James Bell Forsyth.

A few months in the East : or, A glimpse of the Red, the Dead, and the Black seas online

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of cannon ; such indeed, in my opinion, are the
strength and security of the works, that not even
rifled cannon could be brought to bear with any
marked impression. Famine alone can, I think, ever
remove the meteor flag of England from this great
stronghold, which the authorities at home are annu-
ally strengthening, and seem to know well its value ;
although there are political economists who would
hand it over to Spain to-morrow, alleging that the


cost of maintenance and fortification is more than it
is worth.

The agreeableness of my brief sojourn in Gibraltar
was much enhanced by the kind attentions of Colonel
Maberly of the Artillery, Col. Fane of the 25th, and
Mr. Carpenter of the Commissariat, who had been
many years in Quebec ; and also, by Col. Dunn and
by the officers of the 100th Regiment, who gave me
a most cordial welcome. Their Colonel, the Baron de
Rottenburgh, was even kind enough to order the
Regiment to parade, so that I might be a witness of
their proficiency, and report well of them on my
return to Canada; and assuredly a more soldierly-
looking set of men I have seldom seen.

It is well-known that almost every man in the 100th
is either a native of Canada, or has been a resident in
the Province ; and when they were raised, in 1858,
it was generally believed that the regiment would at
once join the army in India ; but, after a year or two
in England, peace came, and many who were all
anxiety to see active service, and " seek the bubble
reputation even in the cannon's mouth," now regret
that they are doomed to dull routine in a Garrison
town. When the regiment was raised, a general
opinion prevailed in Canada, that the Provincial
Legislature would have conferred some testimonial,


some special grant or mark of distinction on this
regiment, for the purpose of keeping alive the cher-
ished associations originally subsisting between the
men and this important portion of the empire, where
it was formed. But, through some cause or other,
nothing has yet been done. Measures have however
lately been taken to give the Canadian public an
opportunity of promoting this laudable object ; and
I shall, indeed, feel gratified if my casual visit to
Gibraltar should prove the means of accelerating the
completion of an act of but bare justice.

A handsome piece of plate for the mess, something
for that of the non-commissioned officers, and a
library for the men, might be procured by an easy
effort in either section of the Province, If a library
should be at variance with the regulations of the
army, the half of the money collected might be
funded, and the interest expended in the purchase of
periodicals, newspapers, cricket-balls, &c, &c. In-
deed, I am strongly inclined to believe that an annual
amount, so applied, would be better calculated to
keep alive, for years and years, the kindred ties and
associations, which should ever exist between the
regiment and Canada.

The presentation of a large library, all at once,
may be accompanied by several disadvantages. The


books are soon worn out and disfigured by constant
use, and a considerable expense entailed in its removal
from station to station ; indeed, the larger it might
become, the greater would this difficulty be felt.

The military authorities very properly have estab-
lished a recruiting party in the Province ; and such
is the love of adventure, and the desire to see foreign
parts, that there is no difficulty in getting men, who
prefer sixpence a-day, with the chance of seeing the
world, to four or five shillings daily wages for ordinary
or farm labour ; and it must not be forgotten, how-
ever, that the term of military service being now
limited, the soldier's life is far less hopeless than it
was many years ago.

u Gib.," as military men usually call it, seems, on
the whole, a favorite station ; though I heard a good
deal of ennui being a prevalent complaint. There
is very little general society, apart from the military ;
and rides in the country are confined to the cork-
woods, and a few Spanish towns in the immediate
neighbourhood. There is, however, a pack of hounds
kept up ; and, while I was there, the theatre was
open, the company consisting of a party of Zouaves,
who had been in the Crimea.

One favorite piece was "A Surprise by the Russians
on the Corps Dramatique." This was the representa-



tion of an occurrence, which actually took place in
the midst of some fine acting, and had been attended
with the loss of life. Some of the Zouaves were
attired as ladies, with a profusion of crinoline ; and
were compelled, in the midst of a most touching
scene, to throw aside their flaming red-petticoats,
and seize their muskets, the effect of which was
very laughable, though no joke at the time. The
house was poorly attended ; the taste for theatricals
being as dull at Gibraltar as in any other part of
the English world. A great change has taken place
certainly, in this respect, since the days of good
Queen Bess ; late dinner-hours have had much to
do, I suspect, in effecting this state of things more,
in fact, than many would be willing to allow.

