Category Archives: 1875

These letters from 1875 from James Johnston show an insight into the lives of ordinary people, but in the vanished world of the British Raj.

12th April 1875


12th April 1875

My dear Mother

I received your letter this morning and am sorry to hear you are not keeping well. I was going to write you by this mail, for I have been wondering why I have received no letter from you nor no acknowledgement of the shawl I sent you when I came back from the hills. I am glad you have received it and that you like it as you will find it very warm and comfortable with it in the house. You want to know what it is made of, it is made of “pashmina”, the wool from the sheep in Thibet (sic) and I bought it when I was up in the hills last October; but I wrote and told you all about when I sent the shawl-I fancy you did not receive it by the way you write. I had to take a house in the hills for a couple of months and a fine penny it cost me- about 1200 rupees (£120-0-0) so that I could not send you any money as I would have liked. The doctors here, when they tell you must go to the hills, little dream or care what expenses you are put to.

Letty was very ill about Xmas and New Year time. Poor lass; through all the merry meetings and fun, she was out of it, but I am happy to say, she is quite well again and picking up fast. We went to live in a house on the banks of the Canal when she was able to move about, and the change done her a world of good, but it was very tiresome for me to come in and out to my work, for I had a drive of about 16 miles and I was glad when we got home-it was a very lonely place and at night you could here (sic) the wild animals quite close. One night I was much afraid of my horses as there were a could of hyenas just outside the door.

I have not heard from Annfor some time- but her Regiment (Editor’s Note: her husband’s The 72nd Highlanders) is at Peshawur and I will forward her sister’s letter onto her.

You tell me that a letter brightens you up-what would you say if you

( Editor’s Note-Ending of the letter Missing)

26th September 1875


26th September 1875

My dear Mother,

I have been looking out for a letter from you for a long time, but no signs of one-the mail was in yesterday but nothing for me. I hope you are all right and that it is not sickness that is the cause. I hope this finds you enjoying good health as I am happy to say this leaves us all here.

We are very free from sickness in Roorkee although it has been very bad in other stations close to us, but as the cold weather sets in we may expect to get sick of it.

The great cry out here is the visit of the Prince of Wales which will do a great deal of good I have no doubt, although they cry out about the expense. Natives dearly like a “tumasha” (Editor’s note: Hindi – celebration) and don’t care what they spend to get one.

Prince Albert Edward,

(Editor’s Note : Prince Albert Edward, later King Edward, set off for India in October 1875 on an extensive eight month tour of the sub-continent)

What did you think of the tea? Which kind did you like best? I have wondered whether it reached you safe-let me know what there was to pay on it as I could only clear it here to London; and Letty sent you a woolen (sic) cap and cuffs. Have you received them?

I am thinking of bringing Jamie home with me, but have not yet mentioned it to him-it will be quite time enough when he comes home to mention it-as he would not do much for the next two months if he was aware of it.

I have sent you a College Report three weeks ago also one to Aunt Agnes. I think she must be angry with me or I would have heard from her before now.

Did you get the letter I sent for George Paterson, he has never replied to it.

And now dear Mother, I hope to hear from you soon as the last I heard from you was in June last.

Letty joins me in love, not forgetting the children

Your affectionate Son

J. Johnston

Just before the children went to bed they were asking what will grandma be doing now? They are at it every day what they are going to do when we get home.

1st December 1875

1st December 1875

My dear Mother,

I received your letter of the 26th Oct two days ago and we were all glad to hear you were keeping well and strong.

You have quite mistaken me about the tea, I sent you some samples to know which kind you liked best so that I might know which kind to bring. I intend to bring some with me as I know it is purer than what you can buy in England (sic), even if cheaper, where it is adulterated so much. I get it from the Tea plantation where it is grown and prepared, they are only about 150 miles from where we live. The kind we generally use ourselves is the green bush, and if you don’t like it so strong it is very good to mix with another kind as it has a good flavour.

I cannot understand why you did not get the letter I sent to George (Editor’s Note: George Paterson). When I sent it – I could not lay my hands on his letter so that I did not know his address, so I sent it to you asking you to give it to him, however I will write to him again.

Jamie came home from School on Sunday last, he is taller than me. I was once thinking of bringing him home with me, but I find I cannot afford it and it would interfere with his studies and he must stick to them as close as he can now, for he is of an age now to look forward to his entering the College.

You cannot teach them a trade here so that all that you can do is to give a good education to fit them for some post under Government.

I will not get my Medical Certificate till the end of this month and then it has to go for the sanction and orders of Government. About a month ago I got a letter from the Commander in Chief’s Office stating that a passage for myself and family had been alloted (sic) to me in the Troopship that leaves Bombay on the 23rd March 1876, which is the” Crocodile” but I see by the paper you sent me that she has broke her engines at Portsmouth so that I may come in the “Jumna” who I see is to take her place; however it matters little as they are all alike. I believe the accommodation I am allowed is very good, I have nothing to do with anybody on board.

HMS JUMNA-Euphrates Class troopship-launched 1866

Euphrates Class troopship-launched 1866


I am bringing a few photos of views in India which perhaps Mr Boyd will like, and I will try and get some feathers at Eden when we get there, and if there is anything else let me know.

I forgot to mention that I am only getting leave for 18 months instead of 24.

We have left our house which has been rented to the College for the time I will be away. All our furniture, horses and conveyances are sold.

Lettie, Jamie, Ernie and Ann send their love to you hoping this finds you still enjoying good health.

With love from

your affectionate Son

J. Johnston

22nd December 1875‏



My dear Mother,

I hope this finds you as I am happy to say it leaves all here, in the enjoyment of good health.

I sent to you by last mail parts of an Indian newspaper giving all the particulars about the landing and doings of the Prince of Wales, which you will find much more authentic than what you get from the home correspondents who have come out here. Their ideas of India and Indian life is something very rich indeed (some of the illustrations I have seen during the late famine in Bengal is very good specimen of the English Special correspondent). I fancy the way he has been received here has rather taken people at home a little aback. Instead of all the cry against his coming it has been the best thing that could have happened to England (sic) as the Natives see and look to him as their future King and they have different ideas to your Odgersites and Bradlaughites and such of their sort as to which pertain to Royalty. (Editor’s Note: George Odger 1820-1877 and Charles Bradlaugh MP 1833-1891 were prominent Victorian radicals and republicans). I will send you aware, perhaps tomorrow (the mail leaves tomorrow) but I am so pushed for time I have a great press of work and I am busy stock taking that I have not a moment to myself.

I will be sending my papers off tomorrow for my leave as the Sick Certificate only holds good for 3 months and I am in orders to sail from Bombay on the 23rd of March ’76 so that I hope to leave Bombay 3 months tomorrow. I hope to get a step in promotion before I leave; my papers were called for a few days ago and they are before Govt. and I expect an answer shortly.

You mentioned about my trying to some Ostrich feathers at Eden-well the Regt that was staying at Roorkee is going there after the Camp of Exercise at Delhi is over, and I asked the Band Master to look out for some for me , which he promised to do; he will arrive there about a month before I will. I want you to let me know what kind I should get-there are white tipped with grey and all grey-now you must write me by return of post if possible.

Jamie is back from school; I think I told you the poor fellow has quite made up his mind to rough it out uphill next cold season. If it had been possible I should have liked to have taken him home.

Letty send her love to you, also the children. Christmas is on us, but it is a very dull one as we are not living in our own place and are in camp fashion (marching order).

Wishing you a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year – when it comes

Your affectionate Son

J Johnston