Calamity and Courage – review

Calamity and Courage – A Heroine of the Raj is another in my collection of fascinating books about India and all things Indian that I love so much. It also gave me a surprise as the setting for the aforementioned heroism is in fact the very part of India that my father knew so well – a remote area near the border with Burma.

Calamity and courage The author Belinda Morse is the great-granddaughter of the Victorian artist John Hanson Walker, who exhibited the portrait of Ethel Grimwood at the Royal Academy, and the search for that portrait is in itself an interesting journey.

Calamity and Courage is the story of Ethel Grimwood and Manipur and it’s a tragic tale of Government mismanagement and unnecessary loss of life. It’s the kind of story that would make a romantic adventure film, a cross between The Life of Florence Nightingale and The Far Pavilions.

There was a lot of family in-fighting around the court of the Maharaja of Manipur; this necessitated the resignation of one Maharaja and the placement of another. The manipulation of events by the Indian Government (British Government in India) seemed to have rocked lots of boats; it led eventually to a massacre in 1891.

Captive at the Maharaja’s palace

Ethel was marooned in the residence with a small force of armed men and an increasing number of injured. It became evident that they would all lose their lives if they stayed put. They decided to start out under fire to seek help, not only for themselves but for those officers and men who were by that time held captive at the Maharaja’s palace.

After many days of hardship, friendly forces rescued them and conducted them to safety. It was, however, many weeks till Ethel discovered the fate of her husband and the other captives. The uprising against the British was big news and Ethel was given recognition for her service to the injured men. She was even invited to meet Queen Victoria (who took a great interest in events in India) to be awarded the Red Cross medal.

It seems that Ethel and her husband had a good relationship with the Indian Princes; they had treated the captives not only with polite courtesy but with warm friendship and generosity. It seems that they were unwitting victims of political infighting and both suffered for the prejudices of those in authority.

Calamity and Courage is a book filled with Victorian attitudes; but it presents Ethel as a young woman with a bit of grit, and loyalty to the princes who were once so kind to her. An amazing read.

Calamity and Courage
Author: Belinda Morse
Published by: Book Guild Publishing
Price: £16.99
ISBN 978-1-84624-215-1

Book review by Chrissie Walker © 2018