Thomas Herbert Lewin.

A fly on the wheel, or How I helped to govern India online

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for the good of the district committed to my charge.
At the worst, it was an error of judgment, which
would not have occurred but for the known hostility
of the civil servants, which prevented any consulta-
tion with them on district matters. Poor E — —
was dismissed, and I saw him afterwards in London
literally starving.

It is an old adage, ^' Kick a man when he 's
down," and, the Deputy Commissioner of Hazaribagh
having been so successful in his attack, his sub-
ordinate, the Assistant Magistrate at Burhee, thought
he would try his hand at a throw with the hated
policeman. His first complaint, as to my illegal
action in summoning witnesses, brought him only a
sharp rap over the knuckles, in the shape of a com-
munication fi-om the Commissioner of the Division,
saying that the tone of his letter was most objection-
able. Smarting under this rebuke, and still further
embittered against me, he issued peremptory orders
for me to appear and give evidence before him in
a case which I had investigated, but where the
evidence of my subordinates was quite sufficient.



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152 A FLT ON TfiE WHEEL.

Having received orders to visit the southern part
of my district, I replied expressing my regret at not
being able to appear in person, but that I would
reply by post to any questions he might wish to put.
On this the gentleman issued a formal warrant for
my arrest ! I at once placed the matter in the hands
of higher authority, and the young oflBciars warrant
being quashed, he applied for leave on private affairs.

While I was waiting for the decision of Govern-
ment, I sought to divert my thoughts from the cares
which oppressed me, by going out against the outlaws
in the southern part of my district, hoping to make
a clearance of them there as I had done in the north.

He who measures oil gets some on his fingers, and
the worry and trouble which had come upon me
having told on my health, I found it a relief to leave
the society of my fellows and enjoy the solitude of
camp life. How delightful it was, instead of dining
decorously at mess in formal dress, to sit in my little
square tent and partake of a tender joint of the kid
that but yesterday had been tethered to one of the
tent-pegs, while the chickens destined for the cutlets
and soups of my to-morrow's dinner clucked and
cackled from a basket hard by. Whilst I dined,
some villagers outside smoked a friendly " chillum "
of tobacco with my saice and his attendant grass-
cutter. They were Sonthals come to give me news of
a bear or a deer, for the Sonthals are the great hunters
of these parts, and are almost the only natives that
are not afraid of the wolves, sweeping the jungles
in^great hunting parties of two and three hundred,
killing whatever happens to come in their way, even
the big black bear if they chance to start one. It



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&A2AB1BAGH. 153

takes five or six of their number to manage him, for
while the bear pursues one of their number the others
follow on either side, striking at him with the small
axe which each man carries, and diverting his attention
from one to another until they manage to cripple or
kill the beast. No one man is a match for the great
black bear, unless armed with a double-barrelled rifle.
The bear, in attacking a man, always aims at the face
with his great claws, and I have seen some horrible
cases of disfigurement ; but he is naturally a peace-
able beast, and I will do him the justice of saying
that he rarely, if ever, makes an unprovoked attack.

The Sonthals live chiefly on the proceeds of the
chase, their wives cultivating the land in small
patches for food. They are a manly race, and I had
a criminal case to investigate on this occasion which
was suflBciently stiiking to record here.

A young Sonthal, a fine handsome young fellow,
standing six feet high, wished to marry, but unfor-
tunately lacked the money to furnish the indispensable
wedding feast. The natural Sonthal mode of earning
money, of course, occurred to him, and so he waited
and watched, searching the jungles early and late,
until he slew a tiger and could claim the Government
reward of ten rupees. Then the much-wished-for
marriage was celebrated, with all the magnificence
that ten rupees could afford, with much beating of
drums, blowing of flutes, and libations of the juice
of the " mowa."

The ceremony being concluded, the newly-wedded
pair settled down to their joint life, she to cultivate
the ground near her husband's hut, and he to hunt.
One day, returning early from hunting, he saw a



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154 A FtiT ON THS wheel.

man, a former and, he feared, a &youred rival, stand-
ing talking with his wife. He concealed his suspicion
at the time, but the next day, instead of hunting as
usual, he returned after a short time and concealed
himself in a tree which commanded the path to his
house.

