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Robertson, Sara Anne Catherine Whinyates
Collection of Descriptive Letters from Calcutta and Allahabad, India to England, 1806-1808

Collection of 46 letters, totaling 123 pages, written in India by Sara Anne Catherine Whinyates Robertson. The letters are primarily to her grandmother Lady Frankland, her Aunt Harriet, her brother Sir Edward Charles Whinyates, British Army general, veteran of Waterloo, and her sister, Amy. In addition there are two documents concerning her father’s estate in India. The letters are generally in very good, clean and legible condition, some minor tears, and loss along folds.

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Against her family’s wishes, Sara Anne Catherine Whinyates married Lieutenant James Robertson of the Bengal Engineers in 1803. Her grandmother, Lady Frankland, her Aunt Harriet, and two of her fourteen siblings, Amy and Sir Edward Charles were the only family that supported her and wrote her.

          Sara and her husband initially resided in a modest home at Fort William. Situated on the eastern banks of the River Hooghly, the major distributary of the River Ganges, Fort William was an important stronghold and the major trading hub for the East India Company. From the time of their marriage until 1805, British and Indian soldiers clashed in the Second Anglo-Maratha War – Britain’s sixth conflict with India since 1766. British forces managed to maintain control of Fort William, but, by 1806, the region still experienced some violence.

          The letters describe social life and conditions in British Colonial India from a woman’s perspective, her household activities, social life, balls, dances, and dinner engagements, a bit of gossip, child rearing in a hot climate, fears of disease and treachery from the servants. Sara’s parents die in Allahabad, India and leave behind two yonger orphaned sisters and many debts. Sara sends her two younger sisters home to England so that they may be educated, she is somewhat appalled that they do not even know how to read or write. The Robertson’s are transferred from Calcutta to Allhabad after a promotion to Chief Engineer at that post. Robertson is sent into the field several times during various uprisings and insurgencies. Sara desired bringing her older sisters to India so that they could “marry well” and be “settled.” Robertson was anxious to return to England for the health of their young children as well as his own, however, he accommodated his wife in her desire. The family remained in India and during this period Robertson died.  Widowed, Sara married Captain Robert Younghusband of the 53rd Foot Regiment in Calcutta, February 1811. Within five years, the army stationed them at St. Helena, where Napoleon was exiled. Particularly interested in Sara’s shared blood with Oliver Cromwell, Napoleon received her several times. She later wrote about her experience with the General and published it in Blackwood’s Magazine, in January, 1834. Her love of gossip eventually caused her considerable trouble when a magistrate found her guilty of slander against Mrs. Nagle. Her pernicious rumors almost resulted in a duel. Consequently, she was fined £ 250.

          Sample Quotations

           “Fort William, January 1806

             My Dear Aunt Harriet,

                 I wrote a long letter to Grandmama a few days ago giving her a long account of the great anxiety we had been in on account of our Dear Little Boy whom we were nearly losing by a dreadful piece of cruelty of his wet nurse who in a fit of anger threw him down & occasioned a violent contusion & a fever in consequence she brought him to the brink of the Grave … The War here thank God is concluded !! & hundreds of officers flocking home in consequence a young man dined with us the other day who led the storming party 3 different times at Bhurtpore! He volunteered to be on the Forlorn Hope each time & escaped. – he is not yet 19 I looked at him with a mixture of astonishment & admiration & so modest & diffident does he appear in company that every word whc was spoken addressed to him made him blush to the eyes & seemed to distress him more than a cannon ball – most extraordinary instance he appears of the most undaunted heroic bravery joined to gentleness & modesty this youth no doubt will be a shining character in Europe he proceeds by the fleet about to sail with his Regt which is going home. It is shocking to see the numbers of wounded men & officers at present in the Fort. Some without legs, some without arms & one unfortunate young man who had both eyes carried out of their sockets by a cannon ball, it makes me quite melancholy when I see him pass by – the army have generously raised a subscription for him as in addition to his mistortune he is nearly destitute - …”

