Cowboys & Indians – HBO’s Westworld & ‘The Raj’.

**Mild spoilers – don’t read on if you’re not up to date with Westworld, or if you think Empire was a good thing**

All research aside, this week’s real achievement was that I finally made it to the end of the second seriesof HBO’s Westworld. As most of the internet has pointed out, series 2 has often felt like a long and turgid road and there’s really little for me to add to the many,
many opinions on the show’s variable quality.

What I do want to talk about though was the short but significant sequence that opened episode 3, ‘Virtù et Fortuna’, and revealed the nature of Park Six – a Colonial India-themed world referred to within the show as ‘The Raj’.

I’m now well underway with a new book project on the afterlife of the British Empire in historical literature and culture, so I’m somewhat attuned to spotting these neo-colonial fantasies in their various guises, from books through to beer labels, in British media of the last fifty years. Such a genre, known as the ‘Raj Revival’ thanks to Salman Rushdie, satisfies that powerful sense of national nostalgia for a time when Britain was a world power, and, as such, grew in correlation to the country’s real-world decline after the Second World War.

So I was (initially) surprised to find such a blatant example of Raj Revivalism here in Westworld, a programme with far more of an international audience.

Of course, tantalising us with glimpses of its expanded universe is deliberate, paving the way for broader narrative expansion in subsequent series and supported by the show’s creators hinting at further reveals to come. Although Westworld’s main narrative still focuses predominantly on its cowboy-themed original environment, this series has made efforts to take us beyond the confines of Westworld itself and show how Delos (the fictional company that owns the parks) caters for the varied tastes of its high-paying guests; for instance, the Edo-era Shōgunworld is said to offer a more extreme version of the core park experience, for the ‘true connoisseur of gore’.[1]

As such, I tried to imagine what ‘The Raj’ would be intended to do, and what desires it would be designed to meet. It didn’t take long to figure them out. As the show’s fictional website suggests, ‘The Raj’ is of course a playground for the rich, just as it ever was in reality for certain sections of Anglo-Indian society. In the brief on-screen time the show spends there, we get an insight into some of what ‘The Raj’ would offer, such as a facsimile of the gin & tonic-soaked gentility of early-twentieth-century Dehli’s finely-manicured lawns, and the opportunity for shikar (big game hunting) complete with robo-tigers, host elephants and a flurry of pith helmets, all intended to provide the mixture of technology, ‘provocative narrative’, and expectation the company promises. ‘The Raj’ thus presumably does for British guests what the mythology of the Old West does for American ones within the show’s narrative world.


Picture credit:

Following this line of thought, it would be reasonable to expect the park to pursue the other ‘core drives’ (to use one of the show’s own phrases) and enticements of Colonial-Indian life that exist in the British cultural representation of India; namely leisure, treasure and (sexual) pleasure.[2] One can imagine the Club standing in for Westworld’s saloon, the Lal Bazaar in place of its brothel and township, and the troublesome tribes of the North-Western Frontier its Ghost Nation Indians. It’s all too easy to imagine how the narratives of ‘The Raj’ would borrow from Anglo-Indian fiction too, offering storylines based on Kipling’s depiction of the Great Game of espionage and intrigue in Kim (1901), or the machinations of a nefarious Maharajah and a gang of Thugee straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).[3] Even the narrative we do see – that of faithful bearers and placid servants turned violent – is resonant within the history of Anglo-Indian fiction, acknowledging the cultural obsession with the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the number of fictional/factual texts that have sought to depict it.[4] One wonders how short would be the distance in ‘The Raj’ between sipping at a warm cup of Assam and manning the barricades at a mock-up of the Lucknow Residency?

Such possible narratives, and the idea that pervades ‘The Raj’, Westworld and the Delos Destinations parks (namely that existing in a historical era of your choice offers you the key to freedom and unlocking your true self), are ridden with assumptions and privileges of gender and race, themselves indicative of wider concerns within historical fiction and Anglo-Indian fiction.


Picture credit:

As others have pointed out, it is easy for white men to imagine themselves as central actors in other historical eras, but far less appealing for men and women of colour to do so, and this was the one part of ‘The Raj’ where the depiction failed to follow through on its own logic.[5] It has always been apparent that Westworld’s guests have a diversity problem – they are most often shown to be white and male – so it was strange to see apparently South Asian visitors (albeit relegated to the background in favour of the two white characters) amidst the depiction of ‘The Raj’; as Proma Khosla points out, it would be difficult to enjoy the supposed splendour of ‘The Raj’ knowing one’s ancestors would have been part of the servant class.[6]

Shying away from the inherent truth of ‘The Raj’ – that it is an affirmation of how colonial fictions so often indulge a tacit sense of white supremacy – doesn’t mean that Westworld can’t still make a point about contemporary cultural attitudes towards twentieth-century history, or speculate on how near-future society might approach the (seemingly long-distant) history of imperialism in its entertainment media. The showrunners’ decision to include ‘The Raj’ is of course fitting in terms of how it offers opportunity for the same sorts of abusive behaviours and fantasies guests indulge in elsewhere in the parks, and makes this point more clearly than some of the potential alternatives – the RomanWorld and MedievalWorld of the original Westworld feature film of 1973 speak to long-standing cultural obsessions with swords and sandals-epics, and were we to read Westworld in terms of gaming and ludology then a WWII-World would seem a no-brainer, but none of these quite represent the same sense of exploitative power relations relevant to the human-host relationship as ‘The Raj’ does. Given the current global context of resurgent nationalism as I have alluded to previously on this blog, ‘The Raj’ and the over-confident complacency with which some of its guests act (with deadly consequences) are likewise all too relevant.

It’s worth mentioning just to finish that HBO has form when it comes to depicting British India. They, in partnership with Goldcrest productions, were responsible for the adaptation of M.M. Kaye’s expansive, romantic epic The Far Pavilions (1978) first shown in Britain in 1984, which arguably laid the foundations for the kinds of ‘cinematic’ television series HBO are now associated with.[7] Their return to the genre, albeit obliquely, reassuringly inverts the suggestion of Delos Destinations’ own approach to colonial history, and suggests that there is scope to do so critically. Whilst I may not be tuning in for series 3 with quite so much alacrity, the prospect of a return to ‘The Raj’ might just convince me to take another look.



[1] Accessed 3/7/18.

[2]The star of my previous blog, Charles Grey, writesof how his recruiting sergeant sells him on the Infantry in India on the basis that ‘the barber shaved one while he was asleep, a servant waited at the bedside with early morning tea and helped one on with his clothes while in intervals of loot collecting campaigns the soldier dallied with nut brown maids of the loveliest’; Soldiering In Victorian Days: a Memoir and Sketches(1941), British Library India Office Records, Mss Eur F391/2, 14.

[3]The case for Temple of Doom’s place within the Raj Revival is also strong, seeing as it is set in Mayapore in the district of Pankot; both fictional places that are the setting of Paul Scott’s Indian epic, The Raj Quartet(1966-75). Its plot too is evocative of Gunga Din(1939), itself based on Kipling’s poem of the same name.

[4]See Gautam Chakravarty, The Indian Mutiny & the British Imagination(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 8.

[5]There is, of course, a history of ‘bodice rippers’ and romance novels that offer white women a place in historical narratives, but not with the agency of white men. Recent historical narratives involving black characters, such as Jesmyn Ward’s Sing ,Unburied, Sing (2017) or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing(2016) (or even classics of the genre such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved) are as much about how history offers trauma and the denial of agency to black characters, and not empowerment.

[6]Proma Khosa, ‘Westworld’ went to imperialist India this week and we didn’t really need it’,, 7thMay 2018, Accessed 3/7/18.

[7]See further information. Accessed 3/7/18.

Gaming the System: Drink and Play in Colonial life.

Anyone who has come across this blog before will know that I tend to look at examples of excessive drinking behaviours in much of my research. Given the nature of the records held in the India Office archive in the British Library, this is hardly surprising. The correspondence, reports and other papers or documents produced by the India Office typically concern themselves with solving problems – a great Imperial trait – and of course alcohol is often the source of such difficulties in the first place. However, drinking in the Raj was, as now, part and parcel of everyday life, routine even, especially whilst the military rationing system was in place, and not always the cause for concern the military moralists liked to make out.

The other problem with looking only at excess is that such a focus is too exclusive; I have considered the act of drinking, and its effects, but rarely its environs nor the activities that drinking accompanied and enabled. Of course, Victorian drinkers did more than simply sit in silence and gulp down their Chota Pegs, but very few of the official records give us insight into these kinds of details. Occasionally, we get suggestions of their conditions and amenities from a commissary or quartermaster’s report, but these are few and far between in the official papers, and leave out all the interesting questions – what did they talk about? What did they do to pass the time? How did these drinkers have fun?[1]

Instead, we must turn to less official material in order to fill in this detail.

Recently, I have been spending some very long days examining various unpublished memoirs held in the Manuscript Collections at the BL. One of these memoirs, Soldiering in Victorian Days, written in 1941 by Charles Grey, has preoccupied me more than most. It cannot be said that Grey’s book is one of the great memoirs of English letters; it lacks structure, veers off into tangents and anecdotes that jump forwards and backwards in time, he repeats himself (often), and ends not with any sense of closure but rather runs out of steam after describing a particularly drunken train journey during the First World War.

What Grey does give us though is detail. Running to nearly 600 pages of typescript, Grey’s sprawling memoir begins with an overview of his childhood as the son of a publican in


Recruiting Sergeants outside a Westminster pub, 1870s. Image credit: Museum of London.

1870s Runnymede, and goes on to describe his enlistment, training, postings in Ireland, Malta, Singapore and finally India, where his military career ends in the first decade of the twentieth century. Grey is verbose, descriptive, and has an eye for detail – his portraits of places such as the pub in Kingston-on-Thames where he enlists in 1882, or the small villages of Ireland in which his regiment spent their free time whilst stationed there throughout the late 1880s are sharp and vivid, and, more importantly, told from a private soldier’s perspective; memoirs are so often written by officers and thus miss out on the whole world of the lower classes altogether, or cast them only as occasional interlopers into their otherwise luxurious and privileged existence.

Of most use to me has been Grey’s lengthy descriptions of how he and his barrack mates spent their free time. Along with the drinking (which was fairly chaste – Grey says stoppages meant ‘about another three pence left to get drunk on…and any man that could get drunk on three pints was a poor specimen’) there was also time for gaming. Grey describes how the most popular games were Shove Ha’penny, Tip It (also known as Up Jenkins) and Coddem (another form of guessing game, usually involving a coin), along with ‘plenty of singing’.


Shove Ha’penny players in the C20th. Image credit:

In terms of sport, unlike their officers who often play polo, tennis or hockey when not on duty, Grey and his mates would rather rest when they got the chance, possibly with a round of skittles if a lane was available.

More than gaming, however, their chief entertainment was found in the telling of tales and stories. Significantly, Grey was literate all his life, and indeed makes mention of quite how many recruits of his generation were compared to those men a decade or so older than them (illustrating, he believed, the effects of the 1870 Education Act). This brought with it professional advantages and opportunities for advancement in rank, but also greatly influenced the way they spent their free time. Grey and many of his troop are obsessed with stories, either in their telling or their reading, and drinking and storytelling go hand in hand – when they aren’t gaming, they are often swapping stories, yarns, or anecdotes about their lives, and Grey typically introduces his friends with mention of how good they are at two things: fighting and telling tales. He describes the regular routine after lights out; if a man had a story to tell he would call out ‘Boots’ and anyone who wished to hear it would reply ‘Spurs’. The subjects of these stories would vary from man to man, and often soldiers would get a reputation as tellers of a certain kind of story. Grey writes that ‘Blinky Brown specialised in wierd (sic) tales, ghosts, murders and executions all so gruesomely narrated that he kept us entranced from start to finish’, adding that Blinky must have had a marvellous memory as it turns out most were Edgar Allan Poe, Arabian Nights, or The Mysteries of Udolpho

Such obsession with stories adds a layer of metanarrative and self-reflexivity to these accounts – they are all storytellers, with Grey telling their story as well as his own, and the pursuit of memoir-writing one of the hallmarks of colonial experience, productive of a culture of publication that sustained itself throughout British India and beyond.[2]Ironically enough, however, Grey states how neither him nor his friends actually cared for memoir and ignored them in favour of novels whenever they came across them in barrack reading rooms. Despite preferring fiction, Grey reserves especial disdain for that other famous storyteller of the Raj, Rudyard Kipling, and he is often incensed by Kipling’s characterisation of the Private Soldier, the Gentleman Ranker, or any other of the myriad distortions of Indian army life he is supposed to have committed to paper.


Image credit:

Grey sees Kipling and his writing as the product of, and for, a detached, complacent middle class, who wanted a neatly-packaged version of both the Raj and its soldier-protectors that excised the roughness and hardship of their lives. In this endeavour, even Grey concedes that Kipling’s genius was in his ability to give them what they wanted.

Ultimately, Grey’s writing might not have had the same popular appeal as Kipling, but offers us something no less important. Kipling may have been a great outside observer of colonial military life, but Grey saw it from the inside, and lived to tell the tale.


[1]Collection 236/96 Allegations of intemperance among British troops in India.

IOR/L/MIL/7/10079 : 1923-1924

[2]See Bart Moore Gilbert, Writing India 1757–1990: The Literature of British India(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996); Ralph J. Crane, Inventing India: A History of India in English Language Fiction(London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1992).

