C. R Williams.

Letters written during a trip to southern India & Ceylon in the winter of 1876-1877 .. online

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Online LibraryC. R WilliamsLetters written during a trip to southern India & Ceylon in the winter of 1876-1877 .. → online text (page 3 of 12)
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Mandib, or " The Gate of Sighs." I remained on deck till
sunrise, and we are now in the Indian Ocean steaming
towards Aden, where I post this letter. Tell Ro, Eugene,
Harry, and the girls, that they are ever in my thoughts, even
in the wonderful scenes which I never thought I should have
the good fortune to witness.

( 27 )

SS. "Nepaul," Indian Ocean,

Thursday, 2nd November, 1876.

True to my custom I begin this letter immediately after
despatching the last, posted at Aden yesterday, although no
mail leaves Bombay, I am told, for a week after our arrival,
and that cannot be till Tuesday, the 7th, at the earliest.
Never mind, I have something to say about Aden, and the
sooner I say it the better. We arrived at that place — place
is not the word for it — at that huge cinder yesterday after-
noon, and anchored in the bay. Captain Methven did not
intend to coal there, but the post office required six hours to
arrange about letters, and there was cargo to take in and
to discharge. You remember Vesuvius ? Well, Aden is a
conglomeration of the cones of Vesuvius, the tops all charred
and jagged, with deep rugged fissures scored all down the
face, from which the gradual crumbling of the burnt-up rock
has caused slopes of debris, leaving on the side next the sea
but very little flat ground available for man. On this flat,
but still raised from the level of the sea, are seen the bunga-
lows and houses of the residents, the jetties beyond, and again
more houses dotted round the bay, which sweeps round inland
and forms the isthmus connecting the rock with the main
land. Directly the ship was anchored it was surrounded by
a dozen or more Somali boys, each in his canoe, hollowed out
of a tree, wielding a single paddle, all nearly naked, their
beautiful skins and forms shining like polished ebony ; their
weak point in the way of personal ornament being their heads,
for whilst some were closely shaved and some were plastered
over with a thick kind of yellow pomatum, others had their
woolly hair frizzled and screwed up in long tight corkscrew-
curls standing upright all round the head, the hair of some

( 28 )

of them being dyed yellow. It was our first introduction to
savage life as distinguished from Eastern life. These urchins
are absolutely at home on and in the water. The moment a
bit of coin was thrown out into the sea from the ship, in they
all splashed in a moment, and all we saw was a cluster of feet
as they disappeared head-foremost beneath the surface in a
diving race for the money. The canoes were left to drift
about in one direction, half-full of water, the paddles in
another. By-and-by up they all came bobbing about like
corks, the successful imp with the money in his mouth, and
then they all made after their canoes and paddles, getting
into the canoes, though not more than a foot wide, with the
greatest dexterity, and then baling out the water with their
hands, and coming back to the ship for another plunge of the
same kind. We landed at 3 in a boat rowed by five of the
same race (Somalis) — a handsome kind of negro, but a savage
all over, and engaged a queer sort of conveyance — a cross
between an American four-wheeler and a phaeton of the time
of Queen Elizabeth, drawn by a chestnut Arab pony, to take
us to the tanks, about five miles off, for three rupees. The
road ran along the bay for half the distance, then zigzagged
through a gorge of the rock, descending on the other side
into a plain in which is the military cantonment, and beyond
again, at the foot of the precipitous wall of cinder, which
bounds the cantonment on the other side, are built the tanks,
one above the other, intended to collect the precious rain
which is said to descend on Aden once only in three years.
I can believe it, for the tanks were as dry as they could be —
not a drop did they contain. The drive gave us a capital
idea of the place, and of the population. Troops of camels
were coming and going, laden with all sorts of burthens, a few
evidently used as hacks, ambling along at the rate of about
six miles an hour with riders, and some were returning empty
ridden by naked boys seated on high pummels, their feet

