Days 37 to 60: Calcutta (31 August to 23 September 1914)
Day No. 37: Monday 31 August 1914
An official visit to the Agents - Messrs Turner Morrison - to whom I had a cordial introduction from Messrs Brocklebank, and a drive round with Captain Tyers, making numerous calls & finishing up at his Club for Tiffin filled in both morning & a portion of the afternoon ere we arrived aboard.
After afternoon Tea I strolled along the jetty to the Dalblair, a few hundred yards away, to pay a promised visit to her Captain. Dinner over the Chief Officer & self accompanied the Chief Engineer on a visit to his friend, the Manager of Ballyghat Jute Mills. We had a pleasant four mile gharry drive to the mill & were warmly welcomed. His living rooms are situate on the 2nd storey of the house, very lofty rooms, electric fans whizzing below the ceiling (very necessary (!)) marble floors, all rooms opening to a verandah overlooking a well kept garden, and we spent a very convivial two hours there. I made a few attempts to catch lizards darting up & down the walls after flies &c. &c. but the little beggars were too alert & would be off like a lightning flash. I am told if you catch them they cast their tail leaving it in your hand as they wriggle off.
Driving so much about as I have done today have had much opportunity to take further observations of the native & his ways. What a medley of life & scenes everywhere. About the streets one frequently comes across native workmen squatting on their heels on some ledge of a building, or huddled close to the wall, plying their trade. Instance; cobblers – soleing clients while they wait, umbrella menders, and barbers are met with at many corners operating on their victim in the open, in full view of the street, shaving chin, head & arms and following it up with cleaning ears! Nothing private anywhere. I was impressed with this on Saturday in the villages – the shops & the living rooms all open to the passers by. I watched with interest a tailor with his sewing machine; a tinsmith busy mending & making; a jeweller cunningly working into shape a silver necklace; a provision dealer busy with his bags of grain & rice; a money changer & money lender, fat & prosperous looking, seated beside a large safe caged behind iron bars; shops selling mineral waters & cakes; and a confectioner of sorts with his assistants busy preparing his wares, frying them in the shop, & rapidly turning them out – messy sticky concoctions – on the boards, to the enjoyment of the swarm of wasps & flies – all sorts, ordinary ones & loathsome ones, big fellows & little fellows.
Day No. 38: Tuesday 1 September 1914
Little of moment to record today as did not go ashore this morning
Bertie Lindsay was to have come & I had tiffin aboard but he did not arrive until an hour after, business detained him so he fed in town. I drove back with him to his Office for company’s sake.
Frank Dod dined aboard with me this evening & wished me to journey to his rooms afterwards but I postponed it and, instead, we leisurely drove round the Maidan for an hour getting some evening air.
Day No. 39: Wednesday 2 September 1914
Have felt very far from well the last two days. Yesterday particularly so, but I did not mention it to anyone. Late last evening, however, it became apparent to them aboard that I was ill, & as I did not improve during the night, at 6 o’clock this morning the doctor was brought to see me. Worsening, I was taken to Hospital in the afternoon & right glad was I to get between the sheets in a comfy bed with a large electric fan controllable at will directly overhead.
The “plans of mice & men gang aft agley” for this is the day I should have gone to Puri!!!
Days No. 40-45: Thursday 3 September to Tuesday 8 September 1914
There are more fitting & pleasanter things to record in this diary than one’s indisposition, so my doings for these days can be disposed of by merely referring to them as being spent in the Presidency General Hospital, Calcutta, a palace in the suburbs.
At the same time it may not be without interest to say a word or two about this hospital in a Foreign Land. It stands away on the far side of the Maidan, a very open situation, and in extensive grounds. The wards are without windows and have an open doorway both sides of the bed leading on to a verandah – rooms very lofty, plenty of fans and a fine marble floor. Where I was, was almost an aviary – the birds fly in & hop about the floor in numbers especially at meal times; one of the kinds, “minors” they are known as being very pretty & about as large as an English starling.
The hospital is modern & splendidly equipped & managed, & yet it has a few funny features as it struck me. Morning & evening a newspaper lad wanders in to sell his papers; each day a native comes round carrying a miniature shop almost & selling extra tuck such as cocoa, chocolate, tinned goods (salmon & fruit & the like) biscuits, cigarettes, soap &c &c, and a rare good trade he does – which shows that many patients like a little variety of the official dietary scale! A wizened old coolie too wanders in each morning wanting to clean your boots, this I suppose in case you should be leaving that day. He is a “card” & always expects to receive the odd boot when a man has had his leg amputated!!
Another novel idea – patients as they are convalescing are permitted to go out for an hour or so! Towards the end of my stay I was allowed out at 4 o’clock for a drive but “be sure & be back by 7”. I was, with a minute to spare! As for visiting days & hours, there are no restrictions whatever – it’s come & go as you please evidently, and stay as long as you like. Almost every person I had met (the news soon got round seemingly) kindly came to see me, & what with the Mission folk, & those from the ship, I had no lack of visitors daily. You may smoke at all times – your visitors too!
One evening there was an eclipse of the Moon, and taking advantage of the Nurses being out of the Ward I sneaked out of bed on to the verandah just to have a peep & pop back again before their ladyships returned. It was a glorious night & I had a good view, the moon being almost obscured. An eclipse of the Moon I am informed is the occasion of a great Hindu festival. One could hear from the Hospital the blowing of horns & beating of tom–toms by the natives – a continuous din & anything but musical, but this is part of the celebration. Another part is the bathing in the River, the belief being that whatever they have done wrong is all wiped out if they only dip in the Ganges while the eclipse is on. Therefore, I understand the river bank will be well nigh impassable on this night with prospective bathers, the women being in tremendous majority – the sinners!
Day No. 46: Wednesday 9 September 1914
To-day I quitted the Hospital – left at my own request. I had been cooped up for 8 days there & felt that I was reasonably fit to depart, especially seeing that we are due to sail on Saturday, if the Government don’t take us for Transport purposes!
