John Macdonald was a servant to several 18th-century noblemen and colonial officials. According to his writings, Macdonald was the son of an affluent tenant farmer from Inverness. When his family was “ruined” in the 1740s Macdonald, then just a young boy, was placed in service. He became a footman and valet and later spent more than 30 years travelling the globe with a succession of masters.
Better educated and more literate than his colleagues, Macdonald penned a memoir that contains rare glimpses of life as a working-class tourist abroad. It also describes racier aspects of foreign life, like this fertility ritual in western India:
“At Dillinagogue there was a tank where the Gentoos [Hindus] bathe themselves and the women in particular. At the end of the tank is a piece of rising ground with a cross fixed 12 feet high, where a priest sits most days, naked as he was born. When the women come to enter the bath they make the priest a grand salaam [greeting]. They have a shift on when they entered the water. When a young girl who has been betrothed for some years is going home to her husband… goes to take the bath, she makes a grand salaam to the priest and kisses his private parts, hoping he will pray that they may have children. I took a great delight in going to see those ceremonies.”