Ida Pfeiffer.

A Woman's Journey Round the World online

. (page 19 of 44)
Online LibraryIda PfeifferA Woman's Journey Round the World → online text (page 19 of 44)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Calcutta, which is sixty nautical miles distant. The stream at this
point was several miles broad, so that the dark line of only one of
its banks was to be seen.

4th November. In the morning we entered the Hoogly, one of the
seven mouths of the Ganges. A succession of apparently boundless
plains lay stretched along on both sides of the river. Fields of
rice were alternated with sugar plantations, while palm, bamboo, and
other trees, sprung up between, and the vegetation extended, in
wanton luxuriance, down to the very water's edge; the only objects
wanting to complete the picture were villages and human beings, but
it was not until we were within about five-and-twenty miles of
Calcutta that we saw now and then a wretched village or a few half-
naked men. The huts were formed of clay, bamboos, or palm branches,
and covered with tiles, rice-straw, or palm leaves. The larger
boats of the natives struck me as very remarkable, and differed
entirely from those I saw at Madras. The front portion was almost
flat, being elevated hardly half a foot above the water while the
stern was about seven feet high.

The first grand-looking building, a cotton mill, is situated fifteen
miles below Calcutta, and a cheerful dwelling-house is attached.
From this point up to Calcutta, both banks of the Hoogly are lined
with palaces built in the Greco-Italian style, and richly provided
with pillars and terraces. We flew too quickly by, unfortunately,
to obtain more than a mere passing glimpse of them.

Numbers of large vessels either passed us or were sailing in the
same direction, and steamer after steamer flitted by, tugging
vessels after them; the scene became more busy and more strange,
every moment, and everything gave signs that we were approaching an
Asiatic city of the first magnitude.

We anchored at Gardenrich, four miles below Calcutta. Nothing gave
me more trouble during my travels than finding lodgings, as it was
sometimes impossible by mere signs and gestures to make the natives
understand where I wanted to go. In the present instance, one of
the engineers interested himself so far in my behalf as to land with
me, and to hire a palanquin, and direct the natives where to take

I was overpowered by feelings of the most disagreeable kind the
first time I used a palanquin. I could not help feeling how
degrading it was to human beings to employ them as beasts of burden.

The palanquins are five feet long and three feet high, with sliding
doors and jalousies: in the inside they are provided with
mattresses and cushions, so that a person can lie down in them as in
a bed. Four porters are enough to carry one of them about the town,
but eight are required for a longer excursion. They relieve each
other at short intervals, and run so quickly that they go four miles
in an hour or even in three-quarters of an hour. These palanquins
being painted black, looked like so many stretchers carrying corpses
to the churchyard or patients to the hospital.

On the road to the town, I was particularly struck with the
magnificent gauths (piazzas), situated on the banks of the Hoogly,
and from which broad flights of steps lead down to the river.
Before these gauths are numerous pleasure and other boats.

The most magnificent palaces lay around in the midst of splendid
gardens, into one of which the palanquin-bearers turned, and set me
down under a handsome portico before the house of Herr Heilgers, to
whom I had brought letters of recommendation. The young and amiable
mistress of the house greeted me as a countrywoman (she was from the
north and I from the south of Germany), and received me most
cordially. I was lodged with Indian luxury, having a drawing-room,
a bed-room, and a bath-room especially assigned to me.

I happened to arrive in Calcutta at the most unfavourable period
possible. Three years of unfruitfulness through almost the whole of
Europe had been followed by a commercial crisis, which threatened
the town with entire destruction. Every mail from Europe brought
intelligence of some failure, in which the richest firms here were
involved. No merchant could say, "I am worth so much;" - the next
post might inform him that he was a beggar. A feeling of dread and
anxiety had seized every family. The sums already lost in England
and this place were reckoned at thirty millions of pounds sterling,
and yet the crisis was far from being at an end.

