Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Fishing Fleet – Husband Hunting – Part 1



I learnt the term “Fishing Fleet” – when – many years ago – I read a novel called THE RAJ by Donald H Robinson.

The book is set in British India – in the early 1930’s – in the backdrop of “Colonial Life” – prevalent in the days of the “British Raj”.

The story is about an Englishwoman – a schoolteacher at a renowned boarding school for ladies.

She is now 38 years old – single – and – she has not been able to find a suitable husband in England for all these years.

She is worried that she may remain a spinster all her life.

She desperately wants to get married.

So – she quits her job – and – she decides to sail to India on the “Fishing Fleet” – to “hunt” for a suitable husband.  

Dear Reader – let me tell you a bit about the “Fishing Fleet”.

During the days of the “British Raj” – a large number of Englishmen served in India – in the Civil Services – in the Military – and – at other places.

So – there were a large number of “eligible” Englishmen – but hardly any suitable Englishwomen “brides” for them.

On the other hand – for “middle class” Englishwomen – it was difficult to find a “status” match in England. 

So – after exhausting all opportunities for finding a good husband in England – the women would take the “fishing fleet” to India in search of a prospective husband.

The Civil Services and the Military discouraged marrying before the age of 30 – the age at which it was thought the Officer had “settled down” in his job and it was feasible for him to support a family – so – even age-wise – women in their late 20’s and early 30’s had a good chance of bagging a prize catch husband.

During those “Colonial Days” of the “British Raj” – the “Social Season” in India was in winter – from December to February – and the “Fishing Fleet” arrived in India at the beginning of the social season – during which – all efforts were made to facilitate “coupling” of the prospective husbands and brides.

The women had a distinct advantage – the gender ratio was skewed heavily in their favour – there were 3 to 4 men “available” for every woman.

So – in view of this huge gender advantage – it was quite easy for most of “fishing fleet” women to acquire a husband.

If you were lucky – you could get a “Bada Sahib” (Civil Services or Military Officer) husband. 

Otherwise – you would have to settle for a “Chota Sahib” Englishman working in other jobs in India – like in the Railways (or other Government Services) – a Tea Planter – or a “manager” in the numerous business/trading companies/firms/industries set up in India.

Well – most “fishing fleet” women did manage to find a husband – so – they got married – and they remained in India with their husbands and lived “happily ever after”.

And – those unfortunate “fishing fleet” women who failed to find a husband – they sailed back to England – as “Returned Empties” – probably destined to remain a spinster all their lives.

The genesis of the “fishing fleet” was in the year 1671 – when the East India Company sent 20 single women to Bombay (now called Mumbai) – each given an allowance of 300 Pounds Sterling – and – a new set of clothing.

The women were given a simple objective – to find a “company-approved” mate within a year.

It seems that this experiment was successful – and – this resulted in establishing a practice of transporting a steady “cargo” of potential brides by sea all the way to India every year.

Colloquially – in Naval Parlance – this was nicknamed as the “Fishing Fleet” – and – the potential brides were known as “Fishing Fleeters”.  

What happened to the “fishing fleeter” heroine of the novel…?

Was her “husband hunting” mission a success…?

Did she have any romances – any passionate affairs …?

Did she find a “suitable” husband and settle down in India to a happy married life…?

Or – did she return back to England – desolate – as a “Returned Empty”…?

For all that – you will have to read the book.

Now – Dear Reader – in Part 2 – let me tell you a few stories which happened much later – during my delightful days in the Navy.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved. 

1. This story is a fictional spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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