The streets in Gibraltar, or I should rather say
the street, is very narrow ; but, at all hours of the
day, it is full of people. The gardens, walks and drives,
between the Almeida and Buropa Point, are very
beautiful, and produce on the stranger the most de-
lightful impression of the far-famed Mountain of
Tank. The name of Gibraltar is well-known to be a
corruption of Jebel-Tarik, the Arabic conqueror of
that part of Spain.

It was not one of the least interesting circum-
stances attending my brief stay, that I should be


lodged in the very house in which the brave old
General Elliott resided during the memorable siege,
which he so gallantly and successfully maintained
against the floating batteries of Spain. In the dining-
room, his portrait and those of many of his com-
panions in arms are to be seen, in the quaint, old
style of the last century.

When in the East, I was particularly fortunate in
point of weather, having experienced but two wet
days, one at Gibraltar, which enabled me to read
Drinkwater's account of the siege, for he was there all
the time and kept a regular journal daily. Although
a little too minute, I found its perusal particularly
attractive, having at the time every spot in view.

After a week's most pleasant residence, I bade
adieu to Gibraltar ; and as Sir William was kind
enough to accompany me on board the "Kipon,"
and introduce me to Captain Christian, I was soon as
much at home, among the passengers, as my fortunate
meeting with Butts made me in the "Delta f and
the following day, I found a distant connexion of my
own on board, and Mr. and Mrs. Gordon, of Charles-
ton, near neighbours of my sisters in Scotland.



Sunday morning found us on the blue waters of the
Mediterranean ; and, about noon, we had a very
beautiful view of the lofty mountain range of Anda-
lusia, the Sierra Nevada, some of the peaks of which
are upwards of twelve or thirteen thousand feet high,
and are covered with perpetual snow.

We sailed along the coast of Algeria, and passed
the site of ancient Carthage, at a great distance,
however. On the third day we had a close view of
Pantellaria, the island prison of Naples for political
offenders ; and it is not difficult to conceive the de-
light, which must have pervaded this isolated spot,
when the intelligence of Garibaldi's exploits an-
nounced that the prison-doors would soon be open.

, We reached Malta on Thursday; the great strength
of which and its commanding position in the Medi-


terranean have made its possession of importance to
its many successive masters the Phoenicians, Greeks,
Carthaginians, Eomans, Goths, Saracens, Knights of
Malta, and, last of all, the British, who are thus
enabled to maintain an ascendancy over "the glad
waters of the dark- blue sea."

The Reverend Mr. Murray, of Jersey, who had
taken his passage for Malta, for the benefit of his
health, was induced by me to be my companion for
Palestine ; and to his great biblical learning and
general intelligence I am indebted for much informa-
tion, and many valuable hints, which might otherwise
have escaped my observation.

We landed very early in the morning ; and before
breakfasting at Durnford's Hotel (a most excellent
one), we visited the fortifications, and the far-famed
Church of St. John, in which are separate chapels
for each language of the Knights Hospitallers.

The church, as a whole, is certainly a grand edifice ;
although the facade is inferior in beauty to what I
had anticipated, and a certain degree of heaviness
pervades the whole building. The graves of the
Knights are under the pavement of the church, and
many of them are covered with rich mosaics, in
marble, jasper and agate. Although the Temple
Church in London, is far inferior in size, I much pre-


fer it, and it has always been an especial favorite
with me ; it belonged, as every body knows, to the
order of Knight Templars.

We visited the Palace, the residence of the
Governor, a large structure without any preten-
sions to architectural beauty. The interior, however,
is interesting, especially the armoury a very long
apartment, full of all kinds of warlike implements,
ancient and modern. Along the middle of the room,
at regular distances, there are suits of armour, worn
in different ages by the gallant knights, looking like
so many soldiers on duty, and all wearing the badge
of the famous order the white cross on a red field.

