Indian Family History
As a contribution to South Asian Heritage Month, Archives Manager Mary McKenzie explores her family’s history and its connection to the Indian sub-continent. She writes…..
One of the family stories I was always aware of was that my grandfather, my mother’s father, Harold Fox had been born in India in the late 19th century. The story told how my grandmother had sailed off to India to be married, only to return not very long afterwards with a baby after her husband had died very young.
It was not until I started uncovering more about my family history that I discovered that the family’s links with India went back several generations and were much deeper than I had ever imagined.
The first member of the Fox family who left Britain for India was William Fox, Harold’s great grandfather, who was born in Yorkshire in 1799. His family were Catholics, which may explain why a move to India offered advantages. This was before Catholic emancipation, so many areas of public life and employment were not open to Catholics. He settled in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and worked his way up from bookkeeper to merchant. He married a woman born in India, Mary Scott, whose family had also lived in Calcutta for several generations.
William’s son John became a river pilot and married Charlotte Joakim; the Joakims were another family resident in Calcutta for several generations. The Scott and Joakim families were prominent in what is now known as the Anglo-Indian community, people of mixed South Asian and European descent. In 1825 in Calcutta an East Indians’ Club was formed to represent this group. Thomas Bendley Scott (Mary Scott’s father) was appointed as Vice-President and John Joakim (Charlotte’s father) was appointed Steward.
During the period of British rule over India the Anglo-Indian community were often given work in infrastructure, such as railways and the post office. John Joakim worked in the port of Calcutta. It is estimated that around 100,000 Anglo Indians now remain in India with many more across the world. I was also interested to learn that famous members of the community include Boris Karloff, Diana Quick and Engelbert Humperdinck.
Our intimate family connection with the Anglo-Indian community was confirmed when my mother had a DNA test and we found that 5% of her DNA was from South India.
Harold, the baby born in India, became a clergyman, teacher and local politician, and was elected mayor of Windsor in 1930.
I have very much enjoyed finding out about my family’s connection with India, using both online resources and also the extensive collection of the India Office held in the British Library. I hope to take this research further in future. I think the story illustrates how many family histories are a lot closer entangled with the history of the British Empire than we may think, and that what we see as modern global connections actually go back in time a lot longer than we may ever have imagined.