Misfortunes of this kind fall particularly hard upon persons who,
like the Europeans here, have been accustomed to every kind of
comfort and luxury. No one can have any idea of the mode of life in
India. Each family has an entire palace, the rent of which amounts
to two hundred rupees (20 pounds), or more, a month. The household
is composed of from twenty-five to thirty servants; namely - two
cooks, a scullion, two water-carriers, four servants to wait at
table, four housemaids, a lamp-cleaner, and half-a-dozen seis or
grooms. Besides this, there are at least six horses, to every one
of which there is a separate groom; two coachmen, two gardeners, a
nurse and servant for each child, a lady's maid, a girl to wait on
the nurses, two tailors, two men to work the punkahs, and one
porter. The wages vary from four to eleven rupees (8s. to 1 pounds
2s.) a month. None of the domestics are boarded, and but few of
them sleep in the house: they are mostly married, and eat and sleep
at home. The only portion of their dress which they have given to
them is their turban and belt; they are obliged to find the rest
themselves, and also to pay for their own washing. The linen
belonging to the family is never, in spite of the number of
servants, washed at home, but is all put out, at the cost of three
rupees (6s.) for a hundred articles. The amount of linen used is
something extraordinary; everything is white, and the whole is
generally changed twice a day.

Provisions are not dear, though the contrary is true of horses,
carriages, furniture, and wearing apparel. The last three are
imported from Europe; the horses come either from Europe, New
Holland, or Java.

In some European families I visited there were from sixty to seventy
servants, and from fifteen to twenty horses.

In my opinion, the Europeans themselves are to blame for the large
sums they have to pay for servants. They saw the native princes and
rajahs surrounded by a multitude of idle people, and, as Europeans,
they did not wish to appear in anyway inferior. Gradually the
custom became a necessity, and it would be difficult to find a case
where a more sensible course is pursued.

It is true that I was informed that matters could never be altered
as long as the Hindoos were divided into castes. The Hindoo who
cleans the room would on no account wait at table, while the nurse
thinks herself far too good ever to soil her hands by cleaning the
child's washing-basin. There may certainly be some truth in this,
but still every family cannot keep twenty, thirty, or even more
servants. In China and Singapore, I was struck with the number of
servants, but they are not half, nay, not a third so numerous, as
they are here.

The Hindoos, as is well known, are divided into four castes - the
Brahmins, Khetries, Bices and Sooders. They all sprung from the
body of the god Brahma: the first from his mouth, the second from
his shoulders, the third from his belly and thighs, and the fourth
from his feet. From the first class are chosen the highest officers
of state, the priests, and the teachers of the people. Members of
this class alone are allowed to peruse the holy books; they enjoy
the greatest consideration; and if they happen to commit a crime,
are far less severely punished than persons belonging to any of the
other castes. The second class furnishes the inferior officials and
soldiers; the third the merchants, workmen, and peasants; while the
fourth and last provides servants for the other three. Hindoos of
all castes, however, enter service when compelled by poverty to do
so, but there is still a distinction in the kind of work, as the
higher castes are allowed to perform only that of the cleanest kind.

It is impossible for a person of one caste to be received into
another, or to intermarry with any one belonging to it. If a Hindoo
leaves his native land or takes food from a Paria, he is turned out
of his caste, and can only obtain re-admission on the payment of a
very large sum.

Besides these castes, there is a fifth class - the Parias. The lot
of these poor creatures is the most wretched that can be imagined.
They are so despised by the other four castes, that no one will hold
the slightest intercourse with them. If a Hindoo happens to touch a
Paria as he is passing, he thinks himself defiled, and is obliged to
bathe immediately.

The Parias are not allowed to enter any temple, and have particular
places set apart for their dwellings. They are miserably poor, and
live in the most wretched huts; their food consists of all kinds of
offal and even diseased cattle; they go about nearly naked, or with
only a few rags at most on them, and perform the hardest and
commonest work.

The four castes are subdivided into an immense number of sects,
seventy of which are allowed to eat meat, while others are compelled
to abstain from it altogether. Strictly speaking, the Hindoo
religion forbids the spilling of blood, and consequently the eating
of meat; but the seventy sects just mentioned are an exception.
There are, too, certain religious festivals, at which animals are
sacrificed. A cow, however, is never killed. The food of the
Hindoos consists principally of rice, fruit, fish, and vegetables.
They are very moderate in their living, and have only two simple
meals a day - one in the morning and the other in the evening. Their
general drink is water or milk, varied sometimes with cocoa wine.

