Forty years ago the departure of a cadet for India was a much more serious affair than it is at present. Under the regulations then in force, leave, except on medical certificate, could only be obtained once during the whole of an officer's service, and ten years had to be spent in India before that leave could be taken. Small wonder, then, that I felt as if I were bidding England farewell for ever when, on the 20th February, 1852, I set sail from Southampton with Calcutta for my destination. Steamers in those days ran to and from India but once a month, and the fleet employed was only capable of transporting some 2,400 passengers in the course of a year. This does not include the Cape route; but even taking that into consideration, I should doubt whether there were then as many travellers to India in a year as there are now in a fortnight at the busy season.
My ship was the Peninsular and Oriental Company's steamer Ripon, commanded by Captain Moresby, an ex-officer of the Indian Navy, in which he had earned distinction by his survey of the Red Sea. A few Addiscombe friends were on board, leaving England under the same depressing circumstances as myself, and what with wind and weather, and the thought that at the best we were bidding farewell to home and relations for ten long years, we were anything but a cheerful party for the first few days of the voyage. Youth and high spirits had, however, re-asserted themselves long before Alexandria,
I agree with the excellent review. The level of detail about the mutiny is overwhelming while the book is still readable and exciting, if you're interested in the history or culture.
First of all, this is not a novel or fiction. The author describes his career from his arrival in India as a subaltern military officer to the chief of the Royal British army in India. During the 41 years the author describes, he always shares his own opinion (of coure from a point of view as a chief commander with a lot of experience, so that sometimes his very early ideas as a young officer seem at first a bit exaggerated) to any affair of government and military he comes into touch with. Though this is sometimes a bit lengthy it nonetheless helps to keep track of the general history in a detail one will never get through a historical overview of British colonization of India.
The parts where the author is involved into the great 'milestones' of history on the other hand is sometimes extremely thrilling. From the great Mutiny to the Afghan Wars (very interesting to understand what is happening since then in this wretched country). He has a very legible style, not too much 'honour and glory' though not without this very charme of British officers one is used to from literature, history, and movies.
For anyone who wants to understand the history of the Middle East to India, this is an entertaining but (I'm convinced mostly) true autobiography.
Topics from high politics and state affairs mingled with the private sorrows of an colonial officer away from his fatherland.