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Health, Discipline and Appropriate Behaviour: the Body of the Soldier and Space of the Cantonment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 November 2011

London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of International History, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE Email:


Anxiety about the intemperance and misbehaviour of the European soldiery in nineteenth century India prompted a raft of regulations which not only imposed a punitive regime on those living and working in and around the cantonments, but prompted an extension of military space. This paper specifically examines the methods and levels of control—both of which existed and were attempted in and around the cantonment. These ranged from regulations enacted to order the physical space of the cantonment, to calls for a more direct control over the bodies of the soldiers themselves as well as the numerous others who occupied the land. Crucially for this argument, moral and medical concerns were of critical importance in moulding this ordering. However, as this paper argues, social and class perceptions of the men—and the fear of provoking their wrath—dictated what officers and officials felt was legally possible. The various ways in which the military and government imposed order on the cantonment (or attempted to do so) had serious implications for the shaping of the empire itself and European understanding of its inhabitants.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1 Macmullen, John Mercier, Camp and Barrack Room; or, the British Army as it is, by a late Staff Sergeant of the 13th Light Infantry (London, 1846), p. 75Google Scholar.

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5 For the East India Company's approach to ‘poor whites’, see Hawes, C. J., Poor Relations: the Making of a Eurasian Community in British India, 1773–1833 (Richmond, 1996)Google Scholar. For a discussion of later 19th century attitudes visible poverty among the Eurasian community see Blunt, Alison, Domicile and diaspora: Anglo-Indian women and the spatial politics of home (Oxford, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 See, most notably Foucault's ‘docile bodies’ argument in Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison (New York, 1979), pp. 135169Google Scholar.

7 Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of this paper to include attempts to manage drink-related illnesses in the stations of the princely states.

8 Chevers, Norman, ‘On the Means of Preserving the Health of European Soldiers in India,’ Indian Annals of Medical Science 5 (1858) p. 748Google Scholar. In 1861, Chevers became Secretary to the Bengal Medical Board and later served as the Principal of Calcutta Medical College.

9 Stanley, Peter, White Mutiny: British Military Culture in India, 1825–1875 (London, 1998), especially pp. 721Google Scholar. Stanley notes that recruits to the Company's rank-and-file were generally seen as being of a ‘higher grade’ and the men certainly enjoyed better pay, career advancement prospects and conditions of service than did their Crown counterparts. However, Crown officers considered their Company peers to be inferior. See Stanley, White Mutiny, pp. 37–38.

10 Delirium tremens is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal perhaps best identified with the violent shaking fits which often accompany episodes. Literally translated, it means ‘shaking madness’.

11 ‘The European Soldier in India,’ Calcutta Review LIX, March (1858), p. 136.

12 Ibid, p. 136.

13 Harrison, Mark, Climates & Constitutions: Health, Race, Environment and British Imperialism in India 1600–1850 (Oxford, 1999), p. 58Google Scholar.

14 Concerns about over-eating in hot climates, though not as great perhaps as those about drink, continued throughout much of the century. Such a concern could explain the (unproven) story of the death of Rose Aylmer (herself the subject of a poem by Walter Savage Landour), buried in Calcutta's South Park Street Cemetery who is said to have died, age 20, of a pineapple overdose.

15 ‘Soldiers; Their Morality and Mortality’, Bombay Quarterly Review, July (1855), pp. 167–218.

16 Ibid., p. 191.

17 Ibid., p. 175.

18 In 1813, following a series of debates, the Company's charter was renewed. This renewal was made with a number of limiting provisos, among which was the requirement to open British India to missionary activity.

19 As Mrinalini Sinha has argued, the idea of ‘appropriate’ masculinity was intimately linked with the construction of power in colonial India. See Sinha, Mrinalini, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly Englishman’ and the ‘Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester, 1995)Google Scholar. This construction rationalized any aggressive, violent behaviour from a European soldier as ‘natural’, while ‘effeminate’ behaviour or homosexual activity stripped vitality and power from an individual.

20 Macmullen, Camp and Barrack Room, p. 75.

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24 Ibid., p. 138.