Whilst I have been in retirement the Manipur has moved, for loading purposes, from the jetty down the River to the Dock at Kidderpore (distance, say, Liverpool Landing Stage to Gladstone Dock) so, to Kidderpore I drove & spent an easy day aboard. The Seaman’s parson here, the Rev. Mr. Nibbs (he is really a fine sort – been tremendously kind to me – came & had many a yarn with me in the Hospital,) was in the Ward this a.m. & learning that I was leaving there today would have me dine with them tonight, “Mrs Nibbs was having a light dinner which would just suit a man out of Hospital &c. &c”. I went and spent a most pleasant quiet evening at their House – awfully decent people – enjoyed looking at their bric-a-brac & odd collection of metal curios picked up by Mrs Nibbs in the Bazaars both in Calcutta & other parts of India they’ve visited. It was mentioned during the evening that the Church Mr N. was Curate at in Bootle was built by the Harrison family & they were both greatly interested to learn of that other Church built by the same family.
Day No. 47: Thursday 10 September 1914
This morning’s Newspaper contained an announcement that the Manipur (amongst others) was not required by the Government as a Transport, thus disposing of the question as to our being commandeered, as first they wanted the ship then they didn’t, and opinions were changing daily on it. The Authorities have been playing shuttlecock with the matter seemingly ever since we arrived but now any doubts of our sailing on Saturday next are removed as loading will be completed tomorrow. I drove into Calcutta with the Captain during the morning – he dropped me at the “Royal” where I spent a goodly portion of the day leisurely writing my mail under circumstances pleasant, the fan overhead working up a delightful breeze. I found young Wand’s had arrived there whilst I was laid up – he is the latest recruit from Liverpool Office. Mr Quale by the way came out on the same P&O steamer, & has a great experience to recount about missing the train at Lime Street which saved he & his wife being caught on the Continent when war was declared two days afterwards.
Having arranged to spend the evening with Dod, waited until he was free from business & then drove together round some of the Bazaars he assisting me with my sundry shoppings – it takes a long time to buy a thing here owing to the bargaining, for the Native piles it on to begin with hoping to catch the unwary, so it was dark by the time we fetched up at Dod’s rooms. Just Managed to squeeze into some dress clothes he lent me (most absolutely imperative here that Europeans dress for dinner) when dinner was ready. There are four other gentlemen boarders at these diggings – duly introduced at tables & spent a very chatty evening. Ultimately Dod accompanied me to Kidderpore.
Day No. 48: Friday 11 September 1914
The Captain’s gharry arrived at the Ship earlier this morning so I drove up to the City with him calling at the “Royal” & bade them all farewell. Called on Bertie Lindsay also. Later, picking up the Captain as arranged, found that we are not sailing tomorrow after all! Notwithstanding that the Indian Government had previously definitely intimated that we would not be required as a Transport they are now once again in a state of indecision regarding us and we are to wait until Monday. The fact that we are now a full ship and will have to unload 16,000 tons of cargo if they want us is a trifle evidently that causes them no concern!
We adjourned to Pelitis (while the skipper’s gharry is away changing horses) as is our usual custom for refreshments- something with ice in it. A great feature of Indian living is that self same ice. Life would be less bearable here but for it. Ice is placed on the tables everywhere just in the same sense as salt or sugar is at home, it could scarcely be dispensed with. We were having an afternoon party aboard, and whilst at Pelitis the Captain proved that he knew very well indeed how to provide cakes & chocolates!
A nurse at the Hospital (Nurse Murphy, friend of Captain Tyers’ great friends here, the Julls) had sent a “bearer” down this morning with a note saying that she had a lady friend just arrived in Calcutta from the Central Provinces who had never seen a ship! and might she bring her down. Certainly, by all means, was the answer & come to afternoon tea.
At the Captains request I took his gharry up to the Hospital for the two ladies & brought them aboard. We were a party of five on the Bridge Deck – Miss Jull, whom Captain Tyers had asked to come & take charge of the tea-pot, Nurse & her friend, the Captain, and this scribe, and an entertaining two hours soon went when the lady who had never seen a ship departed to join friends who were taking her to some concert, or some such, in the City. The Captain invited the two ladies to accompany us to the Theatre, but I was compelled to be excused & as soon as they had gone I straightaway went to bed – 6.30 p.m.- Early hours! Turning over a new leaf!!!
Day No. 49: Saturday 12 September 1914
I begin today by starting with yesterday which isn’t Irish (!) even if it sounds so. I was horribly “off” yesterday & when calling at the Hospital in the afternoon for the Captain’s guests I first looked in to pay my respects to the Sister – Sister Helena Maria – (a member of that community, or Order, the Clewer Sisters, Oxford, England) a middle-aged lady, in charge of the Ward & of whose kindness to me I am left with pleasant memories.
Incidentally, I did not see her, but the Nurse I was speaking to her asked me into a room & took my temperature (!). She told me I had got Fever – I knew it well, as I told her, for I felt it – oh yes! – but I kept my own council until the afternoon party was over when I slipped to bed. Shortly afterwards Mr. Quayle came down from Calcutta to see me & surprised of course to find me abed & knocked out so. I entertained him as well as I was able but I was poor company for the fever was determined to be top dog. Had a real bad night – Mr Morris was very kindly concerned about me & frequently looked in my stateroom during the night, & when the Doctor came aboard about 7 o’clock this morning to certify the Crew the Captain brought him to see me first.
Result – ordered off to Hospital at once, most rotten rotten luck, remarking that I ran a great risk of being left behind as we are sailing on Monday. I was therefore carted back to Hospital & by a concession (for I should have gone by rule to another ward) I got in the same ward & the same bed I had vacated but three days ago!! and there’s no moe to say than this for this days doings, and there’s no more to say also for the next days doings.
Day No. 50: Sunday 13 September 1914
I spent it in the Presidency General Hospital and had a string of visitors during the day.
Day No. 51: Monday 14 September 1914
They have a “way with them” here of getting temperatures down, so, feeling better I desired to leave the Hospital first thing this morning. I pressed for this & in consequence got away from there by 10 a.m., armed with a prescription & an injunction to take 10 grains of quinine every night until I get to the Mediterranean!
