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Early life and family
She was born in Conwy, Wales, the daughter of Anne and Major Edward Caulfield Archer, 16th Lancers, ADC to Lord Combermere and author of Tours in upper India, and in parts of the Himalaya Mountains; with accounts of the courts of the native princes, &c. She married Charles Crawford Parkes, a Writer for the East India Companies.
Her detailed memoirs written in a lively style reveal her independence of mind. Parkes allows a pre-colonial perspective of northern India, its peoples and customs, recording changes in Britain's governing of India, the economic impact of such policies, and domestic problems in Indian society, 1822–45. She describes attending colonial activities in Calcutta; learning Hindustani; farming at Allahabad. Describing Muslim customs; a history of Hindu theology; Methodism as found in higher native social classes. Europeans' lack of respect for Indian culture. Famine in Kanauj; travelling over mountains from Landour to Simla. Discussing laws governing married women in England as unfair. Describing Delhi; natural beauty of Indian scenery. Benares: snake charmers, temples, sugar mills. Describing Afghan peoples and customs. Parkes' narrative reflects her admiration and respect for the richness of Indian culture. The memoir includes a glossary of terms and a collection of translated Indian proverbs.
The memoirs were published as Wanderings of a Pilgrim in search of the Pictureseque During four and twenty years in the East with revelations of Life in the Zenana (Pelham Richardson, 1850); William Dalrymple has rediscovered and edited this 'unique and wonderful' travelogue on India as Begums, Thugs & Englishmen, The Journals of Fanny Parkes (Penguin Publishers).
Her book is 'unique' because Fanny Parkes is at once an observant, fluent, compassionate, intelligent and fairly without prejudice as a travel writer in the mid-19th century when British arrogance on the colonised peoples coloured almost all printed material written in the English language. This book is one rare exception. Its 'wonderful', because the writing style of Parkes is amazingly contemporary and unless one is reminded, it would be impossible to guess that these journals were written almost 175 years ago. Her observations cover almost all aspects of a European living and travelling in the early 19th century in India.
- Wanderings of a Pilgrim in search of the Pictureseque, During four and twenty years in the East, with revelations of Life in the Zenana. Published in 1850 by Pelham Richardson, England.
- Begums, Thugs & Englishmen, the journals of Fanny Parkes, Penguin Books.
- The Pioneer, Sunday 17 May 1936
- The Guardian, Saturday 9 June 2007