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The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj [Hardcover]

Anne de Courcy
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 July 2012

From the late 19th century, when the Raj was at its height, many of Britain's best and brightest young men went out to India to work as administrators, soldiers and businessmen. With the advent of steam travel and the opening of the Suez Canal, countless young women, suffering at the lack of eligible men in Britain, followed in their wake. This amorphous band was composed of daughters returning after their English education, girls invited to stay with married sisters or friends, and yet others whose declared or undeclared goal was simply to find a husband. They were known as the Fishing Fleet, and this book is their story, hitherto untold.

For these young women, often away from home for the first time, one thing they could be sure of was a rollicking good time. By the early twentieth century, a hectic social scene was in place, with dances, parties, amateur theatricals, picnics, tennis tournaments, cinemas, gymkhanas with perhaps a tiger shoot and a glittering dinner at a raja's palace thrown in. And, with men outnumbering women by roughly four to one, romances were conducted at alarming speed and marriages were frequent. But after the honeymoon life often changed dramatically: whisked off to a remote outpost with few other Europeans for company and where constant vigilance was required to guard against disease, they found it a far cry from the social whirlwind of their first arrival.

Anne de Courcy's sparkling narrative is enriched by a wealth of first-hand sources - unpublished memoirs, letters and diaries rescued from attics - which bring this forgotten era vividly to life.

Frequently Bought Together

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj + Debs at War: 1939-1945: 1939-45 + The Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters (Women in History)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 335 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1st edition (12 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297863827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297863823
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 16.1 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This book is highly evocative... De Courcy takes the reader through an enchanted world (THE GUARDIAN 2012-07-14)

The Fishing Fleet is an entertaining, richly detailed account of a world that vanished overnight in 1947 with independence (Daisy Goodwin THE SUNDAY TIMES 2012-07-15)

The Fishing Fleet is a fascinating and evocatively told history, which summons both the exoticism of India under British rule and the lives and characters of the women who risked all for a husband (FINANCIAL TIMES 2012-07-21)

lively and well-researched (THE SPECTATOR)

Anne de Courcy combines the perseverance of a social historian with the panache of a novelist in her tales from the Raj... she vividly and cleverly evokes the ironclad social culture of rank and race, the oppression of expatriate life once a husband was bagged and boredom set in (Iain Finlayson THE TIMES)

A seasoned social historian, Anne de Courcy brilliantly evokes the era, often by allowing her heroines to do the talking. We hear vivid contemporary descriptions of everything from tiger hunts and tea dances to the agonies of prickly heat... the women who married into the Raj were true adventurers. de Courcy's book restores their proper reputation: as brave, sometimes batty, irredeemably British heroines (DAILY MAIL)

De Courcy tells their story with perspicacity and aplomb (THE FIELD)

Through heat, dust, lust and wedlock, de Courcy's memsahibs step a lively dance (SAGA MAGAZINE)

Anne de Courcy's sparkling book is an unalloyed delight (THE LADY)

This is a fascinating account of the rules, roles and relations of the British Raj (THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)

This entertaining book...paints a broad picture of life in the Raj...memorable events are retold with zest and humour...Their stories are a perfect read for a cruise ship sailing eastwards or a deckchair in the sun (COUNTRY LIFE)

brilliantly researched, skilfully constructed and full of delights (THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

An entertaining and insightful romp...De Courcy has a remarkable talent for analysing subtle questions about Victorian and Edwardian femininity, politics, the empire, love and the nature of marriage. She is convincing, entrancing even. Quite simply she is a wonderful storyteller (BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE)

de Courcy's delightful tale...draws on unpublished memoirs, leters and diaries to bring to life a hitherto under-explored aspect of life in the Raj (GEOGRAPHICAL)

a fascinating corner of British social history...a jolly good read (SPEAR'S)

illuminating volume (CATHOLIC HERALD)

Anne de Courcy has used many unique sources, such as letters, diaries and memoirs to explore the 'Fishing Fleet' phenomenon, telling individual stories with insight and eloquence. Crammed with colourful detail of life in British India, it is a revelation - and a rollicking good read (FAMILY TREE MAGAZINE)

