Days 61 to :Calcutta to Ceylon (24 September to 13 October 1914)
Day No. 61: Thursday 24 September 1914
Still at Kidderpore & likely to be as this morning learnt that the Emden had had a go at Madras!
Today being mail day was busy writing until tiffin & afterwards journeyed up to Calcutta to the G.P.O. with my own & everybody else’s letters & then met Mr. Chief Engineer by appointment to travel with him to Bally Jute Mills to see his friend the Manager & inspect the Mill. A gharry obtained, we made for the Howrah Station journeying by way of Harrison Road. This thoroughfare is probably the most crowded & congested, despite its width, in the whole City. It sports double tram lines & a never ending stream of up & down traffic of bullock & buffalo carts & gharrys, coming from several junctions but particularly pouring off the Howrah Bridge which might really be called a continuation of Harrison Road.
The shops on both sides of the road are entirely native & so crowded are the footwalks that it is a feat in jostling to pass along. Here, therefore, you have the busiest street you could well imagine & what do you think – on top of all this, there are cows everywhere; sidewalks, street, shop doors; sometime meandering slowly, more often than not squatting on the side & the whole place in consequence is like a dirty farm-yard. The explanation is that to the Hindoo the Cow is a most sacred animal & hereabouts is their rendezvous. They are privileged to do just as they please & should one of them take a fancy to the greenstuff disposed outside the vegetable shop (I saw such an instance one day) the native proprietor will not beat the humped beast off but will cajole it away with something more succulent. In Harrison Road there is always pointed out to the sight-seer a large house the residence of Rai Budree Das Bahudur the builder of the Jain Temple.
We ultimately fetched the Railway Station & as we were in excellent time the inevitable “cold drink” had first to be sampled & afterwards wandered about the Station. To me it was one of the sights. The Station resembled a fair; the tessellated composition floor – as shiny & slippery as you please – was everywhere crowded with squatting natives, men with their families & without them, women, children, & parties entrenched behind bundles of baggage were all about the place. The native loves Railway travelling, it is one of his greatest treats, & will save up odd cash for months to take a trip. Arrived at the station he is never in a hurry, he will sit on the floor hours before his train goes, time does not count for him, & it is no uncommon thing I am assured for him to come the previous evening & if the train be missed to sit quite unconcernedly until the morrow – He can sleep anywhere & in any position. He takes no account whatsoever of Time Tables, first comes to the Station to suit his convenience and if there is no train soon, well – he uncomplainingly waits & enjoys it.
Vendors of sticky sweetmeat messes, coloured drinks, cakes of sorts, nuts, & some weird concoction in paper bags moved about amongst them and when ultimately we boarded our train such of the natives as got aboard did so with screams of delight, shouting & waving like a party of children going to a Sunday School Treat! They are an endless source of amusement to a stranger.
Bally is but a couple of Stations away & after a run through swamp country & paddy fields, was soon reached. The Mill having a siding on the line we took it for a short cut and soon reached the Manager’s House where acceptable hospitality & a lounge on the verandah, with the punkah keeping the air moving, was indulged in. Ultimately I was shown over the Mill; a superior very much larger one to the Soorah Jute Mill. The processes are similar to the ones I described here, but a walk round the Mill’s extensive grounds & through the various outbuildings was interesting. In one spot near his House Mr. Manager pointed out where he had missed a six foot snake last night (remember it is all jungle about there) he bagged a big fellow but a few days ago & assumed this was its mate lurking about. Seemed to take it quite as a matter of course!
In one of the buildings (near to the Mill proper) where flour is stored preparatory to being made into dressing for treating the Jute, I was taken in to see a sight. This you would never guess. Cockroaches!! Size – whoppers, thumbs length; but it was the quantity of them that was the feature. Crowds were on the walls, congregations were on the sacks of flour, multitudes were in corners of the floor all attracted by the food (the dust of the flour) and literally & truly the room contained thousands of these monsters.
Ugh! I hitched up my slacks as I stood amongst them, it gave one the shivers & to crown the lot there sat quite unconcerned on some of the sacks an old coolie & boy going on working with roaches all about them. They swarmed like ants & are an uncontrollable pest. I was told that every Friday this store room is emptied, sacks carried out & brushed, & the hose turned on the walls & floor to swill the cockroaches away and, incredible as it may seem, I was informed that in a few days they are back again in numbers such as I saw them today. Oh this land of creepy crawly things!
The swiftly darkening dusk coming on & my homeward train time approaching, my departure was the next event. (Mr. Chief staying overnight). Twilight to dark is almost like drawing a curtain in these parts the light goes so quickly, and a native servant was sent with me with a lamp to pilot me through the grounds, the native village, & on to the Station where my lamp bearer left me after a most exquisite salaam to the Sahib & may he live long & so on.
I had 20 minutes to wait on the dimly lighted station but there was much to occupy me; Mosquitoes particularly, fireflies dancing prettily in the trees all about the Station too, & very vivid lightning down the line, for the usual thunderstorm was then rumbling up. In the train back to Calcutta met 3 Europeans – 2 gentlemen & a lady – (the latter French at a guess) coming up from Pondicherry & they were telling me that just before they left yesterday morning the Emden had suddenly appeared off there after shelling Madras. The Emden & her doings looms very large presently in all conversations. Got to the ship just before Dinner was finished & Dod coming down later on we spent the evening aboard.
