"We used to go out of an evening. Around our mess we could walk out, walk two or three miles and shoot a couple of partridges for dinner. It was a nice little country estate."

- Roy Metcalf, who served in the Indian Army and Indian Political Service

Exhibition Navigation

An Introduction

1. The Passage to India
2. Running Your Empire
3. Life in the Bungalows
4. Imperial Diversions
5. Never the Twain?
6. No More India to Go to

Chapter 1 interviews
Chapter 2 interviews
Chapter 3 interviews
Chapter 4 interviews
Chapter 5 interviews
Chapter 6 interviews

Imperial Diversions:
The Club, the Hills, the Field

Britons who spoke of their pasts in India remembered the need for diversions from what they saw as everyday lives of hard work and often difficult conditions. Indeed these diversions--especially the abundance of field sports--were seen as among the joys of a life in India.

An Englishman in India could maintain horses whose upkeep in England would have been prohibitively expensive. Thus he could have plenty of recreational or competitive horseback riding. And the plenitude of wild game provided the shooting beloved by the English upper classes, but in India people could enjoy it without the need for private estates or trout streams.

In the hot season, when an intense sun baked the Indian plains, "the Hills" offered another kind of diversion, the relief of cool weather at high altitudes. From the early 19th century the British developed "hill stations," towns they could go up to when heat enveloped the rest of India. In fact, whole governments moved to the Hills in the hot months. Simla in the Himalayas became the official summer capital of British India when the Viceroy and much of the bureaucracy came up from Calcutta or New Delhi. With temporarily concentrated European populations, the hill stations were noted for gay, leisurely life, though working husbands customarily came for only short periods while their wives might spend the whole season.

Closer to home, the club offered a respite from daily routine. Virtually wherever in India a few Britons lived, a club evolved. It might have only a modest bar, a tennis court, perhaps a reading room, but it was an important institution as a central gathering place. The admission or exclusion of Indians as members or guests became a difficult issue in Indo-British relations as time went on.

Paying off the beaters after a tiger hunt; 20th century; photograph courtesy of the Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge.

Joining in field sports enabled English women to participate more fully in the pleasures of life in India; photograph courtesy of Major General R.C.A. Edge.

"A Little Over Ridden"; lithograph; 19th century. Hog hunter, probably along the Ganges River. The sport of hog hunting (or "pig sticking") involved chasing on horseback and spearing dangerous wild hogs. Though limited geographically, the sport had a very popular image, perhaps because it seemed to evoke ancient ways and almost feudal methods of organization.

"The Return from Hog Hunting"; aquatint by Samuel Hewett from a drawing by Captain Thomas Williamson; 1819.

"The Line of Beaters," color illustration (from a water color by the author) in Pig-Sticking or Hog-Hunting: A Complete Account for Sportsmen--and Others by Sir Robert Baden-Powell, Bart. (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1924).
The founder of the Boy Scouts, who had seen Army service in India, was a notable devotee of the sport.

British soldiers on the Mall at Murree, a popular hill station; postcard; 1920s.

"Simla--the Mall"; postcard, photograph by R. Hotz; c. 1900. Simla, where the Government of India functioned during the hot weather, was a vibrant temporary capital. The architecture seen here is notably European, as though the Hills were meant to be psychologically as well as physically removed from the terrible heat and related pressures of the Indian plains.

Women in dandi, sedan chairs used to carry European travellers through the Hills; postcards (Umballa: Herman Dass and Sons); 1890s.

"Simla"; lithograph by Captain J. Luard; 19th century. Only the workers in Indian garb suggest that this is not a European landscape, as though the Hills were not merely a refuge from the heat but a kind of symbolic return to a more culturally familiar place.

Club scene; color illustrations in Lloyd's Sketches of Indian Life by W. Lloyd (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890).

Two clubs: British Indian clubs might be as grand as the "Royal Bombay Yacht Club" or as simple as that in a smaller station, such as "Tennis Court & the Club, Nathiagali"; postcards; early 20th century. On the reverse of the Bombay Yacht card a correspodent has written: "A lovely club. People have tea parties on the lawn (behind the wall)."

An Introduction

1. The Passage to India | interviews

2. Running Your Empire | interviews

3. Life in the Bungalows | interviews

4. Imperial Diversions | interviews

5. Never the Twain? | interviews

6. No More India to Go to | interviews

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