A second letter, while Lord E was still Governor at Madras. He remained there until 1842.
Guindy, Dec 23rd, 1838
My Dearest Elly
Here we are again on the last day for writing letters by the overland post, and I am determined not to lose this opportunity of telling you that I am well and prosperous, hoping that this will find you the same as dear Winifred Jenkins says to her friend Molly Jones.
Indian news is not a commodity much in request in England, therefore you will not care much about the retreat of the Persians from Herat and the consequent reduction of the Army which was to cross the Indus under Sir Henry Fane to a much smaller force under Sir Willoughby Cotton or perhaps ultimately under Sir John Keane. Little as all this will interest you at home, it is here a different thing and the event of the siege of Herat has not only excited more interest but I believe that it has had a greater influence upon public opinion in India than anything which has happened for the last 20 years.
Within the last few days our new Commander in Chief, Sir Jasper Nicolls, has landed here. He has with him his wife and 5 daughters with a reinforcement of the latter to be sent out as soon as the first lot has been disposed of. His predecessor Sir Peregrine Maitland was very successful in that way, having provided for his two eldest (the only ones that were old enough) within six months of his arrival. I hope Sir Jasper may be equally fortunate. Sir Peregrine and his family are going home by Suez and they leave in a few days for the Red Sea and will probably reach Suez in a month or 6 weeks. They are going direct from this place in a ship which is taking a present of elephants from the Governor General to Mehemet Ali.
Your letters continue to arrive very regularly. The last is Sept 2nd, no 50 when you were beginning to be a little bored with your own sweet company and to look forward with impatience to the return of the caro sposo who had been flirting with the grouse in Scotland. I suppose you all go flying about on railroads now at the rate of 400 miles between breakfast and dinner. It must be very good fun. I am leading a quiet life at Guindy, a place about 7 miles from Govt. House which when I first saw it appeared to be the very perfection of dullness however I have enlivened it by letting in views of the country which were carefully screened by a double row of trees in front of it, and I have taken to hedging, ditching and planting with great zeal if not success. It is lamentable however to see how little is to be done in this country by even a large number of men. I have generally about 100 at work every day and the result is not so much as would be effected by 10 good English labourers. Chi va piano va sano appears to be the motto of the whole race, but I cannot say with the rest of the proverb auchi lontano. (in full: chi va piano va sano e va lontano – slow and steady wins the race).
You know Walter’s rage for animals. He had 8 or 9 long legged birds called Adjutants, something like pelicans or cranes. These were kept in the poultry yard, where they looked dreadfully miserable and out of place. I had them transferred to a tank in the park which in England would be called a lake (altho’ it is dry in summer). Here in the sedgy margin and in the shallow water these long-legged gentlemen enjoyed a most happy existence, but alas! their days were numbered, or at least the days they were to rejoice in the enjoyment of their liberty and rushes. A ruthless sportsman, General Sewell, who was shooting snipes suddenly came upon this covey of what he considered a most rare wildfowl and with such deadly dexterity did he take his aim that three victims fell at the first discharge. The rest flew away and have never returned! What a sad tale for poor Walter, but he will console himself with some of his other pets. One of these is an Elk which used to live upon rose buds and peas blossom but has been transferred from the garden to a paddock. He has, en outre, a civit cat, 2 strange little sort of monkeys with large eyes, a Newfoundland dog that bites everybody, two panthers – and he had two bears, two tigers which he has given away and a red squirrel which was starved to death when we were at Palmanair. Besides this menagerie he has a large stable of horses with only one or two good ones in the whole lot, and such a museum of skulls, dried fishes and insects spitted upon pins as anybody ever saw! I was obliged to give him a dissecting room in the garden at Madras for the examination and preparation of his specimens which is not at all agreeable to the olfactory nerves. I wonder whether Mrs Walter will take to natural history? I am very curious to see her and very anxious to see him back again. The Bishop of Madras knows Mrs W and says that she is a very nice looking, good tempered person, which is a great thing.
We are enjoying the most delightful weather, and have two fine months before us, which is very pleasant. I have some thoughts of going to stay next hot season on the Neilgherries, not that it is necessary for my health for I never was better in my life, but it would certainly be a relief and a most agreeable change and would perhaps tell in a year or two more very much in my favour as far as health is concerned – but I am not quite acclimatised and find myself as well as possible here.
The season has been generally very favourable to me and in this part of the country the rains have been abundant, which is synonymous with plentiful crops and comfort but I regret to say that in some parts of the country there has been a failure of rain, and consequently scarcity is apprehended. I hope it will not amount to famine and I do not expect that it will but when this is the case the state of the country is beyond anything. In one whole province in 1832-33 one third of the populations and the whole stock of cattle perished and in the same year the Govt fed daily at Madras from 80 – 90,000 people. This was a sad error as it induced thousands to quite their homes, who died on the road and increased the difficulty of providing for the supply of Madras by attracting thousands of poor starving people from the country – while all these were taken away from the cultivation of the soil which will always give some return, not sufficient to repay the labour expended yet enough for a time to keep the greater part of the people from Actual Starvation. But this is a horrid subject. I hope and trust that we shall not see it again in our time. Last year was one of unusual abundance and in this part of the country this will be a very good season
By the bye, if you will put all your letters under cover instead of sending them separately I shall be sure to read them in proper order. I get four every month it is true, very regularly, and I have no right to complain, but sometimes I get no 4 the 1st day, and the three others on their successive days and rarely all of them together, for the Mails are so heavy which come by the steamers that the runners cannot carry them all at once and they are consequently divided into three or four packets and dispatched on successive days from Bombay. Until this plan was adopted, the Overland Mail was always detained on the road and the mails of later date from Bombay used to bring us the tantalizing intelligence of its arrival sometime some days before it made its appearance at Madras – but even this was better than the old sailing ship, which used sometimes to take one’s letters on to Calcutta or China and then send them back.
Adieu my dearest Elly, give my love Alex and believe me always
your affectionate brother E
Use the links for more information. The reference to Herat and the generals refers to the first rumblings that led to the First Afghan War.
Walter Elliot was away on leave in order to marry. He married Maria Dorothea, daughter of Sir David Hunter Blair of Blairquhuan.