          “Fort William, January 15th, 1806

           My Dear Grandmama,

              … Robertson has been strongly advised to have the wretched woman severely punished as it is really a public concern – she is in confinement but I can not find in my heart to wish her to be prosecuted – Sir Henry Russell told me he thought she ought to be hanged, he is one of our Chief Justices here. There can be no doubt of its being done in malice for at the same time she seized on little Sophia Gordon (Sir John Gordons daughter & our ward) & squeezed her throat for crying. The poor thing was awakened by the screams of our little boy … Col. Monson is here on his way to England he tells us he called on my Father at Allahabad on his way down & wished him joy of the birth of his Grandson wh he did not much seem to relish he says he never saw my Father look so well but he gives a very bad account of my mother whom I am sorry to say from all accounts is in a very bad state of health she is advised by the Doctors to try change of air, but she refuses to take advice …”

           “Fort William Calcutta April 12, 1806

           My Dear Uncle,

                 This black seal will prepare you for melancholy news – but scarcely for the extent of our misfortune My Father & Mother are both no more They died at Allhabad he on the 24th – she on the 30th of March but within six days of each other. My only consolation is having recived a letter from my Father containing his Blessing & Forgiveness in the strongest possible terms of Parental affection. He has left no will nor can I find that he has mentioned or left any instructions concerning his children … The Rigid system of economy now adopted by Government render every ones situation uncertain – apointments are every day reduced or entirely done away – no one can say whose turn will be next. …”

         “Fort William May 16th, 1806

         My Dear Grandmama,

              … I wrote to you a very long letter some days ago containing a few particulars of the Death of my Father & Mother & that Octavia and Letitia are on their way down to us. I mentioned also that I had obtained Letters of Administration to my Fathers Estate, but I fear we shall have a great deal of trouble & expence without being able to be of any benefit to my brothers & sisters I have already had demands against my Father & his own Bonds sent to the amount of fourteen thousand rupees… the cattle & furniture &c were immediately sold to discharge the wages of servants & debts at Allahabad. We think it prudent to sell the Bungalow & grounds there without delay … I imagine it may sell for about 5 thousand rups. Tho’ it cost my Father double that sum but that is some years ago & thatched Habitation soon gets worse for wear… But it is with sincere satisfaction that I am now able to tell you that a new regulation in the orphan society was yesterday passed by whc Amy, Rachel & Beka will also come in for the Benefit of that Glorious Fund. They will receive each 40 pounds per annum till they marry, before it ceased at the age of 16. Fred & Frank will get 36 pds do till they attain that age then it is supposed they are enabled to gain some profession. Octavia & Letitia are allowed Eight Hundred Rupees each for their passage home… Capt. Ramsden at first agreed to take Octavia & Letitia for a thousand rupees each. But then he would give them no cabbin but wanted to stuff them down below among some vulgar black boys. Robertson insisted on their having a Cabbin to themselves above & after great battles got an excellent one off the caddy…”

          “Fort William 31st May 1806

           My Dearest Amy, (sister)

                … Most happy am I to tell you my Dear Amy that by a new regulation just passed you & all my sisters will receive the same from that Glorious Institution (Orphans Fund) & you will receive two hundred & fifty pds to pay your passage out to this country & one hundred pds Robertson is so kind to desire me to send you, you will also have your arrears of salary to receive from the day of my Fathers death – therefore altogether you will have about 400 pounds to fit yourself out & pay your passage. I would recommend you to fit yourself out Handsomely for you will pay at least 3 times the sum for every European article you buy here. Have all your gowns most elegantly & fashionably made & every thing in the newest style for you have no idea what critics Ladies in Calcutta are in dress they are all wild & distracted for new fashion & are ready to follow every new Lady who comes out – on the voyage of course you will be in deep mourning whc is very convenient for the ship. …”

