In 2014 I was intrigued to discover the quite detailed story of French/Indian ancestors who lived in Chandernagore in the 1700’s – my immediate family previously had no idea of their existence. My wife and I visited the town all too briefly in 2015 and were enchanted by it (I live in Australia) however I do wish this web page had been available then to better inform our visit.
By combining Indian, French and Portuguese influences, the ‘idea’ of Chandernagore and the fact that my ancestors lived through that ‘idea’ excited my imagination.
The reality was less to get excited about. From 1757, my ancestor’s strata of society in Chandernagore was framed by racism, religious prejudice, the devastation of war, bitter military occupations, deprivation and long separations – and they may have been the lucky ones! The fate of those with no European ancestor are relatively poorly recorded, especially the non-Catholic indigenous population and the slaves. Perhaps your project will redress this balance by revealing as much about Chandernagore’s ‘Ville Noire’, as it does about its architecturally romantic ‘Ville Blanche’.
Two years ago one of my 2ndcousins in England (I am in Australia) recalled a legend told to him by one of his aunts – no one had previously taken this very seriously. The legend was that a French sea captain had eloped with an Indian princess. As usual the legend was a distortion, but on researching it he discovered a significant grain of truth.
He managed to trace back as far as a Monsieur Rauly, from Castres, France.
We suspect this is a Louis Rauly whose family we have identified in Castres (France) but his Christian name needs to be confirmed. Castres was known for its trade in dyes especially that used before indigo. Once in India he married a lady named Feliciana whom we know was at least part Indian (my maternal DNA was tested and is rare outside India).
Their lives were full of crisis due to international events. The details follow:
Around 1750, Louis Rauly who we think was 24, set up a warehouse in Chandernagore. He soon became rich – in theory – from his trading warehouse which dealt principally in Indigo.
Unlike Pondicherry,where the French practiced quite rigid racial segregation, Chandernagore was more relaxed. Louis could therefore meet and marry Feliciana. Their daughter was later described as a Creole, suggesting that she was identifiably of Indian extraction, so Feliciana must have been too. The Rauly’s were Catholic.
Feliciana’s daughter Perrette, who was also my ancestor, was the eldest of what we think wereat least 5 children.She was born in 1754. At age 3 she saw the bombardment and major destruction of her city, its capture by Robert Clive (1757) and its British occupation of 6 years.
Sometime after the City was returned to France in 1763, the children undertook a precarious journey to Paris for their education (arriving around 1767), leaving their parents behind in Chandernagore. The girls went to an exclusive convent school outside Paris and the boys were educated in Paris itself.The boys resided with a priest who arranged their education. There is confusion about their arrival as the children seem to have been largely abandoned by their trustee in Paris after being placed in education – their French family actually had trouble locating them to check on their welfare.There is a veiled suggestion in the correspondence that the trustee may have absconded with at least part of this money. Obviously this was all compounded by the immense difficulties of travel and communication at that time.
Louis died in 1769 (around 43 years of age) but the children probably did not know this until well into the 1770’s.
1769 was also the year of a terrible Bengal famine, killing 10 million and leaving much of Bengal contolled by bandits. Though protected from the famine by her position, the massive hunger, disease and death caused by the famine must have surrounded Feliciana during her mourning. The famine was partly caused by the growing of Indigo and opium, sadly creating a link between the Rauly’sand its cause.
Louis’ assets seem to have been frozen and confused and Felicianawas later said to be almost destitute in this period. She was certainly under enormous debt pressure. However she was fortunate enough to have a British lady friend who housed and supported her for some years.
French officials in Pondicherry acted on her behalf with the monarchy to try to unravel the chaos. From the outcome it appears that enough of the Rauly assets were freed up by 1776 for a normal, but restrained, debt free life. The huge cost of the children’s education was also eventually met – but perhaps not until the 1780’s(in the interim Parisian family members seem to have provided much of this).
While this descent from supposed wealth to poverty appearsconfusing it is important to remember that a merchant’s life was far from secure in the 18th century. Their trade goods could be in relatively unsafe transit anywhere in the world and their capital tied up wherever those trade goods were sold. There was no liquid international money market and only very slow, unsure communications of letters of credit etc. To compound this, all French trade was supposed to be carried out through the French East India Company, which started having major problems of its own in this period.
Perrette was trapped at her convent school outside Paris until about 1776 (age 22) by her mother’s financial position and the international financial and communicationchaos that prevailed at that time. Her grandmother,inCastres, who had been managing their affairs through Parisian relatives, also passed away in the early 1770’s. This was likely to have compounded difficulties.
The childrenultimately returned to Chandernagore in time for another war and a second British occupation from 1778-1783.In fact Perrette had spent much more of her life in Chandernagore under British rule than French. It is also important to remember that for most of the children’s life France and England were at war or a very hostile peace.