Day No. 62: Friday 25 September 1914
Spent a quiet day aboard, though had the usual morning drive to Calcutta, returning by Tram. Calcutta has a truly splendid service of electric trams. The cars are run in pairs – one & a trailer – the leading car being reserved for Europeans so I was informed, & the rear for Natives. This was not altogether my experience for occasionally one would come across better class natives in the first class car & I think the explanation lies, so far as the average native is concerned, in the question of the fare, it being but half, or less, in the second class. At any rate I gathered repeatedly from several sources – it would crop up in conversation – that no self-respecting European would be seen in the Natives’ Car! This question of colour again; I suppose it will remain one of India’s eternal problems.
A great feature of European life in this Capital (a mis-print(!) Delhi is now the Capital) is to go for a tram ride after dinner in the cool of the evening & many times have I seen folks in evening dress (all English dress for dinner here) enjoying the air in this fashion – the trams needless to say are windowless.
Seated on deck idling, & talking with Mr.Chief Officer this afternoon, conversation turned on Storms & in connection with that great Tornado I have previously mentioned, which happened when he was here last voyage, he pointed out the place on the deck where the Captain’s heavy deckchair was caught, whipped up as though it was a piece of paper, whirled skywards & soared right over the Dock beyond the Sheds & dropped goodness knows where. Ropes holding steamers snapped like string & much damage was done to many ships. The path of the Storm was directly across the Dock.
In the evening remained on Deck for an hour or so, & on the scores & scores of barges which I’ve told you about natives were having a musical evening. One seemed to set the other going, so that the singing – most awful timeless dirges - & the beating of tom-toms went on with endless monotony. It was a particularly dark night with a lot of tropical lightening in the distance.
Day No. 63: Saturday 26 September 1914
To Calcutta this a.m. as usual & after having tiffin in town got a gharry by the “Maidan” & drove across to Chandpul Ghat for I had promised myself to go to the Botanical Gardens today at Sibpur on the opposite side of the River to Calcutta. Chandpul Ghat is a little landing stage on the River & whilst waiting for the Ferry Steamer there was plenty of interest watching the bathing from the Ganges bank at the back of the Stage. Hundreds bathing, mostly women & children & but a few men this time. The women just go into the water clothed as they are ordinarily and when they emerge very dexterously put on a clean “sara” as they unfold the wet one underneath it. Towels are unnecessary, if the wet body damps the dry clothes they put on the sun here will dry it in a few minutes, especially today – for it’s a scorcher.
Boarding the River Steamer we made a criss-cross passage down the River calling at various Ferries & passing fine groves of Cocoa Nuts & Mangoes. The boats are fliers, really very speedy & the breeze they made was welcome. It did not take very long to fetch up at my landing place – the College Ghat, this is a landing place for the Civil Engineering College, a large establishment & certainly a handsome building, adjoining the Botanical Gardens. A short walk soon brought one to the Gardens where a little shade was appreciated for today there was exceptionally fierce brilliance of sunshine & sweltering heat. The Gardens were started so far back as 1786, though they have twice been nearly wiped out by cyclones. First in 1867; & the damage then done was being nicely got under when in 1870 a terrific cyclone again laid its fury over the gardens almost destroying them. The Grounds are very extensive & the frontage to the River is nearly a mile & a quarter & they cover 273 acres. It is a favourite rendezvous of Calcutta people for picnics & forms an ideal spot.
Needless to say there is a wealth of trees, foliage, shrubs & plants – in any Botanical Gardens you would expect that – but here, in this climate of alternating humidity & heat, there is a luxuriant growth of everything. There are marvels of tropical beauty & gorgeous colourings of such flowers as were out, the flower season though being just now finishing. I called in at the Curators Office to see if there was any Guide Book perchance (none issued, only a Map & plan) and had a talk with him (Englishman). I suppose I had asked so many questions that ultimately he enquired if I was a journalist (!) – especially as he saw me taking notes - & seemed relieved to find I was just a very ordinary species. He explained that they had just entered on a scheme of remodelling & I could see from his remarks that he did not wish any detailed account to be published as before very long, through situations being changed & the general upsetment (tho’ I saw no traces of it) any report might be misleading. He evidently felt that justice would not perhaps be done to his beloved Gardens & it was very nice to see that he was so jealous of the honour of it.
I gathered in conversation that the Gardens contain specimens from Siam, Phillipines, China, Japan, Europe, Africa, Madagascar, various parts of India, America, etc., & so on. The Herbarium, a very fine glass building, is reckoned to be the finest in Asia & contains some 30,000 specimens. The grounds are laid out in splendid drives & walks. Avenues of very tall palms & other trees, and the Bamboo is a feature, there are some fine clumps of this with some enormous canes. The gardens are studded with lakes & in some the water lilies were beautiful, and this can be said of the many varieties of birds, butterflies & dragonflies for they abounded here.
Of course the tit-bit of the Gardens is the famous Banyan Tree. This is the largest & most celebrated Banyan Tree in the world & well do I remember an account of it in the Reading Book when at School. I certainly never dreamt I should ever see it. I wished to photograph the tree, but as soon as I got ready a sightseeing party of 4 Natives ran & stood in my way wishing to be in the very front of the picture. As I moved, so did they, & it took me a little time to get these enthusiasts to stand where they did. The tree is a wonder indeed, it throws off its roots from the branches, and as you go well inside underneath the branches & between the roots it becomes almost dark in the centre & you get some idea of its immensity. Particulars of its dimensions are painted on a board & I wished to note these but to my great disappointment found I had lost my pencil. However, I got over the difficulty by getting a bit of stick & as it was a bit swampy in one place under the Tree I mixed a little mud, and with stick and mud – hey presto! – laboriously copied the details. The Notice Board contained the following:-
This tree is about 239 years old. The circumference of its trunk, at 5½ feet from the ground, is 51 feet and, of its crown, 997 feet. Its height, 85 feet. It has 562 aerial roots actually rooted in the ground.