Soon the lover appeared, and glancing round cau-
tiously, entered the house. The husband waited for
a while, then, descending fix)m the tree, grasped his
spear, and going stealthily to his house, surprised and
killed with one blow the two guilty ones. His wife
he buried decently, with a groan and a sigh. He
then cut off his rival's head, and casting the body to
the pigs and dogs, he carried the head to the nearest
magistrate, recounted what had happened, and re-
quested to be hanged. He was imprisoned for life.

While I was still out in the district, the orders of
Government reached me. My resignation was not
accepted, but I was removed from the Hazaribagh
district and ordered to take over charge of Noa-
colly in Southern Bengal. This involved not only
change of scene, but complete change of language.
In Hazaribagh all the work of the district was carried
on in Urdu, with which language I was thoroughly
acquainted ; while at Noacolly the whole population
spoke and wrote Bengali, which I accordingly should
have to master, if I wished to do any work to my own
satisfaction.

I was sorry to leave Hazaribagh. I knew the
whole district like a familiar face, and had grown
much attached to my men and they to me. There
was quite a scene at parting. My favourite, Rahmut
Khan, and the old Lieutenant Panchkowrie, besought



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fiAZARlBAGd. 166

with tears to be allowed to follow my fortunes, and
many of the others crowded round, wishing to go
with me. What could 1 say to them ? We were all
but as pawns on the great Government board, moved
hither and thither as best suits the game of our
masters the governors.

I travelled as far as Calcutta with my brother, who
was bound for England after his visit to me. At a
d&k-bungalow on our road we fell in with two German
missionaries, both of them quite young, who had come
out to join the Ranchee Mission. Banchee is the dis-
trict adjoining Hazaribagh, and the Moravian Mission
there is the only thoroughly successful work of the
sort that I have met in India. The missionaries have
addressed themselves, not to the Hindoos, but to the
Kols and Sonthals, the aboriginal and simpler races,
and count their converts by hundreds and thousands.

These two German lads, who had left home and
country to give their lives to work among the heathen,
were the kindest-hearted and most ingenuous of young
recruits. They dined with us, and were full of wonder
at the various new edibles presented for their con-
sumption. Green peas were a novelty in their experi-
ence,* and brandy they described as " a precious but
breath-taking cordial." We parted with mutual good
wishes.

It was on New Year's Day 1864 that I bade
&rewell to my brother on board the good ship " City
of Dublin," homeward bound, while I turned my
own face southward, to start life afresh in my new
district of NoacoUy.



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156 A ItLlt ON THB WUESL.



CHAPTER VI.

NOACOLLY.
1864-65.

I LEFT Calcutta in a small coasting-steamer which
plied between Bengal and Burmah, touching at
Chittagong, the nearest port to my new district,
NoacoUy.

The passage across the Bay of Bengal was pleasant
enough, the steamer having but one other passenger,
a clever, amusing young fellow, who entertained me
much with stories of his varied experiences. His had
been indeed a chequered career. Starting first as a
scholar at the Eoole Militaire, at Boulogne ; then at
a public school in England ; afterwards out to Aus-
tralia, where he served in the mounted police, rising
to be a Lieutenant, when he left the corps to go to
the diggings, making and losing a fortune there,
like many another. When news of the Mutiny
reached him, he came to India, and served through-
out the campaign in the volunteer cavalry, under
"Hashed Richardson," so called on account of the
many sabre-cuts he had received. Finally — ^if any-
thing could be final with such a character — he got
work as sub-editor to one of the Calcutta daily



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NOAOOLLY. 157

papers, and, his health having suffered from the
desk-work, he was taking a sea-voyage for change of
air. I parted company with him on reaching Chit-
tagong, where I had to transfer bag and baggage into
small boats in order to land. I had brought my
favourite mare from Hazaribagh, and as she could
not be taken in the boats, she was lowered into the
water and swam to shore.

I was received at Chittagong by my confrere ^ the
police superintendent of that place, a curious old
withered, sun-browned stick of a man, with a fine
expanse of shirt-collar, and a grey stubble of hair
of equal length covering head and face alike. He
invited to meet me at dinner, the first night after
my arrival, the Captain of a French barque which was
lying at anchor in the river, a pleasant, excitable little
Frenchman, who entertained us much by his volu-
bility. During the evening the conversation, turned
on the delicate question of French versus English
courage, and he told us a story, which we were not
slow to perceive was autobiographic.

