Correspondence of the Riddell Family

Scope and Content

The main focus of these letters is personal. They provide a valuable source of information about the life of British citizens in India, the upbringing of children, education, social values, and the conduct and beliefs of the British upper classes. The genealogical information contained within the letters and accompanying notes is of value to those with an interest in the Riddell and associated families, as well as their friends and acquaintances in both Europe and Asia.

The movements of the family prior to August 1882 are uncertain, although the letters reveal that the family had first arrived in India in 1867, that circa 1879 they had moved from Mominabad to Bolarum, a district of the cantonment of Secunderabad, and that in May 1881 they had all returned to England. In the spring of 1882, Mr. and Mrs. Riddell and their son George returned to Bolarum, Mr. Riddell being appointed Medical Officer to the 1st Cavalry, Hyderabad Contingent, with the rank of Surgeon Major. Laura and Henry remained in England. Laura attended a school run by Mrs. Donaldson in Earl's Court, South Kensington. Henry attended Bowden House School in Harrow, a preparatory school for Harrow run by Mr and Mrs Darnell. A letter from Mrs Riddell of 3 March 1886 contains details of Henry's arrival at Harrow School. Laura and Henry's school vacations were spent with a variety of family friends, among them the Darnell family in Harrow, Mrs Kelso in Ealing, Mrs Stone at Marcham Priory and Mrs Wood.

From Bolarum, a letter which can be dated March 1883 describes Mr and Mrs Riddell's and George's journey west to Mahableshwar, a leave station near Bombay, where they seem to have stayed until at least the end of May. From then until November they were back in Bolarum, where they enjoyed a high society lifestyle, hosting dinner parties, attending dances and balls and other such functions. By April 1884, they were back in Mahabaleshwar, returning to Bolarum separately during the latter part of May. A letter of 15 June describes their return to their house in Bolarum after a stay in Poona, to the east of Bombay. Their high society lifestyle continued, with a letter of 17 August 1884 describing a trip to the races, a ball at the Public Rooms in Secunderabad, a dance at the Residency and dinner with Sir Charles and Lady Gough.

In December 1884, George Riddell's Regiment left Bolarum for a hill station at Hingoli. A letter of 8 December from Camp Jogumpeth, 45 miles from Bolarum, describes their departure from Bolarum and the progress of the march. By early April 1885, the family had moved from Hingoli to Matheran, a leave station just outside Bombay. The following month they returned to Hingoli, travelling from there to Bombay late in May. By 14 June they were back in Hingoli, and a letter of that date describes their new house there and their hopes to leave Bombay on 1 October.

In March 1886, George Riddell was appointed Principal Medical Officer to the Indian contingent in Suakin, . In a letter of 10 March, Laura Riddell describes her husband's departure for Suakin, leaving her and George in Matheran. Despite plans for George to return to England alone, a letter from Mr Riddell dated 20 April reveals the decision for George to remain in India and for them all to return to England together.

In May 1886 the family returned to England for a year's leave, resulting in an eleven month absence of letters. In April 1887, towards the end of their leave, Mr Riddell took his children Laura and George to Germany to study at the Leipzig Conservatoire of Music. They lodged with Mrs Irvine, first at 49 Hohe Strasse, and then at 52 Elisenstrasse, Leipzig. In June, Henry joined his siblings in Germany for a three month holiday. Towards the end of 1887, relations between Mrs Riddell and Mrs Irvine became strained, largely as a result of Mrs Riddell's belief in the inadequacy of Mrs Irvine's care and the education of her two children. In August 1888 George left Leipzig to study at Trinity College in Stratford, under the care of Mr Brackenbury. By 26 February 1890, George had left Stratford and had been placed with Mr Woods at Harrow, in preparation for his entry to Harrow School.

