European Women in Pre-Colonial India

In my last post, I mentioned a number of subjects of interest arising out of writing the biography of Captain Thomas Bowrey. One of these, European women in pre-colonial India, may one day become my second book.

It became clear to me when I attended the Families in British India 20th anniversary conference last weekend that people believe that there were few European women in India before the advent of the Fishing Fleets and that European men partnered with local women. This obviously happened resulting in Anglo-Indian families but the few early population list show that it was predominately European women who formed recognised partnerships with European men.

As is usual in history, women are more difficult to find in the records but, because the East India Company’s attitude to them was conflicted, they can be found. The Company appears to have believed that women were a necessary evil if they were to form viable communities in the East Indies but the type of women who were resilient to volunteer for such a life were necessarily feisty and the bane of the Company. They appear most often in the records when they refuse to conform to the model of a quiet, compliant home-keeper and mother. The Company’s impatience with them shines through the records.

I cannot help liking these women. They supported each other resulting in comments by the Company that they “deserved” each other. Interestingly, Bowrey, who grew up in the East Indies, had great empathy with women. He made women friends and, later, had an enlightened attitude to his wife and in laws.

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