( 29 )

resting on the neck of the animal. Then there were bullock-
carts drawn by the Indian humped bullock, horses and mules,
droves of African sheep, white with black heads and large
fat excrescences where their tails should be, mixed up with
the most extraordinary medley of human races— Parsees,
Fakirs, negroes of every tribe, Hindoos, Arabs, women of all
races, some veiled, some not, a few of both sexes dressed in
the most brilliant colours; but the savage type prevailed, and
the larger proportion of men were nearly naked, and distin-
guished only from each other by rude ornaments, or by the
fantastic arrangement of the hair. These passed us in swarms,
throngs, and, to account for the numbers, there were all along
the road and in the cantonments whole villages of native
houses and huts where I suppose these naked savages live
like rabbits. It was an extraordinary sight, both the place
and the people. There can surely be nothing else like it
under the sun. It did not appear to me that the place
was strongly fortified, nor that there were more troops
than sufficient to keep such a demoniacal population in order.
Indeed, I did not see a single European officer or soldier
during our drive. The Parsees have settled at Aden, and
form the mercantile portion of the very limited respectable
community of the place. We pulled back to the ship at 6,
much awe-struck by the sombre yet grand aspect of this
gigantic cinder as the setting sun fell upon it. Our crew was
again all negroes, steered by a little ebony woolly-headed
imp, quite blue from excessive blackness, not nearly so big as
little Ebby. As I looked at him seated cross-legged on the
edge of the plank which formed the stern of the boat, with
the tiller in his hand, as grave and impassive as a judge, I
said to myself, " How I should like to take you home with
me, you dear little demon," — and I gave him a threepenny
piece for little Ebby's sake. On our return to the ship we
found her discharging bales of Manchester piece-goods and

( 30 )

taking in bags of gum and elephants' tusks— a good illustration
of the change we have ourselves gone through of late. She had
taken on board also several native families— Mussulmans and
Hindoo, with their extraordinary goods and chattels: their
matting, rattan boxes, water-pots, and cooking utensils,
gourds, their messes of food — these people I saw grouped
on the sheep-pens on deck this morning, the two races being
of course separated as carefully as the chief officer could
separate them in such a confined space. We also had taken
on board three Brahminy cows and several of the African
sheep I saw in our drive, and a good supply of plantains,
larger and riper than those we get in London. All the ship's
dirty linen was left at Aden, and a complete and fresh supply
was shipped to serve us to Bombay. The ship is now a little
world of itself — English, Scotch, Irish, Portuguese, Maltese,
Germans (we have five or six Germans on board going to buy
indigo in Bengal), Africans, Indians, Chinese and Arabs. All
these living, cooking, eating, sleeping, praying according to
their several habits, creeds, and prejudices. Amongst the
saloon passengers, too, every class is represented, except the
church — we have no clergyman on board. With that excep-
tion we are fit to found a colony anywhere just as we are.
But I shall not be sorry to be on terra firma again, with more
elbow room.

Friday evening, The sea tne whole of this day has been like
3rd Not. glass. It is strange to look on a vast expanse of
sea meeting the horizon all round, with a surface like quick-
silver. The sun went down in rosy splendour, and after a
few minutes of twilight the moon showed herself on the
opposite side, rising majestically out of this glassy sea almost
as large and as bright as the sun. A broad, flashing bar of
silver across the sea connected her with the ship. The eye
could scarcely rest on her, she was so large and brilliant.






■ ^


- i

- 5

( 31 )

The moon and Venus, of all the heavenly bodies in these
tropical skies, are exceptionally large and beautiful. The
other luminaries do not do themselves the same justice, and
I was certainly disappointed with the Southern Cross. It
continues hot— thermometer below, in saloon, 80°, but the
temperature is fresher than in the Red Sea. It is dolce far
niente with a vengeance on deck such a day as this. Too
many people about, and frequently the piano going, to settle
down to read. Plenty of whist parties on deck and in the
saloon. Eugene would be in his glory. I lounge, gossip
sketch, read, then stroll to the fore part of the ship, look at
the native families huddled together on the sheep-pens
scratch the nose of the poor old horse, bestow the same
sympathy on the unfortunate cow, whose calf, poor little
thing, has been converted into veal long ago, then caress the
mild, kindly African sheep, which we took in at Aden, and
these affectionate creatures poke their glossy black heads and
lop ears out of the bars of their pens, asking to be fondled
It is a shame to kill them. Look in on the well-arranged
mail cabin, where two intelligent deputies of the Post Office
aided by two natives, are busy from morning to night'
surrounded by large, open-mouthed bags, sorting the letters
lor all parts of India, Burmah, China, &c. These men have
as much as they can do to get their task done during the run
between Suez and Bombay. I have also been down into the
engine-room and furnaces, down to the very bottom, under
the wing of the chief engineer. Fancy, when the thermo-
meter under the breezy awning on deck is 80°, what the heat
must be in the iron avenue below, between eight boilers
each boiler heated by three furnaces I I can tell old Ro
that he is far better off as a lawyer than he would be as a
Mai boy. There are worse professions ashore and afloat than
that of a lawyer, he may be sure. He may even congratu-
late himself that he is not my friend on board, the indigo

