|THE GENERAL EAST INDIA GUIDE 1810|
(44) Reasons for Europeans retaining native women, and impediments in the way of marriage ((451-458)) [from Williamson 1810, vol. 1; omitted by Gilchrist]
((451)) When we consider the very severe privation experienced by females in general (for our country-women often affect to adopt the recluse severities of the haram), it cannot appear surprizing, that young girls so immured, in such a climate, so indulged occasionally, and so beset with bawds, should allow themselves to be led astray from what I must, perhaps erroneously, call 'the ways of chastity.' I am aware that the term may offend many who consider the female as being already in a state of prostitution; but due allowance must be made for the usages of the country.
In India, a woman 'under the protection' of an European gentleman is accounted, not only among the natives, but even by his ((452)) countrymen, to be equally sacred, as though she were married to him; and the woman herself values her reputation, exactly in proportion as she may have refrained from indulging in variety: some are said to have passed twenty years or more, without the possibility for scandal to attach to their conduct.
We might further take into consideration that even according to the Mahomedan law, there are various degrees of connubial attachment, from the strictest and most formal union, down to what we should call a very loose kind of left-handed marriage. These are, however, sanctioned by that law, if performed according to enjoined ceremonies.
Now the greater part, we may say nine in ten, of those who domiciliate with Europeans, being Mussulmans, and, in many cases, very scrupulous in the observance of whatever forms are ordained respecting viands, contact, ablution, &c., it may be reasonably concluded that they rather deem themselves to be united according to a tolerated extension of the foregoing licences, than as retained prostitutes.
Therefore, when we consider received opinions, and local peculiarities, we may admit that even in what we term concubinage, there may be some traits exempting individuals from feeing confounded among that mass of prostitution, of which we are apt to form our judgments ((453)) by what we see of that depravity, from which it appears to be, among Europeans, nearly inseparable!
Without at all entering upon the defence of whatever may be inhibited by the Christian religion, or be inimical to that superiority so justly yielded by society at large, as well as by the legislature, to married women, it may be permitted me to state a few matters which will, in the minds of the liberal, appear to be some excuse for what might else be deemed libidinous or licentious. The number of European women to be found in Bengal and its dependencies cannot amount to two hundred and fifty; while the European male inhabitants of respectability, including military officers, maybe taken at about four thousand. The case speaks for itself; for even if disposed to marry, the latter have not the means.
It is easy enough to say that if marriages were more frequent in India, more ladies would adventure thither; but the impediments that stand in the way of a consummation devoutly to be wished, will not be found to yield so readily to our desires. It should be understood that the generality of young ladies, though they may certainly comply with the will of their parents, are by no means partial to visiting India. The out-fit is not a trifle: no lady can be landed there, under respectable circumstances throughout, for less than five hundred pounds. Then again, she should have ((454)) friends to receive her; for she cannot else obtain even a lodging, or the means of procuring subsistence.
It is not like a trip, per hoy, to Margate, where nothing but a well-lined purse is requisite; and where if you do not meet with friends, you may easily form acquaintances. Further, some allowance must be made for the climate; which by no means suits every constitution, and invariably oppresses all whose minds are ill at ease, or who have not the means of withstanding that influence so particularly hostile to persons newly importing [=arriving] from Europe.
Let us, however, suppose all these things to be done; and that some worthy dame welcomes the fair adventurer to her house, with the friendly intention of affording an asylum until some stray bachelor may bear away the prize. We have known some instances of this; and in particular of a lady making it, in a manner, her study to replenish her hospitable mansion with objects of this description; thereby acquiring the invidious, or sarcastic, designation of 'Mother Coupler.'
But such characters are rare; and it generally happens that those who have the will, do not possess the means, of thus rendering the most essential of services to young women who, we may fairly say, are in this case transported to India, there to take their chance! That several have been thus sent, or have thus adventured, round the Cape, cannot ((455)) be denied; in any other country they would have experienced the most poignant distress, both of body and of mind; but such has ever been the liberality evinced towards this class of unfortunate persons, that in most instances, prompt, and effectual relief has been administered.
It would be easy to adduce cases wherein the most bountiful subscriptions have been made in behalf of ladies who, by obeying the summons of husbands or of parents, have, on arriving in the river, found themselves to be widows or orphans! Surely, where these distressing events are by no means uncommon, there will ever exist a certain reluctance, even among such as may have relatives in India: a reluctance which will rarely be decreased by the additional consideration that when the vessel may arrive, the parent, &c., though alive, may be full a thousand miles distant from the metropolis, and be unable to reach it under two or three months!
Here we see formidable objections against a lady's proceeding to India; but one not less powerful remains to be stated: namely, the immense expence ever attendant upon wedlock in that quarter. Such is the increase of domestics, of clothing, of accommodation, and particularly in keeping a carriage, without which no comfort can be expected, that it is utterly beyond the means of full four persons in five to receive an European lady into their houses. Even on a ((456)) penurious scale, the difference will amount to full three hundred pounds yearly; but if, as is certainly desirable, it be conducted on a more appropriate footing, double that sum must be allowed.
Add to this, the peremptory necessity that exists, for sending every child to Europe at a very early age; the expence of which is never to be computed under a hundred and fifty pounds. To complete the difficulties attendant on the occasion, it is a thousand to one but that, at the end of a few years, the mother is compelled, by those peculiar infirmities inseparable from her situation in that climate, to accompany her infants to Europe; there to seek the restoration of health, and to console herself among her little offspring, until the father may, notwithstanding those heavy demands created by the wants of his family, be able to save sufficient money to repair to the objects of his affection.
This is no exaggeration: it is to be witnessed annually; and may be seen attended with the most distressing effects to most meritorious individuals, who unfortunately allow love to walk in at the door, without observing that poverty is treading upon her train. I trust this detail will convince even the sceptic that matrimony is not so practicable in India as in Europe; and that (unless, indeed, among those platonic few whose passions are unnaturally obedient) [it] is impossible for the ((457)) generality of European inhabitants to act in exact conformity with those excellent doctrines which teach us to avoid fornication, and all other deadly sins.
There are certain situations, and times, in which the law must be suffered to sleep; since its enforcement would neither be easy nor wise: such is the instance now before us. Should it be argued that, rather than retain a concubine, it were more proper to marry a native of India, I must then adduce the great discouragement wisely held out by government against such a practice; observing that the Court of Directors long ago set their faces against the transmission of native orphans (i.e. those born of native mothers); and that they allow no native of India to be taken as a passenger on board any vessel proceeding to England, without a deposit of 500 sicca rupees, or security to that amount, lest the party should become a burden to the Company.
Farther, no lady native of India, even though her father should have been of the highest rank in the King's or Company's service, and though she be married to a person of that description, is ever invited to those assemblies given by the governor on public occasions. Hence such women, whatever may be their merits, come under the censure of public characters, and of course are in a manner proscribed.
This, however, does not extend to the European soldiery, who are allowed to marry ((458)) native women; many of whom conduct themselves, when thus situated, in the most unexceptionable manner. Whether married or not, each soldier is generally provided with a companion, who takes care of his linen, aids in cleaning his accoutrements, dresses his hair, and sometimes proves no bad hand at a beard! These doxies do, certainly, now and then kick up a famous row in the barracks; but on the whole, may be considered highly serviceable; especially during illness, at which time their attendance is invaluable.