From the late 19th century, when the Raj was at its height, many of Britain's best and brightest young men went out to India to work as administrators, and businessmen - and many young women followed in their wake. Anne de Courcy tells of the lively social life and the contrasting, remote worlds where the resulting marriagese often ended up (YOUR FAMILY TREE)

A vivid, well-written book, and a delightful read (WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? magazine)

fascinating and very readable (TLS)

a rich and exhilarating study of an ancient sport known as 'getting your man to the altar' (Antonia Fraser MAIL ON SUNDAY)

the richly evocative story of the women who sailed out to the Indian Raj in search of husbands. A fascinating era and a picture of a closed world and society long gone but which the author recaptures vividly (Susan Hill THE SPECTATOR)

Anne de Courcy's entertaining book... may prove perhaps to be the last of a kind, a nostalgic, non-judgmental look bacK (HISTORY TODAY)

If you enjoy social history then The Fishing Fleet is right up your street. Drawing on many individual stories, Anne de Courcy gives a detailed vivid account of life in India when eligible young ladies sailed out in pursuit of eligible young men who outnumbered the females by four to one! Marriage did not always turn out as expected, however! (EVERGREEN)

The sub-title is 'Husband-hunting in the Raj' which sums up the book beautifully...A colourful romp, interwoven with real-life letters and diaries from the time. (Sophie King OTTERY HERALD 2013-11-08)

Anne de Courcy's girl's eye view of the Raj makes clear the damage imperialism did not just to India but to the imperialists themselves. As an account of how to screw up two societies at once, it's unparalleled. (Bella Bathurst THE OBSERVER 2013-11-03)

By the 19th century, it was common practice for middle- and upper-middle-class girls to go husband-hunting in the Raj, but the perils were huge: a six-month seas voyage and then an uncertain future in an unknown, disease-ridden country. Although the girls were often as young as sixteen, they knew (mostly) what was expected of them, and their story makes a hugely enjoyable book. (GOOD BOOK GUIDE 2013-11-01)

The is a fine picture of a lost world - mercifully lost. (Jad Adams THE GUARDIAN 2013-10-19)

This sparkling collage explores the lives of the English girls who came to colonial India to hook themselves a spouse, and draws intriguing parallels between Indian and British Social attitudes. (THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 2013-10-20)

De Courcey examines the thrills and glamour and the post-honeymoon reality of life on the remote outposts. (ABSOLUTELY CHELSEA (Book Picks) 2013-10-01)

Book Description

The untold stories of the young women who went out to India during the Raj in search of husbands.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
103 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fishing Fleet: Husband Hunting in the Raj 15 July 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have always loved Anne De Courcy's biographies and books about social history of women, including the excellent The Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters (Women in History), 1939: The Last Season and Debs at War: 1939-1945: 1939-45 and I was equally delighted with her latest work, which looks at the rather bizarre subject of 'husband hunting' in the Raj. This book spans all the years of the British in India, although most of the stories are from the twentieth century.

When the British first went to India to trade and work, the men who left the country knew they would probably not return and married Indian wives or took Indian mistresses. As time went on and the East India Company and trade was replaced by government and the ruling classes, men were curtailed from doing this by various means which meant their children were punished by being unable to obtain good jobs and positions. Obviously, as men did not want either their wives or children to suffer through being married to them, gradually their only option was to marry girls from home - easier said than done as travel difficulties meant finding British brides difficult. The Company then began to pay passage to India of a number of willing women who were maintained for a year and expected to marry within that time. For young women, perhaps not pretty or rich enough to make a 'good match' at home, it was a chance to find a husband with better prospects than they could at home and women flocked to India, willing to try to make a go of it.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just how my mother told it! 24 Oct 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book for obvious reasons - my mother (born Ooticamund 1908, living in Ceylon with her family in the mid 20's, met & married my father who visited in an RN Warship) was one of the kind of people written about. Her own mother's family went back at least two generations in India and all met and married similar families out there. Obviously, with quite a lot of background, I found it riveting, loved the pictures and thought the style elegant and informed. I wasn't concerned about the piecemeal nature of the memoirs, and thought them well marshalled and edited.

