Astrolabe N° 21
Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, England
From travel diary to printed book
The Indian Travel Writings of Maria Graham

The Indian Travel Writings of Maria Graham


Mary Turner, 'Portrait of Maria Graham'
One Hundred Etchings, privately printed, Yarmouth, c. 1830

Cet article examine les sujets de genre, connaissances et voix dans la littérature des voyages par une femme anglaise au début du XIXe siècle, Maria Dundas Graham (également connu comme Maria Callcott après son deuxième mariage). En décembre 1808, Maria Dundas, à 23 ans, avec son père, sa sœur et son jeune frère, a navigué d'Angleterre à Bombay, où son père avait été nommé commissaire de la Marine. Sur le même navire voyageait le capitaine Thomas Graham, R.N., un jeune officier de la marine qui Maria Dundas s'est marié à Calcutta. Les expériences de Graham en Inde ont été rédigées et présentées au public dans une variété de formes, y compris un journal intime privé, deux livres édité, la correspondance, les croquis et les schémas. Au-delà de ceci, plusieurs de ses lecteurs contemporains ont fait sa connaissance et ont été engagés dans son travail par l'intermédiaire des revues périodiques et des anthologies. Les travaux sont profondément intertextuels en nature et à côté de la voix de Graham nous pouvons entendre ceux des voyageurs masculins, des disciples de l'Orientalisme, des informateurs locaux, des militaires britanniques et d'autres colons. L'article concerne les relations et interactions entre les divers genres dans lesquels le travail de Graham apparaît et explore la multiplicité des voix, en s'appuyant sur le concept de Bakhtine du hétéroglossie.

This paper sets out to investigate genre, knowledge and voice in the Indian travel writing of an early nineteenth-century British woman, Marie Dundas Graham.

In December 1808, Maria Dundas, then 23 years old, her father, her sister and her younger brother, sailed from England to Bombay, where her father had been appointed Commissioner of the Navy. The trip resulted in three major texts and a number of minor ones. First we have a private diary recording the five month journey round the Cape to India including her romance with naval officer Thomas Graham, the man she was to marry in India; the first few months of her life in India; the journey home and some notes on Indian mythology and history. The original diary no longer exists -- the Bodleian Library at Oxford University records it as having been destroyed due to damp and mould damage in March 1987. A copy was made in the 1930s by Rosamund Gotch, a direct descendent of Graham's who was writing a biography.[1] Much of the diary was printed in the biography, in which Gotch states that:

The only omissions are sundry original verses and conversations of doubtful interest, remarks on, and extracts from, books being read at the time, and a short passage too intimate for publication.[2]

In fact, the sections cut by Gotch reflect the differing interests for a family member writing a biography in the 1930s and the concerns of later academics and scholars. The excised sections include considerable material of interest, particularly in relation to Graham's linguistic studies aboard ship, her depictions of plants and animals when visiting the Cape en route to India and descriptions of the social life of the British settlement in Bombay.

Earlier, there had, it seems, been authorial cuts -- when Gotch came to the volume, she discovered that a number of pages had already been cut out, in particular those referring to the marriage, by Maria Graham herself, who wrote:

In a written account of personal feelings there must be much which could only interest the object of those feelings & as I am now my Graham's wife, my letters in his absence, my conversation when he is by, will suffice for him. I have cut out some pages, perhaps I ought to have sacrificed more.[3]

Second, in 1812 Graham published an account of her three year stay in India, in the form of a journal,

Title page, Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence in India
Edinburgh, Archibald Constable & Co.; London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1812

overlapping with the private diary in date by only a month but in fact beginning with a condensed account of her arrival and early days, possibly written retrospectively. The form of the book suggests that there may have originally been a second manuscript journal which no longer exists, possibly discarded by Graham after writing the book. This possibility is supported by a letter from Graham written in Edinburgh in 1812:

Several of my friends having thought that I should do well to publish part at least of my Indian journals I came here to see about the proper method of proceeding and likewise to submit my M.S. to some less partial judges than our own families.[4]

Graham was only the third British woman to publish a travel book about India.

