Birds of Passage

Henrietta Clive


Birds of Passage

Henrietta Clive


The Journals of Lady Henrietta Clive, a feisty, independent-minded traveller, are among the very earliest written accounts of India by a British woman. Married to Lord Edward Clive, son of Clive of India and Governor of Madras (1898 – 1803), she travelled through southern India with her daughters and retinue in the aftermath of the war against Tipu Sultan. In this their first publication, Nancy Shields skilfully interweaves extracts from the journals with passages from the diary of Charly, Henrietta’s precocious twelve-year-old daughter, who went on to tutor the future Queen Victoria, first Empress of India.

Important as an historical and as a social document, and also as an early female travel text, Birds of Passage is illustrated with watercolours by Anna Tonelli, who accompanied the party of their voyage.

‘The journals of Lady Henrietta Clive are among the first written account of India by a British woman. Birds of Passage, a collection of extracts from her diaries collated by Nancy Shields, is a captivating encounter with a captivating continent’ - Imran Khan 
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Birds of Passage: Henrietta Clive’s Travels in South India 1798-180
Edited by: Nancy Shields
ISBN: 978-1780600-79-6
Format: 304pp demi pb
Place: India

Author Biography

Henrietta Antonia Clive, Countess of Powis (née Lady Henrietta Antonia Herbert; 3 September 1758 – 3 June 1830), was a British mineral collector and botanist.

Born in Oakley Park, at Bromfield, Shropshire, into a landed and titled family, she was the daughter of Henry Herbert, 1st Earl of Powis, and Barbara, granddaughter of William Herbert, 2nd Marquess of Powis. Her family owned a property in London and significant estates in Wales and Shropshire. Her birthplace was sold to Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, in 1771, so Lady Henrietta spent her teenage years at the family's ancestral home, Powis Castle.

Lady Henrietta married Lord Clive's eldest son and heir, Edward Clive, 1st Baron Clive, in 1784. The marriage was beneficial to both families; the bride's family had a prestigious name but considerable debts, while the groom accrued wealth built during Clive's military campaigns in India. The couple settled in Walcot Hall, at Lydbury North near Bishop's Castle, Shropshire.

Extract from Prelude

“Neither you nor myself believed it prophetic when you called me a bird of passage [a bird that migrates at the changes of season in spring and autumn; hence, anyone who roams about] which I really am in preparing to take a very long flight,” Lady Henrietta Antonia Clive wrote on November 1, 1797 to her friend, Lady Frances Douglas of Dalkeith House, Scotland announcing the East India Company’s appointment of her husband, Lord Edward Clive, son of Lord Robert ‘Clive of India,’ as Governor of Madras. “You will easily believe in what a fidget I have been these ten days when I tell you we are going to the East Indies.” 

On December 20, 1797 Henrietta sent a progress report to Lady Douglas saying, “My girls are not at all averse to going in a ship upon the sea with their Mother and she is not a little delighted that there does not seem a doubt that the climate is wholesome and cannot do them injury. On the contrary, it is said to be remarkably otherwise at their age. Signora Tonelli has consented to go and I have great pleasure in the idea of having her with them. She has sent me a miniature of them so very like that I wish I could show it to you just to look at for a moment that you may know what they are like as I think their dispositions are visible in their countenances…As myself, I look forward to all sorts of things--like the Arabian nights--and put away every idea of all other places as much as possible.

The behavior of the Shropshire Regiment I must say is flattering to my Welsh pride.  Several of the officers have desired to go and this morning a body of thirty or forty men came to desire to go with their Colonel…The band have decided the same and I am sure you will believe how sensibly we both feel it and that I really can hardly keep it in I am so much moved by their behavior.”

On January 27, 1798 once again she wrote to her friend saying, “I have been on the point of answering your long and pleasant letter twenty times, but a pen and ink and I have not met so much as we ought to have done, except to assist in ordering apparel. I am exactly in the situation of Moussellina, la serieuse, [Count Anthony Hamilton: 1645-1719, whose Tales ridicule infatuation with The Thousand and One Nights ] in great want of the same part of dress people in London will not comprehend [a thin cotton chemise] and I am in despair, not having had, like her, eleven thousand to try on. I am now in the very act of going to London and at Oakly Park taking leave of all there with a complete persuasion I shall see nothing so beautiful as my own oaks in the East.

I have seen the Captain of my future Bodyguard (which title makes me laugh). He has told me all sorts of things and hints that it will not be thought dignified and proper for me to march upon my hind legs at Madras in mud, if I am lucky enough to find it, as I have been used to do in much better countries…I leave my boys in the care of my brother and the Bishop of Bristol, a very old friend of his and mine, who will exactly attend to everything about them with my brother’s advice therefore as to health and education. I am at ease they will go to Eton, at least the eldest next summer… I have met with a learned man who has given me my alphabet in Persian. He says it is not difficult. How you will envy me if I can ever speak to a Brahman in his own language.”

 With departure close at hand, Henrietta sent Lady Douglas a final message on March 2, 1798 that touched on her anxiety of being so far from home and her brother.  “We are told that on the 10th everything must be ready and the East India Company will rejoice when we are gone. But I trust the convoy will not be ready and that we may stay till the end of the month. One principal reason is that when I came to town I found my brother so unwell and so altered that it made me quite miserable. He is now infinitely better and thinks himself so, and I am especially easy about him; yet I should like to see him nearer to perfect health. I did not want this additional anxiety and it really made me uncomfortable. So many things pulling, each a different way. He is alone which he has not been for some years and I go to him every evening unless he happens to come here. 

Therefore I know little of the world except what I hear and see in a morning and indeed I do not much like going out as people are so civil sometimes and think it right to be sorry and to say things that I do not like by way of being civil.

I hear I’m supposed to be delighted with the thoughts of going to the East, which is certainly not true. Yet, I have so made up my mind, and it will keep itself up I hope till I get into the ship when the hurry I am worked up to is over. I am afraid my spirits will not be very good joined to seasickness and confinement. I am afraid it will be necessary to fortify myself with all possible philosophy.”

[Officially England had been at war with France since November 27, 1797. ButHenrietta did not dwell on this unpleasant reality, passing lightly over the troubled situation of the world, sharing instead a few bits of gossip with her friend.] “People seem to think the French will make some attempt, but they do not fear which is saying a great deal. They must attempt to satisfy their own people if it costs the lives of their whole army, but I believe there is not the least fear or danger in this country. And Ireland I hear, is in a better state than it has been and much subdued. The rafts, as they are described, are to be worked by pullies and will depend much more on the winds than common vulgar ships, by which happy invention the whole army may be carried into the Atlantic Ocean to feed the fishes. People say the Bonaparte is much worse to the attempt and wishes much for peace but does not dare show it. Mrs Bonaparte goes to the theatre with a sort of dame d’honneur standing behind her and travels with much more state than even queens used to do. At Bologna she went to the opera with a picture of the Queen of Naples on her neck, which she had sent to Bonaparte. I think that was shabby don’t you to bribe the chief of those executioners who has murdered her sister…People talk much still of Lord Nelson…

The ship is the Dover Castle and the Captain says if we set out by the end of this month, he will insure our being there in less than four months, which is comfortable though we are not to land anywhere. There is an end of the hedges of Cape Jasmine which I expected to see. The only chance of a blade of grass is at the Brasils…”