In 1782 Perrette, at the then surpisingly late age of 28, married a recently arrived, wealthy English Huguenot Indigo planter, John Henry Guinand (24). She moved to the British location of Pultah 3 Km away.Pultah is no longer a locality but was then (broadly speaking) the area along the river between Chandernagore and Bandel. The Guinands were also of French descent, though had a family history as very strong supporters of the Huguenot (protestant) cause. John also identified strongly as English, but almost certainly spoke French due to family connections. It seems possible that Perrette was known as Mary (possibly her middle name) in her English family.
The fact that Perette was a devout Catholic and the Guinand family strongly involved in the French protestant cause must have caused some complications as Perrette did not convert.
John Henry and Perrette had 7 children in 7 years before John Henry died in 1789 at 31 years of age. Life for Perrettewould now take another harsh twist.
John Guinand’s will provided for Perrette to take their children to England and be well educated there. Perrette had promised to do so. The will also provided for Perrette and her mother Feliciana.
Perrette sailed with all 7 children, the eldest 8, the youngest a baby, on a long precarious journey to England on an East Indiaman. The children were there re baptised (as Anglican) and given into the care of trusted high ranking trustees known to the family from India and from Huguenot circles. They were clearly to be made ‘British’.
After about 12 months Perrette returned alone to India. The reason is not written anywhere and can only be guessed at. It must have been heartbreaking. One memento of hers remains in England – a little piece of embroidery, presumably made by her, saying ‘remember me’.
Up to the early 1700’s it was socially acceptable, and relatively fashionable, for British men to marry a ‘well bred’ Indian woman. By the 1790’s, though, English women who could not find a husband were flowing to India in large numbers –this was discussed openly as the ‘fishing fleet’. This created a white English female ‘establishment’. It was very much in their interest not to provide social recognition of Indian wives. And thus to discourage inter marriage.
Being brown, or married to someone brown, became a social, and perhaps more importantly, commercial liability – to the point where English men were hiding or denying their legally married Indian wives, regardless of their affection for them.
This was most transparent in the case of Princess Diana’s Indian ancestor, Katherine, whose father had her shipped ‘urgently’ to Scotland at age 8, away from her Indian mother Eliza, on receiving advice that the Indian climate was making Katherine ‘brown’. At some point he started to refer to his Indian wife as a servant and use all sorts of arguments to confuse Katherine’s maternity. It worked, because Katherine eventually married very well into the English establishment …but at what personal cost?
Perrette did see her sons again when they returned to India. Sadly this created another wave of tragedy. Two returned as artillery lieutenants and one as a teacher. To have been commissioned as lieutenants they mightnormally have had to disguise their racial origins, otherwise they would have been commissioned only as Jemars- Indian officers allowed only to command Indians. However there is some confusion on this point because one of her sons, in his army records, confirmed that his mother was ‘a creole’.
However fate (and India) again took its toll – all three dying of illness within 8 years of arriving in India, each before age 30. Maybe this was partly genetic genetic, given their father’s early death, but around 40% of young British lieutenants sent to India at that time died of illness within 10 years.
Perrette’s will (1826) specified she be buried at the Basillica at Bandel, on the left of the steps to the front verandah. Did she perceive this as the end to a life marked by tragedy?
The Basillica dates to 1599 but was rebuilt after being sacked in 1632. It is little changed except for the addition of ceramic tiles to the walls. Within 6km, as the crow flies, you pass from Chandernagore, once French, to what was British Pultah to what was Portuguese Bandel. In the 1800s a horse and trap probably took about 2 hours.
The Basillica is unlike Portuguese churches in Kochi or Goa but like some we’ve seen in Portugal. It is a complex of shaded verandah walkways and courtyards surrounding the main chapel. It would have been cool and peaceful and I can imagine Perrette taking solice here from a life of relative tragedy.
On a quiet day, it is still an oasis within the noise, dust and hurry of Bandel town.
Perrette died in the absence of any family. Her husband and 3 sons were dead. She died before learning that the eldest of her 4 daughters, Charlotte (my ancestor), had also passed away a year earlier. The 3 surviving children (daughters) were in England.
However I like to think Perrette found some peace at Bandel. At her death she bequeathed her coterie of animals to an English friend, provided a pension to her Ayah (whom she described as a close friend), donated jewellery and a cash flow to the church (for prayers for herself and her mother) and the significant balance to her surviving children.
On a much lighter personal note I was intrigued to realise that both I and my French ancestor from the 1750’s married Indian ladies with some Portuguese heritage. I was also amused to discover (from testing) that the DNA my blonde, blue eyed sister inherited from her mother is almost unique to India! Most of all I enjoy pointing out to my Indian/Australian wife that while she cannot produce any scientific proof that she is Indian I can present a DNA Certificate verifying my ‘Indian’ DNA.