Linda Colley presents the life of Sarah Shade in the chapter “Another Passage to India” in her 2002 book Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, 1600–1850. Colley locates Shade as one of many young women who sailed to British colonial India in the late eighteenth century. Shade became remarkable later in the telling of her story after returning to England. Colley states that the pamphlet published about Shade’s India years was one of the first realistic depictions of lower-class female life in the imperial outposts. Shade, a “semi-literate, impoverished woman,” was representative of the many lower-class Britons who were attached to the army in those years. Shade’s life in India, beginning in Madras, included both unmarried and married partnerships with several military men, each having a lower rank than the previous one.
Shade’s account of her thirty-year-long stay shows her immersion in Indian culture, not just her attachment to the British colonial expatriate realm. Colley characterizes her association as assimilation. Shade is included in Colley’s stories of captives because she, together with her husband, Sergeant Cuff, was captured by anti-British forces at Mysore and imprisoned for almost a year.
Colley emphasizes details about Shade’s appearance that dominated her narrative. She lived through numerous violent encounters—even one with a tiger. Two of these injuries scarred her face, while a musketball pierced her leg and a sword slashed her arm. Shade appears as the literal embodiment of empire and the high price its agents paid: “even her own body was a text of empire.”