Mary Anne, Cook,
was baptised in 1839. Her father was recorded
as being Muttoo Manga. However, Muttoo and Manga
are Tamil names. Muttoo is a man’s name
and Manga a woman’s name. This tells us
that these were the names of Mary Anne’s
parents and gives us clues to Mary Anne’s
cultural background in India.
What follows would be a typical working day
for a cook in an early Victorian house.
A Large House in Hoxton Square
My name is Mary Anne. It is August
1839, and I am 25 years old. I work as a cook in a
house in Hoxton Square. This is my day.
It is 6 o’clock in the morning.
I share a bed with Grace in the attic. Grace is the
‘tweenie’ (that is, the ‘between
maid’ who does all the odd jobs and cleaning).
And she snores.
We have to be in the kitchen by 6.30. It’s in
the basement, down six flights of stairs.
I’ve put the kettle on for the mistress’s
tea; Grace has lit the kitchen fire, and is lighting
the one in the morning room.
I have to make tea and toast for
the mistress, and porridge and coffee for the master,
and take them up to their bedrooms. My Mistress’
bedroom is beautiful. It has a huge mahogany four-poster
bedstead with down pillows and white dimity furniture,
and a Kidderminster carpet on the floor, and a japanned
dressing table with an urn and tea caddy and a spice
Early nineteenth century bedroom
The kitchen is as big as the dining
room, with a fireplace all along one wall with ovens
on either side of it. In the middle of the room is
a huge wooden table, about twice the size of my bed,
I have to scrub every day. Then it’ll be time
to wash up the breakfast things, clean the knives
and sweep the kitchen, and clean the hearth, and the
cast iron stove.
It’s ten, so, I’m starting to cook lunch.
My mother, Manga, taught me to
cook when I was growing up in Madras. When I was 14
I began working for a merchant of the East India Company,
a gentleman called Sharp who had travelled from London
in England to India… to make his fortune, so
he said. The Company had many such men and their families,
come to Madras. Some days the harbour was full of
sails, East India ships stacked high with cotton and
silks, spices and tea.
When his family returned to England,
I sailed with them on one of those ships to look after
the memsahib and her little boys. They promised that
they would send me straight back with a different
family who were travelling out to make their fortune.
But when we arrived, they had already gone, and Mr
Sharp decided he didn’t need me any more.
At first I stayed in Aldgate,
sharing a room with six other women, also looking
for a way to earn their passage back to India. I cried
every day - we all did, because I missed home. And
then I found work as a cook with this family who used
to live in Bombay.
When I first arrived here in London,
I thought I might find my father, Muttoo. He was a
boatman in Madras. Then he went to work as a ‘lascar’
– a sailor - for the East India Company and
we didn’t see him again. So many men didn’t
come back, and then those who did told of how they
had been beaten, or starved, or left in foreign ports
and then robbed, and the Company who employed them
and promised to look after them wouldn’t do
anything. So I thought I might find Muttoo, my father
here - but London is so big….
Tonight there are guests for dinner,
so I am even busier than usual. I’m making a
consommé soup, that’s already finished;
filets of sole, - can’t do them till the last
minute; oh and rice with veal and tomatoes, a dish
of lamb and another of roast duck, a green salad,
and a rhubarb tart and a jelly for pudding.
We’ll have to wait until
the dinner is finished, because Grace and I have to
wash all the dishes before we can go to bed. The big
copper pans will need scouring with a mixture of soap
and sand, or soda…in the morning, the skin on
my hands will be so dry it cracks.
Tonight, Grace is doing the donkeying
– that is to serve at table; but if there are
guests who have been to India, the master will ask
me to cook curry and serve it myself. (The master
and mistress were in India themselves for five years).
I have to put on a clean apron and go up. I hate to
serve at table, I am so nervous I’m sure I will
Last time, one of the gentleman
said something to me in Tamil, but his accent was
so bad I couldn’t understand him – so
I smiled and said that he spoke very well and then
ran back downstairs before he realised I didn’t
understand. When I came back upstairs, he was telling
my mistress that there was no point in trying to make
curry in England as the spices weren’t fresh
Tomorrow, the master and mistress
are going out for dinner, so I can go to dinner with
some Indian friends. We eat rice usually, because
it is cheaper than bread and more filling. If I can
afford it, I’ll buy fresh fish - herring or
mackerel, and we’ll cook it with onion and curry
powder. Usually though, I can’t afford fish.
The master says that Indian servants should be paid
Indian wages, but everything is so much more expensive
here than in India.
Map of India
Grace and I take it in turns to
have Sundays off. It’s a shame, because we would
like to go to church together. Grace did come with
me when I was baptised though. Mostly, I meet up with
other friends, and we go to church. Last month, I
met a woman had just arrived from Madras. She says
the part of town that my parents, Muttoo and Manga
came from, has been bought up by the whites, and the
Indian houses have been knocked down, and English
mansions put in their place. I don’t know if
I’ll ever see it again now. I must go –
it’s nearly time to start serving dinner.