James Johnstons Indian Letters

Letters from India 1856-1873 by James Johnston

11 Nov | News,

Message from FIBIS member, Andrew Hume Voegeli, about his interesting website.

Fibis Members and Journal readers may well be interested in my website, — where I have posted transcripts of letters written from India by a member of my family – James Johnston – to his mother in Edinburgh, and a couple to his Aunt in Cambridge between 1856 – 1873, some are also written by his two wives.

James Johnston ran away from home in Scotland and enlisted in 1853 in the ranks of the British East Company ‘s Indian Army, namely The Bengal Horse Artillery, aged no more than 15 or 16. His first letter to his mother in November 1856 is one of apology as well as intimating his marriage to a young English girl – Rebecca (Beccy) Kirkham – at the Garrison Church of St John, Meerut.

The letters describe with some explicit detail his experiences during the Mutiny and continue after his appointment as Head Printer at Thomason College of Engineering in Roorkee in the foothills of the Himalayas (established in 1847 and presently as ‘The Indian Institute of Technology ‘ one of India ‘s top Universities).

The letters primarily concern domestic issues but contain therefore an important insight into the social issues and concerns of British residents in India during the Raj, as well their attitudes, some of which are not what we may consider ‘PC ‘ these days. They also include references to people out with the family which hopefully may hold an interest to those readers seeking genealogical information on your own families. During his time at Roorkee he was gifted a son — ‘Jamie ‘ — by his wife Beccy who, like many British women were not to last long and who was to die within a few years of their marriage. James was to remarry, again to an English girl – Letitia (Letty) Rogers – in 1863 who was to give him two children whose fates are unknown to me at present.

The letters are to continue (with unaccounted for gaps) until his death in 1873, within a few weeks of his achieving a professional pinnacle of being appointed Assistant Secretary (in charge of Public Works) to the Governor of North West Provinces and Oudh, in Allahabad.

I do hope readers will find them interesting and I would be delighted to hear any comments or should you have any further information on him or his family; my contact details are [email protected]

Andrew Hume Voegeli