Retired York psychiatrist Bob Adams' ancestor was a soldier in the East India Company which controlled much of India 200 years ago. Bob recently went on a journey to follow in his ancestor's footsteps - and now he has written the book of his life. STEPHEN LEWIS reports

BOB Adams always knew his mum had been born in India, in 1931. Her family had returned to England in 1938, just before the Second World War. But growing up he heard plenty of stories about her early childhood in the sub-continent. What he didn't realise was just how long his mother's side of the family had been there.

It was only when he began to research his mother's family history that he learned her ancestors had actually been in India for the best part of 200 years. His mother's great-great-great-grandfather, Solomon Earle, had been a Captain in the East India Company army which, in the 1770s, took part in an epic march right across the country, from Awadh, in North India, to Surat, on the coast just north of Bombay (Mumbai). Bob actually found an account Solomon wrote of that epic march.

What’s more, he learned that Solomon's granddaughter, Harriet Tytler, who also lived in India, had herself written a series of diaries, extracts of which were published in 1986. Harriet was present at the siege of Delhi in 1857 (part of what became known as the Indian Mutiny, or, in India, the First War of Independence) - and even gave birth to a baby there, in the back of a cart...

There was enough in what he'd found out to capture the interest of any self-respecting genealogist. Bob, who was just about to retire from his post as a Consultant Psychiatrist at Bootham Park Hospital, decided to do some serious research.

Ultimately, that research took him on his own journeys to India (a country he'd visited only once before, as a young man in 1979). His plan was to try to follow in Solomon's footsteps, and to visit some of the places his ancestor had described.

He went to India twice, in 2016 and again in 2017. He wrote features for The Press about his travels. And since then, he's been working on a book about the India in which his ancestor lived and marched and fought.

That book - Power and Conflict in Eighteenth Century India: The Life of Solomon Earle - will be officially launched next Saturday, when Bob will be doing a book signing at the York Medical Society building in Stonegate.

The book draws upon Solomon's own writings, and on letters, diaries and accounts from the time. It is partly an account of Solomon's life, from his childhood in Ashburton in Devon, through to joining the East India Company in 1767, his eighteen years in India, his return to England in 1875, and his eventual death in 1824.

But Bob wanted the book to be much more than just an account of one man's life, however interesting. He wanted to put Solomon's life in India into context, by giving an account of the great sub-continent in which his young ancestor suddenly found himself.

In the 1760s, Britain controlled a maritime trading empire that spanned the globe. In the west, the American Revolution was about to break out. In India, the British Raj was still almost a century away. But nevertheless, the East India Company, with its own private army which Solomon had joined, held sway across large parts of the sub-continent. But there was also conflict: a group of Hindu warriors from a mountainous area around Pune known as the Marathas were in the process of taking over much of northern India from the Muhgals, who had ruled for centuries.

This was the India in which Solomon found himself. Bob's book includes an authoritative chapter setting the scene in India - and then follows Solomon's life in the sub-continent.

It was a life which saw him take part in that epic march, rise to the rank of captain in the East India Company army, and ultimately be appointed Resident (a kind of senior diplomatic role) to the Maharaja of Baroda, in present-day Gujarat.

Bob's book draws heavily upon letters, diaries, Solomon's own written accounts, and a 'Journal of the march of the Bombay Detachment', a contemporary account by an unnamed author, to bring Solomon's India to vivid life.

It was an India that was in many ways deeply civilised and highly cultured. But it was also a sub-continent that was dangerous and going trough enormous upheaval. The East India Company army with which Solomon served was right in the thick of things: marching, fighting and laying claim to large swathes of territory that would one day form part of the British Raj.

Solomon's own original account, quoted extensively in Bob's book, includes numerous descriptions of skirmishes with the Marathas - the Hindu warriors from mountainous Pune.

In one extract, Solomon describes how the enemy threatened an attack for several days, 'constantly advancing nearly within reach of our guns, but could not be brought to engage us in earnest...From daybreak when they made their appearance, until sunset when they invariably retired, they were often within reach of my two long brass pounders... so I had frequent opportunities of playing with them, and must have done great execution'.

On another occasion Solomon went in pursuit of a 'notorious rebel', Khyseer Cown, who 'had destroyed several villages, murdered many of the inhabitants, and had the audacity to fix several of their heads on the walls of Dubay, a city that belonged to the English'. He eventually caught Cown, only - to his great disappointment - to be told to release him with 'only a small reprimand'.

There are also vivid accounts of the march across India that Solomon and his men took part in in 1778. One entry by the unknown author of the 'Journal of the March of the Bombay Detachment' describes how the East India Company army arrived at Bhopal.

In our own time the site of a dreadful gas leak which left thousands dead, in Solomon's day Bhopal was a walled Muslim city. The author of the Journal writes that the walls were 'nine miles in circumference, situated on the side of a hill... The town is built of stone, the houses good, and the walls of the fort of hewn stone'.

After leaving Bhopal, the East India Company army resumed its march - very much in enemy territory. Solomon himself takes up the story. They followed 'an exceedingly bad road, the whole way a jungle and pass. We crossed three or four deep stony nullahs (ravines)'. Luckily, he writes, they encountered no opposition. "A very few people, with resolution, might have defended them (the ravines) against thousands, but not an enemy did we see, or any fort."

Bob's book runs to more than 250 pages. It is meticulously researched - but also beautifully written, taking the reader on the same journey of discovery that Bob himself followed when he began researching his ancestor's life. It is also richly illustrated with Bob's own photographs and with some extraordinary prints and etchings he found in an old book about India published in the 1860s.

Bob is no apologist for what Britain did in India. Throughout the book, he says he tries as far as possible to give the point of view of the Indian people and their leaders - something the British of the time were not noted for doing. "Perhaps if the British had been more open to the oriental way of doing things... and if they had played less of the race card, things might have been very different today," Bob writes.

But the British presence in India at least led to a 'significant mingling of cultures', he says.

His book, he repeats, aims to be more than just an account of one man's life.

"Solomon's experiences bear witness to the early years of the establishment of the British Empire and how it affected others," he writes in his conclusion.

They certainly do.

Power and conflict in Eighteenth Century India: The Life of Solomon Earle by Dr Robert Adams is printed by York Publishing Services. It is available, priced £10 plus P&P, from

Bob will be signing copies of the book at the York Medical Society HQ on Stonegate from 2-4pm next Saturday, September 14.