The book also included three appendices, one on an Indian poem, taken from a book on Indian history published in French in 1804 and presumably translated by Graham herself; second, 'An Account of Bengal, and of a Visit to Government House (at Calcutta) by Ibrahim the son of Candu the Merchant', a Malay narrative translated by Dr. Leyden, a Scottish surgeon, poet and linguist who was in Malaysia, India and Java in the early 19th century and who gave the translation to Graham; and third, a Hindu religious story which she records as having been translated by 'C.F. Ramasawmy, Bramin, for Major Mackenzie, 3rd May 1808.'

Already in this book -- ostensibly a book of travels -- we begin to see the scholarly Orientalist strand that runs throughout Graham's writings, and the way in which she draws on the scholarship of others. She is confident in her knowledge of Orientalist scholarship and comfortable with the scientific discourses of botany, natural history and geology.[5] While the book contains a considerable amount of detailed first hand observation of people, sights and occasions, she includes much factual information. Her account of her visit to the ElephantaCaves is accompanied by an essay on Hindu gods[6] -- as Nigel Leask points out, similar essays formed a mandatory part of the Indian travelogues of male orientalists.[7] She claims to provide the first full account of the community of the Parsis (or Guebres), basing her report on first-hand discussions with the chief priest of the community and other native informants, but drawing as well on Herbert's Travels as well as on the writings of Anquetil du Perron, D'Ohsson and Colebrooke, some of which she must have read in the original French.[8] She refers knowledgeably to Charles Wilkins' translations of Sanskrit poetry and quotes in a number of places from Fleming's Catalogue of Indian Medicinal Plants and Drugs, which was published in Calcutta in 1810.[9] These references are backed up with footnotes, and she uses technical terminology accurately. She therefore represents herself as conversant with the latest Orientalist research and implies a mastery of French suitable for scholarly use.[10]

In his recent work on shipwreck narratives, many of which were published in multiple versions, Carl Thompson has usefully begun to explore whether the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of heteroglossia -- 'a sense of a multiplicity of different voices being brought together, sometimes coherently, sometimes less so',[11] which Bakhtin of course applies only to fiction -- can be applied to travel narratives. Thompson's work focussed on multiple tellings of the same story or set of incidents. I would argue that it is a useful concept as well in cases such as this, where multiple voices appear in a single travel narrative -- those of the author, those of local informants and people she meets socially, those of the Orientalist scholars she works with while in India and those of the scholars whose work she quotes. These multiple voices influence and both 'disrupt' and support the authority of the authorial voice. Sometimes these voices are in dialogue with each other, sometimes oppositional. After exploring the caves at Elephanta, Graham begins to sketch.

When we had tired ourselves with examining the various wonders of the cavern of Elephanta, I sat down to make a sketch of the great compartments opposite to the entrance, and on our return to Bombay, comparing the drawing with those in Niebuhr, we were satisfied that its resemblance to the original is the most correct.[12]

Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815), whose drawings Graham compares with her own, was a German explorer who took part in a Danish scientific expedition to the East in the 18th century. His sketches of the Elephanta cave sculptures were widely known and admired in Orientalist circles.[13] As Indira Ghose has suggested, Graham, an amateur artist, is attempting 'nothing less than a bid to usurp his position'.[14]

Although in her preface Graham presents the book as a book which will bring before the general reader 'much of what strikes the eye and the mind of an observant stranger', insisting that it is based on letters 'really and truly written, nearly as they now appear, for the amusement of an intimate friend, and without the remotest view to the destiny they now have to encounter', and describing it as a 'sketch ... which may ... afford some entertainment',[15] these claims are, as we so often find, somewhat disingenuous. She goes on to say that:

In one particular she is sensible that the changes she has made in her original manuscript have ... lessened its authority ... she alludes to the obligation she has imposed upon herself, of suppressing the names of those individuals to whom she has been so greatly indebted both for kindness and information. ... She may be allowed, however, to mention that ... she had the good fortune to be acquainted with many individuals distinguished for oriental learning and research.[16]