‘Toff Justice’? Crime and Punishment in the India Office Archives

For a brief period in May of last year, the news cycle was dominated by the case of Oxford university medical student, Lavinia Woodward. For those of you who may have missed this case at the time, Woodward, then 24, was charged with assaulting her boyfriend whilst intoxicated by drink and drugs; the BBC reported that having thrown a number of items at him in rage, she lunged at him with a breadknife before wounding him in the leg, an injury which later necessitated four stitches. The press interest in the case, however, was not so much a result of the events, but rather Woodward herself and the way she was treated by the UK justice system. Woodward, described as an ‘extraordinary, able young woman’ by Judge Ian Pringle QC, was given a ten-month sentence suspended for 18 months, which enabled her to avoid jail time and thus continue in her chosen career, with Pringle going on to observe that preventing her from entering the medical profession would be too severe a penalty. tumblr_owuubzwaFt1u5f06vo1_1280The decision was met with criticism across the press and public commentariat, with many suggesting the expression of evident class bias in the leniency of Woodward’s sentencing, as well as in the general demeanour of the court towards her case, especially when compared to similar cases involving those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

Indeed, for me, having come straight from the courts martial reports and correspondence of the India Office Archives, such decisions and the loaded class politics involved seemed all too familiar. The archival reports I had been digging through then (and have returned to in the last month) often reveal surprisingly lenient decisions for cases of assault or drunken behaviour that involve officers or civil servants, actions that would be punished far more severely when committed by other ranks. I have written before on this blog about some of the badly behaved colonial officers I have encountered, such as Lieutenant Edward Routledge (who drank too much in 1819, rode his horse around his cantonment swinging his sabre, and then wounded a Sepoy in the face), or Guy Athel Weston, Superintendent of Police in the Punjab of a century later, who, amongst other things, assaulted an Indian colleague, and once allowed a suspect to die whilst in custody, it is suggested, through negligence; despite these incidents causing social embarrassment and professional difficulties, neither resulted in prosecution, and instead both were explained away, in not dissimilar fashion to the Woodward case, by mitigating medical factors of addiction.

Similarly, even if a case did not involve instances of violent behaviour as these two did, and concerned only poor performance or professional misconduct, authorities often went to great lengths to avoid any kind of overt punishment. Decisions often hinged around whether the removal of the individual involved would be detrimental not just to them or their career personally, but whether it would deprive others, the government of India, or even the Empire of their services too. For example, there was much discussion over what to do with the linguistically-gifted Peirce de Lacy Henry Johnstone of the Civil Service (retired on an incapacity pension in 1884 as a result of his drinking), or the enterprising Lieutenant Colonel G. V. Fosbury, who exceeded his furlough to England by over two years in 1878 in order to develop a new type of armoured hull for torpedo boats on behalf of the British Admiralty; when finally, and reluctantly charged by the India Office for being AWOL, he claimed to have been suffering hepatic derangement, anxiety and rheumatic gout.

When it came to other ranks or working class men charged with similar behaviour, the records tell a different story. For example, the Warley casebooks cover offences committed by soldiers of the 80th Regiment of Foot (later the Royal Indian Regiment, based in Warley when not in India) for the period 1848-62, and are organised alphabetically by the soldier’s name, providing in each instance a summary of the offence committed, the circumstances surrounding it, the accused’s plea, verdict and subsequent punishment administered. Despite numerous cases for drunk and disorderly behaviour, or drink-related violence or theft, none of the cases generate the same degree of correspondence, concern or attempts at mitigation as those of the officer classes. Instead, they follow a similar pattern, with the only real difference in sentencing the number of days of hard labour given to the prisoner (dependent on assessments of their character).


(Picture: Getty Images – taken from Metro, 16/4/15).

Such approaches seem consistent, however, with broader discourses of pathologisation and criminalisation occurring in the nineteenth century, such as with kleptomania; the distinction being that, unlike the poor, there was no need for middle class people to steal, so therefore it must be a condition. It is the same with officer ranks and middle classes in India – there is no other explanation for such excessive drinking other than a mental or physical infirmity. The poor and other ranks meanwhile, were simply revealing their essential nature.

Where does this leave us with regard to the Lavinia Woodward case? Everyone deserves a chance at reforming their behaviour, and many in the India Office Records made evident efforts to change for the better when allowed the opportunity, doing so with help, support, and understanding of networks of family, friends and colleagues. No-one should be judged necessarily by one incident or lapse of judgment, especially if the consequences are slight or limited, however, such clemency and understanding of mitigating circumstances must be seen to be afforded to everyone, and not just those privileged few.

Imperial Measures: Round II*

It is with great excitement that I can announce that Imperial Measures is back! A few months ago, I got the news that my application to the Wellcome for funds to develop the scope of the original project had been successful. So, from today until early 2019, I will be once again visiting the India Office Archives at the British Library, as well as broadening out my research beyond its original focus, and into other archival repositories and holdings across the UK too.

I learned a great deal in my first period of funding, both in terms of the what was contained within the archive and where (the difference between IOR/L/MIL vs IOR/Z/E can be night and day…), but also in relation to my use of it; coming from a literature background, sifting large amounts of archival material, printed texts and other narratives, and then interpreting it all was occasionally challenging, but a very useful learning experience (all aided by the generosity of time and expertise of the wonderful Asian & African Studies Reading Room staff).

Of course, I also learnt a lot about the interrelation of alcohol and medicine in colonial


Picture taken from the diary of Mary Morely, privately published 1898.

India. My research alerted me not only to the variability of the kinds of and extent to which alcohol was consumed across boundaries of class, gender, rank and race, but also the importance of considering those national differences so often drawn together under the homogenising umbrella of ‘British experience’. In expanding my scope to explore the National Archives, the Glasgow Business Archives, and the National Library of Scotland, I intend to reflect on this regional diversity within Anglo-Indian drinking habits more fully in my research to come. Moving beyond the previous focus on beer and into a consideration of other forms of alcohol as well, I will also continue my engagement with the medicalisation of alcohol abuse and addiction by continuing to explore how alcohol operated in various social, cultural and medical contexts of colonial space.

As before, I will be blogging throughout the life of the project, and hopefully coercing inviting colleagues from related fields to submit guest posts on various topics too, so please do keep an eye out for those and spread the word if you are able. If anyone would be interested in writing a short post, then please do get in touch!

One other thing I will be doing very soon, is co-organising a conference with colleague Dr Sarah Arens, to be held at the University of St. Andrews. As you’ll see from the CFP below, entitled ‘Ailing Empires: Medicine, Science, and Imperialism’, this one-day event seeks to explore the extent to which narratives of health, medicine and science are inextricably bound with experiences of empire and colonialism throughout the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries. The conference will take place on May 4th, with a deadline for submission of abstracts on March 1st. We are delighted to announce that Dr Katherine Foxhall from the University of Leicester (@historikat) will be our first keynote speaker. Please follow us on Twitter at @AEconference, or email me at, or Sarah ( with any questions.

SG Feb 2018.


*I entirely avoided making an ‘Empire Strikes Back’ pun. Didn’t I do well?