This being my last day in India I went first of all into the City and, by aid of the gharry, made a round of calls & said farewell finally. Did some final shopping also, stayed up town for tiffin & then, in the afternoon, drove back to Kidderpore.
The days I had been laid low had knocked my sightseeing plans considerably & as opportunity had not offered to visit the Fort I took advantage of my last drive over the maidan of going through it. Fort William is the most extensive fortress in India & was commenced, so I learnt, in 1757 & took 16 years to build. It is almost octagon in shape & is surrounded by a wide moat which can be filled by a sluice from the Hooghly. We went in by the Chowringhee Gate, crossed the drawbridge, with cannon on the top wall commanding it, and drove through quite a tunnel which, in itself, showed the thickness of the outer walls & ramparts. As we entered a sentry stepped out of his box & passed us forward.
The inside may be described as a miniature town; we drove up & down finely wooded streets containing barracks, stores, stables, workshops, arsenals & armouries; across a Square or two with fine open spaces bordering them then down an Avenue with more barracks and leading to the Garrison Church – St. Peters – which I did not get out to inspect though it is said to be the finest Garrison Church in India. Soldiers, both English & native, were occasionally in evidence but the general impression – everything being so quiet & peaceful – was not at all like one’s idea of a fort. The Wireless Station is here too & the one o’clock Time Bell.
We must have travelled a couple of miles or so inside, ere we left by the Riverside Gate opening on to the far side of the Maidan. I have referred so frequently to the Maidan (pronounced My-dan) that I ought to tell you something about it. It is an open park space, originally jungle, the clearance of which was commenced when the building of the Fort was started in 1757. It is intersected with walks & drives; two or three very wide & finely kept roads run across it & the main tram line to Kidderpore runs over it. As a set off to the days fierce sun the elite of Calcutta turn out in force on it in the evenings for their walk or drive. There are but two small portions laid out as gardens – the Eden Gardens (which I have previously detailed) & the Curzon Gardens, both of these adjacent to Government House). All the rest of this very extensive area is flat grass land, which, thanks to the heavy dew, is always green as are the trees which nobly line all the roads on it. Parts of it are used for recreation, as cricket, football (games of which I have often watched the natives playing, they kick with their bare feet!) golf – two courses - , lawn tennis. At one end is the Race course. On the opposite side is the Fort, & on acres & acres of the land in-between flocks of goats & cattle are brought daily to graze. What I should call a drawback to it all is that the deadliest snake in all India, the krait, is found here, and it is certainly unwise to wander in the grass at night-time without a light – so please keep to the paths! The krait is quite a small snake but its bite is far more poisonous than the Cobra I am told. This glorious open space covers an astonishing area. It runs along the River side, with a wide esplanade, & to give you some idea of its length – it is quite the distance from New Brighton Ferry to Seacombe Ferry and, at its widest part extends as far back from the Hooghly as does Wallasey Church from the River Mersey, or nearly so.
On the City side it is bounded by Chowringhee – this is a fine modern road worthy of any town. The best Hotels, best shops (& these are almost all European), theatres, Indian Museum & the leading clubs are all to be found there. The buildings in Chowringhee are of course on one side of the road only, the other side is the open field – no railings no fence – the Maidan. The Cathedral stands on the far away corner & it is this end which is the fashionable part of Calcutta. A great feature of the Maidan is the fine Statuary there. Numerous memorials erected to those who have made modern history in India, such as Viceroys, Governors, famous Generals &c. &c., and in some cases even statues of people presently living. Amongst the earlier ones stands out prominently the Ochterloney Monument (Sir David Ochterloney – a great fighter & statesman) a column 165 feet high; also the Gwalior Monument (to commemorate those who fell in that campaign), a circular marble faced tower with the top of metal, made from captured guns. It is commonly known & always referred to as the “Pepper Pot”.
Amongst others there are statues of Sir James Outram; Marquess of Dufferin; Lord Bentinck; Lord Roberts; the present Viceroy Lord Hardinge; the last Viceroy Lord Curzon & the Earl of Mayo and when I was taking a photograph of this last a coolie carrying a load of baskets on his pole would stand in front firmly convinced it was he I wished to take. The statue of Queen Victoria is guarded night & day, as with the sedition which is rife in Bengal – and Calcutta is the seat of it – the authorities fear the Statue might be defaced and the effect on the native mind would be bad as superstition is tremendously prevalent amongst them. The native revered the queen greatly they think of her still as their Great Mother, & most of them have cheap gaudy coloured pictures of her; I saw lots of them in their huts, houses, shops – most hideous productions, a “printed in Germany” series no doubt!
But to hark back to the doings of the day. I duly reached the Dock, duly got aboard, & nothing short of astounded to learn that we are not sailing to-day after all!!! First thing this morning it seems a Government message was received instructing that the ship be still held back. (Will they ever make up their minds was the feeling!) As a result of this the Captain at once had a telephone message sent through to the Hospital in order to prevent my leaving there but the Doctor replied that I had driven away only 10 minutes before. When I heard of this later wasn’t I just glad I had got clear!
However all is settled now, for the Captain arrived aboard immediately after me bringing word that the Government finally & definitely release us. Word was received too late to complete arrangements to sail today, so all is fixed for tomorrow – tug-boat & pilot engaged & all the rest of it. Our passengers (the few we are taking) came aboard during the afternoon so our party at dinner tonight filled up the table.
Day No. 52: Tuesday 15 September 1914
Orders went forth that everybody was to be on the ship by 2 o’clock sharp, when we leave the berth – Homeward bound!
Having said my final farewells – after the many false alarms – I was not disposed to go up to Calcutta again; for one thing my foot was paining greatly, I had got a bad mosquito bite in Hospital & it was looking a shade poisonous, so I rested aboard. As I came on deck after tiffin, the tug was just coming alongside & preparations were made for “off”! The Captain though had not come down from Calcutta, so perforce we had to wait. An hour went by. A little after that the Dockmaster came along & wished us to move as he had already disposed of our berth. The position was explained to him; still, as the steamer for our berth was then making her way up to it he could but suggest that we moved to the centre of the Dock & moored fore & aft to two buoys there. We had scarcely got moored in our new position when the Captain arrived.
