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Letters of Muriel Hatherley Rendell (1895-1981, married name Cathcart)


  • Date(s) of creation/collection: letters 1909-1913; later material about the collection
  • Level of description: file/item
  • Extent and medium: 1 archive box; ca. 200 letters. MS & TS ink on paper.
  • Name of creator(s): Muriel Hatherley Rendell
  • Custodial history: held by family until given to Balliol College.
  • Immediate source of acquisition: Sir Colin Lucas
  • Language/scripts of material: English
  • System of arrangement: 1 series, arranged as found/chronological order

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Biographical history

MHR, who was born in Bengal 19 July 1885, was living in Hampstead at the census of 1901 with her “Dearest little Mother” Nora[h] Rendell and her unmarried sisters (all of them born in Bengal) Norah Margaret Rendell, Bertha Medland Rendell, and Mabel Sparrowe Rendell. MHR went back to India with her sister Bertha (with  Bertha’s baby daughter Cynthia and  husband George Leeson) in 1909. MHR had the initial purpose of keeping house for her then unmarried brother Alan C Rendell. Their father Alan Wood Rendell, civil engineer, had retired from India to Hampstead in 1903, but had been a leading figure in the development of Indian railways. This was not an overtly “Fishing Fleet” journey (see Anne de Courcy, The Fishing Fleet. Husband-Hunting in the Raj, 2012) for MHR, although that was in other family minds, and the letters contain much about potential husbands: MHR was much courted but turned down several proposals of marriage while in India. She returned to England in March 1914, married Malcolm Cathcart in 1915, and died in Cheltenham in the first quarter of 1981. They had several children including Margaret Rendell Cathcart, stepmother of Sir Colin Lucas, sometime Master of Balliol and Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, who presented the Collection.

Scope and content

This Collection comprises about 200 long letters from India by Muriel Hatherly Rendell (hereafter MHR) to her mother in England 1909-1913, with a small amount of related TS material. Although family letters, they are a very rich source for the life in every aspect (amusements; social rules; dress; attitudes; health) of the British in India in the years immediately before WWI.

MHR was a creature of her time and social class, with independent views generally right of centre, in sympathy with female suffrage but aghast at the way the Suffragettes were going about their campaign. She was generally patronising to the “natives” but warm to her immediate servants. She was well educated and had secretarial skills: she had worked for University College School (to which there are numerous references) before embarking for India.

The first letter is dated 14 Oct. 1909 on the SS Caledonia, which was passing down the Kent coast as the letter was being written, and travelled through the Straits of Gibraltar, stopping at Marseilles and Port Said, through the Suez Canal, stopping at Colombo, to  Calcutta. The first letter from India is dated 10 Nov. 1909, shortly after arrival, written from the Grand Hotel Calcutta. The addresses from which the letters were written 1909-1913 change frequently: MHR had family bases but otherwise moved between friends, often staying a month at a time.The regular family addresses were   “Goalundo”; “Barisal, E Bengal” ;”c/o AC Rendell Esq M. & S.M. Rly, Waltair R.S. Madras”; and “Assyline Villa West Point Darjeeling”.

There are several thousand references to family, friends, and people MHR met. But precise identification of the hundreds of individuals who appear (often with detailed characterisations) can be quite difficult because MHR usually either refers to them by Christian name only or by title and surname only. Click here for a note of people and places mentioned.

There was much socialising: great balls, dinners, small dances, amateur dramatics, singing, rifle-shooting, picnics, roller-skating,  hunting, riding, tiger shoots, the races, golf, weddings. As well as sight-seeing, there were many long journeys by boat and train. Major events such as the Durbar, the Abor Expedition and the sinking of the Titanic are discussed, as are local disturbances, military responses and political issues.

The last letter in the Collection is dated 28 Dec. 1913 “In the Sundarbans”, written after a tiger shoot.  No letters written in the last few months of MHR’s first stay in India (she returned for a while after WWI with her husband) survive.


  • Conditions governing access: Open for consultation. This material has not been digitised.
  • Conditions governing reproduction: this material is not copyright Balliol College. As with all unpublished original writing, it remains in copyright in the UK until at least 2039.
  • Physical characteristics and technical requirements: When received, the letters had been flattened, and arranged in date order in year groups, probably by MHR herself, or perhaps her daughter Margaret, who dated and numbered the many undated leaves (the letters comprise on average 5-6 leaves) neatly in ball point pen.   Some of the letters have editorial annotations in two hands, and it appears that some at least were typed with a view to publication or private circulation, but only the originals survive in this Collection. The letters are dated at weekly intervals with a few extras and hardly any gaps. They are very detailed and lengthy, fluently written, and easily legible. A typical example comprises 8-10 4to sides neatly written. There are very frequent references to photographs being sent to England (generally developed by MHR herself), but there are none in the Collection except Rendell 7 below. No envelopes survive.
  • Finding aids: this web page is the definitive archival description. See also the Archives Hub for a fonds-level description.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information

  • Accruals: none expected
  • Existence and location of originals: this material is original
  • Existence and location of copies: none known
  • Related units of description: none known.


Rendell 1. Letters of 1909-1910

  • Rendell.1.01. 14 Oct. 1909-2 Nov. 1909, SS Caledonia.
  • Rendell.1.02. 10 Nov. 1909-16 Nov. 1909, The Grand Hotel Calcutta.
  • Rendell.1.03. 22 Nov. 1909-20 Dec. 1909, Goalundo. At this stage MHR, sister Bertha and brother-in-law George Leeson were living aboard The Scinde, a houseboat; there had been  a devastating cyclone at Goalundo.
  • Rendell.1.04. 27 Dec. 1909, Barisal.
  • Rendell.1.05. 4 Jan. 1910, en route back to Goalundo.  
  • Rendell.1.06. 13 Jan. 1910, 21 Ballygunge Calcutta.
  • Rendell.1.07. 19 Jan.  1910 - 26 Jan. 1910, Goalundo.
  • Rendell.1.08. 3 Feb. 1910, c/o Mrs Highet, 2/1 Harrington St Calcutta.
  • Rendell.1.09. 10 Feb. 1910- 1 March 1910, 17 Elgin Road Allahabad.
  • Rendell.1.10. 9 March 1910-13 April 1910, Goalundo.
  • Rendell.1.11. 19 April 1910-8 Nov. 1910, Assyline Villa West Point Darjeeling. This was the hot weather refuge of sister Bertha and her family, 2-3  miles outside Darjeeling.
  • Rendell.1.12. 16 Nov. 1910-7 Dec. 1910, Goalundo.
  • Rendell.1.13. 13 Dec. 1910-20 Dec. 1910, M & SM Rly  Walthair Madras. MHR’s brother Cleve had a bungalow near Walthair railway station.

Rendell 2. Letters of 1911

  • Rendell.2.01. 2 Jan. 1911- 9 Jan. 1911, Walthair.
  • Rendell.2.02. 16 Jan. 1911-24 Jan. 1911, Khargpur.
  • Rendell.2.03. 1 Jan. 1911-8 Mar 1911, Walthair. See note on persons mentioned.
  • Rendell.2.04. 14 March 1911 [Tuesday], Goalundo. MHR left Walthair on the previous Friday and arrived at the Toppings on Saturday. She was disturbed en route in the train by the enumerator of the Indian Census, which was set for between 10 and 12 on the night of the 10th.
  • Rendell.2.05. 21 March 1911-22 Aug.  1911, Assyline Villa West Point Darjeeling.
  • Rendell.2.06. 29 Aug. 1911, 6 Monteviot  Kurseong. Kurseong was only 2 hours from Darjeeling.
  • Rendell.2.07. 6 Sept. 1911-7 Nov. 1911, Assyline Villa West Point Darjeeling.
  • Rendell.2.08. 13 Nov. 1911- 29 Nov. 1911,c/o Mrs Comes Midnapore.  Mr Comes is the Judge at Midnapore. Mr Gourlay,recently married in England to  a Miss Jones of Liverpool, is Collector of Midnapore.
  • Rendell.2.09. 6 Dec. 1911 -19 Dec. 1911, c/o Mrs Baily B.N.Rly Khargpur.
  • Rendell.2.10. 23 Dec. 1911 -14 Jan. 1912, Walthair. The 9 Jan. letter was written from Rock House ,Walthair Uplands where MHR was staying with the Murrays while her brother Cleve was “out on the line”.

Rendell 3. Letters of 1912

  • Rendell.3.01. 24 Jan. 1912, c/o Mrs Pratt Queens Park Ballygunge Calcutta. 
  • Rendell.3.02. 1 Feb. 1912-22 Feb. 1912, c/o Dr Brooke 17 Elgin Road Allahabad.
  • Rendell.3.03. 27 Feb. 1912, 11 Queens Park Ballygunge Calcutta.
  • Rendell.3.04. 3 March 1912, Goalundo.
  • Rendell.3.05. 10 March 1912, Tespur.
  • Rendell.3.06. 14 March 1912, RS Pegar.

One, or more probably two, letters are missing here which probably described the wedding of Miss Eve Woodcock to which MHR was travelling on 14 March.
2 April 1912-6 Nov. 1912, Assyline Villa West Point Darjeeling.

