top of page
  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

An Indian Mystery

Amongst the family history goodies left behind by my husband's parents were two tiny envelopes made of thin paper, similar to airmail quality. One had an East India Postage stamp on and was sealed, the other (more fragile) had been opened to reveal the contents - several long narrow pages of writing (see the image below) in the same unfamiliar text as on the front of the envelopes.

The remains of a note which accompanied the envelopes explained that the letter was dated 1847 and addressed to Lodd Girderdofs Govindofs in Madras. He was a wealthy merchant who loaned money to the Rajah of Mysore to pay for soldiers of the East India Company to drive Tippu Sultan out of Mysore. He was also a charitable man and his gifts of water troughs could, according to the note, "still be seen in the city of Madras."

An enquiry amongst the Twitter community sparked some debate as to the language on the envelope but eventually the consensus was that it was written in Telugu, from southern India - the fourth most common language in the Indian sub-continent after Hindu, Bengali and Punjabi.

But what were these Indian letters doing amongst an English family's effects? I've found no history of an Indian connection in any research that I've done so far.

Then my husband remembered that his grandfather, Hector, had been a keen stamp collector. Perhaps these had been the pride and joy of his collection?

I contacted the Royal Philatelic Society in London, enclosing a scanned image of the letters. Their secretary very kindly responded, explaining that the stamp on the cover was in use from 1856 until it was replaced by India Postage rather than East India in 1882.

She also offered to forward my email to their India expert. He replied that the cover

was associated with Queen Victoria's 1860's issue of a Half Anna Blue (look closely at the stamp) and had been posted from either Bangalore or Mangalore to Madras.

But the idea that Hector may have kept it for any commercial value seemed unlikely as I was told that the cover was fairly common and worth about £5 to £10.

To compound the mystery further, he also wrote that the script on the front was written in Gujarati, implying that he should know as it was the area of India he came from!

But that's about as far as I've got. We still don't know where the letters originated, why they were kept and whether the language is Telugu or Gujarati!

Perhaps if someone could translate the sheets inside, it may give us more clues! Any takers?


To find out more, go to the books page in the menu above or click on the image.

bottom of page