Cornelia Sorabji


Somerville College Oxford, OX2 6HD
United Kingdom
51° 47' 13.6464" N, 1° 17' 24.6012" W
22 Old Buildings, Lincoln's Inn London, WC2A 3UP
United Kingdom
51° 30' 52.6572" N, 0° 6' 40.3056" W
Finsbury Park
London, N4 3EU
United Kingdom
51° 33' 54.2304" N, 0° 5' 51.4644" W
Date of birth: 
01 Nov 1866
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
06 Jul 1954
Location of death: 
Finsbury Park, London
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1889
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1889-94 (studied for BCL degree at Somerville College, Oxford, then trained at solicitor’s firm in Lincoln’s Inn, London)
1922-3 (moved to England and stayed at the Halcyon Club, 13/14 Cork Street, London)
1925 (visited England and stayed at the Halcyon Club, London)
1932 (visited England for treatment of deteriorating health)
1938 (settled permanently for England)


Cornelia Sorabji was an Indian Parsee Christian who is seen as India’s first female barrister although she was never technically called to the English Bar. She studied for a law degree at Somerville College, Oxford, (1889-93), the first woman to sit the law exams in the country. Despite standing first in university examinations at the Deccan College, Sorabji was not eligible for the Government of India scholarship to study in England. She studied in Britain with the help of funds raised by her British friends the Hobhouses.

When Sorabji first arrived in England she stayed with Elizabeth Adelaide Manning, Secretary of the National Indian Association. Sorabji had met Manning on her visit to India in January of that year. At Oxford, Sorabji developed an enduring friendship with the Master of Baliol College, Benjamin Jowett. This granted her access to members of the upper-classes of British society, and consequently she remained loyal to the British through her career. Sorabji's memoir, India Calling, recalls the number of prominent establishment figures Sorabji met during her time in Britain. Sorabji became a member of Lincoln’s Inn in 1922, having been barred as a woman when a student. Her career was dedicated to the cause of the ‘purdahnashins’ (secluded women) in India. In 1929 upon retirement, Cornelia Sorabji settled in England. She died in her home in Finsbury Park in 1954.


E. J. Beck, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Lord Arthur and Lady Mary Hobhouse, Benjamin Jowett, Elizabeth Adelaide Manning, Max Müller, Monier Monier-Williams, Florence Nightingale, Alice Sorabji Pennell.

Association of University Women in India, Bengal Branch of the National Council of Women in India, Bengal League of Social Service for Women, Federation of University Women.

Published works: 

Love and Life Beyond the Purdah (London: Fremantle & Co., 1901)

Sun-Babies: Studies in the Child-Lfe of India (London: John Murray, 1904)

Between the Twilights: Being Studies of Indian Women by One of Themselves (London: Harper, 1908)

Indian Tales of the Great Ones Among Men, Women, and Bird-People (Bombay: Blackie, 1916)

The Purdahnashin, with a foreword by the Countess of Minto (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co, 1917)

Sun Babies: Studies in Colour (London: Blackie, 1918)

Shubala - A Child Mother (Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1920)

Therefore: An Impression of Sorabji Kharshedji Langrana and His Wife Francina (London: Oxford University Press, Humphrey Milford, 1924)

Gold Mohur Time (London: Alexander Moring, 1930)

Susie Sorabji, Christian-Parsee Educationist of Western India: A Memoir (London: Oxford University Press, 1932)

India Calling: The Memories of Cornelia Sorabji (London: Nisbet & Co., 1934)

India Recalled (London: Nisbet & Co., 1936)

Queen Mary’s Book of India (London: Harrap, 1943)


Reprints of her work:

Sorabji, Cornelia, India Calling, ed. by Elleke Boehmer and Naella Grew (Nottingham: Trent Editions, 2004)

Sorabji, Cornelia, Love and Life Behind The Purdah, ed. by Chandani Lokuge (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Contributions to periodicals: 

Asiatic Review

Atlantic Monthly

Calcutta Review

Contemporary Russia, Empire and Review

The Englishman

Evening News

Indian Magazine

Macmillan's Magazine

The Monthly Review

Nineteenth Century

The Statesman

Temple Bar

The Times


The Athenæum


The Times

The Times Literary Supplement


Secondary works: 

Adams, Pauline, Somerville for Women: An Oxford College, 1879-1993 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)

Burton, Antoinette, At The Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter In late Victorian Britain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998)

Burton, Antoinette, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865-1915 (University of North Carolina Press, 1994)

Burton, Antoinette, Dwelling In The Archive: Women Writing House, Home and History in Late Colonial India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Burton, Antoinette (ed.), Politics And Empire in Victorian Britain (Palgrave, New York, 2001)

Gooptu, Suparna, Cornelia Sorabji - India’s Pioneering Woman Lawyer (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006)

Forbes, Geraldine, Women in Modern India - The New Cambridge History of India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Innes, C. L., A History of Black and Asian Writing in Britain, 1700–2000, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Jayawardena, Kumari, The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia during British Colonial Rule (London: Routledge, 1995)

Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna (ed.), A History Of Indian Literature In English (London: Hurst & Company, 2003)

Sarkar, Sonita and De, Esha Niyogi, Trans-status Subjects: Gender in the Globalisation of South and South-East Asia (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002)

Sorabji, Richard, Opening Doors: The Untold Story of Cornelia Sorabji, Reformer, Lawyer and Champion of Women's Rights in India (London: I. B. Tauris, 2010)

Symonds, Richard, Oxford and Empire: The Lost Cause? (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986)

Tharu, Susie, and Lalitha, K. (eds), Women Writing In India: 600BC To The Present, vol. 1 (New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1991)

Vadgama, K., India In Britain: The Indian Contribution to the British Way of Life (London: R. Royce, 1984)

Visram, Rozina, Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: The Story of Indians in Britain, 1700-1947 (London: Pluto Press, 1986)


Letter dated March 1890, Mss Eur F165/2


Letters from Cornelia Sorabji to her parents when in England.


Next term we are to have two Indian Princesses in residence here – the daughters of Dhuleep Singh. They are to have a maid to look after them & their governess will reside in Town - & we are to call them “Princess”. The sweet Warden was telling me about it & began “I want you to be very good to me next Term & help me make our Princesses happy”. I wonder if they will be snobbish.


The letters of Cornelia Sorabji to her parents describe her time in Britain as a student and the extract cited here reveals her attitudes towards other South Asians, and in particular here Indian princesses. The extract also reveals the close relationship that Sorabji had with the Warden of her college, Somerville, similar to the close relationship she had with many other British figures of authority.

Archive source: 


7MGF, letters to M. G. Fawcett, The Women's Library, London Metropolitan University

L/I/1/1520, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Mss Eur F165 (letters), Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras