Extracts from the letters of R.C.H. Taylor, 1819-1904,
(Great Uncle Dick),
written on his journey to India,
sent to his mother, Marianne St. Ledger Taylor (1780 – 1859) at
Ardgillan Castle (1738), County Dublin, Ireland.
Selected by Ian G. Armstrong,
On Board Steamer "Ripon" Thursday, Sept. 24th 1857
My Dearest Mother,
We are now nearly off Cape St. Vincent, and so far nothing can have been more prosperous than our voyage. The weather has been splendid, almost a calm or a light fair wind the whole way. We expect to reach Gibraltar tomorrow, about the middle of the night and remain there about six hours – quite long enough, I expect, to allow me to look up the few old friends that remain there. It will be a comfort at any rate to stretch one’s legs on dry land; a long voyage, even under the most favourable circumstances, is a terribly tedious affair. The heat has sensibly increased within the last two days, and thin clothing and turbaned hats have already begun to make their appearance. The Red Sea, I am told, will be rather a scorcher, but nothing equal to what it would be earlier in the year. We have people of all sorts amongst the passengers – officers, military, Naval, & Civil, Engineers, telegraph men, chaplains, three priests, merchants, indigo planters in fact, representatives of nearly every class. There has not been much quarrelling or love – making as yet, but both are sure to happen before the end of the voyage.…….
Sir Wm. Reid, the Governor of Malta, is amongst the number of passengers – I knew him from before, the consequence is, he has tormented me with extracts from his work on the “Law of Storms”, and pamphlets on army reform etc.
On board Steamer “Ripon” 80 miles from Malta,
Sept. 29 1857
On Board Steamer "Ripon" 80 miles from Malta, Sept 29th 1857
My Dearest Mother,
I write that you may not be disappointed at not hearing from me, by this last European opportunity, in reality, I have but little to tell of. This life on board ship is decidedly an uninteresting lot, and each looking with suspicion and sullenness on his neighbour. A cherry little Mrs. Holder going from her husband to her mother in India is my most acceptable companion. There is an indifferent brass band on board, composed partly of musical stewards. It plays daily, and last night being beautiful, calm, with bright moonlight, a dance on deck was attempted, but it was a dead failure – the women were jealous of each other and did dignified for the most part, so in spite of the exertions of one or two officious people, of whom there are always some in every society, the thing fell flatly, and I believe and hope it will not be repeated.
On board Steamer Alma
In the Red Sea 100 miles from Aden Oct. 12th 1857
On Board Steamer "Alma" in the Indian Ocean, Oct. 20th 1857
My Dearest Mother,
Off we started by train again about 2oc., and in one respect we were in great luck, the railway having been pushed on and opened much further than it had hitherto been used, to within 28 miles of Suez. The entire distance was through dreary, sandy, stony, real desert, the very desert I had long heard of, & in which I was not disappointed. It appeared endless, one continuous waste of arid sand, flat except in some few places where the sand had been drifted by the wind into hillocks like snowdrifts; the only evidence of life being an occasional dromedary slouching along with an Arab seated aloft, looking with disgust at the smoking engine and its long train of unbelievers. Occasionally the bleached bones of a Camel attest how infinitely superior the Frank mode of travelling is, to the old custom of the country. Nevertheless, I must say that a railway train in the Great Desert does look out of place. No water whatever to be found along the line of the road, so at the several stopping stations the engines are refreshed from tanks which are brought filled with water from the Nile, and which the train itself carries. At the last station, the 12th I think, the engine got tired and fairly stopped (fortunately close to the end) and we had to get out and walk. We were the first load of travellers that had ever gone so far by rail, so there was some excuse for the calculations not being exactly correct. Here we had supper, somewhat of the roughest, in a large tent doing duty as station and refreshment room; and afterwards packed into the vans. These vehicles on two wheels (carrying six inside – a very tight fit) drawn by 4 horses and mules; they go along in Indian file, amidst tremendous shouting and yelling, ad a perfect whirlwind of dust, yet at a good pace. We, fortunately, had a comparatively cool night and a glorious moon for our journey, so in spite of cramped legs and close packing, we got over the distance fairly well and arrived at Suez at 4 in the morning.
On board Steamer “Alma” in the Indian Ocean,
450 miles from Ceylon. Oct. 20th 1857
6 Inner Circular Road, Calcutta, Nov 7th 1857
My Dearest Mother,
We remained at Aden 24 hours, and a more dismal heaven forsaken looking place it has never been my misfortune to visit. Imagine a perfectly dry and sterile assemblage of crags, forming a peninsula some four miles long & about half as wide, with a town, or rather an assemblage of reed houses in the centre, built in literally into the crater of an extinct volcano, and you have Aden. At Steamer Point, where the P&O. vessels coal, there is a large hotel for the use of passengers. It is built solely of reeds and matting, so that when lying in bed, one is still “a la belle etoile”. It never, or rather very rarely rains at Aden; since its occupation by the English which, I believe, dates from 1839, it has only rained four times!
6 Inner Circular Road, Calcutta
November 7th 1857
Good bless you all, with fondest and best love.
My Dearest Mother,
One curious piece of etiquette here is that no lady can stir to go away (unless from illness) until the lady of the highest rank gets up to go away – it is considered a direct insult to her if it is done, and if requisite, the lady has to go up to her superior & ask leave to quit the party! The moment the head lady goes away, the rest bolt as quickly as possible. The ladies of Calcutta all dress gorgeously & expensively. I believe they do & think nothing else – beauty is by no means common – girls, and indeed all children go to England, when about 4 to 5 years old, for health and education, and return at 17 or thereabouts. They are considered quite old maids if they do not marry within a twelve month after their return, & I am told that most of them achieve the wedding within the time. They will marry anybody if well off. Young girls constantly jump at old fellows from 50 to 70.
(His letters home to his mother at Ardgillan, end with “God bless you all, with fondest and best love, I am ever your very affectionate son, R.C.H. Taylor.)
“It has been most interesting to read the letters home of Richard Chambre Hayes Taylor (Uncle Dick) to his mother Marianne St. Ledger Taylor at Ardgillan Castle, during his voyage to India to quell the unrest there. Interesting to note not only was the Suez Canal not built yet; but also the railway from Cairo to Suez was also not completed.”
“He took this shorter route, avoiding the trip his Regiment had to make around the horn of Africa; in order to plan ahead of their arrival in India”
Ian G. Armstrong, Archivist, Ardgillan Castle, 15th February 2017