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Birds of Passage

Henrietta is a true original. Clever, vivacious and interested in everything, she managed to balance the demands of high profile public life with that of a caring mother. She was the home-schooled daughter of a bankrupt Earl and more than just a little bit in love with her handsome wayward brother, but had been married off to a plump pudding of a man, the nabob Edward Clive, governor of Madras. And her partial escape was to ride across southern India (in a vast tented caravan propelled by dozens of elephants, camels and a hundred bullock carts) and write home. For centuries this account, the first joyful description of India by a British woman, remained unread in a Welsh castle. Fortunately it was transcribed by a Texan traveller, who went on to splice this already evocative memoir with complementary sections from the diary of Henrietta’s precocious daughter, the 12-year old Charly and images of their artist companion, Anna Tonelli. The resulting labour of love and scholarship is Birds of Passage, a unique trifocular account of three very different women travelling across southern India in the late 18th century, in the immediate aftermath of the last of the Mysore Wars between Tipoo Sahib and the Raj. Half a generation later, the well travelled Charly would be chosen as tutor for the young princess Victoria, the First Empress of India.

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