We were not to sail!!! Word had just been received in Calcutta that the German light cruiser Emden had made a flying raid into the Bay of Bengal & had captured 6 outward bound ships, sinking 5 of them, to wit, Indus, Killin, Lovat, Diplomat & Trabboch - transferring the crews of these steamers to the Kabinga & then sending her back to Calcutta. Consequently the Port had been closed – it was not safe to sail. Sensation of Sensations!
What a stroke of luck we had had! We all felt that the Government had been “playing with us” through being so very undecided about our sailing these last few days (first that we were to go & then that we were not) keeping everyone on tenterhooks so, & now we saw that had they not have been so full of indecision, and we had sailed according to programme, “Mr Emden” undoubtedly would have claimed another victim; US; the S S Manipur. We were stunned with the news. Personally I felt knocked out thinking about the Diplomat, she was such a bonny ship – a fine modern vessel. She lay almost by us in the Dock and being a Liverpool ship, one of Harrisons, I had two or three times thought of going aboard, but somehow never managed it. We have had an impressive day!!
Emden was a Dresden Class German light cruiser completed in 1908 by the Kaiserliche Werft at Danzig and was armed with
10 4.1" guns and 8 2" guns plus two torpedo tubes and had a top speed of 23.5 knots. She was based in Tsingtao at the beginning of WW1
and put to sea on 31 July 1914 in preparation for raiding commercial shipping once war had been declared. Vice Admiral von Spee agreed
to allow Emden under Captain Karl von Müller to harrass British shipping whilst the rest of the German East Asia Squadron
attempted to return to Germany via South America. Emden was accompanied by the collier Markomannia.
On 5 September 1914, Emden entered the Bay of Bengal and approached the Colombo <> Calcutta route. First she captured the Greek collier Pontoporros which was carrying supplies for the British and took the vessel into German service agreeing to pay the crew. She then captured troop transports Indus and Lovat plus two other ships all of which were sunk. The crews from all of those ships were transferred to a fith captured ship Kabinga as mentioned in the diary narrative. Emden continued harassing shipping in the area then von Müller decided to target Madras which was unprepared and she able to enter the port on 22 September and shell it, setting fire to two oil tanks, damaging three others and damaging a merchant ship in the harbour. She then moved on to Ceylon and continued to wreak havoc.
Captain von Müller then moved on to Penang which was attacked on 28 October 1914, and then on to the Cocos Islands where she arrived off Direction Island on 9 November. But her raiding career was shortly to end as she was intercepted by HMAS Sydney and after a long engagement was beached on North Keeling Island the same day.
Day No. 53: Wednesday 16 September 1914
When out dining one evening I had met Mr. Hill, Civil Engineer & the City Surveyor & I took advantage this morning of his invitation to show me some of the City by accompanying him on his rounds. I was up in Chowringhee by 9 o’c’ & his Motor was there waiting for me just as I stepped out of the Kidderpore Tram. I heard it once mentioned that Calcutta is a city of palaces in front & pig-stys behind and, after my mornings ride, I am somewhat disposed to agree that there is something in it.
To reach a particular suburb where Mr. Hill has got his pet scheme in hand (a large pumping Station in course of erection in connection with an extensive sewerage plan) we passed through several native quarters of narrow streets & houses (or huts rather) of very gimcrack appearance but they seemed quite a setting to the wonderful medley of life & scenes & squalor everywhere. The Calcutta Authorities are alive to all these squalid places & great improvements are in hand. Demolition is steadily going on, & new & very wide streets are being made through the crowded quarters; we passed through one of these districts made new & presentable, the work of Mr. Hill, & I came to the conclusion that the City of Calcutta are fortunate at having such a worthy & able Civil Engineer at their command.
We were some time at the pumping station, many matters, inside & out, demanding Mr. Hill’s attention. I must say one word about it – it is a three storied building presently being roofed. The staircases not yet built I climbed up the frail looking ladders to the flat roof to be shown “something I had never seen before.” I agreed that I hadn’t. Some 80 women & children were engaged each side of the roof hammering down the newly laid concrete with wooden mallets. They were crouched down at their work in that peculiarly squatting position they all have here, many were working under umbrellas (the day WAS a scorcher, and I knew it!!) & several had babies laying in their laps, tiny naked lumps of brown humanity some but very few weeks old. It struck me as being hard for these coolie women to go about their work & to have to nurse their little mites at the same time as they do.
We were up in the district known as Mackintollah and near to the Jain Temple, which I particularly wished to see, so that a few minutes drive brought us there. The Temple was built by Rai Budree Das Bahadur, a Calcutta native merchant, & it is the richest & most gorgeous place of worship in Calcutta, and, of its kind, is said to be the most magnificent in India. It is mainly of white marble chiselled most delicately in lace design & everywhere ornamented with wonderful mosaics – it is certainly exquisite even though in many places bordering on the tawdry.
Before I was allowed to go up the Temple steps I had to leave my boots outside, being provided with slippers, & I certainly hoped that my boots would not be pinched! Being a heathen I was not permitted to enter the “all-important” part of the Temple (that containing their sacred image, the Jain god) but was allowed to look through the glass doors. The inside colouring was a surprise, the floor tiles & part of the walls were of mirrored glass reflecting the rich mosaic of marble & coloured glass of the walls & columns, all gleaming & glistening, & a monster glass chandelier spread itself over the greater part of the room. The whole effect was very striking, so much so – colour upon colour, vivid & glaring – that I really feel lost at trying to give you an adequate idea of my impressions.The grounds are very fine too, & after a look at the “sacred fish” in the lake, tame fat fellows, fed by every visiting native, and after I had signed (of course!) the Visitors book we took our departure. I also very particularly wished to see the Nimtollah Burning Ghat – the cremating ground of the Hindoo – so we journeyed along to it down at the riverside. A cremation was in progress; the body was in the heart of a stack of logs placed criss-cross & all furiously ablaze. The dead person’s legs were protruding & sizzling so needless to say I stood windward of the smoke! There had been several burnings that morning judging by the smouldering ashes in 2 or 3 places. All most most interesting. On our way to the Burning Ghat (pronounced got) we passed a beggar leading a cow. It had a horn protruding from the centre of its forehead- some freak of nature, (that is, if it wasn’t a fake). This Cow is therefore to the native mind a thrice sacred one and, as such, the beggar (mendicant would be the proper word wouldn’t it?) makes a good thing out of it – the native parting his pice very freely with the idea that he is facilitating his passage to his fathers when he quits this life.
