An occupational hazard of publishing on British India is that you get bombarded with genealogical enquiries. The correspondents, though polite, can be quite persistent and not easily persuaded that all reference to Ensign Dobbs of the 43rd has somehow eluded your researches. In the 1970s, when the India Office Library and Records were still housed on Blackfriars Road, these seekers of lost antecedents sometimes so thronged the issue hall that it was hard to submit a book requisition. They were typically of a certain age and had come from afar in pairs. Dog-eared baptismal registers and army lists, trundled to their desks on a tea trolley, were their fare. They would pore over them, whispering together, for hours. Evidently Britain’s rule in India, in addition to all its other iniquities, severed blood ties, lopped limbs off the family tree, and generally conspired to make life difficult for descendants with an interest in their forebears and inheritance.
How this came about is well demonstrated in Vyvyen Brendon’s compendious, admirably researched and meticulously sourced Children of the Raj. It is not a comforting read. The amount of childhood misery here paraded makes a powerful argument for celibacy. Warm nights, high sperm counts and cheap nannies induced Britons in