memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘india’ Category

Great great-uncle shoots tiger in cave

My great grand-mother, Annie Horsley, was born on Nov. 27th 1854 at Pallamcottah in Southern India, where her father worked as civil engineer; he held the rank of Colonel in the Royal Engineers. She was the youngest child, having one older sister and five older brothers. On  their father’s retirement at the surprisingly young age of 41 – a reorganisation of the Indian Army making many officers redundant, Annie’s mother’s two brothers-in-law, Col. William Cantis and Col. Archibald Young both retiring on Pension at the same time – the family returned to England and settled in Canterbury.

Canterbury Cathedral Large Restrike Etching by Anonymous http://www.easyart.com/scripts/zoom/zoom.pl?pid=37556

Canterbury Cathedral at the time when the boys were there.

All the five boys were sent to the ancient King’s School, in the precincts of the vast candle-lit Cathedral. They were contemporaries with their cousins John and Stephen; Canon Horsley recalls how they were all identified in order, in the old manner, Horsley Primus to Horsley Septimus. Of these seven boys, all but one – Canon Horsley himself – passed their working lives abroad in the service of God and the Queen, so strong was the family tradition. Annie’s eldest brother William entered the Indian Civil Service from Cambridge and after a career as forest officer served as a judge in the state of Hyderabad.

He has left a vivid memorial of himself in a series of letters from India which he wrote to his father between 1870 and 1891. The conditions of the correspondence were ideal – an affectionate son writing to a father who had lived almost the same life, and would follow every detail with interest and knowledge. There is an old typescript of the letters on rice-paper (perhaps made up for the father) which is in my brother Gamaliel’s possession, well worth reading for themselves, not merely as family records. They provide in fresh authentic detail, the raw material that Rudyard Kippling was to work up into some of the finest of his elaborately polished short stories. According to family tradition an episode from William The Conqueror – presumably the goat feeding – was furnished by Horsley’s experiences in famine relief; and many parts of the finer story The Tomb of his Ancestors – including the local setting – seem to come straight from the text of the letters. What contact there was between the men is not clear, but contact there must have been.

William Horsley was a good talker, who in later life loved to hold his hearers with tales of forest and hill. Stories of bison-hunt and tiger kill, and of his carefree days as a bachelor forest officer, on his own in his little kingdom in the Satpura hills, an un-mapped forest 200 miles from to end; and the occasion when he, along with an Indian tracker, silently pursued a wounded marauding tiger until they cornered it in a cave whereupon he entered the cave and shot the tiger.

FOREST GLADE

There may be significance in the dates; Kippling settled in England in 1889; Horsley retired in 1892; The Day’s Work was published in 1894. (I have a 1st Edition of it).

William Horsley died in 1915.  A fine photograph brings before us the splendid old man. But even better is the poem in which his daughter evokes …

 

Tiger stories told to me at night by the fire in the library

Light, deflected from the reading lamp, falls close,

Cutting angles on the muscled hand, 

Glittering on the  glinting greying hair.

His tired eyes, wrinkled be the Indian glare,

Stare at the big guns resting on their stand …

My father´s face remains forever fixed, 

His features burnt in steel. 

His tired eyes do not see me,

They reveal steep wooded ghauts,

Ravines drenched in rain.

Civilisation

In 1500 BC the first record of formal composition-writing appeared: a collection of sacred Hindu hymns in Sanskrit – verses known as Vedas.

Nearly three and a half thousand years later, the great Indian philosopher and Father of the Nation Mahatma Ghandi was being interviewed by an American magazine:

when asked what he thought about Western Civilisation, Ghandi replied: I think it would be a good idea.

Painting of a butterfly figure by Thomas Milner

Painting - Butterfly - by Thomas Milner

Civilisation

In 1500 BC the first record of formal composition-writing appeared: a collection of sacred Hindu hymns in Sanskrit – verses known as Vedas.

Nearly three and a half thousand years later, the great Indian philosopher and Father of the Nation Mahatma Ghandi was being interviewed by an American magazine:

when asked what he thought about Western Civilisation, Ghandi replied: I think it would be a good idea.

Painting of a butterfly figure by Thomas Milner

Painting - Butterfly - by Thomas Milner

An eccentric clergyman

The afore-mentioned book, THE BIBLE OF EVERY LAND, belonged to my scholarly great-grandfather, the Rev. Gamaliel Milner, who was reputed to have mastered no fewer than sixteen foreign languages. He had a voracious intellectual appetite for the contents of his many books without particularly caring for them per se.

I think it is fairly safe to say that my great-grandfather was an eccentric man. Born in 1852, the only surviving child of A respectable South Yorkshire family, he early showed signs of precocity of mind and expression. We have a diary of his which recollects some of his first thoughts:

–          The pulpit spanned the main avenue of the church which was taken up by proprietary pews. It was in one of these pews as I sat by my Father that the thought came to me for the first time: Who am I? Whence have I come?

PRODIGY – PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

He was first sent to a private school at Ripon then to Westminster School (separated from the great Abbey by just a cloister) where he was assiduous in his studies. In October 1869 he wrote to his mother:

–          You will be pleased to hear that Dr. Scott thought the translation from Horace which I wrote to be pretty good and gave one of those silver pennies to those with whose exercises he is pleased.