This you will note was 6 years ago & I don’t suppose there has been much change in the intervening period.
The famous Banyan tree was badly damaged by cyclones and in 1925 the main trunk had to be removed. However the rest of it lives on and by 2020 reached a circumference of 486 metres and occupies over 4.5 acres.
I left the Ferry Steamer, homewards, at Tuckta Ghat, & as this was handy to the Mission I called there & had a refreshing cup of tea before walking by the Maidan to get the Tram down the Kidderpore Rd. Dinner over, Captain & I drove down to the Julls & eventually spent the evening there.
Today begins a great Native religious festival which lasts for 3 days – “Pujas” such are called, but this one is the Durga Puja. “Durga” being the particular goddess in whose honour all the festivals are held. Many of the women & children are today decked in gala costume & look most picturesque. Of all the hot days experiences today has been the hottest & I am sure the temperatures, had they been available, would have been an interesting reflection.
Day No. 64: Sunday 27 September 1914
Most of today was spent quietly on board. From my deck chair there was a wealth of interest watching the ceaseless traffic over the roadway bridge across the Dock. Foot passengers of various castes; gharries of all sorts drawn by ponies of similar sorts some loaded inside & out – these having quite a few passengers sitting on the roof of the cab. This is a very common sight & there seems to be no regulation regarding the number of people a ticca-gharry is allowed to carry. The Drivers of them all are pretty inhuman for while the miserable ponies are often over-burdened with the load they are incessantly goaded on by their driver’s continuous flogging. One sees brutality to beasts almost at every turn, particularly about the Dock Road, & the unfortunate bullocks with their monster loads are very cruelly treated. They are uninterruptedly hit with sticks about their head or other tender parts; jabbed in some places; and the seizing of their tails deliberately twisting them round & round is a favourite way of getting these unfortunate brutes to “gee up”. The cruelty to Animals here would impress any newcomer & it is a reproach to Calcutta that such be allowed to exist.
I drove down to Garden Reach to take afternoon tea with the Julls but would not stay to dinner as I wished very particularly to go to the Cathedral for Evening Service. I have had no opportunity up to now to attend a service there & this was probably my last chance. However, I did not get to the Cathedral for the usual thunderstorm coming on just as I intended starting brought with it such rain – a cloudburst – that it was impossible to venture out.
Day No. 65: Monday 28 September 1914
Today, this monotonous standing by of the ship (i.e. her loaded & lying idle waiting for the Port to be declared open) was broken by a cablegram from England that we are to bring with us a Native Crew for one of the Firm’s new ships & bustle life & movement is the order of the day in consequence. The space under the fo’castle head is to be enclosed & arranged to accommodate some 70 or 80 men.
The Nicholson family (Soorah Jute Mill you will remember) were aboard for afternoon tea owing to the Mills being closed (the Puja Holidays) & time was passed aboard pleasantly. The Captain & self went ashore after Dinner for a run up to Calcutta for the sake of the drive & did a turn round the native quarters to see the crowds; streets in places almost impassable & gay lights & fireworks abroad. The Puja again.
Day No. 66: Tuesday 29 September 1914
During the morning took a walk through some of the Villages, the offside of Kidderpore, but adjacent to the Ship & a very interesting morning ‘twas. On returning we struck in one of the villages a Puja ceremony in full swing. Some 7 or 8 men standing behind many little trays of wheat, rice, & liquids in chatties, were taking part & the audience seemed to follow it all sympathetically. They (the men) would chant for awhile, sing in that dolorous dirgy way of theirs, & one occasionally would sprinkle about some of the grain & rice, while another of them was continually swaying himself & going through the most extravagant movements & intricate contortions muttering awhile – he had been at this game for a long time evidently & looked on the point of exhaustion having worked himself up to fine pitch of fanaticism for he was beginning to foam. Three goats had been slaughtered & there they lay headless & bleeding.
The significance of all this ceremonial I am unable to indicate but I take it that the rites performed were to propitiate the goddess Durga. The Native is very susceptible to the White man’s presence at these functions so after awhile we thought it policy to retire especially as tiffin time was near. Opportunity offered to take several native photographs on the way back. (Later note. The majority of these came to nought bad plates, evidently, some I’d bought in Calcutta – have had numbers come to grief this way).
In the evening – dinner over – went with Captain Tyers to the Julls &, after a little music, decided to go to the River side taking Miss Jull with us to see the wind up of the Durga Puja there. Captain Jull was not over desirous that we should do this, as these occasions are not without their little excitements. The Mohammedans & Hindoos at these times frequently come into collision, a very small spark sets up a disturbance & the riots take such a lot of quelling that it is as well for Europeans to be absent. However, promising we’d be careful we set out. It was not long before we got on to one of the roads leading to the River & it was all we could do to get our gharry through the throng. Crowds of people were following in procession the image of Durga; this was usually suspended from poles carried by four men & the image itself with its canopy & its trappings spread nearly the width of the roadway. It was gaily lighted & was borne to the accompaniment of tom-toms, gongs, bells, horns, torches & coloured fires and all the followers greatly excited. Each little village, street or coterie has its own Durga so that we passed many of them before we reached the River. Arrived there, the masses of people were so great that it was prudent to leave our Carriage; the horse was restive & the crowds made it impossible too to go further.
