Category Archives: 1864

These letters from 1864 from James Johnston show an insight into the lives of ordinary people, but in the vanished world of the British Raj.

19th Nov 1864

My dear Mother

With pleasure I sit down to write you these few lines trusting they will find you quite well and in good health. E’er this, you have received my letter of last Mail and as I mentioned in it, I hope you will look over me for not writing before, and I trust you will have no cause to find fault in future. I used to feel it very much to see the English Mail coming in and seeing everybody else getting letters but me-but I only had myself to blame as I could not expect to get any if I did not send any. You can’t tell how English news is looked for here; how every paper is looked over and prized as being the latest news from home, and more especially if it comes from localities and places that you know. It makes it more interesting.

I got some beautiful photographs to bind of different views in Edinburgh from Dr Murray THOMSON, who comes from Edinburgh to the College as Professor of Experimental Science. There was one of Princes St Gardens showing the National Gallery and the foundation was just being laid when I left. Another of the Palace (editors note: Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh), showing a fountain and new gates, that was not in my time, in front of it .

I enclose a photograph of your humble servant. What do you think of me? I am afraid you will think I have gone off in a consumption. If India don’t agree with some people, I think you will say it has not affected my health much. The weather here is very pleasant just now,  (although at night it is chilly) but it is the extreme heat during the day and at night cold that makes you feel it’s so uphill. where we were living in September and October . It is very cold; in fact everybody that can leave does so. There is just a great rush down when the cold weather sets in, as there is when the hot weather sets in on the plains and they all make for the hills.

Where we were living was on the very top of the hill, 8,000 feet above the level of the sea. The clouds pass right through the house, so you see we’re up in the world then!

We have such a beautiful view all round, on one side looking into the Feyrah Dhoon, that is a lrge tract of country between the large mountains of the Himalayas and the another lower range of hills called the Siwalik hills or, the lower range of the Himalaya. It is a beautiful country, the eastern portion of it all cultivated with rice and a great number of tea plantations, the western portion of the Dhoon is a perfect jungle swarming with wild animals elephants, tigers, bears, leopards and while I was uphill there were two hill men caught by bears on the road after dark, in fact it is not safe to go far after dark alone without a light. On the other side of the hill is nothing but continuous ranges of hills as far as you can see, getting higher and higher until they end in the snowy range. It is something awfully grand, in fact a person looking over them and looking at the frightful ravines that lay between them cannot but feel struck with wonder and with awe. When I was coming down I called upon a friend of mine who is in charge of a large tea plantation, and I saw the tea growing on the tree, saw it plucked, saw it made and bought four different kinds of tea away with me (off the one tree). What do you think of that? You don’t see that everywhere. I don’t know if I told you in my last (letter) about my killing a large cobra snake in my bedroom when we were going up hill. We had put up at a hotel for the night at the foot of the hills, and when I was going to bed, I heard a strange noise, like a person breathing very hard, and on looking about I found the gentleman with his hand out and his head about a foot and a half off the ground ready for a dash. But I happened to be too quick for (it) and killed him. He was about five feet long; they are very plentiful in the jungle at the foot of the hills.

Now my dear Mother, I must say good-bye for the present. I am going to write to Aunt Agnes and Uncle James by this Mail, sending them a photograph similar to the one enclosed.

Hoping to hear from you soon. I remain

My dear Mother

Your affectionate

Jas Johnston

Lettie send her love. I am afraid the race of the Johnstons is not extinct yet by all that.

Editor’s Note: James JOHNSTON son of James JOHNSTON (described as Serjeant of Thomason College Press, Roorkee) married Letitia Jane ROGERS (Spinster) daughter of Samuel ROGERS on 15th September at St John’s Church, Meerut. The marriage was performed by John SHARKEY, Chaplain.

Witnessed by W.H FOSTER, W.WILSON, and C. BATH.

Although both are only described as of “full 18 years”, Letitia was born in 1840 making her aged 24 yrs. James probably born in September 1839 and therefore aged 25 yrs.


Reference: India Office Library and Records – N/I/ vol 105/ Extract 82

5th Dec 1864

My dear Mother

No doubt you are surprised at hearing from me. I have often thought of doing so, but I felt backward, however I trust you will excuse me in so doing. James wrote to you last mail and told you that I was going to write to you, so I now with great pleasure sit to write these few lines to you and trust to hear from you by next mail; and may I ask you for your likeness which you may be sure will be prized by me. I will not say much in this letter but will give you some news about India in my next. Trusting this may find you enjoying good health. We are doing well just now, thank God; and now with our fond love

I remain your affectionate

Daughter in law

Letitia Jane Johnston

Please address

Mrs J Johnston

College Press


20th Dec 1864

My dear Mother

I trust this finds you as it leaves me in the enjoyment of good health. I was at the Post Office yesterday morning when the English Mail came, but no letters for J.J. however I expect one next mail.

I suppose it is getting cold in Auld Reekie (Editor’s note: Edinburgh) now. We have it pretty sharp in the morning and evening but pleasant during the day.

There is nothing new stirring here. We have had the Bishop of Calcutta here, which caused a little stir; there were a number confirmed of the European community and 32 native Christians.

I am very busy in my press just now. We are getting a great deal of work from the Punjab Govt. I’ve been wondering if Mr Boyd has seen a publication that we issue every quarter; a number of copies have been sent to England to subscribers, it is called “Professional Papers on Indian Engineering”. If you think he may have seen it, ask him what he thinks of the ‘get up’-there is not a better printed book done in India-so that is blowing my own trumpet.

Letty is all right, only she’s grumbling away and making great preparations for some event that is going to happen about February, I believe. I suppose it’s a comet or an eclipse or ‘something’.

Little Jamie is growing a fine boy. I am thinking of sending him to Simla, to Bishops College.

And now my dear mother, a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you when it comes – they don’t take any notice of New Years day here at all.

Letty joins me with fond love; with kind remembrances to all enquiring friends, hoping to hear from you soon

Your affectionate Son

Jas Johnston