The strange caption on the previous photo could indicate that this is the author of the diaries referring to himself. The image below is an attempt to get more detail but the face is too much in the shade to make a good job of it.
Returning Citywards we passed the Royal Mint. A very fine building indeed but in miserably poor surroundings. I saw somewhere in a pamphlet (and made a note of it) that the central portico is a copy of the Temple of Minerva at Athens. The Mint was started in 1824, took six years to build, & is the largest Mint in the world. It was under guard of course – (military).
We passed Malik’s Ghat shortly after, one of the chief Bathing places. I was back aboard by tiffin time & remained all day but in the evening I dined at Mrs. Julls. Their house is but a nice short drive from the ship, through semi-country; down one of the lanes bananas were growing in great profusion. Over dinner, & afterwards, conversation, for my benefit, turned on Indian customs & commodities, the mystery of curry making, & so on & so forth. We had a little music and, altogether, a most pleasant evening.
Day No. 54: Thursday 17 September 1914
A quiet day aboard, nursing foot really, but journeyed with my Mail up to Calcutta to the G.P.O. looking in at the “Royal” for a few minutes. As I got out of the Car in Chowringhee was astonished to find everybody looking skywards. I never saw such throngs qualifying for a crick in the neck. Looking for what? It was obvious that one half did not know what the other half were concerned about. I was one of the “didn’t knows”. The next day’s “Statesman” gave the reason.
Day No. 55: Friday 18 September 1914
Thanks to the poisoned foot spent the whole day aboard. I arranged my deck chair under the awning near to the ship’s rail & sat for hours idly watching the life of the Dock. Barges by scores were coming up to our part of the dock (to load & unload cargo from adjacent steamers) & these added to the barges & dinghys already here formed an astonishing flotilla. We were moored in the middle of the dock remember, and at times it was possible to walk from our gangway ladder right to the quay wall by clambering from barge to barge – they are not moored to each other but just lie alongside & keep their place by being jammed in a mass; so that the efforts & the antics (and, no doubt “language” if one only understood it) of the bargemen who were trying to work their craft through the congestion were entertaining as they pulled one barge out of place, and then pushed another away in their endeavours to force a passage.
Once or twice during the morning a tug boat came down the dock & made a passage for herself by sheer force, scattering the poor old lighters in all directions, and then – such a pandemonium as the scramblers tried to regain their old positions. For a variation I sat on the other side of the dock & watched coaling operations on Steamers moored to the Wharf. A stream of natives (anything from 200 to 300) split up into 3 gangs, carry the coal up in baskets on their head. They walk aboard, tip their baskets as they walk past the hold, then make their way to the monster coal stacks ashore where they throw down their empties as coolies place full baskets on their heads as they pass. It is all continuous – no stopping at all, they were more like machinery & the quantity of coal that is got aboard by this endless procession in a day runs into many hundreds of tons. Many women work as coal carriers also! Mentioning women, reminds me that I have many times been going to refer to them in these notes, especially as from time to time I have said something of the native men. Such native women as are seen about are, generally speaking, of the lower & poorer classes, sweetmeat & such like vendors at street corners, mainly wizened; though others would be met with hurrying along the streets generally carrying a load or with their children hanging on to their hands.
The majority of these women (the younger ones particularly) make a half-hearted sort of attempt to veil their face as a white man is passing. The older ones – the wizened ones I’ve mentioned – are poor shrivelled up repulsive creatures, & the word “hag” might have been coined for them. They are of course prematurely aged in this climate. It was interesting to see the way the women carry their babies. Instead of the child being in their arms they sit it straddle-legged across their hip holding it with one arm. I must have seen hundreds & not once were they carried any other way, even the merest tiny tots of babies – it looks a very uncomfortable position for both.
The dress of the women is a very simple affair – one garment – the Sara. Wound round the waist it forms a sort of loose short skirt, the end then carried round the body over one shoulder & then like a shawl over the head. The sara is a thin cottony material with embroided hem – they are mostly white but occasionally you strike some very vivid colours, or rather, they strike you. All the women are laden with silver bangles & anklets &, as they come along, they jingle like bells on a May horse. The wearing of these adornments is their way of banking their money, they represent their wealth. Massive earrings too, rings through their noses, & rings on the toes, are very common sights – with regard to the toe jewellery let me say nearly all the women are barefooted.
The higher caste woman is “purdah”, i.e. not visible to the eyes of mere man other than their family, & one comes across many carriages taking such families out for an airing with the venetian blind sides of the carriages so arranged that the occupant could see without being seen. I saw two women boarding a tram car one evening – they were covered with a hood, stretching down to their feet, with two little holes for eye space; their husbands stood by jealously guarding them until they placed them, like luggage, on the front platform of the tram where they squatted on the floor out of sight, their husbands then entering the car at the rear. Occasionally I have seen women so veiled & hooded, with these peep holes, at the Tram Terminus in Chowringhee (one young madam I stood by one day was I am sure “making eyes” at me through her peepers when her Companion wasn’t looking – an exciting adventure for her probably). They are always in charge of some old woman not so covered.
I must just mention, to finish up this Day’s notes, that we had an unusually brilliant display of tropical lightening in the evening. Of course there is lightening every night here, but to-night’s exhibition was a wonder & a marvel. It was fascinating beyond words & I sat for an hour watching it.
