SEWELL IN INDIA
from Judy Wright
This article was originally published in the April 2009 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Extract from History of 8th King GeorgeV’s Own Light Cavalry. By H.G. Rawlinson, C.I.E. (Published by Gale and Polden Ltd, 1948, Aldershot)
In February, 1788, standards were delivered to each regiment by Major-General Sir Archibald Campbell, the Commander-in-Chief, and in December the regiments were inspected for the first time.
Major Tonyn was an intrepid leader in the field, but was not a successful peace-time commandant. In 1790, owing to the debilitated condition of the horses, it was decided to move the regiment to Conditore, where “the valley near the hills, intersected by many rivulets, would at all times yield plenty of forage and excellent water.” But matters did not improve, and in 1790 Tonyn was allowed to resign. He settled down in Madras, where he died two years later, tended by his faithful soldier-servant who had been with him all through the German wars.
He was succeeded by Major John Murray, who hailed from the parish of Longformachus, north of the Firth of Forth. He came out to India as a midshipman in 1772-3, and obtained a post under the Nawab of Arcot, for whom he raised a force of all arms. In 1873-4, when the Nawab transferred his cavalry to the Madras Government, Murray went with them. He married Anne (Nancy) Chase, whose father, Richard Chase, had been a prisoner of Tippoo Sultan. Anne’s sister Rebecca married Henry Sewell, afterwards Mayor of Madras, and a partner of the famous firm of Sewell, Chase and Sewell. Both families played a great part in the history of the Madras Cavalry: in fact all Henry Sewell’s numerous sons served in the Indian army.
Rebecca Sewell was an accomplished letter-writer, and some of her epistles, written at Arcot, throw a vivid light on life in an Indian Cavalry station at the end of the eighteenth century. One of them runs as follows:-
“Arcot is a most delightful air, much conducive to health. The situation of the house is beautiful, and never did I see in Europe a sweeter spot. Beyond the hedge runs a river which divides this place from Arcot (once the capital of the Nabob’s dominions). It is above a mile in breadth, and on the opposite are the few remaining houses and Mosques which have escaped the hands of the Tyrant. The houses extend down down the river for a mile and more, interspersed with gardens and trees, beyond which the whole is bounded by immense hills which divide the Mysore country from the Carnatic and have a most grand effect, far exceeding anything I had expected to have seen in India.
Nancy has, I imagine, given you an account of her house and garden, in favour of which she cannot say too much. I walk much in the garden, which has all chunam walks with the same appearance as white stone. It is much preferred to grass, as it prevents any fear of snakes, which are very numerous.
You will scarcely believe me when I say I am often on horseback by day-break and out of bed by five o’clock and sometimes even earlier. These hours would not suit Madras, where they sit up late, but we are generally in bed by eleven. I have not yet got into the custom of sleeping after dinner, indeed few do here. We don’t dine until three, and between that and tea we ride or walk out; I only mean we walk in the garden, nobody in this country ever extends their walking further. Capt. M(urray) keeps a very smart Bandy – a very fashionable conveyance in the East, I assure you!
We are scarcely ever an evening alone; there are twenty-two officers in the cantonment and only one lady. Most of the gentlemen are agreeable, well-behaved men. The Major of the 4th Regiment of Cavalry (which Murray belongs to) went to school at Mr Gardner’s when he lived in the Square. His name is Younge, a pleasant man, and he has a charming house and lives in a very handsome manner, as indeed every Major of Cavalry may do, it being a most eligible line.
Think, my dear Madame, then, of the fortunate situation of Nancy, who has every reason to suppose her husband will be one in two or three years. She indeed fully deserves all the good fortune she can meet, and in having married Capt. Murray I think she has every chance of it, for if he has not only the most pleasing prospects but he is a most worthy, good man, who does everything to make her happy. He and Mr Bowles, whose lady I have just mentioned, are the only married men in the two regiments, which are the 4th and 5th of the cavalry.”
In a second, Mrs Sewell waxes enthusiastic over the attractions of Arcot from the matrimonial point of view:-
“A lady looking for a husband might have her choice of Majors, Captains, Cornets, etc. of all descriptions. Their dress alone would be sufficient to captivate many a fair – a short white capanore cloth jacket with a belt round the waist, buckled in front, on the side of which hangs a large sword and pouch bag, handsomely ornamented with a fringe. I should tell you that the jacket, cuffs and collars are green, trimmed with silver, and silver buttons. This is undress; their dress is short scarlet jackets, very handsomely trimmed with silver.
They have three kinds of hats with their dresses, one with a plaited crown, with a plume of black feathers, and another with a black fox-tail across the crown, and red and white feathers. Besides these, when they go out on exercise, they wear helmets ornament in a very handsome manner with silk and silver, and crimson sashes round their waists over their belts.
In the field, they make a very smart appearance. They are all well mounted, and ride in a manner that would astonish you! I sometimes go out to see them exercise in the morning. You would scarcely know Murray in his change of dress, the hair plaited up behind, quite en militaire. When the regiments are both out, there are upwards of a thousand horse, and you may imagine what a pretty sight it is to see them all on good horses, performing their manoeuvres.”
(Henry Sewell married Rebecca Chase on the 5th June 1790. They had four sons and a daughter. Henry died aboard the ship Daedalus 18th May 1800. He was buried in St Mary’s cemetery, Madras. Rebecca died 1824)
Return to The Sole Society Home Page