When you discover forgotten heritage

Bengali village

In 1818 a lady called Margaret Jane was born in Calcutta, in Bengal – she was born to a British father, (my great, great, great grandfather) and a Bengali mother. She must have had a fairly normal Bengali/British childhood and she was very likely brought up as a Christian because many “Indo-British” were Christian. In order to marry in a church, native Indian women became Christian. Also acceptance of spirituality has a place in Indian cultures. In those days, also, there was a strong church going culture among working class British living anywhere in the world.

She grew up and when she was 17 she married a 27 year old Scottish soldier called William Duffin Jardine, he had joined the 54th regiment in Edinburgh, when he was 20 years old. He probably would have had a Scottish burr to his voice, he was 5 ft 6 inches tall with fair hair and black eyes and fair complexion. He was stationed in the East Indies fairly early on in 1828 in Cannanore near Kerala on the East coast of India, then he was stationed at Trichinopoly, that is where he met and married Jane Holdin, Indo-Briton at St Johns Church of Scotland – it still exists on google maps on St Johns Church Road in Trichinopoly.

They had several children, and she managed to cope despite the fact she was a soldiers wife, she and William and more children,traveled to Madras then north to Agra, Gwalior, Dinapore and finally back in Bengal where she grew up . They traveled/lived in many more towns than I have mentioned here. William moved from the 54th to the 39th and then to the 98th foot to be in India with his growing family and stay close to Margaret.

Mary Ann was the first daughter, she was born in 1835 and died forty years later in Calcutta. John came in 1837 and dies a year later. Then William Edward was born in 1839 and he seemed to have survived. But the daughter that concerns me is Margaret born in 1844, followed closely by her sister Jane in 1847. Four daughters and a son.

Margaret Jane dies in November in Calcutta in 1857 leaving William with teenage children. William is lonely and needs a woman to help with his household. He eventually later on married or lived with a Portuguese/Indian lady called Josephine Maria DeCotta and he then has Ada, Ella, Daisy and Winifred.  Combined with his first household of four young women, he has eight girls and one boy altogether!

At this stage he may have been part of a Tea Dealing and Drapery firm Jardine, Skinner and Company – he was a tea dealer and a draper, based in one spot Calcutta. My great-grandfather was in the 92nd Regiment of Gordon Highlanders, and after coming to India in 1857, and spent a few years mopping up operations after the Indian Mutiny the regiment came to stay in Fort William, Calcutta.  William Jardine may have spotted him at church or a a picnic or dance – there was alot of social life in the British garrisons, and decided to introduce him to his daughters.

David Imrie Junior rather liked his younger daughter Margaret, He had a kind heart and Margaret’s story was sad. Despite being a very pretty young lady, she had been a widow who had already been married twice. Thomas Frodsham died of Jungle Fever in 1863, then Charles Matthew Penny of Cholera in 1864 a month after they married. Both diseases were very prevalent in India, and both laid waste to many Indians and Europeans alike at this time. She had been Margaret Frodsham, then Margaret Penny, before she met a handsome soldier of the 92nd Highlanders with a Scots accent like her Dad, William Jardine.

David Imrie (my great grandfather from Dunkeld a town bordering the  Highlands) was an interesting fellow, his father had married twice and he had become a chemist late in life after writing some very prestigious poetry which had been published. David Junior was more of an outdoors man, he loved doing things and joined the army to get somewhere and travel and be adventurous. His exotic girlfriend was a quarter Bengali, could speak the language, and English fluently – and had a Scottish father, what a find!

They married in 1865, My great grandfather retrained as a Locomotive Driver and they moved around the countryside to follow the East India Railway and they had eight children including my grandfather William Imrie.

We were aware that including my Dad, there were three generations of my British side living in India. Despite the link to India in our family, Dad never spoke of any Indian connection that was native, and we all had no inkling there were deeper connections to that amazing country! We are all absolutely thrilled and look forward to more discoveries, I am already looking out for Bengali customs, locations, food, anything to broaden an understanding of an amazing culture and heritage.


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