As I was putting together another pot-pourri in my head for today’s posting, I opened my inbox and saw a mail from my eldest brother Michel. A rare occasion, he mails about twice a year at the most. 🙂 A few photos were attached of a legendary road in Singapore. “Legendary”? Well, for us. For the family. Pictures were taken this summer by my niece, Véronique, my brother’s eldest daughter. I’d seen the road on Google, but it was another thing to see a picture taken by a member of the family. So exit Pot-pourri, here is the new post: “A road in Singapore”. Just allow me to backtrack a tad. Back to India, the so-called British Raj, in the 19th century.
My great-grandfather, Henry-Felix Onraët, 1842-1899. He was born in India (Bhagalpur, in today’s state of Bihar) from a family of French Indigo planters established in Bengal since the 18th century. He held a number of administrative jobs until he joined the Indian Civil Service (though French). In 1870 he was appointed to the service of Rao Scindia, the Maharajah of Gwalior. The latter being the second richest Maharajah after the Nizam of Hyderabad. In 1871, Henry-Felix married Marie-Wilhelmine Goutière, my great-grandmother, in Bénarés on the Gange. Located on the river Ganges, Bénarés, now Varanasi, is the holiest of the seven most sacred cities in India.
Great-grandmother Marie-Wilhelmine Goutière (1850-1944) came from another French Indigo planter family. Indigo in the 19th century was THE major natural dye in the world. Until the Germans synthesized chemical dyes at the beginning of the 20th century, precipitating the demise of the entire indigo economy. This photograph is dated 1870, she would have been 20? I’ve always wondered how Europeans in India (and elsewhere) could be so “overdressed” in the Indian heat. (Deodorants had not yet been invented…)
They had 11 children, including 2 stillborn. Large families, as the following picture shows (includes neighbours and “allies”):
This was taken in Brittany, at the turn of the 20th century. After Henry-Felix had died in India in 1899, Wilhelmine packed everyone to Brittany, on a sumptuous pension from the Maharajah. Jean Onraët is standing in the middle background, giving his good profile to the camera (see “The panther incident”; coming soon on Equinoxio). His brother Gaston, standing left, emigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada, where plenty of Onraët’s now live. Wilhelmine is seated, second to right, dressed in black. The little girl to the left sitting on the carpet (no doubt Persian) is my grandmother Julie (1882, Jowra-1977), and the little boy with a white shirt lying on the carpet is my great-uncle René, the reason for this strange title: “A road in Singapore”.
My great-uncle, René Onraët, c. 1895, in Gwalior.
René Onraët (1886-1952) became a British national, as half of his brothers. (We are a very unusual Brit-Frog family, stretching from Mexico to Canada to the Uk to Brittany to South Africa to Tahiti and I’m probably missing a few). René married in Penang, Malaysia, in 1914. Then started a career at Scotland Yard. (Not too sure about his WWI record) Since he was born in India and spoke Hindustani, Mandarin and Bahasa Melayu, he was soon posted in the Far East. He became Chief of Police of Singapore before WWII. Reorganized the entire Police department. A street in Singapore has been named after him.
Onraet Road, Singapore. 2017. (c)ourtesy my niece Véronique Martin-Onraët. I understand it is a very short road, inside or close to, the Police Academy in Singapore, but it still is a public road. And it is quite moving to see that road sign taken by a member of the family.
Thank you for joining us on yet another – weird – time-space journey on Equinoxio’s shuttle. Be good. (Or bad. Your choice)