The Not-So-Thin Red Line: Excess and Exercise.

With the parties over and discarded Christmas trees already lining the streets, this week means back to work and back to reality for many (me included). Aside from struggling to find the motivation to go back to the office though, most will be fighting other battles too – thousands will sign up for Dry January, gyms across the country will likely be bursting at the seams with new members, and local parks will fill with lycra-clad visitors as people attempt to compensate for their Christmas excesses.

As has become clear over the course of this research project, worries over excess of various kinds constantly vexed the minds of the British in India, and not just after the holidays but all year round. Excessive behaviour could be profoundly dangerous, especially in the extreme heat of the summer; multiple sources attest to the ease with which people would succumb to heat apoplexy or heatstroke after drinking too much, or after exhausting themselves in work. Fearful of such consequences, some British residents went too far the other way, and a sedentary life supplemented by plentiful, cheap food meant that many swiftly put on weight. However, blaming the weather only went so far. Hotelier and socialite Harry Hobbs recorded a friend’s observation of India that: ‘people come out here and eat too much, drink too much, stay up too late at night, and then write Home to tell their friends that the climate has killed them’.[1]

Typically, advice on how to remain healthy and safeguard against the physical toll of colonial service would place great emphasis on diet. Military regulations, commercially published vade-mecums, tourist guides and books of tips for travellers all recommended what to eat, but would just as often address what not to eat as well, and whilst celebrity healthy-eating gurus like Joe Wicks act as though they are offering us something new, they are instead often more akin to their Victorian predecessors than they realise.

Banting in the Yeomanry

Image Credit: Punch, 1865 (

One such example is that of Major Joshua Duke. Duke arrived in India in the 1860s as a young officer in the Indian Medical Service, later rising to the rank of Surgeon-Major, before attempting to carve out a niche for himself as an Anglo-Indian dietary expert. Duke published his first book, Banting in India, in 1885, which (as its title suggests) applied the low-fat and low-carbohydrate diet developed in the 1860s by William Banting (an undertaker by trade, with no medical training) to the context and climate of India. For the most part, Duke’s advice seems straightforward – he suggested the avoidance of starchy and fatty foods in accordance with Bantingism, but was more often in favour of moderation in all things, as opposed to total abstinence. His remarks on diet, for instance, still speak warmly of the benefits of Burton Bitter as part of general diet (corresponding to a widespread contemporary belief in the effectiveness of beer on cases of indigestion), especially for the corpulent that had become accustomed to drinking regularly.

Similarly, in light of the fierce Indian weather, he still recommended butter and fats, mainly at breakfast, in order to avoid debility in cases of heavy exertion in the course of duty. In another publication, Queries at a Mess Table: What Shall I Eat? What Shall I Drink? (1908), Duke extolled the benefits of exercise, himself running 2 miles on a regular basis into his 60s and with an average time of 16-17 minutes. Duke suggests that the chief advantage of his method is that it is ‘soon over’, awards a sense of accomplishment, and allows one ‘to sit in an arm-chair for the rest of the day if so inclined’; a sentiment again echoed in today’s high-intensity, low-duration exercise plans such as Tabata or the Insanity Workout that cater for those lacking the time, or the motivation, for longer sessions.[2] Although, expressed as they were in the years following the Boer War and the context of poor physical performance by recruits there, Duke’s exhortations to the British soldier to fitness possessed a greater sense of urgency and importance. His remarks complement those of his contemporaries, including Commander in Chief in India General Sir O’Moore Creagh, who stated in a 1909 memorandum to troops that resisting excess and maintaining sound body and mind was the first responsibility of the British soldier.[3]

Duke had one other, slightly less orthodox, recommendation for those looking to shave off the pounds and stay healthy though, and one unlikely to receive professional backing today. In fine Victorian style, Duke was an advocate of new treatments and innovations, as well as his tried and tested methods, and writes enthusiastically of a relatively new drug called ‘Coca’, obtained from Bolivia or Peru. Citing reports from sources such as The Lancet, the Medical Times and Gazette and the British Medical Journal, Duke observes with excitement the thirst-quenching, appetite-supressing and energising properties of Coca, noting that one party of climbers made it to the top of Mont Blanc having drunk ‘no water, tea or coffee and but a limited amount of wine’ but each having chewed ‘80 grains of Coca’.[4] With such medical opinion and treatments on offer, one imagines the servants of Empire making short shrift of the Back to Work Blues…


[1] Harry Hobbs, It Was Like This! (Calcutta: Thacker & Spink, 1918), p. 245.

[2] Joshua Duke. Queries at a Mess Table: What Shall I Eat? What Shall I Drink? (Calcutta and Simla: Thacker and Spink, 1908), Second Ed. p. 56.

[3] British Library, India Office Archives. IOR/L/MIL/7/13891: 1909-1911. Collection 315/76: ‘Alleged irregularities in proceedings of military authorities in India with a view to prevention of venereal disease: including letters on question of drink (alcohol), gambling and immorality among troops’.

[4] Joshua Duke, Banting in India with Some Remarks on Diet and things in General (Calcutta/London: Thacker & Spink, 1885), pp. 86-87.

Punch drunk: Social drinking, masculinity and Empire.

This blog post comes courtesy of Dr Margery Masterson (University of Bristol; @mm_masterson), whose work on Victorian culture and masculinity can be found here: ‘The political art of duelling’ in History & Policy and OpenDemocracy; Bombay Graveyards and British Beaches: The Tale of a Victorian Imperial Scandal’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 19.3 (2014).


If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from 2016, it’s that the only kind of cheer we can be sure of comes in a liquid form.


Image: Indian Express

Never have we been in more need of a cheering glassful and I’ve found the perfect antidote to the seasonal blues: Ruby Punch. This buzzy beverage ticks all the right boxes. It’s traditional, trending and can be traced directly back to Britain’s colonial heritage. This is all thanks to punch’s key ingredient of Ceylon Arrack.

This traditional Sri Lankan liquor is made from the palm tree sap, which has to be harvested by hand through a hazardous high-wire act. Artisanal arrack is making a comeback in the West, where it is an old-time favourite ripe for revival, and in Southern Asia, where properly distilled arrack is an upgrade on mass-marketed beverages that include artificial flavourings. The perfect synthesis of these two trends is to be found in a new Sri Lankan restaurant in Soho that specializes in arrack cocktails.

The Arrack Fund


Image: Copy of the proceedings of the late court martial for the trial of Colonel Crawley. House of Commons Papers, Accounts and Papers, 96 (1864), 97.

Here I must admit that I first discovered arrack in the archive rather than at a speakeasy.  My first introduction came through Adaseer Framjee, a nineteenth-century Parsi merchant living in the Bombay presidency cantonment of Mhow. His best customer was Sergeant Major Lilley of the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons. Unfortunately for Framjee, Lilley died in the summer of 1862. Unfortunately for Lilley’s commanding officer, the sergeant major died while under house arrest on the commander’s orders.