( 32 )

planter of Tirhoot, who has lost, and may lose again,
£8,000 or £10,000 in one year by the failure of the crop
from drought; or my other friend, the jute merchant, who
has a hot time of it, running about the provinces, buying the
stuff of country growers and seeing it packed and carried in
bullock carts to the different railways, and who is longing for
war, that he may at last look for some profit from the sweat
of his brow ; or my third friend, the captain of cavalry,
whose regiment is stationed in Upper Scinde, at Jacobabad,
a sandy desert for 100 miles round, retaining a temperature
night and day for eight months of from 90° to 100°, the roads
being all laid with flags and rushes, the better to carry the
traffic, and whose wife told me that every night, when at the
station, she soaked her night-shirt as well as her bed in
water, in order to find relief from the burning heat at night ;
or other men on board, in the Service, who are carrying
nurses and squalling children back with them to India, to
save the expense of putting them out with friends or gover-
nesses in England. Knocking about in this way, one sees
how hard it is for men who are not born to riches to earn an
honest livelihood, even if the fact were less patent at home
than it is. There is one man on board, who sits next to me
at meals, and whose occupation a youngster might well envy.
He is Captain Greig, formerly in the 92nd Highlanders,
and now one of the Conservators of Forests for the North
Western Provinces. He spends the largest part of each year
in tents, moving about through and by the side of the forests
which extend at the base of and parallel with the Himalayas,
directing the cutting and planting of trees and the manage-
ment of the forests. This is another name, in fact, for per-
petual sport. His entire camp equipage is found for him,
including two elephants, on which animal alone he is able to
penetrate the dense jungle through which he has sometimes
to pass. He said to me yesterday, " Why can't you leave

( 33 )

your brother for a fortnight, and come and pay me a visit ?
You will see life with me, and sport such as very few men
who have been in India all their lives have seen. I'll send
the elephants down to meet you at" (naming the place), " if
you will only write to me a few days beforehand and fix the
day." But of course this is impossible. I have been very
fortunate in having him for my neighbour at table.

Monday, We nave ' iac ^ a charming run across the Indian
6th Nov. Ocean. For two days the sea has been as smooth
as glass, with lovely nights. The thermometer keeps at 80°
in our cabin, but the heat is not oppressive now. To-day
we have a fresh breeze, which just crisps the surface of the
sea. The ship is going twelve knots an hour, and the expec-
tation is that we shall arrive in Bombay to-morrow evening,
being twenty-four hours before the contract time. We shall
have been afloat four weeks all but two days— quite long
enough. I am getting tired of the four notes of the engine,
one, two, three, four — one, two, three, four, all day and all
night ; also of the ship smells ; also of the cooking, although
that art is carried on under the most remarkable difficulties,
and due allowances should be made ; also of our confined
accommodation at night, and the discomfort of making your
box your wardrobe, and dragging and digging and diving
into it for all changes of clothing, with the heat at 80° at the
least ; also of the monotony of the last six days, for we have
not seen land or a ship of any kind since we left Aden ; also
(though this involves a sort of contradiction) of the crowd of
passengers on deck and at meals. So, all things considered,
and not desiring to undervalue the ship, and much enjoy-
ment connected with it, I shall not be sorry to find myself
in Bombay. I shall close this letter on board ship, intending
in my next to give you all the particulars of our landing.
We shall not, I fear, hear from home for a week after our


( 34 )

landing. What an age it seems ! and how absolutely impos-
sible it is for me to suppose that you may be at this moment
freezing or groping your way about London in a November
fog ! Distance makes one think more of home.

Tuesday, \y e are now w jthin 30 miles of Bombay, and

7th Noy. J

7 p.m. expect to get in by 10 o'clock to-night. We have
had a quick and favourable passage all through. Thank God
for His care of us. All the passengers are busy packing up
and are in high spirits at the prospect of the journey's end.
I close this letter, which cannot, however, go for a week, as
we have just passed the homeward-bound P. & 0. steamer.

( 35 )

Bombay, Friday Afternoon,

10th November, 1876.