           “Fort William, July 14th, 1806

           My Dear Grandmama,

                  … I am sorry to tell you that poor Octavia’s fever still returns upon her, notwithstanding the quantities of Bark & Calomel she is obliged to take. I am quite anxious now for the sailing of the ships as I think the sea air is the only chance she has of recovery, she is a fine girl, but their education & manners have been entirely reglected, it is grievous really to see it! & how much in many respects they have been ruined by the natives & what Horrid Mahometan Customs & Ideas they have. My mother I imagine was too ill for some time to pay the smallest attention to them for they have been suffered to run in the sun till they are Blacker than many half castes & seem never to have been contradicted in their whole lives… It is a great comfort to think how well the Orphan fund provides for them who wd be otherwise destitute. Every day brings us some new demand on my Fathers Estate or some vexatious bonds of 20 year standing & debts without end whc can never be paid …

               I have the happiness to tell you that Robertson has just been appointed by Government to Erect the magnificent mausoleum over Lord Cornwallis at Ghareepore whc will employ him for two or 3 years. It is most flattering & I hope will transmit his name to posterity & the more so as he never even thought of applying for it. I am delighted at the change & hope to lead a happy rural life there in that garden of Roses – for the whole country is covered with them & all the rose water & atta in India is made there as soon as Octavia & Letitia embark we shall set off & we ought to be very thankful that we have got this or any apt at all for Government have abolished all Robertsons appts at Contar & Tumlooh & we should scarce have been able to pay our expenses.. at Gareepore we shall live at a much cheaper rate tho’ the allowances are not so great… As administatrix to my Fathers affairs I have been obliged by the Duties of my office to peruse all letters & papers some of wh have given me the Bitterest Emotions of vexation & surprise I always supposed my mother had written a Bad & false account of Robertson to all her correspondents but that it should have entered the Heart of a Mother to write as she has done of me fills me with Horror & amazement. … The man she so vilely traduced & abhorred is the only one able or willing to afford shelter & protection to the Destitute Orphans Octavia & Letitia she left abandoned to the world & refused to mention on her Death bed & even on that Death Bed carried her unforgiving temper to the grave …”

           “Garden Reach August 24th, 1806

            My Dear Aunt Harriet,

                … All I fear is that Amy may not be glad at our having left Calcutta amusements – However she will ten times more likely to marry well & soon up the Country & we shall be near Benares & several pleasant stations where there is no young lady but herself – in Calcutta there are so many pretty smart girls that there is a much less chance & many of them remain for years unmarried… We have at last got a very good one a Mrs Corsul, Sergeant Majors wife, she goes for five hundred & sixty rupees wh is extremely reasonable – as things go, had we sent a Black woman we must have paid down fifty pds Here before she went for her passage back, besides 3 or 4 hundred rps for her going & Octavia & Letitia wd have not stood in any awe of her but would have beat & scratched her all the way as they do their own women here & besides they will learn a little English & behave more like Europeans from being with her as she seems a very decent clever woman…”

          “Fort William September 15th, 1806

          My Dear Grandmama,

                   … … all my poor boy’s illnesses & misfortunes have originated in the abominable creatures he has had for nurses – who are the greatest evils of the country. A poor Lady has lately had her child killed by the wet nurse giving it opium to prevent its disturbing her in the night & the numbers of tricks & Diabolical ways they all have is incredible. …”


           “Fort William Nov. 16th, 1806

            My Dear Aunt Harriet,

              .. do you remember Mr. Marriot at Thirsk There is a most charming man a son of his come here from Madras in charge of Tippo’s ten sons who are brought here prisoners in consequence of the horrid massacre at Nellore in wh it is supposed they were concerned. Col Marriot must be a man of some talents by his having the charge of twelve hundred women belonging to the princes he is now returning to Madras to fetch three hundred of them here by land I discovered the Col without even hearing his name by the striking resemblance to all his family at Thirsk… Calcutta is wonderfully gay & swarming with beautiful spinsters. Lord Lake gives a Grand Ball every Wednesday to wh all his acquaintances go as they please without invitation …”


