F. H. S. (Francis Henry Shafton) Merewether.

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Through the

Famine Districts
OF India




THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



A Tour

Through the Famine Districts

of India




PI.AGL K SIGNS.



A Tour

Through the Famine Districts

of India



BY

F. H. S. MEREWETHER

reuter's special famixe commissioner



LONDON

A. D. INNES AND CO.

BEDFORD STREET



1898



Richard Clay & Sons, Limited,
London & Bungay



6V



^0 ih motbcr



who liore me, and who has borne with my vagaries

for more years than i care to count, these

recent experiences of her wandering boy

are affectionately inscribed

By The Author.
Savage Chib, Nov. 1S97.



52G.485



PREFACE

This book to any one expecting a mere collection of
the horrors of the Indian Famine will be a bitter dis-
appointment. Our great Eastern dependency is passing
through a crisis which has been death-dealing and far-
reaching in its effect upon the suffering millions of
Ind. The author has, as far as possible, merely hinted
at the awful and gruesome sights and scenes which it
was his lot to witness, and which certainly any word-
painting of his would fail to accurately portray. He
has relied upon a series of photographs taken upon the
spot, to bring forcibly before the mind's eye of his
readers, if any, the state and condition of the oriental
races who owe their allegiance to the Queen-Empress.
This volume is the mere journalistic record of a man
who travelled through the length and breadth of the
Famine Districts of India; in which he has endeavoured
to depict, with perhaps too light a brush, the various
scenes that came under his personal observation. He
has gathered up from various and numerous sources
a mass of information — useful or otherwise — and this
he now, with all diffidence, puts into the hands of the
public. It has been too the object of the writer to
relegate, as far as lay in his power, the dry-as-dust
statistics, which are the natural outcome of such an
enormous undertaking as the Famine Relief of India,



viii PREFACE

to the obscurity of the Appendices, Should even one
heart be touched and one purse-string loosened for
the benefit of the naked and starving myriads of
Hindustan, the author of this work will feel that his
reward is far greater than he deserves.

The Author.

Savage Club,

Nov. 1897.

A small portion of the matter herein has already seen the light
in a series of articles contributed to the Times of India, and the
Author begs here to express his thanks to the Editor for his courtesy
in permitting the use of this material, which has been incorporated
in the present work.



CONTENTS

PART I

THE BOMBAY PRESIDENCY



CHAP.




PAGE


I.


ROMBAY


I


II.


THE START


lO


III.


SATARA


... 13


IV.


KHOLAPUR


22


V.


IN THE CANNARESE COUNTRY


... 29


VI.


r,V THE WAY


39


VII.


BIJAPUR


44


VIII.


SHOLAPUR


••• 57


IX.


IN SHOLAPUR CITY


... 73


X.


EN ROUTE FOR NAGPUR ...


- 83



PART II
CENTRAL INDIA

XI. NAGPUR

XH. RAIPUR

XIII.'' BILASPUR

XIV. KATNI ...

XV. JUr.BULPUR

XVI. MIRGANG

XVII. BANDA AND r.UNnEI.KUND

XVIII. JHANSI...



91
106
122

^33
147
161
176
191



CONTENTS

PART III
IN THE PUNJAUB



CHAP.




PAGE


XIX.


GWALIOR


... 199


XX.


AGRA ...


211


XXI.


DELHI ...


... 221


XXII.


HISSAR...


... 231


XXIII,


SIRSA AND THE GHAGGAR CANAL ...


... 239


XXIV.


LAHORE


250


XXV.


THE JHELUM CANAL


260


XXVI.


UJMBALLA


... 270



XXVII.

XXVIII.

XXIX.

XXX.



PART IV
THE NORTH-WEST PROVINCES

LUCKNOW

SIR ANTHONY MACDONALD AT HOME

ALLAHABAD

HOMEWARD BOUND



276
286

^01



APPENDIX A. FAMINE RELIEF STATISTICS ... ... 305

„ B. OFFICIAL REPORT ON THE GHAGGAR

CANALS ... ... ••• 320



ILLUSTRATIONS



PLAGUE SIGNS ... ... ... Frontispiece

THE MARINE LINES

A HOTBED OF PLAGUE

BY THE SAD SEA WAVE: MAHI.M SANDS

DESERTED BOMBAY

A GROUP OF MAHRATTAS...

AN INDIAN HOMESTEAD ...

BIJAPUR BAZAAR

THE GOL GUMBAZ : BIJAPUR

A LEMANI DANCING GIRL...