Laura left Leipzig in April 1889, lodging with Mrs Willes at 44 Comeragh Road in West Kensington, London. Various possibilities were raised for her immediate future, among them going to Italy to study, a return to Germany under Auntie's care, and joining her parents in Mandalay, but none came to fruition. In the autumn of 1889, Laura was proposed to by Alec Crombie, a union which was regarded with some scepticism by her parents in view of her youth and inexperience and his inadequate financial means.

Henry provided his parents with ample reason for complaint. A letter of 5 October 1889 laments his utter failure in his recent examination, and hopes for him to enter the Indian Civil Service were dashed by his academic under-achievement. Instead, he seems to have set his hopes on passing the Sandhurst Preliminary Examination and entering the army, much to his mother's distress.

Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Riddell had returned to India alone late in April or May 1887. They set sail in the 'S.S. Victoria', passing though the Bay of Biscay, the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, and staying upon arrival in the Esplanade Hotel in Bombay. By early June, Mr Riddell had received a posting to Mandalay in Burma as Deputy Principal Medical Officer with the rank of Surgeon Colonel. He and his wife travelled by train to Madras and then by boat to Rangoon. A ban on ladies entering Mandalay raised the possibility of their separation, but they sailed up the Irrawaddy to Mandalay together in defiance of the authorities.

A letter of 4 August 1888 tells of Mr Riddell's appointment as Principal Medical Officer of Upper Burma and Deputy Surgeon General of Mandalay. Throughout 1889, Laura Riddell's letters reveal the impact of her husband's heavy workload and worries about the welfare of their children on her own, and particularly her husband's, health. By 12 May 1889, a relief Brigade Surgeon, Suffrein from Kamptee, had been appointed to take over George Riddell's duties, and Laura's letter of that date highlights the uncertainty over their future posting and a desire for retirement. June 1889 proved to be a stressful month, with a former clerk, Mr Castor, demanding payment for his contribution to Mr Riddell's annual report and his subsequent trial for attempt at extortion and criminal intimidation. A settlement was eventually reached in the middle of June, but anxiety was increased by Mr Caster's complaint to the Surgeon General about Mr Riddell's conduct.

In July 1889 Mr and Mrs Riddell returned by the steamer 'Mindoon' down the Irrawaddy to Rangoon, and thence by the boat 'Sirsa' across the Bay of Bengal, passing through a cyclone and narrowly avoiding disaster. They stayed in Madras before moving to Pallavaram in August. A letter of 27 July 1889 notes their request for leave to Bangalore, in view of their deteriorating health and mental exhaustion. In a letter of 26 November, Laura Riddell describes her husband's persistent bad health and low spirits, and a letter of 31 December again mentions their hope for two months' leave to Bangalore. By 29 January 1890, leave had finally been granted, and Laura Riddell wrote of their plans to stay in Madras and Bombay until their return to England. Letters written early in February describe their move to Madras and their plans to return to England by May.

In mid-March 1890, Mr and Mrs Riddell moved to Bangalore. An order for Mr. Riddell to return to Pallaveram and resume his duties, in spite of his poor health, raised the onerous possibility of a return to Madras. Fortunately, a letter of 25 March tells of his grant of permission to stay in Bangalore. The letter contains details of the couple's plans for their return journey to England. A final letter of 11 April 1890 tells of them securing a place on board the 'Clan MacGregor' for their return journey to England.

The letters, almost wholly written from adult to child, provide only a limited amount of information about the political situation in India. A letter of 11 March 1885 notes the suspension of war in the Sudan and the hope that troops would smash Osman Digma, one of the Mahdi's Generals. The possibility of troops regaining Khartoum and securing retribution for the murder of General Gordon by the Mahdi and his men is discussed, and the letter also provides some indication of their own regiment's anxiousness to fight in the Sudan or against Russia.