Day No. 56: Saturday 19 September 1914
A.M. – drove up to the City with Captain to get the news as to whether the Emden had yet been caught, but “nothing doing”. In the Harbour Masters Room I had the pleasure of shaking hands with the Captain of the Italian steamer Loredano who certainly prevented the Emden from bagging other British victims. Calcutta has done him well, & rightly so; the Lt. Governor of Bengal presented him with a gold watch & chain for his action. It was most interesting to hear from him “all about it”.
There was little or no business today in the City – most of the Offices being closed it being as Indian Holiday; its name, “Mahalaya”, though don’t know what that signifies. Consequently the Captain having time at his disposal we had Dinner together at Pelitis. Afterwards we had a drive over the City Boundary to the Soorah Jute Mill to call on his friends the Nicholsons, spending an hour there. Owing to the Holiday the Mill was silent at which I was much disappointed but Mr. Nicholson having been good enough to invite me to come & be shown round I intend to do so at the first opportunity. The Mill is almost in the Country & part of the road lay through practically virgin forest being bordered by some fine trees with their welcome green shade. Don’t know whether I’ve mentioned it before, but the trees are always green here no shedding of leaves as with us in the Autumn.
Altho’ today was accounted cool – though I could not subscribe to that! – the scorch had somewhat gone out of the sun when we were returning so that the long drive back to the ship at Kidderpore was enjoyable.
Day No. 57: Sunday 20 September 1914
The Inward Mail was in so that letters from Home were brightest feature of the morning. Tiffin & siesta over I drove down to the River to the Bengal-Nagpur Railway Pontoon to meet Captain Jull who was on duty today. He is the Commodore of the Railway Company’s fleet of River Steamers and is presently in command of the Khargpore – a monster River boat which takes a whole load of Goods Wagons from one side of the Hooghly to the other. The B.N. Railway Company’s Terminus is on the opposite bank to Calcutta (a great drawback to them I should imagine) and they transfer their enormous Goods Traffic by Steamers, taking a whole train (heavily loaded) on board, wagon by wagon, very ingeniously. I was glad to see “how it was done”. The Khargpore was only coming down the river when I arrived; Captain Jull gave me a cordial hail as he came alongside & I was soon aboard. A welcome cup of afternoon tea & a chat & a stroll under the awning watching at the same time that most wonderful traffic sweeping up & down the River Hooghly passed the time all too quickly. Dinner being over rather late & also feeling it a wee bit too far to go to the Cathedral as I had intended, I spent the evening on the Ship. Mr. Quayle came off in the dinghy later on & we paced the deck awhile. He invited me to Dinner tomorrow evening.
Day No. 58: Monday 21 September 1914
This morning I drove into Calcutta with the Captain and made the usual round of Ship’s business calls with him to the Agents, Shipping Office, & the Harbour Master all with a view of finding whether the embargo on the Port had been raised or when likely to. Still no information, and still we are to stay at the Moorings in the middle of the Dock, with no more certainty as to our position than that we are as likely to go on the morrow as perhaps a week hence. We are just living from day to day as it were, and an air of resignation seems now to be coming over folk aboard displacing the wave of impatience which was much in evidence previously.
Tiffin at the Bristol Grill, & a pleasant hour brought half-past two round and I left Captain Tyers and journeyed per Gharry to the Soorah Jute Mills to take advantage of Mr. Nicolson’s invitation to inspect the Mill under working conditions. It was all so extremely interesting that I would like, knowing your keen interest for “general knowledge”, to give you a rough idea of the process of manufacture – so far as my memory serves. Just on entering the Mill proper my attention was drawn to a small building, (detached, open sides and roofed) which is merely used as a praying place for the Mohammedans. There are many Mohammedans in the mill and as they were continually leaving their work (Mill Owners daren’t stop ‘em) & going outside the Factory gates to a little shrine sort-of-place opposite to pray, the Mill Owners conceived the idea at last of running up this small shed-like building where, when the fit seizes him, Mr. Mohammedan can slither in and perform his devotions without now going off the premises – but, as to Jute!
This district of India is particularly favourable to the growth of the jute plant, possibly on account of the swampy ground almost everywhere hereabout and, or, the humid atmosphere. The Plant is of a rush-like nature & grows tall – up to about 12 feet – and, when flowers, is ready for cutting, it being harvested about August or September. The plants are cut close to the roots and are then taken & placed in ponds – or “tanks” as they call them out here – to soften & to enable the fibre to be easily removed; from 10 to 20 days is taken up by this operation.
Only the bark part of the plant is the jute fibre; the heart, or the pith, is useless for mill purposes and so far as I gathered the pith which is wonderfully light is only used for making Topees. The bark, therefore, is stripped off the plant – and after the steeping it has had it becomes detached as easily as the skin of a banana – and is hung up on bamboo rails to dry. Arriving at the Mill in bales, these are opened and the material – now of course in its rawest state – is sorted on account of the quality of the jute varying, and from thence it is “batched” or softened. Jute is of such a rough & coarse nature that it cannot be treated without being softened hence it is passed through a long narrow frame-work containing many pairs of fluted rollers each working into the other and just mangling the jute, though, after it goes through the first few rollers a mixture of oil & water is allowed to trickle on it and, after more squeezing , the jute comes out at the other side of the machine cleaned and softened by the oil & water and is by now quite silky to the touch.
It is carried now to the Teasing Machine – this being a large revolving cylinder covered with fine spikes – like gramophone needles, and as the jute is fed into this it is torn apart, the fibres being combed out quite straight and becomes of a finer nature. It is refined again in another Machine if needs be, according to the quality of the work and the certain weight & size wanted, & is now in that state where it is called “tow”, and, as turned out of the machines in long lengths it is guided by the native women into deep cans (say the height of an umbrella) called “sliver” cans.
The next machine is fed from these “sliver” cans, where the tow goes over a roller carrying it to a bar with steel pins and thence to a pin-studded roller moving faster than the first, thus drawing & combing out the tow into fine threads. In the next process these fine threads are merged by giving them a twist and making them thicker and stronger, and are then wound on to long bobbins; the material has now become “rove”.