SHOLAPUR WEAVERS

GRINDING BAJRI

A GURU

the poor and needy ...

a mela: raipur

beyond the pale : bilaspur

a group of aborigines...

in the native states: rewaris . . .

jubbulpur poor-house: dinner-time

gonds on the move before the famine ...

gonds during the famine

a bheel woman in the piping times of plenty

India's starving millions

MY stage coach: banda

THE Hindoo's end

HUNGRY AND HELPLESS ...

A COMPANY OF THE PROPHETS

A STREET IN LAHORE

BIKANIRI NIGHTINGALES ...

A DHOOLIE

FOR righteousness' SAKE

ghaut: BENARES



2

7
II

14
24

30

40

45
53
79
96
107

113

118
130
135
143
153
156

159
169

185
187
197
225
232

251
261

295
298
302



THROUGH
THE FAMINE DISTRICTS

PART I

THE BOMBAY PRESIDENCY

CHAPTER I
BOMBAY

Urbs prima in Indis is the proud motto whicli its
citizens claim for Bombay the Beautiful. It is the front
door of India, as Aden can only be looked upon as the
garden-gate leading to our vast Eastern possessions.
Any one approaching from the sea cannot fail to be
struck with the beauty of the islands and their sur-
roundings. The island of Bombay, or, as the natives call
it, Mambe, is flat with the exception of the Cumballa
and Malabar Hills. The latter trends upward till it
culminates in Malabar Point — the cold-weather residence
of the Governor. The tropical foliage, the palms which
stand up against the sky-line on the hills, and hide,
in the lower ground below, the populous quarter of
Girgaum, add to the charm, while the background
formed by the deep red ghauts across the harbour gives
a picture which impresses itself indelibly on the mind of
the traveller, to whom the glories of the sunny East



2 THROUGH THE FAMINE DISTRICTS

have hitherto been more or less of a sealed book. The
public buildings which line the shore and which face you
on approaching Bombay, though somewhat bizarre and
incongruous in detail, if taken as a whole form a pleasing
view. The whole scene is enhanced during the rains by
the bright green of the Maidans, amidst which the great
public buildings and Government offices stand enframed.
The picturesque thatch bungalows of the Marine Lines
in the foreground form too a striking contrast to the
massive buildings behind.

These old relics of a bygone time have, however,
since the plague devastated the city, been razed to the
ground, and their sites present now a series of immense
rubbish heaps. The whole quarter, by orders of the
Government, has been demolished and burnt. Apart
from the inconveniences and the perpetual growls of the
inhabitants, these old bungalows marked an epoch and
formed a landmark in the history of Bombay, the
removal of which the conservative lover of the antique
will deplore. Sanitary science, alas, is a stern task-
master, and will brook no interference from insanitary
and dilapidated picturesqueness.

The fiat went forth, and at one fell swoop the dear old
Marine Lines passed away. Many and pleasant are the
associations with these time-worn and worm-eaten
homes ; and the messes of the Marine Light Infantry
and the native Bombay Regiment will no longer re-echo
with the merry voices of the gay subaltern and his
friends. We shall probably have some solid stone,
picca-hullt quarters, which will be as ugly as the old
bungalows were pleasing to the eye. How many joyous
evenings have we not spent in these old homes ! Never
again shall we lounge after dinner in the long chair,



BOMB A Y 3

dear to the Anglo-Indian, and listen to the gup of the
passing hour. This is, however, mere digression, and
memory must not be allowed too full a sway.

Bombay has earned another title to our respect, and
may be justly called Bombay the Busy. With its
immense and beautiful harbour, to which ships of all
nations are attracted by the export trade, the scene
presented is an animated one. The contrasts too
between the various craft thronging the vast land-locked
bay, which forms one of the best harbours of refuge in
the world, are very great. Here, owing to the high tides
which prevail, the largest ships of our navy can not only
ride at anchor in the stream, but enter if necessary the
series of docks which line the shore. You may see the
huge battleship or Peninsular and Oriental mail-steamer,
with all the latest appliances of modern naval science,
cheek-by-jowl with the rough and clumsy native biiggla,
with its high bulwark of interlaced bamboo and its huge
and unwieldy lateen sail. Amidst all this great mass
of shipping, the small tonies or dug-outs, manned by a
couple of bronze-coloured natives with their primitive
paddles, dart to and fro. In the afternoon, when the heat
has somewhat decreased, the white sails of the dainty
yachts, owned by the sahibs of the Yacht Club, skim the
deep blue surface of the bay. The Bombay Harbour,
when seen in the rose-light of the declining sun, with the
setting of the ghauts of the mainland in the back-
ground, is a memory of the beautiful which the beholder
cannot fail to treasure as a new experience.