We managed by climbing a small wall to get into the grounds of some Works & by a little judicious flattery obtained permission to go through a shed building on to a little Stage running down into the River. We had a delightful “seat in the stalls” in consequence as the tide being very low we looked down on to the beach & saw the thousands squatting there and, in the road behind, we were able to watch the arrival of continuous processions each with their Durgas. There must have been dozens of them & the same sort of thing was going on at various parts of the River too. It was a very animated & picturesque scene & we were in a splendid position to see the last act. Each image was taken down, divested of its ornaments - for it was heavily & gaudily adorned with silver bracelets necklets & jewels - & then Carried to the Water’s edge. Here it was placed on a boat, together with baskets of fruit, grain & stuff, & carried out into the stream (with flares all about the boat so that everyone could see) and then offered to the “holy Ganges” by throwing the lot in. Durga was thus sent to her home for another 12 months.
At the moment of immersion all the natives on the beach would rise & with much shouting go through their genuflections. Certainly an impressive sight. The occasion is seized also for a kind of baptising of the Children & as the idol sank poor little John Thomas or Eliza Mary would get their ducking in the River. I was intensely pleased that I had been present at a Native Festival and I felt I had seen a bit of the real India - the India of the story book. We probably stayed on the stage over an hour when we made our way back to the roadway &, working our way through, found our gharry patiently waiting. We decided to make an evening of it, so drove up to Calcutta & went to the Pictures. Very good.
Our excitements were not over though for on our return just as we got over the Kidderpore Bridge, Crossing Tollys Nullah, we were pulled up by a Sentry. Here were drawn up a large squad of native policemen all armed with formidable pointed long bamboo staves & we were stopped going any further. After much parleying an English Officer was brought to us & he explained there had been a big riot. The Kidderpore Road (usually crowded at this hour, although it was midnight) was cleared, all the folks had been sent indoors, and he could not let us go along it as great happenings might be expected at any time. As the result of a lot of talk & explaining where we wanted to go he permitted us to go by a devious route & ultimately we got Miss Jull safely home. At each junction of the main road there was a guard of policemen and, by the Dock Bridge, when returning to the Ship, we dismissed the gharry & had a long talk with the English Officer of Police there who was fully armed & had about 200 of his men with him. Officials were coming & going, everybody was on the qui vive, & there was a – get – ready – something’s –going – to – happen feeling about. We were of opinion until then that the Durga Puja-ites had wound up with a local riot but it seems that the uproar had occurred at Budge Budge a few miles away down river.
The Story is this. Away back in April a party of 400 Sikhs away from up-in-the-hills country emigrated per a Japanese Vessel to Canada, via Japan (through a deal of unscrupulous misrepresentation of sedition mongers, so I gathered here in Calcutta) & on arrival at Vancouver were not allowed to land owing to the Canadian Immigration Laws. This was known so it is said by the promoters of the movement before these 400 Indians sailed, but they evidently thought that the Canadian Government would give way & from all accounts, had they done so, this batch of emigrants was only the forerunner of a big influx of Hindoos. The organisers of the expedition were therefore checked. Landing being prohibited, they were ultimately carried back to Japan & all their money had been spent for nothing. The majority of them were stranded in Japan and instructions were sent to repatriate them to India at the expense of the Indian Government, & they landed per the Steamer “Komagata Maru” at Budge Budge today.
The poor natives had admittedly suffered great privations ever since they left India & being knocked so from pillar to post were evidentially primed for trouble. They endeavoured to march on Calcutta but the Authorities foreseeing greater trouble if they got mixed up with the Native population here retailing their woes, wisely, so ‘tis said, desired that the men should entrain in the Special which had been provided for them & go straight off to their homes away up in the Punjab. Most of the men refused & started for Calcutta but, when troops wired for arrived to stop them, retraced their steps to Budge Budge Station. Once inside the station while parleying was going on with their leaders & Government Officials the general body of the Sikhs, without any warning, treacherously started firing on all & sundry. Prominent English Officers were shot, 2 fatally, & many others wounded seriously.
The Military (who like everybody else were taken unawares) were then outside the Station Railings & it was a minute or two before the Troops were able to fire. Many of the rebels were killed & many got away scattering through the surrounding villages, and it is thought that they will make for Calcutta by roundabout routes & seek safety in the crowds. Every inlet therefore into the City is guarded to stop them. Hence all the precautions we have witnessed & it as felt should any body of them show up there will be more bloodshed for which the Authorities are prepared. It is a very deplorable thing.
Day No. 67: Wednesday 30 September 1914
The major portion of the day was so distinctly hot that the most sensible thing was to pass a lazy time aboard. We quite expected news would be to hand of our departure but the Daily Paper reported that the Emden had sunk more ships off Ceylon so the chance of the embargo being raised seems as remote as ever.
During the late evening went down to the Bridge to discuss with our Officer friend of last evening the Budge Budge Riot & to glean the latest details. He had a bigger squad of men (Natives) than last night but the majority of them were acting as reserves & lay sleeping all about the turntable of the Bridge & on a spacious projecting ledge below the Dock Wall, paying no heed to the Mosquitoes (for these wretches were out in droves) & the many monster cockroaches who were very much abroad tonight – flying and crawling (one really tired of stepping out of one’s way to crunch crunch them). Flies & moths of sorts swarmed round the brilliant electric light lamps & the crickets made a chorus everywhere.
Day No. 68: Thursday 1 October 1914
Mail Day! so spent the morning writing & in afternoon, up to Calcutta to present my labours to the G.P.O., - had a little afternoon tea whilst up there & made a call or two. Whilst in the city went along Clive Street towards Harrison Road to see the Burra Bazaar as I had read somewhere, & it had been mentioned to me also, that it was this quarter of Calcutta that Kipling got the groundwork, or idea, for his book “The City of Dreadful Night”. The Bazaar is a collection of narrow filthy lanes crammed with native shops & round about these said shops you can buy anything almost, and curios! Well, enough to delight any collector’s heart. A place of unbounded interest.