The Hindoos are of the middle height, slim, and delicately formed;
their features are agreeable and mild; the face is oval, the nose
sharply chiselled, the lip by no means thick, the eye fine and soft,
and the hair smooth and black. Their complexion varies, according
to the locality, from dark to light brown; among the upper classes,
some of them, especially the women, are almost white.

There are a great number of Mahomedans in India; and as they are
extremely skilful and active, most trades and professions are in
their hands. They also willingly hire themselves as servants to

Men here do that kind of work which we are accustomed to see
performed by women. They embroider with white wool, coloured silk,
and gold; make ladies' head-dresses, wash and iron, mend the linen,
and even take situations as nurses for little children. There are a
few Chinese, too, here, most of whom are in the shoemaking trade.

Calcutta, the capital of Bengal, is situated on the Hoogly, which at
this point is so deep and broad, that the largest men-of-war and
East Indiamen can lie at anchor before the town. The population
consists of about 600,000 souls, of whom, not counting the English
troops, hardly more than 2,000 are Europeans and Americans. The
town is divided into several portions - namely, the Business-town,
the Black-town, and the European quarter. The Business-town and
Black-town are very ugly, containing narrow, crooked streets, filled
with wretched houses and miserable huts, between which there are
warehouses, counting-houses, and now and then some palace or other.
Narrow paved canals run through all the streets, in order to supply
the necessary amount of water for the numerous daily ablutions of
the Hindoos. The Business-town and Black-town are always so densely
crowded, that when a carriage drives through, the servants are
obliged to get down and run on before, in order to warn the people,
or push them out of the way.

The European quarter of the town, however, which is often termed the
City of Palaces - a name which it richly merits - is, on the contrary,
very beautiful. Every good-sized house, by the way, is called, as
it is in Venice, a palace. Most of these palaces are situated in
gardens surrounded by high walls; they seldom join one another, for
which reason there are but few imposing squares or streets.

With the exception of the governor's palace, none of these buildings
can be compared for architectural beauty and richness with the large
palaces of Rome, Florence, and Venice. Most of them are only
distinguished from ordinary dwelling-houses by a handsome portico
upon brick pillars covered with cement, and terrace-like roof's.
Inside, the rooms are large and lofty, and the stairs of greyish
marble or even wood; but neither in doors or out are there any fine
statues or sculptures.

The Palace of the governor is as I before said, a magnificent
building - one that would be an ornament to the finest city in the
world. It is built in the form of a horse-shoe, with a handsome
cupola in the centre: the portico, as well as both the wings, is
supported upon columns. The internal arrangements are as bad as can
possibly be imagined; the supper-room being, for instance, a story
higher than the ball-room. In both these rooms there is a row of
columns on each side, and the floor of the latter is composed of
Agra marble. The pillars and walls are covered with a white cement,
which is equal to marble for its polish. The private rooms are not
worth looking at; they merely afford the spectator an opportunity of
admiring the skill of the architect, who has managed to turn the
large space at his command to the smallest imaginable profit.

Among the other buildings worthy of notice are the Town-hall, the
Hospital, the Museum, Ochterlony's Monument, the Mint, and the
English Cathedral.

The Town-hall is large and handsome. The hall itself extends
through one entire story. There are a few monuments in white marble
to the memory of several distinguished men of modern times. It is
here that all kinds of meetings are held, all speculations and
undertakings discussed, and concerts, balls, and other
entertainments given.

The Hospital consists of several small houses, each standing in the
midst of a grass plot. The male patients are lodged in one house,
the females and children in a second, while the lunatics are
confined in the third. The wards were spacious, airy, and
excessively clean. Only Christians are received as patients.

The hospital for natives is similar, but considerably smaller. The
patients are received for nothing, and numbers who cannot be
accommodated in the building itself are supplied with drugs and

The Museum, which was only founded in 1836, possesses, considering
the short space of time that has elapsed since its establishment, a
very rich collection, particularly of quadrupeds and skeletons, but
there are very few specimens of insects, and most of those are
injured. In one of the rooms is a beautifully-executed model of the
celebrated Tatch in Agra; several sculptures and bas-reliefs were
lying around. The figures seemed to me very clumsy; the
architecture, however, is decidedly superior. The museum is open
daily. I visited it several times, and, on every occasion, to my
great astonishment, met a number of natives, who seemed to take the
greatest interest in the objects before them.