What killed Lilley? Was it grief of was it booze? The scandal around the death of Lilley and his consumptive wife while confined to their house eventually brought Framjee to England in order to testify about Lilley’s drinking habits. The merchant’s account books showed the Lilley had indeed steadily purchased port wine, gin, ale, porter, and, above all, brandy in the year before his death.

Yet Framjee’s records didn’t help the members of the court to learn whether this liquor and beer was drunk for legitimate or illegitimate reasons. Lilley had two legitimate reasons for purchasing considerable amounts of alcohol. First, his wife was dying of consumption and was prescribed brandy by their doctor. Secondly, as the Regimental Sergeant Major, he was in charge of the Arrack Fund.

Before I figured out what this fund was about, I needed to learn what arrack was.

King Arrack

Image: A monument to Tom King (1737); William Terrington, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks (London, 1867).

Arrack, from the Arabic araq meaning sweat or juice, trickled into the English language in the seventeenth century along with alcoholic beverages from South Asia. What’s confusing to Westerners is that arrack is a word for alcohol rather than a type of alcohol like rum, gin and vodka. Arrack is made with whatever fermentable substance is on hand: so dates in the Middle East, rice in China, and molasses in Indonesia.

It was this Batavia Arrack that, thanks to the Dutch, first appeared in the European market. It was a very popular spirit in the notorious coffee houses of the eighteenth century like Tom King’s in Covent Garden. If you look closely, you will see that the left barrel of King’s proposed monument is marked ‘ARRACK’. When the British seized modern-day Sri Lanka in the nineteenth century, Ceylon Arrack became a notable import as well. In nineteenth-century bars and pubs, when favorite recipes were finally written down by bartenders like William Terrington, most European punches were made with Batavia or Ceylon arrack.

These published accounts give us a glimpse into how the colonial trade shaped Western drinking. But the records of a merchant like Framjee gives us a glimpse into the drinking habits of ordinary European soldiers stationed overseas. The Arrack Fund was what the non-commissioned officers called their pool to purchase something additional to, and perhaps nicer than, the official British army alcohol rations. But was the Arrack Fund of the non-commissioned officers of the Inniskilling Dragoons actually for purchasing arrack?

Cantonment cocktails

Images: ‘Jessie’s wail over the grave of Havelock.’ Words and arrangement of Scotch airs by D. M. Aird and T. Browne (London, 1858). Henry Walker, ‘O come with me to the fountain, love! Teetotal ballad’ (London, 1859), Courtesy of the British Library.

Let’s dodge the question of what the Arrack Fund purchased for a moment – because honestly I’m not sure – and take stock of we can learn from this one cantonment’s drinking.

Firstly, and most interestingly for the medical historians, the medical profession was deeply divided about the role of alcohol in health. The postmortem on Samuel Lilley was performed to see if he had drunk himself to death even as his consumptive wife was being kept alive with brandy. Next, the imperial scholars among us will point to this further confirmation that the drinking habits of Europeans abroad did not happen in some kind of cultural vacuum. Local Indian vendors of spirits like Framgee were key in creating hybrid drinking practices in imperial communities.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly for me, is what the case concluded about a suitably manly relationship to alcohol. The acquittal of Lilley’s commanding officer meant that Lilley was responsible for his own death. His drinking habits were officially deemed unhealthy. Yet many of his brother’s came forward to say that his drinking did not exceed the cantonment’s norms.

Yet the 1860s were a pivotal point in the teetotalling campaign, particularly for the British community in India. The so-called martyrdom of Henry Havelock after the Indian Uprising had elevated non-drinking into an act of manly self-mastery. Witness the wonderful ballad ‘Havelock the Brave’ that might had adorned the family piano at the same time as a courtship song about a teetotalling drinking fountain.

Did Lilley fall foul of changing public perceptions of the group drinking that had long been a staple of many male professions?

What’s your poison?


Image: Ruby Punch

So to return to the question of what arrack, if any, the Arrack Fund purchased and to my little festive historical experiment.

I think the most likely explanation is that, in nineteenth-century India, arrack was something of an umbrella term for all distilled spirits. Gin, logically enough from an Indian perspective, was ‘English Arrack’. European communities, including military camps, may have simply borrowed the local terminology and not the local brew. As we’ve seen, Sergeant Major Lilley’s own booze bill included many Western imports did not mention arrack.


But if Ruby Punch was not precisely the beverage served in an Indian NCO mess, then it is still an imperial creation that was enjoyed all over the Anglophone world. Punch is, moreover, the most overtly social drink going. It is difficult to imagine the cut glass punch bowl as an everyday item, or the amber red liquid being ladled out by a single depressive drinker. It is the ultimate respectable alcohol.

At least that is what we are going to tell ourselves over and over again this holiday.


Ruby Punch

Single highball

50ml Ceylon Arrack*

20ml Taylor’s Ruby Port

75ml English Breakfast Tea, brewed and cooled**

20ml Lemon Juice

15ml Sugar Syrup

Method: Shake/stir all ingredients together with ice and then strain over fresh ice. To make a generous punch bowl, use a whole bottle of arrack. Increase the rest of the ingredients until, like Terrington’s recipe, you have three parts tea to every two parts alcohol.  The punch bowl should be the social centre of the party. The punch should be weaker than a cocktail and served in smaller cups to encourage repeat applications.

*You can buy Ceylon Arrack from plenty of online liquor distributors.

**Several nineteenth-century guides use green tea. Try it if you prefer a caffeine-free drink, but I suggest an extra spoonful of sugar syrup.

***The more improvised the equipment used, the more authentic the punch. If you have a measuring device of any description and something with holes in bottom then you’re good to go.

Further reading:

David Wondrich, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl (New York, 2010).



Upcoming talk at MeCCSA 2017: ‘Raising a Glass to Freedom’? (in)equality in Beer, Britain and Empire.

In July of this year, my colleagues from Bournemouth and I organised a session on drinking communities at IAMCR in Leicester in July 2016 (; as the tweets show, we met some amazing people, had some fascinating discussions, and drank some incredible beers. Everyone seemed to enjoy it so much, we have decided to do it again!

If you are heading to MeCCSA in Leeds in January and interested, then do make sure to sign up here: online registration store. Places are limited, and likely to be in high demand. For those after a little more information, an abstract for the session is below.



Dear colleagues,

We are delighted to announce that MeCCSA 2017 includes a special session on ‘Raising a Glass to Freedom’? (in)equality in Beer, Britain and Empire led by Dr Sam Goodman and Bournemouth University colleagues.

It is Panel 2F: Wednesday 17.45-19.15pm. The perfect warm up for the MeCCSA wine/ beer reception and following pub quiz!

Why do we claim this session to be ‘special’? Well, mostly to do with the fact that whilst learning about beer, empire and contestations of beer culture, you will also be drinking beer; and not just any beer, but beer with a story.