The edifices, however, which interested me most,
were the various auberges : these were inns, or
rather palaces, erected for different classes of the
Hospitallers, according to their respective origin
and languages ; and they are in appearance very
magnificent structures. They had been, in fact,
the " Clubs" of the Knights of Malta ; and little
could their gallant founders have anticipated that,
in this year of grace, they would be used as officers'
quarters, mess-houses, printing offices, and private

The appearance of the town is very striking ; the
main street, which is about the only one deserving


the name, is rather narrow ; hut in it are many fine
and noble buildings, with balustrades opening from
the windows, and jutting out so as rather to disfigure
the street. The town is very hilly, and flights of
steep steps branch off the main street, with houses
on either side. The population is very large, and
the whole town presented a most oriental scene.

We walked round the fortifications, and from the
walls of Valetta were much pleased with the view of
the town and surrounding country ; although there
was little verdure to enliven the latter, the whole
surface, as far as the eye could reach, being nothing
but rock, with endless terraces to keep the little
earth from being washed away in the season of the
heavy rains.

The harbour, with its numerous creeks, is a very
fine one, and certainly one of the safest in the world ;
it is crowded with shipping of all kinds, from the
proud man-of-war of seventy-four down to the Maltese
skiff ; and, viewed from the glacis, it is a very lively

In one respect, I was particularly fortunate in my
visit to the East, for everywhere I escaped quaran-
tine, that bane of travelling ; and nowhere is it more
galling to the traveller, when in force, than in Malta,
which is densely populated, and where the dread of


contagion is consequently so great. If the report
that the cholera has made its appearance in (xibraltar
be correct, there is little doubt the different lazarettos,
throughout the whole Mediterranean, will soon be
crowded with impatient travellers.

The Maltese are, generally speaking, a fine set of
men, strong and robust, and not unlike our Indians ;
and are generally allowed to be of Moorish extraction.
The dress, both of men and women, is very becom-
ing, even although the hoop has not yet made its
appearance among the latter ; perhaps by the time
it does, the oriental veil (the onnella), or head-dress
derived therefrom, and for ages peculiar to Malta,
may be seen adorning the heads of our ladies, in place
of the ugly bonnet, now in vogue.

Before leaving, we visited the Convent of the
Capuchins, and, on descending to the vaults, were
shown the withered remains of monks, who died long,
long ago, and of others, who more recently have
" shuffled off this mortal coil." These latter were in
every stage of decay and decomposition, and were
nailed up in niches in the walls, dressed in full
canonicals, the faces only exposed to view, a most
revolting sight, and one I do not recommend others
to look at ; although such is the morbid feeling in
many, that this show will always prove an important
source of revenue to the brotherhood. The monk,


who acted as our guide, pointed out, with no small
degree of complacency, the niche intended for himself,
when the King of Terrors would call him away.

I was sorry that time did not permit my visiting
St. Paul's Bay the spot where the great Apostle of
the Gentiles landed. Many contend, from the word
" Adria" in the 27th verse of the 27th chapter of the
Acts of the Apostles, as well as from other reasons,
that a small island in the Adriatic, is the Melita of
the Acts ; but I think tradition, combined with
arguments, even more forcible and with strong con-
current testimony, proves Malta to have been the
island on which the Apostle was wrecked.

On the fourth day from Malta, we reached Alexan-
dria, without the occurrence of anything remarkable.
The approach to this old, and once so celebrated city,
is very narrow and circuitous, but could easily be
made straight ; yet, such is the dread of European
powers, that the Turk deems it safer to leave the
entrance a matter of difficulty, and one that could
bp easily made dangerous. Pompey's Pillar, in the
distance, was long discernible before entering the
harbour of this great entrepot. On passing the
Pacha's steamship, we lowered our colours to the
Crescent ; and, from the deck, the mosques and
minarets told us that we had reached the East.



The steamer was soon surrounded by boats, full of
most importunate boatmen. So great, in fact, was
their anxiety to secure the luggage of the passengers,
that they considered they had a right to it, and to
insist on the owner taking a passage with the suc-
cessful possessor of his goods and chattels. At length
we were enabled to bid adieu to the " Ripon," and
were soon landed at the custom-house wharf.

Annoying as the squabbling of the boatmen un-
doubtedly was, it was nothing to that with which we
were assailed on stepping ashore. About two hundred
squalid-looking wretches, dressed so sparingly that
their tailors would not make a fortune, immediately
began to fight for our baggage, although the whole
only consisted of a dozen portmanteaux and carpet-
bags, belonging to our party of three. However, we


contrived to work our way to the custom-house,
where our trunks were to be examined ; and, assur-
edly, if Alexandria is behind the age in many things,
it may boast of simplicity and intelligibility in the
carrying out of its customs' regulations. " Master,
you give me your keys, or you give me sixpence,"
was an appeal which we could easily understand ; and
the demand was so moderate, that we were glad to
avoid the delay which a search would have entailed.

"Backsheesh" is the first word that greets the ear
of a stranger, on his arrival in Egypt or Turkey, and
the last that is heard on his departure ; in sooth, it is
still tingling in my ears. It was now fiercely reiter-
ated by the fellows who carried our luggage, but a
shilling among the twelve sent them away rejoicing :
indeed, it is scarcely credible what a man will do
there for a penny. "Backsheesh" is demanded on
every possible occasion, in every direction, and at
every turning. It is not merely asked as alms (the
literal meaning of the word), but it is sought or
exacted, in a good-humoured way, as a legitimate
present ; and travellers are too frequently apt to
lose their temper at the pertinacity with which it
is demanded. I asked a friend for the Arabic
of " to-morrow," boucra, which I laughingly used,
and thus easily escaped ; while some of my friends,


who answered peevishly or angrily, were assailed
with fresh and unceasing importunity.

On the arrival of a stranger in Alexandria, he
cannot fail to be forcibly struck with the motley
sights which first meet his eyes: camels are seen,
slowly wending their way along the narrow, dirty
streets ; donkeys innumerable, almost the sole means
of conveyance ; women, shuffling along, with their
faces covered so as to leave the eyes only exposed ;
Nubians, black as jet ; Copts and Arabs .; Turks,
smoking their chibouques, and every man you meet
in the streets with a cigar or cigarette in his mouth ;
children, carried astride on their mothers' shoulders
(no wonder the Arabs are good horsemen), with their
little faces bare, and so covered with flies that the
traveller no longer wonders at the prevalency of

After a short stay at the hotel, we proceeded to
visit Pompey's Pillar, which did not, in any respect,
equal my expectation or pre-conceived ideas, founded
on descriptions given in books. Cleopatra's Needle
was the next object of inspection ; and it was evident,
at first sight, that this celebrated column has been
greatly damaged by exposure to the winds and
weather. We afterwards went to the palace of the
Pacha ; the building has an imposing appearance from


a distance, but, on a nearer approach, it is found
(as everything else in this crumbling counfry) in
a decayed and still further decaying condition.

In the streets of this and all other cities of the
East, women, except of the lower orders, are seldom
met with. The dress of these consists merely of
a blue linen shirt, and an upper garment of muslin
thrown over the head. The face, with the exception
of the eyes, is entirely concealed ; but, in this
respect, females of the higher class, when you do
meet them, have introduced a marked change, for
the muslin now worn is so thin, that the features are
plainly discernible. Many women stain their lips
a blue colour, and blacken their nails and part of
their hands with the leaves of the henna tree. Upon
the whole, I cannot say that I remember seeing a
pretty face among the females of the land, or a
countenance that excited even passing admiration.

The city of Alexandria, in its present condition,
woefully disappoints the least sanguine traveller. I
could not help thinking it one of the most dull and
uninteresting places I had ever seen. The contrast
between the modern town and the far-famed city,
founded by the Macedonian conqueror, extended and
embellished under the Ptolemies, produces disap-
pointment and depression of spirits ; even if great


allowance is made for exaggeration in the current
statement, that ancient Alexandria contained three
millions of inhabitants, and had a street of palaces
two miles in length ! With a record before us of
the fall and decay of the great empires of the world,
we find it difficult for the mind to realize the extent
of the change that has taken place on this most
highly-favored site.

After the occupation of a busy day, I enjoyed a
sound sleep in my quarters in the hotel; but my
companions, Mr. Murray, and a youngster of the
name of Denny, who was travelling with him, made
their appearance, the following morning, in a most
pitiable plight. They could not say, with any degree
of certainty, whether they had suffered greater in-
fliction from the fleas or mosquitos ; but they had
passed a night of excruciating torture, and, every
now and then, I heard some exclamation about the
plagues of Egypt !

