Fanny Parkes

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Fanny Parkes (nee Frances Su­san­nah Archer, 1794-1875), was born in Wales to a mil­i­tary fa­ther and mar­ried Charles Craw­ford Parkes, who worked for the East In­dia Com­pany. Her ac­count of life in In­dia cov­ered 1822-45, and it is clear that she re­spected and ad­mired the rich­ness of In­dian cul­ture, un­like many of her con­tem­po­raries. Her jour­nals, writ­ten over 170 years ago, are non - judge­men­tal, en­light­en­ing and full of hu­mour.

Fanny trav­els by river to Agra to see the Taj Ma­hal on her own. The jour­ney takes fifty one days.

9th De­cem­ber 1834. I quit­ted Prāg: Seag­ull spread her sails to the breeze and, in spite of the power of the stream, we made good way against it.

10th De­cem­ber. Saw the first crocodile to­day bask­ing on a sand­bank; a great long nosed fel­low, a very In­dian look­ing per­son­age.

23rd De­cem­ber. A wretched day; cold, damp and mis­er­able, a most pow­er­ful wind di­rectly against us. To add to the dis­com­fort, we sprang a leak which gave sixty buck­ets of wa­ter in twenty four hours... we had noth­ing on board fit to stop it. At last it was ef­fec­tu­ally stopped with tow­els, torn up and forced in tight, and stiff clay beaten down over that.

25th De­cem­ber. Christ­mas Day was ush­ered in by rain and hail, the wind high and con­trary. At seven in the evening, just as we had moored, a storm came on ac­com­pa­nied with the most bril­liant forked light­ning was re­ally fear­ful.

26th De­cem­ber. We were in the midst of great sand­banks, in a com­plete wilder­ness. Off Be­laspoor, on one sand­bank, I saw 10 crocodiles bask­ing in the sun... on the river’s edge were 3 enor­mous al­li­ga­tors, large sav­age mon­sters ly­ing with their enor­mous mouths wide open, eye­ing the boats. These are the first al­li­ga­tors I have seen. I would will­ingly have taken the voy­age for this one sight of al­li­ga­tors and crocodiles in their na­tive wilder­nesses; the scene was so un­usual, so wild, so sav­age.

2nd Jan­uary 1835. How lit­tle the na­tives think of death! This morn­ing ...a body of a woman floated by

the pin­nace.. her long dark hair spread on the stream. I de­sired the men to pull the body to the ves­sels’s side... they re­fused to touch it even with a bam­boo; no­body seemed to think any­thing about it.

9th Jan­uary. Saw the first wolf to­day; I wish we were at Etawah – to an­chor here is de­testable.

17th Jan­uary. An ac­quain­tance, the Hon Mrs R- has just ar­rived from Eng­land. Noth­ing could ex­ceed her as­ton­ish­ment when she heard I had gone up the Jumna alone, on a pil­grim­age of per­haps two months or more to see the Taj, not forced to make the voy­age from ne­ces­sity. I have books and em­ploy­ments of var­i­ous sorts to be­guile the lone­li­ness; and the ad­ven­tures I meet with give va­ri­ety and in­ter­est to the monotony of life on the river. Could I fol­low my own in­cli­na­tions I would pro­ceed to Delhi, thence to the Hills, and on to the source of the Jumna; this would re­ally be a good un­der­tak­ing. Capt. Skin­ner’s Trav­els, which I have just read, have given me the most ar­dent de­sire to go to the source of the Jumna.

28th Jan­uary. I quit­ted the pin­nace... and tak­ing my lit­tle pet ter­rier in my arms can­tered off ...late at night I ar­rived at Agra, found a tent that had been pitched for me within the en­clo­sure of the Taj, in front of the Sawaza or great gate­way, and con­grat­u­lated my­self on hav­ing at length ac­com­plished the pil­grim­age in a voy­age up the Jumna of fifty one days! Over ex­er­tion brought on ill­ness, and se­vere pains in my head laid me up for sev­eral days.

From Fanny Parkes, Be­gums, Thugs and White Mughals, Eland Press, 2002.

Above: Ben­gali woman. Be­low, left to right; Ice pits, The Sir­car, The Chu­ruk Pooja, The Barkan­daz

Im­ages cour­tesy of Eland Press

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