You will receive, or ought to receive, two letters from
me by this post — one posted from on board ship and this one
written three days later. We leave Bombay to-night for
Fred. Sheppard's camp at Mehmadabad, and I am anxious
to send this off to-day in the possible event of my not being
able to post a letter from the camp in time for Monday's
mail. We anchored off the Apollo Bunder on Tuesday
night about 10, and so brought our voyage to a happy end.
It was too late to land that night, but we had the usual
amount of amusement looking over the side of the ship at the
shore — boats coming and going, and the excitement of an un-
known land twinkling with lights at no great distance from
the ship. To bed we went that night on board but not to
sleep. The steam winch just over our heads was at work all
night ; and the noises to which I had been accustomed, now
in an exaggerated form, coupled with the excitement of
having arrived at our destination, kept me awake all night.
At 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning I was upon deck just as
the " Nepaul " weighed anchor to steam up the harbour to
Mazagong, 3 miles higher up. The sun was rising over the
Ghauts, and the often-described features of the harbour were
presented to my view in their full beauty. Captain Methven
saw me in my hasty wraps in the bows of the ship gazing on
the lovely scene, and came down from the bridge of the ship
and dragged me back with him on to the bridge, where he
expatiated and steered and steered and expatiated alternately,
until we brought up at Mazagong and dropped our anchor
finally. I then dove down (as a Yankee would say) to our
cramped and stuffy cabin to give a final touch to my packing


( 36 )

before landing. Whilst I was so engaged perspiring at every
pore, for there is no sudorific like packing when the heat is
at 85°, in walked Lancie Fletcher. This was about 7 a.m.
It was very good of Lancie to come and very useful he was.
He had brought a boat from shore and his own puttywallah
with him. The individual is his office messenger, dressed in
turban with a sash and brass plate. With the aid of this
man we got all our luggage on deck, and had it passed by
the custom-house officers and transferred into the boat, land-
ing at once and avoiding the general scrimmage of passengers
and baggage at the landing-stage. Lancie had his dog-cart
close at hand, into which he and I got; Monier and Stanley
took a carriage, and the puttywallah came on with the
luggage in a bullock ghari, and thus we arrived safely at
Pallonjee's Hotel, passing through streets affording the most
wonderful novelty. In fact, although I thought Aden
incapable of being surpassed, we have been going on in a
crescendo scale in the way of novelty and interest, and cer-
tainly Bombay is the climax of all. What would Mivart say
to Pallonjee ? Our bed-rooms opened on to the compound,
mine was a kind of loose box such as we have at Craven
Cottage for the horses, iron rails at the top of the partition
open to other iron rails at the tops of other bed-rooms ; and
although I had a few sporting engravings hung on the walls,
some birds had built in the rails in my room and were flying
in and out without any fear, whilst a couple of lizards were
sticking on to the walls as comfortably as if they were part
of the furniture. Outside was the bath-room ; Monier and
Stanley, who had a double-bedded room close to mine,
having their outside bath-room also, and visible to any one
passing in the compound were our ablutions in these annexes.
A fresh-water bath with soap was such a comfort after four
weeks of sticky sea water ! The scene after breakfast looking
out from the spacious verandah on the first floor of the hotel

( 37 )

over the paddy fields, the men and women going to and from
a piece of water under us, the primitive water-wheels, and all
other moving objects, baffles all description. And what can I
say about the native town through which we drove in the
afternoon? the variety of form and colour in the native
houses, every recess and verandah and roof being full of
effect, every shop containing figures and materials for the
artist, the extraordinary vehicles drawn by Brahminy oxen,
the buffaloes, the water carriers, oxen with water-skins, the
strange scenes at all the public fountains, the variety of
costumes, the turbans of every shape and colour, no words
can describe it. But what struck me most of all was the
nude form ; thousands of nearly naked men meet you at every
turn ; they are not athletes, but the native figure, with his
brilliant black or copper skin, the natural grace of his attitude,
as he is engaged in his trade or is waiting at the fountain
with his brass pot on his head or carried on his hip, or
carrying his basket of fruit or vegetables either on his head or
on a bamboo suspended across his shoulder, or walking easily
and briskly along, is a study enough to drive a sculptor wild.
The female is draped, but the habit of carrying a burthen on
her head has given the whole race an elegance of carriage of
which we in England can have no idea. Certainly the nude
male form has impressed me as much as anything I have
seen here in the way of perfect beauty. Yesterday Monier
had engagements with Sir Jamsetjee and others, consequently
Lancie called for me in his dog-cart at 6 a.m. and drove me
all round the island of Bombay, passing through the woods
of Mahim, composed entirely of the date palm, the palmyra
or brab, and cocoa-nut. Picture to yourself four or five miles
of the hothouse vegetation of Kew Gardens and you have the
Mahim Woods. Here and there a native garden with ferns,
fan palms, bigonias, poinsettias in profusion. The last-
named grow 8 or 10 feet high as a common garden plant and

