The date of onset of the southwest monsoon in western India is critical for farmers as it influences the timing of crop plantation and the duration of the summer rainy season. Identifying long-term variability in the date of monsoon onset is difficult, however, as onset dates derived from the reanalysis of instrumental rainfall data are only available for the region from 1879. This study uses documentary evidence and newly uncovered instrumental data to reconstruct annual monsoon onset dates for western India for the period 1781-1878, extending the existing record by 97 years. The mean date of monsoon onset over the Mumbai (Bombay) area during the reconstruction period was 10 June with a standard deviation of 6.9 days. This is similar to the mean and standard deviation of the date of monsoon onset derived from instrumental data for the 20th century. The earliest identified onset date was 23 May (in 1802 and 1839) and the latest 22 June (in 1825). The longer-term perspective provided by this study suggests that the climatic regime that governs monsoon advance over western India did not change substantially from 1781 to 1955. Monsoon onset over Mumbai has occurred at a generally later date since this time. Our results indicate that this change is unprecedented during the last 230 years. Following a discussion of the results, the nature of the relationship between the date of monsoon onset and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation is discussed. This relationship is shown to have been stable since 1781.