Britishness, Clubbability, and the Colonial Public Sphere: The Genealogy of an Imperial Institution in Colonial India
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 January 2014
The ubiquity of the European social club in the European empires in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has been widely recognized in both popular and academic writings on European, and particularly British, imperialism. The “European” ascription of imperial social clubs derived from their predominantly whites-only membership policy in which all elite Europeans, whatever their nationalities, were potentially included. Although each individual club often catered to a very different and distinctive clientele among elite Europeans in the empire, the “clubland” as a whole served as a common ground where elite Europeans could meet as members, or as guests of members, of individual clubs. These clubs, it has been argued, represented an oasis of European culture in the colonies, functioning to reproduce the comfort and familiarity of “home” for Europeans living in an alien land. The popular narrative of the club, as is evident from the account by the official historian of the Bengal Club, one of the oldest social clubs in India, easily oscillated between an understanding of the club as a broadly European cultural institution and as a specifically British one. Either way, the cultural values that it represented were understood as transplanted to the colonies: “It is the practice of European peoples to reproduce as far as possible in their settlements and colonies in other continents the characteristic social features of their natural lives …. For more than a century no institution has been more peculiarly British than the social club.”
- Research Article
- Journal of British Studies , Volume 40 , Issue 4: At Home in the Empire , October 2001 , pp. 489 - 521
- Copyright © North American Conference of British Studies 2001
1 The focus of this article, for reasons that will be obvious, is on the “gentleman's clubs” as opposed to the far more numerous “working men's clubs” in Britain and their counterparts in the empire. The emphasis here, moreover, is on social clubs as opposed to clubs that were formed for specific purposes such as the numerous “sporting clubs.”
2 During the outbreak of war, however, some of the clubs in India, as in Britain, imposed certain restrictions on members from enemy countries. The Bengal Club, like the Oriental Club in London, put a ban on Europeans of German or Austrian descent in 1916; see Club Committee Meeting, 27 June 1916, Committee Proceedings of the Bengal Club, 1906–1919, Bengal Club Archives, Calcutta, India (BCA).
3 Panckridge, H. R., A Short History of the Bengal Club, 1827–1927 (Calcutta, 1927), p. 1Google Scholar, emphasis added.
4 Quoted in Hunt, Roland and Harrison, John, The District Officer in India, 1930–1947 (London, 1980), pp. 127–28Google Scholar.
5 Quoted in Allen, Charles, ed., Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1976), p. 99Google Scholar.
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7 There has been little serious scholarship on the clubs despite the recent proliferation of work on “imperial culture.” Rich's, Paul J., Chains of Empire: English Public Schools, Masonic Cabalism, Historical Causality and Imperial Clubdom (London, 1991)Google Scholar remains one of the few books to engage with the implications of clubland in the empire. Also see Chan, Wai Kwan, The Making of Hong Kong Society: Three Studies of Class Formation in Early Hong Kong (New York, 1991), pp. 38–40Google Scholar.
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11 My thinking about a distinctively “colonial public sphere” draws, of course, from the analysis of the classic bourgeois public sphere in the work of Jürgen Habermas; see his The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Burger, Thomas (Cambridge, Mass., 1991)Google Scholar; originally published in Berlin in 1962. See also Calhoun, Craig, ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere (Boston, 1992)Google Scholar. For the literature on “the public” in colonial India, see the editor's introduction and the essays in Freitag, Sandra B., ed., special issue on the “public,” South Asia, 14, no. 1 (1991), esp. 1–13Google Scholar; also see Sarkar, Tanika, “Talking about Scandals: Religion, Law and Love in Late Nineteenth Century Bengal,” Studies in History 1, no. 1 (1997): 63–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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95 Among the Indian members some prominent names included the following: R. C. Mitter, Jotendra Mohun Tagore, Rajendra Lala Mitra, Nawab Abdool Luteef, H. M. Rustomjee, Keshub Chunder Sen, Bankim Chandra Chattterjee, and Rev. K. M. Bannerjee. Some prominent European members, included Sir Henry Harrison, chairman of the Calcutta Corporation; Sir Henry Cotton of the ICS; and Rev. Father Lafont. Harry Lee, Harrison's successor at the Calcutta Corporation, also played an active role in the club. See Choudhury, , Calcutta, pp. 132–33Google ScholarPubMed; Hindoo Patriot (16 June 1883), p. 280Google Scholar; and Hindoo Patriot (18 August 1890), pp. 390–91Google Scholar.