Ochterlony's Monument is a simple stone column, 165 feet in height,
standing, like a large note of admiration, on a solitary grassplot,
in memory of General Ochterlony, who was equally celebrated as a
statesman and a warrior. Whoever is not afraid of mounting 222
steps will be recompensed by an extensive view of the town, the
river, and the surrounding country; the last, however, is very
monotonous, consisting of an endless succession of plains bounded
only by the horizon.

Not far from the column is a neat little mosque, whose countless
towers and cupolas are ornamented with gilt metal balls, which
glitter and glisten like so many stars in the heavens. It is
surrounded by a pretty court-yard, at the entrance of which those
who wish to enter the mosque are obliged to leave their shoes. I
complied with this regulation, but did not feel recompensed for so
doing, as I saw merely a small empty hall, the roof of which was
supported by a few stone pillars. Glass lamps were suspended from
the roof and walls, and the floor was paved with Agra marble, which
is very common in Calcutta, being brought down the Ganges.

The Mint presents a most handsome appearance; it is built in the
pure Grecian style, except that it is not surrounded by pillars on
all its four sides. The machinery in it is said to be especially
good, surpassing anything of the kind to be seen even in Europe. I
am unable to express any opinion on the subject, and can only say
that all I saw appeared excessively ingenious and perfect. The
metal is softened by heat and then flattened into plates by means of
cylinders. These plates are cut into strips and stamped. The rooms
in which the operations take place are spacious, lofty, and airy.
The motive-power is mostly steam.

Of all the Christian places of worship, the English Cathedral is the
most magnificent. It is built in the Gothic style, with a fine
large tower rising above half-a-dozen smaller ones. There are other
churches with Gothic towers, but these edifices are all extremely
simple in the interior, with the exception of the Armenian church,
which has the wall near the altar crowded with pictures in gold

The notorious "Black Hole," in which the Rajah Suraja Dowla cast 150
of the principal prisoners when he obtained possession of Calcutta
in 1756, is at present changed into a warehouse. At the entrance
stands an obelisk fifty feet high, and on it are inscribed the names
of his victims.

The Botanical Garden lies five miles distant from the town. It was
founded in the year 1743, but is more like a natural park than a
garden, as it is by no means so remarkable for its collection of
flowers and plants as for the number of trees and shrubs, which are
distributed here and there with studied negligence in the midst of
large grass-plots. A neat little monument, with a marble bust, is
erected to the memory of the founder. The most remarkable objects
are two banana-trees. These trees belong to the fig-tree species,
and sometimes attain a height of forty feet. The fruit is very
small, round, and of a dark-red; it yields oil when burnt. When the
trunk has reached an elevation of about fifteen feet, a number of
small branches shoot out horizontally in all directions, and from
these quantity of threadlike roots descend perpendicularly to the
ground, in which they soon firmly fix themselves. When they are
sufficiently grown, they send out shoots like the parent trunk; and
this process is repeated ad infinitum, so that it is easy to
understand how a single tree may end by forming a whole forest, in
which thousands may find a cool and shady retreat. This tree is
held sacred by the Hindoos. They erect altars to the god Rama
beneath its shade, and there, too, the Brahmin instructs his

The oldest of these two trees, together with its family, already
describes a circumference of more than 600 feet, and the original
trunk measures nearly fifty feet round.

Adjoining the Botanical Garden is the Bishop's College, in which the
natives are trained as missionaries. After the Governor's Palace,
it is the finest building in Calcutta, and consists of two main
buildings and three wings. One of the main buildings is occupied by
an extremely neat chapel. The library, which is a noble-looking
room, contains a rich collection of the works of the best authors,
and is thrown open to the pupils; but their industry does not appear
to equal the magnificence of the arrangements, for, on taking a book
from the bookcase, I immediately let it fall again and ran to the
other end of the room; a swarm of bees had flown upon me from out
the bookcase.

