Grandma Roberts--Lillian (Nierces) Roberts
Mum’s mother Lillian Nierces (Armenian, b 1884 m 1901 d 1969) married my maternal grandfather Clarence Roberts when she was 16. She was part of the Armenian community in Calcutta. A small powerful Armenian community existed in India from pre Moghul times -- a long paper describes the Armenian community in India here. During the early days of the HEIC (1720’s) an Armenian was used by the British as a conduit between themselves and the Moghuls.
At this time I know very little about my maternal grandmother. I know her sister Dottie married a once wealthy Calcutta Armenian family named Aratoon. My mother describes them as wealthy gamblers who owned racehorses and who went bankrupt in the period she knew of them. I do know that the same family name (Aratoon) had three sons who got the “Indian Mutiny medal” in Lucknow. They held out in La Martiniere college and were rescued by British soldiers.
Mum remembers that her maternal grandparents were an Irishwoman and an Armenian named Vahd Nierces. Her mother’s mother, the Irishwoman had one arm. The other arm had been amputated for some reason. I believe the name Nierces is also sometimes spelt Narcis and that it is the name of the patron saint of Armenia.
There may be a direct connection between our family and the wife of an
English adventurer called Hawkins. Shortly after HEIC obtained their
monopoly from Elizabeth I, they sent out ships to India (1607) in the hope
of obtaining a trading license (firman) from the Moghul Emperor Jehangir .
The man charged with the task of obtaining the firman was a Turkish speaking
English adventurer called Hawkins. Hawkins had picked up his Turkish in a
Hawkins managed to make his way to the Moghul court, and apparently
ingratiated himself with the court. Over a period of a few years (they
don’t do things fast in the Orient!) Jehangir kept insisting that Hawkins
marry an Indian woman. Supposedly Hawkins eventually figured a way out of the impasse
and agreed to a match providing the intended bride was a Christian. To
Hawkins surprise, Jehangir produces an Armenian Christian woman who Hawkins
then marries. Some time later Jehangir tires of Hawkins and kicks him and
Mrs. Hawkins out of his court. They make their back to the coast, and proceed
to sail back to England.
Hawkins died on the way, and Mrs. H arrived in England much to the
consternation and embarrassment of the investors of the HEIC. Apparently
Mrs H managed to talk the notoriously tight fisted HEIC out of a pension,
and subsequently married another HEIC empoyee named xxx. XXX was
subsequently killed by the Dutch in xxx in the “Amboyna massacre”. It is not
unlikely that we are somehow related to this unfortunate woman who found
herself twice widowed in a country noted for inhospitality, bad food and