My grandfather’s secrets

Margurite Mumford, and my Grandfather Albert Scott, Ooty & Bombay. 1930s

Image & Narrative contributed by Jason Scott Tilly, United Kingdom

I will never be sure if my grandfather Bert Scott, would have wanted me or anyone else to find these negatives; They were his secrets for all of his adult life. He had after all kept them very safe, hidden from the moment he left India.

Bert Scott, (lower right) was my grandfather, and he was born in Bangalore in 1915. He was educated at Bishop Cottons school and he joined the Times of India in 1936 as a press photographer, where he worked until the outbreak of World War II.

With trouble brewing during Indo-Pak Partition, he and his family fled and he left his whole life behind; his country of birth, India, his friends and home. Travelling with minimum luggage would have been conditional so he chose to take only the necessary in just a few metal trunks.

Inside one of those trunks were several photo albums and pocket-sized blue negative holders that I came across many years later in my grandparent’s cupboard in 2006, a few years after Bert, my grandfather passed away. The little blue pocket-books held as many memories as it did negatives, about 100 precious moments of reflected light captured on film of our family and of some places where they had lived, but inside one particular folded grease proof sleeve were four negatives that were cut up into single frames and they were of one particular young lady; of a Margurite Mumford, a beautiful young Anglo Indian girl.

I remember one Sunday when he was alive, sitting with his photograph albums on my lap, my grandmother looked at me and stated, in a tone which sounded somewhat incongrously jealous for a woman in her late seventies, “those books are just full of photographs of his ex-girlfriends!”. My grandpa who was sitting across us, either didn’t hear the remark or chose to ignore it – the Snooker on television providing a timely distraction.

After he passed away, I found an extraordinary number of photographs of Margurite. The photographs of her are always infused with a certain playfulness during day trips to the beach or picnics by the river. There is something so obviously personal and intimate about the images. Margurite clearly loved to play to the camera or to be more precise she loved playing up for the photographer, flirting with both the camera and the man whose eye followed her through the lens. The books did have many photographs of other beautiful young women of the Raj too, but the intimacy I saw in Margurite’s images proved to me that only she was actually a girlfriend of my grandpa before he met my grandmother.

As time wore on, I became more intrigued as to whom Margurite really was. I wondered why their romance had ended. I spent hours scouring the internet in the faint hope that I might be able to find someone from her family with whom I could share her beautiful photographs. With not a clue in sight, eventually my hope began to wane but I never stopped wondering about her.

Only recently while pouring over the pages of the albums for the nth time, I noticed a faded scribble “Margurite ‘Lovedale’” by a photograph. Intrigued as to what the word ‘Lovedale’ meant I returned once again to the internet and within seconds I was on to something. Lovedale is the nickname of the Lawrence Memorial Military School in the town of ‘Ooty’ in the Niligiri Hills. My great-grandfather, Algernon Edwin Scott, had a summer-house in Ooty and my grandpa would spend weekends with him whilst he was studying at St Josephs College in Kannur. Ooty would have been the place where he must have met Margurite!

Perhaps, college sweethearts; They kept their relationship going from their first meeting in the south Indian Hills of the Deccan Plateau to the humid coastal city of Bombay where my grandpa had begun working for the Times of India. I know from the amount of photographs that I have found, that the couple took days out to Juhu beach and the Hanging Gardens on Malabar hill along with trips out to the Ghats outside of Bombay. What was most obvious is how much Margurite meant to my grandpa because he kept the negatives separate from all of the others that he had saved. The memories held on film, of Margurite seem different to the rest, they seem more personal, more intimate.

I immediately contacted the school in Ooty. They in turn put me in touch with ex-pupils who although now in their late eighties and nineties were still in touch with one another. My search led me to a woman in America, Moira who very kindly informed me that she was still in touch with one of Margurite’s sisters, Gladys, who also lived in America. I was soon sharing these images with Gladys and she remembered my grandpa very well. She let me know that Margurite was still alive and living in New Zealand, but she was now ninety-six years of age and living in an old people’s home. Her memory had dimmed, but she was physically quite well. I was then put in touch with Alecia, Margurite’s daughter and I began sending them pictures of the young Margurite – images I presume they had never even imagined existed.

In my eagerness and excitement at re-uniting people with a ‘more than half -a-century-ago’ memory, I also sent a photograph of my grandpa. I was told Margurite’s poignantly hopeful reaction was simply, “Is Bertie here?”. My grandpa was indeed the love of her life. But her family had to leave India during Partition, she had then married an Irishman and moved to New Zealand.

It had been obvious to me all along, by the very nature of the photographs, that they were in love, that they both meant an awful lot to each other. Proof, if it were needed, of the indelible nature of first love.

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This Post Has 28 Comments

  1. Wayne. C

    Extremely interesting, intriguing and downright romantic. Any more information about the lady in NZ? I knew of an Anglo Indian couple in Karachi by the name Mumford, the man passed away about 25 yrs ago. Will try and dig up some info. Maybe there is a connection. Best regs, wayne C

  2. richa

    best read on memory project! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Himmat Ratnoo

    What a beautiful tribute to love!!

  4. Ali Khanan

    What a fantastic love story and memories.
    Kudos to you for reaching out the lady.

  5. Loraine

    i have almost read so many Indian Memory Project stories…so heart touching stories & lots of knowledge about history……

  6. Jacob

    What a fantastic story. I lived in Richmond Town, Bangalore in the very early 70s and there were lots of Anglo Indians whose stories will never be heard. Thanks for a great story. Is it possible to view your documentary online? Cheers

  7. Ruchita

    Very well written and quite touching!

  8. Raakesh

    A wonderful article. Reminds that love knows no bounds nor any distance. Very touching indeed.

    Though I’m guessing, I think the St. Josephs College mentioned here would be the one at Coonor, Nil iris, Tamil Nadu.

  9. Mithun

    Beautiful … its sounds like a Love Fairytale.

  10. Joe

    First of all thanks for sharing this.
    Everything would have died down in that tin box. But your persistence (and curiosity) has rejoined some people and that is what matters. In the process you yourself must be feeling good about the whole thing.
    Yes Lovedale is a boarding school in Ooty (Uthagamangalam) and I had visited the place to meet my nephew who was studying there. A lovely school with lovely ambience.
    The Ghat you mentioned must be the Lonavala / Khandala Ghats, which is inbetween Bombay and Pune.
    This is a lovely site and I am reading all the entries made here.

    1. Krish Chandran

      Wonderful story and you have such nice memories. Fortunate that you are able to contact the person adn her daughter. Hope the links continue.

      Lawrence School is in Lovedale – not OOty!!! There is a Lovedale railway station. The school is now called Lawrence School, Lovedale.

      There was a student named Tom Mumford whose last known address was in Blackheath, London, UK. Another named Melville Arthur Mumford (joined Lovedale on 12-03-1928)

  11. Sigma

    So wonderful… that feeling.. that special love.. can never really be put into words..

  12. Radha

    Beautiful story. But I wish you could get Marguerite to write something about your grandfather, for Richard Leckinger’s very telling lines,
    “As a friend of Marguerite’s I have had the pleasure of watching her page through the collection of photos you sent. It is always fresh and the memories of India and of Bertie come spilling out. Some memories simply will not fade and you’ve brought a little magic back into her life” make it very important to know what still goes on in her heart.

  13. Devinder Sadana

    Very engrossing. Thanks for putting up.

  14. Rakhee

    beautiful, touching story. So different from the other stories one has heard from the days of the Raj. Made my day!

  15. Jason Tilley

    Dear Yohaan. could you put your full emial address on here so I can write to you. Regards Jason

  16. brenda hopper

    Mr. Tilley,

    You’r pictures of you’r grandfather and his long ago love were so touching and sweet. As you said one could tell they must have loved each other just by the way they looked at each other. To have found such a treasure trove of memories and family history is wonderful. I to am on a search of my family history and reading your story touched my heart because I know how exciting it can be to find out things about our family even if sometimes it is a secret. Kind regards.

  17. tara

    aww this so cute..and i studied in lawrence its just called The Lawrence School now and also wanted to let you know its Coonoor where St josephs is..

  18. Richard Leckinger

    Thanks Jason!
    As a friend of Marguerite’s I have had the pleasure of watching her page through the collection of photos you sent. It is always fresh and the memories of India and of Bertie come spilling out. Some memories simply will not fade and you’ve brought a little magic back into her life. Thanks for that!

    1. Jason Tilley

      Thank you Richard. It is great to hear that.


      1. Yohaan John

        Jason, just wanted you to know that this piece came by my way a couple weeks ago. I live close to Moira here in the US and am in email contact with her (Moira is a fount of info re Lovedale in the 30’s and 40’s). I run the online alumni forum for the school on Yahoogroups and facebook (links below) and have distributed your piece widely throughout our alumni … I too am in contact with several OLs in the 80’s and older …

        My email is yohaan (at) gmail if you wanted to connect.

        Pls also check out our photo archives at the picasa link below … We have several albums of Lovedale from the 1920’s onwards … organized by decade mostly:

        (In the top right section of the Picasa page, sort by ALBUM NAME and everything will be sorted by decade)

        OL – Class of 1991
        Minneapolis, MN, USA

      2. Jason Tilley

        Will write soon John, just had some computer problems this weekend.


  19. neil

    As Ghalib said:

    Chand Haseeno ke khatoot
    (A few love-letters from pretty women)

    Chand Tasveeren butat
    (A few pictures of ‘idols’/ women in this context)

    Baad marne ke, mere ghar se yeh samaan nikla
    (this was what was found in my home after my death)

    1. Himmat Ratnoo

      Ghalib speaks for us all!!

  20. Dr John A Thomas

    This is something most wonderful!! and touching!! Congratulations and thank you for making all of us grow a little fonder of each other

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