          “Fort William, February 1807

           My Dear Aunt Harriet,

               … The 13 sons of Tippoo have been brought round here state prisoners they being suspected of being concerned in the massacre at Nellore Robertson is very busy building a temporary prison for them & the three hundred women belonging to them. These ladies are not yet arrived Col. Marriot, (son of Marriot of Thirsk) is gone to fetch them by Land, he is used to the business of keeping women in order having had 12 hundred under his charge before the Govt chose to curtail the number & only allow 3 hundred of the sultanas to come round wh you no doubt will think is quite a sufficient number…”

          “February 20th 1807

           My Dear Grandmama,

               I wrote to you a few days ago, the packet is just closing, I have only time to tell you that Lord Lake has appointed Robertson to be chief Engineer at Allahabad without his having ever thinking of asking for it – this is extremely flattering – it is an excellent apt the same which Col Kyd held but of course the works being finished it is not any thing like what it was but it is a very handsome thing & a high mark of favor to so young an officer. I am in such a flutter I can scarcely write we shall be obliged to set off in  a few days & are in confusion …”

          “Allahabad April 28, 1807

          My Dear Grandmama,

                 … we arrived here on the 24th of this month having come part of the way by land for the sake of dispatch. I am quite pleased with every thing here. R has purchased a most spacious elegant House in a very high Healthy situation with a delightful Garden, Farm yard & comforts of every sort. Allahabad is quite a gay place with a most excellent large society  all my old acquaintances here seemed perfectly rejoiced to see me again … my native friends & pensioners came in flocks to see me & rejoice in my return. The Mosque looks more beautiful than ever & Col Ochterlony is the most agreeable generous man in the world he commands the station & is a very particular friend of Robertsons… he lives like a Sovereign Prince! & keeps open house … The Society is so gay & so pleasant here that Amy (if she comes) will I hope be happy. Parties every day at dinner of 25 & 30 people dancing, singing & all sorts of gaieties wh young spinsters like, tho I must confess I think there is too constant a round of it here … I am lucky in an excellent nurse for Emily – tho I was forced to bring up her whole family to persuade her to come her Husband & 4 children all these came in my fleet of boats. You would have stared to see the number of souls who came up under my charge alone. The Barrah Ayah & all her family & all my servants & their wives & children made above 80. …”


            “Allahabad January 12, 1808

             My Dear Grandmama,

                  I wrote to you & Aunt Harriet in November, a few days after wh an unexpected sorrow came upon me by an Express which came from the Com in Chief ordering Robertson to join the Army in the field without delay! All the other Engineers being killed & wounded in the present fatal campaign he was sent as Principal Engineer against the Fort of Genourie – a post of such danger, such responsibility & importance that the idea was scarcely supportable! … I left our Bungalow & went to live with Capt & Mrs. Thomas who kindly invited me during his absence with my children and little Miss Gordon. They were extremely kind & I preferred being with them to being alone in these dangerous times when therer are 30 Thousand armed Mahrattas come here to Battle. …”

          “Allahabad March 14, 1808

          My Dear Grandmama,

               … Col Kyd is making great improvements in his house in Fort William,  which does not look as if he intended to return home shortly some people imagine he means to remain as long as he lives. He is extremely kind to Robertson on every occasion promotes his interest which he has constant opportunity of doing. Col. Garstin was not very well pleased to be turned out of his Chief Engineership & out of his House on Col. Kyd’s arrival, but he has got the Building of the Town Hall by which he will make 2 or 3 Lecks of rupees in a year or two. The Engineer line is certainly the best in the country. I hear constantly from Mrs. Garstin who is exceedingly kind to me & executes all my commissions for me wh saves us a gret deal of money for everything we buy here we pay more than double the Calcutta price. Which considering the risk of bringing things 800 miles up by water is not to be wondered at, especially as Boats are continuously lost…”

          “Allahabad March 28, 1808

           My Dear Edward,

               … I have never neglected to write to you & never shall forget my Dearest Edward that you were the only one of my Brothers & Sisters who wrote to me when I was supposed to be in disgrace…”

          “Allhabad April 7th 1808

           My Dear Aunt Harriet

               … told her of R’s being again sent away upon service against a Fort 20 miles from this. It is very distressing to me as you may imagine & I fear while we remain in the Seat of War he will be constantly liable to it, he is now more than ever anxious to get home … This is a shocking season to be sent on service when the wind blows like flames of fire & there is no protection against their fury but a bad tent. I am in a sad state of anxiety till I hear of its being over or accommodated which they are trying to do with the Badree Rajah …”

          “Allahabad July 29, 1807

          My Dear Aunt Harriet,

             … Since writing the first sheet of this I have undergone a scene of Horrors wh but for the mercy of God had made it the last you would ever of seen of my handwriting. On the first of this month we set off for Garipore & Robertson having accompanied me to that place returned to his Duty by Land & myself & children after staying 4 days with the Fitzgeralds followed by water on passing the City of Benares a scene occurred wh is ever present on my mind. The track rope of my Badgerow accidentally overturned an earthen pot on the steps near the palace of Amreet Now the Great Mahratta Chief by the river side for this accidental offence my boat was instantly seized & drawn in shore – in five minutes fifty or sixty armed men were on board who fell upon my servants & water men & beat them in the most inhuman manner it was presently a scene of blood! 5 or 6 hundred assembled on the shore who cried out to sink the boat & crush all to death inside! For wh purpose they threw  enormous stones & pieces of masonry from above … would have crushed us to the most horrible of deaths, Imagine if you can my situation and feelings alone, unprotected six miles from every European! Instant death appeared inevitable! But the thought of seeing my children murdered before my face gave me courage. I went out on deck into the midst of them & by threats & persuasions dispersed the ringleaders I called on the name of the magistrate & threaten them with European justice & then by almost a miracle got on shore & made my escape through the midst of enemies in a Palanquin with my own children & little band expecting to be cut in pieces every step, it was six miles to Mr. Brookes house where I flew for protection …”


           Allahabad, September 2, 1808

           My Dear Grandmama,

               The unbexpected & most afflicting news of my Dear Aunt Harriets death has so overwhelmed my mind that I am scarce able to write or to bring my thoughts into composure! … your account of my poor sisters situation grieves me & I trust they will now have no objection to come out to this country. Robertson with his usual goodness declares that he will received them all three as it has pleased God to put us in a situation to do it without inconvenience … I hope and trust my dear sisters will take this into consideration & not delay one hour more than is requisite. There can not be the smallest doubt of their marrying well immediately in a place where the most ugly vulgar Black shocking creatures are married to the finest elegant young men in good situation. Therefore I hope they will think it a Duty incumbent to themselves as well as to Octavia & Letitia to come immediately… if they do not marry in a few months depend on it they will be pester’d with offers on their way up – a young girl of 14 who can scarce write or read & who has never been in Europe had no less than 3 offers on her way up the other day when she stopped here for five days was married to a fine young man a Capt of Artillery in a good situation & only 22…”

          “Allahabad Septmber 2, 1808

           My Dearest Edward,

               … & when once one is well married the rest will be sure of following. There is one thing I fear only, wh is that my sisters have Romantic foolish Ideas of Beauty in a man – nothing can be more absurd - & it is the last thing to be thought of in a husband & I dare say every married woman will tell them the same & that a good Temper & kind disposition & a good situation is what they ought be content with & many fine young men of that description will they meet with & be happy with if not led away by Ideas of high fashion & the ideas of Adonis …”