25 Ibid., p. 401.

26 Macmullen, Camp and Barrack Room, p. 139. Emphasis mine.

27 Contradicting this somewhat was the statement, made by Dr Chevers in one of his reports that Officers, from the very earliest days of European occupation in the country, were prone to intemperance. Chevers cites Mr T. Baker who noted that in past times, one-third of officers died ‘from the effects of snipe shooting and intemperance’, Whether or not these deaths resulted from an unhappy combination of the two was left to the reader's imagination. See Chevers, ‘On the Means of Preserving the Health of European Soldiers’, p. 748, Footnote.

28 Medical Topographical Report of the Military Stations occupied by His Majesty's troops in the Presidency of Bengal for the year 1827, Medical Topographical Reports, 1827–1860. NAI, Military Miscellaneous, p. 26.

29 Ibid., p. 91.

32 ‘Soldiers; their Morality and Mortality’, p. 172.

33 Chevers, ‘On the Means of Preserving the Health of European Soldiers’, p. 679.

34 Ibid, pp. 679–680.

35 Mr Surgeon Ainslie's Plan for Preserving the Health of the European Soldiers, Deemed it Inexpedient to Adopt, 1807. Board of Commissioners, Collections 1808–9. OIOC, F/4/226/4983.

36 Harrison, Climates and Constitutions, p. 91.

37 Chevers, ‘On the Means of Preserving the Health of European Soldiers’.

38 Gilbert, Marc Jason, ‘Empire and Excise: Drugs and Drink Revenue and the Fate of States in South Asia’, in Drugs and Empires: Essays in Modern Imperialism and Intoxication, circa 1500–1930, (eds) Mills, James and Barton, Patricia (Basingstoke, 2007), p. 117Google Scholar.

39 A dram is normally defined as a small amount of liquor. The precise definition of its volume varies.

40 Williams, A Few Remarks on the use of Spirituous Liquors among the European Soldiers; and on the Punishment of Flogging in the Native Army of the Honourable East India Company, p. 6.

41 Ibid., p. 8.

42 Peers, ‘Imperial Vice’, p. 45. Chima Korieh has similarly argued the importance of the alcohol monopoly to the imperial state in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Nigeria, where much of the official revenue was generated from liquor tariffs and duties. See Korieh, Chima J., ‘Dangerous Drinks and the Colonial State: ‘Illicit’ Gin Prohibition and Control in Colonial Nigeria’, in Drugs and Empires: Essays in Modern Imperialism and Intoxication, circa 1500–circa1930, (eds) Mills, James and Barton, Patricia (Basingstoke, 2007), p. 103Google Scholar.

43 For a Foucaultian analysis of disciplinary measures in late colonial Delhi, see Legg, Stephen, ‘Governing Prostitution in Colonial Delhi: from Cantonment Regulations to International Hygiene (1864–1939),’ 34, 4 (2009); Legg, Stephen, Spaces of Colonialism: Delhi's Urban Governmentalities (Oxford, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

44 ‘AD 1809, Regulation III—A Regulation for the Support of the Police in the Cantonments and Military Bazars, for Defining the Powers of the Civil and Military Officers in the Performance of that Duty; and for Fixing the Local Limits of the said Cantonments and Bazars’, in The Regulations of the Government of Fort William in Bengal, in Force at the End of 1853; to Which are Added, the Acts of the Government of India in Force in that Presidency, (ed.) Richard Clarke (London, 1854), p. 97.

45 Dirks, Nicholas B., The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of Imperial Britain (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006), p. 170CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 ‘AD 1810 Regulation XX—A Regulation for Subjecting Persons Attached to the Military Establishment to Martial Law in Certain Cases, and for the Better Government of the Retainers and Dependants of the Army Receiving Public Pay on Fixed Establishments and of Persons Seeking a Livelihood by Supplying the Troops in Garrison, Cantonment, and Station Military Bazars, or Attached to Bazars or Corps’, in The Regulations of the Government of Fort William in Bengal, in Force at the End of 1853; to Which are Added, the Acts of the Government of India in Force in that Presidency, (ed.) Richard Clarke (London, 1854), p. 154.

