The Fishing Fleet
Anne De Courcy
The adventurous young women who sailed to India during the Raj in search of husbands.
From the late 19th century, when the Raj was at its height, many of Britain’s best and brightest young men went out to India to work as administrators, soldiers and businessmen. With the advent of steam travel and the opening of the Suez Canal, countless young women, suffering at the lack of eligible men in Britain, followed in their wake. This amorphous band was composed of daughters returning after their English education, girls invited to stay with married sisters or friends, and yet others whose declared or undeclared goal was simply to find a husband. They were known as the Fishing Fleet, and this book is their story, hitherto untold.
For these young women, often away from home for the first time, one thing they could be sure of was a rollicking good time. By the early 20th century, a hectic social scene was in place, with dances, parties, amateur theatricals, picnics, tennis tournaments, cinemas and gymkhanas, with perhaps a tiger shoot and a glittering dinner at a raja’s palace thrown in. And, with men outnumbering women by roughly four to one, romances were conducted at alarming speed and marriages were frequent. But after the honeymoon, life often changed dramatically: whisked off to a remote outpost with few other Europeans for company, and where constant vigilance was required to guard against disease, they found it a far cry from the social whirlwind of their first arrival.
Anne de Courcy’s sparkling narrative is enriched by a wealth of first-hand sources – unpublished memoirs, letters and diaries rescued from attics – which bring this forgotten era vividly to life.
Recommended as an absorbing read. * HISTORICAL NOVELS REVIEW * What this brilliantly researched book, using letters and diaries, reveals is that for many of the brightest and most attractive girls, the experience was thrilling and liberating - one girl writes how she went dancing 26 nights in a row, another had dates with eight different men in as many nights. For others, the experience was humiliating as, failing to land a man, they sailed home labelled 'Returned Empties'. Once married, the women showed extraordinary grit and strength as, unless they bagged top men in the prime city locations, the life could be lonely, hard and thankless. A wonderful slice of history -- Sally Morris * DAILY MAIL * This sparkling collage explores the lives of the English girls who came to colonial India to hook themselves a spouse, and draws intriguing parallels between India and British social attitudes. * THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH * This is a fine picture of a lost world -- JAD ADAMS * THE GUARDIAN * The Fishing Fleet is an entertaining, richly detailed account of a world that vanished overnight in 1947 with independence. De Courcy revels in the details of durbars, tiger hunts, maharajahs dripping with jewels, but also reveals how life in the jewel of the crown could be as desperate as it was glittering -- Daisy Goodwin * THE SUNDAY TIMES * Anne De Courcy combines the perseverance of a social historian with the panache of a novelist in her tales from the Raj. * THE TIMES * Anne de Courcy's history is a sparkling collage of stories and quotations in which we hear the authentic voices of the women and girls she portrays, most of them natural, unaffected writers with sharp eyes, a gift for description and a sense of humour. This book is brilliantly researched, and full of delights. * THE DAILY TELEGRAPH *
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