" Attendez done un peu. Hear me," he said. " I
will tell you a leetle history of a Frenchman who
was afraid of noting ; no, not of the great Devil
himself. There was once, not long ago, a fire im-
mense at Penang ; and this leetle Frenchman, he
Kved there with his old wife, and they have eighteen
children. Man Dim I she was a powerful woman.
Mais hdas I " — ^raising his hand — ** the ban DieUj he
have take her ! Well, well, hear me. The fire was
hot ; sacr-r-r-S'S'S'S nam / — excuse me, gentlemans j
it was as hot as a thousand devils, and it have bum
twenty shops, thirty shops, and the Counsellor Presi-



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168 A FLT ON THB WHEEL.

dent, what you call Gk)vemor-General, he is there,
and all the officers of artUlerie^ and many brave Eng-
lishmans, and they all do their possible to extinguish
the fire. But stay ; the leetle Frenchman he see on
a platform, right over the hottest part of the fire, five
large jars of water, that would contain perhaps fifty
gallons each, and an old beam goes to reach this
platform. Pr-r-r-rou ! the leetle Frenchman is on
the beam, and he runs over, although the under part
is burning, and quickly he empties all the jars. Ah,
he was out of breath, and the people all say, * Retire
yourself ! quick, quick ! retire yourself ! ' and he
runs ; and just as he pass over the beam, cr-r-r-ack !
it is broken. But he save himself on his feet, and lea
officiers say, * SacrS ! it is a brave leetle man ! ' And
is it not enough ? But no. The Chinamen they say
in English — for many China boy there know English,
Sare, quite well — they say, * Run, run, quick, for
here are barrels of gunpowder in the cellar ! ' And
the Counsellor-General he say, * A willing man here ! '
But all keep quite silent. Then the leetle Frenchman
he spring up and say, * I will go,' and the President
Counsellor shake him, Sare, by the hand, and say,
' Come, my brave ! ' And the President Counsellor
he go down on the floor on his chin, and the leetle
Frenchman he take his hands, and down he go into
the cellar, and hand up one, two, tree barrel of the
powder, and all shout, and say, * Well done ! ' After
some time comes a letter, Number 504 of the Council,
with fine words, and say, * Here is a Government
ship ; the leetle Frenchman shall command her.'
But he is very independent and has a hot head. He
cannot bow to the subordination, and he keep his own



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NOACOLLY. 169

ship. He write to Government and say, * No,
no!

We rose, glass in hand, and saluted the leetle
Frenchman as a ** brave/' and drank to his health,
and to the undaunted valour of all Frenchmen.

I heard afterwards that this man, Captain Martin
by name, had on one occasion been attacked in his
bed by forty Malays. He received a cut on the
head, another on the shoulder, a wound in the back,
a stab on the elbow, and two big gashes in the
thigh ; but, in spite of all, he got hold of a big
stick, killed three of the Malays, took two of them
prisoner, and put the rest of the party to flight.
Then, fearing lest they should return and, in his
helpless condition, torture and murder him, he
opened a barrel of gunpowder, put it between his
knees, and sat smoking cigars till morning, fully
determined that, if they did return, he would blow
them, with himself, into the air.

When I met him, he commanded and owned the
barque " Onega,'' from Penang to Calcutta, and had
put into the port of Chittagong for a cargo of rice.
With all my heart I wished him success and ^^bon
voyagel "

I was two days coasting along shore in a native
boat going from Chittagong to Noacolly, without
much consciousness of my surroundings, owing to the
disastrous effect which sea-travelling usually has upon
me; but at last we hauled up into a creek in the
Island of Sidhi, at the mouth of the river Meghna,
to wait for the bore, or tidal wave, which is very
dangerous to the unwary traveller.

I went on shore at once with my two dogs, Eshkee



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160 A PLY ON THE WHEEL.

and Grabby, and found to my surprise that the ground
was covered with short crisp turf, and a shrub which
looked like English holly, but which I afterwards
found to be the Dilwaria ilicifolia of tidal swamps ;
but the effect was delightfully English and home-
like, and gave me a pleasant impression of my new
district.

We waited till the tide turned, and the bore swept
by, an impetuous wave some four feet high, and
following in its foamy wake, we soon reached Noa-
coUy. I reported my arrival to the magistrate, and
assumed charge of my new duties on the 19th of
January.

I soon found that there was plenty to be done, the
whole of the district police being still on the old
footing, the reforms and alterations of the past year
having been apparently unheeded in this small sleepy
hollow.