One of the first things that strikes -the new-comer is
the enormous mass of humanity which throngs the
streets of the city; which crowd is intensified tenfold in
the native quarters of the town. This heterogeneous



4 THROUGH THE FAMINE DISTRICTS

collection of all sorts and conditions of men, the snowy-
white clothed Parsee and Bania, the swarthy Arab, the
yellow-skinned Chinaman, the stalwart Mahommedan,
the statuesque coolie, form, with the gay-coloured sarees
of the female portion of the crowd, a kaleidoscopic
picture which is alike pleasing to the eye and bewildering
to the brain.

It is the people, the variegated throng of picturesque
humanity, which after all remains as one of the first and
indelible impressions of Bombay. The submerged tenth
live and have their being in the open air. In the native
quarters at night the footway is simply impassable,
owing to the masses of shrouded natives who use it as
their sleeping-place. In the vicinity of the Crawford
markets and in the quarter of Cammatepura they simply
line the pavement, and wrapped closely in their dirty-
white c/mddahs, look like bales of merchandise. But
the destroying angel of the plague altered all this.
In streets where even towards midnight it w-as im-
possible, owing to the crowds, for a ticcaghany to
proceed beyond a walking pace, a battery of artillery
might have galloped in safety down the now deserted
thoroughfare. I went on a tour of inspection when the
disease was at its height, and found whole streets in the
busiest portion of the native town practically deserted.
The shops were all closed, and the occupants had
disappeared en bloc. It was calculated at that time that
nearly two-thirds of the inhabitants had fled from the
pest-stricken island to the mainland. This enormous
exodus on the part of the people did incalculable harm
to the Presidency, and without doubt caused the spread of
the fell disease into the country districts of the province.

At a later period on my tour, I found in one remote



BOMB A Y 5

village of the Konkan that more than forty people
had died of the plague which had been imported by a
sufferer from Bombay.

The hardships and discomforts entailed upon the
European residents of Bombay during the reign of the
pestilence can scarcely be conceived except by those
who were not only eye-witnesses, but actual sufferers
from the panic caused to the natives by the epidemic.
People at home have no idea of how dependent the
Anglo-Indian is upon the cloud of dark-skinned servants
who minister to his necessities and anticipate his slightest
needs. The plague brought this home very clearly to
those who were obliged to remain in the cit}'. I arrived
one day at the Yacht Club for tiffen, and found that with
the exception of three who had remained faithful to their
salt, the whole posse of servants had fled. It was a some-
what droll sight to see reverend judges, potent collectors
and brave generals, foraging round promiscuously for
means wherewith to stay their appetite or assuage their
thirst. With the happy insouciance which characterizes
the Englishman in India, the whole affair was treated as
a huge joke, and a merry and impromptu picnic was the
result.

Another instance will show to what degree of dis-
comfort those who stuck to their guns were put. A
friend of mine who lived in a flat in the fort was
deserted by his retainers with the exception of an ancient
Portuguese cook ; and for days he and- his wife had to
do their own house-work. The hohachi agreed to cook,
but absolutely refused to bring the things to table or
wash up afterwards, and he was the master of the
situation. The sahib and his wife had to arrange that
for themselves. This, with the thermometer standing in



6 THROUGH THE FAMINE DISTRICTS

the immediate neighbourhood of eighty degrees in the
shade, is no mean undertaking for delicately nurtured
Europeans. They stood it for some time, but at last
turned tail and fled for refuge to an up-country
hotel.

In the earlier stages of the epidemic the municipality
attempted the disastrous plan of concealment ; and it
was mainly owing to the fearless policy and tone of the
Times of India in laying bare the actual facts of the
case, and especially in tracing the abnormal mortality to
its true cause, that the Government was forced to take
the strenuous repressive measures it subsequently did.
If from the first the nettle had been grasped firmly, and
a cordon established round Bombay, the disease would
not have attacked Kurrachee nor been so widespread
as it eventually became. The Plague Committee which
the Government too tardily formed, had it been in
existence sooner, would doubtless have achieved at an
earlier stage a still more brilliant success. With such
popular and indomitable chiefs as General Gatacre and
Dr. Pollen, the dread monster would have been sooner
quelled.