Rosemary Raza has argued that:

Women's contact with the vast body of research carried out in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was informal and at one remove. It was dependent in part on personal contact with the men involved who were willing to share their knowledge.[17]

Graham records time spent with a number of Orientalists in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, including the scholar-soldier Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Mackenzie, who allowed her to view and sketch from his collection of south Indian antiquities [18] and others who made their scholarly libraries available to her. As Rosemary Raza writes,

She and other women often provided a responsive audience for the achievements of orientalist scholars and a channel for circulating their work. ... More important, it was women writers who were the conduit for communicating the fruits of orientalist scholarship to the general public. The excitement of newly discovered antiquities was conveyed in first-hand reports of expeditions to sites, which blew the dust off official accounts immured in learned tomes. Maria Graham's description of the magnificent antiquities at Mahabalipuram are all the more vivid for being placed in the context of her personal adventure, trudging through sand and scrambling round temples in the midday sun.[19]

As mentioned above, the book was presented as a collection of personal letters. There are interesting implications in letters to 'an intimate friend' at home, probably female, containing such a wealth of scholarly information. Allowing for the possibility of the book being really based on journal letters suggests a knowledgeable female readership back in England, as interested in hearing about the latest Orientalist discoveries as Graham is in telling about them.

A second edition of the book came out in 1813. The majority of it was identical to the first edition, but Graham added a glossary of words used in British India and included a long extract from an anonymous correspondent commenting on her discussion of the Dutch in South Africa in the first edition of the book.

The third major text to come from Graham's three years in India was Letters on India, written after her return and published in 1814.

Maria Graham, Letters on India
London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown; Edinburgh, A. Constable & Co., 1814

In the preface she describes the book as having been

... written solely with the design of being useful to such as are called upon to go at an early period of life, to India, and who therefore cannot have had time to make themselves acquainted with even the general outline of the history, religion, or science of that country.[20]

The book is an account of Indian society, history and mythology aimed at the general reader. Even more than Journal of a Residence, it is based on careful and painstaking research.

The sources from which the information contained in the following pages is chiefly drawn, are, the papers of Sir W. Jones, Mr Colebrooke, and Major Wilford in the Asiatic Researches; and where those guides have failed, those who could, in the writer's humble judgement, be best relied on, were chosen. Colonel Wilk's admirable History of Mysore, Orme, Scott, Dow, Malcolm, Buchanan, have all been referred to.[21]

Despite her use of noted male 'expert' Orientalists, Graham keeps the authority firmly in her own hands. Note those phrases -- 'have failed' and 'could be best relied on'. The male experts have 'failed'; she by contrast is reliable. She makes no mention of -- or apology for -- her gender in the prefaces to either of her books.

Letters on India is again presented in the form of letters, this time almost certainly fictional, addressed to a nameless young man who has 'applied to me for information concerning the country you are so soon to see'.[22] She suggests that if he does not have time to read them before departure, they may amuse him on his voyage out. She sustains the fiction throughout the book, referring at intervals to letters she has supposedly received from him, asking for information on particular subjects.

The book is extremely wide-ranging and scholarly, covering such topics as languages, literature, music, fine arts, architecture, theology, philosophy, law, history and manners and customs.

So we have three major surviving texts -- the private diary and the two books. Alongside these we need to briefly consider two other ways in which Graham recorded her travels, her correspondence and her drawings.

Maria Graham was a prolific correspondent. Many of her letters intersect with the trip to India and, while they do not generally change the ways in which Graham writes of her trip, they nonetheless provide a more 'private view of events and activities than the published books are able to. In particular, they offer insights into the relationships between various groups of people, both British and Indian, that Graham encounters while travelling.

Both of the books are illustrated and the pictures too need to be read and interpreted alongside the written text. Even there we find multiple and dialogic voices -- while most of the pictures are by Graham there are a few by other artists. The frontispiece to Journal of a Residence shows Ibrahim, the Malay man whose story is told in the appendix, taken from a native drawing. Interestingly this is the only picture of a person to appear in either of the books, and it has not been drawn by Graham.

