Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds’ letters from India between 1801 and 1807 were acquired by the British Library from the family in 1971. They are now bound in three volumes, as the “Lady Elizabeth Gwillim papers” under the shelfmark Mss Eur C240 in 382 folios. There are almost 700 pages of correspondence, which members of the Gwillim Project helped to transcribe.

The sisters’ letters home provide insight into European life under the ‘Company Raj’ at the beginning of the 19th century. The letters to their sister, Hester, and mother, Esther, are chatty and informal, full of descriptions of the weather and the scenery, what they ate and what they wore, exotic plants and animals, and gossip about Madras society. Their letters challenge assumptions about women’s work, interests and social position in both England and India, and also include observations on politics, the East India Company and the state of the country.

I have the pleasure to say that by blessing of God we are all in good health at present; but we have had a very severe season the heat has been beyond anything I had before felt & I may say I did not know India ’till this season.

Elizabeth Gwillim to her Mother, Esther Symonds, August 12, 1804