14th January 1861
My Dear Mother,
I have no doubt you think me a very ungrateful son in never writing to you for so long, and that you think “out of sight is out of mind” with me; but dear mother, I often wonder how you are and if you are well. Becky is always at me for not writing, but somehow or other, the time always slips by; although I am always upbraiding myself with being so negligent. But, dear mother, you just only give me a chance; answer this and tell us how you have been and how you are, and see if I don’t give you one regular for the future; bye the bye-did you receive a letter from Becky while she was in the Hills, as we didn’t get an answer.
My dear Mother-about myself. I am jolly and as big as the side of a house. I am still in the same place but expect to leave it soon as I have got another appointment at Roorkee as Head Printer of the Roorkee College press, and I am just waiting till my name appears in the governor Generals Orders before I leave. Colonel Hogge, my Commanding Officer, gave me a very good recommendation for the situation. I will have more pay and (be) my own master. I will be struck off the strength of the regiment and will be placed on what is called the “Unattached List”. Roorkee , I believe, is a very pretty place; it is about half way between the Landour Hills and here. Captain MacLagan of the Engineers, a brother of Dr Maclagan of Edinburgh, was Principal of the College when I applied for the situation, but he has got a better appointment and left last month, so every day I expect the Order to be off.
Now dear mother, about Becky; poor lass. She has had a good deal of trouble one way and another, what with mishaps and fever. They have completely pulled her down, but I trust she will have better health when she gets to Roorkee. She is going to write to you but will delay it till we get settled. Now- about Master James Johnston. He is getting on first rate and it would make you laugh to hear him talking Hindoostanee; he is 3 years and 4 months today.
And now, dear mother, what do you think? I have been the Precentor in the Scotch Church here since it was formed, and have just given it up and am leaving the Station. This is the first Scotch Kirk in Upper India, and it is so different to the English Service, that it required all the cheek I could muster to carry it out. But I got used to it and I have often thought of an expression that old Cromby, the Precentor in ‘Frenches’(?) used to say when he wanted any one to sing for the first time, “to think that you were in a kale yard; that they were all cabbages”. Mr Thomson, the Minister is a very nice man; he is from Alloa, I think.
There are a great number of the natives dying from starvation here; there is quite a famine in this part of the country for want of rain. Everything is frightfully dear. There was one native woman found on the plain one morning, dead and when she was opened, her intestines were full of grass. But although they are so dreadfully pushed, they will not eat anything from our table as it breaks their caste, (which in my opinion is all humbug). The authorities are doing everything they can for them; they are building a poor-house for them, and those able to work are sent to the works above Roorkee, but hundreds of them refuse to work; they would sooner beg.
The weather is very cold at present, but we will soon be looking forward for another grilling match when the hot winds commence. The Commander in Chief is expected here this week so I expect we will have plenty to do.
Dear Mother, let us know how little George, Ann and Agnes and two more (but I forget their names) are. My little chap is very like what Georgie used to be when I last saw him. Let me know how Alexander is if you can see him. How is uncle Adie and the family getting on; and Aunt Agnes-let them know I am getting on and doing well. I will send you 3 likenesses of Becky and myself, one for your dear old self and one for uncle Adie and one for Aunt Agness at Durham; ask her to drop me a line. You can tell her where to write and how to address it. i.e:-
Sergt James Johnston
Artillery School of Instruction
And I will let you know my other address in my next.
Let us know how everybody is getting on. Is Dr Johnston still in Nicholson Street (Edinburgh), and how does he look now.
My Dear Mother, we often wish you were not so far away, that you might be with us. Talk of your son being a soldier; you would not think so if you could drop in and take a peep, for nobady would ever dream of my being such. I am never in Regimentals, except on Sunday when I go to church, and then it is optional. And I know there are many that would turn up their nose at a soldier. Who would just like to be as well off? My pay now comes to £8 – 2s – 2d a month; about £100 a year, and a free house (and there is not much coals wanted here) so that’s not bad for a “soldier”, so don’t look down on a fellow. I only wish you could join us. Wouldn’t we make it you jolly, and give you rooms to yourself, and a servant to attend on you. I have had one or two offers to leave the service, but declined them as I would rather be under Governments as I am, as before long I intend to look out for another step in promotion. I am in my 6th year, a Sergeant on the Staff of the Regiment-so that’s not bad out of eight years service; and bye the bye-we got 2 years service given us for remaining when so many of the chaps went home at the time when Jack Company was done up. So that makes me an old soldier now, as the saying is; but as hearty and jolly as ever. Don’t know what ill is and that is a blessing, so if I get the next step-a Warrant Officer-it will give me a pretty good pension- about £80 a year; but you shall hear from me before then.
Now my dear mother, you must drop me a line as soon as you can and give us all the news. What you think of the likenesses? They are not first rate, but I could not get them done at the time any better. It was just after Becky’s last illness. Dear Mother, I must say good-bye for the present.
Trusting this will find you enjoying good health as it leaves us here. Give my regards to all enquiring friends and Becky joins me in best love to your old dear self and remain
Your affectionate son
NB-Not forgetting best love and kisses from little Jamie
My dear Mother direct to me:-
Mr J. Johnston
Thomason College Press
I have just received the order to go and am up to eyes packing.