By 1760 the three Indian Presidencies of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay had, through trade, become flourishing British communities. Money seemed plentiful and extremes of climate and precariousness of life led to an imprudence and lavishness much more exaggerated than at home. Those who would have led quiet middle-class existences in England, lived ostentatiously in India. It was not surprising that artists of the second rank in Britain might hope that Fortune would be kinder to them there than in the overcrowded home markets, and might expect India to be a land of unlimited opportunity. America, which could also be regarded as a land of opportunity, would not have been a safe place to go at this time due to the battle for independence being waged there.
A letter from a Mr. Bruce of Calcutta, regarding the painter Catherine Read, who was in Madras in 1777, exemplifies the attraction of going out to India. He declares:
I am clear for her coming round to this Settlement immediately, where she will find such employment as she chuses, and of course, if not increase, prevent the diminution of her forltune. We have had one tolerable good painter here named (Tilly) Kettle, who acquired a good independency in three years. We have now another nam'd Paxton, but he is a very indifferent hand, and yet gets employment.
Thomas Hickey was born in Dublin where he was trained as a painter. Aftyer spells in London and Bath he set out for India. But en route he was captured at sea and eventually made his way to Portugal.
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