Music, Diamonds and Conspiracy
Fowkes and friends in India, 1701-1788
This book is based on the correspondence of several generations of the Fowke, Holland and Walsh families during the eighteenth century. Closely related to each other, they were representative of the wider British merchant class in this period, growing in wealth and sophistication but, in general, without much landed property. Their fate was closely intertwined with the East India Company and with Robert Clive when he came on the scene, and this book sets them in that wider context. Much of their correspondance ended up in the British Library as the 'Fowke Papers' and the 'Ormathwaite Collection', two of the largest collections of personal letters surviving from the eighteenth century.
They were a mixed bunch and included gamblers and fraudsters as well as honest merchants both male and female. What united them was their intellect or their intellectual pretensions, and their curiosity about the world, and in this they were perhaps less representative of their class.
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Several were passionate music lovers and instrumentalists, several invented things, for instance systems of shorthand, one became a member of the Royal Society. As the century progressed, they came to inhabit a world of wealthy amateurs but it was still a world of early death and bitter quarrels as well as of pleasure. The women’s letters are especially interesting in this respect.
Bob Fowke is a prolific writer of historical non-fiction and children's reference books, published by Hachette, Oxford University Press, Collins and Heinemann. His book, The Real Ancient Mariner, uncovers the identity of the man who shot an albatross and inspired Coleridge's poem, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.
Paul Binding, novelist, critic, poet and cultural historian.
Bob Fowke generously allows his forebears to speak for themselves so that we readers can get to know them through both their words and their actions, and make our own minds up about the differences between these. At the same time he draws the societies which formed his people and on which they themselves had impact - Britain and India - with admirable informative clarity. A particular feature of the book was its presentation of his characters’ feeling for (and accomplishment at) music.
Toby Green, Professor of Precolonial and Lusophone African History and Culture at King’s College London.
A fascinating family history. Bob Fowke’s focus on the women involved casts the gendered history of empire in an important new light. This is a book which brings a new perspective onto the English imperial venture in India.
Martin Rudwick FBA, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego.
CA fascinating insight into the lives of some of those who worked for the East India Company in the 18th century, their wives and families, and their tangled relations with Indian maharajahs, English politicians, and a host of other characters.