Wolverhampton BTW

Eliza Fay

Fay, Eliza née Clement, 1756—1816

by Benjamin Colbert

Little is known of Eliz Clement Fay’s origins and parentage, though she mentions in her Original Letters from India––the chief source of biographical information on her––two sisters and a brother, as well as parents still living in 1779 (her mother died before 1783; her father in 1794). She implies, too, earlier travels, noting how three times before then she had visited Calais.

Her story begins with her marriage to Anthony Fay, an Irish barrister, around 1779, the April of which year they departed for India. They travelled overland through France, across the Alps, to Italy, then shipped to Alexandria before undertaking the desert crossing to the Red Sea. Their voyage to their destination in Calcutta was interrupted at Calicut on the Malabar Coast where they were imprisoned fifteen weeks from early November by officers loyal to Hyder Ali (1722-82). Just above a year from their departure from England they arrived in Calcutta (May 1780).

During her initial two years’ residence in India, her husband practised law, but did not prosper. After he sired an illegitimate child, she sought a legal separation and sailed for England (dep. April 1782), via the Cape of Good Hope and Saint Helena, arriving on 7 February 1783.

Fay recounts two subsequent voyages to India, the first being her venture to set up a milliners shop at Calcutta (dep. 17 March 1784). By her own account, the business thrived until a crisis in 1788 brought in creditors, but had recovered by the time she left for England in 1794. Subsequent speculative and trading ventures, however, were not successful, but led her to India again from 1795 to 1797, when she departed by way of the Cape of Good Hope bound for the United States.

Here her narrative ends, but her business pursuits took her back to England, where, in Spring 1815 at Blackheath, she wrote the concluding letters of her narrative. She then returned once more to Calcutta where the volume was prepared for the press. She died on 9 September 1816 before the book was completed and her administrators published Letters the following year.


Blain, Virginia, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. London: B. T. Batsford, 1990. 360. Print.

Raza, Rosemary. In Their Own Words: British Women Writers and India 1740-1857. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.


Title Published
Original Letters from India 1816

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