Many people of the British Empire were ready to risk anything for a better future. People emigrating to India endured a three-month voyage on ships that were tossed about like corks. Then, they had to cope with conditions so foreign that many died within a few months. But the strong ones could become almost anything–kings even, rich beyond imagining. At home, in the British Isles the choices might be limited to the drudgery of becoming a house servant, a live-in teacher (governess), or maybe a miner or industrial worker working an eighty hour week for a pittance.
These were often the alternatives for second sons and workers without connections or education. For women, there were almost no choices. Become a servant, scullery maid, maid of all work, cleaner or risk everything, gambling on a life in India. There, if you were good looking, you might win big in the marriage lottery and marry a noveau riche immigrant who wouldn’t worry about who your family was or which school you went to as much as the people “at home.”
It often was an all or nothing proposition, especially for women like Jane Booth, heroine of Lucknow Shadows of Empire. She is my own fictional invention but she is based on thousands of women who played to win or lose all by “going out to India.”
In Jane Booth’s case, she seemed to win the marriage lottery: she married a hero of the Indian army who was adventurous and seemed to adore her–at first. She had a child who was intelligent, and loved her. But all this changed around the time of the 1857 war of independence, which the British called, “The Indian Mutiny.” Caught up in this nightmare war, which was so bitter and venomous that women were abused by enemies on both sides.
Jane gave up her son and sent him back to England to live with relatives. Many families who had the resources often sent children back to England before the age of seven so they would not fall too far behind in schooling. Of course, once Jane realizes the present danger of the war, she is glad she sent her son, “home,” the only word ever used by British people in India to describe England.
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