( 38 )

are now in full flower. By 1 1 we were at his bungalow on
Malabar Hill, a very choice little place on an eminence, with
a nice peep of the sea and everything very complete. Here
I was introduced to Gertrude, who was waiting for us in the
verandah, and I passed the rest of the day with them. The
dinner was quite first rate, a Portuguese male cook cooking in
an outhouse over a charcoal fire, with a few copper pots and
pans just placed over the open fire. Nothing could be
better. In the evening I returned to Bombay, and this
morning I have been driving about the town, and amongst
other things buying my resai, a basket, some cartridges,
powder and shot, and preparing for our visit to Frederick
Sheppard. We have also engaged two servants, one, Canjee
Rama, at thirty rupees a month, the other, Naryen Lalla, at
twenty-five rupees. Both experienced goodlooking men,
dressed wholly in white with red and gold turbans, and naked
feet and earrings, rather different from Smith and William in
Green Street. The Thakore of Bhownuggur has been very
civil, and his agent has been here to tell us that relays of
horses will be provided for our visit to Kattywar, which will
include Pallitana. Yesterday Lancie took me to the Pinjera
Poll, or hospital for diseased and aged animals, established by
Bunniahs, who insist on the sanctity of all animal life, a virtue
carried to the most absurd extreme; and we also looked in, at
my request, at the stables of two of the chief native Arab
horse dealers. What would Anderson or Rice say to his
Parsee rivals, — for though the owners and importers are Arabs,
the dealers are Parsees ? We entered as bold as brass. The
Parsee Anderson came forward with his salaam, " What kind
of horse do you want, sir?" "Oh!" said Lancie, "my
friend (pointing to me) wants a charger." He accordingly
took us round the sheds. The horses are not in separate
boxes, but are tethered by head and heel ropes in long rows
under open sheds, so that you see the beauties at one glance

( 39 )

all in perspective. We chose one. " Have him out," said I.
He was unloosed, a native put a bridle on and then jumped
on barebacked and trotted and cantered the animal up and
down the avenue, the Arab owners with their hoods and
camel-hair cloaks looking on to see what the customer would
say. " What price ? " " 3,000 rupees ;" and then we had
others out. " What do you ask for this ? " " 2,000," and so
on. There was nothing less than 1,200 rupees, and very few
were above 14.2 in height, out of, I suppose, 100 horses
which we saw. It was a pretty and a novel sight, but for
mere horse flesh I would rather have a good English hack,
and the price would not be half what they ask here for an
Arab. This afternoon we are going with an order from
Sir Jamsetjee to the Towers of Silence, and the carriage is
now waiting to take us there.

( 40 )

Camp-Mehmadabad, Guzeuat,

Wednesday, loth November, 1876.

The English post is not expected to arrive till Friday,
and we have been therefore without any home news except
your letters at Suez. Nevertheless I must begin my letter
for the next mail, because unless I seize a vacant afternoon,
such as that I now have, I may miss my opportunity
altogether. We left Bombay by the mail train on Friday
night. That same evening we met Sir Jamsetjee's secretary,
at the Parsee Cemetery, on Malabar Hill, generally known
as " The Towers of Silence." Irrespective of the interest
attached to the locality as a sacred spot, the view from the
terrace gained by a long flight of steps looking over Back Bay,
the town and harbour of Bombay, with the islands in the
harbour and the range of Ghauts in the distance, is the most
commanding of any in the neighbourhood. But the chief
interest rests in the peculiar rites of the Parsees in the con-
duct of- their obsequies. At the time of our visit a large
funeral procession was approaching the towers. It consisted

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Online LibraryC. R WilliamsLetters written during a trip to southern India & Ceylon in the winter of 1876-1877 .. → online text (page 3 of 12)