I began with the library by digging in on-line newspaper indexes and soon found that F. P. Wild’s Library at 8, Hornton Street, Kensington appears in newspaper advertisements for newly-published books  between 1816 and 1825. It seemed I was definitely dealing with someone living in London

Then I turned to genealogy websites and discovered that a George Gillam Mills was resident at North End Terrace, Fulham when he died in May 1844 aged 74. He was buried in the District Chapel of the Parish of St Mary’s, North End, Fulham on 17th May. I tried to find North End Terrace on maps but could not pin-point it but but North End Road joins Hammersmith Road just where St Mary’s Chapel, now a church, stands. It seems likely that it was at the northern end of the road that Jean and George lived. Until the late 19th century North End was a scattered hamlet of houses along North End Road surrounded by fields and market gardens and included many substantial properties and villas owned by prosperous middle class and aristocratic families.

Now I knew Mr Mills’ first names I could chase him further and found that on the 15th May 1815 he had married Jean Ryan, a widow, at St Luke’s, Chelsea. They had married by licence and on the bond which he signed to obtain the licence George stated that he was over twenty one years of age, unmarried and living in the parish. It seemed highly likely that Jean Ryan was the Mrs Bernard Ryan named on the inside cover of the book.

I was able to find George’s christening record at St Alfege’s church in Greenwich on 24th November 1771 with the note that he had been born that month. His parents were Samuel Gillam Mills, a surgeon, and Catherine. So George was from a middle class home and was forty four when he married Jean Ryan.

Could I find ‘Jean’ marrying a Barnard Ryan? To my delight I found that on 26 August 1805 Lieutenant Bernard Ryan married Miss Jean Forbes in Secunderabad in British controlled India. But sadly the marriage lasted only six years. He died, a Captain in the 12th Regiment of Native Infantry of the Honourable East India Company, aged twenty eight and was buried 17th October 1811 at Fort William in Calcutta (now Kolkata). His will leaves everything to his wife Jean.

This image of the fort is from 1754, but it must have looked very much like this when the Ryans knew it, and having seen it when in Kolkata myself, it is still recognisable today.

Fort_William 1754

In September 1812 the records of the Lord Clive Military Fund Pensions Committee in the Madras (now Chennai) Presidency show that a pension of two shillings and four pence a day was granted to Mrs Jean Ryan, widow. Soon after this she must have set sail for England, a voyage of perhaps a year unless she was very lucky with the weather.

How did the widowed Mrs Ryan meet Mr Mills? How old was she? That at least I could answer because her burial record for 19th March 1825 gives her age as only forty. She had been twenty when she married Bernard and thirty when she married George. But her second marriage to a man fourteen years her senior seems to have been a happy one  because below a recipe for stewing flounders she wrote: “13th April 1820 – recd. a New Crown Piece from Darling Husband. Keep Sake.”

What happened to George? He was a prosperous businessman and civil servant, it seems. In 1815 he was Cashier of Half-Pay at the Army Pay Office in Whitehall and in 1819 had been promoted two steps up to Ledger Keeper. The Royal Kalendar and Court and City Register for 1817 and 1819 lists him as one of the directors and an auditor of the British Fire Office, “for assuring Houses, Goods and Ships” located at Cornhill in the City. How did he pass the nineteen years of widowerhood? I hope he had a good housekeeper who cooked him some of the familiar recipes from Jean’s notebook.

The notebook itself has a wide selection of recipes with notes on who gave them to her, a good selection of curries – not surprisingly perhaps – and notes on everything from making mistletoe grow to polishing a mahogany table. I transcribed the whole book and Mock Oyster Sauce and a Cure For Corns: A Regency Lady’s Receipt Book is out in April but available to pre-order now.

Cover 2

 

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Bringing Spice to the Kitchen – Or the British and ‘Curry’

The British in India, from the 17th century onwards, cheerfully lumped the many and varied styles of cooking, and the subtle differences in dishes they encountered, under the term ‘curry’, a word copied from the Portuguese. Pietro della Valle (died 1652) described as ‘caril’ or ‘carre’ the ‘broths… made  with Butter, the Pulp of Indian Nuts… and all sorts of Spices, particularly Cardamons and Ginger… besides herbs, fruits and a thousand other condiments [which are] poured in good quantity upon … boyl’d Rice.’

The British in India ate ‘curry’ with every meal, using the term to cover anything in a spicy sauce. No British lady would dream of undertaking her own cooking, so she would have no idea about how the dishes her Indian household served up were made. Eventually curry powder came to be considered a spice in its own right, completely ignoring the infinite varieties and combinations that might be used. Anglo-Indians might think they were immersing themselves in local culture – like the young East India Company employee above, listening to Indian musicians amongst his European furniture – but they seemed to have no appreciation of the subtleties of the cuisine.

As East India Company officials came back to Britain they brought their taste for curry with them and often they brought their Indian cooks with them. These men had learned to create the first Anglo-Indian cookery style to suit their employers and soon curry began to appear in ordinary household cookery books.

One enterprising India entrepreneur, Sake Dean Mahomed [Sidi Deen Mahomet in some sources], opened the first Indian restaurant in Britain in 1810. I discovered it (or, rather, where it had been) when I was researching for Walking Jane Austen’s London. It was located on the corner of George Street and Charles Street, just North of Portman Square, a fashionable area and one that was home to many retired Anglo-Indians.  The Hindostanee Coffee House even had a smoking room where patrons could smoke hookahs. Despite serving ‘Indian dishes in the highest perfection… allowed by the greatest epicures to be unequaled to any…ever made in England’ the business became bankrupt the following year. Possibly his choice of location was unfortunate and many of the Anglo-Indians could eat curry at home made by their own Indian cooks or they preferred to combine business with curry by patronising the various City coffee houses that served curry alongside English food. Norris Street Coffee House on Haymarket had been serving curry since 1773 when its ‘Mistress’ advertised in The Public Advertiser ‘true Indian curey paste.’ ‘At the shortest Notice [she would send] ready dressed Curey and Rice, also Indian Pilaws, to any Part of the Town.’ East India Company merchants had created almost a club for themselves at the Jerusalem Coffee House on Cornhill. No specialist Indian restaurant appeared again in Central London until the 1920s.

Sake Dean Mahomed (right. Painted by Thomas Mann Baines c.1810) had far more success with his bathing establishment in Brighton. “Mahomed’s Baths. These are ascertained [sic] by a native of India, and combine all the luxuries of oriental bathing. They are adapted either for ladies or gentlemen, and the system is highly salutary in many diseases, independently of the gratification it affords, particularly to those who have resided in the East.”  [W. Scott. The House Book or Family Chronicle of Useful Knowledge (1826)] The ‘luxuries of oriental bathing’, I learned when I was researching for The Georgian Seaside, included shampooing – not of the head, but of the whole body in a foaming massage.

The Epicure’s Almanac (1815) has a section on seasonal foods and for July mentions that ‘various preparations of curry afford a delectable repast to those who have acquired a taste for this Indian diet.’ Ready-made curry powder could be bought alongside other spices and was first mentioned in Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery (1747).

Here is a recipe for curry made with curry powder from The New London Family Cook (1811) by Duncan McDonald, head cook at the Bedford Tavern and Hotel, Covent Garden. The Bedford Tavern and Hotel was a large establishment on the Great Piazza. It opened in 1726 and continued in business throughout most of the 19th century.

And this is from A New System of Domestic Cookery (1807)

curry 2

curry 3 For a fascinating history of Europe’s love affair with curry, try Lizzie Collingham’s Curry; a biography (2005).

 

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