At meal times aboard talk always veers as to when we are to be allowed to sail for Home, all sorts of opinions are expressed about it. Our stay is surely drawing to an end & it is fitting now to add that Calcutta has fascinated me beyond measure. (It is a splendid city – extends about 5 miles along the banks of the Hooghly & has a population of a million & a quarter. The Local Time here is 6 hours (5hr 59min) in advance of Greenwich). Its immense wealth & its stupendous poverty, its ancient side cheek by jowl with its modern side, are more than interesting to me a stranger – and the native & his ways are an unending novelty in this land of many races, many castes, many languages.
Most of the large & older dwellings in the City are substantially built & mainly now let in flats. These are surrounded by very high walls built so high originally to ensure the privacy needed for families of certain Castes in those days. Caste, with its varying obligations, is unbreakable & cannot be departed from, to argue otherwise to the Hindoo would be unavailing & its many demands, whatever they may be, they accept as inevitable. Caste, therefore, is widespread & arbitrary & has to be respected by the European; custom & tradition too are all powerful with the native & it will need much diplomatic education to break or vary them. One of the native clerks (or Baboos as they are called) at the “Royal” is of very high caste. A Brahmin, & once a year, on some important festival day, all the other clerks kiss his feet. He was pointed out to me. He will not drink the tap water in the building (polluted by it being used by the white man) but takes his after dinner (midday) drink from the pond, or tank as it is called, opposite the Office in the Square Gardens.
A great habit of the Native which I don’t think I’ve mentioned is the continuous chewing of betel nut & with the spitting out of the juice the pavement in all parts of the City are splashed red – and with this perpetual chewing their lips too are dyed a deep red.
A little incident aboard this morning caused some amusement to those not directly interested. The Ice Chest needed replenishing & a ton of ice had been brought alongside the ship but through the dinghy being ridiculously overloaded & some bungling getting ready for hoisting, the poor ice boat sank & there was our ice blocks floating away up the Dock. The commotion was great & the language was, easily, greater for the native is a terribly voluable individual & this dinghy-wallah in particular an expert. Needless to say the ice was not recovered, nobody would use it from such filthy water. Europeans are now prohibited from bathing in it so it must be pretty bad & yet you see the native after each meal washing his mouth & teeth in this selfsame Dock Water. His pots & pans ditto.
Day No. 69: Friday 2 October 1914
Everybody is waxing impatient at our enforced delay occasioned by that little wretched German Cruiser. It is getting a serious matter here. All trades in Calcutta are depressed, the wonderful jute industry is paralysed & commerce in the Bay of Bengal is at a standstill. Burma has been without Mails for a fortnight. (there being no rail connection between India & there) & until less is heard of the “Emden” – when it may be presumed she has left Indian Waters – no route down the Bay is thought secure.
Had a run up to Calcutta with the Captain, a call at the Agents & also at the Harbour Master’s but no news, so here we are still to languish. Had a run round to Mr. Eyears whilst in the City – that wonderful old boy over 50 years in India without once leaving it – He gave me a very nobby fly flapper the other day, it so took Captain Tyers fancy that I had to go & beg another.
I spent an uneventful day & was aboard all evening during which we learnt that the Port had been declared open as far as Madras. That does not help the good ship Manipur much, she wanting to go further, and it is useless to make a start by going as far as Madras for that is a Port open to the Sea & having been shelled by the Emden once it may be repeated and, here, we rest in perfect security some 120 miles from the Sea board, therefore we still go on with the languishing!
Day No. 70: Saturday 3 October 1914
This morning was passed mainly aboard rearranging my quarters for today our Cadet “Willie” – a congenial companion – came to share my Cabin owing to a swing round of the accommodation aboard consequent on the embarking of the passenger Native Crew.
I was up having dinner with Mr. Quayle & Mr. Eyears & we did a very nice tram ride after in the refreshing cool air of the evening to Behala. Along the route there were more new Native scenes and, although it was a dark night, were quite seeable from the car for the vendors of the multitudinous wares in the multitudinous ramshackle shops en route have their premises well lit with petroleum flares & lamps.
There is a Temple at Behala – a noted shrine - that I just had an outside squint at, & when we returned by tram going via the Kidderpore Bridge I bade my friends good night there & made my way shipwards. I discovered during the evening that Mr. Quayle & I have a mutual lady friend in England. Isn’t it a small world!
Day No. 71: Sunday 4 October 1914
The placidity of this “waiting” ship life was broken today by the arrival in batches of the native passenger crew for the new ship, their quarters under the forecastle having been completed & approved by Government Officials, I suppose the equivalent to the English Board of Trade. We see these Lascars in the streets so frequently at Liverpool that we scarcely take notice of them but if they showed themselves there in their native dress as they come on board they’d make a stir such swells in their flowing robes & gandy coloured caps.
We are now on board quite a big family, so much so that according to law we have to sport a Doctor. He is a young native gentleman, & he also arrived on board during the afternoon with a swarm of his Indian friends to bid him good-bye. I was able to carry out my great wish by going to the Cathedral this evening (made sure this would really be my last chance) but I won’t say any more about it than that before the Sermon I had to come out I could not stick it further for I have been far from well these last few days. Fever, Fever, Fever.