A letter of 25 March [1885] discusses the war with Russia in Afghanistan and the Amir of Afghanistan's proposed meeting with the Viceroy at Rawal Pindee [Rawalpindi] on the north west Indian frontier. On 16 April 1885, Laura Riddell wrote of the inevitability of a war with Russia and her fear of a large-scale European conflagration. A letter of 13 May 1885 describes English discontent with Gladstone's dealings with Russia, the Russian gain of Penj-deh [Panjdeh] in Afghanistan and the failure of Russian officers to consult with the Commission under Sir Peter Lumsden about the Afghan frontier. Serbia's territorial ambitions in Bulgaria and the intention to depose King Theebaw [Thibaw] is discussed in a letter of 25 November 1885.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Dalziel Riddell ('Papa') was born on 4 May 1836, the youngest child of Robert and Agnes Dalziel Riddell. His father was the Surgeon of Earlstown, where he died in 1870 aged 79; his mother also died there in April 1879 at the age of 81. George Riddell had two elder brothers and a sister. His eldest brother Robert Riddell was born 29 September 1827, and married Marion Thompson. He is mentioned as 'Uncle Robert' in two letters, and seems to have been living in Scotland in December 1889. His children were Agnes, Robert and Elizabeth Mary. George's other brother, John Dalziel Riddell, was born 17 May 1829 and never married. His sister Agnes Pr[in]gle was born 10 January 1831 and lived until 1888. She married a manufacturer by the name of Charles Wilson in Earlstown in 1850. Their children were Charles, Agnes, Jeanie Thompson, Isabella, Margaret Ellen and Mary Dalziel. Agnes, said in a letter of 29 January 1889 to be George Riddell's favourite niece, married Walter Birrell.

George Riddell married Laura Mary Gosling ('Mother'), daughter of General H.C. Gosling of the Madras Army. The identity of her brothers and sisters is unclear. A letter of October 1889 reveals that her 'eldest brother Harry ... passed into the army and became a very rising Officer'. An eldest sister, Aunt Annie, married Fred Hope. Annie and her two children died of cholera in 1864, and Fred was drowned while Aide de Camp to Lord Napier when Governor of Madras in 1866. Another Fred, 'Uncle Fred', is said in a letter of August 1888 to be her brother, and three letters refer to an 'Aunt Susan'. An 'Aunt Fanny' is referred to in another letter, though whether she was a sister of Laura is uncertain. An unmarried 'Auntie' is frequently mentioned, and in a letter of May 1889 is said to be Laura's sister.

U DRI/177-178 provide some details of George and Laura Riddell's children and their fate beyond 1890. Laura Anne Susan Dalziel Riddell ('Bluebell') was born 28 April 1870, and was educated primarily at the Leipzig Conservatoire for Music. She married Rev. Frederick William Pakenham Gilbert M.A. of Trinity College, Dublin on 3 November 1894. Their children were Vernon Dalziel Riddell Pakenham, Man[...]n Dalziel Pakenham and Elaine Mary Dalziel Pakenham.

Henry Charles Riddell ('Harry') was born 4 August 1871, and was educated at Harrow School and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Other information about his adult life is lacking in the collection, although he is said to have died 6 October 1936.

George Augustus Riddell ('Tim') was born 24 March 1874, and was educated at Harrow School, as well as spending one year at the Leipzig Conservatoire for Music. He entered the army, serving in the South Wales Borderers 24th Regiment, later 22nd Cheshire Regiment. He fought in the First World War at Gallipoli, and was then on General Sir Stanley Ma[u]d's staff at Baghdad. During the Second World War he worked at the War Office. He died in about 1950.


U DRI/1 - 31 Letters from Bolarum and Mahabaleshwar, 1882 - 1884

U DRI/32 - 37 Letters from Bolarum, circa 1882 - 1884

U DRI/38 - 76 Letters from Hingoli and Matheran, 1884 - 1886

U DRI/77 - 161 Letters from London, Mandalay and Pallavaram, 1887 -1890

U DRI/162 - 171 Fragments of letters, 1882 - 1889

U DRI/172 - 180 Miscellaneous, 1884 - 1888

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Entry in Women's studies subject guide

Conditions Governing Use

Dr JPN Phillips

Custodial History

Donated by Dr JPN Phillips, Department of Psychology, University of Hull, 20 August 1998