  • Rendell.3.07. 11 Nov. 1912-24 Nov. 1912,c/o Mrs Birch Bagdogra TE and PO Siliguri. Mrs Birch was formerly Eve Woodcock whose bridesmaid MHR had been; the Birch’s place was deep in theTerai jungle.
  • Rendell.3.08. 4 Dec. 1912-11 Dec. 1912, 11 Queens Park Ballygunge Calcutta.
  • Rendell.3.09. 18 Dec. 1912, c/o Mrs Bibra 1 Riverside Barrackpore.
  • Rendell.3.10. 25 Dec. 1912, c/o Mrs Pratt 11 Queens Park Ballygunge.

Rendell 4. Letters of 1913

  • Rendell 04.01. 1 Jan. 1913 11 Queens Park Ballygunge Calcutta.
  • Rendell 04.02. 7 Jan. 1911- 3 Feb. 1913 Barisal. It appears that Barisal is now where MHR’s sister Bertha and family are based in a bungalow by the Club. MHR travelled there by train from Calcutta to Khulna then by steamer (the only way to get there) to Barisal. Personalities described include Miss Strong, niece of Mr Strong, Oxford Mission Padre, Dr  and Mrs O’Brien, another Mr Strong who is Collector ,Mr Chotznev the Judge and his wife ,and Mr Meyer whose wife was at home.
  • Rendell 04.03. 9 Feb. 1913, Lotachupli. MHR was on an excursion of a few days down river by launch  involving deer hunting and shooting muggers [Indian crocodile].
  • Rendell 04.04. 18 Feb. 1913 Jalpaiguri Camp. Jalpaiguri Camp was an army tent camp, but with dining social and sporting  amenities.
  • Rendell 04.05. 27 Feb. 1913 – 5 March 1913, 11 Queens Park Ballygunge Calcutta.
  • Rendell 04.06. 11 March 1913 - 6 May 1913, Barisal. The letter of 8 April describes in detail an unsuccessful leopard hunt: ”there was khubar of leopard a little way down the river” “a fierce mother leopard with butchas “.In the same letter  arrangements were being made for a tiger shoot by Mr Meyer, Agent to the Nawab of Dacca: the party is to be the Nawab, Mr Meyer, Mr Beatson Bell (Commissioner of the District), MHR’s brother-in-law George, a Captain Dallas-Smith (of a Punjabi Rgt but serving with the Dacca Military Police)  and a Captain Macpherson, with MHR herself and Miss Strong the Collector’s middle-aged sister as chaperone.The letter of 6 May, 13 4to pages long, describes the tiger shoot: 10 days away in the Sundarbunds. “We got khubar of tigress early next morning not far from the place of the day before”. Miss Short had dropped out of the party, but a young Miss Greer or Grier had joined along with a Scot Mr Eadie, and Mr D’Arcy Lindsey of Calcutta). Great detail is given of how the tiger shoot was set up, with plans of the beating arrangements and machans. A tigress perished; MHR was proud to have got  a shot in.
  • Rendell 04.07. 12 May 1913 -26 May 1913, c/o WK Allies, Tilbhoom TE Sylhet.
  • Rendell 04.08. 1 June 1913-16 June 1913, c/o Mrs Pratt, “The Limit” Haplong Hill  Assam.
  • Rendell 04.09. 24  June 1913-31 July 1913, Barisal.
  • Rendell 04.10. 5 Aug. 1913, 52 Chowringhee Calcutta.
  • Rendell 04.11. 13 Aug. 1913 – 23 Sept. 1913, Barisal. The last letter was as from c/o HF Meyer Esq; MHR and family were clearing their bungalow prior to departure
  • Rendell 04.12. 1 Oct. 1913-28 Oct. 1913, Goalundo.
  • Rendell 04.13. 4 Nov. 1913, c/o Mrs Peters, Barisal.
  • Rendell 04.14. 13 Nov. 1913–20 Nov. 1913, c/o Mrs Amy Preston, Volunteer Headquarters Calcutta.
  • Rendell 04.15. 26 Nov. 1913-18 Dec. 1913, c/o Captain and Mrs Palmer, Central Jail, Benares.
  • Rendell 04.16. 22 Dec. 1913, c/o Mrs Lamond Walker, 42 Lee Road Calcutta.
  • Rendell 04.17. 28 Dec. 1913, “In the Sundarbans”. Tiger shoot.

Rendell 5.

An anonymous two-page TS, probably by MHR’s daughter Margaret, which appears to be a first draft of an epilogue to the letters, with an ALS ( annotated for insertion in the TS ) written “Off Colombo” to MHR 12 Nov. 1914 by her sister Bertha, describing a return voyage to India just after WWI broke out .

Rendell 6.

An anonymous two-page more recent professional TS giving background. The photograph of MHR’s mother which is mentioned in the TS was not present when the Collection was first examined in 2010.                                                                                                                                                                                

Rendell 7.

An excellent photograph of MHR aged 28, endorsed “Taken in Barisal 1913”.

Rendell 8.

Original bundle labels and a few notes implying intentions to publish the letters, which unfortunately never came to fruition.

- John Jones, June 2013

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