I had seen many dull Indian stations, but for
steady and persistent dulness NoacoUy surpassed
them all. The English society consisted of the civil
surgeon and his wife, and the magistrate, who was
unmarried. The only available residence for me
was a small thatched bungalow, in close proximity
to the station cemetery and facing a large tank,
which was reported by the natives to be haunted ;
truly a dreary abode.

My police clerk, an educated Bengali, whose duty
it was to copy my oflScial letters, proved to be a
cultured individual. His colloquial English was also
characterised by much originality of expression. He
one day inquired of me if Her Majesty Queen Victoria
were comely in appearance ; and on my gravely



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NOAOOLLY. 161

rejoining that she wa43 indeed beautiful, he replied,
" Yes, Sir, I understand ; a moonbeam of pretty."

" Hardly so beautiful as that, Baboo."

" Sir, in the pictures she is a notorious beauty,
with a bob in her nose.*'

" A what. Baboo ? *' I demanded.

" A bob. Sir, a ring. I have read in Milton, and
also I have read the fine Shackspear."

At this I could not refrain from smiling, which
the Baboo took somewhat amiss, taking his departure
with the remark, *^ Sir, your laf make my inward
soul ashamed.**

My fellow-countrymen were not only few in
number, but most unsociable in disposition, and I
saw so little of them, that I at length began even to
think in the native tongue.

The magistrate in charge was of an imperious and
most unaccommodating disposition, and I did not
desire to see much of him. An occasional planter
would shoT^ an unkempt head of hair and beard in
the station ; but I fell back for companionship chiefly
on the doctor, and, not many weeks after my arrival,
I succeeded in luring him forth with me on a tour of
inspection through the district.

Very difierent now were my surroundings from
those of Hazaribagh. Here were no delights of
camp life, of riding, or of sport ; but the change
was pleasant from its very contrast with previous
experiences.

We set off, with a small fleet of boats, to navigate
the mighty river Meghna, to which the Ganges is
but a child. Here at his mouth Father Meghna is
twenty miles broad, with islands on his breast as

11

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162 A FLY ON THE WHEEL.

large as English counties, and a great tidal bore
which made a daily and ever-varpng excitement*
Twice in the twenty-four hours the whole volume of
the down-pouring river was met and opposed by the
incoming tide of the Indian Ocean, which rolled it
back on itself in a mighty wave, whose roaring foamy
crest, some miles in length, varied from three to
twelve feet in height, according to the strength and
direction of the wind. In deep water, it passed
merely as a large rolling billow ; but in the shallows,
it rushed along, roaring like a crested and devouring
monster, before which no small craft could live.
While the tide ebbed, the river ran out tranquilly to
the sea ; but with the advent of the bore, the current
changed, and rushed upwards at a rate of at least ten
miles an hour.

A curious police case turned on this peculiarity of
the river. Two men, from causes which I need not
particularise, were bitter enemies. One of them was
an agriculturist on the island of Sundeep .; the other
was leaseholder of the ferry from that island to the
mainland. The ferryman lived in a small house
near the river's bank, and, with the help of a hired
servant, carried people to and from NoacoUy. The
distance across was over three miles, and the passage
' was dangerous for those who were unacquainted with
the mud-banks, which at low tide lay bare in mid-
stream. To this person's house, one afternoon, came
his enemy, accompanied by his daughter and a gay
party of guests, bound for a wedding-feast at Noa-
colly. The ferryman saw them coming, and hastily
despatched his servant, who ordinarily rowed the
ferry-boat, on an errand to a village at some distance.



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NOAOOLLT. 163

The party arrived, and demanded to be conveyed
across the river.

" My servant is away," answered the ferryman,
"and I will not serve you or yours. There is the
boat ; if you can row, take it and go across."

They took it and went. Half-way across the boat
stuck in a mud-bank, and remained there with her
living freight till the terrible wave overwhelmed
them. The ferryman, who had known that the bore
was coming, was tried for his life, but was acquitted,
as it was shown that, with skilful rowing, there
would have been just time to get across ; but doubt-
less he knew that these hapless ones, not knowing
the banks, must needs be lost, and he was in his
heart a murderer.

