‘He is hardened to the climate & a little bleached by it’s [sic] influence’: Imperial Childhoods in Scotland and Madras, c. 1800–1830

  • Ellen Filor
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Childhood book series (PSHC)


In 1807,11-year-old William Brunton wrote from Edinburgh to his father in Madras:

Major Bruce is in London, he is going out to Madras. I have seen your picture, it is not like you in the under part of the face. It makes you fatter than you are; at least since I saw you last. I hope you will be over soon. You always say that certainly you will be over in the first fleet. I was Dux at the examination and got Johnson’s lives of the Poets, in four volumes.1

From his father’s ‘fatter’ visage in a portrait to the annual broken promise that his parents ‘will be over in the first fleet’: the non sequiturs of this extract speak to the difficulties of maintaining a relationship between parent and child conducted at a distance of thousands of miles. As Kate Teltscher has argued, family letters ‘supply new ways to read the colonial archive…Indeed, familiar letters offer as valuable a resource to historians of empire as official correspondence, state papers, or government proceedings’.2 Held at the National Archives of Scotland, many of the Brunton family papers detail childhoods — some white and some mixed-race — spent in Madras and Scotland that the official archive does not recognize and cannot illuminate.


National Archive Family Letter British Library Account Book Scottish Society 
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© Ellen Filor 2016

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