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

31st May 1863

My dear Mother

punkahI hope this will find you enjoying good health as I am happy to say it leaves myself and young Jim. He is growing a fine little chap. All day long he is with me in the Office; he has a case to himself and he goes on composing away at the type in a way that would amuse you if you saw him.

The weather at present is very hot here but nothing to what it is down country. I believe at Agra it is fearful. There are no hot winds and in the room with punkahs and tatties (see editors note below) going, it is 90 degrees; but we have it so pleasant at nights and morning, that it makes up for it.

I have been very busy for a long time back, closing the year’s account which I have just finished. We have a series of soirees connected with the college every fortnight for the amusement of the soldiers in the station. They go off very well, and the drawing class room, where they are held, is crowded each night. I will send you a copy of each affair one night. There is a lecture and the next singing. I am printing two lectures that have been delivered.

No news here. Everybody is away at the hills that can get away or just can afford it.

I have just been asking little Jim if he has no word to send his Grandma, but he only laughs. He fancies you must be somebody particular.

The mail is in, I believe, this morning; but no letter, as yet! Hope there will be one tomorrow.

Remember me to all enquiring friends and accept our best love


Your affectionate Son and Grandson

Jas and Jas Chas Johnston

Editors note:

A punkah is a large swinging fan, fixed to the ceiling and pulled by an Indian servant called a punkahwallah.

A tattie is a screen or mat made from the roots of the fragrant cuscus grass and placed in a frame which covers a window or door in order to cool and freshen a room.


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

21st Feb 1865

My dear Mother

I hope this finds you as it leaves all here-all well. In your last letter you mentioned having sent 3 papers, some of which arrived here. I enquired about them but to no use. I received the views all right, many thanks for them, but they were very much damaged as they came all crushed, especially the one of Sir W Scott’s Monument.

We have had a good deal of rain lately which has made the country look a little better. It has made provisions a little cheaper and better than all. (It’s) keeping the hot weather back; we are losing the cold weather fast and begin to look forward to another baking.

Since I wrote last, we have had a visit in Roorkee of the Duc de Brabant (Editors note: heir to the Belgian throne. He was to become King Leopold 11 of the Belgians in December of that year, 1865). He passed through here on his way to Mussoorie/ the Himalayas- a sight that pleased him very much I believe; at least what he saw of the hills. He had chosen a very bad time for his visit as it had been snowing a good deal and there was a thick haze on the hills which prevented him from seeing the high peaks of the Snowy range. He called on his way back and put up with the Principal of the College, but he came in so late that we were all disappointed in not seeing him as he intended going over the College and of course my establishment, the Press.

The natives were quite disappointed, for they expected to see him covered all over with gold lace and making great show; that is their idea of a prince. Their notion is that a king or prince should be so rich that if he threw away one of his old shoes anyone lucky enough to pick it up should be able to subsist on it for 6 months. It is a bright idea of theirs, aint it?

I send you by this mail a copy of a new number of Indian Professional Papers that is published every quarter from my press, it has a photograph of the College in it. You will see what sort of work I turn out. You can let Mr Boyd see it if you like. I also send you the three last Reports of the college, you will see me mentioned in them. I think also a copy of a lecture that was delivered some time on Hindooism.

Letty is all right but is expecting her troubles shortly. Jamie is growing a fine fellow and is an awful scamp, up to all sorts of mischief. I am just telling him all about you and he only laughs at me.

Well I think I have done for this time, there is no news afloat so I cannot send you any.

Remember me to all enquiring friends, with fond love to self.

from your affectionate Son

James Johnston

21st Jan 1866

My dear Mother

A Happy New Year to you – it is some time since I got a letter from you, not since you sent me your likeness, I hope you are quite well and jolly. And I have not heard from Aunt Agnes for some time. As for the Drummond people, they have got too proud nowadays, however they will answer the next letter I send.

I enclose the first of exchange on the Royal Bank of Scotland for £10, which I trust will reach you safely, and I know my dear mother, I should have done something of this kind long ago, but somehow I always managed to put it off to some other time, which of course never came. It will enable you to get a few comforts for yourself.

How is everybody and everything getting on at home? I seldom see a Scotch  paper, in fact I have so much work in my press that I am obliged to do a great deal of writing at home and have not got much time for reading.

We hear bad accounts about the cattle plague at home, it must be a bad thing indeed. (Editors note-From 1865-67 mass slaughter of cattle resulted in order to eradicate this highly contagious viral disease, often called Rinderpest).

How is the Rev Dr GEORGE JOHNSTON looking? Is he still in the old Kirk? It must have been a sad blow to him, her dying.

Tell me all the news when you write.

I have written by this Mail (which leaves today) to Messrs COWAN, the Paper Makers in Princes Street (Editor’s note-Edinburgh), for to send me samples and prices of paper. We use a great deal and have been getting it from SMITH ELDER in London, but their prices are very high and of course I want to buy at the cheapest market. Why, my last invoice from them was £1,500 and some of the things are an awful price. I spoke to the Major about it and he told me to write now. If you were to ask Mr BOYD, he might drop a note to Messrs COWAN or anybody else he would like, to send samples of all kinds of paper, printers, writing, coloured and drawing – I also would like Lithographic Binding Materials list of prices sent me.

We had great games in the Station two days ago among the troops. It broke the monotony of Indian life a little. It is seldom you see anything of the kind.

Now my dear Mother, write soon, and let me know how you are getting on. With love to self and regards to all enquirers from

your affectionate Son

J. Johnston

I am going to take Jamie off to school next month. He is grown a big chap and never has a day’s sickness. Letty and young squeaker are all right