If you are interested in attending, then please read on, but note that:

  1. a) Attendance is strictly limited to 30 people and will be offered on a ‘first come, first served’ basis
  2. b) In order to cover costs for beer tasting, there is a £5 charge for attendance at the session. You can sign up on the conference online registration store.

Further info and session abstract below:

British beer culture is currently in the midst of a revival. The influence and popularity of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the US-originated Craft Beer movement is seemingly at its peak, with a range of microbrewed beers as readily available in high street chain pubs across the UK as in more exclusive craft bars. Beyond its popularity though, beer has always been loaded with social meaning, and serves as a window into the British imperial past, as well as our contemporary present.

Through focus on the interrelation between the history and present-day understanding of drinking cultures and habits in the UK, this session asks pertinent questions of a significant contemporary cultural movement, and one that speaks directly to social freedoms, equalities and their representation in popular media. Drinking has always been a site of anxiety, especially where the consumption of alcohol has intersected with divisions, but also interactions, of class, gender, and race. Throughout British history, beer, and alcohol more generally, is variously portrayed as a cohesive and unifying force, whilst simultaneously responsible for disintegration and social decay.

Such dynamics of power and control influenced the way in which alcohol functioned at the height of the British Empire, with the export of beer to the colonies an expression of British cultural and economic imperialism, thought vital to the health of the colonizer, but dangerous to that of the native if not heavily regulated and restricted. Bringing this discussion up to the present day, such concerns of enjoyment and excess remain visible in contemporary discourse over drinking. For example, the recently-published UK government guidelines on safe levels of alcohol consumption were met variously with support, derision and scorn, with many commentators bristling against what they viewed as being told how to behave, as well as the perceived inequalities between the UK limits and those of other nations around the world.

The panel will be split into two distinct but contiguous sections with a total duration of 1.5hrs:

  1. In the first half of the session, Dr Sam Goodman will give a 30-minute paper presentation on the history and legacy of beer as a site of social anxiety in relation the colonial British Empire, through to the formation and current state of contemporary Real Ale and Craft Beer communities, and UK drinking culture. The paper incorporates an interactive element through inclusion of tasters of beers (that’s right, folks, drink while you think!) under discussion, and will be followed by 15 minutes of questions.
  2. In the second half of the session, our focus is interactive. In this 45 minute debate, we invite participants to engage in debate on the place of beer and drinking in contemporary culture. The debate would be based on, but not limited to, issues such as:
  • National beer history and memory
  • Beer, place and community
  • The globalisation and political economy of beer markets
  • The relationship between beer and public health in comparative perspective
  • Social class and beer drinking
  • Media representations of drinking communities

Further information on Dr Sam Goodman’s work on beer and empire can be seen through the BBC/ AHRC New Generation Thinkers programme: or you can follow his blog:

Dr Sam Goodman, Dr Dan Jackson, Dr Anna Feigenbaum, Dr Einar Thorsen (Bournemouth University).

FEM.ALE Brewster Beer Festivals: Gender Politics in Craft Work in the Modern Brewing Industry

Back in July I was able to attend the International Association for Media and Communication Research at the University of Leicester and sit in on the Beer & the British event hosted by Sam Goodman, Dan Jackson, Darren Lilleker, Einar Thorsen and Anna Feigenbaum. A busy auditorium listened to Sam’s research on the relationship between beer culture and colonial writing and the romanticised, nostalgic echoes of colonial exploration in some contemporary British beer branding, as well as tasting a delightful selection of beers in traditional and more innovative new styles of brewing. It was wonderful to hear the lively debates emerging and listen to the sharing of beer knowledge, both from a critical academic perspective as well as a more colloquial historical context.

As various narratives of beer development emerged during Sam’s interactive presentation, beer’s exportation and its introduction as a British product to cultures internationally were discussed (more and more energetically as the beer tasting proceeded) representations of gender in these stories and in contemporary marketing peppered the discussion. While the representation of women in the texts from Sam’s area of study is constructed mostly from the absence of female voices, as is the difficulty in tracking the histories of women and other oppressed peoples across subjects of historical investigation, if we look further back into pre-colonial, pre-industrial agricultural beer development in the UK, and internationally, we know that brewing beer was largely a female occupation. Brewing beer, prior to its industrialisation and monetisation, came under the jobs of processing food and drinks for families and broader communities that were delineated to women; baking bread, brewing beer, preserving, preparing and cooking food, etc. While it’s not surprising that when the practice became monetised it became a male-led occupation, now that the modern British beer market has embraced the notion of ‘craft’ beer and a level of transparency to the production process and discourses of the entrepreneurial spirit of making your hobby your business, how come the history of women as the first small batch brewers is nowhere to be seen?


While I was in attendance as a researcher in media and communications, having just graduated with my PhD from the Film and Television Studies Department at the University of East Anglia, my interest and activism in beer has largely been recreational: for the last three years I’ve been running FEM.ALE Brewster Beer Festivals, where we showcase beer brewed exclusively by women ( Based in the Plasterers Arms in Norwich city centre we’ve held three festivals here in The Fine City, as well as working with music festivals, curating bars and running other smaller scale events. This year we expanded and in May took our show on the road to Brighton where we ran a festival at the Marlborough Pub and Theatre during Brighton Fringe. As well as celebrating the diversity and variety of beers available from female-led brew teams, we also showcase female musical talent at our events, run ‘meet the Brewster’ beer tastings, beer and food matchings and invite female beer experts and brewers to discuss women and beer and their experiences as women in a male dominated industry.

Through running these festivals and making connections with both producers and consumers of beer, I’ve come across various projects and initiatives that aim to introduce more women to beer and break down the stereotype that beer is a drink primarily for men. Dea Latis, for instance, who we welcomed to our first festival as hosts of a Beers with Breakfast event of a six course beer and food matching (oof), are a group of female beer fans who carry the slogan ‘Bringing Beer to Women’ as it’s ‘too good to be enjoyed by only men!’. Various articles have cropped up in mainstream press about how the beer industry tries and fails to reach female consumers who more often opt for a spirit and mixer or a glass of wine. But while these articles report significant disparity on a national scale between the numbers of men and women choosing beer, where we reside in Norfolk a woman ordering a pint of beer is no shocking sight. There are so many great pubs, local breweries and ale houses with ever changing selections of beer that a pint is a trusty order for any drinker in these parts – and that’s why we wanted to focus on the craft of making beer itself rather than redressing a gender imbalance at the point of consumption. Women identifying more with a product because it’s made by women and therefore being more likely to choose it may well be a happy repercussion but our focus is on where women appear in the brewing industry, specifically as the creators, designers and producers of beer, particularly in the shift in beer talk from ‘traditional real ale’ to ‘American-style craft beer’.