The bobbins are carried to the spinning frame where they are placed on cylinders revolving at a very rapid rate. The “rove” is led through more complicated machinery – I cannot pretend to give you the details – where it is changed into “yarn”; the “warp” and the “weft”, the weft being the finer. The “weft” yarn is wound into “cops” or coils to a shape to fit into the shuttle. The “warp” is wound from the small bobbins on to very large ones. According to the width of the cloth required so many bobbins of “warp” yarn are wound on to a large cylinder which is placed on the back of the loom.
The weaving follows, & as the shuttle is thrown backwards & forwards, producing interlocking of the threads, the cloth grows before your eyes and is usually made in 7 “cuts”. A “cut” I am informed is 93 yards long, hence the customary length woven in one piece is 651 yards. The cloth in the rough is then passed through the Damping Machine where it is sprinkled with water, and then taken to the Calendering Machine – roller upon roller, seven of them, (2 ½ tons the weight of the heaviest) and two of the rollers are made of compressed paper these giving a polished finish to the cloth. Calendering is the last process.
The finished cloth is made into sacks, the length requires for each sack being automatically cut by a guillotine. The lengths are passed on to another department & sewn into bags by machinery – done in a twinkling. Sacks of all kinds are made, coarse or fine, to suit the commodity to be carried in it, as instance fine for flour or sugar.
While, as I have said, the process of manufacture was interesting, none the less so were the natives employed there. You could scarcely credit that amongst all the machinery, and the movement of the workers scurrying backwards & forwards carrying & wheeling material, in the narrow alleyways between the Machines, that all about were little kiddies just playing. The women who work in the factory won’t do so unless they can have their children with them and it is a recognised practice that the kiddies (quite little toddlers) go to the Mill & play about anywhere handy to their Mother. Even women with babies a month or two old – or less - were working, but these are found duties which enable them to squat on the floor so that the little one can be kept either in their lap or left to lie alongside, mostly clothed in nothing as usual.
A lot of boy labour is employed, especially at the bobbin side of spinning frame, and remarkably expert they are at their duties, done at top speed. On enquiring I was informed that boys are not allowed to work in the Mill under 7 years of age (!) whereupon I remarked that the lot we were looking at was only “7 and a week” for poor little chaps they were but overgrown babies. Anyway they looked happy enough and are paid the colossal sum of two to three annas per day (an anna is a penny). I suppose this is good pay when you compare it with the coolie labour aboard the ship – the dock labourer – he gets six annas a day, a few of them 8 annas.
It would be incomplete if I failed to mention the noise – it was tremendous, positively deafening, & in many of the rooms it was only possible to hear one speak when they obligingly yelled down my ear, and it would be equally incomplete if I omitted to mention the heat!! Oh! My! – Melting moments. For a good sample of a Turkish Bath commend me to a jute Factory – in the Tropics.
Leaving the Mill, had a pleasant walk round the various outbuildings – the Engine House, the Store Shop, the Blacksmith’s shop & the Forge, where it was most interesting to watch the molten metal being moulded, minor machinery replenishments are all made on the premises; and then on to the Compound where the Workpeople live. What hovels! – Tumbledown ramshackle huts which, but for the height of the doorway, you would take to be a pig-sty – still they are content.
Just a little outside of the Compound, on the edge of the jungle, in a hut a shade more ambitious than the others is the workshop of a famous native pen-maker. On the verandah – which is about breast high from the ground – caged off with bamboo fencing were a few of the machines or presses (hand worked) but the oddity himself, unfortunately, was non est. Shop shut. However, the usual ubiquitous small boy was hanging round and at the request of Mrs. Nicolson squirmed through the fencing and I was given a sample of Mr. Pen-makers Nibs and a copy of his circular. Whoever pray would dream that they were manufactured in such an out-of-the-world primitive place as this lovely edge of the jungle fringed with ponds, high coarse grasses, cocoa nut palms, wild banana trees and sundry growths intensely tropical looking.
An ominous noise made us hasten back – the daily thunder clouds had been gathering for the last half-hour and we only got to the Mill, & that by a sprint, in time. There was no preliminary few spots here, the clouds just burst, and in quarter of an hour all the Mill grounds were turned into a lake. This was the heaviest thunderstorm I have experienced, here or elsewhere, - lightening & thunder, flash bang-bang, simultaneously. The reverberations were like roars of artillery, the wind had fits of screaming and the upper floor of the bag warehouse on which I was standing trembled again and, amidst it all, the native women just squatting round about me calmly went on with their work! Shows you can get used to anything – even to terrific thunderstorms!
I was detained with all this an hour beyond the time I had intended leaving as I was dining with the Quayles. However, a quick drive back to Calcutta (several of the streets still a swamp after the storm) put that nicely right as we did not dine until 8 o’clock. After dinner was initiated into “Cribbage” with its mystifying counting – spent a very pleasant evening indeed and left for Kidderpore at 10/30.
Day No. 59: Tuesday 22 September 1914
The morning drive into Calcutta with Captain Tyres has become quite an institution, a distinctly enjoyable one particularly after leaving the mile of noisy road through the Native Bazaar at Kidderpore to get into the tranquil shades of the Maidan where, on the splendid surface roads, our carriage makes nice pace for a couple of miles across the Park to Government House. This morning’s drive was made the pleasanter by a nice breeze not over tempered by the sun.
I put in an hour at the “Royal” & wrote sundry letters until the Captain called for me there when we drove round for a while; made the usual call for refreshments while a fresh gee-gee was being procured & thence on to the Ship.
After a restful afternoon we drove down to the Julls and then, taking Miss Jull with us, journeyed again to Calcutta to make sundry purchases at the Silk & curio shops at the Market & places near to there. The Captain had set his mind on an occasional table & ultimately he secured a gem (a fine specimen of up-country native craftmanship) at a high class native shop off Chowringhee. A really entertaining shopping expedition; & an education also to rummage over the treasures, as I did, in the various shops.
