The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History Book


To comprehend history, a person has to go beyond the timeliness of trade, names and periods of wars and other significant events, for people who make history are the ones who lived it. Hence, Elizabeth Marsh in her book, The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh, gives any enthusiastic reader a moving history of colonialism, trade and transnational during the 18th century.

The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh links the story with a universal curve of history and illustrates the forces shaping it. For instance, she illustrates how common belief of royal Morocco and Britain wedged the nature of Marsh internment and the ability of British women to engage native womenfolk as domestic workers underwrote the former achieving broader autonomies in India than back home in their native lands.

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Brief History of Elizabeth Marsh

Elizabeth was born in 1735 in England to mixed-race parents. During her teenage years, she made extensive travels across the world. Her first trip was to England, her father’s birthplace. According to Colley (2008), her father was a prominent ship carpenter whereas her mother was from Creole ancestry widow. Through these travels, she was enthused by growths than the cosmic popularity of men.

Elizabeth Was betrothed to James Crisp, an apt business person of indeterminate affluences, she used a considerably longer time travelling and living independently. During 1756 on her way to Morocco, a ship she had boarded was attacked by Moroccan seafarers. She was forcefully taken to Marrakesh, and imprisoned by the Sidi Muhammad, the acting Sultan. Elizabeth’s arrest was motivated by political interests. Besides, it appears the element of sexual lust was a determination of the then Sultan, Sidi Mohamed to take her as a hostage.

However, Elizabeth was set free; physically unscathed. However, her honor was compromised, prompting marriage to her fellow expedition colleague. Colley (2008) asserts that, Elizabeth’s details of her involvements made a pioneer woman to write and produce about Maghreb in English. Consequently, she is the first pioneer woman to have made extensive trip in Southern and Eastern India. As a woman of diverse frontiers, she spends much of her life in Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, Menorca and London.

Region Where Elizabeth Marsh Travelled

The marriage of Elizabeth was made up of many challenges. Though her husband was a risk taker, this either did not solve anything. Thus, travelling was envisioned as an option to calm her from her marriage. One of the most places she travelled was India. Colley (2008) illustrates that Elizabeth arrived in Madras in 1771 with two children.

Travelling to India was necessitated by various factors. The first was bankruptcy. Her husband’s businesses had gone down hence what they had saved was too little to put up with life. Secondly, Elizabeth loved travelling thus; going to India was a sign of fulfilling her obligations. Lastly, Elizabeth was interested in land deals, India being a British colony, it was easy for her to acquire land and sell it to potential and wealthy buyers from Britain and other interested parties.

Nechtman (2010) alleges that, India was an important region during this time. It was a trading center for British trader’s en-route the Middle East and larger part of Asia. They securely erected go-downs to protect their trading wares. To protect the go-downs, building of forts was enhanced,thus creating armies.

This chapter also made the British to disorganize the already established kingdoms with a view to securing an opportunity for colonization. Thus, this proved possible because the British accrued more power and wealth. The British to improve their security in the region, they trained the local Indians and offered them opportunities in the army.

The British colony also practiced slavery whereby they would seize Indians and forcefully supply them to other British colonies across the world. The slaves worked in rice, sugar and tobacco plantations. Moreover, trading activities in India were centered on East India Company; this was a large scale combined company with offices in India. The ships owned by this company primarily traded in textiles, tea and bullion with Bengal (Nechtman, 2010).

Besides trading activities, this region was a typical British colony. The British acquired raw materials such as cotton, foodstuffs and others and transported them to Britain where they were manufactured and returned back to India for sale. The British enjoyed these valuable undertakings thus they became a formidable power in Asia where they launched physical and economic threat to China during the opium wars. Besides, the senior Indian caste was compelled to embrace British culture and Christian way of life.

Elizabeth was one of the few women pioneers of Europeans descent to arrive in Madrasa. Her husband was an astute businessman who dealt in diverse business interests; however, his businesses slowly began to crumple. Thus, after a mortifying insolvency, there was urgency for a new life in Bengal, India.

In India, life began on a good note, however, along the way, things started to go awry. James Crisp, her husband, got a job with East India Company as a salt agent in 1777 after docking in India (Colley, 2008). He also increased his involvement in illegal business i.e. liquor, dried fish, and maritime trade of tea and anything which could earn money.

James had international business contacts which he and her spouse had overtime gathered during their travels across the world. James was a hard worker and thus in India, by the help of his wife, he strengthened his illegal trade. His business, however, did not last long because of global snags beyond his predictions, hence in 1767, he was a bankrupt man.

Trouble did not forgive him either he was dismissed from his regular employment with East India Company after absconding his workresponsibilities. Marsh recognized the financial constraints they faced were engulfed in and thus to salvage her husband and family financial condition, she cleverly delivered a remark of a senior company official archived in an Indian office Library located in London (Colley, 2008). This was to indicate the notion of racial supremacy.

The note read that “a white European on Indian subcontinent, with no employment”. This was a terrible extremity to Elizabeth and her husband. However, the intervention design Elizabeth does not produce results as her husband dies in 1779 with much debt as asserted by (Colley, 2008).

According to Nechtman (2010), long before her husband death, their marriage had grown apart. This was as a result of exploration nature of Elizabeth. She had on several occasions left him and sort leisurely tours in eastern India with the unmarried men. Marsh’s analogy with the East India Company, and global trade allowed defining new dimension in India and wherever she explored.

Elizabeth highlights a streamlined design of Western supremacy and overseas belligerence. The instantaneous onset of globalization stirring her exploration in India guaranteed her evolution connections thus her philosophies were repetitively fashioned and refracted by the society and actions outside Europe as affirmed by Nechtman (2010).

According to Colley (2008), Elizabeth encompassed romanticism in her journeys across the world. She had a habit of having multiple affairs wherever she travelled. In Asia, Nechtman (2010) asserts that Elizabeth left her husband in Dhaka, and began a long journey in Southern part of India. She toured Palanquin, accompanied with an entourage of more than 40 coolies.

Elizabeth was also accompanied by a cryptic acquaintance with whom she is alleged to be a cousin. But in real sense this man was undoubtedly her lover. Consequently, Elizabeth was a flawed woman. To achieve fame and world recognition, she engaged her daughter in an unhappy marriage. She did less to help end the British illegal trade and slavery while in India. Her travel and exploration of India elucidates embracing the society diversity, geography, gender and class.


The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh helps to bring out an amazing re-establishment of the 18th century of woman’s unbelievable and turbulent life. It is not only the history of Elizabeth, but to similar travelers of her time. The book also underwrites the pace in which the world is transforming.

Marsh experiences in places such as India, London, Menorca, Cape Town, Morocco and Gibraltar among the many places she travelled brought about developments in terms of economic, social and political well- being. Moreover, her lifetime led to the creation of new links being established across the countries, continents, empires, slavery, trade and navies; all these developments transformed and distorted her progress towards the people who happened to be close to her.

Works Cited

Colley, Linda. The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History, New York: Anchor Books, 2008

Nechtman, Tillman W. Nabobs: Empire and Identity in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010


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