The British Empire Library

The Diary of an Indian Cavalry Officer
1843 - 63 before, during and after the Mutiny - John Hatfield Brooks

Edited by Richard Morgan,

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
My ‘Oriental Read’ may be stretching the bounds of what you might expect. The book in question was not published when I first encountered it, and eventually appeared only because I edited and published it myself I have been interested in genealogy all my adult life. In part this was because my mother’s family kept a large number of letters and diaries most of which are now held by the Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service (BARS).

Back in the 1980s I edited for publication one of these diaries, of a minor landowner in the 1840s. My next task had to be the diary of John Hatfield Brooks, in the India Army 1843-1863. and I needed to understand how the Indian army worked, the social life of an officer and his family, and the history of the Sikh Wars and the ‘Mutiny’. Diaries in my view need to be tackled prosopographically. I apologise for this word but what it means is pursuing the life of every single person mentioned to find as much about them as possible. Some of course may have got into the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography but for the majority it means individual research and a lot of reading. The result of my studies was a picture, I hope reasonably accurate and rounded, of life in military cantonments in this period. The military exploits of course have to be covered, but so too do such matters as the voyage out in an East Indiaman, the work of chaplains, the ‘step’ - i.e. the system of promotion, freemasonry in India, amateur dramatics, the low morale of the Bengal Army after the ‘Mutiny’ (Brooks spent some time seeking a transfer to the Bombay Army which was largely unaffected by the ‘Mutiny’), and so forth. Having learnt how to use the records in the British library, the works of the late Anthony Farrington, PJO Taylor and many others, and of course BACSA books, I then turned to other of my forebears who had connections with India - a two greats grandfather who was an officer in the East India Company’s maritime service, a grandfather who was a tea planter, etc. Another ancestor was responsible for the worst British defeat in India in the 18th century resulting in the Treaty of Wargaon 1779, whereby he (the ancestor) undertook on behalf of the Company to part with half of British India to the Marathas. Warren Hastings chose to deal with this humiliation by simply ignoring it. The absorbing work goes on with (if I manage to finish it) a book on Scottish Merchants in Calcutta, Singapore and Batavia in the early nineteenth century.

British Empire Book
Richard Morgan
Pagoda Tree Press
Review Originally Published
Spring 2021 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


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