Day No. 72: Monday 5 October 1914
I had a very strong presentiment that the embargo on the Port would be removed today and, feeling that this would be my last day ashore I accompanied the Captain to Calcutta a.m. The usual calls on the Agents and then on to the Port Authorities proved my impression correct for, at midday, when at the latter office, the route through the Bay of Bengal & as far as Colombo was declared safe and the ship was granted her clearance. We were sailing that evening. A drive back to the Agents to pay my respects, after my letters of introduction &c, and then I parted Company with the Captain in order that I could make my own calls to bid good-bye. I had a big round but with the aid of a taxi soon got through it, having a cordial send-off from my old colleague at the “Royal”, & my last call was on Dod preparatory to rejoining the Captain when we intended journeying to the Ship together.
We (Dod & I) drove to meet him but as the Captain found he was compelled to go back to the Agents Dod had a last “tiffin” with me at the famous Pelitis – incidentally, immortalised by Kipling. Then down to Kidderpore – wrote a few letters & back to Calcutta Post Office to cable home & the evening was gone.
Rejoined the Ship and at 11p.m. had started to warp down the Dock.
Day No. 73: Tuesday 6 October 1914 (ending our 6 weeks stay exactly at Calcutta)
Navigation down the Hooghly not being permissible at night we came to an anchor at Garden Reach – a mile or two below the Dock - @ 3/30a.m. with the idea of sailing before breakfast time but the promised additions to the crew, to make up for several desertions which had occurred during our three weeks marking time period, had not come aboard. As the shortage amounted to 21 men, nearly all for the Engine Room, it was impossible to sail without them so the 3rd Officer was sent up to Calcutta to obtain the men & bring them down by train to Diamond Harbour where we would proceed & wait.
At 9 o’clock we hove up anchor & started – the sail down the River, with its wonderful sweeps, its twists, its turns, the local boat traffic and the occasional nearness to the banks, being as enjoyable as the sail up exactly 6 weeks ago. During tiffin we heard the anchor chain being played out – we had arrived at Diamond Harbour some 40 miles below Calcutta. Six other ships were there and all held up for a similar reason as ourselves; including the City of Rangoon, who so beautifully “saved her bacon” at the Emden’s raid & the Kabinga , the steamer that brought all the Crews back from the ships the Emden had sunk. The Captain asked me during the afternoon would I come ashore with him and the Pilot – the intention being to meet the 3rd Officer. We lay about a mile & a half off the land & were taken ashore in one of the native flat topped boats, a great unwieldy-looking craft, but which proved quite a good moving boat when the eight oarsmen settled down. We landed on a little mud bank & made stepping stones to a slippery embankment amid much fun & chaff & once again we were on dry land.
Diamond Harbour is a misnomer – there is no Harbour – merely a riverside cum countryside place, merely a scrappy collection of native huts, forming a village, which is completed by a signal Telegraph Station for the shipping & a Railway Station (terminus). We walked round & through the village. I was much impressed with the huts, taking them altogether they were a little better class than others I had seen although their build was the usual clayey mud & the usual roof of straw &, or, palm leaf thatch, their shape & position on the edge of “tanks” or ponds backed up by dense jungle lent to the idea that this was off the beaten track and was a bit of real India. The cocoa-nut palms, with monster vultures, beastly ugly & repulsive creatures, nesting, & the paddy fields (rice) nearly ready for harvesting were much in evidence – the colour of the paddy being the brightest of greens, a refreshing fruit made more vivid by the glaring sun and all in swamp – suggestive of fever and mosquitoes. I could not get near enough to obtain a few ears of the grass, for I should have liked to have added a few ears of rice in its natural state to my samples, though I gathered a fine bunch of wild flowers duly taking them aboard for our lady passenger. A tramp, tramp, tramp, round & about for nearly two hours, a call at the Telegraph Station, where a wire had just arrived from the 3rd Officer advising returning by a later train with 9 men, and it was time to return; the sun had set and the twilight – such as it is – lasts only about 15 minutes. We journeyed to the Beach where on account of the tide having receded two coolies carried first the Pilot, then the Captain, both heavy men, through the slithery sloppy mud, one man only returning for me, evidently deeming my avoirdupois within his capacity, and sloshed through the slime with me in his arms just as though I were a child to the great amusement of the others, natives included.
A long detour had to be made by the side of the bank so that when we headed for mid-river & were caught by the strong current, sweeping us down apace, we could nicely make the steamer. It was dark by this time & as we journeyed over the quick moving waters the moon, rising at its full, seemingly half a dozen times its size, broke from behind clouds, showing through a thick clump of intervening palms near the shore producing effects sufficient to cause us all to exclaim. The native boatmen fetched the Manipur in able style & we clambered up the rope ladder safely. All feeling so hot, weary & thirsty after our exertions, immediate & great demands were made on the soda water bottle and its concomitants. Duly refreshed, justice was done to our dinner, which had been kept for us, finishing about 7/30. Incidentally the 3rd officer arrived on board later bringing with him 7 men only, 2 of the 9 having failed to report at the Railway Station.
I might mention here at the outset of the voyage that with the Passenger Crew for the new Brocklebank ship we have 180 souls aboard. We sport a Doctor (a native) this trip – (owing to the numbers; Indian Regulations) - & besides myself there are 6 passengers, 4 of whom belong to the Mercantile Marine &, from sundry illnesses, are being sent back home as D.B.O’s (Distressed British Officers) one of them in charge of a nurse from the Hospital & an attendant. There are two Arab Deck passengers journeying to Port Said, men who were on one of the captured German Steamers & who were being repatriated at the Government expense.
