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The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj

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by Anne de Courcy

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From the author of the critically acclaimed biographies Diana Mosley and The Viceroy's Daughters comes a fascinating, hugely entertaining account of the Victorian women who traveled halfway around the world on the hunt for a husband.

By the late nineteenth century, Britain's colonial reign seemed to know no limit—and India was the


From the author of the critically acclaimed biographies Diana Mosley and The Viceroy's Daughters comes a fascinating, hugely entertaining account of the Victorian women who traveled halfway around the world on the hunt for a husband.

By the late nineteenth century, Britain's colonial reign seemed to know no limit—and India was the sparkling jewel in the Imperial crown. Many of Her Majesty's best and brightest young men departed for the Raj to make their careers, and their fortunes, as bureaucrats, soldiers, and businessmen. But in their wake they left behind countless young ladies who, suddenly bereft of eligible bachelors, found themselves facing an uncertain future.

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, some of these women decided to follow suit and abandon their native Britain for India's exotic glamor and—with men outnumbering women by roughly four to one in the Raj—the best chance they had at finding a man.

Drawing on a wealth of firsthand sources, including unpublished memoirs, letters, photographs, and diaries, Anne de Courcy brings the incredible world of "the Fishing Fleet," as these women were known, to life. In these sparkling pages, she describes the glittering whirlwind of dances, parties, amateur theatricals, picnics, tennis tournaments, cinemas, tiger shoots, and palatial banquets that awaited in the Raj, all geared toward the prospect of romance. Most of the girls were away from home for the first time, and they plunged headlong into the heady dazzle of expatriate social life; marriages were frequent.

However, after the honeymoon many women were confronted with a reality that was far from the fairy tale they'd been chasing. With her signature diligence and sensitivity, de Courcy looks beyond the allure of the Raj to tell the real stories of these marriages built on convenience and unwieldy expectations. Wives were whisked away to distant outposts with few other Europeans for company. Transplanted to isolated plantations and remote towns, they endured heat, boredom, discomfort, illness, and motherhood removed from familiar comforts—a far cry from the magical world they were promised upon arrival.

Rich with drama and color, The Fishing Fleet is a sumptuous, utterly compelling real-life saga of adventure, romance, and heartbreak in the heyday of the British Empire.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
What’s a marriage-minded young Englishwoman to do when so many eligible young men have gone off to India to uphold the British Empire? Follow them, of course. Journalist De Courcy (Snowden: The Biography) provides a fascinating account—not quite gossipy but loaded with juicy anecdotes—of adventurous women sailing for the subcontinent in the 19th and early 20th centuries to fulfill their destinies as wives. Their matrimonial objectives were Englishmen of the Indian Civil Service and officers in the British army, the cream of the Raj crop, whose position and salary made them fine catches. First for the single women came the voyage, with its promise of shipboard romance that could quickly seal the marriage deal. The majority didn’t secure husbands that fast, so once the new arrivals settled in with relatives, they paid social calls and attended dinners, parties, and sporting events—all opportunities to meet eligible young men under the watchful eyes of chaperones. Typical of colonial outposts, interracial romance and marriage were banned. Successful fleet members became like Cinderella after the Prince fitted the slipper: married with a home and children to care for; unsuccessful ones, De Courcy notes with subtle irony, went back to England where they were known as “returned empties.” Three eight-page b&w photo inserts. (Jan.)
New York Times Book Review
“The contrasts are irresistibly melodramatic, the characters colorful yet tantalizingly repressed. …. It is enough to make you wonder why Julian Fellowes hasn’t sent a few more members of the Downton Abbey cast on the heels of Miss O’Brien, seeking their fortunes in Delhi and beyond...”
Boston Globe
“Vividly sketches the lives lived in this strange limbo…richly entertaining.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Making liberal use of letters and journals, The Fishing Fleet paints a fascinating picture of these women and their history…a glimpse of a unique era.”
Daily Beast
A “lively history…. Colorful.”
Kirkus Reviews
A British biographer finds lively fodder from the accounts of Victorian women venturing to India to find a spouse--and the men who scooped them up. De Courcy (Snowdon, 2010, etc.) fleshes out the stereotypical portrait of the wilting English gentlewoman who functioned chiefly as a means of perpetuating the imperial status quo across the British empire. The women she chronicles in this vigorous study, sent to India to find a husband mostly during the Raj period (roughly 1850 to 1950), faced hardships with equanimity and purpose. Fortunes were to be had for the intrepid young men who flocked to India to work in the East India Company, Indian Civil Service, and other trading, government and army ventures, although diseases and an unfamiliar climate rendered their work perilous. The depletion of the marriage pool back in England left many English girls, those without fortunes, beauty or good connections, facing spinster futures during a time when marriage largely defined women, who had few other prospects. However, in India, men outnumbered women four to one, de Courcy estimates, increasing a woman's chances of finding a mate. Yet these were not passive women, and as the author delves deeper into their diaries and letters, she finds that voyaging to India allowed many women an exciting outlet they did not have in England. However, the arduous voyage took many months and required hardiness, as did weathering illness and oppressive heat. After hasty marriages to eager, lonely men, the wives were often obliged to pull up stakes and move constantly as their husbands' jobs required or live out in the jungles where their plantations were located. Moreover, they often faced long separations from their children, sent back home to boarding schools. De Courcy offers numerous, richly detailed accounts. An expert researcher brings the romantic Raj era to colorful life.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

Anne de Courcy has written eleven books, including Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel; Debs at War; and The Viceroy's Daughters. She lives in London and Gloucestershire.

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The Fishing Fleet : Husband-Hunting in the Raj 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just finished this book in hardback. Really well written. Informative but also engaging. The book covered a lot of British manners and customs in India during the early 1900s. Odd, sad and funny stories of young women trying to find husbands. A+++++++
ljethrogibbs46 More than 1 year ago
A fascinating book about a bygone era.  My greatgrandfather & grandmother Stewart were a small part of the Raj in India, he as a Command Sgt. Major in the Royal Scots Regiment (the oldest in the British Army) & she as a regimental nurse.  She later wrote a small journal of her time there:  rides through jungles, finding cobra skins under her bed, spending a night at the Taj Mahal before embarking for England.  They served in India in the late 1800's at the height of British power in the country.   I  was not aware of the complex codes of conduct, rank, station, &  rules for everyday life which prevailed.  Thrusting these young women into such an alien environment with virtually no preparation had devastating consequences for many.  it's hard for us today to imagine their grit & determination to stay the course & "just get on with it" as so many did.s
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