Archivist Alex Miller holding the Diary of Kasturi Venkataramayya
IT is 1860...
An educated and articulate young Indian man sets sail aboard the steamer the Aubria from Madras bound for London. He is to stay with a well-to-do family in the capital and has ambitions to study for the bar at one of the city's famous Inns of Court.
It's a journey that takes in ancient Alexandria and the Suez Canal before arriving in a city that at the time was also the centre of the world.
This is the story of Kasturi Venkataramayya, recounted in his own words through his diary - a series of letters home to his brother in Southern India.
It has been published for the first time by WLCT’s (Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust) Archive Service under the title: The Diary of Kasturi Venkataramayya: An Indian in Victorian England. The volume presents a unique and fascinating insight into life in Victorian London through the eyes of an outsider.
But this remarkable tale could have very well remained untold if not for the devotion of an avid collector of diaries by the name of Edward Hall and the diligent work of Archives Volunteer Carl Towers and Wigan Borough Archivist Alex Miller.
Alex explains: Edward Hall was a remarkable man in his own right. He was born in 1880s and lived until the 1980s. He served in the RAF in both world wars and commanded one of the last Hurricane squadrons to be evacuated from France before the fall of Dunkirk.
However Edward's real passion was for social history. He rifled through junk shops and bric-a-brac fayres and collected more than 250 diaries. They range from the Regency Period right through the 1940s and encapsulate the lives of everyone from colliery workers to the landed gentry.
Edward Hall married a Wiganer by the name of Em Littler and did much of his work transcribing his diary collection at the former Wigan Town Library now the Museum of Wigan Life.
Edward donated the collection to the Wigan Borough Archive Service, says Alex. And thankfully the archivists at the time saw the value in them and kept them for future generations.
Now Alex, Carl and a handful of other volunteers have set about bringing as many of the diaries to a contemporary audience as possible by lovingly transcribing them from the handwritten originals and having them published in book form.
We decided to do Kasturi's diary first because it was such an unusual story, says Alex. It took Carl and I about 12 months to transcribe the piece and we are delighted with the results. The exciting thing about the diaries is that they could contain information that may very well alter our view about our own social history.
The next Edward Hall Diary to be transcribed will be the World War One exploits of an air ace by the name of Captain Walker. The Royal Flying Corps' pilot's tale is brimful of boy's own adventure and derring do.
As for Kasturi Venkataramayya, you're probably wondering how his story ends. Well, we wouldn't want to spoil a good yarn so we'll simply say it's a mystery.
No-one knows what became of Kasturi, says Alex. He writes about his time in London for a year and then promptly disappears. Everything he mentions in his diaries is historically accurate and can be validated but despite extensive research we can find no trace of him in London or India after 1860. I think it makes the story even more appealing and maybe the publication of his diary will help shed more light on his life.
- The Diary of Kasturi Venkataramayya: An Indian in Victorian England is available from Wigan and Leigh Library and the Museum of Wigan Life.
- For more information on the work of the Wigan Borough Archive Service visit Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust's website www.wlct.org and search for 'archives'