There has been some attention to the unfortunate tradition of using objectifying, fetishized images of women to sell beer, equating women to the product that is for sale with blonde beers getting names like Easy Blonde and Blonde Bombshell and the pub in the Houses of Parliament famously serving a beer called ‘Top Totty’ (see for a depressing array). Male gaze is an understatement in this particular practice. The aggressive marketing of big brand lagers towards male consumers and the preconception that ale is an inherently ‘old man’ drink for the male dominated space of the British pub is not a new issue for the brewing industry.

And while we see a problematic approach to gender in terms of its branding and the ways in which this positions the beer consumer, the beer industry – particularly the real ale and craft beer sector – continues to have a massive imbalance in its workforce. In Norfolk, out of the 35 or so small breweries, only one was headed up by a woman, Jo Coubrough at Jo C’s Norfolk Ales, until recently when Belinda Jennings made the move from Adnams in Suffolk to be Head Brewer at Woodforde’s in Norfolk (we like to point out that this means since FEM.ALE began in 2012, the number of women-led breweries in Norfolk has doubled…).

My interest in terms of research, developing in conversation with my colleagues Victoria Cann and Helen Warner at UEA, is not limited to the underrepresentation of women in the craft beer workforce, as there are so many industries wherein women make up a very small number of those working in the most lucrative, creative or most celebrated jobs. I wish to examine the specificities of beer as a craft industry: in an economic condition that is seeing more and more women retreating from stable employment and conventional workspaces (as stability becomes an increasing misnomer) into craft-based self employment, why is craft beer brewing still so overwhelmingly (perceived as) a male profession?

Women are, as they’ve always been, at the forefront of brewing, designing and experimenting with the most exciting new technologies and recipes in the modern industry and it’s a pleasure to bring so many wonderful beers from these craftswomen to one place for each festival. Join us for a tipple next year to celebrate how the strength of this diversifying labour force is being reflected in an ever increasing range of creative and nuanced beers for us all to enjoy. Cheers!

Erica Horton, University of East Anglia, FEM.ALE (



Said the Bishop to the Civil Servant..

One of the best things about working on alcohol is that nearly everyone can relate to your research. Despite the change over time to many of our drinking habits, the pleasures found in drinking (as well as some of the anxieties that surround it) remain much the same as ever, and this can open up some great discussions with people from both inside and outside of the academy. Everyone will have an opinion on when, where, what and how much is acceptable to drink – as the Sun ‘newspaper’ illustrated just last week, such views can be strongly and bitterly held, especially since drinking relates so closely to how we perceive ourselves and are in turn perceived by others, individually, socially, and internationally. The same was true of Colonial British India, and the voices I am encountering throughout my research are those of different ranks, classes, genders, nationalities, professions and so on, with the response to drinking offering a cross-section of opinion from British and colonial society.

Sun 26th August 2016

The Sun, 26/8/16

One of the loudest voices in this chorus is that of the church. Alcohol consumption, and alcohol abuse, has always possessed a moral dimension as histories of the Temperance Movement and of early pre-medicalised responses to alcoholism have shown, and representatives of the church had a lot to say on the matter of vice among British soldiers in India.[1] A series of testimonies from spiritual leaders representing various faiths was collected in 1910 and put before Lord Kitchener, then Commander in Chief for India. Catholic and Protestant ministers alike expressed their fears for the souls and bodies of the British soldiers of India, stating that drinking would inevitably lead them to all manner of other ‘deplorable vice’, especially gambling and fornication with bazaar prostitutes. Kitchener’s response was a rather dry memorandum issued to all troops exhorting them to keep themselves fit and healthy in both body and mind, stating it was no less a part of their duty to Britain than their military service, and if they were to drink alcohol then to make sure not to touch any native brews.

Kitchener’s somewhat laissez-faire attitude did little to appease the churchmen. In 1923, the Reverend C. Phillips Cape, a Wesleyan minister formerly of Lucknow, felt so strongly about the subject that he voiced his concerns via a letter to the Liverpool Daily Post & Mercury. In his letter, Cape railed against the high levels of alcoholism in the military that he claimed to have witnessed during his time in India, stating that it prompted soldiers to contract venereal diseases or assault defenceless Indians, and that such actions hampered his own missionary work. Moreover, Cape cited a memo authored by Lord Rawlinson at Simla that criticised the fashion for ‘short drinks’ and cocktails since the war, seeing it as a source of much harm both to the individual and to British prestige.

The Military Department quite understandably closed ranks and embarked on a brisk PR mission to combat these accusations. Their official response was a rebuttal that showed drunkenness in clear decline. A report compiled by the redoubtable sounding Lieutenant Colonel A. W. Chitty of the India Office in Whitehall dismissed Cape’s allegations out of hand, producing figures collected from regiments serving in India that showed a marked decrease in courts martial for drunkenness in the years since the war. Chitty’s report stated how Quartermasters had deliberately made ‘wet canteens’ as uninviting as possible in an effort to encourage men to attend the Temperance clubs instead.

Cape himself was written off in private correspondence as ‘quite clearly a fanatic’, however, publicly he was said to have been mistaken and only in possession of a small part of the picture. Whatever incidents he may have witnessed were not, the India Office wrote reassuringly, representative of general British behaviour. Indeed, Sir Alexander Cobbe, VC, Military Secretary to the India Office, pooh-poohed the Reverend’s claims in a wearied and sardonic memo, noting (not without a tinge of lament) that: ‘I don’t think the British soldier in India can be accused of heavy drinking. Many more buns are eaten than pints of beer drunk nowadays in regiments’.

I wonder whether Cape lived long enough to see Indian Independence in 1947, when his hope for total prohibition of intoxicating substances was written into the Indian constitution. Whilst unlikely to have raised a glass at the news, I imagine that it would at least have given him plenty to write about.


[1] See Roy Porter, “Drinking Man’s Disease: the ‘Pre-History’ of Alcoholism in Georgian Britain,” British Journal of Addiction 80 (1985), pp. 385-96; Mariana Valverde, Diseases of the Will: Alcohol and the Dilemmas of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Jonathan Herring, Ciaran Regan, Darin Weinberg, Phil Withington (eds.), Intoxication & Society: Problematic Pleasures of Drugs and Alcohol (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

Britons Behaving Badly – Cautionary Tales from the India Office Archives.

So it has been a few weeks since I updated this blog, mainly because writing deadlines (incidentally a chapter for a Cultural History of Alcohol, forthcoming with Bloomsbury), industrial action, and dissertation marking are not conducive to blog composition. Even so, the past couple of months have given me the opportunity to start my research proper, and begin my archival visits.

Having had chance to get to grips with the reference system (thanks to the expert instruction of archivist Antonia Moon) and learnt how to follow up on information found in the archival documents by using additional reference materials such as the military and civil lists held by the British Library, it feels as though I’m making good progress. Along with reports, files, and financial sources, I have mainly been reading correspondence sent between the Bengal Presidency and the East India Company in London between 1800-1857, and then between the Government of India and the India Office in London up to 1930. The Company and the Government were extremely thorough in their recordkeeping, and copies of letters exchanged in India between stations and officers would also be sent back to Britain to be held in the central archives. This means there is a wealth of detail and insight into how the British government of India worked not in an abstract sense, but rather in terms of the concrete and quotidian management of British colonies.

