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Parks [Parkes; née Archer], Frances Susanna [Fanny]free

(1794–1875)
  • Rosemary Cargill Raza

Parks [Parkes; née Archer], Frances Susanna [Fanny] (1794–1875), author, was born on 8 December 1794 at Conwy in north Wales, the daughter of Captain William Archer, formerly of the 16th lancers, and his wife, Ann, daughter of William Goodhew. The family later moved to Lymington in Hampshire, where on 25 March 1822 she married Charles Crawford Parks (1797/8–1854), a civil servant in the East India Company. Her elder sister Anne Augustine married a clergyman, Henry Allen, and lived in south India during the early years of Fanny's residence in the country.

Fanny and Charles Parks sailed for Calcutta in June 1822, finally leaving India in August 1845. Her account of her years in India, Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque, largely based on the journal which she kept for her mother, was published in 1850. The focus of the book was India, its people, and their culture. It thus gains momentum when, in 1826, the Parkses left Calcutta, where life was largely confined to British society, to live ‘up country’ in Allahabad. Here Charles spent almost all his time. Fanny, however, travelled extensively: she sailed by herself in their pinnace, the Seagull, up the Jumna River to Agra, and up the Ganges to Fatehgarh, and spent nearly a year visiting Cawnpore, Meerut, Delhi, and Landour in the Himalayas. Exploring was a delight: 'Oh! the pleasure of vagabondizing over India' (Parks, 2.192). Her husband, whom she describes as kind and considerate, encouraged her travels. The couple had no children, and he probably realized that, in a society which saw a woman's natural focus as her family, she needed an alternative outlet for her energies. These were considerable: she was characterized by remarkable physical stamina, and indefatigable enthusiasm and curiosity about every aspect of Indian life. Everywhere she went she sketched. She studied and noted every aspect of the peoples she met, and the plant, animal, and insect life she encountered, preserving with arsenical soap specimens for her renowned ‘cabinet of curiosities’, which also housed a heterogeneous assortment of interesting objects, especially Hindu figures. Her fluent Hindustani enabled her to penetrate Indian life, and she adopted some Indian customs, signing her writing and drawings in Persian script (the transliteration of which produced the common misspelling of her surname as Parkes), and playing the sitar. She admired the dignity and grace of Indian life, in which she considered European ways were often an ugly intrusion. Although an Anglican, she was sceptical about attempts at religious conversion and the effect of some European philanthropic endeavours.

Her friendships with Indian women led to a deeper understanding of Indian life. It had always been her ambition to penetrate the zenana: this she achieved through her friend Colonel William Gardner (1771–1835), who had married a Muslim princess. She also became a close friend of the Baiza Bai, the ex-queen of Gwalior. Such relationships enabled her to take part in marriage and other ceremonies normally barred to Europeans, and to gain first-hand understanding of Indian religious beliefs and practices, particularly Hinduism, in which she had a deep interest. Her knowledge of Indian women's life strengthened her sense of the universal exploitation of women, whether in Asia or England, in which latter she condemned the injustice of the educational and legal systems.

Her enthusiasms and interest in Indian life were a source of amusement to her friends. Others, through misunderstanding or jealousy, could be hostile. Fanny Eden, travelling with her brother Lord Auckland, the governor-general, recorded in 1838 how intrusive they found her inescapable presence. In the only known description of her appearance in India, Fanny Eden also wrote, 'She has been a beauty and has the remains of it and is abundantly fat and lively' (Dunbar, Tigers, Durbars and Kings, 106).

Fanny Parks's book, which was extensively illustrated with drawings by herself, her friends, and Indian artists, was lavishly produced and won wide acclaim. Reviewers noted the accuracy, detail, and range of observation—as well as the unusual character of the authoress. She followed it in 1851 with the commentary to a Grand Moving Diorama of Hindostan, which was based on sketches by distinguished amateur artists in India. Accompanying the diorama was a museum, which contained items from her ‘cabinet of curiosities’.

The Parks were by then living in London. Charles Parks died there in August 1854. Fanny survived until 21 December 1875, when she died of shingles at her home, 7 Cornwall Terrace, Regent's Park. She was buried on 28 December in Kensal Green cemetery in the same grave as her husband.

Sources

  • F. Parks, Wanderings of a pilgrim in search of the picturesque, during four-and-twenty years in the East with revelations of life in the zenana, 2 vols. (1850)
  • J. Dunbar, Tigers, durbars and kings: Fanny Eden's Indian journals, 1837–1838 (1988)
  • J. Dunbar, Golden interlude: the Edens in India, 1836–1842 (1955)
  • d. cert.
  • census returns for Westbourne Park Terrace, London, 1851
  • census returns for Cornwall Terrace, Regent's Park, London, 1861–75

  • Blackwood's Lady's Magazine, 32 (Jan 1852), 195–9
  • parish register, Conwy, NL Wales [baptism]
  • Notes and Queries, 12th ser., 6 (1920), 190, 233

Wealth at Death

under £18,000: probate, 14 Jan 1876, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth