British India Greets the English Pub. Part VI.

A Tavern not Greeted by Community, in This Case

Among the plaintive letters on this subject addressed to the Bombay Gazette in January 1862, that on the 17th by Aku Cha Kaku, possibly a pseudonym, starkly illustrates a confrontation of tavern and local community.

A Mr. Low wanted to establish an “American Tavern” in the Girgaum district of Bombay. Girgaum was, then, a largely residential area mainly of gentry including Parsis. Police officials, named as Mr. Crawford and Mr. Forjett, were prepared to consent to the license.

The writer identified more specifically Burrowe’s Lane and Girgaum Pallow Road as the area the pub would locate. Today it is no longer residential, by my checks, but Girgaum is still the district name.

The letter-writer stated the lighting of the pub would improve the street to that extent, but many of the “inmates”, or “Jacks”, were seamen who liked to get drunk and terrorize the neighborhood including attacks on women.

There was possibly a subtext here that selling alcohol was not the problem per se, rather the particular character of the tavern due to its clientele. This made it “disreputable” in the eyes of the community, a place of “odium” .

The letter stated a church official in the city, “Rev. Mr. Fletcher”, had commenced legal proceedings to try to prevent opening of the tavern in this area.

The letter also noted that Low had organized a petition to incline the authorities to permit the tavern. The letter invited Rev. Fleming to investigate the background of petitioners, in his words:

… I would humbly suggest to the Reverend Gentleman to look into the list personally with a view to know if any of respectability have therein shewn their countenance, and whether the persons thus protesting are not likely to be its associates.

The churchman’s full name was William Kew Fletcher, profiled in memoriam in 1868 in The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal.

His first wife, Maria Jane Jewsbury, was an emerging literary figure in England who died decades earlier from cholera, shortly after the couple emigrated to India. She is still remembered and has been the subject of a number of studies.

So the native community had a strong ally in William Fletcher, who was Senior Chaplain of Bombay Cathedral. Whether their efforts succeeded I could not tell.

The scholar Dr. Preeti Chopra at University of Wisconsin-Madison, in her first book I cited earlier in this series, referred to an “American Flag” tavern licensed in Bombay, possibly the same pub.

In the early 1870s the Royal Alfred Sailor’s Home was built in the city, which perhaps alleviated the problem of sailors given to wild behaviour. It contained recreation facilities and a library, for example.



2 thoughts on “British India Greets the English Pub. Part VI.”

  1. Is there any sign of British concern about local religious attitudes to alcohol? I’m sure then as now the beliefs were extremely complicated, and I don’t know if the British considered them, ignored them, or were aware but couldn’t sort things out.

    • Thanks Clark and your own interest is always much appreciated.

      At least one temperance organization campaigned in India in the mid-1800s, I came across it in my reading. I cannot recall if it was sponsored by the Anglican or another church then active there. There were the so-called “drinking” churches, of which the Anglicans were an example, and others less inclined, some Methodists if memory serves. One or more of these might have been associated with or sponsored this group.

      Senior Chaplain Fletcher had a long record of service to local populations, including certainly in his earlier years, e.g. helping impoverished persons afflicted by famine.

      The story of his arrival with his new wife and difficulty of surviving in the new country is graphic and heart-rending. She wrote a diary parts of which survived, which described the climate for example as a “biscuit oven”, and much more graphically than that. Yet even in the few months she survived there, she developed an empathy with the people that went beyond the stereotypical reactions of many Britons, some of which I’ve recounted. I can dig out the diary mentions if interested to read.

      I think by dint of his own ministry but also the memory she left, the husband demonstrated a sympathy with local populations that many and perhaps most of his compatriots did not.


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