It was some time before it was fully recognized that
the plague, of which we had heard such gruesome tales
from Hong Kong the previous year, was really and
definitely in our midst. To all appearance it had come
to stop ; and the city and authorities were more or less
panic-stricken at the thought. There is very little doubt
that in the earlier stages numerous cases were diagnosed
as pneumonia, and the cause of death attributed to that
malady, while the real fons et origo mali was plague pure
and simple. As time went on, experts began to flock
into Bombay from all the known quarters of the



■■Unp


^^^^VBiii^9h^l


^V^v •


^


' ^^v


'MM




Jl




BOMB A Y 7

habitable globe, and were busy from morn till eve in the
laboratories cultivating bacilli in bouillon. Chemists,
scientists, bacteriologists, experts, were as plentiful in our
city as leaves on Vallombrosa. The theories started
were practically endless. To one it was sea-borne — to
another earth-borne — to another water-borne — to another
land-borne. To another, since it began in Mandvie, the
centre of the wheat and seed bazaar, bad grain was its
alma mater. To another rats were the culprits ; — in fact,
Quot homines tot sententics. The daily papers teemed
with letters, scientific articles, theories ; and yet the
plague calmly pursued the even tenor of its way and
decimated the population. Eventually, after almost
endless discussion and ventilation of the matter, it was
unanimously agreed that filth and want of sanitation
were, if not the actual germinants, at any rate all-im-
portant factors in the spread and propagation of the
epidemic. The fiat went forth that cleanliness was as
good if not better than godliness, and we set to work,
one and all, to purge, purify and whitewash Bombay the
Bubonic.

The slums of the city, even to one not ignorant of the
homes of the submerged tenth in our own metropolis,
are a new and terrible experience. The quarters of the
lower and poorer classes of the natives in Bombay are
scarcely to be described. One instance will serve : A
party of volunteers with a hose were washing and
disinfecting a chawl (native tenement house), the only
entrance to which was down a gully (in the centre of
which ran an open drain), so narrow that one could with
difficulty squeeze through. At the end of this was a
rat-hole of a place, pitch dark, and about eigiit feet
square. The hose was turned on, and fearful and



8 THROUGH THE FAMINE DISTRICTS

diabolical yells arose in the far corner of this black-hole
of Bombay. A light was brought, and an old woman, a
mere bundle of rags, was discovered crouching in the
corner, and emitting a stream of ear-splitting screams.
The place was entirely without means of light or
ventilation, and the state of affairs revealed by the
lantern was simply indescribable. There were a couple
of old battered cooking pots ; and this kennel which one
would have offered with some feelings of compunction to
a pariah dog, had served this ancient beldame as a home,
in which she had lived, slept, cooked and fed for several
months past. This is only one solitary instance, but
'twill serve. Can one therefore be surprised that the
bubonic plague, which is supposed to be the outcome of
defective sanitation, should have taken such a hold upon
the city when it can find such places as the above in
which to batten, fester and ferment.

Government at last took in hand what the municip-
ality, with all its vaunted ideas of progress and the
advance of civilization, had been found absolutely in-
capable of coping with. Such a crisis required a
Cromwell, and the man arose in General Gatacre, who,
as President of the Plague Committee, took the bull by
the horns. The measures adopted, aided by the advent
of the hot weather, succeeded in eventually scotching the
pest. The Angel of Death, however, had been very busy
in , our midst, and the mortality had been enormous.
When a case occurred or proved fatal, a circle was placed
on the door-post of the house, and in one house alone
the number of rings shown adds up to forty-three. There
was also an oart or square where this number was
exceeded. It is without my province to describe the
various scenes and episodes that took place in Bombay



BOMB A Y 9

during the raging of the plague. Suffice it to say that
all the open spaces and lungs of the city were devoted
to the hutting and housing of the various castes and
peoples. Hospitals sprung up on all sides like mush-
rooms in a single night. The wail of the mourners was
heard on every side, and one could not pass down a street
without meeting one or more funeral procession. The
burning ghauts were strained to their utmost capacity,
and the Mahommedan burial-grounds could not hide
beneath the earth sufficiently fast the Moslem victims.
On Mahim sands, if in ordinary times you ride out there
in the early morning, you may generally find the dying
embers of one fire. In the times of the plague the whole
sea-shore was clothed with the fires of innumerable
funeral pyres. People who have lived through these
times can scarcely refrain from shuddering at the sad
thoughts and remembrances which memory recalls.