47 Ibid., Section II.

49 Letter to Mr Chief Secretary Hill from W. Morison, Commissary General, 4 October 1826. Enactment of Regulation 7 of 1832 for the Better Discipline of Military Bazars and Relative to the Establishments to be Entertained in lieu of Troops at the Several Military Stations for the Execution of Civil Process. Board of Commissioners, Collections 1833–1834. OIOC, F/4/1425/56238.

51 ‘AD 1810 Regulation XX’, Section VI.

52 Bayly, C. A., Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, circa 1780–1870 (Cambridge, 1996), especially pp. 155178Google Scholar.

53 ‘AD 1810 Regulation XX’, Section XXVI.

54 Jacob, T., Cantonments in India: Evolution and Growth (New Delhi, 1994), p. 113Google Scholar.

55 Hough, William, Simplification of His Majesty's and Hon'ble E.I. Company's Mutiny Acts & Articles of War, Proposed Military Police and Legislative Enactments for Courts of Inquiry, Inquest & ct. of Requests, to Render Crying Down Credit, a Bar to the Cognizance of Soldier's Debts (Calcutta, 1836), p. 78Google Scholar.

56 Regulation VII of 1832; A Regulation for [. . .] the better order and discipline of Military Bazars, the more effective administration of justice, and of the police, at the stations where such Bazars are established, and at certain other military stations, and in military forces in the field; the extension of the powers of Courts Martial; and the more effectual prevention of the undue use of spirituous and fermented liquors, and intoxicating drugs, by the European Troops under this Presidency. Board's Collections, 1833–1834. OIOC, F/4/1425/56238.

60 A pandal is a temporary structure for religious purposes, often associated with veneration for the Goddess Durga during the Durga Puja.

61 The pettah is the town which surrounds a fort or cantonment.

62 This weight conversion varied, but was roughly equivalent to 2 ½ lbs.

63 Award of Contract to Sell Liquor in the Bazaar to Luxemon Mahodjee Roomdar, 9 February 1825. MSA, Military Department.

64 A headman, or in this instance, a superintendant for the area.

65 Award of Contract to Sell Liquor in the Bazaar, 9 February 1825. MSA, Military Department, vol. 4, 2–3.

66 ‘General Order by the Governor General in Council, Number 179, 12 September 1836’, in Cantonments in India: Evolution and Growth, (ed.) T. Jacob (New Delhi, 1994), p. 115.

67 Ibid., p. 115. My italics.

68 Piddington, Henry, A Letter to the European Soldiers in India, on the Substitution of Coffee for Spirituous Liquors (Calcutta, 1839)Google Scholar.

69 Ibid., p. 3.

71 Chevers, ‘On the Means of Preserving the Health of European Soldiers’, p. 760.

72 Brewers often shipped beer from England to India. The most famous of these exports, India Pale Ale, continues to be produced today. For a brief history of the development of India Pale Ale see Pryor, Alan, ‘Indian Pale Ale: an Icon of Empire’, Commodities of Empire, Working Paper Series 13 (2009)Google Scholar.

73 Letter to the Military Board from the Honourable Court of Directors, no 14, dated 31 July 1840, Proceedings, 9 November 1840. NAI, Medical Board.

75 ‘The European Soldier in India’, p. 136.

76 Omissi, David, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860–1940 (London, 1994), p. 67CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

77 Arnott, F. S., ‘Report on the Health of the 1st Bombay European Regiment (Fusiliers), from 1st April 1846 to 31st March 1854’, Transactions of the Medical and Physical Society of Bombay II (1855), p. 139.

78 Batta is an extra allowance made to soldiers and officers for service in the field.

79 Arnott, F. S., ‘Report’, p. 110.

80 Ibid., p. 112.

81 Arnott proudly noted (although his claims are difficult to verify) that every European regiment of the Company's service was provided with a bank, school, library, printing press, coffee shop and ‘an excellent theatre’. In addition, other ‘amusements’ were provided which included chess and cricket clubs, skittles, quoits and draughts-boards. Arnott went on to confidently link the rise in men's deposits in the savings’ bank with the decrease in the consumption of spirits in the canteen. See Ibid., pp. 112–13.