After dinner went ashore with the Chief Officer & hailing a passing gharry soon fetched up at the Mission, where an attempt to play billiards was made difficult by the green fly which were very much abroad tonight. They settled in droves on the cloth, the slaughter made by the rolling balls was amusing & certainly not good for the table so we gave it up, and, to the accompaniment of coffee & smoke spent a chatty hour with the Rev. Nibbs & a few other gentlemen. Eventually a party of us strolled back to the Manipur, enjoying the calm of the suburban lanes – there was a softness in the air, a cool breeze, & a feeling of restfulness abroad, myriads of stars. A typical & delightful tropical night.
Day No. 60: Wednesday 23 September 1914
Again to Calcutta in the Captain’s gharry, after a good spell on deck watching the dock life after breakfast, but only went part of the way this time as I wanted some odds & ends from the Market so I left him to proceed. I ultimately found myself opposite the Bengal Club & whilst waiting for the Tram I strolled into the grounds to get a better look of this most exclusive & famous club. It is a remarkably handsome building & when sizing it up, with a country-cousin sort of look doubtless there came by an Assistant Secretary or some other leading executive official who courteously asked me inside a portion of the Club. It was patent to him that I was a new comer. Asked why? & he explained that I had not lost the English freshness from my complexion & that they can always pick out new arrivals by that. We chatted of Home (England is always referred to as “Home” out here) and after awhile I proceeded to pay my promised visit to the Cathedral.
I am glad I have seen Calcutta’s Cathedral – “St. Paul’s Cathedral”. It is not built on the ponderous mould that we are rather apt to associate with Cathedrals, it is on much “finer” lines. “Gothic” I think is the style, and while the outside, architecturally speaking, does not quite fit in with one’s idea of a Cathedral the interior certainly does. The Cathedral atmosphere is here at once, the inside is elaborate & handsome & there are numerous finely carved monuments, tombs & statues; also tablets & medallions these being mainly of an historical or military character – Indian Mutiny & so on. The Commission Plate was presented by Queen Victoria & I observed that the original East Window (later destroyed by Cyclone) was the gift of the Dean & Chapter of Windsor. The outstanding feature in the Cathedral is the great West Window which, so I read, was erected by the Government of India in 1880 as a Memorial to Lord Mayo.
From St. Paul’s I journeyed per Tram again to Kalighat to see the Hindoo Temple there which is dedicated to the Hindoo goddess “Kali”. (Incidentally the name Calcutta is derived from Kali-ghat, the landing place – mythical – of Kali). The fame of this Temple of Kali is great amongst the Hindoo – it is a famous shrine & is visited annually by scores of thousands of pilgrims. A great feature of the worship is the frequent sacrifice of goats to the goddess. These poor unoffending bleaters have their necks wedged down into a V shaped slot on an upright wooden stand, when the “executioner” with a vigorous sweep of his knife beheads them. I missed this performance but saw a result of the sacrifice – a bleeding headless goat lying by. It is described by those who have seen it as a sickening spectacle, & certainly cruel, but the Authorities don’t interfere for the sake of keeping peace with the Native it being such an important part of their worship.
The Temple is 300 or 400 years old but as I did not see inside there is not very much to say, as the outside does not impress one greatly. The Native about – the crowds of him – interested me more. I have referred somewhere to the Tanks, the City’s old system of water supply, but there is a class of individual I should refer to in this connection – the water carriers. “Bheestis”, I think, is the native name for them & I have come across quite a number of them today carrying water for household purposes & filling their bags, made of skins, from the street hydrants which are all over the City. They are clothed almost “mit nodings on” and as for the matter of that coolie one sees in droves just everywhere is garbed similarly. Modesty, well, they don’t know it, and, from all accounts its respect for English law that keeps them but barely decent.
These water-carriers or “bheesties” are a caste by themselves (one of the lowest castes) and on board ship this individual, or his equivalent, is called the “Topaz”. Speaking of the Natives I came across one today praying in his shop window amongst all his wares, - vegetables. These praying folk are met with everywhere but this particular instance really had its funny side, stacks of vegetables & fruit all around him & nearly on top of him was a bit comic but I can’t say whether if a customer had come along the devotions would have come to a sudden end. I specks so! On my way back to the Tram after leaving the Temple I first took a stroll through the village & then on to the creek, Tolly’s Nullah it is called, where another crowd of Natives were met with all bathing or just bathed, men & women. It is interesting to watch the variety of craft, all sorts shapes & sizes, going up & down this little creek which encircles Calcutta. It takes the place of a canal & has a surprising amount of traffic.I had just got to the Tram junction when the long-threatening storm broke. Thunderstorms in Calcutta are of daily occurrence at this season but are usually of short duration. Today’s was an exception. It opened with a whirlwind, (My! How the dust, paper & refuse danced in spirals) & then the rain. I ran to meet the Alipore tram, going towards Kidderpore, & boarded it just in time. Such rain! & such thunder & lightening! A quarter of an hour’s ride brought me to the Kidderpore Bridge where I had to change cars & I was fortunate enough to find one waiting. I had only to step from one to the other & by the time I had arrived at the Kidderpore Terminus the deluges of rain had turned the roads into lakes. The water was then over the first step of the tram & almost level with the platform. What a storm! & the rain, well, one has never seen the like – it is difficult to describe- & all in 25 minutes. I can say no more than this to illustrate it than that as I got off the tram I was just short of up to my knees in water.
The previous photo shows Tolley's Nullah - the canal that was created in 1775-6 by retired British East India Company Colonel William Tolly. He had settled in Calcutta and built this 47 miles long channel at his own cost. It followed the route of an old channel of the Adi Ganga - a tributary of the Hooghly.
I hailed a gharry standing on the far side of the road but as he could not persuade his horse to come close up to the step there was nothing else left to do but to wade through it. This sort of thing happens frequently during the rainy season & owing to Calcutta being so pancake flat (there is only a difference of 6 feet in the highest & lowest of the city) the rain cannot be carried off quickly especially if the tide is high in the Hooghly. Our English Papers would have devoted a column or so to such an occurrence & I was tickled to see it so casually referred to in the next morning newspaper – so: A change from my “wading clothes, a meal, & I spent the evening aboard writing.