Day No. 74: Wednesday 7 October 1914
Still to an anchor off Diamond Harbour. A review of the crew position, after efforts had been made to inveigle some of the passenger crew to work & who most positively refused to do so, necessitated the Captain himself journeying to Calcutta to endeavour to obtain the men still required & interview the several Authorities regarding this strange state of affairs. He returned late evening bringing with him all the men he could obtain – only 3 – and the native shipping Broker. A court of enquiry was held aboard, the Shipping Broker who had tremendous influence over his men used all the blandishments possible from bribery downwards, to get the passenger crew to make up the sailing deficiency, but their Serangs, & the crew individually, resisted all the cajoleries. Ultimately, after over an hour’s talk, a little assistance was got from the Steamer’s own deck crew to assist the Engine Room section to get the ship as far as Colombo, where the number of men required could probably be easily obtained, and, at last, all seemed “calm & bright” and steam was ordered for 8/45 next morning.
In the meantime aboard the day had passed away just lazily and the late afternoon saw the Pilot & self once again ashore. A short walk & then to the Signal Station enquiring for telegram from Captain & it was time to return – dusk. Had noticed the Manipur was morsing & mentioned it to the Pilot in case it was for his benefit but he said “No”; the violent blowing of the Manipur’s whistle, however, immediately arrested our attention & the cause of the commotion was at once apparent.
The ship to anchor ahead of us, the Baron Balfour had dragged her moorings & evidently her Watch had not noticed it. The morsing & whistling was for her benefit as she was making for the Manipur at a good pace. The Pilot at once ordered our boat to proceed to the “Baron” all speed (her Pilot was also on shore at the Telegraph Station) & nobly did the natives bend to their work, shouting & urging each other on making their heavy craft skim along. As we neared the steamer, who had just then become alive to their danger, our Pilot hailed her to go ahead in a certain direction. They had just got her engines moving & were able to arrest her drifting when only about 200 yards off the Manipur.
The Pilot clambered on board up a rope, without waiting for a ladder & took her further away to a secure anchorage returning later when the “Baron’s” Pilot got back from the shore. Query – Rules & regulations respecting Pilots not to leave the ship! What of ‘em? The sea had got very choppy. I was left in the boat which slew round in the tide race right under the Baron Balfour’s stern, far too close to her propellers for my liking, but clearing everything fortunately we were down on the Manipur’s bows in no time, hailed her for a rope as we swung by & I was up the ladder in a trice, rather glad to be there I don’t mind admitting as it was not too pleasant, it being dead dark, the sea has got up suddenly, & the tremendous pace we were rushing along bumping the steamers side all the time, made it very difficult to hold the boat when the rope was thrown.
Day No. 75: Thursday 8 October 1914
Still to an anchor off Diamond Harbour! Preparations were being made for departure when the engine room crew came to interview the Captain. More trouble!! They pointed out (evidently after considering amongst themselves after last night’s agreement & repenting) that 11 of the firemen had never been to sea before, and so far as the shortage of hands went they were willing to put up with that as far as Colombo, but they now felt that with such a large percentage of novices, “raw bones”, they could not possibly do the work & refused to go to sea. (Their Shipping Broker had only left the ship just before, of which they were aware – taking full advantage of it).
It was felt, after a consultation, that they had right on their side & the Anchor, which was partially up, was let go again & the Captain had perforce to journey to Calcutta once more meantime sending most emphatic wires (which I wrote out) to all & sundry in Calcutta to bring an end to such a position by taking every step possible, pending his arrival, to obtain the complement. Suffice to say that night-time Brought him back, & his men too, thus completing the crew after 3 days colossal efforts. (It is worth mentioning that this crew question has been very acute during the past few weeks in Calcutta & is quite an exceptional state of things.
There have been a large number of ships leaving Bombay for Army transport work, needing more men than Bombay could well supply; also the several German prizes, both at Calcutta & Colombo, have had to be manned & numerous crews have been requisitioned for all these at Calcutta, being sent by train to Bombay & Colombo. Again, it is the time of the year when many men miss a trip & go to their homes up country to work on their own little piece of land, the combined circumstances producing a shortage; but above all there is undoubtedly in the native mind a nervousness to sail while the war is on which feeling has been intensified by the exploits of the little German cruiser Emden – sinking the merchantmen – in the Bay of Bengal & off Ceylon. In fact, when this news was first received in Calcutta, symptoms of panic occurred in the native bazaars, many natives actually sending their wives & children out of the City believing that the Emden was coming up to bombard Calcutta (!) & fearing that the natives might get out of hand in their fright, & to allay their fears, the Authorities had to take immediate action in the Wards of the City affected to make it known that there was no reason whatever for alarm).
Of course the excuse for going ashore in the late afternoon to see if there were any more telegrams could not be resisted – so the Pilot & myself had another jaunt this time, intending to go off the beaten track in the jungle a bit and take the Captain’s gun which had kept the passengers employed all the morning- target practice & pegging away at a few bromlie - kites perched on the rigging & cross-trees. At the last moment we left the gun behind. We made a new landing place on this occasion & had a walk through the finest of jungle lanes disturbing many birds, all sorts & sizes.
The large carrion variety one took a delight in disturbing – Cockney instinct, where’s a brick! We went on to the House of the Customs Officer, whom we had met shortly after landing, & obtained the day’s Newspapers – very eagerly sought after by all aboard there stirring times – spent 20 minutes at a riverside watching 2 soldiers (English) from the Fort fishing, & catching them too, & then thought it about time to attend to the legitimate business for which we came ashore i.e. the Telegrams. Then, by another way back to the boat, down a fine palm –lined lane with wonderful undergrowth; past native houses in a most picturesque setting; past a wealth of cactus plants with their prickles galore, as I had ample opportunity of testifying, three parts falling into one in my endeavours to capture a fine dragon fly; a scramble down the river front to the edge of the mud, carried aboard the native craft once again & off we went to the steamer.
