James Scott Savory and the Indian princess
Like many young gentlemen in the closing years of the 18th century, James Scott Savory had aspirations of prosperity and like all young men he would have confidently pursued his dreams, grasping at any opportunity of creating an interesting and inependent life for himself and so, like many young gentlemen of the day, James sought employment in the expanding Empire. After his schooling and perhaps harbouring a secret desire for overseas travel, James from the small village of Calne in Wiltshire found employment with the Honourable East India Company and in 1796 he took a position as a writer (clerk) and after training he set sail for the Indian subcontinent just one year later.
James was born on 19th July in 1779, the eldest son of Richard Savory (born 15th Dec 1754-died 10th July 1825) and Sarah Scott (born 1757-died 18th Feb 1841). James would have been able to trace his family history back to his Great Grandfather Thomas Savory who had lived in Calne over a centenary and a half before.
When James set sail for India in 1797 King George III was on the throne and the English monarch’s madness had already become a problem for the country. Most of Europe had fallen under the dominance of the Revolutionary French Republic and Parliament with William Pitt the younger at the helm stood alone against the French in Europe.
Maybe travelling to an exotic overseas location seemed preferable to staying in England. ‘The company’ also had their own army, a mixture of young European men and Indian sepoys and they were busy fighting territorial and trade wars against the French Republic in many of the Indian principality’s,. So did James just follow the example of many of the other young gentlemen of his era, answering adverts and seeking employment in the expanding East India Company and heading off to where ever he could find work at that time. What ever the reason for James Scott Savory’s wanderlust, James landed on his feet and James has become a bit of a legend in my family.
James Scott Savory was my Great great great great grandfather and as a child I can remember my grandpa proudly telling a story that he was descended from Indian Royalty. We were told that James had eventually married the daughter of a Jagirdar, a princess of Arni in a place called Arcot in 1802. Indeed after a brief period in 1799 in his first post as the second Assistant under the Collector of Taxes in Krishnagiri close to Mysore, it is recorded that James then became the assistant under the collector of Taxes in Arcot, south of the River Palar.
Before James left the shores of England, the East India Company had been fighting a number of long and drawn out wars in the Carnatic region of southern India, the regions that are now called Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. James’s timely arrival in southern India coincided with the suppression of Mughal rule in the south, a continuation of the pacification process of India. The great Muslim leader Tipu Sultan who defiantly and bravely stood up against the British was eventually killed in the famous battle at Seringhapatam on the banks of the Cauvery River in 1799. ‘The company’ seized this opportunity putting in place strict controls and new laws that kept the maharaja’s deep in ‘The Companys’ pockets, allowing these century’s old Indian dynasty’s great wealth and some rule over the population, but this rule came at the price of co-operation with ‘The Company’.
What is well documented and is not in any doubt is that James had four children with a local woman. This local woman is only recorded as ‘native woman unknown’. So the mother of James’s children and my Great great great great grandmother has become a bit of a mystery, an almost mythical figure. One half of our family, the Scott’s, who came from Bangalore totally believed the tale of James marrying into Indian Royalty, my grandpa often recounted to me, “we thought we were the bees knees” and the other side of the Scott family, who lived in Madras, only ever referred to James’s wife as. That Persian Woman! An oral history has been passed down the Scott line of the family from Madras that Thomas’s mother who was James’s fourth child and his first son in India was Persian, or more accurately Circassian and when Thomas’s mother was mentioned or a question was raised about her, the family would hush about it and speak in very low voices and if a direct question was ever raised about Thomas’s mother a vague response would only ever be given.
Could it really be possible that a young man from a small village in Wiltshire who was an assistant collector of Taxes for ‘The Company’ have found himself an Indian princess? Would the Union of a man and a woman from different faiths and backgrounds be welcomed or frowned upon by the Indian upper classes or by ‘The Company’ in the early 19th century? If they did marry in what faith would the ceremony have been held in and would the marriage have been legally binding.
By Jason Scott Tilley and Sue Trosser