'Ibrahim A Malay Moonshee - From a Native Drawing'
Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence in India, 1812, frontispiece

Later in the book she refers to having been 'highly gratified with the sight of Colonel Mackenzie's collection of Hindoo antiques, and drawings of most of the temples in this part of India'.[23] She goes on to say that Mackenzie permitted her to copy some sketches, and includes two of the copied sketches.

Maria Graham, 'Indian Cairns - or Pandoo Koolis'
Journal of a Residence in India, 1812, opp. p. 168

Some of the pictures are of sculptures that she has seen and sketched. Again we have interrelationships between artists -- the original sculptors and Graham as copyist.

(a) image012_2.jpg (b) image014_2.jpg
(a) 'From a green steatite of the bigness of a middle-sized tortoise' and 'Specimen of sculpture, Carli Cave', Maria Graham, Letters on India, 1814, opp. p. 55
(b) 'Siva and Parvati attended by Vishnu and Brahma Choturmookhi. From Mahvellipoor', Maria Graham, Letters on India, 1814, opp. p. 345

Survival can of course be an issue not only for manuscripts but for drawings and paintings. Graham refers in the preface to 'many other drawings [which] were lost on [my] passage homeward from the east',[24] implying that any deficiencies in the pictures can be explained by the loss of others which were perhaps superior. While this claim to have lost drawings while travelling is probably true, it does not tell the whole story. The British Museum in London holds a collection of approximately sixty-five watercolour paintings and drawings which Graham made while in India which were not engraved for either of the books,[25] suggesting that she did in fact select pictures specifically, rather than relying just on what had survived the journey.

Diary, books, letters, pictures. These are the texts over which MG had control. But some of her contemporary readers met her text in a very different form.

Nineteenth-century reviewing practice meant that reviews included substantial excerpts from or summaries of the work being reviewed. As Leah Price has argued, 'little separated reviews in the nineteenth century from other means of representing texts for a wider audience: translations, abridgements, anthologies'.[26] For example, the Eclectic Review in 1813 published an 11 page review of Journal of a Residence;[27] the Quarterly Review similarly gave it 15 pages.[28] Many readers would have been content to read the version of the narrative given in the review without then going on to buy the full book. This would have introduced a new voice -- that of the reviewer, whose job it was not only to comment on the book but to make selections from the text for direct quotation, linking these quotations with summary sentences. The choice of extracts could, and often did, change the emphasis of the text; and the reviewer's own comments might also direct the reader towards a particular interpretation or judgement.

In 1818, an abridgement of Graham's Journal of a Residence was included in R. P. Forster's A Collection of the Most Celebrated Voyages and Travels, a four volume anthology published in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.[29]

Title page, R.P. Forster, A Collection of the Most Celebrated
Voyages and Travels, Newcastle, Mackenzie & Dent, 1818

Such collections were a popular genre in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Compilers of such anthologies 'often substantially rewrote their material, the better to accommodate it to the educational or imperial program that they had in mind'.[30] The abridger removed sections he thought would be of less interest to a general audience -- in the case of Graham, that meant that the preface, the appendices and virtually all of the scholarly information was cut, leaving the bare bones of the travelogue, and the original 211 page book was reduced to 35 pages, with two of the original 16 plates included. The other 14 texts in the volume included Anson's Voyage Round the World, Helen Maria Williams A Tour in Switzerland (the only other woman), Phipp's Voyage towards the North Pole and Robert Southey's Letters from Spain and Portugal, so that Graham's narrative would have been read alongside tales of exploration from many other geographical locations, some of which were from as much as 50 years earlier.

In 1841, Philogene Auguste Joseph Duponchel published a twelve volume set, Nouvelle bibliothèque des voyages anciens et modernes. While much of the set seems to have been reprints or translations of earlier works, volume 10 included a 42 page section titled 'Voyage aux Indes Orientales, d'après Mistriss Graham, Heber, Skinner, &c. &c.'[31] This was a summary of comments and views taken from a number of British writers on India; the compiler explaining at the beginning that he would not give specific information on each traveller's journey or itinerary, since that would, he argued, be uninteresting. Graham's name was obviously still known but the readers of Duponchel's volume could have gained only a distant sense of her actual views or travels.