82 Chevers, ‘On the Means of Preserving the Health of European Soldiers’, p. 689.

83 Ibid., p. 689. These plant-based drugs induced a range of reactions, from hallucinations to paralysis.

84 Ibid., p. 688.

85 Ibid., p. 690.

87 Rules for Guidance of Soldiers in Regard to Mode of Living—Sanitary Rules for the Use of European Troops, 26 July and 23 August 1858. NAI, Home (Medical).

89 For gender and the symbolic and emotive role of (albeit supposedly ‘upright’) European women in India, see Peers, Douglas, ‘“The more this foul case is stirred, the more offensive it becomes”: Imperial Authority, Victorian Sentimentality and the Court Martial of Colonel Crawley, 1862–1864’, in Fringes of Empire: Peoples, Places and Spaces in Colonial India, (eds) Agha, Sameeta and Kolsky, Elizabeth (Delhi, 2009), pp. 207235Google Scholar.

90 Stoler, Ann Laura, ‘Rethinking Colonial Categories: European Communities and the Boundaries of Rule’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 31:1 (1989), 139CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

91 Letter to G. J. Casamajor Esq, Acting Secretary to the Government from G. A. Weatherall, Secretary to Commander in Chief, Fort St George, 15 November 1824. Question as to the Allowances of the Wives Widows and Children of European Soldiers. Madras Military Collections 1825. OIOC, F/4/787/21363.

92 Minute from Thomas Munro, Governor in Council, November 1824. Military Secretary's Office, Madras Military Collections, 1825. OIOC, F/4/787/21363.

93 Ibid. Of course, Munro's daughter, Jessie Thompson, was born of an Indian mother. See Stein, Burton, Thomas Munro: the Origins of the Colonial State and his Vision of Empire (Delhi, 1989), p. 247Google Scholar.

94 Minute from Thomas Munro, November 1824.

95 ‘Soldiers; their Morality and Mortality’, p. 203.

96 Ibid., p. 204. Doll Tearsheet is the fictional favourite prostitute of Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry IV.

98 Minute from Lieutenant Colonel H Havelock, Deputy Adjutant General HM Forces Bombay, 23 May 1848. Bombay Military Consultations, 24 May 1848. OIOC, P/363/49/2245.

100 General Orders Issued from the Adjutant General's Office, 1 July to 31 December 1813, vol. 28, Madras 1813. OIOC, L/MIL/17/3/362.

101 This was the case of two women in Pune who, after it was alleged they were committing ‘the greatest irregularities in their huts long after hours’ were promptly ordered to be deported. See Letter to Lieutenant Colonel Blair, Military Secretary from Lieutenant Nagel of HM 47th Regiment, Poona 14 Sept 1824. MSA, Military Department, vol. 114.

102 Letter to the Secretary to Government in the Public Department from the Superintendent of Police, 20 December 1822. Madras Public Proceedings, 22 October to 31 December 1822. OIOC, P/245/37.

103 Ibid.

104 Letter to Captain Ormsby from Mary Ann MacMullen, 8 March 1823. TNSA, Fort St George Public Consultations, 25 March 1823, vol. 506. Letter to Captain Ormsby from Eliza Williams, (n.d.) 1823. TNSA, Fort St George Public Consultations, 25 March 1823, vol. 506.

105 This was the case for two women of the 20th Foot and Queens Royals who had been ordered home on the Lonach but fled the depot into Bombay shortly before the ship's departure and could not be found. See Letter to the Senior Magistrate of Police from Chief Secretary, Military Department, Bombay, 13 February 1826. MSA, Military Department, vol. 4.

106 Letter to the Honourable the Court of Directors from Military Department, 30 October 1822. Bombay Military Letters Received, 31 October 1822 to 24 December 1824. OIOC, L/MIL/3/1724.

107 Judge Advocate General's Opinion in the case of Mrs Philips. Measures to be Adopted for Dealing with European Women whose Habitual Misconduct may Require their Removal from Regimental Lines Military Department (1864–8) vol. 1115, no. 291 of 1865.

