In June 1870, the India Office received an address from India that had been sent directly to Buckingham Palace intended for the Queen. It was not unusual for the India Office to receive addresses and petitions from people in India addressed to members of the Royal family or British politicians. This particular address was from Aine, a pupil at the Secundra Female Normal School at Agra in what was then the North Western Provinces. It had been sent to England by the Reverend Erhardt, Superintendent of the Secundra Orphanage on 21 April, 1870, along with a sample of lace (which unfortunately is not in the file).
The India Office provided a translation of the address for the Palace. Aine began: “May the mercy of Jesus Christ be on your gracious Majesty! Be it known to you that I am one of your subjects and a poor girl. There is an orphan school here in which all the boys and girls are orphans. Through God’s great mercy we have all been brought here and are very happy.” Aine said that there were eleven classes in the school, consisting of 220 girls and 180 boys. Mr and Mrs Erhardt taught them English, and two other female teachers taught them to read and “keep us from evil ways of every kind”. Aine belonged to the normal class where she learned geography, sacred history and Hindi grammar.
Aine also described a visit to the school by Albert Edward Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria’s eldest son, who had toured India between November 1875 and March 1876. “Be it known to you that Prince Alfred honoured the Secundrah School with a visit, that he came into our enclosure and then went to the boys, and then to the church where we sang a hymn and the Padre prayed for him. He afterwards went away.”
Aine ended her address: “May God bless you and keep you and preserve you. May the favour of our Lord Jesus and the grace of God and the help of the Holy Ghost for ever be with you and your family. All the orphans send greeting. This letter is written by your unworthy slave”.
The address and translation were sent back to the India Office to be dealt with by the Secretary of State for India. The official at the India Office seemed unimpressed by such a lovely document, and more concerned that the normal channels of communication had not been followed. He advised that “as the present address asks for nothing, but contains an offering, and is only complimentary, it is submitted that it is better not to return it to the writer, as is done periodically in the case of petitions and such like. From enquiry as to the course usually pursued in the Political Department, it would appear to be best to take no notice of the communication”.
This article first appeared on the British Library’s Untold Lives Blog.