Category Archives: 1862

These letters from 1862 from James Johnston show an insight into the lives of ordinary people, but in the vanished world of the British Raj.

18th Feb 1862 (To Mother)

My dear Mother,

It is with pleasure I write you these few lines trusting they find you enjoying good health. I had a letter from Aunt Agnes a few days ago, she is quite well. I have written to her by this Mail. I am very busy just now, my comrade here the Superintendent has left. I applied for the situation but it has not been filled up yet. Captain WILLIAMS told me that he had made up his mind to make me officiating for the present on 50 rupees a month extra and I have got my pay rises up to 150 rupees from the first of January, which make me 200 a month now.

I have no time at all to myself at present. Little Jamie is keeping quite well, also big Jamie. The weather here is beautiful just now. I will try and give you all the news in my next. The mail leaves tomorrow and I have a lot of work to do but there is a satisfaction in knowing you are pleasing your superiors, and Capt WILLIAMS has told me as much and that he should be very sorry to part with me.

Send me all the news and Dear Mother find out what it will cost for a nice small portrait Photographic Camera wit a good supply of chemicals.  Write soon.

I remain Dear Mother

Your affectionate Son

James Johnston

Arrived March 27 1862

18th Feb 1862 (To Aunt)

To  Miss A Johnston

The Spinning House

My dear Aunt

I received your welcome letter and was glad to hear you were enjoying good health. I had no time to answer it before last Mail as at present I am doing the duty of Superintendent in addition to my own duties, which leaves me very little time to myself; the present Superintendent is going on Pension. I have applied for the situation but cannot say whether I will be successful in getting it or no. It has been advertised in the papers, the salary is Rupees250 with Rs30 for House Rent, in all £28-0-0 per month. At present I am in receipt of Rs150 having had a rise of Rs30 from the 1st of January.

My dear Aunt, you would never take me for a soldier, in fact I am only in name. I never wear Regimentals on any occasion. I can hold my situation either as a soldier or a civilian, but I prefer the former because I can look forward to a pension andI am looking forward to be made a Warrant Officer which gives a very good pension. I like my place very well, there is a great deal to do but I like it the better for that as it keeps my mind always employed. This is a beautiful station, so close to the Hills (the lower range of the Himalayas). The college is a fine building; I enclose an Engraving of it. The Building you see in the background is my printing office and there is a similar building on the other side where the Lithe and Wood Engraving Depts are. Since commencing this I have been made officiating Superintendent with Rs50 a month extra, but enough about myself.

I am happy to say my little boy is keeping very well and I trust he will keep so during the ensuing hot weather.

My dear Aunt, you must excuse this scroll. I will give you all the news I can in my next but I have a lot of work before me tonight and tomorrow. The mail leaves so you must excuse me.

You mention about my having a cousin here. He is a long way off and not the slightest chance of meeting. Now do write on return and give us news you have.

I remain Dear Aunt

Your affectionate Nephew

J Johnston

2nd April 1862

My dear Mother

I received your letter today. You astonish me when you speak of letters and papers being sent to me. It is a good two months since I got your last letters and as for papers, none has ever arrived with the exception of one where it gave an account of the laying of the foundation stone of the new Post Office. There must be something wrong somehow in the Postal Department as I have written either twice or thrice since the one you mention as having received, for I wrote that on New Year’s Day.

But my dear Mother, I was glad to see you are well as I am happy to say it leaves little Jamie, and myself. You make me laugh by the way you ask about the house. You have no idea how we do things in this country as nobody cooks or washes here. Why I have as many servants as Mr BOYD, in the first place. I have a cook or Khans-amah, a bearer or valet who looks after my things and the house, an Ayah or nurse who looks after Jamie, washes and dresses him and looks after his things; a Bheestie or water carrier who draws water from the well and brings when required, a tailor who is always mending and sewing on buttons on the breeks and sarks (editors note: Scots for trousers and shirts) and keeping a’ the best duds (Scots for clothes) in repair. A Dobie or washman who washes as many clothes as I have to give him (there is average 70 or 80 pieces every week to wash), it would rather astonish you to see the lot that goes sometimes, but you can’t do without them. Now that is all my private servants but I often have more in another month. I will have 2 Punkah coolies who pull the punkah all day and night (a canvas screen hanging from the roof pulled backward and forwards and keeps the room cool), and 1 Tattie coolie or a man to throw water on a framework that is fitted into the doors and is covered over with a kind of reed and when the hot winds are blowing outside, the water (being on the Tattie) keeps the room so cool. Besides I always have some of my Office men about so that I am never at a loss for servants.

Now my dear Mother, what do you think of my establishment? Will it do? I wish you were here, you would never need to soil your fingers.

