"Letters from Madras during the years 1836-1839"
by Maitland, Julia Charlotte, d. 1864.
London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1846.
Julia Charlotte Barrett was born on October 21, 1808. Considered a beauty by Sarah Burney, and described as having "very good sense, & a truly blyth ... love of humour" by Fanny Burney, she was apparently much sought after. On August 2, 1836, she married the man of her choice, James Thomas, a widower with children. As a wedding journey, she travelled with him to India, where he had been appointed a judge in the Madras Presidency.
Julia was both interested in and delighted with India. She enjoyed travelling, and took sea-sickness and pregnancy in her stride. Unlike most of the ladies of her Indian acquaintance, she had a strong desire to see and learn about what was around her. She writes:
"It is wonderful how little interested most of the English ladies seem by all the strange habits and ways of the natives; and it is not merely that they have grown used to it all, but that, by their own accounts, they never cared more about what goes on around them than they do now.... But this makes me wish to try and see everything that I can while the bloom of my Orientalism is fresh upon me."
Julia gamely attended India entertainments, and visited Indian families, but could not entirely appreciate the music and the food. She was determined to learn as much as she could of the local languages, studying Tamul on board ship, and arranging for a visiting instructor of Gentoo.
She and her husband saw education as a critical need for the Indian people, and advocated teaching both boys and girls. They established schools for boys where they were stationed, in Rajahmundry and Samuldavy, and lobbied for a consistent, widespread program of government-funded education. Concerned that "the greatest difficulty in schools is, the want of schoolbooks in the native languages", they were involved in translating works from English into Gentoo and Tamul. Julia often selected Christian reading materials, but also criticized the frequent tactlessness of missionaries in dealing with the Indian people. She gave short shrift to English boorishness and bullying, and saw English attitudes of superiority as creating problems, even though she retained some of that sense of superiority herself.
Her daughter Henrietta Anne Thomas was born in 1837 and her son James Cambridge Thomas in 1839. The family tried to move with the seasons, to make the most of cooler, more healthful air. In September 1839, Julia writes, "I have been hindered by an attack of Indian fever, and the baby also has been ill, and the doctors talk very seriously of the desirableness of my sending her home ... However, she is still so young that we hope change of air may possibly be sufficient for her." A strategic relocation was not enough. The Asiatic journal and monthly miscellany records that as of December 16, 1839, "James Thomas, Esq." had been granted a furlough, preparatory to applying for leave to sea on a sick certificate. Julia's final letter ends with a quick note, dashed off December 18, telling her family in England: "We have been so strongly advised not to keep little Etta any longer in India, that we have at last made up our minds on the subject... I am then to proceed to England with her. Our passages are taken, and we expect to sail early next month."
She had no way of knowing that in parting from her husband she was seeing him for the last time, though given the incidence of illness and death among Europeans in India, she may well have feared the possibility. A little farther along, under "Deaths" for 1840, The Asiatic journal and monthly miscellany reads "Jan. 6. At Madras, James Thomas, Esq., of the civil service."
However, Julia did not repine, or at least, not for long. She was remarried, on November 5, 1842, to Charles Maitland (1815–1866), and had two more children, Julia Caroline Maitland (1843-1890) and Peregrine Brownlow Maitland (1845). Julia Maitland found time to publish her letters home from India "by a Lady", and wrote several popular children's books. She and her second husband were married for 22 years. Julia Maitland died of tuberculosis on January 29, 1864. Charles Maitland outlived her by two years.