Graham's 1808 journey resulted in a multitude of texts, some private, some public. Of these, she was able to exercise authorial control over the printed works, but reviews and anthologies presented her work to readers in ways that she could not control. The multiple voices in all of the works both support and disrupt Graham's account. The complexity of the relationships between the various texts arising from Graham's 1808 trip, and the multiple voices in those texts, open up interesting questions, questions which apply not only to Graham but to many other travel accounts of the early 19th century.

Betty Hagglund

  1. ^ This copy is owned by the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, England, shelfmark MS Eng d. 2273.
  2. ^ Rosamund Gotch, Maria Lady Callcott: The Creator of "Little Arthur", London, John Murray, 1937, 89
  3. ^ Copy of Lady Callcott's journal, written during her journey to India, 1808-9, and on her departure, 1811, made by Rosamund Gotch, 20th cent., Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. d. 2273, f. 92
  4. ^ Letter, Edinburgh 20 March 1812, National Library of Scotland, NLS 3610, f. 46
  5. ^ See Nigel Leask, Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing 1770-1840, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002, 214
  6. ^ Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence in India, Edinburgh, Archibald Constable & Company; London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1812, 45-53
  7. ^ Leask, op. cit, 215
  8. ^ Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence, op. cit., 36-45
  9. ^ Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence, op. cit., 73, 86
  10. ^ Indira Ghose, Women Travellers in Colonial India: The Power of the Female Gaze, Oxford, OxfordUniversity Press, 1998, 29
  11. ^ Carl Thompson, Romantic-Era Shipwreck Narratives, Nottingham, Trent Editions, 2007, 13
  12. ^ Maria Graham, Journal of a residence, op. cit, 57
  13. ^ Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters: A History of European Reactions to Indian Art, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1992, 108-112
  14. ^ Ghose, op. cit., 29
  15. ^ Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence, op. cit., iv-vi
  16. ^ Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence, op. cit., v
  17. ^ Rosemary Raza, In Their Own Words: British Women Writers and India 1740-1857, New Delhi, India, Oxford University Press, 2006, 9
  18. ^ Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence, op. cit., 168-169
  19. ^ Raza, op. cit., 9-10
  20. ^ Maria Graham, Letters on India, London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown; Edinburgh, A. Constable & Co., 1814, iii
  21. ^ Maria Graham, Letters on India, op. cit., iv
  22. ^ Maria Graham, Letters on India, op. cit., 1
  23. ^ Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence, op. cit., 168
  24. ^ Maria Graham, Letters on India, op. cit., v
  25. ^ Laurence Binyon, Catalogue of Paintings by British Artists and Artists of Foreign Origin Working in Great Britain preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings of the BritishMuseum, London, BritishMuseum, 1898, 178-189
  26. ^ Leah Price, The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel, Cambridge, CambridgeUniversity Press, 2000, 138
  27. ^ Eclectic Review, vol. 10 (1813), 569-580
  28. ^ Quarterly Review, vol. 8, no. 16, article 8 (Dec. 1812), 406-421
  29. ^ R.P. Forster, A Collection of the Most Celebrated Voyages and Travels, vol. 4, Newcastle upon Tyne, Mackenzie & Dent, 1818, 56-91
  30. ^ Jennifer Speake (ed.), Literature of Travel and Exploration: an Encyclopedia, vol. 1, New York, Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003, 264.29
  31. ^ 'Voyage aux Indes Orientales, d'après Mistriss Graham, Heber, Skinner, etc. etc.' in Philogene Auguste Joseph Duponchel, Nouvelle bibliothèque des voyages anciens et modernes, vol. 10, Paris, P. Duménil, 1841

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Référence électronique
Betty HAGGLUND, « FROM TRAVEL DIARY TO PRINTED BOOK », Astrolabe [En ligne], Septembre / Octobre 2008 ITINÉRANCES FÉMININES, mis en ligne le 03/08/2018, URL :