Husband Hunting : The “Fishing Fleet”

Vikram Karve
8 min readJan 26, 2022



Whenever some readers ask me why I write “frivolous” stories about my Navy Days — why I don’t write serious memoirs about my work.

Well — instead of telling them the “obvious reasons” — I say:

“Actually — I didn’t do any important work in the Navy.

I spent my entire time in the Navy “doing nothing”…”


So — Dear Reader — here is one more “frivolous” story from My Navy Days…



Marriage Stories By Vikram Karve




I learnt the term “Fishing Fleet” — when — many years ago — I read a novel called THE RAJ by Donald H Robinson.

The book is set in British India — in the early 1930’s — in the backdrop of “Colonial Life” — prevalent in the days of the “British Raj”.

The story is about an Englishwoman — a schoolteacher at a renowned boarding school for ladies.

She is now 38 years old — single — and — she has not been able to find a suitable husband in England for all these years.

She is worried that she may remain a spinster all her life.

She desperately wants to get married.

So — she quits her job — and — she decides to sail to India on the “Fishing Fleet” — to “hunt” for a suitable husband.

Dear Reader — let me tell you a bit about the “Fishing Fleet”.

During the days of the “British Raj” — a large number of Englishmen served in India — in the Civil Services — in the Military — and — at other places.

So — there were a large number of “eligible” Englishmen — but hardly any suitable Englishwomen “brides” for them.

On the other hand — for “middle class” Englishwomen — it was difficult to find a “status” match in England.

So — after exhausting all opportunities for finding a good husband in England — the women would take the “fishing fleet” to India in search of a prospective husband.

The Civil Services and the Military discouraged marrying before the age of 30 — the age at which it was thought the Officer had “settled down” in his job and it was feasible for him to support a family — so — even age-wise — women in their late 20’s and early 30’s had a good chance of bagging a prize catch husband.

During those “Colonial Days” of the “British Raj” — the “Social Season” in India was in winter — from December to February — and the “Fishing Fleet” arrived in India at the beginning of the social season — during which — all efforts were made to facilitate “coupling” of the prospective husbands and brides.

The women had a distinct advantage — the gender ratio was skewed heavily in their favour — there were 3 to 4 men “available” for every woman.

So — in view of this huge gender advantage — it was quite easy for most of “fishing fleet” women to acquire a husband.

If you were lucky — you could get a “Bada Sahib” (Civil Services or Military Officer) husband.

Otherwise — you would have to settle for a “Chota Sahib” Englishman working in other jobs in India — like in the Railways (or other Government Services) — a Tea Planter — or a “manager” in the numerous business/trading companies/firms/industries set up in India.

Well — most “fishing fleet” women did manage to find a husband — so — they got married — and they remained in India with their husbands and lived “happily ever after”.

And — those unfortunate “fishing fleet” women who failed to find a husband — they sailed back to England — as “Returned Empties” — probably destined to remain a spinster all their lives.

The genesis of the “fishing fleet” was in the year 1671 — when the East India Company sent 20 single women to Bombay (now called Mumbai) — each given an allowance of 300 Pounds Sterling — and — a new set of clothing.

The women were given a simple objective — to find a “company-approved” mate within a year.

It seems that this experiment was successful — and — this resulted in establishing a practice of transporting a steady “cargo” of potential brides by sea all the way to India every year.

Colloquially — in Naval Parlance — this was nicknamed as the “Fishing Fleet” — and — the potential brides were known as “Fishing Fleeters”.

What happened to the “fishing fleeter” heroine of the novel…?

Was her “husband hunting” mission a success…?

Did she have any romances — any passionate affairs …?

Did she find a “suitable” husband and settle down in India to a happy married life…?

Or — did she return back to England — desolate — as a “Returned Empty”…?

For all that — you will have to read the book.


Now — Dear Reader — in Part 2 — let me tell you a “fishing fleet” romance story that happened much later — during my delightful days in the Navy.




During my wonderful days in the Navy — I did see and hear about a few “fishing fleet” stories.