The dining and sleeping rooms, as well as all the other apartments,
are so richly and conveniently furnished, that a person might easily
suppose that the establishment had been founded for the sons of the
richest English families, who were so accustomed to comfort from
their tenderest infancy that they were desirous of transplanting it
to all quarters of the globe; but no one would ever imagine the
place had been built for "the labourers in the vineyard of the

I surveyed this splendid institution with a sadder heart than I
might have done, because I knew it was intended for the natives, who
had first to put off their own simple mode of life and accustom
themselves to convenience and superfluity, only to wander forth into
the woods and wildernesses, and exercise their office in the midst
of savages and barbarians.

Among the sights of Calcutta may be reckoned the garden of the chief
judge, Mr. Lawrence Peel, which is equally interesting to the
botanist and the amateur, and which, in rare flowers, plants, and
trees, is much richer than the Botanical Garden itself. The noble
park, laid out with consummate skill, the luxuriant lawns,
interspersed and bordered with flowers and plants, the crystal
ponds, the shady alleys, with their bosquets and gigantic trees, all
combine to form a perfect paradise, in the midst of which stands the
palace of the fortunate owner.

Opposite this park, in the large village of Alifaughur, is situated
a modest little house, which is the birthplace of much that is good.
It contains a small surgery, and is inhabited by a native who has
studied medicine. Here the natives may obtain both advice and
medicine for nothing. This kind and benevolent arrangement is due
to Lady Julia Cameron, wife of the law member of the Supreme Council
of India, Charles Henry Cameron.

I had the pleasure of making this lady's acquaintance, and found her
to be, in every respect, an ornament to her sex. Wherever there is
any good to be done, she is sure to take the lead. In the years
1846-7, she set on foot subscriptions for the starving Irish,
writing to the most distant provinces and calling upon every
Englishman to contribute his mite. In this manner she collected the
large sum of 80,000 rupees (8,000 pounds.)

Lady Peel has distinguished herself also in the field of science,
and Burger's "Leonore" has been beautifully translated by her into
English. She is also a kind mother and affectionate wife, and lives
only for her family, caring little for the world. Many call her an
original; would that we had a few more such originals!

I had brought no letters of recommendation to this amiable woman,
but she happened to hear of my travels and paid me a visit. In
fact, the hospitality I met with here was really astonishing. I was
cordially welcomed in the very first circles, and every one did all
in his power to be of use to me. I could not help thinking of Count
Rehberg, the Austrian minister at Rio Janeiro, who thought he had
conferred a great mark of distinction by inviting me once to his
villa; and, to purchase this honour, I had either to walk an hour in
the burning heat or to pay six milreis (13s.) for a carriage. In
Calcutta, a carriage was always sent for me. I could relate a great
many more anecdotes of the worthy count, who made me feel how much I
was to blame for not descending from a rich and aristocratic family.
I experienced different treatment from the member of the Supreme
Council, Charles Henry Cameron, and from the chief judge, Mr. Peel.
These gentlemen respected me for myself alone without troubling
their heads about my ancestors.

During my stay in Calcutta, I was invited to a large party in honour
of Mr. Peel's birthday; but I refused the invitation, as I had no
suitable dress. My excuse, however, was not allowed, and I
accompanied Lady Cameron, in a simple coloured muslin dress, to a
party where all the other ladies were dressed in silk and satin and
covered with lace and jewellery; yet no one was ashamed of me, but
conversed freely with me, and showed me every possible attention.

A very interesting promenade for a stranger is that to the Strand,
or "Maytown," as it is likewise called. It is skirted on one side
by the banks of the Hoogly, and on the other by beautiful meadows,
beyond which is the noble Chaudrini Road, consisting of rows of
noble palaces, and reckoned the finest quarter of Calcutta. Besides
this, there is a fine view of the governor's palace, the cathedral,
Ochterlony's monument, the magnificent reservoirs, Fort William, a
fine prutagon with extensive outworks, and many other remarkable

Online LibraryIda PfeifferA Woman's Journey Round the World → online text (page 19 of 44)