As with William Dalrymple’s White Mughals, with which it invites comparisons, Ferdinand Mount’s new book, The Tears of the Rajas, concerns the early days of the British in India. It covers much of the same period – the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the East India Company was increasing its grip on the subcontinent. Mount tells us in his introduction that he was inspired to write his book by the story of an individual, as told in a little-known book by his great-aunt Ursula. This person is John Low, an officer in the East India Company and a common ancestor of both Mount and David Cameron. But whereas Dalrymple points out the links between the British officers in the Company and the native population, Mount’s emphasis is on conflict.
Battle after battle, engagement after engagement, sortie after sortie, some involving only a handful of men, all are vividly and carefully described. ‘They had not a cartridge between them and were repelling the sepoys with their bayonets alone,’ he writes of the survivors of a mutiny at Vellore in 1806,