Of course — unlike in the days of the Colonial British Raj — the potential brides (“fishing fleeters”) were not “shipped” all the way from England.

(So — I am using the term “fishing fleet” rather metaphorically)


Dear Reader — here is an interesting “fishing fleet” story that I once heard (it may be apocryphal).

The story happened in NDA (National Defence Academy).

The wife of an officer asked her unmarried younger sister to come over and spend some time with them in NDA Campus.

She saw many potential husbands for her younger sister among the young unmarried divisional officers.

The girl (the potential bride) — she was very smart and beautiful — and she had all the attributes and social graces to make a good military wife.

Her elder sister — she introduced her younger sister to all the “eligible” bachelors — and took her to all the parties, picnics and dances.

Things seemed to be going well.

The girl was the centre-of-attraction and many bachelor officers seemed to be vying for her attention — and they were eager to take her everywhere — for outdoor activities like riding, sailing, hiking, swimming and sports like badminton — for social events in the mess and club — and for movies and dinner “dates” to Pune.

After a few days — the officer’s wife noticed that her younger sister seemed to have “selected” a particular officer with whom she spent the maximum time.

The officer’s wife was delighted — since the officer was an excellent choice — he smart, handsome and doing very well in his career — and — most important — he was their “place type”.

He was the ideal husband for her sister.

Since her sister’s stay was coming to an end in a few days — the officer’s wife decided to ask her sister whether she would like to marry that officer.

Her sister’s answer stunned her.

Her sister told her that she did not want to marry the officer — but said that she had fallen in love with a cadet and would like to marry him. She named the cadet.

The officer’s wife went into a tizzy.

“Are you crazy…?” the officer’s wife shouted at her sister, “you are 24 years old and that cadet must be 18…”

“He is 19 years old…” the girl interrupted.

“Shut up…” her sister said, “you should marry older than you — or at least your age. This boy is 5 years younger than you…”

“We are in love with each other…” the girl said defiantly, “I will marry him and no one else…”

“That I will see …” the officer’s wife said angrily, “I am sending you back right now…”

The officer’s wife summoned her husband — and told him about the “disaster” that had happened.

“How the hell did she manage to meet that cadet…” the officer wondered aloud, “and when did they get time to fall in love…?”

“All that you can investigate later…” his wife said, “you just book tickets for today’s Jhelum Express — I am going to drop her home to my parents’ place before she does anything stupid…”

“Today…? You want her to leave today itself…?” the perplexed officer asked his wife.

“Yes. Today. You manage somehow — VIP Quota, Emergency Quota — anything — and I want you to come with me — take a week’s leave — tell your boss it’s a family emergency…” the officer’s wife said.

“Why should I come…?” the officer said.

“Because I not confident of handling her alone…” the officer’s wife said, “that’s why I have locked her up in her room…”

“You have locked her up…? Aren’t you over-reacting…? Your sister is 24 years old…”

“But the cadet is only 19 years old…”


“People in flush of love do crazy things. Suppose they elope…? My mother will never forgive me. And just imagine what will happen to you…? I think that cadet is from your squadron…”

And so — the lovers were separated — the “Fishing Fleeter” was forcibly sent back home as a “Returned Empty”.

Everyone thought the “fever” of love between the 24 year old girl and the 19 year old cadet would cool off.

“Out of Sight — Out of Mind” — as they say.

But — the girl and cadet proved everyone wrong — and — 5 years later — they got married.

They waited till the cadet passed out from the academy — they waited till he completed all his officers’ training courses — and then — with the blessings of everyone — they got married.

All’s well that ends well.



Copyright © Vikram Karve
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.


  1. This story is a fictional spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
  2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
  3. E&OE

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Link to my original post in my Blog Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve:

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This story was posted earlier on my writing blog at url: and and and and etc

Husband Hunting Part 1 posted by me Vikram Karve earlier in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal Blog at url:

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Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, alumnus IIT Delhi, Lawrence School Lovedale, Vikram Karve is a retired Navy Officer turned full time Writer and Blogger