I am so glad you saw Jeanie and that she was not annoyed. She is a good lass and he has a right to be a happy man that has her; and the old folks-they must be lonely now by themselves. I am happy to hear that the children are all well. Ann (editors note: Ann PATERSON) must be a big lass now and George (editors note: George PATERSON), he was my favourite. I am glad he is with Mr Boyd, he will get on well there. Does Alexander ever enquire about me as I never hear his name mentioned; his lecturing never did me much good (although he did it all for the best).

My dear Mother, I wish you would ask Mr BOYD if he could purchase a book on bookbinding and marbling showing the latest improvements; and one on lithography showing the same as we get all our things from England here and I wish some improvements if possible, although some of the work I can turn out would not disgrace an English house. So if Mr BOYD would tell you the names of any books that he thinks might answer, I would be much obliged; or even anything in the printing way as unless I know what to send for, I might be sending the wrong thing.

Uncle James at DRUMMOND, I will write to next mail as I have no time before the mail goes. The mail leaves today for BOMBAY.

We had a concert here the night before last in the Drawing class room, it went off very well. Jamie is at present singing away, it would amuse you to hear him and I. He is singing the air and I the bass.  But I must close as I have scarcely time to get my breakfast before nine o’clock and I must be off. The warm weather is creeping fast on us now and we must look out for a stewing before long. Remember me to all enquiring friends. If you see old Bob PATON, remember me to him.

You speak about my coming home. I am now in my last year. My time is up in January next (twelve years), but I don’t think it would be advisable in me taking discharge and throw up a good situation and all hopes of pension, for what would I do at home? I could never be so well off as I am, although home is always home!!!

Hoping to hear from you soon and that you have got my letters. I remain

Your affectionate Son

James Johnston

Tell me what you think or what you would advise me to do

18th May 1862

My dear Mother

It is with pleasure I again sit down to write to you although I did not keep my word in writing last Mail; it was not laziness. I have been working night and day for sometime as it has been the close of the Official Year and there only being myself here, I have had a great deal to do in taking an account of my Stock. But I have got over it now, which is good job.

Well I received your letter the day before yesterday, and was happy to find you were well, although you mentioned you had been poorly. I also received the Scale of Prices that you got from Mr Boyd, and they are so useful, you must give my best thanks to Mr Boyd for taking the trouble.

I was not at home when it arrived. We had three days holiday, and I went to a place called Hurdwar (editors note: Haridwar). It is at the foot of the hills, just where the river Ganges leaves the hills, and is considered a holy place by the Hindoos. The head priest, or fakeer, lives there on the top of a hill. The people come from all parts of India to this place to bathe in one particular spot, men and women indiscriminately.  It is the strangest sight one could behold; they would drown themselves (and  so be sure of heaven) if the authorities were not to be very careful. There were Millions of people there, the whole country round as far as the eye could reach was one mass of human beings. The roads leading up to the Ghat or place where they bathed, is about the length of Leith Walk, and that was packed closer than ever you saw anything packed in your life. But they are so excited they care not what comes over them so long as they get to this place. I should never have got there only I was on an Elephant and he made a way for himself; and to hear the poor Devils screeching when he squeezed them over tight. But without it would be a good thing if professing Christians was only half as zealous as they are.

Fancy a man passed through here sometimes before the fair; he had come from the Bombay Presidency and I suppose has been travelling for the last two or three years. He had travelled all the way measuring his length on the ground. He would lay down at full length on his face, make a mark at the top pf his head, rise up and walk up to that mark, put his toes to it and lay down again, and so on. I am afraid it would tire the patience of the greatest Christian going; and if you only saw all that they travel, thousands of miles, for it would astonish you only a couple of dips in the river at that particular spot. But it has a miraculous virtue attached to it. After the dip they are free of any sin they committed previously, so it is very handy in one way-they can commence afresh again with a clean sheet.

I was given to understand that you could purchase all sorts of Indian curiosities, but I saw none. I certainly saw some beautiful shawls from Cashmere (Kashmir), but a fearful price 500 and 1000 rupees (£50 and £100) each, which was above my mark. I was heartily sick of it before I got back.

We have had strange weather this year. No hot winds at all. We have had a good deal of rain and the other day we had a hail storm such as no one had ever seen the like of-it was not hail as you see it but balls of ice, some that I picked up on the Verandah after they had fell on the ground. And it must have been broken with the force they came down was not less one inch and one and a half before they broke on the roof which is flat brick. One, it was like a brigade of infantry at independent firing from flanks to centre.

I am happy to say little Jamie is all right, as lively as a bee and old Jim is quite very dull and lonely. Jamie has such a fine ear for Music. You would be amused to hear him sing with me, he taking the air and I the Bass and as we pass our nights, some times. I have sent nothing as yet but do not think it will not come. It is very hard to get things here, only now and then, when they are passing to or from the hills.

Trusting this finds all well. You mentioned about papers I never received one. Little Jamie is now at “Dance Matchmen Dance”.

Bye Bye

I remain your affectionate Son

James Johnston