I only forebore from giving it 5 stars because I can hear my mother's snort from beyond the grave. She was very precise about the "Fishing Fleet"; they were girls who were sent out to India from England to Indian based relatives to find a husband. As distinct from "country-born" girls, who may (by my mother's, but not in her mother's time) be sent back to England to be educated, and who then returned to live with their families. The author seemed to use the epithet for all who met and married in India, including girls from Indian based families.

It also delightfully emphasised the tremendous importance of brothers in this whole operation - my mother often told me how important it was that her brother was there to introduce her to brother officers and chaperone her.

We used to laugh that my parents were reverse fishing fleet - she lived there and my father sailed out and met her in India, although they were married in England and she never lived in India or Ceylon again after her marriage to a Naval Officer. Undoubtedly a partial review, but I loved it and will look out Anne de Courcy's other books (some of which I have heard of, but not yet read).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful research - terrible editing. 22 Jan 2013
The amount of research done was huge, but the book was dull. Anecdotes/facts were jumbled together with 'stories' about individuals - but these 'stories' would 'end' with no resolution and I found myself reading another anecdote/story, which would end just as unresolved to begin another anecdote.

After reading 1/3 I just wanted to give up.

Truly interesting 'facts'/anecdotes made into unbearable reading by 'fractured' writing/editing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy Days 12 Oct 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A thoroughly enjoyable yarn, particularly if one has served in the Sub-Continent. Although a lifetime ago, this book has brought back memories, and plenty of smiles.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story, well told 10 Nov 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A really good read about a fascinating subject. Anne de Courcy clearly did extensive research and it has paid off. The sheer boredom of women's lives in India hadn't occured to me before and yet they managed well. The men, although very bright, seemed to be only really interested in riding, polo and tiger hunting. Class was all-important, particularly amongst the wives for whom precedence at social events was their main interest. The British class system was only matched by India's caste structure, which may be one of the reasons the Raj survived for so long. Victorian values and morals appeared to have lasted until the 1939/45 war. Strongly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Repetitive 31 Dec 2013
By Mrs P D
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It's a catalogue of girls telling about their time in India. It was interesting to read some of the facts but was all a bit repetitive. There were so many facts it was difficult to remember whether you'd read about that particular girl before. Not a novel but a diary of facts. I'd be reluctant to recommend this book as I think some would find it quite boring.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Fishing Fleet
As my mother went out to India on the 'Fishing Fleet' I was interested in the book and was not disappointed. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Anna O'Donoghue
5.0 out of 5 stars Bought this book as both my great great and great great great...
Bought this book as both my great great and great great great grandmothers went out to India in the 19th century to find husbands and I wanted to get a better understanding of what... Read more
Published 23 days ago by Juno1972
5.0 out of 5 stars Good reading. Gives a good insight into marriage at the time
Its a while ago that I read this but I finished it fairly quickly so it must have been good.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs O.
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for me
This book did not do anything for me, had to stop reading it...
Published 1 month ago by Luisa Ramazzotti
3.0 out of 5 stars Questionable sources
This book fascinated me so much I decided to read more on the subject. I started with one of my favourite novels, Olivia by O. Douglas (Thos. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Romantica
2.0 out of 5 stars Repetitive and boring
This would have been a great story if it had been done as a novel. The times and the situations were interesting, but being presented as a long list of names and places gave me... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Dorothy white
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure.
I am struggling with this book. So many snips from letters and diaries, so many different people mentioned, I find it all a bit confusing. The concept of the book is interesting.
Published 2 months ago by Mariam Rosen
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
A friend recommended this and it is indeed a fascinating read, especially if your parents or grandparents had any connections with The Raj.
Published 2 months ago by CLBM
5.0 out of 5 stars Some came home as empty bottles
I so thoroughly enjoyed this book. Again for anyone who is interested in the days of the Raj in India it will give you a true insight into the existence of the British woman making... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mrs Frances E Davies
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT as described
I have returned this item. It was described as historical which I took to imply - well - historical. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Caroline
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