[ilds] Retirement Age during the British Raj

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Thu Oct 22 11:23:16 PDT 2015

Does anyone have an opinion why the Brits made fifty-five the retirement age for their civil servants in India during the nineteenth century?  In Orientalism (1978), Edward W. Said claims they did this so that, “no Oriental was ever allowed see a Westerner as he aged and degenerated” (p. 42).  Said cites as a source V. G. Kiernan, The Lords of Human Kind:  Black Man, Yellow Man, and White Man in the Age of Empire (1969).  In a website, Sinn Fein makes the same claim in the same language.

My sense, however, based on my experiences in Singapore (which followed the Brit tradition of retirement at fifty-five), was that Brits (on the average) did not fare well in tropical climates and had high mortality rates due to heat, disease, and too much gin.  So, they retired at fifty-five because they didn’t have many years left.  By fifty-five, they were on their “last legs” and already “degenerate” in Said’s sense.

Compare Dane Kennedy’s The Magic Mountains:  Hill Stations of the British Raj (Berkeley, U of California P, 1996).  Kennedy writes, “That British sojourners had ample reason to fear for their lives is borne out by mortality statistics; the cost of entry into these new and rich disease environments was high” (p. 19).  I lean towards Kennedy’s statement as an explanation.  Does Durrell discuss this issue anywhere?

There must be a definitive and authoritative answer to this question somewhere in the record.


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