The plague in Bombay has left an almost indelible
mark upon the commerce and enterprise of that afore-
time thriving commercial centre. The export, and
indeed the import trade has dwindled to almost nothing,
while the check to the native mill industry has been such
that it will take some years to recover. God grant that
the dread disease has made its final exit, and may not
be recurrent. There are, however, great fears that the
present monsoon will see a recrudescence of the fell
epidemic. Let us hope that the exponents of this
theory will prove false prophets.^

^ I regret to say that since this was written, from advices received
from Bombay, the plague has shown strong signs of recrudescence,
and in addition to this, that cholera has broken out in the native
quarters of the doomed city. The death-roll has again risen, and
the arrival of the monsoon has not tended to mitigate the evils.



CHAPTER II

THE START

On the thirteenth of January in this present year I
was at Santa Cruz, assisting at a function of the banquet
description, given by the jovial sportsmen of Bombay
who compose the Jackal Club. Even though plague
be raging in the city, the young and ardent of the
European contingent must kill something, and the
pursuit with horse and hound of the wily jackal in the
plains and jungles of Salsette affords at this season
of the year the handiest means of breaking your
neck.

Every " cold weather " a camp is formed about twelve
miles from Bombay, and here the hounds meet twice a
week in the grey and early dawn. Many of us prefer
on the eve of hunting-days to sleep out there under
canvas ; and this will account for my presence in the
camp. While at dinner, a belted cJiupprassie of the
Bombay Gazette silently crept to my side and thrust
a note into my hand, saying — " Answer wanted, sahib."
Thinking that it was a mere request for more copy, or
some trifle of that description, I ordered the man to
baito — i. e. sit, wait — and w^ent on with the more impor-
tant business of dining. When I opened the note I
found the following —

10



THE START ii

"Dear M.

" Reuter wants a man to do the Famine ; if
you care for the job, see W. — Yours, G. C. P."

W. was Reuter's manager, and the note was from the
editor of the Bombay Gazette ; so telling the messenger,
Tinnara sahib ko baJiiit salaani-bolo — which being inter-
preted means, "Tell your sahib I have received the chit,
and am much obliged, and will see about it when I have
any spare time,"' — and a few other things of that sort,
which the florid imagination of the messenger may
dictate, I turned in.

Since the failure of the monsoon the previous Sep-
tember, we in India had been fully aware that a very
intense and extended famine would result. The Indian
papers had already sent out their " Own Specials," and
the Lord Mayor's Fund at home was rolling up daily.
The English press, however, had as yet taken no steps, and
their supineness was a matter of surprise to the coterie
of press-men in Bombay. In the famine of 1S76, India
was flooded with a crowd of English correspondents, and
the Press Commissioner, v/hose oflice had not been
abolished in those days, was w^orked off his legs in his
attempts to please all parties. By parenthesis, judging
from the sedition which at the time of this writing is
rampant in various centres of the Bombay Presidency, a
censorship of the native press would not only be
expedient, but seems an absolute necessity. The re-
organization of this important office would be a right
step in the direction of repressing the hot-headed
fanatics who arc stirring up sedition.

The sad murder of my poor friend Lieutenant Aycrst,
and the death of Mr. Rand, have led me into this



12 THROUGH THE FAMINE DISTRICTS

digression, but let me get back to my own personal
affairs. I called upon the manager of Reuter the next
morning, and having settled matters to our mutual
satisfaction, it was determined that I was to travel
through the districts in India affected by famine, and
from the chief centres send telegrams to England, report-
ing upon the state of affairs.

It did not take me long to arrange my business, so
that the world should not cease to revolve during my
absence, and the following evening, in company with my
faithful servant Domenico, I started by the mail-train to
Poona, in search of famine.

In concluding this chapter, I beg leave to crave a
slight indulgence from my readers, if any. I hope that
they will pardon the too-oft recurrence of that wretched
unit, the personal pronoun I. Please remember that
these are the personal experiences of a man who, like
Ulysses, saw many lands and peoples during his wander-
ings ; and so free me from the charge of egoism, and
accept my account as what has been heard and seen by
Reuter's Special Correspondent.



CHAPTER III

SATARA

With my start by the Poona Mail, on January 15,
began my peregrinations in search of famine and
starvation, which led me to a tour through India of
some 4500 miles in extent and some seven weeks in
duration. By the help of my friends and colleagues of
the Times of India, I had mapped out a route to which
I more or less adhered in my travels. It had been
decided that I should first exhaust the possibilities of
the Bombay Presidency, and having heard that there
was great scarcity prevailing in the Southern IMahratta
country, I made Satara, an important cantonment at



Online LibraryF. H. S. (Francis Henry Shafton) MerewetherA tour through the famine district of India → online text (page 1 of 24)