108 Letter to Adjutant Royal Artillery from [no return address given], Ahmedabad 14 February 1868. Measures to be Adopted for Dealing with European Women whose Habitual Misconduct may Require their Removal from Regimental Lines 1865. MSA, Military Department (1864–8) vol. 1115, no. 291.

109 Letter to the Secretary to Government, Military Department from the Quarter Master General of the Army, Fort St George 20 February 1862. Military Consultations, nos. 321–22, 17 March 1862. TNSA, Madras Government Proceedings.

110 Letter to His Excellency the Right Honourable the Governor General of India in Council from C. Wood, Military Department, Simla 20 May 1865. Measures to be Adopted for Dealing with European Women whose Habitual Misconduct may Require their Removal from Regimental Lines 1865. MSA, Military Department (1864–1868) vol. 1115, no. 291.

111 Throughout the early nineteenth century, there remained some technical differences between Crown and Company armies in their administration of courts martial. For example, in 1839, William Hough noted that in HM service, a Court of Inquiry almost always proceeded to a Court Martial, whereas this was not true in the Company army. See Hough, William, Military Law Authorities. Chronological Exposition of the Opinions of the Several Writers on Military Law, etc. (Calcutta 1839), p. 2Google Scholar.

112 Letter to Lieutenant Colonel Stuart, Officiating Secretary to the Government of India in the Military Department from Major Cragie, Deputy Adjutant General, 22 April 1842. NAI, Home (Military), Proceedings, 27 May 1842, no. 32.

113 For reference to other forms of punishment, See Letter to Lieutenant Colonel J Stuart, Officiating Secretary to the Government of India, Military Department from the Judge Advocate General, Simla 10 June 1839. Consultations, nos. 15–19, 8 July 1839. NAI, Home (Military).

114 While it appears that these character books were kept in many regiments, unfortunately, they have either been lost or destroyed and only secondary references to them still exist. See, for example the court martial of Gunner William Carter, in which an extract of Carter's ‘Character Book’ is included. See Extract from the Character Book of the 1st Company, 1st Battalion Artillery, Agra 28 February 1845. Proceedings, no. 82, 28 March 1845. NAI, Home (Military).

115 Monier-Williams, Monier Sir, A Few Remarks on the Use of Spirituous Liquors Among the European Soldiers, and on the Punishment of Flogging in the Native Army of the Honourable the East India Company (London, 1823), p. 6Google Scholar.

116 See, for example, Extract from Proceedings of a General Court Martial assembled at Cawnpore, on Wednesday, 5 March 1845 for the Trial of Lieutenant James Goodlad Wollen, of the 42nd Regiment of Light Infantry. Proceedings, no. 226, 27 June 1845. NAI, Home (Military).

117 This was certainly true in other respects as well, with a clear divide existing between the appropriate sexual behavior of the rank-and-file versus that of their officers. See Peers, Douglas, ‘The Raj's Other Great Game: Policing the Sexual Frontiers of the Indian Army in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century’, in Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporeality, Colonialism, (eds) Pierce, Steven and Rao, Anupama (Raleigh, 2006), p. 119Google Scholar.

118 Proceedings of a General Court Martial held for the Trial of Lieutenant P. Dick of the 74th Regiment Native Infantry, Consultations, no 167, 27 April 1835. NAI, Military Department.

119 Extract of Proceedings of a General Court Martial held for the trial of Assistant Surgeon Alexander Storm of the 51st Regiment, Native Infantry, Proceedings, No. 127, 13 April 1835. NAI, Home (Military).

120 Ibid.

121 A Congee House was a small, solitary confinement cell where the prisoner would be fed on a ‘congee’, or rice porridge diet.

122 Hobson-Jobson defines a ‘bassan’ as a dinner-plate.

123 Extract from the Character Book of the 1st Company, 1st Battalion Artillery, 29 February 1845. NAI Home (Military), Proceedings, 28 March 1845, no. 82.

124 ‘Soldiers; their Morality and Mortality’. 196.