I started working on India in relation to the more dramatic, and exceptional, events of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and the diaries, journals and reports from that period speak of a time when the Empire believed (rightly) that it was fighting for its life. However, sources such as the India Office Records offer an glimpse into the everyday existence of Empire, and the kinds of mundane duties, inspections and other tasks its servants would have to perform. They speak of disagreements over job titles, pay conditions, confusion over leave allowances and all manner of other petty issues that no doubt every contemporary HR department is still familiar with. Similarly, they are filled with sickness and ill health. In a report on the recruitment of Civil Master Armourers, we hear of Thomas Grant’s piles, about Philip Jones’ fevers and dysentery, Thomas Fletcher’s fits, and all that the Army decide to do about them. Reading these documents, it is clear that these are not the pasteboard heroes of Victorian melodrama that fill the stories of the Rebellion, but rather very real and very sickly flesh and blood.


McEwan’s advert, 1906. (Image Credit:

Health and infirmity were a near constant presence in colonial India, of course, but what links these cases (and what made them of note for me) is the suggestion in each instance that it was their own intemperate habits that were partially responsible for exacerbating their illnesses. Grant, Jones and Fletcher are small beer though when compared to others. Some of the more interesting work of my research so far has been found sifting through the correspondence that deals with the badly behaved Britons of Bengal; those officers, men and civil servants who disgraced themselves through their excessive drinking and pathological intemperance. The details of crimes and punishment of the private soldiers and NCOs are typically brief and factual, however, the officers warranted more thorough treatment, often with a series of letters exchanged, and extensive background information on the case provided, especially if the end result was a court martial, or removal from service.

One of the first series of correspondence I came across concerned the actions of Lieutenant Edward Routledge of the 12th Native Infantry, based in Barrackpore. Routledge arrived in the Bengal Presidency in January 1819, a veteran of the Nepalese Wars and possessed of 10 year’s service. His first few months there appeared to pass without incident, however, in August of 1819 Routledge suffered a spectacular fall from grace in which, under the influence of ‘strong drink’, he rode his horse about the cantonment with drawn sword and ‘putting everyone he approached in fear from their lives’. He was placed under arrest after he wounded a Sepoy (a native trooper) in the face, but refused to listen to the charges, pushed past his guards, and went to the bazaar to buy more drink. He was later found in his bungalow in a ‘state of beastiality [sic] both as to conduct and appearance that would shame even the lowest European’.

At first glance, you’d think this would be a fairly open and shut case, resulting swift punishment and a hasty departure for Routledge, However, as the tranche of letters go on to explain, the situation was not that simple and a lengthy investigation followed. Routledge’s situation is considered in a long letter of 20th June 1820 authored by his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Nichol, in which Nichol deplored the ‘outrageous violence of this unfortunate young man’s conduct whilst under the influence of intoxicating stimulants to which he is unfortunately habitually addicted’.

Nichol reserved judgment though on the grounds that Routledge ‘exhibited a constitutional infirmity which not only affects his intellect but frequently deprives him entirely of reason’. Accounting for his own behaviour, Routledge ascribed his intolerance of alcohol and loss of control to a fever contracted during his service in Nepal in 1816, and was supported in this assessment by the medical officer in attendance, Major Grant. In light of his apparent ill health, Routledge was placed on invalid pension and allowed (at his own request) to stay on in Bengal as he had no prospects back in England. However, it does not seem Routledge was to remain there very long; further letters from July and November 1820 describe how he was in a near-permanent state of intoxication with ‘barely a shirt on his back’, and the EIC records his discharge that year followed by further receipt of his pension in Europe in 1821. After that date, the records are silent.


Britons enjoying beer, and shrubbery. Image credit: rustic&

Routledge was by no means the last in this vein though. Elsewhere, and some fifty years later, the records tell the faintly tragic tales of Captain C.A. Coles of the Bengal Staff Corps, and of Mr Peirce de Lacy Henry Johnstone, Assistant Commissioner in the Bengal Civil Service. (Incidentally, my first few trips have also given me a new-found appreciation for the inventors of the typewriter, whose genius means that records after about 1865 are a hell of a lot easier for an accidental Victorianist like me to read…).

Coles was the fairly well to do son of a political agent (as recorded on his marriage certificate) and began his army service at 19 in 1868, noted as an ‘officer of promise and zeal’. However, in 1877 he was put on sick leave for intemperance at the verge of delirium tremens, and would then spend the next five years alternately back in service or drying out. A letter from his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Worsley, dated 17th July 1881, states that in his opinion Coles will never get over his evil habits, and is unfit for duty because he could not be trusted. Intriguingly, Worsley also writes darkly of how Coles suffered ‘a great disappointment’ in 1876 (which is not explained) after which he greatly deteriorated. Despite Coles’ list of symptoms, including enlargement of the liver, a white-furred tongue, flatulence, constipation, vomiting, nausea, and anorexia, the medical board ruled that his hepatitis and not drunkenness rendered him unfit, and that his illness was likely climate-related. Subsequent discussion conceded, almost comically, that his habits exaggerated the risk, but that he was not sufficiently intemperate for that to be the cause of his ailments. He was dismissed in 1882, and given £100 per annum on compassionate grounds.

Johnstone began what also appeared to be the start of a glittering career in 1871 when he was posted to Lahore, and then Ferozepore in the Punjab. Johnstone was again full of promise; assessed as a man of ‘unusual natural abilities’ in languages, he was a Boden Scholar of Sanskrit at Baliol, and had a similarly impressive proficiency with Persian, passing head of his year at the Civil Service open examination in 1869. After an excellent start at Ferozepore, however, he seemingly fell into bad habits, drinking to excess to the point of incapacity, and illegally removing court records in which he made improper judgments. When his colleagues reported him in 1875 (after numerous requests to resolve the matter privately) he was put on leave, and then on furlough until November 1877. Rather than rejoin the service as instructed though, Johnstone remained at Bombay for a further three months before eventually proceeding to Punjab. Posted to Hoshiapur and later Sialkot (in 1879), his conduct improved a little, but there were frequent relapses and he was subject to various official and ‘demi-official’ warnings. Johnstone was finally (and reluctantly) removed from service in 1884, retired on incapacity and pensioned at £290 plus £20 for every year of service per annum (a tidy enough sum of £19,000 a year in modern money according to the National Archives).

Of course, the nature of these records means that more negative drinking stories like this are common. However, a positive note might be found in the apparent compassion with which officers sought consistently to deal with these drunken men and their addictions across the century. They are condemned in strong language in the reports, but not necessarily in action, and are often met with a good deal of sympathy and leniency despite their behaviour, which, were we to find ourselves in similar states, is perhaps the best any of us might hope for.