I found the boat-travelling a lazy lotus-eating sort
of existence, with the pleasant soft south wind
rustling through the feathery bamboo foliage on the
bank, while the plash of our oars fell in lulling
cadence, and the bright reflections from the water
danced and quivered on the woven cane roof of the
boat. The day slipped by as insensibly as the even
course of our boat on the river, or as the gliding
ever-changing procession of the green banks we
passed; now it was a village, with the women coming
down to fetch water, under the spreading shade of
the mango trees; then a grove of slender-shafted
areca palms, or a glimpse of the golden-green plumes
of the cocoa-nut, which here, within sniff of the
ocean, throve wonderfully. How soft and tender
the hue of the young rice, thrown into relief by a
dark background of the indigo plant. Occasionally
a fisherman's boat would range up beside ours,

11 ♦

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164 A PLY ON THE WHEEL.

and we amused ourselves by inspecting and bar-
gaining for his silvery commodities. Even the vicis-
situdes of the weather had their own peculiar charm,
for it was by no means always fair. Great towering
banks of cloud, blue-black with strangled wrath,
would rise swiftly up from the horizon against the
wind, and, coming nearer and nearer, our eyes
would turn with agonies of apprehension to the cook-
boat, bravely struggling on in the distance, as we
neared the haven where we would moor till the storm
was past.

Always late was that ill-fated craft, always behind-
hand and behind time ; and yet each occupant thereof,
from " Khansamah Jee," the table-servant, down to
the youngest boatman on board, would firmly main-
tain, like Mr. Micawber of immortal memory, that
they had " only feUen back for a spring," and could
overhaul the Sahib's boat whenever it might be
needful to do so. If I ventured to point out that it
would be pleasing to have dinner served somewhere
within two hours of the time it was ordered, and
suggested that the cook-boat should start ahead of
mine, in order that it might prepare for our arrival,
my servant invariably answered me by a long tirade
against the " manji," or head boatman of the cook-
boat. This unfortunate man, he said, was a pig for
obstinacy — of low extraction, and ignorant of polite
manners, and he alone was the cause of the delay.
If I rejoined that I would deal with the " manji,"
another argument prevailed, for he then fell back
upon the impregnable position that it was impossible
to start earlier, as his pots required cleaning. This
line of argument generally resulted in my defeat.



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NOAOOLLY. 165

I had brought with us in tow a small jolly-boat,
and, while waiting for dinner, the doctor and I often
went for a sail in the cool of the evening. Merrily
we spanked along before the fresh salt breeze, the dogs
lying contentedly in the bows, as the boat flew along
at a tremendous pace, until I brought her up under
the lea of some small fishing-boat, lying at anchor
and waiting for the ebb, whose dark crew gazed with
astonishment at the two Sahibs with white faces and
whiter shirts, who lay, pipe in mouth, at the bottom
of the strangely-rigged foreign boat.

All the native boats are without keels, and can
therefore only sail before the wind, so that our Eng-
lish method of navigation was an astonishment, and,
as my old "manji " remarked, it was a wonder to him
that we could sail at all, as our boat transgressed!
every principle of boat-building that he had collected
during thirty years experience of the river.

On the back tack we would sometimes find our-
selves in a quandary, the strong tide and a contrary
wind proving too much for us, so that we had to take
to the oars, which was slow work. One evening, even
this last resource failed us, for one of the oars snapped
short in my hand, and we were left helpless. Tack
after tack we made, with no perceptible effect, for
what way we gained by the sail we lost by the cur-
rent. The sun had set, and the swift-falling Eastern
darkness was fast closing round us. There was no-
thing for it but to anchor under a mud-bank and
wait for the turn of the tide, not getting back to the
big boat and our dinner till after nine o'clock.

The large police-boat in which we travelled was
by no means an imcomfortable dwelling-place. It



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166 A FLT OR THE WHEEL.

was one of the six or eight Government guard-boats,
employed to patrol the river Meghna and its tribu-
taries for the suppression of smuggling, and also
to keep open communication between head-quarters
and the outlying police-posts. The whole district
being covered by a great net- work of small streams,
all communicating with the great estuary of the
Meghna, a great deal of illicit salt manufacture was
carried on, which it was part of my duty to check.

The guard-boats were manned by crews of twelve
oarsmen, under command of the steersman, or
"manji/* as he was called. They resembled a Roman



Online LibraryThomas Herbert LewinA fly on the wheel, or How I helped to govern India → online text (page 11 of 31)