Horace Ode XXIV

  1. Why need there be a limit to my grief
  2. For the dear form that I no longer see.                                                                                                              Grant to this sorrowing friend this relief
  3. To sing a fitting dirge, Melpomene
  4. O thou that hast from Heaven’s Eternal fire
  5. A sweet melodious voice and the poetic lyre …

He went up to Christ Church Oxford in the autumn of 1870 (the year of the Franco-Prussian war). His rooms there were immediately under Great Tom; he chose them in the hope that the striking of the clock would awaken him early for his studies. He soon found however that he got accustomed to the sound and slept through it. He later bought an alarm bed, a contraption which at the time set turned up and deposited the sleeper on the floor …

He attended lectures on Sanscrit, Virgil, Thucydides, Divinity and Composition. He joined the University Volunteers and tells his mother not to be too anxious about his shooting. He thinks he hit the target fewer times than anyone else …

CANTERBURY – PAINTING BY ANNIE ELIZABETH MILNER

As soon as he came down from Oxford he was appointed Oriental Languages Fellow at St. Augustine’s College Canterbury, a college for training missionaries. It was at Canterbury that he met my great-grandmother Annie Horsley; a child of the British Raj, she had been born at Pallamcottah in Southern India, where her father, Col. W. H. Horsley RE, was stationed.

I have one of her sketch-books from presumably the early years of her marriage (c. 1880); the drawings show accomplishment and a sensitivity which is difficult to reconcile with the strict and forbidding matron who stares at the camera in later years.

LULLABY – PAINTING BY ANNIE ELIZABETH MILNER

She was very religious and abhorred alcohol in all its forms; when she became mistress of Thurlstone House after the death of her father-in-law, J.C. Milner (born, lived and died in the same house – a grand old man of 83), there is a story (which still sends a frisson of dismay unto the present generation) of how she ordered all the wine in the cellars (wine nurtured from grapes under a southern sun or matured in casks from the golden Douro valley) to be poured away down the cold stone sinks of the pantry.

What a crying shame,

what a waste!

Great great-uncle shoots tiger in cave

My great grand-mother, Annie Horsley, was born on Nov. 27th 1854 at Pallamcottah in Southern India, where her father worked as civil engineer; he held the rank of Colonel in the Royal Engineers. She was the youngest child, having one older sister and five older brothers. On  their father’s retirement at the surprisingly young age of 41 – a reorganisation of the Indian Army making many officers redundant, Annie’s mother’s two brothers-in-law, Col. William Cantis and Col. Archibald Young both retiring on Pension at the same time – the family returned to England and settled in Canterbury.

All the five boys were sent to the ancient King’s School, in the precincts of the vast candle-lit Cathedral. They were contemporaries with their cousins John and Stephen; Canon Horsley recalls how they were all identified in order, in the old manner, Horsley Primus to Horsley Septimus. Of these seven boys, all but one – Canon Horsley himself – passed their working lives abroad in the service of God and the Queen, so strong was the family tradition. Annie’s eldest brother William entered the Indian Civil Service from Cambridge and after a career as forest officer served as a judge in the state of Hyderabad.

He has left a vivid memorial of himself in a series of letters from India which he wrote to his father between 1870 and 1891. The conditions of the correspondence were ideal – an affectionate son writing to a father who had lived almost the same life, and would follow every detail with interest and knowledge. There is an old typescript of the letters on rice-paper (perhaps made up for the father) which is in my brother Gamaliel’s possession, well worth reading for themselves, not merely as family records. They provide in fresh authentic detail, the raw material that Rudyard Kippling was to work up into some of the finest of his elaborately polished short stories. According to family tradition an episode from William The Conqueror – presumably the goat feeding – was furnished by Horsley’s experiences in famine relief; and many parts of the finer story The Tomb of his Ancestors – including the local setting – seem to come straight from the text of the letters. What contact there was between the men is not clear, but contact there must have been.

William Horsley was a good talker, who in later life loved to hold his hearers with tales of forest and hill. Stories of bison-hunt and tiger kill, and of his carefree days as a bachelor forest officer, on his own in his little kingdom in the Satpura hills, an un-mapped forest 200 miles from to end; and the occasion when he, along with an Indian tracker, silently pursued a wounded marauding tiger until they cornered it in a cave whereupon he entered the cave and shot the tiger.

FOREST GLADE

There may be significance in the dates; Kippling settled in England in 1889; Horsley retired in 1892; The Day’s Work was published in 1894. (I have a 1st Edition of it).

William Horsley died in 1915.  A fine photograph brings before us the splendid old man. But even better is the poem in which his daughter evokes

Tiger stories told to me at night                                                                                                      By the fire in the library. Light,                                                                                                      Deflected from the reading lamp, falls close,

Cutting angles on the muscled hand,                                                                                          Glittering on the glinting greying hair.                                                                                     His tired eyes, wrinkled by the Indian glare,                                                                          Stare at the big guns resting in their stand …

                                   My father’s face remains                                                                             Forever fixed, his features burnt in steel.                                                                                  His tired eyes do not see me, they reveal                                                                                             Steep wooded ghauts, ravines drenched in the rains.

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