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The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj (edition 2012)

by Anne De Courcy

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935129,846 (3.72)8
Member:thecaptivereader
Title:The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj
Authors:Anne De Courcy
Info:Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2012), Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:Non-fiction, Topic: History, Location: India, Topic: British Raj, Author: English, Read in 2013

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The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj by Anne de Courcy

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Showing 5 of 5
Aide memoir: Excellent book. Focuses on the first half of the 20th century, but gives plenty of earlier stories. Highly recommend. ( )
  reader68 | Jul 1, 2014 |
Excellent. From the first days of the Raj to World War II, every year boatloads of women descended on India, looking for husbands. Generally, women being in short supply, they found them. In the meantime, apart from harsh weather, they had a fabulous time going to endless balls and parties and err, shooting tiger. Luckily some kept diaries and corresponded widely. Anne de Courcy has mined this information expertly to illuminate a corner of colonial history probably not that well known - the history of the fishing fleet. And very entertaining it is; you can't help feeling that despite the perils of the voyage, the deprivations of heat and cold, the rigid formality and need for constant chaperoning, the girls enjoyed themselves immensely - certainly more than they would have done in England. Who wouldn't enjoy the attention of being one of only a few single women in the midst of fit young men in the prime of their lives? Even if from a romantic perspective a few stolen kisses were all you could hope for until engagement struck.

Fascinating and often very funny. Recommended ( )
  Opinionated | May 18, 2014 |
This was a fascinating exploration of an aspect of the British empire experience of which I had been unaware. I knew about all those ladies in their stifling finery, living lives of ridiculous luxury amidst unthinkable poverty in a brutal climate, but I had never wondered how they got there, or why they went. I had certainly never heard of them referred to collectively as the Fishing Fleet. The girls fell into two main categories: those who were returning to parents in India after being sent to England for their education; and those born in England who hadn't found a suitable match at home (probably because all the eligible men were off building the Empire) and were shipped out to stay with relatives or family friends in India. They were all looking for marriage because, well, there were no other options. And those sex-deprived Empire-building Englishmen with their stiff upper lips were all too willing to oblige.

The book focuses on the period of the Raj, especially from the 1890s to World War II, because that was the period for which the author was able to get plenty of first-hand accounts, from letters, diaries, and even some personal interviews. The author does a good job of providing the historical context for the Fishing Fleet in the Raj, going back to 1671, when the East India Company paid young women to sail out to India and marry. The book has chapters on the women and the men, the voyage, physical and social conditions in India, courtship and marriage, as well as chapters spotlighting the experiences of individual women. Many aspects of the women's lives in India were explored, and they even had menstrual cycles! (It bugs me that basic inconveniences of human bodily functions are so often ignored in books.) Everything is described through the first-hand accounts, and there are dozens of photographs.

My only complaint about the book was that it dragged a bit through the middle, with account after account of dances, clubs, protocol, lavish entertainments and unimaginably wealthy maharajahs. Towards the end I started to notice some repetitions.

I'd recommend this to anyone interested in British India. It amazes me how they built such an exaggerated version of English society in a place completely different from their home, and managed to keep themselves so separated from the enormous native population, while at the same time relying on native labour for everything. ( )
  SylviaC | Mar 19, 2014 |
When the author was undertaking her research we did correspond rather briefly, but my interest regarding my ancestral links to India was out of the time frame for Anne's book.

I waited rather eagerly for the book to be published. Once it hit the shelves of my local library I managed to grab the book and then quietly enjoy it.

The book looks at women who migrated to India looking for a husband during the period of the mid 19th Century until 1947, when India gained it's Independence.

I loved the colour of the cover which for me set the tone of the book. I enjoyed the depth of the research, which was gathered from letters and memoirs of the time and the focus of the book.

There is a suitable explanation of why the women were there, and why they risked travelling the globe to find a husband, but there was little detail on how the women adapted to the change in culture and their experiences. The author further explores the processes in India at this time, the bureaucracy of India and mixed raced children and how they were viewed.

Despite all that, I was a little disappointed. There is little scope given to how these women coped, not only with the country and culture, but also how they experienced married life with the men they met in India. I felt as though the author ran out of steam with the subject matter before the end of the book.

I enjoyed it, but it could have been better. ( )
  AnglersRest | Feb 13, 2013 |
From the mid-19th century until independence in 1947, women from England who were in search of a husband headed to India where English men outnumbered English women 4 to 1. Anne de Courcy introduces these women, their quest in India and, if they were successful, the life they ultimately led in The Fishing Fleet. In researching her book she was allowed access to the private letters, diaries, journals and memoirs of nearly thirty of these young women.

The women of the "fleet" generally were either the daughters of families living in India who were returning after their years at school in England or "gentle women" who lacked the fortune, beauty or charm to find a "suitable" husband at home. Especially in the 19th century their options were to remain a "spinster" and find employment as a companion or governess at home or look for marriage in India.

The stories of the young women are quite interesting but I enjoyed the descriptions of life in India even more so. Although I had a general idea of what life was like from reading fiction set there, Ms. deCourcy provides a closer, more detailed look. I give it 4 stars.
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1 vote RebaRelishesReading | Feb 4, 2013 |
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From the late 19th century, when the Raj was at its height, many of Britain's best and brightest young men went out to India to work as administrators, soldiers and businessmen. With the advent of steam travel and the opening of the Suez Canal, countless young women, suffering at the lack of eligible men in Britain, followed in their wake. This amorphous band was composed of daughters returning after their English education, girls invited to stay with married sisters or friends and yet others whose declared or undeclared goal was simply to find a husband. They were known as the Fishing Fleet and this book is their story, hitherto untold.… (more)

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