On the Road
Even more mind-boggling than the length of these journeys was the size of the retinues involved. Maria Graham, who traveled through India in 1809, described “a small party on a tour to Poonah” as consisting of “one lady, two gentlemen, and three children… but our attendants are near two hundred.” Maria Graham’s was a modest entourage. When Lady Henrietta Clive set out from Madras to Mysore in March of 1800, she took with her two teenage daughters, their governess, their pianoforte, and seven hundred and fifty servants (some of whom were employed specifically to carry the pianoforte), in short, seven hundred and fifty servants for four women. Likewise, when Edward Strachey and Mountstuart Elphinstone made their way to Pune in 1801, they took with them roughly two hundred servants, a detachment of sepoys, and eight elephants, one of which was designated for the sole purpose of carrying their library, which included, among other eclectic choices, works by Homer, Herodotus, Beowulf, Dryden, Boswell, and Thomas Jefferson. One assumes they didn’t play the pianoforte.
As Graham (a bit sheepishly) explains it in her journal, “we are obliged to carry tents, furniture, cooking utensils, and food, so that our train cannot consist of fewer persons”. Among the necessaries of life, Graham lists “coolies to carry our baggage, lascars to attend to and pitch our tents, servants to dress our food, others to take care of the horse and the beasts of burthen, and hamauls for our palanquins”. The multiplication of attendants begins to make a sort of sense. If everything must be transported by beast, one needs servants to care for the beasts, which then means that one needs more beasts and more bearers and bearers for the bearers. It was, essentially, an entire household in motion.
Can you imagine traveling with seven hundred and fifty people and a comparable number of animals? Or taking a brief sight-seeing trip—with two hundred servants?