An Englishwoman in India: The Memoirs of Harriet Tytler 1828-1858

Harriet Tytler

One wonders why Anthony Sattin edited this memoir when his area of specialty is “Anthony Sattin is to Egypt what William Dalrymple is to India” The Times.

The answer is given by Sattin himself in his excellent Editor’s Note. Readers keen on British India will be grateful for this literary digression by Sattin.

Harriet has written a detailed memoir of her life in India. She starts with her childhood in India from 1828 when she was born. She also narrates her returns to England for visits, journeys from India to and back from Europe by ships with stops in Cairo, Aden, St Helena (where she visited the tomb of Napoleon), etc.

Part 2 of the memoirs is a detailed recollection of the Indian Mutiny (called the First Indian Fight for Independence by nationalist Indians). Harriet was the only lady present in the Mutiny in Delhi. (Page 109).

Sattin has provided extensive endnotes. These notes give readers excellent background and context. There is also a good Introduction by Philip Mason. His biography is not stated in the book.

But I suspect he is the Mason who wrote the 2 classics The Founders and The Guardians, reprinted in one volume as the men who ruled India. Included as an appendix is an eyewitness account written by Harriet’s husband who was a soldier serving the East India Company during the Delhi siege.

A puzzling point is whether and why the memoirs ended in 1858 as Harriet lived till a ripe old age and died in Simla in 1907 (page xviii). It is not clear from this book.

Sattin does provide a useful Afterword where he provided details on Harriet’s life after the Mutiny.

I highly recommend this memoir as besides giving us an eyewitness recollection of the Delhi siege, it contains a vivid picture of how the British lived and travelled around in India spiced with observations on Indian culture, on thugs (p 199), and the infamous chapati incidents.

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