Day No. 76: Friday 9 October 1914
Whilst finishing breakfast throb, throb, throb went the engines – we were moving. Coming on deck, the Steamer was turning round & proceeding slowly; by 9/15 all was clear, and then, “full speed ahead”. We were off, at last! After 45 days stay.
A good run down the River widening now all the time to the Mouth; past Sangor Island with its forests, swamps, and impenetrable jungle abounding with wild animals, Tigers particularly. Rhinoceros, Buffaloes & Deer are also found, there are Snakes of all sorts, and Crocodiles infest the rivers & creeks, and the same are found in all the Sunderbund district forming the Delta of the Ganges. (I had the pleasure of meeting a gentleman in Calcutta who had had several hunting “outs” at Sangor, twice meeting with success with Tigers). Passing the three Light Vessels, Upper Gasper, Lower Gaspar & Eastern Channel, brought us at 6 o’clock to the Pilot Station, where we stopped to discharge the Pilot. He, my shore companion for the last 3 days came to wish me Bon Voyage! before he went over the side with his servant & his luggage to the Punt which had now come alongside us.
The engines were started again, the ship was turned round to her course and there, what I was much amused to hear the Chief Officer once say “that there was no finer sight in Calcutta”, was the Pilot Boat astern of us, and we, Homeward-Bound!! I caught the Chief’s eye a few minutes afterwards, winked at him & pointed to the boat astern – he knew to what I was referring, we both laughed & both with the one impulse at the same moment shook hands with ourselves.
The 1,669 GRT Lady Fraser was completed by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. in Govan in 1908 as a pilot vessel for the Calcutta Port Commission. In 1913 ownership transferred to the Bengal Government and in 1934 to the Indian Government. In 1951 her name was changed to Mekhala. She continued in service until 1980 when she was hulked and her registration was deleted in 1982. A beautiful looking vessel with a very long working life.
On return to deck after dinner it was quite dark and it was a grand inspiring feeling to feel afloat again and to stand there contemplating the immensities and to hear the lascar up in the Crow’s nest, in reply to the ship’s bell, call out slowly and musically:
“Khub dekta hai” and then, after a pause, while he looks around at the lights “Batti acha Sahib”. We sailed without masthead lights, the sidelights dimmed so as to reduce the range of their visibility and all Cabin & saloon lights shielded, in order not to show outside the ship, and so we proceeded hoping that we should not meet that notorious little German Cruiser, the Emden.
Days No. 77-79: Saturday 10 to Monday 12 October 1914
Taking it altogether we made very fair weather down the Bay of Bengal, occasionally meeting passing rain showers. A good swell was on, most likely the aftermath of a cyclone which had passed across the Bay a few days previously. It was placid sailing and no excitement if one exempts a fracas which occurred on Monday on the forward deck, and for which I had a front seat in the stalls. Some of the natives (passenger crew) had quarrelled with the 2 Arab Seaman, nobody taking much notice of it, when as if by magic, the deck became a seething shouting mass.
The air was filled with everything throwable (they don’t fight with fists) cudgels were used, the English Officers came jumping off the Bridge, the Deck, out of their Rooms &c, and springing amongst the mob disarmed them. Donnybrook fair!! As poor Mr. Arab was seized he received a killing blow, almost, on his head, a vile blow from behind, & as he was found to have a knife in his hand he was at once placed under arrest & fastened with irons on the saloon deck, as much for his own protection as anything else I think. He immediately had slight concussion of the brain so he became an easy subject for the Doctor to bandage.
Day No. 80: Tuesday 13 October 1914
My usual first-thing-in-the-morning look out of the Port showed the land – Ceylon once again; at the distance the separate mountains appeared to rest on the sea like so many islands. We were about abreast of Batticaloa and, as the morning advanced we hauled in to the land and ran along the coast. The atmosphere was so very clear that, on this occasion, the internal mountain range was visible, as was also, of course the single peaks and that remarkable mountain “Westminster Abbey”, mentioned in my notes of 21st August.
Both the Little Basses Reef & Great Basses Reef – two important points which aid navigation hereabouts – were passed in the afternoon and then we came closer to the shore still. It was truly delightful sailing on such a delightful day to sit in the breeze and enjoy the land view. A wealth of palm trees are everywhere along the coast line and all about seems densely clothed with tropical forest; as you look green, green, green, is the predominant colour relieved now & again by an occasional yellow patch of sandy shore, & where there is a little rock or reef the surf breaks into grand spray – white against the blue waters. What a land of colourings is here & again one envies the talent of those who are able to sketch and to use their brush to picture such charming scenes.
Another lighthouse was passed soon after 6 o’clock – Hambantota; and during the next watch, we having altered our course in keeping with the curve of the Island, we got the breeze from off shore carrying with it the sweetest of smells, truly a scented wind. “Ceylon’s spicy breezes”. Most fragrant. I looked out at midnight for as we were passing Point de Galle we signalled ourselves. A white flare throwing up white stars was held up on the forecastle head & at the same time a blue flare throwing up blue stars was shown from the Bridge – these form the Brocklebank night signal. The news of our passing would be sent through to Colombo so that our time of arrival there would be known, and all be ready for us; & I wondered at the time whether word would be sent through to England when you would know that we had turned the corner of Ceylon.
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