We left Alexandria early in the day, amid a
deluging shower of rain, which quite satisfied us, not-
withstanding the trite remarks of geographical text-
books, that it never rains in Egypt ; but this applies
more particularly to Upper Egypt. During the
summer I have seen it, in Canada, pour down some-
times very respectably ; but the storm of rain which


fell, on our leaving Alexandria, was such as can
never be washed from the memory. After a two
miles drive we reached the railway, and at nine were
fairly on our way to Cairo.

On entering the railway- carriage, we found almost
every seat occupied. I got a place next to one of
the descendants of the Prophet, easily distinguished
by his rich fur cloak, and otherwise elaborate dress,
and by the green turban (the badge of his descent).
He looked like his countryman in Aleppo, alluded
to by Othello, " a malignant and a turban'd Turk,"
with an eye (you may see its fellow in a menagerie)
expressive of intense hatred. He scowled on me
with absolute ferocity ; and although he spoke
in Arabic, it was easy to conceive that the words
uttered implied some such complimentary salutation
as "Dog of an infidel ! what dost thou here ?"
During the whole of our journey to Cairo, he
continued to mutter expressions, no doubt equally
flattering. I offered him a cigar, in the hope of
propitiating him, but he drew back haughtily, as
if the offer were an insult : so I left him to himself,
and made a passing acquaintance with some Egyptian
officers, who spoke a little French, and who were
moving about on duty. Except in the case just
mentioned, I always found that a cigar, courteously
offered, was a sure introduction to friendly feeling.


It was in the railway- carriage that I first wit-
nessed the punctilious devotion of the followers of
Mahommed ; five times a- day do they turn towards
Mecca, prostrating themselves on their knees, pray-
ing earnestly ; and, every now and then, touching the
ground with their foreheads, springing and stand-
ing upright, they then resume the kneeling posture.
What a lesson to us, who pride ourselves on being
Christians ! Go into any of our churches, and see
how few will condescend to bend the knee ; while
engaged in prayer, how few will kneel ! I speak
exclusively of men ; from woman we have a bright
example, in this respect, and should follow it.

About noon, we reached the Nile ; and then we
felt that we were indeed in the land of the Bible,
which is, after all, here as in Palestine, the best hand-
book for the Christian traveller. Cold must that
heart be, which swells not with emotion, when the eye,
for the first time, gazes on this renowned river, the
waters of which were turned into blood, and its banks
became the scene of so many miracles and wonders ;
and, add to this, we were now in the land where our
Saviour passed a short time when an infant.

From the windows of the railway-carriage we be-
held something new every moment : long strings of
camels, numerous villages of mud-houses, the inha-



bitants of which appeared to live in a most destitute
condition. Every where we saw mills for the eleva-
tion of water, for the purposes of irrigation, worked
sometimes by oxen, sometimes by asses, and even by
cows, but more frequently by men. The Pyramids
now appeared upon the scene, looking more striking
in the distance, than when more nearly approached.
During the afternoon we passed the land of Goshen, and
arrived at Cairo at about seven in the evening. On
alighting, we were surprised to observe the number
of passengers not less than three hundred. The
noise and uproar of the donkey-boys was most extra-
ordinary, passing even the chattering of women when
congregated together ; at length we found our way to
Shepherd's well-known hotel a magnificent building,
which formerly belonged to the Pacha, and covers
several acres of land. The entrance-hall is very spa-
cious, with passages about twice as broad as the streets
of the city. I got a capital bed-room ; and, with
English servants in attendance, and a well-supplied
table, could not help feeling comfortably at home.
Shepherd himself, who has not passed the grand
climacteric, has made a large fortune, and has lately
purchased an estate in Warwickshire, where he intends
to reside. I hope, for the sake of the tourists who
may follow me, that his successor will keep as com-


fortable a house, as he has made a point of doing, for
the benefit of wayfarers at a distance from home.

Before inspecting Cairo, and visiting the wonders
in its vicinity, we determined to proceed at once to
Suez, and obtain our promised glimpse of the Red

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Online LibraryJames Bell ForsythA few months in the East : or, A glimpse of the Red, the Dead, and the Black seas → online text (page 2 of 10)