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107 Cited in Sinha, M. K., In My Father's Footsteps: A Policeman's Odyssey, 1908–1980 (Delhi, 1981), p. 24Google Scholar.
108 See various individual memoirs, for example: Menon, K. P. S., Many Worlds: An Autobiography (London, 1965), esp. pp. 89–147Google Scholar; Chettur, S. K., The Steel Frame and I: Life in the ICS (London, 1962)Google Scholar; Rai, E. N. Mangat, Commitment My Style: Career in the Indian Civil Service (Delhi, 1973)Google Scholar; [Nehra, A.], Letters of an Indian Judge to an English Gentlewoman (London, 1934)Google Scholar; Rustomjee, Nari, Enchanted Frontiers (Bombay, 1971)Google Scholar; and Tyabji, Badr-ud-din, Memoirs of an Egoist, vol. 1, 1907–1956 (New Delhi, 1988)Google Scholar. See also the recollections of Indian ICS officers in Punjabi, K. L., The Civil Servant in India (Bombay, 1965)Google Scholar and Hunt and Harrison, District Officer.
112 The incident involving Willingdon is mentioned in Trevelyan, Humphrey, The India We Left: Charles Trevelyan, 1826–1865, Humphrey Trevelyan, 1929–1947 (London, 1972), pp. 112–13Google Scholar. Details are also given in Masani, , Indian Tales, pp. 51–52Google Scholar. While Indian princes were not allowed in the clubs in British India, they belonged to the same clubs as Europeans in their own princely states; see the recollections of the son of the Nawab of Palanpur in Allen, Charles and Diwedi, Sharada, Lives of the Indian Princes (London, 1984), p. 158Google Scholar.
113 See Calcutta Club: Memorandum and Articles of Association 1922, National Library, Calcutta, pp. 48, 51Google Scholar.
115 Quoted in ibid., p. 68. For the decline in the popularity of the clubs see also Kincaid, , British Social Life, pp. 276–77Google Scholar. For one Anglo Indian's perception of the growing “crises of whiteness” in late colonial India, see Schwarz, Bill, “An Englishman Abroad … and at Home: The Case of Paul Scott,” New Formations, no. 17 (Summer 1992), pp. 95–105Google Scholar.
119 Ibid., p. 25.
120 Ibid., p. 55. There were many others, of course, who made full use of the social opportunities for bridge, sports, and other activities that the clubs provided, see Sengupta, Padmini [Sathianadhan], The Portrait of an Indian Woman (Calcutta, 1956)Google Scholar.
121 See Rau, Dhanvanthi Rama, An Inheritance: The Memoirs of Dhanvanthi Rama Rau (London, 1977), pp. 99–100, 119Google Scholar.
122 See Letter From Sorabji to Elena [Alice Bruce] Richmond, dated 24 February 1926, in “Cornelia Sorabji Papers: Correspondence and Private Papers,” January-April 1926, India Office Library and Records, London, folder no. 40.
124 See the recollection of this episode in Dutt, Kalpana, Chittagong Armoury Raider's Reminiscences (1945; reprint, New Delhi, 1979), pp. 40–44Google Scholar. For Indian women's participation in revolutionary terrorist organizations, see Forbes, Geraldine H., “Goddesses or Rebels: The Women Revolutionaries of Bengal,” in Women, Politics and Literature in Bengal, ed. Seeley, Clinton B. (East Lansing, Mich. 1981), pp. 3–17Google Scholar.
125 For a recollection of this incident, see the writings of Indian suffragist Sen, Mrinalini, Knocking at the Door: Lectures and Other Writings (Calcutta, 1954), p. 150Google Scholar.
126 The Lyceum Club was founded on 20 June 1904 as a place where “women of every nationality meet in a freedom of intercourse hitherto unavailable;” see the report on the tenth anniversary of the club in its paper, The Lyceum (June 1914), in Papers of Lady Strachey [longtime vice president of the Lyceum Club/, Fawcett Library, London Guildhall University, London, Box 92. Sarojini Naidu was, perhaps, among its earliest and most famous Indian members. Many important connections among Indian women, such as those among Naidu, Kamala Sathianadhan, Padmini Sengupta, and Hansa Mehta, had been cemented first in 1919 in the Lyceum Club in London, see Sengupta, Padmini [Sathianadhan], The Portrait of an Indian Woman (Calcutta, 1956), pp. 114–16Google Scholar; Sengupta, Padmini, Sarojini Naidu (Bombay, 1966), p. 158Google Scholar; and Mehta, Hansa, Indian Woman (Delhi, 1981), p. 188Google Scholar.